Italy’s Renzi Easily Wins Democratic Party Primary

Former premier Matteo Renzi regained the Democratic Party leadership, handily winning a Sunday primary that he hopes will bolster the center-left’s ability to counter growing support for populist politicians in Italy ahead of national elections.

“Forward, together,” Renzi tweeted, invigorated by his comeback after a stinging defeat in a December reforms referendum aimed in part at streamlining the legislative process led him to resign as head of Italy’s government and as leader of his squabbling party.


“The alternative to populism isn’t the elite,” Renzi told supports late Sunday after unofficial results indicated he got more than 70 percent of votes cast nationwide. “It’s people who aren’t afraid of democracy.”


Some politicians predicted that the primary win would embolden Renzi to maneuver seeking to bring national elections ahead of their spring 2018 due date as part of his effort to rein in increasing popularity for the populist, anti-euro 5-Star Movement.


But a top Renzi ally sought to counter that idea.


“The government’s horizon is 2018. Starting tomorrow, we’ll work with Premier [Paolo] Gentiloni. Gentiloni’s government is our government,” said Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina.


Renzi’s party is still the main force in Italy’s center-left coalition government, but opinion polls indicate it is no longer the country’ most popular. Overtaking the Democrats in recent soundings was the 5-Star Movement, whose leader, comic Beppe Grillo, wants a crackdown on migrants, rails against European Union-mandated austerity and opposes Italy belonging to the euro single currency group.


Throughout the day, some 2 million voters lined up at makeshift gazebos in piazzas and street corners, at ice cream parlors, cafes or local party headquarters around the country to cast ballots for a new head of the splintering Democratic Party, whose rank-and-file range from former Communists to former Christian Democrats.


Primary voting was open to anyone 16 years of age of older – the oldest voter was reported to be 105. Holding Democratic Party membership wasn’t a requirement.


Trailing far behind in the votes were Justice Minister Andrea Orlando and Puglia region Governor Michele Emiliano.


In addition to countering the challenge of 5-Star’s popularity, to regain Italy’s premiership, Renzi will have to contend with malcontents and defectors in his own party. A group of mostly former Communists split from the Democrats and formed a small, new party in resentment over both Renzi’s centrist leanings and his authoritarian style.


Renzi’s reputation in politics is one of ruthlessness. In early 2014, he promised then-premier and fellow Democrat Enrico Letta that he wouldn’t undermine the government, only to shortly afterward engineer Letta’s downfall. Renzi then became premier.


Italian President Sergio Mattarella recently insisted that electoral laws must be overhauled before new elections. Currently, there is one set of electoral rules for the lower Chamber of Deputies and a completely different one for the Senate, a consequence of the failed reform referendum.

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John Legend Named 1st Recipient of New Social Justice Award

John Legend is expected on a Massachusetts college campus this week to receive a social justice award.


The singer-songwriter becomes the first recipient of the Salem Advocate for Social Justice award when he accepts the honor Tuesday at Salem State University.


Legend is to perform and also discuss his work on criminal justice, education and other issues.


The Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice bestows the award to recognize those who champion social justice issues and advocate for people who are underrepresented.


This is the first year the award will be given.

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French Forces Kill 20 Militants in Mali

French forces said Sunday they killed more than 20 militants in Mali near the border with Burkina Faso.

French military officials and witnesses say the attack came from the air and on the ground in a forest in the Sahel region.

More than 3,500 French soldiers are spread out across Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger combating Islamist extremists.

Mali has extended a state of emergency for another six months as it tries to stave off an al-Qaida-linked insurgency in the north, and extremists launching attacks from Burkina Faso in the south.

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Beyond 100 Days, Trump Faces More Legislative Challenges

After more than three months in office without passing any major legislation, President Donald Trump faces a week that offers the possibility of averting a government shutdown and progress on health care.

Trump has spent his first 100 days coming to terms with the slow grind of government even in a Republican-dominated capital, and watching some of his promises – from repealing the nation’s health care law to temporarily banning people from some Muslim nations – fizzle.


Last week lawmakers sent the president a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open through Friday. Aides say lawmakers closely involved in negotiating the $1 trillion package over the weekend have worked through many sticking points in hopes of making the measure public as early as Sunday night. The House and Senate have until Friday at midnight to pass the measure to avert a government shutdown. The aides required anonymity because the talks are not final and the measure has yet to be released.


The catchall spending bill would be the first major piece of bipartisan legislation to advance during Trump’s short tenure in the White House. It denies Trump a win on his oft-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but gives him a down payment on his request to strengthen the military.


Lawmakers will continue negotiating this week on a $1 trillion package financing the government through September 30, the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

Mixed messages on health care

Despite a renewed White House effort push, the House did not vote last week on a revised bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act.


After the original effort failed to win enough support from conservatives and moderates, Republicans recast the bill. The latest version would let states escape a requirement under Obama’s 2010 law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. The overall legislation would cut the Medicaid program for the poor, eliminate fines for people who don’t buy insurance and provide generally skimpier subsidies. Critics have said the approach could reduce protections for people with pre-existing conditions.


But during an interview with “Face the Nation” on CBS aired Sunday, Trump said the measure has a “clause that guarantees” that people with pre-existing conditions will be covered.


Trump said: “Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I just watched another network than yours, and they were saying, ‘Pre-existing is not covered.’ Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’”


Trump said during the interview that if he’s unable to renegotiate a long-standing free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, then he’ll terminate the pact.


North Korea looming large

Trump also spoke about tensions with North Korea. Asked about the failure of several North Korean missile tests recently, Trump said he’d “rather not discuss it. But perhaps they’re just not very good missiles. But eventually, he’ll have good missiles.”


Trump also said he is willing to use the trade issue as leverage to get China’s help with North Korea. “Trade is very important. But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, trumps trade.”


And he acknowledged the presidency is “a tough job. But I’ve had a lot of tough jobs. I’ve had things that were tougher, although I’ll let you know that better at the end of eight years. Perhaps eight years. Hopefully, eight years.”


Also this week, the president will welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House. And he’ll head to New York City on Thursday where he’ll visit the USS Intrepid to mark the 75th anniversary of a World War II naval battle.


On Sunday morning, Trump headed to Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. The White House did not immediately clarify whether he was holding meetings or golfing.


Trump marked his 100th day in office Saturday with a rally in Harrisburg, where he continued to pledge to cut taxes and get tough on trade deals.


“We are not going to let other countries take advantage of us anymore,” he said Saturday in Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center. “From now on it’s going to be America first.”


Trump’s rally Saturday night in Harrisburg offered a familiar recapitulation of what he and aides have argued for days are administration successes, including the successful confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, his Cabinet choices and the approval of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Poland Suspends Honorary Consul in US Over Photo

Poland’s Foreign Ministry has suspended an honorary consul in the United States who allegedly posted on Facebook an altered picture of European Council President Donald Tusk dressed as a Nazi.

Maria Szonert-Binienda headed Poland’s honorary consulate in Akron, Ohio. She denies the charges.

Szonert-Binienda told the Associated Press someone hacked her Facebook account.

“I did not make a photo of Donald Tusk as an SS man. I am against promoting SS symbols and ideologies. I am against using words like ‘fascism’ in the public political discourse today. I am against comparing our politicians to Hitler,” she said.

Tusk is a former Polish prime minister.

Szonert-Binienda’s husband is a member of the ruling conservative government commission that is re-investigating the 2010 plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, is leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, and a fierce political rival of Tusk.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski had accused Tusk of leading an incomplete investigation into the crash.

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First Cuban-American in US Congress to Retire

U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, is retiring at the end of her term next year, saying it’s time to move on after 38 years in office.

The 64-year-old Republican was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of southeast Miami-Dade County that is heavily Democratic. Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points, and Ros-Lehtinen was able to win it by 10 percentage points.


Her unexpected retirement will give Democrats an opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat in 2018.


The Miami Herald first reported the retirement Sunday. The congresswoman’s spokesman Keith Fernandez confirmed the announcement with The Associated Press.


In Congress, Ros-Lehtinen staked her ground as a foreign-policy hawk, becoming the first woman to chair a standing congressional committee: the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She currently chairs the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, and sits on the intelligence committee.


House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, Republican-California, called her a “trailblazer.”


“She’s been a relentless advocate for human rights, and a powerful voice on the need to address the dangerous Iranian regime, defend allies like Israel, and so much more,” he wrote. “Ileana’s retirement is well-deserved, but I’m glad we are not losing her yet. We’ve got important work to do for the American people over the next year and a half, and I know Ileana will continue to play a leading role.”


Born in Havana, she is well-known for being a fierce critic of Cuban politics. The late Fidel Castro nicknamed her “la loba feroz” or “the big bad she-wolf.”


LGBTQ advocate

For years, Ros-Lehtinen represented the Florida Keys, including gay-friendly Key West, and advocated for LGBTQ rights. Eventually, her transgender son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, made his way into the public spotlight. Last year, he and his parents recorded a bilingual public-service TV campaign to urge Hispanics to support transgender youth.


In her remaining 20 months in Congress, Ros-Lehtinen said she will keep pushing for one of her long-running goals for Germany to offer restitution to Holocaust victims.

“And I will continue to stand up to tyrants and dictators all over the world,” she told The Miami Herald. “I take that as a badge of honor, when they blast me and don’t let me in their countries.”


News of her retirement swept through Florida political circles.


“Not only is @RosLehtinen a tireless advocate for freedom & human rights – she is my friend. Florida will miss her,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican-Florida, who worked as an intern in her office 26 years ago.

Gov. Rick Scott wrote on Twitter: “Congresswoman @RosLehtinen has fought hard for [Florida] families throughout her service in D.C. Her strong leadership will be greatly missed!”


The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used her announcement to criticize her party. “It’s been clear for years that the Republican party was out of step with the values of Miami families, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement announcement is testament to the fact she recognized how wide that gap had grown.”

Ros-Lehtinen is scheduled to have a news conference Monday, her spokesman said.

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Duterte Removes South China Sea From ASEAN Statement

The Philippines followed up a summit of Southeast Asian leaders by releasing a final communique Sunday that removed mention of international concerns over China’s “militarization” of newly built islands in the disputed South China Sea, a major concession to Beijing.


The 25-page statement issued by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte following the daylong meeting of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations he hosted in Manila also made no direct mention of his country’s landmark arbitration victory against China last year.

A vague reference to the ruling was removed from a part of the communique that discussed the long-seething territorial conflicts and moved elsewhere in the document.

Stronger statement gone


The changes were apparent based on a previous draft of the communique seen by The Associated Press. A foreign diplomat based in Manila told the AP that the Philippines circulated a stronger draft statement to other ASEAN member states, which was backed by countries like Vietnam. 


Other governments made suggestions, but Duterte, as ASEAN chairman this year, could decide how to shape the language of the regional bloc’s “chairman’s statement,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly. 


China and ASEAN member states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, along with Taiwan, have overlapping claims to territory in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which billions of dollars in world trade passes each year. The waters are also important fishing grounds and are believed to have undersea deposits of oil and gas. 

Decisions by consensus


ASEAN, which makes decisions by consensus, has previously struggled to come up with statements on the issue, with Duterte’s predecessor often pushing for a tougher tone against China and getting pushback from members, like Beijing’s allies Cambodia and Laos, unwilling to upset their largest trading partner and most important economic benefactor. 


China has dismissed and ignored last July’s arbitration ruling, which invalidated most of its historic claims to almost all of the South China Sea. China has long argued that the territorial disputes have nothing to do with its relationship with ASEAN and should be settled through bilateral talks. 


Chinese Embassy officials in Manila were not immediately available for comment.

Weaker future

Former Philippine officials who dealt with the disputes say Duterte’s concessions to China could weaken the ability of the Philippines and other ASEAN member states to seek Chinese compliance to the arbitration ruling and curb Beijing’s increasingly assertive behavior in the disputed waters. 

Duterte has said he prefers to warm once-frosty ties with China and secure infrastructure funding from Beijing. Still he has said he will raise the ruling with China at some point during his six-year term. 


“Non-mention of The Hague ruling would be a diplomatic triumph for China,” said former Philippine national security adviser Roilo Golez, referring to the European tribunal that issued the landmark decision. 


“It might embolden them to advance some more in their South China Sea master plan,” said Golez, citing fears that China may also turn the disputed Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines into another island outpost.

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Growth Slows in April in China’s Manufacturing Sector

Growth in China’s manufacturing sector slowed in April, official data showed Sunday, pointing to an unsteady recovery in the world’s second-largest economy. 


The monthly purchasing managers’ index by the Chinese Federation of Logistics and Purchasing fell to 51.2 in April, lower than the 51.8 recorded in March. 


The index is based on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 indicate expansion.


National Bureau of Statistics statistician Zhao Qinghe said in the release that April’s figure was affected by sluggish growth in market demand and supply, and slower expansion in imports and exports.


April’s index still represented a ninth consecutive month of expansion. 


China saw its slowest growth in nearly three decades in 2016. China’s huge manufacturing sector is seen as an important indicator for the wider Chinese economy. It has cooled gradually over the past six years as Beijing tries to pivot it away from heavy reliance on export-based manufacturing and investment toward consumer spending.


The official full-year economic growth target for 2017 is 6.5 percent. 

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Trump Invites Philippine President to White House

U.S. President Donald Trump has invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to Washington to discuss various issues, including the threat North Korea presents to regional security.

After the two spoke by phone Saturday, a White House statement said, “It was a very friendly conversation, in which the two leaders discussed the concerns of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarding regional security, including the threat posed by North Korea.”

North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile early Saturday north of the capital, Pyongyang. Both Washington and Seoul said the test was not successful, but still drew widespread international condemnation.

Pope Francis said Saturday the nuclear crisis in North Korea has “heated up too much,” and he warned that a war with the isolated nation would destroy a good part of humanity. The pope suggested Norway as a mediator of the crisis. 

“Norway is always ready to help,” he told reporters onboard his papal plane.

South Korea said Sunday Washington has confirmed it will indeed pay the costs for the THAAD anti-missile system, despite President Trump’s remarks last week that South Korea should shoulder the costs.

Officials in Seoul said H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, assured his South Korean counterpart in a telephone conversation Sunday the U.S. is still onboard to pay for the THAAD system that is designed to defend against nuclear-armed North Korea.

Trump threw confusion into the existing payment agreement with South Korea when he told Reuters last week he had informed South Korea, “… it would be appropriate if they paid. It’s a billion-dollar system.” Trump said, “It’s phenomenal, shoots missiles right out of the sky.”

Trump’s White House invitation to Duterte is somewhat surprising. The Philippine president has made several derogatory comments about the U.S. in recent months.

He has also been fanatical about making the Philippines drug-free, with police reported killing 2,724 in the president’s drug campaign. Human Rights Watch, however, says since Duterte came into office in June 2016, police and unidentified gunmen have killed more than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers.

A Philippine lawyer filed a complaint last week with the International Criminal Court, accusing Duterte of mass murder in his drug campaign.


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Polls: Labour Gains Support, Conservatives Still Lead

Three polls Saturday showed a rise in support for the opposition Labour Party, although the governing Conservative Party maintained a commanding lead.

The polls showed the party of British Prime Minister Theresa May remained between 11 and 17 points ahead of Labour, still enough to deliver a clear victory as she seeks a mandate ahead of negotiations over Brexit, set to begin in the summer.

However, the polls showed the gap had closed from leads of up to 25 points reported last weekend.

Labour-Conservative gap

One poll by YouGov showed the Conservative lead over the Labour had fallen to 13 points, compared to the 23 points that the same polling firm found last week.

The YouGov poll for the Sunday Times found that 44 percent were set to back the Conservatives, down from 48 percent last weekend. Support for Labour climbed to 31 percent from 25 percent.

May said April 11 that she would look to hold an election June 8, to secure a mandate for her plan for leaving the European Union.

A further tightening in poll ratings might generate more uncertainty over what Britain’s position will be when it sits down in June to begin negotiations in earnest.

Is Conservative support falling?

However, despite the narrowing gap, pollsters were divided over whether support for the Conservatives was actually falling.

An earlier poll by Opinium showed support for the Conservatives had risen 2 percentage points, but the gap between the biggest parties narrowed nevertheless as Labour boosted their support by 4 percentage points. Smaller parties saw their share of the vote drop.

The smallest gap between the parties was 11 points in a poll by ORB for the Sunday Telegraph. It showed support for the Conservatives at 42 percent, while support for Labour was 31 percent. It was ORB’s first poll on the election since May called the poll last week, and is not necessarily comparable with polls by other firms.

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Senegal to Introduce HPV Vaccine to Battle Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is preventable, yet it remains the most common type of cancer in Africa, the World Health Organization says.

WHO data show that Senegal currently has one of the world’s highest rates of the disease, with over 1,400 new cases diagnosed each year.

The country’s health officials have stepped up efforts against the disease with a nationwide campaign to vaccinate girls against the virus that causes cancer.

On a recent day at the Philippe Maguilen Senghor health center on the outskirts of Dakar, women lined up for free breast and cervical cancer screenings. The event was run by young Senegalese volunteers from Junior Chamber International (JCI), a nonprofit organization.

Sassy Ndiaye waited patiently for her turn. At age 60, this was only the second time she had been tested for the disease.  

“Before we didn’t know about this,” she said. “I went through eight pregnancies and never did a cervical cancer screening with my gynecologist. I did it after my menopause.”

For comparison, in the United States, it is common for women of all ages to be screened for abnormal cervical cells every three years.

In Dakar, gynecologist Mouhamoudou Moustapha Yade said that by the time patients come to see him, their cervical cancer can be advanced.

“At a later stage, recovery is painful and difficult. And more importantly, the prognosis is not good,” he said. “This is why screening is so important. When you catch the cancer early, treatment is easier and much less expensive.”

But most women in Senegal cannot afford the cost of cervical cancer screening. Doctors and women interviewed at the Philippe Maguilen Senghor clinic said the cost was 40,000 francs ($66).

“Every time we organize free screening days, I am impressed by the number of women that turn up,” said Thiamel Ndiade, a JCI volunteer. “This shows you they are actually informed, but that money is the main issue.”

Ndiade added that most clinics lack the machinery needed to detect the illness, meaning women have to travel long distances just to get checked.


“Not all health centers have a video colposcope, for example,” Ndiade said. “We had to bring our own here today, which shows you just how inaccessible this technology is.”

HPV link

The arrival of a vaccine could help Senegal address these challenges.

Cervical cancer is caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus; those who are infected with HPV often do not initially display any visible symptoms. A vaccine against HPV has been in use in the United States and other parts of the developed world since 2006, but it has only recently arrived in Africa.

In 2013, Senegal was among 10 African countries chosen by Gavi — a global alliance that strives to create access to vaccines in the world’s neediest countries — for pilot vaccination programs.

The nationwide rollout in Senegal followed a successful pilot program last year in two parts of the country. Ethiopia and Zimbabwe are also set to introduce the vaccine soon.

“Senegal is one of the first three countries in Africa [after Rwanda and Uganda] to introduce the HPV vaccine on a national scale,” said professor Mamadou Diop, head of oncology at the Aristide Le Dantec hospital. “It will be integrated within the country’s national vaccination program and reach the whole targeted population of girls.”


The aim is to roll out the vaccine in two phases, starting with a mass vaccination campaign reaching 889,445 girls aged between 9 and 15 by May 2018. After this, the vaccine will be administered to all girls at age 9 as part of routine immunization programs.

“The vaccine has been jointly subsidized by Gavi and the Senegalese state,” added professor Ousseynou Badiane, head of the Immunization Division for the Ministry of Health in Senegal. “This means it will be free and accessible to all.”

New vaccines can be met with suspicion, so health practitioners are urging the government to also launch a public education campaign. If the rollout is successful, Gavi estimates the HPV vaccine could help prevent up to 90 percent of cervical cancer cases.

Senegal unveiled its action plan as countries across the continent celebrate the 7th African Vaccination Week, an annual event to strengthen immunization programs in Africa by raising awareness about every person’s need and right to be protected against disease.

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Trump: ‘Big Decision’ Coming on Paris Climate Agreement

U.S. President Donald Trump has promised “a big decision” on the Paris climate agreement in the next two weeks.

He spoke on his 100th day in office, at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He spoke in an arena that holds up to 10,000 people where his audience was supportive, greeting him with cheers of “USA! USA! USA!”

Early in the president’s speech, a protester was tackled and removed from the audience. 

“Get him out of here,” the president said, while the audience cheered again.

The president expressed relief at not having to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an annual charity event in Washington occurring at the same time as his rally.

He pointed to the media gallery covering his speech and said, “Look at the media back there. They would actually rather be here, I have to tell you,” he said.

The crowd booed at the mention of the media and cheered when Trump named a couple of television networks he considers “fake news.” He said he gives the media “a big, fat, failing grade” for its first 100 days covering him.

Turning to his first 100 days in office, Trump reeled off a list of accomplishments, saying his time in office has been “very exciting and productive,” putting coal miners back to work, protecting steel and aluminum workers, and “eliminating job-killing regulations.”

“We are keeping one promise after another and frankly the people are really happy about it, they see what’s happening,” he said.

“To understand the historic progress we’ve made, we must speak honestly about the situation that we, and I, inherited,” he continued. “The previous administration gave us a mess.”

Trump said the U.S. is part of “a broken system of global plunder at American expense,” and promised that he would make a “big decision” on the Paris Climate Agreement in the next two weeks. During his campaign, he threatened repeatedly to withdraw from the Paris Agreement or to “renegotiate” the United States’ participation in the global emissions-reduction pact.

“Build that wall”

Trump also emphasized his commitment to building the border wall he has promised between the United States and Mexico. He said his administration has already imposed “immigration control like you’ve never seen before.”

“People seeking admission into our country — they are going to be admitted because they love our country. They will not be admitted otherwise,” he said.

“We need the wall, sure as you’re standing there tonight,” he told his audience, which responded with chants of “Build that wall. Build that wall.”

Earlier in the day, Trump signed an executive order at a shovel factory in central Pennsylvania, directing his administration to review the nation’s trade agreements. The order aims to determine whether the U.S. is being treated equitably by its trading partners in the 164-nation World Trade Organization.

White House correspondents

Also Saturday, the White House Correspondents’ Association in Washington held its annual black-tie dinner, an occasion that has earned the nickname “Nerd Prom.” The nickname plays off Washington’s reputation for politics and policy more than for glitz and glamour.

For the first time since Ronald Reagan skipped the dinner in 1981, the U.S. president is not attending the dinner, an affair that usually features jokes at the president’s expense. Trump boycotted this year’s dinner, citing his contempt for the media.

“I hope they have a good dinner,” he tweeted. “Ours is going to be much more exciting.”

Trump has called the media “fake” and “the enemy of the people.” 

Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said at the dinner, “Freedom of the press is a building block of our democracy, undermining that by seeking to delegitimize journalists is dangerous to a healthy republic.” 

Mason said, “At previous dinners, we have rightly talked about the threats to press freedoms abroad. Tonight we must recognize that there are threats to press freedoms here in the United States. We must remain vigilant. The world is watching.”

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LA Peace Parades Mark 25th Anniversary of Riots

Twenty-five years ago, a jury acquitted four white police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, sparking looting and violence that would turn into one of the deadliest race riots in American history.

On Saturday, hundreds of people marked the anniversary with marches advocating peace and hope.

A “Future Fest” began at Florence and Normandie avenues — the South Los Angeles intersection where rioting erupted — and was followed by a community festival.

Organizer Eric Ares, 34, is a lifelong resident of the area. He remembers the electricity going out in his house at the start of the rioting, leaving his family essentially cut off from the outside world without lights or a TV.

“For the next couple of nights, there was this fear going on,” he said. “We were huddled up in the living room.”

When he did venture outside, Ares saw plumes of smoke coming from places where buildings had been torched. But a small restaurant on the corner, a liquor store and other local businesses were untouched, he said.

People had a “real feeling of anger and frustration,” but it was mainly directed at police, politicians and businesses they believed oppressed, neglected or exploited them, Ares said.

Graffiti on walls warned: “No justice, no peace,” he said.

“I remember being at the park on the third day, people screaming: ‘We’re not gonna let them do it to us anymore,’ ” Ares said.

But while the march and festival marks the events of a quarter-century ago, the commemoration also looked to a future where community organizations are working to deal with problems still confronting South L.A., Ares said.

“There’s still extreme poverty. There’s still issues of law enforcement … education and health care and access to good jobs,” he said. “But the difference is, we have a plan.”

About five miles north of the intersection, a peace parade was held in the Koreatown neighborhood, where tensions between black residents and Korean-American immigrant storekeepers led to markets, shops and gas stations being looted or burned. Some merchants stood guard with guns to protect their stores.

In the wake of the riots, community groups reached out and tried to mend fences.

On Saturday, several hundred people marched in an enthusiastic show of unity that included Korean drummers in traditional costume, a South Los Angeles drumline, taekwando students and schoolchildren from Watts.

K. Choi, 73, of Arcadia, was among the marchers. He helped organize the original peace march days after the rioting and said he believed racial relations had vastly improved.

“At that time it was different,” he said. “The politics and the social problems, whatever, all commingled together and then things exploded.”

“But now is a very different situation,” he said. “All those relationships are getting better between (the) Korean and black community, including (the) Spanish community … we’re getting along very good, and I hope we’re getting a better future.”

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Real Estate Agent Sues Over Anti-Semitic Online Harassment

“Are y’all ready for an old-fashioned Troll Storm?”

Andrew Anglin, white supremacist and follower of what has been branded the alt-right in American political thought, wrote those words on his blog The Daily Stormer on December 16, 2016.

With that, the hate messages and death threats to Tanya Gersh and the people around her starting coming in — by email, by phone, on Twitter. Life for the Jewish real estate agent from Whitefish, Montana, her family, even her friends and co-workers, suddenly turned upside down.

Hate messages

“Merry Christmas, you Christ-killer.”

“You are a disgusting, vile Jew. You filthy & depraved Jews never learn; it is your people’s behavior responsible for our resentment of you, which pales in comparison to your hatred for us.”

“We are going to ruin you. … You will be driven to the brink of suicide. We will be there to take pleasure in your pain and eventual end.”

“If I was you I would suck the barrel of a shotgun.”

“The holocaust is coming.”

And, to her 12-year-old son’s Twitter account:

“WTF is wrong with you freaks?!”

He was also tagged in a tweet saying, “psst, kid, theres a free Xbox One inside this oven.”

There were calls to her workplace. There were calls to her husband’s workplace. There were calls to their home. The most chilling calls contained only the sound of gunshots.


The whole thing caught Gersh by surprise. Soon after Anglin published Gersh’s contact information, she came home and found her husband “in a completely dark house” with suitcases packed, she told a reporter for The Guardian, a British newspaper. When asked why, he showed her Anglin’s post.

Since then, the Gershes have received more than 700 hate messages. Last week, Gersh and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sued Anglin.

“We knew Andrew Anglin had an online army primed to attack with the click of a mouse,” SPLC President Richard Cohen said in a statement. “We intend to hold him accountable for the suffering he has caused Ms. Gersh and to send a strong message to those who use their online platforms as weapons of intimidation.”

This lawsuit is different from any other that the SPLC has pursued before, Cohen said, because it specifically addresses online harassment. For the Gershes, the fact that many of the threats are online makes them no less real.

The lawsuit — a civil one, meaning the defendants face fines rather than criminal charges if convicted — cites invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violations of Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act. They are asking for damages greater than $75,000 on at least three of the counts.

Neo-Nazi ties

The conflict behind the messages started with an investment property owned by Sherry Spencer, the mother of Richard Spencer, a white nationalist said by himself and others to have coined the term “alt-right.”

Richard Spencer’s mission is to capture the imagination of the online generation. He runs an Alexandria, Virginia, organization called the National Policy Institute.

Richard Spencer was caught on video in November at a Trump rally in Washington, D.C., giving the Nazi salute and saying, “Hail, Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Since then, he has called for war on Jews, blacks and anyone else who doesn’t fit his profile.

Residents of Whitefish, uneasy with Spencer’s notoriety, discussed protesting in front of Sherry Spencer’s Whitefish property — a mixed-use building housing small businesses and vacation rentals, nestled between a yarn shop and a youth hostel on a residential street.

Stories about the investment property differ: Tanya Gersh said she accepted a request from Sherry Spencer to help her sell it. Spencer, in a December 15, 2016, post on the website Medium, said Gersh tried to intimidate her into selling. Spencer accused Gersh of extortion.

Gersh’s lawyers say they think Richard Spencer may have ghostwritten his mother’s post, but no there is no verification. Anglin published his declaration of war the next day.

Since his initial post, Anglin has written about the Gershes at least 30 times, in a blog with hundreds of thousands of visitors each month.

He put photos of Gersh, her son and the leader of a local activist group on a flyer advertising a white-pride march he planned to hold in Whitefish in January. Anglin boasted that attendees would come from all over the world. He said there would be people carrying baseball bats, swords and machine guns. He said they would march right up to the Gershes’ door.

Eventually, he was forced to admit he had been denied a permit for the march. It was because of “some alleged technicality,” he wrote.


While Anglin’s rhetoric may sound like the rantings of a melodramatic teenager, its effect has been deadly serious.

Gersh has stopped working and taken down all social media accounts. She says she struggles with how to explain to her children why this is happening. Most nights, she says, she cries.

Experts debate whether the online culture has sparked more hate or only makes it easier to spread.

Jeffrey McCall, professor of media studies at DePauw University in Indiana, says the anonymity of online communications makes it easier to “engage in angry messaging from hidden locations with virtually no worry of repercussions.”

If the SPLC lawsuit is successful, that may change.

“I know I’m not the first person that Andrew Anglin has victimized,” Gersh told The Guardian last week. “I’m filing a lawsuit against him because he and his white nationalist followers terrorized me and my family for months, and my life is forever changed. My sense of safety is forever changed.”

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Late-night TV Host Samantha Bee’s Show Briefly Upstages Correspondents’ Dinner

Washington’s once-glitzy “nerd prom” was briefly upstaged Saturday as comedians and Hollywood stars gathered for jokes and jests about President Donald Trump for a tongue-in-cheek event to counter the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Late-night TV star Samantha Bee pulled in celebrities for the first “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner'”: Alysia Reiner of “Orange Is the New Black,” Retta of “Parks and Recreation” and Matt Walsh of “Veep.” Bee’s show, a comedic tribute to American news organizations, featured actor Will Ferrell and other guests roasting Trump and his allies.

The star power of the real correspondents’ dinner took a hit this year when Trump declined to attend, the first president since Ronald Reagan in 1981 to skip it. In Reagan’s case, he was recovering from an assassination attempt. Trump did his own counter-programming, scheduling a rally Saturday night in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to mark his 100th day in office.

The absence of the president himself at the WHCA dinner or even officials from the administration seemed to diminish attendance by big names in film, television and sports.

Barack Obama’s humorous remarks had become a highlight at the dinner. Last year, for Obama’s final appearance, the crowd included Will Smith, Emma Watson, Kerry Washington, Helen Mirren and model Kendall Jenner.

For years, the event offered Washington’s press corps an opportunity to wear black tie and stunning gowns while mixing with celebrities. With Trump out, organizers put the focus on the First Amendment and the role of the press in democracy.

The scheduled headliners were Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, set to present journalism awards. Woodward told The Washington Post the two planned to speak about “the First Amendment and the importance of aggressive but fair reporting.”

The dinner still booked a master of ceremonies: Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show. Broadcast coverage was to begin at 9:30 p.m. on C-SPAN, followed by Bee’s event airing on TBS at 10 p.m.

Jeff Mason, the WHCA president, said this year would have been different even if Trump had attended, “based on the tension that has existed in the relationship and some of the things he has said about the press. We were preparing for a different dinner either way.”

Trump has called the media “fake” and “dishonest” and even “the enemy of the people.” In an emailed fundraising appeal before leaving for Pennsylvania, Trump cited among the accomplishments over his first 100 days, “We fought back against the media’s lies.”

Mason promised that Minhaj would use his comedy chops, without “roasting the president in absentia.”

“People don’t want to come to a dinner and feel bored or preached at. Hopefully neither of those things will happen,” Mason said.

Bee, who hosts TBS’ weekly show Full Frontal, said she cared deeply about the press.

“For God’s sake, we could not do our show if things were more restricted. So, boy, nobody needs press freedom more than we do,” she told The Associated Press in an interview.

Bee’s taped show singled out the Committee to Protect Journalists, the nonprofit group that will receive proceeds from the show. The show humorously assailed topics like “alternative facts,” a remark once made by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway that drew heavy criticism.

The official WHCA dinner began in 1921. Most people trace the development of the celebrity guests to 1987, when Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Kelly brought Fawn Hall, the secretary at the center of the Iran-Contra affair.

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For Russia and US, Uneasy Cooperation on Cybercrime Is Now a Mess 

Agents from the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service showed up in Moscow in May 2009 with a specific mission: to nab one of the world’s most notorious hackers. But to do that, the Americans needed Russia’s help.

They turned to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s main intelligence agency, and shared operational information with officers from its computer-crimes unit, the Center for Information Security.

The hacker, Roman Seleznyov, shut down his operations a month later in a move prompted, the U.S. believes, by a leak from the FSB. The credit-card fraudster, it turns out, had bragged in conversations intercepted a year earlier about his protection from the computer-crimes unit.

US court

The incident, detailed in the legal filings that resulted in a U.S. federal court recently sentencing Seleznyov to 27 years in prison, exposes an unintended consequence of Washington’s cybercrime cooperation with Russia: the United States finds itself indicting some of the top-level Russian security officials it worked with. 

At least one of those officials is a former hacker who worked with the FSB — an agency accused of involvement in the hacking of U.S. political parties’ computers in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that one of those very FSB officers has himself been charged in Russia with high treason.

In short, the Russians were recruiting hackers while the Americans sought to work with the FSB to thwart cybercriminals. Now the Americans are indicting — and in Seleznyov’s case, sentencing — hackers tied in some way to the FSB. The Russians, meanwhile, are charging some of those same individuals with treason.

“Russia sees those who cooperated as traitors,” explained Pavel Vrublevsky, a prominent e-payment entrepreneur who was imprisoned in Russia for ordering a cyberattack against a competitor. “Now America sees the very same people as cybercriminals themselves.”

Seleznyov is not the first Russian to have been caught up in a widening U.S. dragnet that has snagged cybercriminals from around the world. Others include Aleksandr Panin, convicted in a federal court in Atlanta in 2016 for creating a computer program that infected millions of computers and drained bank accounts in multiple countries.

WATCH: Czech Police Arrest Yevgeny Nikulin In Prague

There’s also Yevgeny Nikulin, who has sat in a Czech jail following his October arrest while Moscow and Washington both fight for his extradition. And the same day that Seleznyov was sentenced, U.S. prosecutors announced the indictment of another Russian, Pyotr Levashov, arrested in Spain, accusing him of masterminding a “bot net” of infected computers to steal money from bank accounts.

Seleznyov, the son of a Russian lawmaker, raked in $170 million selling stolen credit-card information online beginning in 2007, according to U.S. officials. By 2009, his operation was one of the largest providers of such stolen data in the world.

The determination that Seleznyov was behind the scheme was what led U.S. investigators to seek the FSB’s help in 2009, according to material submitted by prosecutors in a U.S. federal court.

In Moscow, they met with officials from the agency’s Center for Information Security, including deputy chief Sergei Mikhailov and his subordinate, Dmitry Dokuchayev, current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the case told RFE/RL.



Unfortunately for the Americans, news of the meetings apparently leaked. Seleznyov shut down his so-called carding operations a month later.

As U.S. prosecutors noted in court documents, Seleznyov had been recorded telling a colleague in 2008 that he had “obtained protection through the law-enforcement contacts in the computer-crimes squad of the FSB.”

Seleznyov eventually resurfaced using a different alias, but was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2011 and arrested by U.S. agents while vacationing in the Maldives in 2014. A federal jury convicted him on 38 counts in 2016, and he was sentenced on April 21 to 27 years in prison.

“Never before has a criminal engaged in computer fraud of this magnitude been identified, captured, and convicted by an American jury,” prosecutors wrote in their court filings.

In from the cold

The 2009 Moscow discussion was just one of many between U.S. and Russian officials as they sought to work together in investigating international computer crimes. 

The effort was largely ad hoc, and U.S. officials sought over the following years to a build a more formal arrangement, according to David Hickton, a former U.S. prosecutor involved in several high-profile criminal investigations of alleged Russian hackers. 

They include the 2014 indictment of Yevgeny Bogachev, who is accused by the FBI of helping to build a network of infected computers around the world using software known as GameOver ZeuS, and using it to steal money from online bank accounts.

Competing legal systems, differences of opinion, and distrust proved to be formidable obstacles to cooperation.

“They tried to develop a dialogue that would lead to cybernorms and some understanding of [what the] rules of the road would be and how we would navigate our adversarial relationship,” Hickton said of the Russians. “And that broke down.”

Luke Dembosky, who was the resident legal adviser for the Justice Department in Moscow between 2010 and 2013, told RFE/RL that “it was never easy working these kinds of cases with Russia. There were different systems, different laws, different interests.”

To really make an international cybercase work, Dembosky explained, “you need some alignment of interests and political will, and you need some commonality of law and capabilities.”

More than anything, he said, “you need some modicum of trust.”

A troubled relationship

As U.S.-Russian cooperation stumbled, the FSB’s computer-crimes unit was growing in clout and notoriety, thanks in part to one officer’s previous work as a hacker.

Dokuchayev, with whom the Americans met with during their 2009 meetings in Moscow, was once well-known in cybercircles under the nickname Forb.

He worked with other FSB officers, including one named Igor Sushchin, to recruit hackers to cooperate with the Russian agency on cyberactivities. Among the recruits was Aleksei Belan, who has been wanted by the FBI since 2012 for alleged hacking and computer fraud. 

Officials from the FSB’s Center for Information Security were also involved in the investigation of IT entrepreneur Vrublevsky, the founder of a successful online payment system called ChronoPay.

He was convicted in 2013 of orchestrating an attack on a ticketing system used by the airline Aeroflot. Mikhailov, Dokuchayev’s superior in the computer-crimes unit, testified against Vrublevsky during the trial.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the hackers who broke into email accounts and computer servers belonging to the Democratic and Republican parties during last year’s election campaign did so with authorization from top-level Russian officials.

The declassified summary of a report released on behalf of the intelligence community in January pointed the finger at the FSB’s security rival, the military intelligence agency known as GRU. There was no mention of the FSB, or its computer-crimes unit.

But the previous month, then-President Barack Obama announced new economic sanctions and other punitive measures in response to alleged Russian hacking during the U.S. election campaign.

The list of those targeted included both the GRU and the FSB, as well as Belan and Bogachev.

High treason

Just prior to Obama’s announcement, Russian security officials moved to arrest FSB computer-crimes unit officers Mikhailov and Dokuchayev. That news became public when the Russian newspapers Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta reported in January that the two had been charged with high treason for giving classified information to Western intelligence, including possibly the CIA.

In a dramatic twist, according to Kommersant, Mikhailov was detained during an FSB meeting and taken from the room with a bag over his head.

There has been no comment on Mikhailov’s or Dokuchayev’s arrests from the FSB or Russian prosecutors; the only confirmation of their incarceration came from the lawyer for another computer expert also caught up in the arrests.

The U.S. Justice Department did not respond to a phone message or e-mail seeking comment.

In March, Dokuchayev’s name surfaced again when the U.S. Justice Department announced his indictment, and that of FSB officer Sushchin, in connection with the massive data breach at the Internet company Yahoo. Mikhailov’s name does not appear in the indictments, although cyberexperts believe someone identified only as “FSB Officer 3” is, in fact, Mikhailov.

Sushchin, according to the indictment, worked as an undercover officer at the investment bank Renaissance Capital.

That indictment also named Belan, who U.S. officials said could have been arrested by the FSB at the behest of the FBI any time after being named a top wanted cybercriminal in 2012.

Instead, “the FSB officers used him,” according to the indictment. “They also provided him with sensitive FSB law-enforcement and intelligence information that would have helped him avoid detection by law enforcement, including information regarding FSB investigations of computer hacking and FSB techniques for identifying criminal hackers.”

Gray zone

First and foremost, the arrests and criminal charges in both Russia and the United States highlight what experts say is the blurry line between Russian law-enforcement and security agencies and criminal networks, in cybercrime or otherwise.

“Moscow still depends, to a considerable extent, on recruiting cybercriminals, or simply calling on them from time to time, in return for their continued freedom,” Mark Galeotti, a Prague-based expert on Russian intelligence agencies, wrote in a report published on April 18.

It’s a gray zone that poses substantial danger for Russia itself, according to one of the other Russians charged with treason stemming from the December arrests: Ruslan Stoyanov, a former Interior Ministry investigator.

In a letter published by the Dozhd TV channel, Stoyanov, who worked for the Moscow-based computer security company Kaspersky Lab, warned that cooperating with cybercriminals would only embolden them.

“The worst scenario would be to give cybercriminals immunity from punishment for stealing money in other countries in exchange for intelligence. If this happens, an entire layer of ‘patriotic thieves’ will appear, violating the principles of the rule of law and the inevitability of punishment,” he wrote. “We will see a new wave of crime in Russia.”

Former U.S. prosecutor Hickton, who now heads the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, said Russia could have easily arrested Bogachev after he was indicted in 2014 but there is no extradition treaty between the two countries.

Moreover, according to the research firm Fox-IT, the infected computers believed to have been used by Bogachev were also allegedly used to search for information about top-secret government files in places such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Turkey. That suggests the involvement of someone who was more than a mere criminal hacker — perhaps an operative working on behalf of an intelligence agency.

But the arrests also represent another facet of the collapsed relationship between Moscow and Washington.

Hickton said the Bogachev indictment may have been one factor in why U.S.-Russian cooperation in cybercrimes deteriorated. Or it may have merely been a casualty of other points of conflict between Washington and Moscow, such as Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in Ukraine’s east. 

“This all — this all is a mess,” Vrublevsky told RFE/RL. “And it’s a mess to be dealt with in both countries. The sooner the better.”

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