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World Briefing

Suspect had grudge against studio

TOKYO — The man suspected of setting ablaze a beloved Japanese animation studio, killing 33 people, was raging about theft and witnesses and media reported he had a grudge against the company, as questions arose why such mass killings keep happening in the country. Police only have said the suspect Shinji Aoba, 41, who is hospitalized with severe burns and unable to talk, is from near Tokyo and did not work for the studio, Kyoto Animation. Japanese broadcaster NHK and other media, quoting an unnamed source, said Friday that Aoba spent 3 ¢ years in prison for robbing a convenience store in 2012 and lived on government support. The man told police that he set the fire because he thought “(Kyoto Animation) stole novels,” according to Japanese media. It was unclear if he had contacted the studio earlier. The company founded in 1981 and better known as KyoAni made a mega-hit anime series about high school girls and trained aspirants to the craft. The shocking attack left another 35 people injured, some critically.

Robbery at ex-first lady’s home

MEXICO CITY — A gang of at least seven gunmen burst into the Mexico City home of former first lady Angelica Rivera and forced employees to hand over valuables. The city prosecutor’s office said guards managed to shoot one of the robbers in the leg and also caught another. One of the suspects in custody is Venezuelan and the other Colombian. Some immigrants from those two South American countries have made a trade out of robbing homes in upscale neighborhoods in Mexico. But seldom have they picked such a high-profile target. Rivera and former President Enrique Pena Nieto divorced soon after he left office Dec.1. It was unclear if Rivera was home.

Pilot whales strand in Iceland

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Tourists and a pilot on a helicopter sightseeing tour of Iceland have found dozens of dead whales on a remote beach in Iceland. David Schwarzhans, a pilot for Reykjavik Helicopters, said he and his passengers counted 50 long-finned pilot whales washed up on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland on Thursday. Schwarzhans said “there might have been more. Some were already buried in sand.” He says the whales were concentrated in one spot and described it as “a very sad scene.” The whales are believed to have swum ashore at the same time and died of dehydration. The pilot whale is notorious for stranding in mass numbers, for reasons that are not entirely understood. Last year, locals got a large group of whales to turn away from a spot on the opposite side of the peninsula.

Swiss celebrate winegrowers

VEVEY, Switzerland — Swiss residents and tourists alike are partying like they haven’t since 1999. The town of Vevey has kicked off the 12th “Fete des Vignerons,” or Winemakers Festival, the latest installment in a centuries-old tradition of celebrating vineyard workers — which nowadays takes place only once a generation. Festival organizers have pulled out the stops for the celebration in Vevey, a lakeside town near Switzerland’s famous terraced vineyards that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2016, the U.N. cultural agency classified the festival itself as part of the “intangible cultural heritage” of Switzerland. Among the big-ticket items in the 100 million Swiss franc ($100 million) budget for the festival is a purpose-built arena — big enough to hold 20,000 people, or more than the entire town’s population. Towering over Lake Geneva, the venue is hosting an Olympics- or Super Bowl-style show with dancers, music and other festivities. As many as a million people are expected in Vevey while the festival runs through Aug. 11. Above all, it’s a colorful, timeless celebration of Swiss-ness tied up in a festival for winegrowers. People dress in costumes to represent facets of life in the vineyards: insects like ants and grasshoppers; or pests like raisin-pecking starlings; young lovers frolicking among the vines; droughts and storms that confound winegrowers.

Preacher gets deal in rape case

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. — An evangelical Ohio preacher accused of repeatedly raping a child has avoided prison mostly because of his attorney, who’s said to have used his position as Georgia house speaker to delay court proceedings. Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jeff Langley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a deal for 10 years’ probation was the best he could do after the repeated delays. Jason Brothers pleaded guilty Wednesday to sexual battery of a minor and admitted to sexually touching the victim, now a 21-year-old woman. Langley says the case would’ve been stronger if it was tried years ago as it now relied on witnesses remembering instances from 2012. Republican Speaker David Ralston told the newspaper the case’s outcome wasn’t unusual. A former FBI agent says Ralston delayed 226 cases about 966 times since becoming speaker in 2010.

Sweden holding on to rapper

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — U.S. rapper A$AP Rocky is being held for another week in pre-trial detention to allow police to finish investigating a June 30 fight in downtown Stockholm, a Swedish court said Friday. Stockholm’s District Court decided to accept the request from prosecutor Daniel Suneson’s to hold A$AP Rocky — the stage name of Rakim Mayers — until Thursday July 25. Mayer is being held for suspected assault. Earlier, Suneson said police “have worked intensively” with the preliminary investigation but needed more time to complete their probe. Once the investigation is complete, the prosecution will decide whether to formally charge the rapper. On July 5, Mayers who was in Sweden to perform at a music festival, and his body guards were ordered held for two weeks after being detained two days earlier. Videos published on social media, show a person being violently thrown onto the ground by Mayers. It was not clear who else was involved. “This was a self-defense situation,” his defense lawyer Slobodan Jovicic told reporters. Asked how A$AP Rocky felt about it, Jovicic replied this was “a very bad experience.”

Governor goes quiet amid protests

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — In the Spanish colonial fortress that serves as his official residence, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello is under siege. Motorcyclists, celebrities, horse enthusiasts and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Puerto Ricans have swarmed outside La Fortaleza (The Fort) in Old San Juan this week, demanding Rossello resign over a series of leaked online chats insulting women, political opponents and even victims of Hurricane Maria. Rossello, the telegenic 40-year-old son of a former governor, has dropped his normally intense rhythm of public appearances and gone into relatively long periods of near-media silence, intensifying questions about his future. For much of his 2 1/2 years in office, Rossello has given three or four lengthy news conferences a week, comfortably fielding question after question in Spanish and English from the local and international press. And that’s on top of public appearances, one-on-one interviews and televised meetings with visiting politicians and members of his administration. But since July 11, when Rossello cut short a family vacation in France and returned home to face the first signs of what has become an island-wide movement to oust him, the governor has made four appearances, all but one in highly controlled situations. New protests began Friday afternoon, with unionized workers organizing a march to La Fortaleza from the nearby waterfront. Horseback riders joined them with a self-declared cavalry march, while hundreds of other people came from around the city and surrounding areas. A string of smaller events was on the agenda across the island over the weekend, followed by what many expected to be a massive protest on Monday.

Telescope to focus on unknowns

HONOLULU — Is there life on planets outside our solar system? How did stars and galaxies form in the earliest years of the universe? How do black holes shape galaxies? Scientists are expected to explore those and other fundamental questions about the universe when they peer deep into the night sky using a new telescope planned for the summit of Hawaii’s tallest mountain. But the Thirty Meter Telescope is a decade away from being built. And Native Hawaiian protesters have tried to thwart the start of construction by blocking a road to the mountain. They say installing yet another observatory on Mauna Kea’s peak would further defile a place they consider sacred. Activists have fought the $1.4 billion telescope but the state Supreme Court has ruled it can be built. The latest protests could be the final stand against it. Here’s a look at the telescope project and some of the science it’s expected to produce.

US may delay of abortion curbs

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has told federally funded family planning clinics it is considering a delay in enforcing a controversial rule that bars them from referring women for abortions. That comes after clinics had vowed defiance. Two people attending meetings this week between the Department of Health and Human Services and clinic representatives told The Associated Press that officials said the clinics should be given more time to comply with the rule’s new requirements. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly before any decision has been announced. HHS said Friday that its policy has not changed. On Monday, agency officials announced that the government would immediately begin enforcing the rule, catching the clinics off-guard and prompting an outcry. Planned Parenthood said its 400 clinics would defy the requirement. Some states, including Illinois and Maryland, backed the clinics. The family planning program serves about 4 million women a year, and many low-income women get basic health care from the clinics. The administration’s abortion restrictions, cheered by social and religious conservatives, are being challenged in court.

US to send asylum seekers back

HOUSTON — The U.S. government on Friday expanded its requirement that asylum seekers wait outside the country to a part of the Texas Rio Grande Valley across from one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities. The Department of Homeland Security said that it would implement its Migrant Protection Protocols in Brownsville, Texas, across the border from Matamoros, Mexico. DHS says it anticipates the first asylum seekers will be sent back to Mexico starting Friday. Under the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy, asylum seekers are briefly processed and given a date to return for an immigration court hearing before being sent back across the southern border. Since January, the policy has been implemented at several border cities including San Diego and El Paso, Texas. At least 18,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the policy, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute. The U.S. is trying to curtail the large flow of Central American migrants passing through Mexico to seek asylum under American law. The busiest corridor for unauthorized border crossings is the Rio Grande Valley, at Texas’ southernmost point. Other cities in the region were not immediately included in the expansion. The policy announcement came as groups of lawmakers visited the region Friday to examine detention facilities operated by the U.S. Border Patrol, including the processing center in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of adults and children are detained in fenced-in pens.

Trump disavows criticism of crowd

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump renewed his attacks on a Somali-born congresswoman Friday while reversing his previous criticisms of a North Carolina crowd who chanted “send her back,” defending them as “patriots” while again questioning the loyalty of four Democratic lawmakers of color. In a week that has been full of hostile exchanges over race and love of country on both sides, Trump returned to a pattern that has become familiar during controversies of his own making: Ignite a firestorm, backtrack from it, but then double down on his original, inflammatory position. “You know what I’m unhappy with?” Trump answered when reporters at the White House asked if he was unhappy with the Wednesday night crowd. “Those people in North Carolina, that stadium was packed. It was a record crowd. And I could have filled it 10 times, as you know. Those are incredible people. They are incredible patriots. But I’m unhappy when a congresswoman goes and says, ‘I’m going to be the president’s nightmare.'” It was another dizzying twist in a saga sparked by the president’s racist tweets about Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who moved from Somalia as a child, and her colleagues Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. The moment took an ugly turn at the rally when the crowd’s “send her back” shouts resounded for 13 seconds as Trump made no attempt to interrupt them. He paused in his speech and surveyed the scene, taking in the uproar, though the next day he claimed he did not approve of the chant and tried to stop it.

Power knocked out on hot day

MADISON, Wis. — Fires at two transmission substations in Wisconsin’s capital on Friday knocked out power to thousands of customers on the hottest day of the year to-date, sending dual plumes of thick, black smoke into the air and shutting down government buildings, courtrooms and businesses, and leading the governor to declare a state of emergency. No injuries were reported as a result of the 7:40 a.m. explosion and fire at the Madison Gas and Electric main power center a few blocks from the state Capitol, which was among the buildings that were forced to close. A second fire at a substation near the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a couple of miles to the west, prompted the evacuation of nearby buildings. No injuries were reported as a result of that blast, either.

$2M program for Great Lakes

CLEVELAND — The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced a $2 million grant program to clean up the shorelines and waters of the Great Lakes. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler during an appearance Friday in Cleveland says the grants will be available to state and local governments, nonprofit groups and universities for cleanup programs. Wheeler says removing trash from U.S. waterways is an EPA priority. The program is part of the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It will fund up to a dozen projects, with the largest amount set at $500,000. The EPA is seeking projects that will address trash on beaches, shorelines, harbors and rivers. It will also fund litter prevention and education programs. Grant applications will be accepted starting in October, with awards announced in February.

‘Dumbfakes’ may be worse

Sophisticated phony videos called deepfakes have attracted plenty of attention as a possible threat to election integrity. But a bigger problem for the 2020 U.S. presidential contest may be “dumbfakes” — simpler and more easily unmasked bogus videos that are easy and often cheap to produce. Unlike deepfakes, which require sophisticated artificial intelligence, audio manipulation and facial mapping technology, dumbfakes can be made simply by varying the speed of video or selective editing. They are easier to create and can be convincing to an unsuspecting viewer, which makes them a much more immediate worry. A slowed-down video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that made her appear impaired garnered more than 2 million views on Facebook in May. In November, then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted a sped-up video of CNN reporter Jim Acosta that made him look more aggressive than he was during an exchange with an intern. Her post received thousands of retweets. The fact that these videos are made so easily and then widely shared across social media platforms does not bode well for 2020, said Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at the University of California, Berkeley. “The clock is ticking,” Farid said. “The Nancy Pelosi video was a canary in a coal mine.”

Plan would clear strips of land

SALT LAKE CITY — The Trump administration is proposing an ambitious plan to slow Western wildfires by bulldozing, mowing or revegetating large swaths of land along 11,000 miles of terrain in the West. The plan that was announced this summer and presented at public open houses, including one in Salt Lake City this week, would create strips of land known “fuel breaks” on about 1,000 square miles of land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in an area known as the Great Basin in parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah. The estimated cost would be about $55 million to $192 million, a wide range that illustrates the variance in costs for the different types of fuel breaks. Some would completely clear lands, others would mow down vegetation and a third method would replant the area with more fire-resistance vegetation. It would cost another $18 million to $107 million each year to maintain the strips and ensure vegetation doesn’t regrow on the strips of land. Wildfire experts say the program could help slow fires, but it won’t help in the most extreme fires that can jump these strips of land. The breaks could also fragment wildlife habitat.

Court upholds Trump move

BILLINGS, Mont. — A U.S. appeals court panel sided with the Trump administration Friday in a mining pollution dispute, ruling that state and federal programs already in place ensure that companies take financial responsibility for future cleanups. The ruling came after the administration was sued by environmental groups for dropping an Obama-era proposal that would have forced companies to put up money to show they have resources to clean up pollution. The mining industry has a legacy of bankrupt companies abandoning polluted sites and leaving taxpayers to cover cleanup costs. But the three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said it was “unpersuaded” by the environmentalists’ arguments that the Trump administration relied on a faulty economic analysis in making its decision. “Existing federal and state programs impose significant financial responsibility requirements on the hardrock mining industry,” Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote. “States have changed their financial responsibility requirements to account for the risk of bankruptcy” by companies.

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