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    When Pope Francis travels Saturday to northern Peru he will find a region still reeling from devastating floods nearly a year ago that toppled hundreds of thousands of homes, left streets covered in thick layers of mud and even ripped apart tombs from an above-ground cemetery.Near the city of Trujillo, where the pontiff will celebrate Mass and ride through a hard-hit neighborhood bearing the same name as his own Argentine birthplace, thousands are still living in tents after El Nino rains killed more than 150 and sent thousands onto rooftops seeking rescue.Amidst that backdrop the pope is likely to encounter a frustrated population hoping his visit can quicken the pace of reconstruction from the worst environmental disaster to strike Peru in nearly two decades.'People are furious because authorities haven't done anything,' said Carlos Bocanegra, 60, a biologist who lives in Trujillo.Francis will be the second pope to visit the coastal city periodically struck by disastrous rains caused by a warming of Pacific Ocean waters. Pope John Paul II visited Trujillo in 1985 during a decade in which Peru was struck not just by El Nino floods but also hyperinflation and political violence.'Peace should arrive through dialogue and not violence,' the late pontiff told Peruvians during his visit to the city.Three decades later many of the same inequalities that existed back then remain entrenched in Peruvian society, with poor, rural areas still unprepared to face the damage caused by environmental calamity.Bocanegra lamented that one year after the floods many streets in Trujillo have been left contaminated by the fungus and debris following storms estimated to have caused several billion dollars in damage.He vividly remembers how the street in front of his house turned into a river so forceful it pulled furniture with its current.'We were left trapped,' he recalls.Images of Peruvians forming human chains to help one another cross flooded roads and remarkable stories of survival from those who emerged alive from mudslides captivated the nation for months.Official says the floods impacted nearly 2 million people.The trip to Trujillo comes one day before Francis is scheduled to depart back to Rome after a week-long trip to Chile and Peru. While the pontiff's trip to Chile was marred by protests over the Catholic Church's response to priest abuse and the firebombing of 11 churches, the pope has received a decidedly warm welcome in Peru. Thousands in the deeply Catholic country have lined the streets wherever he travels to cheer and greet him.On Friday, thousands of Peruvians were traveling to Trujillo in order to attend the seaside Mass he will celebrate in the city nearly 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of the nation's capital in Lima. Afterward he will ride on the streets of the Buenos Aires neighborhood in the pope mobile.
  • South Korea on Saturday requested North Korea to explain why it abruptly canceled plans to send a delegation over the weekend to prepare for a visit by an art troupe during next month's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said that the countries could hopefully reschedule a visit soon.North Korea also hasn't responded to the South Korean proposal to send a 12-member delegation to the North on Tuesday to inspect preparations for a joint cultural event at the North's scenic Diamond Mountain and a training session between non-Olympic skiers at the North's Masik ski resort ahead of the Olympics.'Since we are fully ready for the visit of the North Korean advance team and their activities, it would be possible for the South and North to set up a new schedule and carry on (with the preparations), ' Cho told reporters at the ministry in capital Seoul.The ministry said North Korea didn't explain why it was 'suspending' the visit by the seven-member advance team that was agreed just hours earlier on Friday through a cross-border hotline. It wasn't immediately clear whether the two-day visit, which was to begin on Saturday, was canceled or just postponed.It was supposed to be led by the art troupe's leader Hyon Song Wol. She also heads the hugely popular girl band Moranbong that's hand-picked by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.The rival Koreas earlier this week agreed that the 140-member Samjiyon art troupe, which will include singers, dancers and orchestra members, will perform twice in South Korea during the games in a sign of warming ties between the countries. It will be part of a North Korean Olympic delegation that will also include athletes, officials, state media reporters, a cheering group and a taekwondo demonstration team.Hyon has been the focus of intense South Korean media interest since she attended inter-Korean talks at the border on Monday that reached agreement on the troupe's visit. Hyon's gestures during the talks as well as her makeup, looks, navy blue suit and green shoulder bag received widespread coverage.The reconciliation mood between the Koreas began after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year's speech that he was willing to send a delegation to the Olympics. While South Korea hopes to use the games to improve relations with its rival after a year of animosity over North Korea's rapidly expanding nuclear program, some experts view Kim's overture as an attempt to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions against the North and buy time to further advance his nuclear weapons program.
  • The honeymoon, as it were, is apparently over.A day after Pope Francis grabbed headlines by pronouncing two flight attendants man and wife while flying 36,000 feet over Chile, the conservative Catholic commentariat on Friday questioned the legitimacy of the impromptu sacrament and warned it could cheapen the church's marriage preparation down the line.'Do you know what's a 'marriage' ripe for annulment?' tweeted the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli. 'One celebrated apparently on a whim in an airplane whose celebrant cannot even be sure if parties are validly baptized.'For those who missed the news, Francis on Thursday presided over what the Vatican said was the doctrinally and canonically legitimate wedding of Paula Podest and Carlos Ciuffardi, two flight attendants from LATAM flight 1250 that brought the pope, his delegation and travelling press from Santiago to the northern city of Iquique.As the happy couple told journalists after the fact — and after serving breakfast — they had hoped to just get a blessing from the pope. They told him that they had been married civilly in 2010, but that their plans for a church wedding fell through when an earthquake hit.As Ciuffardi told it, the pope proposed that he marry the couple right there, in part to motivate other couples to contract a church wedding at a time when more and more couples are merely cohabitating.'He told me it's historic, that there has never before been a pope who married someone aboard a plane,' Ciuffardi told reporters from the back galley.The surreal scene had the effect — at least temporarily — of giving Francis a bit of a reprieve after his visit to Chile was dominated by a church sex abuse scandal.Canon lawyer Ed Peters, a consultor on the Vatican high court but a frequent critic of Francis, questioned whether a host of church laws were followed, including the requirement that the couple undergo pastoral counseling and that the church have evidence that there were no obstacles to the marriage.In a follow-up blog post Friday, Peters noted a Chilean media report from December saying the couple was hoping for an airborne wedding presided over by Francis, suggesting the portrayal of the surprise ceremony was anything but. Ciuffardi said Chilean reporters had suggested it before the fact, but he insisted he and Podest were only looking for a papal blessing, and that nothing was confirmed until they were airborne.Conservative blogger Phil Lawler mused that priests might now have a harder time trying to properly prepare Catholic couples for marriage now that Francis had set the papal precedent of completing the process between takeoff and landing.'Does he ask them to reflect seriously on their commitment? Nope,' Lawler wrote at Catholic Culture. 'Does he question them about their years of cohabitation? Evidently not. Does he hear their confessions? Not likely. Plan a dignified ceremony? Not at all.'To be sure, the naysayers all hail from the Anglo-Saxon blogosphere, which is among the most vocal in criticizing Francis, especially on issues of marriage.Francis has split the church over his cautious opening to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, so any issue related to marriage is particularly sensitive.At The Tablet, a more liberal leaning British weekly, Vatican correspondent Christopher Lamb suggested that the airborne nuptials were part of the 'paradigm shift' that Francis is trying to press in the church.'It's not that the pope is doing away with the need for rules, for canon law or for paperwork, but rather ensuring it is correctly prioritized,' Lamb wrote. 'For the pope, these things must support the spread of the Gospel, and not become like the thorns that grow up and strangle the seeds in the parable of the sower.
  • Pope Francis strongly condemned corruption in Latin America as a 'social virus' infecting all aspects of life in stern remarks Friday to Peru's president and high-ranking political leaders, several of whom are embroiled in the region's biggest graft scandal.Hours after decrying the destruction of Peru's Amazon, the pontiff warned President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and other leaders gathered that another, more subtle form of environmental degradation is also pervading society: corruption.'How much evil is done to our Latin American people and the democracies of this content by this social virus,' the pope said. 'Everything being done to combat this social scourge deserves our utmost attention.'The remarks come less than a month after Kuczynski narrowly avoided impeachment over $782,000 in payments Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht made to his private consulting firm over a decade ago when he served as a minister. Odebrecht has admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to officials throughout Latin America in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.The bribery scandal has ended the careers of some of Latin America's most prominent politicians and in Peru two former presidents stand accused of accepting money from Odebrecht while a third is under investigation.Peru has been jolted in recent weeks into a new period of uncertainty following Kuczynski's near ouster and the subsequent pardon of former strongman Alberto Fujimori from a 25-year prison sentence. The pardon sent thousands of Peruvians into the streets in protest and reopened wounds from a bloody chapter in Peru's history.While some Peruvians credit Fujimori with stabilizing the nation's economy and defeating Maoist guerrillas in the 1990s others condemn him for having permitted grave human rights abuses. Fujimori was convicted for his role in the deaths of 25 Peruvians in addition to having sanctioned the use of military death squads.In the weeks since his release angry Peruvians have staged multiple protests and scrawled graffiti with phrases like 'Fujimori never again' on buildings around the capital city.Kuczynski told the pope he hoped his visit would serve as 'a push toward peace and dialogue.'The president dodged impeachment after Fujimori's lawmaker son, Kenji Fujimori, and a small group of lawmakers from his party surprisingly abstained from voting in what many Peruvians believe was a quid pro quo to release the former president from jail. Both Kenji Fujimori and his sister Keiko Fujimori, a two-time presidential candidate, were on hand for the pope's remarks Friday.Keiko Fujimori has been under investigation into whether she received money from Odebrecht during her campaign.Francis called for a greater culture of transparency between the public and private sectors and society in his speech, saying that, 'No one can be excluded from this process.
  • Russia's top diplomat on Friday exhorted President Donald Trump to counter 'Russo-phobic' intrigues against him in the United States to improve ties between Washington and Moscow.Sergey Lavrov didn't offer a specific course of action for Trump, whose presidential campaign is being investigated by a special counsel for possible coordination with Russia's alleged efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.Lavrov said any improvement in U.S.-Russian relations depends in part on 'the preparedness and capability of Mr. Trump to counter the domestic intrigues which are directed first and foremost against him.' He lamented that 'such intrigues are playing the Russo-phobic card.'In his wide-ranging news conference, Lavrov added that he is convinced Americans will eventually tire of the anti-Russia messaging and recognize it's in their interest to repair U.S.-Russian relations.Moscow has vehemently rejected that it meddled in the election that brought Trump to power. Still, Lavrov's suggestion that Trump fight back against allegations of improper relationships with Russia was surprising.U.S.-Russian ties were at a low point even before special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment last May. Before President Barack Obama left office, American intelligence agencies released a public report assessing the Kremlin directed a wide-ranging effort to influence the 2016 presidential election to help Trump and hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton.Trump has been trying for months to cast investigations into his campaign as a 'witch hunt' and partisan 'hoax.' He has publicly and privately fumed that his first year in office has been dogged by revelations about his campaign's ties to Russia. They include a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., agreed to despite it being described as part of a Russian government to aid the Trump campaign.Several congressional committees also are investigating Russia's election conduct, and there is broad bipartisan support for the overall finding of the intelligence agencies.'We see that all problems are blamed on Russia, and this domestic political life is using the Russo-phobic card for bad purposes,' Lavrov said. 'But I'm positive that the time of those who use such practices will pass,' and the U.S. will support greater cooperation with Russia.He said several times Russia is open to talks with the Trump administration, including on a new military strategy released Friday. The Pentagon's strategy puts countering China and Russia as top national security priorities, instead of combatting terrorism.Lavrov lamented the 'confrontational' approach.Asked if the U.S. was losing global leadership under Trump, he said, 'In today's world, leadership can only be a collective thing.'We all have to help,' he said. 'And such a powerful country as the U.S. can indeed do a lot of beneficial things in eliminating terrorism. We're interested in coordinating our actions.'Lavrov said military communications between the U.S. and Russia in Syria helped eliminate the caliphate that Islamic State extremists sought to establish. But he said terrorists roam the region still, and more cooperation is needed.Lavrov said the Trump administration has delivered mixed and contradictory messages on several issues. An example: Insistence that U.S. forces are in Syria only to fight Islamic State extremists and now saying they'll remain.'We're troubled by that,' he said. 'This incoherence and the lack of a principled commitment to what we negotiate is very typical of the current American diplomacy.'As for U.S. accusations that Russia is undercutting U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Lavrov said: 'Please choose who to trust... We're saying to are cooperating. Please do give us some facts.'Lavrov also warned about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. If Trump pulls the U.S. out, he said, the agreement 'will fall apart.'This is a decisive moment,' he said, saying nuclear-armed North Korea was watching the diplomacy closely.'If this Iranian deal becomes a token in the geopolitical game, how can we ask North Korea to use the same option?'___Bradley Klapper and Chad Day contributed to this report from Washington.
  • There was color galore at Paris menswear shows Friday, with John Galliano channeling the hues of the rainbow for Maison Margiela and Cerutti 1881 featuring flashes of gold. The Alexander McQueen fashion house mixed in flashes of red to an otherwise dark display of menswear.Some highlights to the fall-winter shows:A RAINBOW AT MAISON MARGIELAJohn Galliano studied the science of the rainbow for a colorful and typically quirky collection.A clinical white venue, populated by myriad staff in their signature white lab aprons, led the eye down to a bright yellow runway. Its large oval shapes brightly evoked the rays of sunlight and suggested the inspiration for the fall-winter display.From a vermilion coat with sloping shoulders to a sunny yellow bubble jacket, narrow blue pants and a belted, deep saffron knitted coat — the collection looked as if Galliano had separated each of the colors refracted in a rainbow. Science and the laboratory have been a touchstone for the brand for years.Tongue-in-cheek garments of practical use in the rain were mixed in with the 30 couture-infused designs. There were transparent rain caps that gave a 1950s edge, and a see-through PVC belted rain coat that was on-trend in its play on texture, layering and transparency.Silhouette-wise, large lapels and slightly cinched waists were dominant.As fashionistas left the grand Hotel des Invalides venue, the world outside warmed up too: The winter drizzle suddenly stopped, giving way to rays of sun.Lauded designer Galliano has been called many things in his career, but a weather forecaster must be a first.___ALEXANDER MCQUEEN'S SUITSThere was more than a flavor of London in Alexander McQueen's sophomore Paris show.The Saville Row suit and tie — with an archetypally British red-check sweater — was the starting point for a display shown in an industrial, disused office space.It was clear that this buttoned-up vibe would give way to more creative explorations when in the next look, a black business-like parka jacket — wrapped around the waist — billowed out like Asian samurai pants.A suit in chocolate had wide shoulders and unusually-shaped tapered sleeves, which added an edge to the classic garment.And references to the '80s — such as a shimmering snake-patterned Glam Rock coat and an oversize red-check scarf — injected some fun into a collection, which tipped more toward the commercial than the house's womenswear does.___MCQUEEN MENSWEAR NOW A PARIS STAPLEIn a sign of the growing importance of both menswear and Paris to the fashion industry, Alexander McQueen is now — with the house's second men's runway show in the City of Light — a firm staple of the calendar.Founded by the late designer Alexander McQueen in 1992, the house had shown menswear designs in previous seasons by appointment in Milan and London before it made its Paris runway debut last season.The CEO since 2016, Frenchman Emmanuel Gintzburger, had been tasked with expanding the fashion-forward brand. This move puts the men's designs in line with the lauded womenswear collections that are shown in Paris during ready-to-wear week in the spring and fall.___JUUN J.'S NECK SCULPTURESSouth Korean designer Juun J. often plays with oversized shapes, and for the latest fall and winter collection he took his signature themes up a notch with a highly sculptural collection defined by huge bubble jacket material tied around the models' necks.The palette was typically tame, with its black, white and blown-up check infused with flashes of vermillion and pale yellow, but the shapes less so.A huge black bubble jacket, knotted around a female model's upper half, obscured the body alongside a bubble 'skirt' with a fine corrugated surface clumsily wrapped around the bottom half. Its myriad hanging tassels further adding to a visual kinesis.Much of this haphazard body 'wrapping' was more sculptural and creative than actually wearable.A black check suit with multiple layers was given an abstract twist with a shiny bubble jacket around the neck that looked almost like the inflatable neck pillows you find on airplanes.___CERUTTI 1881'S COLORDesigner Jason Basmajian of Cerutti 1881 loves color.Although his restrained fall-winter designs featured darker hues than normal, there were rick pickings for anyone who likes a bright wardrobe.A beautiful military green coat in soft wool looked huggable, as did a pair of fluffy sports-infused eggshell pants.A gold shirt evoked the rich fabrics of India, and the rich color also cropped up on a Cerutti logo sweater and a sporty women's coat with black fanny pack.There was a sporty edge to many of the 47 looks as is increasingly common with many menswear brands around the world.Chief Creative Officer Basmajian brings a business approach as well as an artistic one to his fashion designs. Friday's saleable collection was a case in point.___Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamson_K
  • As Turkey threatens a bloody confrontation with a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in the main Syrian Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria, it faces the challenge of maintaining its old alliance with Washington and reinforcing a new rapprochement with Moscow.The move comes as Syria once again finds itself on the precipice of a new conflict, after months of reduced violence and a surge in post-war stabilization plans. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Syrians in the northwest are fleeing the renewed violence amid a new government offensive in neighboring Idlib, converging on the Turkish border and igniting fears of a new wave of migration.Turkey's defense minister, Nurettin Canikli, said Friday there was no turning back from launching a ground assault on Syria's Afrin enclave, saying the offensive had 'de facto' started with sporadic Turkish military shelling of the area. Over the last week, Turkey has sent troops and tanks to the border and rallied Syrian fighters it has backed for the fight against Afrin's battle-hardened Kurdish fighters, estimated at between 8,000 and 10,000.The operation could spill into a wider Turkish-Kurdish confrontation inside Turkey. It also threatens to turn into a humanitarian disaster. The Afrin district houses no less than 800,000 civilians, including displaced people from earlier years of the Syrian war.Turkey has been preparing for a showdown in Afrin for a while. But the recent escalation coincides with U.S. announcements that it is creating a new 30,000-strong Kurdish-led border force to secure the frontiers of Kurdish-controlled areas, including with Turkey and Iraq, to prevent the resurgence of Islamic State militants.Moscow's green light is necessary for a Turkish operation into Afrin, where Russian military observers have deployed since last year to prevent such a confrontation.Activists and Kurdish fighters have denied claims in Turkish media that Russian troops have begun a withdrawal.Russia, Iran and Turkey are interested in limiting the U.S. presence in Syria, and have protested Washington's plans to create the border force, viewed as a U.S. attempt to create a buffer zone where Iranian and Syrian government influence ends.Ankara's military operations in Syria began in 2016 in large part to curtail the formation of a contiguous territory under Kurdish control along its borders. It successfully severed that territorial continuity when it deployed its troops and proxy Syrian fighters to areas between Kurdish enclaves in eastern and western Syria.Afrin remained the only Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria, encircled by Turkey-backed rebels, and Turkey has been preparing an assault for over a year. Turkey claims that Afrin is an operating base for fighters of its own outlawed Kurdish insurgent group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to infiltrate Turkish territories.In dealing with the conflicts in Afrin and Idlib, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown political acumen, juggling national security interests and domestic election concerns, while exerting pressure on Washington and Moscow for his long-term strategic objectives. The threats of an offensive against Kurdish fighters help consolidate nationalist support for Erdogan, who faces a crucial election next year.With an assault on Afrin, Turkey seeks to further undermine the Kurdish dream of federalized rule in northern Syria. Driving the Kurdish militia out of Afrin would also allow Turkey-backed Syrian fighters supporting its offensive to link Idlib to Syria's largest city, Aleppo.Turkey deployed troops in November in Idlib to monitor a de-escalation agreement with Russia and Iran, but they were more strategically stationed along the border with Afrin.The timing reflects Turkey's increased frustration with U.S. support for Kurdish forces in Syria, who are now in control of nearly 25 percent of the country, in areas that straddle the Turkish and Iraqi border.'Turkey remains a loyal and trusted friend and ally of the U.S. and the West. But that does not mean we will accept being treated as sacrificial animals just because a couple of American generals want to embark on an adventure in the Middle East,' Ilnur Cevik, an Erdogan presidential adviser, wrote in the Turkish daily Sabah.Despite assurances to Turkey from State Secretary Rex Tillerson, who says the Kurdish-led border force has been misrepresented, there doesn't seem to be a major shift in U.S. policy in Syria.'If anything, he exacerbated it. Erdogan will perceive Tillerson's announcement of longer term U.S. presence in Syria as doubling down on our partnership with (the Kurdish militia), which does not de-escalate the Turks,' said Elizabeth Teoman, a Turkey researcher with the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.The Trump administration has been urging Turkey not to attack Afrin, asking Turkish officials to avoid unilateral actions, said two U.S. officials, who weren't authorized to discuss diplomatic conversations and demanded anonymity.The U.S military doesn't have any presence in Afrin, one of the officials said, but a Turkish operation there could have an impact on U.S. operations further east in Syria. The U.S. worries that such an operation could prove to be a distraction from defeating the last vestiges of the Islamic State group, the officials said, adding that the new Kurdish-led border force is nothing new and should not come as a surprise to the Turkish government.Meanwhile, Turkey has maneuvered to curtail a wide Russian-backed Syrian government military operation in Idlib — the largest remaining insurgent-held area in Syria. The offensive has already caused tens of thousands to flee and has threatened to undermine Erdogan's clout in the region.Turkey's threatened ground assault in Afrin comes as the Idlib operation has intensified, with the Syrian government positioning rival troops near Turkey's forces there, threatening Turkey-backed Syrian insurgents in the province and creating conditions for a humanitarian disaster.As the offensive has unfolded, Russian bases in Syria have come under unprecedented drone attacks, sparking tension between Moscow and Turkey amid accusations that such drones would have required assistance from a country possessing satellite navigation technology.A Syrian Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmed, said the Russians were 'bargaining' with Turkey over Afrin in exchange for allowing the government to take Idlib. Russia would prefer handing over Idlib to the Syrian government, instead of Turkey-backed opposition fighters. What to do with al-Qaida-linked group remains a dilemma for all parties, and is a sticking point between the U.S. and Turkey.Last week, the government offensive in Idlib slowed down amid a counteroffensive from the rebel forces and bad weather. But the airstrikes continued and the number of the province's displaced resident has reached about 215,000 since mid-December._______Associated Press writers Suzan Frazer in Ankara, Turkey, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.
  • Countering China's rapidly expanding military and an increasingly aggressive Russia are now the U.S. military's top national security priorities, outpacing the threat of terrorism, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday. He said competition with those adversaries has threatened America's military advantage around the world.Laying out a broad new strategy for the Defense Department, Mattis warned that all aspects of the military's competitive warfighting edge have eroded.He said building a force that can deter war with established and emerging military powers in Moscow and Beijing, and U.S. enemies such as North Korea and Iran will require increased investment to make the military more lethal, agile and ready to fight.'We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,' Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in remarks at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.He said the Islamic State group's 'physical caliphate' in Iraq and Syria had been defeated, but that IS, al-Qaida and other extremists still pose threats across the globe.Mattis repeated his call for America to work closely with allies and partners — an approach that aligns more closely with previous administrations than President Donald Trump's 'America First' ideas. That mantra was repeated in a national security strategy that Trump's administration released in December.The U.S. and its allies, Mattis said, are stronger together. He recalled going to his first NATO meeting last year, carrying Trump's demand for nations to increase their defense spending and thinking about how to fit Trump's message into the broader framework of working with partners.When he got to Brussels, Mattis said he told the alliance: 'Here's the bottom line: Please do not ask me to go back and tell Americans — the American parents — that they need to care more about the safety and security and the freedom of your children than you're willing to care for, than you're willing to sacrifice for. We're all going to have to put our shoulder to the wagon and move it up the hill.'Did the message resonate? 'It's going better than expected,' Mattis said Friday.The most dominant theme in his strategy is for the U.S. to regain its competitive edge with China and Russia, according to an 11-page, unclassified version released by the Pentagon.That shift reflects persistent U.S. worries about China's military buildup in the South China Sea, its moves to expand its political and economic influence, and what has been described as Beijing's systematic campaign of cyberattacks and data theft from government agencies and private U.S. corporations.The shift also underscores broad American concerns about Russia, given Moscow's takeover of Ukrainian territory, involvement in Syria's war and alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.'We've been doing a lot of things in the last 25 years, and we've been focused on really other problems and this strategy really represents a fundamental shift to say, look, we have to get back, in a sense, to basics of the potential for war,' said Elbridge Colby, the deputy assistant defense secretary for strategy. 'This strategy says the focus will be on prioritizing preparedness for war and particularly major power war.'Previous defense chiefs long warned about China, and the Obama administration put a greater focus on the Asia-Pacific region, including by adding ships and troops.Derek Chollet, former senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration and now with the German Marshall Fund in Washington, said much of the strategy is 'old wine in a new bottle, but in this context, that's a good thing.' He said he was 'struck by his emphasis on strong diplomacy, getting out from under budget chaos, and the importance of having a healthy democracy. That's all correct, just seemed to be at variance with what's happening elsewhere in the government, including the White House.'Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that militaries frequently want more resources, but 'it is regrettable that instead of having normal dialogue, instead of using the basis of international law, the U.S. is trying to prove their leadership through such confrontational strategies and concepts.'He said Moscow is open to discuss military doctrines and the kind of military contacts that previously existed between the two countries.'Colby said the U.S. still seeks areas of cooperation with Russia and China, stressing 'this is not a strategy of confrontation.'The U.S. has pushed China to increase pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Washington has maintained talks with Russia to ensure no conflicts or accidents in the sky over Syria, where both nations are bombing IS fighters.The strategy, however, faces grim budget hurdles. And Mattis criticized Congress for budget caps that have done more to erode military readiness than any other enemy since 9/11.'For too long we have asked our military to stoically carry a 'success at any cost' attitude, as they work tirelessly to accomplish the mission with now inadequate and misaligned resources, simply because the Congress could not maintain regular order,' Mattis said.Lawmakers have been deadlocked on a spending bill, bringing the federal government to the brink of a shutdown at midnight Friday. They're still constrained by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which put mandatory spending caps in place.The Pentagon strategy acknowledges the budget limits, and seeks greater spending discipline and management, along with base closings to save money. Congress has repeatedly rejected additional base closings.___Associated Press writer Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expressing optimism that a weekend meeting by the rival Social Democrats will lead to coalition talks with her conservatives that could end months of tense political limbo in Europe's leading economy.Meeting Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, Merkel said she hopes the party congress will 'give the green light for us to enter coalition negotiations.'She says she's 'approaching the matter optimistically but noted it's 'an independent decision for the Social Democrats.' Macron was hopeful, stressing that Europe is eager for a stable German government.The Social Democrats' meeting Sunday will decide whether to open formal coalition negotiations with Merkel's conservative Union bloc, nearly four months after Germany's election. Leaders of the center-left party face resistance to renewing its alliance with Merkel.
  • Europe's border watchdog says the number of migrants and asylum-seekers coming across the western Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year is likely to increase, after 2017 closed with more than twice the traffic of the previous year.The head of the EU Frontex border agency, Fabrice Leggeri, announced Friday in Madrid that his agency would increase efforts this summer to help Spanish border surveillance. No extra funds have been allocated yet, but Frontex says it will consider diverting funds from operations in Greece or Italy if needed.Leggeri said last year efforts to help Spain cost about 7 million euros ($8.6 million). Frontex said 22,880 migrants arrived in Spain last year by sea, up from 10,231 in 2016.'The bad news is in the western Mediterranean,' Leggeri told reporters, noting that the number of migrants crossing the central and eastern Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe was higher but was declining. 'Spain deserves more solidarity from the European Union.'Leggeri also said a system in place in Italy and Greece to register those arriving will also be implemented in Spain. The system makes it easier to identify migrants so they can be repatriated if they are denied residency in Europe. It also allows European law-enforcement authorities to compare criminal records with other countries' police agencies.The International Organization for Migration says 2,583 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea this year through Wednesday, and 199 others died en route.

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  • In a high stakes game of legislative chicken, the U.S. Senate on Friday night blocked a House-passed bill to fund operations of the federal government for the next four weeks, as most Democrats joined with a handful of Republicans to filibuster the spending measure, demanding faster action on immigration matters, driving the Congress toward the first federal government shutdown since 2013. The vote was 50 to 49 – 60 votes were needed. Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump had met with Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer at the White House – but while they seemed to make some progress, there was no final deal. And Mr. Trump made clear who was to blame. Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border. Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2018 A handful of members from both parties broke with their leaders on the Senate vote, which would have shut off debate on the four week spending measure approved on Thursday by the House. Mainly because of the impasse over DACA and immigration, several Republicans refused to join with the President, as they voted against the plan. “I believe no one wants the government to shut down,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “I also believe that we are inside the ten yard line on finding solutions on all issues.” Other Republican “no” votes included Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Democrats voting to end debate included five from states which were won by President Trump: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sen. Clare McCaskill (D-MO), and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN). For many Democrats, the biggest thing missing from a temporary budget plan was something concrete on the DACA program, to deal with close to 700,000 illegal immigrant “Dreamers” now in the United States. In the various Congressional office buildings, immigration activists and many Dreamers joined in demonstrations for their cause. Dreamers protesting right below reporters covering potential shutdown. Chanting #DreamActNow pic.twitter.com/Ad3CxCzo0P — Rebecca Bainer (@rebbainer) January 19, 2018 But Republicans argued that backers of DACA relief were not interested in doing enough to stop people from coming illegally in the future. “We want to be able to resolve this, but it has to be resolved with border security attached to it,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). “There’s a deal here that could be struck very quickly,” argued Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). But signs of a late agreement did not seem to be there for Senators as the clock ticked toward midnight, a reminder that many hours had been spent in recent months on the issue, so far – to no avail. It wasn’t immediately clear how Congressional leaders would try to broker a deal. President Trump stayed at the White House Friday night instead of flying as scheduled to his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida. It’s not clear if he will go there on Saturday for a party to mark his first year in office.  
  • A woman died Friday after falling from the balcony of a room on the Jacksonville-based Carnival Elation cruise ship. The woman fell from the balcony to several decks below, Carnival said in a statement. Carnival Elation departed Jacksonville on Thursday for a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. Carnival sent the following statement to Action News Jax: .@CarnivalCruise confirms woman died today after falling from balcony aboard Jacksonville-based Carnival Elation @ActionNewsJax @WOKVNews pic.twitter.com/1anriQWt1g — Lorena Inclán (@LorenaANjax) January 19, 2018 'Early this morning a guest fell from her balcony to several decks below. The ship’s medical team responded immediately, but, unfortunately, she passed away. The incident was reported to all proper authorities and CARE Team support was offered to fellow travelers and her family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the deceased and her family. Carnival Elation departed Jacksonville Jan. 18 on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas.
  • President Donald Trump will not make a planned trip to Mar-a-Lago today because of a looming federal government shutdown, a White House official told The Palm Beach Post on Friday morning. >> Read more trending news Trump was scheduled to arrive at Palm Beach International Airport tonight for a weekend trip that included a Saturday fundraiser for his 2020 re-election campaign at Mar-a-Lago. The official who confirmed today’s travel is off did not address the president’s plans for the remainder of the weekend. Trump was planning to make the 12th Palm Beach visit of his presidency. But Congress has not reached a spending agreement to keep the federal government operating past midnight. Saturday is the one-year anniversary of Trump taking office. The Trump campaign recently announced a “special sweepstakes” in which a winner will get to attend dinner Saturday at Mar-a-Lago with Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
  • Police in Florida arrested a 28-year-old man on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol after authorities said he attempted to order a burrito from a Bank of America after confusing it for a Taco Bell, according to multiple reports. >> Read more trending news Records from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office show authorities arrested Douglas Jon Francisco, 28, on Wednesday. The manager of the Bank of America branch on Mariner Boulevard in Spring Hill, Martin Claussen, called authorities Wednesday afternoon after he said he found a blue Hyundai in the bank’s drive-up bank lane with a man who appeared to be passed out inside, WTSP reported. Claussen said he had to bang on the car window several times before Francisco awoke, according to the Tampa Bay Times. When Francisco saw the bank manager, deputies said he tried to order a burrito. >> Read more Floridoh! stories  Claussen told Francisco that he was not at a Taco Bell and Francisco drove the Hyundai to the bank’s front parking lot, according to the Times. Deputies said he was in the front parking lot, the car still idling, when authorities arrived. In an arrest report, a deputy wrote that Francisco “made several statements that were differing from reality” and denied asking Claussen for a burrito. Deputies said his responses during a field sobriety test “were slow in a way that was consistent with someone on prescription narcotics,” WTSP reported. He was given a drug test, the results of which were pending. During a search of the Hyundai, deputies said they found prescription medication that had been made out in Francisco’s name, according to the Times. Jail records show Francisco was booked into the Hernando County Detention Center around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and released Thursday afternoon on a $500 bond.
  • As much of the nation deals with a widespread flu season-- Florida is no different. The Florida Department of Health says flu activity is high statewide and continues to increase, with those increases observed in all regions.  The department says since the start of the 2017-2018 flu season, there have been 107 total outbreaks of the flu and a flu-like illness. This is more outbreaks than what's usually seen at this time in flu season.  According to the health department stats, nearly all of the outbreaks, 94%, have been in facilities that serve people a higher risk for flu complications, such as children and adults, 65 and older, like schools and healthcare facilities.  Duval and Baker counties are among those experiencing recent outbreaks.  In Duval County, the health department says a nursing and rehabilitation center reported 4 residents with a flu-like illness, which then tested positive for influenza A. Two long-term care facilities also reported a combined 15 individuals with flu-like illnesses. One group later tested positive for influenza B; the investigation into the other illness is still ongoing.  Meanwhile, in Baker County, outbreaks of a flu-like illness have been reported at a health care facility and a long-term care facility, involving a combined total of 15 people. Testing is ongoing in both cases.  With all of these recent outbreaks, the department of health says you should get a flu shot if you haven't already.  If you do get sick, it's recommended that you stay home until you're fever-free for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medication.

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