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World

    Armenia's new prime minister has marked his first 100 days in office by calling a rally that has attracted about 100,000 enthusiastic supporters. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian took office in May after spearheading weeks of protests that forced the resignation of his predecessor. The 43-year-old former journalist had tapped simmering public discontent over the anemic economy and rampant corruption in the impoverished ex-Soviet nation. Pashinian told the jubilant crowds that converged on the capital's main square Friday that they represent the ultimate source of power. He promised that he would call such rallies in the future to seek public approval for any major policy move. Pashinian also rejected claims of a chill in Armenia's relations with Russia, its main sponsor and ally, pledging that ties with Moscow will remain strong.
  • Al-Qaida's chief bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, who was behind the 2009 Christmas Day plot to down an airliner over Detroit and other foiled aviation-related terror attacks, was killed in a U.S. drone strike, Yemeni officials and a tribal leader said Friday. The killing of al-Asiri deals a heavy blow to the group's capabilities in striking western targets and piles pressure on the group that already lost some of its top cadres over the past years in similar drone strikes. A Yemeni security official said that al-Asiri is dead; a tribal leader and an al-Qaida-linked source also said that he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in the eastern Yemeni governorate of Marib. The tribal leader said that al-Asiri was struck, along with two or four of his associates, as he stood beside his car. He added that al-Asiri's wife, who hails from the well-known al-Awaleq tribe in the southern governorate of Shabwa, was briefly held months ago by the UAE-backed forces and later released. Al-Qaida itself has remained silent about its top bomb maker. Instead of the typical 'eulogies' on militant websites, the Yemeni source said the group is trying to hunt down suspected 'spies' who might have tipped off the U.S. on his whereabouts leading up to the strike. The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief reporters. The tribal leader and al-Qaida-linked source requested anonymity fearing for their safety. The confirmation of al-Asiri's death follows a U.N. report this week saying that the 36-year-old Saudi national, who is among U.S.'s top most wanted militants, may have been killed in the second half of 2017. Al-Asiri is believed to have built the underwear bomb that a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to detonate on a passenger jet over Detroit in December 2009. He is also behind bombs hidden in printer cartridges placed on U.S.-bound cargo jets in 2010. U.S. intelligence over the past years believed that al-Asiri and his confederates were constantly working to improve their bomb designs so that they could get past airport security. In July 2014, the Transportation Security Administration banned uncharged mobile phones and laptops from flights to the United States that originated from Europe and the Middle East. Al-Asiri, who studied chemistry in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, even once placed explosives inside his younger brother's clothes in a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's interior minister, Mohammed bin Nayef, in 2009. The brother, Abdullah, died in the explosion while the top U.S. counterterrorism ally was slightly wounded. The U.S. has long viewed the al-Qaida's Yemeni branch as its most dangerous affiliate, in part because of al-Asiri's expertise in explosives. Since 2014, the U.S. has offered $5 million for information leading to his capture. He is thought to have escaped death many times in U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. Al-Asiri's last known statement was a 2016 audio message threatening Saudi Arabia and the U.S. after the kingdom killed 47 al-Qaida suspects in one of its largest mass executions since 1980. Vowing to continue battling America, he said at the time that the Saudis would be dealt with in a 'different way,' without elaborating. Wanted by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Interpol, al-Asiri fled his native Saudi Arabia — home of 15 of the 19 suspected hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — for Yemen, along with other militants escaping a crackdown in the kingdom. Once in Yemen, they merged with local al-Qaida militants who escaped from a Yemeni prison in 2006 to form Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. Since 2015, al-Qaida has exploited the turmoil in Yemen as a Saudi-led coalition imposed an air, land, and sea blockade and waged war on Yemen's Iranian-aligned rebels, known as Houthis, who gained control of the capital, Sanaa, forcing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the country. Amid the chaos, AQAP has expanded its territory, occupied entire cities, looted security camps, banks, and collected taxes from locals. The Saudi-led coalition, and in particular its key member the United Arab Emiratis, later claimed to have defeated al-Qaida and forced it to pull out of the territories under its control. An Associated Press investigation however revealed that the coalition struck a series of deals with al-Qaida, offering tribal leaders cash to pay off militants to give up territory without fighting, something both the U.S., the UAE, and al-Qaida have denied. The U.N. report on Monday, which first raised allegations that al-Asiri may have been killed, also said that al-Qaida's global network 'continues to show resilience,' with its affiliates and allies much stronger than the Islamic State group in some places, including Somalia, Yemen, South Asia and Africa's Sahel region. It added that Yemen's lack of a strong central government 'has provided a fertile environment for' AQAP's expansion and estimated its strength inside Yemen at between 6,000 and 7,000 fighters — compared to IS militants who only number between 250 to 500 fighters. Al-Qaida's top havens in Yemen are in the central Bayda and eastern Marib provinces. But since 2015, it has suffered heavy losses in leadership as U.S. drone strikes killed off top cadres, including co-founder Nasser al-Wahishi, who was Osama bin Laden top aide. Veteran al-Qaida leader, Qassim al-Rimi, succeeded al-Wahishi. ___ Al-Haj reported from Sanaa, Yemen.
  • Yemen's al-Qaida branch denied on Friday an Associated Press report saying it struck secret deals over territories it controls with the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in the country. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula — considered the terror group's most dangerous branch after failed attacks on U.S. soil — said in a statement posted on its Telegram channel that the report 'lacks evidence, reality, or credibility.' It added that both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have cooperated with the U.S. using 'the dirtiest means,' which the group said it would uncover soon. The statement comes after the AP outlined how Emirati forces have integrated al-Qaida members into the ranks of newly formed militias that currently control most of southern Yemen. The Associated Press stands by its reporting, a spokesman said.
  • Mali's opposition leader on Friday rejected the announcement that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was the winner of a presidential runoff in this West African nation, saying he would be filing a fraud complaint to the Constitutional Court. Soumaila Cisse held a news conference to declare that, according to results from his party, Cisse instead won the runoff with 51.75 percent of the vote to Keita's 48.25 percent. 'I reject the results proclaimed by the Ministry of Territorial Administration that do not reflect the vote of Malians,' Cisse said. The Constitutional Court has until Aug. 22 to approve the election results. The Ministry of Territorial Administration said Thursday that Keita won a second five-year term in the turbulent nation, capturing more than 67 percent of the vote to Cisse's 32 percent. More than 2.7 million Malians voted in Sunday's runoff, a 34 percent turnout despite threats by extremist groups. European Union observers said there were irregularities during Sunday's vote but did not say there was fraud. After the declaration of the results, Keita received congratulations from French President Emmanuel Macron, whose military has been engaged in Mali in the fight against extremism. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called 73-year-old incumbent to congratulate him. The U.N. has had more than 12,000 peacekeepers in the turbulent country since 2013. As Keita supporters celebrated Thursday night, the capital city of Bamako experienced a restless night. Cisse supporters marched with anti-Keita signs, denouncing the results. 'We are launching a vibrant call for citizen mobilization to exert popular, peaceful and democratic pressure to enforce the Malian vote,' said Cisse campaign director Tiebile Drame. Mahamadou Camara, spokesman for Keita, had called the victory well-earned. Keita leads a nation that has grown more insecure since he beat Cisse in a second-round election in 2013, the same year that French-backed forces pushed extremists in the north from their strongholds. Keita took power the year after a military coup ushered in an era of chaos that allowed the extremists to flourish. The extremists linked to both al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have been staging more brazen attacks that have spread into central Mali. Deadly communal clashes between ethnic groups and accusations of heavy-handed counterterror operations have caused even deeper tensions and mistrust of the government. In northern and central Mali, more than 50 polling stations had closed before noon on Sunday because of threats by extremists, according to the Citizen Observation Pool of Mali, which had more than 2,000 observers. The observers also reported several incidents of violence on voting day, including the killing of a village chairman and the harassment of at least four election workers. A number of polling stations were burned. ___ Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa
  • Romania's prime minister on Friday defended the use of force by riot police during a violent anti-government protest that left more than 450 people injured earlier this month. Prime Minister Viorica Dancila sent a letter to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in which she alleged that other politicians, including Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, had tried to 'violently remove a legitimate government.' She said demonstrators tried to break through police lines protecting the government offices and officers legally responded to the violence. Romania's riot police have been accused of being heavy-handed with the mainly peaceful protesters in the Aug 10 anti-corruption protest. More than 200 criminal complaints have been filed against police. Dancila said authorities were investigating the claims. Her letter — her first comment on the protest — came after EU spokesman Christian Spahr said Thursday that 'peaceful protests ended in violence and violence can never be a solution in politics. ' Critics say Romania has backtracked in fighting corruption since the ruling Social Democratic Party assumed power in 2016. Spahr said the EU attached 'great importance to the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption.' Protesters are holding a vigil Friday to mark a week since police fired tear gas and water cannons.
  • A Yemeni minister has accused rival Houthi rebels of storming a warehouse used by the World Food Program to store humanitarian aid in the war-torn Red Sea port city of Hodeida. Abdel-Raqeeb Fateh, the minister of local administration, said in a statement on Friday that the Houthis have turned the WFP warehouse in al-Durayhimi district into a military barracks. Thousands of families were caught in the district's crossfire between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition forces fighting them, he added. Calling for a condemnation from the U.N., Fateh said the Houthis are intimidating humanitarian workers. Hodeida port city is a lifeline for the Houthis who control northern Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has since June waged an offensive clear the port city of the Houthis and restore government control.
  • Nigerian rescue officials say they are working to pull out a number of people trapped under the rubble of a collapsed shopping complex that was under construction in the capital, Abuja. Labaran Ahman, Federal Capital Emergency Agency search and rescue chief, said Friday that many people were rescued by bystanders after the four-story building collapsed in the afternoon. He said the number of people trapped is unknown. Abass Idris, a Nigerian Emergency Management Agency official, said the building had been abandoned and new construction restarted recently. He said the owner may have altered its original plans in that time, affecting the stability of the structure. Building collapses are not uncommon in Nigeria, a West African powerhouse where corruption is rampant and infrastructure is often poor.
  • Rescuers used helicopters and boats on Friday to evacuate thousands of people stranded on their rooftops following unprecedented flooding in the southern Indian state of Kerala that killed more than 320 people, officials said. 'Kerala state is facing its worst flood in 100 years,' the top state elected official, Pinarayi Vijayan's office tweeted. With heavy rains stopping after a week, rescuers moved quickly to take those marooned by floods to 1,500 state-run camps. They used more than a dozen helicopters and about 400 boats across the state, relief officials said. Vijayan told reporters that at least 324 people had died and more than 220,000 had taken refuge in the camps. Heavy rains over the past eight days triggered flooding, landslides and home and bridge collapses, severely disrupting air and train services in Kerala state, a popular tourist destination with scenic landscapes, waterfalls and beautiful beaches.  The New Delhi Television news channel reported that the state was facing a new crisis with some hospitals facing shortages of oxygen and gas stations running short of fuel. Monsoon rains kill hundreds of people every year in India. The season runs from June to September. The monsoon flooding has severely hit 12 of Kerala's 14 districts, with thousands of homes damaged since June. Crops on 32,500 hectares (80,300 acres) of land have also been damaged, the Home Ministry said. The international airport at Kochi, a major port city, suspended flight operations until Saturday after the runway was flooded. Authorities also asked tourists to stay away from the popular hill station of Munnar in Idukki district because of flooding. More than 1,000 people have lost their lives in seven states since the start of the monsoon season in June. A total of 407 people have died in Kerala, 190 in Uttar Pradesh, 183 people in West Bengal, 139 in Maharashtra, 52 in Gujarat, 45 in Assam and 11 in Nagaland state, officials and the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
  • Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress and nemesis of U.S. President Donald Trump, has pulled out of a British reality-TV show at the last minute after a dispute with producers. Daniels was due to take part in 'Celebrity Big Brother,' which locks contestants in a house under constant surveillance. But she failed to join housemates including actress Kirstie Alley and psychic Sally Morgan for Thursday's first episode. Lawyer Michael Avenatti said Friday that Daniels argued with producers who attempted to 'control her and produce a certain result.' Broadcaster Channel 5 said Daniels told producers hours before airtime that she no longer wanted to participate. Daniels alleges she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, and was later paid $130,000 to stay silent about it. The president denies the encounter.
  • Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire and another 60 injured at a protest along the Gaza border amid ongoing Egyptian efforts to broker a cease-fire, Gaza's Health Ministry said Friday. The protesters threw rocks and firebombs from behind clouds of black smoke of burning tires at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and sometimes live fire. Israel's military said some Palestinians also threw improvised explosives and firebombs at the fence and that several were spotted briefly crossing into Israeli territory. It said troops 'fired live rounds selectively according to standard operating procedures.' Hamas officials have been meeting with Egyptian officials in Cairo for days, hammering out details of a possible truce with Israel. Israel and Hamas have come close to serious conflict in recent weeks after four months of violence along Gaza's border. In several instances Gaza militants fired rockets and mortars at Israel which responded with airstrikes on Gaza. Hamas has led weekly border protests aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza. Large turnout at the protests has also been driven by widespread desperation in Gaza, amid worsening conditions linked to the blockade. Power is on for just a few hours a day, unemployment has sky-rocketed and poverty is widening. Abdelatif al-Qanou, a Hamas spokesman, said the protests forced Israel to reconsider its blockade policy. 'Our people's sacrifice in the protests will be translated into national achievements soon,' he said. Since the Gaza protests began at the end of March, 168 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including at least 125 protesters, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry and a local rights group. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Gaza sniper during this same period. Israel says it is defending its border and accuses Hamas, a group sworn to its destruction, of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack civilians and soldiers. Palestinians have thrown explosive devices and opened fire at forces along the border in numerous instances over the past few months, the military says. But the high casualty rate among mainly unarmed protesters has drawn international criticism. Also Friday, Israeli police said officers shot and 'neutralized' a 30-year-old man from an Arab town in Israel who tried to stab them as they were on duty in Jerusalem's Old City. Israeli media said the attacker was killed. Police later released footage from a surveillance camera that shows a man walking along then suddenly pulling out a knife and lunging at the officers. Since 2015, Palestinians have killed over 50 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. Israeli forces killed over 260 Palestinians in that period, most of them attackers. These attacks were at times daily but have since significantly decreased. The Palestinians and human rights groups have accused Israeli forces of using excessive force in some confrontations and of killing Palestinians who did not pose an imminent deadly threat.