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    In the highly formalized world of China-North Korea relations, Xi Jinping's trip to Pyongyang carries enormous symbolic significance. Although less certain, it may also yield outcomes that could influence both countries' relations with the U.S. With tensions over trade, Taiwan and Hong Kong dominating Xi's diplomatic agenda, the trip also offers some welcome breathing space as the traditional allies work to strengthen ties that have been rocky at times, usually in relation to North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Though relations between Xi and the North's leader Kim Jong Un got off to a bumpy start, Kim has now made four visits to China since March 2018, each time taking care to show the proper deference to his country's most important ally and provider of aid, trade and diplomatic support. The timing of Xi's first visit as president ahead of the G-20 summit in Japan later this week seems to signal an intention that China remains a key player in peninsular affairs. 'The stability of the Korean Peninsula and realizing denuclearization are of vital importance to China,' said Lu Chao, an expert on bilateral relations at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in northeastern China. 'China intends to play an important role as a mediator.' Such state visits are imbued with vast historical significance by the two countries, who still emphasize the role of revolutionaries such as Mao Zedong and Kim's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, in forging a relationship once referred to as being 'as close as lips and teeth.' That changed after China embarked on economic reforms four decades ago while the North stuck to orthodox communism's shibboleths of state ownership and central planning, even as its economy tanked and starvation grew. Necessity drove North Korea back into China's embrace, but the regime's testing of nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them destabilized the region and angered Beijing's stability obsessed leaders. At their meeting, Xi will likely reiterate China's hopes for a restarting of six-nation denuclearization talks it formerly hosted. China had accrued considerable political cachet for doing so at a time when the North looked amenable to ending its weapons programs in return for economic assistance and the prospect of a formal peace agreement ending the 1950-53 Korean War before later abandoning the negotiations. Beijing is also anxious to encourage North Korea's self-declared shift away from nuclear confrontation toward economic development. Any movement on the nuclear issue could also lend new momentum to currently stalled U.S.-North Korea talks, Lu said, offering Beijing potential rewards from Washington amid the spiraling trade feud between them. Yet, despite China's ongoing support for harsh U.N. economic sanctions, Xi is unlikely to push so hard as to put China's influence with Pyongyang at risk. China is a major power that is very significant for the stability of the Korean Peninsula and takes its role as mediator seriously, Lu said, emphasizing that Beijing is looking to Pyongyang to make an effective guarantee on the nuclear issue and take concrete measures. 'To China, the best way to guarantee its long-term influence would be to solidify its special relationship' with North Korea, Tong Zhao of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy wrote in an emailed statement. 'By demonstrating its unique relations with DPRK at a time when neither Washington nor Seoul is able to resume high-level engagements with Pyongyang, Beijing is signaling to Washington that it is still a helpful, constructive and indispensable partner to resolve important regional problems,' Tong wrote. Pang Zhongying, a professor at Renmin University's School of International Studies in Beijing, said Xi and Kim's discussions will likely have a bearing on the content of meetings at the G-20 summit. 'By having a first-hand view on his visit to North Korea, Xi will be able to brief the U.S. leader and other leaders if needed,' Pang said. 'China no doubt hopes to show its influence in this respect at G-20 and North Korea will be paying attention.' Pang is less certain about how the U.S.-China trade war might factor into the Xi-Kim talks. President Donald Trump has previously said that that China's help on dealing with North Korea could help it win better trading terms, although that was before trade talks broke down and the U.S. hardened its position. In contrast to knotty issues such as Hong Kong — where opponents of Beijing's increasing grip over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory have held massive street protests this month — and Taiwan, whose independence-leaning government has defied China's claim to the island republic, North Korea offers a relatively simple formula for engagement. 'As China-U.S. strategic rivalry grows, China would be more preoccupied with maintaining its geopolitical influence over the Korean Peninsula vis-à-vis the U.S.,' Tong said.
  • Iran's Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, American and Iranian officials said, while disputing the circumstances of the incident. The Guard said it shot down the drone over Iranian airspace, while two U.S. officials told The Associated Press that the downing happened over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz. The different accounts could not be immediately reconciled. Previously, the U.S. military alleged that Iran had fired a missile at another drone last week that was responding to the attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. blames Iran for the attack on the ships; Tehran denies it was involved. The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran following President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from Tehran's nuclear deal a year ago. The White House separately said it was aware of reports of a missile strike on Saudi Arabia amid a campaign targeting the kingdom by Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Iran recently quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 nuclear deal. In recent weeks, the U.S. has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region. From Yemen, the Houthis have launched bomb-laden drones into neighboring Saudi Arabia. All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran's Islamic Revolution. Thursday's drone incident marks the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on the U.S. amid the crisis. 'We do not have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war,' Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami said in a televised address. Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone on Thursday morning when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran's Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Tehran and close to the Strait of Hormuz. Iran's state-run IRNA news agency, citing the Guard, identified the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk. However, the U.S. Navy also flies a variant that looks similar called the MQ-4C Triton. The U.S. officials told the AP the Iranians fired a surface-to-air missile striking the American drone. The officials said the incident happened over the Strait of Hormuz in international airspace. The strait is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all global oil moves through. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be cleared for release to the public. They did not elaborate on the type of drone shot down, nor the mission it was conducting. However, the U.S. has been worried about international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz since the limpet mine attacks in May and June. Salami, speaking to a crowd in the western city of Sanandaj, described the American drone as 'violating our national security border.' 'Borders are our red line,' Salami said. 'Any enemy that violates the borders will be annihilated.' Iran has claimed to have shot down American drones in the past. In the most-famous incident, Iran seized an RQ-170 Sentinel in December 2011 flown by the CIA to monitor Iranian nuclear sites after it entered Iranian airspace from neighboring Afghanistan. The Iranians later reverse-engineered the drone to create their own variants. Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had been 'briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.' 'We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies,' Sanders said. The Yemeni rebel Al-Masirah satellite news channel claimed the Houthis targeted a power plant in Jizan, near the kingdom's border with Yemen, with a cruise missile. Saudi state media and officials did not immediately report a missile strike Thursday. A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis since March 2015 in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation now pushed to the brink of famine by the conflict. In recent weeks, the Houthis have launched a new campaign sending missiles and bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia. ___ Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
  • The Latest on Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to North Korea (all times local): 3:30 p.m. The leaders of China and North Korea are holding talks in the North Korean capital. China's official Xinhua News Agency said President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sat down for talks Thursday in Pyongyang. It provided no further details. Xi arrived earlier Thursday for a two-day state visit. He and Kim are expected to discuss the stalled U.S.-North Korean talks on the latter's nuclear weapons program. Xi is the first Chinese leader to visit North Korea in 14 years. ___ 3 p.m. Chinese state media says President Xi Jinping was greeted with a huge arrival ceremony at the start of a two-day state visit to North Korea. The official Xinhua News Agency says about 10,000 people stood in formation and waved flowers at the airport in Pyongyang on Thursday. Xi and his wife were met by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife. A banner read: 'Long Live with Unbreakable Friendship and Unity Formed by Blood'. The two communist nations fought together against the United States, South Korea and their allies in the 1950-53 Korean War. They have had close, though sometimes strained, ties since the war. ___ 1:15 p.m. A former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea says he thinks the North's leader wants China to mediate between Pyongyang and Washington and relay his new proposal to President Donald Trump for a possible third summit. Thae Yong Ho defected to South Korea while serving in Britain in 2016. He says Kim would want Chinese President Xi Jinping to deliver his message to Trump when they meet at next week's Group of 20 summit in Japan. Xi is making a two-day state visit to North Korea on Thursday and Friday. Thae says Kim may propose some compromise on his nuclear facilities to achieve a third summit but such a move would be only to buy time and not to denuclearize. ___ 11 a.m. Chinese state media say President Xi Jinping has arrived in North Korea for first visit since taking office in 2013. The Xinhua News Agency says Xi arrived shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday. During the two-day state visit, he's expected to talk with leader Kim Jong Un about reviving talks with Washington over North Korea's nuclear weapons. China's official Xinhua news agency reported that Xi was accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan, and several Communist Party officials. He would be the first Chinese president to visit North Korea in 14 years. The summit comes as both Xi and Kim are locked in separate disputes with the United States — Xi over trade and Kim over his nuclear weapons. ___ 9:30 a.m. Chinese state media say President Xi Jinping has departed for his state visit to North Korea, which he has said will strengthen the countries' strategic ties. Xinhua news agency said Xi left Thursday morning and was accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan, and several Communist Party officials. He's expected to have talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including about his nuclear program as talks have stalled with the U.S. Experts say Xi will likely endorse North Korea's calls for an incremental disarmament process in which every action Pyongyang takes it met with U.S. concessions on sanctions and security issues.
  • Cold War era spy satellite images are showing scientists that glaciers on the Himalayas are now melting about twice as fast as they used to. The Asian mountain range, which includes Mount Everest, has been losing ice at a rate of about 1% a year since 2000, according to a study Wednesday in the journal Science Advances . 'The amount of ice (lost) is scary but what is much more scary is the doubling of the melt rate,' said Josh Maurer, a glacier researcher at Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory and lead author of the study. The Himalayas, part of an area that is referred to as 'The Third Pole' because it has so much ice, has only 72% of the ice that was there in 1975. It has been losing about 8.3 billion tons (7.5 billion metric tons) of ice a year, compared 4.3 billion tons (3.9 billion metric tons) a year between 1975 and 2000, according to the study. The Himalayan melt doesn't contribute much to sea level rise, Mauer said, because it is dwarfed by melting in Greenland and Antarctica. But the loss of the ice means current and future disruptions of water supplies — both surges and shortages — for the hundreds of millions of people in the region who rely on it for hydropower, agriculture, and drinking, said study co-author Jorg Schaefer, a climate geochemistry professor at Columbia. 'Disaster is in the making here,' Schaefer said. Scientists lacked some critical data on ice in the Himalayas until Maurer found once-classified 3D images from U.S. spy satellites that had been put online. Those images allowed Maurer to calculate how much ice was on the Himalayas in 1975. He then used other satellite data to measure ice in 2000 and then again in 2016. Past research looked at individual Himalayan glaciers over short time periods, but this is the first to look at the big picture — 650 glaciers over decades, Schaefer said. For years, scientists have looked at many possible causes for melting glaciers, including pollution and changes in rainfall. But when the team was able to see trends using long-term data, they found the major culprit: 'it's clear it's temperature and everything else doesn't matter as much,' Schaefer said. Maurer double-checked that conclusion by feeding the data into a computer model. It 'predicted' the same type of ice melt that happened over the four decades. NASA climate scientist Josh Willis, who wasn't part of the study, said it provided important confirmation of what scientists suspected and what models showed. 'As a scientist it's nice to hear that we're right, but then again as a civilian it's sometimes a little scary to hear that we're right,' Willis said. ___ Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears . ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • The leaders of China and North Korea were talking in the North Korean capital Thursday, with stalled nuclear negotiations with Washington expected to be on the agenda. Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sat down for talks in Pyongyang, China's official Xinhua news agency said, but provided no details. Earlier, Xi, his wife Peng Liyuan and senior Chinese officials were greeted with a 21-gun salute at a huge arrival ceremony at the airport in Pyongyang. About 10,000 people stood in tight formation, waving flowers and chanting slogans to welcome Xi, according to Xinhua. Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, met the visiting delegation at the airport. Xi, who is on a two-day state visit to North Korea, is the first Chinese leader to visit North Korea in 14 years. The summit comes as both Xi and Kim are locked in separate disputes with the United States — Xi over trade and Kim over his nuclear weapons. A Xinhua commentary said China could play a unique and constructive role in breaking the cycle of mistrust between North Korea and the U.S. so they can work out a roadmap to achieve denuclearization. The U.S. is demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons development before international sanctions are lifted. North Korea is seeking a step-by-step approach in which a step toward its denuclearization would be matched by a concession from the U.S., notably a relaxation of economic sanctions. China backs what it calls a 'suspension for suspension' proposal. Xinhua said both sides 'need to have reasonable expectations and refrain from imposing unilateral and unrealistic demands.' A former North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016 said he thinks Kim wants to give Xi a message to deliver to President Donald Trump when the two meet at next week's G-20 summit in Japan. Thae Yong Ho said that Kim may offer some kind of compromise on his nuclear facilities to set up a third summit with the U.S. president. But he cautioned such a move would be only to buy time and not to denuclearize. Thae spoke at a news conference in Tokyo while promoting the Japanese translation of his book. U.S.-North Korea talks have been stalled since Kim and Trump had their second summit in February in Hanoi, Vietnam. Experts say Xi will likely endorse North Korea's calls for an incremental disarmament process. His meeting with Kim would be their fifth summit since Kim entered nuclear diplomacy with the United States and South Korea early last year. A banner at the airport welcome ceremony read, 'Long Live with Unbreakable Friendship and Unity Formed by Blood,' Xinhua said. The nations fought together in the 1950-53 Korean War against the United States, South Korea and their allies, but there has been friction in recent years, especially over the North's relentless push for nuclear weapons. Xinhua said that people lined up along the way from the airport in Pyongyang to the city, waving flags and flowers and chanting 'Long Live the China-DPRK Friendship.' DPRK, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is the official name of North Korea. ___ Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this story.
  • The World Health Organization notified U.S. lawmakers Wednesday that it will discontinue two publications on prescribing opioid painkillers in response to allegations that the pharmaceutical industry influenced the reports. The pledge to remove the guidelines comes a month after U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark and Hal Rogers accused the WHO of being influenced by Purdue Pharma, the American manufacturer of the potent painkiller OxyContin. The lawmakers' report claimed the guidelines, crafted in part by organizations with financial ties to the company, downplay the risk of opioids despite the American epidemic that has killed more than 390,000 since 1999. WHO's reports are viewed around the world as best practices in public health policy, and the opioid prescribing documents have been in circulation for years. 'That is a very dangerous situation,' Clark said. 'We do not want to see the opioid crisis in this country exported around the globe.' The WHO, the health arm of the United Nations, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. Purdue has denied the allegations, and said it transparently discloses its relationships with doctors and organizations and markets its drugs only as they have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The company is facing some 2,000 lawsuits in the United States alleging the company's aggressive marketing helped spark the addiction crisis by minimizing the risk of addiction and pushing the drugs on patients with chronic pain. Such drugs have historically been used to treat patients with acute and cancer pain. The lawmakers initially contacted the WHO in 2017, after reports that Purdue's international arm, called Mundipharma, was expanding overseas using some of the same controversial tactics. Mundipharma was eventually caught up in a corruption probe in Italy , where police allege company executives paid a prominent pain doctor to help push more opioids. Clark said all they heard back was that their letter had been received, which caused them to decide to dig deeper into the WHO's stance on opioids. The congressional report released last month tracked how doctors and organizations tied to Purdue, including many of the leading figures who worked to expand opioid prescribing in the United States in the 1990s, influenced the WHO document. The 2011 guidance called 'Ensuring balance in national policies on controlled substances' includes a claim that Clark says is reminiscent of Purdue's marketing of OxyContin in the 1990s, in defiance of known science about the addictiveness of opioids. It states: 'Opioid analgesics, if prescribed in accordance with established dosage regimens, are known to be safe and there is no need to fear accidental death or dependence.' The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that up to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain eventually misuse them. Clark described it as a 'playbook' that the pharmaceutical industry is taking abroad, and that the WHO was 'lending the opioid industry its voice and credibility.' Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, wrote to Clark and Rogers that the guidelines from 2011 and 2012 would be removed in 'light of new scientific evidence that has emerged' and that the removal of the reports should address the allegations of conflicts of interest. Since the reports were first published, he wrote, the agency has strengthened its ethics polices. The organization will also publish a statement saying that it takes the concerns the lawmakers raised seriously and is updating its guidelines for pain management. The statement says that in many poor nations, access to opioids is extremely limited, even for those in agony. It is committed to addressing that issue while balancing the risk of addiction and death. Clark wrote in a statement that the agency acknowledged 'the danger posed' by its publications and called it a victory that they will be removed from circulation. But she called on the agency to thoroughly investigate how the reports were published and how it will prevent corporate influence in the future, as pharmaceutical companies continue selling opioids around the world.
  • Former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was shot in the back by a gunman who mistook him for the real target, another man who was seated at the same table at an outdoor cafe, Dominican officials said Wednesday. The Dominican Republic's attorney general and national police director told reporters that the attempted murder was ordered from the United States by Victor Hugo Gomez, an associate of Mexico's Gulf Cartel. They said Gomez had hired a gang of killers to eliminate his cousin, whom Gomez suspected of turning him in to Dominican drug investigators in 2011. The cousin, Sixto David Fernández, was seated with the former baseball star on the night of June 9, when a gunman approached and fired a single shot at Ortiz, the officials said. Fernández owned an auto-repair shop and was friends with Ortiz, according to Attorney General Jean Alain Rodríguez and Maj. Gen. Ney Aldrin Bautista Almonte, director of the Dominican Republic's national police. Ortiz remains hospitalized in Boston, where doctors have upgraded his condition from guarded to good. At least 11 people have been arrested in the case so far, ranging from the alleged gunman to a series of drivers and relatively minor accomplices. Rodríguez and Bautista said the case of mistaken identity began when one of the accomplices shot a blurry photo of Fernández seated at the Dial Bar and Lounge in an upscale section of Santo Domingo. In the photo, a white freezer obscures Fernández's lower body, making it look like he was wearing white pants when, in fact, he was wearing black pants, officials said. 'It was a badly lit photo taken minutes before the attack,' the chief prosecutor said. Ortiz was wearing white pants on the night of the shooting and law-enforcement officials said that the gunman, Rolfy Ferreyra, mistook him for the target and fired. Nonetheless, many Dominicans were skeptical that their country's most famous person, a 6-foot-3-inch (2 meters) man weighing around 250 pounds (113 kilograms), could be mistaken for Fernández, who appeared to be far smaller with a lighter complexion in a photo provided by authorities. 'He is big. He likes to attract attention,' said Daniel Pou, an independent consultant on public security. 'He wears a lot of jewelry. He's flashy all around.' The alleged shooter is a skinny, tattooed 25-year-old whom U.S. prosecutors said is wanted on armed robbery and gun charges in New Jersey. His driver was captured immediately after the shooting when he fell off the motorcycle he was trying to use to escape. Ferreyra and the other suspects were captured over the next few days. Ferreyra told reporters from the window of a jail cell this week that he did not mean to shoot Ortiz, but fired at him in confusion over his clothing. Gomez, the alleged mastermind, is believed to be in the United States and is being sought by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bautista said, pointing to a news report in which federal authorities identified Gómez as one of several suspects in a March 2019 drug trafficking sting in Houston, Texas. The weapon used in the shooting, a Browning Hi Power semiautomatic pistol, was buried in the garden of one of the suspect's home and was later turned over to police by his mother, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press. Also accused is Gabriel Alexander Pérez Vizcaíno, aka Bone, whom they say was hired by someone who is in prison on unrelated charges to be the liaison between the hit men and the person who paid them. Authorities say Pérez shared the picture of the target as he met the other suspects at a nearby gas station just minutes before the shooting. They said Pérez then sold the cellphone used to plan the attack and to distribute a picture of the target to a woman for $180 so he could get rid of the evidence a day after the shooting. Police are still looking for at least three other suspects: a woman known as The Venezuelan or Red; Luis Alfredo Rivas Clase, aka The Surgeon, who is wanted for a 2018 shooting in Reading, Pennsylvania, and was believed to be driving a car used to stalk Fernández; and Alberto Miguel Rodríguez Mota, whom authorities believe paid the hit men. Authorities have said coordinator of attack was offered 400,000 Dominican pesos, or about $7,800. A video from the scene of the shooting shows everyone fleeing or crouching except for Rodríguez, who stands calmly amid the chaos. 'He grabbed his beer to make sure it was safe,' Bautista said. Authorities also are investigating Fernández, the supposed target, Bautista added. Ortiz is recovering at Massachusetts General Hospital. Doctors in the Dominican Republic removed his gallbladder and part of his intestine before he was wheeled into an air ambulance sent by the Red Sox and flown to Boston. He led the Red Sox to three World Series championships, was a 10-time All Star and hit 541 home runs. The Red Sox retired his number, 34, in 2017, and he has a bridge and a stretch of road outside Fenway Park named after him. He has a home in Weston, on the outskirts of Boston, that he shared with his wife and three children before putting it up for sale. Although he lives in Boston, the 43-year-old Ortiz visits the Dominican Republic several times a year. His father and sister live in Santo Domingo. ___ Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein in Havana contributed to this report. __ This story has been amended to correct that one of the suspects was believed to be driving the car used to stalk the target.
  • Mexico's Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to ratify a new free trade agreement with the United States and Canada, making it the first of the three countries to gain legislative approval. Mexico's upper chamber voted 114 to four with three abstentions in favor of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. It will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which U.S. President Donald Trump had threatened to withdraw the United States from if Washington did not get a better deal. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in a recorded message that the vote was 'very good news.' 'It means foreign investment in Mexico, it means jobs in Mexico, it means guaranteeing trade of the merchandise that we produce in the United States,' he said. The treaty does not need to be approved by Mexico's lower house. It is still awaiting consideration by lawmakers in the United States and Canada, however. 'Congratulations to President Lopez Obrador — Mexico voted to ratify the USMCA today by a huge margin. Time for Congress to do the same here!' Trump tweeted. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in a statement applauded Mexico's ratification as 'a crucial step forward.' Ratification of the deal still faces some opposition in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. The United States is by far Mexico's biggest export market and its easy passage through the legislature had been expected. The approval came after Trump threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods if López Obrador didn't reduce the flow of U.S.-bound illegal immigration from Central America, a threat that was later suspended. The USMCA was hammered out last year by delegations representing then-President Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and then-President-elect López Obrador, of the left-leaning Morena, ensuring that both the outgoing and the incoming administrations were on board. López Obrador took office Dec. 1, a day after the agreement was signed. Mexican lawmakers had already executed a series of labor reforms that the U.S. had demanded. Mexico's economy ministry said that with Senate approval 'Mexico sends a clear message in favor of an open economy and of deepening its economic integration in the region.' Mexico's peso strengthened moderately against the dollar to 19.03 Wednesday, though the main factor was the U.S. Federal Reserve signaling that it was prepared to cut interest rates if needed to protect the U.S. economy, according to Gabriela Siller, economic analysis director at Banco BASE. The United States buys about 80% of Mexican exports, some $358 billion worth last year. In the first quarter of 2019 the two countries did $203 billion in two-way trade, making Mexico the United States' No. 1 commercial partner for the first time, ahead of Canada and China, according to the Mexican Economy Department. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, leader of the governing party in the Senate, said the vote was 'an important step to diminish the existing uncertainty for North American trade.
  • A pair of seasoned performers received a warm welcome Wednesday in Iceland, where the two beluga whales that previously lived at an aquarium in China will help populate a sanctuary for formerly captive marine mammals. Conservationists celebrated when a plane from Shanghai carrying the whales, named Little Gray and Little White after the colors of their skin, touched down at Iceland's Keflavik International Airport. 'The whales did well on the flight and are in good shape,' logistic expert Sigurjon Sigurdsson said after the 12-year-old females were on the ground. The whales, expected to reach 35 to 50 years of age, will be the first aquatic animals to inhabit the sanctuary for cetaceans off Iceland's southern coast. Their home will be a 32,000-square-meter (344,445-square-foot) sea pen at a pristine creek called Klettsvik, accessible by whale-watching boats. After an 11-hour flight, the pair's tank was loaded onto a truck for a drive to a harbor and the last leg of their journey, a 30-minute boat ride to the Westman Islands archipelago. There, they are set to stay in a specially designed indoor pool for 40 days while caretakers increase their food intake to build up extra blubber for heat insulation. The whales currently weigh about 900 kilos (1,980 pounds) and have strong appetites for herring - which was an essential airplane snack for the not-so-frequent flyers. Little White and Little Gray were captured in Russian waters and sold to Changfeng Ocean World aquarium in Shanghai some 10 years ago. Beluga whales are native to the Arctic Ocean, not the North Atlantic surrounding Iceland. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that 135,000 mature Beluga whales live in Arctic waters. The Russian region is known for 'whale jails' where orcas and beluga whales are available for purchase. Beluga whales carry a price tag of about $150,000, and many are reportedly sold to sea-parks in China, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. The release of Little Gray and Little White reflects a worldwide movement against keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. The mission to relocate them began when Changfeng Ocean World was acquired by Merlin Entertainment, a British corporation that owns Legoland and other theme parks. The company, which has a policy against captive whales and dolphins, teamed up with the wildlife fund Sea Life Trust to spearhead the effort. 'We are sad to see them leave but we understand that they come from nature,' Iker Wang, head trainer at Chengfeng aquarium, said in a press statement. Marianne Helene Rasmussen, a research professor at the University of Iceland, questioned what the massive operation accomplished. Whale-watching, to her, is about seeing the mammals in their natural surroundings. 'Why bring two whales, whose species is not naturally in Icelandic water, and keep them in captivity here?' Rasmussen said. Despite the dramatic life change, Little White and Little Gray have not withdrawn from the public eye. Their presence on the Westman Islands is expected to be a drawcard for a town with 4,000 residents. One local tour operator is already taking bookings. Westman Islands Mayor Iris Robertsdottir anticipates a massive celebration once the whales are released into the ocean later this summer. It won't be the first time the town gathers at the harbor to welcome a whale. In 1998, the male orca from the Hollywood film 'Free Willy' was released into the same Klettsvik creek and prepared for freedom with 'ocean walks.' 'That was a very different project,' Robertsdottir told The Associated Press. 'These belugas are not being trained to eventually live in the wild. They will be fed and live only at Klettsvik.' The whale, nick-named Keiko, died of pneumonia after a year in the wild. He kept being drawn to boats and other human activity, and never joined a wild orca pod. Around 3,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are held in tanks globally, according to wildlife charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The Westman Islands project is privately funded. The cost has not been disclosed. Iceland media estimated the infrastructure alone cost around $15 million.
  • A Kenyan court Wednesday found three people guilty of conspiracy to commit a terror attack after phone records and handwriting linked them to the 2015 Garissa University assault that killed 148 people. Mohamed Abdi Abikar, Hassan Aden Hassan and Rashid Charles Mberesero will be sentenced on July 3, Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi said. These are the first convictions of the attack. A fourth person, Sahal Diriye Hussein, was acquitted. Kenyan court processes take time due to the backlog of cases that the judiciary is working to clean up. Defense counsel Mbugua Mureithi said he will appeal. The Garissa University attack saw four gunmen with the al-Shabab extremist group based in neighboring Somalia force their way onto campus. The gunmen were killed. The attack is al-Shabab's deadliest attack on Kenyan soil. Al-Shabab is al-Qaida's affiliate in the region. Al-Qaida carried out Kenya's deadliest attack when it bombed the U.S. Embassy building in Nairobi in the August 1998 killing more than 200 people. The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam was targeted by the group on the same day in a near simultaneous attack. Al-Shabab has carried out numerous attacks inside Kenya since 2011, calling it retribution for Kenya sending troops into Somalia to counter the al-Qaida-linked fighters. The group attacked a luxury hotel complex in Nairobi in January.

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  • A California police officer has died after a shooting in Sacramento, multiple news outlets reported late Wednesday. >> Read more trending news Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • Jacksonville Fire and Rescue says 32 residents are accounted for after a fire started at a nursing home in Mandarin.  Firefighters say the fire started in one of the wings and residents had to be evacuated. They were later moved into a different wing of the facility and the fire is now under control.  It’s not clear what sparked the fire and if there were any injuries. 
  • Months after an armed home invasion robbery in Fernandina Beach that injured two people, investigators say they've now arrested a third suspect in connection. The Fernandina Beach Police Department has announced the arrest of 24-year-old Cedrice Brown. They say he was taken into custody early Wednesday morning, not far from the University of North Carolina.  Police tell us when he was arrested he was in possession of two stolen guns and booked on various North Carolina charges. A hold has been placed on Brown to have him extradited to Florida, where he faces armed robbery and armed burglary charges.  Police say since the December 22, 2018, incident at a home on Manatee Avenue, they've determined that the robbery was pre-planned due to one of the suspects involved having knowledge of where certain items were.  At the time of the robbery, police 15 people were inside. The victims reported seeing several suspects wearing masks and carrying various weapons, rifles, handguns and knives.  Two people were injured during the robbery, after being hit in the head with guns.  WOKV told you that one suspect was arrested while attempting to flee. A second suspect was arrested at a later time.  Police say they're continuing to work on identifying the remaining suspects, who they believe are from outside the Nassau County-area.
  • Authorities arrested an 11th person Tuesday in connection with the ambush shooting last week of former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz in the Dominican Republic. >> Read more trending news  In a press briefing Wednesday evening, the Dominican Republic’s lead prosecutor said that Ortiz was not the target of a shooting.  Attorney General Jean Alain Rodríguez said the target was another man, dressed similarly to Ortiz, who was seated next to him the night of June 9. Rodríguez said the shooting was orchestrated by a member of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel, who remains on the run. He did not immediately describe a motive. An unidentified official told The Associated Press that Franklin Junior Merán was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of renting one of the cars used in the June 9 shooting in Santo Domingo. Ten other suspects have already been ordered to spend a year in preventive detention as the investigation continues, including the accused shooter. Authorities say they are looking for at least three other suspects, including the man they believe paid the hit men. Ortiz continued recovering Wednesday in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Ortiz’s wife, Tiffany Ortiz, said doctors upgraded Ortiz’s condition to good Tuesday. “We remain grateful to everyone who has helped David through this ordeal, both in the Dominican Republic and here in Boston,” Tiffany Ortiz said in a statement released by the Red Sox. “David’s journey to good health has been bolstered by the many expressions of love that have come to us from across the globe. Your support has lifted his spirits tremendously during this challenging time.” Authorities continue to investigate. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • A man said his fiancee put eye drops into his soft drink Saturday at their Rowan County home. >> Read more trending news  The man told authorities he confronted his fiancee, Jaymee Cruz, after he said he watched her put the drops in his Coca-Cola. He then locked himself and their baby in the bathroom and called 911. Deputies said when they arrived at the scene, Cruz at first denied putting eye drops in the drink, but later said she did it to make the man sick. Cruz said she got the idea from the movie 'Wedding Crashers' and did it because she wanted to move out of the home with their daughter, authorities said. Consuming eye drops is extremely dangerous and can be deadly. The main ingredient reduces redness in the eyes, but when ingested it can rapidly reach the blood and central nervous systems. It's not the first time a person has been accused of using eye drops to poison their significant other. Last year, York County investigators charged Lana Clayton in her husband’s death after she said she put eye drops in his water, WSOC-TV reported. Stephen Clayton’s toxicology report showed he had poisonous levels of the key ingredient in eye drops.

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