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Iran oil tanker explodes, sinks off China with no survivors

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Iran oil tanker explodes, sinks off China with no survivors

The Associated Press
Friends and colleagues of the deceased Iranian seafarers aboard a tanker that sank off the coast of China weep at the headquarters of National Iranian Tanker Company, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. The burning Iranian tanker listing for days off the coast of China after a collision with another vessel sank Sunday, with an Iranian official saying there was "no hope" of survival for the 29 missing sailors onboard. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

A burning Iranian oil tanker exploded and sank Sunday after more than a week listing off the coast of China, as an Iranian official acknowledged there was "no hope" of missing sailors surviving the disaster.

The collision and disaster of the Sanchi, which carried 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, had transfixed an Iran still reeling from days of protests and unrest that swept the country at the start of the year.

Families of the sailors wept and screamed at the headquarters of the National Iranian Tanker Co. in Tehran, the private company that owns the Sanchi. Some needed to be taken by ambulance to nearby hospitals as they were so overwhelmed by the news.

"Thirty-two people died without a funeral and without coffins! They burned to ashes while their families were wailing here!" cried out one woman who didn't give her name. The government "has come after 10 days to sympathize with them? What sympathy are you talking about?"

State TV earlier quoted Mahmoud Rastad, the chief of Iran's maritime agency, as saying: "There is no hope of finding survivors among the (missing) 29 members of the crew."

President Hassan Rouhani expressed his condolences and called on relevant government agencies to investigate the tragedy and take any necessary legal measures, according to state TV. In a message, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his condolences and sympathy with the victims' families, his own website, Khamenei.ir, reported Sunday. The government also announced Monday as a nationwide day of public mourning over the disaster.

The cause of the Jan. 6 collision between the Sanchi and the Chinese freighter CF Crystal, 257 kilometers (160 miles) off the coast of Shanghai, remains unclear. The CF Crystal had 21 crew members, all of whom were reported safe.

But the Sanchi, carrying nearly 1 million barrels of a gassy, ultra-light oil bound for South Korea, burst into flames. Chinese officials blamed poor weather for complicating their rescue efforts. Thirteen ships, including one from South Korea and two from Japan, engaged in the rescue and cleanup effort Saturday, spraying foam in an effort to extinguish the fire.

But around noon Sunday, Chinese state media reported that a large explosion shook the Sanchi, its hull and superstructure completely stripped of paint by the flames. The ship then sank into the sea.

The Chinese say the ship left a 10-square-kilometer (3.8-square-mile) area contaminated with oil. However, the condensate oil the ship was carrying readily evaporates or burns off in a fire, reducing the chance of a major oil spill.

Chinese state media also said the ship's voice data recorder, which functions like "black boxes" on aircraft, had been recovered. Three bodies have been recovered from the sea, leaving 29 crew members still unaccounted for.

The tanker has operated under five different names since it was built in 2008, according to the U.N.-run International Maritime Organization. The National Iranian Tanker Co. describes itself as operating the largest tanker fleet in the Middle East.

It's the second collision for a ship from the National Iranian Tanker Co. in less than a year and a half. In August 2016, one of its tankers collided with a Swiss container ship in the Singapore Strait, damaging both ships but causing no injuries or oil spill.

———

Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Mohammad Nasiri contributed to this report.

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World

Turkey vows imminent assault on Kurdish enclave in Syria

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Turkey vows imminent assault on Kurdish enclave in Syria

The Associated Press
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures to supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), at a rally in Bingol, eastern Turkey, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. Erdogan has said Turkey will oust Kurdish militants from Afrin, northern Syria, as the military shelled the area from across the border. Turkey considers the YPG a terror group and an extension of the Kurdish insurgency within its own borders. (Pool Photo via AP)

Turkey's president said Sunday the country will launch a military assault on a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria "in the coming days" and urged the U.S. to support its efforts.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation against the Afrin enclave aims to "purge terror" from his country's southern border.

Afrin is controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has waged a bloody insurgency within its borders.

A YPG spokesman in Afrin said clashes erupted after midnight between his unit and Turkish troops near the border with Turkey. Rojhat Roj said the shelling of areas in Afrin district, in Aleppo province, killed one YPG fighter and injured a couple of civilians on Sunday.

Turkey and its Western allies, including the U.S., consider the PKK a terrorist organization. But the U.S. has been arming some of Syria's Kurds to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria — a sore point in already tense U.S.-Turkish relations.

The Turkish president said "despite it all" he wants to work with the U.S. in the region and hopes it will not side with the YPG during the upcoming Afrin operation.

"We expect (the U.S.) to support Turkey in its legitimate efforts" to combat terror, said Erdogan.

Also Sunday, Erdogan's spokesman responded to reports the U.S.-led coalition would establish a 30,000-strong border security force in Syria involving the Kurdish militia as "worrying."

In December, The Associated Press reported that the U.S. was developing an expanded training program for Kurdish and Arab border guards in Syria to prevent the resurgence of IS.

Ibrahim Kalin, the presidential spokesman, said the U.S. was taking steps to legitimize and solidify the YPG. "It's absolutely not possible to accept this," Kalin said and repeated that Turkey would defend itself.

Erdogan said the new operation into Afrin would be an extension of Turkey's 2016 incursion into northern Syria, which aimed to combat IS and stem the advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces. Turkish troops are stationed in rebel-held territory on both sides of Afrin.

Roj said the Kurdish militia will fight to "defend our gains, our territories." Senior Kurdish official Hediye Yusuf wrote on Twitter that the Turkish operation against Afrin is a "violation" of the Syrian people and undermines international efforts to reach a political solution in Syria.

The Turkey-PKK conflict has killed an estimated 40,000 people since 1984 and the resumption of hostilities in July 2015 killed more than 3,300 people, including state security forces, militants and civilians.

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Technology

France vs. fake news: An unwinnable battle?

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France vs. fake news: An unwinnable battle?

The Associated Press
The mixing and editing desk at RT France is pictured in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Russian state broadcaster RT, formerly known as Russia Today, already broadcasts in English, Spanish, and Arabic, and has launched a French-language channel on Dec. 18. French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan for a law against false information around election campaigns is drawing criticism from media advocates, tech experts and others. They say it’s impossible to enforce and smacks of methods used by authoritarians, not democracies. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Can a democratic country outlaw fake news?

France is about to find out, after President Emmanuel Macron ordered a law to quash false information disseminated around electoral campaigns.

Criticism is pouring in from media advocates, tech experts — and Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT. They say the law smacks of authoritarianism, will be impossible to enforce and is sure to backfire.

Macron's stance "could be just the beginning of actually censoring freedom of speech. We believe it is a very dangerous situation," Xenia Fedorova, director of RT's newly launched French-language channel, told The Associated Press.

Yet in a world where a falsehood can now reach billions instantaneously, and political manipulation is increasingly sophisticated, Macron argues something must be done.

A congressional report by U.S. Democrats released Thursday detailed apparent Russian efforts to undermine politics in 19 European countries since 2016, using cyberattacks, disinformation, clandestine social media operations, financing of fringe political groups and, in extreme cases, assassination attempts. Macron's own campaign suffered a big hacking attack last year, though the government later said it found no proof of Russian involvement.

Propaganda and disinformation aren't new or unique to Russia. Author and technology historian Edward Tenner argues that fake news is as old as George Washington's cherry tree — an enduring but untrue legend about the first U.S. president.

While democracies usually rely on defamation and libel laws to combat false publications, Macron wants more.

In a New Year's speech to journalists, he said he's ordering a new "legal arsenal" that would oblige news sites to reveal who owns them and where their money comes from. It could cap the money allowed for content seen as aimed at swaying an election and allow emergency legal action to block websites. The French broadcast regulator's power would expand to allow it to suspend media seen as trying to destabilize a vote — notably those "controlled or influenced by foreign powers."

That probably means outlets such as RT — whose coverage was seen as favoring far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in last year's French election and which many consider a tool of the Russian government — and Sputnik, another Russian-backed outlet that drew attention for reporting a rumor during the French presidential campaign that Macron was having a gay affair.

He denied it, and beat Le Pen anyway, but never forgot.

RT's Fedorova says they are being unfairly targeted. Speaking from RT's gleaming French studios on the banks of the Seine River, she says she struggled to get permits to open in France, and her journalists are routinely barred from the Elysee Palace after Macron accused RT and Sputnik last year of being "organs" of Russian influence.

RT France's coverage appears broadly similar to other French networks, with a slightly greater emphasis on street violence and migrants. The biggest difference: its extensive coverage of Syria, which stresses the views of the Russian and Syrian governments.

"RT stands for giving the floor, the platform to different opinions, and I personally believe that diversity of voices is absolutely necessary in order to have the big picture," said Fedorova, who says RT will be watching Macron's plan closely.

Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders is also watching closely. It has decried fake news as undermining journalists who work hard to uncover wrongdoing and verify information, but the group is wary of Macron's order.

"We are not opposed to the principle of a law against fake news. But the point is to be able to write a law without endangering the freedom to reveal things," the group's chief, Christophe Deloire, told the AP.

"Probably our democracies have to be defended in front of the fake news wave," he said, but not "with the ways that despotic countries use."

His group, also known by French acronym RSF, is working with partners on a potential certification system that could classify news sources according to their verification methods, transparency about financing and other criteria — and leave it up to the public to decide what to believe.

As France's government prepares its bill, it will be learning lessons from a German law that went into effect this month cracking down on hate speech on social networks. Some fear legitimate posts by satirists or journalists are being accidentally caught up in the dragnet.

Shutting down websites can also backfire by calling more attention to them.

"The only long-term solution for the fake news problem is a more sophisticated public," Tenner said.

"Sophisticated manipulators of facts will always find a way around whatever regulations are in place," such as creating a front company to sponsor a website or writing "something that is misleading and inflammatory that is factually true," he said.

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, outlines another problem: "People like fake news. It reinforces their beliefs."

Macron is prompting "a very valid conversation" about campaign funding and transparency. But "where it runs into trouble is when they try to define fake news," he said.

The Macron government's digital affairs chief is lucid about the challenges ahead.

"This is the beginning of the debate. We won't go too fast," Mounir Mahjoubi told the AP.

He insists governments shouldn't remain complacent, especially with elections coming up in Italy, Russia and the U.S., and for the European Parliament next year.

"We need to ask this question," he said, "and work all together on what can be done."

———

David Rising in Berlin and Jona Kallgren in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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World

Magnitude 7.1 quake hits off Peru, killing at least 1

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Magnitude 7.1 quake hits off Peru, killing at least 1

The Associated Press
This photo released by Andina Agency shows residents in Chala, Peru, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, after an earthquake struck the area. The powerful earthquake struck off Peru's coast early Sunday, tumbling adobe homes in small, rural towns, officials said. (Andina Agency via AP)

A powerful earthquake struck off Peru's coast early Sunday, tumbling adobe homes in small, rural towns, killing at least one person and leaving dozens injured, officials said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the early morning quake had a magnitude of 7.1 and was centered 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Acari in the Arequipa department of southwestern Peru.

The quake jolted people awake as far away as capital city of Lima, some 350 miles (560 kilometers) from Acari, blocked some roads, collapsed adobe homes in several towns and left at least one supermarket a jumble of fallen crackers boxes and soda bottles.

Arequipa Gov. Yamila Osorio said a 55-year-old man killed when he was crushed by a fallen rock and the National Civil Defense Institute said at least 57 people were injured — 23 of them in Chala district, a coastal area dependent on fishing and mining that is popular with tourists.

Photographs posted on social media showed evacuated tourists sitting outside one hotel before dawn.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said on Twitter he was in route to the affected region to "verify the magnitude of the damage and send the needed humanitarian aid."

The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned of that hazardous waves could hit Peru and Chile, but later stated there was no longer any tsunami threat from the quake.

The quake came four days before Pope Francis was set to arrive in Peru.

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World

Egypt: 2 presidential hopefuls take aim at el-Sissi’s rule

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Egypt: 2 presidential hopefuls take aim at el-Sissi's rule

The Associated Press
FILE – In this Aug. 26, 2015 file photo, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, center, reviews honor guards, as he takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia. Two hopefuls have launched their presidential campaigns with a barrage of criticism of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's rule. El-Sissi has yet to formally announce whether he would contest the March 26-28, 2018 election, but he is virtually certain to contest and win another four-year term in office. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, Pool, File)

Barely a week after authorities set a date for Egypt's presidential elections, two hopefuls have launched their campaigns with criticism of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's rule, with one promising to end "repression" if elected and the other claiming the incumbent is establishing a dictatorship.

El-Sissi has yet to formally announce whether he will run in the March 26-28 election, but he is virtually certain to contest and win another four-year term in office. He said in October he would decide after he sees voters' feedback on his track record over the past four years.

On Sunday, he announced on his Twitter account a conference to be held later this week in which "we will together review the journey of success." He was alluding to last week's announcement by his office that he would field questions from among those submitted by Egyptians online.

Neither of the two presidential hopefuls — prominent rights lawyer Khaled Ali and former lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat — pose a serious challenge to el-Sissi's chances of re-election, but both appear willing to take advantage of the opportunity to air scathing criticism of his rule during an election season.

Sadat, nephew of Egypt's late leader Anwar Sadat, has posted a promotional video on social media networks in which he touts himself as capable of restoring "people's rule" and bringing an end to "corruption" and "oppression."

"They say Egypt is a quasi-state and that we are very, very poor," Sadat said in a voiceover, referring to two el-Sissi phrases that have been widely criticized as too harsh. "It's time we said enough to corruption, to oppression and misrepresentation. People can if given a chance," he said.

Thrown out of parliament last year amid allegations he leaked official documents to foreign diplomats, Sadat went on to outline what he intends to do if elected, which apparently includes reforming domestic and foreign policies, but he offered no specifics or how he would finance those measures.

Criticism of el-Sisi by Ali, the rights lawyer, was more direct and focused on the difficulties of running against an incumbent who commands vast resources, from a loyal media to state institutions.

He bemoaned that he was entering a race "knowing that those who rule this nation cannot accommodate integrity … Yes, we have taken on a battle that some see as impossible to win, not because of the strength of our rival, but because of the injustices in the conditions of the competition, its circumstances and context."

"We chose this path so that no one comes one day and says 'where was this generation when they were building a dictatorship?'" he told reporters Thursday.

Besides Ali and Sadat, the lineup of hopefuls include Egypt's former chief of staff, Sami Annan, who on Thursday posted on his Facebook account that his party has nominated him to run. Two former generals — him and el-Sissi — could therefore now potentially run against each other. Such a contest could undermine the appearance of a united front for a proud military establishment which has produced all but two of the country's presidents since the early 1950s.

But it' still early days before it is known whether any of the candidates will be eligible to run.

Under the constitution, any would-be candidate must gather formal "recommendations" from at least 20 elected members of parliament, or alternatively 25,000 recommendations from voters, with a minimum of 1,000 each from 15 of Egypt's 29 provinces.

Most lawmakers have already recommended el-Sissi, who has led a heavy crackdown since 2013 that has jailed thousands of opponents, mainly Islamists but also secular activists, including many of those involved in the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Under his rule, street protests are banned, human rights groups have been placed under severe restrictions and several rights campaigners have been banned from foreign travel or had their assets frozen. Many critics in the media have been silenced. He has also been trying to revive the battered economy and brought a level of security to the streets not seen since the 2011 uprising.

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Health

Recall of French baby milk products extended to 83 countries

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Recall of French baby milk products extended to 83 countries

The Associated Press
The logo of Groupe Lactalis is seen as Head of Communication & External Relations, Michel Nalet attends a press conference in Paris, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized French diary giant Lactalis after major supermarkets admitted this week that baby food recalled over fears of salmonella contamination still made it onto French shelves. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

The head of French dairy company Lactalis says that a recall of baby milk products because of a salmonella scare has been extended to 83 countries from around 30.

In an interview with French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, the president of Lactalis, Emmanuel Besnier, said that more than 12 million boxes of infant milk products are now concerned. They represent all lots from the Lactalis factory in Craon, northwest France, where the salmonella bacteria was discovered in December.

The move comes after Besnier met Friday with France's economy minister — and a bungled recall operation whose responsibility remains unclear.

The paper said 35 babies were diagnosed with salmonella in France, one in Spain and a possible case in Greece.

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Entertainment

Sam Rockwell drops f-bomb on ‘Saturday Night Live’

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Sam Rockwell drops f-bomb on 'Saturday Night Live'

Twitter/nbcsnl
Actor Sam Rockwell on "Saturday Night Live" on Jan. 13, 2018.

The Twittersphere lit up Saturday night after Sam Rockwell accidentally dropped the F-bomb during a "Saturday Night Live" sketch.

In the eyebrow-raising sketch, guest host Rockwell plays a science teacher in a lab with a pair students.

One of the students, played by cast member Mikey Day, can't seem to grasp the task at hand, so Rockwell's character says to the boy, "You can't be this f—— stupid."

The subsequent Mountain Time and Central Time airings of "SNL" were expletive-free.

Rockwell never breaks out of character — nor does Day or Cecily Strong, who plays the other student — but Rockwell does immediately cover his mouth after uttering the profanity.

A rep for "Saturday Night Live" declined to comment on Rockwell's slip of the tongue. ABC News has also sought comment from the actor's publicist.

Yow! Sam Rockwell just dropped the f-bomb live on @nbcsnl – on live coast to coast TV! pic.twitter.com/mHGWxN7jw7

— Brian Steinberg (@bristei) January 14, 2018

Rockwell isn't the only one to drop the F-bomb on "Saturday Night Live."

Guest host Kristen Stewart said the expletive last year.

In 2012, guest host Samuel L. Jackson said both "f—" and "bull—-."

And in 2009, cast member Jenny Slate said the F-word during a sketch. It was her first season with the show. She was fired after the conclusion of the season.

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World

Pope: It’s a sin if fear makes us hostile to migrants

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Pope: It's a sin if fear makes us hostile to migrants

The Associated Press
A family walks on the altar in front of Pope Francis on the occasion of a Mass on the world day for migrants and refugees, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis has defined hostility and rejection of refugees and migrants as sin, encouraging people to overcome their "fully comprehensible" fears that these new arrivals might "disturb the established order" of local communities.

At his invitation, several thousand migrants, refugees and immigrants from 49 countries joined Francis at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday, a day the Catholic Church dedicated to the issues and contributions of those who leave homelands in hope of a better life.

New arrivals must "know and respect the laws, the culture and the traditions of the countries that take them in," he said. Local communities must "open themselves without prejudices to their rich diversity, to understand the hopes and potential of the newly arrived as well as their fears and vulnerabilities."

"It is not easy to enter into another culture, to put oneself in the shoes of people so different from us, to understand their thoughts and their experiences," Francis said.

"As a result, we often refuse to encounter the other and raise barriers to defend ourselves. Local communities are sometimes afraid that the newly arrived with disturb the established order, will 'steal' something they have long labored to build up."

Similarly, he said, newcomers also are afraid: "of confrontation, judgment, discrimination, failure."

"These fears are legitimate, based on doubts that are fully comprehensible from a human point of view," Francis continued in his homily.

"Having doubts and fears is not a sin," the pope said. "The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection."

Francis elaborated: "The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbor," instead of seeing it as a "privileged opportunity" to encounter God.

In his almost five-year-old papacy, Francis has stressed the Catholic church's mission to welcome vulnerable and marginalized people. His focus comes as wealthier countries, including several European Union nations and the U.S., are intent on increasing physical or legal barriers to migrants.

Later, greeting about 25,000 people in St. Peter's Square, Francis advocated responding to the migrations that "today are a sign of our times" in four ways: "welcome, protect, promote and integrate" migrants.

———

Frances D'Emilio is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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