Debris are seen inside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Tuesday, April 16, 2019.  Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers and the purported Crown of Christ. (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP=Newsis)
Debris are seen inside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers and the purported Crown of Christ. (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP=Newsis)

Notre Dame in Paris is not the first great cathedral to suffer a devastating fire, and it probably won’t be the last.

In a sense, that is good news. A global army of experts and craftspeople can be called on for the long, complex process of restoring the gutted landmark.

The work will face substantial challenges – starting immediately, with the urgent need to protect the inside of the 850-year-old cathedral from the elements, after its timber-beamed roof was consumed by flames .

The first priority is to put up a temporary metal or plastic roof to stop rain from getting in. Then, engineers and architects will begin to assess the damage.

Fortunately, Notre Dame is a thoroughly documented building. Over the years, historians and archeologists have made exhaustive plans and images, including minutely detailed, 3-D laser-scanned re-creations of the interior.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of the conservation organization Historic England, said Tuesday that the cathedral will need to be made secure without disturbing the debris scattered inside, which may provide valuable information – and material – for restorers.

“The second challenge is actually salvaging the material,” he said. “Some of that material may be reusable, and that’s a painstaking exercise. It’s like an archaeological excavation.”

Despite fears at the height of the inferno that the whole cathedral would be lost, the structure appears intact. Its two rectangular towers still jut into the Paris skyline, and the great stone vault stands atop heavy walls supported by massive flying buttresses. An edifice built to last an eternity withstood its greatest test.

Tom Nickson, a senior lecturer in medieval art and architecture at London’s Courtauld Institute, said the stone vault “acted as a kind of fire door between the highly flammable roof and the highly flammable interior” – just as the cathedral’s medieval builders intended.

Now, careful checks will be needed to determine whether the stones of the vaulted ceiling have been weakened and cracked by the heat. If so, the whole vault may need to be torn down and re-erected.

The cathedral’s exquisite stained-glass rose windows appear intact but are probably suffering “thermal shock” from intense heat followed by cold water, said Jenny Alexander, an expert on medieval art and architecture at the University of Warwick. That means the glass, set in lead, could have sagged or been weakened and will need minute examination.

Once the building has been stabilized and the damage assessed, restoration work can begin. It’s likely to be an international effort.

“Structural engineers, stained-glass experts, stone experts are all going to be packing their bags and heading for Paris in the next few weeks,” Alexander said.

One big decision will be whether to preserve the cathedral just as it was before the fire, or to take a more creative approach.

It’s not always a straightforward choice. Notre Dame’s spire, destroyed in Monday’s blaze, was added to the Gothic cathedral during 19th-century renovations. Should it be rebuilt as it was, or replaced with a new design for the 21st century?

Financial and political considerations, as well as aesthetic ones, are likely to play a part in the decision.

Getting materials may also be a challenge. The cathedral roof was made from oak beams cut from centuries-old trees. Even in the 13th century, they were hard to come by. Nickson said there is probably no country in Europe with big enough trees today.

Alternatives could include a different type of structure made from smaller beams, or even a metal roof – though that would be unpopular with purists.

The restored building will have to reflect modern-day health and safety standards. But Eric Salmon, a former site manager at the Paris cathedral, said it is impossible to eliminate all risk.

“It is like a street accident. It can happen anywhere, anytime,” said Salmon, who now serves as technical director at the Notre Dame cathedral in Strasbourg, France.

The roof of Strasbourg’s Notre Dame was set ablaze during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. It took up to five years to restore the wooden structure. Nowadays the roof is split into three fire-resistant sections to make sure one blaze can’t destroy it all. Smoke detectors are at regular intervals.

Still, Salmon said that what worked in Strasbourg may not be suitable for Paris. Each cathedral is unique.

“We are not going to modify an historic monument to respect the rules. The rules have to be adapted to the building,” he said.

Experts agree the project will take years, if not decades. Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural organization, said restoring Notre Dame “will last a long time and cost a lot of money.” A government appeal for funds has already raised hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) from French businesses.

But few doubt that Notre Dame will rise again.

“Cathedrals are stone phoenixes – reminders that out of adversity we may be reborn,” said Emma Wells, a buildings archaeologist at the University of York.

“The silver lining, if we can call it that, is this allows for historians and archaeologists to come in and uncover more of its history than we ever knew before. It is a palimpsest of layers of history, and we can come in and understand the craft of our medieval forebears.” (AP=Newsis)

President Donald Trump meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during an expanded bilateral meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci=Newsis)
President Donald Trump meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during an expanded bilateral meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci=Newsis)

Facing bipartisan pushback to his immigration shake-up, President Donald Trump said Tuesday he’s not looking to revive the much-criticized practice of separating migrant children from their families at the southern border.
At the same time, he suggested the policy had worked to deter migrants from coming into the U.S., although he offered no evidence to support his position.

Last summer the administration separated more than 2,500 children from their families before international outrage forced Trump to halt the practice and a judge ordered them reunited.

“We’re not looking to do that,” Trump told reporters before meeting with Egypt’s president at the White House. But he also noted: “Once you don’t have it, that’s why you see many more people coming. They’re coming like it’s a picnic, because let’s go to Disneyland.”

The potential reinstatement of one of the most divisive practices of Trump’s tenure was just one aspect of the upheaval at the Department of Homeland Security this week that culminated with the resignation of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady, a 28-year civil servant, technically next in line for secretary, was forced to resign Tuesday to make room for Trump’s pick to replace Nielsen, according to two people familiar with the decision.

With talk that more top officials were likely to be ousted, Republicans expressed public and private concerns about the shake-up orchestrated by the White House and cautioned that leadership changes wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem.

As for the separation of children, Trump declared that he was “the one that stopped it” and said his predecessor, President Barack Obama, was the one who had divided family members. Administrations are allowed to separate children under certain circumstances including for the health and welfare of the child and due to a parent’s criminal history. This is why children were separated under the Obama administration.

At hearings across Capitol Hill, lawmakers grilled administration officials on whether the practice would resurface despite last year’s outrage and evidence that separations were likely to cause lasting psychological effects on the children. House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., also said his committee would take a look at the staff shake-up at Homeland Security, although he said he had not decided on calling in Nielsen.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said there was a serious problem going on between the White House and Homeland Security.

“If everybody’s sitting around waiting for a shiny new wonder pony to ride in and solve it, we’re going to be waiting a long time,” he said.
People familiar with the immigration discussions within the administration said family separation was one of several ideas Trump had revived in recent weeks as he and his aides try to tackle the problem of an ever-growing number of Central American families crossing into the U.S. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity Tuesday said the president had made a series of leadership changes at DHS due to frustrations that department officials weren’t fast enough at implementing changes, such as a new regulation that would challenge a longstanding agreement limiting how long children can be detained, that could spark a legal fight that would land in the Supreme Court.

The White House also was weighing a tougher standard to evaluate initial asylum claims, proposing a “binary choice” that would force migrant families to choose between remaining with their children in detention until their immigration cases were decided or sending their children to government shelters while the parents remained in detention.

The administration also is considering clamping down on remittance payments that Mexican nationals send to their families, the official said.

Amid the pushback, Trump told reporters he was not “cleaning house” at the agency despite a number of staff changes. He said his choice to be the department’s new acting director, Kevin McAleenan, would do a “fantastic job.”

But as Trump was speaking, the senior administration official was making a case to reporters about why the president felt changes were necessary. He described the agency as a large and unwieldly civilian bureaucracy in need of leadership that can deal with career officials resistant to the president’s agenda, including many responsible for implementing some of the very policies Trump seeks to roll back.

Top Republicans in Congress also expressed concern over vacancies at Homeland Security and cautioned Trump to heed off more churn after Nielsen’s resignation.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, made both a public and private plea to the White House not to dismiss career homeland security officials, including the director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Lee Francis Cissna, whose future remained uncertain Tuesday.

He said he had spoken to acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney but “never heard anything final” about Cissna.

At a Senate Homeland Security Committee meeting on border issues, child welfare and border officials warned there wasn’t room or capability to start separating children on a large scale again.

Children who cross the border alone are cared for by the Department of Health and Human Services, and most of the children are teenagers. But last summer, HHS started receiving babies and toddlers, and there was not enough space to house them, said Jonathan White, the career civil servant tasked by Health and Human Services with helping to reunify children.

“It also bears repeating, separating children from their parents entails significant risk of psychological harm. That is an undisputed scientific fact,” White told senators. “We have made improvements to our tracking, but we do not have the capacity to receive that number of children, nor do we have any system that can manage the mass trauma.”

Both Republican and Democratic leaders deplored the idea of separating families.

“I hope members of the administration are actually listening,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R- Wis., the committee chairman. He added that he had spoken with Mulvaney about moving a permanent Homeland Security nominee through quickly.

Some of Trump’s outside allies are urging him to nominate former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to lead the department, while others are pushing former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the job.

Both men’s names also have been tossed about for a possible immigration czar who would coordinate immigration policy across federal agencies.(AP=Newsis)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves Friday prayers at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 22, 2019. Thousands of people gathered in a Christchurch city park near the Al Noor mosque where a gunman on Friday, March 15 killed some of the 50 worshippers in a white supremacist attack on two mosques. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian=Newsis)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves Friday prayers at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 22, 2019. Thousands of people gathered in a Christchurch city park near the Al Noor mosque where a gunman on Friday, March 15 killed some of the 50 worshippers in a white supremacist attack on two mosques. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian=Newsis)

Only a week after attacks on two mosques in New Zealand killed 50 worshippers, the country has banned sales of “military-style” semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

In the world of politics, it’s a lightning fast response, especially when compared to the deeply contentious, long-running gun control debate in the United States.

The suddenness of Thursday’s ban, which came as the dead were being buried, has raised many questions, especially for those not familiar with firearms.

Here’s a closer look:
___
WHAT’S BEING BANNED?
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that “every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack last Friday will be banned.”

Ardern said a sales ban was effective immediately to prevent stockpiling and would be followed by a complete ban on the weapons after new laws are rushed through.

The ban includes any “military-style” semi-automatic guns or shotguns that are capable of being used with a detachable magazine that holds more than five rounds. It also extends to accessories, such as bump stocks, used to convert guns into what the government called “military-style” weapons.

Military-style semi-automatics have been defined under New Zealand law as rifles with magazines exceeding seven shots, or with pistol grips, folding or telescopic butts, bayonet attachments or flash suppressors at the end of the barrel.

Many different types of firearms, from pistols to rifles and shotguns, can be semi-automatic. Semi-automatic refers to a firearm’s ability to self-load, not only firing a bullet with each trigger pull, but also reloading and making the firearm capable of firing again.
___
WHAT’S NOT BEING BANNED?
The ban does not include semi-automatic .22 caliber or smaller guns that hold up to 10 rounds or semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns with non-detachable magazines that hold up to five rounds. The guns not banned are commonly used by farmers and hunters.

Caliber is the measurement of the diameter of the inside of a gun barrel. A higher caliber firearm uses larger rounds that can do more tissue damage and are more lethal.

The government said the police and military would be exempt, as would businesses carrying out professional pest control. Access for international shooting competitions would also be considered.
___
WHAT HAPPENS TO BANNED GUNS?
Ardern said people could hand over their guns under an amnesty while officials develop a formal buyback scheme, which could cost up to 200 million New Zealand dollars ($140 million).

New Zealand police said on their website that the “transitional period” would allow people to arrange to hand over their unlawful firearms to police without penalties. It encouraged people to fill out an online form and said after that police would be in touch to make arrangements.

There could be legal exemptions to the ban, such as for pest controllers, but Ardern said any exemptions would be “tightly regulated.”

“For other dealers, sales should essentially now cease. My expectation is that these weapons will now be returned to your suppliers and never enter into the New Zealand market again,” she said.
___
HOW MANY GUNS ARE AFFECTED?
There are nearly 250,000 licensed gun owners in New Zealand, which has a population of 5 million people. Officials estimate there are 1.5 million guns in the country.

Sydney University gun policy expert Philip Alpers estimated that only 6 percent of all weapons in New Zealand were registered.

He said there could be 500,000 semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. But, he added, “only a small proportion of those would be capable of taking a large-capacity magazine. So that’s the number that everyone is trying to guess.”
___
DO NEW ZEALANDERS SUPPORT IT?
The ban is widely supported and puts New Zealand “almost exactly in line” with Australia, the United Kingdom and “somewhat with Canada,” according to Professor Kevin Clements, chairman of Peace and Conflicts studies at the University of Otago and a firearms expert.

One of New Zealand’s largest gun retailers, Hunting & Fishing New Zealand, said it supports “any government measure to permanently ban such weapons.”

The company said it would no longer stock any assault-style firearms of any category and would also stop selling firearms online.

“What (Ardern’s) done is a very brave move, and it’s the kind of move that can only be done in a common-law country where guns are not a right. Guns are a real privilege. If there was a legal right like there is in the United States, this would be much more difficult,” said International law Professor Alexander Gillespie of Waikato University.
But, he added, “it’s going to be expensive, and there’s going to be a lot of pushback.”
___
WHAT’S NEXT?
Alpers noted that New Zealand, although it requires handgun registration, “is still the only country apart from the United States and to some degree Canada that doesn’t have (firearm) registration as its third pillar of gun control” along with licensing and treating possession as a conditional privilege.

Alpers said rifles and shotguns aren’t registered in the country.

He called that “a very important loophole” but said Ardern “has flagged her determination to pursue registration. Whether she’ll be able to do it completely or not … is another question.”
___
Klug reported from Seoul, South Korea. Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul contributed to this report.(AP=Newsis)

People walking along an avenue after a partial power outage in the country, Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, March 7, 2019.  A power outage left much of Venezuela in the dark early Thursday evening in what appeared to be one of the largest blackouts yet in a country where power failures have become increasingly common. Crowds of commuters in capital city Caracas were walking home after metro service ground to a halt and traffic snarled as cars struggled to navigate intersections where stoplights were out. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo=newsis)
People walking along an avenue after a partial power outage in the country, Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, March 7, 2019. A power outage left much of Venezuela in the dark early Thursday evening in what appeared to be one of the largest blackouts yet in a country where power failures have become increasingly common. Crowds of commuters in capital city Caracas were walking home after metro service ground to a halt and traffic snarled as cars struggled to navigate intersections where stoplights were out. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo=newsis)

Much of Venezuela plunged into darkness Thursday evening, creating chaos as people struggled to navigate their way home amid what appeared to be one of the biggest blackouts yet in a country where power failures have become common.

Commuters took to the sidewalks in Caracas after subway service stopped and a snarl of cars jammed the streets with stoplights out.

State-owned electricity operator Corpoelec blamed the outage on what it called an “attack” on the Guri Dam, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric stations and the cornerstone of Venezuela’s electrical grid.

“We’ve been targeted again in the power war,” Maj. Gen. Luis Motta, President Nicolas Maduro’s minister of electrical power, said on state television.

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez called the blackout a criminal act by right-wing extremists intent on creating chaos by leaving Venezuelans without power for several days. He said Maduro’s government had defeated the “sabotage” and already restored power in the country’s eastern region.

Pro-government officials frequently blame power outages on Venezuela’s opposition, accusing them of attacking power substations with Molotov cocktails, though they rarely provide any evidence.

Officials did not indicate how much of Venezuela had lost power, though local media said nearly all of the country had been blacked out.

Motto said it would take “approximately three hours” for service to be fully restored, though patience was running thin as the blackout dragged on.

In one Caracas neighborhood, residents threw up their windows and began banging on pots and pans in a sign of protest while others shouted out expletives and Maduro’s name.

The outage comes as Venezuela is in the throes of a political struggle between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by about 50 nations as Venezuela’s rightful president.

The opposition blames Maduro’s socialist policies for Venezuela’s hyperinflation and severe shortages of food and medicine. Maduro accuses Guaido of conspiring with the Trump administration in a campaign to overthrow him.
Guaido took to Twitter Tuesday evening to blast Maduro for the outage.

“How do you tell a mom who needs to cook, an ill person who depends on a machine, a worker who should be laboring that we are in a powerful country without electricity?” he wrote, using the hashtag (hash)SinLuz, meaning without light. “Venezuela is clear that the light will return with the end of usurpation.”

Venezuela’s electrical system was once the envy of Latin America but it has fallen into a state of disrepair after years of poor maintenance and mismanagement. High-ranking officials have been accused in U.S. court proceedings of looting government money earmarked for the electrical system.

The government subsidizes the electricity system’s costs to keep home power bills exceptionally low – just a couple dollars a month.(AP=Newsis)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, leave their joint news conference following the talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. The Kremlin talks focused on a decades-long territorial dispute between the two nations. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool Photo via AP=newsis)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, leave their joint news conference following the talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. The Kremlin talks focused on a decades-long territorial dispute between the two nations. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool Photo via AP=newsis)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Thursday to take a “step-by-step” approach in resolving a territorial dispute with Russia left over from World War II.

Abe told a rally of former residents of four islands seized by Russia in the war’s final days and their supporters Thursday that settling the conflict over what Japan calls its “northern territories” was difficult but necessary.

“It is not easy to resolve this task remaining over 73 years since the war. Yet, we need to tackle this,” Abe said.

“Keeping in mind your sentiments toward the Northern Territory, we are determined to take a step-by-step approach toward resolving the territorial issue,” he said.

Regaining the islands north of Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido has been a priority for Abe and his conservative base. For seven decades, the dispute has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from signing a peace treaty.

In November, Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to accelerate negotiations based on a 1956 Soviet proposal to return two of the islands to Japan.

That suggestion angered Russian nationalists, and last month Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Japan it must recognize the islands as part of Russia as a starting point for talks.

Abe said the negotiations would continue based on the guidelines agreed to with Putin in order to sign a peace treaty “while people of Japan and Russia strengthen their mutual trust and friendship.”

While Abe is keen to make progress on the dispute with Russia and find opportunities to cooperate in developing oil and gas and other natural resources, China is the overriding concern, said James Brown, associated professor at Temple University’s Japan Campus.

“There is also the concern that the United States, especially under the `America First’ policy of (President Donald) Trump, is somewhat of a less reliable ally than it was in the past,” Brown said.

To avoid facing isolation among “hostile” powers such as China, North Korea and Russia, “it seems that Abe has calculated that of those countries, it would make sense to try and normalize relations with Russia and thereby to draw it away from China,” he said. (AP=Newsis)

A Venezuelan anti-government protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish "Guaido legitimate President!" during a demonstration in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Hundreds of people, mostly Venezuelan migrants, held a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and in favor of Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress who today proclaimed himself president of the South American nation. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko=Newsis)
A Venezuelan anti-government protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish “Guaido legitimate President!” during a demonstration in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Hundreds of people, mostly Venezuelan migrants, held a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and in favor of Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-run congress who today proclaimed himself president of the South American nation. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko=Newsis)

Numerous governments in the Western Hemisphere quickly recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of his crisis-torn country Wednesday.

The United States and all but one member of the Lima Group of regional nations threw their support behind Guaido after he declared himself interim president in a defiant speech before masses of anti-government demonstrators.

The declaration by the Lima Group, which has been vocal in denouncing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, was signed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru. Mexico was the only member to not sign.

The group said it supported the beginning of the process of a democratic transition in Venezuela following its constitution with aim of carrying out new elections as soon as possible. It also condemned acts of violence in Venezuela and made a call for peace.

U.S. President Donald Trump called on Maduro to resign and said the U.S. would use the “full weight” of its economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy.

Venezuelans have been suffering from an economic and governance crisis that has led millions to flee hyperinflation and severe shortages of food and medicine.

Paraguay was the first regional country to express support after Guaido took an oath before thousands of supporters.
“Count on us to embrace freedom and democracy again,” Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez said on Twitter.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Latin America’s largest nation also would support the 35-year-old lawmaker “so that peace and democracy return to Venezuela.”

There was no immediate reaction from Cuba, which is the top regional ally of Maduro, nor from Nicaragua, which is also close to Maduro’s socialist government.

Maduro was sworn into a contested second term two weeks ago in a move condemned by dozens of nations.

Guaido has said it is his right under Venezuela’s constitution to take over the presidency until new elections can be called. But not everyone backed his bold move.

Bolivian President Evo Morales condemned what he called an imperialist attack.

“Our solidarity with the Venezuelan people and Nicolas Maduro, in these decisive hours when the claws of imperialism are once again trying to deal a death blow on democracy and self-determination on the peoples of South America,” Morales tweeted. “We will not be the backyard of the U.S. again.”

A spokesman for Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Mexico continued to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s president.

“We maintain our position of neutrality in the Venezuelan conflict,” Jesus Ramirez Cuevas told Mexico’s Milenio news television channel. “The Mexican government is analyzing the situation in Venezuela. Until now, there is no change in its diplomatic relations with that country nor with its government.”

Maduro responded to Guaido’s move by cutting off diplomatic relations with the U.S., the largest importer of Venezuelan oil, and announced that American diplomats had 72 hours to leave his country. He also heaped much of the blame for developments on U.S. imperialism and Colombia’s “oligarchy.”

Colombian President Ivan Duque said his nation would accompany Guaido “in this process of transition toward democracy so that the Venezuelan people can free themselves from the dictatorship.” (AP=Newsis)

In this Monday, Dec. 10, 2018 photo, Iranian carpet seller Mahmoud Morshedi displays carpets at his shop at the grand bazaar in Kashan, Iran. Before the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal with world powers and began restoring crippling sanctions earlier this year, the $425 million a year Persian carpet industry kept an ancient artistic tradition alive while providing much-needed income to Iranians as well as Afghan refugees, who create much of the more luxurious hand-woven pieces. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi=Newsis)
In this Monday, Dec. 10, 2018 photo, Iranian carpet seller Mahmoud Morshedi displays carpets at his shop at the grand bazaar in Kashan, Iran. Before the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal with world powers and began restoring crippling sanctions earlier this year, the $425 million a year Persian carpet industry kept an ancient artistic tradition alive while providing much-needed income to Iranians as well as Afghan refugees, who create much of the more luxurious hand-woven pieces. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi=Newsis)

As the Trump administration works to unravel Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with word powers, the producers of the country’s famed Persian carpets fear they will lose vital markets.
Before the U.S. withdrew from the deal and began restoring crippling sanctions earlier this year, the $425 million a year industry preserved an ancient tradition while providing much-needed income to Iranians as well as Afghan refugees, who create much of the more luxurious hand-woven pieces. Iran produces some 400 tons of carpets a year and exports 80 percent of them.
Despite the decades of mutual hostility stemming from the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the United States is one of the biggest markets for Persian rugs, accounting for more than a quarter of all exports.
But that is set to change as the U.S. imposes what it says are the toughest sanctions in history, aimed at persuading Iran to dramatically change its policies in the region, including its support for militant groups and its involvement in Syria and other conflicts.
The impact of the renewed sanctions is being felt in the grand bazaar of Kashan, an ancient city in one of Iran’s main carpet-weaving regions, known for its rich red, blue and yellow designs. On a recent day, many of the shops were closed and there were few shoppers.
The sanctions have fueled an economic crisis in Iran, where the currency has plummeted in recent months, wiping out people’s life savings and sending prices soaring. The few tourists who visit Iran cannot use foreign credit cards because of U.S. sanctions on banking, making big purchases difficult.
“I would spend more if I could pay with my credit card,” said Fabian Simon, a French tourist visiting the bazaar. “I took a certain amount of cash, and when it is finished, it is finished.”
Mahmoud Morshedi, a carpet seller who has worked in the industry for more than four decades, said the production of hand-woven rugs was already suffering from the growing popularity of cheaper machine-made carpets. His company only produces around 20 hand-woven carpets a year, down from 100 in the 1990s, when they filled orders from local exporters, Tehran businessmen and wealthy buyers from Gulf countries. “They are not coming anymore,” he said.
A small, 1.5 square meter (16 square foot) rug can take between 18 months and four years to make, and sells for up to $6,000.
Iran is barred from exporting anything directly to the United States, and traders can only ship through third countries if they conceal the origin of the product.
Javad Esfahanian, whose family runs one of the oldest carpet-making businesses in the country, said the industry is only able to survive because of cheap labor from Afghan refugees – mainly women – who have the rare skills required for luxury weaving and who will work for as little as $1.50 per day. He estimates that some 2 million people work in the industry and another 8 million rely on their income.
But the worsening economic conditions in Iran are already pushing Afghan refugees to leave, with some 350,000 returning home in just the first six months of this year, according to the U.N. agency for migration.
“If these Afghan weavers leave Iran, I am certain that production of hand-woven carpets will come to an end. I have no doubt,” Esfahanian said.
Iranian exports boomed after the landmark nuclear agreement went into effect in 2016, lifting international sanctions in return for Iran curbing its uranium enrichment. U.N. inspectors say Iran is complying with the agreement, and European countries are trying to salvage the deal, saying it provides the best means for preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
President Donald Trump was a harsh critic of the agreement, saying it was too generous and did nothing to restrain Iran’s support for militant groups like the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas or its meddling in Syria, Iraq and Yemen – none of which was part of the deal.
His administration has demanded Iran overhaul its regional policies in return for the lifting of sanctions, while Tehran appears to be waiting Trump out, hoping a future U.S. administration returns to the nuclear deal.
Mohammad Esfahanian, Javad’s 86-year-old cousin and the head of the Kashan Carpet Union, blamed his own country’s leaders for the crisis, saying “when you start cursing others in the world, they become your enemy.”
“Politics and economy are not separate from each other. If 10 stores sold the same good, which one would you buy it from? The one you have a better relationship with and the one that has a better behavior, of course.” (AP=Newsis)

Yohann Piedagnel watches French President Emmanuel Macron during a televised address to the nation, in Hendaye, southwestern France, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018.  In an unusual admission, French President Emmanuel Macron says he's partially responsible for anger fueling protests. (AP Photo/Bob Edme=newsis)
Yohann Piedagnel watches French President Emmanuel Macron during a televised address to the nation, in Hendaye, southwestern France, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. In an unusual admission, French President Emmanuel Macron says he’s partially responsible for anger fueling protests. (AP Photo/Bob Edme=newsis)

French President Emmanuel Macron tried to reassert control over a nation wracked by increasingly violent protests with offers of tax relief for struggling workers and pensioners – and an exceptional admission Monday that “I might have hurt people with my words.”
It may not be enough.
Even as Macron broke his silence on the protests in a brief televised address, yellow-vested demonstrators vowed to keep up the pressure on a man they see as arrogant, out-of-touch and “president of the rich.”
“We are at a historic moment for our country,” the French leader said from the presidential Elysee Palace. “We will not resume the normal course of our lives” after all that has happened.
Speaking with a soft voice and gentle tone, Macron pleaded for a return to calm after almost four weeks of protests that started in neglected provinces to oppose fuel tax increases and progressed to rioting in Paris and a plethora of broad demands.
It’s a turning point in Macron’s presidency, and a crucial moment for both France and Europe. Macron rode to the presidency last year on promises of rejuvenating France’s stagnant economy and salvaging European unity. His credibility on both fronts is now deeply damaged, just as the EU struggles with Britain’s chaotic exit and as France’s protests have prompted copycat movements beyond its borders.
French protesters spent days demanding that Macron speak publicly about their concerns. After he did, they dissected his promises.
“It doesn’t solve the problem,” protester Alain Bouche told BFM television from a yellow-vest roadblock southwest of Paris. He said fellow demonstrators want a national referendum, too.
At a similar barricade near France’s border with Switzerland, demonstrators argued. Two retirees watching the broadcast on a tablet in a makeshift shelter dismissed it as too little, too late. But another yellow-vested protester who gave only her first name, Milliau, said it had “a few reassuring elements. He took one first big step. He has many more to take.”
Some protest representatives have said more demonstrations will be held Saturday, following those in Paris that turned violent during the previous two weekends.
Meanwhile, students opposing changes in key high school tests called for a new round of protests Tuesday.
Macron declared an “economic and social state of emergency,” ordering the government and parliament to take immediate steps to change tax rules and other policies that hit the wallets of working class French people.
He responded to several of the protesters’ demands, promising measures that included:
_A government-funded 100-euro increase in the minimum wage starting at the beginning of the new year.
_Abolition of taxes on overtime pay in 2019.
_Asking profit-making companies to give workers tax-free year-end bonuses.
_Slashing a tax hike on small pensions, acknowledging it was “unjust.”
One thing he didn’t do: Restore a special tax on households with assets above 1.3 million euros ($1.5 million) that he cut last year. Yellow vest protesters decry the end of the tax and wanted it revived.
Overall, Macron unveiled no radical changes, and clung to his vision for transforming France. Yet his costly promises will make it even more difficult to boost growth – already being hammered by protests that have damaged holiday retail sales and worried tourists and foreign investors.
“It’s more of a budgetary adjustment than a change of political course,” said Benjamin Cauchy, a yellow vest protest representative. “That doesn’t correspond to what the French want.”
Some protesters just wanted one thing: Macron to announce “I quit.”
He showed no signs of giving in. Instead, he defended his political independence and described his devotion to serving France. No French presidential or parliamentary elections are scheduled until 2022.
The most remarkable part of the speech may have been the moment an uncharacteristically unshaven Macron said: “I take my share of responsibility” for the anger gripping France.
It was an unusual admission for a president whose leadership has appeared marked by a single-minded determination to push through reforms he promised in his 2017 campaign, regardless of the fallout.
“I might have hurt people with my words,” he said.
Indeed, he wounded many when he told a jobless man that he just had to “cross the street” to find work. Or when he told retirees with small pensions to stop complaining. Or when he suggested some French workers are “lazy.”
However, the centrist leader insisted Monday that the protesters’ “malaise” is as old as he is – 40 years – and coincides with France’s struggles in recent decades to keep up with globalization.
He also denounced the protest-associated violence that led to hundreds of injuries, more than 1,000 arrests and the ransacking of stores in some of Paris’ richest neighborhoods.
Authorities will show “no indulgence” to those behind the vandalism and rioting, Macron said, adding that “no anger justifies” attacking police or looting stores.
Political analyst Dominique Moisi said the important thing in Macron’s speech was not only “what he said but the way he said it.”
Macron sought to establish his authority by declaring he wouldn’t tolerate violence, but also “gave the impression that he understood what is happening,” Moisi said.
Moisi predicted the protest movement could fizzle as the holidays approach and the government launches into the public dialogue Macron promised.
Fallout from the protests so far could cost France 0.1 percent of gross domestic product in the last quarter of the year, French Finance Minister Le Maire warned Monday.
“That means fewer jobs, it means less prosperity for the whole country,” he said.
The yellow vest protests began in November against a rise in fuel taxes – which Macron retreated from last week – but mushroomed into other, sometimes contradictory demands.
Before his TV speech, Macron met with local and national politicians and with union and business leaders to hear their concerns – but with no representatives of the scattered, leaderless protest movement. (AP=newsis)

In this July 4, 2017, file photo, Interpol President Meng Hongwei delivers his opening address at the Interpol World congress, in Singapore. Chinese authorities say they are investigating the former president of Interpol for bribery and other crimes and indicate that political transgressions may have also landed him in trouble. In a statement posted on a government website Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, the authorities said Meng Hongwei, China's vice minister for public security, was being investigated due to his own "willfulness and for bringing trouble upon himself." (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File=Newsis)
In this July 4, 2017, file photo, Interpol President Meng Hongwei delivers his opening address at the Interpol World congress, in Singapore. Chinese authorities say they are investigating the former president of Interpol for bribery and other crimes and indicate that political transgressions may have also landed him in trouble. In a statement posted on a government website Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, the authorities said Meng Hongwei, China’s vice minister for public security, was being investigated due to his own “willfulness and for bringing trouble upon himself.” (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File=Newsis)

The wife of the former Interpol president who disappeared in China has revealed that she had received a threatening phone call warning of agents coming for her while she fights a so-far fruitless battle for information about her husband’s fate.
In her first one-on-one interview since Meng Hongwei went missing, Grace Meng denied bribery allegations against her high-profile husband, and told The Associated Press that speaking out about his disappearance was placing her “in great danger.”
Meng Hongwei – who is also China’s vice minister of public security – disappeared while on a trip home to China late last month. A long-time Communist Party insider with decades of experience in China’s sprawling security apparatus, the 64-year-old is the latest high-ranking official to fall victim to a sweeping purge against allegedly corrupt or disloyal officials under President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian administration.
Speaking to the AP late Monday at a hotel in Lyon, France, where Interpol is based, Grace Meng said her last contact with her husband was by text message, on Sept. 25, when he wrote “wait for my call” and sent her an emoji image of a knife after traveling back to China.
After a week with no subsequent news, and on an evening when she was at home in Lyon having put their two young boys to bed, she then got a threatening call on her mobile phone from a man speaking in Chinese.
“He said, `You listen but you don’t speak,”‘ she said. He continued: “We’ve come in two work teams, two work teams just for you.”
She said the man also said, “We know where you are,” and that when she tried to ask a question, he repeated: “You don’t speak, you just listen to me.”
As a result, Mrs. Meng is now under French police protection.
Chinese authorities said Monday that Meng Hongwei was being lawfully investigated for taking bribes and other crimes that were a result of his “willfulness.” Hours earlier, Interpol said Meng had resigned as the international police agency’s president. It was not clear whether he did so of his own free will.
Mrs. Meng suggested that the bribery accusation is just an excuse for “making him disappear for so long.”
“As his wife, I think he’s simply incapable of this,” she said. She said she would be willing to make their bank accounts public.
She said that she spoke out in hopes that doing so might help other families in similar circumstances.
Mrs. Meng refused to provide her real name to the AP, saying she was too afraid for the safety of her relatives in China. It is not customary for Chinese wives to adopt their husbands’ names. Mrs. Meng said she has done so now to show her solidarity with her husband. Her English name, Grace, is one she has long used, she said.
A French judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to AP that police are investigating the threat against Mrs. Meng, but said the probe has yet to determine whether there were indeed Chinese teams sent to Lyon. (AP=Newsis)

A man stands amid the damage caused by a tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. A powerful earthquake rocked the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday, triggering a 3-meter-tall (10-foot-tall) tsunami that an official said swept away houses in at least two cities. (AP=Newsis)
A man stands amid the damage caused by a tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. A powerful earthquake rocked the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday, triggering a 3-meter-tall (10-foot-tall) tsunami that an official said swept away houses in at least two cities. (AP=Newsis)

The powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia’s central Sulawesi province has claimed many victims, a disaster official said Saturday, as rescuers raced to reach the region and an AP reporter saw numerous bodies in a hard-hit city.
Disaster officials haven’t released an official death toll but reports from three hospitals seen Saturday by The Associated Press listed 18 dead.
Dawn revealed a devastated coastline in central Sulawesi where the 3-meter high (10 foot) tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake Friday smashed into two cities and several settlements.
Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a television interview there are “many victims.”
In Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, a large bridge spanning a coastal river had collapsed and the city was strewn with debris.
The city is built around a narrow bay that apparently magnified the force of the tsunami waters as they raced into the tight inlet.
An AP reporter saw bodies partially covered by tarpaulins and a man carrying a dead child through the wreckage.
Indonesian TV showed a smartphone video of a powerful wave hitting Palu, with people screaming and running in fear. The water smashed into buildings and a large mosque already damaged by the earthquake.
Communications with the area are difficult because power and telecommunications are cut, hampering search and rescue efforts.
Nugroho said the runway of Palu’s airport is not damaged and essential aircraft can land there.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said U.N. officials were in contact with Indonesian authorities and “stand ready to provide support as required.”
Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
In December 2004, a massive magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra in western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries. (AP=Newsis)