Massive floating island of plastic is growing fast, now 3 times the size of France

A massive floating island of plastic between California and Hawaii is growing rapidly and is now three times the size of France, a new study finds.

The giant accumulation of plastic called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains at least 79,000 tons discarded plastic, covering an area of about 617,800 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers), according to a study published Thursday in Scientific Reports.

That is three times the area of France and more than twice the size of Texas.

The study’s authors further said, “Our results suggest that ocean plastic pollution within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is increasing exponentially.”

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US Navy sails near Pacific artificial island to challenge Chinese maritime claim

A U.S. Navy destroyer today sailed within 12 miles of a disputed artificial island claimed by China in the South China Sea, according to a U.S. defense official.

The USS Mustin’s passage past Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands is the latest Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) conducted by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea in disputed waters claimed by China.

The U.S. ship also conducted maneuvering operations as it sailed past the artificial island, the defense official said. Mischief Reef is one of seven artificial islands built up by China in recent years to press their territorial claims to the island chain.

The Navy carries out FONOPs around the world to challenge excessive maritime claims made by countries, but the operations directed at claims made by China draw the most attention.

China’s Foreign Ministry in January strongly criticized the FONOP conducted by the destroyer USS Hopper past Scarborough Shoal, west of the Philippines. The Hopper’s passage “violated China’s sovereignty and security interests” and put the safety of Chinese vessels and personnel at risk, a ministry statement said.

The operation carried out by the USS Mustin will likely draw attention to its timing because it comes a day after the Trump administration proposed $ 60 billion in trade tariffs on China. But the operation may have been coincidental because freedom of navigation operations are planned weeks in advance.

“U.S. Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, including the South China Sea,” Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokeswoman, said in a statement. “All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.

“We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” she added. “FONOPs are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements. The United States takes a strong position on protecting the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all countries and that all maritime claims must comply with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.”

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Gunman killed after deadly hostage-taking rampage at French supermarket

Authorities killed a gunman in southern France today after his hostage-taking attack on a supermarket left two other people dead and a police officer injured when he volunteered to exchange places with a captive, officials said.

A female customer and a male employee died after the assailant opened fire inside the Super U market in the small town of Trebes.

The gunman took hostages and barricaded himself inside the supermarket for about two hours as police surrounded the building outside, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said at a news conference this afternoon.

Authorities ultimately entered the market and fatally shot the suspect, identified as 26-year-old Redouane Lakdim, according to Collomb.

The gunman had earlier hijacked a car in the neighboring town of Carcassonne, killing the driver and injuring a passenger. He then shot at a group of police officers who were jogging together, injuring one of them, before driving to the supermarket in Trebes, according to Collomb.

As the hostage-taking situation unfolded, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said all information suggests the incident “seems to be a terrorist act.”

ISIS later claimed responsibility in a statement via its Amaq News Agency, saying in Arabic that “a soldier of the Islamic State” carried out the attack in Trebes “in response to calls to target the coalition countries.”

At the news conference this afternoon, Collomb hailed what he called the heroic actions of an armed police officer who volunteered to take the place of a hostage inside the supermarket.

The 45-year-old officer apparently left his phone line open during the operation so police could monitor the situation from outside. When authorities heard gunshots on the line, they stormed in and killed the gunman.

The officer is said to be seriously wounded but the nature of his injuries was unclear, according to the interior minister.

Suspect Lakdim lived in Carcassonne and was known to local police as a petty criminal and small-time drug dealer, Collomb told reporters. Investigators believe he acted alone in today’s alleged attack.

Collomb said the gunman, while holding hostages, demanded that authorities release Salah Abdeslam, the only living suspect and the alleged mastermind in the 2015 terror attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.

Investigators are treating today’s incident as terrorism. The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened a terrorism investigation.

“We believe that it is indeed a terror attack,” French President Emmanuel Macron said today at the European Council summit in Brussels.

ABC News’ Dragana Jovanovic and Kirit Radia contributed to this report.

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The Latest: UK's May: Threat from Russia respects no borders

The Latest on the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain (all times local):

5 p.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says European Union leaders must unite to counter a threat from Russia that “doesn’t respect borders.”

Arriving at an EU summit in Brussels, May said the attack on a former spy and his daughter in England “was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbors from the western Balkans to the Near East.”

Britain is seeking a strong condemnation of Moscow from the bloc over the March 4 nerve-agent poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Russia denies involvement and has accused Britain of shutting it out of the investigation.


4:30 p.m.

Lithuania’s president says she is weighing whether to expel Russian diplomats over the nerve-agent attack on an ex-Russian spy in Britain on March 4.

Britain has expelled 23 diplomats over the poisoning attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in England. It blames Moscow for the military grade nerve-agent attack. Both father and daughter are in critical condition.

Asked whether Lithuania would take similar action, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said: “We are considering such measures.”

At a European Union summit Thursday in Brussels, Grybauskaite also offered her full support to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. Former Soviet state Lithuania shares a border with Russia’s western Kaliningrad exclave.


3:40 p.m.

Russia’s ambassador to the U.K. says Britain has a history of violating international law and can’t be trusted in investigating the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko told reporters on Thursday that Britain has blamed Russia for the March 4 nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in southwestern England but presented no evidence.

Yakovenko says his country “can’t take British words for granted,” and accused the U.K. of having a “bad record of violating international law and misleading the international community.”

He says “history shows that British statements must be verified. We demand full transparency of the investigation and full cooperation with Russia” and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The Skripals remain hospitalized in critical condition.


1:40 p.m.

The Kremlin has denounced British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement comparing the World Cup in Russia to the Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany as “utterly disgusting.”

The tough response marks an escalating war of words between Moscow and London over the poisoning in southwestern England of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a military-grade nerve agent. Britain blamed the attack on Russia, which fiercely denied the accusations.

Johnson agreed Wednesday with a Labour lawmaker who likened the soccer World Cup hosted by Russia this summer to Adolf Hitler’s use of the 1936 Olympics as propaganda for his regime.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov described it Thursday as “the utterly disgusting statement which is unworthy of a foreign minister of any country.” He called Johnson’s words “insulting and unacceptable.”

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18 dead as Thai tour bus loses control, crashes off road

A chartered tour bus lost control on a downhill curve in Thailand’s northeast and slid off the side of the road, killing at least 18 people and injuring dozens more, reports said.

In addition to the dead, another 33 passengers were hurt in Wednesday night’s accident in Nakhon Ratchasima province, Thai PBS television reported.

The station cited a survivor as saying a youngster from the back of the bus had yelled that the brakes were broken as the vehicle began to swerve. The bus then crossed over the highway median into oncoming traffic before falling on its side and sweeping into several roadside stalls.

The report said the bus was badly mangled and many passengers were trapped inside.

Thailand has the second-highest rate of traffic fatalities in the world after Libya, according to World Health Organization statistics.

In a second accident before dawn Thursday, a bus carrying 50 people on a school trip in the central province of Ayutthaya skidded in the rain, flipped over and hit a roadside rest stop, Thai PBS reported. The accident injured 39 people.

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Tear gas halts Kosovo parliament vote on border deal

Kosovo’s opposition on Wednesday used tear gas several times to disrupt a parliamentary vote on a border demarcation deal with Montenegro.

Lawmakers had to be evacuated from the Assembly building after the Self-Determination Movement party used tear gas in the hall where the vote was due to start. The opposition used tear gas a second time when the session resumed.

Speaker Kadri Veseli said five opposition lawmakers involved in setting off the tear gas were barred from taking part in the session when it restarts, while two from the governing coalition were injured by the tear gas.

“Today the trauma of the Montenegro border demarcation will end. The vote will be held today,” he said.

But the session failed to resume for a third time with tear gas thrown again in the chamber by the opposition. It wasn’t immediately clear when the session would start again.

Police said they were investigating how the tear gas got into the hall, adding that officers couldn’t enter the chamber unless asked by the parliament’s leadership.

Later, police went into parliament and forced out a small group of opposition lawmakers, who had refused to leave since the morning. Police led them away, apparently for questioning.

The opposition party, now divided in two groups because of internal frictions, has used tear gas and similar tactics to disrupt parliament over the past three years.

The 120-seat parliament was expected to ratify the 2015 deal, which was set as a precondition by the European Union for Kosovo’s citizens to freely travel within its visa-free travel zone known as Schengen. In order for it to be approved, two-thirds of lawmakers must support it.

The opposition party says the border deal will mean Kosovo loses 8,200 hectares (20,000 acres) of its territory. The previous government and international experts deny that claim.

Opposition lawmaker Albulena Haxhiu said they were determined to stop parliament from passing the deal.

The collapse of votes for the border demarcation agreement and another proposal seeking to give more rights to the ethnic Serb minority toppled the previous government and took the country to an early election last year.

Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said before the start of the session they had the votes to pass the deal. But a parliament majority can’t be secured unless enough votes are gathered from the opposition ranks.

The ethnic Serb community’s Serb List party with 10 seats wasn’t present.

President Hashim Thaci, who signed the deal in 2015 when he was foreign minister, denounced “the dangerous tactics of the opponents of the visa liberalization.”

Both the U.S. and EU ambassadors denounced the use of tear gas and urged the lawmakers to hold the vote in favor of the deal.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn also strongly condemned the use of tear gas.

“Such behavior has no place in a democracy,” he tweeted, adding that Kosovars could only benefit from visa liberalization “on the horizon” if the deal was ratified.

Montenegro, which has approved the deal, recognizes Kosovo’s 2008 independence from Serbia, which Belgrade still rejects.


Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed to this report from Tirana, Albania.

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