UAE official says Qatar giving up World Cup could end crisis

A top Emirati security official says the Qatar diplomatic crisis can end if Doha gives up hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the first time someone from the four Arab nations boycotting the country directly linked the tournament to resolving the monthslong dispute.

While Dubai security Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan is often outspoken on Twitter, his tweet on Sunday night on the crisis comes as those opposing Qatar increasingly target the upcoming soccer competition in their criticism. He later wrote Monday his “personal analysis” of the situation had been misunderstood.

The tournament has not come up in the demands previously made by the boycotting countries, though losing the World Cup would represent a bitter defeat for the tiny peninsular nation that’s pushed itself onto the world stage with its bid and its Al-Jazeera satellite news network.

Qatari officials did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. However, the 2022 tournament’s head in Qatar told The Associated Press on Friday the boycott poses “no risk” to the competition being held.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all cut diplomatic ties and began a boycott of Qatar on June 5 , in part over allegations that Doha supports extremists and has overly warm ties to Iran.

Qatar has long denied funding extremists and restored full diplomatic ties to Iran amid the dispute. Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Iran that makes its citizens incredibly wealthy.

On Sunday night, Khalfan targeted the FIFA tournament in his tweets.

“If the World Cup goes out of Qatar, the crisis in Qatar will end because the crisis was made to break it,” he wrote.

He added: “The cost to return is more than what the al-Hamdeen have planned for,” likely referring to Qatar’s former ruling emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and former Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani. Some believe both still wield influence within Qatar’s current government now ruled by the former emir’s son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Khalfan, who previously has written controversy-catching tweets about Israel and President Donald Trump, also wrote that Qatar “is no longer our concern,” suggesting media in the boycotting countries dial back their coverage of the dispute.

By Monday night, Khalfan returned to Twitter to write that his tweets were his “personal analysis.”

“I said Qatar is faking a crisis and claims it’s besieged so it could get away from the burdens of building expensive sports facilities for the World Cup,” he tweeted.

“That’s why Qatar isn’t ready and can’t host the next World Cup,” he added.

As the crisis has dragged on despite mediation by Kuwait, the United States and European nations, Qatar’s opponents have begun targeting its hosting of the FIFA cup. They’ve pointed to allegations of corruption surrounding Qatar’s winning bid, as well as the conditions that laborers working in Qatar face in building infrastructure for the games.

While FIFA ethics investigators found that the Qataris used a full range of lavishly funded state and sports agencies to win the 2010 vote to host the tournament, authorities concluded there was no “evidence of any improper activity by the bid team.”

When Qatar’s sole land border with Saudi Arabia was closed and sea traffic cut off by the boycott, World Cup organizers were forced to instigate a “Plan B,” including bringing in supplies from Turkey.

Asked about Khalfan’s comments, FIFA said Monday: “We do not comment on speculation.”

Hassan al-Thawadi, Qatar World Cup supreme committee secretary-general, told the AP on Friday that the project remained on time despite that.

“We are aiming to make sure that this World Cup leaves a legacy for the people of the Middle East (and) is an opportunity to transform our region towards a sustainable and stable future,” he said.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap . His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz .

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Associated Press writers Rob Harris in London and Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

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Chemist testifies VX found on 2 women accused of killing Kim

Prosecutors presented the first evidence Thursday linking the banned VX nerve agent to two women accused of killing the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader at a busy Kuala Lumpur airport terminal.

In the trial at Malaysia’s High Court, Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam have pleaded not guilty in the Feb. 13 murder of Kim Jong Nam.

They are accused of smearing VX on his face, but the defense says the women thought they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera TV show and had been hoodwinked by men suspected of being North Korean agents.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is believed to have considered his older sibling a potential rival for power.

DR. RAJA SUBRAMANIAM, head of the Center of Chemical Weapon Analysis lab at the Chemical Department

Raja, the eighth witness and the only one to testify Thursday, said he found traces of VX on the two suspects.

He said lab tests detected VX in its pure form and VX precursors on Huong’s white jumper, and a degraded product of VX on her fingernails. Huong was seen on airport surveillance videos wearing a white jumper emblazoned with the big black letters “LOL,” the acronym for “laughing out loud.”

The chemist said laboratory tests also detected VX acid, a degraded product of the nerve agent, on Aisyah’s sleeveless T-shirt.

He said VX will degrade once it is exposed to the atmosphere, and even faster when it is in contact with water.

“The presence of VX precursors and VX degradation products confirms the presence of VX itself,” he said.

Raja also confirmed that he found VX on Kim’s face, eyes, clothing and in his blood and urine.

Raja, who is the only Malaysian with a doctorate in chemical weapons analysis, said VX was a “strategic” choice of poison because it doesn’t evaporate quickly and a person could be targeted without affecting the surroundings. He described VX as the “deadliest nerve agent created” and said literature showed that 10 milligrams, just a small drop, could be fatal.

Rubbing VX on a person’s eye would be the fastest way to kill because the eyes have no barrier like the skin and have lots of blood vessels, he said. The palm is the least sensitive area and VX can be removed from the palm by washing it in running water and physically scrubbing it within 15 minutes of exposure, he said.

He agreed with the prosecutors’ assertion that Kim didn’t inhale VX because no nerve agent was detected on a nasal swab.

Raja said VX is oily and difficult to detect because it is colorless and odorless, and can be easily transported in a water bottle. He said Malaysia’s airports do not have the special equipment needed to detect VX.

The trial is to resume Monday, with the judge, lawyers and the two suspects visiting Raja’s laboratory to see VX-tainted samples from the two women before they are formally submitted as evidence. This came after Raja told the court it would be safer to view the samples in the lab because the VX may still be active.

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Bottles of gas, 'rudimentary ignition device' found under trucks in Paris, police say

Bottles of gasoline and “a rudimentary ignition device” were found this morning under trucks at a cement site in Paris, police in the French capital told ABC News.

Employees of the LafargeHolcim building materials company discovered the device and about half a dozen mineral water bottles filled with gasoline under three trucks belonging to the French-Swiss company. The site is located in Paris’ 19th arrondissement.

Nothing exploded, no one was injured, and no one has been arrested, according to police.

The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal investigation into the incident.

LafargeHolcim is under investigation for allegedly striking deals with ISIS extremists in Syria. It was unclear if today’s case was linked to that investigation.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.

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North Koreans process salmon, snow crab eaten in US, Europe

Americans buying seafood for dinner may inadvertently have subsidized the North Korean government as it builds its nuclear weapons program, an Associated Press investigation has found. Their purchases may also have supported forced labor.

At a time when North Korea is banned from selling almost anything, the country is sending tens of thousands of workers worldwide to bring in an estimated $ 200 million to $ 500 million a year. That could account for a sizable portion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, which South Korea says have cost more than $ 1 billion.

While North Korean workers have been documented overseas, the AP investigation reveals that some products they make go to the United States. AP also tracked products made by North Korean workers to Canada, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union.

In response to the investigation, Senate leaders said Wednesday that the U.S. needs to keep products made by North Koreans out and get China to refuse to hire North Korean workers.

“The (Trump) administration needs to ramp up the pressure on China to crack down on trade with North Korea across the board,” said top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer.

At Chinese factories, North Korean workers aren’t allowed to leave their compounds without permission, and must step from housing to factories in pairs or groups, with North Korean minders. They receive a fraction of their salaries, while the rest — as much as 70 percent — is taken by the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government.

John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, urged its 300 members, including the largest seafood importers in the U.S., to “ensure that wages go to the workers, and are not siphoned off to support a dangerous dictator.”

Besides seafood, AP found North Korean laborers making wood flooring and sewing garments in Chinese factories. Those industries also export to the U.S., but AP did not track specific shipments except for seafood.

American companies aren’t allowed to import products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world, and companies doing business with them could face criminal charges for using North Korean workers or materially benefiting from their work. (The AP employs a small number of support staff in its Pyongyang bureau under a waiver granted by the U.S. government to allow the flow of news and information.)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, responsible for enforcing the law, did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is a state-sponsored scheme to export folks who are in bonded labor,” said Luis CdeBaca, former U.S. ambassador for human trafficking issues. “It’s supporting a repressive regime.”

Western companies involved that responded to AP said forced labor and potential support for North Korea was unacceptable in their supply chains. They said they’d investigate, and some said they’d already cut off ties with suppliers.

Meanwhile, as many as 100,000 North Koreans continue to work in construction in the Gulf states, shipbuilding in Poland, logging in Russia and on fishing boats in Uruguay. New U.N. sanctions bar countries from expanding their North Korean workforce. Despite the pay and restrictions, the jobs abroad are highly coveted among North Koreans.

Roughly 3,000 North Koreans are believed to work in Hunchun, a Chinese industrial hub near the North Korean and Russian borders.

At some factories, laborers work hunched over tables as North Korean political slogans blasted from loudspeakers. When a reporter approached a group of North Koreans — women in tight, bright polyester clothes preparing a meal at a garment factory — one confirmed that she and some others were from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Then a minder arrived, ordering: “Don’t talk to him!”

It’s unknown what conditions are like in every factory, but AP reporters saw North Korean laborers living and working in several facilities, including joint venture Hunchun Dongyang Seafood Industry & Trade Co. Ltd. & Hunchun Pagoda Industry Co. Ltd., distributed globally by Ocean One Enterprise; Yantai Dachen Hunchun Seafood Products, and Yanbian Shenghai Industry & Trade Co. Ltd.

They’re getting their seafood from China, Russia and the U.S.

Despite AP seeing North Korean workers, Hunchun Dongyang’s manager Zhu Qizhen denied that they hire them and refused to give details. The other Chinese companies didn’t comment.

Shipping records show more than 100 cargo containers of seafood were sent to the U.S. and Canada this year from the factories where North Koreans were working in China, including packages of snow crab, salmon fillets and squid rings.

One importer, The Fishin’ Company in Munhall, Penn., said it cut ties with Hunchun processors and got its last shipment this summer. Seafood can remain in the supply chain for more than a year.

Often the fish arrives in generic packaging. But some were already branded in China with familiar names like Walmart or Sea Queen, which is sold exclusively at ALDI supermarkets. There’s no way to say where a particular package ends up, nor what percentage of a factory’s products wind up in the U.S.

Walmart spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said company officials banned their suppliers from getting seafood processed at a Hunchun plant a year ago after an audit revealed potential issues with migrant workers.

“Combatting forced labor is a complex problem that no one company, industry, or government can tackle alone,” she said.

ALDI did not comment.

Some U.S. companies had indirect ties to North Korean laborers in Hunchun. Customs records indicate that Chicken of the Sea, owned by Thai Union, did business with sister companies of the Hunchun factories in another part of China. Thai Union said the sister company they do business with meets all of their fair labor standards, and should not be penalized just because they have the same owner.

Boxes at the factories also had markings from several major German supermarket chains and brands. REWE Group, which owns REWE markets and the Penny chain, said their contract has expired with Hunchun Dongyang. All the companies that responded said suppliers were forbidden to use forced labor. Shipments also went to two Canadian importers, Morgan Foods and Alliance Seafood, which did not respond to requests for comment about who processes their seafood in China.

As the late summer chill set in one evening, a dozen or so women from Hunchun Pagoda played volleyball in the quiet road in front of the compound’s gate.

A train horn blew. The women shouted to one another. A car with a foreigner drove by. One laughingly called out: “Bye-bye!”

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Associated Press journalists Leonardo Haberkorn in Uruguay, Han Guan Ng and researcher Fu Ting in China, Kelvin K. Chan in Hong Kong, Frank Jordans in Germany and Jon Gambrell in United Arab Emirates contributed to this report. Mendoza reported from California.

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Tradition pulls some to Bali volcano, others refuse to leave

Dire warnings that a volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali will erupt have caused tens of thousands to flee, but some who survived its last eruption in 1963 refuse to leave the danger zone while others are pulled into it by the power of tradition.

Gede Bagus Ariksa Sudana and Yesi Fitriani, a young couple planning to legally marry in April next year, spent Sunday at Gede’s village, Beluhu, inside the area declared off-limits, for a steeped-in-tradition Hindu wedding ceremony requiring prayers at a family shrine.

Sudana, who is Balinese, came from faraway Kalimantan on the giant island of Borneo, where he’s a policeman, and Fitriani came from her hometown of Bandung in Java. They were aware of the risks, said Sudana, but had put their faith in God.

Dressed in handsome traditional finery, the couple were tender with each other and photogenic, but also keenly aware that most of Sudana’s family couldn’t attend the all-important traditional ceremony.

“God has his own will and by his blessing we can conduct the ceremony today, even though it’s a small ceremony, because most of our family are still in the refugee camp,” Sudana said, standing in front of the shrine in a dusty yard at the family home.

“Even though they’re not coming here, we can ask for their blessing. Even though they’re still at the refugee camp, that’s enough for us,” he said.

The area is home to about 6,000 people, but around only 50 are left, said its head of adat, or tradition, who was on hand for the ceremony.

Businesses were shuttered and the roads empty except for police patrols and the occasional villager returning to tend to animals or check on property.

They are part of a larger exodus of more than 140,000 people from the surrounds of Mount Agung since authorities raised the volcano’s alert status to the highest level on Sept. 22, though they say about half of those people have left villages in safe areas and should return home.

“We’ve been planning this for more than a month. At that time, we didn’t know this was going to happen,” Sudana said. “At the beginning, we were really worried. I was worried this whole ceremony will not happen.”

His grandmother, Nengah Mungkreng, remembers Agung’s last eruption in 1963, which over two major episodes in March and May of that year killed about 1,100 people.

“There was no sign at all,” said Mungkreng, who was 25 in 1963.

“The volcano just suddenly exploded, spreading lava and then raining ash,” she said. “The difference now is we can feel the earthquakes.”

Government volcanologists say instruments are recording hundreds of volcanic earthquakes daily as the mountain is fissured by rising magma. A dramatic escalation in that type of earthquake was the basis for officials to put the volcano on high alert and warn that an eruption was possible anytime.

Gede Windu, a villager who spends his days tending goats in a dried-out river bed that the cone-shaped mountain looms over, said he was about 7 years old when Agung erupted in 1963.

The sun-beaten 60-year-old remembers terrific explosions, raining ash and the village becoming enveloped in darkness before the family fled.

He recalled it being more awe-inspiring than terrifying.

“I didn’t know what fear was because I was too small,” he said. “I wasn’t that brilliant like the current generation. We were kind of stupid.”

After the eruption, Windu said he and his family lived in an evacuee camp for about eight months and returned to their village after the government stopped giving out food.

Back in the village, it was a hand-to-mouth existence, he said, because it was two years before the land could be properly farmed again.

More than half a century later, Windu is in no hurry to leave his goats and says he won’t leave unless officials make him.

“Seeing the situation now, I think it’s nothing,” he said. “I experienced much worse before.”

“Now the earthquakes are very small, but my children have already run away,” he said. “They’re really afraid. If they experienced what I experienced, they’d run even faster.”

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Hurricane stresses Puerto Rico's already weak health system

Martin Lopez was shot in the hand last Saturday by two thieves who made off with his precious cans of gas in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. He was rushed to Centro Medico, a trauma center in the Puerto Rican capital where in ordinary times he would be quickly treated by surgeons and sent on his way.

But five days later, the 26-year-old cook was still waiting because only a fraction of the operating rooms were available due to an island-wide breakdown in the electrical power grid caused by the storm. He finally got the surgery and the hospital said he was on the mend Friday — but the same can’t be said for Puerto Rico’s badly stressed medical system.

“Thank God I’m fine, I’m getting better,” he told The Associated Press in an air-conditioned medical tent set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the grounds of Centro Medico. “But Puerto Rico is destroyed. It’s really sad.”

Of all the problems unleashed by the storm, which roared over the island Sept. 20 as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 155 mph, the plight of overtaxed hospitals and smaller clinics — and health care in general — is one of the most worrying for officials grappling with recovery efforts.

The health system in the U.S. territory was already precarious, with a population that is generally sicker, older and poorer than that of the mainland, long waits and a severe shortage of specialists as a result of a decade-long economic recession. The island of 3.4 million people has higher rates of HIV, asthma, diabetes and some types of cancer, as well as tropical diseases such as the mosquito-borne Zika and dengue viruses.

In Maria’s wake, hospitals and their employees are wrestling with the same shortages of basic necessities as everyone else. There are people who are unable to keep insulin or other medicines refrigerated. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to the tropical heat as widespread power outages mean no air conditioning. And amid the widespread disruption, it’s often difficult to get kids to a doctor, especially for families who can’t afford to drive long distances on a tank running out of gasoline.

“Whenever there is a disaster that impacts an area to the degree that this one has, then yes, people’s lives are going to be in danger,” said Dr. James Lapkoff, an emergency room doctor in Waynesville, North Carolina, who was part of the HHS team dispatched to Puerto Rico.

Days before the hurricane hit, 56-year-old retired government worker Damaris Torres tried to find a safe place for her son, who has been bedridden for a decade after a traffic accident and depends on a ventilator, oxygen tank and feeding tube.

She has a small generator at home and a battery connected to an inverter as backup, but she didn’t want a rerun of what happened when Hurricane Irma hit just weeks earlier. Back then her son, 30-year-old Manuel Alejandro Olivencia, was transferred to three hospitals in less than 40 hours because his family was told there was no “special place” for someone on a ventilator.

“He’s in such delicate condition,” Torres said, her eyes welling with tears as she recounted how a hospital in the northern fishing town of Catano finally took him in.

That facility relies on a generator, but officials say they constantly worry about running out of fuel.

“Diesel is the one thing everyone is asking for,” Mayor Felix Delgado said as he visited the hospital on a recent morning.

Maria knocked out electricity to the entire island, and only a handful of Puerto Rico’s 63 hospitals had generators operating at full power. Even those started to falter amid a shortage of diesel to fuel them and a complete breakdown in the distribution network.

Patients were sent to Centro Medico and several other major facilities, quickly overwhelming them. The situation is starting to improve, with about half of the hospitals getting direct power or priority shipments of diesel, but that barely addresses the challenges facing the island as a whole.

Jorge Matta, CEO of the nonprofit that runs the complex of hospitals that make up Centro Medico, said progress was being made on restoring power capacity there and finding places to send patients whose homes were destroyed. He said they expected to have all 20 operating rooms at the trauma center back up this weekend. But other parts of the island are in much worse shape.

“Right now we have hospitals (elsewhere) that need diesel, they need water, they need oxygen,” Matta said.

On Saturday, authorities evacuated dozens of patients at one hospital in the capital of San Juan after its backup generator failed. They were taken to other nearby hospitals already struggling with an overflow of patients.

Metro Pavia, which operates several hospital campuses across the island, warned Friday that it was closing emergency rooms in Arecibo and Ponce because it did not have enough diesel.

Meanwhile medicines are running low and obtaining fuel is an ongoing struggle, said Dr. David Lenihan, president of Ponce Health Sciences University, the only medical clinic currently serving southern Puerto Rico.

“If these things start deteriorating, there’s a significant amount of lives at risk,” he said. “We’re providing care, but it’s not optimal care.”

At the Doctors’ Center Hospital in the northern city of Bayamon, Dr. Victor Rivera said they are so overwhelmed that he has been intercepting patients in the ER waiting room and even outside while people are still in their cars, and sending them on their way with medical advice or a prescription in non-emergency cases.

Only one of the hospital’s four surgery rooms is operating because the others were contaminated when they were used as shelters after Maria ripped off the roof on the fifth floor and blew out the windows on the fourth.

Rivera said the hospital, like many others, is relying on overworked generators.

“They’ve been hit with an enormous amount of work,” he said, noting that the hospital had turned them on earlier during Hurricane Irma and increasingly worries they could fail. “This could potentially be a catastrophe for any hospital.”

With capacity maxed out, he has been sending patients who suffer from asthma, diabetes and other conditions to other hospitals nearby.

Hospitals are struggling to treat a wide variety of conditions in Maria’s wake. The first wave was people with cuts and other wounds sustained in the storm. There are also people like Lopez, who was robbed after waiting in line five hours to buy a rationed supply of gas, who have the type of non-storm-related injuries typically treated at Centro Medico.

The hospital serves as the main trauma center for many around the Caribbean, and when Maria hit, it was already treating patients from the island of St. Maarten who were injured in Hurricane Irma.

Centro Medico and a couple others are also receiving patients from all over Puerto Rico from clinics unable to handle them, straining the system.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello has ordered that all major hospitals be placed on a priority list for receiving diesel.

The U.S. Navy has also dispatched the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship that has been deployed during previous disasters such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The vessel’s sailing plan was a Friday departure from Norfolk, Virginia, with up to five days before it would reach Puerto Rico.

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