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International Headlines

Like a showman, Trump suggests DMZ for ‘big event’ with Kim

By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Like a consummate showman, President Donald Trump began rolling the drum Monday for his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, suggesting the “big event” take place in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Koreas. That’s where Kim just met his South Korean counterpart.
But Trump said that the Southeast Asian city state of Singapore was also in the running to host what few would have predicted when nuclear tensions were soaring last year — the first face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea.
While policy experts, and even his own national security adviser, voice skepticism that North Korea is sincere about giving up its nuclear efforts, Trump sounds like he’s gearing up for a date with history, and clearly wants the backdrop to be just right.
First by Twitter, and then at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said he likes the idea of going to the southern side of the demarcation line that separates the Koreas, where South Korean President Moon Jae-in met Kim on Friday.
“There’s something that I like about it because you are there, you are actually there,” Trump said. “If things work out there’s a great celebration to be had on the site, not in a third-party country.”
There’s been much speculation about where Trump and Kim might meet. Countries in Europe and Southeast Asia, in Mongolia and even a ship in international waters have all been suggested as possible venues. Monday was the first time that Trump had publicly named potential locations.
His planned meeting with Kim will be the crucial follow-up to the summit between Kim and Moon on Friday where they pledged to seek a formal end this year to the Korean War — a conflict that was halted in 1953 by an armistice and not a peace treaty, leaving the two sides technically at war. They also committed to ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons.
Former reality television star Trump now has to help turn the Korean leaders’ bold but vague vision for peace into reality. Undaunted, he gave the impression Monday that governments were vying to host his face-to-face with Kim and share in the attention it would bring.
“Everybody wants us. It has the chance to be a big event,” the president said on a bright spring day in Washington, alongside Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, whom he’d just met at the White House. “The United States has never been closer to potentially have something happen with respect to the Korean Peninsula that can get rid of the nuclear weapons, can create so many good things, so many positive things, and peace and security for the world.”
It wasn’t clear whether his enthusiasm was stirred by the South Korean president’s suggestion Monday that Trump could take the Nobel Peace Prize if the two Koreas win peace. Moon’s remark came when he deflected a question about whether he might win the award as one of his predecessors, Kim Dae-jung, did in 2000 after the first ever inter-Korean summit.
The United States has reached aid-for-disarmament deals with North Korea before, but they’ve ultimately failed. The most enduring effort negotiated by the Bill Clinton administration in 1994 halted the North’s production of plutonium for nearly a decade. But it collapsed over suspicions that North Korea had a secret program to enrich uranium, giving it an alternative route to make fissile material for bombs.
Trump’s recently installed national security adviser, John Bolton, who has in the past advocated military action against North Korea, reacted coolly Sunday to its reported willingness to give up nuclear programs if the United States commits to a formal end to the war and a pledges not to attack.
“We’ve heard this before,” Bolton told CBS’ “Face the Nation,” adding that the U.S. wanted to see concrete action “not just rhetoric.”
This year, Kim has already suspended his nuclear and missile tests. According to South Korean officials, he told Moon that he’s going to shut down his country’s only known nuclear testing site and allow experts and journalists to observe.
Trump cited that prospect with approval on Monday, saying Kim is “talking about no research, no launches of ballistic missiles, no nuclear testing.” But as usual, the president left open the possibility of pulling the plug on talks, saying: “If it’s not a success, I will respectfully leave.”
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Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

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International Headlines

Israel says documents prove Iran lied about nuclear program

By JOSEF FEDERMAN, Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister on Monday unveiled what he said was a “half ton” of Iranian nuclear documents collected by Israeli intelligence, claiming it proved that Iranian leaders covered up a nuclear weapons program before signing a deal with world powers in 2015.
In a speech delivered in English and relying on his trademark use of visual aids, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the material showed that Iran cannot be trusted, and encouraged President Donald Trump to withdraw from the deal next month.
“Iran lied big time,” Netanyahu declared.
In Washington, Trump said it vindicated his past criticism of the nuclear deal.
But Netanyahu’s presentation, delivered on live TV from Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv, did not appear to provide evidence that Iran has violated the 2015 deal, raising questions about whether it would sway international opinion ahead of Trump’s decision.
The U.S.-led agreement offered Iran relief from crippling sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Netanyahu furiously fought the deal while President Barack Obama was negotiating it, and he has been a leading critic since it was signed. He says it does not provide sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear weapons capability.
Netanyahu has found a welcome partner in Trump, who has called the agreement “the worst deal ever.”
Trump has signaled he will pull out of the agreement by May 12 unless it is revised, but he faces intense pressure from European allies not to do so. Netanyahu said he already has given the information to the U.S., and he plans to share it with Western allies and the international nuclear agency.
Ahead of the announcement, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, belittled Netanyahu in a tweet, saying: “The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again.”
He later tweeted: “Pres. Trump is jumping on a rehash of old allegations already dealt with by the IAEA to ‘nix’ the deal. How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations by the boy who cries wolf just days before May 12. But Trump’s impetuousness to celebrate blew the cover.”
Iran’s deputy foreign minister and senior nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, called Netanyahu’s presentation “childish and ridiculous” and said the purported evidence was “fake and fabricated.”
Iran has denied ever seeking nuclear weapons.
The exchange ratcheted up already heightened tensions between Israel and Iran. Israel considers Iran to be its biggest threat, citing Tehran’s hostile rhetoric, support for militants and growing influence in the region.
Israel has said it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence in neighboring Syria, where Iran supports President Bashar Assad. Overnight Monday, a missile attack in northern Syria killed more than a dozen pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians, a war monitoring group and an Iranian news agency said.
There was no official confirmation of the death toll or the target. But Israel was widely suspected of being behind the attack.
In his presentation, Netanyahu said Israel had obtained some 55,000 pages of documents and 183 CDs of secret information from an Iranian nuclear weapons program called “Project Amad.” He said the material was gathered from a facility in the Tehran neighborhood of Shourabad a few weeks ago “in a great intelligence achievement.”
He said the uncovered filed included “incriminating” documents, charts, blueprints, photos and videos. He pointed to one presentation that allegedly called for producing and testing five warheads.
The authenticity of the documents could not be verified, and it was not clear whether they shed any new light on what international inspectors already have concluded. The documents appeared to date back to the early 2000s, when international inspectors already believe Iran was pursuing a weapons program.
A 2015 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, for example, concluded that Iran “conducted computer modeling of a nuclear explosive device” before 2005 and between 2005 and 2009. It said, however, that those calculations were “incomplete and fragmented.”
Netanyahu provided no direct evidence that Iran has violated the 2015 deal. But he said the existence of the documents proves Iran is waiting to resume its race to build a bomb.
“We can now prove that Project Amad was a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons,” he said. “We can also prove that Iran is secretly storing Project Amad material to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”
He said that after the project was disbanded in 2003, its director, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, continued his work under another agency called Sapan.
Netanyahu said the material proves the international nuclear deal is a failure. He said it allows Iran to continue enriching some uranium, and does not address its research efforts or development of long-range ballistic missiles.
He noted that Trump was weighing whether to pull the U.S. out of the nuclear deal, saying “I am sure he will do the right thing.”
At the White House, Trump praised Netanyahu’s presentation and said it vindicated the president’s past statements about Iran and the shortcomings of the nuclear deal, adding that recent events have “really shown that I’ve been 100 percent right.” Although Trump was hosting Nigeria’s president for a visit during Netanyahu’s speech Monday, he said he watched part of it on television.
“That is just not an acceptable situation,” Trump said. He declined to say whether he’ll pull out of the deal on May 12 but said that even if he does, “that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t then negotiate a real agreement.”
Trump has set a May 12 deadline to decide whether to pull out of the Iran deal — something he appears likely to do despite heavy pressure to stay in from European allies and other parties.
Both Trump and Netanyahu say the deal should address Iranian support for militants across the region and Iran’s development of long-range ballistic missiles, as well as eliminate provisions that expire over the next decade.
Netanyahu’s office later issued a statement saying the prime minister had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, and agreed to share the intelligence with them. He also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the findings.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, issued a statement saying Netanyahu’s presentation will be assessed.
“I have not seen from Prime Minister Netanyahu arguments for the moment on non-compliance, meaning violation by Iran of its nuclear commitments under the (nuclear) deal,” she said.
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Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

Categories
National Sports

Raptors rested, ready for third shot at LeBron, Cavaliers

By IAN HARRISON, Associated Press
TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Raptors seem to have everything lined up in their favor heading into their postseason matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
They’re rested. The Raptors feel they are ready. They have home-court advantage.
But they’ve been confident before heading into a playoff showdown with James and have come up short — twice.
“Gotta go through the best to get to that trophy,” All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan said. “Every step of the way we’re going to come across somebody.”
The Raptors open their second-round playoff series at home to James and the Cavs on Tuesday night. Cleveland has eliminated Toronto in two straight postseasons, including the 2016 conference finals and a second-round sweep last year.
This time, however, Toronto is the top-seeded team in the East after a team-record 59-win season. The Raptors have been off since a Game 6 victory over Washington last Friday night finished their first-round series, while James and the Cavs were pushed to the limit in grinding out a Game 7 win over Indiana on Sunday.
That’s a stark contrast to 2016, when Cleveland had eight days of rest before facing a Toronto team that had played consecutive seven-game series. Or last year, when the Cavs got a week off while waiting for Toronto to complete a six-game victory over Milwaukee in the opening round.
“They’re coming off a series where they were banging and bumping for seven games,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “I think our energy has been great. I think the days off will definitely have helped us a little bit.”
James, meanwhile, has shouldered a heavy load for the Cavs, scoring 40 or more three times in the first round. He played 43 minutes in Game 7, and was briefly forced off the court in the second half because of leg cramps.
Nevertheless, Raptors coach Dwane Casey expects James to be fully fresh once tip-off time arrives Tuesday.
“I don’t believe he’s tired,” Casey said. “He’s on a mission. I’m not saying he’s a lying man, but I don’t think he’s tired.”
These Cavs don’t have All-Star guard Kyrie Irving anymore, either, while Toronto has flourished with a new emphasis on ball movement and 3-point shooting.
“We have a great opportunity ahead of us to show how good of a team we’ve been,” Lowry said. “We’re ready.”
DeRozan agreed, saying there’s “no question” the Raptors are better equipped to face Cleveland than in years past.
“I feel it,” DeRozan said. “We all have that confidence in ourselves.”
Some other things to watch in the series between the Cavaliers and the Raptors:
BENCH MOB
Lowry and DeRozan started resting before their first-round series with the Wizards was even over. Lowry played 31 minutes in the clincher, and DeRozan 33, as Toronto’s deep bench took over in the fourth quarter. The reserve unit was bolstered by the return of guard Fred VanVleet, who had missed all but three minutes of the first five games because of a sore right shoulder. Pascal Siakam led Toronto’s bench with 11 points in Game 6 as the Raptors outscored Washington 29-14 in the fourth.
“That’s the type of intensity that we need from every quarter, every time we step on the floor,” Siakam said. “That’s what we want, just being able to wear down our opponent and playing physical.”
HOME SWEET HOME
The Raptors matched Houston with an NBA-leading 34-7 home record during the regular season and won all three home games against Washington in the first round. Toronto’s two wins against Cleveland in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals came north of the border, and its only win in three meetings with the Cavs this season happened at home, a 133-99 win on Jan. 11.
“They’re a very tough team that plays well at home,” Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said. “They’re another team, like Indiana, that can play a number of different ways. They have bigs that are somewhat unorthodox and can play inside or outside, pick and pop. They have a lot of guards, especially those two guys out front in Lowry and DeRozan, that are going to be very tough to stop.”
FINALS FOUR
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue used four different starting lineups against the Pacers, but the one he went to in Game 7 might stick for a while. Lue started Kyle Korver alongside James, Love, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith — the four remaining players from Cleveland’s 2016 championship team. The move was as savvy as it was desperate, but it worked. Now Lue, who has used 34 starting lineups this season, has something to fall back on if things don’t go as planned against the Raptors.
“We’ve been in situations before,” James said of the Game 7 starters. “We’ve played big games before so that’s a comfort starting the game.”
BY GEORGE
Back spasms sidelined Cavs guard George Hill for three games against Indiana, but he returned in Game 7 and sparked Cleveland. Hill attacked the rim and finished with 11 points — nine on free throws — and had six rebounds and three assists while playing the final 19 minutes. He gives the Cavs not only another ball handler to take pressure off James, but a dependable veteran who has been through playoff battles with San Antonio and Indiana. The 31-year-old has played in 87 postseason games, starting 75.
“George is a really good player,” Lowry said. “He’s been doing this a long time. Having a healthy Hill helps them.”
Hill had one of his best games with Cleveland against the Raptors on March 21, scoring 22 points.
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AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

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National Sports West Virginia Sports

Kingham moves into Pirates rotation after near-perfect debut

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pirates rookie Nick Kingham’s nearly perfect debut has earned him at least one more start in the majors.
Kingham took a perfect game into the seventh inning of his first big league start, retiring the first 20 batters in Pittsburgh’s 5-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.
He left after seven innings, allowing one hit on 98 pitches, in the best debut by a major league starter in more than a half-century.
The Pirates weren’t necessarily planning to keep Kingham in the majors after his spot start. Now he’s slated to pitch again on Friday at Milwaukee.
“We had two different plans drawn up and that was one of the plans we had drawn up,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Monday. “We felt if he pitched competitively to his skillset and gave us the chance to win the game, we’d like to give him the ball another time. There’s no promises after that.”
The Pirates moved left-hander Steven Brault to the bullpen to make room for Kingham.
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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

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National Sports

Stephen Curry expected to return from knee injury for Game 2

By JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry is expected to return from a left knee injury to play in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Tuesday night against New Orleans.
Coach Steve Kerr is listing the two-time MVP as probable with the idea that he’s a go as long as no issues arise in the morning shootaround or before the game. Kerr didn’t say whether Curry would start or come off the bench but he won’t have a minutes restriction.
Golden State leads the best-of-seven series 1-0 after a 123-101 rout in the opener Saturday.
Curry has scrimmaged with some of the reserves and the Warriors brass and medical staff determined he is ready for game action.
He was injured March 23 in the same game where he had come back from a six-game absence with a right ankle injury.
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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

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National Sports

Haye fighting to save career in rematch with Bellew

By STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer
Former world heavyweight champion David Haye is 37, has fought just three times in six years, and has an unfortunate knack of picking up injuries in and out of the ring.
Yet the British fighter thinks he should still be in the conversation for world heavyweight titles, that he can “achieve the very best in the division.”
Tony Bellew scoffs at that notion.
“David is not back to win world titles, he’s back to try to rob the bank,” Bellew said on Monday, ahead of his all-British rematch against Haye. “He wants to fight little fatties like me.”
Haye certainly looked like a boxer on his way out of the fighting game when he fell through the ropes — bloodied, battered and with only one functioning leg — in an 11th-round loss to Bellew in March 2017.
Known for his impressive physique, athleticism, speed and explosiveness, Haye appeared a spent force that night at the O2 Arena despite being clearly hampered by an Achilles injury sustained in the sixth round. He openly acknowledges underestimating Bellew, a cruiserweight, and thinking he could just turn up and knock him out.
“The last fight was a cracker — everyone enjoyed it, apart from me,” Haye said. “I’m going to do what I tried to do last time, but failed miserably.”
So, Haye has kept a lower profile this time round. He has dispensed with the trash talk and cheap shots. There’ve been no punches thrown in news conferences like in November 2016
“Last time round I was a bit angry,” Haye said, “this time round not so much.”
Haye said he has never been in better shape, that his bodily feels “eerily nice” — like a car having a major service, with “new tires, new clutch, oil change, it’s had everything revamped.”
The proof will come back at the O2 on Saturday, when he tries to avenge the third loss of his 31-fight professional career.
“For the first time in your career, you are fighting for your career,” the 35-year-old Bellew said at a news conference in his home city of Liverpool. “If this goes wrong, nothing can save you. I’ve done this five or six times. I know the kind of pressure it brings. You’re in a lot of trouble on Saturday.”
The original date for the rematch was Dec. 17, but it was postponed after Haye sustained an injury to his bicep falling down some stairs while doing a conditioning exercise.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Categories
National Sports Ohio Sports

DL Dylan Thompson transfers from Ohio State to Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia says defensive lineman Dylan Thompson has transferred from Ohio State to the Cavaliers.
The school announced the move Monday. It says Thompson will graduate from Ohio State this summer and enroll at Virginia. He will be eligible to play immediately.
Thompson has played in only two games for the Buckeyes. He made three tackles in 2017 but was limited by injuries.
A native of Addison, Illinois, Thompson played on state championship-winning teams in his first three seasons at Montini Catholic near Chicago. The team lost in the championship game his senior season.
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Hawaii Headlines

State/In Brief

The Associated Press

Southwest plans to fly to 4 airports

KAILUA-KONA — Southwest Airlines says it intends to fly to four Hawaii airports.

West Hawaii Today reports the Dallas-based carrier announced this week that it plans to offer service to Kona International Airport on the Big Island, Lihue Airport on Kauai, Kahului Airport on Maui and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on Oahu.

The airline is still awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to offer trips across the Pacific Ocean.

*****

Lawmakers pass bump stock ban

HONOLULU — State lawmakers have passed legislation banning bump stocks.

Bump stocks allow guns to be fired like assault weapons. The gunman who killed 58 people in Las Vegas in October used the device.

The state Senate voted 24-0 to pass the measure last week. The House passed the bill earlier this month. Spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige, Jodi Leong, says he supports the bill.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington and Vermont have each banned the devices since the Las Vegas shooting.

Hawaii lawmakers backing the bill say they want to do all they can to ensure mass shootings don’t occur in the islands.

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International Headlines

South Korean leader says Trump ‘can take the Nobel’

By HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in has shaken off a suggestion that he receive the Nobel Peace Prize, saying that U.S. President Donald Trump “can take the Nobel prize” as long as the Koreas receive peace in return.
Moon made the comment Monday in response to a suggestion that he receive the award by the widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 after a summit with then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Moon held a summit with current leader Kim Jong Un last week in which Moon and Kim, the son of Kim Jong Il, walked together across the tense border and agreed to a raft of initiatives meant to ease animosity. Moon responded to the suggestion of Nobel glory by saying, “President Trump can take the Nobel prize. The only thing we need is peace,” according to the South’s presidential office.
South Korea also said Monday that it will remove propaganda-broadcasting loudspeakers from the border with North Korea this week as the rivals move to follow through with their leaders’ summit declaration that produced reconciliation steps without a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff.
During their historic meeting Friday at a Korean border village, Kim and Moon agreed to end hostile acts against each other along their tense border, establish a liaison office and resume reunions of separated families. They also agreed to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but failed to produce specific time frames and disarmament steps.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry said it would pull back dozens of its front-line loudspeakers on Tuesday before media cameras. Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo said Seoul expected North Korea to do the same.
South Korea had already turned off its loudspeakers ahead of Friday’s summit talks, and North Korea responded by halting its own broadcasts.
The two Koreas had been engaged in Cold War-era psychological warfare since the North’s fourth nuclear test in early 2016. Seoul began blaring anti-North Korean broadcasts and K-Pop songs via border loudspeakers, and North Korea quickly matched the action with its own border broadcasts and launches of balloons carrying anti-South leaflets.
Seoul’s announcement came a day after it said Kim told Moon during the summit that he would shut down his country’s only known nuclear testing site and allow outside experts and journalists to watch the process.
South Korean officials also cited Kim as saying he would be willing to give up his nuclear programs if the United States commits to a formal end to the Korean War and a pledge not to attack the North. Kim had already suspended his nuclear and missile tests while offering to put his nuclear weapons up for negotiations.
The closing of the Punggy-ri test site, where all six of North Korea’s atomic bomb tests occurred, could be an eye-catching disarmament step by North Korea. But there is still deep skepticism over whether Kim is truly willing to negotiate away the nuclear weapons that his country has built after decades of struggle.
According to a summit accord, Kim and Moon agreed to achieve “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization,” rather than clearly stating “a nuclear-free North Korea.” North Korea has long said the term “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” must include the United States pulling its 28,500 troops out of South Korea and removing its so-called “nuclear umbrella” security commitment to South Korea and Japan.
Kim could offer more disarmament concessions during his meeting with Trump, expected in May or June, but it’s unclear what specific steps he would take. Some experts say Kim may announce scraping North Korea’s long-range missile program, which has posed a direct threat to the United States.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton reacted coolly to word that Kim would abandon his weapons if the United States pledged not to invade.
Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” whether the U.S. would make such a promise, Bolton said: “Well, we’ve heard this before. This is — the North Korean propaganda playbook is an infinitely rich resource. What we want to see from them is evidence that it’s real and not just rhetoric.”
Kim’s meeting with Moon was his second summit with a foreign leader since he took office in late 2011. In March, he traveled to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. While meeting with Xi, Kim suggested he prefers a step-by-step disarmament process in line with corresponding outside rewards, according to Chinese state media. U.S. officials want the North to take complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament measures.
China said Monday that its foreign minister, Wang Yi, will visit Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, on Wednesday and Thursday.
China is North Korea’s only major economic partner, but trade has declined by about 90 percent following Beijing’s implementation of economic sanctions imposed over the North’s nuclear and missile tests. Some analysts say Kim’s recent charm offensive was aimed at weakening the sanctions.
Also on Monday, the North’s parliament adopted a decree to sync its time zone with South Korea’s this Saturday. North Korea’s official news agency said the move was made at the proposal of Kim, who found it was “a painful wrench to see two clocks indicating Pyongyang and Seoul times hanging on a wall of the summit venue.”
Moon’s office said Sunday that Kim made similar remarks to Moon during the summit.
The North in 2015 had set its clocks 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan, saying the measure was aimed at rooting out the legacy of Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Categories
International Headlines

Double Kabul suicide bombing kills 25, including 9 reporters

By RAHIM FAIEZ and AMIR SHAH, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A coordinated double suicide bombing by the Islamic State group hit central Kabul on Monday morning, killing at least 25 people, including nine Afghan journalists, officials said.
An AFP photographer, a cameraman for the local Tolo TV station and several reporters for the Afghan branch of Radio Free Europe were among the fatalities, police said.
At least 45 people were wounded in the twin attacks, according to Kabul police spokesman, Hashmat Stanekzai, who also said four policemen were among those killed.
The attack was the latest in a relentless string of deadly large-scale bombings and assaults that have struck Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan so far this year. And even as the Afghan capital reeled from Monday’s assault, a suicide car bombing a few hours later in the southern province of Kandahar killed 11 children, a police spokesman said. Eight Romanian NATO soldiers were wounded in that bombing.
In a statement posted on an IS-affiliated website, the Islamic State group said two of its martyrdom seekers carried out the Kabul bombings, targeting the headquarters of the “renegade” Afghan intelligence services.
The blasts took place in the central Shash Darak area, home to NATO headquarters and a number of embassies and foreign offices — as well as the Afghan intelligence service.
Stanekzai, the police spokesman, said the first suicide bomber was on a motor bike while the second explosion meant to hit those scrambling to get to the scene to help the victims of the first blast.
The second attacker was on foot, in a crowd of reporters rushing to the site of the first attack, pretending to be one of the media, the spokesman said. The bomber then detonated his explosives while still among the reporters, Stanekzai said, intentionally targeting journalists.
Agence France-Presse said the news agency’s chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, was among those killed. AFP said Marai died in a blast that struck journalists who had rushed to the scene of the earlier attack.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said along with the nine journalists killed, six were wounded. However, Sediqullah Tawhidi, an official with the Afghan Journalist Safety Committee, sad only five journalists wounded. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of big attacks.
The Paris-based group named the journalists, working for media organizations from multiple countries, adding that Monday’s attack was the deadliest targeting reporters since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The group, also known by its French acronym RSF, said 36 media workers have been killed in Afghanistan in attacks by IS or the Taliban since 2016.
RSF urged the Afghan government to do more to protect journalists.
Survivors and witnesses recounted scenes of mayhem.
Jawed Ghulam Sakhi, a 28-year-old a taxi driver said “when the explosion happened, everywhere was covered with dust and fire, it was such a horrific scene” with bodies and body parts “thrown about on the street and the pavement.”
“I saw journalists covered with blood, this time they targeted the media,” Sakhi added.
Masouda, a young woman who was with her husband nearby, assailed the authorities. Her husband was wounded and was taken to the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital.
“I don’t know who is responsible for all these attacks, every day we lose our loved ones and no one in this government is taking responsibility for the killing of these innocent people,” she said.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attacks. The presidential palace released a statement saying that attacks targeting innocent civilians, worshippers inside the mosques, national and democratic processes, reporters and freedom of speech all are war crimes.
The U.S. Embassy also condemned the “savage bombings” in Kabul and reiterated its support for the Afghan people and Ghani’s government in their fight against terrorism.”
“We extend our deepest condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of all the victims, including a number of brave journalists among the dead and injured,” it said, adding that “where media are in danger, all other human rights are under greater threat.”
Kabul chief of police Dawood Amin said the area hit was quickly sealed off and authorities were investigating. Mohammad Mousa Zahir, director of Wazir Akbarkhan Hospital, said several people suffering injuries from the blasts were being treated at his hospital.
In its claim of responsibility, the Afghan affiliate of IS, known as Khorasan Province, said the first martyrdom seeker detonated his explosive vest near the intelligence service in central Kabul, forcing officers to head to the area of the explosion. The statement said the second attacker detonated his explosives vest after that. The statement, which exaggerated the overall death toll as militant claims often do, did not say journalists were specifically targeted.
In the Kandahar attack, an Afghan official said a suicide bomber targeted a NATO convoy in the district of Daman but killed 11 children from a religious school nearby. The children had gathered around the NATO convoy for fun when the bomber struck, said Abdul Rahim Ayubi, a lawmaker from Kandahar.
Matiullah Helal, deputy spokesman for the provincial police chief, said 16 people were also wounded in that attack, including NATO soldiers, civilians and policemen.
Romania’ defense minister, Mihai Fifor, said eight Romanian troops with the “Carpathian Eagles” were among the wounded. NATO said the wounded service members, who are all in stable condition, were taken to Kandahar Airfield’s hospital for treatment.
Gen. John Nicholson, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission, said in a statement that “if the enemies of Afghanistan think their cowardly actions will deter the commitment of the brave Afghan forces and our Resolute Support advisers, or the call by the Afghan people for peace, they are sorely mistaken.”
In other violence Monday, at least four Afghan policemen were killed in northern Balkh province, said Sher Mohammad Abu-Tariq, the district chief in Nahri Shahi. The insurgents ambushed the police vehicle and fired RPGs.
Also, an Afghan police officer was killed and four people were wounded in an explosion in eastern Nangarhar province, said Attuhullah Khogynai, spokesman for the provincial governor. He said the slain officer was the chief of the criminal investigations unit for Behsud district.
No one claimed responsibility for the other attacks. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan first emerged in Nangarhar a few years ago, then expanded its footprint to elsewhere across the country.
IS and the more firmly established Taliban carry out regular attacks, with the Taliban usually targeting the Afghan government and security forces and IS targeting members of the country’s the Shiite minority, whom the affiliate perceives as apostates.
The relentless assaults underscore the struggles that Afghan security forces have faced to reign in the militant groups since the United States and NATO concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. Both groups want to establish strict Islamic rule in Afghanistan.
Last week, an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked a voter registration center in Kabul, killing 60 people and wounding at least 130 others. There were 22 women and eight children among the fatalities.
And the month before, an IS suicide bomber targeted a Shiite shrine in Kabul where people had gathered celebrating the Persian new year. That attack killed 31 people and wounded 65 others.
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Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Angela Charlton in Paris and Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.