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Monday
Jul162018

European official calls Trump's 'foe' comment 'fake news'

Ng Han Guan - Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Senior European officials tell ABC News they're starting to see President Donald Trump as separate from the United States, and are instead focusing on the long history of partnership between the U.S. and Europe rather than his words, after he called the European Union a "foe" in an interview with CBS.

European Council President Donald Tusk, taking the lead on this new interpretation of the EU-U.S. relationship, tweeted Sunday night, "America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news."

Trump does not follow Tusk on Twitter.

One senior European official called it "shocking" and another called it "outrageous" to hear a U.S. president compare the relationship with the European Union to that of China and Russia.

At the same time, these officials admitted that if Trump is re-elected to a second term it will be a strong message from the American people that the U.S.'s relationship with Europe has significantly changed.

Even before Trump's "foe" comment, EU officials tell ABC News that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg privately told them, "Don't pay attention to the words, look to the deeds."

A senior NATO official noted that no policy was changed substantially at the NATO summit, and in fact many saw the final communique as a win.

That joint declaration, signed onto by all 29 NATO members and issued Wednesday, made no mention of any new funding commitments, as claimed by Trump in a press conference at the end of the summit. And the president’s declaration was also directly contradicted by one of his closest personal allies, French President Emanuel Macron.

Ahead of the Helsinki summit, European officials say they fear Trump more than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Putin has a strategic line of confrontation with Europe, but with Trump we don't know what to expect, there is no line of thought," the European official said.

Tusk tweeted Monday morning his concerns that Trump will further rock the world order today at his meeting with Putin.

"Europe and China, America and Russia, today in Beijing and in Helsinki, are jointly responsible for improving the world order, not for destroying it. I hope this message reaches Helsinki," Tusk tweeted.

Trump sparred with Stoltenberg at a breakfast on the first morning of the NATO summit, railing against German investment in Russian oil and calling for an increase in defense spending by NATO members.



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Sunday
Jul152018

Girls robotics team says it won't be cowed by ISIS threats: 'We won't surrender!'

ABC News(HERAT, Afghanistan) -- High school students in Afghanistan have spoken out against Taliban and ISIS insurgents who have threatened and targeted girl’s education in the country.

ABC News was given rare access to a school in the western city of Herat. More than 6,000 students attend the all-girls school, including members of the Afghan girls robotics team.

They made headlines last year when President Trump personally intervened to grant them visas to the United States, where they were due to attend an inter-school competition.

Permissions to enter the U.S. had been initially denied.

Within two weeks of returning from the competition, however, the father of the team's captain was killed in an ISIS attack on his mosque in the city.

ABC News went to visit the girls in Herat, where they spoke about their hopes and fears for the future of the country and the role of women.

Even though there are still strong social, cultural and religious pressures on girls and women in the deeply conservative country, the schoolgirls and their principal say they will not be cowed by threats, intimidation or attacks by insurgents.

The principal, a former student at the school, has seen many changes for women in Afghanistan.

She admits to being afraid every time she walks to school in the morning, but like the girls she teaches, she refuses to be intimidated.

“We won’t surrender," she said. "We will continue!"

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Jul152018

Dozens of passengers hospitalized after Ryanair flight plummets almost 30,000 feet

ABCNews.com(DUBLIN) -- Over 30 passengers were hospitalized, with some complaining about bleeding from their ears, after a Ryanair flight plummeted 28,000 feet in less than 10 minutes on Friday, according to authorities and flight tracking software.

“I can safely say it was the most terrifying thing I ever experienced,” passenger Roxanne Brownlee told ABC News.

A spokesperson from Ryanair said an “inflight depressurization” on the plane, which was carrying 189 people, from Dublin, Ireland, to Zadar, Croatia, caused oxygen masks to deploy. The plane made an emergency landing at Frankfurt-Hahn Airport in Germany.

“The oxygen masks just fell down in front of us -- we were given no context, there was no announcement,” said Brownlee. “We were all kind of scrambling trying to put the oxygen masks on and people were screaming, crying and shouting.”

When the plane began to plummet, Brownlee and another passenger, Sara Sihelnik, said they had no updates from the hostesses or captain.

“It was that moment we were plummeting that we were thinking, ‘This is it, we’re going to die,’” said Brownlee.

Once the plane arrived at the airport, 33 people were taken to the hospital “to be treated for headaches and earaches and nausea,” according to authorities. Sky News reported that some people complained they were bleeding from their ears.

Brownlee and Sihelnik described the treatment they received after landing as “disgraceful.”

“They brought in about 100 burgers, for 189 of us there. They said elderly and families with small children can sleep on cots in the basement, the rest of us was just sort of left floating around,” said Brownlee. “So we were all awake upwards of 36 hours of the entire ordeal -- just completely exhausted, shattered and I would just say shocked with the treatment that we received from Ryanair.”

According to a Ryanair spokesperson, “Customers were provided with refreshment vouchers and hotel accommodation was authorised, however there was a shortage of available accommodation.”

On Saturday, another Ryanair flight took a majority of the passengers to their destination in Croatia. Out of the 33 people admitted to the hospital, 22 were released and bused to Croatia because they were told not to fly.

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Sunday
Jul152018

ISIS insurgents in Afghanistan prove resilient against US Special Forces

ABC News(NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan) -- ABC News has been given exclusive access to U.S. Special Forces troops fighting on the frontlines against ISIS in Afghanistan.

The small, elite unit of Green Berets is working alongside Afghan commandos to try to root out the insurgents from Nangarhar Province near the border with Pakistan.

The conflict in Afghanistan is America’s longest war and despite successes, the insurgents have proven remarkably resilient, not least because of the sanctuary and support they receive from neighboring countries.

Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. and other foreign forces in Afghanistan, says troops are fighting ISIS in Afghanistan so America does not have to face further terrorist attacks at home.

Unlike the Taliban, which is primarily a homegrown group of hardline religious nationalists, ISIS is a relatively new and somewhat alien presence in Afghanistan. American military commanders say it is bolstered by jihadis from Pakistan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan and India.

Nicholson admits that an insurgency that receives support from a neighboring country -- not to mention sanctuary -- is almost impossible to defeat.

Two U.S. service members were killed last week in separate "insider attacks."

The terrain is tough and demanding with steep jagged snow-capped mountains and plunging valleys. ISIS insurgents have riddled the roads and homes with improvised explosive devises and launched attacks on American forces, but they appear to be on the retreat.

A handful of districts have been wrested from insurgent control, and the Special Forces troops are helping local forces reestablish a presence, building checkpoints and outposts on key terrain.

But the challenge, as it has always been in Afghanistan, will be how to hold onto the territory it has taken.

The overwhelming firepower at America’s disposal means it can easily drive out insurgent groups. But from Helmand to Kandahar, history shows it is less capable of keeping it in government hands, not least because of the weakness and sometimes corruption and incompetence of local partner forces.

America’s military leaders believe Afghanistan is now changing, with a new generation of well-trained, experienced and competent Afghan forces.

But it is telling that almost no one talks of military victory these days. From Nicholson on down, there is now a consensus that only a political process will achieve an end to the fighting.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Jul142018

Some of Russia's neighbors worry about Trump's meeting with Putin

Steffen Kugler/BPA/Getty Images(HELSINKI, Finland) -- When President Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, some countries that border Russia will watch with concern.

Finland -- the host for the summit -- and Russia's neighbors in the Baltics will pay particular attention to any language by Trump on Ukraine, current and former senior European officials told ABC News.

If Trump indicates that the U.S. may now recognize or accept Russia's annexation of Crimea -- perhaps in exchange for Russia's withdrawing its troops from Syria -- that could be seen as giving a green light to Russian aggression.

Another concern is that Trump could agree to stop U.S. military exercises in the Baltics as he did with drills in South Korea during his summit last month in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The Baltic states include Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

When Trump was asked at the NATO meeting this week if he would consider reducing the U.S. military presence in the Baltics, he told reporters, “Perhaps we’ll talk about that.”

"There is legitimate concern that he's dividing the world into areas of interest and disregarding the small countries," said a European ambassador from a Baltic state.

U.S. administration officials have privately tried to calm any fears among European officials by saying they don't expect the summit to produce "major surprises," according to the ambassador.

For the U.S., the meeting with Putin is an opportunity to revitalize disarmament talks, an American official said.

"The most important thing is that the summit is taking place," the U.S. official said, according to the ambassador.

But some are still skeptical that Trump would stick to any such vague script.

Others hope that Congress would be a buffer to any major changes in U.S. policy with Russia.

Trump "can't do too much damage because Congress is leading the Russia policy," said Fabrice Pothier, former NATO director of policy planning and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

"But the optics can hurt. Putin may say, 'Ukraine is like your Mexico. I'm not getting involved in your Mexico, so don't get involved in Ukraine.'"

Many European officials who spoke to ABC News about the NATO summit in Brussels last week said that despite Trump's veiled threat to "go it alone" without that alliance unless its members increased their defense spending, there was ultimately a "sigh of relief."

"There was a concern that he would leave -- especially among Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States," said senior Czech official Rudolf Jindrák, who attended the NATO talks.

A Swedish-language Finnish paper HBL was more skeptical, as suggested by a sarcastic question in a blaring headline, "A fantastic defense meeting?"

Finland and Sweden are not NATO members but have a partnership with the alliance. The fact that Macedonia was admitted as a new member is seen as a positive development for the two countries, who want the option open in case their territory is invaded. Both Finland and Sweden have, at times in the past, been controlled by Russia.

Finland was during the Cold War because even though it was not a part of the Soviet Union, it maintained ties with Moscow.

On Saturday, just outside of the Presidential Palace in Finland where Trump and Putin will meet, there is a reminder of the country's history -- the national symbol of Russia, a double-headed eagle, on an obelisk.

Before Trump's summit with Putin on Monday, he will meet with Finnish President Sauli Ninisto, where one topic will be the Finnish Defense Forces' consideration of a contract for up to $10 billion with American arms dealer Lockheed Martin for 64 fighter jets, according to European officials.

On the eve of the summit, there are expected to be protests by human rights groups outside the Presidential Palace starting at noon. In the evening, the Human Rights Campaign will stage a "guerrilla visibility" to highlight the persecution and murder of LGBTQ people in Chechnya.

Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Stephen Peters said in an email that over the past 15 months, more than 100 LGBTQ people have been “rounded up, tortured and abused,” and that as many as 20 have been killed.

Security around Finland's Presidential Place has been tightening, with the country's Navy having taken steps to repel any possible threats from the air during the summit, according to a report in Finland's Seura magazine on Friday.

The Navy has put on alert three ships tasked with observation of airspace and repulsion of aerial threats. They have been fitted out with missiles, and their crews have received confidential instructions on hypothetical emergency situations.

The commanding staff of Finland’s Defense Forces, the press service of the naval forces and the Helsinki police have declined to comment. Officials at the Defense Forces said the operational tasks of the troops were confidential.

From 1,000 to 2,000 police officers will also be on guard in the capital on the day of the summit. They will come to Helsinki from all the regional police departments of the country, up north to Lapland.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Jul142018

Taliban insurgents pledge to continue fight in Afghanistan 

ABC News(KABUL) -- Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan are saying they will never surrender until American troops leave the country.

More than 6,000 insurgents are being held in the maximum-security jail outside the capital, Kabul. They are mostly members of the Taliban, the hardline religious group that ruled Afghanistan until the U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks.

When the group’s leader, Mullah Omar, refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, who was hiding out in Afghanistan, they launched what has become America’s longest war.

Together with ISIS insurgents, many of the inmates in Pul e Charkhi Prison have been convicted of terrorist offenses such as attacks on civilians, Afghan security forces, and American and other foreign troops.

Speaking exclusively to ABC News from their prison block, a group of Taliban fighters said they had taken up arms because foreign forces had invaded their country.

Afghanistan has a long history of defying and sometimes overwhelming more powerful foreign armies. Although it is not an entirely accurate description, it is often referred to as the "Graveyard of Empires."

As American, British and other foreign forces expanded their presence and mission in the country, the insurgents responded with more widespread and ruthless attacks.

It is not only America’s longest war, but it has also come at great cost in blood and treasure. Almost 2,200 American troops have been killed, and many more have been wounded. The war is estimated to have cost more than $1 trillion.

The recent and unprecedented ceasefire by the government and the Taliban over the Eid holiday that follows the holy Islamic month of Ramadan has created a sense of hope that perhaps a lasting peace can be achieved. But the insurgents tell ABC News that they will not agree to end their fight until American and other foreign troops agree to leave.

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Saturday
Jul142018

Boys rescued from cave in Thailand likely to be released Thursday

Linh Pham/Getty Images(CHIANG RAI, Thailand) -- The 12 boys rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand have less than a week before being released to the homes they haven't seen in almost a month.

Officials at Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital said at a press conference early Saturday the boys are tentatively scheduled to be released on Thursday. The timeline would mean the first four boys would have spent 11 days in the hospital, while the second and third groups rescued would spend 10 days and nine days, respectively.

The country's minister of public health, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, said all of the boys are healthy, gaining weight and have a high appetite.

"Laboratory results of all 13 persons are negative for dangerous infectious diseases, and they will be discharged from the hospital as soon as possible," officials said in a statement.

Family members no longer need to wear surgical masks when staying with the boys, and they can now stay at their bedsides instead of only being able to view them from afar through glass -- a protection against infection instituted in the first days after their rescue.

Doctors also said they are getting ready to do another psychological exam on the boys after some spent as many as 18 days isolated in the cave. Everyone appears emotionally and mentally well, but doctors said they are most concerned about the children being able to grow up without any repercussions from their ordeal.

They would like them to get a month of relaxation and recovery at home with family and friends -- and do not want any of the boys or family members to conduct media interviews out of fear that it would cause them to feel guilt or shame.

The fear extends to the team's assistant coach, who led the team into the cave and has received criticism from outsiders. The boys and their family members have generally praised the coach for keeping the boys' spirits high and deferring food to them.

Doctors said on Saturday that the coach, 25-year-old Ekkapol "Ake" Chantawong, has gained weight quickly and is physically well, but he is the one they are most concerned about protecting from any mental angst.

Two boys who are part of the team but did not enter the cave told ABC News before the rescue operation that "Ake" had taken them into the cave many times in the past as a sort of rite of passage and team-building exercise.

"You can't blame the coach, and you can't blame the kids," Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, public health inspector, said in Thai at a Wednesday press conference. "They have to help each other. We have to admire the coach that he managed well in this situation."

Each of the boys also sent brief video messages from the hospital, which were played at Saturday's press conference. The messages were similar, with each of the boys saying they were well and thanking rescuers.

One of the boys, 14-year-old Adul Samon, even sent his message in English, saying, "Hello, I am Adul. Now I am very fine. I am very thank you for help me. Thank you so much." He also took the opportunity to say he is looking forward to eating KFC once he gets out of the hospital.

The boys' coach thanked "every ministry that helped me" and the prime minister, Thai navy SEALs and the doctors.

The 12 boys and their coach entered the cave on June 23 and were unable to escape after heavy rain flooded the tunnels unexpectedly. It took 10 days before the boys were located and another week before the miraculous rescue brought each of them to safety.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul132018

Boys rescued from Thailand cave are steadily recovering at hospital, officials say

Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images(CHIANG RAI, Thailand) -- Twelve boys and their soccer coach who were rescued from a cave in northern Thailand earlier this week remain hospitalized, but are in good spirits and steadily improving, officials said Thursday.

The boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were described as generally being in good condition Thursday while they recuperate at a hospital in Chiang Rai province. The group must finish their seven-day course of antibiotics, according to a statement from Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at Thailand's Ministry of Public Health.

Blood tests results showed no signs of infectious diseases that they might have contracted during their weeks stranded deep within a partly flooded cave near the village of Pong Pha. Doctors are still awaiting the results of laboratory tests for viral infections, Jedsada said.

The first four boys to be evacuated Sunday had no fever by Thursday. Two who had minor lung infections were improving.

Two of the four boys who were rescued Monday had mild fevers still on Thursday, but their vital signs were normal.

Of the four boys and the coach who were evacuated last, on Tuesday, three have fevers and three have ear infections, according to Jedsada.

Family members are now permitted to have contact with them while visiting, but must wear hospital gowns and surgical masks, Jedsada said. They were initially kept more than six feet away from the boys and the coach for fear of contagion.

The boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach became trapped inside Tham Luang Nang Non, Thailand’s longest cave, during a hike June 23. The cave's 6-mile-long labyrinth of chambers and passageways stretch all the way into neighboring Myanmar.

It’s believed the coach often took the teammates of the Wild Boar youth soccer team into the cave's main entrance in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park for fun excursions after practice.

But as the group ventured deeper into the cave that afternoon, the sky opened up and it began to rain. The downpour sent floodwater rushing into the mouth of the cave and cut off their exit route. The group forged ahead until finding a dry, raised slope where they remained stranded in total darkness for days.

After they didn’t return from their hike, Thai officials launched an extensive search-and-rescue operation involving well over 1,000 people, including specialists drafted from various nations such as Australia, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Persistent rain initially impeded efforts to locate the group. But two British divers found all 13 alive on July 2 in an area a couple of miles from the cave’s main entrance.

A team of Royal Thai Navy members, a doctor and a nurse stayed with the group, giving them high-powered protein drinks and medical assessments, while rescuers worked on a plan to get them out as safely and quickly as possible. They fought against mother nature to pump out floodwater and divert water flows amid Thailand's wet monsoon season.

International dive teams evacuated the boys four at a time over a period of three days this week, racing against time and an impending monsoon rainstorm that threatened to inundate the cave again. The coach was the last to be evacuated.

Nineteen divers entered the cave complex during every rescue mission. One to two divers guided each of the boys out, using tethers, through a winding, partially submerged series of caverns and corridors. The first leg of the days-long mission took 11 hours to complete on Sunday, while the second on Monday and third on Tuesday each took about nine hours, according to Chiang Rai provincial acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, the official in charge of the extensive search-and-rescue operation.

Upon emerging from the cave on stretchers, the boys and their coach were whisked away in ambulances to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital, where they have been recovering from the perilous experience and a variety of minor ailments.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul132018

Trump's criticizing May as she hosts him is called 'appalling,' 'rude' in UK  

Jack Taylor/Getty Images(LONDON) -- President Trump's first visit to the U.K. since he took office has been overshadowed by fallout from a bombshell interview he gave to a British tabloid.

In an interview with the political editor of The Sun, which is owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Trump said Prime Minister Theresa May’s political rival, Boris Johnson, who resigned from her Cabinet this week in protest at her Brexit strategy, would make “an excellent prime minister.”

He also criticized May’s strategy for taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union, saying it would “kill” a potential trade deal between Britain and the U.S.

The interview, published hours after Trump landed in the U.K. on Thursday, effectively poured gasoline -- or petrol, as it is called in the U.K. -- on a fiery debate within May's government over how to exit the EU.

The prime minister has for months struggled to walk a fine line in her wafer-thin, minority government between members of Parliament who favor a clear break from the EU and others who want closer ties with the bloc after the U.K. leaves.

The Brexit plans revealed to ministers this week tilted on the side of keeping a close relationship with the bloc, which prompted the resignation of both Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Then came Trump's interview with The Sun.

But since the interview's publication, support for May has come from both sides of the political aisle, with many Parliament members taking umbrage at president's criticizing the prime minister while she was hosting him.

Yvette Cooper, of the opposition Labor Party, said, “Trump’s appalling behavior makes me sympathize with Theresa May.”

Another opposition party member of Parliament, Rupa Huq, said on Sky News, “For him to knife her in the back like this is just really rude.”

On the same news broadcast, Sir Simon Fraser, a former head of the United Kingdom's diplomatic service, said, “Condescending comments about the prime minister are unacceptable.”

Politicians in the ruling Conservative Party have largely avoided addressing the interview, although some have joined the criticism against the president.

Sam Gyimah tweeted simply: “Where are your manners Mr President?”

George Osborne, a former finance secretary who now is editor of an influential London-based newspaper that usually supports the Conservatives, released an image of its front-page headline: “No, Mr. President."

And Conservative member of Parliament George Freeman tweeted, “This is why it was the right thing NOT to offer Trump a State Visit. The qualification for a State Visit is to behave like a Head of State.”

However, several of May’s ministers have been trying to put out the diplomatic fires, including one from the Foreign Office telling the BBC that the trip has been a “success” so far.

On Friday, Trump lavished praise upon May, in a press conference widely seen as an attempt at damage control following the barrage of headlines about the interview with The Sun.

“This incredible woman right here is doing an incredible job," Trump said at the outdoor press conference in Buckinghamshire, England, at the British leader’s countryside retreat.  

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul132018

Melania Trump meets with British schoolchildren, veterans in London

Luca Bruno/Getty Images(LONDON) -- While President Donald Trump met with Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday morning, first lady Melania Trump set out for London to meet up with May’s husband, Philip May, at London’s Royal Hospital for an event with British schoolchildren and veterans.

The first lady met with schoolchildren who showed her how they make poppies -- a British symbol that stands in tribute to fallen service members -- that are sold to raise money for veterans on Armistice Day. In an apparent nod to her “Be Best” initiative that promotes children’s interests, Trump chatted with a group of kids about their efforts to be the best they can be. Trump, who took direction from a young girl, made a poppy of her own and could be seen later handing it off to a staff member for safekeeping.

Along with the schoolchildren, the first lady was joined by Chelsea Pensioners, British Army veterans who are residents at the Royal Hospital and are famous for their scarlet coats.

Melania Trump later posed with a group of children holding U.S. and British flags, and standing behind a banner that on one side had a British flag and read “Be the Best You Can Be” and, on the other, had an American flag and the first lady’s “Be Best” logo.

The first lady even tried her hand at the very British game of lawn bowling, crouching down her heels and a color block dress designed by British designer and former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham as she made her best effort to roll the ball -- referred to as a wood -- as close as possible to a smaller ball, referred to as a jack. The children then erupted in applause to her good roll.

The first lady will be with the president later Friday for a visit at Windsor Castle for tea with the Queen, a visit to which the first couple is looking forward.

“My wife is a tremendous fan of hers,” the president said in his interview with the British tabloid The Sun.

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