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Friday
Jul212017

Powerful earthquake strikes near Greece, Turkey

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A strong earthquake in the Aegean Sea overnight leveled buildings and injured hundreds of people in Greece and Turkey.

The 6.7 magnitude quake's epicenter was just 6.4 miles from Turkey's coastal city of Bodrum and 10.1 miles from the Greek island of Kos. The powerful seismic event occurred at a relatively shallow depth of about 6.2 miles below the water's surface on Thursday night around 10:31 p.m. UTC, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Dramatic images from Greece and Turkey show the devastating aftermath of the earthquake:

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Friday
Jul212017

Princess Diana memorabilia to go on display at Buckingham Palace

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017(LONDON) -- Every summer, Queen Elizabeth opens up her home for the summer opening of the state rooms at Buckingham Palace so the public can get a glimpse of life behind palace walls.

This year, guests will have a special treat as Princes William and Harry have made a poignant tribute to their mother for the exhibition to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death.

Diana's beloved "boys," as she used to call William, 35, and Harry, 32, have shared some of their mother's most personal possessions and recreated Diana's study at Kensington Palace in the music room at Buckingham Palace.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, which also showcases a variety of special gifts to Queen Elizabeth during her 65-year reign, is the desk where Diana organized much of her charitable work and conducted her correspondence.

On it are many never-before-seen photos of William and Harry with their mother that Diana displayed on her desk.

William and Harry instructed Royal Collection curators on how to display the items, which reflect how Diana worked right up until the last days of her life.

The setting depicts Diana's love of music with a box of her favorite cassette tapes from the 1980s and '90s, including music by pop stars Elton John, Diana Ross and George Michael and opera greats Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

Diana's personal stationery is prominently featured in the display, as are her old ballet shoes.

Diana died at age 36 in a Paris car crash on Aug. 31, 1997. William and Harry were just 15 and 12, respectively, at the time of their mother's death.

Kensington Palace has announced a number of events to commemorate Diana's life this year, including a fashion exhibit that opened in February. William and Harry also commissioned a special display of blooms in the palace's sunken garden and a statue to be erected on the grounds of the palace.

"Our mother touched so many lives," William and Harry said in a statement earlier this year announcing the statue. "We hope the statue will help all those who visit Kensington Palace to reflect on her life and her legacy."

Harry told ABC News' Robin Roberts before last year's Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida that he and William intend to keep their mother's legacy alive.

"We will do everything we can to make sure that she's never forgotten and carry on all the special gifts, as such, that she had and that she portrayed while she was alive," Harry said.

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Friday
Jul212017

US to bar Americans from traveling to North Korea

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Americans will soon be barred from traveling to North Korea, according to two tour groups who have operated in the country and one U.S. administration official.

Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours -- the group that organized Otto Warmbier’s trip -- both said that they were contacted and told the U.S. government will invalidate the passport of any U.S. citizen traveling starting 30 days after July 27.

Koryo Tours general manager Simon Cockerell told ABC News that the Swedish embassy in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the U.S.’s diplomatic liaison in the country, informed his company of the decision.

A Trump administration official later confirmed the change.

It’s unclear what this will mean for the handful of U.S. citizens living in North Korea, including the 40 or so Americans teaching at North Korea’s only private university, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. Two Americans still held by North Korea were teaching there.

In past years, somewhere between 800 and 1,250 Americans visit North Korea each year, although that number has declined sharply this year following the recent death of Warmbier.

Warmbier was a 21-year-old University of Virginia student who was arrested in North Korea in January 2016 while visiting the country as part of a tour group, held captive by the regime for a year and a half and at some point fell into a coma. He was evacuated and died on June 19 of this year, days after returning home.

The circumstances of how he fell into a coma are shrouded in darkness, but his case has provoked outrage and concern about other Americans’ safety.

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Thursday
Jul202017

President Trump says ISIS 'falling fast' ahead of meeting at Pentagon

icholakov/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday that "ISIS is falling fast."

As he and Vice President Mike Pence arrived at the Pentagon for an update on the fight against ISIS, Trump was asked whether more troops would be sent to Afghanistan.

"We're going to see, and we're doing very well against ISIS," the president said. "ISIS is falling fast, very fast."

Following the meeting, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Dana White gathered the press for a readout of the meeting. President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis were in attendance, as were other members of the Trump cabinet including Rex Tillerson, Steven Mnuchin, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and Gen. Paul Selva.

White said that the meeting "was never meant to be a decision meeting," that rather it was called to discuss "where we are, where we're going."

When pressed on any changes in the South Asia Strategy -- formerly known as the Afghanistan strategy -- White said that no decisions are expected this week.

As for the content of the meeting, White said that "they kind of covered the planet, what are the opportunities, what are the challenges...there was a lot of talk about economic, ways to influence trade."

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Thursday
Jul202017

Son of Cecil the Lion killed outside Zimbabwe national park

miroslav_1/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The son of the now-famous Cecil the Lion was killed near a Zimbabwe national park earlier this month, the New York Times reports.

The lion, named Xanda, was shot just outside of Hwange National Park on July 7, the Times reports. That information coming from Andrew Loveridge, a researcher at Oxford University who studied both Xanda and his father.

Xanda was a six-year-old lion, and was wearing an electronic collar at the time of his death in an effort to monitor his movements.

Xanda's death was first reported by The Telegraph, which said that the hunt was led by Richard Cooke of the company RC Safaris.

Cecil was killed at the age of 13 by American dentist Dr. Walter Palmer in 2015. Palmer received threats and harassment in the wake of the report that he had killed Cecil.

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Thursday
Jul202017

Burundi robotics team missing after competition in Washington, DC

D.C. Metropolitan Police Department(WASHINGTON) -- Six students from the small African country of Burundi went missing this week after participating in an international student robotics competition in Washington, D.C.

The team, consisting of two 17-year-old girls and four boys, aged 16 to 18, was reported missing after the competition's closing ceremony in Washington on Tuesday night. They were last seen in the area of the D.A.R. Constitution Hall near the White House.

Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department reported on Thursday that two of the teens had crossed the border safely into Canada. It's unclear how and when the students got there, what they were doing there, and where the other students are, according to police.

There is no indication of foul play in the disappearances, police added in the statement.

Canadian authorities could not confirm the entry of the two Burundian teens, telling ABC News, "It is not a practice of the Canada Border Services Agency to confirm and/or deny the entry of any one person to Canada."

The robotics competition grabbed headlines worldwide after an all-girl team from Afghanistan was twice denied U.S. visas to compete, but the White House later intervened in a last-minute act, granting that team and its chaperone a special parole to enter the country on a short-term basis.

The president of FIRST Global, the organization that runs the competition, made the initial call to the police about the missing team and has been assisting authorities, according to the group.

"Security of the students is of paramount importance to FIRST Global," they said in a statement, adding that students are "always to be under close supervision of their adult mentor and are advised not to leave the premises unaccompanied by the mentor."

The Burundian embassy in Washington did not answer multiple phone calls or respond to an email from ABC News.

Burundi is a small, landlocked country in Africa's Great Lakes region, bordering Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The State Department issued a travel warning on June 23 for the country, noting, "The political situation in Burundi is tenuous, and there is sporadic violence throughout the country" after President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for and won a controversial third term in 2015.

In the aftermath of that election, state security forces have conducted numerous killings, disappearances, abductions, torture, rape and arbitrary arrests, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), with attacks and killings by armed opposition groups as well. More than 325,000 Burundians have fled the country since 2015, according to HRW.

Burundi has a high refusal rate for business and tourism visa applications, with 61 percent of applicants denied -- an indication of U.S. authorities' fear that someone might overstay their visas and remain in the U.S. illegally.

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Thursday
Jul202017

Prince William beats Duchess Kate in rowing competition in Germany

Samir Hussein/WireImage(HEIDELBERG, Germany) -- Prince William won bragging rights Thursday in Heidelberg, Germany, as his crew boat defeated Duchess Kate’s boat in a race on the Neckar river.

William and Kate, both 35, faced off in the friendly competition on day four of their royal tour of Poland and Germany.

Boat one, led by William, just edged out boat two, led by Kate, in the race cheered on by big crowds along the river’s banks.

William and Kate each gave their respective teams a little encouragement. The crews all wore polo shirts for the race with the word "friendship" and the British and German flags

Kate, who is famously competitive, told her crew, "No pressure, but I do want to beat my husband," and conceded she was fearful of "crashing."

William admitted he had no idea what to do as the coxswain, or navigator, of the boat, saying, "This could be a challenge."

The race, whose finish was celebrated by William, Kate and their crews with steins of Heidelberg beer, was the latest in a serious of fun, public face offs between William and Kate.

William won a race in dragon boats in Canada in 2011, while Kate won a race in America's Cup yachts in Auckland Harbor in 2014. William and Kate both lost a sprinting race at Queen Elizabeth Park earlier this year to Prince Harry.

Kate’s sampling of local beer put to rest speculation the mother-of-two may be pregnant. At a stop in Poland earlier this week, Kate joked with William after receiving as a gift a stuffed bear that is said to soothe newborns.

Kate said to William with a laugh, "We'll just have to make more babies."

The crowd was overflowing in Heidelberg's town square earlier Thursday, with many locals packed against adjacent windows to catch a fleeting glimpse of William and Kate, who visited the town without their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

William and Kate once again doled out their famous hugs, and William even joked with a group of young boys about his muscles.

Kate giggled while watching William try his hand at rolling dough while the couple made pretzels at a stop in the town square. When William attempted to fold the dough into the traditional pretzel knot shape, Kate gave him a gentle pat on the back and clapped as the crowds cheered with approval.

William and Kate, who also tried their hand at candy-making, started their day paying a visit to the German Cancer Research Institute to learn about stem cell research.

Kate wore a lace yellow-gold damask dress by Jenny Peckham -- one of her favorite designers -- and wedge heels.

Kate is always very conscious of diplomatic dressing whenever she is abroad. When she touched down in Germany on Wednesday, she donned a Catherine Walker coat and dress in cornflower blue, the color of Germany's national flower.

Kate's red, off-shoulder gown at Wednesday's garden party for Queen Elizabeth and Thursday's creamy gold dress are a nod to the colors of the German flag.

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Thursday
Jul202017

For many gay men in conservative Chechnya, living in fear for their lives is commonplace

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- They call themselves survivors. Two Chechen men who agreed to share their story say they have been forced into hiding and their lives are in danger simply because they are gay.

They say they are so afraid, even with a place in a secret safe house outside of Moscow, that they asked ABC News' Nightline not to reveal their identities so they can share, without fear of reprisal, the details of their lives in the shadows. All interviews are translated from Russian.

The two men, who we have chosen to call “Danill” and “Dimitry,” spoke with ABC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Terry Moran and said they fled Chechnya because authorities were rounding up and arresting gay people.

“Because the rounding up of homosexuals had begun,” Danill said. “And it was a new level of rounding up.”

Bigotry against LGBT people in Russia has been on the rise in recent years. Human Rights Watch has collected disturbing images of men allegedly being choked, beaten and violated -- targeted, they say, because of their sexuality -- and repressive government policies have fueled the hatred.

But in Chechnya, a semi-autonomous republic, human rights groups say vigilante hate has evolved into something far worse -- a coordinated government campaign to round up and eliminate gay men: a mass persecution.

In April, reports emerged that the Chechen authorities were kidnapping and torturing dozens of gay men, holding them in secret prisons attached to police stations. In accounts, first to the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta and later to foreign media outlets, including ABC News, Chechen men have described how they were detained by security forces and tortured, often through beatings and electric shocks, into confessing their sexuality and into naming others as gay.

According to the accounts from Dmitry and others, police went through men's phones looking to find others they suspected were gay. Those identified then also faced being detained and tortured.

The campaign is said to have brought a new level of terror, but according to those who have fled and rights groups, it has always been dangerous being gay in Chechnya.

Danill said he is no stranger to discrimination and violence. As a gay man in Chechnya, he said he could take the risk of dating very rarely, and even when there was the glimmer of a possibility of a romantic encounter, building trust with someone took months.

“We meet in public places, in case of danger, we can run away or ask for help,” he said.

Danill lived in Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic, and said the threat of being exposed as gay, then blackmailed or beaten, was always present. He said he met a man who he saw three times on clandestine dates, who then, terrifyingly, set him up.

“We met three times before … and a fourth time he has asked me to visit his place,” he said. “He came out to meet me, I gave him my hand to say ‘hi’ and then I saw three men. They were dragging me into the apartment. Someone was holding me, someone was punching me, I started to resist and I ran downstairs.”

For many gay men, Danill said, living in fear, hiding your truth is commonplace in the conservative Islamic culture of Chechnya. LGBT activists say here, Islam takes the harshest view of homosexuality.

Danill said he heard more and more of his acquaintances were disappearing, and he said one disturbing story about a friend allegedly being arrested led him to make a decision to flee.

“He was taken out in handcuffs, forced into a car trunk and taken away,” Danill said. “The same day, I quit work, packed my stuff, everything I could carry and left Grozny.”

Dimitry said what happened to him was far worse. Caught in the organized round-up, he said he was arrested and detained by Chechen security forces, and spent more than a week held in a basement, where he was starved and brutally tortured.

“They split my eye, my lip, broke my ribs, they electrocuted me ... they put metal clips on my ears,” Dimitry said. “Electrocution is unbearably painful. It felt much worse than normal voltage. The shock makes you want to jump to the ceiling.”

He said he heard others screaming as they were being tortured, “and confess all sorts of things that weren’t even true, just to make it stop. It’s horrible.”

Both Dmitry and Danill were given refuge in a safe house in Moscow by a rights group, LGBT Network, that since the persecutions began has been working to help gay men get out of Chechnya.

Accounts like these from gay men in Chechnya have only slowly emerged into public view in part because of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, one of the country’s last independent papers. They were the first to break the story back in April.

“The first ... men were beaten, they were tortured, they were electrocuted and one of the main questions the police forces asked is, ‘Give us names of another gay man, just names,’” said Irina Gordienko, who covers Chechnya for the paper.

Since then, Gordineko said she believes at least 200 men have been rounded up, held and tortured. She said she knew of three men who had died as a result.

But an accurate accounting is hard to come by in Chechnya, where there is little government accountability, even less free press and a long history of extrajudicial killing.

Gordineko said the Chechen authorities operate with impunity and have also done the same horrific things to other people including Islamic extremists, drug dealers and people who have suspected ties to Syria.

The Chechen Republic is under the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov, a onetime separatist militia leader, who became a Moscow loyalist during the second Chechen war that ended in 2000. Kadyrov has ruled the region with an iron fist for the past decade.

“The Kremlin chose … to put a strongman in charge of it,” said Denis Krivosheev, the deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International. “Now that comes at a price and the price is to overlook virtually anything that he wants to do in that territory.”

Kadyrov is a leader filled with bravado and bluster. He regularly stars in his own online videos that he shares on social media, which serve as glimpses into the personality cult he has built, one based on masculinity, power and devout Muslim observance.

In a recent interview with HBO's Real Sports, his first interview with Western media in years, which will be airing all month on HBO, Kadyrov flat out denied the very existence of gays in his country or that gays had been subjected to torture in Chechnya.

“We don’t have those kinds of people here,” Kadyrov said. “If there are any, take them to Canada. Praise be to God. Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

“They are devils,” he continued. “They are for sale. They are not people.”

He even suggested that if Chechen families took matters into their own hands, authorities would look the other way.

"If we have such people here, then I'm telling you officially, their relatives won't let them be because our faith, our mentality, customs and traditions," Kadyrov said. "Even if it's punishable under law, we would still condone it."

According to Krivosheev, Kadyrov has stoked prejudice in the traditionalist society to enlist people in the persecution.

“Men who are suspected, who have been outed as gay, are at risk of [being killed by] their own families and in fact it seems the authorities who are behind this campaign have staged it in a way that they didn’t have to deal with anyone directly,” he said. “They ultimately return these men to their families and tell them, ‘You know what to do.’ ... Essentially families are expected to kill their own relatives if they are have been publicly named gay.”

Since the story of gays being tortured broke, there has been international condemnation. Kadyrov was summoned to Moscow and denied there was any purge during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had ordered an investigation that human rights groups say has since been halted.

Novaya Gazeta reported it was initially heartened by apparent government moves to investigate, particularly the appointment of a veteran investigator known for being effective. But the investigator has since been moved away from the case and the newspaper says it now believes authorities are pushing to have the investigation die off.

At the same time, the rights group, LGBT Network, said it has received new reports that the detentions of gay men have begun again. A spokesperson for the group told ABC News on Tuesday that after weeks where they believed the campaign had halted, in the past month it had suddenly received around 10 new appeals for help and that those making the requests had described new arrests.

Despite all of this, Danill and Dimitry both said they were torn between protecting themselves and leaving their families behind.

Dimitry, who is married and has two children, says he has not even told his wife where he is.

“She thinks that I just left to work, left to Russia, but that I am at work, that I work on a construction site somewhere,” he said. “No one knows where I am.”

Both men are being given refuge by the LGBT Network, a Russian nonprofit organization that has already helped dozens of people.

But even having reached relative safety in Moscow, Danill and Dimitry feel they are still in a kind of purgatory. They have little hope of leaving. There’s a kind of “underground railroad” that’s been set up, but LGBT Network organizers say just 27 of the 120 people who have sought their help have made it out of Russia.

“If I had the means, I would have left,” Dimitry said.

For both men, they say there is no good option. They have already lost their families, their homes and their country.

“I understand that there is no way back for me,” Dimitry said.

Danill said he loves his country, and he just wants a “normal” life where he can live, work and come home without having to be in hiding.

"I understand that there is no way back for me," Danill added. "As long as I am here, I have no clue what tomorrow brings me."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jul192017

Charity groups unite to tackle hunger and famine in the Horn of Africa

PeterHermesFurian/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Eight U.S.-based international relief groups have joined forces to desperately urge the public to donate to a new relief fund aimed at addressing looming famine and hunger in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and neighboring nations.

"In the 21st century, innocent children should not be dying from hunger. People caught in this crisis are generously opening their homes and sharing what little they have, but they have run out of time and resources -- they need our help now," said the groups making up the Global Emergency Response Coalition in a news release Monday.

On Monday, the coalition -- made up of CARE, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision -- announced its Hunger Relief Fund. The groups said the coalition was the first of its kind.

To learn more, visit here.

The Global Emergency Response Coalition said that its groups were working in 106 nations and that donations made to the fund would "help those already going hungry and on the brink of famine survive and lay the groundwork for recovery."

Its partners, which are helping to bring awareness and money to the effort, include Google, Twitter and Visa.

Recently, ABC News anchor David Muir and his team traveled with Save the Children as it traveled to the deserts of Somaliland to identify children suffering from malnutrition.

Carolyn Miles, the CEO of Save the Children, told Muir the malnutrition crisis was one of the worst she'd seen since World War II.

"I don't think the world has really woken up to this disaster at this point. They haven't realized what's happening -- the possibility of four famines at once," she said.

More than 20 million people are at risk of starvation, the coalition said. The groups also said that without immediate help, 1.4 million severely malnourished children could die.

According to the Global Response Coalition, $10 can get:

1. A month's worth of water for a child at school.
2. Basic health services for a child in Somalia.
3. One week's worth of highly nutritious peanut paste for a malnourished child. (Brand name: Plumpy'Nut)

Save the Children said that $2 in Somalia can provide a child with water at school for one month; $23 in Ethiopia can provide one child with lunch at school for a month; and $5 in South Sudan can buy medicine to treat 10 children suffering from malaria.

Dr. Yusef Ali, the regional director of health in Somaliland, told Muir during his visit to the region that the country was on the verge of famine.

"We're seeing it [famine]," Ali said. "It's here. ... We are losing them [children]. There are so many unreported cases. We are losing them."



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Wednesday
Jul192017

Terror attacks decline worldwide for second consecutive year, State Department says

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department released its 2016 report on the global threat of terrorism Wednesday, showing that the number of terrorist attacks, as well as deaths caused by those attacks, decreased from 2015.

According to the report, there were just over 11,000 attacks around the globe, with more than 25,000 people killed in those incidents. Another 33,000-plus people were injured. The report notes that 26% of the deaths in the worldwide terror attacks were the attackers themselves.

Those figures represent significant drops from the previous year -- the number of attacks was down nine percent, while the number of deaths was 13 percent lower.

Of note, the 2015 figures were also down from the year before -- 2014 saw the rise of ISIS and an increasingly violent campaign led by Boko Haram in Africa.

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