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Monday
Aug192019

Leaked 'no-deal' Brexit report warns of civil unrest, food supply disruptions

narvikk/iStock(LONDON) -- The U.K. government has looked to play down concerns about leaked documents that outlined preparations for Brexit, which included warnings about fuel, food and medicine shortages, as well as severe travel disruption and civil unrest if Britain leaves the European Union (EU) without a deal.

The report, entitled "Operation Yellowhammer" and made by the Cabinet Office, was leaked to the Sunday Times, with the Oct. 31 deadline for leaving the EU just over 10 weeks away.

The "Base Scenario" for a "no-deal" Brexit, which is the minimum expectation according to the report, suggests that "public and business readiness for no-deal will remain at a low level," as outlined in the Sunday Times.

Among the key takeaways from the report are that disruption to traffic across the English Channel will cause "significant" traffic queues in Kent, the county that borders with the channel, with large goods vehicles facing delays of up to two and a half days to cross the border. This could have the added effect of "disrupt[ing] fuel supply in London."

Certain types of fresh food supply will also decrease, which adds to the "risk that panic buying will disrupt food supplies," according to the report. Meanwhile, expected "protests and counter protests" in the U.K. would use up police resources and result in "a rise in public disorder and community tensions," the report adds.

And the impact of a "no-deal" Brexit on Northern Ireland, which was integral to the failure of the deal former Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with EU leaders, could result in "disruption to key sectors and job losses are likely to result in protests and direct action with road blockades," according to the report.

The U.K. is set to leave the EU on Oct. 31, but the country's political future has never looked more uncertain. If lawmakers are unable to agree on a deal with their European counterparts about various rights and trade plans, the result with be a "no-deal" Brexit, which would expose the U.K. to significant trade tariffs overnight. Supporters of this outcome say it represents a clean break from the EU, which respects the result of the referendum of 2016, while critics say it will be hugely damaging to the economy.

British media reported Monday that government sources are blaming the document leak on a former government minister intent on frustrating new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s meetings with senior European politicians this week.

A spokesperson from Number 10 Downing Street told ABC News the Yellowhammer report was "out of date" and the government was making all necessary preparations to leave the EU, with or without a deal, on Oct. 31.

"[We are] better prepared now than we've ever been, but there is still more to be done," the spokesperson added.

Several government figures were quick to downplay the fears sparked by the Sunday Times’ reporting. The Cabinet Office pointed to a tweet by leading government lawmaker Michael Gove when contacted by ABC News, which implied that the report was out of date.

He tweeted, "We don’t normally comment on leaks - but a few facts - Yellowhammer is a worst case scenario - v significant steps have been taken in the last 3 weeks to accelerate Brexit planning."

Johnson has repeatedly made it clear that the U.K. will leave the EU, with or without a deal, on the Oct. 31 deadline. Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is set to call a "no confidence motion" in Parliament, in a bid to collapse the government and trigger a general election.

The prospect of a "no-deal" has also received mixed messages from the United States. On his recent trip to the U.K., National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the United States was willing to negotiate a trade deal "in pieces" in order to speed up a post-Brexit trade agreement.

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that if Brexit undermines peace in Northern Ireland, "there will be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress."

Preparations for a "no-deal" Brexit have increased over the past 12 months. Last December, ABC News reported that troops were on standby to deal with possible civil unrest, and that five leading business groups issued a joint statement that said "businesses have been watching in horror" at the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Aug192019

Ebola outbreak spreads to third province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Manjurul/iStock(LONDON) -- The yearlong Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has spread to a third province, health officials said.

Two new patients, a 24-year-old woman and her 7-month-old child, tested positive for the virus in the Mwenga area of South Kivu province on Thursday night. They fell ill after returning from a visit to Beni in North Kivu province, the epicenter of the current outbreak.

The mother has since died, and her child is receiving treatment, according to a statement released Friday from Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director general of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's National Institute for Biomedical Research and head of the country's Ebola response team.

Officials have identified dozens of people who may have been infected by coming in contact with the woman and her child. They will receive the experimental vaccine that has been used to inoculate some 200,000 people in the outbreak zone, according to Muyembe.

A third Ebola case was confirmed in the same area of South Kivu on Saturday, according to the latest data from the Congolese health ministry and the World Health Organization, the global health arm of the United Nations, which last month declared the current outbreak a global health emergency.

Since Aug. 1, 2018, a total of 2,877 people have reported symptoms of hemorrhagic fever in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's eastern provinces of North Kivu, Ituri and now South Kivu, according to the latest data. Among those cases, some 2,783 have tested positive for Ebola virus disease, which causes an often-fatal type of hemorrhagic fever and is transmitted through contact with blood or secretions from an infected person. An average of 81 new Ebola cases are confirmed each week.

The ongoing outbreak has a case fatality rate of about 67%. There have been 1,934 deaths so far, most from confirmed cases of Ebola, according to the latest data.

The vast majority of cases have been concentrated in North Kivu, specifically around the northeastern areas of Beni, Butembo, Katwa, and Mabalako. There are currently no confirmed cases of Ebola outside the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This is the 10th outbreak of the disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the most severe there since 1976, when scientists identified the deadly virus near the Ebola River. It's also the second-largest, second-deadliest outbreak in the world.

The WHO's director-general has described the current outbreak as more complex than the deadlier 2014-2016 outbreak in multiple West African countries due to the region's political instability, attacks on health workers, a highly mobile population and community mistrust and misinformation. It's also the first Ebola outbreak in an active war zone.

However, two of four experimental treatments being tested in the current outbreak now will be offered to all patients after showing promise in saving lives. Preliminary findings from a randomized controlled trial that began last November in four Ebola treatment centers in North Kivu indicated that patients receiving either of two antibody-based therapies, known as REGN-EB3 and mAb114, had a greater chance of survival compared to those receiving two other experiential drugs, known as ZMapp and remdesivir.

After a meeting to review the initial results, an independent monitoring board recommended all future patients be offered either REGN-EB3 or mAb114, while the other two treatments be stopped.

"From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable," Muyembe told reporters during a telephone briefing last week.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Aug182019

Largest pro-democracy protest yet in Hong Kong fills major park, spills into streets

iStock(HONG KONG) -- Tens of thousands of protesters defied a rainstorm and the threat of more clashes with police on Sunday in one of the biggest pro-democracy demonstrations yet in Hong Kong.

Demonstrators, whom police denied a permit to march, filled a major park and spilled into surrounding streets, which remained packed with protesters late into the night.

For the most part, the daylong demonstration has been peaceful, but participants expressed fear that circumstances could change on a dime as the Chinese government ratcheted up its threats to quash the civil unrest, now in its eleventh week in the semi-autonomous territory.

"I'm scared, of course. Really scared. Yeah," a protester wearing a mask, sunglasses and a black cap told ABC News. "But I think this is worth it to find our democracy and freedom."

Many of the protesters taking part in Sunday's rally wore masks to protect their identity. Protesters also wore patches over their right eyes to symbolize solidarity with a woman they say was shot in the eye by a projectile fired by police during a protest on Aug. 11.

As protesters began congregating at Victoria Park on Sunday morning, Chinese paramilitary police were staging by the thousands in a sports stadium just outside Hong Kong in the neighboring town of Shenzhen.

The riot-ready troops conducted drills with tanks in what many protesters said they suspect was a thinly-veiled threat.

Hong Kong government officials issued a statement Sunday night saying that while the protest was generally peaceful, the demonstrators managed to block a number of thoroughfares on Hong Kong Island, "seriously affecting traffic and causing much inconvenience to the community."

"The Transport Department and the Police have actively coordinated with concerned parties to minimize the impact," the statement reads.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government emphasized that it was "most important to restore social order as soon as possible."

"The Government will begin sincere dialogue with the public, mend social rifts and rebuild social harmony when everything has calmed down," the spokesman said.

By 3 p.m. local time, an area designated for the protest was overflowing with demonstrators, who formed a sea of umbrellas that stretched into neighboring streets. Organizers of the demonstration claimed that 1.7 million people participated in the protest, but police, according to Hong Kong Free Press, put the number at only 128,000.

A protester who would only give his first name as Phillip told ABC News that he joined the demonstration because Hong Kong government leaders "do not listen to the people."

"We will stay together and voice out," Phillip said.

Many demonstrators said they are worried that their freedoms will continue to erode as China's Communist Party-ruled central government keeps flexing its muscle in Hong Kong, the former British colony that was given back to China in 1997 and has since become a global financial hub.

Under the constitutional principle of "One Country, Two Systems," China had agreed to keep its hands off the freedoms Hong Kong residents have enjoyed as a semi-autonomous territory. But protesters say the Chinese government has exercised its power to curb democracy in Hong Kong in violation of the agreement.

A young couple with a baby told ABC News they participated in the protest because they are afraid for their child's future.

"Without freedom, my son will not have hope," said the father, adding that he was there to "fight for Hong Kong."

The massive protests started in early June when hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators marched in Hong Kong against an extradition bill government leaders there had reached with the Chinese government. The bill was suspended as the protest grew larger and louder.

Demonstrators are also demanding democratic election, an investigation of police use of force, and the resignation of Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, whom protesters consider a tool of the Chinese government.

Clashes between protesters and police grew more intense last week when demonstrators organized a city-wide strike and stormed Hong Kong International Airport, forcing the cancellation of numerous flights in and out of the world's busiest airport for two days.

On Tuesday, violent clashes erupted between protesters and paramilitary police at the airport. Baton-wielding officers were caught on video using force on demonstrators to take back control of the airport.

Chinese officials said Tuesday that protesters "have begun to show signs of terrorism," and China appeared to be weighing a crackdown on the democratic movement.

President Donald Trump told reporters last week that he hopes the situation in Hong Kong "works out for everybody, including China, by the way," and that "nobody gets killed."

On Sunday, You Wenze, spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress, warned U.S. politicians to stay out of China's internal affairs in Hong Kong. Wenze accused U.S. congressional members of glorifying violent crimes under the guise of protests for human rights and freedom.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement last week saying, “The escalating violence and use of force perpetrated against the Hong Kong protesters is extremely alarming. The pro-Beijing Chief Executive and the Hong Kong police forces must immediately cease the aggression and abuse being perpetrated against their own people."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Aug182019

Explosion at wedding in Afghanistan kills 63 and injures 182

Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- An explosion at a wedding hall in the city of Kabul has killed 63 people and wounded 182, according Nasrat Rahimi, spokesperson for the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior Affairs.

The blast happened at the Dubai City Wedding Hall in western Kabul as it was packed with revelers enjoying a wedding, many of whom were women and children.

The cause of the explosion remains unknown, but it took place in a part of Kabul where many people of the Shiite Hazara community call home.

The Islamic State's arm in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the attack, The Associated Press reported. The Taliban released a statement shortly after the explosion condemning the bombing and denying any involvement.

Just yesterday President Donald Trump met with his Afghanistan envoy, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence, at his golf club in New Jersey and hinted that the U.S. might be close to a deal with the Taliban.

He tweeted, "Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan. Many on the opposite side of this 19 year old war, and us, are looking to make a deal - if possible!"

An Afghan official told ABC News, "Terrorists once again targeted civilians. They cannot face ANDSF (Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces) in the battle field hence conduct these cowardly attacks.”

Images of the wedding hall after the explosion showed several enormous holes were left in the walls and ceiling of the building and dozens of shoes piled up from victims that were caught in the blast. Hospital corridors were also lined with victims who were waiting to receive treatment -- some who had lost limbs.

The timing of the explosion shattered more than a week of calm in the Afghan capital.

A Taliban car bomb allegedly targeting Afghan security forces ripped through a busy west Kabul neighborhood on the same road as the wedding explosion 10 days ago, killing 14 people and wounding 145 -- most of them women and children.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Aug162019

Latest North Korea launch unlikely to break stalemate in US diplomatic talks

MicroStockHub/iStock(NEW YORK) -- North Korea fired two short-range projectiles into the Sea of Japan early Friday morning according to South Korea’s military, marking North Korea's sixth round of short-range missile testing in less than a month.

The launch began just hours after North Korea rejected further dialogue with Seoul, citing its frustration with joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the region. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles were launched into the Sea of Japan at around 8:01 and 8:16 a.m. local time, and both flew about 143 miles at an altitude of 18 miles.

The officials did not confirm whether the projectiles were rockets or ballistic missiles, and President Donald Trump did not immediately acknowledge this latest launch.

Despite the ongoing missile testing, Trump last week boasted about his most recent letter from Kim Jong Un, calling it “beautiful’ and “positive” and claiming that Kim offered a “small apology” for the continued launches. Trump told reporters that Kim was fed up with the joint US-South Korean military exercises he calls “war games."

"He wasn't happy with the war games ... I've never liked [the exercises], either,” Trump said. “You know why? I don't like paying for it."

Trump has continuously downplayed North Korea’s launches and touted the success of his relationship with Kim.

Last week, the president told reporters that “there have been no nuclear tests. The missile tests have all been short-range, no ballistic missile tests, no long-range missiles." However, U.S. officials have confirmed North Korea is testing short range ballistic missile tests that violate U.N. Security Council sanctions and continue to pose a threat to U.S. allies, as well as the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

In an interview Thursday with Voice of America, National Security Advisor John Bolton called the launches “troubling.”

“We think the range could probably hit all of South Korea and parts of Japan. That of course would endanger our deployed forces as well. These resolutions violate U.N. Security Council sanctions, and they don't violate the pledge that Kim Jong Un made to President Trump, that's true, but they are troubling for everybody watching the peninsula,” said Bolton.

Bolton also highlighted the stalemate in negotiations between the two nations since Trump and Kim’s historic meeting at the DMZ in late June. Citing North Korea’s failure to fully commit to denuclearization, Bolton told VOA: “We haven't had really any substantive negotiations, at the working level with North Korea since the president met with Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone … The door is open for them … but they need to walk through it and they haven't done that yet.”

Although Kim appears to be seeking attention from the U.S with these short-range tests, Trump has largely ignored the launches and they are unlikely to affect future relations between the U.S. and North Korea, according to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. Easley said that although the launch “makes it exceedingly difficult to build trust” with North Korea, negotiations are still possible.

“Working-level negotiations with North Korea are still worth pursuing, but those diplomatic efforts should be backed up by the preparation of additional sanctions and renewed U.S.-Japan-South Korea military cooperation if Pyongyang continues to violate UN resolutions and threaten its neighbors,” Easley said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Aug162019

Greenland responds to reports Trump talked about buying the territory

fpdress/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Greenland Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to reports that President Donald Trump had talked about the possibility of buying the territory.

"Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism," the ministry's account tweeted Thursday morning. "We're open for business, not for sale."

 

A government of Greenland spokesperson reiterated that the island was not for sale when approached for comment by ABC News.

"We have a good cooperation with USA, and we see it as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer," the spokesperson said. "Of course, Greenland is not for sale. Because of the unofficial nature of the news, the Government of Greenland has no further comments."

 

Greenland is a self-governing territory, responsible for its own policies and foreign affairs, that is technically a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the story when approached by ABC News.

The tweet was in response to media reports that Trump had expressed an interest in buying Greenland to Republican figures, with the story first appearing in the Wall Street Journal.

The veracity of the report was backed up by other news outlets, but the seriousness of the topic was questioned.

A Pentagon spokesperson told ABC News its "long-standing defense relationship" with Denmark, which includes an air base in Thule, Greenland, "has not changed."

"The Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) gap is a strategic corridor for naval operations in the North Atlantic, and we work closely with our NATO allies to maintain the transatlantic link," the spokesperson said.

Danish media and politicians have mostly laughed off reports of Trump’s interest, with former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen tweeting, "It must be an April Fool’s Day joke ... but totally out of session!"

Trump is not the first U.S. president to express an interest in purchasing Greenland due to its strategic location and rich resources. In 1946, the government led by President Harry Truman offered to buy Greenland from the Kingdom of Denmark for $100 million, a bid that was promptly rejected.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was supposed to visit the U.S. military base there in May, but had to cancel to trip at the last-minute because of increasing tensions with Iran.

Greenland's strategic importance has increased as China has looked to expand its activity in the Arctic in recent years. While China already has research stations in Iceland and Norway, the nation is looking to expand its footprint into Greenland with a satellite ground station, renovated airport and mining operations. Those ambitions have alarmed Denmark -- as Greenland is a Danish territory -- with the Danes publicly expressed concerns with China's interest in the world's largest island.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Aug162019

'There is no turning back': Another weekend of protests kick off in Hong Kong

LewisTsePuiLung/iStock(HONG KONG) -- Thousands of people stood elbow to elbow chanting "Power to the People!" on a humid night in central Hong Kong on Friday, as anti-government protests that began here in early June and led to a shutdown of the city's busy international airport this week showed no signs of slowing down.

In the first of several protests planned for this weekend, demonstrators chanted "Stand with Hong Hong," a message they said was directed at the United States and the United Kingdom, the city's former colonial power which passed control of the city to China in 1997.

Police denied permission for a rally that was expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people on Sunday, but protesters are expected to go ahead with it anyway.

“I will sacrifice my life for this movement because we are protecting our home," one of the protesters, Keith Fong, 20, told ABC News earlier in the day.

Another protester, 19-year-old Zoey Leung, said she worries about the safety of her friends and loved ones amid the demonstrations, and the increasingly violent police crackdown, but had no intention of backing down.

“Chasing democracy and freedom is the nature of humans," she said. “There is no turning back for Hong Kongers nowadays.”

Protests erupted on the island 10 weeks ago over a controversial bill that would have allowed accused criminals to be extradited to countries where Hong Kong does not have an existing arrangement. That would have included mainland China, sparking concern over potential human rights abuses, and unearthing a deep-seated distrust for many in Hong Kong. Its embattled and deeply unpopular leader, Carrie Lam, suspended work on the bill but has refused to legally withdraw it.

The activists have also called on Lam to resign.

Lam has condemned the protests and said the marchers were using opposition to the extradition bill as an excuse to undermine Beijing’s sovereignty in Hong Kong to “destroy the way of life cherished by the 7 million [residents].”

On Monday, thousands of protesters rallied and held sit-ins at Hong Kong's international airport, a main hub for business travelers in Asia and among the busiest airports in the world. The protests were broken up by riot police and planes were grounded for the better part of two days.

On Friday, Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways announced the resignation of two of its top officials, including its CEO Rupert Hogg, following reports that airline employees had joined in with the protests.

In a statement posted on Friday, the airline said that "recent events have called into question Cathay Pacific’s commitment to flight safety and security and put our reputation and brand under pressure." The statement said the airline is "fully committed to Hong Kong under the principal of 'One Country Two Systems,'" which refers to China's pledge to respect Hong Kong's autonomy and way of life when it resumed control of the city.

Also on Friday, Alain Robert, a Frenchman whose reputation for scaling skyscrapers has earned him the nickname Spiderman, scaled Hong Kong's 62-story Cheung Kong Centre and unveiled a banner a banner with the flags of both China and Hong Kong, the BBC reported.

"Perhaps what I do can lower the temperature and maybe raise a smile. That's my hope anyway," Mr Robert said in a media statement.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Aug152019

Nepal proposes new Mount Everest permit rules, but efficacy is questioned

Koonyongyut/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The Nepalese government proposed new requirements for climbers and guides to get permits to climb Mount Everest, following a deadly season on the world's highest mountain.

The proposed rules include requiring a climber to have reached the summit of at least one peak above 21,325 feet (6,500 meters), and requiring a guide company to have at least three years experience organizing high-altitude climbs and charging a minimum to clients to avoid low-budget operations getting to the mountain.

"I think they're all good proposed changes and hopefully will prevent inexperienced climbers or inexperienced guide companies from getting up onto the mountain and getting in trouble," Garrett Madison, the founder of Madison Mountaineering, told ABC News. "But it's also hard to enforce these regulations, so I don't know if they'll have much effect in the end."

Eleven people died on Everest during the spring climbing season, making it one of the deadliest on record. Most of these deaths occurred on the south, Nepal side of the mountain, and many pointed to crowding and bottlenecks as the reason for the fatalities.

However, while professional mountaineers and Everest experts agree there are too many inexperienced climbers on Everest, they disagree it was crowds -- and thus the number of permits issued -- that caused the deaths. Rather, they point to inexperience itself, as well as a limited weather window seen this season.

While the proposed changes are a step in the right direction, Madison said, they wouldn't do enough to actually have an effect on the mountain, whether by limiting the number of permits or by cutting off inexperienced climbers and guide companies.

"It's not very challenging to meet these three points, and I don't think it's going to reduce the number of climbing permits issued on the Nepalese side of the mountain," he said.

For one thing, climbing one 21,000-foot mountain is relatively easy for experienced climbers -- especially compared to tackling the 29,029-foot Everest. For another, Madison said, "How do you submit proof of climbing a 6500-meter mountain?"

He added that it could be easy to forge a certificate or photo to use as proof.

Additionally, the three years experience for a guide company rule could be easy to get around as well, Madison said, as many sherpas can claim that time in high-altitude climbs.

The Nepalese government has proposed new rules for climbing Everest in the past, typically after a deadly season that makes news. In fact, the government proposed the 6,500-meter requirement once before, in 2015.

Madison, who summitted Everest for his 10th time on May 23, when crowds reached a peak in two senses of the word, said there needs to be a better vetting of prospective climbers, possibly through a stricter application or screening process. Guide companies, too, should be held to a higher standard, he added.

But, he said, it's not "really in the interest of the Nepalese government" to limit the number of permits as the climbers fuel the country's economy.

The expedition leader does have one theory to help the crowds, though, which he is testing in the coming weeks: attempt Everest in the fall, rather than the spring. Although the autumn season makes it a tougher climb with more snow on the mountain after the monsoon season, Madison thinks it could be an option, and he's trying it this year, hoping that a successful attempt will encourage others to do the same.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Aug152019

July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth in 140 years

rommma/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Scorching temperatures this year broke records, including July becoming the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, scientists said Thursday.

The average global temperature in July was 1.71 degrees above the 20th century average of 60.4 degrees, the hottest temperature that month since scientists began keeping track 140 years ago, according to meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The previous hottest month on record was July 2016.

The period from January through July was also the second-hottest year to date on record, tying with 2017. The global temperature during that time was 1.71 degrees above the recorded average of 56.9 degrees, according to NOAA.

However, in some parts of the world, including North and South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the southern half of Africa, it was the hottest year to date.

Heat warnings slammed much of the eastern half of the U.S. -- from Kansas to Ohio and North Carolina to New Hampshire -- last month.

On July 19, several heat index readings came close to setting records throughout the eastern region.

Some of the temperatures the following day, in places like New York City and Philadelphia, were expected to be the hottest in several years.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Aug152019

US applies to seize Iranian tanker held in Gibraltar

FILE photo. wissanu01/iStock(LONDON) — The U.S. government has requested to take control of an Iranian oil tanker held in Gibraltar.

The Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 has been held in Gibraltar since it was seized by British forces in the Mediterranean last month. It was accused of heading to Syria which is in direct contravention of European Union sanctions.

The government of Gibraltar was scheduled to order the release of the tanker in a Supreme Court hearing Thursday, according to local media. The court will now consider the US Department of Justice's application, with a decision set to be made at 4 p.m. local time (11 a.m. EST).

Inside the courtroom, Chief Justice Anthony Dudley said that the "ship would have sailed" were it not for the US's application, according to the Gibraltar Chronicle.

"The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered," the Government of Gibraltar said in a statement seen by ABC News. "The matter will return to the Supreme Court of Gibraltar at 4:00 p.m. today."

After the Iranian oil tanker was seized last month, Iran's paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps responded by seizing a British-flagged and a Liberian-flagged oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz on July 18.

"The investigations being conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the Government of Gibraltar," a Foreign Office spokesperson told ABC News. "As this is an ongoing investigation we are unable to comment further.”

The U.K. Foreign Office and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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