Theresa May survives crucial no-confidence vote amid Brexit uncertainty

Leon Neal/Getty Images(LONDON) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May survived a crucial no-confidence vote this evening, avoiding the prospect of a bitter leadership contest within her own party.

Early forecasts expected her to survive the motion comfortably, and in the end, her fellow conservative members of Parliament voted in favor of her leadership by a margin of 200-117, with a majority of 83.

May only needed a simple majority, or 159 MPs, to avoid the leadership election. Under Conservative Party rules, she now is immune from another formal leadership challenge for a year.

Events moved at a rapid pace in Westminster on Wednesday, as May was forced to cancel both a trip to Dublin where she was due to discuss the Irish backstop and her own cabinet meeting in order to canvas support from her MPs.

May was able to rally her colleagues and will now stay on as prime minister ahead of a crucial period in British politics.

May staunchly defended her leadership outside 10 Downing Street just before 9 a.m. Wednesday, warning that a leadership contest would damage the country amid tense Brexit negotiations.

"A change of leadership ... will put our country's future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it," she said. "A new leader wouldn't be in place by the 21st January legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in parliament ... and a leadership election would not change the fundamentals of the negotiation or the parliamentary arithmetic."

Since the resignation of former Brexit Secretary David Davis this summer, May has come under increasing attack from cabinet colleagues, several of whom resigned in protest over her handling of negotiations with Europe to leave the EU. A growing number of influential Conservative Party members want to sever ties with the EU without remaining in several key EU arrangements.

The Conservatives' mechanism for initiating leadership elections is triggered if 15 percent of MPs write a letter to a group called the 1922 Committee indicating they have no confidence in the leader.

The chair of that committee issued a statement Wednesday morning saying that he had received 48 letters, enough to initiate the process and that a vote would be held between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the results announced at 9 p.m. May addressed the party before the vote took place.

May traveled to three European countries Tuesday for crash talks with leaders, having pulled out of a crucial parliamentary vote the night before.

May announced on Monday that it had become clear her deal covering how the U.K. will leave the EU would not be passed in Parliament, so she returned to Europe to seek further concessions, which many European leaders have warned is not possible.

MPs from all sides of the House of Commons expressed outrage and frustration over May's decision to call off the vote.

May became prime minister in 2016 after former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned after the EU referendum. A leadership election was sparked, but it never went to a vote after the rival candidate pulled out, leaving May as the only choice.

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'Amazed' at lack of concern over 'grave' threats from China: FBI official 

ilkaydede/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- In the past six months alone, U.S. news outlets and other publications have unleashed several hundred articles spotlighting the robust cyber-espionage threat the U.S. says is emanating from China. Congress has also held open hearings on the matter, and Trump administration officials have traveled the country to publicly warn Americans of the growing danger.

But the message has yet to be sufficiently received, the FBI's top counterintelligence official told senators on Wednesday, during another congressional hearing on the issue.

FBI Assistant Director Bill Priestap said he is still "amazed at the lack of understanding of the gravity" of the threat among some of those being targeted the most by China.

"I believe this is the most severe counterintelligence threat facing our nation today," Priestap said during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "What hangs in the balance is not just the future of the U.S., but the future of the world."

The committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said public focus on "all things Russia" for the past two years has "distracted attention from arguably a greater, more existential threat: China's efforts to overtake the United States as the world's preeminent superpower in all phases of society."

Priestap and two other senior U.S. officials painted a dire picture of China's aim to overcome U.S. innovations through both legal and illegal means – leveraging everything from corporate takeovers, to cyber-espionage, to "leaning on" Chinese nationals in U.S. tech firms and at educational institutions.

Priestap noted that he "recently" visited three states to meet with business leaders there about the cyberthreat facing their companies.

"On the one hand, I was amazed at some of those business leaders' understanding of the way the threat is working today. On the other hand, with different business leaders, I was amazed at the lack of understanding of the gravity, capabilities [and] methodologies of China," he said.

Testifying beside Priestap, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, Assistant Attorney General John Demers, pointed to four ongoing court cases against Chinese nationals allegedly involved in plots to steal trade or military secrets from the United States.

Meanwhile, underscoring his own concerns, Priestap cited surveys showing that – when people around the world are asked to name the nation states presenting the biggest national security risks to the home countries – China is always "toward the bottom." And he said, "There's still work to be done by the U.S. government in messaging to the American people the gravity of the threat we're facing."

"Again, there are pockets of great understanding of the threat we're facing, and effective responses," he added. "But in my opinion, we've got to knit that together better. ... We need more people in government, more people in business, more people in academia pulling in the same direction to combat this threat effectively."

The key, he said, is "raising awareness of the threat," including ensuring that business and academic institutions know how they're being targeted, and informing the public about security risks to their data and efforts by foreign governments to influence Americans online.

Wednesday's hearing came a day after a U.S. official told ABC News that the Justice Department is preparing additional indictments against Chinese cyber-spies, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Past ABC News reports have detailed purported Chinese thefts of technology related to everything from advanced fighter aircraft to corn seeds.

China has repeatedly dismissed allegations of espionage and unfair economic practices.

"The Chinese government will neither encourage companies to carry out cyber theft for commercial secrets, nor take part in such activities," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in July. "It is hoped that relevant parties can uphold the spirit of mutual respect and mutual trust, and have more dialogue and cooperation in the field of cybersecurity in a constructive manner."

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Pompeo casts doubt on Saudi prince's role in Khashoggi murder as CIA Director briefs House, Senate prepares to vote

LEAH MILLIS/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again cast doubt on the reported CIA assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the U.S. was still "developing" a "set of facts" and media reports about the assessment were "inaccurate."

His defense of Saudi Arabia, which ranged from the Saudis "have already paid the price" for the killing to Iran is the real problem in the region. But there is now growing anger in Congress over the kingdom's actions and that Trump defense -- which some lawmakers are even calling a cover-up.

The fervor in Congress has helped fuel support for legislation to withdraw U.S. military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. But while the Senate will begin debate on that bill Wednesday, Republican leadership in the House moved to block it through a procedural motion after it quashed a similar vote in early November.

CIA director Gina Haspel briefed leadership in the House of Representatives on the agency's assessment Wednesday, which senators briefed by Haspel said points to the crown prince's direct involvement, including exchanging messages with the team as the plot unfolded.

But Pompeo said the media's reporting on the assessment "has been inaccurate," while declining to say what was false.

"They're still working on this," he added of the CIA. "The direct evidence isn't yet available. It may show up tomorrow, it may have shown up overnight, but I haven't seen it."

Pompeo was grilled by the anchors of "Fox and Friends," the network's morning news program that is watched closely by President Donald Trump. When pressed by one anchor on whether he believed the crown prince's denials, Pompeo did not respond, saying instead, "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia decides who runs the country."

Emerging from the CIA briefing, House members were reticent to talk about the agency's assessment, but said there would be hearings next year to reassess the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.

"I think that all leaders of countries are responsible for things that happen under them," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, who will become chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee when Democrats take control of the chamber next year. "We've still got to get to the bottom of it ... It's not looking too good right now, but we'll see."

Any action in the House will have to wait until next year after Republican leadership inserted a resolution into the must-pass farm bill to block a vote on a war powers resolution that would pull U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

"Just when you thought Congress couldn't get any swampier, we continue to exceed even the lowest expectations," said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, who was trying to win GOP support for the legislation.

"The only reason the leadership is doing this is because they know there are dozens of Republicans who will stand with Democrats to stop the killing in Yemen," said Massie's partner Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, who introduced the legislation.

While efforts in the House were stymied again, the Senate will begin debate on its own resolution two weeks after the chamber voted to advance it, in a slap to the faces of Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis, hours after the two men lobbied all senators to not support it in a closed door briefing.

After that disastrous briefing, Republicans and Democrats aimed to send a message to the Saudis and the White House by voting on the war powers resolution, which, despite opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is now expected to pass, according to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Without accompanying legislation from the House, it will not go to the president's desk this year. But Corker told ABC News the Senate may still also vote on a joint congressional resolution that includes a strong condemnation of the crown prince, reading, "The Senate believed the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

Either way, the actions are all together a sharp rebuke of Trump and his handling of the Khashoggi affair.

But Pompeo pushed back Wednesday, defending the administration's response by pointing to the sanctions and visa bans imposed on the team that carried out the attack. Saudi Arabia has said that the team conducted a rogue operation, headed by the deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri, who has since been fired.

The Trump administration has never challenged their narrative, with Pompeo saying Wednesday, "The Saudis have already paid the price. The folks who actually committed the murder, we've held accountable. We will continue to do that."

Two top advisers to the crown prince were fired for their roles, and all of the team members on the ground in Istanbul, Turkey, have been arrested in Saudi Arabia, with the Saudi public prosecutor seeking the death penalty for five of them. That undermines the effect of any U.S. sanctions or visa bans, according to critics.

Pompeo also downplayed the incident and said the threat from Iran is the real challenge: "No one underestimates how horrible this murder was, but remember, Iran is running rampant throughout the Middle East. The death of any one individual is awful. The death of hundreds of thousands of people in Europe or the Middle East or the United States matters an awful lot, and President Trump is committed to protecting America."

Throughout the interview, the top U.S. diplomat did not condemn or use any tough language concerning Saudi Arabia.

That stood in contrast to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who will leave her post at the end of the year.

The administration must have a "serious, hard talk with the Saudis to let them know we won't condone this, we won't give you a pass, and don't do it again," Haley told NBC News in an interview that aired Wednesday.

"When these things happen, we have to step back and never back away from our principles," Haley added.

But she also praised the Saudis as "our partner in defeating and dealing with Iran" and called that help "hugely important."

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Alone at UN, Pompeo blasts Iran nuclear deal, but searches for common ground on missile threat

mizoula/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. was alone at the United Nations Security Council in blasting the Iran nuclear deal Wednesday, as the U.N., European Union, and several European allies praised the agreement for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and expressed disappointment in the U.S. decision to withdraw, one month after all of its sanctions snapped back into place on Iran.

Speaking before the Security Council, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the U.N. to reimpose a ban on Iran on all ballistic missile activity, saying afterwards, "Now it's time for the Security Council to get serious about this real risk from proliferation from the Iranian regime."

"We clearly see that the JCPOA didn't succeed in stopping this malign activity," he added, using an acronym for the deal's formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

But while almost all 15 other members expressed concern with Iran's ballistic missiles, they mostly voiced continued support for the deal and criticized the U.S. "challenges" to it.

"The JCPOA faces considerable challenges following the withdrawal by the United States and the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran. The E.U. and all 28 member states deeply regretted these U.S. decisions," said Serge Christiane, a senior diplomat with the E.U. delegation at the U.N. who went on to "express sincere thanks" to Iran "for their unwavering commitment to the nuclear deal."

Pompeo dismissed the differences as confined to the nuclear deal and said the U.S. could still act with allies and partners to deal with the threat of Iran's ballistic missiles, even while they remain in the deal.

But that difference could also set up an economic showdown between the U.S. and its allies, with a new European mechanism to allow transactions to skirt U.S. sanctions coming online soon. Pompeo wouldn't preview any U.S. action against what's called the "special purpose vehicle," but said, "To the extent that there are violations of our sanctions, we intend to enforce them with great rigor against any party who is a participant in those violations."

The meeting was the first open session after Iran test-fired a ballistic missile on December 1. But it was convened after the U.N. Secretary-General issued his regular update on the deal's implementation, which found Iran continues to abide by the agreement in the face now of "considerable challenges" from U.S. withdrawal and its sanctions.

The report, the sixth by the Secretary-General, also praised Europe for "their initiatives to protect the freedom of their economic operators to pursue legitimate business with the Islamic Republic of Iran, in full accordance with resolution" that oversees the Iran deal.

Despite the united front by other countries and institutions, Pompeo said the justification for withdrawing from the deal was "self-evident," including that "Iran's missile testing and missile proliferation is growing."

The U.N. had banned Iran from having nuclear-capable missiles from 2010 to 2015, but as part of the nuclear deal, it softened its Security Council resolution to "call upon" Iran not to undertake that kind of activity, instead of completely outlawing it. Pompeo said it was time to restore that as part of the U.N. members' "responsibility to work for the peace and security of their own people and a stable international order."

"Iran has exploited the goodwill of nations and defied multiple Security Council resolutions in its quest for a robust ballistic missile force. The United States will never stand for this," he told the body, blasting the JCPOA for having "shielded" Iran "from accountability to the risks it presents to the world" and provided it "more money to achieve" its "destructive, revolutionary goals."

Among other things, he said those funds have allowed Iran to develop "largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East," with more than 10 ballistic missile system in its inventory or in development.

Several European allies echoed those concerns, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and France -- all three of which Pompeo thanked in his remarks. The European Union's current, outgoing, and incoming Security Council members also gave a statement before the session began, saying, "We call on Iran to refrain from such activities, which deepen mistrust and increase regional tensions and are in non-conformity with" the U.N. Security Council resolution.

But they each criticized the U.S. for "throwing out the baby with the bath," as Germany's ambassador to the U.N. said, by withdrawing from the nuclear deal because of concerns over ballistic missiles.

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Manhunt continues for shooter in suspected terrorist attack in France

pixinoo/iStock(STRASBOURG, France) -- A major manhunt is underway in France for a suspect who opened fire in a Christmas market in Strasbourg on Tuesday night, killing two people and injuring 14 others in what authorities are investigating as a terrorist attack.

French prosecutor Rémy Heitz said during a press conference on Wednesday that the suspect, 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt, had shouted "God is great" in Arabic as he opened fire at the market. Chekatt had over two dozen previous convictions for petty crimes in France, Germany, and Switzerland, Heitz said, and was on France’s national security watch list. Chekatt was born in Strasbourg, Heitz added.

About 720 security forces were deployed to search for Chekatt, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told the National Assembly in France on Wednesday.

The shooting is being treated as a terrorist attack, the Paris counter-terrorism prosecutor's office told ABC News.

Police said Chekatt fired shots in three separate locations near the center of the city on the Rue des Orfèvres around 8 p.m. local time.

Members of the French military confronted the suspect between 8:20 p.m. and 9 p.m. and used their weapons twice in an attempt to intercept him, Castaner said.

Chekatt fled the scene by jumping into a taxi, telling the driver that he had shot a soldier and injured 10 people. He also said that police had searched his home earlier and found a grenade and four knives, according to Heitz.

French soldiers shot him, but he fled the scene, officials said. Witnesses said the suspect used a handgun, but authorities haven't confirmed those reports.

On Tuesday morning, hours before the attack, police conducted a raid in which they intended to arrest Chekatt in relation to an attempted homicide investigation. Five other individuals were arrested during the operation, but the suspect was not found, Laurent Nunez, Deputy Interior Minister of France, said in an interview with radio outlet France Inter Wednesday morning.

Local schools are open on Wednesday, but parents also have the option to keep their children at home, Castaner said, adding that extra security will be patrolling streets and Christmas markets.

A photo posted to Twitter shows people locked down inside the European Parliament building in Strasbourg after the attack Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron encouraged citizens to show their solidarity in the aftermath of the attack Wednesday.

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DOJ 'not a tool of trade' in Chinese exec dispute, official vows, after Trump suggests he might intervene

YinYang/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- As critics blast President Donald Trump for suggesting he might “intervene” in the Justice Department’s pending prosecution of a prominent Chinese executive so his administration can resolve a growing trade dispute with China, the Justice Department’s top national security official on Wednesday insisted his prosecutors will not be influenced by what the White House does.

“We are not a tool of trade when we bring the cases,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers told a Senate panel.

“What we do at the Justice Department is law enforcement. We don’t do trade,” he added.

Demers was responding to a question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who said Trump’s suggestion that he “would intervene in [a] criminal prosecution for political purposes” was “extremely, extremely disturbing.”

During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Blumenthal asked Demers and two other senior U.S. intelligence officials whether they believe “that kind of statement sends a dangerous message to our law enforcement community.”

After noting that the Justice Department is “not a tool of trade,” Demers said, “We follow the facts, and we vindicate violations of U.S. law. ... And I think it’s very important for other countries to understand that.”

Sitting beside Demers, the FBI’s top counterintelligence official, Assistant Director Bill Priestap, said he agreed with Demers, adding, “From the FBI’s end, we’re going to continue to do our job.”

Blumenthal then offered one last shot at Trump, saying law enforcement may be “a tool” of “political or diplomatic ends ... in other countries, but not in this one.”

Wednesday’s hearing and Meng’s arrest came as Trump and his administration have been trying to hammer out a deal with China that would alleviate growing tensions over trade and possible tariffs. Those tensions have already rattled U.S. markets, contributing to a substantial drop in the stock markets last week.

Earlier this month, after receiving information from the U.S. government, Meng was arrested while traveling through Canada, where court documents say she and others “repeatedly lied” to international banks about Huawei’s ties to businesses in Iran.

In particular, Huawei used a Hong Kong-based company, Skycom, as a front for Huawei’s “operating” in Iran despite U.S. sanctions, and Meng falsely claimed to “numerous multinational financial institutions” that Skycom was not connected to Huawei so that those institutions would carry out hundreds of millions of dollars in otherwise prohibited transactions, according to court documents released in Canada.

Huawei has become the world's biggest supplier of network equipment for phone and internet services. And, in the United States alone, one major bank ended up improperly approving $100 million in transactions based on the lies of Meng and others, the court documents allege.

After news of Meng’s arrest became public last week, the official Xinhua News Agency said a top Chinese diplomat "lodged solemn representations and strong protests" with Canadian and U.S. authorities over the matter, demanding the United States drop the "extremely egregious” charges against Meng.

In Vancouver on Tuesday, a court released Meng on bail, with a $10 million bond. She is required to stay in Vancouver and is due in court in February.

During Wednesday’s Senate hearing, meanwhile, Demers said extradition efforts by the U.S. government are “ongoing,” and, “If she is extradited, our criminal case will continue.”

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Five Marines killed in midair collision identified

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Abrego(WASHINGTON) -- The Marine Corps has identified the five Marines killed aboard a KC-130 refueling tanker when it collided with a F/A-18 fighter jet off the coast of Japan last week.

They were identified as Lt. Col. Kevin R. Herrmann, 38, of New Bern, North Carolina; Maj. James M. Brophy, 36, of Staatsburg, New York; Staff Sgt. Maximo A. Flores, 27, of Surprise, Arizona; Cpl. Daniel E. Baker, 21, of Tremont, Illinois; and Cpl. William C. Ross, 21, of Hendersonville, Tennessee.

They were declared deceased earlier this week after an exhaustive search and rescue effort, covering 35,000 square miles, failed to find them or their missing aircraft.

Last Wednesday, the two aircraft were participating in an overnight refueling exercise 200 miles off the southwest coast of Japan. The Marine Corps has not been able to confirm that the two aircraft were conducting a midair refueling aircraft when the mishap occurred. The incident remains under investigation.

The two aviators aboard the Marine fighter jet were able to eject from their aircraft, but the KC-130 refueling tanker did not have that capability.

Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces found one of the two Marines aboard the fighter jet alive four hours after the collision. Capt. Jahmar F. Resilard, 28, was recovered six hours later but pronounced deceased.

The five Marines aboard the KC-130 were all assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transportation Squadron 152 (VMGR-152) based in Japan.

"It is with heavy hearts that we announce the names of our fallen Marines," said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Mitchell T. Maury, commanding officer of VMGR-152. "They were exceptional aviators, Marines, and friends whom will be eternally missed. Our thoughts and prayers remain with their families and loved ones at this extremely difficult time."

Lt. Col. Kevin R. Herrmann served 16 years in the Marine Corps and served as the unit's Executive Officer. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel. Hermann's decorations include the Air Medal with 24 Strike Flight Awards, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals. He is survived by his wife and three daughters.

Maj. James M. Brophy served 12 years in the Marine Corps. His decorations include the Air Medal with two Strike Flight Awards, one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and one Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. He is survived by his wife, son and daughter.

Staff Sgt. Maximo A. Flores served nine years in the Marine Corps. His decorations include one Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, and a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal with one bronze star. He is survived by his wife.

Cpl. Daniel E. Baker served two years in the Marine Corps. His decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. He is survived by his mother and father.

Cpl. William C. Ross served two years in the Marine Corps. His decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. He is survived by his mother and father.

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Church of England issues new guidelines on welcoming trans people into the faith

ChrisHepburn/iStock(LONDON) -- The Church of England has issued new guidance saying that it "welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people" and offers clergy ways to help them celebrate the sacrament of baptism in a meaningful, inclusive way.

The pastoral guidance will be incorporated into a revised edition of Common Worship, the Church of England’s service book, and has already been published online. The revised print edition of Common Worship will be issued early next year.

 The document includes advice to ministers regarding how to celebrate baptism with a trans parishioner and how to sensitively use preferred gender pronouns during the ceremony, which are to be dependent on “the individual concerned.”

“If a transgender person is not already baptized, then baptism itself would be the natural liturgical context for recognizing and celebrating their identity in Christ and God’s love for them," the new guidelines state. "The image of God, in which we are all made, transcends gender, race, and any other characteristic."

Before the ceremony, ministers are encouraged to meet the person to “understand better their personal journey." Clergy should also meet with their family in order to “be sensitive to their pastoral needs.”

This means that the service will have a “celebratory character,” according to the guidelines.

The move follows a motion in 2017 from the General Synod of the Church of England that sought to welcome the LGBT community into the church. As well as laying the groundwork for the advice published today, the motion recognized the "need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church.”

The news has been met with a mixed reaction by some Anglican groups.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief executive of the conservative evangelical group Christian Concern, told ABC News that the guidance demonstrated a "devastating trajectory towards an outright denial of God and his word."

But the Reverend Canon Dr. Rachel Mann, who was instrumental in issuing the new guidelines, said that “this is about God’s love being made more visible for all” and that the move was “absolutely” a sign church attitudes were changing for the better.

“There will always be individuals and interest groups who will respond to this guidance negatively,” she said. “However, in my experience, they represent the margins rather than the mainstream. I expect this guidance to be warmly welcomed by the vast majority of people in the Church of England.”

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Russia buries legendary human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva

Carsten Koall/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Russia on Tuesday buried the legendary human rights activist, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, whose fearless efforts to force the Soviet Union and later Russia's government to observe its citizens’ rights made her a national celebrity.

Alexeyeva died on Saturday at the age of 91.

One of the last well-known Soviet-era dissidents, Alexeyeva was the doyenne of Russia’s human rights movement and an icon of the long struggle against political repression in the country. She had continued to campaign until her death and had appeared at rallies well into her eighties, denouncing the new turn back to authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin.

Even Putin could not ignore Alexeyeva’s stature and influence. He paid his respects at Tuesday's in-state ceremony.

But in a mark of the political realties that Alexeyeva was still fighting against, her long-time collaborator, 77-year-old Lev Ponomarev, was unable to attend his friend's funeral because he is currently serving a 16-day sentence for a Facebook post related to a protest over Putin's rule. A court refused his request to be allowed out for the funeral.

Putin’s presence at the funeral produced a strange juxtaposition, as he sat among a group of Russia’s best-known human rights defenders, many of whom have dedicated their lives to defending the rights and political freedoms that his government has sought to suppress. Many of them have also been detained at rallies protesting Putin.

Alexeyeva’s open casket lay on a stage in a hall, surrounded by wreaths and flanked by a rotating honor guard of her fellow rights activists, most of them also now aged.

Putin arrived on the stage after they had gathered and, after laying flowers and touching the casket, sat with Alekseeva’s son Mikhail, talking with him. After around 10 minutes, Putin excused himself and left.

Those at the event greeted Putin politely or looked on silently. In the eulogies that followed, some of Alexeyeva’s colleagues made veiled criticisms of Putin and his system.

Henry Reznik, a lawyer who had worked with Alexeyeva for decades, told how she had returned from a comfortable exile in the United States to campaign for human rights in Russia.

With a fury in his voice, he criticized "dishonest politicians" who "just do PR for themselves" with patriotic shows.

Alexeyeva had sought to find a language to communicate with Putin and had maintained good relations with him. She joined Putin's presidential council on human rights, though she abandoned it for a time over concerns it was becoming a puppet body. Putin had been careful to display respect to her, last year visiting her at home to wish her happy 90th birthday. She had used the occasion to press Putin to release a senator jailed in a controversial case.

Alexeyeva held a unique status among Russia's human rights defenders, universally admired for her unfailing principles and efforts to aid victims of persecution. Her funeral saw the leading figures of Russia's present-day opposition also pay their respects, including Alexey Navalny as well as a senior Putin ally, Vyacheslav Volodoin.

Alexeyeva began her dissident career in the 1960s, volunteering to type out the Chronicle of Current Events, a banned journal that detailed judicial abuses by the Soviet authorities. Such activities carried severe risk -- the Soviet Union remained a totalitarian police state and many dissidents were jailed in labor camps or forcibly imprisoned in psychiatric institutions. In 1976, she helped found the Moscow Helsinki Group, the USSR’s first human rights organization, joining a tiny group that stood up publicly to the Soviet regime. A year later, she was forced into exile, leaving for the U.S. where she spent 16 years.

She returned to Russia in 1993 and as Putin began to restore authoritarianism in a softer form, she turned her campaigns against him, warning that Putin was seeking to destroy Russia's civil society.

Besides her unyielding belief, Alexeyeva was known for her mischievous sense of humor and quick tongue. She was arrested at a protest in 2009 at the age of 82, while dressed as a snow maiden. In their eulogies, several colleagues described how the tiny, kind-eyed elderly woman could deliver iron words when they were needed. They described how she would call the presidential administration and pressure officials there to act on specific political cases.

Alexeyeva has helped hundreds, perhaps thousands of people targeted in political cases over the years.

“She was an intercessor,” said Svetlana Gannushkina, a celebrated rights defender who in 2017 was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the "alternative Nobel Prize."

She was also an uncomfortable icon for Russia in recent years, as the Kremlin painted human rights NGOs as a Western instrument to weaken Russia.

Alexeyeva's own Moscow Helsinki Group was threatened by a 2012 law labeling human rights NGOs "foreign agents."

Her friend Reznik pledged that her efforts would be continued

"The job of human rights defending will be continued. Without a doubt," Reznik told mourners. "All those young souls -- those who feel that feeling that only on a basis of freedom and dignity can this life be fixed -- they will be proud of this remarkable woman."

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Police arrest man outside British Parliament for trespassing

400tmax/iStock(LONDON) -- A man was arrested by British armed police on Tuesday for entering the grounds of the British Houses of Parliament.

Police have yet to rule out whether the incident is terror-related.

“A man was detained and arrested by Carriage Gates inside the Palace of Westminster on suspicion of trespassing at a protected site,” London's Metropolitan Police said in a statement. “A Taser was deployed. Enquiries into the circumstances continue.”

The man, who has not been identified, was led away from the scene by police.

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