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Massive fire engulfs beloved Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Massive fire engulfs beloved Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

PARIS (AP) — A massive fire swept across the top of Paris’ soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, collapsing its spire and threatening one of the world’s greatest architectural treasures as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below.

The French president pledged to rebuild a cathedral that he called “a part of us,” and appealed for national and international help to do so. The 12th-century church is home to relics, stained glass and other incalculable works of art and is a leading global tourist attraction, immortalized by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

The Paris prosecutor’s office said it was treating the fire as an accident, ruling out arson and possible terror-related motives, at least for now. French media quoted the Paris fire brigade as saying the fire was “potentially linked” to a 6 million-euro ($6.8 million) renovation project on the church’s spire and its 500 tons of wood and 250 tons of lead.

Despite the dramatic image of the flaming cathedral, no one was killed. One firefighter was injured, among some 400 who struggled against the flames for hours before finally extinguishing them. Firefighters continued working through the night to cool the building and secure the monument, as residual sparks sprinkled down from the gaping hole where the spire used to be.

The blaze started at 6:50 p.m. after it had closed to the public, and spread to one of the cathedral’s landmark rectangular towers.

Nearby buildings were evacuated as fears mounted that the structure could collapse.

As the spire fell, the sky lit up orange and flames shot out of the roof behind the nave of the cathedral, among the most visited landmarks in the world. Hundreds of people lined up bridges around the island that houses the church, watching in shock as acrid smoke rose in plumes.

Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said the church’s structure had been saved after firefighters managed to stop the fire spreading to the northern belfry. Gallet said “two-thirds of the roofing has been ravaged.”

The fire came less than a week before Easter amid Holy Week commemorations. As the cathedral burned, Parisians gathered spontaneously to pray and sing hymns outside the church of Saint-Julien-Les-Pauvres across the river from Notre Dame while the flames lit the sky behind them. Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit invited priests across France to ring church bells in a call for prayers.

Nearing midnight, signs pointed to the fire nearing an end as lights could be seen through the windows moving around the front of the cathedral, apparently investigators inspecting the scene.

The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said a significant collection of art work and holy objects inside the church had been recovered. She did not provide details.

Experts say firefighters were left with devastatingly few options when faced with a structure that’s more than 850 years old, built with heavy timber construction and soaring open spaces, and lacking sophisticated fire-protection systems.

French President Emmanuel Macron treated the fire as a national emergency, rushing to the scene and canceling a previously scheduled televised address meant to address France’s yellow vest crisis.

“The worse has been avoided, although the battle is not yet totally won,” the president said, adding that he would launch a national funding campaign on Tuesday and call on the world’s “greatest talents” to help rebuild the monument.

“Notre Dame of Paris is our history, our literature, our imagination. The place where we survived epidemics, wars, liberation. It has been the epicenter of our lives,” Macron said from the scene.

Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages as well as one of the most beloved structures in the world. Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the Seine river, its architecture is famous for, among other things, its many gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses. Some 13 million people visit it every year.

Among the most celebrated artworks inside are its three stained-glass rose windows, placed high up on the west, north and south faces of the cathedral. Its priceless treasures also include a Catholic relic, the crown of thorns, which is only occasionally displayed, including on Fridays during Lent.

“It’s not one relic, not one piece of glass — it’s the totality,” said Barbara Drake Boehm, senior curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval Cloisters branch in New York, her voice shaking as she tried to put into words what the cathedral meant. “It’s the very soul of Paris, but it’s not just for French people. For all humanity, it’s one of the great monuments to the best of civilization.”

Reactions from around the world came swiftly including from the Vatican, which released a statement expressing shock and sadness for the “terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, symbol of Christianity in France and in the world.”

In Washington, Trump tweeted: “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris” and suggested first responders use “flying water tankers” to put it out.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said he was praying “to ask the intercession of Notre Dame, our Lady, for the Cathedral at the heart of Paris, and of civilization, now in flames! God preserve this splendid house of prayer, and protect those battling the blaze.”

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange appears in London court

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange appears in London court

Mass shootings at New Zealand mosques kill 49; 1 man charged

Mass shootings at New Zealand mosques kill 49; 1 man charged

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) – At least 49 people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers in an attack broadcast in horrifying, live video by an immigrant-hating white supremacist wielding at least two assault rifles and a shotgun.

One man was arrested and charged with murder, and two other armed suspects were taken into custody while police tried to determine what role they played.

“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, noting that many of the victims could be migrants or refugees.

She pronounced it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

The cold-blooded attack shocked people across the nation of 5 million people, a country that has relatively loose gun laws but few gun homicides and is so peaceful police officers rarely carry firearms. New Zealand is also generally considered to be welcoming to migrants and refugees.

The gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings left a 74-page manifesto that he posted on social media under the name Brenton Tarrant, identifying himself as a 28-year-old Australian and white nationalist who was out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.

Using what may have been a helmet camera, he livestreamed to the world in graphic detail his rampage at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque, where at least 41 people were killed as he sprayed them with bullets over and over, sometimes firing at victims he had already cut down. Several more worshippers were killed in an attack on a second mosque in the city a short time later.

At least 48 people were wounded, some critically, authorities said.

Police did not immediately say whether the same person was responsible for both shootings. They did not identify those taken into custody and gave no details about them except to say that none had been on any watch list.

While there was no reason to believe there were any more suspects, the prime minister said the national threat level was raised from low to high. Police warned Muslims against going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand. And Air New Zealand canceled several flights in and out of Christchurch.

Police said the investigation extended 360 kilometers (240 miles) to the south, where homes in Dunedin were evacuated around a “location of interest.” They gave no details.

World leaders condemned the attacks and offered condolences. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and other Islamic leaders pointed to the bloodshed and other such attacks as evidence of rising hostility toward Muslims.

“I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 where Islam & 1.3 bn Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror by a Muslim,” Khan tweeted.

New Zealand’s prime minister said that immigrants and refugees “have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.” As for the suspects, Ardern said, they harbor “extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand.”

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black and wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top enter the Al Noor mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running out in terror.

Peneha, who lives next door, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway and fled. Peneha then went into the mosque to help the victims.

“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”

In the video that was livestreamed, the killer spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers with gunfire. He then walks outside, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children’s screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle. He walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground.

After going back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song “Fire” by the English rock band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown can be heard blasting. The singer bellows, “I am the god of hellfire!” and the gunman drives off.

The second attack took place at the Linwood mosque about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away.

Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald that he heard about five gunshots and that a worshipper returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Based on the video, the attacker was at the scene of the first mosque for about 10 minutes, and police did not arrive until after that.

The footage showed he was carrying a shotgun and two fully automatic military assault rifles, with an extra magazine taped to one of the weapons so that he could reload quickly. He also had more assault weapons in the trunk of his car, along with what appeared to be explosives.

The gunman said he was not a member of any organization, acted alone and chose New Zealand to show that even the most remote parts of the world are not free of “mass immigration.”

Last year, New Zealand’s prime minister announced that the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on a promise to take in more refugees, called it “the right thing to do.”

Christchurch is home to nearly 400,000 people and is sometimes called the Garden City. It has been rebuilding since an earthquake in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed many downtown buildings.

Before Friday’s attack, New Zealand’s deadliest shooting in modern history took place in 1990 in the small town of Aramoana, where a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.

US, Canada ground Boeing 737 Max 8s after Ethiopia crash

US, Canada ground Boeing 737 Max 8s after Ethiopia crash

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order Wednesday grounding all Boeing 737 Max aircraft in the wake of a crash of an Ethiopian airliner that killed 157 people, a reversal for the U.S. after federal aviation regulators had maintained it had no data to show the jets are unsafe.

The decision came hours after Canada joined some 40 other countries in barring the Max 8 from its airspace, saying satellite tracking data showed possible but unproven similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and a previous crash involving the model five months ago. The U.S., one of the last holdouts, also grounded a larger version of the plane, the Max 9.

Daniel Elwell, acting head of the FAA, said enhanced satellite images and new evidence gathered at the crash site led his agency to ground the jets.

The data, he said, linked the behavior and flight path of Ethiopian Airline’s Max 8 to data from the crash of a Lion Air jet that plunged into the Java Sea and killed 187 people in October.

“Evidence we found on the ground made it even more likely that the flight path was very close to Lion Air’s,” Elwell told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

Elwell said he couldn’t detail what was found on the ground because the investigation is in its early stages and is continuing.

The Ethiopian plane’s flight data and voice recorders will be sent to France for analysis, Elwell said. Some aviation experts have warned that finding answers in the crash could take months.

President Donald Trump, who announced the grounding and had received assurances Monday from Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg that the Max aircraft was sound, said the safety of the American people is of “paramount concern.”

Trump said any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and then be grounded, adding that pilots and airlines have been notified.

Boeing issued a statement saying it supported the FAA’s decision even though it “continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX.” The company also said it had itself recommended the suspension of the Max fleet after consultations with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution,” Boeing said.

The groundings will have a far-reaching financial impact on Boeing, at least in the short term, said John Cox, a veteran pilot and CEO of Safety Operating Systems.

In addition to those that have already been grounded, there are more than 4,600 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes on backlog that are not yet delivered to airlines.

“There are delivery dates that aren’t being met, there’s usage of the aircraft that’s not being met, and all the supply chain things that Boeing so carefully crafted,” Cox said. “If they can’t deliver the airplanes, where do they put the extra engines and the extra fuselage and the extra electrical components?

“All of those things are going to continue to show up but they’re not going to be able to deliver the airplanes, so it has a very far reaching effect to many, many different organizations.”

Even so, Cox thinks Boeing will recover, because the planes typically fly for 30 to 40 years, and any needed fix will be made quickly, he said.

On Wednesday, the company’s shares sank to $363.36 after the FAA made its announcement but then recovered to close at $377.14, up 0.5 percent for the day. It rose slightly in after-hours trading to $377.50.

In making the decision to ground the Max 8s in Canada, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said a comparison of vertical fluctuations found a “similar profile” between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the Lion Air crash. Garneau, a former astronaut who flew in the space shuttle, emphasized that the data is not conclusive but crossed a threshold that prompted Canada to bar the Max 8.

He said the new information indicated that the Ethiopian Airline jet’s automatic system kicked in to force the nose of the aircraft down after computer software determined it was too high. He said that in the case of the Lion Air crash off Indonesia, the pilot fought against computer software that wanted to drop the nose of the plane.

“So, if we look at the profile, there are vertical fluctuations, in the vertical profile of the aircraft and there were similarities in what we saw,” Garneau said. “But I would repeat once again. This is not the proof that is the same root problem. It could be something else.”

Canada lost 18 of its citizens in Sunday’s crash, the second highest number after Kenya. A Canadian family of six were among the dead.

Lebanon and Kosovo also barred the Boeing 737 Max 8 from their airspace Wednesday, and Norwegian Air Shuttles said it would seek compensation from Boeing after grounding its fleet. Egypt banned the operation of the aircraft. Thailand ordered budget airline Thai Lion Air to suspend flying the planes for risk assessments. Lion Air confirmed reports it has put on hold the scheduled delivery of four of the jets.

Ethiopian Airlines, widely seen as Africa’s best-managed airline, grounded its remaining four models.

The growing number of countries joining the ban put the FAA in a difficult position, said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB who is now an aviation consultant. He said the FAA, which certified the 737 Max as airworthy and has been the lead regulatory body for the airplane, prides itself on making data-driven decisions and not based on “anecdotes or political pressures.”

Goelz said Trump likely was feeling pressure from Congress and the public to step in.

“There’s probably nobody in the administration who’s got more of a sensitive ear to cable television,” said Goelz.

The FAA is also certain to be looking into anonymous reports from at pilots of at least two U.S. flights who wrote about problems last year in a NASA database, Goelz said.

The pilots reported that an automated system seemed to cause their Boeing 737 Max 8 planes to tilt down suddenly. The pilots said that soon after engaging the autopilot, the nose tilted down sharply. In both cases, they recovered quickly after disconnecting the autopilot.

After Trump’s announcement, American Airlines said its “teams will make every effort to rebook customers as quickly as possible.”

United Airlines, which grounded its 14 Max planes, said the aircraft account for roughly 40 flights per day. Through a combination of spare aircraft and rebooking customers, the airline did not anticipate a significant operational impact.

Southwest Airlines said it immediately complied with the order and removed its 34 Max 8 from scheduled service. The airline said the Max 8 planes account for less than 5 percent of the airline’s daily flights, adding that it remains confident in the airliner after completing more than 88,000 flight hours over 41,000 flights, but that it supports the FAA’s decision.

Boeing’s technical team joined U.S., Israeli, Kenyan and other aviation experts in the investigation of the Ethiopian Airline crash, led by Ethiopian authorities.

An Ethiopian pilot who saw the crash site minutes after the disaster told AP that the plane appeared to have “slid directly into the ground.”

Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said their pilots had received special training.

“In addition to the basic trainings given for 737 aircraft types, an additional training was given for the Max version,” Tewolde told state news reporters. “After the Lion Air crash, questions were raised, so Boeing sent further instructions that it said pilots should know.”

Tewolde said he is confident the “investigation will reveal that the crash is not related to Ethiopian Airlines’ safety record.”

Forensic DNA work for identifications of the remains recovered so far has not yet begun, Asrat said. The dead came from 35 countries.

Trump, Kim summit collapses amid failure to reach deal

Trump, Kim summit collapses amid failure to reach deal

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Talks between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un collapsed Thursday after the two sides failed to bridge a standoff over U.S. sanctions on the reclusive nation, a dispiriting end to high-stakes meetings meant to disarm a global threat.

Trump blamed the breakdown on North Korea’s insistence that all the punishing sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Pyongyang be lifted without the North committing to eliminate its nuclear arsenal.

“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump explained at a closing news conference after the summit was abruptly cut short. He said there had been a proposed agreement that was “ready to be signed.”

“I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” Trump said. “We’re in position to do something very special.”

Mere hours after both nations had seemed hopeful of a deal, the two leaders’ motorcades roared away from the downtown Hanoi summit site within minutes of each other, their lunch canceled and a signing ceremony scuttled. The president’s closing news conference was hurriedly moved up, and he departed for Washington more than two hours ahead of schedule.

The disintegration of talks came after Trump and Kim had appeared to be ready to inch toward normalizing relations between their still technically warring nations and as the American leader dampened expectations that their negotiations would yield an agreement by North Korea to take concrete steps toward ending a nuclear program that Pyongyang likely sees as its strongest security guarantee.

In something of a role reversal, Trump had deliberately ratcheted down some of the pressure on Pyongyang, abandoning his fiery rhetoric and declaring that he wanted the “right deal” over a rushed agreement. For his part, Kim, when asked whether he was ready to denuclearize, had said, “If I’m not willing to do that I won’t be here right now.”

The breakdown denied Trump a much-needed triumph amid growing domestic turmoil back home, including congressional testimony this week by his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who called Trump a “racist” and “conman” and claimed prior knowledge of foreign powers’ efforts to help Trump win in 2016.

North Korea’s state media made no immediate comment on the diplomatic impasse, and Kim remained in his locked-down hotel after leaving the summit venue. The North Korean leader was scheduled to meet with top Vietnamese leaders on Friday and leave Saturday on his armored train for the long return trip, through China, to North Korea.

Trump insisted his relations with Kim remained warm, but he did not commit to having a third summit with the North Korean leader, saying a possible next meeting “may not be for a long time.” Though both he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said significant progress had been made in Hanoi, the two sides appeared to be galaxies apart on an agreement that would live up to the U.S.’ stated goals.

“Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” Trump told reporters.

Kim, he explained, appeared willing to close his country’s main nuclear facility, the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, if the sanctions were lifted. But that would leave him with missiles, warheads and weapon systems, Pompeo said. There are also suspected hidden nuclear fuel production sites around the country.

“We couldn’t quite get there today,” Pompeo said, minimizing what seemed to be a chasm between the two sides.

Longstanding U.S. policy has insisted that U.S. sanctions on North Korea would not be lifted until that country committed to, if not concluded, complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. Trump declined to restate that goal Thursday, insisting he wanted flexibility in talks with Kim.

“I don’t want to put myself in that position from the standpoint of negotiation,” he said.

White House aides stressed that Trump stood strong, and some observers evoked the 1987 Reykjavík summit between Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev, a meeting over nuclear weapons that ended without a deal but laid the groundwork for a future agreement.

The failure in Hanoi laid bare a risk in Trump’s unpredictable negotiating style: Preferring one-on-one meetings with his foreign counterparts, his administration often eschews the staff-level work done in advance to assure a deal and envisions summits more as messaging opportunities than venues for hardline negotiation.

There was disappointment and alarm in South Korea, whose liberal leader has been a leading orchestrator of the nuclear diplomacy and who needs a breakthrough to restart lucrative engagement projects with the impoverished North. Yonhap news agency said that the clock on the Korean Peninsula’s security situation has “turned back to zero” and diplomacy is now “at a crossroads.”

The collapse was a dramatic turnaround from the optimism that surrounded the talks after the leaders’ dinner Wednesday and that had prompted the White House to list a signing ceremony on Trump’s official schedule for Thursday.

The two leaders had seemed to find a point of agreement when Kim, who fielded questions from American journalists for the first time, was asked if the U.S. may open a liaison office in North Korea. Trump declared it “not a bad idea,” and Kim called it “welcomable.” Such an office would mark the first U.S. presence in North Korea and a significant grant to a country that has long been deliberately starved of international recognition.

But questions persisted throughout the summit, including whether Kim was willing to make valuable concessions, what Trump would demand in the face of rising domestic turmoil and whether the meeting could yield far more concrete results than the leaders’ first summit, a meeting in Singapore less than a year ago that was long on dramatic imagery but short on tangible results.

There had long been skepticism that Kim would be willing to give away the weapons his nation had spent decades developing and Pyongyang felt ensured its survival. But even after the summit ended, Trump praised Kim’s commitment to continue a moratorium on missile testing.

Trump also said he believed the autocrat’s claim that he had nothing to do with the 2017 death of Otto Warmbier, a American college student who died after being held in a North Korean prison.

“I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen,” Trump said. “He felt badly about it.”

The declaration immediately called to mind other moments when Trump chose to believe autocrats over his own intelligence agencies, including siding with the Saudi royal family regarding the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and supporting Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s denials that he interfered with the 2016 election.

If the first Trump-Kim summit gave the reclusive nation’s leader entree onto the international stage, the second appeared to grant him the legitimacy his family has long desired.

Kim, for the first time, affably parried with the international press without having to account for his government’s long history of oppression. He secured Trump’s support for the opening of a liaison office in Pyongyang, without offering any concessions of his own. Even without an agreement, Trump’s backing for the step toward normalization provided the sort of recognition the international community has long denied Kim’s government.

Experts worried that the darker side of Kim’s leadership was being brushed aside in the rush to address the North’s nuclear weapons program: the charges of massive human rights abuses; the prison camps filled with dissidents; a near complete absence of media, religious and speech freedoms; the famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands; and the executions of a slew of government and military officials, including his uncle and the alleged assassination order of his half-brother in a Malaysian airport.

Trump also has a history of cutting short foreign trips and walking out of meetings when he feels no progress is being made. That includes a notable episode this year when he walked out of a White House meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer over a government shutdown, calling the negotiation “a total waste of time.”

President Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold second summit in Hanoi

President Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold second summit in Hanoi