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A ‘ghost ship’ washed ashore in Japan, and clues point to North Koreans


This battered wooden boat containing eight bodies was found on a beach in Oga, part of Japan’s Akita prefecture. Dozens of North Korean fishing vessels wash up on Japan’s coast each year. Sometimes the occupants have died at sea, a phenomenon local media refer to as “ghost ships.” (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)

The bodies had been drifting in the Sea of Japan for so long that only bones remained.

But investigators in face masks and coveralls found clues inside the battered wooden craft that pointed to a possible origin: an empty cigarette pack of a brand popular in North Korea and unused life jackets with Korean lettering.

It’s unclear how long those who were aboard the latest “ghost ship” to wash up on the coast of Japan had been there or when they died. Ocean currents off the coast of Japan shift and the waters get choppy in winter months, routinely washing ships ashore. More than 40 boats full of dead people have washed up this year, according to Sky News. In 2016, the number was 66.

The 23-foot boat was found in Akita Prefecture in northern Japan, according to Kyodo News, after a 68-year-old woman notified authorities about a dilapidated, drifting vessel.

“I was surprised to see the boat in such a bad condition,” she told the news organization.

Later, she said, she watched as authorities used stretchers to carry bodies off the boat.

It was not clear whether the people on the boat were fishermen who got into trouble at sea or people trying to defect from North Korea.

About 30,000 North Koreans have defected since the devastating famine in the mid-1990s. They tell stories of sometimes violent reprisals for political speech, being banished to labor camps for watching American movies and old-fashioned starvation.

But a silent, unknown number never survive the escape attempts, dying during desperate journeys to South Korea or China or Japan.

Others are captured and face severe punishment for trying to leave.

According to Vice, “the North Korean penal code states that defectors face two years of hard labor if they are caught crossing the border,” though punishments can vary.

The United Nations Command released video Nov. 22 showing a North Korean border guard briefly cross the border in pursuit of a wounded defector fleeing to South Korea. (Reuters)

Radio Free Asia reported that North Korean officials warned that citizens living near the Chinese border who are caught helping people defect would be put to death — and the punishments wouldn’t stop there. Family members of violators can be imprisoned or banished to remote regions of North Korea.

Still, North Koreans defect by the hundreds. This month, the world was riveted by the story of a North Korean soldier who escaped in dramatic fashion a few weeks ago — driving a Jeep southward until it got stuck in a ditch, then sprinting across the demilitarized zone.

His former comrades shot at him with pistols and assault rifles, putting at least five bullets into him.

South Korean soldiers found him in a pile of leaves and dragged him to safety, and he was flown to a hospital via helicopter.

Even before they learned his name, doctors said his condition told some of his story, according to The Washington Post’s Marwa Eltagouri. He had hepatitis B and tuberculosis, and parasitic worms nearly a foot long in his intestines.

A bullet and intestinal worms were removed from the stomach of the North Korean soldier who defected while being shot at by his own countrymen Nov. 13. (Yonhap)

Doctors say the worms point to the health and humanitarian crises inside the closed borders of North Korea.

Since then he has been recovering — and has become a source of demilitarized zone trolling.

South Korean soldiers have been broadcasting details about the defector’s improving medical condition across the demilitarized zone, according to Newsweek.

The speakers they use, which at one point were used to encourage soldiers to defect, can apparently be heard more than a dozen miles away.

“The news about an elite soldier like a JSA guard having fled in a hail of bullets will have a significant psychological impact on North Korean border guards,” said a military spokesman quoted in the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

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Kenya election: Security tight for Kenyatta inauguration

Kenyan soldiers rehearse the inauguration ceremony at the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani, Nairobi, on November 27, 2017Image copyright AFP
Image caption Troops rehearsed for the inauguration ceremony at the Moi International Sports Centre

Security has been stepped up in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, ahead of the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta for a second term in office.

More than 20 heads of state or senior ministers are expected to attend.

Opposition leader, Raila Odinga, who boycotted a re-run of the presidential poll, has called for a protest rally, despite a police ban.

August’s presidential election was annulled by the Supreme Court over what it called “irregularities”.

The re-run, on 26 October, saw Mr Kenyatta win 98% of the vote with a turnout of just under 39%.

Ceremony amid deep divisions

Tuesday’s ceremony at a sports stadium in Nairobi is due to get under way at 10:00 local time (07:00 GMT).

Organisers are expecting about 60,000 people to fill the venue and giant screens have been set up outside for those unable to get in.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Kenyatta faces an uphill battle to unite the country
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Performers from the Maasai tribe will take part in the swearing-in ceremony

President Kenyatta’s deputy, William Ruto, will also be sworn in.

Among the foreign leaders expected to attend will be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The Kenyan opposition coalition has called on its supporters to boycott the inauguration and instead hold a rally in memory of people killed in clashes since August’s election.

The police have warned the coalition against holding the event.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Opposition supporters clashed with police after Mr Kenyatta’s re-election was upheld

Why was there an election re-run?

Kenya’s Supreme Court took the unprecedented decision to annul the 8 August presidential election and demand a new poll in September citing “irregularities and illegalities”.

Chief Justice David Maraga said the election had not been “conducted in accordance with the constitution” and declared it “invalid, null and void”.

The court said the result was “neither transparent nor verifiable”.

Mr Odinga then urged his supporters to boycott the second vote because he said no reforms had been made to the electoral commission since the original poll.

However the re-run went ahead in October and the Supreme Court has since validated the results, but correspondents say the election dispute has left Kenya deeply divided.

What has happened since the first vote?

The aftermath of both polls has been fraught with tension and Mr Kenyatta will face an uphill task in uniting a fractured nation.

About 50 people are reported to have been killed in violence since Mr Kenyatta was declared the winner in the initial August election.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Raila Odinga told his supporters that “a third liberation is coming soon”

Mr Odinga, who went away on a 10-day speaking tour in Europe and America after withdrawing from the election re-run, has called for a “national resistance movement” to “restore democracy”.

Speaking earlier this month, Mr Odinga said: “Today is the day we are launching Kenya as a third republic.

“What you have seen is a signal that a third liberation is coming soon,” he added.

Hawaii to resume Cold War-era nuclear siren tests amid North Korea threat

(Reuters) – Hawaii this week will resume monthly statewide testing of its Cold War-era nuclear attack warning sirens for the first time in about 30 years, in preparation for a potential missile launch from North Korea, emergency management officials said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance with Ri Hong Sop (2nd L) and Hong Sung Mu (R) on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 3, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS

Wailing air-raid sirens will be sounded for about 60 seconds from more than 400 locations across the central Pacific islands starting at 11:45 a.m. on Friday, in a test that will be repeated on the first business day of each month thereafter, state officials said.

Monthly tests of the nuclear attack siren are being reintroduced in Hawaii in conjunction with public service announcements urging residents of the islands to “get inside, stay inside and stay tuned” if they should hear the warning.

“Emergency preparedness is knowing what to expect and what to do for all hazards,” Hawaii Emergency Management Agency chief Vern Miyagi said in one video message posted online. He did not mention North Korea specifically.

But the nuclear attack sirens, discontinued since the 1980s when the Cold War drew to a close, are being reactivated in light of recent test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles from North Korea deemed capable of reaching the state, agency spokeswoman Arlina Agbayani told Reuters.

A single 150-kiloton weapon detonated over Pearl Harbor on the main island of Oahu would be expected to kill 18,000 people outright and leave 50,000 to 120,000 others injured across a blast zone several miles wide, agency spokesman Richard Rapoza said, citing projections based on assessments of North Korea’s nuclear weapons technology.

While casualties on that scale would be unprecedented on U.S. soil, a fact sheet issued by the agency stressed that 90 percent of Hawaii’s 1.4 million-plus residents would survive “the direct effects of such an explosion.”

Oahu, home to a heavy concentration of the U.S. military command structure, as well as the state capital, Honolulu, and about two-thirds of the state’s population, is seen as an especially likely target for potential North Korean nuclear aggression against the United States.

In the event of an actual nuclear missile launch at Hawaii from North Korea, the U.S. Pacific Command would alert state emergency officials to sound the attack sirens, giving island residents just 12 to 15 minutes of warning before impact, according to the state’s fact sheet.

In that case, residents are advised to take cover “in a building or other substantial structure.” Although no designated nuclear shelters exist, staying indoors offers the best chance of limiting exposure to radioactive fallout.

The siren tests are being added to existing monthly tests of Hawaii’s steady-tone siren warnings for hurricanes, tsunamis and other natural disasters. Those alerts also undergo monthly tests on radio, TV and cellphone networks.

When emergency management officials initiated the new warning campaign, “there were concerns we would scare the public,” Miyagi said in a recent presentation. “What we are putting out is information based on the best science that we have on what would happen if that weapon hit Honolulu or the assumed targets.”

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Bali volcano closes airport for a second day amid fears of further eruptions

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Meghan Markle: Who could design the dress for the next royal wedding?

Prince Harry and Meghan MarkleImage copyright PA

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle posed for photos after announcing their engagement on Monday, Ms Markle wore a white coat from a brand called Line the Label.

The Canadian brand’s website then received so many visitors it crashed under the volume of traffic.

It proves the world’s eyes are now firmly watching the US actress – and what she wears – ahead of the royal wedding.

Clarence House announced the couple will marry in spring 2018, which – as any bride-to-be will know – means Ms Markle needs to act quickly to find her perfect wedding dress. So which designer will she choose?

‘Subtly romantic’

Asked about what she would love to wear to walk down the aisle, Ms Markle previously told Hello! magazine the dress would be “classic and simple”.

Making the comments after trying on dresses when her character in US legal drama Suits got married, she added: “I personally prefer dresses that are whimsical or subtly romantic”.

“She is covering all bases there,” says Katie Rosseinsky, a fashion writer for Grazia Daily.

“She’s been photographed wearing Erdem and Antonio Berardi recently. Erdem has that whimsical element of design which she likes, so that could be an option.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption British designer Berardi could design a ‘simple and classic’ dress for Meghan

British designer Berardi on the other hand is famed for the classic and simple look which Ms Markle says she favours.

“I could also see her in something a bit more directional like Emilia Wickstead, who is also one of Kate’s favourite designers,” says Rosseinsky.

“It would be a cool option, not super-embellished, but with interesting shapes that photograph well.”

Rosseinsky describes Ms Markle – who appeared at the Invictus Games in Toronto in ripped jeans in September – as “a relaxed, casual dresser”.

“It’s very different to the coat dresses we see Kate [the Duchess of Cambridge] and other royals wearing. Will she be compelled to smarten up?” asks Rosseinsky.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Meghan Markle’s ripped jeans sold out after her appearance at the Invictus Games

Jodie Davis, co-executive producer of TV show Entertainment Tonight Canada, thinks the wedding will have some Canadian input, as Ms Markle lived there for more than six years while filming Suits.

Davis says those ripped jeans at the Invictus Games sold out after the 36-year-old appeared in them.

“It became the ‘it’ look in the city,” he says, adding that Ms Markle made the Toronto Life magazine’s list of most influential people during her time there.

Canadian influence?

Davis says he thinks there will be “ethical brands from the US and Canada” involved in the wedding, reflecting Markle’s charity work.

“There are rumours there will be a Canadian influence in the wedding photos or the dress itself,” he says.

“She definitely brings a very relaxed but stylish and chic look when she’s out and about. She’s the opposite to the character in Suits, which is well tailored power-dressing.”

Image copyright REX/Shutterstock
Image caption Markle’s character Rachel is known for her power dressing on the show Suits

Christine Ross, who is the editorial director of Meghan’s Mirror – a fashion blog chronicling Ms Markle’s style – agrees.

“Her style hasn’t changed since before Harry – it’s quite modern and edgy but with a bohemian softness, so it’s a relaxed vibe,” she says.

“I expect her wedding dress will be quite classic but modern and structural. She will pick a diplomatic brand – with a British or American choice. She will be demure with maybe a crisp satin, but definitely modern.”

Ross says while the Duchess of Cambridge has a “traditional” look, Ms Markle “will be a bit more trendy and fearless”.

“It’s because she’s an American – the culture is a lot different,” she explains “Kate is an upper middle class British girl and Meghan grew up in LA, it’s a completely different lifestyle.”

‘Ethical credentials’

Mark Niemierko, a celebrity wedding planner, says he’s “excited and intrigued” by what form the wedding will take.

“She could choose a Vera Wang, or Oscar de la Renta, Monique Lhuillier is also very chic, very classic,” he says naming three of the most respected American dress design houses.

“If she goes down the British route it could be Christopher Bailey at Burberry. Another really good option would be Stella McCartney, which would play into Meghan’s ethical credentials.

“Alice Temperley is also really ethical, but would be a bit slinky, so it would really depend on the location. If you’re getting married at Westminster Abbey you need a dress to fill it.”

Image copyright Getty, PA, Getty
Image caption Oscar de la Renta, Erdem and Emilia Wickstead could all be options for Meghan Markle

Niemierko, who planned James Corden’s wedding to Julia Carey in 2012, adds: “Meghan is not from British high society and there is a whole new raft of people at British Vogue who are also not from society.

“Alexandra Schulman [the former British Vogue editor] played a big part in advising Kate for her wedding dress. So Edward Enninful might be a great influence. That would be really interesting.”

But on the other hand, it may even be US Vogue editor Anna Wintour who advises Ms Markle.

“Wintour is incredibly powerful and takes great personal interest in things like this,” says Niemerko. “Harry will play his part. He’s the young, cool one. He’ll be encouraging her to be herself.”

Image copyright Hugo Burnand/Clarence House
Image caption The Duchess of Cambridge’s dress was designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen

Whatever happens, certain to be a big influence is Jessica Mulroney, a friend and stylist to Ms Markle.

Mulroney is also the stylist for Canada’s first lady, Sophie Trudeau, and runs a New York wedding boutique.

“They’re very close friends,” says Grazia’s Rosseinsky, who thinks Mulroney’s influence on Ms Markle is clear.

“If you look at the earlier photos of Meghan, she’s definitely become more polished. I think that’s definitely the influence of Jessica Mulroney.

“When you style one of the most powerful and most photographed women in the world like Sophie Trudeau, you will definitely bring some tips across.”

‘Diplomatic dressing’

The fashion writer thinks Mulroney will not only play a part in the look of Prince Harry’s wife-to-be for the pending nuptials, but also in the future.

“I imagine she will definitely be involved in the wedding,” she says. “She will also be very good for diplomatic dressing. Kate is good at throwing a nod to labels from the countries she’s visiting. Jessica Mulroney will be already used to this from styling Sophie Trudeau.”

Wedding planner Niemerko adds that whatever Ms Markle’s choice of dress, only one thing is important.

“The most exciting thing about the wedding is being yourselves,” he says. “They’re marrying for love – which is the best way.”

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Bali volcano: Mt Agung ash shuts airport for second day

Passengers gather at the Gusti Ngurah Rai International airport in Denpasar, Bali on 27 November 2017, after flights were cancelled due to the threat of an eruption by the Mount Agung volcano.Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Thousands of travellers have been stranded with the airport closure

Indonesian officials have shut the international airport in Bali for a second day, as Mount Agung spews volcanic ash into the atmosphere.

Massive plumes of dark ash were seen reaching as high as 3km (2 miles) from the summit of the rumbling volcano, which began erupting last week.

Officials raised the alert to the highest level on Monday, fearing an imminent major eruption.

More than 100,000 people have been ordered to evacuate the vicinity.

Volcanic ash can damage aeroplane engines or even cause them to fail, and also clogs fuel and cooling systems. Pilot visibility can also be hampered.

The Transportation Ministry initially closed the Ngurah Rai airport on Monday morning for 24 hours, cancelling more than 400 flights and stranding 59,000 travellers.

On Tuesday, they announced they would extend the closure to Wednesday 07:00 local time (00:00 GMT).

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Media captionWe ask an expert: Is a large volcanic eruption inevitable?

The airport on neighbouring Lombok island however has been re-opened, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia’s national disaster agency.

Authorities have also arranged for buses to take tourists to ferry terminals.

The volcano is about 70km from the popular tourist areas of Kuta and Seminyak.

The disaster agency said in a separate statement (in Indonesian) that as of Tuesday morning, the volcano was still emitting thick ash clouds and that “rays of flares from the glowing lava” were also observed overnight.

Besides ash, streams of rock mixed with water known as lahars have also been spotted flowing down from the mountain. Officials have warned people to stay away from them.

Thousands of villagers living within a 10km exclusion zone around the volcano are now in shelters.

But as of Monday, an estimated 40,000 people still remained in their homes, as some said they still felt safe while others did not want to leave their livestock.

Authorities have warned that they may forcibly evacuate people if they do not move to shelters soon.


Inside the exclusion zone

Rebecca Henschke, BBC News, Bali

A large banner reads: “You’re entering active volcanic hazard zone.” But looking around, you wouldn’t know.

Just behind the sign Seriyani is selling flowers for offers to the Balinese Hindu gods. She says she is worried, but needs to stay here and work to feed the family.

Image copyright BBC/Haryo

“When it really erupts I will run,” she says with a nervous laugh.

Further in the exclusion zone we find a school open. Here the teacher is showing the children how to put on simple surgical masks. To protect them from the ash, the headmaster tells me.

The volcano has been rumbling for weeks now he says so they don’t want to move yet and be left in limbo.

Authorities say they will force people to evacuate. But those still on the mountain haven’t heard that.


Are you in the area? Have your travel plans been affected? What are conditions like currently? If it is safe to do so, email

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Australian police allege man planned New Year’s Eve attack

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian police have arrested a man accused of planning a mass shooting for New Year’s Eve in a crowded Melbourne square, officials said on Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Australian-born citizen with Somali parents was trying to obtain an automatic rifle to attack the downtown Federation Square in Australia’s second largest city, Victoria State Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said.

Thousands of revelers pack the square each year on New Year’s Eve.

The man, who was not named, downloaded instructions from an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula website on how to launch a terrorist attack and how to use guns, Patton said.

Patton described the suspect as “a person who’s expressed an intention to try and kill as many people as he could through shooting them.”

He said authorities have eliminated the threat of the attack, saying “the risk that was posed by this person has been removed.”

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said police arrested four extremist last December over a similar plot to attack Federal Square and other public places in Melbourne over the Christmas-New Year period.

Keenan urged the public to continue with their usual routines over the period and expect to see a heavy police presence.

“The aim of these terrorists is to foster fear and intimidation, but Australians should be able to go about their business secure in the understanding that the government has worked very closely with law enforcement and other security agencies to keep them safe,” Keenan told reporters.

Counter-terrorism police had been monitoring the latest suspect, a known extremist and a sympathizer of the Islamic State group, this year and detained him as he met with people in an attempt to acquire a gun, Patton said.

Australia has strict gun laws and automatic weapons are banned from private ownership.

The man is the 74th suspect arrested in Australia in 31 counter-terrorism investigations since Australia’s terrorism threat level was elevated to “probable” in September 2014.

The plot was the 14th that police say they had disrupted since the terrorist threat level was raised. Five plots have been executed.

Police expect he will appear in a Melbourne court late on Tuesday or Wednesday on charges of preparing to commit a terrorist attack and collecting documents to facilitate a terrorist act.

People convicted of those crimes in Australia face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Search warrants were issued on Monday at a home in a suburb where the suspect lived with his parents and siblings, at a relative’s address in another suburb and at a computer business where he once had a part-time job.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Pope meeting Suu Kyi on Myanmar refugee crisis amid outcry

YANGON, Myanmar — Pope Francis begins his first full day in Myanmar traveling to the country’s capital Tuesday to meet with the civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a day after hosting the military general in charge of the crackdown on the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

Francis’ speech to Suu Kyi, other Myanmar authorities and the diplomatic corps in Naypyitaw is the most anticipated of his visit, given the outcry over the crackdown, which the U.S. and U.N. have described as a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” to drive out the Rohingya from northern Rakhine state.

The operation, launched in August after Rohingya militants attacked security posts, has sent more than 620,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh, where they have reported entire villages were burned and looted, and women and girls were raped.

Myanmar’s Catholic leaders have stressed that Suu Kyi has no voice to speak out against the military over the operation, and have urged continued support for her efforts to move Myanmar toward a more democratic future that includes all its religious minorities, Christians in particular. How Francis bridges the local Catholic concerns with his legacy of speaking out for oppressed minorities is the key to watch in his speech in Naypyitaw.

Francis dove into the crisis hours after arriving on Monday by meeting with the commander responsible for the crackdown, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and three members of the bureau of special operations. The Vatican didn’t provide details of the contents of the 15-minute “courtesy visit,” only to say that “They spoke of the great responsibility of the authorities of the country in this moment of transition.”

Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s office said in a statement on Facebook that he is willing to have “interfaith peace, unity and justice.” The general added that there was no religious or ethnic persecution or discrimination in Myanmar, and that the government allowed different faith groups to have freedom of worship.

Rohingya Muslims have long faced state-supported discrimination in the predominantly Buddhist country and were stripped of citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practice their religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to medical care, food or education.

Myanmar’s Catholic Church has publicly urged Francis to avoid saying “Rohingya,” a term shunned by many here because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority in the country. And they have urged him to toe a delicate line in condemning the violence, given the potential for blowback against Myanmar’s tiny Catholic community.

Francis previously has prayed for “our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” lamented their suffering and called for them to enjoy full rights. As a result, much of the debate before his trip focused on whether he would again express solidarity with the Rohingya. Any decision to avoid the term and shy away from the conflict could be viewed as a capitulation to Myanmar’s military and a stain on his legacy of standing up for the most oppressed and marginalized of society, no matter how impolitic.

Burke didn’t say if Francis used the term in his meeting with the general, which ended with an exchange of gifts: Francis gave him a medallion of the trip, while the general gave the pope a harp in the shape of a boat, and an ornate rice bowl.

The papal trip was planned before the latest spasm of violence erupted in August, when Myanmar security forces responded to militant attacks with a scorched-earth campaign that has sent many Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

In the Kutupalong refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, Senu Ara, 35, welcomed Francis’ arrival for what he might be able to do for the refugees.

“He might help us get the peace that we are desperately searching for,” she said. “Even if we stay here he will make our situation better. If he decides to send us back, he will do so in a peaceful way.”

But in Myanmar, the sentiment was different. The government and most of the Buddhist majority consider the Rohingya Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country, though Rohingya have been here for generations.

“Being a religious leader — Catholic leader — means that he is well-regarded, but of course there is this worry if he says something, people might say, ‘OK, he just came to meddle,’” said Burmese analyst Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner. “So, I think a lot of diplomacy is needed, in addition to the public relations.”

Upon his arrival in Yangon, the pope was greeted by local Catholic officials and his motorcade passed by thousands of Myanmar’s Catholics, who lined the roads, wearing traditional attire and playing music.

Children greeted him as he drove in a simple blue sedan, chanting “Viva il papa!” (Long live the pope) and waving small plastic Myanmar and Holy See flags. Posters wishing Francis “a heartiest of welcome” lined the route into town.

___

Associated Press journalists Min Kyi Thein in Yangon and Rishabh R. Jain in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Argentina is still searching for its missing submarine, but the outcome looks bleak

Argentina air force patrol plane searchCrew members search for the missing submarine ARA San Juan from an Argentine air force C-130Argentine air force

  • An Argentine submarine has been missing in the South Atlantic for nearly two weeks despite international efforts to find it.
  • The sub’s fate remains unknown, but an explosion was detected in area it was in just hours after officials lost contact with it.
  • The incident has aroused public ire at the Argentine government and could stoke tensions between the government and the military.

The Argentine submarine ARA San Juan disappeared in the South Atlantic 12 days ago, and a search by ships and aircraft from more than a dozen countries has failed to locate the missing vessel and its 44 crew members.

The German-built diesel-electric submarine, commissioned in 1985, was en route from the Argentine port in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, to its home base at Mar del Plata, some 250 miles south of Buenos Aires.

Argentine navy Cmdr. Gabriel Galeazzi said the sub surfaced to report a problem — which he described as a “short circuit” in its batteries — early on November 15 and was ordered to return to port.

Balbi said the sub’s captain contacted the naval base again, saying the problem had been adequately fixed and that the sub would submerge and head to Mar del Plata. The last contact was made at 7:30 a.m. local time.

People walk behind an Argentine national flag displayed on a fence, in support of the 44 crew members of the ARA San Juan submarine who are missing at sea, at an Argentine naval base in Mar del Plata, Argentina, November 22, 2017. The words on the flag read: An Argentine national flag with messages of support for the 44 crew of the ARA San Juan, November 22, 2017. The words on the flag read: “ARA San Juan, be strong.”Thomson Reuters

In the days since, dozens of ships and planes and thousands of personnel from Argentina, the US, the UK, Russia, Chile, Brazil, and other countries have joined the search, scouring an area of the South Atlantic roughly the size of Spain.

A number of sounds and objects have been detected during the search, which has been hindered at times by poor weather, but all have been false alarms.

It’s not clear what transpired on the submarine before and after contact was lost. While the sub’s crew had enough food, oxygen, and fuel to survive 90 days on the surface, there would only be enough oxygen to survive about seven days if it remained submerged.

Argentine navy spokesman Capt. Enrique Balbi said at the seven-day mark on November 22 that the search had entered “the critical phase … particularly with respect to oxygen” and that there had been no contact with anything that could have been the sub.

FILE PHOTO - The Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan and crew are seen leaving the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERSArgentine submarine ARA San Juan leaves the port of Buenos Aires, June 2, 2014.Thomson Reuters

Since that point, the outlook for the sub and its crew — which includes Argentina’s first woman sub officer — has grown increasingly bleak.

On November 23, Balbi described a sound detected a few hours after contact was lost with the sub as “a singular, short, violent, non-nuclear event, consistent with an explosion.” But the Argentine navy said it did not have enough information to determine the cause of the blast.

The US and the international body that monitors nuclear tests first detected the sound on November 15 but took days to make their assessments, alerting Buenos Aires a week after the sub disappeared.

Balbi said depth ranged from 650 feet to nearly 10,000 feet in the area where the sound was detected, which is along the continental slope. Hope that the crew would be found alive began to fade after the announcement, and some family members who had gathered at Mar de Plata left after it was made.

Members of the Navy and relatives of the 44 crew members of the missing at sea ARA San Juan submarine react at an Argentine naval base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci Members of the navy and relatives of the 44 crew members of the ARA San Juan at an Argentine naval base in Mar del Plata, November 23, 2017.Thomson Reuters

“The truth is I have no hope that they will come back,” Maria Villareal, the mother of one crew member, told local TV on Friday morning. “They killed my brother,” shouted a man leaving the base in a car driven by another man in tears.

After the navy announced details of the explosion on the Thursday, family members at Mar del Plata raged against officials there. “They are some perverse bastards who had us here [for] a week,” said Itatí Leguizamon, the wife of one of the submariners. “Why didn’t they tell us? They lied to us.”

Baldi himself admitted on Saturday, the 10th day of the search, that, “We are at a stage of hope and hopelessness at the same time.”

On Monday, Argentina’s navy said that water had entered the sub’s snorkel, causing its battery to short circuit and that the noise detected about four hours after officials lost contact with the sub could have been the vessel imploding, though Balbi said there was no evidence that a battery malfunction was related to the explosion.

Argentina navy missing submarineOnlookers stand in front of signs and messages in support of the 44 crew members of the missing ARA San Juan submarine at an Argentine naval base in Mar del Plata, November 23, 2017.REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Argentina’s navy has said that the search will continue until there is certainty about the ARA San Juan’s fate, but many relatives of the missing crew have already resigned themselves to the loss of their loved ones, and some have railed against the Argentine navy and government, saying they were aware of the boat’s fate soon after it disappeared — a charge that Balbi denied.

Others have criticized the government for sending the crew out in such an old boat and for doing a poor job maintaining it. (It underwent maintenance in 2008 and was cut in half and reassembled during a refit in 2014.)

Relatives of the crew and politicians extended that criticism to military-spending levels, which have declined since the country’s dictatorship fell in 1983 and are currently well below the regional and global averages. (Defense spending has been complicated by the country’s recent economic struggles.)

Argentina Mauricio Macri navyArgentine President Mauricio Macri with Adm. Marcelo Srur, left, chief of the general staff of the navy, in Buenos Aires, November 24, 2017.Argentine Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

“This has translated into something very concrete: 90% of the equipment of the armed forces of Argentina is between 30 and 50 years old,” Rosendo Fraga, a defense expert, told El Pais, noting that the 32-year-old San Juan was one of the navy’s more modern ships.

The country’s armed forces are seeing an increase in accidents related to the age of the equipment as well as limits on resources for maintenance and training, Fraga said.

Several Argentine patrol planes are currently grounded and unable to join the search because of a lack of spare parts and long overdue maintenance.

The incident also could have political repercussions, exacerbating tensions between the country’s political leadership and President Mauricio Macri, whose efforts to update the military’s hardware are still in the early stages.

Macri visited crew members’ families before military leaders could do so, and because the military was less than forthcoming in the hours after losing contact with the sub, Defense Minister Oscar Aguad — who has been on the job for less than five months — learned about the disappearance from the press.

“Until we find the submarine and have all the information,” Macri said on Friday, “we are not going to speculate on who is at fault.”

But absent confirmation of the sub’s fate, the family of its crew members will be left in a painful limbo, according to Guillermo Bruchstein, a local psychologist.

“The mourning process cannot start, because they are still out there somewhere,” he said in a TV interview on Saturday. “They are gone but are not ‘dead.'”