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Sweden Faces Uncertainty After Close Election Due To Far-Right Party Boost

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden woke Monday to the prospect of weeks of political uncertainty after the country’s two rival blocs failed to secure a clear governing majority in elections that saw a boost for a far-right party amid growing discontent with large-scale immigration.

With most of the ballots counted, the governing center-left bloc had a razor-thin edge over the center-right opposition Alliance, with roughly 40 percent each.

Sunday’s election saw the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant party with roots in a neo-Nazi movement, win about 18 percent, up from the 13 percent it gained four years earlier.

The party, which has worked to moderate its image in past years, gained on a backlash against the challenges of integrating hundreds of thousands of immigrants that arrived in the Scandinavian nation over the past years.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who brought the Social Democrats to power in 2014, said he intended to remain in the job. The center-left party emerged with the greatest share of the vote — 28.4 percent as the count neared completion — yet looking at holding fewer parliament seats than four years ago.

“I will not exclude any alternative to the (present) government. What I can exclude is any direct or indirect cooperation with the Sweden Democrats,” Interior Minister Anders Ygeman, a Social Democrat said.

“I believe that it must be the largest party in Sweden that forms a government. Historically it has been always been this way in Sweden,” he said.

Political horse-trading began to try to form a government which could “takes week, months,” Ygeman said, according to Swedish news agency TT.

The leader of the Moderates party that came in second, Ulf Kristersson, has already called on Lofven to resign and claimed the right to form Sweden’s next government.

The center-right, four-party Alliance has said it would meet Monday to discuss how to move forward and demand that Lofven, head of the minority, two-party governing coalition, resign.

Final election returns were expected later in the week. The preliminary results made it unlikely any party would secure a majority of 175 seats in the 349-seat Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament.

With the prospect of weeks or months of coalition talks before the next government is formed, Swedish tabloid Expressen headlined its front page Monday: “Chaos.”

Both the left-leaning bloc led by the Social Democrats and the center-right bloc in which the Moderates is the largest of four parties have said they would refuse to consider the Sweden Democrats as a coalition partner.

Lofven told his supporters the election presented “a situation that all responsible parties must deal with,” adding that “a party with roots in Nazism” would “never ever offer anything responsible, but hatred.”

“We have a moral responsibility. We must gather all forces for good. We won’t mourn, we will organize ourselves,” he said.

Sweden — home to the Nobel prizes and militarily neutral for the better part of two centuries — has been known for its comparatively open doors to migrants and refugees. Sunday’s general election was the first since Sweden, which a population of 10 million, took in a record 163,000 refugees in 2015 — the highest per capita of any European country.

Turnout in the election was reported at 84.4 percent, up from 83 percent in 2014.
___

Jan M. Olsen reported from Copenhagen, Denmark; Frank Jordans reported from Berlin; Vanessa Gera from Warsaw.

China Vows Retaliation If Trump Escalates Tariff Battle

BEIJING (AP) — China on Monday promised retaliation if U.S. President Donald Trump escalates their tariff battle, raising the risk Beijing might target operations of American companies as it runs out of imports for penalties.

The threat came after Trump said Friday he was considering extending penalties to an additional $267 billion of Chinese products in their battle over Beijing’s technology policy. That would be on top of $50 billion of goods already hit by 25 percent duties and another $200 billion on which Washington is poised to raise tariffs.

“If the United States insists on imposing another round of tariffs on Chinese products, China will definitely take countermeasures to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

Geng gave no details, but the government said in June it would impose unspecified “comprehensive measures” if necessary. That left American companies on edge about whether Beijing might use its control over the heavily regulated economy to disrupt their operations by withholding licenses or launching tax, anti-monopoly or other investigations.

China matched Washington’s first round of tariff hikes on $50 billion of its goods, but their lopsided trade balance means Beijing is running out of imports for retaliation. The United States imported $3 of Chinese goods last year for every $1 of American goods bought by China.

Chinese leaders agreed in May to narrow that trade gap by purchasing more American soybeans and other products. But they reject Trump’s demand to roll back official industry plans such as “Made in China 2025,” which calls for state-led creation of global champions in robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies.

Washington, Europe and other trading partners argue those plans violate Beijing’s market-opening pledges. American officials worry they might erode U.S. industrial dominance. But Communist leaders see them as China’s path to prosperity and global influence.

China’s exports to the United States have been unexpectedly resilient, rising by double digits in July and August despite the U.S. tariff hikes. That might add to Washington’s frustration and prompt more import controls.

Exports to the United States in August rose 13.4 percent to $44.4 billion, ticking up from July’s 13.3 percent growth. Chinese imports of U.S. goods rose 11.1 percent to $13.3 billion. China’s trade surplus with the United States widened to a record $31 billion.

Beijing matched Washington’s first round of tariffs on $50 billion of goods. But after Trump’s threat to target another $200 billion of goods in a second round of increases, China issued a list of only $60 billion of American products for possible retaliation.

China’s imports from the United States last year totaled $153.9 billion. After the earlier tariffs targeting $50 billion of U.S. goods, that leaves barely $100 billion for retaliation, or half of Trump’s $200 billion list of goods for the second round of tariffs.

Chinese regulators have so far targeted farm goods and other exports from states that supported Trump in the 2016 election.

They have tried to minimize the blow to China’s economy by picking U.S. goods for which alternatives are available elsewhere, such as soybeans from Brazil, natural gas from Russia or pork from Germany.

Chinese regulators have shown their willingness to attack foreign companies in disputes with other governments.

Last year, Beijing destroyed South Korean retailer Lotte’s business in China after the company sold a golf course in South Korea to its government for construction of a missile defense system opposed by Chinese leaders.

Beijing closed most of Lotte’s 99 supermarkets and other outlets in China. Seoul and Beijing later mended relations, but Lotte gave up and sold its China operations.

China’s entirely state-controlled media also have encouraged consumer boycotts against Japanese, South Korean and other products during disputes with those governments.

Brazil’s Far-Right Presidential Candidate Stabbed During Campaign Event

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Jair Bolsonaro, a leading presidential candidate in Brazil, was stabbed during a campaign event on Thursday, though officials and his son said the injury was not life-threatening.

Numerous videos on social media showed Bolsonaro, whose far-right platform includes cracking down on crime in Latin America’s largest nation, being stabbed with a knife to the lower part of his stomach. At the moment of the attack, Bolsonaro was on the shoulders of a supporter, looking out at the crowd and giving a thumbs up with his left hand.

After the attack, he is seen flinching and then goes out of view. Other videos show supporters carrying him to a car.

Police spokesman Flavio Santiago confirmed to The Associated Press that Bolsonaro had been stabbed and that his attacker was arrested.

Santiago said Bolsonaro was taken to a hospital in Juiz de Fora, a city about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of Rio de Janeiro, and was in good condition.

Santiago said the attacker was identified as Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, and that he was beaten up badly by Bolsonaro supporters after the attack. More information about de Oliveira wasn’t immediately available.

Bolsonaro’s son, Flavio Bolsonaro posted on Twitter that his father is doing fine.

The wound “was superficial and he is OK,” wrote Flavio, who also asked for prayers for the family.

A statement from federal police said the candidate had bodyguards. In the videos, Bolsonaro does not appear to be wearing a protective vest.

“This episode is sad,” President Michel Temer told reporters in Brasilia. “We won’t have a rule of law if we have intolerance.”

Bolsonaro, a former Army captain, is second in the polls to ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has been barred from running but continues to appeal.

Despite being a congressman since 1991, Bolsonaro is running as an outsider ready to upend the establishment.

While he has a strong following, Bolsonaro is also a deeply polarizing figure. He has been fined, and even faced charges, for derogatory statements toward women, blacks and gays.

He also speaks nostalgically about the country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship and has promised to fill his government with current and former military leaders. His vice presidential running mate is a retired general.

Earlier this week, Bolsonaro said during a campaign event that he would like to shoot corrupt members of the Workers’ Party. The comment prompted an immediate rebuke the attorney general, who asked Bolsonaro to explain that comment.

Other candidates quickly denounced the attack.

“Politics is done through dialogue and by convincing, never with hate,” tweeted Gerado Alckmin, former governor of Sao Paulo who has focused negative ads on Bolsonaro.

Fernando Haddad, who is expected to take da Silva’s place on the Workers’ Party’s ticket, called the attack “absurd and regrettable.”

India Decriminalizes Homosexuality; Strikes Down Colonial-Era Law

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s supreme court on Thursday struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a landmark victory for gay rights that one judge said would “pave the way for a better future.”

The 1861 law, a relic of Victorian England that hung on long after the end of British colonialism, was a weapon used to discriminate against India’s gay community, the judges ruled in a unanimous decision.

“Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, reading out the verdict. “Social morality cannot be used to violate the fundamental rights of even a single individual.”

As the news spread, the streets outside the courthouse erupted in cheers as opponents of the law danced and waved flags.

“We feel as equal citizens now,” said activist Shashi Bhushan. “What happens in our bedroom is left to us.”

In its ruling, the court said sexual orientation was a “biological phenomenon” and that any discrimination on that basis violated fundamental rights.

“We cannot change history but can pave a way for a better future,” said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

The law known as Section 377 held that intercourse between members of the same sex was against the order of nature. The five petitioners who challenged the law said it was discriminatory and led to gays living in fear of harassment and persecution.

Arvind Datar, the attorney for the petitioners, argued in the court that the provision was unconstitutional because it provides for the prosecution and sentencing of consenting adults.

Homosexuality has a tangled history in India, with some of Hinduism’s most ancient texts accepting of gay sex. Transgender people known as “hijras” have been a common sight in India for centuries. They are shunned by the wider community and often forced to work as beggars and prostitutes, but are also sometimes embraced because they are believed to bring powerful blessings.

On Thursday, a leader of a prominent hard-line Hindu group noted that while it doesn’t see homosexuality as a crime, it believes gay marriage is not “compatible with nature.”

Arun Kumar, a spokesman for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said Indian society “traditionally does not recognize” gay relationships, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

A New Delhi High Court in 2009 declared Section 377 unconstitutional, but that decision was overturned in a ruling by three Supreme Court justices in 2013 on the grounds that amending or repealing the law should be left to Parliament. But lawmakers failed to take action and in July the government told the Supreme Court to give a ruling in the case.

Over the past decade, gays have gained a degree of acceptance in parts of deeply conservative India, especially in big cities. Some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues. Still, being gay is seen as shameful in much of the country.

Sukhdeep Singh, a gay rights activist and editor of Gaylaxy Magazine, said the community still had a lot of distance to go “to be legally with your partner.”

“This will obviously open the doors for a lot of more things, more civil rights. And we’ll fight for our rights, definitely. This is the first battle that has been won and there are many more battles that we are going to fight and we’ll win that as well. For sure,” he said.

Karan Johar, a Bollywood producer and director, said Thursday’s verdict was history in the making.

“So proud today! Decriminalizing homosexuality and abolishing section 377 is a huge thumb up for humanity and equal rights! The country gets its oxygen back!” he wrote on Twitter.

UK Charges Two Russians Over Nerve Agent Poisoning Of Ex-Spy

LONDON (AP) — British officials announced Wednesday that they have charged two alleged Russian military intelligence agents with the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury — though they held out little hope of being able to bring them to justice.

The Crown Prosecution Service said the men, who entered the U.K. under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are being charged in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok.

Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers that British intelligence services have concluded the two men were officers of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.

May said the attack “was not a rogue operation” and was almost certainly approved at a “senior level of the Russian state.”

Russia denies involvement in the attack on Sergei Skripal — a former Russian agent who had been convicted in his homeland of spying for Britain — and his daughter.

Sue Hemming of the Crown Prosecution Service said the U.K. would not ask Moscow to extradite the men because Russian law forbids extradition of the country’s citizens. Britain has issued domestic and European arrest warrants for the suspects, meaning they can be detained if they leave Russia for another European country.

But assistant commissioner Neil Basu, head of counterterrorism at London’s Metropolitan Police, conceded it was “very, very unlikely” police would be in a position to arrest them any time soon.

Police say the suspects, both about 40, flew from Moscow to London on Russian passports two days before the Skripals were poisoned on March 4. Basu said the passports were genuine but the men were probably using aliases, and appealed the public “to come forward and tell us who they are.”

The Skripals were found collapsed on a bench in the cathedral city of Salisbury, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of London. They spent weeks hospitalized in critical condition and are now recovering in a secret location for their own protection.

British authorities and the international chemical weapons watchdog say the Skripals were exposed to Novichok, a type of military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Britain blames the Russian government for the attack, a claim Moscow denies. The poisoning ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the names and images of the suspects released by Britain “say nothing to us.”

Zakharova called on Britain to cooperate with Russian law enforcement agencies on the investigation. She has criticized London for turning down Moscow’s request to see the case files.

Police on Wednesday gave new details about what Basu called “one of the most complex investigations” the force had ever seen.

The police force released a series of images of the men as they traveled through London and Salisbury between March 2 and March 4. They stayed in a hotel in London — where traces of Novichok were also found — and made two trips to Salisbury.

Police say the two men flew back to Moscow from Heathrow Airport on the evening of March 4, hours after the Skripals were found collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury.

Police believe the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals was smuggled to Britain in a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle and applied to the front door of Sergei Skripal’s house.

More than three months later, the bottle was found by a local man, 48-year-old Charlie Rowley. He was hospitalized and his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after being exposed to the contents.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed Tuesday that Rowley and Sturgess were also exposed to Novichok.

Police are still trying to determine where the bottle was between the Skripal poisoning in March and its discovery by Rowley on June 27. As a result, Basu said, police are not yet ready to bring charges in the second poisoning.

Trump Revisits Wargames With South Korea As North Korea Talks Stall

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said that there’s no reason to spend a lot of money on military wargames with South Korea, but he warned he could “instantly” relaunch the exercises again and they would be “far bigger than ever before.”

Trump made the comment Wednesday in a series of tweets that primarily took aim at China, blaming it for lack of progress on getting North Korea to end its nuclear program, following the president’s landmark summit with Kim Jong Un in June.

But there was also a loaded message for Kim: mixing an expression of goodwill to the North Korean autocrat with an implicit military threat that will add to speculation over the direction of Trump’s attempted rapprochement with a longtime adversary.

“The president believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” Trump said, citing what was presented as a White House statement. “Besides, the president can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”

Trump caught military leaders by surprise in June when he announced the suspension with the South, “unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.” He called the drills costly and provocative.

The cancellation was an olive branch to Pyongyang, which has long complained that the exercises were invasion preparations. Often the North has reacted to the exercises with its own demonstrations of military might, including firing a new intermediate-range missile over Japan last year as a countermeasure to the drills.

There was some hope that the gesture of shelving the fall exercises would foster goodwill and help nudge the North in the denuclearization talks. But beyond returning the potential remains of about 55 U.S. troops missing from the Korean War, and its continuing suspension in its missile and nuclear tests, there has been little movement from the North.

As a result, the U.S. last week shelved a planned trip to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, citing lack of progress on denuclearization, but remaining open to future talks.

As doubts grow in Washington and beyond over Kim’s willingness to relinquish his nukes, Trump has been heaping blame on China, which is North Korea’s traditional ally and main trading partner. On Wednesday the president accused Beijing of pressuring the North because of current tensions in U.S.-China trade relations, and also of providing North Korea money, fuel, fertilizer and other commodities, which he said was not helpful.

China cooperated with the U.S. last year in adopting tough international sanctions against North Korea and maintains it is still enforcing the restrictions adopted by the U.N. Security Council.

But in his tweets, Trump also signaled that the U.S. has its own military means of exerting pressure on Pyongyang. His remarks compounded confusing messages from the Pentagon over the past two days that have revived speculation over the drills.

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters the U.S. might carry out drills with South Korea next spring after having cancelled a major exercise this summer. He said no decision has been made on when to resume military exercises, but his statements suggested the recent cancellation might not be repeated.

Several U.S. officials acknowledged Wednesday that planning is going forward for the spring exercises, which require months of preparation.

“Routine planning continues for major U.S.-ROK exercises on the peninsula in accordance with the normal exercise program planning cycle,” said Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referring to the acronym for South’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

Other U.S. officials also said preliminary work on the drills has begun, noting that it is much easier to cancel an exercise than it is to slap one together quickly. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.

David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the initial planning for the exercises can begin a year in advance, including the funding, scheduling and movement of forces and units that will participate. As time goes on, planners would nail down the war game scenario and other details.

“We continue to plan for exercises, but we can stop them on a dime,” said Maxwell, a retired Army colonel who served five tours in Korea. “We can’t restart them on a dime.”

He said the risk of a continued halt in the major drills would be a diminishing of skills and institutional memory between South Korean forces and the more than 28,000 U.S. troops based there. “The longer we go without exercises, the more risk there is that we will suffer significant challenges if there is a war,” Maxwell said.

U.S. officials said Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, has taken steps to mitigate any loss of training by scheduling smaller exercises and staff drills.

A key challenge in Korea is that the bulk of the U.S. forces deploy for just a year, so they rely on the summer exercise to get familiar with the South Korean military and the ways allied troops coordinate and operate with them. The spring Foal Eagle drill is more expansive and includes fighter jets, maritime maneuvers, amphibious assault tactics and computer-simulated scenarios.

London Mayor Critics Get The OK To Fly A Trump Baby Blimp-Inspired Balloon

LONDON (AP) — Critics of London Mayor Sadiq Khan have been given permission to fly a giant balloon over London that depicts him dressed in a bikini.

Organizer Yanny Bruere has raised more than 58,000 pounds ($75,000) through the Crowdfunder website for the 29-foot (8.8-meter) blimp as part of a campaign to oust Khan from his post.

Khan angered some people in the British capital and elsewhere last month when he allowed a balloon caricaturing Donald Trump as an angry baby to float above the city while the U.S. president was in England.

Bruere cited rising crime and “defending free speech” as factors in his anti-Khan campaign.

A City Hall spokeswoman says the balloon has permission to fly Saturday over Parliament Square.

The balloon was a reference to a “Beach body ready” ad that Khan banned in 2016.

Turkey’s Erdogan Vows US Boycott, But Diplomats Resume Talks

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s president appeared to escalate a dispute with the United States that has helped foment a Turkish currency crisis, claiming Tuesday that his country will boycott U.S.-made electronic goods. Behind the scenes, however, diplomats resumed contact to ease tensions.

Addressing a conference of his ruling party faithful in the capital, Recep Tayyip Erdogan added fuel to the spat with the U.S., even as local business groups called on his government to settle the dispute through diplomacy.

Investors seemed to look through the fiery rhetoric, pushing the lira off record lows on reports that Turkish and U.S. government officials held talks on Monday.

“We will implement a boycott against America’s electronic goods,” Erdogan told the conference. He suggested Turks would buy local or Korean phones instead of U.S.-made iPhones, though it was unclear how he intended to enforce the boycott.

The move is seen to be in retaliation to United States’ decision to sanction two Turkish ministers over the continued detention of an American pastor on terror-related charges, and to double tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.

Behind the scenes, however, diplomatic dialogue appears to have resumed. Turkey’s state-run news agency and U.S. officials say U.S. National Security adviser John Bolton had met with the Turkish ambassador to Washington on Monday.

That helped ease tensions in financial markets, with the Turkish lira stabilizing somewhat near record lows. It was up 5 percent on Tuesday, at 6.55 per dollar, having fallen 42 percent so far this year, with most of those losses coming in recent weeks.

Investors are worried not only about Turkey’s souring relations with the U.S., a longtime NATO ally, but also Erdogan’s economic policies and the country’s high debt accumulated in foreign currencies. Independent economists say Erdogan should let the central bank raise interest rates to support the currency, but he wants low rates to keep the economic growth going.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the industrialists’ group TUSIAD and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges called on the government to allow the central bank to raise interest rates to help overcome the currency crisis.

The business groups also urged diplomatic efforts with the United States and an improvement in relations with the European Union, which is Turkey’s major trading partner.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the finance chief would address hundreds of foreign investors on Thursday in a teleconference.

Crash Outside Parliament In London Treated As Terrorism

LONDON (AP) — A car crashed into pedestrians and cyclists near the Houses of Parliament in London Tuesday and police arrested a man on suspicion of terrorism, heightening tensions in a city that has seen a string-of vehicle-based terror attacks.

Two people were taken to local hospitals, but authorities said the injuries aren’t believed to be life-threatening.

Armed police swooped into the area after the incident was reported at 7:37 a.m., arresting the car driver and cordoning off streets surrounding the heart of Britain’s government. The nearby Westminster subway station was closed, and police asked people to stay away from the area.

“At this stage, we are treating this as a terrorist incident and the (Metropolitan Police) Counter Terrorism Command is now leading the investigation,” the police said in a statement.

A man in his late 20s was arrested at the scene on suspicion of terrorist offenses, police said. Images from Sky News and social media showed a man in a puffy black jacket who was surrounded by officers before being handcuffed and led away from a silver car.

Eyewitnesses said the car was traveling at high speed when it hit several pedestrians and cyclists, then crashed into barriers outside the Houses of Parliament. Several suggested the incident was deliberate.

“The car drove at speed into the barriers outside the House of Lords. There was a loud bang from the collision and a bit of smoke,” Ewelina Ochab told The Associated Press.

“The driver did not get out. The guards started screaming to people to move away.”
Jason Williams also saw a car moving at high speed.

“It didn’t look like an accident,” he said. “How do you do that by accident?”

The same area was the site of a terror attack in March 2017, when Khalid Masood ploughed a car into crowds on Westminster Bridge, killing four people. Masood abandoned his car and then stabbed and killed a police officer before being shot dead in a courtyard outside Parliament.

Less than three months later, a van rammed into pedestrians on London Bridge before three men abandoned the vehicle and attacked weekend revelers in the nearby Borough Market. Eight people were killed and 48 injured in the attack.

On June 19, 2017, a man drove a van into a crowd of worshippers leaving a mosque in north London, killing one man and injuring eight others.