Pakistan’s embattled premier fights for political future as protesters battle security forces

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Ahead of a joint session of parliament, Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief held marathon meetings Monday over violent anti-government protests that could force the premier of this nuclear-armed country to resign.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif again vowed he would not step down under duress, even as protesters briefly took over the country’s state-run television broadcaster and battled security forces in the streets. But the pressure from three days of violent protests on Sharif has intensified amid reports -- later denied by the military -- that the country’s powerful army chief advised him to resign.

The parliamentary session Tuesday appears to be an attempt to rally political support to the prime minister’s side. While many politicians have backed him so far, many in the country increasingly have grown worried about the protests and the direction of the nascent democracy in the country of 180 million people.

The turmoil comes as part of the mass demonstrations led by cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and opposition politician Imran Khan, who both demand Sharif step down over their allegations of fraud in last year’s election. Their protests, which have been peaceful for weeks, turned ugly this weekend when clashes between protesters and security forces killed three people and wounded some 400 in running street battles in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.


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Monday began with more violence.

American tourists detained in North Korea expect trial soon; Bae says health deteriorating

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- North Korea gave foreign media access on Monday to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and -- watched by officials as they spoke -- called for Washington to send a high-ranking representative to negotiate for their freedom.

Jeffrey Fowle and Mathew Miller said they expect to face trial within a month. But they said they do not know what punishment they could face or what the specific charges against them are. Kenneth Bae, who already is serving a 15-year term, said his health has deteriorated at the labor camp where he works eight hours a day.

The three were allowed to speak briefly with The Associated Press at a meeting center in Pyongyang. North Korean officials were present during the interviews, conducted separately and in different rooms, but did not censor the questions that were asked. The three said they did not know they were going to be interviewed until immediately beforehand.

All said they believe the only solution to their situation is for a U.S. representative to come to North Korea to make a direct appeal.

That has often been North Korea’s bargaining chip in the past, when senior statesmen including former President Bill Clinton made trips to Pyongyang to secure the release of detainees.

New round of Ukraine talks opens with rebels backing off from full independence

MOSCOW (AP) -- Pro-Russian rebels softened their demand for full independence Monday, saying they would respect Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for autonomy -- a shift that reflects Moscow’s desire to strike a deal at a new round of peace talks.

The insurgents’ platform, released at the start of Monday’s negotiations in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, represented a significant change in their vision for the future of Ukraine’s eastern, mainly Russian-speaking region.

It remains unclear, however, whether the talks can reach a compromise amid the brutal fighting that has continued in eastern Ukraine. On Monday, the rebels pushed Ukrainian government forces from an airport near Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city, the latest in a series of military gains.

The peace talks in Minsk follow last week’s meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko. The negotiations involve former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma; Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine; an envoy from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and representatives of the rebels.

Yet similar talks earlier this summer produced no visible results.

UN rights council launches investigation into Islamic State group’s alleged crimes

GENEVA (AP) -- The U.N.’s top human rights body on Monday overwhelmingly approved the Iraqi government’s request for an investigation into alleged crimes against civilians committed by the Islamic State group in its rampage across northeastern Syria and parts of Iraq.

Diplomats agreed by unanimous consent to approve a nearly $1.2 million U.N. fact-finding mission at a daylong special session of the 47-nation Human Rights Council about Iraq and the extremist group.

Iraq’s request for the U.N. to investigate alleged abuses by the IS was included in a resolution that more broadly condemns the group’s severe tactics but also calls on Iraq’s government to protect human rights.

Its aim is to provide the Geneva-based council with a report and evidence next March that could shed further light on Iraqi atrocities and be used as part of any international war crimes prosecution.

The session Monday focused on the threat posed by the militants, who have seized cities, towns and vast tracts of land and carried out a number of massacres and beheadings.

Outgoing Iraqi prime minister pledges to turn country into ‘big grave’ for Sunni militants

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq’s outgoing prime minster pledged Monday to turn his country into "a big grave" for Sunni militants from the Islamic State group and commended security forces who achieved a rare victory over insurgents by ending the siege of a Shiite town.

Nouri al-Maliki made the comments during an unannounced visit to the northern community of Amirli, where he was greeted with hugs. A day earlier, Iraqi forces backed by Iran-allied Shiite militias and U.S. airstrikes broke a two-month siege of the town where some 15,000 Shiite Turkmens had been stranded.

In footage aired on state TV, al-Maliki was shown sitting at a wooden desk in front of a large poster of Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistsani, ordering promotions and awards for those who fought in the battle.

"I salute you for your steadfastness and patience against those beasts and killers," he told a gathering of fighters in a large hall as they chanted Shiite religious slogans. He vowed to root out Sunni militants from areas they control in the country.

"All Iraq will be a grave for those infidels, and we will send all the IS (Islamic State) gang to death," he added.

No gray area: Fixed, opposite views of Michael Brown killing may reflect ‘confirmation bias’

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Lamont Jones and Keith Stephens stood 60 feet from each other, separated by four lanes of pavement and a thousand miles of perception.

Stephens was wearing a T-shirt printed with a police shield bearing the phrase "OFFICER DARREN WILSON I STAND BY YOU," as part of a rally supporting the white policeman who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed. Jones was across the street, holding up a sign that said, in blood-red letters: "Darren Wilson is a Murderer."

There was no overlap in the facts as seen by Jones and Stephens at the demonstrations staged a few miles from suburban Ferguson, where Brown was killed. Like many who have closely followed the case, which sparked riots and yet another national racial conflagration, Jones and Stephens had made up their minds.

Like uncounted numbers of Americans, they saw no gray area in the killing of Michael Brown.

Many are convinced there was no justification for Wilson to kill Brown because he was unarmed. Many others are certain it was justifiable because they believe Brown threatened Wilson.

Cuba cracks down on
multi-billion dollar flow
of consumer goods in air passengers’ luggage

HAVANA (AP) -- Lugging duffel bags crammed with soap, socks, toys and other hard-to-obtain consumer goods, travelers arriving in Cuba on Monday complained that new government restrictions on their imports would leave their families wanting.

Passengers on flights from Miami said they were bringing in far less than usual thanks to higher customs duties and stricter limits on the number of products allowed under rules that went into effect Monday.

At Havana’s international airport, there appeared to be fewer bicycles, 40-inch televisions or other bulky household items that normally made the baggage carousels look like a Target or Wal-Mart checkout line during a holiday sale.

"There are barely any bags on the floor inside," said Arnaldo Roa, a 45-year-old Miami handyman on a trip to see relatives. While he had a bag stuffed with toys and clothes for his daughter, he said he wasn’t able to bring his usual extra bags filled with gifts for other family members.

"I’m upset," he said. "Some relatives are going to get upset because normally I bring them things."