Tokyo, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — A Japanese air force F-35 stealth fighter crashed into the Pacific Ocean during a night training flight and parts of the jet were recovered, the defense ministry said Wednesday.
The pilot is still missing. The F-35A stealth jet disappeared from radar while flying off the eastern coast of Aomori and parts of the jet were found late Tuesday, the Air Self-Defense Force said.
It went missing about half an hour after taking off from the Misawa air base with three other F-35As for anti-fighter battle training.
Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters the cause of the disappearance was not immediately known. He said 12 other F-35s at the Misawa base would be grounded.
The pilot is a man in his 40s, Iwaya said.
Japan started deploying the expensive U.S.-made F-35s since last year, part of its plan to bolster its defense spending and weapons capability in the coming years to counter potential threats from North Korea and China.
Under guidelines approved in December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government plans to buy 147 F-35s, including 105 F-35As, costing about 10 billion yen ($90 million) each.
Tokyo, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — Japan partially lifted an evacuation order in one of the two hometowns of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant on Wednesday for the first time since the 2011 disaster.
Decontamination efforts have lowered radiation levels significantly in the area about 7 kilometers (4 miles) southwest of the plant where three reactors had meltdowns due to the damage caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The action allows people to return to about 40 percent of Okuma. The other hometown, Futaba, remains off-limits, as are several other towns nearby.
Many former residents are reluctant to return as the complicated process to safely decommission the plant continues. Opponents of lifting the evacuation orders in long-abandoned communities say the government is promoting residents' return to showcase safety ahead of the Tokyo Olympics next summer.
The government has pushed for an aggressive decontamination program by removing topsoil, chopping trees and washing down houses and roads in contaminated areas, though experts say the effort only caused the contamination to move from one place to another, creating massive amounts of radioactive waste and the need for its long-term storage.
The meltdowns at three of Fukushima Dai-ichi's six reactors caused massive radiation leaks that contaminated the plant's surroundings, forcing at its peak some 160,000 people to evacuate their homes for areas elsewhere in Fukushima or outside the prefecture.
Evacuation orders in most of the initial no-go zones have been lifted, but restrictions are still in place in several towns closest to the plant and to its northwest, which were contaminated by radioactive plumes from the plant soon after its meltdowns. More than 40,000 people were still unable to return home as of March, including Okuma's population of 10,000.
Town officials say the lifting of the evacuation order in the two districts would encourage the area's recovery.
Many people are reluctant to return home because of lingering concerns about radiation, and they have adapted to new jobs and homes after more than eight years away.
Only 367 people, or less than 4 percent of Okuma's population, registered as residents in the two districts where the order was lifted. A survey last year found only 12.5 percent of former residents wanted to return to their hometown. The government hopes to allow some of Futaba's 5,980 residents to return next year.
Okuma is also home to a temporary storage facility for the radioactive waste that came out of the decontamination efforts across Fukushima. A much delayed facility is still underway.
Fukushima plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., and government officials plan to start removing the melted fuel in 2021 from one of the three melted reactors, but still know little about its condition inside and have not finalized waste management plans.
Jerusalem, Apr 10 (AP/UNB)— Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be headed toward a historic fifth term as Israel's prime minister on Wednesday, with close-to-complete unofficial election results giving his right-wing Likud and other nationalist and religious parties a solid majority in parliament.
The outcome affirmed Israel's continued tilt to the right and further dimmed hopes of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Re-election will also give Netanyahu an important boost as he braces for the likelihood of criminal charges in a series of corruption scandals.
With 97.4% of the vote counted, Likud and its traditional political allies were in command of a 65-55 majority in parliament. A couple of small parties were still teetering along the electoral threshold and fighting for their survival, so the final makeup of the next parliament has yet to be decided. Final results were expected Thursday.
Two of his potential allies, hawkish former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and economic-centric Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, have yet to formally confirm they would sit with Netanyahu and could emerge as wildcards. In any case, the country now faces what could be weeks of political negotiations over the composition of a ruling coalition.
But under nearly every scenario, Netanyahu was the big winner.
The long-time Israeli leader had fought a tight, ugly race against centrist ex-military chief Benny Gantz, whose nascent Blue and White party emerged as a viable alternative to Netanyahu's decade in power. The near-final results showed it deadlocked with Likud at 35 seats. But most of its support seems to have come at the expense of the venerable Labor and leftist Meretz parties, who both earned historic lows in Tuesday's election.
Together with his current Jewish ultra-Orthodox and nationalist partners, Netanyahu seemed to have a clear path toward building a coalition government that has a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
With a victory, Netanyahu would capture a fourth consecutive term and fifth overall, which this summer will make him Israel's longest-ever serving leader, surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion.
"It's a night of tremendous victory," Netanyahu told supporters early Wednesday. "I was very moved that the nation of Israel once again entrusted me for the fifth time, and with an even greater trust."
He said he had already begun talking to fellow right wing and religious parties about forming a new coalition.
"I want to make it clear, it will be a right-wing government, but I intend to be the prime minister of all Israeli citizens, right or left, Jews and non-Jews alike," he said.
Netanyahu's message of unity was a sharp contrast from his campaign theme in which he accused Gantz of conspiring with Arab parties to topple him. Arab leaders accused Netanyahu of demonizing the country's Arab community, which is about 20 percent of the population.
His attacks on the Arab sector fueled calls for a boycott and appeared to result in relatively low turnout by Arab voters.
Overnight, with fewer of the votes counted, Blue and White still appeared to be ahead by one seat and Gantz projected optimism that he would be tasked with building a coalition. But by morning, he seemed to have realized his dream of becoming prime minister was lost, even if he didn't formally concede defeat.
"Though the skies appear gloomy, nothing is final. There could be changes and some political options could open up," he wrote to his supporters. "Our voters asked for hope and we gave it to them. They wanted a different way and we outlined it."
Though the Palestinian issue was rarely mentioned in the raucous campaign, Netanyahu had in the final stretch pledged for the first time to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in a desperate bid to rally his right-wing base. Netanyahu has welched on election eve promises before, but should he follow through on this one, it would mark a dramatic development and potentially wipe out the already diminishing hope for Palestinian statehood.
An aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the outcome of the election raised Palestinian fears about an Israeli annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank. Ahmed Majdalani said Palestinians will seek the help of the international community to try to block any such plans. He said that the outcome of the election means a boost for what he called the "extreme right-wing camp" in Israeli politics.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said Israel chose to entrench "the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession."
The 69-year-old Netanyahu has been the dominant force in Israeli politics for the past two decades and its face to the world. His campaign has focused heavily on his friendship with President Donald Trump and his success in cultivating new allies, such as China, India and Brazil.
But his corruption scandals created some voter fatigue. Along with two other former military chiefs on his ticket, Gantz was able to challenge Netanyahu on security issues, normally the prime minister's strong suit, while also taking aim at the prime minister's alleged ethical lapses.
Israel's attorney general has recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three cases and a potential fourth case emerged during the campaign. He will only decide on indicting Netanyahu after a legally mandated hearing. Legal experts expect at least some charges to be filed, which could set the stage for a short term in office for Netanyahu and another round of elections soon.
"This is a clear beginning of Netanyahu's fifth term, but his fifth term might end up being his shortest one", says Reuven Hazan, a political scientist from Jerusalem's Hebrew University. "In another year, we might be in a battle for either leadership of the Likud or another election."
New Delhi, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — The Dalai Lama has been hospitalized in the Indian capital with a chest infection and is feeling better, his spokesman said Wednesday.
The 83-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader is under medication and likely to spend a day or two in the hospital, spokesman Tenzin Taklha said.
The Dalai Lama flew from Dharmsala for consultations with doctors in the capital and was hospitalized on Tuesday. The north Indian hill town has been his headquarters since he fled Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Takhla said the Dalai Lama was feeling much better now.
He usually spends several months a year traveling the world to teach Buddhism and highlight the Tibetans' struggle for greater freedom in China.
He addressed a conference of educators and students in New Delhi last week. Answering a question related to Tibet's future with China, he reiterated that he is not seeking independence for Tibet, but would prefer a "reunion" with China under mutually acceptable terms.
New Delhi, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — New Delhi shop owner Ram Shankar Rai spends at least two hours a day going through political news and videos shared with him on social media.
Rai looked intently at a flurry of videos and photos on WhatsApp about an Indian airstrike in Pakistan, including pictures labeled as militants' corpses.
There was just one problem: The photos were not of militants but of casualties of a 2005 earthquake that killed thousands of people in Pakistan.
But the 50-year-old didn't see anything amiss. "It's news," he said. "How can it be fake?"
Before the world's largest democracy starts voting Thursday in a phased election carried out over six weeks, this attitude is posing a problem for election officials seeking to combat the spread of fake news among a population that experts say has proven highly susceptible to believing it.
Despite efforts by India's Election Commission to work with social media giants, urging them to tackle the spread of misinformation, at least one former top election official is warning that fake news could end up being the deciding factor in some constituencies with extremely tight races.
The election is already taking place in a charged atmosphere as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party seeks a second term by pushing policies that some say have increased religious tensions and undermined multiculturalism.
The opposition Congress party, which is also spending sizable sums of money on social media ads, is trying to revive its past glory and turn around a declining voter base.
Tackling fake news is a huge challenge in India, a nation with 1.14 billion cellphone connections, the most Facebook users in the world at 300 million, and another 240 million users of the messaging service WhatsApp. In such an environment, fake news can spread faster than regulators can act.
Watchdogs say in the run-up to the vote they've seen everything from manipulated pictures being picked up by mainstream news media, to misrepresented quotes sparking communal division, false news and hateful propaganda. And it looks like people are buying it.
Indian internet users, many of whom are relatively new to the web, may lack the awareness of knowing that "just because it's on a screen does not mean it's true," said Apar Gupta, who runs an advocacy group called the Internet Freedom Foundation.
India's problem with fake news isn't new, though, and it has already proven to have deadly consequences. In late 2018, at least 20 people were killed in mob attacks that were triggered by rumors on social media of strangers abducting children from villages.
Efforts by social media giants to combat fake news in the country were intensified after executives were called in by the Election Commission earlier this year and told to curb the spread of manipulative political information and adhere to the country's laws on election campaigning.
Social media companies followed that with a "Voluntary Code of Ethics" for the elections that they submitted to the government. It's essentially a best practices agreement that they will try to abide by the Election Commission's suggestions and rules, including prohibiting campaign advertisements for at least 48 hours before polling begins.
But at least two former Election Commission bosses said they don't believe enough is being done.
"The potential of mischief for subversion of the process of elections represented by social media is immense," said N. Gopalaswami, who was India's chief election commissioner from 2006 to 2009.
He said he was concerned fake news could play a huge role in very tight races.
Gupta said the Election Commission should have enforced accountability for political parties and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, with penalties for violations.
"India has clearly not done enough," he said, adding that some of the responsibility lies with the social media platforms.
"The internet has grown up and is having to leave its parents' home and find a job," he said, suggesting that platforms should tune their search engine algorithms to weigh the credibility of sources more heavily than ads and viral content.
Digital platforms have been scrambling to devise strategies to tackle the spread of false information ahead of the election.
Facebook announced a variety of measures last month, from blocking fake accounts to employing third-party fact-checking organizations for the elections.
WhatsApp has introduced a fact-checking helpline, encouraging users to flag messages for verification. It also started re-circulating an old advertising video urging people to "share joy, not rumors." The video was first launched after the 2018 mob attacks.
But with new pages and accounts being created daily to push political content, it's a hefty task.
"It is an adversarial space," said Kaushik Iyer, a Facebook engineering manager who works on election integrity and safety.
"What that means is that we will always see adaptation. We will always see new threats emerge," he told The Associated Press in an interview at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
He said Facebook was getting better at tracking down the misrepresented and manipulated videos and audio that form a big chunk of fake content on their platform in India.
And for all its negatives, social media can also play a positive role in an election, especially for young voters who say it has enabled them to better understand candidates and engage with them.
"Rather than campaign rallies where we are just passive observers, social media is a better representation of our opinions," said Sarthak Singh Dalal, a history student at Delhi University.
Rai, the shop owner, said he has started to take a closer look at the social media content forwarded to him, trying to identify biases hidden in what he had just considered news.
"Obviously, we have to use a bit of sense," he said.