Tokyo, Sep 4 (AP/UNB) — High winds and heavy rain whipped the Japanese cities of Kobe and Osaka and surrounding areas Tuesday as a powerful typhoon made landfall, disrupting train service and air travel.
Typhoon Jebi was heading north across a swath of Japan's main island of Honshu toward the Sea of Japan. The storm had sustained winds of 160 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour) with gusts to 215 kph (130 mph), the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
Japan's Kyodo News service said it was the strongest typhoon to make landfall in Japan since 1993.
In Osaka, the Universal Studios Japan theme park and U.S. Consulate were both closed. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled a scheduled trip to Kyushu, Japan's southernmost main island, to oversee the government's response to the typhoon, Kyodo said.
The typhoon first made landfall on the island of Shikoku and then again near Kobe on Honshu. Television footage showed fallen tree branches and high seas overflowing onto low-lying areas.
More than 700 flights have been canceled, according to Japanese media tallies. High-speed bullet train service was suspended from Tokyo west to Hiroshima.
Tokyo escaped relatively unscathed, with some intermittent squalls.
Kabul, Sep 4 (AP/UNB) — At least six police officers were killed by insurgents in two separate attacks on checkpoints in Afghanistan's northwestern Badghis and eastern Paktia provinces, provincial officials said.
Jamshid Shahabi, provincial governor's spokesman in Badghis, said two police officers were killed and four others wounded in Tuesday's attack near Qala-i-Now, the provincial capital.
Shahabi said 11 insurgents were killed and 16 others wounded in the gun battle with police.
Three police vehicles were also burned by the insurgents, but police said they were able to regain control of the area.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Taliban insurgents are active in the province and often launch attacks against security forces.
In eastern Paktia province, Taliban launched a massive attack on Janikhail district police headquarters killing four officers, said Sardar Wali Tabasim, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
Tabasim said six other police were wounded in Monday night's attack by insurgents.
Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement, he claimed that fighters took control of the entire district.
Tabasim denied that: "Afghan security forces are in control of the district and the Taliban's attack was repelled," he said. More than 20 insurgents were killed during the gun battle, Tabasim said.
Eastern Paktia province borders Pakistan and often insurgents cross the border to launch attacks in different districts.
Grant Town, Sep 03 (AP/UNB) — It's coal people like miner Steve Knotts, 62, who make West Virginia Trump Country.
So it was no surprise that President Donald Trump picked the state to announce his plan to roll back Obama-era pollution controls on coal-fired power plants.
Trump left one thing out of his remarks, though: northern West Virginia coal country will be ground zero for increased deaths and illnesses from the rollback on regulation of harmful emission from the nation's coal power plants.
An analysis done by his own Environmental Protection Agency concludes that the plan would lead to a greater number of people here dying prematurely, and suffering health problems that they otherwise would not have, than elsewhere in the country, when compared to health impacts of the Obama plan.
Knotts, a coal miner for 35 years, isn't fazed when he hears that warning, a couple of days after Trump's West Virginia rally. He says the last thing people in coal country want is the government slapping down more controls on coal — and the air here in the remote West Virginia mountains seems fine to him.
"People here have had it with other people telling us what we need. We know what we need. We need a job," Knotts said at lunch hour at a Circle K in a tiny town between two coal mines, and 9 miles down the road from a coal power plant, the Grant Town plant.
The sky around Grant Town is bright blue. The mountains are a dazzling green. Paw Paw Creek gurgles past the town.
Clean-air controls since the 1980s largely turned off the columns of black soot that used to rise from coal smokestacks. The regulations slashed the national death rates from coal-fired power plants substantially.
These days pollutants rise from smoke stacks as gases, before solidifying into fine particles — still invisible — small enough to pass through lungs and into bloodstreams.
An EPA analysis says those pollutants would increase under Trump's plan, when compared to what would happen under the Obama plan. And that, it says, would lead to thousands more heart attacks, asthma problems and other illnesses that would not have occurred.
Nationally, the EPA says, 350 to 1,500 more people would die each year under Trump's plan. But it's northern two-thirds of West Virginia and the neighboring part of Pennsylvania that would be hit hardest, by far, according to Trump's EPA.
Trump's rollback would kill an extra 1.4 to 2.4 people a year for every 100,000 people in those hardest-hit areas, compared to under the Obama plan, according to the EPA analysis. For West Virginia's 1.8 million people, that would be equal to at least a couple dozen additional deaths a year.
Trump's acting EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist whose grandfather worked in the coal camps of West Virginia, headed to coal states this week and last to promote Trump's rollback. The federal government's retreat on regulating pollution from coal power plants was "good news," Wheeler told crowds there.
In Washington, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said Trump's plan still would result in "dramatic reductions" in emissions, deaths and illness compared to the status quo, instead of to the Obama plan. Obama's Clean Power Plan targeted climate-changing carbon dioxide, but since coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, the Obama plan would have curbed other harmful emissions from the coal-fired power plants as well.
About 160 miles to the south of Grant Town, near the state capital of Charleston, shop owner Doris Keller figures that if Trump thinks something's for the best, that's good enough for her.
"I just know this. I like Donald Trump and I think that he's doing the right thing," said Keller, who turned out to support Trump Aug. 21 when he promoted his rollback proposal. She lives five miles from the 2,900-megawatt John Amos coal-fired power plant.
"I think he has the best interests of the regular common people at the forefront," Keller says.
Trump's Affordable Clean Energy program would dismantle President Barack Obama's 2015 Clean Power Plan, which has been caught up in court battles without yet being implemented.
The Obama plan targeted climate-changing emissions from power plants, especially coal. It would have increased federal regulation of emissions from the nation's electrical grid and broadly promoted natural gas, solar power and other cleaner energy.
Trump's plan would cede much of the federal oversight of existing coal-fired power plants and drop official promotion of cleaner energy. Individual states largely would decide how much to regulate coal power plants in their borders. The plan is open for public review, ahead of any final White House decision.
"I'm getting rid of some of these ridiculous rules and regulations, which are killing our companies ... and our jobs," Trump said at the rally.
There was no mention of the "small increases" in harmful emissions that would result, compared to the Obama plan, or the health risks.
EPA charts put numbers on just how many more people would die each year because of those increased coal emissions.
Abboud and spokeswoman Ashley Bourke of the National Mining Association, which supports Trump's proposed regulatory rollback on coal emissions, said other federal programs already regulate harmful emissions from coal power plants. Bourke also argued that the health studies the EPA used in its death projections date as far back as the 1970s, when coal plants burned dirtier.
In response, Conrad Schneider of the environmental nonprofit Clean Air Task Force said the EPA's mortality estimates had taken into account existing regulation of plant emissions.
Additionally, health studies used by the EPA looked at specific levels of exposure to pollutants and their impact on human health, so remain constant over time, said Schneider, whose group analyzes the EPA projections.
With competition from natural gas and other cleaner energy helping to kill off more than a third of coal jobs over the last decade, political leaders in coal states are in no position to be the ones charged with enforcing public-health protections on surviving coal-fired power plants, said Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
"Our state is beholden to coal. Our politicians are beholden to coal," Stockman said outside Trump's West Virginia rally, where she was protesting. "Meanwhile, our people are being poisoned."
And when it comes to coal power plants and harm, Schneider said, "when you're at Grant Town, you're at Ground Zero."
Retired coal miner Jim Haley, living 4 miles from the town's coal-fired power plant, has trouble telling from the smokestack when the plant is even operating.
"They've got steam coming out of the chimneys. That's all they have coming out of it," Haley said.
Parked near the Grant Town post office, where another resident was rolling down the quiet main street on a tractor, James Perkins listened to word of the EPA's health warnings. He cast a look into the rear-view mirror into the backseat of his pickup truck, at his 3-year-old grandson, sitting in the back.
"They need to make that safe," said Perkins, a health-care worker who had opted not to follow his father into the coal mines. "People got little kids."
Damascus, Sep 03 (AP/UNB) — Iran's foreign minister said at the start of a visit to Damascus on Monday that "terrorists must be purged" from Syria's Idlib and the entire northwestern province returned to government control.
Mohammad Javad Zarif's comments in Damascus were reported by Iran's semi-official Fars news agency and came as Syrian forces and their allies are preparing for an assault on Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in the country.
"Syria's territorial integrity should be safeguarded and all tribes and groups, as one society, should start the reconstruction process, and the refugees should return to their homes," Zarif said.
He met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who is just back from a visit to Moscow. The visit comes days before the leaders of Iran, Turkey, and Russia are expected to meet in Iran to discuss the situation in Idlib.
During their meeting Assad and Zarif discussed the agenda of the summit in Iran. A statement from Assad's office said Iran and Syria "had similar views on the different issues" to be discussed. It provided no further details.
Zarif said it was necessary to consult "with our Syrian friends" ahead of the Sept. 7 summit, according to Fars.
Iran has lent crucial military and economic support to Assad throughout the seven-year civil war and the discussions are expected to focus on the decisive battle for Idlib.
Assad has vowed to defeat the opposition in its last refuge in the northwestern province if the rebels do not surrender to government rule.
Idlib and the surrounding area is home to some 3 million people — nearly half of them already displaced more than once by the civil war. Tens of thousands of people fled to Idlib after surrendering in government offensives elsewhere, choosing to relocate to an opposition-held area rather than risk reprisals or forced conscription at the hands of the government.
U.N. officials believe an offensive on Idlib would trigger a wave of displacement that could uproot an estimated 800,000 people and discourage refugees from returning home.
Thousands of government troops and allied fighters have been massing in areas surrounding the province.
In their meeting Monday, Assad and Zarif also discussed what they called "western pressure" on their two countries, in apparent reference to the U.S. sanctions on Iran and calls for limiting Iran's role in Syria. Israel has grown nervous of Iran's growing presence in Syria and threatened to prevent a build-up of pro-Iranian forces near its frontiers with Syria.
Russia, another Syria ally, and Damascus have also said that western countries are preparing to carry out strikes against Syria ahead of the Idlib offensive. They claim such threats were part of the west's attempt to undermine Syria's drive to restore control over all its territories.
The U.S. and France have warned an Idlib offensive would trigger a humanitarian crisis and warned that a chemical attack in Idlib would prompt a western retaliation.
In the statement from the Syrian President's office, Assad and Zarif said that resorting to "threats and pressure reflect the failure of those countries to realize their plans for the region after Syria and Iran confronted them."
Baghdad, Sep 03 (AP/UNB) — Iraq's newly-elected parliament held its first session on Monday as two blocs, both claiming to hold the most seats, vied for the right to form a new government.
The session opened with a prayer and an orchestral performance of the national anthem, as lawmakers convened for the first time since national elections were held in May.
The new parliament faces the twin tasks of rebuilding the north of the country following the war against the Islamic State group and rehabilitating services in the south, where severe water and electricity shortages have fueled protests.
"We must focus in the next stage on reconstruction, services, and providing jobs. It is the time for economic reforms and expanding our security achievements," said caretaker Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in an address to parliament.
Al-Abadi, who came to power in 2014, oversaw the war on IS after the extremists seized Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and close to one-third of Iraqi territory.
Al-Abadi declared victory last year, but the militants continue to raid, kidnap, and murder Iraqis in lawless and underserved regions in the west and center of the country.
Lawmakers must now select a parliament speaker before electing a president, a largely ceremonial post. The president then appoints a prime minister, nominated by the largest bloc in parliament, to form a government.
Two blocs are claiming the right to name the prime minister.
A coalition led by al-Abadi and populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has the support of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, while an alliance between former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and militia leader Hadi al-Amiri has the backing of Iran.
Both alliances are dominated by Shiites, who have held the preponderance of power in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. But the largest Sunni blocs are aligned with al-Abadi and al-Sadr. Iraq's two main Kurdish parties have not taken a side.
By custom, the prime minister's post is reserved for Shiites, the speaker's post for Sunnis, and the presidency for Kurds.
On Monday, the al-Maliki bloc presented a statement with 150 signatories from the 329-member Parliament saying they had formed the largest grouping in the legislative body.
The al-Abadi bloc attested in a document to the legislative body that it had more than 160 members in its caucus, though their statement contained only a handful of signatories.
Lawmaker Qateh al-Rukabi said the matter would likely be taken to Iraq's highest court for a ruling.
Al-Maliki is said to be trying to woo lawmakers from al-Abadi's bloc. Al-Maliki and al-Abadi are both leading members of the Islamic Dawa party, which remains divided over the longstanding rivalry between the two men.
Mohamad Ali Zeini, parliament's oldest lawmaker and its caretaker speaker, adjourned the session until Tuesday to allow members time to choose a speaker.
He told The Associated Press he was doubtful a quorum would be achieved Tuesday as Sunni lawmakers were divided between 6 nominees.