Rome, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — Italian lawmakers boarded a migrant rescue ship within eyeshot of the island of Sicily on Sunday to inspect conditions for 47 men and boys nine days after they were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.
The ship operated by German humanitarian group Sea-Watch picked up the migrants on Jan. 19 in waters off Libya. It was allowed to shelter Italy's territorial waters due to threatening weather Thursday, but the government refuses to let aid groups disembark in Italian ports.
Opposition lawmakers who inspected the Sea-Watch 3 said the migrants were suffering mentally after months or years of detention in Libya while waiting for the chance to attempt the dangerous sea crossing to Europe.
For many, having to stay on the rescue ship "is a form of continuation of imprisonment" they experienced in Libya, Riccardo Magi, a lawmaker with the tiny More Europe party, said.
The Italian news agency ANSA quoted Syracuse prosecutor Fabio Scavone as saying the captain requested psychological assistance for the passengers.
Another lawmaker, Stefania Prestigiacomo of the center-right Forza Italia party, said the migrants were exhausted. She noted the boat had only one toilet.
"OK, we're all in agreement that Europe should do more in taking in migrants" rescued at sea, "but let them off" this boat, Prestigiacomo told reporters.
Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy's far-right League party, adopted a policy after Italy's current government took office last year of refusing to let aid group ships put the people they rescue on Italian soil.
Salvini contends the rescue groups benefit human smugglers that charge migrants to cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy vessels.
He has threatened to send police officers onto the Sea-Watch 3 to investigate if the German aid group was in cahoots with traffickers and said other European countries should let the ship dock.
Following Italy's rejection of private rescue boats and a similar refusal by Malta, Sea-Watch 3 is the only humanitarian aid vessel working to rescue migrants in the central Mediterranean.
While anchored about a mile from the eastern Sicilian port town of Syracuse, the vessel has been unable to be on the lookout for other endangered migrants near Libya.
Italian coast guard brought donated socks, shoes and food Sunday to the 47 boys and men rescued earlier.
The number of migrants reaching Italian ports via the central Mediterranean smuggling route dropped sharply last year. During the previous few years, some 600,000 rescued migrants were brought to Italian ports by the Italian coast guard or navy, other European military ships or cargo vessels.
Netherlands, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — Dutch emergency workers rescued three people from the rubble of a low-rise apartment building in the Hague after a gas explosion Sunday and searched for one more person believed to be trapped.
The Hague Fire Brigade said in a tweet that nine people in total were injured by the explosion that blew the facade off part of the three-story building in a residential neighborhood. Seven were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment. Their conditions were not immediately known.
The explosion scattered broken glass more than a block away and left a white van and a car badly damaged.
As darkness fell, fire engine lights shined on exposed rooms where a sofa, table and chairs still could be seen on the third floor.
Sniffer dogs were brought in to aid the search. Rescue teams worked carefully because the building's extensive structural damage meant more sections might collapse.
Fire Brigade spokesman John Kardol said it remained unclear what caused the gas explosion.
London, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May faces another bruising week in Parliament as lawmakers plan to challenge her minority Conservative government for control of Brexit policy.
Amendments designed to change the course of Britain's planned March 29 departure from the European Union escalated the political jockeying. Several would delay the exit or make a Brexit without a divorce deal with the EU impossible.
The final lineup to be considered in the House of Commons is not expected to be announced until Tuesday, hours before the next Brexit debate and voting begins.
Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon said her party would support postponing Brexit day.
Sturgeon said the possibility of a second U.K. referendum on leaving the EU was not gaining traction in Parliament because of opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn's ambiguous position.
Voters supported Britain's withdrawal from the EU during a June 2016 referendum. Brexit opponents and others who have qualms about the process now underway have suggested holding another vote.
"It's incumbent on Labour to make its position on this clear," she said. "If it does, so then I do think there would possibly be a majority in the House of Commons."
May's Brexit divorce plan was soundly rejected by lawmakers two weeks ago. She is scrambling to gain more backing for the plan agreed with the EU, but some legislators are determined to force the government to slow the process and take "no-deal" off the table.
The drama in Parliament has galvanized the partisan British press.
The Sunday Times used its lead editorial to say it opposed a "no-deal" departure that would do unneeded harm to Britain, but also opposed the amendments that would block the "no-deal" route.
It argued the threat of Brexit taking place without agreement on issues that affect people and businesses throughout Europe was Britain's only bargaining chip in getting the EU to soften the withdrawal terms and make May's deal acceptable to lawmakers.
That is clearly an uphill battle. EU leaders remain adamant — in public at least — they will not alter the withdrawal treaty reached with Britain's government late last year.
One of the key points in dispute is how to prevent a hard post-Brexit border that would bring back customs and identity checks between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.
British newspapers have compared the confrontation with the EU to a game of chicken, with pro-Brexit papers predicting the EU will cave in to avoid a crash.
"Brexit Deal: EU Will Blink First," the Sunday Express proclaimed in its front-page headline, atop what it billed as an exclusive story.
The Express story predicted the EU would back down on the Irish border impasse as long as rebels in Parliament "do not succeed in taking the threat of no deal off the table."
Washington, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Sunday that the odds congressional negotiators will craft a deal to end his border wall standoff with Congress are "less than 50-50."
As hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers prepared to return to work, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he doesn't think the negotiators will strike a deal that he'd accept. He pledged to build a wall anyway using his executive powers to declare a national emergency if necessary.
"I personally think it's less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board," Trump said in an interview with the newspaper.
The president was referring to a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers that will consider border spending as part of the legislative process.
The president's standoff with Democrats on Capitol Hill is far from over and the clock is ticking. The spending bill Trump signed on Friday to temporarily end the partial government shutdown funds the shuttered agencies only until Feb. 15.
It's unclear if the Democrats will budge. Trump seemed girded for battle over the weekend, sending out a series of online messages that foreshadowed the upcoming fight with lawmakers. "BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL!" he tweeted.
Is Trump prepared to shut down the government again in three weeks?
"Yeah, I think he actually is," acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said. "He doesn't want to shut the government down, let's make that very clear. He doesn't want to declare a national emergency."
But Mulvaney said that at "the end of the day, the president's commitment is to defend the nation and he will do it with or without Congress."
The linchpin in the standoff is Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for his prized wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, a project Democrats consider an ineffective, wasteful monument to a ridiculous Trump campaign promise.
Asked if he'd willing to accept less than $5.7 billion to build a barrier on the southern border, Trump replied: "I doubt it." He added: "I have to do it right."
He also said he'd be wary of any proposed deal that exchanged funds for a wall for broad immigration reform. And when asked if he would agree to citizenship for immigrants who were illegally brought into the U.S. as children, he again replied, "I doubt it."
California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the leading Republican in the House, said Democrats have funded border barriers in the past and are refusing this time simply because Trump is asking for it.
"The president is the only one who has been reasonable in these negotiations," he said.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, said his colleagues are looking for "evidence-based" legislation.
"Shutdowns are not legitimate negotiating tactics when there's a public policy disagreement between two branches of government," he said.
Jeffries said that Democrats are willing to invest in additional infrastructure, especially at legal ports of entry where the majority of drugs come into the country.
"We're willing to invest in personnel. We're willing to invest in additional technology. ... In the past, we have supported enhanced fencing and I think that's something that's reasonable that should be on the table," he said.
Trump has asserted there is a "crisis" at the southern border requiring a wall, blaming previous presidents and Congress for failing to overhaul an immigration system that has allowed millions of people to live in the U.S. illegally.
Last month, he put that number at 35 million, while on Sunday he pegged it at 25.7 million-plus — figures offered without evidence. "I'm not exactly sure where the president got that number this morning," Mulvaney said.
Both are higher than government and private estimates.
His homeland security chief cited "somewhere" between 11 million and 22 million last month. In November, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported 10.7 million in 2016 — the lowest in a decade.
The president also tweeted Sunday that the cost of illegal immigration so far this year was nearly $19 billion; he didn't cite a source.
Compare that with research in 2017 from a conservative group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for less immigration: $135 billion a year or about $11.25 billion a month — a figure that included health care and education, plus money spent on immigration enforcement.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. said that he thinks a compromise is possible.
"The president went from talking about a wall along the entire southern border at one point during the campaign ... to let's have barriers where they work and let's have something else where barriers wouldn't work as well," Blunt said.
The partial federal shutdown ended Friday when Trump gave in to mounting pressure, retreating from his demand that Congress commit to the border wall funding before federal agencies could resume work. The bill he signed did not provide the money Trump wanted for a barrier, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called "immoral" and has insisted Congress will not finance.
Mulvaney said Trump agreed to temporarily end the shutdown because some Democrats have stepped forward, publicly and privately, to say they agree with Trump's plan to better secure the border.
Mulvaney said they told Trump they couldn't split with Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and work with the White House if the government remained closed.
"Everybody wants to look at this and say the president lost," Mulvaney said. "We're still in the middle of negotiations."
Brumadinho, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — Firefighters on Monday carefully moved over treacherous mud, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling, in search of survivors or bodies, four days after a dam collapse that buried mine buildings and surrounding neighborhoods with iron ore waste.
The confirmed death toll rose to 58, with up to 300 people still missing, authorities said. In an ominous sign, nobody was recovered alive Sunday, a stark difference from the first two days of the disaster, when helicopters were whisking people from the mud.
The slow speed of search efforts was due to the treacherous sea of reddish-brown mud that surged out when the mine dam breached Friday afternoon. It is up 24 feet (8 meters) deep in some places, and to avoid the danger of sinking and drowning searchers had to carefully walk around the edges or slowly crawl out onto the muck.
Firefighting officials said Monday they had identified a bus believed to be filled with bodies and had worked through the night trying to get through the mud.
Flavio Godinho, a spokesman with the civil defense of the state of Minas Gerais, told the G1 news portal that the bus was near the dam that collapsed, but that it was too soon to say how many might be inside.
Rescue efforts were suspended about 10 hours Sunday because of fears that a second mine dam in the southeastern city of Brumadinho was at risk of failing. An estimated 24,000 people were told to get to higher ground, but by afternoon civil engineers said the second dam was no longer at risk.
Areas of water-soaked mud appeared to be drying out, which could help firefighters get to areas previously unreachable. Still, it was slow going for the search teams, and residents were on edge.
"Get out searching!" a woman yelled at firefighters near a refuge set up in the center of Brumadinho. "They could be out there in the bush."
Brazilian searchers were poised to get reinforcements on Monday, when more than 100 Israeli soldiers and other personnel were set to join the efforts.
Throughout the weekend, there was mounting anger at the giant Vale mining company, which operated the mine, and questions rose about an apparent lack of an alarm system Friday.
Caroline Steifeld said she heard warning sirens Sunday, but there was no alert when the dam collapsed Friday.
"I only heard shouting, people saying to get out. I had to run with my family to get to higher ground, but there was no siren," she said, adding that a cousin was still unaccounted for.
In an email, Vale told The Associated Press that the area has eight sirens, but "the speed in which the event happened made sounding an alarm impossible" when the dam burst.
People in Brumadinho desperately awaited word on their loved ones. Romeu Zema, the governor of Minas Gerais state, said that by now most recovery efforts would entail pulling out bodies.
The flow of waste reached the nearby community of Vila Ferteco and an occupied Vale administrative office. It buried buildings to their rooftops and an extensive field of the mud cut off roads.
Some residents barely escaped with their lives.
"I saw all the mud coming down the hill, snapping the trees as it descended. It was a tremendous noise," said a tearful Simone Pedrosa, from the neighborhood of Parque Cachoeira, 5 miles (8 kilometers) from where the dam collapsed.
For many, hope was evaporating.
"I don't think he is alive," Joao Bosco said of his cousin Jorge Luis Ferreira, who worked for Vale. "Right now, I can only hope for a miracle."
The carpet of mining waste also raised fears of widespread environmental contamination and degradation.
According to Vale's website, the waste is composed mostly of sand and is non-toxic. However, a U.N. report found that the waste from a similar disaster in 2015 "contained high levels of toxic heavy metals."
Over the weekend, courts froze about $3 billion from Vale assets for state emergency services and told the company to report on how they would help the victims.
Neither the company nor authorities had reported why the dam failed, but Attorney General Raquel Dodge promised to investigate. "Someone is definitely at fault, she said."
Dodge noted there are 600 mines in Minas Gerais alone that are classified as being at risk of rupture.
Another dam administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton collapsed in 2015 in the city of Mariana in Minas Gerais, resulting in 19 deaths and forcing hundreds from their homes.
Considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history, that disaster left 250,000 people without drinking water and killed thousands of fish. An estimated 60 million cubic meters of waste flooded nearby rivers and eventually flowed into the Atlantic Ocean.
Sueli de Oliveira Costa, who hadn't heard from her husband since Friday, had harsh words for the mining company.
"Vale destroyed Mariana and now they've destroyed Brumadinho," she said.
Other residents quietly noted that Vale was the main employer in the area.
"The company is responsible for a new tragedy, but it's the principal employer," said Diego Aparecido, who has missing friends who worked at Vale. "What will happen if it closes?"
Environmental groups and activists said the latest spill underscored the lack of environmental regulation in Brazil, and many promised to fight any further deregulation.
Marina Silva, a former environmental minister and presidential candidate, toured the area Sunday. She said Congress should bear part of the blame for not toughening regulations and enforcement.
"All the warnings have been given. We are repeating history with this tragedy," she told the AP. "Brazil can't become a specialist in rescuing victims and consoling widows. Measures need to be taken to avoid prevent this from happening again."