Moscow, Sept 23 (AP/UNB) — The Russian Defense Ministry is again accusing Israel of causing the downing of a Russian military plane over Syria.
Syrian government forces mistook the Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane for an Israeli jet and shot it down Monday, killing all 15 people aboard. While the Russian military initially blamed the plane's loss on Israel, President Vladimir Putin later defused tensions, calling the downing "a chain of tragic, fatal circumstances."
The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday said an Israeli fighter jet flying over Syria's coastal province of Latakia shortly before the downing deliberately used the Russian plane as a shield. Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov says the Israeli pilot's actions showed "either lack of professionalism or criminal negligence."
Berlin, Sept 23 (AP/UNB) — The leaders of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition were trying Sunday to resolve a standoff over the future of the country's domestic intelligence chief and stabilize their six-month-old alliance.
The center-left Social Democrats want Hans-Georg Maassen removed for appearing to downplay recent violence against migrants, but conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has stood by him.
Last week, coalition leaders agreed to replace Maassen as head of Germany's BfV spy agency but give him a new job as a deputy interior minister — a promotion with a hefty pay rise. The move infuriated many members of the center-left Social Democrats.
Seehofer leads the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, the government's third coalition partner.
On Friday, Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles asked Merkel and Seehofer to renegotiate the deal. Merkel said she wanted a solution over the weekend, though she hasn't said what her own opinion is of Maassen.
Merkel's coalition took office in March after the Social Democrats decided reluctantly to join up.
It has already been through one crisis that threatened its survival, when Merkel and Seehofer — a conservative ally, but a longtime critic of her initially welcoming approach to refugees in 2015 — faced off in June over whether to turn back some migrants at the German-Austrian border.
Responding to violent right-wing protests following the killing of a German man, allegedly by migrants, in the eastern city of Chemnitz, Maassen said his agency had no reliable evidence that foreigners were being "hunted" down in the streets — a term Merkel had used.
A video posted by a left-wing group showed protesters chasing down and attacking a foreigner but Maassen questioned its authenticity.
Seehofer, Maassen's boss, told Sunday's Bild am Sonntag newspaper that coalition leaders will have to spend a lot of time in phone calls over the weekend but will only meet when it's clear how a solution could work.
Seehofer said Maassen is a "highly competent" employee who hasn't violated any rules and that he won't outright dismiss him. He accused the Social Democrats of running a "campaign" against Maassen.
The issue is clouding the government's future at a time when the three parties face major challenges in upcoming state elections, in Seehofer's home state of Bavaria on Oct. 14 and in neighboring Hesse on Oct. 28. The infighting appears to be weighing down their support.
Male, Sep 23 (AP/UNB) — Huge crowds flocked to closely guarded polling stations on Sunday to vote in the Maldives' third multiparty presidential elections, widely seen as a referendum on the island nation's young democracy.
Both President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and the opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, voted in the capital, Male, shortly after polls opened.
More than 260,000 of the 400,000 Maldivians were eligible to vote at about 400 polling stations across the islands that comprise the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Observers from Transparency Maldives said in a statement late Sunday morning that opening procedures "went well," with nearly all of the polling stations opening within 30 minutes of the scheduled opening time.
Hundreds waited in line as a light rain fell in Maldives' capital, Male.
Voters debated the relative merits of the two candidates in front of a polling station at the Imauddin School.
Aviation worker Mohamed Ismail, 23, said he cast his ballot for Solih because "people live in fear" under strongman President Yameen, who has been criticized for cracking down on democratic freedoms.
"Look around. People are moving freely," countered Adam Thaufeeg, a 40-year-old government employee, who said he voted for Yameen because of his vision for developing the Maldives.
An election-eve police raid of Solih's main campaign office cast a pall over Sunday's elections.
A police warrant obtained by The Associated Press cited police intelligence that Solih's campaign office may have been used to coordinate vote-buying. Senior campaign official Ahmed Shahid was named in the warrant as a suspect. Repeated calls to Shahid went unanswered.
The raid Saturday was the latest sign of a government crackdown against the opposition, raising fears that the election may be rigged to favor Gayoom's party.
Gayoom used his first term in office to consolidate power, jailing opponents, including his half brother, a former president, and two Supreme Court Justices, and asserting control over the courts.
The European Union said Friday that it was not sending election observers because the Maldives had failed to meet the basic conditions for monitoring.
"In view of events in Maldives," the country's British ambassador, James Dauris, tweeted Saturday, "it's easy to understand why so many people are concerned about what might happen on Election Day."
The polls close at 4 p.m. and results are expected after 10 p.m., election officials have said.
Jakarta, Sep 23 (AP/UNB) — Campaigning for Indonesia's presidential election officially began Sunday with the two contenders releasing white doves and vowing a peaceful race as concerns simmer the campaign will sharpen religious and ethnic divides.
The election due in April pits incumbent Joko "Jokowi" Widodo against former general and ultranationalist Prabowo Subianto, who lost to Jokowi in 2014.
Dressed in traditional clothing, the candidates and their running mates paraded through central Jakarta on Sunday and released doves at a ceremony after reading out a peaceful campaign declaration.
The 2014 presidential election was marred by dirty campaigning and wild internet rumors that Jokowi was a secret communist and of Chinese background, accusations often used in Indonesia to discredit or intimidate political opponents.
Jokowi, the first Indonesian president from outside the country's political and military elite, has picked conservative cleric Ma'ruf Amin as his running mate, aiming to neutralize criticism that he is insufficiently Muslim.
He has a big but not unassailable lead over Prabowo in polls and Indonesia's recent hosting of the Asian Games further burnished his image.
With a population of more than 260 million, Muslim majority Indonesia is the world's third-largest democracy after India and the U.S. The country's image as a moderate Muslim nation has been undermined by flaring intolerance in the past several years, from the imprisonment of Jakarta's Christian governor, who was a Jokowi ally, for blasphemy to the canings of gay men in Aceh, a province that practices Shariah law.
Most of Jokowi's five-year term has been spent balancing the demands of his moderate base, powerful Islamic conservatives, a complicated parliamentary coalition and the military, which has never completely accepted its diminished role following the end of the Suharto dictatorship two decades ago.
Upgrading Indonesia's creaking infrastructure has been his signature policy but progress is uneven and many Indonesians still yearn for the strong-man type leadership represented by Suharto era figures such as Prabowo.
Washington, Sep 23 (AP/UNB) — Details must be worked out on a tentative agreement for a Thursday hearing for Brett Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegation that the Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted her decades ago.
Lawyers for Ford and bipartisan representatives of the committee came to the tentative agreement after a short but productive phone call late Saturday, said a person briefed on the matter, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity. The person said Kavanaugh would also appear.
Some details of the hearing, such as the order of their testimony, remained in negotiation and talks were expected to continue Sunday. A second person confirmed the tentative agreement for the hearing Thursday.
The tentative accord could begin to close days of high-stakes brinkmanship that have roiled Washington ahead of midterm elections and threatened to jeopardize Kavanaugh's confirmation to the court.
Tensions have been running on overdrive since Ford, a 51-year-old college professor in California, went public with her allegation that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were at a house party in high school. Kavanaugh, an appellate court judge, denied the allegation and said he wanted to testify as soon as possible to clear his name.
Ford initially indicated she wanted to tell her story to the committee, but talks dragged on as her lawyers negotiated terms of her appearance.
Republicans have grown frustrated as Ford's lawyers insisted on a hearing next Thursday rather than Monday or even Wednesday and made other requests, some of which the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, rejected. Democrats, against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, countered that Ford should be shown respect and given accommodation to tell her story.
As the talks continued, Grassley warned that he would schedule a Monday vote on whether to recommend Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate. On Saturday, both sides convened for the phone call that lasted about 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, Republicans viewed Ford's requests as a way to delay voting on President Donald Trump's nominee.
As Republicans were considering their next move in private talks Saturday, fresh divisions were emerging between those who have advocated confirmation and other GOP senators who have expressed his interest in hearing Ford's story before voting.
The White House is approaching Ford's potential testimony with trepidation, nervous that an emotional performance might not just damage Kavanaugh's chances but could further energize female voters to turn out against Republicans in November against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement.
Moreover, the West Wing aides who had urged Trump to remain muted in his response to the accusations worried about how the president might react to an hourslong, televised hearing. In tweet Friday, Trump broke his silence to cast doubt on Ford's story in ways Republicans had been carefully trying to avoid.
Trump mused to confidants that the "fake" attacks against his nominee were meant to undermine his presidency, according to a White House official and a Republican close to the White House. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.
Other Republicans scoffed at Ford's latest offer questioning her willingness to accept the committee's request to tell her story.
"When?" tweeted the No. 2 GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the committee.
Details of the Thursday hearing remain in flux.
On Friday, Grassley turned down Ford's request that only senators, not attorneys, be allowed to ask questions. The committee's 11 Republicans — all men — have been seeking an outside female attorney to interrogate Ford, mindful of the election-season impression that could be left by men trying to pick apart a woman's assertion of a sexual attack.
He also rejected her proposal that she testify after Kavanaugh, a position lawyers consider advantageous because it gives them a chance to rebut accusations.
Grassley rebuffed other Ford requests, including calling additional witnesses. Ford wants an appearance by Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend who Ford asserts was at the high school party and in the room where the incident occurred.
The lawyers for Ford wrote to the committee on Saturday that she "accepts the Committee's request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct next week."
Attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said that many aspects of Grassley's latest offer were "fundamentally inconsistent" with the committee's promise of a "fair, impartial investigation." They said they remained disappointed by the "bullying" that "tainted the process." Yet they remained "hopeful that we can reach agreement on details."
Ford's interests are being aided by another prominent Washington attorney, Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general. He said on Twitter Saturday that he had joined her legal team.
Democrats on the committee came to Ford's side.
"Let's all remember that Dr. Ford is not on trial, rather Judge Kavanaugh is seeking a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court," said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. He said she "should be treated with the respect she deserves."
Patience among Republicans, though, is running thin. The GOP is facing enormous pressure from its base of conservative leaders and voters to swiftly approve Kavanaugh, who would become the second of Trump's nominees to sit on the nation's highest court, ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Earlier Saturday amid the latest deadline standoff Vice President Mike Pence called Kavanaugh "a man of integrity with impeccable credentials." He said he expected Kavanaugh to join the high court soon.
The lawyer for a woman who Brett Kavanaugh's accuser has said attended the 1980s party at which he allegedly molested her has told Senate Republican investigators that the woman doesn't recall such a gathering or know the Supreme Court nominee.
The Washington Post reports Saturday that Christine Blasey Ford told them that Leland Keyser was at that high school party.
A GOP Judiciary Committee investigator contacted Keyser last Tuesday, saying Keyser had been "identified" as attending that party and wanted to talk to her. Committee spokesman Taylor Foy said Keyser's name "came up" in its investigation.
But in an email late Saturday, Keyser attorney Howard Walsh told the committee she "does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection" of ever attending a gathering with Kavanaugh.
That response seemed a setback to Ford supporters' efforts to corroborate her claim.