Moscow, Feb 3 (AP/UNB) — A bus crashed south of Moscow on Sunday, killing at least seven people, four of them children, and sending 32 others to the hospital with injuries, authorities said.
The bus carrying 45 people tipped over and crashed on a local road about 190 kilometers (118 miles) south of Moscow in the morning, the Emergency Situations Ministry said, updating previous reports that it was carrying 48 people.
Dozens of people were trapped inside the bus, and it was not until hours later that the rescue teams managed to pull everyone out. The injured included 23 children.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear and police said they detained the driver for questioning. Footage released by emergency responders showed the bus lying on the side of a snow-covered road.
The Interfax news agency quoted the mayor of the town of Yartsevo as saying the bus was carrying a children's dance club to a competition in the city of Kaluga.
The local Emergency Situations Ministry said there was no collision. It said the driver appeared to lose control of the vehicle for some reason and the bus veered off the road.
Caracas, Feb 3 (AP/UNB) — Venezuela's opposition leader called on more members of the military to abandon the country's socialist government following the defection of a high-ranking general, while President Nicolas Maduro proposed holding early National Assembly elections that could potentially oust his challenger.
Maduro's call for early legislative voting is likely to intensify his standoff with rival Juan Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled National Assembly and is demanding a new presidential election. Guaido declared himself Venezuela's legitimate ruler on Jan. 23, and has the support of Washington and most South American nations.
Speaking from behind a podium decorated with Venezuela's presidential seal, Guaido told supporters he would keep his opposition movement in the streets until Maduro stopped "usurping" the presidency and agreed to a presidential election overseen by international observers. On Saturday, tens of thousands of Venezuelans joined opposition protests against Maduro in Caracas and other cities.
Guaido called on "blocks" of the military to defect from Maduro's administration and "get on the side of the Venezuelan people."
"We don't just want you to stop shooting at protesters," Guaido said in a hoarse voice. "We want you to be part of the reconstruction of Venezuela."
He said in the coming days, the opposition would try to move humanitarian aid into the country by land and sea along three border points, including the Colombian city of Cucuta. He described the move as a "test" for Venezuela's armed forces, which will have to choose if they allow the much needed aid to pass, or if they instead obey the orders of Maduro's government.
Maduro also dug in his heels, insisting he was the only president of Venezuela and describing Saturday's anti-government protests as part of a U.S.-led coup attempt.
"I agree that the legislative power of the country be re-legitimized and that we hold free elections with guarantees, and the people choose a new National Assembly," Maduro said at a pro-government demonstration in Caracas.
The opposition controls the National Assembly while government supporters control the more-powerful Constituent Assembly, so calls for a vote to replace the former and not the latter was seen as a move against Guaido.
The socialist leader also had words for the administration of President Donald Trump, which recently imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports in an effort to undermine Maduro's main source of income and weaken his grip on power.
"Do you think you are the emperor of the world?" he asked Trump. "Do you think Venezuela is going to give up and obey your orders? We will not surrender."
The standoff comes amid what appears to be growing dissension among the ranks of Venezuela's powerful military.
Earlier Saturday, a Venezuelan air force general defected from Maduro's administration and called on his compatriots to participate in protests against the socialist leader's rule.
Gen. Francisco Yanez is the first high-ranking officer to leave Maduro's government since Jan. 23, when Guaido declared himself the country's legitimate leader by invoking two articles of the Venezuelan constitution that he argues give him the right to assume presidential powers. He considers Maduro's election win fraudulent.
In a YouTube video, Yanez described Maduro as a dictator and referred to Guaido as his president. He didn't say where he was.
The officer confirmed in a phone call with The Associated Press, from a Colombian number, the veracity of his declaration. He said he would not speak further until given authorization by "the commander-in-chief of the legal armed force, which is President Juan Guaido."
The military controls some of Venezuela's key assets, including the state-run oil company, and until now, its top brass has helped Maduro to survive rounds of mass protests in 2014 and 2017 by jailing activists and repressing protesters.
Yanez said in his video that "90 percent of the military" is against Maduro, but it is unclear how many will actively support the opposition.
Shortly after protests broke out against Maduro last week, Venezuela's most important regional military commanders and its defense minister issued a statement in support of Maduro, describing Guaido as a coup-monger backed by Washington.
Venezuela's aerospace command of the armed forces shared a picture of Yanez on its Twitter account with the words "traitor" above it.
"We reject the declarations made by General Yanez who betrayed his oath of loyalty to our nation and chose to follow foreign plans," the command wrote.
On Saturday, Maduro said he was willing to sit down for talks with the opposition in an effort to promote national "harmony."
But that offer has been rejected by Guaido, who describes it as a ploy by the Maduro administration to buy time.
Previous talks between the government and opposition have failed to change electoral conditions in the South American country, and many political leaders have been forced into exile.
At a pro-Maduro rally, supporters blamed the opposition for undermining the Bolivarian Revolution with years of protests and seeking financial sanctions against the Venezuelan government.
Zeleyka Muskus, a 53-year-old tax collector from Caracas, said the opposition was responsible for the country's current economic woes, saying they have staged years of protests that have gotten people injured and killed.
"Chavez is the love of my life," she said, referring to late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Other public workers attending the pro-government demonstration said they had been forced to go there by their bosses.
Meanwhile, marchers from middle-class and poor neighborhoods walked to another part of the capital and said they were demanding Maduro's resignation and a transitional government that would hold a new presidential election.
Xiomara Espinoza, 59, said she felt a change of energy in the crowd, whose hopes for a transition in Venezuela have previously been dashed.
"We are around the corner from freedom," she said, banging on a pot and wearing a Venezuelan flag.
San Salvador, Feb 3 (AP/UNB) — Salvadorans are choosing Sunday from among a handful of presidential candidates all promising to end corruption, stamp out gang violence and create more jobs in the Central American nation.
The Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies, a think tank based in Guatemala, found great similarities in the four candidates' proposals. Top of the agenda is public safety: roughly 67,000 Salvadorans belong to gangs that terrorize their communities via extortion, murder and other forms of violence. The candidates have touched on ways to generate economic opportunities and restore social values to dissuade Salvadorans from engaging in criminal behavior.
Leading in the polls is Nayib Bukele, the 37-year-old former mayor of the capital, San Salvador. Bukele has campaigned on promises to create a commission to tackle impunity and corruption. He also proposes taxing property and idle agricultural land, levying higher taxes on luxury goods and combating tax evasion.
His election would put an end to decades of two-party rule in El Salvador.
Bukele made his political debut in 2012 with the ruling FMLN party, which arose from a leftist guerrilla movement after peace accords ended El Salvador's civil war. Today he is the standard bearer of the Grand Alliance for National Unity — its initials, GANA, mean "win" in Spanish — and he's challenging the political dominance that has reigned since the 1992 peace accords.
A recent poll gave Bukele support from about 40 percent of Salvadorans, compared with 23 percent for businessman Carlos Callejas of the conservative Arena coalition. He was even further ahead of the FMLN's Hugo Martinez, a former foreign minister.
More than 4,500 election observers, including representatives of the Organization of American States and the European Union, will be on hand when Salvadorans go to the polls.
If none of the contenders clinch more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff in March.
El Salvador is small both in size and population, with just 6.5 million people. Close to a third of its households live in poverty, while the World Bank says per capita income is $3,560.
Salvadorans searching for a better life have joined recent caravans of migrants trekking through Mexico toward the U.S.
Richmond, Feb 3 (AP/UNB) — Resisting widespread calls for his resignation, Virginia's embattled governor on Saturday pledged to remain in office after disavowing a blatantly racist photograph that appeared under his name in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
In a tumultuous 24 hours, Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday apologized for appearing in a photograph that featured what appeared to be a man in blackface and a second person cloaked in Ku Klux Klan garb. In a video posted on Twitter, he said he could not "undo the harm my behavior caused then and today."
But by Saturday, he reversed course and said the racist photo on his yearbook profile page did not feature him after all. The governor said he had not seen the photo before Friday, since he had not purchased the commemorative book or been involved in its preparation more than three decades ago.
"It has taken time for me to make sure that it's not me, but I am convinced, I am convinced that I am not in that picture," he told reporters gathered at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, calling the shot offensive and horrific.
While talking with reporters, Northam admitted that he had previously worn blackface around that time, saying he once had used shoe polish to darken his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume he fashioned for a 1984 dance contest in San Antonio, Texas, when he was in the U.S. Army. Northam said he regrets that he didn't understand "the harmful legacy of an action like that."
His refusal to step down could signal a potentially long and bruising fight between Northam and his former supporters, which includes virtually all of the state's Democratic establishment.
After he spoke, both of Virginia's U.S. senators said they called Northam to tell him that he must resign. In a joint statement Saturday night, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and the dean of Virginia's congressional delegation, Rep. Bobby Scott, said the recent events "have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders."
Since Friday, groups calling for his resignation included the Virginia Democratic Party and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, and top Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly also urged Northam to resign, as have many declared and potential Democratic presidential candidates.
"He is no longer the best person to lead our state," the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus said in a statement.
If Northam does resign, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would become the second African-American governor in the state's history. In a statement, Fairfax said the state needs leaders who can unite people, but he stopped short of calling for Northam's departure. Referring to Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said he "cannot condone actions from his past" that at least "suggest a comfort with Virginia's darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation."
Northam conceded Saturday that people might have difficulty believing his shifting statements.
He was pushed repeatedly by reporters to explain why he issued an apology Friday if he wasn't in the photograph.
"My first intention ... was to reach out and apologize," he said, adding that he recognized that people would be offended by the photo. But after studying the picture and consulting with classmates, Northam said, "I am convinced that is not my picture."
Walt Broadnax, one of two black students who graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School with Northam, said by phone Saturday he also didn't buy the class's 1984 yearbook or see it until decades after it was published.
Broadnax defended his former classmate and said he's not a racist, adding that the school would not have tolerated someone going to a party in blackface.
The yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. An Associated Press reporter later saw the yearbook page and confirmed its authenticity at the medical school.
In an initial apology about the photograph on Friday, Northam had admitted to being in the photograph but did not say which of the two costumes he had worn.
That evening, he issued a video statement saying he was "deeply sorry" but still committed to serving the "remainder of my term." Northam's term is set to end in 2022.
The scars from centuries of racial oppression are still raw in a state that was once home to the capital of the Confederacy.
Virginians continue to struggle with the state's legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and Massive Resistance, the anti-school segregation push. Heated debates about the Confederate statues are ongoing after a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. A state holiday honoring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson is a perennial source of discontent.
Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead-up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He's a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia's Eastern Shore, where he grew up.
"It's a matter of relationships and trust. That's not something that you build overnight," Northam told the AP during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community.
Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.
In a tweet late Saturday, President Donald Trump called Northam's actions related to the photo and abortion debate "unforgiveable!"
Last week, Florida's secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.
London, Feb 3 (AP/UNB) — Germany's foreign minister is calling for "clear proposals" from Britain as it seeks to avoid a chaotic withdrawal from the European Union and underlining the EU's insistence that the Brexit divorce deal rejected by British lawmakers is "already a compromise," particularly in regards to Northern Ireland.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, with or without a Brexit deal. U.K. lawmakers voted last week to seek changes to the agreement but the EU is adamant that it cannot be renegotiated. How to handle the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is one of the Brexit dilemmas.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tells the Funke newspaper group published Sunday that "we need clear proposals from London" and rejected a suggestion that the EU's position is increasing the risk of a no-deal Brexit. He says "if the British want to avoid an unregulated Brexit, our offer is on the table. We negotiated a fair Brexit agreement."
Nissan has cancelled plans to make its X-Trail SUV in the UK — a sharp blow to Brexit supporters, who had fought to have the model built in northern England.
The move, first reported on Saturday by Sky News, was confirmed by the company in a letter to workers Sunday. The next generation X-Trail will instead be made in in Japan.
Nissan employs about 7,000 workers in the English city of Sunderland.
Nissan had previously announced plans to build the model at its plant in Sunderland after the British government sent a letter of undisclosed reassurances in 2016 after the Brexit vote about the company's ability to compete in the future.
Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on March 29, but U.K. politicians are divided over Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan.