United Nations, Aug 3 (AP/UNB) — Secretary-General António Guterres says in a new report on North Korea's grim human rights record that prisoners who tried to escape or steal have reportedly been publicly executed, and detainees have been subject to sexual violence and severely beaten with clubs and metal rods.
The report to the General Assembly, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, said guards make detainees undress and repeatedly subject them to body searches for money and concealed items. They are interrogated, sometimes for up to a month or longer, and their cells are so overcrowded they can't lie down, it said.
The secretary-general said the U.N. human rights office received and analyzed accounts of North Koreans who had experienced detention, the vast majority of them women who escaped initially to China. Between September and May, he said, the office interviewed more than 330 individuals who left the country.
The former detainees alleged "gross violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person" perpetrated by security officers, Guterres said.
North Korea has repeatedly said it does not violate human rights. In May, the country's ambassador in Geneva, Han Tae Song, said the government made a "devoted effort for the good of the people" and "human rights violations, in whatever form, are intolerable."
But North Korea has refused to give visas to U.N. human rights officials, except once in 2017 to an investigator who was looking into conditions for the disabled.
According to Guterres, "former detainees report extremely unsanitary conditions, and insufficient food causing malnourishment, illness, and occasionally also death of other detainees."
Reports received by the human rights office "include cases of sexual violence by prison officials against female detainees, including during invasive body searches," the U.N. chief said. And some guards make detainees sit or kneel all day, "allowing them to stretch their limbs for two minutes every hour, or less."
Guterres said "moving without permission can result in personal or collective physical punishment."
During pre-trial periods, detainees are provided no access to lawyers, and "accounts reveal that detainees are simply informed of their prison sentences at the end of the investigation, particularly in cases where the accused is sentenced to up to six months in a short-term labor camp," he said.
When trials do take place, Guterres said, detainees can't choose their defense counsel, lawyers present no defense, and there are no acquittals.
"Malnourishment is widespread, with multiple reports of deaths as a result of starvation," Guterres said. "Illnesses such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, typhoid, and pleurisy are reported rife in the prison, and little or no medical care is provided."
The secretary-general said "numerous interviewees reported severe beatings by prison guards, some resulting in the death of prisoners."
Prisoners are forced to work long hours, he added, accidents are frequent, "and there are multiple reports of prisoners dying as a result of work-related accidents."
"There are reports of public executions of prisoners who tried to escape, steal, or committed other offenses while detained," Guterres said. "There are also reports of prisoners placed in solitary confinement ultimately resulting in death."
The secretary-general said arrests, beatings, forced labor, executions and other abuses perpetrated in detention centers and prisons by officers from the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of People's Security "appear to be carried out in a widespread and systematic manner."
He said people in political prisons, ordinary prisons, and detention facilities are all subject to forced labor "in dangerous conditions, without adequate food, access to medical care and living conditions that meet international standards."
Guterres said accounts documented by the U.N. human rights office also reveal "the prevalence of corruption" in North Korea's penal system.
"Bribes can be paid to avoid arrest and detention, to mitigate or avoid prison sentences, to avoid beatings, to ameliorate the harshness of the forced labor required, and to secure family visits," he said.
New York, Aug 2 (AP/UNB) — Many religious leaders have strongly condemned President Donald Trump's disparaging remarks about minority members of Congress. Prominent figures on the religious right have not joined in, instead maintaining public silence or insisting that Trump's tactics reflect hard-nosed politics rather than racism.
"He does not judge people by the color of their skin," said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the Southern Baptist megachurch First Baptist Dallas and a frequent guest at the White House.
"He judges people on whether they support him," Jeffress said. "If you embrace him, he'll embrace you. If you attack him, he'll attack you. That's the definition of colorblind."
Debate over Trump's inflammatory tweets and comments has flared over the past few weeks. He told four outspoken congresswomen of color — three of them born in the U.S.--to "go back" where they came from. He also derided two black leaders — the Rev. Al Sharpton and Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, of Maryland — and called the majority-black city of Baltimore a "rodent-infested mess."
In response, 11 leaders of Protestant and Catholic groups in Maryland issued a public letter Tuesday imploring Trump to "stop putting people down."
"Enough of the harmful rhetoric that angers and discourages the people and communities you are called to serve," the leaders wrote.
A similar message came the same day from leaders of the Washington National Cathedral, designated by Congress as a non-denominational National House of Prayer.
"As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over," said a statement from three cathedral leaders. "We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation."
The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian social justice group Sojourners, assailed Trump's remarks as "a public sin that must be called out" and challenged five of the president's evangelical supporters, including Jeffress and the Rev. Franklin Graham, to publicly denounce his rhetoric.
"If we hear silence from white people of faith, we are in deep spiritual trouble," Wallis wrote on Sojourners' web site. "Christian moral objection to the president's racist language must grow every day and from many quarters."
Graham, the son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham and president of the charity Samaritan's Purse, said the president's critics had devalued the word "racism."
"The left has weaponized it and uses it against their opponents," he said in a telephone interview Thursday. "The president is not afraid to go after anyone — their color has nothing to do with it. It's the person's ideology and politics."
Graham contended that Trump was justified in his criticism of Cummings' district encompassing much of Baltimore.
"The president is right — it should be investigated," Graham said. "Billions of federal dollars have been given to this area. It certainly hasn't helped the people of Baltimore."
Among Trump's most outspoken evangelical supporters is Alveda King, a niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and a longtime anti-abortion activist. She was among a group of black pastors who met with Trump at the White House on Monday.
Citing her family's credo, King said, "When we dealt with racism, it was in prayer, not condemnation."
"I don't have to pray for President Trump for being a racist, because he's not," she said. "He's not colorblind —he can see and appreciate ethnic differences. But he's going to treat everybody with the same regard."
Some prominent evangelical leaders, thus far, have chosen not to wade into the public debate over Trump and racism.
Three high-level leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention update their websites frequently with topical commentary, but there have been no postings about the Trump/racism debate by the SBC's president, the Rev. J.D. Greear; the head of its flagship seminary, the Rev. Albert Mohler; or the head of its public policy arm, the Rev. Russell Moore.
Jeffress, the Dallas pastor who's been a friend of Trump's since 2015, said there are numerous SBC leaders who have been "Never Trumpers" since the launch of his candidacy.
"They're out of step with mainstream Southern Baptists, who've been loyal to Donald Trump since the beginning," Jeffress said. "It's caused many of them to go silent."
Another conservative denomination, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this week declined to comment on the racial discussion triggered by Trump's recent tweets. Spokesman Eric Hawkins instead cited a July 21 speech by church President Russell M. Nelson at the NACCP convention in Detroit, where he urged people to love one another no matter their differences.
"We are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us," Nelson said. "We don't have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don't even have to agree with each other to love each other."
San Juan, Aug 2 (AP/UNB) — Less than 24 hours before Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was expected to leave office, Puerto Ricans had no idea who would replace him as political chaos threatened to paralyze the island with a constitutional crisis.
Rosselló has promised to step down at 5 p.m. Friday in response to huge street protests by Puerto Ricans outraged at corruption, mismanagement and an obscenity-laced chat that was leaked in which the governor and 11 male allies made fun of women, gay people and victims of Hurricane Maria.
"It's frustrating. We're in limbo," said Jose Ramos, a taxi driver. "The island doesn't have a path forward."
As one of his last acts, Rosselló put forward veteran politician and lawyer Pedro Pierluisi to fill the vacant secretary of state post, next in line for the governorship under the U.S. territory's constitution.
Pierluisi is a former representative to the U.S. Congress seen by most ordinary Puerto Ricans as a conciliatory, relatively uncontroversial figure, unlikely to be met by continued street demonstrations.
"I offered to take a step forward for Puerto Rico at this moment given my love for my country," Pierluisi said. "My only loyalty as governor, if I have the support of legislators, is to the people of Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rican House of Representatives is expected to vote on Pierluisi's confirmation Friday afternoon. If he is rejected, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez automatically becomes governor as the next in the order of succession, even though she has said she would unwillingly accept the job.
Some lawmakers said a House vote for Pierluisi would count as confirmation and allow him to assume the governorship. Opponents said he requires Senate approval, too, and they would sue to stop him becoming governor without that.
"The situation could not be more complicated," said Sen. José Antonio Vargas Vidot, an independent. "This is absurd, what we're going through. We never thought something like this could happen."
Rep. Rafael Hernández, a leader among opposition legislators, said he believes a "yes" vote by the House for Pierluisi on Friday would mean Vázquez becomes governor at 5 p.m. and Pierluisi her secretary of state.
He said he would sue to stop any attempt to make Pierluisi governor, throwing the island into even more uncertainty.
"We would go to the courts early Saturday or Friday afternoon," he said. "Anything can happen."
Another obstacle for Pierluisi is Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who has said he would not vote for Rosselló's nominee and wants to run for governor himself next year. Several legislators have said they prefer Rivera Schatz over Pierluisi, but the Senate leader is a powerful figure deeply associated with Puerto Rico's political and business elite and his elevation to the governorship could re-ignite popular outrage.
Rivera Schatz delivered a scathing attack on his critics Thursday afternoon and said the Senate would hold a hearing on Pierluisi on Monday.
"Let's give him the chance to defend himself," Rivera Schatz said. "I don't think I'm going to be convinced."
He criticized Pierluisi for being an attorney with the law firm that represents the federal control board overseeing the island government's finances, calling it "Puerto Rico's No. 1 enemy."
Rosselló's New Progressive Party holds majorities in both chambers of the legislature, meaning a united party could have easily named the next governor.
Many Puerto Rican legislators were predicting that Pierluisi did not have the votes to be confirmed.
But Rep. Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló of the governing party said that an overwhelming number of constituents had called to ask for his confirmation.
"We ran out of paper," he said in reference to secretaries taking notes on the calls.
After jubilation at the success of their uprising against Rosselló, Puerto Rican protesters have been frustrated at the political infighting and paralysis that has followed.
Some lawmakers joined Rivera Schatz in complaining about Pierluisi's work for the law firm representing the control board, which was created by Congress to oversee Puerto Rico's finances before the territory, saddled with more than $70 billion in public debt, declared a form of bankruptcy. Pierluisi's brother-in-law also heads the board, which has clashed repeatedly with Rosselló and other elected officials over demands for austerity measures.
"That's a serious conflict of interest," Rep. José Enrique Meléndez told The Associated Press.
Sen. Eduardo Bhatia of the opposition Popular Democratic Party, accused Rivera Schatz of trying to maneuver himself into the top job.
"This attitude of (Rivera Schatz) taking the island hostage is very dangerous," Bhatia tweeted. "'It's him or no one' is in keeping with what has been a life silencing and destroying democracy."
Puerto Rico's 3.2 million people are U.S. citizens who can't vote for president and don't have a voting representative in Congress. While politicians are members of the Democratic or Republican parties, the island's main political dividing line is between Rosselló's statehood-favoring party and the Popular Democratic Party, which favors a looser association with the federal government. Both parties' memberships contain a mix of Democrats and Republicans.
More than a dozen officials have resigned in the wake of the chat that drove Rosselló from office, including former Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín.
Pierluisi, who took a leave of absence from the law firm, said in a statement Wednesday that much work remains to be done to recover the trust of federal authorities, Congress and the people of Puerto Rico as it also struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria.
Pierluisi represented Puerto Rico in Congress from 2009 to 2017 and then ran against Rosselló in the 2016 primaries and lost. He also previously served as justice secretary under Rosselló's father, Pedro Rosselló, when he was governor.
Junction City, Aug 2 (AP/UNB) — A regional gas pipeline ruptured early Thursday in Kentucky, causing a massive explosion that killed one person, hospitalized five others, destroyed railroad tracks and forced the evacuation of a nearby mobile home park, authorities said.
Some homes were consumed by the blaze when firefighters extinguished the flames hours later, Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Don Gilliam said.
"The part of the area that has been compromised, there's just nothing left," Gilliam said when asked whether residents might return to their trailer homes. "The residences that are still standing or damaged will be accessible. There doesn't really look like there's any in-between back there. They're either destroyed or they're still standing."
Kentucky State Police spokesman Robert Purdy said at least five homes were completely destroyed and structures within 500 yards (457 meters) had damage. He said a handful of people who were missing after the blast have now been accounted for.
The 30-inch (76-centimeter) wide pipeline moves natural gas under such high pressure that the flames reached about 300 feet (91 meters) in the air and could be seen throughout the county, he said.
The explosion around 1 a.m. was so huge that it showed up on radar, according to a tweet from WKYT-TV meteorologist Chris Bailey. It took hours for firefighters to douse the flames, with trucks repeatedly refilling their tanks and returning to the scene.
Purdy said the fire burned so hot that it left the landscape barren, burning trees and grass and leaving only red dirt, rocks and gravel.
Nearby residents said they were awakened by the initial blast.
Naomi Hayes told The Associated Press that she lives within a mile of the scene and felt her home shake, then saw light outside the window.
"It was so bright that it was like daylight outside, just with an orange tint," she said.
"When we went out the door, we could see the flames. They were so high and so bright ... and the noise was insane," she said about the burning fire. "It was a roar, like a monster roar. We had to yell to talk to each other. That's how deafening it was."
Another nearby resident, Sue Routin, told WLEX-TV that the blast shook her home too.
"It woke us up and it was just a big roar and it was fire going up into the sky as far as you could see," she said. "Our windows were shaking really bad, and our doors and the ground, you could hear the ground just moving and tumbling and rolling. And then we got to feeling the heat from the fire, so we got in our vehicle and took off to get away from it."
Purdy said the woman who died was taken to the medical examiner's office in Frankfort to determine her cause of death. Purdy said it appears she may have left her home due to the fire and was overtaken by the heat. Lincoln County Coroner Farris Marcum identified the woman as Lisa Denise Derringer, 58, of Stanford.
Emergency managers said the rupture involved the Texas Eastern Transmission pipeline, which is owned and operated by Enbridge. The pipeline stretches several thousand miles from the Mexican border in Texas to New York City. A statement from the company based in Calgary, Canada, said "Enbridge is aware of and is responding to a rupture on the Texas Eastern system in Lincoln County."
Enbridge spokesman Jim McGuffey said two other nearby gas lines don't appear to be affected but will be inspected. He said there's no indication of what might have caused the explosion.
The blast also damaged railroad tracks, forcing 31 trains to back up overnight, authorities said. Crews were working to repairs the tracks. Purdy said the track should reopen later in the day.
Some 75 people in the Indian Camp trailer park in the Moreland community were evacuated to the New Hope Baptist Church in Stanford. Authorities urged people gathering for the multistate 127 Yard Sale to stay away as crews worked to contain the damage.
Gilliam said affected residents could access their homes by Thursday evening. Representatives from Enbridge, the Red Cross and other groups gathered with residents to offer assistance.
Emergency management officials were beginning an assessment Thursday evening and would continue Friday, Gilliam said.
Purdy said several agencies are investigating to determine what caused the explosion.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending three investigators to the site.
Cincinnati, Aug 2 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump used a revved-up rally Thursday in Cincinnati to tear into the Democrats he has been elevating as his new political foils, attacking four liberal congresswomen of color and their party's urban leaders, while also training fire on those he could be facing in 2020.
But the president mostly avoided the racial controversy that has dominated recent weeks as he basked in front of the raucous crowd for nearly 90 minutes, unleashing broadside after broadside on his political foes. Trump, who had faced widespread criticism for not doing more to stop the chants of "Send her back" about Somali-born Rep. Ilhan Omar at a rally last month, seemed to want to avoid further furor, saying he would prefer his supporters avoid the chant. He largely stuck to a greatest hits performance.
While he did not mention Omar or her three colleagues by name in the opening moments of his Ohio gathering, the target of his attacks was unmistakable.
"The Democrat party is now being led by four left-wing extremists who reject everything that we hold dear," Trump said of Omar and her fellow House Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
But the fleeting mention did not lead to further chants. Nor did an extended attack on Democratic leaders of urban areas, which Trump has laced into in recent days as part of his incendiary broadsides against Rep. Elijah Cummings and the majority-black city of Baltimore.
"No one has paid a higher price for the far-left destructive agenda than Americans living in our nation's inner cities," Trump said, drawing cheers from the mostly white crowd in the packed arena on the banks of the Ohio River. "We send billions and billions and billions for years and years and it's stolen money, and it's wasted money."
The rally was the first for Trump since the "Send her back" chant at a North Carolina rally was denounced by Democrats and unnerved Republicans fearful of a presidential campaign fought on racial lines.
In the early moments of Thursday's rally, Trump declared, "I don't want to be controversial." He mostly stuck to it.
With the eyes of the political world shifting from two days of Democratic debates to see if Trump would stoke racial anger, the president largely delivered his standard stump speech. But Trump, the most avid cable news viewer in the history of the office, could not resist delivering his review of the Detroit debates.
"That's was long, long television," Trump said. "The Democrats spent more time attacking Barack Obama than they did attacking me, practically."
He mocked some of the leading Democratic contenders, reviving his nickname of "Sleepy" for Joe Biden, teasing Elizabeth Warren for claiming some Native American heritage and lashing the Democrats for their health care and immigration proposals.
"The Democrats have never been so far outside the mainstream," Trump claimed.
Hours earlier, Trump announced that China had not kept up its end of trade negotiations, prompting him to increase tariffs 10 percent on $300 billion worth of new goods. Trump at the rally expressed confidence that a deal would get settled but said, "Until such time there is a deal we'll be taxing the hell out of China."
The rally was also Trump's first since special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress, the apparent final chapter of the Russia probe that has shadowed the White House for more than two years. But Trump only mentioned it once, mocking Mueller's at-times halting appearance by sarcastically saying the investigator seemed "sharp as a tack."
Though boisterous at the beginning, the crowd began to thin as Trump crossed the hour mark and stayed disciplined in touting the strong economy and his administration's accomplishments. The president's remarks were also interrupted twice by protesters.
Speaking to reporters before leaving for Cincinnati, Trump said he didn't know whether his would revive the "Send her back" chant anyway or what his response would be if they did — adding that, regardless, he "loves" his political supporters.
"I don't know that you can stop people," Trump told reporters. "If they do the chant, we'll have to see what happens."
The chant in North Carolina followed racist tweets Trump sent against Omar and three other first-term lawmakers of color, instructing them to get out of the U.S. "right now" and saying if the lawmakers "hate our country," they can "go back" to their "broken and crime-infested" countries.
Two weeks ago, Trump wavered in his response to the divisive cries, letting the chant roll at the rally, expressing disapproval about it the next day and later retreating from those concerns.
Since then, Trump has pushed ahead with his attacks of Cummings and Baltimore. Heightening the drama, Trump's Ohio rally took place against a backdrop of simmering racial tension in the host city of Cincinnati.
A variety of opinions about the chant dotted the crowd before the rally.
Robyn McGrail, 64, and her husband were celebrating their 44th wedding anniversary by attending their third Trump rally. She said that if the crowd did begin the chant, "I'll probably be cheering. If they don't like America, they should leave. We love our country."
Cynthia Wells, 63, a Cincinnati nurse, said she would follow Trump's lead.
"We listen to him and we won't do it," Wells said. "I don't think it will happen. If it does, we won't participate because he's against that. That's not what his message is."
Hours before the president's rally, Omar posted a photo of herself and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Africa, writing, "They said 'send her back' but Speaker Pelosi didn't just make arrangements to send me back, she went back with me."
Trump captured Ohio by nearly 9 percentage points in 2016, and he fared somewhat better among midterm voters in Ohio than among voters in Rust Belt neighbors Michigan and Wisconsin. About half of Ohio voters, 49%, expressed approval of Trump's job as president, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of the electorate in 2018. Forty-four percent of voters in Michigan, and 43% of voters in Wisconsin, approved of Trump.
Several protests took place around the Trump rally, including one at the nearby National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. It focuses on the slavery era and current struggles against injustice around the world.