May 4 (AP/UNB) -A charter plane carrying 143 people and traveling from Cuba to north Florida ended up in a river at the end of a runway Friday night, though no critical injuries or deaths were reported, officials said.
A Boeing 737 arriving at Naval Air Station Jacksonville from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with 136 passengers and seven aircrew slid off the runway into the St. Johns River, a NAS Jacksonville news release said.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office posted on Twitter that a marine unit responded to assist. The plane was in shallow water and not submerged. Everyone on the plane was alive and accounted for, the agency posted, with 21 adults transported to local hospitals in good condition.
A photo posted by deputies shows a Miami Air International logo on the plane. The company didn't immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press.
Capt. Michael Connor, the commanding officer of NAS Jacksonville, said during a news conference that passengers were a mix of civilian and military personnel. Some were staying in the area, while others were set to fly on to other parts of the country.
While the crash certainly wasn't ideal, Connor acknowledged that it could have been much worse.
"I think it is a miracle," Connor said. "We could be talking about a different story this evening."
It wasn't known how long it would take to remove the plane from the river, but Connor said the landing gear appeared to be resting on the river bed, making it unlikely for the aircraft to float away. He said crews began working to contain any jet fuel leaks almost immediately after securing the passengers' safety.
Liz Torres told the Florida Times-Union that she heard what sounded like a gunshot Friday night from her home in Orange Park, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of NAS Jacksonville. She then drove down to a Target parking lot where police and firefighters were staging to find out more.
"I've never seen anything like this," she said.
The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department posted on Twitter that approximately 90 personnel responded to the scene, adding that the department's special operations team had trained with marine units for a similar incident earlier Friday.
Navy security and emergency response personnel were on the scene and monitoring the situation, the Navy release said. Family members who were expecting the arrival of passengers were instructed to stand by.
Officials did not immediately say what caused the plane to leave the runway. Boeing said in a tweet Friday night that it was investigating: "We are aware of an incident in Jacksonville, Fla., and are gathering information."
The Federal Aviation Administration was referring media inquiries to NAS Jacksonville.
Connor said National Transportation Safety Board investigators were already on their way.
Seoul, May 4 (AP/UNB) — The White House says it is monitoring North Korean short-range missile launches.
In a terse statement, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says, "We are aware of North Korea's actions tonight. We will continue to monitor as necessary."
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff says that North Korea early Saturday launched several short-range missiles off its eastern coast into the ocean.
If it's confirmed that the North fired banned ballistic missiles, it will be the first such launch since the North's November 2017 test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Japan's Defense Ministry says North Korean missiles have not reached anywhere near the country's coast and that Japan is not facing any security threat.
The ministry says it has not detected signs that any of the North Korean short-range missiles fired Saturday have reached in or around Japan's territory or its 200-nautical-mile (320-kilometer) exclusive economic zone.
It says at this point Japan does not face a situation that would pose any immediate risk to its national security.
Japan is seen as avoiding any harsh response as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to secure a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff says that North Korea has launched "several" short-range missiles off its eastern coast.
The military said in a statement Saturday that the missiles flew up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) before they landed in the water.
The South had previously said the North launched a single missile.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff says North Korea has fired an unidentified short-range missile from its eastern coast.
The firing Saturday comes amid a diplomatic breakdown that has followed the failed summit earlier this year between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the North's pursuit of a nuclear arsenal that can target the U.S. mainland.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff says the North's missile was fired from Wonsan on the east coast.
It says South Korean and U.S. authorities are analyzing the details of the launch.
Washington, May 3 (AP/UNB) — Advancing his anti-abortion agenda, President Donald Trump moved Thursday to protect health care workers who object to procedures like abortion on moral or religious grounds.
Trump chose the National Day of Prayer to announce the new regulation.
"Just today we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities," Trump told an interfaith audience in the White House Rose Garden. "They've been wanting to do that for a long time."
The conscience rule was a priority for religious conservatives who are a key part of Trump's political base, but some critics fear it will become a pretext for denying medical attention to LGBT people or women seeking abortions, a legal medical procedure.
In a strongly worded statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "these bigoted rules are immoral, deeply discriminatory and downright deadly, greenlighting open discrimination in health care against LGTBQ Americans and directly threatening the well-being of millions.
"Make no mistake," she added, "this is an open license to discriminate against Americans who already face serious, systemic discrimination." She said she was also addressing another pending regulation seen as undermining the rights of transgender patients. Pelosi said the Democratic-controlled House would "fight" the administration's actions.
San Francisco immediately sued the Trump administration, saying the conscience regulation will undermine access to care.
The complex rule runs more than 400 pages and requires hospitals, universities, clinics and other institutions that receive funding from federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid to certify that they comply with some 25 federal laws protecting conscience and religious rights.
Most of these laws and provisions address medical procedures such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide. The ultimate penalty can be loss of federal funding for violations of conscience or religious rights, but most cases are settled by making changes in practices and procedures.
The rule makes no new law and doesn't go beyond statutes passed under administrations of both political parties, said Roger Severino, head of the office that will enforce it at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Rather, the regulation will guarantee that religious and conscience protections already on the books can't be ignored.
"We are giving these laws life with this regulation," said Severino, saying it's no different from civil rights statutes enforced in daily life through government regulation and oversight. "It makes sure Congress' protections are not merely empty words on paper."
Under the rule, clinicians and institutions would not have to provide, participate in, pay for, cover or make referrals for procedures they object to on moral or religious grounds.
This will make it "so that people do not have to shed their religious beliefs to participate in health care," said Severino, adding that "certain medical professions such as OB-GYN should not be declared pro-life-free zones."
The rule also addresses conscience protections involving so-called advance directives that detail a patient's wishes for care at the end of life.
Asserting that previous administrations have not done enough to protect conscience rights in the medical field, HHS under Trump created a new division to investigate such complaints within its Office for Civil Rights, which Severino heads.
HHS said last year the office received more than 1,300 complaints alleging discrimination in a health care setting on account of religious beliefs or conscience issues. There was only a trickle of such complaints previously, officials said, about one per year for alleged conscience violations.
Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, said her group representing church-affiliated hospitals, nursing homes and other providers will stress continued service to "all persons."
"Our mission and our ethical standards in health care are rooted in and inseparable from the Catholic Church's teachings about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death," Keehan said in a statement. "These are the source of both the work we do and the limits on what we will do. Every individual seeking health care is welcome and will be treated with dignity and respect in our facilities."
Among religious conservatives, Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins called the regulation an answer to prayer.
"Protecting the right of all health care providers to make professional judgments based on moral convictions and ethical standards ... is necessary to ensure that access to health care is not diminished, which would occur if they were forced out of their jobs because of their ethical stances," his statement added.
But Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the administration has opened the door to discrimination. "Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn't include the right to discriminate or harm others," she said. "Denying patients health care is not religious liberty,"
Caracas, May 2 (AP/UNB) — Venezuelans heeded opposition leader Juan Guaidó's call to fill streets around the nation Wednesday but security forces showed no sign of answering his cry for a widespread military uprising, instead dispersing crowds with tear gas as the political crisis threatened to deepen.
Thousands cheered Guaidó in Caracas as he rolled up his sleeves and called on Venezuelans to remain out in force and prepare for a general strike, a day after his bold attempt to spark a mass military defection against President Nicolas Maduro failed to tilt the balance of power.
"It's totally clear now the usurper has lost," Guaidó proclaimed, a declaration belied by events on the ground.
Across town at the Carlota air base near where Guaidó made his plea a day earlier for a revolt, intense clashes raged between protesters and troops loyal to Maduro, making clear the standoff would drag on. There and elsewhere, state security forces launched tear gas and fired rubber bullets while bands of mostly young men armed with makeshift shields threw rocks and set a motorcycle ablaze.
"I don't want to say it was a disaster, but it wasn't a success," said Marilina Carillo, who was standing in a crowd of anti-government protesters blowing horns and whistles.
Opposition leaders hoped Guaidó's risky move would stir a string of high-ranking defections and shake Maduro's grip on power. But only the chief of Venezuela's feared intelligence agency broke ranks, while most others stood steadfast. Some analysts predicted that would make Maduro more emboldened.
The dramatic events could spell even more uncertainty for Venezuela, which has been rocked by three months of political upheaval since Guaidó re-energized a flagging opposition movement by declaring himself interim president, saying Maduro had usurped power.
Now the struggle has heightened geopolitical dimensions, with the United States and more than 50 other nations backing Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate president and Maduro allies like Russia lending the beleaguered president military and economic support.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday that Maduro is surrounded by "scorpions in a bottle" and that key figures among his inner circle had been "outed" as dealing with the opposition.
The United States contends Maduro had been ready to flee Tuesday, an airplane already on the tarmac, but was talked out of it by Russian advisers.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, said such assertions were part of a "global information and psychological war against Venezuela and Caracas."
"There is no proof there was a Russian plane there," she said. "The U.S. is big on Venezuela and wants to bring this to an end but that cannot do that."
Protesters like Beatriz Pino, who took to the streets Wednesday waving flags and banging pots and pans, said they weren't entirely surprised by the military's response to Guaidó. She said the late President Hugo Chavez politicized Venezuela's military as he installed a socialist system. Despite the setback, she said she remained committed to the opposition's call for protest.
"We can't leave the streets," she said. "We've been in this for years."
As the standoff drags on, life is becoming even more difficult for Venezuelans, who are struggling with hyperinflation that has rendered salaries worthless as well as severe shortages of food and medicine that have driven about 3 million people to flee the country in recent years.
"We need to get out of this tragedy," said Ana Camarillo, a housewife.
David Smilde, a Venezuela expert, said the opposition's thus far unsuccessful attempt to trigger an uprising should provoke a round of reflection.
"Given the balance of power within Venezuela and the geopolitical struggle around it, they need to engage in real politics and real negotiations to move this conflict to a different place," he said.
At a large pro-Maduro rally Wednesday, ruling party leader Diosdado Cabello said that "as a bloc" Venezuela's military remained intact and united behind Maduro. He likened opposition leaders to "walking zombies."
Luis Scott was among those wearing bright red shirts in solidarity with the socialist government and said he traveled seven hours on a bus to participate in the rally. He conceded Venezuela has deep economic troubles, but said the path set by Chavez and Maduro is firm.
"We are fighting for our freedom," the fisherman said.
While Maduro maintains a devout core of fervent supporters first inspired by Chavez, attendance at such shows of support is viewed as a requirement of their jobs.
At the Plaza Francia in Caracas' Altamira neighborhood, protesters jammed the streets in one of the opposition's biggest demonstrations yet. A few blocks away the scene quickly turned ugly. Protesters surrounded a suspected thief, beating him until he bled. A man with a megaphone appealed to the crowd to return to the fight against police.
"The fight is down there!" he said, gesturing to the direction of a military base.
Mayor Gustavo Duque said the Salud Chacao medical center took in 27 patients by late afternoon Wednesday, one of whom was shot in the foot by a firearm. Those injuries are on top of more than 50 reported by the hospital's director during clashes Tuesday.
Maduro appeared at the socialist party rally Wednesday afternoon, saying U.S. leaders had been fooled by the opposition into believing he was about to flee Venezuela. He said the Trump administration was part of a "pot of lies" and likened the ordeal to "fake news."
He promised to put all conspirators behind bars.
"Sooner or later they'll go to jail and pay for their betrayal and their crimes," he said.
Giancarlo Morelli of the British analysis group Economist Intelligence Unit said Maduro faces peril whatever path he takes with Guaidó over the uprising attempt.
"Failing to arrest Mr. Guaidó would be perceived as an important sign for weakness from Mr. Maduro," Morelli said. "But arresting Mr. Guaidó risks a strong counter-reaction from the U.S.," which has been ratcheting up sanctions.
For many Venezuelans, the turmoil has become an almost normal state of affairs.
Johanns Davila walked his dog along a street in the capital littered with shotgun shells, tear gas canisters and a charred motorcycle, the remnants of skirmishes between the opposition and state security.
"We need to get people out and recover the country," Davila said.
Washington, May 1 (AP/UNB) — U.S. government searches of travelers' cellphones and laptops at airports and border crossings nearly quadrupled since 2015 and were being done for reasons beyond customs and immigration enforcement, according to papers filed Tuesday in a federal lawsuit that claims scouring the electronic devices without a warrant is unconstitutional.
The government has vigorously defended the searches, which rose to 33,295 in fiscal 2018, as a critical tool to protect America. But the newly filed documents claim the scope of the warrantless searches has expanded to assist in enforcement of tax, bankruptcy, environmental and consumer protection laws, gather intelligence and advance criminal investigations.
Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement consider requests from other government agencies in determining whether to search travelers' electronic devices, the court papers said. They added that agents are searching the electronic devices of not only targeted individuals but their associates, friends and relatives.
The new information about the searches was included in a motion the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.
"The evidence we have presented the court shows that the scope of ICE and CBP border searches is unconstitutionally broad," said Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney for the EFF, based in San Francisco.
"ICE and CBP policies and practices allow unfettered, warrantless searches of travelers' digital devices and empower officers to dodge the Fourth Amendment when rifling through highly personal information contained on laptops and phones," he said.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment. Both ICE and CBP said they did not comment on pending litigation.
When the suit was filed against the government in 2017, DHS officials said U.S. citizens and everyone else are subject to examination and search by customs officials, unless exempted by diplomatic status. The department has contended that no court has concluded that border searches of electronic devices require a warrant. Searches, some random, have uncovered evidence of human trafficking, terrorism, child pornography, visa fraud, export control breaches and intellectual property rights violations, according to the department.
The original case was filed on behalf of 10 American citizens and a lawful permanent resident from seven states — including two journalists, a NASA engineer and a former Air Force captain — who alleged the searches violated their constitutional rights. They asked the court to rule that the government must have a warrant based on probable cause before searching electronic devices at U.S. ports of entry.
The plaintiffs also are demanding the government expunge from investigatory databases information obtained in past searches. ICE and CBP share information taken from travelers' electronic devices with other agencies and there is control to prevent them from impermissibly retaining it, they argue.
A year ago, U.S. District Judge Denise Casper in Boston rejected the government's request to dismiss the lawsuit, allowing the case to move forward. The ACLU and the foundation began gathering documents and deposition testimony. Based on the new information, they filed a motion Tuesday asking the judge to rule in their favor without a trial. "Travelers' devices contain an extraordinary amount of highly personal information that the government can easily search, retain, and share," it argues.
"This new evidence reveals that the government agencies are using the pretext of the border to make an end run around the First and Fourth Amendments," said ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari. "The border is not a lawless place. ICE and CBP are not exempt from the Constitution and the information on our electronic devices is not devoid of Fourth Amendment protections. We are asking the court to stop these unlawful searches and require the government to get a warrant."
The court documents claim that the agencies also assert the authority to search electronic devices when the subject of interest is someone other than the traveler, such as the business partner of someone under investigation. Both agencies also allow officers to retain information from travelers' electronic devices and share it with other government entities, including state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies, the court papers claim.
The plaintiffs also say that travelers who have had their electronic devices searched at the border run increased odds of being subject to future device searches as they can be flagged in government databases for additional scrutiny on that basis.