Chatsworth, Apr 1 (AP/UNB) — Authorities say fire whipped by high winds has spread over thousands of acres of state land in New Jersey's Pine Barrens, a forested area of coastal plain that stretches more than 1 million acres.
State environmental protection department officials say the blaze was reported Saturday afternoon in Penn State Forest in Woodland Township.
Department spokesman Larry Hajna (HAY-nah) said Sunday afternoon the blaze had grown to 10,000 acres (40 sq. kilometers) with about 75 percent containment. Officials said plumes of smoke were visible from as far as Freehold, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) away.
Hajna says a portion of Route 72, the main road across the Pinelands, has been closed. No homes or businesses are endangered and no injuries or mandatory evacuations have been reported. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.
Venezuela, Apr 1 (AP/UNB) —Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced a 30-day plan to ration electricity as nationwide power cuts continue to inflict misery on millions of people.
Maduro said Sunday on national television that the plan will help deal with the outages that have also cut off water supply and communications for days at a time.
Maduro is also warning against any unrest in reaction to the blackouts, although there were already scattered protests earlier Sunday following a call by opposition leader Juan Guaido to demonstrate against the government's failure to provide basic services.
Guaido says years of government neglect and corruption has left the electrical grid in shambles after years of mismanagement. Maduro alleges U.S.-led sabotage is the cause of the power cuts, although he has not provided clear evidence.
Another day, another blackout.
Power went out across Venezuela on Sunday, just as it did on Saturday, and the day before that.
But while some electricity had returned by Sunday afternoon, jittery Venezuelans weren't so much celebrating the lights coming on as wondering when the next outages would flick them off.
"No one can put up with this. We spend almost all day without electricity," said Karina Camacho, a 56-year-old housewife who was about to buy a chicken when electronic payment machines stopped working. "There's been no water since (last) Monday, you can't call by phone, we can't pay with cards or even eat."
As the latest blackout unfolded, many took to balconies and building windows to bang pots in protest and shout curses at President Nicolas Maduro, who they consider responsible for the power failures.
Others responded to a call by opposition leader Juan Guaido to demonstrate against the government, blocking roads and burning rubbish until "colectivos," or frequently armed government supporters, appeared to arrive on motorbikes. Some of the protests occurred near the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, in a direct challenge to Maduro.
The ongoing blackouts now mark another point of tension in a country paralyzed by political and economic turmoil, compounding a humanitarian crisis and deepening a prolonged standoff between two political parties vying for power.
New York, Mar 31 (AP/UNB) — Cities around the world marked Earth Hour on Saturday by turning off lights at 8:30 p.m. local time in a call for global action on climate change.
Earth Hour, spearheaded by the World Wildlife Fund, calls for greater awareness and more sparing use of resources, especially fossil fuels that produce carbon gases and lead to global warming. Beginning in Sydney in 2007, Earth Hour has spread to more than 180 countries, with tens of millions of people joining in.
The Empire State Building participated as clocks hit 8:30 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast with a dimming of the skyscrapers' lights.
In Hong Kong, major buildings along Victoria Harbour turned off their non-essential lights and the city's popular tourist attraction known as the Symphony of Lights was canceled.
Over 3,000 corporations in Hong Kong signed up for Earth Hour 2019, according to the WWF Hong Kong website. Iconic skyscrapers including the Bank of China Tower and the HSBC Building in Central, the city's major business district, switched off their lights in response to the global movement.
The City of Lights also turned off the Eiffel Tower's nightly twinkle to mark Earth Hour. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo dimmed the lights Saturday on the city's most famous monument for an hour.
In Italy, public buildings and historical monuments in 400 cities participated in Earth Hour. Lights were also switched off at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
Some of most emblematic architectural treasures in Spain participated, including the Alhambra palace in Granada and Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia basilica.
In Taipei, Taiwan's capital, the island's tallest building, Taipei 101, joined surrounding buildings in shutting off the lights as part of the Earth Hour event.
In coal-reliant Poland, top tourist sites also turned off their lights when local clocks hit 8:30 p.m. In the country's capital city, Warsaw, the spired landmark Palace of Culture and Science turned off its night illumination, along with some churches and Old Town walls.
Lights were also switched off in several landmarks in the Greek capital. The Acropolis, Athens City Hall and Lycabettus Hill, towering above the Athens center, went dark and the Parliament building joined in. However, the Athens mayor's calls for the people to join in by turning off the lights in their houses went mostly unheeded.
Philippines, Mar 31 (AP/UNB) — Philippine police say 14 suspected communist rebels have been killed after they opened fire during raids but rights groups countered the men were farmers and the latest victim of extrajudicial killings.
Regional police chief Debold Sinas says police backed by army troops were to conduct court-authorized home searches Saturday in three towns in Negros Oriental province when the 14 violently fought back. Fifteen others were arrested while six escaped in the anti-insurgency and criminality sweep.
Human rights and farmers' groups on Sunday condemned the killings of the men they said were farmers, including two village chiefs, and called for an independent investigation.
They say six farmers were killed and more than 50 others arrested in similar police raids in December in the central region.
Gaza Strip, Mar 31 (AP/UNB) — Five rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel early Sunday, the Israeli military announced, following a day of mass protests that saw Israeli troops kill four Palestinians near the territory's border.
The rocket attack threatens to undermine Egyptian-mediated efforts to cement a deal that the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers hope will ease a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockage of the crowded territory.
No casualties were reported and no Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rockets, though they appeared to be in retaliation for the deaths of the protesters.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied in the Gaza Strip on Saturday to mark the anniversary of their mass protests along the Israeli border.
Most demonstrators kept their distance from the border, though small crowds of activists approached the perimeter fence and threw stones and explosives toward Israeli troops on the other side. The forces responded with tear gas and opened fire, killing four Palestinians and wounding 64.
Hamas had pledged to keep the crowds a safe distance from the fence to avoid inflaming the political atmosphere during negotiations of a possible easing of the blockade.
Hamas officials say that Israel is offering a package of economic incentives in exchange for calm along the volatile border.
Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, said the group had received "positive signs" from the Egyptians. He added that the Egyptian team was to return to Israel on Sunday to continue the talks. "We will continue our marches until all our goals are achieved," he said.
Saturday's protest came at a sensitive time, with Israel and Hamas, bitter enemies that have fought three wars and dozens of smaller skirmishes, both having a strong interest in keeping things quiet.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking his fourth consecutive term in April 9 elections, but is facing a serious challenge from a group of ex-army chiefs who have criticized what they say is his failed Gaza policy. With a lack of alternatives, Netanyahu has been forced at times to rely on Hamas to maintain stability along Israel's volatile southern front.
In the final stretch of the campaign, Netanyahu needs to keep the Israel-Gaza frontier quiet, without seeming to make concessions to Hamas. Netanyahu took heavy criticism this week for what was seen as a soft response to renewed rocket fire out of Gaza.
Hamas, meanwhile, faces growing unrest in Gaza as a result of worsening conditions after more than a decade of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. The two countries imposed the blockade in 2007 after Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel's destruction, seized control of Gaza from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.
The blockade has helped drive unemployment over 50 percent, led to chronic power outages and made it extremely difficult for Gazans to travel out of the territory.
Earlier this month, Hamas violently suppressed several days of public protests, staged under the slogan "We want to live," over the dire conditions.
Speaking on the group's Al-Aqsa TV station, Hamas' top leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar, praised the protesters. "With this big turnout, our people say, 'We want to live!"
His use of the protesters' slogan appeared to be aimed at diverting the recent criticism of his group. Hamas blames the blockade and punitive measures by its West Bank-based Palestinian Authority for worsening the living conditions.
The fence protests, which began exactly a year ago, have been aimed in large part at breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza, but haven't delivered major improvements.
Saturday's demonstrations were held at five rallying points along the border with Israel. Dozens of volunteers in fluorescent vests were deployed to restrain demonstrators, and cool rainy weather also appeared to affect enthusiasm.
But as the crowds swelled throughout the afternoon in response to Hamas' calls for a large turnout, dozens of protesters approached the fence, unfurling Palestinian flags and throwing rocks and explosives toward Israeli soldiers. The Israeli forces responded with tear gas and live fire.
The Israeli military estimated 40,000 Palestinians were gathered at the marches.
"The rioters are hurling rocks and setting tires on fire. In addition, a number of grenades and explosive devices have been hurled at the Gaza Strip security fence," it said in a statement.
In a statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the army's preparation and performance in maintaining "calm."
Gaza's Health Ministry said that a 17-year-old protester died immediately after being shot in the face in east Gaza City. In the evening, the ministry said another 17-year-old died hours after being shot in the chest in a different protest location.
A third teenager, also aged 17, succumbed to his wounds and died in the late evening. A 21-year-old Palestinian also died around dawn after sustaining injuries in overnight protests before the main demonstration.
While bloodshed was not avoided, it was far less than previous high-profile protests. Over 60 people were killed during intense protests on May 14, the day the U.S. moved its embassy to Jerusalem.
As Saturday's protest was winding down, organizers vowed to continue the marches and said they would gather again as usual next Friday.
The military released video footage showing large crowds of protesters gathered near the fence and hurling objects.
In one scene, a group of activists went up to the fence and hurled stones at the other side. In another scene, a youth could be seen trying to pull apart barbed wire along the fence.
The army also said it caught two young Palestinian children who had tried to cross the border with a knife. The children were returned to Gaza through a border crossing.
Earlier on Saturday, Gaza health officials said Israeli troops shot and killed a 21-year-old Palestinian man near the perimeter fence, hours before the mass rally.
The army said about 200 Palestinians "rioted during the night along the fence" and that the army used riot dispersal means against them.
The marches near were initially organized by grassroots activists who were calling for a mass return to ancestral homes in what is now Israel.
Hamas quickly took the lead in the protests, using the gatherings to call for an easing of the blockade.
The border marches routinely ended in confrontations, with some of the Palestinian demonstrators burning tires, hurling fire bombs or setting off explosives and Israeli troops firing live rounds and tear gas.
According to a Gaza rights group and a count by The Associated Press, 196 Palestinians were killed in the demonstrations over the past year, including 41 minors, and thousands were wounded by live fire. An Israeli soldier was also killed in the context of the marches.
Israel says the army has been defending the border. The army accuses Hamas of using the large crowds as cover and encouraging demonstrators to hurl explosives, incendiary balloons and grenades across the border. But Israel has come under heavy international criticism for the large number of unarmed people who have been harmed.
Egypt has repeatedly tried to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, stepping up efforts in recent days after a Gaza rocket struck a house in central Israel earlier this week, injuring seven Israelis and threatening renewed escalation.