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    The U.S. military says it is investigating reports of an airplane crash in Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan. U.S. Army Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, said that it remained unclear whose aircraft was involved in the crash. Riordan declined to immediately comment further. However, pictures on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft, which the U.S. military uses for electronic surveillance over Afghanistan. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP's earlier story follows below. A passenger plane from Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines crashed Monday in a Taliban-held area of the eastern Ghazni province, local officials said. However, Ariana Airlines told The Associated Press that none of its planes had crashed in Afghanistan. The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled. The number of people on board and their fate was not immediately known, nor was the cause of the crash. Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the plane went down around 1:10 p.m. local time (8:40 a.m. GMT) in Deh Yak district, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the capital Kabul. He said the crash site is in territory controlled by the Taliban. Two provincial council members also confirmed the crash. But the acting director for Ariana Airlines, Mirwais Mirzakwal, dismissed reports that one the company's aircraft had crashed. The state-owned airline also released a statement on its website saying all its aircraft were operational and safe. The mountainous Ghazni province sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains and is bitterly cold in winter. The Taliban currently control or hold sway over around half the country. The last major commercial air crash in Afghanistan occurred in 2005, when a Kam Air flight from the western city of Herat to Kabul crashed into the mountains as it tried to land in snowy weather. The war, however, has seen a number of deadly crashes of military aircraft. One of the most spectacular occurred in 2013 when an American Boeing 747 cargo jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram air base north of Kabul en route to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. All seven crew member were killed. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that large military vehicles were inadequately secured and had shifted during flight, causing damage to the control systems that 'rendered the airplane uncontrollable.' Afghanistan's aviation industry suffered desperately during the rule of the Taliban when Ariana, its only airline at the time, was subject to punishing sanctions and allowed to fly only to Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage. Since the overthrow of the Taliban's religious regime, smaller private airlines have emerged, but the industry is still a nascent one. ___ Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
  • Authorities in Alabama are searching for 7 people missing after a deadly fire consumed at least 35 boats docked along the Tennessee River. “We have some confirmed fatalities, but we don't have an exact number yet,” Jackson County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Rocky Harnen told The Associated Press. “We have several people who were taken to the hospital from being in the water, and some had minor burns.' Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said earlier that 7 people were hospitalized and 7 others were missing as the fire destroyed at least 35 boats docked in Jackson County Park. Harnen said officials are trying to account for about seven people who had places on the dock. 'They had slips here,' Harnen. “That doesn't mean they're in the water and it doesn't mean they're dead. We're making attempts to find them.” Crews were called to the fire at about 12:30 a.m. on Monday. The chief said most of the vessels were houseboats. The Jackson County Emergency Management Agency says firefighting and rescue operations have been taking place on land and in the water. The park on the Tennessee River includes a boat ramp, a dock and a restaurant, and offers boat rentals, according to Jackson County's government website.
  • Kobe Bryant was “an outstanding and true Olympic champion,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Monday. The basketball great, who was killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday, helped the United States win Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2012 London Games. Bryant also worked with the Olympic hosting bid for Los Angeles, the city where he won five NBA titles with the Lakers. When Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Olympics, men’s basketball will be played at the Staples Center, where Bryant played with the Lakers. “He embraced the power of sport to change people’s lives,” Bach said in a statement published by the International Olympic Committee. “After retiring from the game he loved so much, he continued to support the Olympic Movement and was an inspiration for the Olympic Games LA 2028.” Bryant narrated the final filmed segment of the L.A. bid team’s presentation in July 2017. He was a member of the bid's board of directors. “There are so many different cultures represented here, so many different ethnicities represented here,” he said of Los Angeles in the video. “It’s an opportunity to learn no matter where you look.” The 41-year-old Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died in the crash in Calabasas in foggy weather conditions Sunday morning. “We will all miss his energy and his humble nature,' Bach said. 'Our thoughts are with his family and friends and all the other victims.” International basketball federation secretary general Andreas Zagklis described Bryant as a “sun in the basketball universe, shining on and off the court.” ___ More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • An international drug operation involving authorities from six countries captured a yacht carrying almost 2 metric tons of cocaine in the middle of an Atlantic storm. Portugal’s navy and air force took part in the seizure, with a street value of more than 70 million euros ($77 million), amid “very difficult weather conditions,” a Portuguese police statement said Monday. The Portuguese operation was supported by police in Brazil, the U.S., Britain, France and Spain. Intelligence-gathering that helped locate and intercept the yacht was coordinated by the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre -- Narcotics, based in Lisbon. Two foreign men aged 51 and 53 were arrested in the operation, Portuguese police said.
  • The Czech government on Monday approved a Defense Ministry plan to deploy up to 60 troops as part of France's anti-terror mission in Africa. The service members will join Operation Barkhane, France's largest overseas military mission. It has been working to root out Islamic militants roaming the Sahel region. The government said Mali, Niger and Chad approved the Czech deployment. The Czechs will help local troops fight Islamic militants. The plan to deploy Czech forces in the mission until the end of 2022 still needs parliamentary approval. The Czechs already have some 120 troops in Mali as a part of an European Union training mission.
  • A car carrying Syrians crashed early Monday in northern Greece, police said, injuring all 14 people in the vehicle that is believed to have crossed the border clandestinely . Police said the car had been travelling along an old highway in northern Greece toward the country’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki around 2 a.m. when it failed to stop for a police check. The car’s driver then lost control of the vehicle and crashed. Greek police said all were from Syria: 11 men, one woman and two teenage children. Eight, including the teenagers, were treated for their injuries in a hospital and released. The other six remained hospitalized, including the suspected driver, a 22-year-old man. Thousands of migrants and refugees still arrive in Greece from neighboring Turkey each year. Most come by sea to the nearby Greek islands but others use the land border, wading, swimming or rowing across the river that divides Turkey and Greece. They then pack into smugglers' cars and head to Greece's cities.
  • A Portuguese hacker is claiming responsibility for leaking confidential documents implicating the billionaire daughter of a former prominent African leader in alleged murky international business deals. Lawyers for Rui Pinto, who is in a Lisbon jail awaiting trial in a separate case, said in a statement Monday he gave the information about Isabel dos Santos to the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, an advocacy group based in Paris, in 2018. Dos Santos is a daughter of Angola's former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos and is reputedly Africa’s richest woman after holding top jobs in Angola and a high-profile international career. The document trove was investigated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its affiliates, which produced an explosive report a week ago. The report incriminates not only Dos Santos, her husband and her close associates but also banks and businesses in Europe and the Middle East. Angolan authorities suspect Dos Santos of money-laundering, embezzlement, mismanagement, influence-peddling, forgery. They are demanding she repay at least $1.1 billion. Dos Santos has denied any wrongdoing. The more than 715,000 documents leaked by the Portuguese hacker detail allegedly unscrupulous deals by Dos Santos to build her estimated $2 billion fortune. Portugal is the southwest African country's former colonial ruler, and many of the documents were written in Portuguese. Pinto's lawyers, William Bourdon and Francisco Teixeira da Mota, said in a statement their client acted out of “a duty of citizenship” and received no financial reward. Gerard Ryle, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, said on its website Monday: “The documents came from a concerned citizen — someone doing the right thing by the public.” Pinto, however, has been in jail for almost a year after Portugal extradited him from Hungary. He is charged with publishing internal documents that embarrassed soccer clubs and officials in the Football Leaks case. Pinto denies wrongdoing in that case, saying he is a whistleblower who acted in the public interest.
  • Supporters of a regional pact that would tackle transportation emissions are struggling to win over several New England governors concerned that the climate change initiative will increase gas prices. After the Transportation and Climate Initiative was announced last month, New Hampshire's Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said the state won't join, citing fears of a gas price hike. Vermont's Republican Gov. Phil Scott said he couldn't support the initiative if it amounts to a tax on carbon. A spokesman for Maine's Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said the state has yet to sign a draft memorandum of understanding for the TCI, citing the unique challenges of addressing transportation in a rural state. The initiative is aimed at a dozen Northeast and mid-Atlantic states and would take effect in 2022. It would address pollution from transportation — which represents 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the region, the largest source of emissions. The area has tens of millions of registered vehicles. New Jersey has not committed to implementing the initiative while a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said his administration was still examining it. Virginia is also reviewing the draft memorandum. “I am happy to see that other Governors are following my lead in rightfully sounding the alarm on this new gas tax,' Sununu said in a statement. 'New Hampshire is proof that the best environmental stewardship can be achieved without massive tax schemes.” Many of the states are already part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which covers 10 states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic and targets emissions from the power sector. Under the agreement, wholesale fuel companies would be required to purchase pollution allowances at auction. The sale of those allowances could generate billions for states to invest in carbon-reducing transportation options — like electric buses, electric car charging stations, bike lanes and sidewalks. The initiative could lead to emissions reductions in the region by as much as 25% by 2032. But the opposition appears be around a potential gas price hike. If fuel companies pass the cost of the allowances onto consumers, the price of gas in the region could climb by five cents to 17 cents per gallon in 2022, when the pact would take effect. Among the pact's opponents is Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers. The group's New Hampshire chapter came out against the TCI the same day as Sununu, calling the initiative a top-down government mandate that would 'punish hardworking Granite Staters.” Supporters of the TCI said the fears over gas prices are overblown and ignore the initiative's potential benefits. “Personally I think this is political grandstanding,' said Timmons Roberts, a professor of environmental studies at Brown University. “This is the incremental change, it would be over 12 years. This is just using a well-meaning effort as a whipping boy.” But Roberts and others acknowledge that the pact needs to address the concerns of low-income and working families who must drive long distances for work or school. “Some people positively opt into this lifestyle, but many don’t. They live where they live because of family, lack of economic mobility, or other factors,” said Jason Veysey, the deputy director for the Stockholm Environment Institute's energy modeling program. “People who have to drive may be negatively affected by an increase in fuel prices,' he said. 'However, it’s worth underlining that TCI is supposed to be a cap-and-dividend program, in which higher costs for the most vulnerable are mitigated by the dividends.” The pact has been praised by many of the region's business, health and environmental leaders, including Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. He touted the pact in his State of the Commonwealth address last week as part of his plan for the state to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Other governors also appear supportive. J.J. Abbott, press secretary for Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, said the state was “committed to being a part of the TCI conversations,” but would make no decision on joining “until the program is fully designed.' Josh Block, a spokesman for Rhode Island's Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, said she is “fully committed to the goals of the Transportation Climate Initiative,” but that the specific statutory and regulatory changes needed to meet those goals 'will be the source of public discussion and input over the coming year.' Jordan Stutt, the carbon programs director of the Acadia Center, an environmental research and advocacy nonprofit, said states understand the need to address transport emissions. The initiative could also help improve air quality, boost economies and improve transport, especially in rural areas, he said. According to information on the TCI website, modeling has showing public health benefits of as much as $10 billion annually by 2032, including over 1,000 fewer premature deaths. It would also generate up to $7 billion annually that could be invested into expanding transport choices for rural, urban and suburban communities. “Without any viable alternative to this program, the states will not be able to achieve their climate goals,” Stutt said. ___ Associated Press writers David Sharp in Maine, Wilson Ring in Vermont, Michael Catalini in New Jersey, Mark Scolforo in Pennsylvania and Susan Haigh in Connecticut contributed to this report.
  • By her own account, Mimi Haleyi once rebuffed one of Harvey Weinstein’s relentless advances by telling him, “I hear you have a terrible reputation with women.” Haleyi says she didn’t know just how terrible the then-revered Hollywood honcho could be until he sexually assaulted her in his New York City apartment in 2006 — an episode she’s expected to detail as a witness Monday at Weinstein’s rape trial. Weinstein, 67, is charged with forcibly performing oral sex on the former production assistant and raping another woman, an aspiring actress, in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013. He insists any sexual encounters were consensual. Haleyi, whose legal name is Miriam Haley, will be the first of the two women whose accusations are at the heart of the charges against Weinstein to take the stand at the closely watched #MeToo-era trial, which is entering its fourth day of testimony. Last week, “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra testified that Weinstein overpowered and raped her after barging into her apartment in the mid-1990s. While outside the statute of limitations for criminal charges, Sciorra's allegations could be a factor as prosecutors look to prove Weinstein has engaged in a pattern of predatory behavior. Haleyi went public with her allegations at an October 2017 news conference, appearing in front of cameras alongside lawyer Gloria Allred, who also represents Sciorra and other Weinstein accusers. Haleyi, born in England and raised in Sweden, said she met Weinstein while in her 20s at the 2004 London premiere of the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Aviator.” They crossed paths again at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006 and, when she expressed interest in working on one of his productions, he invited her to his hotel room and asked for a massage. Haleyi said she refused, replying, “No sorry, I’m not a masseuse.” More meetings followed, and Weinstein secured Haleyi a job helping on the set of “Project Runway,” the reality competition show he produced. Later, she said, he invited her to attend a fashion show in Paris, but she declined by bringing up his sketchy reputation. The alleged assault occurred at Weinstein’s Soho apartment after he sent a car to pick Haleyi up for what she thought was a friendly meeting about her career. Instead, she said, Weinstein pushed her onto a bed and forced his mouth onto her genitals. She said she tried to get him to stop, even telling him she was menstruating, but he wouldn't relent. 'I was mortified. I was in disbelief and disgusted,” she said. In opening statements, prosecutor Meghan Hast said there was a subsequent hotel room encounter that Haleyi didn't reveal in 2017. Hast said that though Haleyi didn’t want to have intercourse with Weinstein, she kept still and “let him degrade her.” The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they have been victims of sexual assault, unless they agree to be named as Haleyi and Sciorra have. In testifying, Haleyi will have to deal with a defense team that said it plans to confront Weinstein’s accusers with their own words — messages they exchanged with Weinstein well after the alleged assaults. Weinstein's lawyers argue the positive-sounding emails and texts call into question the accusers' accounts. Some of Haleyi's messages were made public last year when Weinstein’s lawyers sought to get his case dismissed. One sent to Weinstein's phone in 2007 reads: “Hi! Just wondering if u have any news on whether Harvey will have time to see me before he leaves? X Miriam.' ___ On Twitter, follow Tom Hays at twitter.com/aptomhays and Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak ___ For more coverage visit: apnews.com/HarveyWeinstein
  • With tens of millions of Chinese ordered to stay put and many others avoiding travel as a new virus spreads, tourism around the globe is taking a heavy hit during one of the biggest travel seasons in Asia, the Lunar New Year. Tourism from China was already weakening before the virus forced much of the country into a standstill. In Thailand, a favorite tropical destination for Lunar New Year travel, officials estimate potential lost revenue at 50 billion baht ($1.6 billion). In Asia and much farther away, hotels, airlines, cruise operators and others who depend on big spending Chinese tourists are ruing their absence. On Monday, China extended the week-long holiday by an extra three days to Feb. 2 to help prevent the epidemic from spreading further, as authorities announced that 2,744 people had fallen ill and 80 had died from the new virus first found in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Shanghai pushed the holiday's end back to Feb. 9. Travel agencies in China were told to cancel group tourism, and governments around the region were restricting travel from Wuhan, closely monitoring other travelers and helping arrange evacuations of some foreigners stuck in Wuhan. So far, 17 Chinese cities that are home to more than 50 million people have imposed lockdowns. In Thailand's capital, Bangkok, many drugstores ran out of surgical masks and the number of Chinese tourists appeared to be much smaller than usual for the Lunar New Year. The government announced it was handing out masks, and that the airport rail link would be disinfected. The Tourism Council of Thailand estimated revenues for the holidays would be at least 50 billion baht ($1.6 billion) lower than usual, based on an estimate of Chinese tourists usually spending about 50,000 baht ($1,600) each. That followed a downturn in arrivals from China in early 2019 after several boating accidents raised questions about the safety standards of tour operators. Overall, a few months ago the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute predicted 7 million outbound trips for Chinese New Year this year, up from 6.3 million in 2019. Anti-government protests in Hong Kong have left many from the Chinese mainland wary of visiting that popular destination and more likely to travel farther afield. The same goes for the self-governed island of Taiwan, where heavy voter turnout in elections earlier this month favored candidates who do not favor uniting with Beijing as China's leaders insist must happen eventually. Chinese made about 134 million trips in 2019, according to official figures, up 4.5% from a year earlier but a much slower rate of increase than the nearly 15% growth seen in 2018. Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea tend to be favorite destinations. Tourism from China to the U.S. was already on a decline even before the coronavirus hit, hurt by the prolonged trade dispute between Beijing and Washington. In 2018, travel from China to the U.S. fell for the first time in 15 years, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office, which collects data from U.S. Customs forms. The office has forecast a further decline of 5% in 2019. It was predicting a return to slow but steady growth in 2020 and beyond, and it isn't clear how the outbreak and latest travel restrictions might change that. China ranks fifth overall in the number of tourists it sends to the U.S., behind Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Japan. In Europe, Chinese tourists tend to be big spenders and to visit fashion capitals like Paris, Milan and London to buy luxury goods items. In Britain, Chinese visitors were second only to tourists from the Middle East in how much they spent per visit - about $2,200 on average in 2018. That sum is down from previous years, in part due to the fact that luxury goods are becoming more accessible and affordable in China. But the number of Chinese visiting Britain keeps growing, quadrupling since 2010. The impact of the crisis will be difficult to estimate accurately, given the wide range of businesses likely to be affected, apart from the trips cancelled, fewer shop-til-you-drop mall visits, restaurant meals and hotel stays. “The structural changes to the global economy complicate the economic analysis of this because there are linkages within economies, across sectors, and across international trade and capital flows that need to be factored,' Stephen Innes, chief market strategist for AxiCorp, said in a commentary. In fact, the already diminished flow of Chinese tourists to the U.S. thanks to the trade war means that market may suffer less of a direct hit, he said.