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    Nearly five years after a coup, Thailand voted Sunday in a long-delayed election setting a military-backed party against the populist political force the generals overthrew. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the blunt-speaking army chief who led the 2014 coup, is hoping to extend his hold on power after engineering a new political system that aims to stifle the influence of big political parties not aligned with the military. Voting stations closed at 5 p.m. and meaningful results were expected within several hours, but the formation of a new government could take weeks of haggling. About 51 million Thais were eligible to vote. Leaders of political parties opposed to military rule urged a high turnout as the only way to derail Prayuth's plans. Prayuth was among the first to vote in Bangkok, the capital, arriving in a black Mercedes after polling booths opened at 8 a.m. 'I hope everyone helps each other by going to vote today as it's everyone's right,' he told reporters after voting. He played golf later in the morning before heading to an army base to await results. The election is the latest chapter in a nearly two-decade struggle between conservative forces including the military and the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon who upended tradition-bound Thailand's politics with a populist political revolution. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in exile abroad to avoid a prison term, but parties allied with him have won every election since 2001. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the government that was ousted in 2014, also fled the country after what supporters said was a politically motivated corruption prosecution. After the coup, political party gatherings were banned and pro-democracy activists and other dissenters were regularly arrested, interrogated and imprisoned. Just days before Sunday's election, the Thaksin-allied Pheu Thai party said the houses of party officials and its campaign canvassers in some provinces were searched by military personnel in an act of intimidation. The party's leader, Sudarat Keyuraphan, said after voting in Bangkok's Ladprao district that she was confident of winning. 'I don't say it'll be a landslide. I don't know. Depends on the people. But I think we can win this election,' she said. Thailand's powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn issued a statement on the eve of the election that said the role of leaders is to stop 'bad people' from gaining power and causing chaos. It was also broadcast on Thai television stations minutes before voting started. Invoking a speech by his father, the previous Thai king who died in 2016 after reigning for seven decades, Vajiralongkorn said not all citizens can be transformed into good people so leaders must be given support in ruling to create a peaceful nation. He urged government officials, soldiers and civil servants to look after national security. It was the monarch's second notable intervention in politics recently. Last month, he demanded his sister Princess Ubolratana Mahidol withdraw as a prime ministerial candidate for a small Thaksin-allied party within 24 hours of her announcement. First-time voter Napasapan Wongchotipan said she hopes for positive changes after the election. 'I have no idea what the results will be like,' she said. 'But I do wish that the party that we will get, the party that wins the votes, will come in and improve our country.' Thais were voting for a 500-seat parliament that along with a 250-member junta-appointed Senate will decide the country's next prime minister. That setup means a military-backed figure such as Prayuth could become leader even while lacking a majority in parliament. 'The biggest challenge of this election is whether it will mark the beginning of a transitional democracy in Thailand. I hope to see that, but it seems to be a very dimmed hope,' said Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. 'It might end up with the election being used as a façade for a new authoritarian ruler or we might end up with another round of conflicts and polarization,' she said. Political parties and their main leaders held their final major rallies on Friday evening in Bangkok. Sudarat said Pheu Thai would fight to overcome constitutional hurdles erected against it by Prayuth's regime. 'In 2014, they took power with the barrel of a gun, by a coup,' she said. 'In 2019, they are trying to take away the people's power again through crooked regulations under the constitution.' When it seized power in 2014, the military said it was to end political unrest that had periodically turned violent and disrupted daily life and the economy. The claim has been one of the few selling points for the gruff Prayuth, who according to critics has overseen a period of growing inequality and economic hardship in Thailand. 'I want things to improve,' Narate Wongthong said after voting. 'We had too many conflicts in the past and I want to see lots of people come out and vote.' ___ Associated Press journalists Preeyapa T. Khunsong, Hau Dinh and Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report.
  • A Texas woman got an early start to celebrating her 105th birthday, joining more than 150 family members for a party at a San Antonio church, KSAT reported. >> Read more trending news  Minnie McRae, who turns 105 on Tuesday, was the guest of honor at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church on Saturday, the television station reported. McRae’s nephew, Arturo Ayala, flew from Germany to attend the party for a woman who taught him how to dance by giving him lessons in her living room, KSAT reported.  Ayala said he believes he knows the secret to his aunt’s long life 'She's never shared it, but from my relationship with her, I see her always praying and ... always reading,' Ayala told the television station.  Ayala also said McRae was very spiritual and did work with Incarnate Word. 'She's a blessing and she's a miracle,' Ayala told KSAT.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand is calling President Donald Trump a 'coward' who 'punches down' and says that he is 'tearing apart the moral fabric of our country.' Gillibrand is set to say even more about Trump on Sunday as she stands in front of one of his signature New York properties. In what her campaign is calling Gillibrand's first major speech as a presidential candidate, the New York senator says in prepared remarks that the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Manhattan is 'a shrine to greed, division and vanity.' The Associated Press obtained the prepared remarks. Gillibrand is trying to position herself in the crowded field of Democrats seeking the party's nomination. While some hopefuls have shied away from mentioning Trump, Gillibrand has not hesitated to do so. 'He demonizes the vulnerable and he punches down. He puts his name in bold on every building,' Gillibrand says in the prepared remarks. 'He does all of this because he wants you to believe he is strong. He is not. Our president is a coward.' Gillibrand's speech comes as the nation awaits the key findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, which has loomed over Trump's presidency. Attorney General William Barr is preparing to release the investigation's 'principal findings' to Congress on Sunday. Gillibrand has said that Mueller's report should be made public quickly and that, regardless of what the report says, it's clear that Trump has undermined American democracy. The speech in front of the Trump International Hotel & Tower appears to be a re-launch of Gillibrand's campaign. She announced last January that she was exploring a run, then spent months traveling the country campaigning and raising money. In her remarks for Sunday, Gillibrand praises the bravery of high school students organizing to end gun violence, young people brought to the country illegally as children who are fighting for 'their right to call this country home,' and 'of course, the formerly well-behaved women who organized, ran for office, voted and won in 2018.' 'That is brave,' she says. Gillibrand also talks about her own courage, which she says is evidenced by her ability to win a House seat in a district seen as a Republican stronghold, by fighting for funds to cover the cost of medical care for rescue workers and survivors of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, and by fighting on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and harassment at the Pentagon, in Congress and on college campuses.
  • More than 450 passengers were airlifted off a cruise ship that got stranded off Norway's western coast in bad weather before the rescue operation was suspended Sunday so the vessel could be towed to a nearby port, Norwegian authorities said. Five helicopters flying in the pitch dark took the evacuated passengers from the tossing ship in a painstaking process that continued throughout the night. The rescues took place under difficult conditions that included wind gusts up to 38 knots (43 mph) and waves over 8 meters (26 feet). Some 17 people were hospitalized with injuries, police said. Passenger Alexus Sheppard told The Associated Press in a message sent from the Viking Sky that people with injuries or disabilities were winched off the cruise ship first. The atmosphere onboard grew calmer after the rescue operation's first dramatic hours, Sheppard said. 'It was frightening at first. And when the general alarm sounded it became VERY real,' she wrote. Photos posted on social media showed the ship listing from side to side, and furniture smashing violently into walls. 'We saw two people taken off by stretcher,' another passenger, Dereck Brown, told Norwegian newspaper Romsdal Budstikke. 'People were alarmed. Many were frightened but they were calm.' The Viking Sky carried 1,373 passengers and crew members when it had engine trouble in an unpredictable area of the Norwegian coast known for rough, frigid waters. The crew issued a mayday call Saturday afternoon. Police said the crew, fearing the ship would run aground, managed to anchor in Hustadvika Bay so the evacuations could take place. Coast guard official Emil Heggelund estimated to newspaper VG that the ship was 100 meters (328 feet) from striking rocks under the water and 900 meters (2,953 feet) from shore when it stopped. The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames. The passengers mostly were a mix of American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens. The airlifts continued at a steady pace Sunday morning, as the vessel was being prepared for towing by two tugboats to the nearby town of Molde, according to Per Fjerd at the Joint Rescue Coordination Center. The helicopters stopped taking people off the ship when the ship was ready for the trip to shore, and 463 passengers had been evacuated by that time, the Joint Rescue center said. Three of the ship's four engines were working as of Sunday morning, the center said. The Viking Sky, a vessel with a gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.
  • Residents of Australia's northwest coast were bracing for a torrid night of fierce winds and heavy rain on Sunday as the country's second major cyclone of the weekend slowly wound toward land. A day after Cyclone Trevor hit a remote part of the Northern Territory coast, slow-moving Cyclone Veronica settled just off the coast about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) to the west, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia state. While that area is also lightly populated, residents were warned that because the cyclone was moving unusually slowly — at less than 1 kilometer (half a mile) per hour — they would likely have to shelter for several hours. A Category 3 storm on a scale in which 5 is the strongest, Veronica had winds of up to 220 kph (136 mph). It initially had been forecast to strike the coast on Sunday afternoon, but its movement slowed appreciably for several hours, its center sitting some 30 kilometers (18 miles) out to sea as coastal areas were battered by wind and rain. James Ashley, a senior forecaster from Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, said Veronica was unique because of its slow speed, which would bring a long danger period. 'We are expecting a prolonged period — 12 hours or more — of destructive winds near the core of the cyclone,' Ashley said. On Sunday evening, the Bureau predicted Veronica would weaken and start heading west, passing briefly over the coast as a Category 1 storm near the town of Dampier on Monday afternoon, before heading back to sea. Some 60,000 people live in the area most affected by Veronica, but the region is said to be generally well prepared for cyclones. With Trevor downgraded on Sunday to a tropical low pressure system as it moved inland, the more than 2,000 people evacuated from Northern Territory coastal areas in its path began moving back home. Officials were awaiting word on any damage to property and livestock. Flood warnings were still in effect for inland areas as the system moved southeast. Cyclones are frequent in Australia's tropical north but rarely claim lives. Still, two large storms such as Trevor and Veronica hitting on the same weekend is rare.
  • A Florida deputy was arrested after an altercation at a Jacksonville nightclub, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office reported. >> Read more trending news  According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Officer Rodney Bryant, a 5 1/2-year member of the department, was involved in a dispute Friday at Mascara's Gentlemen's Club with his girlfriend and her friend.  Bryant has been charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He has been terminated from his position in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. According to deputies, the group left the club but the dispute continued in a vehicle. This was when Bryant allegedly pulled over, opened the trunk of his vehicle and pulled out a firearm.  Bryant allegedly pointed the gun at the two women, making threats, according to the Sheriff’s Office.  They were all pulled over long enough for the girlfriend's friend to make contact with her sister, who later arrived at the scene, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The girl's sister observed Bryant with the firearm making threats and that he pointed the firearm at her, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
  • A Marine killed in action during the Vietnam War nearly 50 years ago was honored in a memorial service Saturday, and a headstone and plaque were erected at his gravesite at a South Florida cemetery, the Sun-Sentinel reported. >> Read more trending news  Private First Class Gregory Carter was killed in action Oct. 12, 1969, in the Quang Ngai province of South Vietnam, according to according to a Vietnam military casualties database on Ancestry.com. He was remembered in a service attended by nearly 200 people Saturday at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Fort Lauderdale, the Sun-Sentinel reported. “It’s like he woke up to the world again,” Carter’s brother, Anthony Owens, told the newspaper. “His life is meaningful. It means something.” “No, I did not (expect this many people). It raised our spirits, big time.” Carter laid in an unmarked grave until the Vietnam Veterans of America discovered him while searching for photographs of Vietnam veterans to place on the black granite Wall of Faces in Washington, D.C., the Sun-Sentinel reported. Carter was drafted into the Marines on July 4, 1969, when he was 19, according to the Ancestry.com database. He already had a young son and a daughter was on the way, but Carter would never know either of them, the newspaper reported. The Vietnam Veterans of America worked with the city of Fort Lauderdale and others to get Carter’s grave marker, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The organization also secured a photograph from a baseball team photograph in the Dillard High School yearbook, the newspaper reported. Gregory Carter now lies with his mother, grandparents, three siblings and other relatives at Sunset Memorial Gardens. “If you die you’re just lost until somebody thinks about you again,” Anthony Owens told the Sun-Sentinel. “So his spirit is probably all around us right now. It’s a good thing. He’s doing good.”
  • Supporters of a pro-Kurdish party in Turkey are planning to rally for local elections that will test the Turkish president's popularity. The Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, is holding the rally Sunday in Istanbul amid a polarized race for municipal seats and a crackdown on its members by the government for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants considered terrorists by Turkey and its Western allies. Party lawmakers and mayors have been jailed. The party has fielded candidates for the March 31 vote in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast but is sitting out critical races in Turkey's major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara. That way it aims to send HDP votes to Turkey's main secular opposition party to help challenge Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party. Millions of ethnic Kurds will vote in the March 31 election.
  • Prime Minister Theresa May faces growing pressure from within her own party either to resign or to set a date for stepping down as a way to build support for her Brexit agreement with the European Union, British media reported Sunday. Senior Conservative Party figures were urging May to recognize her weakened political position and leave the prime minister's post. However, there was no indication from Downing Street a resignation was near. May thus far has been unable to generate enough support in Parliament for the withdrawal deal her government and the EU reached late last year. Lawmakers voted down the Brexit plan twice, and May has raised the possibility of bringing it back a third time if enough legislators appear willing to switch their votes. The U.K.'s departure from the EU long was set to take place on March 29, but the absence of an approved divorce agreement prompted May last week to ask the leaders of the 27 remaining member nations for a postponement. The leaders rejected May's request to extend the deadline until June 30. Instead, they agreed to delay Brexit until May 22, on the eve of EU Parliament elections, if the prime minister can persuade Parliament to endorse the twice-rejected agreement. If she is unable to rally support for the withdrawal agreement, the European leaders said Britain only has until April 12 to choose between leaving the EU without a divorce deal and a radically new path, such as revoking the decision to leave the bloc or calling another voter referendum on Brexit. Parliament may take a series of votes this week to determine what proposals, if any, could command majority support. Conservative Party legislator George Freeman tweeted Saturday night that the U.K. needs a new leader if the Brexit process is to move forward. 'I'm afraid it's all over for the PM. She's done her best. But across the country you can see the anger. Everyone feels betrayed,' Freeman tweeted. 'This can't go on. We need a new PM who can reach out & build some sort of coalition for a Plan B/' Under Conservative Party rules, May cannot face a formal leadership challenge from within her own party until December because she survived one three months ago. But she may be persuaded that her position is untenable if Cabinet ministers and other senior party members desert her. Her bid for fresh support for her withdrawal plan has so far failed to win backing from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which usually provides crucial votes for May's minority government. She also faces pressure from groups demanding a second Brexit referendum. Huge crowds turned out Saturday for an anti-Brexit protest march in London. Organizers claimed more than 1 million people attended. ___ Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
  • A driver working with NBC News reporters in Syria was killed Saturday by an explosive device in eastern Syria, where several media outlets are covering the liberation of the last sliver of territory held by the Islamic State group. Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, said in a statement that NBC employees escaped unharmed, and expressed 'deepest sympathies' to the driver's family and loved ones. 'We are still gathering information from today's events, and are in touch with the driver's family to support them however we can,' he said. Several media outlets are in Syria to cover the military defeat of the Islamic State group in the small eastern village of Baghouz. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces declared victory over IS on Saturday after clearing the militants from their last position in the village following weeks of heavy fighting. IS left behind booby-traps and explosive devices, and there may be unexploded munitions in the area following U.S.-led airstrikes. The explosion happened in a house used as a command post by the SDF and a media center for reporters. The SDF was storing munitions inside the building. The victory announced Saturday marks the end of the extremist group's self-styled caliphate, which once sprawled across a third of Syria and Iraq. However, unknown numbers of fighters and supporters are believed to have gone underground, and the group continues to carry out insurgent attacks in both countries.