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World

    Emboldened by a supportive White House, Israel appears to be barreling toward a showdown with the international community over its half-century-old settlement enterprise in the West Bank. With the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court poised to launch a war crimes probe of Israel’s settlement policies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced plans to move ahead with the potentially explosive annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank, including dozens of Jewish settlements. He spoke in Washington as President Donald Trump unveiled a Mideast peace plan that matches Netanyahu's nationalistic stance and undercuts Palestinian ambitions. This confluence of forces could make 2020 the year that finally provides clarity on the status of Israeli settlements and the viability of a two-state solution. “History is knocking at the door,” Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, a patron of the settler movement, said as he urged Netanyahu to immediately annex all of Israel’s settlements and snuff out any hopes for Palestinian independence. “Now the campaign is moving from the White House to the Cabinet room in Jerusalem,” he said. “Take everything now.” The Palestinians want the West Bank as the core of a future independent state and see the settlements there — home to nearly 500,000 Israelis — as obstacles to their dream of independence. The international community backs this view and overwhelmingly considers the settlements to be illegal. Since capturing the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has slowly and steadily expanded its settlements while stopping short of annexing the territory. The international community condemned the construction as illegal but has refrained from imposing sanctions or serious punishment. This status quo began to change after Trump took office in early 2017. Surrounded by a team of advisers with close ties to the settlement movement, Trump took a more sympathetic line toward Israel and halted the automatic criticism of settlements of his predecessors. This resulted in a surge of Israeli construction plans that are just getting underway. “Over the next year and certainly two years, we’re going to see a sharp increase” in the settler population, said Baruch Gordon, director of West Bank Jewish Population Stats, a settler group. In its annual report, the group said the West Bank settler population grew last year to 463,353 people, in addition to some 300,000 settlers living in Israel-annexed east Jerusalem. “We’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” he said. The major turning point for Israel was in November, when the U.S. declared that it did not consider settlements to be illegal. That landmark decision appears to have played a key role in Netanyahu’s announcement that he plans to annex the Jordan Valley, a strategic area of the West Bank, and Israel’s more than 100 settlements. Ironically, this warm U.S. embrace could prove to be Netanyahu’s undoing. Moving ahead with annexations is likely to trigger harsh international condemnations and possible legal action. Last month, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, declared there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that settlement construction constitutes a war crime. Pending final approval from the court, she intends to open a formal investigation, a process that could cause deep embarrassment and discomfort for Israeli leaders. Yuval Shany, an expert on international law at the Israel Democracy Institute, said annexation would “significantly” raise the risk of triggering prosecution at the ICC. Settlements are widely viewed as illegal based on the Geneva Convention principle that an occupying power is barred from transferring its population into war-won territories. “That could be a relatively low-hanging fruit for the prosecutor to identify a specific act that is either part of the transfer or significantly aids and abets that transfer,” he said. While Israel does not accept the court’s authority, Netanyahu appears to be taking the threat of prosecution seriously. He has launched harsh attacks against Bensouda and the court, saying the case against Israel is “pure anti-Semitism.” He also has tried, with limited success, to rally international opposition to the ICC. The Palestinians joined the ICC in 2015 after they were accepted as a nonmember state at the United Nations. They then asked the court to look into alleged Israeli crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, retroactive to 2014. The date coincided with Israel’s devastating war in the Gaza Strip. In her announcement last month, Bensouda said her probe would look at Israeli military practices as well as the actions of Hamas militants during the 2014 war, in addition to settlement activity. Shany said Israel is much more vulnerable on the settlement issue than it is with regard to Gaza. Israel’s military has mechanisms to investigate alleged wrongdoing by its troops, and despite criticism that this system is insufficient, it has a good chance of fending off the ICC. When it comes to settlements, however, Israel will have a difficult time defending its actions. While the court would have a hard time prosecuting Israelis, it could issue arrest warrants that would make it difficult for Israeli officials to travel abroad. A case in the ICC would also be deeply embarrassing to the government, Shany said. “The big white whale is the settlements,” he said. “That would be a major PR disaster for the country.”
  • The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday confirmed the first cases in the Mideast of the new Chinese virus that causes flu-like symptoms, saying doctors now were treating a family that had just come from a city at the epicenter of the outbreak. The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency made the announcement citing the Health and Prevention Ministry, but offered no details on where the stricken family lived nor where they were receiving treatment. It also did not offer a number of those afflicted by the virus, other than to say the cases came from “members of a family arriving from the Chinese city of Wuhan.” The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula that includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways and is a hub for global air travel. Authorities at Abu Dhabi's airport and Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, continue to screen passengers and crew from incoming China flights. It wasn't immediately clear how the family left Wuhan and made it all the way to the UAE. China shut down Wuhan's airport and other transportation in the city last Thursday to stop the spread of the virus. The lockdown has since expanded to include 17 cities with more than 50 million people in all. Emirati officials are taking 'all the necessary precautions in accordance with the scientific recommendations, conditions and standards approved by the World Health Organization,' the ministry said. “The general health condition is not a cause for concern.' State-run and government-supporting media in the UAE carefully announced the news Wednesday, stressing that authorities said they had the situation under control. At Arab Health, a major trade show happening this week in Dubai, a few Emiratis and others attending wore surgical masks while walking among the crowds. Emirates said it continued its flights to Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, as well as Hong Kong. “We are providing masks and hand sanitisers to all crew on our flights to China,” the company said in a statement. “Our crew who serve passengers with any symptoms have been advised to wear masks onboard.” The new type of coronavirus first appeared in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. It causes flu-like symptoms, such as cough and fever and in severe cases pneumonia, that are similar to many other illnesses. It's from the coronavirus family, which includes those that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS. The viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 6,000 people in the mainland and more than a dozen other countries. China's death toll has passed 130. Several countries have confirmed cases of the virus, with most of them being Chinese visitors, people who visited Wuhan or family members in close contact with the sick. The source of the virus and the full extent of its spread are still unknown. However, the World Health Organization said most cases reported to date “have been milder, with around 20% of those infected experiencing severe illness.” Facing lower oil prices and a slumping housing market, the UAE has been aggressively pursuing more Chinese tourists to this country home to the world's tallest building. Chinese visitors to the country can get visas on arrival to the UAE. Malls in Dubai now have Chinese on their signs alongside Arabic and English, with tour groups tramping through and high-end shoppers targeting luxury stores. Dubai alone welcomed 989,000 tourists from China in 2019, up 15% from 857,000 in 2018, according to the city-state's tourism department. ___ Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
  • President Donald Trump is eager to show off a big policy win during his impeachment trial by signing into law a major rewrite of the rules of trade with Canada and Mexico. Trump made renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement a priority during his 2016 campaign, although trade experts say the impact of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement will be modest. He will sign the bill Wednesday. Canada and Mexico already represent the top two export markets for U.S. goods. But the pact, along with the signing of a “phase one” agreement with China, dials down trade tensions that contributed to slowing economic growth globally. The leaders of the three nations signed the new pact in late 2018. Legislation implementing the USMCA received overwhelming, bipartisan support in Congress after several months of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Democratic lawmakers and the Trump administration. Still, it appeared that prominent Democratic lawmakers were left off the White House guest list for Wednesday’s event. The snub came after the Democratic-led House impeached Trump. “The White House hasn’t invited House Democrats to their USMCA signing ceremony. But we’ll be well represented in the huge changes to the original USMCA draft that Democrats wrested out of the administration on labor, prescription drugs, environment and enforcement mechanisms,” said Henry Connelly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Trump showcases the agreement as a “a new model of trade for the 21st century.” Speaking to supporters at a New Jersey rally on Tuesday night, Trump said: “Tomorrow we will replace the NAFTA nightmare, one of the worst trade deals ever in history.' NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, tore down trade barriers between the three North American countries and commerce between them surged. But Trump and other critics said NAFTA encouraged factories to leave the United States and relocate south of the border to take advantage of low-wage Mexican labor. Trump threatened to leave NAFTA if he couldn't get a better deal, creating uncertainty over regional trade. His trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, pressed for a revamped pact designed to bring factory jobs back to the United States. USMCA, for example, requires automakers to get 75% of their production content (up from 62.5% in NAFTA) from within North America to qualify for the pact's duty-free benefits. That means more auto content would have to come from North America, not imported more cheaply from China and elsewhere. At least 40% of vehicles would also have to originate in places where workers earn at least $16 an hour. That would benefit the United States and Canada — not Mexico, where auto assembly workers are paid a fraction of that amount. The independent U.S. International Trade Commission last year calculated that USMCA would add 0.35%, or $68 billion, to economic growth and generate 176,000 jobs over six years — not much of a change for a $22 trillion economy with 152 million nonfarm jobs. “It's a blip,'' said Syracuse University economist Mary Lovely, who studies trade. “The main thing is what it isn't: It isn’t a continuation of uncertainty, and it isn’t a major disruption'' to business. Critics include environmental groups concerned that the agreement does not address global warming. Some conservatives say the agreement will make cars and other products more expensive for consumers. The president wasn't wasting any time highlighting the deal in battleground states that will determine who wins this year’s presidential election. He will travel Thursday to Michigan, where some of the state’s auto workers should benefit from a deal that encourages more manufacturing in the United States. Trump wants to talk up a deal that about 4 in 5 Americans have heard little or nothing about. Indeed, while a third of the public approves of the deal and only 5% disapprove, a solid majority, 61%, have not formed an opinion, according to a recent poll conducted by Monmouth University. _____ Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
  • The Latest on the outbreak of a new virus from China: 4:15 p.m. British Airways says it's immediately suspending all of its flights to and from mainland China after the U.K. government warned against unnecessary travel to the country amid a virus outbreak. BA said in a statement Wednesday that “we apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority.” The airline operates daily flights from London's Heathrow Airport to Shanghai and Beijing. It took the measure a day after Britain's Foreign Office updated its travel advice on China, warning against “all but essential travel” to the mainland, not including Hong Kong and Macao. China has cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further. The outbreak has killed more than 130 people. ___ 11: 15 a.m. Australia and New Zealand will work together to evacuate their isolated and vulnerable citizens from China’s virus-hit Hubei province. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday could not say how many or how soon citizens would be flown by Qantas from Hubei. The departures would be arranged in consultation with China. The citizens would be sent for 14 days to a quarantine center on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean which has been used to hold asylum seekers and foreign criminals facing deportation. Australia and New Zealand have also ratcheted up their travel advice for China. Australia has advised its citizens to reconsider their need to travel to China and not to travel to Hubei. New Zealand's government advised people to avoid all non-essential travel to China due to the coronavirus outbreak. _____ 10 a.m. Two Japanese men evacuated from a virus-hit Chinese city say they felt relieved but also exhausted upon their arrival in Tokyo. They were aboard a chartered flight Japan arranged to evacuate 206 Japanese citizens from Wuhan. Takeo Aoyama who works for Nippon Steel Corp. and Takayuki Kato, who works for Intec, both wore masks but said they felt fine. Kato said he was not panicking in Wuhan, but “I was shocked when all transportation systems were suspended. That’s when the situation drastically changed.' China cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities to try to contain the outbreak of the new type of coronavirus that has infected thousands of people. Aoyama said many people who wish to go home to Japan are still in Wuhan, including workers at a Japanese supermarket chain staying open to supply food. He said it is important to step up preventive measures in Japan, but “I hope we can also provide support for the Chinese people, which I think would also help the Japanese people who are still there.”
  • Countries began evacuating their citizens Wednesday from the Chinese city hardest-hit by an outbreak of a new virus that has killed 132 people and infected more than 6,000 on the mainland and abroad. A Japanese flight carrying evacuees home included four people with coughs and fevers. The three men and one woman were taken to a Tokyo hospital on separate ambulances for treatment and further medical checks. It wasn't immediately known whether they were infected with the new type of coronavirus that appeared in the central city of Wuhan in December. Its symptoms, including cough and fever and in severe cases pneumonia, are similar to many other illnesses. China's latest figures cover the previous 24 hours and add 26 to the number of deaths, 25 of which were in the central province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan. The 5,974 cases on the mainland marked a rise of 1,459 from the previous day, although that rise is a smaller increase than the 1,771 new cases reported on Monday. Dozens of infections have been confirmed abroad as well. The United Arab Emirates, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, confirmed its first case on Wednesday in a person who had come from Wuhan, the state-run news agency reported. Chartered planes carrying evacuees home to Japan and the United States left Wuhan early Wednesday as other countries planned similar evacuations from areas China has shut down to try to contain the virus. The lockdown of 17 cities has trapped more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed. A plane carrying Americans who had been in Wuhan left for Anchorage, Alaska, where they will be rescreened for the virus. U.S. hospitals are prepared to treat or quarantine people who may be infected. After departing Alaska, the plane is to fly to Ontario, California. At the Tokyo airport, Takeo Aoyama, an employee at Nippon Steel Corp.’s subsidiary in Wuhan, told reporters he was relieved to be able to return home. “We were feeling increasingly uneasy as the situation developed so rapidly and we were still in the city,” Aoyama said, his voice muffled by a white surgical mask. Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed the condition of the four ill passengers after the flight of 206 Japanese evacuees arrived. They were taken in separate ambulances to a Tokyo hospital for treatment and further health checks. All of the passengers had their temperatures checked before boarding and on the plane, and plans had been made for all of the evacuees to be treated and quarantined depending on their test results. Among those remaining in Wuhan was Sara Platto, an Italian animal behavior researcher and veterinarian, and her son, Matteo. “My son turned 12 on January 23, the first day of the lockdown in Wuhan. So he couldn’t invite his friends over. We had a remote birthday celebration, with people ‘visiting’ him over Wechat,” Platto said, referring to China’s Twitter-like messaging app. “We called it the epidemic birthday.” Platto said there were 25 Italians stuck in Wuhan, some students, some very young, who stay in touch online for material and emotional support. She has used her scientific background to offer advice and debunk sensational false news, reminding friends to wash their hands and faces often. As much as panic, people spending most of their times indoors have to deal with boredom. Matteo usually has a very busy agenda between his school, sports, and volunteer work, but now “it’s like suddenly everything has slowed down,” Platto said. As with other international schools, classes are moving online until the all-clear is sounded. “We have most of what we need for now. I think it’s a serious situation, but we are not in zombie land,” she said. Several countries have confirmed cases of the virus, with most of them being Chinese visitors, people who visited Wuhan or family members in close contact to the sick. Japan's six confirmed cases include a tour bus driver who drove visiting groups from Wuhan. Germany says four workers at an auto parts company possibly were infected when a colleague from Shanghai visited. Australia and New Zealand were the latest countries planning evacuations. Both countries also stepped up their travel advice to China, as did Britain. Experts have feared travel during the Lunar New Year holiday would enable the further spread of the virus, and China expanded the holiday to keep people home, closing schools and offices to try to contain it. Hong Kong's leader said the territory will cut all rail links to the mainland and halve the number of flights. Mongolia and North Korea were closing their borders with China, and many places have curtailed flights or are screening travelers arriving from China. Wuhan is building two hospitals in a matter of days to add 2,500 beds for treatment of patients with the virus. The new virus is from the coronavirus family, which includes those that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS. The source of the virus and the full extent of its spread are still unknown. However, the World Health Organization said most cases reported to date “have been milder, with around 20% of those infected experiencing severe illness.” On Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss the latest information on the outbreak and reiterate their commitment to bringing it under control. “The National Health Commission presented China’s strong public health capacities and resources to respond and manage respiratory disease outbreaks,” WHO's statement said. It said discussions focused on ways to cooperate to contain the virus in Wuhan and other cities and provinces and studies that could contribute to the development of medical countermeasures such as vaccines and treatments. Other WHO experts will visit China as soon as possible, it said. “Stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is WHO’s highest priority,” Tedros said. ___ Associated Press writer Christina Larson in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.
  • The Mideast peace plan announced by President Donald Trump on Tuesday supports the Israeli position on nearly all of the most contentious issues in the decades-old conflict. Where previous presidents tried to cajole Israel and the Palestinians into compromising on thorny issues like the borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of refugees, Trump's Mideast team largely adopted the Israeli position. As a result, the Palestinians have angrily rejected the plan, and the international community appears unlikely to rally around it. Here is a look at the key points of the 50-page proposal: BORDERS The peace plan says Israel will have to make “significant territorial compromises” and that a Palestinian state should have territory “reasonably comparable in size to the territory of the West Bank and Gaza pre-1967,' when Israel seized those territories, along with east Jerusalem, in a regionwide war. The plan provides for mutually agreed land swaps. But a “conceptual map” released with the plan shows a disjointed Palestinian state, with Israeli and Palestinian enclaves linked to their respective states by what the plan calls “pragmatic transportation solutions,” including bridges, tunnels and roads. The Jordan Valley, which accounts for around a fourth of the West Bank, “will be under Israeli sovereignty.” ___ JERUSALEM The peace plan would leave most of annexed east Jerusalem, including its Old City and holy sites, under Israeli control while allowing the Palestinians to establish a capital on the outskirts of the city outside Israel's separation barrier. It said Jerusalem's holy sites, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, should be open to worshipers. The understandings governing the flashpoint holy site known as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews would remain in place. ___ SETTLEMENTS The plan allows Israel to immediately annex virtually all its settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are viewed as illegal by the Palestinians and most of the international community. It would freeze settlement construction in areas earmarked for the future Palestinian state during the period of negotiations, but those areas are already largely off-limits to settlement activity. “Not a single settlement will be evacuated,” Netanyahu told reporters. “Itamar is equal to Tel Aviv,” he said, referring to a Jewish settlement in the heart of the West Bank. ___ SECURITY Under the plan, Israel “will maintain overriding security responsibility' for the state of Palestine, which will be “fully demilitarized.” The Palestinians will have their own internal security forces but Israel will control the borders and monitor all crossings. A “Crossings Board” made up of three Palestinians, three Israelis and a U.S. representative will oversee the crossings and resolve disputes. Israel will only implement its obligations under the plan if the Gaza Strip, which is currently ruled by the Islamic Hamas movement, is transferred back to the full control of the Palestinian Authority or another entity acceptable to Israel. Hamas and all other militant groups in Gaza must disarm and the territory must be fully demilitarized. ___ REFUGEES Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war around its creation. Those refugees and their descendants now number around 5 million and are scattered across the region. The Palestinians believe they have the “right of return” to former properties, something Israel has always rejected, saying it would destroy Israel's Jewish character. The peace plan says “there shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the state of Israel.” It says refugees can live in the state of Palestine, become citizens of the countries where they live or be absorbed by other countries. It says the U.S. will try to provide ”some compensation' to refugees.
  • A powerful magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck in the Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and eastern Cuba on Tuesday, shaking a vast area from Mexico to Florida and beyond, but there were no reports of casualties or heavy damage. The quake was centered 139 kilometers (86 miles) northwest of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and 140 kilometers (87 miles) west-southwest of Niquero, Cuba, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It hit at 2:10 p.m. (1910 GMT) and the epicenter was a relatively shallow 10 kilometers (6 miles) beneath the surface. Dr. Enrique Arango Arias, head of Cuba's National Seismological Service, told state media that there had been no serious damage or injuries reported on the island. The Cayman Islands were rocked by several of the strong aftershocks that followed in the area, including one measured at magnitude 6.1. Water was cut off to much of Grand Cayman Island, and public schools were canceled for Wednesday Gov. Carlos Joaquín González of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, which is home to Cancun, Tulum and other popular beach resorts, said the earthquake was felt in multiple parts of the low-lying Caribbean state but there were no reports of damage or injuries. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned that the quake could generate waves 1 to 3 feet above normal in Cuba, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Honduras, Mexico and Belize, but issued a later message saying the danger had passed. The quake was felt strongly in Santiago, the largest city in eastern Cuba, said Belkis Guerrero, who works in a Roman Catholic cultural center in the center of Santiago “We were all sitting and we felt the chairs move,” she said. “We heard the noise of everything moving around.” She said there was no apparent damage in the heart of the colonial city. 'It felt very strong but it doesn't look like anything happened,'' she told The Associated Press. It was also felt a little farther east at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the southeastern coast of the island. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damages, said J. Overton, a spokesman for the installation, which has a total population of about 6,000 people. Several South Florida buildings were evacuated as a precaution, according to city of Miami and Miami-Dade County officials. No injuries or road closures were reported. No shaking was felt at the Hard Rock stadium in Miami Gardens, which will host the Super Bowl on Sunday. In the Cayman Islands, the quake left cracked roads and what appeared to be sewage spilling from cracked mains. There were no reports of injuries or more severe damage, said Kevin Morales, editor-in-chief of the Cayman Compass newspaper. The islands experience so few earthquakes that newsroom staff were puzzled when it hit, he said. “It was just like a big dump truck was rolling past,” Morales said. “Then it continued and got more intense.” Dr. Stenette Davis, a psychiatrist at a Cayman Islands hospital, said he saw manhole covers blown off by the force of the quake, and sewage exploding into the street, but no more serious damage. Claude Diedrick, 71, who owns a fencing business in Montego Bay, said he was sitting in his vehicle reading when the earth began to sway. “It felt to me like I was on a bridge and like there were two or three heavy trucks and the bridge was rocking but there were no trucks,” he said. He said he had seen no damage around his home in northern Jamaica. Mexico’s National Seismological Service reported that the quake was felt in five states including as far away as Veracruz, on the country’s Gulf Coast. _____ Associated Press writer Kate Chappell in Kingston, Jamaica, contributed to this report.
  • Fresh anti-Semitic writings appeared in Italian cities and towns as the country marked the 7 5 th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, officials said Tuesday. The incidents included a racist placard tacked onto a Democratic Party bulletin board near Vicenza, a swastika in a Rome high school and an anti-Semitic scrawl on a building inhabited by the daughter of a Jewish wartime partisan in Turin. They were reported on Monday, as Italy marked Holocaust Memorial Day, and on Tuesday, as ceremonies continued. The vice president of the Jewish Community in Rome, Ruben Della Rocca, said that anti-Semitism is on the rise ‘’and we need to be more on guard.’’ ‘’Never forget that anti-Semitism is a virus that infects all society, the thermometer of the level of civility in a society are the anti-bodies against anti-Semitism,’’ Della Rocca was quoted by the news agency LaPresse as saying. Maria Bigliani, whose apartment building in Turin was defaced with the writing, ‘’Die dirty Jew,’’ said she would not remove the message for now. ‘’It is testimony of an uncivilized, ignorant and racist act,' she said. Bigliani, 65, discovered the writing on Monday morning, and told La Repubblica daily that she reported it immediately to police. The placard placed on a Democratic Party bulletin board near Vicenza read: ‘’January 27, the day of memory, let’s remember to reopen the ovens,’’ referring to the crematoria at Nazi death camps. Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi condemned as a ‘’shameful act’’ the appearance of a swastika and anti-Semitic writings in a high school in the city on Tuesday, as city officials marked the Holocaust Memorial Day with a ceremony. The incidents come days after anti-Semitic writing was scrawled on the door of a now-deceased member of the Italian World War II anti-Fascist resistance who survived a Nazi concentration camp. Some 3,000 people living in the Piedmont town of Mondovi, where the writings appeared on the house where Lidia Becaria Rolfi lived until her death, marched to protest growing anti-Semitism and in solidarity with Rolfi’s son, who lives in the house. Observers have noted a growing boldness in anti-Semitic and racist attitudes in Italy, which have included online attacks against an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and senator-for-life, Liliana Segre, who has been given a police escort. Segre has said she will suspend schools visits to discuss her experiences under the Nazi-Fascist dictatorships in April, citing age, LaPresse reported. An Italian parliamentary commission has approved a resolution calling on the government to enact initiatives to stop ‘’the exponential growth in episodes of physical and verbal violence toward Jews.’’
  • This should be peak season for a 12-room hotel near the train station in the Chinese industrial hub of Wuhan. The Chinese New Year usually brings in plenty of travelers and delivers profits of around $3,000 a month. But the place is empty. Wuhan, the center of a deadly viral outbreak, is on lockdown. “There is not a single customer,’’ said the hotel’s owner, who gave only his surname, Cui. He still has to pay rent and his utility bills. Instead of counting his earnings, he’s expecting to lose $1,500 a month. The outbreak arrives at a bad time for Wuhan, China and the world economy. China, with the world’s No. 2 economy, was decelerating even before the coronavirus hit. And the world economy is coping with an unexpectedly sharp slowdown in No. 7 India, which prompted the International Monetary Fund last week to downgrade its outlook for global growth this year. The coronavirus is drawing comparisons to the SARS outbreak, which paralyzed the economies of China and Hong Kong for weeks in 2003. But what happens in China carries a lot more weight these days: In 2003, China accounted for 4% of global output. Now its share is 16%, according to the World Bank. “A growth slowdown in China could have sizable ripple effects across Asia and the rest of the world, given the size of China’s economy and its role as the key driver of global growth in recent years,” said Eswar Prasad, a Cornell University economist and former head of the International Monetary Fund's China division. No one knows exactly how the outbreak will play out or what its economic impact will be. Authorities are still trying to better understand the new virus. It is from the coronavirus family, which also can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as SARS. So far, China has confirmed more than 4,500 coronavirus cases and more than 100 deaths. The Chinese government has locked down Wuhan and 16 other cities in Hubei province, isolating more than 50 million people. The United States and other countries prepared Tuesday to airlift their citizens out of Wuhan. The outbreak has brought every day business to a standstill and closed down such popular tourist attractions as Beijing's former imperial palace, Shanghai Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland and the city's Ocean Park. The significant decline in travel has already caused United Airlines to suspend some flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, the airline said in a statement. “It’s still too soon to measure what the impact is going to be from an economic perspective,’’ said Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors. The SARS experience offers some reason for economic optimism. That outbreak, centered in southern China, initially clobbered the Chinese economy. In the April-June quarter of 2003, China’s economic growth dropped to an annual rate of 9.1% from 11.1% the previous quarter, noted economists Tommy Wu and Priyanka Kishore of Oxford Economics. But as the health crisis subsided, growth picked back up, recovering to a 10% annual rate in the second half of the year. “From what we know, it’s likely to be similar this time,’’ said Andy Rothman, investment strategist at Matthews Asia. “People shouldn’t get panicked that growth is going to slow sharply’’ over a sustained period. Still, the Chinese economy isn’t the dynamo it was in the early and mid-2000s when growth routinely hit double digits. The IMF expects China’s growth to drop from 6.1% in 2019, already the slowest since 1990, to 6% this year and 5.8% next. The slowdown reflects China’s difficult transition from fast but unsustainable growth built around often-wasteful investments to steadier but less striking growth built on consumer spending by the country’s growing middle class. The Chinese economy has also been buffeted by a trade war with the United States. The two countries signed a truce earlier this month that was expected to provide some economic relief. Then the viral outbreak hit. As part of the so-called Phase 1 deal, China agreed to increase purchases of U.S. products by $200 billion over this year and next. That goal sounded ambitious even before the viral outbreak isolated tens of millions of Chinese consumers and delivered a wallop to consumer and business confidence. Rothman suspects the United States might give the Chinese a little leeway. “Both governments really want the deal to work,’’ he said. “Ïf it is clear that (Chinese purchases) are off to a slow start not because the Chinese government is not trying its best but because of the virus, the Trump administration is likely to be sympathetic.’’ There has been no immediate impact on China’s vast manufacturing industries because factories already were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday and weren’t due to reopen until this week or later. “I think the first quarter looks like it will take quite a significant hit,” said Rajiv Biswas, chief Asia economist for IHS Markit. “This still is escalating, so it’s hard to talk about when this will be contained.” Further delays in restarting production could send shock waves through Asian suppliers of components and exporters of iron ore, copper and other commodities as far away as Australia, Brazil and Africa. Foreign suppliers usually see a surge in Chinese orders as factories restock after shutting down for 10 days or more during the holiday. “The loss of economic output could be quite substantial, and that has consequences for the Asian manufacturing supply chain, because orders won’t come in the way people expect,” Biswas said. The impact in other developing Asian countries might reduce their 2020 economic growth by 1.5 to 2 percentage points, according to a forecast by Edward Glossop of Capital Economics. Growth in Asian emerging markets “will slow sharply in the first quarter of the year,” Glossop said in a report. Japanese Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters Tuesday that Japanese exports, production and corporate profits could be pinched by the new virus, stressing that he was closely monitoring the situation. A more direct hit is already coming from the decline in tourist traffic from China. Nishimura said Chinese travelers usually account for about a third of tourists from abroad. Chinese tourists to Japan tend to be relatively big spenders. The virus has hit right at the time when Chinese travel for the lunar new year. Japan’s economy suffered from the SARS outbreak in 2003, but the damage was limited to several months. The big difference is that Japan has far more Chinese tourists these days. Now “the impact on the Japanese economy would be far greater,” said Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at Nomura Research Institute, while adding that much depends on how widespread the outbreak proves to be. “There is hardly anything good that can be hoped for economically because of the new virus,” he said. Increased sales of masks and other protective gear, he noted, will hardly pick up the slack. ___ Wiseman reported from Washington, McDonald from Beijing and Kageyama from Tokyo. AP researcher Yu Bing in Beijing and AP Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.
  • The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union — cardboard boxes and Union Jack socks and all. With the Brexit moment set for Friday at midnight Brussels time ( 11 p.m. U.K. time) some U.K. legislators at the European Parliament in Brussels who have been fervent Brexit pushers were wasting no time getting ready to get out the door. Lawmaker Nigel Farage’s office on Tuesday was a jumble of boxes and mementos ready to be packed and shipped. His favorite souvenir? A framed Economist cover with him, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin marching to the big drums of populism. “It's not meant to be flattering, but in a sense, what it sums up is the great battle that's going on,' Farage said in an interview with The Associated Press. He was still wearing his Union Jack socks, ready for Wednesday's plenary when the EU parliament should overwhelmingly approve the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the last act needed before the U.K. leaves on Friday. Downstairs in the parliamentary halls, some fans of the Brexit party, also dressed in British colors were posing among the flags of the member states, laughing and shouting at anyone wanting to hear how the EU was “a dictatorship.' Yet for most of the parliament's legislators and many of the departing British lawmakers, the EU remains one of the greatest experiments in peace-building and democracy following the devastation across Europe from World War II. Among the British backers of the EU are members of the Greens party, who lit lights outside the European Parliament against the darkening sky, a symbolic 'We'll leave a light on' action in case British lawmakers ever do return to Brussels. For a more official occasion, EU Parliament chief David Sassoli will bid the U.K. legislators a formal farewell during Wednesday's plenary, where the Brexit vote will take place. Even the U.K.'s representation offices will change their name and become the U.K. Mission to the European Union. For insiders, UKReps will become UKMis, and they will still be just as busy, since both Britain and the EU still need to figure their future relationship and trade deals. One thing is sure though. “We're passing the point of no return,' said Farage. “We're leaving. We're never coming back.' ___ Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit