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    Details have begun to emerge about Alek Minassian, who has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 of attempted murder for driving a van onto a crowded sidewalk in Toronto: ___ A YOUNG MAN FROM SUBURBAN TORONTO, AND A STUNNED FAMILY Minassian, 25, lived with his family in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, on a street of sizeable, well-tended brick homes. Police say he had no criminal record before Monday's carnage, one of the worst mass killings in Canada's history. His father, Vahe Minassian, wept and seemed stunned as he watched as his son, showing little emotion, make a brief court appearance Tuesday and be ordered held without bail. When his father was asked later whether he had any message for the families of the people killed and injured, he said quietly: 'I'm sorry.' ___ A 'SOCIALLY AWKWARD' STUDENT Minassian attended Seneca College, according to his LinkedIn profile. A spokeswoman for the Toronto-area school didn't respond to an inquiry about him. Another student, Joseph Pham, told The Toronto Star that Minassian was in a computer programming class with him just last week. Pham described Minassian as a 'socially awkward' student who kept to himself. 'He didn't really talk to anyone.' Before college, Minassian attended Thornlea Secondary School in Richmond Hill, graduating in 2011. A Thornlea classmate, Ari Blaff, told CBC News he recalled Minassian as 'sort of in the background,' not the center of any particular group of friends. 'He wasn't overly social,' Blaff told the news broadcaster. ___ A STINT IN THE MILITARY Minassian joined the Canadian Armed Forces last year, but his stay was brief. The Department of National Defence says he was a member of the military from Aug. 23 to Oct. 25, but didn't complete his recruit training. He asked to be voluntarily released after 16 days, the department says. ___ A BITTERNESS TOWARD WOMEN? Shortly before Monday's attack, a chilling post appeared on Minassian's now-deleted Facebook account saluting Elliot Rodger, a community college student who killed six people and wounded 13 in shooting and stabbing attacks near the University of California, Santa Barbara, before apparently shooting himself to death in 2014. Calling Rodger 'the Supreme Gentleman,' the Facebook post declared: 'The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!' The 22-year-old Rodger had used the term 'incel' — for involuntarily celibate — in online posts raging at women for rejecting him romantically. Like-minded people in internet forums sometimes use 'Chad' and 'Stacy' as dismissive slang for men and women with more robust sex lives. Facebook confirmed that Monday's post appeared on an account that belonged to the suspect. The social networking site took down the account after the attack, saying in a statement, 'There is absolutely no place on our platform for people who commit such horrendous acts.
  • A chilling Facebook message posted before a van plowed onto a crowded Toronto sidewalk has raised the possibility the suspect in the attack nursed grudges against women and it is bringing back memories of a 1989 massacre of 14 women that remains one of Canada's most traumatic acts of violence. A crowd gathered late Tuesday in Toronto's North York community to pay their respects to the van victims at a makeshift memorial of roses, candles and messages of condolence. 'I needed to come here to show that I'm not afraid of this city,' said Meena Chowdry, wiping away tears. 'That one man's actions cannot taint an otherwise beautiful, welcoming city.' Earlier in the day, the 25-year-old suspect, Alek Minassian, was charged with first degree murder in the deaths of 10 pedestrians mowed down by a rented van that he sent careening along a mile of a busy walkway. Fourteen others were injured. Toronto Police Services Det. Sgt. Graham Gibson said at a news conference that those killed and injured were 'predominantly' women, though he declined to discuss a possible motive. 'All the lanes are open with this investigation,' said Police Chief Mark Saunders. Authorities had yet to release a list of victims. Those known to have been killed include a 30-year-old woman from Toronto, Anne Marie D'Amico, who was active in volunteer work, as well as a female student at Seneca College, which Minassian attended. A Jordanian citizen and two South Koreans were also among those killed. The gender issue arose because of what police called a 'cryptic' Facebook message posted by Minassian just before the incident that suggested he was part of an online community angry over their inability to form relationships with women. The now-deleted post saluted Elliot Rodger, a community college student who killed six people and wounded 13 in shooting and stabbing attacks near the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2014. Calling Rodger 'the Supreme Gentleman,' the Facebook post declared: 'The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!' Rodger had used the term 'incel' — for involuntarily celibate — in online posts raging at women for rejecting him romantically. Like-minded people in internet forums sometimes use 'Chad' and 'Stacy' as dismissive slang for men and women with more robust sex lives. The anti-women sentiment also recalled Canada's 1989 massacre at the Ecole Polytechnique, an engineering college in Montreal, when 25-year-old Marc Lepine entered a classroom, separated the men from the women, told the men to leave and opened fire, killing 14 women before killing himself. In a suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life. Since then, there have been sporadic mass shootings in Canada, but none with a higher death toll — reinforcing the view among many Canadians that their country is less violent than the United States. Wendy Cukier, a professor in the business school at Toronto's Ryerson University and president of Canada's Coalition for Gun Control, said Canada may avoid some types of violence because its social programs are stronger than those in many U.S. states and there is less income inequality. But the main difference, she contends, is tighter gun regulations in Canada. 'If you take guns out of the mix, Canada and the U.S. are identical,' she said, citing statistics indicating the two countries have similar rates of non-firearm homicides. Although police said Monday's rampage did not appear linked to international terrorism, the use of a vehicle to kill mirrored tactics used by terrorists in France, Germany, Spain, New York City and elsewhere. Since 2014, there have been at least two terror-related cases in Canada of vehicles being used as weapons — they caused several injuries and one death. But overall, Canada has been spared high-casualty terror attacks. Its most striking incidents of violence over the past 50 years have varied widely in nature. In 2014 a Canadian Muslim fatally shot a member of the honor guard at Ottawa's national war memorial, then stormed Parliament, where he was shot to death by a sergeant-at arms. Last year, a French-Canadian man fatally shot six Muslim men during evening prayers at a mosque in Quebec City. Back in 1972, 37 people died in a Montreal cafe deliberately set on fire by three men who had been refused entry. Canadian rapper Maestro Fresh Wes returned to the scene of the van rampage Tuesday, pausing by a newly erected memorial. Wes, who lives nearby, was strolling down Yonge Street to get a haircut when he saw a body bag on the ground. 'Yesterday was the most beautiful day of the year and then look what happened,' he said. 'Toronto is a safe city but things could happen anywhere. When these things happen, you have to reflect.' Also revisiting the site was Saman Tabasinejad, a New Democrat Party politician who was canvassing in the area when the attack occurred. 'I saw shattered glass everywhere, a fire hydrant knocked over and then five body bags,' she said. 'People were holding others and I saw solidarity all over, people trying to help others.' 'When something like this happens, you think people are going to run away from the tragedy, but people didn't — they ran toward it to try to help others,' she added. 'It shows that something like this could happen at the hands of one person, but so many more stand against it and show their humanity.' ___ Associated Press writer Charmaine Noronha reported this story in Toronto and AP writer David Crary reported from New York. AP writer Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump on Tuesday said Kim Jong Un wants a historic, high-stakes meeting as soon as possible and suggested the North Korean dictator has been 'very open' and 'very honorable,' a sharply different assessment of a leader he once denounced as 'Little Rocket Man.' The United States and North Korea have been negotiating a summit between Trump and Kim to be held in May or June to broker a deal on Pyongyang's nuclear program. Trump, who has struck a decidedly optimistic tone on the situation in recent days, said Tuesday that the United States and North Korea were having 'good discussions.' 'We have been told directly that they would like to have the meeting as soon as possible. We think that's a great thing for the world,' Trump said at the White House alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. 'Kim Jong Un, he really has been very open and I think very honorable from everything we're seeing.' Trump cautioned that North Korea had not followed through on previous promises, but credited tough steps from his administration — including sanctions and organizing pressure from international allies — for having forced Pyongyang to hold talks. And he again suggested that he would 'leave the table' if the negotiations were not productive or if North Korea was not operating in good faith. 'We'll see where that all goes,' the president said. 'Maybe it will be wonderful or maybe it won't.' Trump's comments came days after a flurry of moves from North Korea that the White House was anxious to promote as signs that its coercion campaign was working. On Saturday, North Korea announced it will close its nuclear testing facility and suspend nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests — a move welcomed by Trump as 'big progress.' However, the North stopped short of suggesting it will give up its nuclear weapons — as Trump suggested in a weekend tweet — or scale back its production of missiles and their related components. When pressed Tuesday on what he meant by the goal of 'denuclearization,' Trump said, 'It means they get rid of their nukes. Very simple.' 'It would be easy for me to make a simple deal and declare victory. I don't want to do that,' the president said. This week, U.S.-allied South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim will hold a summit in the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas that could lay the ground for Trump's planned meeting with the North Korean dictator. The leaders of the U.S. and North Korea have never met during six decades of hostility since the Korean War. The exact date and location of the possible summit has not been determined. As diplomacy gathered pace, White House officials and congressional aides said the Trump administration was considering nominating Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, as ambassador to South Korea. That key position has been vacant since Trump took office 15 months ago. It would entail a shuffle in the administration's plans for key diplomatic assignments. Harris has already been nominated to be ambassador to Australia. His Senate confirmation hearing for the Australia position had been due to take place Tuesday but was postponed. One of the congressional aides said both the State Department and governments in both Australia and South Korea were informed that the administration is looking at a switch of postings for Harris, although nothing has been made official yet. The aide and other officials requested anonymity to discuss the plans as they were not authorized to discuss them. In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she had been told by U.S. Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan that Harris would become South Korea's ambassador and that a new appointment to the post in Australia would be a priority for the next U.S. secretary of state. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is Trump's choice for secretary of state, told his own confirmation hearing this month that the vacancy in Seoul needed 'immediate attention.' The man earlier tipped for the post, Korea expert Victor Cha, was passed over in January. He later voiced concern the administration was considering military action against North Korea. Harris has spent nearly 40 years in uniform and has a reputation as a straight talker. In testimony last month before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Harris said that the U.S. could not be 'overly optimistic' about outcomes for the planned Trump-Kim summit. 'We have to go into this, eyes wide open,' he told lawmakers. Last year, the U.S. spearheaded through the U.N. Security Council the toughest international sanctions yet against North Korea in response to three long-range missile launches and its most powerful nuclear test explosion yet. The Trump administration supplemented those restrictions with unilateral U.S. sanctions against firms that had conducted illicit trade with the North. This year, Kim has pivoted from confrontation to diplomacy and, according to South Korea and China, has expressed a commitment to denuclearization. There is still uncertainty about what he seeks in return. Trump's praise for Kim on Tuesday stood in stark contrast to his previous bellicose rhetoric toward the North Korean leader. Beyond dubbing him 'Little Rocket Man' from the rostrum of the United Nations last fall, Trump has threatened to deliver 'fire and fury' upon North Korea and taunted Kim on Twitter that his own nuclear 'button' was larger than the one in Pyongyang. Later Tuesday, Trump sidestepped a question as to why he would use the word 'honorable' to describe Kim, who has been accused of starving his own people, executing his political opponents and ordering the killing of a member of his own family. ___ Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Ken Thomas and Matthew Lee in Washington and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.
  • Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, will become the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea instead of Australia, the Australian foreign minister said Wednesday. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she had been informed of the decision by Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan on Tuesday. 'While we would have welcomed Adm. Harris here as ambassador to Australia, we understand that there are significant challenges for the United States on the Korean peninsula,' Bishop told reporters in Sydney. 'We of course have a very strong and deep relationship with the United States and I am sure they will choose a very appropriate ambassador to take his place in due course,' she added. Bishop said Sullivan made it clear a new appointment would be a priority for the next secretary of state. President Donald Trump nominated Harris in February to become Australia's next ambassador. The United States had not had an ambassador in Australia since John Berry, president of the American Australian Association, left the post in September 2016. Andrew Shearer, a former Australian government security adviser and now an adviser on Asia-Pacific security at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the change of ambassador plans made Australia appear to be a second-class ally of the United States. 'Australia really ... is ... a collateral casualty here to the shambolic practices of the Trump Administration,' Shearer told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. 'I don't think there's anything sinister to it. I think it's much more typical of the ad hoc, moment-to-moment decision making if this particular administration,' he added. Bishop noted past appointments for U.S. ambassador to Australia took time. In the meantime, Charge d'Affaires Jim Caruso will continue to act in the role. Opposition defense spokesman Richard Marles said the sooner Australia got a new U.S. ambassador the better. 'We're close friends, I don't think anyone is taking offence,' Marles told Sky News television. Former government minister and the current Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson said while he wouldn't describe it as a snub, the United States should have proper representation in Australia. 'I say to President Trump and those who are advising him: we need an ambassador, we deserve an ambassador and we'd like one soon,' Nelson said. Former deputy prime minister and diplomat Tim Fischer said the delay in appointing an ambassador reflected its low priority in Washington. 'Nigh on two years will be an insult with impact, notwithstanding the good work of the acting ambassador in Canberra,' Fischer said of the absence of an ambassador.
  • So much for an abrupt U.S. pullout from Syria. One month ago President Donald Trump surprised many, including some in his own administration, by announcing, 'We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.' He insisted that the time had come for the U.S. military to shift its focus away from Syria. But on Tuesday, it was clear that something or someone had changed Trump's mind. The president said at a White House news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at his side that before the U.S. withdraws from Syria, 'we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint.' This long-term approach, he added, was 'a very big part' of his conversation with Macron, who told reporters that he and Trump now agree that the Syria problem involves more than Trump's priority of ridding the country of Islamic State extremists. The two leaders indicated that they see Syria as part of a broader problem of instability in the Middle East, which includes Iran's role in Syria and Iraq. That kind of strategic thinking bears little resemblance to Trump's words in late March when he said it was time to leave Syria to others. 'We got to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be,' he said March 29. His comments raised questions about U.S. intentions, including its commitment to the Syrian Kurds who have been the main U.S. proxy in fighting IS in Syria and who face an uncertain future. Since then, Trump has taken a markedly different course, including bombing three suspected chemical weapons sites in western Syria on April 13. In announcing that action, Trump said he was committed, along with France and Britain, to using 'all instruments of our national power — military, economic and diplomatic' — to deter Syria from again using chemical weapons. And he said the U.S. would 'sustain' this effort for as long as it takes. Two days later, Macron said France had persuaded Trump to stay in Syria and launch the airstrikes. 'Ten days ago, President Trump wanted to withdraw from Syria. We convinced him to remain,' the French president said. In responding to Macron's comments, the White House stressed that Trump's plans had not changed and he still wanted U.S. forces to 'come home as quickly as possible.' On Tuesday Trump seemed to step even further away from his March remarks. After saying he would 'love to get out' of Syria, and claiming the U.S. had 'done a big favor' for Iraq and other countries in Syria's neighborhood by hammering IS, Trump said he and Macron discussed the downside of leaving. 'Emmanuel and myself have discussed the fact that we don't want to give Iran open season to the Mediterranean, especially since we really control it,' Trump said. His comment echoed a concern shared by others, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, that withdrawing from Syria now, while Syria's political crisis is unresolved, would cede ground to Iran and enable its ambition to establish an overland pathway to the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria. Trump stuck to his view that Arab nations should do more to prevent Iran from 'profiting off' the U.S. success against IS. Even after Trump's talk last month of a quick exit, Mattis stuck to his approach, arguing that U.S. strategic goals had not changed. He told a congressional hearing on April 12 that the Trump administration remained committed to finding a political solution to Syria's seven-year-old civil war. 'Our strategy remains the same as a year ago,' he said. 'It is to drive this to a U.N.-brokered peace, but, at the same time, keep our foot on the neck of ISIS until we suffocate it.' On Tuesday, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, Col. Ryan Dillon, told reporters at the Pentagon that the United States is not slowing down in Syria. In fact, he said, the number of U.S. airstrikes against remaining pockets of IS fighters in eastern Syria had increased in the past week.
  • Here are some of the deadliest mass murders in recent Canadian history: April 23, 2018: A man drives a white van for about a mile along a crowded Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people and seriously injuring at least 13 others. Police arrest suspect Alek Minassian. The motive remains unclear. Jan. 29, 2017: Six people are killed and eight injured when a man goes on a shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque. University student Alexandre Bissonnette, who had taken far-right political positions on social media, pleads guilty. Dec. 29, 2014: In the worst mass shooting in Edmonton, a man suspected of domestic violence shoots and kills six adults and two young children in two different homes. Phu Lam then killed himself in a restaurant where he worked. June 4, 2014: A man uses a semi-automatic rifle to fatally shoot three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and wound two others in Moncton, New Brunswick. The attack by Justin Bourque was the deadliest attack on the RCMP since four officers were killed by a gunman in the western province of Alberta in 2005. April 5, 1996: Angered by his wife's divorce action, Mark Chahal kills her and eight other members of her family in Vernon, British Columbia, before shooting himself. Sept. 18, 1992: A bomb kills nine strike-breaking workers at the Giant Yellowknife gold mine in the Northwest Territories. Dec. 6, 1989: A man with a semi-automatic rifle storms into an engineering classroom at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, asks men to leave and then kills 14 women before turning the gun on himself. Gunman Marc Lepine says he was 'fighting against feminists' he blamed for his troubles. Sept. 1, 1972: An arson attack on a downtown Montreal night club kills 37 people and injures 64. Gasoline was spread on the stairway of Blue Bird Cafe and then ignited. Most of the deaths occurred in the Wagon Wheel country-western bar upstairs. Three young men from Montreal who had earlier been denied entry for drunkenness were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. ___ Replaces 1996 entry to correct name of shooter to Mark Chahal.
  • Details have begun to emerge about Alek Minassian, who was charged Tuesday with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 of attempted murder for driving a van into a crowded sidewalk in Toronto. Here is a look at the 25-year-old suspect in one of the worst mass killings in Canada's modern history. ___ A YOUNG MAN FROM SUBURBAN TORONTO, AND A STUNNED FAMILY Minassian lived with his family in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, on a street of sizeable, well-tended brick homes. Police say he had no criminal record before Monday. His father, Vahe Minassian, wept and seemed stunned as he watched as his son, showing little emotion, make a brief court appearance Tuesday and be ordered held without bail. When his father was asked later whether he had any message for the families of the people killed and injured, he said quietly: 'I'm sorry.' ____ A 'SOCIALLY AWKWARD' STUDENT Minassian attended Seneca College, according to his LinkedIn profile; a spokeswoman for the Toronto-area school didn't immediately respond to an inquiry about him Tuesday. Another student, Joseph Pham, told The Toronto Star that Minassian was in a computer programming class with him just last week. Pham described Minassian as a 'socially awkward' student who kept to himself: 'He didn't really talk to anyone.' Before college, Minassian attended Thornlea Secondary School in Richmond Hill, graduating in 2011. A Thornlea classmate, Ari Blaff, told CBC News he recalls Minassian was 'sort of in the background,' not the center of any particular group of friends. 'He wasn't overly social,' Blaff told the news broadcaster. Both Thornlea and Seneca declined to discuss him Tuesday. ____ A STINT IN THE MILITARY Minassian joined the Canadian Armed Forces last year, but his stay was brief. The Department of National Defence says he was a member of the military from Aug. 23 to Oct. 25, but didn't complete his recruit training. He asked to be voluntarily released after 16 days, the department said. ___ A BITTERNESS TOWARD WOMEN? Shortly before Monday's attack on a crowded Toronto street, a chilling post appeared on Minassian's now-deleted Facebook account saluting Elliot Rodger, a community college student who killed six people and wounded 13 in shooting and stabbing attacks near the University of California, Santa Barbara, before apparently shooting himself to death in 2014. Calling Rodger 'the Supreme Gentleman,' the Facebook post declared: 'The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!' The 22-year-old Rodger had used the term 'incel' — for involuntarily celibate — in online posts raging at women for rejecting him romantically. Like-minded people in internet forums sometimes use 'Chad' and 'Stacy' as dismissive slang for men and women with more robust sex lives. Monday's Facebook post mentions that 'Private (Recruit) Minassian' is speaking, and Facebook confirmed that the post was on an account that belonged to the suspect. The social networking site took down his account after the attack, saying in a statement Tuesday, 'There is absolutely no place on our platform for people who commit such horrendous acts.
  • A Greek prosecutor has ordered an investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement in the local branch of UNICEF. UNICEF said last week it was 'terminating its arrangements' with its national committee in Greece 'due to concerns arising out of a recent independent audit.' UNICEF said in a statement it has concluded that 'the necessary reforms' in the Greek committee won't be achieved. It offered no further details. An Athens prosecutor ordered the probe Tuesday following claims by the head of UNICEF's Greek committee that an audit of the local branch's finances revealed alleged mismanagement. UNICEF has said it will continue its work with children in Greece through its regional office for Europe and central Asia, in collaboration with the Greek government and civil society partners.
  • President Donald Trump and Iran's top diplomat traded sharp warnings on Tuesday, with Trump threatening 'bigger problems' than ever if Tehran restarts its nuclear program. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif put the president on notice, telling The Associated Press if the U.S. pulls out of the nuclear deal, Iran 'mostly likely' would abandon it, too. In a wide-ranging interview, Zarif said a U.S. withdrawal from the landmark 2015 accord would undermine Trump's talks with North Korea by proving that America reneges on its promises. He said if Trump re-imposes sanctions, 'basically killing the deal,' Iran would no longer be bound by the pact's international obligations, freeing it up to resume enrichment far beyond the deal's strict limits. 'If the United States were to withdraw from the nuclear deal, the immediate consequence in all likelihood would be that Iran would reciprocate and withdraw,' Zarif said. He added: 'There won't be any deal for Iran to stay in.' As Zarif spoke in New York on Tuesday, Trump was meeting at the White House with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been leading an effort by France, Britain and Germany to find 'fixes' to the deal that would satisfy Trump's objections. Few expect such a solution can be found by May 12, the date on which Trump has said he'll leave the deal if there's no fix agreed to with the Europeans. 'No one knows what I'm going to do on the 12th, although Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea,' Trump said, referring to Macron. He said if he does withdraw, he would look to see 'if it will be possible to do a new deal with solid foundations, because this is a deal with decayed foundations.' In a bleak warning to Tehran, Trump added that if Iran ever threatens the United States, 'they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.' Iran has been working feverishly to frame Trump's expected withdrawal as a major blot on the United States, just as America's closest allies in Europe try to persuade the president not to rip it up. U.S. and European officials say they've made major progress on two of Trump's demands — on nuclear inspections and Iran's ballistic missiles program. But talks have stalemated on Trump's third demand: that the deal be extended in perpetuity, rather than letting restrictions on Tehran to 'sunset' after several years. Iran has outright rejected any changes to the deal, arguing that it's unfair to impose more demands beyond what Tehran agreed to already. Trump's strategy relies on the assumption that if the U.S. and the Europeans unilaterally agree to new demands, Iran will back down and voluntarily comply in order to continue enjoying the benefits. Under the 2015 deal brokered by President Barack Obama and world powers, Iran agreed to nuclear restrictions in exchange for billions in sanctions relief. And even if a so-called add-on deal with the Europeans is achieved, there is no guarantee it will satisfy Trump. His closest aides have said they can't predict with certainty what conditions would be enough to keep him in the pact. As Trump prepares for a high-stakes summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un aimed at resolving nuclear weapons concerns, Zarif emphasized that U.S. credibility was at stake. He said Iran would welcome lower tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but that Trump was showing the world that the U.S. is 'not a trustworthy, reliable negotiating partner.' 'They're prepared to take everything that you've given, then renege on the promises that they have made in the deal,' Zarif said. 'That makes the United States a rather unlikely partner in any international agreement. And unfortunately this track record is not just limited to the nuclear deal. It includes the Paris climate agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and a lot of other freely undertaken commitments of the United States.' Iran has long insisted its nuclear program was peaceful and not oriented toward building weapons. Yet in the interview, Zarif suggested that those concerned that Tehran was racing toward a bomb would have much more to fear if it were no longer bound by limits on its enrichment and processing. 'It would be a completely different situation, from the perspective of those who made a lot of noise about Iran's nuclear program to begin with,' he said. He also pointed out that if Trump upends the nuclear deal, Iran could also choose to leave the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Iran signed that treaty decades ago, and though Zarif said Iran's government isn't advocating an exit, it is 'one of the options that is being advocated by some' in Iran. Zarif spoke to the AP at the official residence of Iran's ambassador to the U.N., alongside Central Park. The top Iranian diplomat is in the United States this week on a long-shot bid to try to salvage the deal, while laying the groundwork for the United States to bear the blame on the global stage if Trump ultimately pulls out. Addressing the conflict in Yemen, he said Iran is urging 'everybody' to stop attacking civilian areas — including the Houthis. The Iran-backed Shiite rebels control much of Yemen and have been lobbing missiles at Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition fighting the Houthis with support from the U.S. The Trump administration and others insist that Iran is illicitly funneling missiles and other weapons to the Houthis, a charge that Tehran has repeatedly denied. 'All over, no matter where you go in the Middle East, you see the fingerprints of Iran behind problems,' Trump said. His ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has paraded missile parts ostensibly recovered in Saudi Arabia in front of reporters and U.N. Security Council diplomats, arguing that they bear markings and other characteristics proving their Iranian origin. But Zarif laughed off her claims. 'I'm not saying Ambassador Haley is fabricating, but somebody is fabricating the evidence she is showing,' Zarif said. As Trump pushes to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, Zarif gave no signs that Iran plans to do the same. The Iranian military advisers and Iran-backed Shiite militias aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad are a profound concern for the United States and its closest Mideast ally, Israel. 'We are there as long as that objective needs our presence, and as long as the Syrian government asks us to be there,' Zarif said.
  • Paleontologists from Bulgaria and Macedonia are excavating the fossilized remains of a prehistoric elephant believed to pre-date the mammoth, after its bones were discovered accidentally by a man working in a field. Scientists at the Natural Science Museum of Macedonia and the Natural History Museum of Sofia said Tuesday they began excavating the skeleton in Dolni Disan in central Macedonia last Friday. They estimated the animal would have weighed about 10 tons and have been about 50 years old at the time of its death, roughly 8 million years ago during the Miocene epoch. Biljana Garevska of the Natural Science Museum in Skopje said the fossil was of one of the elephant's ancestors which roamed the region at a time when it was covered by African-like savannah.

News

  • Jurors in the Tex McIver murder trial told Channel 2 Action News it took a lot of compromise to reach a verdict. The 12-person panel deliberated for four days before finally reaching a verdict Monday afternoon. They found the Atlanta attorney guilty of murdering his wife, Diane, as they rode in their SUV in September 2016. They also found him guilty of trying to influence a witness, Dani Jo Carter, who was driving the SUV at the time of the shooting. Earlier Monday it appeared that a verdict might never come when jurors told the judge they were deadlocked and couldn’t come to a unanimous decision on four of the five counts. The judge sent them back, telling them they needed to keep deliberating and continue to try for a verdict. RELATED STORIES: 5 things to know about Diane McIver Juror breakdown for the Tex McIver murder trial Tex McIver found guilty of murdering his wife A breakdown of the verdict in the Tex McIver trial After the trial ended, Channel 2 Action News spoke with some of the jurors outside the courthouse.  'It definitely took a lot of compromise on both sides of where we were with our deliberations,' juror Aubrey Gray said. 'There was definitely a point where we did not think we were going to get to guilt or innocence.” He said after the judge read them the Allen charge Monday afternoon, telling them they needed to keep deliberating and try to reach a verdict, they re-examined their positions and were able to come to a unanimous decision. “(We were able to) specifically look at the evidence, take away any emotion that we had, and that’s how we came up with our guilty verdict on four of the five counts,” Gray said. Gray said he was back and forth for much of deliberations. “I was in both camps for a while, flip-flopping sides, trying to come to a rational decision,” he said. Gray said there were several “gun experts” on the jury, who helped them talk through many of the questions. [SPECIAL SECTION: Tex McIver Trial] “That was one of our contingents the entire time, why was his hand, particularly his finger, on the trigger. And one of the key things for us, we had to look back at his statements to police when he said the gun just went off, and we finally decided that a gun just doesn’t go off,” Gray said. “It was not an accident. His hand was on the trigger. Guns just don’t go off.” Another juror, Lakeisha Boyd, said the deciding factor for her was also the finger on the trigger, and holding the gun inside the car. “We went back down to the vehicle. We were able to take the firearm to the vehicle and were able to test it out ourselves,” she said. Boyd said, at the end of the day, they did their job. “Justice was served,” she said.
  • The Latest on the White House visit of French President Emmanuel Macron (all times local): 1:20 p.m. President Donald Trump says U.S. troops will come home from Syria, but he wants to leave a 'strong and lasting footprint' in the region. Trump's comment signaled a softening in tone. Trump was insisting just a few weeks ago that he wanted to pull out U.S. troops and leave the job of rebuilding Syria to others in the region. Asked about his timeline for bringing the troops home, Trump reiterated his desire to exit Syria. But he also said that he and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed that neither of them wants to give Iran more of an opening in the region. Trump said 'we'll see what happens but we're going to be coming home relatively soon.' He commented during a White House news conference Tuesday with Macron, who is on a state visit to the U.S. ___ 1:15 p.m. French President Emmanuel Macron says he's confident about the future of his country's trading relationship with the U.S. He says it's good when allies work together. Macron says in a joint news conference with President Donald Trump that trade is balanced between the two countries and he's suggesting all nations follow the rules of the World Trade Organization. The French president has been critical of Trump's protectionist moves on trade in recent weeks and has called upon the U.S. to exempt European nations from tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. ___ 1 p.m. President Donald Trump is thanking French President Emmanuel Macron for his partnership on the recent missile strikes against chemical weapons in Syria and the fight against terrorism. Trump says at a joint White House news conference that he will soon be meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He says the U.S. won't 'repeat the mistakes of past administrations' and will pressure the North Korean regime. Macron is pointing to the need for the Iran nuclear deal. He says he wants to work on a new deal in the weeks and months ahead. Macron says any new agreement would need to block any nuclear activity in Iran through 2025, cease any uranium activity and put an end to the country's ballistic missiles program. ___ 12:16 p.m. A pair of designers is responsible for Melania Trump's white skirt suit and matching hat. The first lady's office says Michael Kors designed the two-piece suit that Mrs. Trump wore for Tuesday's White House arrival ceremony for President Emmanuel Macron of France and his wife, Brigitte. Mrs. Trump also wore the suit on an outing to the National Gallery of Art in Washington with Mrs. Macron. The first lady topped her outfit with a broad-brimmed white hat designed by Herve Pierre. Pierre designed the first lady's inaugural ball gown. The white hat quickly became the talk of the town, as well as on Twitter. Mrs. Trump typically doesn't wear hats. Still to come is Tuesday night's piece de resistance: the first lady's state dinner gown. ___ 10:40 a.m. President Donald Trump is warning that if Iran restarts its nuclear program it 'will have bigger problems than they have ever had before.' Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron will be discussing the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday during their meetings at the White House. Macron wants Trump to maintain the deal. Trump is undecided but has called it 'a terrible deal.' Though Trump has warmly welcomed Macron to Washington, the two have disagreements to sort through, including Trump's decision to leave the multinational Paris climate change agreement. While with Macron, Trump refused to answer a reporter's question as to whether he is considering a pardon for his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, whose office was raided by the FBI. Trump called it 'a stupid question.' Cohen has not been charged. ___ 9:54 a.m. French President Emmanuel Macron is highlighting the close ties between his nation and the United States during his visit to the White House. Macron, standing alongside President Donald Trump Tuesday, said 'America represents endless possibilities for my country.' He also told Trump that 'France shares with your country an ideal of freedom and peace.' Macron touted how the French fought alongside George Washington during the American Revolution, which laid the blueprint for cooperation between the nations. The French president, who enjoys a closer relationship with Trump than many of his European peers, said that France works alongside the U.S. on challenges like terrorism, North Korea and Iran. He is expected to lobby Trump to maintain the Iran nuclear deal and reconsider the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. ___ 9:30 a.m. President Donald Trump is sending prayers to the Bush family and wishing former President George H.W. Bush a 'speedy recovery.' Trump is recognizing the former president as he greets French President Emmanuel Macron on the South Lawn of the White House. Bush has been hospitalized in Houston with an infection, just days after attending the funeral of his wife, Barbara Bush. Trump is also sending the nation's sympathies to the Canadian people following the 'horrendous tragedy' in Toronto. A driver plowed a rented van along a crowded sidewalk in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 15 others. Trump says the nation's hearts are with the grieving families in Canada. ___ 9:25 a.m. President Donald Trump says the 'wonderful friendship' he has developed with French President Emmanuel Macron is a testament to two nations' enduring alliance. Trump is thanking Macron for his 'steadfast partnership' in responding to the recent chemical attack in Syria. The president is speaking at an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. Trump and Macron are meeting Tuesday on a number of issues, including the future of the Iran nuclear deal and the crisis in Syria. The two leaders are holding a joint news conference later in the morning and then Macron will be honored with Trump's first state dinner. ___ 9 a.m. President Donald Trump is welcoming French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House in a formal arrival ceremony. The president and first lady are greeting Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, on rolled-out red carpet on the South Lawn. The arrival is heavy on pomp, with nearly 500 U.S. service-members from all five military branches participating in the ceremonial welcome, which includes a 'Review of the Troops.' Vice President Mike Pence and several members of Trump's Cabinet, lawmakers, and military families are in attendance. The audience includes students from the Maya Angelou French Immersion School in Temple Hills, Maryland. The two leaders are spending the morning in meetings and then will hold a joint news conference. On Tuesday night, Macron will be feted at Trump's first state dinner. ___ 12:50 a.m. A sit-down between President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron followed by a joint news conference highlight the business portion of the French leader's second day in Washington. The pageantry of Macron's official state visit, the first of the Trump presidency, comes Tuesday night with a lavish state dinner at the White House. About 150 guests are expected to dine on rack of lamb and nectarine tart and enjoy an after-dinner performance by the Washington National Opera. Monday night was more relaxed, featuring a helicopter tour of Washington landmarks and a trip to the Potomac River home of George Washington for dinner. Pomp and ceremony aside, Trump and Macron disagree on some fundamental issues. A prime dividing point is the multinational Iran nuclear deal, which Trump wants to abandon.
  • Tyler Mahle lost his no-hit bid on Freddie Freeman's homer in the seventh, and the Cincinnati Reds blew a big late lead before Scooter Gennett connected in the 12th inning for a 9-7 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night. Gennett hit his second homer of the game off left-hander Max Fried (0-1) for his first career game-ending shot. Freeman started the Braves' late seven-run surge with his homer off Mahle, only the third ball the Braves managed to get out of the infield against the rookie right-hander. Freeman connected again as Atlanta scored four times in the ninth. Jared Hughes (1-2) escaped a two-on threat in the 10th and got the last eight outs. Off to their worst start since the Great Depression, the 5-18 Reds rallied for their first set of back-to-back wins since last September — a span of 34 games — and got an encouraging performance from their most promising young starter. The 23-year-old Mahle fanned a career-high 11 with a tailing fastball that caught the Braves gawking. Atlanta leads the majors in runs, but managed only two balls beyond the infield through six innings. Freeman led off the seventh with a homer on the rookie's 90th pitch — Mahle turned his head and muttered a word in frustration as the ball left the bat. Kurt Suzuki had a two-run homer later in the inning. Mahle drew attention on his way to the majors by throwing a no-hitter in Single-A in 2016 and a perfect game last April 22 at Double-A. Freeman homered again in the ninth inning off Amir Garrett, starting a four-run rally. Ender Inciarte's bases-loaded, two-out single against Raisel Iglesias deflected off Gennett at second base for a 7-7 tie. Joey Votto and Gennett hit their first homers — back-to-back solo shots in the fifth off Brandon McCarthy — as the Reds' sluggish offense showed signs of coming around. TRAINER'S ROOM Braves: Manager Brian Snitker plans to give RH reliever Sam Freeman a couple days off. Freeman has made a team-high 14 appearances and struggled during a 10-4 loss on Monday. 'This is probably the most he's been used early in a season in his career,' Snitker said. 'It's a new area for him to navigate through.' Reds: C Devin Mesoraco was scratched with a stiff neck. ... 3B Eugenio Suarez began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Louisville. He has been sidelined since April 8, when he was hit by Jameson Taillon's pitch and broke his right thumb. UP NEXT Braves: Matt Wisler (1-0, 1.29 ERA) is 1-1 career against the Reds in two starts and two relief appearances, allowing eight runs in 15 2/3 innings. Reds: LH Brandon Finnegan (0-2, 11.05) makes his third start. He opened the season on the DL with a strained left biceps. He's given up nine runs in 7 1/3 innings. ___ More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
  • Travis Reinking's erratic behavior began years before police say he showed up without pants at a Waffle House restaurant and killed four people with an assault-style rifle. The onetime construction crane operator bounced between states and suffered from delusions, sometimes talking about plans to marry singer Taylor Swift, friends and relatives told police. He was arrested outside the White House last year after asking to speak to President Donald Trump, and his bizarre actions seemed to intensify in recent days with a car theft. Now Reinking is charged in Tennessee with four counts of criminal homicide. He's been jailed without bond. 'He's a good kid that went off the handle for some reason,' said Dave Warren, who once worked with Reinking in Colorado. Former co-workers at Rocky Mountain Crane in Salida, Colorado, told police after the shooting that Reinking was complex. He didn't drink or do drugs, according to a police report describing the interviews, and he was known as intelligent, polite and an excellent equipment operator. He didn't like the government or the National Rifle Association, and he talked about being a 'sovereign citizen,' although the meaning of the phrase wasn't clear. What seemed to drive Reinking more than anything was an obsession with Swift, the report said. Reinking told police — once in Tazewell County, Illinois, in 2016, and again in Colorado last year — that Swift was stalking him. He was infatuated with her and supposedly purchased a $14,000 ring and drove to California to try to meet her, authorities said. But co-workers also knew Reinking as openly gay, according to the interview notes. Ken and Darlene Sustrich, the owners of the crane service where Reinking worked for six months, recalled a time when he and other members of a crew were returning to Salida after completing a job. As they passed through the town of Last Chance, Colorado, Reinking quit on the spot. 'He misconstrued that was his last chance,' Ken Sustrich said. 'He got super-paranoid, and he quit that day. He said, 'This is my last chance.'' Reinking's intelligence impressed them. He would sometimes talk about astrophysics, Darlene Sustrich said. In his last few days at the crane service, he began showing signs of paranoia. 'You could see something was off with him, but nothing violent,' Darlene Sustrich said. Then came a call from the FBI, saying Reinking had tried to jump the White House fence. 'We told them, 'Hang onto him if you can. Help him if you can,'' she said. Ken Sustrich told police that he reached out to Reinking's father with concerns about his son's mental health. He said the father replied that he was aware of the issues and 'had been recently trying to rekindle his relationship with Travis,' the police report said. Back in Illinois last June, a sheriff's report showed, the younger Reinking barged into a community swimming pool and jumped in wearing only underwear and a pink woman's coat. That same day, an employee at his family's business, J&J Cranes, said he emerged from an apartment above the office wearing a pink dress, clutching a rifle and yelling profanities, according to a report. The sheriff's department called his father, who was out of state. He told officers that he had taken four guns away when his son was 'having problems' but later returned them. Police suggested that Jeff Reinking 'lock the guns back up until Travis gets mental help,' officer Randy Davis wrote in a report. The father agreed to do so. When he was arrested at the White House, Reinking was not armed, but Illinois state police revoked his state firearms card at the FBI's request. Four guns, including the AR-15 used in the Waffle House shooting, were transferred to his father, a procedure allowed under Illinois law. The father said he later returned the guns to his son again, police said. Signs of paranoid delusions continued: In August, Reinking told police he wanted to file a report about 20 to 30 people tapping into his computer and phone and people 'barking like dogs' outside his residence, according to a report. It isn't clear why Reinking moved recently to the Nashville area from Morton, Illinois, and if it had anything to do with being near Swift. The performer has a home in Nashville, though it's not her only residence. A representative of Swift did not return a message seeking comment, nor did the public defender appointed to represent Reinking, who has not entered a plea. Nashville police say they were not aware of Reinking's past fixation with Swift, but authorities in Music City say they are all too familiar with people being preoccupied with the superstar. 'You wouldn't believe how many people are obsessed with Taylor Swift,' Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said. Reinking apparently kept a low profile until recent days. Alerted to the theft of a BMW from a car dealer last week, officers decided against a risky chase knowing the car had a GPS device and could be located. Police found the vehicle outside Reinking's apartment, but they did not figure out until after the attack that Reinking had apparently taken it. ___ Foody reported from Denver, Colorado. Reeves reported from Birmingham, Alabama. Associated Press writers Dan Elliott in Salida, Colorado; Ed White in Detroit; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Kristin Hall in Nashville; and Michael Kunzelman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, also contributed to this report.
  • The co-owner of a Colorado crane company where the suspect in a deadly weekend shooting at a Nashville restaurant once worked said she had urged federal officials to keep him in custody after he was arrested at the White House last year. Travis Reinking, 29, is accused of opening fire Sunday outside a Waffle House with an AR-15 rifle and then storming the restaurant, wearing only a green jacket. Four people were killed and four others were wounded in the shooting. But Reinking had exhibited erratic behavior for years before the shooting. Darlene Sustrich, who co-owns a Colorado crane company where Reinking once worked, said they got a call from the FBI after he allegedly tried to jump the White House fence last July. 'We told them, 'Hang onto him if you can. Help him if you can,'' Sustrich said. Federal officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reinking has been charged with four counts of criminal homicide. And a tweet from the Metro Nashville Police Department said he also faces four counts of attempted murder and one count of unlawful possession in the commission of a violent felony. Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said Tuesday that Reinking has been 'compliant' and 'cooperative' since he was transferred to the jail late Monday after he was captured near the apartment where he lived. Reinking is wearing a vest known informally as a 'suicide smock' and will remain under close observation at a maximum-security facility in Nashville. An attorney listed as Reinking's lawyer did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Meanwhile, the man who snatched the rifle away from the gunman during the shooting told Tennessee lawmakers Tuesday he faced 'the true test of a man,' drawing a standing ovation during his brief address. As the state House hailed him as a hero, James Shaw Jr. said he acted to save his own life early Sunday and saved others in the process. 'I never thought I'd be in a room with all the eyes on me, but you know, I'm very grateful to be here,' Shaw told House members. Shaw said he has gone to see some of the shooting victims in the hospital and they all remembered him. He apologized to the people whose loved ones died in the attack. The state Senate also honored Shaw on Tuesday. After the shooting, authorities say Reinking escaped on foot from the restaurant and shed his only item of clothing. By the time he was captured in the woods nearby, police had searched his apartment and found the key fob to a stolen BMW they had recovered in the parking lot days earlier. The BMW theft had not initially been tied to Reinking. Police seized multiple items from his apartment including: a Remington rifle with a magazine, cartridges for different calibers of guns, two rifle scopes and gun cleaning equipment. Police also found three books on patents in the apartment, along with a sketchbook, two iPhones and a number of pieces of computer equipment, court records show. Nashville Police Department Lt. Carlos Lara told reporters Reinking was arrested Monday after detectives were tipped to the suspect's presence by some construction workers. He carried a black backpack with a silver semi-automatic weapon and .45-caliber ammunition. The arrest ended a 24-hour manhunt involving more than 160 law enforcement officers, but it left troubling unanswered questions about official responses to months of bizarre behavior before the restaurant attack, including encounters with police in Illinois and Colorado and an arrest at the White House that raised red flags. Sustrich, Reinking's former boss, described him as appearing paranoid and delusional at times. A former co-worker told a Salida, Colorado, police detective Reinking was infatuated with singer Taylor Swift and claimed to be a sovereign citizen. Last July, Reinking was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service after he entered a restricted area near the White House and refused to leave, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump. The suspect told Washington, D.C., police he was a sovereign citizen and had a right to inspect the grounds, according to an incident report. Reinking was not armed at the time, but at the FBI's request, Illinois police revoked his state firearms card. Four guns, including the AR-15 used in the shootings, were transferred to his father, a procedure allowed under Illinois law. Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston said Jeffrey Reinking pledged he would 'keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis.' Don Aaron, a Nashville Police spokesman, said Reinking's father 'has now acknowledged giving them back' to his son. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special Agent Marcus Watson said Monday that his father's action is 'potentially a violation of federal law.' Phone calls to a number listed for the father went unanswered. ___ Associated Press writers John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Ed White in Detroit; Michael Kunzelman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Kathleen Foody in Denver, Colorado; and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
  • Just days before former Mayor Kasim Reed left office, his administration showered select city employees with more than $518,000 in bonuses, and gifts that were presented during an “executive holiday party” at City Hall. >> Read more trending news  The spending spree has left the police union outraged, taxpayers fuming and council members questioning its legality. During his last days in power, Reed awarded at least $350,000 in bonuses to his senior staff; ordered $42,500 in checks to the eight members of his security detail; gave away $36,000 by drawing names out of a hat during a holiday party raffle in December; and awarded $31,000 to lip sync and ugly sweater contest winners, also at the party. But none of the holiday giving came out of Reed’s wallet — it all belonged to city taxpayers. And that’s not the full extent of the spending. >> Related: See who got bonuses from former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed Former human resources commissioner Yvonne Yancy handed out an additional $57,500 in bonuses to 11 members of her staff just days before she left City Hall for the private sector, on Dec. 31. In response to questions from the AJC, Reed issued a three-paragraph statement. “Rewarding employees for service and performance is not new and has been common practice in the City of Atlanta,” says the statement, issued through Reed’s spokesman. “These bonuses were appropriate and Mayor Reed believes that the individuals who received the bonuses were worthy of them based upon their contributions to the City of Atlanta’s unprecedented growth and fiscal stability.” Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore called the spending “disgusting” and “illegal.” “It just reminded me of someone having money and throwing it in the air and letting everybody catch it,” Moore said. “It’s just unconscionable. Let’s just make it clear: It’s not legal to do this. Just make it point-blank clear. He had absolutely, positively no authority to issue any of that to anybody under any circumstance,” she said. “The mayor can only do what is authorized by the council. He did not go through the proper channels,” Moore added. Moore pointed to a city ordinance that prohibits increasing “the salaries or other remuneration in any form of any officer or employee of the city during the fiscal year, except by ordinance” approved by the City Council. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, whose campaign was endorsed by Reed, did not respond to the AJC’s questions about the appropriateness of using taxpayer money for contests and raffles. She also declined to respond when asked if the bonuses were appropriate and whether she would award them at the end of the year. “Decisions around the bonuses were made without input from the current administration,” the statement said. “However, Mayor Bottoms will continue to carefully evaluate best practices, prioritizing ways in which city business can be conducted in a transparent and responsible manner.” ‘A bunch of questions here’ The city’s code stipulates several circumstances under which employees may receive bonuses. Police officers can receive retention bonuses of $3,000 after 5 years of service. Some employees can receive 2-percent bonuses for being bilingual or by earning a special certification. The city also provides longevity bonuses up to $750 for employees who have been with the city for 25 years or more. City ordinances do not appear to authorize payments or bonuses of arbitrary amounts for unspecified reasons. “There are a bunch of questions here,” said Councilman Howard Shook, who chairs the City Council’s Finance/Executive Committee. “I couldn’t think of a worse time to dole out bonuses of this nature from a political perspective. Everything is so unsettled. Morale is so low. Everyone is waiting for the next piece of bad news. “Obviously, we are all now going to contemplate what guardrails need to be put around this process,” Shook said. The Georgia State Constitution’s gratuities clause prohibits public agencies from granting donations, gratuities and “extra compensation to any public officer, agent, or contractor after the service has been rendered or the contract entered into.” An unofficial opinion from the Georgia Attorney General in 2002 dealt with whether public hospital authorities could offer prospective employees signing bonuses. It said they could “if the authority receives a substantial benefit in exchange for the signing bonus.” >> Related: See the unofficial opinion from 2002 here Georgia State Rep. Chuck Martin, a Republican, and chairman of the state house’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee, said the gratuities clause generally prohibits taxpayer money from being spent without taxpayers receiving something in return. “If those types of bonuses hadn’t been done previously, it would seem to me to call into question the reason for them here,” said Martin, a former Mayor of Alpharetta. “If I was a taxpayer in Atlanta, I would certainly wonder: Wouldn’t that half-a-million dollars been better spent recruiting people to work for me in 2018 and beyond?” Reed did not address the AJC’s questions about whether metrics were used to determine the amounts of bonuses; nor did he say what the city would receive in return for giving the bonuses. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Carr did not respond to an email about whether the gratuities clause applied to the City of Atlanta’s recent bonuses. Shook said he couldn’t recall similar payouts during his 16 years on the City Council. Read more here.