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Saudi human rights activist sentenced to 8 years in prison

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a member of an independent human rights organization to eight years in prison in the latest guilty verdict to be issued against the group’s members, rights group Amnesty International said.

Abdulaziz al-Shubaily is the only founding member of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, known by its Arabic acronym HASEM, not behind bars. He acted as a legal representative for nine other founding HASEM members.

Amnesty said he was tried Sunday by the Specialized Criminal Court — established to try terrorism cases but increasingly used for trials of political activists whose work is deemed a national security risk. A sweeping anti-terrorism law came into effect in 2014, defining acts as vague as “defaming the state’s reputation” as terrorism.

The London-based rights group said al-Shubaily was also barred from traveling abroad for eight years after his release and forbidden from writing on social media. His charges included “communicating with foreign organizations” and providing information to Amnesty for use in its reports. He was additionally charged with inciting people to breach public order and accusing security forces of repression and torture, said Amnesty.

In 2013, prominent founding HASEM activists, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, were sentenced to 10 and 11 years respectively. Soon after, other verdicts against the group followed against nearly a dozen members.

In April of this year, Issa al-Hamid, another founding member of HASEM and Abdullah al-Hamid’s brother, was sentenced to nine years in prison in what Amnesty International described at the time as part of a wider “ruthless onslaught against civil society” by Saudi authorities.

The group was shut down three years ago, not long after a swell of Arab Spring uprisings demanding political reforms, transparency and social justice swept across much of the region.


Romania charges 77 doctors in bribery case

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian prosecutors say they have charged dozens of doctors with taking bribes after a pharmaceutical company paid for vacations for them in India in exchange for promoting anti-cancer medicine to patients.

Prosecutors said Monday that an unnamed pharmaceutical company ostensibly paid for 77 oncologists to attend a breast cancer congress in Bangalore, India, in March 2012. In reality, the doctors, some accompanied by family members, vacationed in New Delhi more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) away.

The company paid 520,000 euros ($577,000) of which 417,000 euros ($463,000) were bribes, according to prosecutors. They called the congress “a pretext, a way of hiding the vacation given to medics by the company … to guide patients to the company’s generic products.”

The doctors haven’t been identified and haven’t issued a statement.


Brazil’s transparency chief under pressure to leave over tap

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Leaked recordings of conversations of heavyweight politicians are causing yet more headaches for Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer. His new anti-corruption chief was under pressure to resign Monday after TV Globo broadcast a recording of him giving legal advice to the head of Brazil’s Senate, a man under investigation in a sprawling kickback probe involving the state oil company Petrobras.

The recording broadcast late Sunday also shows Transparency Minister Fabiano Silveira criticizing the investigation itself, which has implicated some of Brazil’s most prominent politicians and businessmen.

TV Globo also said that Silveira repeatedly contacted investigators in the Petrobras case to seek information on the accusations against Senate chief Renan Calheiros, but he did not succeed in getting any specifics. The conversation at Calheiros’ residence came some time before the Senate voted to impeach and suspend President Dilma Rousseff, putting the government in Temer’s hands.

Temer had not made any comments about the recordings and Silveira said that he was not involved in any wrongdoing.

But many of Silveira’s staffers blocked his entry to their building in capital Brasilia on Monday. The O Globo newspaper printed an extra editorial to demand Silveira’s resignation, echoing calls by allies of the suspended president, who argues that her foes ousted her because she had allowed the Petrobras investigation to go forward.

Another leaked recording forced Temer’s new planning minister to take a leave of absence last week. In that recording, Romero Juca suggested there should be “a pact” to impeach Rousseff and appeared link it to obstructing the Petrobras probe. He denied any wrongdoing or intention to stop the investigations.

O Globo’s editorial said that “Temer needs to apply the same rule that he applied to Juca: There can be no conspiracy against Operation Car Wash,” a reference to the Petrobras probe. “It is the only way that his public commitment to support the operation and to fight against corruption will be taken seriously.”


2 men sentenced to life terms for bombing Somali airliner

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A military court in the Somali capital on Monday gave life terms to two men convicted of masterminding the bombing in February of an airliner which made an emergency landing with a gaping hole in the fuselage.

The explosion happened aboard Daallo Airlines Airbus A321 about 15 minutes after the jet, with 75 passengers, took off from Mogadishu airport.

Abdiweli Mohamed Maow, a former senior security officer at the Mogadishu airport, was convicted of preparing the laptop computer used to bomb the plane. Areys Hashi Abdi was convicted in absentia.

The attack, which was claimed by the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, killed one passenger, Abdullahi Abdisalam Borle, who was thought to be the suspected suicide bomber. A body believed to be Borle’s was found in a town north of Mogadishu.

Somalia’s military court also convicted eight other people, including a woman, for their roles in planning the bombing and sentenced them to between six months and four years in jail. Six other suspects were acquitted and ordered freed from custody.

Somalia faces an insurgency by al-Shabab, which has carried out deadly attacks in Somalia and neighboring countries.


Replica of Jefferson’s Monticello home goes up for auction

SOMERS, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut home that is a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is about to go on the auction block.

The sale of the 10,000-square-foot home in Somers is set for Tuesday.

The co-founder of the Springfield, Massachusetts-based Friendly’s restaurant chain had the house built for $7.7 million in 2014 ahead of his 100th birthday. No one has ever lived in the home, and it failed to sell for a reduced listing price of $4.9 million.

S. Prestley Blake had the home built because he’s a fan of Jefferson. Jefferson’s Monticello was built over 28 years in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The copycat home mimics the original from the outside but has an updated interior that includes an elevator, gourmet kitchen and lights and heating that can be controlled from a phone app.


Obama marks Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — President Barack Obama laid a wreath Monday at the Tomb of the Unknowns to honor members of the military who died serving their country.

Obama’s appearance at Arlington National Cemetery carries on a longstanding presidential tradition and comes as the U.S. struggles to end various conflicts in the Middle East.

In his remarks, Obama called for Americans to honor the fallen by caring for those they leave behind — their families and their battle buddies who come home.

“We need to be there not just when we need them, but when they need us,” Obama said of the nation’s veterans.

Obama said 20 members of the armed forces had died in combat within the last year.

Special operations forces continue to serve in dangerous missions in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, even as the U.S. military presence in the latter two countries has been greatly reduced under Obama’s watch.

The focus in Iraq and Syria is on defeating the Islamic State group. In Afghanistan, U.S. troops work with Afghan forces battling the Taliban.

Prior to traveling to Arlington, Obama held a breakfast reception at the White House for family members of fallen service members and veterans groups.


Striking Verizon workers to return Wednesday; deal inked

NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly 40,000 striking Verizon employees will return to work Wednesday after reaching a tentative contract agreement that includes 1,300 new call center jobs and nearly 11 percent in raises over four years but also makes health care plan changes to save the company money, the company and a union said Monday.

The pact, subject to approval by union members, stands to end one of the largest strikes in the United States in recent years. Workers and Verizon Communications Inc. had reached an agreement in principle Friday but hadn’t released details or a date for the workers’ return. They struck in mid-April.

The Communications Workers of America union called the deal a victory for not only Verizon employees, but workers at large.

“We are turning the tide from cutbacks against working people to building a stronger labor movement and strengthening the power of working Americans,” Dennis G. Trainor, vice president of the union’s District 1 in the Northeast, said in a statement.

New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. said it was a good deal for workers, customers and the telecom giant alike.

“This will allow our business to be more flexible and competitive,” chief communications officer Marc Reed said in a statement.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, which represents about 10,000 of the striking workers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Union members will vote on the deal after returning to work.

Besides the raises and new call center jobs, the tentative agreement includes $1,250 in signing bonuses and health care reimbursements for new workers, a 25-percent increase in the number of unionized crews maintaining Verizon’s utility poles in New York state, and three 1 percent increases in pensions, which Verizon had proposed to freeze, the CWA said. It also includes a first-ever contract for wireless retail store workers, affecting 70.

The deal also entails changes that Verizon says will save significant money, such as adopting Medicare Advantage plans — private health insurance contracted with the government-sponsored Medicare program — rather than costlier insurance. The tentative agreement also increases flexibility to route customer-service calls from one call center to another, the company said.

Installers, customer service employees, repairmen and other landline and cable workers in nine Eastern states and Washington, D.C., have worked without a contract since last August. During the strike, other workers have stepped in, but there were some delays in installations of Verizon’s Fios fiber-optic service.

The unions said they were striking because Verizon wanted to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers. Verizon said that it had high health care costs for its unionized workers, a group that has shrunk as it sold off large chunks of its wireline unit and focused on its mobile business, which was not unionized. It also wanted the union workers, just over one-fifth of its U.S. workforce, to agree to move around to different regions when needed, which the union opposed.

The strike made its way into the presidential campaign. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton visited strikers outside a Verizon store in midtown Manhattan, and rival Bernie Sanders cheered workers on a picket line in Brooklyn.

But the walkout was also troubled by allegations that strikers in Delaware intimidated and harassed non-union replacement workers, including chasing, ramming and surrounding a contract worker’s van on Interstate 95. Union locals said any problems were isolated incidents not sanctioned by labor leaders; a Delaware judge said Thursday he felt the unions had “a causal role” but declined a Verizon request to hold them in contempt of a prior court order spelling out permissible strike activities.

Verizon workers last struck in August 2011, when about 45,000 were off the job for about two weeks.

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Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @jennpeltz.


Libyan American father and son acquitted in UAE trial

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Two Libyan Americans detained in the United Arab Emirates for nearly two years were acquitted on Monday of charges they illegally raised funds for a foreign entity and took hostile actions against a foreign country.

The family of Kamal Eldarat, 59, and his son Mohammed, 34, said after the verdict that the cast was “tainted with due process and human rights violations.”

The Eldarats, who are successful businessmen and longtime residents of the UAE, were arrested in August 2014. The older Eldarat fled Libya with his family years before the country’s 2011 uprising and moved to the U.S., where they were granted political asylum. They moved to the UAE in 1997.

Their arrest took place around the time that reports emerged of the UAE leading airstrikes against Islamic rebel groups in Libya. They were not formally charged until almost 18 months after their arrest, and their trial began in January.

The case included two other co-defendants, Canadian dual-national Sami Alaradi and Libyan national Issa Almanna, who were also acquitted of all charges on Monday.

The four were initially charged with supporting terrorist organizations in Libya, but the prosecutor withdrew those charges in March and they instead faced a maximum 15-year prison sentence on charges of illegally raising donations and taking hostile actions against Libya by sending humanitarian supplies without permission from the UAE government.

The defendants denied ever raising funds for Libyan rebels affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood group, which is outlawed as a terrorist organization under UAE law.

Instead, the defendants acknowledged raising money for humanitarian supplies for Libya’s National Transitional Council with documented approval from the UAE government. The NTC headed the internationally-backed Libyan opposition to longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi during the 2011 uprising and then governed Libya for a period of time after he was killed.

The four say they were tortured by UAE state security officers during their first three months of detention. Alaradi’s lawyer previously said his client was beaten with hoses and other instruments.

A group of U.N. human rights experts said they received credible information that the detainees were tortured and forced to sign confessions, and were allegedly held incommunicado in secret locations and in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time. The judge later allowed a brief medical examination to take place during the course of the trial.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Friday that Washington was concerned that the defendants were denied consular access and access to legal representation at the start of their detention. He said U.S. officials raised these issues, including allegations of abuse, with UAE officials and visited the Eldarats in prison, most recently last week.

The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said earlier this year that U.S. consular officials were allowed to attend the trial and the defendants were allowed to contact their lawyers, diplomatic representatives and families.

After the verdict was announced, Amal Eldarat said the family is “grateful and overjoyed” that her father and brother were found not guilty, but that “this trial should have never taken place.”

Speaking to reporters by telephone from the U.S., she said it could take a few days or several weeks for them to be released due to procedural issues.


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