Nation and world news briefs

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In prisoner swap, Iran releases US veteran in exchange for scientist

WASHINGTON — A U.S. military veteran, Michael White, who had been held by Iran for two years, has been released and is on his way home, his family and President Donald Trump said on Thursday.

He was set free after US-Iranian scientist Majid Taheri was released by U.S. authorities, officials in Tehran said.

“I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home,” Joanne White, Michael’s mother, said in a statement released by the family’s lawyers.

Trump tweeted to confirm the release: “I am to happy announce that Navy Veteran, Michael White, who has been detained by Iran for 683 days, is on a Swiss plane that just left Iranian Airspace,” he said.

White was detained in 2018 on charges of insulting Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He had received a 10-year sentence.

He has suffered from ill health while in prison, including reportedly contracting the coronavirus.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed White and Taheri’s release.

According to media reports, Taheri, who is also a U.S. citizen, was detained 16 months ago for alleged sanctions violations. It was initially unclear whether Taheri would travel to Iran after his release.



New hurricane season forecast raises chance of US landfall

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A pessimistic hurricane season forecast was released Thursday, saying the odds have increased for landfall by a major hurricane in the Caribbean or United States.

Colorado State University, one of the most prominent centers for hurricane forecasting, raised the predicted number of hurricanes from eight to nine. The number of expected named storms, those of at least tropical strength, climbed from 16 to 19.

“We have slightly increased our forecast for the 2020 Atlantic basin hurricane season and believe that the season will have well above-average activity,” stated a report from the university’s Department of Atmospheric Science.

An average season sees six hurricanes. All forecasts have called for an above-average season this year, which raised the chances that hurricanes will hit land.

“We anticipate an above-normal probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean,” the Colorado State forecast said.

Colorado State and other forecasters point to above average temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, which provides the fuel for hurricanes. And they note they absence of El Nino, the warming of the Pacific Ocean that can cause the high altitude crosswinds that prevent hurricane formation.

The Colorado State forecast left unchanged its prediction of four major hurricanes, which means those with wind speeds of at least 111 mph.

The season, which officially began Monday, has already been extraordinarily active. Two tropical storms formed before the official start date, and a third formed the day after the season began.

—Sun Sentinel


New York Times says ‘send in the troops’ op-ed was mistake

NEW YORK — A New York Times opinion piece recommending that the U.S. military be used to quell demonstrations suffered from a “rushed editorial process” and “did not meet our standards,” the newspaper said after a review of the controversial commentary.

The op-ed, written by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, said that troops should restore order after rioters “plunged many American cities into anarchy.” The editorial was criticized on social media, including by some of the Times’ own employees, who said it would put the lives of black people and journalists in danger.

Late Thursday, the newspaper put out a statement saying they had examined the process leading up to the editorial’s publication and found it lacking.

“As a result, we’re planning to examine both short-term and long-term changes, to include expanding our fact-checking operation and reducing the number of op-eds we publish,” the Times said in the statement.

The move comes just hours after Times editorial-page editor James Bennet defended publishing the piece, saying “it would undermine the integrity and independence of The New York Times if we only published views that editors like me agreed with.”

—Bloomberg News


New Hong Kong law bans ‘insults’ about China’s national anthem

Hong Kong passed a law Thursday banning ridicule of China’s national anthem.

Of those who voted for the new legislation — most of whom are supporters of Beijing — 41 were for it, and only one was against, The Guardian reports.

A good chunk of lawmakers in favor of democracy instead participated in a last-minute protest, preventing them from being able to take part in the vote, which took place late Thursday afternoon local time.

The new law states the anthem should be taught in schools and it criminalizes behaviors that “insult” or misuse the anthem, such as playing or singing the anthem in a “distorted or disrespectful” way. The new rule also prohibits “publicly and intentionally” altering the lyrics or even its score.

Not only would offenders face a fine of about $6,452 (HK$50,000), they could be sent to jail for up to three years.

Hong Kong residents are worried the law — which refers to “insult” and “derogatory” in somewhat hazy terms — could jeopardize freedom of expression in the special administrative region.

Thursday’s ruling overlapped with the first-time ban of the annual candlelight vigil held in Victoria Park on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which ended June 4, 1989.

The vigil ban, and anthem law, also coincided with China’s decision to impose national security laws on Hong Kong, in part to end the anti-government protests that began last summer.

Other “acts and activities” that would be punished under the new laws would be those deemed to threaten national security, among them foreign interference and secession.

—New York Daily News