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iStock(HONG KONG) -- Tens of thousands of protesters defied a rainstorm and the threat of more clashes with police on Sunday in one of the biggest pro-democracy demonstrations yet in Hong Kong.

Demonstrators, whom police denied a permit to march, filled a major park and spilled into surrounding streets, which remained packed with protesters late into the night.

For the most part, the daylong demonstration has been peaceful, but participants expressed fear that circumstances could change on a dime as the Chinese government ratcheted up its threats to quash the civil unrest, now in its eleventh week in the semi-autonomous territory.

"I'm scared, of course. Really scared. Yeah," a protester wearing a mask, sunglasses and a black cap told ABC News. "But I think this is worth it to find our democracy and freedom."

Many of the protesters taking part in Sunday's rally wore masks to protect their identity. Protesters also wore patches over their right eyes to symbolize solidarity with a woman they say was shot in the eye by a projectile fired by police during a protest on Aug. 11.

As protesters began congregating at Victoria Park on Sunday morning, Chinese paramilitary police were staging by the thousands in a sports stadium just outside Hong Kong in the neighboring town of Shenzhen.

The riot-ready troops conducted drills with tanks in what many protesters said they suspect was a thinly-veiled threat.

Hong Kong government officials issued a statement Sunday night saying that while the protest was generally peaceful, the demonstrators managed to block a number of thoroughfares on Hong Kong Island, "seriously affecting traffic and causing much inconvenience to the community."

"The Transport Department and the Police have actively coordinated with concerned parties to minimize the impact," the statement reads.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government emphasized that it was "most important to restore social order as soon as possible."

"The Government will begin sincere dialogue with the public, mend social rifts and rebuild social harmony when everything has calmed down," the spokesman said.

By 3 p.m. local time, an area designated for the protest was overflowing with demonstrators, who formed a sea of umbrellas that stretched into neighboring streets. Organizers of the demonstration claimed that 1.7 million people participated in the protest, but police, according to Hong Kong Free Press, put the number at only 128,000.

A protester who would only give his first name as Phillip told ABC News that he joined the demonstration because Hong Kong government leaders "do not listen to the people."

"We will stay together and voice out," Phillip said.

Many demonstrators said they are worried that their freedoms will continue to erode as China's Communist Party-ruled central government keeps flexing its muscle in Hong Kong, the former British colony that was given back to China in 1997 and has since become a global financial hub.

Under the constitutional principle of "One Country, Two Systems," China had agreed to keep its hands off the freedoms Hong Kong residents have enjoyed as a semi-autonomous territory. But protesters say the Chinese government has exercised its power to curb democracy in Hong Kong in violation of the agreement.

A young couple with a baby told ABC News they participated in the protest because they are afraid for their child's future.

"Without freedom, my son will not have hope," said the father, adding that he was there to "fight for Hong Kong."

The massive protests started in early June when hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators marched in Hong Kong against an extradition bill government leaders there had reached with the Chinese government. The bill was suspended as the protest grew larger and louder.

Demonstrators are also demanding democratic election, an investigation of police use of force, and the resignation of Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, whom protesters consider a tool of the Chinese government.

Clashes between protesters and police grew more intense last week when demonstrators organized a city-wide strike and stormed Hong Kong International Airport, forcing the cancellation of numerous flights in and out of the world's busiest airport for two days.

On Tuesday, violent clashes erupted between protesters and paramilitary police at the airport. Baton-wielding officers were caught on video using force on demonstrators to take back control of the airport.

Chinese officials said Tuesday that protesters "have begun to show signs of terrorism," and China appeared to be weighing a crackdown on the democratic movement.

President Donald Trump told reporters last week that he hopes the situation in Hong Kong "works out for everybody, including China, by the way," and that "nobody gets killed."

On Sunday, You Wenze, spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress, warned U.S. politicians to stay out of China's internal affairs in Hong Kong. Wenze accused U.S. congressional members of glorifying violent crimes under the guise of protests for human rights and freedom.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement last week saying, “The escalating violence and use of force perpetrated against the Hong Kong protesters is extremely alarming. The pro-Beijing Chief Executive and the Hong Kong police forces must immediately cease the aggression and abuse being perpetrated against their own people."

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Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- An explosion at a wedding hall in the city of Kabul has killed 63 people and wounded 182, according Nasrat Rahimi, spokesperson for the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior Affairs.

The blast happened at the Dubai City Wedding Hall in western Kabul as it was packed with revelers enjoying a wedding, many of whom were women and children.

The cause of the explosion remains unknown, but it took place in a part of Kabul where many people of the Shiite Hazara community call home.

The Islamic State's arm in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the attack, The Associated Press reported. The Taliban released a statement shortly after the explosion condemning the bombing and denying any involvement.

Just yesterday President Donald Trump met with his Afghanistan envoy, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence, at his golf club in New Jersey and hinted that the U.S. might be close to a deal with the Taliban.

He tweeted, "Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan. Many on the opposite side of this 19 year old war, and us, are looking to make a deal - if possible!"

An Afghan official told ABC News, "Terrorists once again targeted civilians. They cannot face ANDSF (Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces) in the battle field hence conduct these cowardly attacks.”

Images of the wedding hall after the explosion showed several enormous holes were left in the walls and ceiling of the building and dozens of shoes piled up from victims that were caught in the blast. Hospital corridors were also lined with victims who were waiting to receive treatment -- some who had lost limbs.

The timing of the explosion shattered more than a week of calm in the Afghan capital.

A Taliban car bomb allegedly targeting Afghan security forces ripped through a busy west Kabul neighborhood on the same road as the wedding explosion 10 days ago, killing 14 people and wounding 145 -- most of them women and children.

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MicroStockHub/iStock(NEW YORK) -- North Korea fired two short-range projectiles into the Sea of Japan early Friday morning according to South Korea’s military, marking North Korea's sixth round of short-range missile testing in less than a month.

The launch began just hours after North Korea rejected further dialogue with Seoul, citing its frustration with joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the region. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles were launched into the Sea of Japan at around 8:01 and 8:16 a.m. local time, and both flew about 143 miles at an altitude of 18 miles.

The officials did not confirm whether the projectiles were rockets or ballistic missiles, and President Donald Trump did not immediately acknowledge this latest launch.

Despite the ongoing missile testing, Trump last week boasted about his most recent letter from Kim Jong Un, calling it “beautiful’ and “positive” and claiming that Kim offered a “small apology” for the continued launches. Trump told reporters that Kim was fed up with the joint US-South Korean military exercises he calls “war games."

"He wasn't happy with the war games ... I've never liked [the exercises], either,” Trump said. “You know why? I don't like paying for it."

Trump has continuously downplayed North Korea’s launches and touted the success of his relationship with Kim.

Last week, the president told reporters that “there have been no nuclear tests. The missile tests have all been short-range, no ballistic missile tests, no long-range missiles." However, U.S. officials have confirmed North Korea is testing short range ballistic missile tests that violate U.N. Security Council sanctions and continue to pose a threat to U.S. allies, as well as the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

In an interview Thursday with Voice of America, National Security Advisor John Bolton called the launches “troubling.”

“We think the range could probably hit all of South Korea and parts of Japan. That of course would endanger our deployed forces as well. These resolutions violate U.N. Security Council sanctions, and they don't violate the pledge that Kim Jong Un made to President Trump, that's true, but they are troubling for everybody watching the peninsula,” said Bolton.

Bolton also highlighted the stalemate in negotiations between the two nations since Trump and Kim’s historic meeting at the DMZ in late June. Citing North Korea’s failure to fully commit to denuclearization, Bolton told VOA: “We haven't had really any substantive negotiations, at the working level with North Korea since the president met with Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone … The door is open for them … but they need to walk through it and they haven't done that yet.”

Although Kim appears to be seeking attention from the U.S with these short-range tests, Trump has largely ignored the launches and they are unlikely to affect future relations between the U.S. and North Korea, according to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. Easley said that although the launch “makes it exceedingly difficult to build trust” with North Korea, negotiations are still possible.

“Working-level negotiations with North Korea are still worth pursuing, but those diplomatic efforts should be backed up by the preparation of additional sanctions and renewed U.S.-Japan-South Korea military cooperation if Pyongyang continues to violate UN resolutions and threaten its neighbors,” Easley said.

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fpdress/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Greenland Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to reports that President Donald Trump had talked about the possibility of buying the territory.

"Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism," the ministry's account tweeted Thursday morning. "We're open for business, not for sale."

 

#Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism. We're open for business, not for sale❄️🗻🐳🦐🇬🇱 learn more about Greenland on: https://t.co/WulOi3beIC

— Greenland MFA 🇬🇱 (@GreenlandMFA) August 16, 2019

A government of Greenland spokesperson reiterated that the island was not for sale when approached for comment by ABC News.

"We have a good cooperation with USA, and we see it as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer," the spokesperson said. "Of course, Greenland is not for sale. Because of the unofficial nature of the news, the Government of Greenland has no further comments."

 

Greenland is a self-governing territory, responsible for its own policies and foreign affairs, that is technically a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the story when approached by ABC News.

The tweet was in response to media reports that Trump had expressed an interest in buying Greenland to Republican figures, with the story first appearing in the Wall Street Journal.

The veracity of the report was backed up by other news outlets, but the seriousness of the topic was questioned.

A Pentagon spokesperson told ABC News its "long-standing defense relationship" with Denmark, which includes an air base in Thule, Greenland, "has not changed."

"The Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) gap is a strategic corridor for naval operations in the North Atlantic, and we work closely with our NATO allies to maintain the transatlantic link," the spokesperson said.

Danish media and politicians have mostly laughed off reports of Trump’s interest, with former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen tweeting, "It must be an April Fool’s Day joke ... but totally out of session!"

Trump is not the first U.S. president to express an interest in purchasing Greenland due to its strategic location and rich resources. In 1946, the government led by President Harry Truman offered to buy Greenland from the Kingdom of Denmark for $100 million, a bid that was promptly rejected.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was supposed to visit the U.S. military base there in May, but had to cancel to trip at the last-minute because of increasing tensions with Iran.

Greenland's strategic importance has increased as China has looked to expand its activity in the Arctic in recent years. While China already has research stations in Iceland and Norway, the nation is looking to expand its footprint into Greenland with a satellite ground station, renovated airport and mining operations. Those ambitions have alarmed Denmark -- as Greenland is a Danish territory -- with the Danes publicly expressed concerns with China's interest in the world's largest island.

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LewisTsePuiLung/iStock(HONG KONG) -- Thousands of people stood elbow to elbow chanting "Power to the People!" on a humid night in central Hong Kong on Friday, as anti-government protests that began here in early June and led to a shutdown of the city's busy international airport this week showed no signs of slowing down.

In the first of several protests planned for this weekend, demonstrators chanted "Stand with Hong Hong," a message they said was directed at the United States and the United Kingdom, the city's former colonial power which passed control of the city to China in 1997.

Police denied permission for a rally that was expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people on Sunday, but protesters are expected to go ahead with it anyway.

“I will sacrifice my life for this movement because we are protecting our home," one of the protesters, Keith Fong, 20, told ABC News earlier in the day.

Another protester, 19-year-old Zoey Leung, said she worries about the safety of her friends and loved ones amid the demonstrations, and the increasingly violent police crackdown, but had no intention of backing down.

“Chasing democracy and freedom is the nature of humans," she said. “There is no turning back for Hong Kongers nowadays.”

Protests erupted on the island 10 weeks ago over a controversial bill that would have allowed accused criminals to be extradited to countries where Hong Kong does not have an existing arrangement. That would have included mainland China, sparking concern over potential human rights abuses, and unearthing a deep-seated distrust for many in Hong Kong. Its embattled and deeply unpopular leader, Carrie Lam, suspended work on the bill but has refused to legally withdraw it.

The activists have also called on Lam to resign.

Lam has condemned the protests and said the marchers were using opposition to the extradition bill as an excuse to undermine Beijing’s sovereignty in Hong Kong to “destroy the way of life cherished by the 7 million [residents].”

On Monday, thousands of protesters rallied and held sit-ins at Hong Kong's international airport, a main hub for business travelers in Asia and among the busiest airports in the world. The protests were broken up by riot police and planes were grounded for the better part of two days.

On Friday, Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways announced the resignation of two of its top officials, including its CEO Rupert Hogg, following reports that airline employees had joined in with the protests.

In a statement posted on Friday, the airline said that "recent events have called into question Cathay Pacific’s commitment to flight safety and security and put our reputation and brand under pressure." The statement said the airline is "fully committed to Hong Kong under the principal of 'One Country Two Systems,'" which refers to China's pledge to respect Hong Kong's autonomy and way of life when it resumed control of the city.

Also on Friday, Alain Robert, a Frenchman whose reputation for scaling skyscrapers has earned him the nickname Spiderman, scaled Hong Kong's 62-story Cheung Kong Centre and unveiled a banner a banner with the flags of both China and Hong Kong, the BBC reported.

"Perhaps what I do can lower the temperature and maybe raise a smile. That's my hope anyway," Mr Robert said in a media statement.

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Koonyongyut/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The Nepalese government proposed new requirements for climbers and guides to get permits to climb Mount Everest, following a deadly season on the world's highest mountain.

The proposed rules include requiring a climber to have reached the summit of at least one peak above 21,325 feet (6,500 meters), and requiring a guide company to have at least three years experience organizing high-altitude climbs and charging a minimum to clients to avoid low-budget operations getting to the mountain.

"I think they're all good proposed changes and hopefully will prevent inexperienced climbers or inexperienced guide companies from getting up onto the mountain and getting in trouble," Garrett Madison, the founder of Madison Mountaineering, told ABC News. "But it's also hard to enforce these regulations, so I don't know if they'll have much effect in the end."

Eleven people died on Everest during the spring climbing season, making it one of the deadliest on record. Most of these deaths occurred on the south, Nepal side of the mountain, and many pointed to crowding and bottlenecks as the reason for the fatalities.

However, while professional mountaineers and Everest experts agree there are too many inexperienced climbers on Everest, they disagree it was crowds -- and thus the number of permits issued -- that caused the deaths. Rather, they point to inexperience itself, as well as a limited weather window seen this season.

While the proposed changes are a step in the right direction, Madison said, they wouldn't do enough to actually have an effect on the mountain, whether by limiting the number of permits or by cutting off inexperienced climbers and guide companies.

"It's not very challenging to meet these three points, and I don't think it's going to reduce the number of climbing permits issued on the Nepalese side of the mountain," he said.

For one thing, climbing one 21,000-foot mountain is relatively easy for experienced climbers -- especially compared to tackling the 29,029-foot Everest. For another, Madison said, "How do you submit proof of climbing a 6500-meter mountain?"

He added that it could be easy to forge a certificate or photo to use as proof.

Additionally, the three years experience for a guide company rule could be easy to get around as well, Madison said, as many sherpas can claim that time in high-altitude climbs.

The Nepalese government has proposed new rules for climbing Everest in the past, typically after a deadly season that makes news. In fact, the government proposed the 6,500-meter requirement once before, in 2015.

Madison, who summitted Everest for his 10th time on May 23, when crowds reached a peak in two senses of the word, said there needs to be a better vetting of prospective climbers, possibly through a stricter application or screening process. Guide companies, too, should be held to a higher standard, he added.

But, he said, it's not "really in the interest of the Nepalese government" to limit the number of permits as the climbers fuel the country's economy.

The expedition leader does have one theory to help the crowds, though, which he is testing in the coming weeks: attempt Everest in the fall, rather than the spring. Although the autumn season makes it a tougher climb with more snow on the mountain after the monsoon season, Madison thinks it could be an option, and he's trying it this year, hoping that a successful attempt will encourage others to do the same.

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rommma/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Scorching temperatures this year broke records, including July becoming the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, scientists said Thursday.

The average global temperature in July was 1.71 degrees above the 20th century average of 60.4 degrees, the hottest temperature that month since scientists began keeping track 140 years ago, according to meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The previous hottest month on record was July 2016.

The period from January through July was also the second-hottest year to date on record, tying with 2017. The global temperature during that time was 1.71 degrees above the recorded average of 56.9 degrees, according to NOAA.

However, in some parts of the world, including North and South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the southern half of Africa, it was the hottest year to date.

Heat warnings slammed much of the eastern half of the U.S. -- from Kansas to Ohio and North Carolina to New Hampshire -- last month.

On July 19, several heat index readings came close to setting records throughout the eastern region.

Some of the temperatures the following day, in places like New York City and Philadelphia, were expected to be the hottest in several years.

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FILE photo. wissanu01/iStock(LONDON) — The U.S. government has requested to take control of an Iranian oil tanker held in Gibraltar.

The Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 has been held in Gibraltar since it was seized by British forces in the Mediterranean last month. It was accused of heading to Syria which is in direct contravention of European Union sanctions.

The government of Gibraltar was scheduled to order the release of the tanker in a Supreme Court hearing Thursday, according to local media. The court will now consider the US Department of Justice's application, with a decision set to be made at 4 p.m. local time (11 a.m. EST).

Inside the courtroom, Chief Justice Anthony Dudley said that the "ship would have sailed" were it not for the US's application, according to the Gibraltar Chronicle.

"The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered," the Government of Gibraltar said in a statement seen by ABC News. "The matter will return to the Supreme Court of Gibraltar at 4:00 p.m. today."

After the Iranian oil tanker was seized last month, Iran's paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps responded by seizing a British-flagged and a Liberian-flagged oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz on July 18.

"The investigations being conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the Government of Gibraltar," a Foreign Office spokesperson told ABC News. "As this is an ongoing investigation we are unable to comment further.”

The U.K. Foreign Office and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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Jobrestful/iStock(LONDON) -- A new campaign to raise awareness about the perils of carrying knives in chicken shops across the United Kingdom has been accused of peddling stereotypes and “bordering on racist” by lawmakers and campaigners.

The government rolled out the #knifefree chicken boxes scheme Wednesday, which would replace the standard packaging in both independent and larger chains of chicken shops across the country.

Over 321,000 chicken boxes will contain real life stories of young people who have abandoned knife crime to “pursue positive activities,” the Home Office said. Some lawmakers claimed, however, that the move was “offensive.”

“Instead of investing in a public health approach to violent crime, the Home Office have opted for yet another crude, offensive and probably expensive campaign,” Labour Party politician Diane Abbott said on Twitter. “They would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them.”

The Labour politician David Lammy, who has campaigned extensively on the issue of knife crime, went one step further in his criticism, saying the campaign “sponsor[ed] an age old trope.”

“Is this some kind of joke?!” he posted on Twitter. “Why have you chosen chicken shops? What's next, #KnifeFree watermelons?”

In another tweet he said: "This ridiculous stunt is either embarrassingly lazy or, at best, unfathomably stupid.”

Courtney Barrett, the founder of “Binning Lives Saves Lives,” a community organization in London that runs a knife amnesty program to allow people to drop off their knives safely, described the move as “bordering on racist.”

“It’s a stunt to make themselves look good,” he told ABC News. “It’s backfired on them, because most knife crime is committed by adults, first of all, and most knife crime isn’t committed by gangs. By doing the chicken shop boxes, you’re targeting young black people.”

The use of chicken shops advanced a harmful stereotype of black people, he added, and the idea to raise awareness could only work if it was rolled out across a variety of business sectors, as “knife crime affects everyone.”

However, the Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said that the chicken boxes “will bring home to thousands of young people the tragic consequences of carrying a knife and challenge the idea that it makes you safer.”

“The government is doing everything it can to tackle the senseless violence that is traumatizing communities and claiming too many young lives, including bolstering the police’s ranks with 20,000 new police officers on our streets,” he said in a statement.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary and lawmaker responsible for the scheme, defended the proposal and said that her critic Diane Abbott was “playing politics with knife crime.”

The rising knife crime rate in the U.K. has become an intense topic of national debate in recent months. According to the latest government figures in 2018, there were 285 "knife and sharp instrument" homicides in the year ending March 2018 -- the highest since records began in 1946. London has been at the heart of much of the attention on the increase in knife crime in the U.K.

The increase drew headlines in February 2018, a month in which London had a higher murder rate than the city of New York.

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:kutaytanir/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Loujain al Hathloul, who has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since May 2018 for her work promoting women's rights in the kingdom, including defying the previous ban on women driving, has turned down a deal to be released.

According to her family, she received an offer recently to finally secure her freedom, but only if she denied being tortured while in custody.

Her brother, Walid al Hathloul, tweeted Tuesday that officials visited her in prison and asked her to sign a document to deny ever being tortured. On a third visit, they added a new request -- to appear on video and deny any torture took place.

"She immediately ripped the document," according to Walid. "She told them by asking me to sign this document you are involved in the the (sic) cover up and you're simply trying [to] defend Saud Al-Qahtani who was overseeing the torture."

Qahtani is a Saudi official who served as a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but was reportedly dismissed after being implicated in the plot to murder Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Loujain's sister, Lina al Hathloul, added: "Whatever happens I am certifying it 1 more time: Loujain has been brutally tortured and sexually harassed."

Her sister tweeted Wednesday, "We have no guarantee whatsoever that if she accepts the deal, they’ll free her. We are tired of false promises."

At least four of the female activists in Saudi custody have said they have been tortured, according to human rights groups.

In a statement to ABC News, a Saudi official denied that al Hathloul was tortured or offered a deal for her release, adding Saudi laws "prohibit torture" and, "Detainees and prisoners have the right to file a complaint alleging mistreatment, and the kingdom has institutions in place that ensure that their grievances are redressed."

Lina al Hathloul said she worries that speaking out "will harm my sister," but added, "We have no guarantee whatsoever that if she accepts the deal, they'll free her. We are tired of false promises."

The State Department did not comment on the specific allegations, but more broadly a spokesperson said in a statement, "We have expressed our concern over the detention of peaceful activists in Saudi Arabia. We urge the government of Saudi Arabia, and all governments, to ensure fair trial guarantees, freedom from arbitrary and extrajudicial detention, transparency, and rule of law."

They referred further questions to the Saudi government.

Separately, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus condemned Iran for sentencing three women's rights activists "to 55 years in prison for protesting compulsory hijab laws while simply handing out roses."

Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz were sentenced for their peaceful campaign against the hijab laws on July 31. Aryani and Arabshahi were sentenced to 16 years each, and Keshavarz was sentenced to 23.5 years -- a combined 55 years, with each required to serve 10 years of their sentence, according to human rights groups.

"We urge all nations to condemn this grave violation," Ortagus said in her tweet Wednesday.

Ortagus has not tweeted about Loujain al Hathloul's accusations.

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FILE photo. Fotokot197/iStock(MOSCOW) -- A Russian jet carrying 226 passengers and seven crew members made an emergency landing in the middle of a corn field near Moscow after colliding with birds shortly after takeoff.

Ural Airlines flight 178 from Moscow to Simferopol in Crimea suffered "significant interruptions" in the jet's engines, according to Russia's Federal Air Transport Agency. The pilots were forced to land the plane in a field adjacent to Zhukovsky International Airport.

"On takeoff, after separation from the runway, the plane crashed into a flock of gulls, whose entry into the engines led to significant interruptions," a representative of the FATA told Interfax in a statement on Thursday.

The passengers were evacuated immediately upon landing, and there was no fire aboard the Airbus A321.

"The landing was made with the landing gear removed, and the crew turned off the engines before landing," according to FATA's statement, which was translated from Russian. "The cabin crew coordinated and organized the evacuation of passengers on emergency inflatable ramps."

A woman who asked not to be identified told Eurovision News: "There was a stony silence on board."

"Everyone was waiting for their fate," she added. "Then the plane hardly hit the ground. I held my baby in hands. I was afraid that she would be shaken badly because of her light weight."

Russia said it's formed a special commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.

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macky_ch/iStock(MOSCOW) -- The explosion of a suspected Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile last week has caused a lot of confusion and anxiety, fueled in part by Russian authorities' continuing secrecy around the accident.

Russia has provided few details known about the blast, which a U.S. official told ABC News "likely" took place during a test on the missile, named the SSX-C-9 Skyfall by NATO and as the 9M370 Burevestnik (Storm Petrel) by Russia.

What we know

There was a spike in radiation immediately after the explosion on Friday, briefly elevating levels up to 16 times higher than normal in a city 20 miles from the Nenoksa Missile Test Site on Russia's northern Arctic coast. Russian authorities only officially acknowledged this spike on Sunday, three days after the accident. Nenoksa’s local administration had posted a notice on its website immediately after the blast, warning levels had spiked two times above normal. But this notice was then deleted after Russia's defense ministry denied levels had increased.

Russia’s state weather service, Roshydromet, later acknowledged that the spike had sent radiation levels 4 - 16 times above the norm. But it appears the spike was also brief, lasting no more than 2 hours, before the lives returned to normal, according to Roshydromet.

The environmental group Greenpeace said its own readings show the spike lasted less than an hour. The group does not dispute the official Russian readings now that levels reduced to normal.

All of these readings have come from sensors at the nearby city of Severodvinsk, a nuclear submarine port, 20 miles from the test site.

The concern is that the radiation levels closer to the explosion were not immediately known. The village, Nenoksa, is located directly next to the blast and could have received higher levels. There is also the risk that radioactive debris from the rocket could have fallen near the site.

How dangerous is it?

The radiation levels recorded during the brief spike were around 0.002 millisieverts (mSv), officials said. According to the World Health Organization, the average background radiation dose people receive each year is 2.4 mSv (although that can vary from 1-10 mSv).

Per the WHO, highly exposed liquidators at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster received in excess of 100 mSv over a 20-year period. And a whole-body CT scan, for instance, emits 12 mSv.

That means that the elevated levels caused by the missile test explosion appear to have been less than 1/500th of the average amount of radiation absorbed by an adult naturally each year.

That could pose some potential risks if this was over a long period, but the spike also lasted only roughly an hour and a half. For those levels to be dangerous you would have to be exposed to them for months, according to Greenpeace.

Exposure levels closer to the explosion site, however, remain unclear.

Another risk, according to Greenpeace, is that the sensors also don't account for alpha radiation. These particles -- heavy by-products of radioactive decay -- are easily blocked by materials such as skin, but are "potentially dangerous" if ingested, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

According to Greenpeace, those particles could have contaminated the nearby village, which has a population of about 500, and authorities therefore ought to test for them.

“The real problem is lack of transparency,” Konstantin Fomin, media coordinator on energy issues for Greenpeace Russia told ABC News. "It’s obviously not on the Chernobyl scale but even if there is no danger and I hope there is no danger, it is very worrisome that our government acts with so little transparency."

Evacuations

Confusion over the blast is illustrated by the conflicting reports of evacuations in the village of Nyonoksa, directly next to the missile test site.

Local authorities initially said Tuesday that residents had been told to temporarily leave on Wednesday morning while a military operation was conducted. The local governor, Igor Orlov, then disputed that, calling reports of evacuations "absurd" and saying they weren't taking place.

The same village authorities then said the request to leave had been cancelled.

Residents have since told local media that in fact such requests to leave temporarily are common and occur just ahead of planned tests on the missile range. It suggests more tests might have been planned, but that was not immediately confirmed.

What exploded?


U.S. officials and most experts believe the test was on a nuclear-powered cruise missile, called the SSC-X-9 Skyfall by NATO and the Burevestnik (Storm Petrel) by Russia.

Russian officials have said only that a rocket propulsion engine using nuclear materials exploded during a test. They have not officially confirmed it was the missile that U.S. officials believe likely exploded but have not disputed it was.

The explosion happened on a military missile test range and was carried out by engineers from Russia’s Federal Nuclear Center, under the state atomic agency Rosatom.

Putin has touted the missile as having almost “unlimited” range and it is a centerpiece of a new generation of nuclear weapons that he has been saber-rattling at the West in an attempt to look tough at home and force the U.S. to negotiate with him on arms control abroad.

The missile is believed to be a ramjet, which propels itself by sucking air in, heating it and pushing it out behind it. To heat the air constantly, the missile would carry essentially a miniature nuclear reactor. Outside experts though are skleptical that Russia is close to getting the missile operational. The U.S. tried to develop similar missiles in the 1960s but abandoned the idea as impracticable.

Casualties

At least 5 nuclear engineers were killed in the blast, while three more suffered non-life threatening injuries, according to Russia’s nuclear agency.

Two more defense personnel were reported killed.

The dead engineers have been hailed as heroes serving the Motherland by officials and will receive posthumous state medals.

Kremlin comment

President Vladimir Putin has still not commented publicly on the explosion.

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, commented for the first time Tuesday, saying, "Unfortunately, accidents happen. These are tragedies. It is important to remember about heroes, who have lost their lives as a result of those accidents."

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josephmok/iStock(HONG KONG) -- Flights resumed at the Hong Kong International Airport on Wednesday after two days of paralyzing protests that spiraled into violence and chaos.

Although the airport was open, authorities limited access to the main terminal to employees and ticketed passengers only. A few dozen demonstrators remained camped inside the arrivals terminal but the scene was quiet and calm compared to the previous night.

The Hong Kong International Airport, one of the world's busiest and a major hub for the region, was forced to suspend check-in services and cancel hundreds of flights on Monday and Tuesday, as thousands of protesters stormed the terminals, held a sit-in and clashed with riot police.

Hong Kong's airport authority said in a statement Wednesday that it has obtained an interim injunction to restrain individuals from "unlawfully and willfully obstructing or interfering with the proper use of Hong Kong International Airport." The order also restricts people "from attending or participating in any demonstration or protest or public order event in the airport other than in the area designated by the Airport Authority," according to the statement.

Hong Kong's flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways said 272 flights have been cancelled in the past two days, affecting more than 55,000 passengers. The company condemned the "disruptive behavior," calling the actions of the protesters "unacceptable."

"Not only do they seriously harm Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation hub, they also damage the reputation of Hong Kong as a whole," Cathay Pacific Airways said in a statement Wednesday.

Protesters offered their apologies to travelers on Wednesday via posters and open letters circulating online.

"Dear tourists, we're deeply sorry about what happened yesterday," read one poster held by two young women in the arrivals terminal. "We were desperate and we made imperfect decisions. Please accept our apology."

On Tuesday night, protesters "continuously hurled miscellaneous objects and aimed laser beams at police officers," according to a statement from Hong Kong police, which said they condemned "such radical and violent acts." Two officers were injured and sent to the hospital, police said.

At one point, a group of protesters swarmed around a man, who was apparently believed to be an undercover police officer, and zip-tied him to a luggage cart. Some people were seen attacking him while others were trying to shield him.

Police said the man fainted for a short period of time. Ultimately, medics arrived on the scene and carried him out of the airport. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment, police said.

Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of China's state-owned nationalist newspaper Global Times, later said the man was one of his reporters.

Police said five people have been arrested in connection to the incident for offences including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons, assaulting police officers and breaching of the peace.

Protesters began occupying Hong Kong's international airport six days ago, but mass demonstrations have been happening in the streets of the semi-autonomous Chinese city since early June when hundreds of thousands of people peacefully marched against the government's proposal to change an extradition law that would allow individuals to be sent to mainland China for trial.

The protests have become more confrontational and violent, with riot police using tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds at times to disperse the crowds.

Many of the demonstrators at the airport are wearing eye patches to show support for a woman who was reportedly shot in the face by a bean bag round fired by police on Sunday. There are unconfirmed reports she could lose her right eye as a result of the injury.

Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam has since suspended the controversial bill indefinitely. The protesters are now pressuring the government to, among other demands, formally withdraw the now-suspended bill from the legislative agenda and establish an independent commission to investigate police conduct in their handling of the demonstrations.

Sean Lavin, an American who was in Hong Kong on vacation, said he was surprised to see throngs of protesters at the airport when he and his travel companions were going through customs several days ago.

"It was something I've never experienced before," Lavin told ABC News by telephone, adding that the protesters were "very polite" and helped them find their way out of the airport.

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DNY59/iStock(STOCKHOLM) -- Rapper A$AP Rocky was convicted of assault but will not face jail time, Swedish prosecutors announced on Wednesday.

The hip-hop star was not present when the verdict was announced. He was facing up to two years in prison.

A$AP Rocky and two of his companions -- performers Bladimir Corniel and David Rispers -- were accused of beating 19-year-old Mustafa Jafari on June 30 in Stockholm, where the rapper was visiting during the European leg of his tour.

"All three defendants are convicted of assault and sentenced to conditional sentences," the statement said. "The court finds that the defendants were not in a situation where they were entitled to self-defence and that they have assaulted the victim by hitting and kicking him. However, it has not been proven that the defendants struck the victim in the head with a bottle or assaulted him with whole or broken bottles. The victim is awarded damages for violation of his integrity and pain and suffering, but less than he requested. The defendants shall, each based on their financial ability, repay the state for its expenses for public legal counsels."

"In an overall assessment the court finds that the assault has not been of such a serious nature that a prison sentence must be chosen," the statement continued. "The defendants are therefore sentenced to conditional sentences."

They were released on Aug. 2, where they made their return to the United States after being held in Swedish detention for two months.

The rapper, whose given name is Rakim Mayers, testified at his trial that he and his companions were followed and harassed by Jafari and another man prior to the brawl and that they repeatedly asked the men to leave them alone.

He said that Jafari instigated a fight with the rapper's bodyguard and that they "begged and pleaded" with the two men for a peaceful outcome before they were driven to act in self-defense.

President Donald Trump repeatedly called for the rapper's freedom and lashed out at Sweden's prime minister on Twitter after the rapper was charged last month. Following the judge's ruling on Aug. 2 that the rapper will be released, Trump posted on Twitter: "A$AP Rocky released from prison and on his way home to the United States from Sweden. It was a Rocky Week, get home ASAP A$AP!."

The rapper's case sparked outrage in the hip-hop community and in Hollywood and even on Capitol Hill, where the rapper's congressman and members of the Congressional Black Caucus rallied to call for his release.

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Cunaplus_M.Faba/iStock(MOSCOW) -- The radiation spike that followed the apparent explosion of a nuclear-powered missile engine in Russia -- an event that left seven dead and has been cloaked in secrecy -- was higher than previously indicated by the country's officials, Russian government weather agency on Tuesday said

The news comes amid conflicting reports that authorities were preparing to evacuate a village close to the Arctic test site where the blast occurred and other details surrounding the event.

Roshydromet, a state weather monitoring body, said its sensors in a city near the Nenoksa Missile Test Site in northern Russia had picked up a spike in background radiation levels 4-16 times above the norm immediately after the blast last Friday. The spike lasted about an hour and half, before levels returned to normal, the agency said.

The levels were still relatively low, but above what Russian authorities on Sunday said, when they noted the spike was 2 times above the norm.

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday issued a statement saying Russia had informed it the radiation levels around the site were equivalent to natural radiation.

The data on the radiation came five days after the explosion that killed five nuclear engineers and two defense personnel and that U.S. officials and outside experts have said they believe "likely" involved a nuclear-powered cruise missile. The weapon, able to evade radar, was touted by president Vladimir Putin as the centerpiece of Russia’s new nuclear arsenal.

The delay in releasing the information reflects the highly secretive response from Russian authorities, who first appeared to conceal that the blast involved radiation and then only slowly released details about it -- for some, conjuring up echoes of the Soviet response to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986.

In the first days after the suspected explosion, Russia’s defense ministry initially made no mention the engine had contained nuclear materials and then denied there had been a spike in radiation. Local city officials on the Friday released a statement saying the spike had been 2 times above the norm, but later deleted it from the internet.

State television also initially largely ignored the accident, barely mentioning it in news broadcasts for the first two days. Russia’s Federal Nuclear Center, which carried out the test, only on Sunday first acknowledged that the test had involved “radioactive materials." The test had involved an attempt to use a small-scale radioisotope power source inside a liquid propellant engine, Russia’s atomic agency Rosatom said in a statement.

The Kremlin on Tuesday for the first time commented on the explosion, which U.S. officials and outside experts believe most likely happened during testing on the nuclear-powered cruise missile that president Vladimir Putin has touted as a crown-jewel of a next generation arsenal for Russia.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Wednesday told reporters that “all relevant agencies were working to ensure the safety of Russian citizens,” saying he had nothing more to add on the explosion.

A U.S. official on Monday told ABC News that they thought it was “likely” the explosion had been caused during a test on the missile, named the SSX-C-9 Skyfall by NATO and as the 9M370 Burevestnik by Russia.

The official said the U.S. had detected increased radiation levels close to the rocket.

According to Greenpeace, whose own testing shortly after the blast showed levels 20 times above the norm, the radiation spike indicated there had been a release.

Rashed Alimov, director of GreenPeace Russia’s energy department, told ABC News that because authorities were providing so little information it was impossible to say how much a risk explosion posed.

The elevated levels “were simply an indicator that there was a release,” he said. He said Russian authorities ought to provide clear information to people and warned that it was possible the rocket engine contained types of radioactive material that could pose a health risk if ingested.

In a sign of the uncertainty surrounding the blast, there were conflicting reports in state media as authorities apparently first requested and then cancelled a temporary evacuation of the village of Nenoksa, close to the test site. Ksenia Yudina. The head of the Nenoksa village council’s press service told the state news agency RIA Novosti residents had been asked to prepare to leave on Wednesday morning while the military carried out an operation there.

But Arkhangelsk’s regional governor, Igor Orlov, hours later rejected that as “nonsense” saying no evacuations were taking place. Yudina then told Interfax that the request to leave had now been cancelled.

“There’s a lot of contradictory information,” said Alimov. “So it’s clear that people are having to operate in the conditions of a lack of information.

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