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Nation and World briefs for May 13

Dozens of countries hit by huge cyberextortion attack

NEW YORK (AP) — Dozens of countries were hit with a huge cyberextortion attack Friday that locked up computers and held users’ files for ransom at a multitude of hospitals, companies and government agencies.

The attack appeared to exploit a vulnerability that was purportedly identified by the U.S. National Security Agency for its own intelligence-gathering purposes and was later leaked to the internet.

Britain’s national health service was hit hard, its hospitals forced to close wards and emergency rooms. Spain, Portugal and Russia were also struck. Several cybersecurity firms said they had identified the malicious software behind the attack in upward of 60 countries, with Russia apparently the hardest hit.

The Russian Interior Ministry confirmed it was among those that fell victim to the “ransomware” — software that locks up a computer and typically flashes a message demanding payment to release the user’s data.

FedEx Corp. also confirmed it suffered from a malware attack.

A statement from the delivery company Friday said its Windows-based systems were “experiencing interference” because of malware and it was trying to fix the issue as quickly as possible. It gave no further details.

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at Helsinki-based cybersecurity company F-Secure, called it “the biggest ransomware outbreak in history.”

5 immigrant women vie for Miss USA pageant title

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Five of the contestants vying for the Miss USA title have a message to immigrant girls and women watching the pageant this weekend: Set goals, work hard and don’t stay in the shadows.

The contestants know what they are talking about as they were all born in other countries and immigrated to the U.S. at young ages as their families pursued their versions of the American Dream. The women now are all U.S. citizens.

“I want them to see that anything is possible if you work hard,” said Linnette De Los Santos, who immigrated with her family from the Dominican Republic when she was 5 years old. “As Miss USA, I would love to be able to be that inspiration for our immigrant community. If I would have stopped following my dreams and working hard towards what I wanted, I wouldn’t be sitting here as Miss Florida USA or in law school ready to become an immigration attorney.”

The competition airs Sunday from Las Vegas.

De Los Santos, Miss North Dakota Raquel Wellentin, Miss Hawaii Julie Kuo, Miss Connecticut Olga Litvinengo and Miss New Jersey Chhavi Verg spoke to the Associated Press about the opportunities and challenges they faced as immigrants.

Trump warns Comey: Better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of talks

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an ominous warning, President Donald Trump declared Friday that fired FBI Director James Comey had better hope there are no “tapes” of their private conversations. Trump’s tweet came the morning after he asserted Comey had told him three times he wasn’t under FBI investigation.

Later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly refused to address whether recording devices had been placed in the White House. He dismissed the notion that the president threatened the former FBI director.

“The president has nothing further to add on that,” Spicer said when questioned about a recording system. “The tweet speaks for itself.”

Comey has not confirmed Trump’s account of discussions that included the FBI’s probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and allegations of Trump campaign collaboration with the Russians.

On Friday, a person close to the former director recounted a Comey-Trump dinner in January at which Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey declined, instead offering honesty. When Trump then pressed for “honest loyalty,” Comey told him, “You will have that,” recounted the Comey associate.

AP-NORC poll: Most Americans feel fine about school choice

WASHINGTON (AP) — Even as fierce political battles rage in Washington over school choice, most Americans know little about charter schools or private school voucher programs. Still, more Americans feel positively than negatively about expanding those programs, according to a new poll released Friday.

“I wonder what the fuss is about,” said Beverly Brown, 61, a retired grocery store worker in central Alabama. Brown, who doesn’t have children, says American schools need reform, but she is not familiar with specific school options and policies. “Educational standards have to be improved overall.”

All told, 58 percent of respondents say they know little or nothing at all about charter schools and 66 percent report the same about private school voucher programs, according to the poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Charters are schools funded by taxpayer money, but they operate independently of school districts and thus have more freedom in setting their curriculum and hiring staff. Vouchers are publically funded scholarships given to low-income families to help cover tuition in private schools, including religious ones.

Using taxpayer money to aid struggling public schools or diverting it to fund more charter schools or make private schools available to more families has been hotly debated since Donald Trump was elected president. During the campaign, Trump promised to fund a $20 billion school choice program. He picked a long-time charter and private school advocate, Betsy DeVos, as his education secretary. Last week the president welcomed a group of students who were voucher recipients to the White House and asked Congress to work with him to make school options available nationwide.

Pope cheered in Fatima to honor children who urged peace

FATIMA, Portugal (AP) — Pope Francis urged Catholics on Friday to “tear down all walls” and spread peace as he traveled to this Portuguese shrine town to mark the 100th anniversary of one of the most unique events of the 20th-century Catholic Church: the visions of the Virgin Mary reported by three illiterate shepherd children and the “secrets” she told them.

Thousands of pilgrims lined Francis’ motorcade route and tossed flower petals, evidence that Latin America’s first pope has a huge following in this largely Catholic country. Cheers of “Viva o papa!” — “Long live the pope” — erupted when Francis pulled into Fatima’s main square, which had been doused by heavy rains but was treated to a brilliant warm sun by the time he arrived.

There was no official crowd estimate, but the main square has a capacity of 600,000 and was overflowing. Authorities said they expected 1 million people.

“It is a big emotion because it is the first time he comes here, and we are always hopeful that something can improve,” said Laurindo Pereira, a 55-year-old carpenter. “It is faith. In everything, it is about faith and it is a beautiful thing.”

Francis is spending fewer than 24 hours in Fatima to celebrate the centenary of the apparitions and canonize two of the three shepherd children. He is hoping the message of peace that they reported 100 years ago, when Europe was in the throes of World War I, will resonate with the Catholic faithful today.

Trump lawyers push back against Russia ties in letter

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for President Donald Trump said Friday that a review of his last 10 years of tax returns did not reflect “any income of any type from Russian sources,” but their letter included exceptions related to previously cited income generated from a beauty pageant and sale of a Florida estate.

The letter represented the latest attempt by the president to tamp down concerns about any Russian ties amid an ongoing investigation of his campaign’s associates and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

The attorneys did not release copies of Trump’s tax returns, so The Associated Press cannot independently verify their conclusions. Their review also notably takes into account only Trump’s returns from the past 10 years, leaving open questions about whether there were financial dealings with Russia in earlier years.

The lawyers offered no supporting documents to back up the claims made in the letter.

Trump has refused to release his income tax records, despite pressure from Democrats, breaking with a practice set by his predecessors. The president has said he would release his returns when the Internal Revenue Service completes an audit. The tax returns, the attorneys say, largely reflect income and interest paid by the web of corporate entities that made up The Trump Organization prior to Trump taking office.

As Trump seeks billions for wall, US still paying for fence

HOUSTON (AP) — Before the wall, there was the fence. And the U.S. is still paying for it.

As President Donald Trump tries to persuade a skeptical Congress to fund his proposed multibillion-dollar wall on the Mexican border, government lawyers are still settling claims with Texas landowners over a border fence approved more than a decade ago. Two settlements were completed just this week.

The legal battles over a stop-and-start fence that covers just a portion of the border have outlasted two presidents. If the Trump administration presses ahead with plans to build some version of the towering, impenetrable wall the president has promised, the government may have to take hundreds more landowners to court, perhaps even some of the same ones.

The Secure Fence Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2006 with the support of many Democratic lawmakers, set aside money for fencing to cover one-third of the roughly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border between the U.S. and Mexico.

About 650 miles of fence were eventually built, just 100 miles of them in Texas, which has the longest border of any state with Mexico. The uneven course of the Rio Grande, rough terrain and private land ownership created a host of engineering and legal obstacles and required hundreds of deals with individual property owners for some of their land.

 

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