7 Killed Amid Wave of Violence in Acapulco

Mexican authorities say seven people have been slain in the beach resort of Acapulco as the city continues to grapple with a violent crime wave.

The killings Tuesday included the slaying of two men and a woman at an apartment used as an office for a taxi service.

Guerrero state security spokesman Roberto Alvarez said Wednesday that both men had been bound with tape and that all three had been shot in the head. Family members said the men were taxi drivers.

Acapulco registered 483 homicides in the first seven months of the year. That was down about 13 percent from the same period in 2016, but still on pace for it to remain Mexico’s deadliest city.

Nationwide, homicides are up 27 percent so far this year.

Turkey Protests US Indictment Charging Erdogan’s Security

Turkey’s foreign ministry says the country protests “in the harshest way” a U.S. court decision to indict 19 people, including 15 Turkish security officials.

The statement published late Wednesday follows Tuesday’s grand jury decision in Washington to charge the defendants with attacking peaceful demonstrators during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on May 16.

Turkey has repeatedly told U.S. officials that security outside the ambassador’s home was negligent and didn’t ensure the safety of Erdogan’s entourage amid sympathizers of an outlawed Kurdish militant group, according to the statement.

The ministry called the indictment “biased” and “regretful,” claiming it also accused people who had never been to the U.S.

It announced Turkey would follow legal paths to fight the decision.

Sore at Macron’s ‘Dictatorship’ Criticism, Venezuela Blasts France

Venezuela accused France on Wednesday of joining an “imperialist” campaign after President Emmanuel Macron portrayed the widely criticized socialist government as dictatorial.

Adding to criticism from Washington, the United Nations and major Latin American nations, Macron on Tuesday called President Nicolas Maduro’s administration “a dictatorship trying to survive at the cost of unprecedented humanitarian distress.”

Many countries are outraged at the Venezuelan government’s overriding of the opposition-led congress, crackdown on protests, jailing of hundreds of foes and failure to allow the entry of foreign humanitarian aid to ease a severe economic crisis.

Authorities say local opposition leaders want to topple Maduro in a coup with U.S. support, but its new Constituent Assembly will guarantee peace.

“Comments like this are an attack on Venezuelan institutions and seem to form part of the permanent imperialist obsession with attacking our people,” the government said in a communique responding to Macron.

“The French head-of-state’s affirmations show a deep lack of knowledge of the reality of Venezuela, whose people live in complete peace,” the statement said.

It added that the assembly and upcoming state elections demonstrated the health of local democracy.

Leaders of the fractious opposition coalition boycotted the July 30 election of the assembly, branding it an affront to democracy.

They called for an early presidential election, which Maduro would likely lose as his popularity has sunk along with an economy blighted by triple-digit inflation and food shortages.

France’s foreign ministry on Wednesday reiterated Macron’s comments and said it was studying the best way to accompany all initiatives that would enable credible dialogue that included regional countries.

“It is up to the Venezuelan authorities to give quick pledges in terms of respecting rule of law and fundamental freedoms,” spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne told reporters in a daily briefing. “The European Union and France will evaluate their relationship with Venezuela on this basis.”

New Russian Ambassador to US Calls for Resumed Military Contacts

Moscow and Washington should re-establish direct contacts between their military and foreign policy chiefs, Russia’s new ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said Wednesday.

“The time has come to resume joint meetings of Russia’s and the United States’ foreign and defense ministers in a ‘two plus two’ format,” Antonov said in an interview published on the Kommersant business daily’s website.

Military contacts between Moscow and Washington were frozen in 2014 due to the Ukraine crisis.

Antonov also called for meetings between the heads of Russia’s Federal Security Service and Foreign Intelligence Service and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency.

A “working cooperation” between Russia’s Security Council and the U.S. National Security Council could also help fight terrorism and cyberthreats and help strategic stability, he said.

Antonov, a former deputy foreign minister, is subject to European sanctions over his role in the conflict in Ukraine.

Colombian Artisans Weave Papal Poncho for Francis

Artisans in Colombia’s high plains have been busy crafting a special gift to give Pope Francis when he visits the country next week: a ruana, a kind of wool poncho that has deep roots in this Andean region.

The thick, normally unadorned ruana is a warm, sleeveless outer garment popular among country folk. But the one designed for the pontiff is a bit fancier, woven from snowy sheep’s wool to match Francis’ customary white robes and symbolizing purity, serenity and tranquility.

The left side sports an embroidered dove of peace bordered in gold. There’s also a belt with the words “liberty and order,” the emblem of Colombia’s national crest, the Colombian and Italian flags, and words of welcome for the pope.

“We are grateful to him for coming to visit us in Colombia,” said Carlos Antonio Nino, owner of a workshop in the town of Nobsa, where on a recent day he worked a manual loom as earth-tone ruanas hung from the ceiling.

The papal poncho was designed over a period of months and was put together by hand by a dozen artisans, most of them Nino’s relatives.

The family has been weaving for three generations, and Nino said his grandfather made a ruana for the now-sainted Pope John Paul II when he came to Colombia in 1986.

Nino hopes to be able to present the garment personally to Francis when he is in the capital, Bogota, about three hours to the south, on September 6-7.

The ruana is so important for Nobsa that each July the town holds a festival in its honor that draws crowds of tourists.

“It is a tradition of our grandparents,” Nino said.

German and Don’t Know Who to Vote For? Ask the Vote-O-Meter

Three weeks before Germany’s election and with at least one poll suggesting nearly half of all voters don’t know what they will do, the government has unveiled an updated online tool to help them decide.

Around two dozen young people from around Germany helped launch the “Wahl-O-Mat” (roughly Vote-O-Meter) on Wednesday – a website that matches people with a party after they answer a series of policy questions.

One of the first to try was Hubertus Heil, general secretary of the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.

“I got 100 percent,” he beamed after completing the 10-minute process.

Participants choose whether they agree, disagree or are neutral about 38 issues identified in recent months by 26 young people chosen from 500 volunteers. The issues center on key topics such as increased video surveillance, raising taxes on diesel cars, and setting limits on migration.

Merkel is widely expected to win a record-tying fourth term, with her CDU/CSU conservatives maintaining a two-digit lead over the SPD despite continuing concerns over her 2015 decision to allow in over a million migrants.

But it remains unclear which parties will be involved in the next coalition government.

A poll by the Allensbach Institute last week showed that 46 percent of voters had not made up their minds on how to vote – the highest rate since in two decades so close to an election, which is being held on September 24.

The voter tool is available online at www.wahl-o-mat.de or via apps on mobile phones. A pared-down analogue version will also tour Germany over the next three weeks for those not online.

The tool has been around before, and less official versions have been available in other countries. But Thomas Krueger, head of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, which created it, expects many millions of hits.

It was used over 13.2 million times in the last national election in 2013 and even more people are expected to participate this time, he said.

“We’ve seen that about six percent of those who were not planning to participate in the election changed their minds after using the tool,” he said.

Markus Blume, general secretary of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s CDU, said voter participation had been higher in recent state elections and he hoped the trend would continue for the national election.

“Germany is experiencing a re-politicization because people realize we are living in uncertain times, that a great deal is at stake in this parliamentary election, and that it’s not irrelevant who’s elected.”

Richard Hilmer, director of the Berlin think tank Policy Matters, said the tool was critical, especially for younger voters who had not been involved in politics before.

“Interest is definitely higher in this election, but so is uncertainty. It remains to see how that will affect participation. It could well be that if people remain uncertain that they simply stay home.”

Brazil Judge Blocks Decree Opening Amazon Area to Mining

A Brazilian judge on Wednesday granted an injunction blocking a decree by President Michel Temer that opens up a vast Amazon area to mining, a decision that the attorney general’s office has said it will appeal.

Federal judge Rolando Valcir Spanholo ruled that the abolition of the area known as Renca, or the National Reserve of Copper and its Associates, could only be done by an act of Congress under the constitution.

Temer’s decree earlier this month drew a barrage of criticism from lawmakers and activists, including moves to file lawsuits and block the decree in Congress, as it would allow mining in an area of roughly 17,800 square miles (46,000 square kilometers) that has been protected since 1984.

The government has responded with a flurry of news conferences and statements, and this week retracted the initial decree and reissued it with more details on overlapping protections that will remain in place after the abolition of Renca.

Alexa, Cortana Talk to Each Other in Amazon-Microsoft Deal

Microsoft and Amazon are pairing their voice assistants together in a collaboration announced Wednesday.

Both companies say later this fall, users will be able to access Alexa using Cortana on Windows 10 computers and on Android and Apple devices. They’ll also be able to access Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices such as the Amazon Echo.

Microsoft says the tie-up will allow Alexa customers to get access to Cortana features such as for booking meetings or accessing work calendars. Cortana users, in turn, can ask Alexa to switch on smart home devices or shop on Amazon’s website.

The use of voice assistants is growing. Google and Amazon already have smart speakers on the market. Apple has HomePod coming with its Siri assistant, while Samsung plans one with Microsoft’s Cortana.

Amazon has little to lose from the partnership, and Microsoft’s Cortana — which has been largely limited to laptops — might get discovered by more users because of it, said Carolina Milanesi, a mobile technology analyst at Creative Strategies.

“Cortana might get a little bit more out of it because it gets Cortana out of the PC,” she said. “For Cortana to really get to be more important, it needs to be consistently used every day for different tasks.”

Milanesi said that for Amazon especially, which wants more people to consider Alexa as their first choice, the partnership also might be designed to send a message to customers and rivals.

“They both get something out of it, which is mainly showing Apple and Google that they’re willing to work together to get stronger,” Milanesi said.

US Sends Extra Fighters to Police Baltic Skies During Russian Exercise

The United States has sent a reinforced detachment of fighter planes to police the skies over NATO members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia during a major Russian military exercise in the Baltic region next month.

The Zapad war games, set for September 14-20 in Belarus, western Russia and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad, have caused unease in the region, though Russia has said the large-scale exercise will rehearse a purely defensive scenario and will not be a springboard for invasion.

Seven U.S. F-15C fighters landed at Siauliai airfield this week to patrol skies over the Baltic countries, three more than normally used since the NATO policing mission was upgraded after the Crimean crisis in 2014.

The three Baltic states do not operate their own fighter aircraft and rely on their NATO allies for patrols.

“We are reinforcing the air police mission for the period [of Zapad]. And we are glad to also have additional land troops here,” Lithuanian Deputy Defense Minister Vytautas Umbrasas told reporters at Siauliai, referring to 600 extra U.S. airborne troops being deployed during Zapad in the Baltic states.

“This is very helpful in a situation like this,” he said.

Chance for training

Tod Wolters, the top U.S. Air Force commander in Europe, said fighter numbers had been increased because of “training opportunities” in Lithuania, without mentioning Russia during the news conference in Siauliai.

“The air policing mission will remain as it has been. And the purpose of the air policing mission is to protect the sovereign skies of the three Baltic nations,” said Wolters.

Moscow says almost 13,000 Russian and Belarussian servicemen will take part in Zapad, as well as around 70 planes and helicopters and 700 pieces of military hardware, including tanks, artillery and rocket systems.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the U.S. Army’s top general in Europe, told Reuters last month that U.S. allies in Eastern Europe and Ukraine were worried the exercises could be a “Trojan horse” aimed at leaving behind military equipment brought into Belarus.

A Russian deputy defense minister said Tuesday that there was no truth in allegations Russia would use the exercise as a cover to invade and occupy Lithuania, Poland or Ukraine.

Suggestions that Russia posed a threat were “myths,” the deputy minister, Alexander Fomin, said.

Three U.S. exercises will be underway at the same time as Zapad, in Sweden, Poland and Ukraine, and a U.S. armored brigade has already deployed in Europe.

Venezuela to Donate $5M in Harvey Aid, Despite Cash Crunch

Venezuela has offered $5 million to victims of Hurricane Harvey in the United States despite a major economic crisis in the South American country that has left millions short of food and medicine.

Venezuela’s U.S.-based oil subsidiary Citgo, a unit of state oil company PDVSA, will cooperate with local authorities in Houston to distribute the funds, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on state television.

Venezuela’s socialist government has in the past given subsidized heating oil to poor Americans and sent aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Venezuela’s already strained relations with the United States took a nosedive this year with Washington imposing various sanctions against President Nicolas Maduro’s cash-strapped government.

President Donald Trump went as far as to say a military intervention may be on the cards, though U.S. officials quickly rolled that idea back.

Venezuela is suffering a fourth year of brutal recession, and has been rocked by political turmoil and mass street protests against Maduro.

Harvey, now downgraded to a tropical storm, bore down on eastern Texas and Louisiana on Wednesday, bringing the kind of catastrophic downpours that paralyzed the oil hub of Houston with record rainfall and drove tens of thousands of people from their homes.