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Twitter(NEW YORK) -- Twitter announced on Monday that it had suspended about 200,000 accounts that it said were part of a Chinese government-backed attempt to undermine "the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement" in Hong Kong.

The social media giant made the announcement on the same day that Facebook announced it had removed seven pages, three groups and five accounts that it said originated from China and were "involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior."

"What we've heard is both platforms saying variations on the theme that they have found people who are linked to the Chinese government, who've got caught running troll campaigns against the Hong Kong protesters, posting content saying that the protesters are cockroaches, that they're evil people, that they are the darkness standing in the way of the light of the people's revolution," said Ben Nimmo, a digital investigator with the social media analysis firm Graphika.

Nearly 1,000 of the accounts that Twitter suspended were actively attempting to "sow political discord in Hong Kong," the press release said. The company said that some of the accounts accessed Twitter from mainland China, where Twitter is blocked, but that many of them gained access instead through virtual private networks, which can hide the location from which you’re browsing

"One of the interesting things with the Twitter announcement ... is they say that a lot of these accounts were being run through ... proxy internet accounts in different countries," Nimmo said.

Facebook, meanwhile, said that the individuals behind the influence campaign it identified sometimes created fake accounts to manage pages that posed as news organizations, posted in groups, shared content or directed people to off-platform news websites.

"They frequently posted about local political news and issues including topics like the ongoing protests in Hong Kong," a Facebook press release said. "Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government."

Now in their 11th week of protests, the announcements follow a week in which mainland China has begun to consider ratcheting up efforts to shut down the protests in the semi-autonomous territory as the protests have become more violent.

Amid a city-wide strike, thousands of protesters last week stormed Hong Kong International Airport, forcing officials to cancel flights for two days in a row as protesters paralyzed its operations. The protests marked an escalation between the Chinese government and Hong Kong protesters, who at one point barricaded themselves in the airport with luggage carts before clashing with riot police.

On Sunday, protesters rallied in Victoria Park in Hong Kong for what demonstrators say was the largest protest yet, with 1.7 million people in attendance. It was mostly peaceful, save for a few blocked streets from overcrowding in the park.

The protests began in June when hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators marched in opposition to an extradition bill that government leaders in the territory had reached with the Chinese government. The bill was suspended as the protests grew louder.

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Golden_Brown/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has made clear his desire to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan. But as his negotiators finalize agreements with the Taliban and the Afghan government, the violent reality of the conflict has shown how delicate or even far-fetched a final deal may be.

In particular, a spate of deadly bombings on Monday as Afghans marked 100 years of independence and a brutal attack on a wedding Saturday in the capital Kabul have rocked the country.

An Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for the Saturday attack, killing 63 people and injuring 182 more. Beyond the horror of a wedding party turned into a funeral -- the dance floor filled with dead bodies -- the assault is also a sign of the group’s growing strength -- and the challenge that poses to the U.S. president who wants to pull troops out.

"We're there for one reason. We don't want that to be a laboratory, OK? Can't be a laboratory for terror. And we’ve stopped that," Trump told reporters Sunday, despite the deadly wedding attack.

While there hasn’t been an effective Afghanistan-based plot on the U.S. by terror groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS for years, the issue of counter terrorism -- what brought American troops to the country nearly 18 years ago -- remains an elusive challenge.

For one thing, the Pentagon and State Department say the local ISIS affiliate is now stronger than ever. The group has carried out dozens of attacks, killing nearly 800 people and injuring over 1,400 in the last year, according to Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism Nathan Sales.

When asked if this ISIS affiliate presented a risk to the U.S., Sales said, "Any ISIS affiliate around the world that has the capability and intent to conduct external operations is a threat to the United States and our partners and our interests."

The Afghan government said Monday that it will crush the terror group, while the Taliban condemned Saturday’s attack as "forbidden and unjustifiable." But there are real concerns about the ability of either to effectively take on ISIS and prevent it from growing or plotting attacks overseas.

To that end, Trump said he wants the U.S. to ultimately keep an intelligence presence in the country.

"It's very important that we continue intelligence there, in all cases, because it is somewhat of a nest for hitting us," he said Sunday.

There are approximately 14,000 U.S. troops in the country now, according to the Pentagon, 5,000 of which are on a counter terrorism mission with the other 9,000 training and supporting Afghan forces.

But while the U.S. hopes to keep some military presence, the Taliban have pushed for a total withdrawal. Finalizing those details -- how many U.S. troops in what role must leave by when -- has been at the heart of U.S. talks with the Taliban.

Led by former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, the talks have been through eight rounds now and taken about a year. Khalilzad briefed Trump on Friday, along with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It’s a sign that Khalilzad and his team are close to a final deal with the militant group -- one that the U.S. hopes will have four pillars, according to officials: American troop withdrawal, a nationwide ceasefire, Afghan peace talks and a commitment by the Taliban to keep Afghanistan from becoming a terror safe haven.

Khalilzad said Sunday that the wedding attack shows, "We must accelerate the Afghan peace process, including intra-Afghan negotiations. Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat ISIS."

But the Taliban still refuses to recognize the Afghan government, let alone meet with it or commit to work together to combat ISIS. In negotiations, the U.S. has struggled to win such a commitment and define what it entails and how to implement it -- especially given that the Taliban maintains ties with al-Qaeda.

Critics say Saturday’s attack is a clear demonstration that the militant group, which is itself considered a terror organization under some U.S. law, can’t credibly make that kind of commitment.

The challenge is that the Taliban has the upper hand in negotiations, knowing well that Trump wants to fulfill a campaign promise to end America’s endless wars and start bringing troops home.

Pompeo said at the end of July that it was his "directive" from Trump to begin a withdrawal before next November, adding, "It's not only my expectation. It would be job enhancing."

Trump himself said in August 2017 that his instinct was to pull out American forces, but he had been convinced by his advisers to increase troop numbers at the time.

Officials have tried to paper over that desire, consistently saying any withdrawal would be "conditions-based." Trump said on Sunday that he is still weighing a decision.

"We'll be bringing it down a little bit more, and then we'll decide whether or not we'll be staying longer or not," he said.

But what’s clear from him, Pompeo and others is that any decision will be based on U.S. priorities and not include a commitment from the Taliban to the Afghan government, which has not seen any draft agreements from the talks or the Afghan people.

Those issues, including the continued violence by the Taliban against Afghan civilians, are an internal matter, officials say, and up to the Afghan people to determine.

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narvikk/iStock(LONDON) -- The U.K. government has looked to play down concerns about leaked documents that outlined preparations for Brexit, which included warnings about fuel, food and medicine shortages, as well as severe travel disruption and civil unrest if Britain leaves the European Union (EU) without a deal.

The report, entitled "Operation Yellowhammer" and made by the Cabinet Office, was leaked to the Sunday Times, with the Oct. 31 deadline for leaving the EU just over 10 weeks away.

The "Base Scenario" for a "no-deal" Brexit, which is the minimum expectation according to the report, suggests that "public and business readiness for no-deal will remain at a low level," as outlined in the Sunday Times.

Among the key takeaways from the report are that disruption to traffic across the English Channel will cause "significant" traffic queues in Kent, the county that borders with the channel, with large goods vehicles facing delays of up to two and a half days to cross the border. This could have the added effect of "disrupt[ing] fuel supply in London."

Certain types of fresh food supply will also decrease, which adds to the "risk that panic buying will disrupt food supplies," according to the report. Meanwhile, expected "protests and counter protests" in the U.K. would use up police resources and result in "a rise in public disorder and community tensions," the report adds.

And the impact of a "no-deal" Brexit on Northern Ireland, which was integral to the failure of the deal former Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with EU leaders, could result in "disruption to key sectors and job losses are likely to result in protests and direct action with road blockades," according to the report.

The U.K. is set to leave the EU on Oct. 31, but the country's political future has never looked more uncertain. If lawmakers are unable to agree on a deal with their European counterparts about various rights and trade plans, the result with be a "no-deal" Brexit, which would expose the U.K. to significant trade tariffs overnight. Supporters of this outcome say it represents a clean break from the EU, which respects the result of the referendum of 2016, while critics say it will be hugely damaging to the economy.

British media reported Monday that government sources are blaming the document leak on a former government minister intent on frustrating new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s meetings with senior European politicians this week.

A spokesperson from Number 10 Downing Street told ABC News the Yellowhammer report was "out of date" and the government was making all necessary preparations to leave the EU, with or without a deal, on Oct. 31.

"[We are] better prepared now than we've ever been, but there is still more to be done," the spokesperson added.

Several government figures were quick to downplay the fears sparked by the Sunday Times’ reporting. The Cabinet Office pointed to a tweet by leading government lawmaker Michael Gove when contacted by ABC News, which implied that the report was out of date.

He tweeted, "We don’t normally comment on leaks - but a few facts - Yellowhammer is a worst case scenario - v significant steps have been taken in the last 3 weeks to accelerate Brexit planning."

Johnson has repeatedly made it clear that the U.K. will leave the EU, with or without a deal, on the Oct. 31 deadline. Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is set to call a "no confidence motion" in Parliament, in a bid to collapse the government and trigger a general election.

The prospect of a "no-deal" has also received mixed messages from the United States. On his recent trip to the U.K., National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the United States was willing to negotiate a trade deal "in pieces" in order to speed up a post-Brexit trade agreement.

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that if Brexit undermines peace in Northern Ireland, "there will be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress."

Preparations for a "no-deal" Brexit have increased over the past 12 months. Last December, ABC News reported that troops were on standby to deal with possible civil unrest, and that five leading business groups issued a joint statement that said "businesses have been watching in horror" at the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

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Manjurul/iStock(LONDON) -- The yearlong Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has spread to a third province, health officials said.

Two new patients, a 24-year-old woman and her 7-month-old child, tested positive for the virus in the Mwenga area of South Kivu province on Thursday night. They fell ill after returning from a visit to Beni in North Kivu province, the epicenter of the current outbreak.

The mother has since died, and her child is receiving treatment, according to a statement released Friday from Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director general of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's National Institute for Biomedical Research and head of the country's Ebola response team.

Officials have identified dozens of people who may have been infected by coming in contact with the woman and her child. They will receive the experimental vaccine that has been used to inoculate some 200,000 people in the outbreak zone, according to Muyembe.

A third Ebola case was confirmed in the same area of South Kivu on Saturday, according to the latest data from the Congolese health ministry and the World Health Organization, the global health arm of the United Nations, which last month declared the current outbreak a global health emergency.

Since Aug. 1, 2018, a total of 2,877 people have reported symptoms of hemorrhagic fever in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's eastern provinces of North Kivu, Ituri and now South Kivu, according to the latest data. Among those cases, some 2,783 have tested positive for Ebola virus disease, which causes an often-fatal type of hemorrhagic fever and is transmitted through contact with blood or secretions from an infected person. An average of 81 new Ebola cases are confirmed each week.

The ongoing outbreak has a case fatality rate of about 67%. There have been 1,934 deaths so far, most from confirmed cases of Ebola, according to the latest data.

The vast majority of cases have been concentrated in North Kivu, specifically around the northeastern areas of Beni, Butembo, Katwa, and Mabalako. There are currently no confirmed cases of Ebola outside the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This is the 10th outbreak of the disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the most severe there since 1976, when scientists identified the deadly virus near the Ebola River. It's also the second-largest, second-deadliest outbreak in the world.

The WHO's director-general has described the current outbreak as more complex than the deadlier 2014-2016 outbreak in multiple West African countries due to the region's political instability, attacks on health workers, a highly mobile population and community mistrust and misinformation. It's also the first Ebola outbreak in an active war zone.

However, two of four experimental treatments being tested in the current outbreak now will be offered to all patients after showing promise in saving lives. Preliminary findings from a randomized controlled trial that began last November in four Ebola treatment centers in North Kivu indicated that patients receiving either of two antibody-based therapies, known as REGN-EB3 and mAb114, had a greater chance of survival compared to those receiving two other experiential drugs, known as ZMapp and remdesivir.

After a meeting to review the initial results, an independent monitoring board recommended all future patients be offered either REGN-EB3 or mAb114, while the other two treatments be stopped.

"From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable," Muyembe told reporters during a telephone briefing last week.

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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:

— 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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