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Loss of unifying queen could fray the bonds of fractious UK

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Loss of unifying queen could fray the bonds of fractious UK

LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II has been likened to the invisible glue holding the United Kingdom together. Some think the reign of King Charles III will see those bonds come unstuck, giving new momentum to Scotland’s push for independence.

But the fact the queen died last week at her beloved Highland retreat, Balmoral Castle, has made Scotland the focus of commemorations watched around the globe in the first days after her death. That has served as a reminder of the monarchy’s deep ties to Scotland — and could provide a boost for the union.

Scottish historian Tom Devine said because by “extraordinary serendipity” the queen died in Scotland, “it was possible for the world to see the relationship between the queen and this country.”

“It was a fitting end to a life of service and a life of concern for the four nations — not simply one nation — of the U.K.,” he said.

In a touching display of respect, thousands of people on Sunday lined the 175-mile (280 kilometer) route from Balmoral to Edinburgh as the queen’s coffin was driven in a slow procession to the Scottish capital. On Monday, the coffin was carried along Edinburgh’s medieval Royal Mile to St. Giles’ Cathedral, where thousands more are expected to pay their respects over the next day.

The queen had deep ties to Scotland. Besides spending her summer months at Balmoral, her mother, the late Queen Mother, was Scottish and as a child the queen grew up playing on her grandparents’ estate of Glamis Castle in central Scotland.

So far there have been only tiny protests by anti-monarchist demonstrators. One woman was arrested in Edinburgh on Sunday for breaching the peace after brandishing a profane sign calling for the abolition of the monarchy.

King Charles III has moved quickly to stress that he will be a monarch for the whole of the U.K., undertaking a national tour during his first days on the throne. He was in Scotland on Monday accompanying his mother’s coffin, and he plans to visit Northern Ireland and Wales later in the week, attending memorial services in Belfast and Cardiff.

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Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all part of the U.K. but have distinct histories — and complex ties with England, which dominates the U.K. in both population and politics.

Some Welsh nationalists have objected to Prince William being recently given the title of Prince of Wales — a title first given to the heir to the throne after the English conquest of Wales in the 14th century.

The status of the monarchy has always been fraught in Northern Ireland, where there are two main communities: unionists who consider themselves British and nationalists who see themselves as Irish. That split fueled decades of violence known as “The Troubles,” and remains a deep divide. But in a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, representatives of the Irish Republican Army-linked party Sinn Fein are attending commemorative events for the queen in Belfast.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill praised “the significant contribution Queen Elizabeth made to the advancement of peace and reconciliation between the different traditions on our island, and between Ireland and Britain during the years of the peace process.”

Scotland and England have been governed under the same monarch since 1603, and formally unified in 1707. But Scotland has distinct educational and legal systems and, since 1999, its own parliament.

Relations now between the Conservative U.K. government in London and the pro-independence Scottish administration in Edinburgh are tense.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who left office last week, was unpopular in Scotland, where a majority opposed his pet project: Brexit. Johnson led the U.K. out of the European Union after a 2016 referendum in which the country as a whole backed leaving — but Scotland voted to stay in the bloc.

Devine said Johnson’s government had displayed “a reduction in respect for Scotland as an historic nation.”

“That attitude of disrespect considerably annoyed the Scottish electorate over the last few years,” he said. “But there is a still a very strong sense here that the monarchy — especially in the person of the queen — maintains that respect.”

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In 2014, Scotland held a referendum on whether to remain part of the U.K. Voters rejected independence by 55% to 45% in what was billed as a once-in-a-generation choice. But the Scottish National Party government in Edinburgh is pushing for a new independence referendum, arguing that Brexit has radically changed the political and economic landscape.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to hold such a vote in October 2023. But new Prime Minister Liz Truss, like Johnson, says her government will not agree, and without its approval a referendum would not be binding.

Amid the political deadlock, Sturgeon has appealed to the courts for the power to call a referendum on her own. The U.K. Supreme Court is to start hearing the case next month.

As monarch, Charles is required to remain politically neutral. His mother caused a stir in 2014 when she remarked that Scots should “think very carefully” before voting — a remark widely seen as opposing independence.

Even after that comment, the queen remained widely respected by people on both sides of Scotland’s independence debate. Sturgeon, the pro-independence first minister, praised Elizabeth on Monday as “the Queen of Scots” and “the great constant — the anchor of our nation.”

Pauline Maclaran, an expert on royal culture at Royal Holloway University of London, said “it will remain to be seen if Charles can command the same loyalty” as his mother.

“There will be a honeymoon period for Charles, I think, where everybody — out of respect, but also their own feelings — will lay off the usual demands for independence,” she said.

But Maclaran felt that period would not last.

“I think they (demands for Scottish independence) will come back. And I think the whole question will be how much can Charles build his bonds with them? What bonds does he have? That will then be one of his tests, that’s for sure,” she said.

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Follow all AP stories on the impact of the death of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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