HAVANA (AP) — Cuban authorities have launched public Wi-Fi hotspots along a main avenue that is the heart of Havana’s cultural and social life, the first step in government promises to gradually roll out such connectivity options on an island that the Internet revolution has largely passed by.
Authorities have been installing the boxy white routers on buildings along 23rd Street in the Vedado theater, nightclub and business district in recent weeks, and they apparently went live Wednesday night.
Dozens of people, many of them young, sat on stairs and stoops tapping away at smartphones, tablets and laptops Thursday on the street known locally as “The Ramp” for its gentle uphill slope from the sea.
Angel Padron, a 16-year-old who lives a few steps off 23rd Street, called the signal speed “acceptable,” robust enough to load videos on YouTube.
“Before I used to have to go to the hotels,” Padron said, referring to one of the few sources of wireless in the country, and where an hour online can cost a third of what most Cubans make in a month. “It’s like they’ve put this in my living room, given me wings to fly around the Internet.”
“I got here early and spent about 40 minutes” online, he added.
State telecom monopoly Etecsa announced in mid-June that it would open 35 such hotspots around the island.
Users need to have an account registered with Etecsa, and the service costs $2 an hour — accessible for some Cubans who have relatively higher-paying private-sector jobs or relatives overseas who send remittances. But it’s still a high barrier of entry for many people who make around $20 a month from state salaries.
Wilmer Cruz, a 31-year-old beauty salon owner, called the price “a little expensive” but gave positive reviews.
“You can communicate with the whole world. You can know what’s going on around the planet,” Cruz said. “It’s magnificent, just what all of Cuba was waiting for.”
Cuba remains one of the last places in the world in Internet connectivity rates.
Home dial-up connections are tightly restricted and generally not available to the public. Home broadband is costly and limited to a minuscule percentage of people, including foreigners.
Most Cubans who are able to go online do so from their schools or workplaces, or from the hundreds of Etecsa Internet centers around the country. Often it’s just to access email and hook into the island’s intranet, and falls short of the worldwide web.
Authorities recently lowered prices in the Internet centers to $2 per hour.
Earlier this year a famous Cuban artist known as Kcho began offering free Wi-Fi at his workshop in the poor western neighborhood of Romerillo. There’s no sign that free Wi-Fi has been installed anywhere else for the public.
Outside an artisan market on 23rd Street, Jose Antonio Leyva, a 34-year-old souvenir vendor, took selfies to send to family in the United States, Spain and Italy.
“Online you see lots of interesting things if you know how to use it well, and it keeps you in touch with relatives or lets you meet new friends,” Leyva said.
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP
KUWAIT CITY (AP) — An Islamic State sympathizer’s deadly bombing in a packed Kuwaiti mosque last week was designed to fit an all-too-familiar pattern: extremists attack Shiites to stoke sectarian hatred and then proclaim themselves the defenders of Sunnis against those they denounce as heretics.
This time the attack seems to have backfired, at least for now. Instead of fueling the kind of sectarian animosity that has devastated Iraq and Syria, the Kuwait attack has reawakened a sense of national solidarity not seen since Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion.
Like its Gulf Arab neighbors, this small but oil-rich nation is ruled by a U.S.-allied Sunni monarchy. Religious conservatives within the Sunni majority are deeply suspicious of Shiites, and by extension, non-Arab Shiite powerhouse Iran.
But within 24 hours of the attack, billboards across Kuwait went up showing an image of the Kuwaiti flag wrapped around a hand, with the slogan: “We stand as one.” One of the landmark Kuwait Towers was graced with an illuminated message of condolence that referred to those killed as martyrs.
Sunni activists have taken to social media urging Sunnis to pray at Shiite mosques. Kuwaiti celebrities appear in television commercials speaking about unity, while four of the country’s best-known singers recorded and released a song within hours of the blast praising Kuwait’s history of coexistence.
The ruling emir, Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, surprised many by arriving at the scene of the blast within an hour of the explosion. A YouTube video of him touring the site soon went viral.
“They are my children,” he told officials when they warned him against visiting the site. That phrase too — highlighting the notion that this was an attack against the nation, not a particular sect — now graces billboards along major highways.
Even more remarkably, the Sunni emir lent a private jet to fly the bodies of several of those killed to the Shiite shrine city of Najaf, Iraq, for burial in line with their families’ wishes.
Kuwaiti lawyer Kawther al-Jouan says the mood is reminiscent of the days following the Iraqi invasion, when volunteers like her banded together in neighborhood civil resistance groups.
“All differences melted away and everyone was fighting against a single enemy, for a single cause. This is the same scenario, only we are fighting an ideology,” she said.
Friday’s blast in one of Kuwait City’s oldest Shiite mosques killed 27 people and wounded more than 200. An affiliate of the Islamic State group quickly claimed responsibility.
Authorities identified the bomber as Fahad Suleiman Abdulmohsen al-Gabbaa, a Saudi man in his early twenties who left Riyadh the night before the attack, changed flights in Bahrain, and arrived in Kuwait just hours before detonating his explosives. Gulf Air, the airline he flew, said he traveled on a one-way ticket and had no checked baggage, and went through standard security screening before his flights.
Government officials have squarely denounced the bombing and called for unity.
Interior Minister Mohammed Al Khaled Al Sabah said this week his government is in “a state of war” with extremists and would not hesitate to target other terrorist cells. Minister of Education Bader al-Essa was quoted by Al-Jarida newspaper as saying he intends to re-examine Islamic educational materials to ensure they don’t promote sectarianism.
The response reflects the degree to which Shiites, who are believed to make up roughly 30 percent of the country’s 1.3 million citizens, are integrated into Kuwaiti society.
Bedrocks of the country’s influential merchant class, Shiites have traditionally had good relations with the ruling Al Sabah dynasty. They are active in the country’s parliament, the most free-wheeling in the Gulf, and serve in the police and military.
In nearby Sunni-ruled Bahrain, by contrast, Shiites make up the majority but have long complained of discrimination and a lack of political freedoms. Saudi Arabia’s minority Shiites voice similar concerns, with sectarian tensions exacerbated by the kingdom’s ongoing duel with regional rival Iran and its war against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen.
The sectarian-charged conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Iraq threaten to polarize Kuwait too. Private Sunni donors in the country have provided significant financial support to militant groups in Syria. Two Kuwaitis were sanctioned as terrorist supporters by the U.S. last year for collecting funds for the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria.
But a history of Sunni-Shiite cooperation and the shared experience of living through the Iraqi invasion help temper sectarian passions at home, said Sami al-Faraj, director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies.
“We will always identify with the victims of attacks,” he said. “We can feel for our Sunni or Shiite brothers (abroad) but we should not be torn inside Kuwait.”
Kholoud al-Feeli, who lost her uncle in Friday’s attack, is the daughter of a Shiite father and Sunni mother who were married decades ago at the home of the current emir, who was minister of foreign affairs at the time and knew the family.
She recalled being raised not to see sectarian differences, and hopes her country hangs on to the newfound spirit of unity.
“There is a realization that we are in danger. I hope this isn’t a temporary honeymoon between Shiites and Sunnis,” she said.
Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck
WASHINGTON (AP) — Investigators found no evidence of a shooting after the Washington Navy Yard went on lockdown Thursday because someone reported shots fired in the same building where a gunman killed 12 workers in a rampage two years ago.
D.C. police said a woman called from inside a Navy Yard building to report that she might have heard sounds of gunshots around 7:20 a.m. However, investigators found no sign of a shooting, a shooter or anyone injured.
No arrests were made and no weapons found, officials said.
“At this time there is no evidence of gunshots,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “There is no evidence of a shooter, and there is no evidence of any victims today.”
A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Navy security saw surveillance video of two people jumping the fence in the vicinity of the building a couple of minutes before the first report of gunfire. Security found no one inside the building, the official said.
Officials do not believe the report was a hoax, D.C. police Chief Cathy Lanier told reporters. Investigators interviewed the woman who made the call, Lanier said, and she did exactly as authorities regularly tell people: Report anything you think may be suspicious.
Shortly after the report, a heavy police and fire department presence began blocks away from the Navy Yard, with roads blocked and a helicopter hovering overhead. The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene. At a news conference, local and Navy officials praised the work of all the responding agencies and called it well-coordinated.
Gates to the Navy Yard were closed, and all people were advised to shelter in place, said Chatney Auger, spokeswoman for Naval District Washington.
Thousands would have been at the base at the time of the reports, Navy public affairs officer Chris Johnson told reporters outside the Navy Yard, the country’s oldest naval installation.
In September 2013, military contractor Aaron Alexis killed 12 civilian workers at the Navy Yard’s Building 197 before he was fatally shot by police. The building has since been renamed the Humphreys Building. It reopened this year.
When facilities specialist Chris Robertson heard an alarm and loudspeaker instructions about 7:30 a.m., he said his first thought was: “Here we go again.”
He said his supervisor called at 7:33 a.m. and told him and his two co-workers to leave. He also said he hadn’t noticed anything unusual Thursday morning — everything was normal.
Associated Press writers Brad Foss and Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.
WEST WARWICK, R.I. (AP) — Two men have been arrested in the theft of bronze markers from the graves of veterans in a Rhode Island cemetery.
Police say 39-year-old Robert Haney of West Warwick and 32-year-old Michael Gilligan of Providence are charged with conspiracy and receiving stolen property.
Police say the markers, worth about $20,000, were stolen June 18 and the two men sold them for scrap in Johnston.
Police say they recovered the badly damaged markers after being contacted by J & S Scrap Metal in Johnston, which paid $485 for them. Police say they identified their suspects using the metal yard’s surveillance video.
Haney was arraigned and is being held at the Adult Correctional Institutions. Gilligan also is in custody and is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.
NEW YORK (AP) — You may have noticed your Facebook friends getting considerably more colorful.
More than 26 million Facebook profile photos have taken on a rainbow hue in the days since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that marriage is a right guaranteed under the Constitution regardless of a person’s sexual orientation.
People have been covering their profile photos with the Facebook-supplied overlay that uses the best-known symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights movement: the rainbow.
Call it armchair activism. Call it a mark of a shifting tide in public opinion. The rainbows are the latest sign of the important place social media has taken in our lives, when it comes to self-expression, politics and privacy.
Rainbow-tinted celebrities have popped up all around, and not just Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leonardo DiCaprio and “Fifty Shades of Grey” author E.L. James are among those that have used the filter.
Leslie Gabel-Brett, director of education and public affairs at Lambda Legal, a national nonprofit that focuses on legal issues affecting the LGBT community, said the overlay is “fun” and “effective.” But she said it’s also important for people know there are other ways to show support.
“There’s more to be done from voting, making donations, to speaking to your families, neighbors and coworkers,” she said.
While the people who’ve used the overlay is a fraction of Facebook’s 1.4 billion users worldwide, the number is far bigger than the last mass profile photo change on the site. In 2013, some 3 million Facebook users changed their photos to show a pink-on-red equal sign in support of gay marriage. Four years earlier, in what might have been the first large-scale profile-photo activism, Twitter users turned their photo green to support pro-democracy protesters in Iran.
Michelle Zubiate Ferchaw, a mother of two who lives in Anaheim Hills, California, found out about the Supreme Court decision on Facebook, she “cried tears of relief and of joy.” Many of her “equally joyous” Facebook friends were turning rainbow, so she did the same.
“It was a great opportunity to join the celebration,” she wrote in a Facebook message.
To get the Facebook-suppled filter, users click on someone else’s rainbow picture. Or they go to the “Celebrate Pride” page Facebook set up.
The rainbows didn’t come without controversy. Not long after the rainbows appeared, so did questions about whether Facebook was tracking people who changed their photos and what it was going to do with the information. Facebook quickly shot those down.
“We haven’t experimented with anything, and other than counting how people used it, we aren’t using the data for anything else,” wrote Alex Schultz, a vice president at Facebook, in a post.
Facebook also said it is not using the filters for ad targeting nor does it plan to do so.
Facebook said the fact that the filter popped up on the same day as the Supreme Court decision was not planned any more than the Supreme Court planned to issue its ruling the Friday before gay pride parades in San Francisco, New York and elsewhere.
The filter was created last week by two Facebook summer interns, Austin Freel, 21, and Scott Buckfelder, 33. They said they wanted to help other Facebook employees “show their spirit” for Pride Week, which fell on the last week of June in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The filter was popular among employees, so Facebook rolled it out to regular users.
Since then, others also have turned to rainbow as well. Ride-hailing app Uber, for example, added tiny rainbows to the cars on its map. And on Wednesday, Beyonce posted a video of herself dancing in various rainbow-colored outfits with the hashtag “lovewins.”
Counter-filters also have popped up, with some users in Russia overlaying their profiles with the country’s flag instead of a rainbow. In the U.S., the website Right Wing News created a tool that lets people place a filter of the American flag over their profile photos.
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A pilot described by colleagues as nervous and hasty mistakenly throttled down a still-running engine following a glitch with the other engine in an airline crash that killed 43 people in Taiwan in February, flight safety officials said Thursday.
A preliminary investigation into the Feb. 4 crash of TransAsia flight GE235 already had indicated that the pilot shut off the remaining engine after one of them went idle. But the account Thursday by Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council — while not assigning blame — added additional details about the crash and the background of the pilot, including that he had failed a flight simulator test as recently as May 2014.
Both the pilot and co-pilot died.
Minutes after takeoff in Taipei, a ribbon-like sensor connector in the automated flight system failed and put one engine into a mode that effectively cut its power to the aircraft, Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council Executive Director Thomas Wang told a news conference.
The engine’s condition, useful in other cases to reduce torque, generated a flame-out warning in the cockpit 37 seconds after takeoff, according to a report by the council. However, it says the engine itself was technically still capable of providing power to the ATR-72 aircraft. The aircraft was also designed to fly on one engine.
“The sensor connector, in layman’s terms, you would say was in a situation where it didn’t connect normally,” Wang said.
Seconds later, the pilot said he would pull back on the throttle to the plane’s other engine, which showed no mechanical trouble, the council’s report indicates. Normally, a pilot would throttle back to cut the flamed-out engine to avoid further problems and rely on the still-running engine for power.
“If engine two has flamed out, you would shut off engine two, that’s normal logic,” Wang said.
Eight seconds before the crash, the council’s report states, the pilot said in Chinese: “Wow, pulled back on the wrong side throttle.”
The pilot in command had failed a flight simulator test in May 2014 and passed it the following month with further training, the council’s report says.
He had been described in post-crash interviews with colleagues as “a little nervous during line operations,” and a person who “had a tendency of rushing to perform the procedures without coordination with the (co-pilot),” according to the report.
An automatic system to control power upon takeoff had not been armed while the plane was on the ground in Taipei but kicked in seconds later, the agency’s report said. The pilot knew about this outage but authorized takeoff, the report shows. It was not clear if that glitch had any connection with the engine going idle.
The automatic takeoff power control system maker in the United States has joined Taiwan’s investigation, Wang said.
The flight had left Taipei’s Songshan airport for the outlying Taiwan-controlled islands of Kinmen. Video captured on dashboard cameras showed the plane flying on its side over an elevated road, clipping a fence, light pole and passing taxi shortly before plunging into the Keelung River in a heavily populated part of Taipei.
The flight was carrying 53 passengers, three crew members and two flight attendants. Fifteen people escaped the aircraft alive.
Another domestic TransAsia flight crashed on July 23 last year, killing 48 people aboard.
TransAsia said Thursday it has improved pilot training and the company’s organization since the February crash.
Jon Beatty, CEO of the U.S.-based non-profit Flight Safety Foundation, has been invited to sit on TransAsia’s aviation committee and give guidance, and all 61 ATR aircraft pilots have passed an “appropriateness examination,” the company said in a statement.
TransAsia said it also has raised pay, “made active efforts” to develop skills, and formed an in-house safety inspection committee that meets every two weeks.
The Aviation Safety Council anticipates finishing a full investigation on the February crash by April 2016.