AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan’s prime minister on Monday said his government has decided to call off a plan to install surveillance cameras at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, derailing a U.S.-brokered pact to ease tensions at the volatile hilltop compound.
The decision came just days before the Jewish holiday of Passover — a time of increased activity at the site. The spot is revered by Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount, and Muslims, who call it the Noble Sanctuary. It has been a frequent scene of violence in the past.
In a deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Jordan offered to install the cameras last fall after clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces.
The Palestinians had accused Israel of secretly plotting to take over the site — a charge Israel strongly denies — while Israel pointed to videos showing Palestinian protesters using the mosque as cover while throwing stones and firecrackers at police. The idea was that transparency by both sides would help ease tensions.
But the plan quickly ran into trouble, with the Palestinians objecting to Israeli demands to place cameras inside the mosque. The Palestinians also said that Israel would use the cameras to spy on them.
Jordan’s prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, told the state-run Petra News Agency that Jordan was calling off the plan due to Palestinian concerns.
“We were surprised since we announced our intention to carry out the project by the reactions of some of our brothers in Palestine who were skeptical about the project,” he said. “We have found that this project is no longer enjoying a consensus, and it might be controversial. Therefore we have decided to stop implementing it.”
The Jordanian decision could deal an embarrassing blow to Kerry, who had hailed the deal when it was announced in October and pushed behind the scenes in recent months for the sides to wrap it up.
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said it’s “unfortunate” that Jordan decided to call off the plan to install the surveillance cameras. He could not say whether Kerry had any plans to revisit the idea with Jordanian authorities.
“We still see the value in the use of cameras,” Kirby told reporters.
“I can’t tell you at this time that we’re going to you know, be assertive in terms of trying to have it revisited,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean that we’ve changed our minds with respect to the value of that as a tool to increase transparency.
There was no immediate reaction from Israel.
But the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs, Adnan Husseini, said “I think it’s a wise decision and we are with any decision taken by Jordan, I think Jordan studied the issue wisely and took all the issues into consideration until they reached this wise decision.”
The site is revered by Jews as the location where the biblical Temples once stood. Today, it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. Under a decades-old arrangement, Jews are allowed to visit the site, but not pray there. Increased visits to the compound last fall by Jewish nationalists, coupled with some restrictions on Muslim access, set off clashes that quickly escalated into months of violence across Israel and the West Bank.
This story has been corrected to show that the Jordanian prime minister’s last name is Ensour, not Enour.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office is reviewing a district attorney’s decision not to charge Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy in a Philadelphia nightclub fight that left two off-duty police officers injured, the solicitor general said Monday.
Bruce Castor said he met last week with detectives after getting a written request from the president of the police union in Philadelphia. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said two weeks ago he was not able to prove who started the fight at the nightclub in February, and he noted that people have a right to defend themselves.
Castor said that despite three decades as a prosecutor, he was unaware of the rarely used procedure that requires approval from a judge to transfer the case from county prosecutors to the attorney general.
He described the likelihood of that occurring as “pretty remote.”
“If I were those guys who were involved and DA Williams, I wouldn’t be too concerned right at the moment that the attorney general’s going to try and have you reversed,” Castor said. “I think this is following through on an official request and inquiry review, but I don’t see myself standing in front of a judge any time soon asking them to reverse the DA.”
KYW-TV in Philadelphia reported Friday that the matter was under review by state prosecutors.
Police say a fight broke out Feb. 7 over who had purchased a $350 bottle of Champagne. One officer suffered a broken nose and broken ribs.
McCoy, 27, who played for the Bills last year after six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, was trying to break up the fight, his lawyer has said.
Castor said he wants to watch video of the event one frame at a time. He also wants to read through the witnesses’ statements.
John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, wrote Attorney General Kathleen Kane on April 4, asking her to take a second look at Williams’ decision.
Castor said Kane handed off the matter to him because she was “afraid people would think she’s continuing some feud that is alleged to exist” between her and Williams.
Kane and Williams, both Democrats, have clashed over decisions made at the attorney general’s office by prosecutors who now work for Williams.
Kane faces criminal allegations she leaked secret grand jury material to a newspaper about an investigation that did not produce charges into the then-head of the NAACP in Philadelphia.
Williams took over an investigation that Kane had relinquished into state lawmakers and a Philadelphia judge accepting cash and gifts from an informant working for the AG’s office.
Kane had said the so-called bling sting case was fatally flawed, but Williams has obtained five convictions.
NEW YORK (AP) — Dinosaurs were in decline long before an asteroid strike polished them off about 66 million years ago, a study says.
It’s the latest contribution to a long-running debate: Did the asteroid reverse the fortune of a thriving group of animals? Or were dinosaurs already struggling, and the disruptive effects of the asteroid pushed them over the edge to extinction? Or were the dinosaurs headed for oblivion anyway?
While some have argued that dinosaurs began petering out some 5 million or 10 million years before their final doom, the new paper suggests it started happening much earlier, maybe 50 million years before the asteroid catastrophe.
In terms of species, “they were going extinct faster than they could replace themselves,” said paleontologist Manabu Sakamoto of the University of Reading in England.
He led a team of British scientists who analyzed three large dinosaur family trees, looking for evidence of when extinctions began to outnumber the appearances of new species.
They found that starting to happen about 50 million years before the asteroid for most groups of dinosaurs. Two other groups showed increases rather than declines; if their results are included, the overall time for the start of dinosaur decline shrinks to 24 million years before the final demise.
Declining groups include two-legged carnivores like T. rex and the immense, long-necked, four-legged plant eaters known as sauropods. In contrast, another familiar dinosaur, triceratops, belonged to a group that was on the rise.
The results appear in a paper released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sakamoto said it’s not clear what caused the long-term declines.
The results support the idea that the asteroid strike pushed a struggling group into extinction, rather than the idea that dinosaurs were doomed anyway, he said. He also noted that one group in decline still lives on in its descendants, today’s birds.
The killer asteroid is thought to have struck the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, creating widespread wildfires and lingering smoke that blocked sunlight, and changing climate.
Mark Norell, chair of the paleontology division at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, called Sakamoto’s analysis “the best you can do” given the lack of available fossils from that time.
Most data came from North America with some from Asia and western Europe he said, and the conclusion would be firmer if fossils could be included from a wider geographical distribution.
David Fastovsky, chair of the geosciences department at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, said placing the seeds of the decline so early in time is striking and unexpected. Paleontologists will no doubt examine the study “quite closely,” he said.
University of Reading video: https://youtu.be/7X2dz1es-Gw
Follow Malcolm Ritter at http://twitter.com/malcolmritter His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/malcolm-ritter
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An old penitentiary-turned-historic-site that becomes a haunted house attraction each Halloween and provides a look back on a bygone era of corrections is taking a new direction with a hard look at today’s prisons and America’s high rate of incarceration.
Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 with the belief that criminals could redeem themselves, and it was cruel to crowd or mistreat them. The only light came from the skylight in the vaulted ceiling, sending the message that only the light of God and hard work could lead to reform.
By the 1930s, space meant to house 300 inmates instead held 2,000. By 1970, the year Eastern State closed, punishment was its primary mission.
Now, in a transformation that began modestly a few years ago, the penitentiary that housed such notorious criminals as gangster Al Capone and bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton is completing a retooling of its programming to place a major focus on growing questions about the effectiveness of America’s prison system.
“Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” an exhibit opening next month in workshops alongside one of the cellblocks, lets visitors know that the U.S. has the world’s highest known percentage of incarcerated citizens. It also highlights large racial disparities in prison populations and the toll mass incarceration has taken on minority communities.
“Five years ago, I would have told you visitors didn’t want to hear about this, that it would make them uncomfortable. They’d take this as being political, they’d be offended or they’d think we were trying to drive a political agenda,” said Sean Kelley, exhibit curator for the nonprofit that has run the museum since 2001. “At every turn, we’ve been proven wrong.”
He said visitors to the penitentiary have shown interest in these issues and wanted to talk about them.
“The growth of the U.S. prison population is so jaw-dropping that it’s of deep interest to many people,” Kelley said.
The prison population has grown by nearly 600 percent since 1970, with an estimated 2.2 million citizens in prison or jail.
The exhibit includes a criminal justice policy video wall, featuring clips of presidents from Lyndon B. Johnson to Bill Clinton; videotaped interviews of people discussing the effects of incarceration, from the state corrections chief to a girl who has lived in five foster homes since her father was imprisoned; and a display examining the phenomenon described as the “million-dollar block,” referring to the amount spent on imprisoning residents of some blocks in America. Interactive displays engage visitors on questions of criminal justice policy.
Eastern State plans to continue its annual Halloween attraction, “Terror Behind the Walls,” a major moneymaker and way to attract a younger, more racially diverse audience. It will also keep holding its Bastille Day celebration, when the pen stands in for the famous fortress prison in Paris and an actress playing Queen Marie Antoinette tosses thousands of Philadelphia-made Tastykakes to the crowds below in a nod to the remark attributed to the monarch, “Let them eat cake.”
“If we ask hard questions, it’s important that people know we have some sense of humor as well,” Kelley said.
Eastern State has hosted exhibits with political themes in the past but in conjunction with outside artists. “Our own voices, the organization itself, was pretty much silent,” Kelley said.
The new exhibit — which will be up for three years and then most likely updated to reflect the times — is the biggest step yet toward fulfilling a fresh vision for the prison established when a consultant hired in 2009 helped create a new interpretive plan. The final directive? Talk to visitors about incarceration in modern times.
The first changes were modifying the audio tour and adding more signage on the American prison system today. Then, in 2014, the museum installed a 3,500-pound steel bar graph on the grounds to show how the prison population has exploded since 1970 while the violent crime rate stands about the same today.
Morgan Williams, 18, of Maywood, New Jersey, on a penitentiary visit Tuesday, said she knows that some people attribute the decline in crime around the country to mass incarceration. At the same time, she found the bar graph “not a good kind of impressive for me.”
Kelley said the new programming has “completely changed what this organization is and what it wants to be. It got us thinking about who gives tours and who designs programs.”
A former inmate who works to help people leaving prison now serves on Eastern State’s board. Four newly hired tour guides have served prison time and sometimes share their experiences with visitors.
Ann Schwarzman, executive director of the nonprofit Pennsylvania Prison Society, which advocates for a humane corrections system, said the new exhibit reflects a growing consensus there are inequities in the system.
“It’s unusual to have both political parties agree that we can’t sustain this system and it’s not working,” she said.
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese Twitter users have expressed concerns over the company’s appointment of a China regional executive who has a background working with the country’s military and state security apparatus.
Since last week, when Kathy Chen was appointed Twitter’s first managing director for China, Chinese users of the U.S. microblogging site have raised concerns over Chen’s past links to the Chinese government and wondered if their freedom of speech on the platform would be compromised.
Although blocked in China, Twitter is a popular platform for Chinese — especially those living overseas — to freely express themselves in their native language. While China has produced homegrown equivalents such as Weibo, the government exerts strict controls over what can be said on them and by whom.
“Twitter has vast amounts of users’ data. Given that U.S. tech firms have in the past kowtowed to China, and given the military background of Kathy Chen, it’s only reasonable for the Chinese users of Twitter to be worried about the future,” He Qinglian, a prominent overseas-based Chinese political activist, wrote on her blog. She urged the U.S. Congress to conduct a hearing on Chen’s appointment.
Wen Yunchao, a U.S.-based political dissident, noted on his Twitter account that Chen had worked for the People’s Liberation Army for seven years and later headed an anti-virus software company in a joint venture with connections to the Ministry of Public Security.
“It’s only reasonable to question the direction of a company by its personnel decisions,” Wen wrote.
Chen began working as a technical engineer for a military research institute in 1987 after graduating with a computer science degree from North Jiaotong University, according to Chinese media reports.
She went on to work for DEC, Compaq and 123COM before leading the anti-virus software company Jinchen, a joint venture whose local partner was owned indirectly by the Ministry of Public Security.
In an emailed statement, Twitter said it was usual for the Chinese government to assign graduates to jobs in the 1980s. Chen’s computer science degree made her a prime candidate for a job as a junior engineer in the People’s Liberation Army, the company said.
“When the Chinese economy further opened up with reform in the early 1990s, Kathy chose to pursue her passion for a technology career by switching to the private sector in 1994,” the statement said.
It also said that her role with Jinchen was to represent the interests of majority shareholder Computer Associates, a U.S. tech firm, and that she “never worked for the Ministry of Public Security.”
Chen, who will be based in Hong Kong, was most recently an executive with Microsoft Asia-Pacific Research and Development Group before being hired by Twitter.
“I am really excited to find more ways to create value for our advertisers, enterprises, creators, influencers and our developers, and partners as well,” Chen said in a video posted on Twitter.
She has not publicly responded to Twitter user concerns.
BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — An executive from virtual reality company Oculus says consumers shouldn’t be concerned about an invasion of their privacy when using the Oculus Rift.
“It’s a new medium,” said Rubin during a Thursday interview. “People want to know. They have a right to ask. We’ll answer. It’ll be fine.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) wrote an open letter to Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe earlier this month asking for details about user data collected by the new VR system, which is worn on users’ heads and can detect movement, location and sound.
“Oculus’ creation of an immersive virtual reality experience is an exciting development, but it remains important to understand the extent to which Oculus may be collecting Americans personal information, including sensitive location data, and sharing that information with third parties,” he wrote.
Franken is asking for more information about how the Facebook-owned company is handling data collected from users. He noted in his April 7 letter to Oculus that “the collection, storage and sharing of personal information may enhance consumers’ virtual reality experience, but we must ensure that Americans’ very sensitive information is protected.”
Franken asked Oculus to respond by May 13. Rubin declined to specify when Oculus would address the questions.
“We’re going to answer all of that in due time,” said Rubin, a video game industry veteran who joined Oculus in 2014. “We’re absolutely confident that people are going to say, ‘Oh. Yeah. Right.'”
The Oculus Rift began shipping to consumers March 28. It costs $599 and features a headset with a microphone and a pair of high-definition screens capable of broadcasting images when connected to a high-powered PC.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/derrik-j-lang.