BERLIN (AP) — The German government announced Tuesday it had banned an Islamic group, “The true religion,” which is suspected of targeting teenagers to radicalize to fight in Syria and Iraq. At the same time, police raided about 190 offices, storehouses, mosques and apartments of members and supporters.

In searches in 60 cities in western Germany and in Berlin, police seized documents, hard drives, smartphones and weapons, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. Nobody was detained.

The group — also known as “Read!” — has been distributing German-language copies of the Quran across the country. The interior minister said that more than 140 youths had traveled to Syria and Iraq to join fighters there after having participated in the group’s campaigns in Germany.

“The translations of the Quran are being distributed along with messages of hatred and unconstitutional ideologies,” de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin. “Teenagers are being radicalized with conspiracy theories.”

Young men in long robes and bushy beards handing out German copies of the Quran has been a common sight in downtown and shopping areas across Germany for several years.

Security officials said that the group had about 500 members. In a warehouse near the western city of Cologne, authorities seized about 21,000 German-language copies of the Quran.

The ban came a week after security authorities arrested five men who allegedly aided the Islamic State group in Germany by recruiting members and providing financial and logistical help.

The German interior minister stressed that the ban does not restrict the freedom of religion in Germany or the peaceful practice of Islam in any way. However, he said the group had glorified terrorism and the fight against the German constitution in videos and meetings.

“We don’t want terrorism in Germany … and we don’t want to export terrorism,” de Maiziere said adding that the ban was also a measure to help protect peaceful Islam in the country.

Some 850 people are believed to have traveled from Germany to Syria and Iraq to join extremist groups like the Islamic State as fighters. All in all, security officials say that there are about 9,200 so-called Salafists in Germany who practice an ultra-conservative form of Islam that can also turn violent.

The head of “The true religion” group, 52-year-old Palestinian-born Ibrahim Abou-Nagie, is currently in Malaysia, the German news agency dpa reported. He has in the past repeatedly preached against “infidels” at mass events in Germany and on videos and social media.

HONG KONG (AP) — Two Hong Kong separatist lawmakers who were disqualified Tuesday by a judge from taking office because they altered their oaths by adding anti-China insults said they will file an appeal with the city’s top court.

A High Court judge ruled that Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching of the Youngspiration party violated a section of the semiautonomous Chinese city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, as well as laws covering oaths taken by officials.

Justice Thomas Au said his decision wasn’t influenced by Beijing’s controversial intervention last week into the local political dispute, in which it pre-empted the court with its own ruling aimed at blocking the two from getting a second chance.

The judge sided with Hong Kong’s top leader and justice secretary, who had filed a legal challenge to prevent the two from taking their seats, arguing that they had effectively declined to take their oaths by distorting them at the swearing-in ceremony last month.

Provocative tactics by Leung, 30, and Yau, 25, also included displaying a flag that said “Hong Kong is Not China” and using an old-fashioned derogatory Japanese term for China. Yau inserted a curse word into her pledge while Leung crossed his fingers.

“By seeking to make a mockery of China and the People’s Republic of China in a derogatory and humiliating manner, it is objectively plain that Mr. Leung and Ms. Yau refused to pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China,” the judge said.

The two told reporters that they would appeal the decision to the Court of Final Appeal rather than accepting the outcome and running for the seats again in a by-election.

“What is the meaning of joining this by-election if the result can be overruled by the government easily?” said Leung, who accused Beijing of destroying Hong Kong’s values and freedoms.

In an unprecedented step, Beijing handed down its own interpretation of the Basic Law last week, circumventing Hong Kong’s courts and raising fears that the city’s wide autonomy and independent judiciary under Chinese rule were being undermined.

China’s top legislative panel, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, sparked protests with its decision that under the Basic Law anyone who doesn’t take their oath accurately, “sincerely and solemnly” should be barred from office.

While Hong Kong courts are required to enforce such rulings, Au said he would have come to the same decision with or without Beijing’s interpretation.

Yau disagreed.

“The government used a lot of ways to put pressure on the court,” she said. “The court made this judgment after coming under heavy pressure and the result is what we have expected.”


Associated Press videojournalist Josie Wong contributed to this report.

BEIJING (AP) — Liu Huizhen, a petite, soft-spoken farmer’s daughter who wants to serve her community, might seem an unlikely threat to China’s all-powerful Communist Party.

Yet, as Chinese vote Tuesday for low-level representatives, authorities have responded to Liu’s bid as an independent candidate in a southwestern district of Beijing by sending several dozen men with buzz cuts and barking voices to follow her around and prevent her from meeting with voters.

The controls reflect the ruling party’s determination to maintain a rock-solid hold on politics at all levels, galvanized in recent years by President Xi Jinping’s steady accumulation of political authority that has made him the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.

“My reason for joining in the people’s congress elections is simple and innocent. Everyone has the right to take part in elections,” Liu, 45, said in a recent interview. “These people are really taking it too far.”

An initial attempt to interview Liu at the shack she’s been living in since her home was demolished was blocked by at least seven men who identified themselves only as “volunteers” and parked a car across the road to block access.

Interviewed later over FaceTime, a video chat service, Liu said 10 to 20 people were outside her door and keeping her from leaving.

Such harassment appears routine for independent candidates amid elections for more than 2 million members of county and district people’s congresses, the only level of citizens’ representatives selected by direct vote. Across the country, independents report being kept under tight supervision and prevented from campaigning.

Grassroots pro-democracy activist Yao Lifa, who has been intermittently detained since first winning election in 1998, has been out of contact for weeks, apparently while under detention, supporters say. Yao has been prevented from running for his old seat.

Xi’s administration has warned consistently against the pernicious influence of Western concepts such as free speech and multiparty democracy, while pursuing a brawny take on Chinese nationalism that has manifested itself in an assertive push for dominance in Asia.

Donald Trump’s election in a highly divisive campaign in the United States is seen as bolstering such sentiments, with Beijing’s leaders increasingly convinced that their authoritarian system will prove triumphant while America’s global influence steadily declines, analysts say.

“If China wants to say democracy is not a good thing, this (U.S. election) certainly is good for them,” said David Zweig, director of the Center on China’s Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

This year’s local polls are particularly significant as a precursor to the selection of the roughly 2,300 delegates to next year’s party national congress, where Xi will gain a second five-year term as party chief.

Despite the various barriers imposed, the elections have attracted a wave of independent candidates hailing broadly from China’s burgeoning “rights defense” movement. They include those seeking redress over personal issues such as the confiscation of property and idealists working for fair competition in politics, said Li Fan, an advocate of elections reforms in China.

“They want to use the position of people’s congress delegates to first, have their say, and second, to use legal means to vote or take policy actions to supervise and rein in illegal government actions,” said Li. An additional motivation comes from the protection such representatives enjoy from arrest and detention, he said.

“They’re not government officials so their power is limited, but they have the right to speak and to supervise government,” Li said, pointing to the example of past delegates to Beijing’s Haidian district congress who passed measures to allow the children of migrants to attend local schools.

On the surface, the rules for registering as a candidate are simple and inclusive. Apart from those put forward by the party, official organizations or government work units, candidates need endorsements from just 10 supporters to qualify for the polls.

In reality, however, the government and party officials interfere by screening candidates, preventing undesirables from running or even taking office should they win, advocacy group China Human Rights Defenders said in a recent report.

Most would-be independents are party members or have received some form of official approval and can be expected to toe the party line, said Li, who was interviewed in Hong Kong.

While China has eight mostly tiny minority parties, they exist only to advise and assist the ruling party, not to offer a political alternative. The country’s rulers treat the idea of a loyal opposition as anathema and even factionalism within the Communist Party is formally condemned.

Because people’s congresses at the city, provincial and national level are mainly elected by delegates at the next-lowest level, their loyalty to the ruling party is virtually assured. Only delegates to congresses at the county, township and urban district level are directly elected.

Following a brief period of openness, the government’s attitude toward independent candidates began hardening a decade ago and grew especially tough during elections in 2011 as Xi was preparing to take power, Li said.

“The law hasn’t changed. It’s the government’s attitude that has changed,” Li said.

Liu, the Beijing candidate, said that given the oppressive surveillance, she’s been limited to communicating with potential voters via China’s popular but heavily censored microblogging services. The entire experience has been depressing, she allows.

“It’s affecting my life. I’m feeling the pressure,” Liu said.


Associated Press video journalists Josie Wong and Johnson Lai contributed to this report from Hong Kong.

DALLAS (AP) — The president of the Chili’s restaurant chain says the manager who took away a veteran’s free Veterans Day meal has been “removed” from the job.

In a statement issued Monday, Chili’s President Kelli Valade also said she personally apologized to Ernest Walker for the manager’s actions and thanked him for his service to the country.

Ernest Walker posted a video to Facebook on Friday of the manager removing his meal at a Chili’s in the Dallas suburb of Cedar Hill. The Army veteran wrote that the meal was removed after another diner questioned the uniform Walker was wearing. Walker says the manager took his meal even after Walker showed his military ID and discharge papers.

Walker says he bought the fatigues after his discharge as a tribute to his service.

HOUSTON (AP) — A man accused of drunken driving has filed a lawsuit against a Houston police officer after police video captured the officer pushing him into a door frame at the city jail, causing a gash on his head.

In the lawsuit filed Sunday, Reuben Williams says Officer S. Corral used excessive force as he escorted Williams to a holding cell in November 2014. The lawsuit also names the city of Houston.

Williams’ suit seeks punitive damages, saying the incident caused him mental anguish.

Williams was jailed after he was arrested on a drunken-driving charge. Jail video shows he earlier was combative with officers.

A Harris County grand jury reviewed Williams’ treatment at the jail and declined to issue an indictment.

ROME (AP) — Police in Rome are investigating the apparent vandalism of the famed Elephant and Obelisk statue designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the Piazza della Minerva near the Pantheon in Rome.

Rome cultural authorities said Monday that vandals overnight broke off the tip of the elephant’s left tusk, which authorities recovered at the foot of the statue. Police were checking video in the area to identify the vandals.

The statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII. It was placed in the square in front of the Santa Maria Sopra Minevra Basilica in 1667.

Another Bernini statue, the La Barcaccia fountain at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in Rome, was vandalized by Dutch soccer fans in 2015.