American pastor denies terrorism links, spying

An American pastor on Monday denied accusations that he aided terrorist groups or spied against Turkey, speaking at the beginning of his trial in a case that has strained ties between Turkey and the United States.

Andrew Craig Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from North Carolina, faces up to 35 years in prison on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and “espionage.”

Brunson was arrested in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey for suspected links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as a network led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the attempted coup.

Brunson served as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation, and has lived in Turkey for 23 years. He denies wrongdoing.

“I am a Christian pastor. I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different,” the state-run Anadolu news agency quoted him as telling the court in the town of Aliaga.

The indictment claims the pastor worked to convert Kurds to Christianity to sow discord.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, observed the trial, which was later adjourned until May 7.

— Associated Press

Weibo backtracks on gay-content censorship

One of China’s top social networking sites announced Monday that it will no longer censor content related to gay issues after the plan triggered a loud public outcry.

Weibo.com was flooded over the weekend with the hashtags “#I’mGayNotaPervert” and “#I’mGay” after the Twitter-like platform earlier said cartoons and short videos with pornographic, violent or same-sex subject matter would be investigated.

The microblogging site said in its amended post: “This cleanup of games and cartoons will no longer target gay content.” A spokesman refused to clarify how the platform would treat short videos with gay content.

The investigation will instead “primarily focus on pornographic and violent material,” Weibo’s statement said.

The company earlier said that it was acting in accordance with China’s cybersecurity laws. The Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s Internet regulator, did not comment.

Regulators have been ratcheting up control over Chinese microblogs in recent months, ordering operators like Weibo to set up a mechanism to remove false information after criticizing it for allowing prohibited material to spread.

Homosexuality is not illegal in China and few Chinese have religious objections to it, but a traditional preference for conventional marriage and childbearing creates barriers for LGBT people.

— Associated Press

Slovak interior minister resigns in slain reporter case: Slovakia's interior minister has resigned amid the political crisis triggered by the slayings of an investigative journalist and his fiancee. Tomas Drucker is the second interior minister to resign since the Feb. 21 shooting deaths of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova. Kuciak was investigating possible widespread government corruption. Prime Minister Robert Fico's coalition stepped down after protests sparked by the deaths. Drucker was chosen by the new prime minister in a government comprising the same three parties as Fico's. Many Slovaks think the changes have not gone far enough, and protests have continued.

UAE to end Somalia military training mission: The United Arab Emirates has said it will end its military training mission to Somalia after an incident in which UAE troops were assaulted and $9.6 million was seized in Mogadishu. The UAE has trained thousands of Somali troops as part of the mission, which began in 2014. But tensions hit a high on April 8 when, the UAE said, Somali troops boarded an Emirati airplane at the Mogadishu airport, assaulted Emirati soldiers at gunpoint and confiscated $9.6 million in sealed bags. At the time, Somalia said the bags contained undeclared U.S. dollars.

Italy ordered to release aid group's migrant rescue boat: An Italian court ordered the release of a Spanish charity ship that was seized after prosecutors said it was helping to ferry migrants illegally from Libya. The court in Sicily found that the March rescue of 218 migrants by Proactiva Open Arms was justified because migrants face "grave violations of human rights" in Libya. The aid group picked up the migrants from two overcrowded rubber boats in international waters.

— From news services