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U.S. ship joins drill at disputed shoal

The U.S. sent a fighter-jet-carrying warship to join drills near the disputed Scarborough Shoal for the first time, sending a pointed message to China as tensions simmer over territorial claims in the region.

The USS Wasp -- an amphibious assault ship outfitted last year with F-35B jets -- joined the annual Exercise Balikatan with the Philippines this month. A ship matching the USS Wasp's description was spotted in waters "near the Scarborough Shoal," a feature occupied by China since a tense standoff seven years ago, the Philippines' ABS-CBN News reported Tuesday.

The USS Wasp didn't pass within 25 nautical miles of the shoal, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The figure suggests that the ship wasn't conducting a so-called freedom-of-navigation operation, a practice criticized by China that the U.S. uses to assert international sailing rights within 12 nautical miles of disputed features.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a briefing Wednesday in Beijing that he hopes "non-regional forces don't stir up troubles in the South China Sea."

The moves come as officials in Manila escalate protests over the presence of more than 200 Chinese ships near the Philippine-occupied South China Sea feature of Thitu. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has urged China to "lay off" the feature, saying he would order military action.

Deaths in 3-nation cyclone top 1,000

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The death toll from the cyclone that ripped into southern Africa last month is now above 1,000, while the number of cholera cases among survivors has risen above 4,000.

The United Nations has described Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi nearly a month ago, as "one of the deadliest storms on record in the southern hemisphere."

Zimbabwe's information minister said that the death toll in that country has risen to 344. Mozambique has reported 602 deaths and Malawi at least 59.

Zimbabwe's efforts are now "confined to recovery of the deceased" and the government will send pathologists to Mozambique to help identify bodies, said Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa.

A cholera outbreak among survivors was declared in Mozambique on March 27 and had led to 4,072 cases and seven deaths as of Tuesday morning, according to government figures.

More than 745,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine have been distributed, the government said.

Japanese F-35 jet crashes off coast

Possible debris from a Japanese F-35A stealth fighter that crashed during an exercise over the Pacific Ocean has been found at sea in what would be the costly jet's second crash in less than a year.

The plane and its pilot, a man in his 40s, disappeared about 85 miles off the Japanese coast Tuesday after departing Misawa Air Base on the northeastern corner of Honshu Island, the Japanese military said in a statement. A part of what's believed to the plane's tail was spotted floating near where it disappeared, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said Wednesday.

The Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 is considered the most expensive U.S. weapons system. More than 320 of the fighters operate from 15 American bases worldwide, though the Pentagon and Lockheed continue to wrestle with resolving more than 900 deficiencies -- including flaws in the plane's complex software.

The plane was on an exercise with three other aircraft when radar contact was lost about half an hour into the flight, Japanese military officials said. A cause of the crash has not been determined.

A Section on 04/11/2019

Print Headline: The world in brief

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