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NEW YORK, July 4, 2018 (AP) - Americans are marking Independence Day with parades, fireworks and, for some, a renewed sense of pride in their 242-year-old nation. For others, a sense of a United States divided weighs heavy on its quintessential holiday.

From New York to New Mexico, July Fourth events will celebrate what Americans have in common. Festivities are as elaborate as Macy’s July Fourth fireworks show, as gulp-worthy as Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest and as easygoing as backyard barbecues. But in a country roiled with debate over what it means to be an American, there are even competing televised Independence Day events in the nation’s capital.

The country’s longest-running live national July Fourth TV tradition — PBS’ broadcast of music and fireworks from the US Capitol’s West Lawn — is facing new counterprogramming from the White House, which is hosting its own concert and view of the National Park Service’s fireworks show. Both shows feature different “American Idol” alums.

First lady Melania Trump said in a statement that the White House show would allow Americans to “tune in from their homes and be part of the festivities.” PBS declined to comment.

In New York, the Macy’s fireworks show over the East River promises 25 minutes of sparkle and “ahhhh,” plus the West Point Band and entertainers including Kelly Clarkson, Ricky Martin and Keith Urban on NBC’s broadcast. Earlier, competitive-eating titans will face off at Nathan’s Famous July Fourth hot dog eating contest on Coney Island, televised by ESPN.

Meanwhile, some communities in the American West have cancelled their planned July Fourth fireworks because of high wildfire danger, and some others are doing drone light displays instead of pyrotechnics. But fireworks shows will go ahead in such places as Denver and Colorado Springs.

In Boston, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular features singer-songwriter Rachel Platten, the Indigo Girls, Rhiannon Giddens and Broadway legend Rita Moreno. It’s televised on local station WHDH-TV and streamed on several sites.

In another July Fourth tradition, new US citizens will be sworn in at locales around the country.

They’ll pledge allegiance to a country where some people lament that the ability to debate respectfully the toughest issues of the day seems hopelessly lost. For Brad Messier, a chef in Portland, Maine, the holiday “seems to illustrate the glaring divides that we have.”

“How much does going and seeing fireworks really bring people together?” he asks.

But in rural Shelby County, Alabama, retired truck driver Floyd Champion views these as the best of times in America.

“I love the holiday because it’s our independence,” he said.

SEOUL, May 29, 2018 (News Wires) - A top North Korean general is headed for the United States in what would be the highest-profile visit in years, reports said Tuesday as the two countries prepare for a momentous summit.

General Kim Yong Chol landed at Beijing airport on Tuesday and will journey on to New York the following day after talks with Chinese officials, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, which cited diplomatic sources.

The trip is part of a flurry of diplomacy as preparations gather pace for the on-again, off-again summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.

Trump cancelled the talks last week, citing "open hostility" from the North, but since then both sides have dialled down the rhetoric and the process appears to be back on track.

US negotiators, headed by Washington's current ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, met North Korean counterparts in the truce village of Panmunjom that divides the two Koreas on Sunday.

The State Department said a separate team of White House officials has also headed to Singapore to sort out logistics for the historic meeting.

Chung Sung-yoon, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said Kim Yong Chol would be the most senior North Korean official to step onto US soil since Vice Marshall Jo Myong Rok met President Bill Clinton in 2000.

The general has long been a right hand man to North Korea's leader, playing a front-seat role during recent rounds of diplomacy aimed at ending the nuclear stalemate on the Korean peninsula.

JUBA, May 9, 2018 (News Wires) - South Sudan’s government urged the United States on Wednesday not to “abandon” the country after Washington said it would review its assistance programmes because it could not continue a partnership with leaders perpetuating “endless war”.

“We are asking the United States not to abandon this country (South Sudan) because we need them … their role to assist the population of South Sudan is crucial and cannot be ignored”, said foreign affairs ministry spokesman Mawien Makol Ariik.

The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to South Sudan, which has been in the throes of a civil war since late 2013 that has displaced around a third of the 12 million-strong population and killed tens of thousands of people.

In a sharply worded statement on Tuesday the White House said the United States was a “proud and hopeful supporter” of South Sudan when it gained independence in 2011.

“Seven years later, the leaders of this country have squandered this partnership ... killed their own people, and repeatedly demonstrated their inability and unwillingness to live up to their commitments to end the country’s civil war.”

The US funding provides aid to millions of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda and lifesaving assistance such as food to people still inside the war-torn country.

Washington’s statement says the United States is committed to saving lives but does not want its assistance to “prolong the conflict” or facilitate corrupt behaviour by elites.

Production in some of South Sudan’s oil fields has been shut down due to the conflict, but the government says around 130,000 barrels per day of oil are being produced. Juba spends well more than half its budget on weapons and paying soldiers, according to UN experts.

Washington should “reconsider whatever harsh matter they are taking against this country”, Ariik told reporters.