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Monday, October 14, 2019

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs


Spain’s Supreme Court Convicts Catalan Leaders for a 2017 Secession Attempt

Posted: 14 Oct 2019 01:56 AM PDT

(MADRID) — Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday convicted 12 former Catalan politicians and activists for their roles in a secession bid in 2017, a ruling likely to inflame independence supporters in the wealthy northeastern region.

The court sentenced ex-Catalan regional Vice President Oriol Junqueras to 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds following one of Spain’s most important trials since democracy was restored after the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

Eight received lengthy prison terms in Catalonia’s attempt to break away from Spain following an illegal independence referendum, while three received lesser sentences.

Although prosecutors had requested convictions for the more severe crime of rebellion, which under Spanish law implies the use of violence to subvert the constitutional order, judges convicted nine of sedition, implying that they promoted public disorder to subvert the law.

Regional Parliament Speaker Carme Forcadell was given 11 and a half years in prison; former Cabinet members Joaquim Forn and Josep Rull 10 and a half years each; and grassroots pro-independence activists Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart nine years.

Junqueras and three other former Cabinet members — Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull and Dolors Bassa, who were sentenced to 12 years — were also convicted for misuse of public funds.

Three other former members of the Catalan Cabinet — Santiago Vila, Meritxell Borràs y Carles Mundó — were fined for disobedience.

Grassroots pro-secession groups have said that if any of the defendants were found guilty they would organize protests and “peaceful civil disobedience.” Spanish authorities deployed hundreds of extra police to the region in anticipation of the ruling.

The court’s decision was another milestone in the long struggle for separatists who want Catalonia to break away from Spain and create a new European state. Spain insists it won’t allow it. The Spanish constitution says the country is “indivisible.”

The separatist effort fell flat when it won no international recognition. The Spanish government stepped in and fired the Catalan regional government, with prosecutors later bringing charges.

At the center of the prosecutors’ case was the Oct. 1, 2017 referendum that the Catalan government held even though the country’s highest court had disallowed it.

The “Yes” vote won, but because it was an illegal ballot most voters didn’t turn out and the vote count was considered of dubious value. The Catalan Parliament, however, unilaterally declared independence three weeks later, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Seven separatist leaders allegedly involved in the events, including ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, fled the country and are regarded by Spain as fugitives.

“A total of 100 year of prison. How horrible,” Puigdemont tweeted Monday. “Now more than ever, we will be with you and your families. For the future of our sons and daughters. For democracy. For Europe. For Catalonia.”

The trial featured over 500 witnesses, including former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and 50 nationally televised hearings.

Defense lawyers argued that the leaders of the secessionist movement were carrying out the will of roughly half of the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia who, opinion polls indicate, would like the region to be a separate country.

The Catalan leaders — jailed for nearly two years while their case was heard — have grown into powerful symbols for the separatists. Many sympathizers wear yellow ribbons pinned to their clothes as a sign of protest.

The verdict will almost certainly become another rallying point for the separatist cause, which is going through its most difficult period in years with its most charismatic leaders behind bars or abroad.

The Catalan separatist movement’s two main political parties disagree on the next moves, and the grassroots organizations that have driven the movement are starting to criticize the lack of political progress.

The verdict also came less than a month before Spain’s general election to choose a new government, and the political handling of the Catalan question will undoubtedly be one of the top issues.

_____

Associated Press writer Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed.

Japan Looks for Missing People After Typhoon Hagibis Leaves Several Dead

Posted: 14 Oct 2019 12:27 AM PDT

(TOKYO) — Rescue crews in Japan dug through mudslides and searched near swollen rivers Monday as they looked for those missing from a typhoon that left as many as 36 dead and caused serious damage in central and northern Japan.

Typhoon Hagibis unleashed torrents of rain and strong winds Saturday that left thousands of homes on Japan’s main island flooded, damaged or without power.

Authorities warned more mudslides were possible with rain forecast for the affected area during the day Monday.

Kyodo News service, assembling information from a wide network, counted 36 deaths caused by the typhoon with 16 people missing. The official count from the Fire and Disaster Management Agency was 19 dead and 13 missing.

Hagibis dropped record amounts of rain for a period in some spots, according to meteorological officials, causing more than 20 rivers to overflow. In Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, 100 centimeters (39 inches) of rainfall was recorded over the last 48 hours.

Some of the muddy waters in streets, fields and residential areas have subsided. But many places remained flooded, with homes and surrounding roads covered in mud and littered with broken wooden pieces and debris. Some places normally dry still looked like giant rivers.

Some who lined up for morning soup at evacuation shelters, which are housing 30,000 people, expressed concern about the homes they had left behind. Survivors and rescuers will also face colder weather with northern Japan turning chilly this week.

Rescue efforts were in full force with soldiers and firefighters from throughout Japan deployed. Helicopters could be seen plucking some of the stranded from higher floors and rooftops of submerged homes.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government will set up a special disaster team, including officials from various ministries, to deal with the fallout from the typhoon, including helping those in evacuation centers and boosting efforts to restore water and electricity to homes.

“Our response must be rapid and appropriate,” Abe said, stressing that many people remained missing and damage was extensive.

Damage was serious in Nagano prefecture, where an embankment of the Chikuma River broke. Areas in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in northern Japan were also badly flooded.

In such areas, rescue crew paddled in boats to each half-submerged home, calling out to anyone left stranded.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said 56,800 homes were still without electricity Monday in Tokyo and nearby prefectures that the utility serves. Tohoku Electric Power Co. said 5,600 homes were without power in Miyagi, Iwate, Fukushima and Niigata.

East Japan Railway Co. said Hokuriku bullet trains were running Monday but reduced in frequency and limited to the Nagano city and Tokyo route.

An image of the aerodynamically curved bullet trains sitting in water, was seen by many as a sad but iconic symbol of the typhoon’s devastation.

Mimori Domoto, who works at Nagano craft beer-maker Yoho Brewing Co., said all 40 employees at her company had been confirmed safe. But deliveries had temporarily halted, and an event to promote the beer in Tokyo over the weekend was canceled for safety concerns.

“My heart aches when I think of the damage that happened in Nagano. Who would have thought it would get this bad?” she said.

Tama River in Tokyo also overflowed, but damage was not as great as other areas. Areas surrounding Tokyo, such as Tochigi, also suffered damage.

Much of life in Tokyo returned to normal. People were out and about in the city, trains were running, and store shelves left bare when people were stockpiling were replenished.

Poland’s Ruling Party Declares Victory in National Elections

Posted: 13 Oct 2019 08:41 PM PDT

(WARSAW, Poland) — Poland’s conservative governing Law and Justice party won the most votes in Sunday’s election in the deeply divided nation and appeared, according to an exit poll, to have secured a comfortable majority in parliament to govern for four more years.

The exit poll, conducted by the research firm Ipsos, projected that Law and Justice won 43.6% of the votes. That would translate into 239 seats, a majority in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.

The poll said a centrist pro-European Union umbrella group, Civic Coalition, would come in second with 27.4%. The biggest party in the coalition is Civic Platform, which governed Poland in 2007-2015.

Coalition leaders cheered and welcomed the result as a spur toward uniting society around common goals.

Other parties projected to surpass the 5% threshold to get into parliament were a left-wing alliance with 11.9%, the conservative agrarian Polish People’s Party with 9.6% and a new far-right alliance called Confederation with 6.4%.

The exit poll had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. Final vote results, which are expected by Tuesday, could shift, as they have in past elections.

A prominent journalist, Konrad Piasecki, said that “at the moment it looks like the largest triumph in the history of parliamentary elections” in Poland. But he also cautioned that results varying even slightly from the exit poll could mean big changes to the distribution of seats in parliament.

Law and Justice has governed Poland since 2015 and is popular for its social conservatism and generous social spending. It ran a campaign that highlighted its social programs and vowed to defend traditional Roman Catholic values.

It has been accused of weakening the rule of law in the young democracy with an overhaul of the judicial system that has given the party more power over the courts and has drawn criticism as well for using state media as a propaganda outlet and for anti-gay rhetoric.

Pawel Zerka, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said the high level of support for Law and Justice, known in Poland by its acronym PIS, “should not be interpreted as a sign that Poles have become nationalist or xenophobic. Rather, it reveals an effective party machine – and an ability of PIS to mobilize voters with policies based on direct social transfers.”

Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is considered the real power behind Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government, cautioned that the exit polls weren’t the final results but nonetheless declared victory.

“We received a lot but we deserve more,” Kaczynski told party supporters as he held high a bouquet of roses.

Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna said the fight wasn’t fair, an apparent reference to the way Law and Justice harnessed state media to pump out positive coverage of itself while casting a poor light on political rivals.

“This was not an even struggle; there were no rules in this struggle,” Schetyna said.

The left-wing party leaders celebrated their expected return to parliament after failing to get any seats in 2015.

Critics fear that four more years for Law and Justice will reverse the democratic achievements of this Central European nation, citing the changes to the judiciary and the way the party has marginalized minorities, for instance with its recent campaign depicting the LGBT rights movement as a threat.

Law and Justice’s apparent success stems from tapping into the values of the largely conservative society while also evening out extreme economic inequalities.

It is the first party since the fall of communism to break with the austerity of previous governments, whose free-market policies transformed Poland into one of Europe’s most dynamic economies.

However, many Poles were left out in that transformation and inequalities grew, creating grievances. Law and Justice skillfully addressed those concerns with popular programs, including one that gives families a monthly stipend of 500 zlotys ($125) for each child, taking the edge off poverty for some and giving others more disposable income. It says it has been able to pay for its programs thanks to a tighter tax collection system.

It has also clearly benefited from the sacrifices forced by earlier governments and the growth of Europe’s economy.

In his victory speech, Kaczynski referred to his party’s improvement of public finances and said it would continue on that path.

“We are finishing a certain stage; we are starting a new one,” he said. “It is not easier, maybe more difficult. But I hope that it will be finished with even greater success.”

Syria’s Kurds Look to Assad for Protection From Turkey’s Invasion after the U.S. Withdraws Troops

Posted: 13 Oct 2019 08:28 PM PDT

(AKCAKALE, Turkey) — Syria’s Kurds said Syrian government forces agreed Sunday to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion — a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S. troops withdrawn from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos.

The shift could lead to clashes between Turkey and Syria and raises the specter of a resurgent Islamic State group as the U.S. relinquishes any remaining influence in northern Syria to President Bashar Assad and his chief backer, Russia.

Adding to the turmoil Sunday, hundreds of Islamic State families and supporters escaped from a holding camp in Syria amid the fighting between Turkish forces and the Kurds.

The fast-deteriorating situation was set in motion last week, when Trump ordered U.S. troops in northern Syria to step aside, clearing the way for an attack by Turkey, which regards the Kurds as terrorists. Since 2014, the Kurds have fought alongside the U.S. in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, and Trump’s move was decried at home and abroad as a betrayal of an ally.

Over the past five days, Turkish troops and their allies have pushed their way into northern towns and villages, clashing with the Kurdish fighters over a stretch of 200 kilometers (125 miles). The offensive has displaced at least 130,000 people.

On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said all American troops will withdraw from northern Syria because of the increasing danger of getting caught in the crossfire.

“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it’s a very untenable situation,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He did not say how many would withdraw or where they would go but that they represent most of the 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria.

The peril to American forces was illustrated on Friday, when a small number of U.S. troops came under Turkish artillery fire at an observation post in the north. No Americans were hurt. Esper said it was unclear whether that was an accident.

Trump, in a tweet, said: “Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change. Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight. They have no idea what a bad decision they have made.”

Later in the day Sunday, Kurdish officials announced they will work with the Syrian government to fend off the Turkish invasion, deploying side by side along the border. Syrian TV said government troops were moving to the north to confront the Turkish invasion but gave no details.

The Kurdish fighters had few options after the United States abandoned them, and it had been anticipated they would turn to Assad’s government for support.

A return by Assad’s forces to the region where Syrian Kurds have built up autonomy in the north would be a major shift in Syria’s long-running civil war, further cementing Assad’s hold over the ravaged country. Late Sunday, Syrian TV broadcast from the northern town of Hassakeh where residents took to the streets to celebrate the announcement of cooperation between the Syrian government and the Kurds, and many vowed to defeat the Turkish invasion.

It would also mean that U.S. troops no longer have a presence in an area where Russia and Iranian-backed militias now have a role.

It was not clear what Russia’s role was in cementing the agreement. But Russian officials have been mediating low-level talks between the Kurds and Damascus. Syria is allied with Russia, and Turkey, though it is a NATO member, has drawn close to Moscow in recent years under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The U.S. withdrawal leaves open the question of what happens to the Kurdish-run prisons and detention centers that hold thousands of Islamic State prisoners, including more than 2,000 foreign militants.

On Sunday, heavy fighting reached a Kurdish-run displaced-persons camp in Ein Eissa, some 35 kilometers (20 miles) south of the border, that is home to some 12,000 people, including around 1,000 wives and widows of Islamic State fighters and their children.

The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said in a statement that 785 Islamic State supporters escaped after attacking guards and storming the gates. It was not immediately possible to confirm that figure.

“It gets worse by the hour,” Esper said of the fighting. “These are all the exact things” that U.S. officials warned Erdogan would probably happen in urging him not to invade.

Erdogan on Sunday ruled out any mediation in the dispute with the Kurds, saying Turkey won’t negotiate with “terrorists.”

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said Turkey-backed Syrian forces had advanced into the center of a Syrian border town, Tal Abyad, on the fifth day of Turkey’s offensive. Turkey’s Defense Ministry tweeted that its forces had taken control of the main highway running between Hassakeh, a major town and logistics hub, and Ein Eissa, the administrative center of the Kurdish-held areas.

Casualties mounted. On Sunday, at least nine people, including five civilians, were killed in Turkish airstrikes on a convoy in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian Kurdish officials.

Images of the attack showed bodies and severed limbs strewn in the street. Some of those killed appeared to be carrying guns. Activists said the gunmen were guarding the convoy.

Turkey said 440 Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began Wednesday. The SDF said 56 of its fighters have died. Turkey also said four of its soldiers were killed, along with 16 allied Syrian fighters.

Ecuadorians Return to Streets, Despite Military Curfew, After Violent Protests

Posted: 13 Oct 2019 11:03 AM PDT

(QUITO, Ecuador) — Residents of Ecuador’s capital ventured out into the streets Sunday despite a 24-hour military curfew, picking their way through piles of burnt tires, chunks of pavement and tree trunks smoldering after a day of violent protests across Quito.

The government and indigenous protesters planned to begin negotiations aimed at defusing more than a week of demonstrations against a plan to remove fuel subsidies as part of an International Monetary Fund austerity package. The protests have paralyzed Ecuador’s economy and cut off more than half of the country’s production of oil, Ecuador’s most important export.

The United Nations and Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference said negotiations would begin at 3 p.m. local time (4 p.m. EDT) between President Lenín Moreno’s government and the Confederation of Indigenous Nations, which has brought thousands of indigenous protesters to the capital and organized protests across the country, from the Andes high sierra to the Amazon rainforest.

“We trust in the will of everyone to establish a dialogue in good faith and find a quick solution to the complex situation the country is living,” the U.N.’s Ecuador office said in a statement.

However, the protests have drawn in thousands of Ecuadorians from outside the indigenous minority and many said they would continue demonstrating despite the negotiations. On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people defied the curfew and headed toward the main protest site, some carrying wooden poles. Police let them enter the park and surrounding area but searched people’s bags for potential weapons.

Michael Limaico, a 35-year-old unemployed sign-maker, stood on a corner in the Carcelen neighborhood near a line of burned tires that blocked one of the city main thoroughfares on Saturday. Limaico said that he and his wife had struggled for years to feed and house their three children, ages 9 to 15, with their earnings of about $600 a month from odd jobs around northern Quito.

Then, prices of food and other basic goods rose sharply after Moreno removed fuel subsidies on Oct. 2. Limaico said it had become impossible to make ends meet, and he had been protesting for days with neighbors who have blocked Diego de Vazquez Avenue as it passes through Carcelen.

“This isn’t a protest of thieves, of gangsters,” he said. “This is the people, and we’re fed up.”

Demonstrations in Quito took three distinct forms on Saturday, the most tumultuous in 10 days of protests against Moreno’s austerity measures. Thousands of indigenous people protested outside the National Assembly in the city center. Front-line troops of young people, both whites and mestizos from inside Quito and indigenous from the countryside, fought police with stones, Molotov cocktails and improvised mortars. Several dozen broke into the national comptroller office, smashing windows and setting the building afire.

Elsewhere in the city, groups of masked men attacked media offices, setting fires before they were driven off by police.

Lastly, across Quito, groups of neighbors — indigenous, white and mixed, or mestizo — blocked streets, burned tires and banged pots and pans to protest Moreno’s austerity package. Others, tired of the chaos, banged pots and pans to protest the demonstrations and call for a return to normality.

“Every citizen that disagrees with government decisions can protest in the right way but let’s not mix that up with vandalism and robbery,” said James Baez, a 78-year-old retired employee of an ARamnmerican tire company. He said he supported Moreno and the decision to impose a curfew.

On Sunday morning, soldiers and had retaken control of the epicenter of the protests in Quito — the park and streets leading to the National Assembly and the national comptroller’s office.

Moreno said the military would enforce the round the clock curfew in Quito and around critical infrastructure like power stations and hospitals in response to the day’s violence. It was the first such action imposed since a series of coups in the 1960s and ’70s, although there was little military or police presence on most Quito streets Sunday morning and thousands of people were out walking, driving and trying to run errands like getting money from cash machines.

Moreno said his government would address some concerns of protesters, studying ways to ensure resources reach rural areas and offering compensation for those who lost earnings because of the recent upheaval.

“We’ll negotiate with those who have decided to do so,” Moreno said in remarks broadcast on radio and television. “The process is moving forward and I hope to give you good news soon, because different organizations and sectors have confirmed their willingness to talk.”

Moreno said the masked protesters had nothing to do with the thousands of indigenous Ecuadorians who have protested for more than a week over a sudden rise in fuel prices as part of an International Monetary Fund-backed austerity package. He blamed the violence on drug traffickers, organized crime and followers of former President Rafael Correa, who has denied allegations he is trying to topple Moreno’s government.

Moreno served Correa as vice president before he become president and the two men went through a bitter split as Moreno pushed to curb public debt amassed on Correa’s watch.

Ecuador, a former OPEC member, was left deeply in debt by a decade of high-spending governance and the oil price drop. Moreno is raising taxes, liberalizing labor laws and cutting public spending in order to win more than $4 billion in emergency financing from the IMF.

As part of that plan, Moreno eliminated subsidies on the price of fuel on Oct. 2, driving the most popular variety of gasoline from $1.85 to $2.39 a gallon and diesel from $1.03 to $2.30. Panic and speculation sent prices soaring, with costs of some products doubling or more.

Ecuador’s indigenous people, poor and underserved by government programs, were infuriated. Over the last week, thousands of streamed into Quito.

In the country’s Amazon oil fields, protests at installations, described by some government officials as attacks, have halted or slowed production.

Ecuador had been producing 430,000 barrels a day, a figure that had dropped to 176,029 barrels by Sunday, said an official at state oil producer Petroamazonas who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. That has led to a loss of about $14 million a day, the official said.

An indigenous leader and four other people have died during the unrest, according to the public defender’s office. The president’s office has reported two deaths.

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Correspondent Raisa Ávila contributed to this report.

Trump Orders All U.S. Troops to Leave Northern Syria, Defense Secretary Says

Posted: 13 Oct 2019 08:36 AM PDT

(WASHINGTON) — Amid growing chaos in Syria, President Donald Trump has ordered all U.S. troops to withdraw from the country’s north to avoid a bloody conflict between Turkey and U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters that “gets worse by the hour,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday.

Esper, who spoke in two TV interviews, did not say the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria are leaving the country entirely. Trump’s national security team planned to meet later Sunday to assess the situation, Esper said, as U.S. officials continue to urge Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to halt his incursion.

Asked whether he thought Turkey, a NATO ally, would deliberately attack American troops in Syria, Esper said, “I don’t know whether they would or wouldn’t.”

He cited an incident on Friday in which a small number of U.S. troops fell under artillery fire at an observation post in the north. Esper called that an example of “indiscriminate fire” coming close to Americans, adding it was unclear whether that was an accident.

Esper said he spoke to Trump on Saturday night amid growing signs that the Turkish invasion, which began Wednesday, was growing more dangerous.

APTOPIX Turkey US Syria
Lefteris Pitarakis—APIn this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from fires on targets in Tel Abyad, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. The United Nations says at least 130,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in northeastern Syria with many more likely on the move as a Turkish offensive in the area enters its fifth day.

“In the last 24 hours, we learned that they (the Turks) likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned — and to the west,” Esper said.

The U.S. also has come to believe that the Kurds are attempting to “cut a deal” with the Syrian army and Russia to counter the invading Turks, he said. As a result, Trump “directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria,” Esper said.

Trump, in a tweet Sunday, said: “Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change. Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight. They have no idea what a bad decision they have made. Why are they not asking for a Declaration of War?”

Esper said he would not discuss a timeline for the U.S. pullback, but said it would be done “as safely and quickly as possible.”

Esper did not say how many U.S. troops will leave the north, but he says they represent most of the 1,000 troops in Syria.

The Americans have been working for five years with a Kurd-led Syrian group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces to combat the Islamic State group. Turkey has long objected to the U.S.-Kurd alliance because Turkey considers elements of that force to be terrorists tied to an insurgency inside Turkey.

The Pentagon had said before the operation began that the U.S. military would not support it, and the U.S. pulled about 30 special operations troops out of observation posts along the invasion route on the Syrian border.

Esper said he was aware of reports of hundreds of IS prisoners escaping as a result of the Turkish invasion and of atrocities being committed against Syrian Kurds by members of a Turkish-supported Syrian Arab militia.

“It gets worse by the hour,” Esper said. “These are all the exact things” that U.S. officials warned Erdogan would likely happen by ignoring U.S. urgings not to invade northern Syria.

Esper said there was “no way” U.S. forces could have stopped the Turks, who assembled a force of about 15,000 troops on the Syrian border, supported by air power.

“We did not sign up to fight Turkey, a longstanding NATO ally, on behalf of the (Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces). This is a terrible situation,” he said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held out the possibility of quick action to impose economic sanctions on Turkey, a move that Trump has repeatedly threatened if the Turks were to push too far into Syria.

“We’ll be taking in new information and we’re ready to go at a moment’s notice to put on sanctions,” Mnuchin said. “Now we have warned the Turks. … They know what we will do if they don’t stop these activities.”

Esper appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and “Fox News Sunday.” Mnuchin was interviewed on ABC’s “This Week.”

American Suspect in Fatal Crash Does Not Have Diplomatic Immunity: Reports

Posted: 13 Oct 2019 06:56 AM PDT

(LONDON) — British media are reporting that the wife of an American official who left the U.K. after being involved in a fatal road accident no longer has diplomatic immunity.

BBC and Sky News said Sunday that U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had told the family of Harry Dunn that “immunity is no longer pertinent” because the suspect has left the U.K.

The Foreign Office declined to comment.

Dunn, 19, was killed in August when his motorcycle collided with a car outside a British air force base in southern England used by the U.S. military. The alleged car driver, Anne Sacoolas, who is married to a U.S. official, subsequently left Britain.

Sacoolas’ lawyer, Amy Jeffress of Arnold and Porter, said: “Anne is devastated by this tragic accident” and wants to meet Dunn’s parents.

Hong Kong Protesters Shift Tactics as Demonstrations Stretch Into Fifth Month

Posted: 13 Oct 2019 06:34 AM PDT

(HONG KONG) — Tearing a page out of ancient Chinese military philosophy, black-clad protesters in Hong Kong changed tactics and wreaked havoc by popping up in small groups in multiple locations across the city Sunday, pursued by but also often eluding police who made scores of muscular arrests.

Violence spiraled as protests stretched from Sunday afternoon into the night, with police struggling to restore order.

A savage beating after dark by a group of masked protesters left a man bleeding profusely. Police said an officer was attacked from behind with a sharp weapon earlier in the day and was left with a bleeding neck wound.

Video broadcast on Hong Kong television also showed a masked, black-clad protester dropping a riot officer with a flying high kick, followed by two other protesters who beat the officer on the ground and tried unsuccessfully to snatch his gun.

The guerrilla-like tactics sought to maximize the disruption and visibility of protests at a time when anti-government demonstrations have, as a whole, been showing signs of flagging as they stretch into a fifth month. Pressure from a government ban on the face masks worn by many protesters and extreme violence earlier this month appear to have cooled the ardor of some demonstrators and whittled down protest numbers.

Online calls for gatherings to start at 2 p.m. in dozens of malls, parks, sports grounds and other locations triggered an afternoon of mayhem and marked a shift from earlier more concentrated rallies in fewer spots.

“We’re going to be more fluid and flexible,” said Amanda Sin, 23, an office worker who joined a peaceful protest outside police headquarters in central Hong Kong. “We are interchanging different tactics.”

Roaming clumps of hardcore protesters — too numerous, elusive and fast-moving to be policed — popped up out of nowhere, vandalizing stores, blocking traffic with makeshift barricades and spraying protest graffiti, often holding up umbrellas to shield their activities from view.

Masked protesters wielding hammers wrecked a Huawei store that was apparently targeted because of the brand’s links to mainland China. On another store broken into and trashed, protesters sprayed, “We are not stealing.” The words “black heart” were sprayed in black inside a vandalized Starbucks, another frequent target of the anti-government and anti-China protests that have gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese territory since June.

Changing strategies to adapt to shifting circumstances is a notion deeply engrained in Chinese thinking, notably detailed in the ancient military treatise “The Art of War,” and inspiring Mao Zedong’s Communist revolutionaries on their route to seizing power in China in 1949.

In Hong Kong, protesters speak of being “like water,” fluid and adaptable.

“It’s a guerilla-kind of demonstration,” said Edmund Tang, 59, who slept overnight at the rally outside police headquarters that started Saturday and was still going strong Sunday with about 200 people, many of them retirees.

He said the week-old ban that makes the wearing of masks at rallies punishable by one year in jail dissuaded some demonstrators who had taken part in larger previous demonstrations.

“It’s no longer possible to get 100,000 people to come out,” he said. The idea of protesting in small, diffuse groups was in part aimed at complicating policing efforts, Tang added.

“Keep the hunt dogs running everywhere, getting crazier and crazier, without catching the prey. That’s best,” he said.

Police adapted, too, fanning out in multiple locations and quickly making arrests. Speeding police vans were on the scene within minutes after black-clad protesters set up a makeshift roadblock in a shopping district in Kowloon. One van rammed through a barricade of piled-up bamboo poles and officers sprinted off in pursuit of suspects.

Police pinned detainees to the floor and hauled them away. They held aloft blue banners ordering people to disperse. In one incident, officers fired tear gas rounds from a van before speeding away. Other patrols pointed riot-control guns and cans of pepper spray to keep crowds at bay and hammered on their plastic riot shields as they cleared streets. Bystanders responded with torrents of abuse.

As police hared after suspects in one area, protesters sprang up in others like the “Whac-A-Mole” arcade game, overwhelming the spread-out policing effort.

One of the largest gatherings brought several hundred people together in a shopping mall in Shatin. A masked protester played the saxophone. On the closed metal shutters of a subway station, another protester dressed head-to-toe in black sprayed, “When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes our duty.”

Before dawn Sunday, protesters also clambered up a peak and erected a 4-meter- (13-foot-) tall white statue of a demonstrator in a gas mask, dubbed “The Lady Liberty of Hong Kong,” that gazed over the restive city.

The protests gripping the international business hub began in response to a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts in mainland China. The movement then ballooned to encompass broader clamors for universal suffrage, an independent inquiry of the policing methods used against protesters and other demands.

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Associated Press writer Yanan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.

Hundreds of ISIS Supporters Escape as Turkish Forces Near Key Syrian Town

Posted: 13 Oct 2019 06:19 AM PDT

(AKCAKALE, Turkey) — Syrian government troops will deploy along the border with Turkey to help Kurdish fighters fend off Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, the Kurds said Sunday, hours after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S. troops to withdraw from the area to avoid getting caught in the middle of the fast-escalating conflict.

The announcement represents a major shift in alliances for Syria’s Kurds after they were abandoned by the U.S., with whom they were longtime partners in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Adding to the turmoil, hundreds of Islamic State families and supporters escaped from a holding camp in northern Syria amid heavy clashes between Turkish forces and the Kurds.

The dizzying developments reflected the rapidly growing chaos that has unfolded in the week since Trump ordered U.S. forces in the region to step aside, clearing the way for the Turkish attack on the Kurdish fighters it considers terrorists.

Trump’s decision has been broadly condemned at home and abroad by critics who accuse him of betraying the Kurds, who long fought alongside the U.S. to help defeat the Islamic State group in Syria.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said all American troops will withdraw from northern Syria because of the increasing danger posed by the fighting.

“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it’s a very untenable situation,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He did not say how many would withdraw or where they would go but that they represent most of the 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria.

The peril to American forces was illustrated on Friday, when a small number of U.S. troops came under Turkish artillery fire at an observation post in the north. No Americans were hurt. Esper said it was unclear whether that was an accident.

Trump, in a tweet, said: “Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change. Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight. They have no idea what a bad decision they have made.”

Meanwhile, Esper said the U.S. also has come to believe that the Kurds are attempting to “cut a deal” with the Syrian army and Russia to counter the invading Turks.

Shortly afterward, Kurdish officials announced they will work with the Syrian government to fend off the Turkish invasion, deploying side by side along the border. Syrian TV said government troops were moving to the north to confront the Turkish invasion but gave no details.

A Syrian Kurdish official and a war monitor also said Syrian government forces were poised to enter Kurdish-controlled towns from which U.S. troops are pulling out, following a deal reached through Russia.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deal covered the towns of Kobani and Manbij. U.S. troops were deployed in the towns after they were cleared of Islamic State militants in 2015.

The Kurdish fighters had few options after the United States abandoned them, and it had been anticipated they would turn to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its Russian allies for support.

The Syrian troop movements raise the risk of a clash between Syria and Turkey.

In addition, a return by Assad’s forces to the region where Syrian Kurds have built up an autonomy in the north would be a major shift in Syria’s long-running civil war, further cementing Assad’s hold over the war-ravaged country.

It would also mean that U.S. troops no longer have presence in an area where Russia and Iranian-backed militias now have a role.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency, meanwhile, said Turkey-backed Syrian forces have advanced into the center of a Syrian border town, Tal Abyad, on the fifth day of Turkey’s offensive. Turkey’s Defense Ministry tweeted that its forces had taken control of the main highway running between Hassakeh, a major town and logistics hub, and Ein Eissa, the administrative center of the Kurdish-held areas.

Casualties mounted. On Sunday, at least nine people, including five civilians, were killed in Turkish airstrikes on a convoy in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn, according to the Observatory and Syrian Kurdish officials.

Images of the attack showed bodies and severed limbs strewn in the street. Some of those killed appeared to be carrying guns. Activists said the gunmen were guarding the convoy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday ruled out any mediation in the dispute with the Kurds, saying Turkey won’t negotiate with “terrorists.” NATO member Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to the Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

The fighting has raised fears that some of the thousands of Islamic State members and sympathizers held by the Kurds will escape or be released in the chaos, allowing the battered extremist group to make a comeback and sow terror at will.

On Sunday, heavy fighting reached a displaced-persons camp in Ein Eissa, some 35 kilometers (20 miles) south of the border, that is home to some 12,000 people, including around 1,000 wives and widows of Islamic State fighters and their children, held in a special detention area.

The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said in a statement that 950 IS supporters escaped after attacking guards and storming the gates. It was not immediately possible to confirm that figure.

“It gets worse by the hour,” Esper said of the fighting. “These are all the exact things” that U.S. officials warned Erdogan would probably happen in urging him not to invade.

The United Nations said more than 130,000 Syrians have fled since the operation began last week. Turkey said 440 Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began Wednesday. The SDF said 56 of its fighters have died. Turkey also said four of its soldiers were killed, along with 16 allied Syrian fighters.

___

El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.

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