3 US Soldiers Killed in Training Accident

Three U.S. soldiers were killed and three others injured in the state of Georgia Sunday in an accident involving the armored combat vehicle they were in, the military said in a statement.

The army provided no details on the nature of the accident, which is under investigation, except to say it occurred during an exercise at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

“Six soldiers were involved, with three pronounced deceased on site, and three more evacuated to Winn Army Community Hospital where they are being treated and evaluated for their injuries,” an army statement said.

Major General Tony Aguto, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, called it a “heartbreaking day.”

The soldiers, who were in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, were from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team.

 

White House Aide Mulvaney Reiterates, No Ukraine Money Link to Political Investigations

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Sunday defended his claim that President Donald Trump did not withhold nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in order to get Kyiv to undertake investigations of Democratic rivals and the 2016 election.

Mulvaney told reporters last week there was such a” quid pro quo” by Trump, but hours later walked back the statement and continued to advance his revised version of White House policy discussions in an interview on the “Fox News Sunday” talk show.

“There were two reasons we held up the aid,” Mulvaney said. “The first one was the rampant corruption in Ukraine. It’s so bad in Ukraine that in 2014 Congress passed a law … requiring us to make sure that [the fight against] corruption was moving in the right direction. So corruption’s a big deal. Everybody knows it.”

He added, “The president was also concerned about whether other nations, specifically European nations, were helping with foreign aid to Ukraine.”

FILE – White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney talks to the press at the White House, Oct. 17, 2019.

Mulvaney also mentioned during his White House news conference last Thursday that Trump wanted to know whether Ukraine had possession of a computer server used at the Democratic National Committee in 2016 as it supported former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her unsuccessful campaign against Trump for the White House. The whereabouts of the computer is part of a debunked theory that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 election, and not Russia, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded.

But Mulvaney said Sunday his mention of Trump’s concerns about the computer “wasn’t connected to the aid,” although last week had said, “That’s why we held up the money.”

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney had said at the White House.

On Sunday, he said, “I never said there’s a quid pro quo because there isn’t.”

Trump, while initially blocking the aid to Ukraine, eventually released the money to Kyiv.

“The aid flowed,” Mulvaney said Sunday. “Once we were able to satisfy ourselves that corruption, that they were doing better with it…” and other countries’ aid to Ukraine had increased, “the money flowed.” During the news conference last week, Mulvaney added a third condition, whether Ukraine was assisting a U.S. Justice Department probe of the origins of 2016 election investigations that eventually implicated Russia’s interference to help Trump win.

FILE – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and U.S. President Donald Trump face reporters during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25, 2019.

Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy are at the center of the impeachment inquiry Democrats in the House of Representatives have opened against Trump.

The inquiry was touched off when an intelligence community whistleblower expressed concern about Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Zelenskiy, with a White House-released transcript of the call showing Trump urging the Ukrainian leader to open a corruption investigation into one of his key 2020 election rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as a probe of his son Hunter Biden’s lucrative position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Both Bidens have denied any wrongdoing, although the younger Biden, 49, said last week he used “poor judgment” in agreeing to work for the Ukrainian company because of the political fallout for his father.

Trump has alleged that when Joe Biden was U.S. vice president, he threatened to withhold loan guarantees to Ukraine unless an earlier corruption probe into the gas company was stopped.

No evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens has surfaced. But reaching out to a foreign government to dig up dirt on a rival is considered to be interference in a presidential election.

Trump has described his call with Zelenskiy as “perfect” and accuses the Democratic-led House of a witch hunt.

 A House vote for Trump’s impeachment in the coming weeks is a possibility, although his conviction after a trial in the Republican-majority Senate and removal from office remains unlikely.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, center, arrives for a joint interview with the House Committees on Capitol Hill, Oct. 17, 2019.

Trump donor Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told impeachment investigators last week that Trump ordered him and other diplomats to work with the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine into investigations that could help Trump politically.

Those investigations would include the 2016 election and the Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden worked.

Sondland told the investigators he was disappointed that Trump directed diplomats to work with Giuliani on Ukraine matters.

“Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine,” Sondland said.

He said the diplomats who worked with Giuliani did not know “until much later” that Giuliani would push for a probe of Biden “or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the president’s 2020 re-election campaign.”

“Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong,” Sondland said in his statement. “Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firebrand Cleric Green-Lights Fresh Protests in Iraq

Influential Iraqi Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr has given his supporters the green light to resume anti-government protests, after the movement was interrupted following a deadly crackdown.

Protests shook Iraq for six days from October 1, with young Iraqis denouncing corruption and demanding jobs and services before calling for the downfall of the government.

The protests — notable for their spontaneity — were violently suppressed, with official counts reporting 110 people killed and 6,000 wounded, most of them demonstrators.

Calls have been made on social media for fresh rallies on Friday, the anniversary of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi’s government taking office.

“It’s your right to participate in protests on October 25,” Sadr told his followers in a Facebook post on Saturday evening.

Protesters have opposed any appropriation of their leaderless movement and the firebrand cleric was restrained on Sunday in comparison to his previous exhortations for “million-man marches”.  

He qualified his support by adding: “Those who don’t want to take part in this revolution can choose another via the ballot box in internationally supervised elections and without the current politicians,” he said.

His statement echoed another he made during protests at the start of the month, in which he called on the government — of which his bloc is a part — to resign and hold early elections “under U.N. supervision”.

In his latest message, Sadr called on his supporters to protest peacefully.

“They expect you to be armed,” he said, alluding to authorities blaming “saboteurs” for infiltrating protests. “But I don’t think you will be.”

Sadr’s influence was on display Saturday during the Shi’ite Arbaeen pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala, 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad.

Thousands of his supporters heeded his call to dress in white shrouds and chanted, “Baghdad free, out with the corrupt!”

October 25 will also mark the deadline issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader for Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, for the government to respond to protester demands.

 

Turkey Wants Syrian Forces to Leave Border Areas, Erdogan Aide Says

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Syrian government forces to move out of areas near the Turkish border so he can resettle up to 2 million refugees there, his spokesman told The Associated Press on Saturday. The request will top Erdogan’s talks next week with Syria’s ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Arrangements along the Syrian-Turkish border were thrown into disarray after the U.S. pulled its troops out of the area, opening the door to Turkey’s invasion aiming to drive out Kurdish-led fighters it considers terrorists. 

Abandoned by their American allies, the Kurds — with Russia’s mediation — invited Damascus to send troops into northeastern Syria as protection from Turkish forces. That has complicated Turkey’s plan to create a “safe zone” along the border, where it can resettle Syrian refugees now in Turkey. Most of those refugees fled Syria’s government. 

Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during an interview in Istanbul, Oct. 19, 2019.

Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said Ankara does not want either Syrian forces or Kurdish fighters in the border area because refugees would not go back to areas under their control. 

Turkey has said it wants to oversee that area. 

“This is one of the topics that we will discuss with the Russians, because, again, we are not going to force any refugees to go to anywhere they don’t want to go,” he said. “We want to create conditions that will be suitable for them to return where they will feel safe.” 

Turkey has taken in about 3.6 million Syrians fleeing the conflict in their homeland but now wants most of them to return. So far, very few have returned to an enclave Turkey already took over and has controlled since 2017. 

Under an agreement made by the U.S. and Turkey on Thursday, a five-day cease-fire has been in place. Turkey expects the Kurdish fighters to pull back from a border area. 

Agreement on pullback

A senior Syrian Kurdish official acknowledged for the first time that the Kurdish-led forces agreed to the pullback, stating that his forces would move 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the border. 

Redur Khalil, a senior Syrian Democratic Forces official, told the AP that the withdrawal would take place once Turkey allowed the Kurdish-led force to evacuate its fighters and civilians from Ras al-Ayn, a border town under siege by Turkish-backed forces. He said that the Kurdish-led force was preparing to conduct that evacuation Sunday, if there were no further delays. 

FILE – Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gather outside the border town of Ras al-Ayn on Oct. 12, 2019, during their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria.

Khalil said Kurdish-led fighters would pull back from a 120-kilometer (75-mile) stretch along the border from Ras al-Ayn to Tal Abyad, moving past the international highway. 

“We are only committed to the U.S. version, not the Turkish one,” Khalil said. 

A previous agreement between the U.S. and Turkey over a “safe zone” along the Syria-Turkish border floundered over the diverging definitions of the area. 

Erdogan has said the Kurdish fighters must withdraw from a far larger length of the border, from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border — more than 440 kilometers (260 miles) — or else the Turkish offensive will resume Tuesday. 

But U.S. officials say the agreement pertains to the smaller section between the two towns. Kalin confirmed that is the area affected by the pause in fighting, but said Turkey still wanted the larger zone. 

Sticking point

Two days into the cease-fire, the border town of Ras al-Ayn has been the sticking point in moving forward. 

“We hope that as of tonight or tomorrow, they will stick to this agreement and leave the area,” Kalin said. 

The Kurdish official meanwhile said his force had negotiated with the Americans the details of its pullback from the border, starting with the Ras al-Ayn evacuation. But he said the evacuation stalled for 48 hours because Turkish-backed forces continued their siege of the town. 

A partial evacuation took place Saturday. Medical convoys were let into part of the town still in Kurdish hands, evacuating 30 wounded and four bodies from a hospital. Khalil said the plan to complete the evacuation from Ras al-Ayn was now set for Sunday. 

Turkish officials denied violating the cease-fire or impeding the fighters’ withdrawal, blaming the continued violence on the Kurds. 

If Kurdish fighters then pull back from the 120-kilometer border area, it is uncertain what the arrangement would be along the rest of the northeastern border, most of which remains solely in the hands of Kurdish-led fighters. 

FILE – In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian troops celebrate and hold the Syrian national flag as they deploy in the city of Kobani, Syria, Oct. 17, 2019.

Last week, Syrian forces began deploying into Kurdish areas, moving only into one location directly on the border, the town of Kobani, and a few positions further south. 

Khalil said the Syrian government and its ally Russia did not want to deploy more extensively in the area, apparently to avoid frictions with Turkey. 

“We noticed there was no desire [from the Russians and Syria] to have the Syrian military on the dividing line between us and the Turks except in Kobani,” he said. 

The border town of Kobani also stands between Turkish-controlled Syrian territories to the west and Kurdish-held eastern Syria. 

Khalil said it was not clear what would happen after his forces’ withdrawal and the end of the five-day cease-fire. 

“The deal essentially is handing Syrian land to a foreign country. This is not good. It is bad for us,” he said. “We have nothing to win. The only win is the international sympathy.” 

Doctor Honored for Helping Yazidis Calls for Justice

Yazidi families would not feel safe returning to their homes in Iraq until Islamic State militants accused of atrocities against the religious minority face justice, according to a doctor awarded Saturday for his work with Yazidi women and children.

Mirza Dinnayi, a Yazidi activist named the winner of the Aurora humanitarian prize for helping 1,000 Yazidi women and children seek medical treatment in Europe, said prosecutions were key to help the “completely traumatized” community.

“Yazidis need to trust the authorities in Iraq in order to establish peace and make a process of reconciliation and transitional justice. This has not happened,” Dinnayi said.

FILE – Iraqi Yazidi women and children rescued from the Islamic State group wait to board buses bound for Sinjar in Iraq’s Yazidi heartland, April 13, 2019.

UN declares genocide

Islamic State rampaged through the Yazidi religious community’s heartland in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in 2014, slaughtering thousands of people, in what the United Nations has called a genocide.

About 7,000 women and children were kidnapped to become sex slaves or fighters. Almost 3,000 of them remain unaccounted for, according to community leaders.

The jihadist group was driven out of the region in 2017, but many Yazidi still live in camps, afraid to return.

Some militants have faced trial in Iraq but on charges of belonging to a terrorist group rather than for alleged war crimes and genocide — something that has fueled a sense of distrust in authorities among the Yazidi community, Dinnayi said.

“The recognition of genocide is the first step in order to satisfy the victims,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from Armenia where the award ceremony was held.

The problem was exacerbated by Iraqi laws allowing rapists to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims and the lack of a specific crime for sexual slavery, Dinnayi said.

Fears of IS escape

The 46-year-old added he was also concerned that a recent Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria could further hamper efforts to see justice done, by providing militants jailed there with a “big opportunity” to escape.

Kurdish officials have said almost 800 Islamic State-affiliated foreigners, many of them women and children, escaped from a camp after the Turkish incursion began last week.

There are also fears that jihadists held in jails in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria could flee.

Prize money goes to aid groups

Dinnayi, who lives in Germany, was awarded the $1 million prize for his work helping more than 1,000 Yazidi women and children seek medical treatment in Europe.

The prize money would go to his organization, Air Bridge Iraq, and two other aid groups helping people who suffered at the hands of Islamic State militants, he said.

The Aurora prize runner-ups were Zannah Mustapha, a lawyer who set up a school for children affected by violence in northeastern Nigeria, and Yemeni lawyer Huda Al-Sarari, who investigated human rights abuses in the war-torn country.

The annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was founded by Armenia-based 100 LIVES, a global initiative that commemorates a 1915 massacre in which up to 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Muslims.

Swiss to Elect New Legislature, as Polls Suggest Green Gains 

Swiss voters elect their parliament this weekend, a challenge for the populist right that has been dominant until now and an opportunity for green parties as environmental concerns have swept up much of Europe this year. 

Political analyst Pascal Sciarini of the University of Geneva cited a “great unknown” in the vote: Will young Swiss who have poured into the streets to lament global warming also turn up at the ballot boxes? 

Voters are electing the 200-member National Council, parliament’s lower house, and the 46-member Council of States, the upper house, to four-year terms. Recent polls suggest two groups, the Greens and the Liberal Greens, stand to gain seats. 

Balloting ends at midday Sunday. Most voters in Switzerland cast their ballots by mail, avoiding a stop at polling stations. 

It’s an important electoral date for Switzerland, a rich country of 8.2 million where power-sharing and embedded checks and balances make for a stable political landscape, except when it’s occasionally shaken up by referendums. 

This year has been more dynamic than many: Students and others have marched on public offices repeatedly to echo concerns across Europe about climate change, and the first major women’s protest in Switzerland since 1991 drew tens of thousands to demand fairer pay, more equality and an end to sexual harassment and violence. Swiss media report a record number of women are standing for election this year. 

Environmental issues resonate here: A group called Glacier Monitoring Switzerland says the Alpine country has lost 15 percent of its glacier volume over the last decade, and warns that all Swiss glaciers could disappear by 2100 if warming continues. 

Immigration, EU

Worries about women’s rights and the environment are a far cry from the last election, when immigration and relations with the European Union were the main concerns and fanned gains for the populist, right-wing Swiss People’s Party that today holds the most seats in parliament. 

“There are two main stakes for this election: how significant will the predicted advance of the Greens be,” said Sciarini, “and how much will the [Swiss People’s Party] lose. That could signal losses for the right generally, and lead to more leftist policies.” 

The legislature picks the seven members of Switzerland’s executive branch: The Federal Council. The Swiss presidency rotates every year among those seven members, who make decisions by consensus — part of the Swiss “magic formula” of democracy that requires different political factions to cooperate, and govern from the middle ground. 

Greens don’t have any seats in the council now. The People’s Party, the Social Democrats, and center-right Liberal party each have two, and the Christian Democrats have one. But big electoral successes could boost the Greens’ argument that they would deserve one, too. 

Chile President Declares State of Emergency After Violent Protests

Chile’s president declared a state of emergency in Santiago Friday night and gave the military responsibility for security after a day of violent protests over increases in the price of metro tickets.

“I have declared a state of emergency and, to that end, I have appointed Major General Javier Iturriaga del Campo as head of national defense, in accordance with the provisions of our state of emergency legislation,” President Sebastian Pinera said.

Throughout Friday, protestors clashed with riot police in several parts of the city and the subway system was shut after attacks on several stations.

Violent clashes escalated as night fell, and the ENEL power company building and a Banco Chile branch, both in the city center, were set on fire and several metro stations hit with Molotov cocktails.

A subway ticket office is on fire during a protest against the increase in the ticket prices for buses and subways in Santiago, Chile, Oct. 19, 2019.

The unrest started as a fare-dodging protest against the hike in metro ticket prices, which increased from 800 to 830 peso ($1.17) for peak hour travel, following a 20 peso rise in January.

Firefighters work to put out the flames rising from the Enel Energy Europe building set on fire by protesters against the rising cost of subway and bus fares, in Santiago, Chile, Oct. 18, 2019.

Attacks on metro stations forced the closure of the entire subway system, which is the key form of public transport in the congested and polluted capital, carrying 3 million passengers a day.

“The entire network is closed due to riots and destruction that prevent the minimum security conditions for passengers and workers,” the metro operator said on Twitter, after attacks against nearly all the 164 stations where many gates and turnstiles were destroyed.

The Santiago Metro, at 140 kilometers (90 miles) the largest and most modern in South America, is expected to remain closed this weekend and could reopen gradually next week.

Closure of the metro forced many Santiago residents to walk home, sometimes long distances, resulting in scenes of chaos.

Protesters erected barricades in various parts of the city and clashed with police, who used water cannon and tear gas in the most violent street battle seen in the Chilean capital for a long time.

Pinera slammed the protesters as criminals. 

“This desire to break everything is not a protest, it’s criminal,” he said in a radio interview. 

On Thursday, 133 people had been arrested for causing damage to metro stations, estimated at up to 500 million pesos ($700,000).