Former Trump Adviser Next in Line to be Asked About Ukraine

President Donald Trump’s top adviser for Russian and European affairs is leaving his job at the White House just as he’s scheduled to testify before the House impeachment investigators, a senior administration official said.
 
Tim Morrison owes his job at the National Security Council to Trump, but his testimony Thursday in the House impeachment inquiry might be central to a push to remove the president from office.
 
A senior administration official said Wednesday that Morrison “has decided to pursue other opportunities.” The official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison’s job and spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said Morrison has been considering leaving the administration for “some time.”
 
Morrison has been in the spotlight since August when a government whistleblower said multiple U.S. officials had said Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
 
Now it’s his turn in the impeachment probe’s hot seat.
 
Morrison, tall and lean with an authoritative voice, will be asked to explain that “sinking feeling” he got when Trump demanded that Ukraine’s president investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and meddling in the 2016 election.
 
Morrison, who is in his 40s, is a political appointee in the Trump White House, brought on board by former national security adviser John Bolton to address arms control matters and later shifted into his current role as a top Russia and Europe adviser. It was there that he stepped into the thick of an in-house squabble about the activities of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who had been conversing with Ukrainian leaders outside of traditional U.S. diplomatic circles.
 
Known as a “hawk” in national security circles, Morrison is set to be the first political appointee from the White House to testify before impeachment investigators. The probe has been denounced by the Republican president, who has directed his staff not to testify.
 
Regardless of what he says, GOP lawmakers will be hard-pressed to dismiss Morrison, formerly a longtime Republican staffer at the House Armed Services Committee. He’s been bouncing around Washington in Republican positions for two decades, having worked for Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and as a GOP senior staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, including nearly four years when it was chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
 

Morrison’s name appeared more than a dozen times in earlier testimony by William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, who told impeachment investigators that Trump was withholding military aid unless the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, went public with a promise to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Taylor’s testimony contradicts Trump’s repeated denials that there was any quid pro quo.
 
Taylor said Morrison recounted a conversation that Gordon Sondland, America’s ambassador to the European Union, had with a top aide to Zelenskiy named Andriy Yermak. Taylor said Morrison told him security assistance would not materialize until Zelenskiy committed to investigate Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that once employed Biden’s son. A White House meeting for Zelenskiy also was in play.
 
“I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland-Yermak conversation,” Taylor testified. “This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance – not just the White House meeting – was conditioned on the investigations.”
 
Taylor testified that Morrison told him he had a “sinking feeling” after learning about a Sept. 7 conversation Sondland had with Trump.
 
“According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a quid pro quo,” Taylor testified. “But President Trump did insist that President Zelenskiy go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference, and that President Zelenskiy should want to do this himself.” Mr. Morrison said that he told Ambassador Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland.
 
Morrison told people after Bolton was forced out of his job that the national security adviser had tried to stop Giuliani’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine and that Morrison agreed, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison’s role in the impeachment inquiry and spoke only on condition of anonymity. The official said Morrison told people that with the appointment of Robert O’Brien as Bolton’s successor, his own future work at the NSC was in a “holding pattern.”
 
Bolton had brought Morrison into the NSC in July 2018 as senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefence. He’s known as an arms control expert or an arms treaty saboteur, depending on who you ask.
 

Morrison, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from George Washington University, keeps nuclear strategist Herman Kahn’s seminal volume on thermonuclear warfare on a table in his office.
 
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Bolton and Morrison are likeminded. Kimball said both have been known for calling up GOP congressional offices warning them against saying anything about arms control that didn’t align with their views.
 
“Just as John Bolton reportedly did, I would be shocked if Morrison did not regard Giuliani’s activities as being out of bounds,” said Kimball, who has been on opposite sides of arms control debates with Morrison for more than a decade.

 


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Ivanka Trump to Promote Women’s Prosperity in Morocco

Ivanka Trump is getting ready to promote her women’s economic development program on an upcoming trip to Morocco.

It will be her third overseas trip this year to promote the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative , which was launched in February to benefit women in developing countries.

President Donald Trump’s daughter and senior adviser will visit the North African country in early November, the White House said. Specific dates for her travel were not released.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Ivanka Trump said the kingdom of Morocco is a valued U.S. ally that has “taken strides” under King Mohammed VI to promote gender equality.

In August, she tweeted her support to the Moroccan government after it began the process of amending its inheritance laws, which say women should receive half as much as men.

Ivanka Trump will travel with Sean Cairncross, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corp., an independent U.S. foreign aid agency that provides grants to developing countries to help promote economic growth, reduce poverty and strengthen institutions.

They will meet with government officials and local leaders in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, and in Casablanca to discuss how to help women in the region gain a measure of economic independence.

The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative has a goal of helping 50 million women in developing nations advance economically over the next six years.

It’s a U.S. government-wide effort that involves the State Department, the National Security Council and other agencies. It aims to coordinate existing programs and develop new ones to help women in areas such as job training, financial support and legal or regulatory reforms.

Ivanka Trump traveled to Ethiopia and Ivory Coast , in sub-Saharan Africa, in April and to Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay , in South America, in September to promote the initiative.


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House Democrats Set Stage for Public Impeachment Inquiry

Democrats in the US House of Representatives will take a crucial step forward in their impeachment investigation of US President Donald Trump Thursday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a vote formalizing the inquiry, addressing Republicans’ arguments the process is illegitimate. As VOA’s Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports from Capitol Hill, the vote also sets the stage for the impeachment inquiry to go public.


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Hong Kong in Recession as Protests Slam Retailers, Tourism

Steps from Hong Kong’s main tourist strip, Ashfaqur Rahman’s tailor shop usually is a mainstay for tourists dropping in to peruse neatly stacked rolls of fabric and get measured for custom-made suits.

Not anymore.

Business has dried up since anti-government protests began in early June in the Asian financial center.

On Thursday, the government said Hong Kong’s economy shrank 3.2% in July-September from the previous quarter, pushing the city into a technical recession.

That makes two straight quarters of contraction since the economy contracted 0.5% in April-June on a quarterly basis.

The once-common lines of Chinese shoppers outside Hong Kong’s glittering luxury stores are gone. Jewelry stores have no customers and related businesses like transportation are languishing.

Rahman said his monthly sales have tumbled 80% from an average of 200,000 Hong Kong dollars ($25,500) in better times.

His shop is tucked away in a passage off Nathan Road in the Tsim Sha Tsui district, which teems with posh hotels and upscale jewelry and fashion boutiques, set against the stunning backdrop of Victoria Harbor.

But on recent weekends the neighborhood has become a protest battle zone, with black-clad demonstrators clashing late into the night with riot police unleashing tear gas and water cannons.

“This is the worst we’ve seen,” said Rahman, a Bangladeshi immigrant who opened the shop 14 years ago. His sales now barely cover the rent and he and his business partner are dipping into their own pockets to pay the salaries of their five staff. He’s not sure they’ll be able to carry on if there’s no resolution to the increasingly violent protests.

Restaurant managers, watch shop owners and jewelry salespeople across the district echoed the sentiment. In jeweler Tiffany’s massive showroom, there were at least 10 salespeople and no customers on a recent afternoon.

Thursday’s data showed private spending and exports falling sharply.

The forecast for the year is for a contraction, given “the lack of any signs of improvement in the near term,” the government said.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warned of the bad news to come.

“The increasingly violent reality since June is hurting Hong Kong’s economy,” Lam said. Retail, catering, transport and other tourism-related industries have borne the brunt, she said.

The protesters have been locked in a standoff with the authorities for more than four months, that began with demands they scrap a now-abandoned extradition bill.

The movement has gained momentum and grown increasingly violent, with hardcore protesters clad in black slinging Molotov cocktails and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with riot police.

Organizers have canceled or relocated a slew of concerts, sporting events and conferences.

Images of the vicious street battles amid clouds of tear gas are tarnishing the city’s reputation as a safe and stable Asian metropolis.

Organizers have canceled or relocated a slew of concerts, sporting events and conferences.

Visitor numbers fell by half in the first half of October, usually a lucrative time thanks to a weeklong Chinese holiday. Retail sales fell by a quarter in August, the steepest annual drop on record.

At times the chaos has crippled major infrastructure, shutting down the city’s busy airport, where arrivals and flight bookings have plummeted.

The protests have paralyzed subways, main roads and tunnels: Hong Kong’s government-owned rail operator, MTR, has been stopping evening subway service hours earlier than usual — a move that further reduces consumer spending.

Staff at a pharmacy on Nathan Road said sales of cosmetics, medicine and baby formula popular with mainland Chinese shoppers are down by up to 90%.

They’re earning less because their hours have been cut.

“No one’s coming,” said Ah Chiu, manager of a watch shop. Sales fell by half in the past two months, he said.

Free spending mainland Chinese used to arrive on the weekends to buy the Bulova, Seiko and Movado watches he stocks.

Chiu, who refused to give his full name, said he had only sold one watch worth a few hundred Hong Kong dollars so far that day. That’s his new normal.

His shop and others in the Tsim Sha Tsui shopping arcade used to stay open even during protests. Now, they roll down their metal shutters and leave at the first sign of any disturbance, crimping any chance of more sales for the day.

“Calling for help won’t work. No one can help you. We can’t see the end,” he said, an air of resignation in his voice. “We’re eating money now.”


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HRW: CIA-Trained ‘Death Squads’ Behind Afghan War Crimes

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says CIA-backed Afghan paramilitary forces have “committed summary executions and other grave abuses without accountability” — including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and attacks on health-care facilities.

In its report, released on Thursday, HRW called on the Afghan government to immediately disband all pro-government paramilitary groups that operate outside the “ordinary military chain of command.”

It is also calling for the Afghan government to “impartially investigate all allegations of abuse by Afghan security forces” and to “prosecute those responsible for war crimes and serious abuses.”

It says both the United States and the Afghan government should also “cooperate with independent investigations of all allegations of war crimes and other human rights abuses.”

It also says the U.S. government should “investigate any U.S. personnel” involved in abuses, and should “cease supporting Afghan forces that have been responsible for serious violations.”

HRW documented 14 cases from late 2017 to mid-2019 in which it said CIA-backed “strike groups” committed grave abuses during night raids, such as one in the southeastern province of Paktia in which a paramilitary squad killed 11 men, including eight who were home for the Eid holidays.

In some cases, HRW says, troops detained men and didn’t tell families where they were being held.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has disputed the HRW report, saying many of the claims against Afghan special forces were “likely false or exaggerated.”

“In ramping up operations against the Taliban, the CIA has enabled abusive Afghan forces to commit atrocities including extrajudicial executions and disappearances,” said Patricia Gossman, the report’s author and HRW’s associate Asia director.

“In case after case, these forces have simply shot people in their custody and consigned entire communities to the terror of abusive night raids and indiscriminate air strikes,” Grossman said.

Night raids, which combine surprise, overwhelming firepower, and night-vision equipment, are a tactic preferred by special forces.

FILE – Taliban fighters stand with their weapons in Ahmad Aba district, on the outskirts of Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, Afghanistan, July 18, 2017.

On several occasions, raids which usually take place in Taliban-controlled areas were backed by airstrikes that “indiscriminately or disproportionately” killed civilians, HRW said.

According to data released this week by NATO, the United States conducted 1,113 air and artillery strikes in September, a large increase on previous months that came as talks between Washington and the Taliban collapsed.

CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett said the agency’s operations abroad are conducted in “accordance with law and under a robust system of oversight.”

Barrett accused the Taliban of spreading misinformation and noted that the militants do not operate under any similar rules.

“Unlike the Taliban, the United States is committed to the rule of law,” officials added in a CIA statement.

“We neither condone nor would knowingly participate in illegal activities, and we continually work with our foreign partners to promote adherence to the law.”

Afghanistan’s CIA-backed militias, whose tradition goes back to the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, are seen as a critical tool in the fight against Taliban and Islamic State militants.

Such paramilitary groups are officially under Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) but often operate almost independently of Afghan authorities.

Speaking to HRW, one unnamed diplomat referred to them as “death squads.”

The NDS did not immediately comment.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. government monitor, says Afghan special forces conducted 2,531 ground operations from January-September this year, more than the total of 2,365 for all of last year.

A U.N. report earlier this month said 1,174 civilians were killed and 3,139 wounded in Afghanistan from July to September this year — a 42 percent increase over the same period last year.

 


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US Fed Cuts Rates but Signals Pause in Easing Cycle 

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday cut interest rates for the third time this year, as expected, in a move to ensure the U.S. economy weathers a global trade war without slipping into a recession, but it  signaled that its rate-cut cycle might be at a pause. 
 
In lowering its policy rate by a quarter of a percentage point to a target range of between 1.50% and 1.75%, the U.S. central bank dropped a previous reference in its policy statement that it “will act as appropriate” to sustain the economic expansion — language that was considered a sign of future rate cuts. 
 
Instead, the Fed said it would “monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook as it assesses the appropriate path” of its target interest rate, a less decisive phrase. 
 
Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren dissented from the decision. They have opposed all three Fed rate cuts this year as unnecessary. 

View of economy changes little
 
The Fed’s description of the U.S. economy on Wednesday remained largely unchanged, with labor markets said to be “strong” and economic activity “rising at a moderate rate.” 
 
As in its previous policy statement, the Fed said it took the action to reduce borrowing costs “in light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures.” 
 
The Fed said business investment and exports remained “weak.” 
 
Expectations for additional cuts after October have diminished significantly in recent weeks. 
 
U.S. stocks, down modestly before the Fed’s statement, pared some of their losses and were little changed on the day. The benchmark S&P 500 Index, which had hit a record high earlier in the week, was down fractionally. 
 
Bond yields also showed little reaction, with the 10-year Treasury note yield at 1.80%, down about 3 basis points on the day. The dollar edged up to the day’s high against a basket of the currencies of top U.S. trading partners. 
 
“It’s pretty much what was expected,” said Jim Powers, director of investment research at Delegate Advisors. “The more important outcome is they removed the phrase ‘act as appropriate.’ It looks like the market is taking that to mean that there will be a pause in the declining rate path they were on beforehand. That’s what was expected, and that’s generally a good thing.” 

Unusual situation
 
The central bank and U.S. economy are at an unusual juncture. 
 
Unemployment is near a 50-year low, inflation is moderate, and data earlier on Wednesday showed gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 1.9% in the third quarter, a slowdown from the first half of the year but not as sharp a decline as many economists had expected and some Fed officials had feared. 
 
But parts of the economy, particularly manufacturing, have stuttered in recent months as the global economy slowed. 
 
Businesses have pared investment in response to the U.S.-China trade war that both raised tariffs on many goods and made the world a riskier place in which to make long-term commitments. 
 
While that has not had an obvious impact yet on U.S. hiring or consumer spending, Fed officials felt a round of “insurance” rate cuts was appropriate to guard against a worse outcome. The Fed cut rates in July and again in September, and by doing so hoped to encourage businesses and consumers with more affordable borrowing costs. 
 
The approach was successful in the 1990s when risks developed during another prolonged period of economic growth. 


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Global Trafficking Networks Behind British Migrant Tragedy

British and Belgian police are continuing to investigate the people-smuggling networks that helped to transport the 39 migrants who were found dead in the back of a refrigerated truck near London last week. It’s believed they suffocated in the sealed container. Henry Ridgwell reports on the growing industry in human cargo that brings tens of thousands of migrants to Europe every year.


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Facebook Removes 3 Russian Networks It Says Engaged in Foreign Interference in Africa

Less than a week after the Africa-Russia Summit, Facebook has suspended three networks of Russian accounts it says were engaging in foreign interference in Africa.

Facebook said the accounts targeted Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon. The accounts supported select political figures and derided pro-democracy activists in the countries.

Russia has had an increasing interest in engaging with African countries on trade and policy as sanctions continue to hurt its economy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin organized the first Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum, which promoted increased economic relations between Russia and the continent earlier in October in Sochi, Russia.

According to documents leaked by The Guardian, companies and groups affiliated with the Russian government have been cooperating with African politicians and interfering in elections. According to the documents, Madagascar’s president Andry Rajoelina won the election with Russian support. Rajoelina has denied the allegation.

The Stanford Internet Observatory also reported that Russia was working with local media organizations on the African continent to spread disinformation.

This represents a new tactic compared to what occurred with Russian influence ahead of the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

The three networks are among the first subjects of Facebook’s new policies aimed at curbing “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Facebook defined coordinated inauthentic behavior in an October press release as using fake accounts and deceiving people on the origins of pages and groups.

According to The Stanford Internet Observatory, a total of 1.72 million accounts “liked” the now removed Facebook pages. Though some of these “likes” could be from the same account across multiple pages.

The removal of the networks demonstrates Facebook’s commitment to prevent manipulation on its platforms, but it also shows the evolving nature of Russian methods since 2016.

 


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New Wind-Driven Wildfire Erupts in Southern California 

A new large wildfire broke out early Wednesday in Southern California, forcing mandatory evacuations at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and nearby neighborhoods. 
 
Ventura County Fire Captain Brian McGrath said the Easy Fire erupted shortly after 6 a.m. local time and torched 165 hectares (400 acres) of dry brush within two hours. 
 
The National Weather Service said the wildfire, which erupted in Simi Valley about 64 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, ranked among the most dangerous Santa Ana wind events “in recent memory.” 
 
Officials did not how many people had been ordered to leave. 
 
Fire officials said aircraft dropped fire retardant and water on the blaze and that the strong Santa Ana winds pushed flames away from the library. 
 
As firefighters in the southern part of the state prepared overnight for what forecasters expected to be one of the most significant wind events in years, a large wind-driven wildfire in Northern California eased.  

Volunteers help evacuate horses during the Easy Fire, Oct. 30, 2019, in Simi Valley, Calif.

Both regions are dealing with the hot, dry weather that is common at this time of year and raises the risk of big wildfires that spread when the winds blow. 
 
Crews made progress Tuesday against both the Getty Fire in the south and the Kincade Fire in the north, with officials saying each was 15 percent contained. 
 
The worry Wednesday and into Thursday was that the Getty Fire could swell from its current size of about 265 hectares (650 acres) as winds forecast to reach as much as 128 kilometers per hour (80 mph) lift embers and spread them into unburned vegetation or reignite areas that are merely smoldering. 
 
Fire officials also warned that high winds could lead to the grounding of helicopters used to douse the flames from above. 

Better outlook to the north
 
In Northern California’s wine region, officials were expressing more optimism about the weather after days of near-record winds there pushed the Kincade Fire to more than 30,000 hectares (115 square miles) in size.   
 
The National Weather Service said winds would be noticeably lighter Wednesday and that weather conditions looked favorable for the rest of the week, even though the region would remain dry with no rain in the forecast. 
 
Along with the fires, people in California were also dealing with power outages as utility companies tried to prevent fires being sparked by equipment damaged by strong winds. 
 
The Los Angeles Fire Department said Tuesday that the Getty Fire most likely had been caused by a tree branch that broke off in high wind and flew into nearby power lines, causing sparks that ignited brush.  

Marco Alcaraz uses a garden hose to protect his girlfriend’s home as the Easy fire approaches, Oct. 30, 2019, in Simi Valley, Calif.

About 1 million customers in Northern California were dealing with blackouts instituted by utility company Pacific Gas & Electric, which this month has been shutting off power in a series of blackouts that have caused widespread frustration among its customers. 
 
California Governor Gavin Newsom has repeatedly criticized the company and its projections that it needs 10 years to institute reforms that would make the precautionary power shutoffs no longer necessary to mitigate fire risks. 
 
In all, the National Weather Service has issued statewide warnings of dangerous fire conditions covering an 88,000-square-kilometer area (34,000 square miles) that is home to 21 million people. 
 
Some scientists have said climate change is a contributing factor in the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires.  


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Peru’s Top Court Accepts Lawsuit Against Vizcarra’s Closure of Congress

Peru’s top court on Tuesday accepted a lawsuit to determine whether President Martin Vizcarra exceeded his powers by dissolving Congress last month amid a long-running standoff with lawmakers over anti-corruption reforms.

The seven members of Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal unanimously voted to admit the suit, court president Ernesto Blume said, the latest development in a battle between Vizcarra and lawmakers that has rattled the South American country.

Pedro Olaechea, the former Congress president who now leads a smaller permanent parliamentary commission, submitted the appeal earlier this month against the “arbitrary” dissolution of Congress.

Vizcarra’s shutdown of Congress garnered support from the armed forces in the copper-rich nation, as well as the police and Peru’s voters. A poll showed his popular support had jumped to the highest level during his administration.

The past three years in Peru have been marked by repeated clashes between the executive and legislative branches and back-to-back corruption scandals, including one that led former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to resign in March last year.

Blume said on Tuesday the court would not for now overturn the closure of Congress, and previously at least two members of the court have said that the legal process could take up to three or four months.

There are legislative elections already scheduled for Jan. 26 to elect new Congress members.

 


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New ‘Star Wars’ Movie Era in Disarray After ‘Game of Thrones’ Creators Exit

The exit of the “Games of Thrones” creators from the next “Star Wars” film left future stories in the science fiction saga up in the air Tuesday, although some fans welcomed their departure.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had been hired in 2018 to write and produce a trilogy of new movies in the blockbuster Walt Disney Co franchise, with the first scheduled for release in December 2022.

But the creators of HBO’s hit fantasy series said they were stepping away from the project to focus on new work for streaming service Netflix.

“We love Star Wars. When George Lucas built it, he built us too,” Benioff and Weiss said in a statement late Monday.

“But there are only so many hours in the day, and we felt we could not do justice to both Star Wars and our Netflix projects. So we are regretfully stepping away,” they added.

Disney had said the trilogy from Benioff and Weiss was expected to tell a story separate from the Skywalker series that began with the 1977 film starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, and which is due to conclude with the December movie “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

Disney and Lucasfilm did not return requests for comment Tuesday on how their withdrawal would affect the planned 2022 movie, details of which had not been announced.

The “Star Wars” franchise is one of the most valuable in Hollywood. The 2017 film “The Last Jedi” took $1.3 billion at the global box office and Disney earlier this year opened “Star Wars” lands at its theme parks in California and Florida.

Fans ‘relieved’

Fans seemed relieved at the exit of Benioff and Weiss, given widespread disappointment at the conclusion earlier this year of their medieval fantasy TV series “Game of Thrones.”

“I am very relieved to read that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have stepped away from their Disney/Lucasfilm deal (to create a new trilogy). The last two seasons of #GameOfThrones proved without source material … they are lost,” wrote Marty Kottick on Twitter.

Others hoped their departure would clear the way for the first woman, or person of color, to direct or write a “Star Wars” movie.

“Consider how many people who aren’t white men LOVE #StarWars, and would be more than happy to be a part of the next phase of the franchise!” tweeted a user, Liz Shannon Miller.

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy in a statement called Benioff and Weiss “remarkable storytellers.”

“We hope to include them in the journey forward when they are able to step away from their busy schedule to focus on Star Wars,” she added.

In the works

Disney also has announced a separate “Star Wars” trilogy in the works by “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson. No release date has been unveiled.

Meanwhile, “Star Wars” embarks on another phase on Nov. 12 when spinoff TV series “The Mandalorian” begins streaming on the new Disney+ service.
 


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For Yazidis, Baghdadi’s Death ‘Doesn’t Feel Like Justice Yet’

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death will mean nothing to 19-year-old rape victim Jamila unless the Islamic State militants who enslaved her are brought to justice.

Jamila, who asked not to be identified by her last name, is one of thousands of women from the Yazidi minority religion who were kidnapped and raped by IS after it mounted an assault on the Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq in August 2014.

“Even if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, it doesn’t mean Islamic State is dead,” Jamila told Reuters outside the tent that is now her temporary home in the Sharya camp for displaced Yazidis in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

FILE – This file image made from video posted on a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.

“This doesn’t feel like justice yet,” she said. “I want the men who took me, who raped me, to stand trial. And I want to have my voice heard in court. I want to face them in court. … Without proper trials, his death has no meaning.”

Baghdadi, who had led IS since 2010, detonated a suicide vest after being cornered in a raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria, U.S. President Donald Trump announced Sunday.

Inspired by his edicts to enslave and slaughter Yazidis, whom IS regard as infidels, his followers shot, beheaded and kidnapped thousands in a rampage which the United Nations called a genocidal campaign against them.

Along with thousands of other women and children, Jamila said she was enslaved by the militants and kept in captivity for five months in the city of Mosul along with her sister.

She was just 14 when she was seized. But her problems did not end after she and her sister managed to escape when, she said, their guards were high on drugs.

“When I first came back, I had a nervous breakdown and psychological problems for two years, so I couldn’t go to school,” she said.

No plans to go home

Now instead of working or catching up on her years of lost schooling, she looks after her mother, with whom she shares her cramped tent at the camp.

“My mother can’t walk and has health problems, so I have to stay and take care of her because my older siblings are in Germany,” she said.

The prospect of going home to Sinjar in northern Iraq is not an option for Jamila, and many others. The city still lies in ruin four years after the IS onslaught, and suspicion runs deep in the ethnically mixed area.

“Sinjar is completely destroyed. Even if we could go back, I wouldn’t want to because we’d be surrounded by the same Arab neighbors who all joined IS in the first place, and helped them kill us (Yazidis),” she said.

Displaced people from the Yazidi religious minority buy vegetables at the Sharya camp, in Duhok, Iraq, Oct. 29, 2019.

IS trials

Thousands of men are being tried in Iraqi courts for their ties to IS. Iraq has so far not allowed victims to testify in court, something community leaders and human rights groups say would go a long way in the healing process.

“It is deplorable that not a single victim of Islamic State’s horrific abuses including sexual slavery has gotten their day in court,” said Belkis Wille, Iraq Researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Iraq’s justice system is designed to allow the state to exact mass revenge against suspects, not provide real accountability for victims.”

For some of the nearly 17,000 Yazidis at the Sharya camp, Baghdadi’s death was a first step in that direction, though they fear the IS fighters who are still alive.

Mayan Sinu, 25, can dream of a new life after the camp as she and her three children have been granted asylum by Australia. But she also wants the men who shot her husband in the legs and dragged him off to be brought to justice. He has been missing since the incident five years ago.

“I hope Baghdadi is suffering more than we ever did, and my God we suffered,” said Sinu. “I wish he (Baghdadi) hadn’t blown himself up so I could have slaughtered him myself with my bare hands.”
 


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