Trump Defends His Decision on Syria After Rebuke by Own Party Members

U.S. President Donald Trump faced a strong rebuke from lawmakers of both parties Wednesday over his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria. The withdrawal was quickly followed by Turkey’s assault on Syrian Kurds, who were a key U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State terrorists. The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of a resolution condemning Trump’s decision. Trump says he is demanding a halt to Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.
 


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On Eve of Brexit Summit, Northern Ireland Rejects Johnson’s Plan

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his 27 counterparts from across the European Union are converging on Brussels Thursday for a summit they hope will finally lay to rest the acrimony and frustration of a three-year divorce fight.

Yet even before dawn, Johnson had a serious setback when his Northern Irish government allies said they would not back his compromise proposals. The prime minister needs all the support he can get to push any deal past a deeply divided parliament.

It only added to the high anxiety that reigned Thursday morning, with the last outstanding issues of the divorce papers still unclear.

Technical negotiators again went into the night Wednesday to fine tune customs and sales tax regulations that will have to regulate trade in goods between the Northern Ireland and Ireland, where the U.K. and the EU share their only land border.

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attends the weekly EU College of Commissioners meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Oct. 16, 2019. EU and British negotiators have so far failed to get a breakthrough in the Brexit talks.

And they were set to continue right up to the summit’s midafternoon opening. If a deal is agreed on during the two-day summit, Johnson hopes to present it to Britain’s Parliament at a special sitting Saturday.

After months of gloom over the stalled Brexit process, European leaders have sounded upbeat this week. French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday that “I want to believe that a deal is being finalized,” while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said negotiations were “in the final stretch.”

Johnson, who took office in July vowing Britain would finally leave the EU on Oct. 31, come what may, was slightly more cautious. He likened Brexit to climbing Mount Everest, saying the summit was in sight, though still shrouded in cloud.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party added to those clouds early Thursday.  DUP leader Arlen Foster and the party’s parliamentary chief Nigel Dodds said they “could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues,” referring to a say the Northern Irish authorities might have in future developments.

Both the customs and consent arrangements are key to guaranteeing an open border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — the main obstacle to a Brexit deal.

Foster and Dodds said they would continue to work with the U.K. government to get a “sensible” deal. The problem is that the closer Johnson aligns himself with the DUP, the further he removes himself from the EU, leaving him walking a political tightrope.

Brexit negotiations have been here before, seemingly closing in on a deal that is dashed at the last moment. But hopes have risen that this time may be different. Though with Britain’s Oct. 31 departure date looming and just hours to go before the EU summit, focus was on getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details to be hammered out later. That could mean another EU summit on Brexit before the end of the month.

So far, all plans to keep an open and near-invisible border between the two have hit a brick wall of opposition from the DUP.


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Art Exhibit Highlights Impact of Climate Change

A warming planet is triggering extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels, and loss of wildlife habitats. An American art exhibit is delving into the effects of climate change, which include melting glaciers and the destruction of coral reefs.  VOA’s Deborah Block takes us to the University of Rhode Island to see how art is used to fight climate change.


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Smart Tech for the City of 2030

The future was here at a recent marquee tech show in Japan.  The Consumer Exhibition of Advanced Technology, or CEATEC, showcased technologies that may simplify our lives … or rapidly bring them to an end. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi takes us back to the future!


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Huge Expansion for Insect Factory Farms

Scientists worry about feeding 2 billion more people in the future as climate change hampers farmers and fishing fleet catches disappoint. To produce more protein more efficiently, startup companies are creating new kinds of farms that use artificial intelligence, robotics and advanced industrial techniques to raise tens of thousands of tons of insects to feed farmed fish and livestock. VOA’s Jim Randle reports that insects efficiently turn waste food into protein at a fraction of the environmental impact of other farm animals.


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Chinese Snooping Tech Spreads to Nations Vulnerable to Abuse

When hundreds of video cameras with the power to identify and track individuals started appearing in the streets of Belgrade, some protesters began having second thoughts about joining anti-government demonstrations in the Serbian capital.

Local authorities assert the system, created by Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, helps reduce crime. Critics contend it erodes personal freedoms and exposes citizens to snooping by the Chinese government.

The cameras, equipped with facial recognition technology, are being rolled out across cities around the world, particularly in poorer countries with weak track records on human rights where Beijing has increased its influence through big business deals. With the United States claiming that Chinese state can get backdoor access to Huawei data, the rollout is raising concerns about the privacy of millions of people.

 


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Iran Detained 2nd French Researcher, Colleagues Say

The Iranian government has been holding a second French researcher in custody for the past four months, according to his colleagues.

Roland Marchal, a sub-Saharan Africa specialist at Paris university Sciences Po, was arrested in June when he traveled to Iran to visit his partner, Fariba Adelkhah, according to Sciences Po professor Richard Banegas.
 
Iranian authorities disclosed in July that they had arrested Adelkhah, a prominent anthropologist who holds dual French-Iranian nationality, on charges that have not been made public.
 
There was no immediate acknowledgement of Marchal’s arrest in Iranian state media.  
 
It’s unclear exactly what charges Marchal faces, but Banegas told The Associated Press that he and his colleagues consider him “an academic prisoner.”
 
The French Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

 

 


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Warren And Sanders Stockpile Millions More Than 2020 Rivals

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren don’t just lead the Democratic presidential primary in fundraising. They’ve stockpiled millions more than their rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who burned through money at a fast clip over the past three months while posting an anemic fundraising haul.

Sanders held $33.7 million cash on hand on his third-quarter fundraising report. Warren had $25.7 million during the same period, while South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg came next $23.3 million.

Biden, meanwhile, held just $8.9 million, a small fraction of what his leading rivals have at their disposal.

With the first votes of the Democratic contest just months away, the candidates are entering a critical and expensive period where having an ample supply of cash can make or break a campaign. Biden’s total raises questions about his durability as a front-runner.
“Can he do better at fundraising? Absolutely. And I think he will,” said Biden donor and fundraiser Steve Westly.

While many contenders in the crowded field will be triaging resources and making difficult spending decisions in the coming months, the advantage enjoyed by the Vermont and Massachusetts senators means they will have the luxury of spending when and where they want. That will allow them to buy large amounts of advertising, respond to attacks and boost their ground games in early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“If you are sitting at fourth, fifth or even seventh place and you don’t have the money to have a real paid media campaign, the future for you is probably pretty bleak. You will get drowned out by the rest of the noise,” said Grant Woodard, a Des Moines attorney who is a veteran of John Kerry’s and Hillary Clinton’s Iowa campaigns. “It’s still a fluid race. But to be competitive in this thing you are going to have to be on TV, digital and you are going to have to be on direct mail. The fundamentals still matter.”

Biden has built a formidable campaign, but it’s come at a cost. The $17.6 million he spent over the past three months was more than the $15.7 million he took in, according to his fundraising figures that were submitted to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday’s reporting deadline.

Despite his lackluster totals, he still remains a favored candidate in recent public opinion polls, along with Warren. And in recent weeks, both Biden and his wife, Jill, have kept up a busier fundraising schedule.

“People focused on the minutia and the details,” said Westly, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. “The reality is this is quickly boiling down to a two-person race _ and that’s between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.”

Still, Biden is not alone in the sprawling field.

California Sen. Kamala Harris had $10.5 million cash on hand but deferred paying consultants including her pollster nearly $1 million, records show. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker held $4.2 million, disclosures show.

And the situation was far more dismal for others. Former Obama housing secretary Julian Castro had just $672,000 cash on hand, while Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan had even less, $158,000, records show.

The advantage Warren and Sanders have was evident in the way they have been able to spend.

Sanders’ $21.5 million in spending between July and the end of September topped the list. It enabled him to spend $3.8 million on advertising and online fundraising, drop nearly $1 million on campaign merchandise and pay his staff a combined $5.6 million, records show.

Warren’s $18.6 million in spending during that period allowed her to fund a sprawling staff operation that includes well over 500 people on the payroll, in addition to financing a more than $3.2 million digital operation, records show.

Buttigieg, too, has hired roughly 100 staffers in Iowa, where his campaign is betting on a strong performance.

But just because they have a massive cash advantage doesn’t mean the other candidates are doomed. Even though time is running out, candidates could still see their financial picture improve, particularly if they have a viral online moment to boost their online fundraising.

“The question is: Do you have enough money to run a strong campaign? North of $5 million and you have the ability to get through the fourth quarter,” said Democratic donor and Wall Street financier Robert Wolf, who was an economic adviser to Barack Obama.


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Moscow Warns Turkey to Wrap Up Syria Incursion Quickly

Russians officials urged Turkey to limit the duration and scale of its cross-border military incursion into northeast Syria, stressing Turkish troops must at all costs avoid clashing with Syrian government forces, which have moved north and are racing to take over Kurdish border towns ahead of the Turks.

The Kremlin’s special envoy to Syria Tuesday appeared to toughen Russia’s language about the offensive, dubbing it for the first time as “unacceptable.” Previously the Kremlin appeared to endorse the incursion, with top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Russia would go along with Turkey as it acknowledged Ankara had legitimate border security concerns.

But Russian officials had from the start detailed red lines — including that the offensive wouldn’t lead to any permanent Turkish occupation.

FILE – A checkpoint, abandoned by Syrian Democratic Forces after Turkish military operations began, pictured on Oct. 11, 2019, outside Ras al-Ayn, Syria. (A. Lourie/VOA)

In return for the acceptance of the incursion, which Ankara says is aimed at clearing a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia allied with secessionist Turkish Kurds from the border lands, Russian officials made little pretense of their expectation that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would later acquiesce with Moscow’s plans for Syria’s future, one that will see President Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s ally, reassert control across the whole of Syria.

Speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi during an official visit by Putin to the Gulf emirate, Russian envoy Alexander Lavrentiev indicated Moscow expects Ankara to wrap up its offensive quickly. He said Turkish troops had the right under an agreement struck between Damascus and Ankara in 1998, the Adana pact, to temporarily push up to a maximum of 10 kilometers into Syria to conduct counter-terrorism operations.

“But it doesn’t give them the right to remain on Syrian territory permanently and we are opposed to Turkish troops staying on Syrian territory permanently,” he emphasized. “We don’t approve of their actions,” he added.

Shortly after Lavrentiev briefed reporters, Russian officials said President Putin and his Turkish counterpart spoke on the phone. According to them, Putin told Erdogan that the situation risked becoming unstable, noting that several hundred Islamic State captives being held by Syrian Kurds had exploited the chaos and escaped. Putin invited Erdogan to visit Russia in the next few days for urgent talks, a proposal Ankara had accepted, Kremlin officials say.

FILE – Turkish tanks and troops are stationed near Syrian town of Manbij, Syria, Oct. 15, 2019.

The sharper language may suggest, say analysts, that Ankara has overreached, as far as the Kremlin is concerned and has surprised Moscow by going deeper into Syrian territory than Russian officials had expected. That has prompted Russian worries about Erdogan’s longer term aims and concern that he may intend to prolong the Turkish military presence in Syria, using it as leverage in talks brokered by Moscow about Syria’s political future.

“Maybe Erdogan is proving to be a more difficult partner than the Kremlin had anticipated,” quipped a Western diplomat based in the Russian capital. But he added it was unlikely Erdogan will want to fall out with Putin and disrupt Ankara’s warming ties with Moscow, especially as he comes under pressure from erstwhile NATO allies to withdraw.

On Tuesday, President Erdogan rejected a U.S. call for an immediate ceasefire in northern Syria. Erdogan’s comments come ahead of a visit to Turkey by the U.S. vice-president and U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. “They say ‘declare a ceasefire’. We will never declare a ceasefire, Erdogan told reporters.

Critics of the Trump administration say the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria effectively gave Turkey a “green light” for the cross-border offensive. Trump officials deny this and on Monday Washington announced sanctions on Turkish ministries and senior government officials as punishment for the incursion. Several of America’s European allies have announced they will stop arms exports to Turkey.

The raft of U.S. sanctions on Turkey include scrapping a proposed $100 billion trade deal and tariffs on Turkish steel up to 50 per cent. In a statement President Donald Trump accused Turkey of creating “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” by “undermining” the campaign against the Islamic State, as well as endangering civilians.

As Western powers sought to gain some traction on Ankara, Russia appears to have been quick to try to fill the vacuum left by the U.S. troop withdrawal and to confirm a role it has earmarked for itself as the regional powerbroker. Local Kurdish sources told VOA over Skype that Russian troops had started to patrol to keep Turkish and Syrian government forces apart.

FILE – Russian and Syrian national flags flutter on military vehicles near Manbij, Syria, Oct. 15, 2019.

Russian envoy Lavrentiev confirmed the on-the-ground activity saying that Moscow had brokered the deal between the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces and the Assad government. He said it was in “no one’s interests” for Assad forces and Turkish troops to clash. “Russia will not allow it,” he said. There have been some reports of scattered clashes between Turkish-backed forces and both Assad troops and the SDF, with at least one Turkish soldier killed.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces has been greeted gleefully by pro-Kremlin media outlets with state-owned RT television giving viewers a guided tour of a former U.S. military base near the town of Manbij. “Good morning, everybody, from Manbij,” the journalist, Oleg Blokhin, said in the report. “I’m at the American base where they still were yesterday, and this morning it’s already ours.”

But even the tub-thumping RT questioned whether Moscow has bitten off more than it can chew by setting itself up as the region’s power broker, pondering in one opinion article whether Putin can please everyone in the Middle East.
 

 


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Bosnian Authorities Round up Migrants Amid Crisis Warnings

Authorities in northwestern Bosnia have rounded up hundreds of migrants and moved them to a refugee center while warning of a looming crisis ahead of upcoming winter.

A video published by local media on Wednesday shows police escorting the migrants in a long column from the town of Bihac toward the Vucjak camp, near the border with Croatia.
 
The Bihac authorities have faced criticism over the conditions in the tent camp, located on a former landfill and close to a mine-infested area from the 1992-95 war.
 
The mayor of Bihac, Suhret Fazlic, has warned this week that the city can no longer cope with thousands of people staying there in hopes of moving toward Western Europe. He has threatened to cut migrant aid to draw attention to the problem.


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