AP News in Brief 10-12-19

  • In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from targets in Tel Abyad, Syria, during bombardment by Turkish forces, Friday. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Turkish forces advance in Syria as US troops come under fire

AKCAKALE, Turkey — Turkish forces faced fierce resistance from U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters on the third day of Ankara’s offensive in northern Syria as casualties mounted, international criticism of the campaign intensified and estimates put the number of those who fled the violence at 100,000. In a complicating twist, Washington said its troops also came under fire from NATO ally Turkey.

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No U.S. troops were hurt in Friday’s explosion at the small U.S. outpost, and the artillery strike marked the first time a coalition base was in the line of fire since Turkey’s offensive began.

U.S. officials said the Americans have vacated the post on a hill outside the town of Kobane, and added that a large base in the town was not affected by the shelling. The officials spoke anonymously because they were discussing an ongoing military operation.

Turkey said the U.S. was not targeted and its forces were returning fire from Kurdish fighters about half a mile from the U.S. outpost. The Turkish Defense Ministry said it ended the strike after communicating with the U.S.

Navy Capt. Brook DeWalt, a Pentagon spokesman, says the explosion came within a few hundred meters of the area where U.S. troops were.

Kevin McAleenan, acting Homeland Security secretary, stepping down

WASHINGTON — Kevin McAleenan, a career civil servant who became the unlikely point man for President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies, is stepping down as acting Homeland Security secretary after six months on the job.

McAleenan told The Associated Press he was leaving on his own terms — a contrast to other top administration officials pushed out during Trump’s tenure. But his departure ends an awkward period of leadership — one in which McAleenan delighted Trump by getting border crossing numbers to fall yet remained an outsider in an administration where top figures — including in his own department — were brash Trump supporters popular on conservative media.

A White House official with knowledge of the decision confirmed that it was McAleenan’s decision. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. Trump tweeted that McAleenan was leaving to spend more time with his family and go to the private sector.

No replacement was yet named at the department, which has seen its ranks decimated through firings and resignations. The acting DHS deputy secretary is the head of the Transportation Security Administration.

And it creates yet another top-level vacancy in Trump’s Cabinet — at the department responsible not only for immigration enforcement but also for helping states secure elections.

Former envoy defies Trump, testifies he pushed to oust her

WASHINGTON — Testifying in defiance of President Donald Trump’s ban, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told House impeachment investigators Friday that Trump himself had pressured the State Department to oust her from her post and get her out of the country.

Yovanovitch told lawmakers investigating Trump’s dealings with Ukraine that there was a “concerted campaign” against her based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

The diplomat was recalled from Kyiv as Rudy Giuliani — who is Trump’s personal attorney and has no official role in the U.S. government — pressed Ukrainian officials to investigate baseless corruption allegations against Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was involved with a gas company there.

Yovanovitch testified behind closed doors Friday for more than nine hours as part of the House Democrats’ impeachment investigation. Her prepared remarks were obtained by The Associated Press. She left without answering questions.

New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat, said Yovanovitch occasionally had to leave the room because she was overcome with emotion as she was “recounting how she was thrown to the wolves” in Ukraine.

From wire sources

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US-China issues of dispute remain vast despite trade truce

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration and China declared a temporary truce Friday in their 15-month trade war. Yet the grievances that led them to impose tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods remain largely unresolved.

The administration agreed to suspend a tariff hike on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports that was set to take effect Tuesday. And China agreed to buy up to $50 billion in U.S. farm products.

The de-escalation in tension between the world’s two largest economies was welcomed by financial markets. The U.S.-China hostilities have alarmed investors and escalated costs and uncertainties for many businesses.

President Donald Trump announced the cease-fire in a White House meeting with the top Chinese negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He. The news followed two days of talks in Washington, the 13th round of negotiations between the two countries’ delegations.

“It took us a long time to get here, but it’s something that’s going to be great for China and great for the USA,” Trump said.

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Fast-moving fire drives thousands from California homes

LOS ANGELES — An aggressive wildfire in Southern California seared its way through dry vegetation Friday and spread quickly, destroying more than a dozen homes as tens of thousands of residents were ordered to get out of its way, authorities said.

The blaze broke out Thursday evening in the San Fernando Valley and spread westward, burning its way into hilly subdivisions on the northern edge of Los Angeles as terrified residents grabbed what they could and ran. One man went into cardiac arrest and died, authorities said.

Those who left included Edwin Bernard, who said he never saw the flames arrive so quickly or come so close to his home as this time.

He watched as the fire swept down a hillside, sizzling through dry grass and igniting trees and bushes and spitting embers over his home of 30 years. He and his wife fled in their car, leaving behind medication, photo albums and their four cats.

“It was a whole curtain of fire,” Bernard said Friday. “There was fire on all sides. We had to leave.”

California outages ease after wind, fire danger move south

SAN FRANCISCO — The lights were back on Friday for most of the nearly 2 million Northern California residents who lost electricity when the state’s largest utility switched it off this week in an effort to prevent wildfires.

The threat of widespread outages loomed in Southern California after the winds moved to the Los Angeles area, where a wildfire fueled by strong Santa Ana winds prompted officials to order the evacuation of 100,000 people from their homes in the foothills of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County.

In that fire, one man went into cardiac arrest and died at the scene.

Pacific Gas &Electric Co. restored power in Northern California after workers inspected power lines to make sure it was safe. The winds had increased the possibility of transmission lines toppling to the ground and starting wildfires.

The utility said it found 30 instances of weather-related damage to its equipment during the shutdown.

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Ethiopia’s reformist PM Abiy Ahmed wins Nobel peace prize

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to a dynamic young African leader whose sweeping reforms and surprising embrace of a bitter rival have been praised as an inspiration to the continent and a hopeful counterpoint to strongman movements far beyond it.

Now the task for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is reining in the ethnic violence that followed the loosening of repressive controls, and resisting any urge to crack down. “He deserves it and the new challenge is keeping it,” one outspoken African activist, Nigerian Shehu Sani, said of the award.

Abiy, a favorite to win despite speculation about young climate activist Greta Thunberg, told the Nobel committee he was humbled and thrilled to receive its 100th peace prize, calling peace “a rare commodity in our region.” He hoped the award would encourage other African leaders.

His countrymen, even some critics, celebrated. “‘We are proud as a nation!!!” his office said.

The 43-year-old prime minister has embraced the concept of “medemer,” a term in Ethiopia’s Amharic language that means unity and inclusivity, and has lived it. The son of a Muslim and an Orthodox Christian, and of mixed ethnic heritage, he is a symbol of what he would like to achieve in a country of some 80 ethnicities and some 110 million people. That fractious mix could also bring him down.

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Religious right sticks by Trump as political heat rises

As the threat of impeachment looms, President Donald Trump is digging in and taking solace in the base that helped him get elected: conservative evangelical Christians who laud his commitment to enacting their agenda.

Trump told reporters last week that “the biggest pastors” have assured him that Christians are “electrified” by his clash with Democrats who are probing his pushes for Ukraine to launch an investigation into a political rival, former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden.

And the prominent evangelicals who have proven Trump’s most stalwart allies are staying in his corner for the impeachment fight, even as some push back against his withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria — a move that imperils scores of Kurdish Muslims and Christians in the region. Although Trump’s Syria pullback is alarming conservative Christians whose support he needs to win reelection, their rallying against his impeachment indicates a bond that appears strong enough to withstand the current foreign policy rift as 2020 balloting nears.

South Carolina pastor and televangelist Rev. Mark Burns, a backer since the early days of Trump’s 2016 campaign, said in an interview that “it’s important that religious leaders reach out to the president.” Burns contended that Trump’s struggles are partly connected to his Christian faith, adding that “Satan wants to remove a vessel that God has installed to again be a blessing to the religious community.”

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Burns said he spoke with Trump briefly last week, when the president met with black conservatives at the White House, and recalled hearing the Holy Spirit “as I crossed the street to walk into Trump Tower” for their first meeting in 2015. Maryland-based Pentecostal Bishop Harry Jackson, who has met with Trump at the White House, said that he plans to hold a large prayer gathering this year for “healing in the nation.”

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