AP News in Brief 10-13-19

  • Local residents look on as a convoy of Turkish forces’ trucks transporting tanks is driven on a road towards the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Saturday. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Turkish forces say they’ve captured key Syrian border town

CEYLANPINAR, Turkey — Turkey’s military said it captured a key Syrian border town under heavy bombardment Saturday in its most significant gain since an offensive against Kurdish fighters began four days ago, with no sign of relenting despite mounting international criticism.

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Turkish troops entered central Ras al-Ayn, according to Turkey’s Defense Ministry and a war monitor group. The ministry tweeted: “Ras al-Ayn’s residential center has been taken under control through the successful operations in the east of Euphrates” River. It marked the biggest gain made by Turkey since the invasion began Wednesday.

The continued push by Turkey into Syria comes days after President Donald Trump pulled U.S. forces out of the area, making Turkey’s air and ground offensive possible, and said he wanted to stop getting involved with “endless wars.” Trump’s decision drew swift bipartisan criticism that he was endangering regional stability and risking the lives of Syrian Kurdish allies who brought down the Islamic State group in Syria. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces was the main U.S. ally in the fight and lost 11,000 fighters in the nearly five-year battle against IS.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters have made gains recently capturing several northern villages in fighting and bombardment that left dozens of people killed or wounded. The invasion also has forced nearly 100,000 people to flee their homes amid concerns that IS might take advantage of the chaos and try to rise again after its defeat in Syria earlier this year.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said the United States should carry out its “moral responsibilities” and close northern Syrian airspace to Turkish warplanes, but that it didn’t want the U.S. to send its soldiers “to the front lines and put their lives in danger.”

Rescue efforts underway after typhoon rains flood Japan

TOKYO — Helicopters plucked people from their flooded homes on Sunday as rescue efforts went into full force in wide areas of Japan, including Tokyo, after a powerful typhoon unleashed heavy rainfall, leaving at least four dead and 17 missing.

Typhoon Hagibis made landfall south of Tokyo Saturday and moved northward. More than 100 people were also injured in its wake, according to public broadcaster NHK, as the numbers kept growing.

News footage showed a rescue helicopter hovering in a flooded area in Nagano prefecture where an embankment of the Chikuma River broke. The chopper plucked those stranded on the second floor of a home submerged in muddy waters.

A stretch of Fukushima, in the city of Date, was also flooded with only rooftops of residential homes visible in some areas. Parts of nearby Miyagi prefecture were also under water.

The Tama River, which runs by Tokyo, overflowed its banks.

Anatomy of the phone call now imperiling Trump’s presidency

WASHINGTON — There were dozens of ears listening to President Donald Trump’s 30-minute phone call with the leader of Ukraine that is at the center of a House impeachment inquiry, and as many eyes that saw what he said.

White House staffers, working in the secure, soundproof Situation Room in the West Wing basement, listened in and chronicled the conversation. National Security Council personnel edited a memo written about the call. White House lawyers, according to a government whistleblower , directed that the memo be uploaded into a highly restricted classified computer network. And there were the staffers whose keystrokes on a computer made that happen.

They represent a universe of people, little known outside their vital circle of national security officials, who can either support or disavow the whistleblower’s account. Their roles could well become more public as the impeachment investigation unfolds and Congress seeks additional witnesses.

Some staffers involved with the call still work at the White House; others have left. But what was thought to be a routine conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy turned into anything but that, when Trump asked him to investigate Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election and the activities of Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Hotel collapse in New Orleans leaves 1 dead, 2 missing

NEW ORLEANS — A large section of a Hard Rock Hotel under construction at the edge of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter collapsed Saturday amid blinding dust and flying debris, killing one person and injuring more than 20 as rescue workers rushed into what was left of the largely unstable building to locate two people still unaccounted for.

Nearby buildings were evacuated and a 270-foot (82-meter) construction crane — one of two still looming over the multistory building — also was dangerously unstable, fire officials said.

“I heard a huge noise and thought it was a plane crashing,” said Sue Hurley, 68, a guest at a hostel just across the street that shuddered with the force of the explosion. Hurley said she was reminded of news accounts of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

WWL-TV aired and tweeted a viewer’s dramatic video of the collapse, showing upper floors falling on top of each other before one side of the building crashed to the ground.

Another video on social media showed what looked like a metal structure — part of the building or a piece of construction equipment — tumbling to the ground and people running from the scene as clouds of dust billowed up, obscuring the view like a thick fog.

From wire sources

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Fierce battle over rare Democratic governorship in South

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards fought Saturday to hang on to a rare Democratic governorship in Deep South Trump territory against a national GOP offensive aimed at forcing him into a runoff.

Republicans were trying to hold Edwards under the 50% benchmark the region’s only Democratic governor needed to win outright over five others in the field. President Donald Trump made a last-minute appeal to Louisiana’s voters to reject Edwards.

Edwards, Louisiana’s only Democratic statewide elected official, faced two main GOP challengers, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone. But three lesser-known contenders also threatened to peel off a few percentage points to tip the balance and push Edwards into a Nov. 16 runoff election.

Also on the ballot were six Republican statewide elected officials running for reelection to new four-year terms, and voters were deciding four proposed constitutional changes.

Polls were scheduled to close at 8 p.m. On Saturday morning, Edwards was in New Orleans at the site of building collapse. A large portion of a Hard Rock Hotel under construction fell, killing one person and injuring more than 20.

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Trump backs Giuliani, but some aides wish he would cut ties

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday stood behind personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, one of his highest-profile and most vocal defenders, amid reports that federal prosecutors in the city Giuliani led as mayor are eyeing him for possible lobbying violations.

Behind the scenes, however, many of Trump’s closest aides and advisers, inside and outside the White House, quietly wish the president would cut ties with Giuliani, whose leadership of New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks earned him worldwide admiration and the moniker of “America’s mayor.”

Giuliani was a force in Trump’s defense during the lengthy Russia investigation by the special counsel. Yet the effort to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller led Giuliani to Ukraine, which now entangles the former federal prosecutor and mayor in legal jeopardy and is central to the danger threatening the presidency he labored to protect.

The New York Times reported Friday, citing a pair of anonymous sources familiar with the matter, that the investigation is linked to Giuliani’s efforts to undermine Marie Yovanovitch, formerly the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has declined to comment on the Times report.

Two Florida businessmen with ties to Giuliani were charged Thursday with federal campaign finance violations. Both played key roles in Giuliani’s efforts to get Ukraine to launch a corruption investigation into Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a gas company there.

Authorities: 3 deaths tied to Southern California wildfires

LOS ANGELES — Three people have died at the scene of Southern California wildfires this week, authorities said Saturday, as firefighters aided by diminishing winds beat back a blaze on the edge of Los Angeles that damaged or destroyed more than 30 structures and sent a blanket of smoke across a swath of neighborhoods.

Los Angeles officials said the fire in the city’s San Fernando Valley area hadn’t grown significantly since Friday, and ground crews were tamping down lingering hotspots. Evacuation orders were lifted in all of Los Angeles County and in parts of Riverside County, where a second blaze was burning.

Shortly before 5 p.m., the Los Angeles Police Department said in a tweet: “We thank members of the community for promptly heeding the evacuation orders and their patience as we worked to contain the fire.”

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told residents to be cautious returning home to neighborhoods where fire crews could still be operating.

In Los Angeles, one man who tried to fight the blaze died of a heart attack, and one firefighter reported a minor eye injury.

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