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World Monthly Headline News October 2019 Page 2

Russia lands forces at former U.S. air base in northern Syria
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia landed attack helicopters and troops at a sprawling air base in northern Syria vacated by U.S. forces, the Russian Defence Ministry’s Zvezda TV channel said on Friday.

Armed Russian military police were shown in footage aired on Zvezda flying into the Syrian air base in northern Aleppo province near the border with Turkey and fanning out to secure the area. The move comes after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from parts of Syria last month.

The facility will be used as a center to distribute humanitarian aid for local residents and the military aerodrome is now controlled by Syrian government forces allied with Moscow, Zvezda said.

On Thursday, Zvezda said Russia had set up a helicopter base at an airport in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, a move designed to increase Moscow’s control over events on the ground there. Russia and Turkey are carrying out joint patrols along Syria’s border with Turkey as part of a deal struck between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.

“We entered the base and took the inner and external perimeter under control,” a senior Russian military police inspector was quoted by Zvezda as saying. Full Story

Hong Kong: 'I was tear gassed getting my lunch'
By Katie Prescott

"I've been tear gassed a few times, but never when I was outside my office - popping out to get my lunch," says one trader at HSBC. He is describing the moment this week when Hong Kong's protests came to the central financial district , one of the world's biggest commercial hubs. He says it was a watershed moment, that's made him and many of his peers question their future in the city. Speaking to the BBC under condition of anonymity, directors at some of the biggest international banks and law firms said they are seeing their business in Hong Kong shrink as the protests continue to escalate.

Financial services make up a fifth of Hong Kong's economy and people come from all over the world to live and work here. Its large expatriate community is attracted by the low taxes, well-paid jobs, stability and high standards of living. However, the lure of prosperity and stability in the East Asian hub has been undermined substantially since Hong Kong has been racked by five months of anti-government protests, backing increased democracy and opposing the actions of the police.

Panic button

This last week where violence has intensified has made many firms reconsider the safety of their staff in the city. One hedge fund manager has even been given a panic button app in case of an emergency and plans are in place with his work to evacuate him and his family to another major city "if we were in danger they have a team of people who would get us out".

A banker at HSBC says only half of their staff came in to the office on Friday as people are encouraged to work remotely if they can't get in safely. Staff are kept closely informed about the situation on the ground according to a BNP Paribas employee "We get regular emails early in the morning and through the day from the business continuity management team - telling us whether it's safe to go into offices - and whether we should go home early."
'Pro-protester or pro-police'

Anecdotally, the political pressure from the Chinese government on banks and law firms is also growing - and it's putting pressure on staff. Some partners in law firms are being asked to pin their colours to the mast and state whether they support the protesters or the Chinese government before winning business from Chinese firms. Full Story

Trump demands five-fold increase in costs from South Korea to keep US troops, reports say
by Robert Burns, AP National Security Writer

SEOUL, South Korea – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday pressed Washington’s case that longtime ally South Korea must pay a bigger share of the cost of having U.S. troops on its soil.

“This is a very strong alliance we have, but Korea is a wealthy country and could and should pay more to help offset the cost of defense,” Esper told a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo.

Esper said that while South Korea has provided “a fair amount of support in the past,” it is important to point out that “most of that money stays here in this country – easily over 90% of that money stays here in Korea, it does not go to the United States.”

The amount Korea pays for the presence of about 28,000 U.S. troops has varied over the years. This year it is nearly $1 billion. South Korean news reports have said the Trump administration is demanding a five-fold increase in South Korean contributions, to about $4.7 billion for 2020, although Jeong declined to confirm the figure. He said his country was prepared to pay a “fair and reasonable” amount.

In remarks to reporters Wednesday as he was flying to Seoul, Esper declined to cite a figure but said the administration has asked for a “substantial increase” in South Korea’s contributions. At Friday’s news conference, Esper said American demands for a more favorable sharing of defense costs applies not only to South Korea but also to allies and partners across the globe. President Donald Trump has long accused American allies in Europe and Asia of being freeloaders and questioned why the U.S. is still helping to defend them.

Negotiations with Seoul over cost-sharing for 2020 is one of several major irritants in the alliance, which dates to the 1950-53 Korean War when the U.S. and other nations intervened after North Korea invaded the South. Full Story

Erdogan shows anti-Kurdish video to senators at White House

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked tensions during his US visit when he showed Republican senators an anti-Kurdish video, US media say. On Wednesday Mr Erdogan played the video on an iPad during a White House meeting with President Trump and the lawmakers who vocally back the Kurds. President Donald Trump mostly observed the interaction, sources told US media. Mr Trump has been widely criticised in the US for his decision to withdraw troops from Syria's border region.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - which are supported by the US - played a leading role in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants. The senators involved in Wednesday's meeting were Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, Joni Ernst, and Jim Risch. All five have sharply criticised Mr Erdogan's October move against Kurdish forces in Syria following Mr Trump's announcement to pull US troops.

Turkey regards the Kurdish fighters as terrorists and is seeking to turn the area into a "safe zone" for resettling the Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. Mr Erdogan reportedly believed he might change the senators' views on the Kurds by showing them the short film, but instead received pushback from the entire group. After viewing the film, Mr Graham asked Mr Erdogan if he wanted him "to go get the Kurds to make one about what you've done", prompting a heated discussion, a source present during the meeting told the Axios news website, which first reported the incident. Full Story

Boris Johnson called gay men 'tank-topped bumboys' and black people 'piccaninnies' with 'watermelon smiles'
By Adam Bienkov

LONDON — Boris Johnson is fighting to win the upcoming general  election on a promise to "get Brexit done" and then unite the country. However, Johnson is a divisive figure who has been dogged by questions about offensive comments he has made in the past. Johnson claims that some of the comments were "wholly satirical," while others have been taken out of context. Here are some of the key controversial comments he has made over the years, with context and links to their original sources.

The ex-foreign secretary and former London Mayor has long had a questionable attitude towards women, with both the House of Commons speaker John Bercow and female members of the London Assembly accusing him of sexist behaviour. Evidence of Johnson's views towards women can be found throughout his career. In 1996, while a journalist for the Telegraph, Johnson went to the Labour conference and wrote a piece reviewing the quality of "the hot totty" who were present.

"The unanimous opinion is that what has been called the 'Tottymeter' reading is higher than at any Labour Party conference in living memory," he wrote. He added that: "Time and again the 'Tottymeter' has gone off as a young woman delegate mounts the rostrum." In an attempt to explain the trend of women shifting their allegiances to the Labour party, Johnson suggests that it is either due to the party's "planned erosion of male liberty — such as ending the right to drink in public places," or because of "Labour's most bizarre promise, that women will be more promiscuous if Mr Blair comes to power." Full Story

Hong Kong's Hang Seng has its worst day in months as violence escalates
By Jill Disis, CNN Business

Hong Kong (CNN Business) Hong Kong stocks suffered their worst day in more than three months on Monday as long-running protests in the city saw escalating levels of violence. The Hang Seng Index (HSI) dropped more than 2.6%, its worst single-day percentage decline since the beginning of August, according to Refinitiv data. Monday's declines came on the heels of new and shocking levels of violence in the Asian financial hub. A traffic officer shot a 21-year-old protester and fired two more live rounds early in the day. The protester had surgery and is in critical condition, hospital authorities say. Later, in another part of the city, a man who confronted a group of protesters was doused in a flammable liquid and set alight. The incident was captured in a graphic video seen by CNN.

Protests disrupted public transit throughout the city on Monday, as demonstrators blocked roadways and several subway lines experienced delays. Several months of protests have plunged Hong Kong into its first recession in a decade. Monday's fall wiped out the Hang Seng's gains posted last week, when optimism over the prospects of a US-China trade deal lifted Asian markets. The city's real estate stocks were hit particularly hard, with big property developers like Swire Pacific (SWRAY), Wharf Real Estate, Sun Hung Kai Properties (SUHJF) and New World Development (NDVLY) all dropping more than 4%. While Hong Kong led losses in the region, other major Asian markets were all down Monday as investors also tried to make sense of the muddled state of US-China trade relations. China's Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) declined 1.8%. South Korea's Kospi (KOSPI) slumped 0.6%. Japan's Nikkei (N225) edged down 0.3%. Full Story

Bolivia’s Morales resigns amid scathing election report, rising protests
By Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier

Evo Morales, the elder statement of the Latin American left, resigned as president of Bolivia on Sunday after his offer of new elections failed to quell an increasingly violent uprising Sunday following the release of a scathing international audit that found “clear manipulation” of the vote last month in which he claimed victory.

The resignation was an ignominious ending to a 13-year tenure that saw Bolivia’s first indigenous president fight poverty and transform cities with state investment even as criticism of his authoritarian tendencies rose. But ultimately the 60-year old socialist who once commanded landslide victories found himself isolated — the heads of both the armed forces and police both called on Morales to step down, and the country’s main labor union asked him to resign if doing so would calm a nation rapidly plunging into mob rule.

Morales’ resignation followed that of several socialist ministers and lawmakers as tensions in South America’s poorest nation soared. The leader of the chamber of deputies from Morales’s Movement for Socialism, Victor Borda, stepped down after his home in the mountain city of Potosí was set ablaze and his brother was taken hostage by a group of opposition protesters. Full Story

Boris Johnson accidentally made an incredibly compelling argument against his own Brexit deal
By Thomas Colson

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an unusual and very revealing comment Thursday night that inadvertently serves as an incredibly compelling argument against his own Brexit deal. Speaking at a meeting of local Conservatives in Northern Ireland on Thursday evening, the prime minister said: "Actually, Northern Ireland has got a great deal. You keep free movement, you keep access to the single market, but you also, as it says in the deal, have unfettered access" to Great Britain.

This poses a rather obvious question. If retaining free movement and staying in the European single market is such a "great deal" for Northern Ireland, then why has Johnson prioritized a Brexit plan that would prevent the rest of the United Kingdom from having that same access and freedom? "The Single Market and freedom of movement are a great deal — even Boris Johnson recognises this — so why isn't he keeping them for the whole of the UK as part of the many benefits of EU membership?" Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said Friday morning. Full Story

New York tech firm sold Chinese equipment to U.S. military, feds say
Seven people were charged with selling cameras and other products to the Army, Navy and Air Force — and falsely claiming they were "made in the USA."
By Jonathan Dienst, Joe Valiquette and Rich Schapiro

A New York tech company made millions by selling Chinese-made equipment to the U.S. military that it falsely claimed were built in the U.S., the Justice Department charged Thursday. The scheme carried out by Aventura Technologies exposed the federal government and multiple military branches, including the Army, Navy and Air Force, to serious cybersecurity risks and created a channel through which "hostile foreign governments could have accessed some of the government's most sensitive facilities," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

Federal prosecutors charged seven current and former Aventura employees in the plot. The charges were announced hours after federal agents raided the headquarters of the Long Island based surveillance and security equipment company. "Greed is at the heart of this scheme, a reprehensible motive when the subjects in this case allegedly put into question the security of men and women who don uniforms each day to protect our nation,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a statement. New York prosecutors say Aventura generated upwards of $88 million since 2006, including over $20 million in federal government contracts, by selling equipment it claimed was built at its headquarters. In actuality, the company produced nothing on its premises and instead imported products primarily from China and then resold them as American made, court papers say.

The equipment made in China and sold by Aventura has been installed on dozens of Army, Navy and Air Force bases, Department of Energy facilities and other places including Navy aircraft carriers, court papers say. The products include a $13,500 laser-enhanced night vision camera ordered by the U.S. Navy and 25 body cameras purchased by the U.S. Air Force, prosecutors said. The plot's alleged mastermind, Jack Cabasso, went to extraordinary lengths to conceal the multi-million dollar scheme with the help of his Chinese business partners, prosecutors said. Full Story

Two former Twitter employees accused of spying for Saudi Arabia
By David Shortell, CNN

Washington, DC (CNN Business)Federal prosecutors accused two former Twitter employees of spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi national, and Ahmad Abouammo, a US citizen, used their access at the social media giant to gather sensitive and nonpublic information on dissidents of the Saudi regime, the Justice Department alleged in a criminal complaint. The case, unsealed in San Francisco federal court, underscores allegations the Saudi government tries to control anti-regime voices abroad. It also recalls a move reportedly directed by the country's controversial leader to weaponize online platforms against critics. The accusations are certain to renew scrutiny of tech companies' abilities to protect the privacy of their users.

"The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter's internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users," US Attorney David Anderson said in a statement. "U.S. law protects U.S. companies from such an unlawful foreign intrusion. We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law." A third man, Ahmed Almutairi, also from Saudi Arabia, allegedly acted as a go-between to the two Twitter employees and the Saudi government, which according to the complaint rewarded the men with hundreds of thousands of dollars and, for one man, a luxury Hublo watch. While no Saudi government officials are named as running the spy operation in the complaint, the Washington Post, citing a person familiar with the case, reports a Saudi national who groomed the two employees is tied into the inner circle of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

All three men are charged with acting as illegal agents of a foreign government. Abouammo, the only one currently in US custody after his arrest in Seattle Tuesday, is also charged with attempting to obstruct the FBI's investigation by providing agents with a fake invoice. Alzabarah and Almutairi are believed to be in Saudi Arabia and federal warrants have been issued for their arrests, the Justice Department said. Abouammo made an initial appearance in Seattle federal court Wednesday afternoon. It is not clear who is representing Abouammo, and CNN has been unable to locate Alzabarah and Almutairi for comment. In a statement, Twitter said it "limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees." Full Story

Senators ask how many ISIS prisoners have escaped since Trump cleared way for Turkish military action
"Many are hard-core terrorists, with the kinds of expertise," including bomb-making, "that had made ISIS such a threat to the U.S. and our allies."
By Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — Senators from both parties are demanding answers from the Trump administration about how many ISIS detainees have escaped from Kurdish-run detention centers in Syria after the president cleared the way for Turkish military action in the region. In a letter Tuesday to Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican on the committee, said they had "grave concern" that "numerous Islamic State detainees from detention facilities that had been run by America's Kurdish partners in the Syrian Defense Forces" had escaped.

The largely Kurdish Syrian force, known as the SDF, had been holding more than 10,000 captured ISIS fighters, including 2,000 "foreign fighters," committed jihadists who traveled from Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere to join ISIS, the senators noted. "Many of these individuals are hard-core terrorists, with the kinds of expertise — bomb-making, leadership and propaganda — that had made ISIS such a threat to the United States and our allies." After President Donald Trump cleared the way for Turkish military action against the Kurds, Kurdish officials told NBC News that staffing the detention camps would no longer be a top priority. Full Story

Nuclear deal crumbles: Iran steps away from landmark pact
Here are key restrictions imposed on Iran under JCPOA and measures it has taken to suspend compliance.

Iran is taking a significant new step in reducing its commitments to a landmark nuclear deal following the United States's pullout last year, with President Hassan Rouhani announcing it will begin injecting uranium gas into more than 1,000 centrifuges at the underground Fordow plant as of Wednesday. The centrifuges previously spun empty without gas injection under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated between Iran and world powers in 2015.

It was one of the many restrictions imposed on Iran with the aim of extending the time the country would need to produce a nuclear bomb - if it chose to - to a year from roughly two to three months. In exchange for compliance, Iran was offered relief from global sanctions. However, with US President Donald Trump's decision last year to abandon the agreement and reinstate punishing sanctions against Iran, including on its oil and banking sectors, Tehran has begun a phased suspension of its obligations. The resumption of atomic activity at Fordow is the fourth move announced by Iran since May, a year after the US pullout. The moves are aimed at trying to pressure the remaining signatories - the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia - to deliver on JCPOA's promised economic benefits. Here are the key restrictions imposed on Iran under the landmark nuclear deal and the status of its compliance. Full Story - Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal to spite Obama now Iran is expanding its nuclear program because of Trump’s pettiness.

Iran starts injecting uranium gas into centrifuges, further unraveling nuclear accord
By Kim Hjelmgaard - USA TODAY

President Hassan Rouhani announced Tuesday that Iran will start injecting uranium gas into centrifuges, further unraveling a nuclear deal with world powers and effectively advancing the country's ability to make a nuclear bomb. The centrifuges previously spun empty under the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement that President Donald Trump withdrew from more than a year ago. Rouhani unveiled the move during live remarks on Iranian state TV. He said Iran would inject uranium gas into 1,044 centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility.

While the development is significant because it enables Iran to more quickly enrich uranium to the higher levels needed to produce a nuclear weapon, Tehran has long insisted that its nuclear activities are for peaceful, civilian energy use only. No evidence has emerged to indicate Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran's latest step away from the accord comes a day after Iran's nuclear chief said Iran doubled the number of advanced centrifuges in operation. It also represents Iran's "fourth step" away from the deal inked by former President Barack Obama, which saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Exiting the deal was a Trump campaign promise. Full Story

Iran announces new centrifuges on 40th anniversary of US embassy siege
By Bianca Britton and Sara Mazloumsaki, CNN

(CNN) - Iran has launched a new generation of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium, the nation's nuclear chief announced Monday, the latest in a series of violations of the nuclear deal signed between Tehran and world powers in 2015. The announcement came as Iran marked the 40th anniversary of the US embassy siege, when Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took 90 people hostage, including 66 Americans. "Today we are launching the 30-series chain of IR6 centrifuge machines," Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi of the Atomic Energy Organization told state television IRIB.

"The number of centrifuges we have installed during these two months is about 15 new generation centrifuges, which is a huge achievement." The advanced centrifuge machines allows Iran to speed up its uranium enrichment. Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Tehran cannot use IR-6 centrifuges, among other models, to produce enriched uranium for at least ten years. The deal allowed Iran to enrich uranium with just over 5,000 of its first-generation IR-1 centrifuge machines and the nation was allowed to use advance centrifuges for research purposes only.

Scaling back commitments
Tehran has gradually scaled back its commitments to the nuclear deal after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018 and reimposed economic sanctions on Iran. US sanctions have crippled Iran's economy, causing the nation's currency to plummet and prices to soar. As a result, the economy has contracted and food and medical shortages are rampant. Full Story

The Russian connection to a Berlin hit job that Germany doesn't want to talk about
By Neil Hauer and Nadine Schmidt

Berlin, Germany (CNN) - Murders happen in Berlin. They're not common -- the crime rate in Germany is currently at its lowest level in more than 25 years -- but as with all major cities, the occasional violent killing is all but inevitable. What's far less common is for them to occur at noon, in the city center. And what's truly unprecedented is when the target is a former Chechen fighter, and the suspect an alleged Russian government hitman.
But that's exactly what happened on August 23. Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian citizen of Chechen descent, was on his way to midday prayers at a mosque in the Moabit district of downtown Berlin. A man following him on an electric bicycle approached and shot him at close range twice in the head and once in the shoulder. Khangoshvili died instantly; his suspected killer was apprehended and remains in police custody.

If the alleged assassin was trying to be discreet, it's fair to say he failed. Two teenagers saw him throwing a handgun, wig and bike into the River Spree, setting off a murder mystery that has gripped the country and raised uncomfortable questions about Germany's complex relationship with Russia.
The suspect, who was carrying a Russian passport, was arrested within hours. But more than two months later, the case is still in limbo: the suspect won't talk, the Kremlin denies involvement, and Germany refuses to point the finger at Moscow without definitive evidence. The murder has also cast a dark shadow over the tens of thousands of other Chechen migrants living in Europe. Vulnerable to deportation, and rising anti-migrant sentiment, they say they're closely watching Germany's response to the incident. 'We were in shock'

Khangoshvili had long been a wanted man. His participation in the Second Chechen War, where he fought alongside fellow Chechen insurgents against Russian federal forces, earned him deep enmity among sections of Russia's armed forces. Despite leaving the resistance movement in around 2005, he could not shake off his past so lightly. Numerous assassination attempts dogged him and his young family over the years as they sought refuge across Europe, finally coming to Germany in 2016 in the hope of finding a safe haven at last. They could not have been more wrong. Full Story

Hundreds of millions of dollars were shipped from Russia to Venezuela to sidestep US sanctions
By Yusuf Khan

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been shipped from Russia to Venezuela, as the country attempts to skirt US sanctions. Bloomberg analyzed data from ImportGenius and found that $315 million worth of cash in the form of US dollars and euros, were shipped from Russia. Venezuela has been gripped in violent conflict since the start of the year, with fighting over who actually leads the country.

Venezuela has been looking for methods of raising cash due to the sanctions, with US banks refusing to lend to the country. Sales of gold have been one method, while using cryptocurrency has been another. The EU and the US have condemned Maduro's administration's treatment of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, leading to sanctions from the US, according to Bloomberg. The country became cash strapped, and the money allows access to the global financial system. Full Story

Man who advocated caning for adultery gets caned for adultery
By Rob Picheta, CNN

(CNN) - An Indonesian man has been publicly flogged for adultery, under a draconian law he helped create.
Mukhlis, a member of the Aceh Ulema Council (MPU) in the deeply conservative Aceh province of Indonesia, received 28 lashes in front of a crowd on Thursday after being caught having an affair with a married woman. Like many Indonesians, Mukhlis goes by a single name. His agency advises the local government on drafting and implementing religious laws. A video by the AFP news agency shows him grimacing as each strike is delivered onto his back by a masked officer on a stage, in front of a handful of onlookers -- some of whom filmed on their cell phones. The woman with whom he was caught also received a series of lashes.

Aceh, the country's only region to impose Sharia law, uses caning to punish a series of offenses, such as homosexuality, drinking alcohol and having sex outside of marriage. "We have clarified his identity and we proceeded with the investigation and handed over the dossier to prosecutors, and today we carried out the implementation of the flogging punishment," AFP reported Muhammad Hidayat, the Banda Aceh sharia police chief, as telling reporters at the caning. Full Story

Islamic State vows revenge against U.S. for Baghdadi killing
By Hesham Abdulkhalek, Ulf Laessing

CAIRO (Reuters) - Islamic State confirmed on Thursday that its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a weekend raid by U.S. special forces in northwestern Syria, and vowed revenge against the United States. The Iraqi rose from obscurity to lead the ultra-hardline group and declare himself “caliph” of all Muslims, holding sway over huge areas of Iraq and Syria from 2014-2017 before Islamic State’s control disintegrated under U.S.-led attacks. The group confirmed his death in an audio tape posted online and said a successor, identified as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, had been appointed.

Aymenn al-Tamimi, a researcher at Swansea University focusing on Islamic State, said the name was unknown but could refer to a leading figure in Islamic State called Hajj Abdullah, whom the U.S. State Department had identified as a possible successor. A former senior figure in the rival Islamist group al Qaeda in Iraq, he is also known as Mohamed Said Abdelrahman al-Mawla. Analysts have also named the Saudi Abu Abdullah al-Jizrawi and Abdullah Qaradash, an Iraqi and one of Baghdadi’s right-hand men, as potential successors along with the Tunisian Abu Othman al-Tunisi. An Islamic State spokesman warned the United States in the tape to “beware vengeance (against) their nation and their brethren of infidels and apostates”.

Baghdadi’s death is likely to cause Islamic State to splinter, leaving whoever emerges as its new leader with the task of pulling the group back together as a fighting force, according to analysts. Whether the loss of its leader will in itself affect the group’s capabilities is open to debate. Even if it does face difficulties in the transition, the underlying ideology and the sectarian hatred it promoted remain attractive to many, analysts say. Full Story

Five men acquitted of rape because unconscious teenage victim didn't fight back
By Ivana Kottasová, CNN

(CNN) - A court in Barcelona cleared five men of sexual assault charges on Thursday after saying the crime did not fit the legal definition of rape because the unconscious teenage victim didn't fight back. Under Spanish law, a sexual attack can only be classified as an assault or rape if the perpetrator uses violence or intimidation. Because the 14-year-old victim was unconscious, the five were convicted of a lesser charge of sexual abuse. The case renewed pressure on the government to reform the law and specify that any sexual act without consent is an assault. The Barcelona court sentenced the five men to 10 to 12 years in prison, despite the prosecution arguing they should be charged with assault.

The attack happened at a party in Manresa, a town northwest of Barcelona, in 2016. The court heard that the group was partying in an abandoned factory, when the victim consumed "alcohol and drugs" and became unconscious. The men then took turns performing sexual acts on the teenager, according to a statement published on the court's website. "The sexual attack on the victim was extremely intense and especially denigrating, and in addition, it was produced on a minor who was in a helpless situation," the court said in the press release. However, the court said the victim was "in a state of unconsciousness ... without being able to determine and accept or oppose the sexual relations maintained with defendants, who could perform sexual acts without using any type of violence or intimidation." The court said the attack had to be classified as sexual abuse because "it has been proven that the victim, while the events took place ... was in a state of unconsciousness," according to a statement published on its website. The court also awarded the victim 12,000 euros ($13,400) in damages. Two more men attending the party were acquitted of all crimes, the court said. Full Story

North Korea, emboldened by Trump peril and Chinese allies, tries harder line
By Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) - Successful sanctions evasion, economic lifelines from China and U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment woes may be among the factors that have emboldened North Korea in nuclear negotiations, analysts and officials say. Both Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continue to play up the personal rapport they say they developed during three face-to-face meetings. But North Korea has said in recent days that it is losing patience, giving the United States until the end of the year to change its negotiating stance.

North Korea has tested the limits of engagement with a string of missile launches, including two fired on Thursday, and experts warn that the lack of a concrete arms control agreement has allowed the country to continue producing nuclear weapons. The missile tests have practical value for the North Korean military’s efforts to modernize its arsenal. But they also underscore Pyongyang’s increasingly belligerent position in the face of what it sees as an inflexible and hostile United States. In a best-case scenario, Thursday’s launch was an attempt to make the December deadline feel more urgent to the U.S., said Andray Abrahamian, a visiting scholar with George Mason University Korea.

“Still, I think that Pyongyang has concluded they can do without a deal if they must,” he said. “The sad thing is I think that will lock in the current state of affairs, with its downsides for all stakeholders, for years to come.”  


Trump’s reelection battle and the impeachment inquiry against him may have led Kim to overestimate North Korea’s leverage, said one diplomat in Seoul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. “It looks like Kim has a serious delusion that he is capable of helping or ruining Trump’s reelection, but no one in Pyongyang can stand up to the unerring leader and say he’s mistaken – you don’t want to be dead,” the diplomat told Reuters. “And Trump is all Kim has. In order to denuclearize, Kim needs confidence that Trump will be reelected.” The Americans, meanwhile, came into working-level talks on Oct. 5 in Stockholm with the position that North Korea must completely and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear program, and pushed for a moratorium on weapons tests as part of a first step, the diplomat said. Although some media reports said the United States planned to propose temporarily lifting sanctions on coal and textile exports, the diplomat said the talks in Stockholm did not get into details. “The U.S. can’t take the risk of easing sanctions first, having already given a lot of gifts to Kim without substantial progress on denuclearization, including summits,” the diplomat said. “Sanctions are basically all they have to press North Korea.” Full Story

Russia and Turkey begin joint patrols in northeast Syria
Ground and air units are patrolling near the Syrian border town of Darbasiya.

Turkish and Russian troops began their first joint ground patrols in northeast Syria on Friday under a deal between the two countries that forced Kurdish fighters to evacuate from a so-called "safe zone" on the Syrian side of the border. Turkey and allied Syrian rebels launched a cross-border offensive on October 9 against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), dubbed "terrorists" by Turkey, seizing control of 120km-long (75 miles) and 30km-deep (19 miles) strip of land along the frontier. Russia has told Turkey that the YPG left the strip on Wednesday, a week after Ankara and Moscow agreed to remove the YPG fighters from the area.

Turkish armoured vehicles on Friday drove through country roads across the border to join their Russian counterparts, according to Reuters television footage filmed from the Turkish side of the border. Ground and air units were involved in the patrol in the area of the Syrian border town of Darbasiya, the Turkish Defence Ministry said on Twitter, showing photographs of four armoured vehicles and soldiers studying a map. The 110-km joint patrol with Russian military police, consisting of nine military vehicles, starts at Darbasiya and travels west along the border, the Russian defence ministry said.
'Regime elements' released: Overnight, Turkey's defence ministry said Turkey had handed over to the Russians 18 "regime elements", believed to be Syrian government soldiers. They were detained in Syria near the Turkish border this week. It said the move was coordinated with Russia but did not say who they were handed to.

They were seized on Tuesday during operations southeast of the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, part of the area where Turkey's military action took place, which stretches some 120km (75 miles) along the border to the town of Tal Abyad. On Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had information that the YPG had not completed its pullout. He said Turkey's joint patrols with Russia were starting on Friday at a depth of 7km (4 miles) within Syria, less than the 10km set out in the October 22 Ankara-Moscow deal. Full Story

Exclusive: U.S. withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon - sources
By Patricia Zengerle, Mike Stone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon, two U.S. officials said on Thursday, two days after the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. The State Department told Congress on Thursday that the White House budget office and National Security Council had decided to withhold the foreign military assistance, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The officials did not say why the aid was blocked. One of the sources said the State Department did not give Congress a reason for the decision.

The State Department declined to comment. The administration had sought approval for the assistance starting in May, arguing that it was crucial for Lebanon, an important U.S. partner in the volatile Middle East, to be able to protect its borders. The aid included night vision goggles and weapons used in border security. But Washington has also repeatedly expressed concern over the growing role in the Beirut government of Hezbollah, the armed Shi’ite group backed by Iran and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. Following Hariri’s resignation on Tuesday amid huge protests against the ruling elite, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Lebanon’s political leaders to help form a new government responsive to the needs of its people and called for an end to endemic corruption. Full Story

'Satisfaction': N Korea confirms tested multiple rocket launcher
North Korea is expanding its weapons capabilities with denuclearisation talks with the United States in limbo.

North Korea confirmed on Friday it conducted a third test of a new "super-large" multiple rocket launcher that it says expands its ability to destroy enemy targets in surprise attacks, as nuclear talks with the United States remain in limbo. The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described the tests a day after South Korea and Japan said they detected two projectiles launched from an area near Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. North Korea has been moving to enhance its military capabilities. The latest test of the rocket launcher follows two tests in August and September of the same weapon.

Kim Jong Un "expressed satisfaction" at the success of the tests and congratulated the scientists who had developed the weapon, KCNA said, suggesting that Kim was not at the site. North Korea's state newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published a photo of the multiple rocket launcher, surrounded by yellow flames and smoke. Thursday's test verified that the "continuous fire system" of the multiple rocket launchers was able to "totally destroy" a group target of the enemy with a surprise strike, KCNA added. Military officials in Japan and South Korea said on Thursday afternoon that the North had tested a projectile that travelled more than 322 kilometres (200 miles) across the country before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan had lodged a protest over the test, which he described as a missile launch and said was "extremely regrettable". Full Story

Syria's Assad says Kurdish controlled northeast Syria must return to state authority
By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that his government’s ultimate goal was to restore state authority over Kurdish controlled areas in northeast Syria after an abrupt U.S. troop withdrawal but he expected it to happen gradually. In a state television interview Assad also said that a deal between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to drive out the Kurdish-led YPG militia from a 30 km (19 mile) “safe zone” along the border was a “positive” step that would help Damascus achieve its goal. “It might not achieve everything ... it paves the road to liberate this area in the near future we hope,” said Assad, who has remained in power in Damascus through a more than eight-year-long civil war with the backing of Russia and Iran.

The U.S.-allied Kurdish YPG militia reached a deal with Damascus to take up positions near the border after U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement in early October that he was withdrawing American forces from northeast Syria. The YPG is the main fighting element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that has beaten back Islamic State in the region. The withdrawal paved the way for a Turkish offensive against the Kurds and left them feeling abandoned by the United States and forcing them to work a deal with Damascus to help them resist Turkish forces. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization because of its links to Kurdish militants in southeastern Turkey. Assad also said Trump’s decision to keep a small number of U.S. troops in the Kurdish-held areas of Syria “where they have the oil” showed that Washington was a colonial power that was doomed to leave once Syrians resist their occupation as in Iraq.

But he said his country could not stand up to a great power such as the United States and that ending the presence of American troops on Syrian soil was not achievable soon. Assad said Trump was the “best American president” for his “complete transparency” about intentions to maintain control of Syria’s main oilfields in Deir al-Zor province. U.S. troops have begun deployment in the province in coordination with the SDF to increase security and continue the fight against remnants of Islamic State, a U.S. military spokesman said on Thursday. Diplomats say the U.S. decision to prevent oil fields from falling back to government control would deny Damascus millions of dollars of much needed revenues and ensure its Kurdish ally a main source of income to govern areas it controls.  Full Story

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