Vitali Shkliarov, U.S. citizen, released by Belarus after three months in detention

U.S. citizen detained in Belarus for three months returns home

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In this file photo, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint press briefing with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena) **FILE** more >

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By Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Vitali Shkliarov, an American citizen who was detained in Belarus for three months, was released Wednesday and returned to the United States.

Mr. Shkliarov, who holds citizenship from both the U.S. and Belarus, was arrested this summer during a family visit and was charged with assisting in the formation of illegal rallies.

He was critical of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko leading up to the August presidential election that caused waves of protests and unrest. Mr. Shkliarov is a political consultant in the U.S. and has worked on campaigns for Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama.

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“After three months of wrongful detention and house arrest, Mr. Shkliarov has been reunited with his family and has arrived in the United States,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“As the President and I have made clear,” he continued, “we will not tolerate foreign governments wrongfully detaining U.S. citizens.”

Secretary of state: Use secure drop boxes for mail ballots

Secretary of state: Use secure drop boxes for mail ballots

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Rhode Island voters using mail-in ballots should drop them in one of the secure drop boxes around the state if they want to ensure that they are counted, rather than send them through the mail, the state’s top elections official says.

All mail ballots for the Nov. 3 general election must be received by elections officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said in a statement.

The election is now less than a week away and the U.S. Postal Service recommends mailing ballots at least seven days before Nov. 3 to ensure that they arrive on time, she said.

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“Rhode Island could see record turnout in this election. Don’t miss out on being part of history because you returned your ballot too late,” Gorbea said. “Using a secure drop box will ensure that your mail ballot is received in time to be counted.”

The drop boxes located in every community in the state are under 24-hour surveillance and are emptied daily, she said.

U.S. Embassy in Riyadh warns of missile or drone attack

U.S. Embassy in Riyadh warns of possible missile or drone attack

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A woman walks past a banner showing Saudi King Salman, right, and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, outside a mall in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Monday, June 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil) ** FILE ** more >

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By Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh on Wednesday alerted American citizens living in Saudi Arabia of a potential attack on the city.

In an alert, the embassy said it is tracking reports of possible missiles or drones that may be headed toward Riyadh on Wednesday.

“The Embassy urges American citizens to stay alert, and to immediately review and take necessary precautions,” the embassy said.

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It advised U.S. citizens to “immediately seek cover” if a loud explosion is heard or sirens are activated and warned that falling debris from an intercepted missile or drone could pose a “significant risk.”

“After the attack, stay away from any debris, and monitor major news outlets for official guidance,” the embassy said. Additional details of a reported threat or attack remain unclear.

Lebanon, Israel hold 2nd round of maritime demarcation talks

Lebanon, Israel hold 2nd round of maritime demarcation talks

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FILE – In this Oct. 14, 2020 file photo, a helicopter flies over a base of the U.N. peacekeeping force, in the southern town of Naqoura, Lebanon. On Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, Lebanon and Israel held a second round of … more >

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By ZEINA KARAM

Associated Press

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanon and Israel held a second round of U.S.-mediated talks Wednesday over their disputed maritime border and agreed to continue discussions on the next day.

Local news reports described the meeting as “serious” as the two sides got down to technicalities and the Lebanese delegation pushed for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles) to be included in Lebanese territory.

The U.S. has been mediating the issue for about a decade, but only earlier this month was a breakthrough reached on an agreement for a framework for U.S.-mediated talks.

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Beirut hopes that oil and gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it overcome an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and pay back its massive debt that stands at 170% of GDP, making it one of the highest in the world. The talks also come to the backdrop of U.S. sanctions that recently included two influential former Cabinet ministers allied with the militant Hezbollah group. Israel, the United States and some other Western and Arab countries consider the Iran-allied Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Israel already has developed a natural gas industry elsewhere in its economic waters, producing enough gas for domestic consumption and to export to neighboring Egypt and Jordan.

Local media, including the English-language Daily Star, reported that the Lebanese side was adopting a “maximalist stance.” It said Lebanon was pushing for the additional square kilometers to be included in Lebanese territory on top of the already disputed 860 square kilometer- (330 square mile-) area of the Mediterranean Sea which each side claims as being within their own exclusive economic zones.

The local Al-Jadeed station called the talks serious and “very heated,” adding that the Lebanese delegation’s ceiling is the highest it has been and that there are “fundamental disputes on the starting point.”

The U.S.-mediated talks are being held in a tent at a U.N. post along the border known as Ras Naqoura, on the edge of the Lebanese border town of Naqoura.

Lebanon insists the talks are purely technical and not a sign of any normalization of ties. The Lebanese delegation speaks through U.N. and U.S. officials to the Israelis.

Israel has cast the talks in a different light. During a tour of northern Israel on Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz referred to “positive voices coming out of Lebanon, who are even talking about peace with Israel, who are working with us on things like determining maritime borders.” He did not elaborate.

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz released a statement Tuesday saying that Wednesday’s meeting would be attended by American diplomat and mediator John Desrocher. He said the Israeli delegation would examine the possibility of reaching an agreement on the determination of the maritime border between the countries in a way that will enable the development of natural resources in the region.

On Wednesday, his office said the Israeli team updated Steinitz, who instructed them to continue talks Thursday.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. Lebanon, which began offshore drilling earlier this year and hopes to start drilling for gas in the disputed area in the coming months, has divided its expanse of waters into 10 blocs, of which three are in the area under dispute with Israel.

Even as the maritime talks proceed, Israel has been conducting a large-scale military exercise along its northern border with Lebanon this week simulating war with Hezbollah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the exercise and met with top military commanders Wednesday in northern Israel.

“Even during the coronavirus, our enemies are not stagnant and neither are we. In this exercise I have been impressed by the vast improvement in the IDF’s offensive capabilities and Hezbollah and Lebanon would do well to take this into account,” he said.

“Whoever attacks us will meet firepower and a steel fist that will destroy any enemy.”

___

Associated Press writers Josef Federman and Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed reporting.

Afghan civilian deaths remain high despite peace negotiations: U.N. report

Afghan civilian deaths remain high despite peace negotiations: U.N. report

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Afghans check aftermath of a car bomb explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan,Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) more >

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By Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan has not slowed this year despite ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks and a February agreement between the U.S. and Taliban to reduce violence.

More than 2,000 Afghan civilians were killed and nearly 4,000 wounded between January and September of this year as heavy clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban raged on, according to a new United Nations report released on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said.

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The quarterly report documented 5,939 total civilian casualties with 2,117 killed and 3,822 injured.

The U.N. noted that although the number of civilian casualties reported marks the lowest figures over the same nine months since 2012, “the harm done to civilians remains inordinate and shocking.”

“UNAMA reiterates that all parties to the conflict can and must do more to protect civilians from harm by urgently reviewing practices and strengthening mitigation measures, as well as working towards an end to the fighting — the only way to definitively stop conflict-related civilian casualties,” the report said.

The Taliban and other anti-government groups were responsible for 58% of the casualties, the report found, while Afghan government forces were responsible for 23%.

Ground fighting caused the majority of the casualties, followed by suicide and non-suicide IEDs 29%, targeted killings 16%, and airstrikes 8%.

The Taliban and U.S.-backed Afghan government began peace negotiations last month, marking a milestone opportunity to end two decades of war. But violence has continued including this week when two suicide bombs went off near a police special forces base in eastern Afghanistan that killed three civilians and four militants.

A February peace deal between the U.S. and Taliban called for a steep reduction of violence, opened the door to American troop withdrawal from the country and eventual intra-Afghan negotiations.

The Taliban and the Afghani government, who agreed to negotiations following the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, are aiming for a long-term resolution that can end conflict between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters while also paving the way for the U.S. to pull all of its troops from a country in which they’ve been stationed since October 2001.

Serbia’s PM: gov’t to be pro-EU keeping Russia, China ties

Serbia’s PM: gov’t to be pro-EU keeping Russia, China ties

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FILE – In this Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019 file photo, Ana Brnabic speaks during the fourth EU-Arab World Summit in Athens. Serbia’s prime minister-designate said Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 her new government will be pro-European but will also maintain “friendly’’ … more >

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Serbia’s prime minister-designate said Wednesday her new government will be pro-European but will also maintain “friendly’’ relations with Russia and China.

Ana Brnabic made the comments in an address to parliament, which is to approve Serbia’s new government dominated by allies of autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic.

Brnabic, who also led the previous Cabinet, said that the task of the new government will be to speed up “the process of European integration’’ by making rule of law and democratic reforms in line with requirements for joining the European Union.

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Although formally seeking EU membership, Serbia has been strengthening its economic, political and military ties with Russia and China.

Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party swept the June 21 parliamentary vote that was boycotted by several of the main opposition parties. The Progressives won 188 seats in the 250-member assembly. The remainder went to Vucic’s allies or to minority groups.

The opposition boycott was carried out citing the lack of free and fair voting conditions and a danger to public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The main opposition parties said on Wednesday the new government, which has 21 ministers – nearly half of them women – is not legitimate as it is the result of “fraudulent’’ elections.

Even before the new government was formed, Vucic announced that an early parliamentary election will be held by April 2022.

Analysts believe that his decision to hold an early vote is a result of pressure from the EU whose officials have voiced concern that the June election was neither free nor fair.

Germany, France gear up for new lockdowns as virus surges

Germany, France gear up for new lockdowns as virus surges

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In this Monday, April 13, 2020, file photo, medical personnel in protective gear prepare to receive a patient at a hospital in Antwerp, Belgium. This week news struck that the European Center for Disease Control has put Belgium at the … more >

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By Frank Jordans and Angela Charlton

Associated Press

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — Germany and France were bracing for new lockdowns Wednesday, as governments sought to stop the fast-rising tide of coronavirus cases that are beginning to fill European hospitals.

French markets opened lower on expectations that President Emmanuel Macron will announce tough measures during a televised evening address to the nation.

Doctors in France are calling on the government to impose a new nationwide lockdown, noting that more than half of the country’s intensive care units are now occupied by COVID-19 patients and medical staff are under increasing strains.

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Most parts of France were colored deep red on a map representing COVID-cases from the European Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, signifying more than 240 cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks. On Tuesday alone, the country had a big spike in the number of daily deaths from COVID-19, recording an additional 523 deaths and another 33,417 new infections.

Belgium, the Netherlands, most of Spain and the Czech Republic are seeing similarly high rates of infection, while Germany was still colored in orange – indicating that the average number of new cases there is still under 120 per 100,000 over the last 14 days.

Still, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was pressing governors of the country’s 16 states to quickly agree a partial lockdown Wednesday that could include further restrictions on public gatherings and the closure of bars and restaurants.

The plan has caused anguish in Germany’s hospitality industry, with thousands of venue owners staging a protest Wednesday at Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate to demand further financial support from the government.

While Germany has fared better than many of its neighboring European countries during the pandemic, officials warn that it, too, is beginning to lose control of the situation.

Economists said further restrictions need to be carefully calibrated to avoid dealing a second severe blow to businesses.

“A national lockdown, as we have seen in, ravages an economy and would add significant complications to the ongoing economic recovery,” said Fiona Cincotta, an analyst at online trading firm GAIN Capital.

But Thomas Gitzel, chief economist at Liechtenstein’s VP Bank Group, said a temporary lockdown could be less harmful than a prolonged slump in consumer spending as infection levels remain stubbornly high.

“One doesn’t need to be a virologist to conclude that, without further restrictions, the number of new daily infections will likely rise,” said Gitzel, adding that a short, strict lockdown could be effective. “The strict containment measures in March and April laid the ground for an economically successful summer.”

Wales has opted for that short, sharp approach, with a 17-day lockdown in which people cannot even drive out of their region to England.

Officials in Germany have cited the failure by authorities in the neighboring Czech Republic to maintain their springtime successes against the virus, saying they opened too widely in the summer.

The Czech Health Ministry said the country’s day-to-day case increase hit a new record high of 15,663 on Tuesday – as many as Germany, which has eight times the population.

The Czech government has further tightened its regulations, imposing a nationwide curfew between 9 p.m and 6 a.m. that started Wednesday. It previously limited free movement, closed stores, schools and restaurants, made it mandatory to wear face masks indoors and outdoors and banned sport competitions, but the number of infections has continued to rise.

Several demonstrations against the virus restrictions were planned for Wednesday in the capital of Prague.

Even Sweden, which avoided a national lockdown and generally imposed far lighter measures than other European countries, is now urging people to avoid shopping centers and shops and stay away from public transportation.

The World Health Organization said more than 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases were reported last week – the shortest time ever for such an exponential increase.

It said for the second consecutive week, the European region accounted for the biggest proportion of new cases, with more than 1.3 million cases or about 46% of the worldwide total. The U.N. health agency said deaths were also on the rise in Europe, with about a 35% spike since the previous week. Overall, Europe has seen more than 250,000 virus-related deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The WHO also noted that hospitalizations and ICU occupancy due to COVID-19 increased in 21 countries across Europe.

___

Maria Cheng in London and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.

New deaths as fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh keeps flaring

New deaths as fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh keeps flaring

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An instructor helps a volunteer soldier practice with a sniper rifle near a front line at a military base during a military conflict in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is raging, unimpeded by … more >

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By Ayet Demourian

Associated Press

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Deadly fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh showed no signs of abating Wednesday despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that took force just two days ago and has so far failed to halt the flare-up of a decades-old conflict.

Nagorno-Karabakh officials said Azerbaijani forces hit Stepanakert, the region’s capital, and the nearby town of Shushi with the Smerch long-range multiple rocket systems, a devastating Soviet-designed weapon intended to ravage wide areas with explosives and cluster munitions. One civilian was killed in Shushi and two more were wounded, officials said.

Azerbaijani Defense Ministry rejected the accusations and in turn accused Armenian forces in using the Smerch multiple rocket system to fire at the Azerbaijani towns of Terter and Barda. The strike on Barda killed 14 people and wounded over 40, Azerbaijani authorities said.

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Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian called accusations of striking Barda “groundless and false.”

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. By then, Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself but also captured substantial areas outside the territory’s borders.

The latest fighting, which began Sept. 27, has involved heavy artillery, rockets and drones, in the largest escalation of hostilities over the separatist region in the quarter-century since the war ended. Hundreds, and possibly thousands of people, have been killed in the fighting.

The deadly clashes continued for over a month despite numerous calls for peace and three attempts at establishing a ceasefire. The latest truce began Monday, after talks facilitated by the United States, and came after two failed attempts by Russia to broker a lasting truce. All three cease-fire agreements were immediately challenged by reports of violations from both sides.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 1,068 of their troops and 39 civilians have been killed in the clashes so far, while 122 civilians have been wounded. Azerbaijani authorities haven’t disclosed their military losses, but say the fighting has killed 69 civilians and wounded 322.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that, according to Moscow’s information, the death toll from the fighting was nearing 5,000, significantly higher than what both sides report.

___

Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Aida Sultanova in London contributed to this report.

Pompeo says AES of US, PetroVietnam to sign $2.8B LNG deal

Pompeo says AES of US, PetroVietnam to sign $2.8B LNG deal

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In this file photo, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint press briefing with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena) **FILE** more >

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Associated Press

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

HANOI (AP) – The U.S. energy firm AES and PetroVietnam plan to soon sign an agreement on a $2.8 billion liquefied natural gas project, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

Pompeo made the comments in pre-recorded remarks to a business conference hosted both online and in person in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital. Later Wednesday, the State Department announced that Pompeo had added a stop in Vietnam to his Asia tour this week.

Arlington, Virginia-based AES Corp. and its Vietnamese partners have been gradually ramping up efforts to develop a hub for importing LNG from the U.S. over the past several years.

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Pompeo said Vietnam has approved the project, and that it would “open the door to billions of dollars per year in U.S. LNG exports to Vietnam. That’s a real win-win situation.“

Last year, President Donald Trump and his Vietnamese counterpart, Tran Dai Quang, signed a memorandum of understanding on AES working with PetroVietnam Gas JSC to develop the LNG terminal and 2,250 megawatt power plant at Son My, in the south-central province of Binh Thuan.

Vietnam’s demand for energy is soaring as its economy rapidly industrializes. The U.S., its biggest trading partner, is keen to increase exports to the country to help rebalance its trade deficit, which was nearly $55 billion in 2019.

The U.S. has been seeking to increase American investments in Asian energy, infrastructure and telecoms and has nearly 60 potential projects worth $185 billion, Pompeo said without giving details.

Delta Offshore Energy and a consortium that includes Bechtel Infrastructure, GE Power and other companies also recently announced plans for a $4 billion LNG to power project in southern Vietnam’s Bac Lieu province.

EU chiefs call for common tests, tracing as virus surges

EU chiefs call for common tests, tracing as virus surges

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In this Monday, April 13, 2020, file photo, medical personnel in protective gear prepare to receive a patient at a hospital in Antwerp, Belgium. This week news struck that the European Center for Disease Control has put Belgium at the … more >

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

As European Union countries weigh tougher coronavirus restrictions, top EU officials on Wednesday urged the bloc’s 27 nations to introduce common rules to test for the disease and track its spread to help prevent further damage to their economies.

European Council President Charles Michel, who will chair an extraordinary summit of EU leaders on Thursday evening focused on the pandemic, also urged them to prepare for logistical challenges likely to plague the rollout of any vaccines.

The World Health Organization said for the second consecutive week, the European region accounted for the biggest proportion of new infections, with more than 1.3 million cases or about 46% of the worldwide total. The U.N. health agency said deaths were also on the rise in Europe, with about a 35% spike since the previous week. WHO also noted that hospitalizations and ICU occupancy due to COVID-19 increased in 21 countries across Europe.

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Across all of Europe, more than 250,000 virus-related deaths have been reported, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

France’s president was addressing the nation Wednesday as the country braces for a possible lockdown to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed. Belgium, which has Europe’s highest infection rate, is considering a similar move while German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pressing for a partial lockdown.

“We are in a storm. We are all in the same boat. And in this storm, we must keep cool heads,” Michel told French radio RTL.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels that Europe is confronted “with two enemies at this time. We’re dealing with the coronavirus; the virus itself and also corona fatigue. That is, people are becoming more and more fed up with the preventive measures.”

The world’s biggest trading bloc relies on free movement between its member states and the mutual recognition of each other’s standards and laws to keep the EU economy alive. Michel said nations must coordinate their approval of new coronavirus tests and of tracing systems aimed at halting its spread.

He said he hoped that EU leaders “understand that if they each put in place their own national testing strategy without coordinating at a European level, without mutual recognition, then we will find ourselves back in the battles of the past.”

As the pandemic spread through Europe in late February-March, countries bickered over access to face masks and medical equipment, while hasty border restrictions caused major traffic jams.

Von der Leyen said the EU’s executive arm will use 100 million euros ($117 million) in emergency funds to buy rapid antigen tests. These are not as reliable as standard PCR tests but provide results far more quickly. She said both kinds of tests could complement each other. The commission plans to distribute the rapid tests to member countries.

Several European countries, including Spain, are reportedly pushing for a system of mandatory tests ahead of traveling within the region as a way to avoid any new border closures. The program, if approved, could also involve random tests on arrivals.

Michel also urged the leaders to prepare for prioritizing vaccinations.

“Based on the information we have, at the end of the year or early next year, 3 or 4 vaccine candidates could be available,” Michel said.

Von der Leyen said the commission will prolong its value added tax exemption on the purchase of vaccines and testing kits for a further six months.

“I think that this year’s Christmas will be a different Christmas,” von der Leyen added.

____

Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

____

Follow all of AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

US, Israel extend science accords into West Bank settlements

US, Israel extend science accords into West Bank settlements

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, second left, attend a ceremony to sign amendments to a series of scientific cooperation agreements, at Ariel University, in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Wednesday, … more >

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Associated Press

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – The United States and Israel amended a series of scientific cooperation agreements on Wednesday to include Israeli institutions in the West Bank, a step that further blurs the status of settlements widely considered illegal under international law.

Until now, three U.S.-Israeli science cooperation agreements excluded projects in areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war – including the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Israeli and American officials signed protocols amending the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, the Binational Science Foundation, and Binational Agricultural Research and Development Foundation at a ceremony in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

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Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, and in the decades since have built dozens of settlements that are now home to some 500,000 Israelis. The Palestinians seek the West Bank and east Jerusalem as part of a future independent state. Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements illegal under international law and supports the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 boundaries.

Breaking with decades of American policy, the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there. It also recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria in the 1967 war. In another reversal, the administration also said the U.S. does not consider settlements illegal.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Israel said that “these geographic restrictions are no longer consistent with U.S. policy,” and that updating the agreements to remove them “further strengthens the special bilateral relationship” between the two countries.

“This geographic restriction within the three agreements was an anachronism, it had no place within our evolving region,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said at a ceremony at Ariel University.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong proponent of the settlements, thanked Friedman for his efforts “to right past wrongs.”

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority condemned the step as a “dangerous precedent.”

“This step is an actual American participation in the occupation of Palestinian lands,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas.

Amending the agreements grants legitimacy to Israel’s West Bank settlements and “further blurs the Green Line,” said Brian Reeves, spokesman for Israel’s Peace Now organization, referring to the boundary between Israel and the West Bank.

Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Jerusalem think tank, said the decision would have long-lasting repercussions.

“This historic international agreement cements U.S. policy that Israeli settlements are not illegal, and puts money behind it,” he said.

Satellite photos show construction at Iran nuclear site

Satellite photos show construction at Iran nuclear site

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This Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows construction at Iran’s Natanz uranium-enrichment facility that experts … more >

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By Jon Gambrell

Associated Press

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran has begun construction at its Natanz nuclear facility, satellite images released Wednesday show, just as the U.N. nuclear agency acknowledged Tehran is building an underground advanced centrifuge assembly plant after its last one exploded in a reported sabotage attack last summer.

The construction comes as the U.S. nears Election Day in a campaign pitting President Donald Trump, whose maximum pressure campaign against Iran has led Tehran to abandon all limits on its atomic program, and Joe Biden, who has expressed a willingness to return to the accord. The outcome of the vote likely will decide which approach America takes. Heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. nearly ignited a war at the start of the year.

Since August, Iran has built a new or regraded road to the south of Natanz toward what analysts believe is a former firing range for security forces at the enrichment facility, images from San Francisco-based Planet Labs show. A satellite image Monday shows the site cleared away with what appears to be construction equipment there.

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Analysts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies say they believe the site is undergoing excavation.

“That road also goes into the mountains so it may be the fact that they’re digging some kind of structure that’s going to be out in front and that there’s going to be a tunnel in the mountains,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the institute who studies Iran’s nuclear program. “Or maybe that they’re just going to bury it there.”

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, last month told state television the destroyed above-ground facility was being replaced with one “in the heart of the mountains around Natanz.”

Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his inspectors were aware of the construction. He said Iran had previously informed IAEA inspectors, who continue to have access to Iran’s sites despite the collapse of the nuclear deal.

“It means that they have started, but it’s not completed. It’s a long process,” Grossi said.

Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, in which Tehran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When the U.S. ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned those limits as a series of escalating incidents pushed the two countries to the brink of war at the beginning of the year.

Iran now enriches uranium to up to 4.5% purity, and according to the last IAEA report, had a stockpile of 2,105 kilograms (2.32 tons). Experts typically say 1,050 kilograms (1.15 tons) of low-enriched uranium is enough material to be re-enriched up to weapons-grade levels of 90% purity for one nuclear weapon.

Iran’s so-called “breakout time” – the time needed for it to build one nuclear weapon if it chose to do so – is estimated now to have dropped from one year under the deal to as little as three months. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, though Western countries fear Tehran could use it to pursue atomic weapons.

Natanz, built underground to harden it against airstrikes, long has been at the center of those fears since its discovery in 2002. Centrifuges there still spin in vast halls under 7.6 meters (25 feet) of concrete. Air defense positions surround the facility in Iran’s central Isfahan province.

Despite being one of the most-secure sites in Iran, Natanz was targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus – believed to be the creation of the U.S. and Israel – before the nuclear deal.

In July, a fire and explosion struck its advanced centrifuge assembly facility in an incident Iran later described as sabotage. Suspicion has fallen on Israel, despite a claim of responsibility by a previously unheard-of group.

There have been tensions with the IAEA and Iran even at Natanz, with Tehran accusing one inspector of testing positive for explosives last year. However, so far inspectors have been able to maintain their surveillance. something Lewis described as very important.

“As long as they declared to the IAEA in the proper time frame, there’s no prohibition on putting things underground,” he said. “For me, the real red line would be if the Iranians started to stonewall the IAEA.”

For now, it remains unclear how deep Iran will put this new facility. And while the sabotage will delay Iran in assembling new centrifuges, Lewis warned the program ultimately would regroup as it had before and continue accumulating ever-more material beyond the scope of the abandoned nuclear deal.

“We buy ourselves a few months,” he said. “But what good is a few months if we don’t know what we’re going to use it for?”

___

Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

Strong typhoon slams Vietnam; at least 2 dead, 26 missing

Strong typhoon slams Vietnam; at least 2 dead, 26 missing

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An empty street is barricaded ahead of Typhoon Molave in Da Nang, Vietnam Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. Typhoon Malove sank a few fishing boats as it approached Vietnam’s south central coast on Wednesday morning. (Vo Van Dung/VNA via AP) more >

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By Hau Dinh

Associated Press

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Typhoon Molave slammed into Vietnam with destructive force Wednesday, killing at least two people and sinking two fishing boats with 26 crew members in what was feared to be the most powerful storm to hit the country in 20 years.

Winds of up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour killed a man by knocking him off his roof as he was trying to reinforce it in south-central Quang Ngai province. Another man was pinned to death by a fallen tree in the coastal province, the official Vietnam News Agency reported.

The navy deployed two rescue boats to search for the 26 fishermen off Binh Dinh province, according to state-run VTV network. It was not immediately clear if anyone was saved in the storm-tossed waters.

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TV footage showed ferocious wind rattling roofs and toppling trees in Quang Ngai. In the nearby coastal province of Phu Yen, key roads were littered by fallen electric posts, trees and billboards, and the wind ripped off roofs from many houses and ravaged fish farms.

At least 40,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters farther inland from coastal villages.

VTV showed displaced villagers huddled in classrooms that were converted into an evacuation center, where they spent the night.

Provincial authorities shut down offices, factories and schools and asked people to remain indoors to prevent casualties. Vietnam is still recovering from severe flooding and landslides that killed 136 people and left dozens missing in three provinces.

More than 310,000 houses were damaged or destroyed in recent floods, leaving more than a million people in severe danger and in need of shelter, food, sanitation and safe drinking water even before the typhoon hit Vietnam, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

“The people of Vietnam are tough, yet this is among the worst destruction ever seen in many areas. The relentless storms and flooding are taking a devastating human toll,” Vietnam Red Cross Society president Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu said in a statement.

“All our hard work in containing the social and economic fallout of COVID-19 is being undone by these massive storms hitting us one after the other,” she said.

At least five airports were closed as the typhoon approached Wednesday, with more than 200 flights canceled. Train services were also suspended Wednesday and will resume when the weather improves, the VTV network reported.

The typhoon left at least nine people dead in the Philippines before blowing toward Vietnam. Most of the thousands who took shelter during the storm have returned home, leaving those whose homes were destroyed remaining in evacuation camps.

___

Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.

Pope Francis’ COVID-19 advisers and the mask

‘We’re working on it:’ Pope Francis’ COVID-19 advisers and the mask

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In this Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, file photo, Pope Francis puts on his face mask as he attends an inter-religious ceremony for peace in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, in Rome. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File) more >

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By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis‘ decision to forgo wearing a mask has been noticed, with some concern, by the commission of Vatican experts he appointed to help chart the Catholic Church’s path through the coronavirus pandemic and the aftermath.

The Rev. Augusto Zampini, one of the key members of the pope’s COVID-19 commission, acknowledged Tuesday that at age 83 and with part of his lung removed after an illness in his youth, Francis would be at high risk for complications if he were to become infected with COVID-19.

“He has started to use the mask now,” Zampini said in response to reporters’ questions. “And I hope he will use it in the general audiences, when he is close to the people. If you’re in an open space, we know that it’s different. But well, we are working on that.”

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Francis has courted some criticism for declining to wear a mask when indoors, even though Vatican regulations call for masks indoors and out when social distancing cannot be guaranteed. While Francis‘ lung condition could help explain his decision to forego the mask, he donned one for more than two hours last week when he presided over an indoor and outdoor interreligious prayer service in downtown Rome.

Yet the following day, Francis went maskless during his indoor general audience in the Vatican auditorium, including when he shook hands with a handful of similarly maskless bishops and leaned in to speak privately to each one. On Saturday, he met with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who arrived wearing a mask only to take it off for the audience in the pope’s library.

Photos of the maskless leaders caused a mild stir in Spain over the weekend, but the prime minister’s office dismissed it by saying the delegation was following Vatican protocol rules. Spain last week became the first country in Western Europe with more than 1 million confirmed virus cases.

The Vatican has declined to respond to questions about Francis and masks.

Zampini said the recent rise in infections in the tiny city state have commission members and the Vatican as a whole concerned. Thirteen Swiss Guards and a resident of the hotel where Francis lives have recently tested positive.

“We are very worried,” Zampini said, noting that the Vatican has strong regulations about keeping social distancing and washing hands within the territory. “We have all protocols in place, but still we have cases.”

He acknowledged, though, that the contagion within the Vatican has merely driven home the danger of the virus so that the Vatican itself can be witness to what the rest of the world is experiencing and help be part of the solution.

The commission is working to address the current needs of the church around the world with concrete acts of assistance, while also developing policy recommendations for how governments and institutions can re-think global economic, environmental, social, health care and other structures to be more equitable and sustainable.

___

Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed.

Turkey: US consulate employee receives 5-year jail term

Turkey: US consulate employee receives 5-year jail term

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Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – A Turkish court on Tuesday convicted a local employee of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul of aiding a terrorist organization and sentenced him to five years and two months in prison, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The Istanbul court found Mete Canturk, a Consulate security officer, guilty of “knowingly and willingly” helping U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen’s network, the agency said. The Turkish government accuses Gulen of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016 and considers his network to be a terrorist organization.

The court acquitted Canturk’s wife and daughter of the charges, citing lack of evidence, Anadolu reported.

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Canturk, who has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, is expected to appeal his conviction. He will remain free pending the appeal.

Prosecutors accused him of holding frequent contacts with police officers who were also accused of links to Gulen.

In his final testimony, Canturk tearfully told the court that his meetings with the police officers were part of his duties and that he had no way of knowing whether they were involved in any criminal activity, Anadolu reported.

The arrest of Canturk and two other local employees of U.S. missions in Turkey helped stoke tensions between Ankara and Washington.

Another Istanbul Consulate employee, Metin Topuz, was convicted of charges of aiding Gulen’s group in June and sentenced to more than eight years in prison. He is appealing his case and remains free until a decision.

Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in the U.S. since 1999, denies involvement in the coup attempt, which killed about 250 people and injured around 2,000 others.

UN watchdog: Iran building at underground nuclear facility

U.N. watchdog: Iran building at underground nuclear facility

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Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), poses for a portrait prior to an interview with The Associated Press in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber) more >

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By David Rising

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — Inspectors from the U.N.’s atomic watchdog have confirmed Iran has started building an underground centrifuge assembly plant after its previous one exploded in what Tehran called a sabotage attack over the summer, the agency’s head told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Iran also continues to stockpile greater amounts of low-enriched uranium, but does not appear to possess enough to produce a weapon, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the AP in an interview in Berlin.

Following the July explosion at the Natanz nuclear site, Tehran said it would build a new, more secure, structure in the mountains around the area. Satellite pictures of Natanz analyzed by experts have yet to show any obvious signs of construction at the site in Iran’s central Isfahan province.

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“They have started, but it’s not completed,” Grossi said. “It’s a long process.”

He would not give further details, saying it’s “confidential information.” Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Natanz hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. In its long underground halls, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium.

Natanz became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear program in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building an underground facility at the site, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. In 2003, the IAEA visited Natanz, which Iran said would house centrifuges for its nuclear program, buried under some 7.6 meters (25 feet) of concrete. That offers protection from potential airstrikes on the site, which also is guarded by anti-aircraft positions.

Natanz had been targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus previously, which was believed to be a creation of the U.S. and Israel. Iran has yet to say who it suspects of carrying out the sabotage in the July incident. Suspicion has fallen on Israel as well, despite a claim of responsibility by a previously unheard-of group at the time.

Under the provisions of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran is allowed to produce a certain amount of enriched uranium for non-military purposes.

In return, Iran was offered economic incentives by the countries involved.

Since President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. unilaterally out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, however, the other signatories – Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China – have been struggling to keep the deal alive.

Meanwhile, Iran has been steadily exceeding the deal’s limits on how much uranium it can stockpile, the purity to which it can enrich uranium and other restrictions to pressure those countries to come up with a plan to offset U.S. sanctions.

Still though, Iran has continued to allow IAEA inspectors full access to its nuclear facilities, including Natanz, Grossi said.

In the latest IAEA quarterly report, the agency reported Iran as of Aug. 25 had stockpiled 2,105.4 kilograms (4,641.6 pounds) of low-enriched uranium, well above the 202.8 kilograms (447.1 pounds) allowed under the JCPOA. It was also enriching uranium to a purity of 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the deal.

In the next report, due in coming weeks, Grossi said: “We continue to see the same trend that we have seen so far.”

According to a widely cited analysis by the Washington-based Arms Control Association, Iran would need roughly 1,050 kilograms (1.16 tons) of low-enriched uranium – under 5% purity – in gas form and would then need to enrich it further to weapons-grade, or more than 90% purity, to make a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA’s current assessment is, however, that Iran does not at the moment possess a “significant quantity” of uranium – defined by the agency as enough to produce a bomb – according to Grossi.

“At the moment, I’m not in contact with my inspectors, but by memory, I wouldn’t say so,” he said.

“All of these are projections and the IAEA is not into speculation” he added. “What may happen? What could happen? We are inspectors, we say the amounts that we see.”

Iran insists it has no interest in producing a bomb, and Grossi noted that before the JCPOA, Iran had enriched its uranium up to 20% purity, which is just a short technical step away from the weapons-grade level of 90%. And in 2013, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was already more than 7,000 kilograms (7.72 tons) with higher enrichment, but it didn’t pursue a bomb.

“The idea of a ‘significant quantity’ is a technical parameter … that applies in the context of the safeguards agreement to indicate amounts which could be theoretically used for the development of a nuclear weapon,” he said.

“The fact that there could be such an amount would not indicate automatically that a nuclear weapon is being fabricated, so I think we have to be very careful when we use these terms.”

Grossi personally visited Tehran in late August for meetings with top officials, and managed to break a months-long impasse over two locations thought to be from the early 2000s where Iran was suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material and possibly conducted nuclear-related activities.

Inspectors have now taken samples from both of those sites, and Grossi said they are still undergoing lab analysis.

“It was a constructive solution to a problem what we were having,” he said. “And I would say since then we have kept the good level of cooperation in the sense that our inspectors are regularly present and visiting the sites.”

___

Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

From Beijing to Brussels, Trump’s trade wars at a glance

From Beijing to Brussels, Trump’s trade wars at a glance

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FILE – In this Jan. 15, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump holds a trade agreement with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Trump spent four years upending seven decades of … more >

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By PAUL WISEMAN

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump said he would shake up American trade policy. That he did. From Beijing to Brussels to Mexico City, he waged war with trading partners on multiple fronts. Here’s a look at four tumultuous years of Trump trade policy:

TRADE WAR WITH CHINA

To rebalance America’s lopsided trade gap with China, Trump’s trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, targeted what critics called Beijing’s drive for technological supremacy by hacking trade secrets, forcing foreign companies to hand over technology and unfairly subsidizing Chinese companies. Once negotiations fizzled, the administration imposed tariffs on about $360 billion in Chinese imports in the biggest trade conflict since the 1930s.

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Before Trump started his trade war, the average tariff on Chinese imports was 3.1%; now, it’s 19.3%. Beijing retaliated by jacking up taxes on U.S. products – from an average 8% to 20.3%, according to calculations by Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The tariffs reduced Chinese imports and helped cut America’s trade deficit with China by 19% last year to its lowest point since 2013. In the first six months of 2020, the deficit has dropped an additional 21%.

In January, the two sides reached a so-called Phase 1 agreement that eased tensions but left major issues unresolved, including how China subsidizes its companies. Beijing agreed to stop forcing foreign companies to turn over technology and toughened intellectual property protection. The deal retains Trump’s tariffs and lets the U.S. impose sanctions if it decides China has violated the terms of the deal.

China also agreed to buy huge amounts of U.S. products, including about $40 billion a year in farm goods – a wildly ambitious goal that far exceeds the amount Beijing has bought in any year.

Joe Biden has said he would reverse Trump’s go-it-alone policy and join with allies to confront China. But Lighthizer noted that President Barack Obama, for whom Biden served as vice president, had also reached out to allies to little effect. And tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, which have escalated since Trump blamed Beijing for unleashing the “China virus,” will likely outlive the Trump administration.

FIGHTING AMONG FRIENDS

Far from courting allies, the administration smacked them with sanctions. In 2018, Trump declared tariffs on steel and aluminum. The intended target was China, which had flooded markets and forced down prices of the metals, thereby hurting U.S. producers. But Chinese steel and aluminum are already largely barred from the American market. So the tariffs instead hurt allies like Canada.

To justify the tariffs, Trump wheeled out a dusty weapon – a section of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 – through which he declared the imports a threat to national security. Jim Mattis, defense secretary at the time, expressed misgivings, noting that the military needs only about 3% of U.S. production and so isn’t dangerously reliant on imports. Mattis warned of “the negative impact on our allies.’’

The metals tariffs did nothing to create jobs in the industries they were supposed to help. In fact, aluminum and steel producers cut 1,800 jobs from just before the tariffs took effect until February this year, before the pandemic seized the economy and cost even more jobs.

Trump has threatened to deploy national security tariffs again – against imported cars and auto parts. But with businesses overwhelmingly opposed, he hasn’t proceeded with what would certainly heighten tensions with the European Union.

NEGOTIATING NEW DEALS

Unhappy with existing trade deals, Trump sought new ones.

His administration forged a modest agreement with South Korea in 2018. And last year, it struck a deal with Japan that restored for U.S. farmers most of the access to the Japanese market they’d lost when Trump nixed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Obama administration pact with 11 Pacific Rim countries.

But a bigger Trump goal was replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement. That 1994 pact had erased most barriers among the United States, Mexico and Canada and accelerated regional trade. But it also led some U.S. manufacturers to move to Mexico, capitalize on low-wage labor and ship goods back into the United States, duty-free.

Trump called NAFTA a job killer. He threatened to abandon it if he couldn’t get a revamped agreement, thereby raising the threat of a damaging disruption in trade. Lighthizer negotiated with Canada and Mexico before reaching a deal after Democrats secured changes, including stronger worker protections. Congress ratified the pact – the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement – in January.

Critics dismissed USMCA as a modest update of NAFTA. But the USMCA does aim to regain U.S. manufacturing jobs. To qualify for duty-free benefits, automakers must obtain 75% of their production content from North America, up from 62.5% under NAFTA. And at least 40% of cars must originate in places where workers earn at least $16 an hour – that is, the United States or Canada, not Mexico.

Besides returning manufacturing jobs to the United States, Lighthizer asserted, the trade deal will keep U.S. factories from moving South in the first place. “I want to be judged not just by how much comes back but also by what doesn’t continue to slide,” he said.

Still, the overall economic benefits could prove slight. The International Trade Commission has calculated that the USMCA would add $68 billion to growth and 176,000 jobs over six years – blips in a $20 trillion economy with 142 million jobs.

Trump trade policy: 4 years of high drama. Limited results.

Trump trade policy: 4 years of high drama. Limited results.

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FILE – In this July 26, 2018, file photo President Donald Trump speaks at the United States Steel Granite City Works plant in Granite City, Ill. Trump spent four years upending seven decades of American trade policy. He started a … more >

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By PAUL WISEMAN

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump spent four years upending seven decades of American trade policy.

In what became his defining economic act, Trump launched a trade war with China. On another front, he taxed the steel and aluminum of U.S. allies. And he terrified America’s own corporations by threatening to wreck $1.4 trillion in annual trade with Mexico and Canada.

He did it in typically combative, mercurial style – raising tariffs, hurling threats, walking them back, sometimes reopening conflicts that had seemed resolved.

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All of it came wrapped in a singular message, delivered with a Trumpian roar: America had too long been exploited by horrendous deals forged by his predecessors. From now on, he proclaimed, America would come first, its trading partners a distant second.

Yet for all the drama that drove his confrontational policies for four years, it comes down to this: Not very much really changed.

America’s deficit in goods and services now exceeds what it was under President Barack Obama. Steel and aluminum makers have cut jobs despite Trump’s protectionist policies on their behalf. His deals made scarcely a ripple in a $20 trillion economy. For most Americans, Trump’s drastic trade policy ultimately meant little, good or bad, for their financial health.

Whether Trump wins a second term or Joe Biden unseats him, though, much of his legacy on trade seems likely to endure. His hardline stance toward China will probably outlast his presidency for this reason: It reflected and shaped a belief, of Democrats and Republicans alike, that Beijing had long violated its vows to treat foreign businesses fairly, committed predatory trade practices and bullied other nations on the global stage.

Notably, Biden hasn’t said whether he would retain the tariffs Trump imposed on about $360 billion in Chinese goods – well over half of what Beijing ships to the U.S. every year.

“They won’t say they’re going to flush this or flush that,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said of the Biden team in an interview. “The only thing you can do is what we did or go back to where they were. Nobody wants to go back to where we were.’’

Gone are hopes that the United States might coax China into curbing its unfair policies through patient negotiations or by bringing disputes to the World Trade Organization.

“One of the reasons we got to where we were with Trump is that we exhausted the other options,” said Wendy Cutler, a former trade negotiator who is now at the Asia Society Policy Institute. “We tried suing them in the World Trade Organization. We had a lot of victories… But, that said, China didn’t change.’’

Still, Cutler is unimpressed with Trump’s approach: “Given all the rhetoric, if you look at the results of what he did – they’re modest.”

Before Trump, American policymakers had mainly promoted ever-freer global trade, governed by WTO rules. The Obama administration painstakingly negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other countries but excluded China to try to diminish Beijing’s influence and pressure it to adopt reforms.

In his first week in office, Trump abandoned the TPP. And last year, he neutered the WTO by refusing to approve new judges to its version of the Supreme Court.

Under Trump, freer trade – long a pillar of Republican policy in the United States – was out. “America First” protectionism was in.

“It’s a very big shift,’’ said Phil Levy, an economic adviser under President George W. Bush who is now chief economist at the freight company Flexport. Trump attacked longstanding free-trade policies “with axes and saws,” Levy said.

Trump set his sights on shrinking America’s vast trade deficits, portraying them as evidence of economic weakness, misbegotten deals and abusive practices committed by other countries. He pledged to boost exports and to curb imports by imposing tariffs – import taxes – on many foreign goods.

To that end, he fought with China, taxed foreign steel and aluminum and forced Canada and Mexico to renegotiate a North American trade pact, among other things.

Yet the belligerent approach has made scant difference in the number he cares about most: The overall trade deficit in goods and services. It barely dipped last year – by 0.5% to $577 billion, still higher than in any year of the Obama administration. This year, the gap has widened nearly 6%, with the coronavirus pandemic having crushed tourism, education and other service “exports.”

Declaring himself a “Tariff Man,” Trump famously announced early on that “trade wars are good and easy to win.’’ History suggests that trade victories are actually hard to achieve and almost always inflict collateral damage. Predictably, China and other countries retaliated with tariffs of their own, many of them targeting American farmers. The uncertainty fanned by Trump’s mercurial policymaking led many businesses to delay investments that would have supported the economy.

Contrary to his assertions, too, Trump’s tariffs have been paid by American importers, not foreign countries. And their cost is typically passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Princeton and Columbia universities have estimated that the president’s tariffs cost $831 per U.S. household annually.

“His administration’s approach has delivered few tangible benefits to the U.S. economy while undercutting the multilateral trading system, disrupting long-standing alliances with U.S. trading partners and fomenting uncertainty,’’ said Eswar Prasad, a Cornell University economist who formerly led the International Monetary Fund’s China division.

Talan Products, a $50 million-a-year metal stamping company in Cleveland, said it missed out on two major projects because Trump’s tariffs raised the cost of its imported parts, allowing Indian competitors to underprice Talan’s bids.

“Without the tariffs, we would have been a little more competitive,” said Steve Peplin, the company’s CEO. “It would have been nice to have another $5 million or $10 million a year.’’

The full consequences of Trump’s policies may take longer to emerge. His revamped North American trade pact took effect only July 1. And the results of an interim pact he reached with China in January have been clouded by the pandemic recession.

“It may prove to be a good strategy,” said Blake Hurst, a soybean and corn farmer who is president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. “But there are costs to it – costs to our reputation, costs to our future ability to negotiate … It’s a high-risk strategy that we’ve embarked upon, and we don’t know the results yet.’’

Thai royalists rally in counterpoint to student protesters

Thai royalists rally in counterpoint to student protesters

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Supporters of the Thai monarchy display images of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida, late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and wave a giant national flag during a rally at Lumphini park in central Bangkok, Thailand Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Hundreds of royalists … more >

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By TASSANEE VEJPONGSA

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

BANGKOK (AP) – Several hundred Thai royalists staged a rally in central Bangkok on Tuesday, eager to display their loyalty to the country’s king as growing protests by young activists have made unprecedented criticism of the monarchy.

The rally had been heavily publicized on social media by supporters of the palace, but the turnout of around 300 people was a small fraction of the thousands of pro-democracy protesters that rally on an almost daily basis. Almost all of the royalists wore yellow shirts, which symbolize devotion to the monarchy.

The demographics were also very different. Many of the demonstrators Tuesday in Lumphini Park were in their 50s or 60s, or older. The pro-democracy protesters include many university students and young professionals, as well as a large contingent of high school students.

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The pro-democracy protesters want Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, a more democratic constitution and reforms to the monarchy, which they believe is too powerful.

On Monday they went to the German Embassy to ask that it look into King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s activities during his frequent stays in Germany. The king and Queen Suthida are currently in Thailand for several weeks with a busy schedule of formal ceremonies and other events.

For many older Thais, any criticism of the monarchy is practically sacrilege. It is considered the bedrock of their national identity and is protected by a lese majeste law that calls for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for anyone who defames the monarch or members of his immediate family. The military also considers defending the monarchy to be one of its main duties.

The crowd at Lumphini Park enthusiastically cheered “Long Live the King” and hoisted signs with pro-monarchy slogans, along with portraits of King Vajiralongkorn and his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Royalists played a large part in demonstrations in 2006 and 2014 that helped bring down elected governments by leading to army takeovers.

A prominent figure in the 2014 protests, Tul Sittisomwong, gave a speech Tuesday calling for unity and loyalty to the monarchy.

Many royalists believe the student protesters are being manipulated by older activists with their own political agendas. They have blamed an opposition political party that expresses support for the young demonstrators.

“Wherever you are, Move Forward Party, if you don’t stop your manipulation, we will come to you. The group will be chased out if they don’t stop defaming the monarchy,” Tul said.

“Who is really behind this?” said businessman Sathit Segal, who also played a leadership role in 2014. “Problems in our country are caused by politicians who think only about themselves, attacking the monarchy. You can protest and demand anything you want. But do not involve the monarchy. That cannot be accepted.”

A fringe group of royalists professes to believe the United States is behind efforts to attack the monarchy and destabilize Thailand. A handful protested outside the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday.

Self-proclaimed “defenders of the monarchy” mobilized last week online and in rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants.

There are concerns that political polarization could trigger violence. A few attendees at a small royalist rally in Bangkok last week attacked anti-government student activists and had to be restrained by police.

Armenia, Azerbaijan keep fighting despite cease-fire deal

Armenia, Azerbaijan keep fighting despite cease-fire deal

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An Armenian wounded soldier receives treatment in a military hospital near the frontline in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of violating the new U.S.-brokered cease-fire aimed to halt the … more >

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By AVET DEMOURIAN

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) – Fighting over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh raged on Tuesday, unimpeded by a U.S.-brokered cease-fire, while Armenia and Azerbaijan traded blame for the deal’s quick unraveling.

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of striking the Barda region with rockets, killing four civilians, including a 2-year-old girl and wounding 13 others. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry denounced the attack as “another war crime committed by Armenia in recent days in gross violation of the agreed humanitarian ceasefire.”

Armenia’s Defense Ministry rejected the accusations as “an absolute lie and a dirty provocation.”

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Earlier in the day, the Armenian military accused Azerbaijani forces of firing at Armenian border guard positions on the country’s southern border with Iran, adding that it has retaliated. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry rejected the statement as “false and provocative.”

The U.S.-brokered truce frayed instantly after taking effect Monday, just like two earlier truces negotiated by Russia, with the warring parties blaming each other for violations.

In a bid to save the deal, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke separately to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Tuesday. He pressed them to “abide by their commitments to cease hostilities and pursue a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” the State Department said, emphasizing that “there is no military solution to this conflict.”

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. By then, Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself but also captured substantial areas outside the territory’s borders.

The latest fighting, which began Sept. 27 has involved heavy artillery, rockets and drones in the largest escalation of hostilities over the separatist region in the quarter-century since the war ended.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 1,009 of their troops and 39 civilians have been killed in the clashes so far, while 122 civilians have been wounded. Azerbaijani authorities haven’t disclosed their military losses, but say the fighting has killed 65 civilians and wounded nearly 300.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that, according to Moscow’s information, the death toll from the fighting was nearing 5,000.

Russia, the United States and France have co-chaired the so-called Minsk Group set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to mediate in the conflict, but their attempts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled.

The Minsk Group’s co-chairs are set to meet with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Geneva on Thursday, but prospects for progress appear dim.

Azerbaijan’s president has argued that his country has the right to reclaim its territory by force after nearly three decades of international mediation have brought no result.

In an interview released on Monday, Aliyev again took aim at the Minsk Group, accusing its co-chairs of working on “freezing the conflict” and offering “just promises, just bureaucratic procedures.”

The president of Azerbaijan said that for the hostilities to end, Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. In Monday’s televised address to the nation, Aliyev boasted about Azerbaijani forces retaking control over several areas in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the past, officials in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have rejected some of Aliyev’s previous claims of battlefield gains. However, the Armenian Defense Ministry acknowledged Monday that Azerbaijani forces took control of the town of Gubadli near Nagorno-Karabakh’s southern edge and acknowledged that Azerbaijani forces also “made advances in some directions.”

____

Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Aida Sultanova in London and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Israeli delegations bask in UAE glow, even as details few

Israeli delegations bask in UAE glow, even as details few

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UAE Minister of State for Food and Water Security Mariam al-Muhairi, left, receives a gift from Erel Margalit, founder and chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners, JVP, at the headquarter of the Government Accelerators in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Oct. … more >

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By ISABEL DEBRE

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Another plane full of Israeli business people excited about their newfound access to the United Arab Emirates touched down in Dubai this week, the latest whirlwind trip seeking to cash in on a U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the countries.

But like the normalization agreement itself, inked on the White House lawn last month to great fanfare, the steady stream of statements from big-name Israeli investors and moguls descending on Dubai are ebullient, but thin on details.

“One of the things that’s most touching and exciting for any individual in Israel … is the fact that this could be an opening to cooperation, an opening of goodwill,” Erel Margalit, founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners, a venture capital fund from the country’s thriving tech scene, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

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Trailed by an entourage of 14 Israeli startup executives, a slew of Israeli photographers, foreign journalists and public relations people, Margalit darted around the skyscraper-studded Dubai International Financial Center for meetings with Emirati officials, investors and entrepreneurs.

After years of conducting such deals only in the shadows, Israelis are basking in the photo ops, which presage a broader political shift in the region.

But the buzz also lays bare the differences between the two countries. In the UAE, well-salaried locals who rarely mix with the country’s millions of expatriates tend to shrink from press attention. The state owns or tightly controls the local media. On Tuesday, an Emirati official accompanying the UAE’s minister of food security for talks with Margalit was visibly upset by the crush of photographers swarming around their elbow-bump in the glass-walled conference room.

Although Emiratis have long fostered behind-the-scenes ties with Israeli corporations and officials, Israel was publicly viewed as a political pariah. The sight of a tiny Israeli flag emblazoned on the delegation’s welcome sign outside the Ritz Carlton in Dubai this week still drew double takes and iPhone snapshots from most passerby.

In a reflection of the lingering sensitivities, Margalit declined to name any of the Emirati investors or potential startup partners from the week of meetings. He also said that Palestinian entrepreneurs had flown with the delegation, but did not elaborate “for their sake.” The Palestinian leadership has rejected normalization as peeling away one of their few advantages in moribund peace talks with Israel.

“In Israel sometimes people want to jump to the deal,” Margalit said. “This is what I say to my many Israeli friends, be patient because, here, it takes time to build trust.”

For relations to thrive, the grandeur of Israeli business goals must be matched by an awareness of the situation’s uncertainty, said Ritam Chaurey, an expert on international economics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“Ideally we’d expect that it’s an on and off switch,” he said. “But I expect persistent suspicions for both parties to play an important role, especially in the beginning.”

Yet Margalit is undeterred, promising to build “an innovation center” in Dubai for cyber, food, medical and financial technologies, like other successful hubs he’s created in New York City and the Galilee region of Israel.

“We won’t do something small, we’ll do something outstanding with the people here,” he said.

France tightens security amid fallout from teacher beheading

France tightens security amid fallout from teacher beheading

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Supporters of the religious student group, Islami Jamiat Tulba, hold a representation of the French flag with a defaced image of French President Emmanuel Macron and Urdu writing which reads, “Down with France,” during a protest against the publishing of … more >

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By ANGELA CHARLTON

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

PARIS (AP) – France is increasing security at religious sites as the interior minister said Tuesday that the country faces a “very high” risk of terrorist threats, amid growing geopolitical tensions following the beheading of a teacher who showed his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

French diplomats are trying to quell anger in Turkey and Arab nations amid anti-France protests and calls for boycotts of French goods in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s firm stance against Islamism in the wake of the Oct. 16 beheading. European allies have supported Macron, while Muslim-majority countries are angered by his defense of prophet cartoons they consider sacrilegious.

France’s national police have called for increased security at religious sites around the All Saint’s holiday this coming weekend, particularly noting online threats from extremists against Christians and moderate French Muslims.

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Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on France-Inter radio that the terrorist threat remains “very high, because we have a lot of enemies from within and outside the country.”

He reiterated plans to try to disband Muslim groups seen as peddling dangerous radical views or with too much foreign financing. He accused Turkey and Pakistan in particular of “meddling in France’s internal business.”

“There is a battle against an Islamist ideology. We must not back down,” he said. But he insisted that “the Muslim faith has all its place in the republic.”

Some members of France’s largely moderate Muslim community are calling for calm, and defending the freedom of expression that the beheaded teacher was seeking to demonstrate.

The prophet cartoons deeply upset many Muslims around the world. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has led the charge against France, questioning Macron’s mental state, and France recalled its ambassador to Turkey for consultations, a first in French-Turkish diplomatic relations.

Tensions between the two countries have mounted in recent months over Turkish actions in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus Mountains region of Nagorno-Karabakh. But this new spat has quickly spread to other countries in Europe and the Muslim world.

Anti-France protests have been held from Bangladesh to the Gaza Strip, Kuwaiti stores pulled French yogurt and bottles of sparkling water from their shelves, Qatar University canceled a French culture week, and Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution condemning the publication of cartoons of the prophet.

EU officials warn that Turkey’s stance could further damage its relations with key trading partners and its long-stalled efforts to join the EU.

“A boycott will only move Turkey even further away from the EU,” European Commission spokesman Balazs Ujvaris said Tuesday, insisting that Turkey needs to respect the terms of its trade deal on merchandise and goods with the EU.

___

Samuel Petrequin in Brussels and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.

Turkey-backed Syria fighters retaliate for deadly airstrike

Turkey-backed Syria fighters retaliate for deadly airstrike

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People attend funeral of fighters killed in an airstrike in the town of Idlib, Syria, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. An airstrike on a rebel training camp in northwestern Syria on Monday killed dozens of Turkish-backed fighters and wounded nearly as … more >

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By SARAH EL DEEB

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

BEIRUT (AP) – Syrian opposition groups allied with Turkey lobbed hundreds of missiles and artillery rockets at government posts in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, in retaliation for a deadly attack that killed dozens of their fighters a day earlier.

The renewed violence has undermined an already shaky cease-fire in place since March that aimed to quell military operations and government troop advances in the overcrowded rebel-held enclave.

The escalation also comes as relations between Russia and Turkey, who negotiated the cease-fire, show signs of strain over Ankara’s increased military involvement in a region stretching from Syria to the Caucasus and the Mediterranean. Russia is a main supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

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U.N Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pederson appealed to Russia and Turkey to “contain the situation.” Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, discussed the attack in Idlib as well as the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and Libya in a telephone call on Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. It did not provide details.

Monday’s strike was the deadliest in Idlib since the Turkish-Russian-brokered truce there came into effect, raising fears that the truce could further fray. Some 1 million people were displaced by the last offensive inside the already packed enclave, home to over 3 million.

In retaliation, the Turkey-backed groups, operating under the umbrella of the National Front for Liberation, fired hundreds of artillery rounds and missiles since late Monday at government posts in territories adjacent to areas they control in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

A spokesman for the NFL, Naji al-Mustafa, said the rebels’ military retaliation targeted and killed Russian officers in southern Idlib, as well as Syrian soldiers working in the area.

The report could not be independently verified and there was no immediate comment from Russia or Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recorded hundreds of projectiles lobbed by opposition fighters at nearly 30 government posts in different locations in southern Idlib, western Aleppo and the coastal province of Latakia. The Observatory said 12 Syrian soldiers and allied fighters were killed in the barrage.

The Monday airstrike on a rebel training camp near the border with Turkey killed more than 50 Turkish-backed fighters, according to one opposition spokesman, and wounded nearly as many, in one of the heaviest blows to the opposition’s strongest groups. The Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, put the toll at 78 fighters dead and nearly 90 wounded. Videos circulating online showed the bodies of about a dozen men spread on the ground of an open space, wrapped in blankets.

The camp, operated by Faylaq al-Sham, an NFL faction, was hosting training sessions for new recruits. The NFL said a “large number” of fighters were killed, but declined to give details. It vowed retaliation and blamed Russia for the attack.

U.S. Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey said the escalation in Idlib in violation of the March cease-fire deal is “dangerous” and threatens to prolong the conflict and deepen the Syrian people’s suffering. Jeffrey said the UN-led political process is the only way to peace and stability in Syria.

“By continuing their quest for a military victory, the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are threatening the stability of the surrounding region,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “It is time for the Assad regime and its allies to end their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people.”

Russia and Turkey, although they support opposite sides in Syria’s nine-year conflict, have worked together to maintain a cease-fire in the last enclave of Syria’s rebels.

In the first official comment following the violence, the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency said top Turkish presidential aide Ibrahim Kalin discussed the situation in Idlib with U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien late Monday. The two men expressed concern over “recently increased attacks by the regime and its supporters,” according to Anadolu.

___

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.

Low expectations in Mexico as US election approaches

Low expectations in Mexico as US election approaches

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FILE – In this June 23, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump tours a section of the border wall in San Luis, Ariz. During his 2016 primary run, Trump sought to mark his ground as a hard-line immigration enforcer who … more >

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By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN

Associated Press

Monday, October 26, 2020

MEXICO CITY (AP) – A week before U.S. elections, expectations and attention are unusually low in a foreign country that may have more at stake than any other. Many Mexicans would be glad to see a more neighborly president who hasn’t called Mexicans rapists or threatened to build a wall against them, but the relationship has survived a Donald Trump presidency, so there’s a feeling it can handle any outcome.

In the streets, few can name Democratic candidate Joe Biden, but there’s a general sense that Mexicans are ready to take their chances with someone other than Trump.

“No Mexican, no human being likes to be called a rapist, a thief, told that you’re not liked,” said Ana Vanessa Cárdenas Zanatta, a political science professor at Monterrey Technological and Anahuac universities in Mexico City. “The least that any human being, and the Mexicans in this bilateral relationship, can hope for is respect.”

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Respect can be especially important when roughly three-quarters of a country’s exports go to the United States and hundreds of millions of people cross the border in both directions yearly for work, shopping, family visits or vacations.

In a Trump administration marked by unpredictability that has left allies reeling, Mexico has been one country that has been able to carve out a fairly predictable, if sometimes pressured, relationship with Trump. For example, when Mexico was on the brink of defaulting on treaty obligations governing water-sharing this month, the Trump administration provided a graceful exit.

Trump so far hasn’t targeted Mexico in his campaign like he did the first time around. The pandemic and the economic crisis it sparked have overtaken all other issues – on both sides of the border.

Mexico has lost at least 1 million formal jobs during the pandemic, the economy is forecast to shrink 10% this year, violence remains beyond the government’s control and COVID-19 infections are climbing again.

Regardless of whether Trump or Biden wins, immigration, security and trade are expected to dominate the historically unbalanced relationship.

On immigration, there is skepticism that much would change.

Trump made Mexico an immigration waiting room for the U.S. and some say effectively pushed the U.S. frontier south for immigrants. Thousands of asylum seekers were forced to wait out their cases in Mexican border cities before the pandemic allowed the U.S. to effectively suspend its asylum system at the border.

Through the threat of tariffs on Mexican imports, Trump got the Mexican government to act more aggressively toward migrants crossing its territory. Early this year, Mexico’s National Guard and immigration agents broke up a migrant caravan near the Guatemala border before it gathered any steam.

“If Biden makes it, I believe there will continue to be great pressure to stop the migrant caravans,” Cárdenas said. “But I think the nuance, the tone in which its done will be different.” That might even complicate things for Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, depriving him of a bully to blame for an immigration policy tougher than the one he promised.

Mexico’s violence continues to confound López Obrador’s administration. The pace of murders has stabilized, but the toll remains high. The National Guard, the new security force that he promised would help turn the tide, was initially diverted in part to deal with migrants and has been unable to significantly reduce violence between battling drug cartels.

The persistent violence is a concern to U.S. authorities, both for its ties to drug trafficking and as a potential driver of immigration. Mexico might expect greater recognition of shared responsibility from a Biden administration, but Mexico’s own security strategy has been difficult to decipher.

“It’s putting Mexico at a more vulnerable position than otherwise had (López Obrador) actually taken more of a concerted, organized line about security in Mexico,” said Gladys McCormick, a history professor at Syracuse University specializing in the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

In his first campaign, Trump said the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada was a bad deal and promised to get a new one. He did, signing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement this year.

López Obrador’s hopes of dragging Mexico out of recession depend in large part on a quick recovery by the U.S. economy. With that in mind, he made the first foreign trip of his presidency to Washington, visiting Trump in July. The deal was already signed, so there was little reason to travel during the pandemic other than to bolster the unexpectedly friendly relationship between the two populist leaders from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

The trip did rankle Democratic lawmakers however, because Mexico declined invitations to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who had helped get the trade deal through Congress.

“We saw it as very odd that they weren’t going to reach out to the speaker of the House,” especially since Democrats had been defending Mexico against Trump’s attacks, said Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar, who reminded Mexican officials then that the Democrats could soon be back in the White House.

López Obrador has seemed to work so hard to build rapport with Trump that some Mexicans speculate he may secretly hope for Trump’s re-election. López Obrador, however, has been careful to stay out of the U.S. race. When the Mexican leader took office two years ago, analysts predicted fireworks between the two strong personalities. But that never happened.

Mariana Aparicio Ramirez, coordinator of the Binational Mexico-United States Relationship Observatory at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, suggested a more concrete reason López Obrador might be uncomfortable with a Democratic administration: “The issue of environmental policy is something that could absolutely be questioned.”

López Obrador has invested in propping up Mexico’s heavily indebted state-owned oil company and his administration has shown disdain for renewable energy projects. It’s currently building a new oil refinery that many experts question.

But a Biden administration could offer more welcome positions on some of Mexico’s top priorities.

Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard says he wants U.S. authorities to take the illegal guns smuggled into Mexico as seriously as the U.S. wants Mexico to handle drugs flowing north. Biden has proposed investing more in technology at border crossings that could detect drugs, guns and people.

Mexico is also concerned about more than 4 million of its citizens living in the United States without legal status. The Trump administration has focused on deporting undocumented immigrants and narrowing the path to legal entry. Biden has said he would continue to let immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children stay and has talked about opening a path to citizenship for others.

“It’s all very complicated,” said 38-year-old Mexican businessman Eder Nicia. “It doesn’t depend on one person … It’s not like X candidate is going to come in and everything will be fixed.”

__

AP writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.

China to sanction U.S. weapons companies over $1.8 billion proposed arms sale to Taiwan

China to sanction U.S. weapons companies over $1.8 billion proposed arms sale to Taiwan

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In this Feb. 5, 2020, file photo, Lockheed Martin’s Robert Balserak, lead executive, Air Superiority Programs, explains the capabilities of the F-21 at the DefExpo in Lucknow, India. China’s government said Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, that it will impose sanctions … more >

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By Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Monday, October 26, 2020

China is gearing up to slap sanctions on several U.S. weapons manufacturers for their role in a new weapons sale to Taiwan.

The companies that will be sanctioned include Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raythron, among others, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said Monday.

“To safeguard our national interests, China decided to take necessary measures and levy sanctions on U.S. companies such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defence and Raytheon, and those individuals and companies who behaved badly in the process of the arms sales,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters, as quoted by Reuters.

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The Trump administration last week formally notified Congress of an intended $1.8 billion weapons sale to Taiwan.

Although the U.S. does not share formal, diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the sale is the latest step in a sharp escalation of tensions between the U.S. and China, which has included the shuttering of diplomatic consulates, trade tariffs, the expulsion of journalists and U.S. sanctions over Chinese policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang province.

The notice, announced Wednesday, detailed the weapons package approved by the State Department and includes 135 Boeing-made air-to-ground missiles, also known as Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) missiles, and related maintenance products valued at more than $1 billion; 11 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) M142 Launchers worth roughly $436 million; and six MS-110 Recce Pods valued at $367.2 million.

The decision to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan marks a particularly provocative advance in the eyes of China, which views Taiwan as its own territory.

Pompeo: Libya cease-fire ‘courageous step’

Pompeo: Libya cease-fire ‘courageous step’

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In this Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, photo, a fighter of the Libyan forces, affiliated to the Tripoli government, runs for cover while fighting against Islamic State positions in Sirte, Libya, The United Nations said that the two sides in Libyan … more >

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By Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Monday, October 26, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said the latest cease-fire between two opposing sides in long-standing clashes in Libya is a “courageous step.”

In a statement, he applauded the United Nations’ role in brokering the cease-fire and said it is “crucial for this progress to continue and for all parties to the conflict to support this success.”

His comments come days after the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and rival government backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar participated in nearly a week of negotiations to end nine years of conflict.

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As part of the deal, all foreign fighters will be required to leave Libya within three months. It is also expected to establish a joint military force and a solution to monitor future violations.

“We welcome the announcement of Libyans signing a nationwide, immediate cease-fire agreement,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We commend Libyan leadership on all sides for taking this courageous step.”

Ant Group could raise nearly $35B in record share offering

China’s Ant Group could raise nearly $35B in record share offering

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A newsstand vendor, wearing a mask to protect against the coronavirus, sits near QR codes for Alipay and WeChat, two popular online payment systems in Beijing, China on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. Ant Group, the financial technology arm of e-commerce … more >

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By

Associated Press

Monday, October 26, 2020

HONG KONG (AP) — China’s Ant Group will try to raise nearly $35 billion in its initial public offering in Shanghai and Hong Kong, which would make it the largest share offering in history.

Alibaba-affiliated Ant Group, which operates a suite of financial products including the widely-used Alipay digital wallet in China and one of the world’s largest money market funds, will hold dual listings in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Its Shanghai stock was priced at 68.8 yuan ($10.26) each, while its Hong Kong stock is priced at 80 Hong Kong dollars apiece ($10.32), according to filings on Monday.

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The company will raise about $34.5 billion from the share offering, which is expected to surpass oil company Saudi Aramco’s $29 billion share sale last year, making Ant Group’s offering the biggest in the world.

Ant Group would be valued at about $280 billion. If the company exercises its greenshoe option, which would allow it to sell more shares than initially planned, it could raise another $5.17 billion, taking its valuation to about $320 billion.

Japan rejects nuclear ban treaty; survivors to keep pushing

Japan rejects nuclear ban treaty; survivors to keep pushing

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Members of Atomic Bomb survivors groups gather, holding a banner calling for Japanese government to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, with the Atomic Bomb Dome in background, in Hiroshima, western Japan, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. The … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Monday, October 26, 2020

TOKYO (AP) — Japan said Monday it will not sign a U.N. treaty that bans nuclear weapons and does not welcome its entry into force next year, rejecting the wishes of atomic bomb survivors in Japan who are urging the government to join and work for a nuclear-free world.

The United Nations confirmed Saturday that 50 countries have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, paving the way for its entry into force in 90 days.

The announcement was hailed by anti-nuclear activists, but the treaty has been strongly opposed by the United States and other major nuclear powers.

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Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Japan shares the goal of achieving a nuclear-free world, but does not think the treaty is the way to go.

Japan’s approach is different from that of the treaty, and there is no change to our position not to sign it, as we have said,” Kato told reporters Monday. “We doubt if support is growing even among non-nuclear weapons states, let alone nuclear weapons states.”

Japan has said that it is not realistic to pursue the treaty with nuclear powers and non-nuclear weapons states sharply divided over it. Kato said Japan has chosen instead to serve as a bridge to narrow the gap between the two sides.

Asked if Japan at least welcomes the treaty taking effect next year, Kato only repeated Japan’s position.

Japan has decided not to sign the treaty even though it is the world’s only country to have suffered nuclear attacks and has renounced its own possession, production or hosting of nuclear weapons.

That is because Japan hosts 50,000 American troops and is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Its post-World War II security pact with the U.S. also complicates efforts to get Japan to sign the treaty as it beefs up its own military to deal with perceived threats from North Korea and China.

“We need to appropriately respond to the current security threats, by maintaining or strengthening our deterrence. We have to be realistic about promoting nuclear disarmament,” Kato said.

Atomic bomb survivors, who have long worked to achieve the treaty, renewed their call for Japan to become a signatory. Terumi Tanaka, a survivor of the Aug. 9, 1945, Nagasaki bombing who has long campaigned for a nuclear weapons ban, said he has not given up hope.

“It is the Japanese government that will be embarrassed when the treaty enters into effect,” Tanaka told reporters Monday. “We will keep working to get the government to change its policy.”

The U.S. had written to treaty signatories urging them to rescind their ratification, saying four other nuclear powers — Russia, China, Britain and France – and America’s NATO allies “stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions” of the treaty.

There are over 14,000 nuclear bombs in the world, many of them tens of times more powerful than the weapons dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed more than 210,000 people in the closing days of World War II.

The treaty was approved by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly in July, 2017, by a vote of 122 in favor. The five nuclear powers and four other countries known or believed to possess nuclear weapons — India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — boycotted negotiations and the vote on the treaty, along with many of their allies, including Japan.

Turkish lira drops to record low over US sanction threat

Turkish lira drops to record low over US sanction threat

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Associated Press

Monday, October 26, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – The Turkish currency slid further Monday to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenged the United States to slap sanctions over his government’s decision to test its Russian-made air defense system.

The lira dropped another 1.3% to 8.06 against the dollar, a day after Erdogan dared Washington to impose sanctions after the NATO-member country tested the S-400 air defense system it purchased from Russia.

The purchase has already seen Turkey kicked off the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter program.

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NATO has said that the Russian system poses a threat to the military alliance and particularly endangers the technical secrets of the F-35.

For months, the U.S. warned Ankara that it risked sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act if the S-400 system was activated. President Donald Trump, however, has held back on implementing the sanctions amid hopes Erdogan will not go ahead with activating the missiles.

The lira has lost around 25% of its value this year as the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the economy and amid concerns over Turkey’s troubled relations with the United States and several European nations.

Airstrike in northwestern Syria kills over 50 rebel fighters

Airstrike in northwestern Syria kills over 50 rebel fighters

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Commentary

Cal Thomas

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Who won the final presidential debate?

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Joseph R. Biden

 
Donald J. Trump

 
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Story TOpics

This Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009, file photo shows Syrian President Bashar Assad during a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File) more >

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Associated Press

Monday, October 26, 2020

BEIRUT (AP) — An airstrike on a rebel training camp in northwestern Syria on Monday killed more than 50 fighters and wounded nearly as many, a Syrian opposition spokesman and a war monitor said.

The airstrike in the northwestern part of Idlib province, the last rebel enclave in Syria, targeted a military training camp for Failaq al-Sham, one of the largest Turkey-backed opposition groups in Syria, said Youssef Hammoud, a spokesman for the groups.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said the strike killed 56 fighters and wounded nearly 50. Rescue missions are still underway, the Observatory said. It said it also suspected the airstrike was carried out by Russia, which is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war.

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Leaders of the camp were among those killed in airstrike in Jabal al-Dweila, according to Hammoud.

Turkey and Russia had brokered a truce in Idlib earlier this year to halt a government offensive that displaced hundreds of thousands. But the truce remained shaky.

Turkey has long supported Syrian rebel forces in Syria. Russia has negotiated with Ankara to deploy observation teams in the rebel enclave to monitor the truce.