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Putin turns 67, takes birthday break in Siberian mountains
Mon, October 7, 2019 06:38 EDT
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent the weekend in southern Siberia’s mountains.
Photos and video released by the Kremlin on Monday showed Putin walking forested mountains in the Tuva region that borders Mongolia. Putin turned 67 on Monday.
Russia’s nature-loving, action-man president has visited the area several times over the past few years, walking up the mountains, fishing and swimming in the area’s pristine rivers and lakes.
The video broadcast by Russian television showed Putin walking up the slope and pausing to look at the Yenisei River below and the surrounding mountains.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the region’s native, accompanied Putin on the trip.
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Lawyer: Other shooting left slain Dallas witness fearful
By JAMIE STENGLE | Mon, October 7, 2019 07:46 EDT
DALLAS (AP) — A man who was slain after testifying in the murder trial of a former Dallas police officer had feared being a witness because of another incident in which he was shot and wounded outside a nightclub, an attorney for his family said Monday.
Police said Monday that detectives were continuing to investigate the fatal shooting Friday of 28-year-old Joshua Brown, who testified in Amber Guyger’s trial. Guyger was convicted three days earlier in the death of her neighbor, Botham Jean, whose apartment she said she mistook for her own.
Brown, who lived in the same apartment building, had testified about what he’d heard that night. Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Brown’s family, said Brown’s mother told him about her son’s reservations about his visibility in the high-profile trial. In November, Brown was wounded in the foot in a shooting that left a 25-year-old man dead outside a Dallas nightclub, The Dallas Morning News reports.
“He was concerned that the people who shot him there still wanted to do him additional harm,” said Merritt, who also represents Jean’s family.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and other officials have asked the public refrain from speculating about the killing of Brown while police investigate. Meanwhile, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. requested an independent investigation into Brown’s slaying, calling it “deeply alarming and highly suspicious” in a news release.
Dallas police had no comment on calls for an independent investigation.
Guyger testified that in September 2018, after working a long shift, she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own and thought he was a burglar. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
At the time of Jean’s shooting, Brown lived in the same apartment building as Guyger and Jean. Authorities say Brown was killed at a different complex.
Brown testified that on the night of Jean’s killing, he was in a hallway on the fourth floor, where he and Jean lived, and that he heard what sounded like “two people meeting by surprise” and then two gunshots.
At times during his testimony, Brown became emotional and used his T-shirt and tissue to wipe away tears. He said he had met Jean, a 26-year-old accountant from the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, for the first time earlier that day.
Judge Tammy Kemp, who presided over Guyger’s trial, said Monday that she was “saddened” and “stunned” to hear about Brown’s death, adding that “he seemed to be a very compassionate young man and I hate that his life has ended so soon.”
“I think that we need to let the investigation of his death go forward,” Kemp told The Associated Press during her first interview since last week’s verdict.
U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson likewise said the city police must be allowed to do their work and that she “will keep a very close eye on the Brown investigation and all aspects of this terrible crime.”
Brown testified that he was originally from Jacksonville, Florida, and had moved to Texas in 2008. He testified he graduated from the University of South Florida, where he played football from 2012 to 2013.
USF said in a statement that Brown was “a much loved and valued member of our football program and athletic family.”
Associated Press writer Jake Bleiberg contributed to this report.
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The Latest: Officials say 7 demonstrators killed in Iraq
BAGHDAD (AP) — The Latest on anti-government protests in Iraq (all times local):
Iraqi officials say seven anti-government demonstrators have been killed in ongoing protests in the capital Baghdad and 17 wounded.
A medical official in a local hospital and a security official said the seven were killed on Sunday in Sadr City, where hundreds have gathered trying to break through a security cordon to head to the city center. The officials didn’t provide details. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
Security forces had sealed off Tahrir Square and heavily deployed all the way to Sadr City, about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away to keep protesters back.
Earlier, an Associated Press reporter on the scene saw soldiers firing in the direction of protesters to push them back. There were scuffles as protesters tried to break through the cordon and burned tires.
Iraq has been beset by protests since Tuesday.
— By Qassim Abdul-Zahra.
An Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman says an investigation is underway to determine the source of live fire that killed many of the more than 100 people who have died during six days of unrest in the country.
Spokesman Saad Maan claimed Sunday that local security forces did not clash with protesters. He said at a press conference that “malicious hands” were targeting protesters and security forces as well on Friday, the bloodiest day of the unrest in Baghdad.
At the time, protests were broken up as security forces fired live ammunition at the anti-government rallies.
Protesters and journalists at the scene of the protests say they witnessed security forces firing on demonstrators and some protesters say snipers were taking part in breaking up the protests. Maad said most of those killed Friday were hit in the head and heart.
Protests have raged in Baghdad and southern cities since Tuesday. Maan said 104 people, including 8 security members, have been killed in the six days of unrest.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry spokesman says 104 people, including 8 security personnel, have been killed during six days of anti-government protests in Baghdad and the country’s south.
Spokesman Saad Maan said Sunday that 6,107 have been wounded in the unrest, including more than 1,200 security members.
Protests began in Iraq on Tuesday and it wasn’t clear if those numbers included any casualties Sunday.
The protests spiraled into bloody clashes that were focused in Baghdad and a number of southern cities. The spontaneous rallies were started by young Iraqis demanding jobs and an end to endemic corruption in the oil-rich country.
Army soldiers have fired in the direction of about 300 anti-government protesters who gathered in a suburb in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on the sixth day of unrest that has left more than 80 peoople dead.
The protesters, mostly young men, were scattered in side streets near Sadr City on Sunday afternoon. Troops blocked the main road preventing them from advancing and fired above the protesters’ heads. Ducking, the protesters piled over one another taking cover behind a short wall. The protests come despite calls from Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi for the demonstrators to stay off the streets.
Over the last few days, security forces have deployed in large numbers in central Baghdad, pushing protesters away from Tahrir Square. The square was a gathering point when protests first erupted (backslash)Tuesday.
Since then, rallies spread to southern cities, sparking a heavy crackdown from security forces that left at least 84 killed, mostly in Baghdad
Calm has prevailed in the Iraqi capital following a bloody night when at least 19 people were killed as security forces opened fire to break up anti-government protests.
Students made it to schools at the start of the working week early Sunday and government employees returned to work. But the capital’s streets were mostly quiet and traffic thin. Burnt tires and debris littered thoroughfares while security remained heavily deployed in many neighborhoods.
Armored vehicles blocked access to Tahrir square from as far as four kilometers (2.5 miles.) Protesters have been trying to converge on the central square.
At least 84 protesters were killed, most of them in Baghdad, since Tuesday when demonstrators initiated rallies to demand jobs, improvements to services and an end to corruption in the oil-rich nation.
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Federal judge hears case to restore vote to Florida felons
By BOBBY CAINA CALVAN | Mon, October 7, 2019 02:34 EDT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The latest clash over Florida’s ballot box began playing out Monday in a federal courtroom, where a judge is considering whether state lawmakers exceeded their authority by requiring former felons to first pay fines and settle other legal debts as a condition of regaining their right to vote.
As many as 1.4 million felons who have completed their sentences regained voting privileges under a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters last year.
But the Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year passed a bill — later signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis — stipulating that felons must pay all fines, restitution and other financial obligations to complete their sentences.
Voting rights groups immediately sued for a temporary injunction that would allow felons to continue registering to vote and cast ballots until the merits of the law can be fully adjudicated.
The case is one of several legal battles under way that underscores how crucial the Florida vote is to Republicans and Democrats because of the state’s history of delivering razor-thin election margins. Disputes have erupted over early voting at college campuses — not to mention lingering concerns about the integrity of computer systems because of evidence of outside hacking.
By one count, more than 436,000 former felons in Florida — some who had already registered to vote under the constitutional measure known as Amendment 4 — will remain ineligible to vote because of the legislative intervention.
“The law serves no legitimate purpose. It won’t make people more able to pay, just less able to vote,” Julie Ebenstein, an ACLU attorney, argued in U.S. District Court for the Northern District Court of Florida in Tallahassee.
Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida testifying on behalf of the voting rights advocates, analyzed data from the state Department of Corrections and 58 of the state’s 67 counties. He told the court the undertaking revealed the complexities and shortcomings of state and local systems in determining whether a former felon is eligible to vote because accurate records of legal debts may not always be immediately available.
Smith testified that his analysis showed a racial component, as well, noting that black former felons were more likely to owe money after their release compared to their white counterparts.
Attorneys for the state argued that the stipulations put in place by the Legislature were reasonable interpretations of the language contained in Amendment 4, arguing that the Legislature allowed felons to seek waivers from a judge or ask that some of their financial obligations be converted to community service.
At one point, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle got straight to the heart of the dispute. Were the Legislature’s actions politically motivated? Were Republicans in the Legislature acting to disenfranchise African Americans, who historically have favored Democrats?
Hinckle, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, asked pointedly if the “intent was to help Republicans and not to help Democrats?”
While those questions weren’t directly addressed in the reams of documents filed in connection with the case, he told attorneys, “you might as well know I’ve got these questions.”
Gov. DeSantis had asked the federal court to delay its hearing until the Florida Supreme Court could issue a legally non-binding advisory opinion, which was sought by DeSantis to possibly help the federal court navigate the case.
Hinckle, however, declined to postpone the hearings, which was expected to continue into Tuesday.
It was not lost on Hinckle that as he began hearings on the dispute, Monday was the final day for Floridians to register to vote in the Nov. 5 election, when voters in Miami, Orlando and other of the state’s cities hold general elections.
Lee Hoffman, 60, told the court he had been excited to vote for the first time in his life, after a string of convictions that sent him to prison. Now a law-abiding citizen, he said he registered to vote soon after Amendment 4 went into place, despite discovering later that he still owed $449 in fees related to his previous legal trouble.
“I was so ecstatic,” said Hoffman, among the would-be voters who are plaintiffs in several lawsuits against the state, outside the court during a pause in proceedings. “For the first time in my life, I wanted to be counted.”
His attorney, Jonathan Diaz of the Campaign Legal Center, said Florida has become “the epicenter of U.S. politics” because of its potential role in deciding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and its history of high-profile controversies at the ballot box.
“When the stakes are very high, politicians and those with high interest in the outcomes want to make the system as favorable to them as possible,” Diaz said.
“The democratic process works best when everybody has the ability to participate, and your ability to vote should not depend on your ability to pay for it.”
EarthLink – News
Trump sends strong, conflicting signals on Syria, Turkey
By LITA C. BALDOR, MATTHEW LEE and ROBERT BURNS | 03:36 EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing unusually wide criticism, President Donald Trump sent out strong but conflicting signals on the “endless war” in Syria and Middle East on Monday. He declared U.S. troops would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on Kurds who have fought alongside Americans for years but then threatened to destroy the Turks’ economy if they went too far.
Even Trump’s staunchest Republican allies expressed outrage at the prospect of abandoning Syrian Kurds who had fought the Islamic State group with U.S. troops. Trump’s decision appeared to be the latest example of an approach to foreign policy that critics condemn as impulsive, that is sometimes reversed and frequently is untethered to the advice of his national security aides.
“A catastrophic mistake,” said Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican leader. “Shot in the arm to the bad guys,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Pentagon and State Department officials held out the possibility of persuading Turkey to abandon its expected invasion.
In recent weeks, the U.S. and Turkey had reached an apparent accommodation of Turkish concerns about the presence of Kurdish fighters, seen in Turkey as a threat. American and Turkish soldiers had been conducting joint patrols in a zone along the border. As part of that work, barriers designed to defend the Kurds were dismantled amid assurances that Turkey would not invade.
Graham said Turkey’s NATO membership should be suspended if it attacks into northeastern Turkey, potentially annihilating Kurdish fighters who acted as a U.S. proxy army in a five-year fight to eliminate the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate. Graham, who had talked Trump out of a withdrawal from Syria last December, said letting Turkey invade would be a mistake of historic proportion.
“It’s going to lead to ISIS reemergence,” he told Fox News.
U.S. involvement in Syria has been fraught with peril since it started in 2014 with the insertion of small numbers of special operations forces to recruit, train, arm and advise local fighters to combat the Islamic State. Trump entered the White House in 2017 intent on getting out of Syria, and even before the counter-IS military campaign reclaimed the last militant strongholds early this year, he declared victory and said troops would leave.
The strong pushback on Capitol Hill to the late Sunday night announcement prompted Trump to recast his decision but with renewed bombast, portraying it as a threat to strangle Turkey if it carries out its announced intent to invade.
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey,” he tweeted.
Officials suggested that Trump’s threats against Turkey on Monday morning were reactions to the overwhelming criticism of his earlier announcement that the U.S. would withdraw troops and get them out of the way of the Turkish forces. That announcement came after Trump spoke by phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
One official described a botched effort by the White House on Sunday night, putting out a statement that appeared aimed at making Trump look bold for ending a war. The official said attempts by the Pentagon and State Department to make the statement stronger in its opposition to Turkey’s military action were unsuccessful. But in what the official described as a “exercise in damage control” Monday morning, the Pentagon made it clear to the Turkish military that “there will be a major break in relations if you do this.”
The official added that Erdogan appeared to be reconsidering his earlier resolve because he was relatively quiet Monday. But the official cautioned that even if pressure from the U.S. and Europe succeeds in getting Erdogan to back down, the damage done to relations with the Kurds may be irreparable.
An official familiar with the Erdogan call said the Turkish president was “ranting” at Trump, saying the safe zone was not working and that Turkey couldn’t trust the U.S. military to do what was needed. And in reaction, Trump said the U.S. wanted no part of an invasion and would withdraw troops.
The announcement threw the military situation in Syria into fresh chaos and injected deeper uncertainty into U.S. relations with European allies. A French official, speaking on condition of anonymity on a sensitive topic, said France wasn’t informed ahead of time. A Foreign Ministry statement warned Turkey to avoid any action that would harm the international coalition against the Islamic State and noted the Kurds had been essential allies, but entirely omitted any mention of the United States.
Trump defended his decision, acknowledging in tweets that “the Kurds fought with us” but adding that they “were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so.”
“I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” he wrote.
Hours after the White House announcement, two senior State Department officials minimized the effects of the U.S. action, telling reporters that Turkey may not go through with a large-scale invasion and the U.S. was still trying to discourage it. Both officials spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss what led to the internal White House decision.
Among the first to leave were about 30 U.S. troops from two outposts who would be in the immediate area of a Turkish invasion. It’s unclear whether others among the roughly 1,000 U.S. forces in northeastern Syria would be moved, but officials said there is no plan for any to leave Syria entirely.
Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that a U.S. withdrawal from Syria would be a major boost to Russia’s position there.
He added that other allies in the region, including the Kurds, will “look at this withdrawal as U.S. unwillingness to stand up for its rights and maintain its alliances in the region.”
Trump’s move came at a pivotal moment of his presidency. House Democrats are marching forward with their impeachment inquiry into whether he compromised national security or abused his office by seeking negative information on former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, from foreign countries.
As he faces the impeachment inquiry, Trump has appeared more focused on making good on his political pledges, even at the risk of sending a troubling signal to American allies abroad.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., did say Monday in an appearance on “Fox & Friends” that he had been briefed by the president about the decision. But he also said he had concerns.
“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” he said, adding that, “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you, America should keep their word.”
Former Trump administration officials also expressed alarm.
Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. “must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. … Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”
Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years.
With contributions from Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul; Zeina Karam and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut and Lori Hinnant in Paris.