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Venice braces for another exceptional tide, tourists flee
Sun, November 17, 2019 03:29 EST
VENICE, Italy (AP) — Venetians are bracing for the prospect of another exceptional tide in a season that is setting records.
Officials are forecasting a 1.6 meter (5 feet, 2 inch) surge of water Sunday through the lagoon city. That comes after Tuesday’s 1.87-meter flood, the worst in 53 years, followed by high tide of 1.54 meters on Friday.
Those two events mark the first time since records began in 1872 that two floods topped 1.5 meters in the same year — much less the same week. The city’s mayor says the flooding damages are in “the hundreds of millions” and Italian officials have declared a state of emergency for the area.
Tourists with suitcases were rushing to grab the last water taxis to get to the mainland Sunday before service is interrupted in anticipation of the high tide.
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Study links Asian carp with Mississippi River fish drop
By JOHN FLESHER | Sat, November 16, 2019 11:18 EST
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Sport fish have declined significantly in portions of the Upper Mississippi River infested with Asian carp, adding evidence to fears about the invader’s threat to native species, according to a new study.
Analysis of nearly 20 years of population data suggests the carp are out-competing fish prized by anglers, such as yellow perch, bluegill, and black and white crappie, the report said.
Scientists have long suspected Asian carp of starving out other fish in the Mississippi and many of its tributaries. The peer-reviewed study this month in the journal Biological Invasions is among the first to establish a solid link, lead author John Chick said in an interview Friday.
“The alarms have been out there for a long time now,” said Chick, a fisheries biologist who directs a University of Illinois field station in Alton, Illinois. “This adds further mustard to the argument that we need to be taking these things seriously. The trends that have been established here are not the trends we want to see in other places.”
Four varieties of Asian carp were imported in the late 1960s and early 1970s to clear algae and weeds from sewage ponds and fish farms. They escaped into the Mississippi and have migrated northward.
Bighead and silver carp are the most troublesome. They gorge on tiny animals and plants known as plankton, which virtually all fish eat as juveniles. For some filter-feeding species, it’s a lifelong staple.
Federal and state agencies have spent heavily on research and technology to keep them out of key waterways.
In their paper, Chick and colleagues there’s rarely enough data to document how invasive species harm natives.
But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been monitoring fish in the Upper Mississippi system for more than two decades, including several years before the carp arrived, using electrofishing to collect samples.
Analyzing Corps numbers compiled between 1994 and 2013, Chick’s team found sport fish dropped about 30 percent in two carp-infested areas on the Mississippi River and one on the Illinois River.
Meanwhile, sport fish numbers grew nearly 35 percent in three sections of the Mississippi farther upstream that the carp hadn’t reached.
The trends have continued, said Chick, who still monitors Corps data.
The study focused on silver carp, notorious for leaping from the water when startled, because they’re more abundant in the Upper Mississippi than bighead carp.
It found that sport fish probably are losing out during early life stages, when they’re dependent on plankton the carp are gobbling up.
The researchers considered other factors including flooding, water temperatures and sediment pollution. But none was found to have played a significant role in the sport fish trends in the upper Mississippi.
The region has drawn less attention in the carp battle than the Great Lakes, researchers said, but its outdoor recreation economy is valued at about $2.2 billion.
The study is valuable because it’s based on direct observation of fish populations over an extended period, said Tammy Newcomb, a fisheries biologist and Asian carp expert with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s another piece of science that contributes to the overall sense of urgency” to stop the carps’ advance, said Newcomb, who was not part of the study.
Kevin Irons, aquatic nuisance species manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who also didn’t take part in the study, said he generally agreed with its findings.
But he said it didn’t prove invasive carp had caused the sport fish drop-offs and that differences between river sections such as vegetation also can affect fish numbers.
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Protests grip major Iran cities over gas prices; 1 killed
By JON GAMBRELL | 08:26 EST
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Protesters angered by Iran raising government-set gasoline prices by 50% blocked traffic in major cities and occasionally clashed with police Saturday after a night of demonstrations punctuated by gunfire, in violence that reportedly killed at least one person.
The protests put renewed pressure on Iran’s government as it struggles to overcome the U.S. sanctions strangling the country after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Though largely peaceful, demonstrations devolved into violence in several instances, with online videos purporting to show police officers firing tear gas at protesters and mobs setting fires. While representing a political risk for President Hassan Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, it also shows the widespread anger among Iran’s 80 million people who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the national rial currency’s collapse.
The demonstrations took place in over a dozen cities in the hours following Rouhani’s decision early Friday to cut gasoline subsidies to fund handouts for Iran’s poor. Gasoline in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping up to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter of gas — 50% up from the day before. That’s 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. costs $2.60 by comparison.
But in a nation where many get by as informal taxi drivers, cheap gasoline is considered a birthright. Iran is home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves. While expected for months, the decision still caught many by surprise and sparked immediate demonstrations overnight.
Violence broke out Friday night in Sirjan, a city some 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Tehran. The state-run IRNA news agency said “protesters tried to set fire to the oil depot, but they were stopped by police.” It did not elaborate, but online videos circulating on Iranian social media purported to show a fire at the depot as sirens wailed in the background. Another showed a large crowd shouting: “Rouhani, shame on you! Leave the country alone!”
Mohammad Mahmoudabadi, an Interior Ministry official in Sirjan, later told state television that police and demonstrators exchanged gunfire, wounding several. He said many protestors were peaceful, but later masked men armed with guns and knives infiltrated the demonstration.
“They insisted on reaching the oil depot and creating crises,” Mahmoudabadi said.
The semi-official ISNA news agency later Quote: d Mahmoudabadi as saying the violence killed one person.
In Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, online videos purported to show police firing tear gas on crowds. The province’s city of Khorramshahr also saw gunfire, as could be heard in a brief clip played on air by state television. The region has long been a political tinderbox, with its ethnic Arab population that feels disenfranchised from the country’s Persian-language majority.
Saturday morning, the start of the Iranian workweek, saw protesters stop cars on major roadways across the capital, Tehran. Peaceful protesters blocked traffic on Tehran’s Imam Ali Highway, calling for police to join them as the season’s first snow fell, according to online videos. A dump truck later dropped bricks on the roadway to cheers.
A large crowd in the city of Kermanshah demonstrated and later drew tear gas fire from police, a video showed. Others reportedly clashed in Tabriz, another major Iranian city. The online videos corresponded to Associated Press reporting on the protest.
Such protests require prior approval from Iran’s Interior Ministry, though authorities routinely allow small-scale demonstrations over economic issues, especially as the country has struggled with currency devaluation. Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli later warned on state TV that authorities would crack down on anyone threatening the nation’s security.
It wasn’t immediately clear if police made arrests. Iranian state television aired a segment Friday night trying to dispute the claims of opposition satellite news channels about the protests, calling their videos of demonstrations “fake news” in English. Demonstrators in many online videos Saturday began identifying the time and place in response.
Iranian internet access meanwhile saw disruptions and outages Friday night into Saturday, according to the group NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet access. By Saturday night, “real-time network data show connectivity has fallen to just 7% of ordinary levels following 12 hours of progressive network disconnections as public protests have continued across the country,” NetBlocks said.
“The ongoing disruption is the most severe recorded in Iran since President Rouhani came to power, and the most severe disconnection tracked by NetBlocks in any country in terms of its technical complexity and breadth,” the group said. The websites of state media outlets appeared affected by the outage early Sunday.
Protester chants mirrored many from the late 2017 economic protests, which resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and at least 25 people being killed. Some criticized Iran’s spending abroad on Palestinians and others while the country’s people remain poor. Protests meanwhile continue in Iraq and Lebanon, two Mideast nations home to Iranian proxies and crucial to Tehran’s influence abroad.
Iran long has suffered economic problems since its 1979 Islamic Revolution cut off its decades-long relationship with the U.S. Its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s followed, further straining its economy.
The collapse of the nuclear deal has exacerbated those problems. The Iranian rial, which traded at 32,000 to $1 at the time of the accord, fell to 122,600 to $1 in trading Saturday. Iran has since begun breaking terms of the deal as it tries to force Europe to come up with a way to allow it to sell crude oil abroad despite American sanctions.
Henry Rome, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, said that after mass protests, Rouhani was forced to back down from a 2017 plan to increase fuel prices by 50%.
“The government was clearly attuned to this risk: The latest announcement was made in the middle of the night before a weekend,” Rome said. “It took effect immediately, and it was announced without direct consultation with lawmakers.”
EarthLink – News
Ukraine feels abandoned amid US impeachment drama
By YURAS KARMANAU and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV | Fri, November 15, 2019 02:25 EST
Ukraine is at the center of today’s east-west geopolitical battle, but it’s feeling increasingly alone and abandoned by its U.S. backers amid the impeachment drama unfolding in Washington.
The U.S. ambassador — who was pushed out earlier this year and testified Friday in Congress — hasn’t been replaced. Neither has the influential U.S. envoy tasked with helping Ukraine quell its Russia-backed separatist insurgency. The lower-level U.S. officials remaining in Kyiv are keeping an unusually low profile.
The erosion of Washington’s readiness to protect its Eastern European ally leaves Ukraine vulnerable to mounting Russian pressure, just as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy heads into high-stakes talks next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to end the deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainians increasingly feel the U.S. impeachment inquiry is making their country toxic.
A member of the Ukrainian parliament’s foreign affairs committee told The Associated Press that U.S. officials have shown increasing indifference to Ukraine and have been reluctant to attend meetings.
This has been particularly visible, the lawmaker said, since the September resignation of envoy Kurt Volker, whose departure led to the disappearance of a coordination center made up of people who were engaged in Ukraine’s affairs.
The lawmaker discussed the sensitive issue of U.S. aid on condition that his name be withheld. Ukrainian government officials refuse to talk about relations with the U.S. while the impeachment inquiry is ongoing, and influential lawmakers are similarly wary of saying anything publicly that could make matters even worse for their country.
Moscow is happy to fill the void, further bolstering Russia’s position along Europe’s geopolitical front line, with consequences around the region. The mixed messages to Ukraine from President Donald Trump’s administration are also damaging U.S. diplomatic credibility at a time when American foreign policy influence is already waning.
“Trump’s policy toward Ukraine looks badly incoherent and inconsistent,” said Mykola Sunhurovskyi, the head of military programs at the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based independent think-tank. “It’s like a swing, and Kyiv has found it difficult to adapt to that.”
In a July 25 phone call that triggered the impeachment inquiry, Trump pushed Ukraine’s newly elected Zelenskiy to investigate the country’s activities in the 2016 U.S. election and his potential 2020 rival Joe Biden, while the Trump administration was withholding about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.
Democrats say that Trump was engaged in “bribery” and “extortion,” abusing his office for personal political gain. The president denies wrongdoing. The military aid was ultimately released in September after Congress was informed of the phone call.
U.S. military aid makes up about 10 percent of Ukraine’s defense budget, according to Sunhurovskyi. He said the American aid is necessary to shore up the underfunded and badly equipped Ukrainian army, but is even more crucial as an indication of Washington’s determination to stand firmly behind its ally.
“The U.S. military aid is an important political signal indicating that Ukraine is a victim and Russia is an aggressor,” Sunhurovskyi said.”
President Barack Obama’s administration provided Ukraine with nonlethal military supplies, including countermortar radars, night-vision devices and medical items. The Trump administration in 2017 agreed to provide lethal weapons, committing to sell $47 million in Javelin anti-tank missiles.
The U.S. handed over two repurposed patrol boats Wednesday to Ukraine’s navy, part of over $1.6 billion in U.S. security assistance since 2014. Speaking at the ceremony, U.S. envoy Joseph Pennington pledged continued U.S. support.
It was one of the rare high-visibility American appearances in Ukraine in recent weeks.
While American business people remain ubiquitous in Kyiv, arriving daily on flights to Boryspol Airport and filling lobbies of the city’s high-end hotels, U.S. officials appear to be lying low, notably those visiting from Washington. When Assistant Secretary of State Denise Natali visited last month, none of her schedule was made public and media had no access.
Volker, the U.S. special envoy for Ukraine peace negotiations, used to regularly visit Kyiv, maintained close contacts with the European Union nations to coordinate their support for Ukraine and met with his Russian counterpart to defend Ukraine’s interests. The Trump administration hasn’t named a replacement since he resigned.
Trump himself encouraged Zelenskiy to meet with Putin and “solve your problem.”
“Trump’s hesitations and the absence of a clear U.S. strategy forces Kyiv to make concessions to Russia,” said Vadim Karasev, head of the Kyiv-based Institute of Global Strategies.
That’s worries many in Ukraine, especially ahead of Zelenskiy’s long-awaited meeting with Putin and the leaders of France and Germany on Dec. 9.
After Ukraine’s former Moscow-friendly president was driven from office by massive protests in 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and helped foment a separatist insurgency in the east. More than five years of fighting has killed over 13,000 and ravaged the country’s industrial heartland. The U.S. and the EU responded by hitting Russia with a slew of sanctions that hampered Russia-EU trade.
European nations also provide Ukraine significant aid, but Ukraine fears their support is slipping too. Some EU nations have pushed for lifting sanctions against Moscow, and French President Emmanuel Macron recently called for reaching out to Russia.
Lawmaker Iryna Gerashchenko said that could herald pressure on Ukraine to agree to a deal on Russian terms.
“The U.S. military assistance cemented the Western position,” Karasev said. “Any doubts, suspensions or delays will cause the Western coalition to collapse and allow Paris and Berlin to play their game and make a deal with Russia. Once the U.S. role in Europe weakens, Russia’s influence inevitably grows — it’s a historic pendulum that Trump has already set in motion.”
Karmanau reported from Minsk, Belarus. Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.
EarthLink – News
Texas appeals court blocks inmate Rodney Reed’s execution
By JUAN A. LOZANO | Fri, November 15, 2019 07:20 EST
HOUSTON (AP) — Texas’ top criminal appeals court on Friday halted the scheduled execution of inmate Rodney Reed, whose conviction is being questioned by new evidence that his supporters say raises serious doubt about his guilt.
The stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals came just hours after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had recommended delaying the lethal injection.
The 51-year-old Reed had been set for lethal injection Wednesday evening for the 1996 killing of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Prosecutors say Reed raped and strangled Stites as she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Austin.
Reed’s efforts to stop his execution have received support from such celebrities as Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey. Lawmakers from both parties, including Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, have also asked that officials take a closer look at the evidence in the case.
In its four-page order, the appeals court said Reed’s case should be returned to the trial court in Bastrop County so it could examine his claims that he is innocent and that prosecutors suppressed evidence and presented false testimony.
Bryce Benjet, an attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Reed, said defense attorneys were “extremely relieved and thankful” to the appeals court.
“This opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr. Reed’s innocence,” Benjet said in a statement.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office declined to comment Friday on whether it would appeal the order staying Reed’s execution.
Earlier Friday, the parole board had unanimously recommended a 120-day reprieve for Reed. The board rejected Reed’s request to commute his sentence to life in prison.
The parole board’s decision was to go next to Gov. Greg Abbott, who hasn’t said whether he would accept or reject it or do nothing.
The stay likely makes Abbott’s decision moot. Since taking office in 2015, Abbott has halted only one imminent execution, in 2018.
Since Texas resumed executions in 1982, only three death row inmates have had their sentences commuted to life in prison by a governor within days of their scheduled executions.
Reed has other appeals pending, including with the U.S. Supreme Court. His supporters have held rallies, including an overnight vigil on Thursday in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. It was unclear if a rally planned for Sunday in front of the Texas governor’s mansion would still take place.
Reed has long maintained he didn’t kill Stites and that her fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, was the real killer. Reed says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is black.
Fennell’s attorney has said his client didn’t kill Stites. Fennell was paroled last year after serving time in prison for sexual assault.
In their most recent motion to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Reed’s lawyers alleged prosecutors suppressed evidence or presented false evidence related to Fennell.
Prosecutors say Reed’s semen was found in the victim, his claims of an affair with Stites were not proven at trial, Fennell was cleared as a suspect and Reed had a history of committing other sexual assaults.
Reed’s lawyers say his conviction was based on flawed evidence. They have denied the other sexual assault accusations made by prosecutors.
Reed’s attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in August to compel DNA testing of crime scene evidence, including the believed murder weapon. His lawyers say the testing, which has been fought for years by prosecutors, could identify someone else as the murderer. The lawsuit is still pending.
In recent weeks, Reed’s attorneys have presented affidavits in support of his claims of innocence, including one by a former inmate who claims Fennell bragged about killing Stites and referred to Reed by a racial slur. Reed’s lawyers say other recent affidavits corroborate the relationship between Stites and Reed and show Fennell was violent and aggressive toward her.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70