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Monthly Archives: August 2016

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Analysis: Does Killing Terrorist Leaders Make Any Difference? Scholars Are Doubtful

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-   WASHINGTON — It seems obvious: Killing terrorist leaders should weaken their organizations, depriving those groups of strategic direction and ideological appeal. The death of someone like Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a senior Islamic State figure reported killed on Tuesday in Syria, should seem like a significant setback for the group.

But scholars have struggled to find evidence that killing leaders is an effective way to dismantle terrorist organizations, instead finding ample evidence that it makes little difference. That research seems to apply especially to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, whose attributes make it resilient to losing even a top figure like Mr. Adnani.

Two features make a terrorist group able to withstand a senior officer’s death, according to research by Jenna Jordan, a Georgia Tech professor and a leading expert on the subject.

The first is popular support. Groups need a steady stream of recruits and a pool of potential new leaders. Support among civilians in areas in which the groups primarily operate also makes them more stable, by broadening support networks and helping them to safely retrench when needed. Leaders are usually killed in or near communities that support them, resulting in those communities rallying behind the terrorist group and against whoever did the killing.

While it might be difficult to imagine that a community would support the Islamic State, the group’s continued control over parts of Syria and Iraq and the recruits flooding in from abroad demonstrate its appeal. Religious groups are even better at absorbing attacks, Professor Jordan found, because their appeal is based on a shared identity that transcends any individual leader.

The second feature is not something usually associated with groups like the Islamic State: bureaucracy. The more a terrorist group resembles a corporate organizational chart — often with administrative, payroll and logistical staff — the more stable it is, and the better able to handle a leader’s death.

Just like any other bureaucracy, such groups have clearly delineated hierarchies, internal rules and divisions of responsibility. That clarity means it is easy to replace a leader with a deputy. It also makes the organization stable: If one cog falls out, the rest of the machine can still function.

For a group as large and complex as the Islamic State, the infrastructure is simply too large for any one person, even a top leader, to make or break its future.

This is why terrorism scholars have repeatedly concluded that killing or capturing terrorist leaders — a strategy known, colorfully, as “decapitation” — does not work.

Robert A. Pape, a University of Chicago professor, wrote in a much-cited 2003 study that Israel and other governments had spent “over 20 years” focused on killing or capturing terrorist leaders and found “meager success.”

“Although decapitation of suicide terrorist organizations can disrupt their operations temporarily, it rarely yields long-term gains,” Professor Pape wrote.

It can, in some cases, even backfire. Governments that engage in targeted killings risk resetting ongoing political negotiations. Daniel Byman, a Brookings Institution scholar who focuses on Israeli counterterrorism, has written that a policy of “decapitation” may have led Palestinian terrorist groups to decentralize, ultimately making them more of a threat.

Still, the research is necessarily fuzzy. As one paper laments, definitive conclusions would require setting up an experimental terrorist group, which “is neither desirable nor feasible.”

That paper, by Patrick B. Johnston, a RAND Corporation researcher, is more supportive of “decapitation” strikes, however. Mr. Johnston found that repeated strikes against a terrorist group can, in some cases, increase the chances of a group’s defeat. But such strikes alone, he found, are not enough.

What these studies share is an acknowledgment that terrorist groups are, in at least some important respects, a political phenomenon. They cannot be fully defeated without addressing their political roots, including whatever local support they enjoy.

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda’s Iraq branch, was killed in 2006 as Iraqi Sunnis turned against the group in large numbers. His death was the result of his group’s decline, rather than a driver of it. Osama bin Laden’s death, in 2011, similarly came after a decade-long ground war to uproot Al Qaeda from Afghanistan and accompanying efforts in Pakistan.

If killing terrorist leaders does little on its own to defeat terrorist groups, then why do countries like the United States make such frequent use of this strategy? Consider where this strategy has been deployed: Syria, Somalia, Pakistan’s tribal regions and Yemen.

These are places where the United States might believe it has few, if any, options. Targeting terrorist leaders might not make much difference, but it is cheap, it is low risk for the United States (though not always for civilians in the vicinity of strikes), and it allows American leaders to credibly say they are doing something. But there is little evidence that these deaths, whatever their political value in the United States, make much of a difference on the ground.

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This undated image posted online Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, by supporters of the Islamic State group on an anonymous photo sharing website, shows Abu Muhammed al-Adnani, IS’s spokesman and chief strategist, who laid out the blueprint for the extremist group’s attacks against the West. The IS-run Aamaq news agency said Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016, that al-Adnani was killed while overseeing operations in northern Syria, without providing further details. (Militant Photo via AP)

Kerry says no military solution to South China Sea dispute

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NEW DELHI, Aug 31 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Wednesday on China and the Philippines to abide by an international tribunal’s decision on the disputed South China Sea and said there was no military solution to the problem.

Kerry’s remarks, made in a visit to India, came ahead of a G20 summit in China on Sunday and Monday that could be overshadowed by arguments over everything from territorial disputes to protectionism by China, diplomats say.

An arbitration court in The Hague ruled in July that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea. China dismissed the case lodged by the Philippines and rejected the ruling.

“The United States continues to call on China and the Philippines to abide by the tribunal’s recent decision which is final and legally binding on both parties,” Kerry told a gathering of students in New Delhi.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.

China has vowed to take all measures needed to protect its sovereignty over the South China Sea and says its actions there, which have included land reclamation and construction of air fields and docks on reefs, are peaceful.

China has blamed the United States and its allies in the region, such as Japan and Australia, for stoking tension.

The United States and Japan have no territorial claims in the South China Sea and say their priority is freedom of navigation.

Kerry said the United States supported diplomatic efforts to resolve territorial disputes to which there was “no military solution”.

“We are also interested in not fanning the flames of conflict but rather trying to encourage the parties to resolve their disputes and claims through the legal process and through diplomacy,” Kerry said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaks at a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj after conclusion of the second U.S.- India strategic dialogue in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug.30, 2016. © Manish Swarup/ AP Photo U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaks at a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj after conclusion of the second U.S.- India strategic dialogue in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug.30, 2016.

The United States and India, in a joint statement issued on Tuesday after security talks, reiterated the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

They said states should resolve disputes through peaceful means and “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability”.

U.S. ally the Philippines welcomed the tribunal’s ruling in July but it is keen not to anger China. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he will hold talks with China on the issue.

Duterte is attending a summit next week in Laos of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which both U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang are also going to.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, asked in Beijing whether Li would meet Duterte there, said it was not clear what bilateral meetings might take place.

Liu did not refer directly to the United States but said interference by some countries outside the region was a challenge in China-ASEAN relations.

“Frankly, some countries outside the region don’t want to see China-ASEAN relations develop so quickly and become so close. Some people, some countries, are constantly interfering in the development of China-ASEAN relations,” Liu said.

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(Additional reporting by Sanjeev Miglani, and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Britain, France seek UN sanctions against Syria for chemical attacks

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AFP)    —-    Britain and France called Tuesday for United Nations sanctions to be imposed on Syria after a UN-led investigation found the regime had carried out chemical attacks.

The UN ambassadors from London and Paris described the use of chemical weapons against civilians as a war crime ahead of a closed-door council meeting to discuss the investigation’s findings.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre called for a “quick and strong Security Council response” that would include “imposing sanctions on those who are responsible for these acts.”

US Ambassador Samantha Power did not specify what measures should be taken, but called on the Security Council to act swiftly to ensure those responsible for using chemical weapons “pay a price.”

An investigative panel set up by the Security Council said in a report last week that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had carried out at least two chemical attacks, one in 2014 and one in 2015.

Previous reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had concluded that toxic gases have been used as weapons in Syria’s five-year war, but stopped short of identifying the perpetrators.

The panel of inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), for the first time pointed the finger of blame at the Assad regime for chemical weapons use after years of denial from Damascus.

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the council will be “looking at the imposition of sanctions and some form of accountability within international legal mechanisms.”

It is “essential that we have a robust international response” to impose “measures under chapter 7” of the UN charter, which provides for sanctions, he added.

– Will Russia back sanctions ? –

The push for sanctions against the Damascus regime is expected to face resistance from Russia, Syria’s ally.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin praised the JIM for its professionalism, but declined to say what measures — if any — might be taken to follow up on the panel’s findings.

The panel found that the Syrian regime had dropped chemical weapons on two villages in northwestern Idlib province: Talmenes on April 21, 2014 and Sarmin on March 16, 2015.

In both instances, Syrian air force helicopters dropped “a device” on houses that was followed by the “release of a toxic substance,” which in the case of Sarmin matched “the characteristics of chlorine.”

Chlorine use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013, under pressure from Russia.

Human Rights Watch called on the council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and to urgently impose sanctions.

Britain, France and the United States said such a step remained an option, even though Russia and China blocked ICC referral in 2014.

“Russia and China don’t have a leg to stand on by continuing to obstruct the Security Council on Syria sanctions and ICC referral,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Security Council diminishes its importance if it doesn’t take strong action against demonstrated use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government,” he said.

Politics: Trump to meet in Mexico with the country’s president

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(PhatzNewsRoom / WP)    —-    Donald Trump is jetting to Mexico City on Wednesday for a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, just hours before he delivers a high-stakes speech in Arizona to clarify his views on immigration policy, according to people in the United States and Mexico familiar with the discussions.

Peña Nieto last Friday invited both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to visit Mexico, his office said in a statement provided to The Washington Post on Tuesday night.

Trump, sensing an opportunity, decided over the weekend to accept the invitation and push for a visit this week, according to the people familiar with the discussions.

Late Tuesday, Trump and the Mexican president confirmed that they will be meeting Wednersday.

“I have accepted the invitation of President Enrique Pena Nieto, of Mexico, and look very much forward to meeting him tomorrow,” Trump tweeted Tuesday night. Shortly later, Peña Nieto’s office tweeted that “El Señor” Donald Trump has accepted the invitation and will meet Wednesday privately with Peña Nieto.

The visit comes after Trump has wavered for weeks on whether he will continue to hold his hard-line positions on the central and incendiary issue of his campaign, in particular his call to deport an estimated 11 million immigrants who are living in the United States illegally.

The people informed of Trump’s plans spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity surrounding the matter. They said earlier Tuesday that talks between the Trump campaign and Mexican officials were ongoing, with security concerns still being sorted out.

Trump is scheduled to hold fundraisers Wednesday morning in California and deliver his immigration speech in the evening at the Phoenix Convention Center. His trip to Mexico would come between his events.

The invitation is a stunning move by Peña Nieto, given the grief that Trump’s campaign has caused the Mexican government over the past year. From calling Mexican illegal immigrants rapists and criminals, to vowing to build a wall along the southern border, to threatening to undo the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trump has caused growing alarm in Mexico. Peña Nieto himself likened Trump’s rhetoric to that of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, in a March interview with a Mexican newspaper.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, shown here in in Des Moines last weekend, is considering a trip to Mexico Wednesday to meet with that country’s president. © Gerald Herbert/AP Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, shown here in in Des Moines last weekend, is considering a trip to Mexico Wednesday to meet with that country’s president.

To the delight of his U.S. rally crowds, Trump has repeatedly promised to force Mexico to pay for his proposed border wall. Peña Nieto and other Mexican leaders have dismissed the idea as preposterous.

“There is no way that Mexico can pay [for] a wall like that,” Peña Nieto said in a July interview on CNN, adding that he did not agree with Trump’s frequent characterization of illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and killers.

Trump’s newly installed campaign chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, played a key role in devising the potential Wednesday stop while Trump met Sunday with his aides and family at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., according to two people who have been briefed on the campaign’s deliberations.

Bannon, who previously headed the conservative website Breitbart News, made the case to the group that Trump must underscore his populist immigration views in the final weeks of the general-election campaign, perhaps with an audacious gesture.

Peña Nieto’s invitation was brought up, and Bannon said it offered Trump an opening to make headlines and showcase himself as a statesman who could deal directly with Mexico.

Trump was intrigued by Bannon’s proposal and agreed, but not all aides and allies were as enthusiastic, the people said.

Trump, who appointed Bannon to his post and veteran pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager this month after the resignation of campaign chairman Paul Manafort, has been navigating a flood of conflicting advice this summer about where to land on immigration as he has publicly wrestled with himself on the details of his position.

Following Sunday’s strategy session, plans came together quickly but not without hurdles and some tensions.

Early this week, representatives for Trump contacted the U.S. Embassy in Mexico about his intentions, according to a person in Mexico familiar with the communications between the two sides.

Trump’s representatives were told privately by officials that it would be logistically difficult for Trump to visit. But the businessman’s proxies insisted that Trump would not delay his plans, the person said.

Overseas visits by senior U.S. officials normally require weeks of intricate planning on both sides, as every movement and meeting is plotted. When more security is required, such trips become even more complicated.

Security staffs traveling with the visitor are usually beefed up. While Mexico is not considered a hostile place, the crime level is high and Trump, should he appear in public, would require significant protection.

The invitation — and particularly a visit — seems certain to cause a backlash in Mexico City, where Trump is widely disliked. Mexicans have bashed Trump piñatas, burned him in effigy during public street parties and staged plays about him as a comic villain.

When Trump declared his candidacy in 2015, he was seen by many here as insulting but not to be taken very seriously. Mexican diplomats back then scoffed at the notion that Trump was a serious candidate or that the government was worried about his ascent.

That’s all changed now. Many of Mexico’s government and business elite have grown alarmed about the potential of a Trump presidency and the economic damage that his policies might inflict. The United States is Mexico’s most important trading partner.

Earlier this year, Peña Nieto swapped out key diplomats, including the Mexican ambassador to the United States, to have a more aggressive presence advocating for the importance of Mexico to the United States.

Several Mexican officials were surprised to learn on Tuesday that Peña Nieto had extended an invitation to Trump.

“Wow,” one said.

“This is an extraordinarily surprising, but welcome, development, whether it ends up happening or not,” said Andrew Selee, a Mexico expert at the Wilson Center in Washington. “Mexico is a vital country for U.S. foreign policy and economic interests. The second destination for exports and the country of origin of a tenth of all Americans.”

“The fact that the Trump campaign appears to be considering a trip to Mexico highlights the fact that Mexico is hardly a distant country anymore; it’s a close neighbor whose future is intertwined with America’s,” he added.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Xfinity Arena of Everett, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, in Everett, Wash. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Partlow reported from Mexico City. Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.

Vote on whether to remove president nears in Brazil’s Senate

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BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Senators debated the fate of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff into the wee hours of Wednesday, then planned a short break before casting votes that will decide whether to remove her permanently as leader of Latin America’s most populous country.

Many of the 81 senators signed up to speak Tuesday afternoon on the fifth day of her impeachment trial, prompting Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski to announce that they would go as long as it took for everyone to be heard. He said the trial would resume late Wednesday morning for the final vote on removing her.

Passionate closing arguments by Rousseff’s accusers and speeches by her allies appeared to be doing little to tip the balance in her favor on the eve of the impeachment decision. Suspended by the Senate in May, Rousseff faces permanent removal for breaking fiscal responsibility laws in her managing of the federal budget.

Most of the senators making statements attacked Rousseff, blaming her for Brazil falling into its deepest recession in decades and saying she ignored signs of a slowdown.

“The most perverse consequence of the actions of the president is that 12 million are unemployed, 5 million since she was re-elected,” said Sen. Aecio Neves, who narrowly lost the presidential election to Rousseff in 2014.

Before senators began speaking, the prosecution and defense rested their cases.

Janaina Paschoal, the lawyer leading the case against Brazil’s first female president, said Rousseff committed fraud when breaking fiscal laws.

“We are not dealing with a little accounting problem,” she said. “The fraud was documented.”

Paschoal then broke into tears as she asked for Rousseff’s forgiveness for making the president suffer.

Rousseff’s defense attorney, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, also got emotional after closing his case and called Paschoal’s teary comments “insulting.”

The presentations came in the final phase of a political fight that has polarized Brazil since the impeachment measure was introduced in the lower Chamber of Deputies late last year.

For Rousseff to be removed, at least 54 of the 81 senators must vote in favor. Local media have reported that at least 52 senators have said they will vote for ouster, while roughly 18 are opposed and 11 have not said. In May, the same body voted 55-22 to impeach and suspend her.

Allies of Rousseff have signaled that if she is removed from office, they will take the case to the Supreme Court. But several motions filed to the country’s highest court throughout the impeachment proceedings have failed.

Opposition senators accuse Rousseff of using illegal means to hide holes in the federal budget, saying that exacerbated a recession and led to high inflation and daily layoffs.

Rousseff, a former guerrilla fighter who was tortured and imprisoned during the country’s dictatorship, says she broke no laws and notes that previous presidents used similar accounting measures.

On Monday, she argued before senators that she was forced to make tough choices on the budget in the face of declining revenues and a refusal by opponents in Congress to work with her.

“I know I will be judged, but my conscience is clear. I did not commit a crime,” Rousseff told senators in a 30-minute address.

Rousseff had sharp words for her vice president, Michel Temer, who took over when she was temporarily suspended and will finish her term through 2018 if the Senate permanently removes her.

She called him a “usurper” who in May named a Cabinet of all white men in a country that is more than 50 percent non-white. Temer’s Cabinet has been roundly criticized for its lack of diversity, with three ministers were forced to step down within a month of taking office because of corruption allegations.

Rousseff asserted that impeachment was the price she paid for refusing to quash a wide-ranging police investigation into the state oil company Petrobras, saying that corrupt lawmakers conspired to oust her to derail the investigation into billions in kickbacks at the oil giant.

Rousseff said it was “an irony of history” she would be judged for crimes she did not commit, by people accused of serious crimes.

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Associated Press writer Mauricio Savarese reported this story in Brasilia and AP writer Adriana Gomez Licon reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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Mauricio Savarese on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/MSavarese

Adriana Gomez Licon on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/agomezlicon

Obama to open conservation tour in Lake Tahoe and Hawaii

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is opening a two-day environmental tour aimed at showcasing conservation efforts before traveling to Asia, where climate change is high on the agenda for his final trip to the region.

In Nevada on Wednesday, Obama plans to visit Lake Tahoe and speak at a summit dedicated to the iconic lake’s preservation. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who like Obama is in his final year in office, has hosted the summit for 20 years and asked Obama to attend. The president planned to hail federal and local collaboration on environmental protection while announcing modest new steps on clean energy and climate resilience.

After his brief stop in the desert, the president will head to lusher terrain in Honolulu, where he plans a speech to a gathering of leaders of island nations in the Pacific Ocean. The setting provides Obama a chance to emphasize a theme he’s returned to frequently in his climate campaign: that remote areas like small islands are the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and should help lead the fight to slow global warming.

To that end, Obama on Thursday planned an unusual presidential visit to Midway Atoll, a speck of land halfway between Asia and North America. Part of the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands, Midway played a key role for the U.S. military in World War II and was the site of a pivotal battle with Japan. Midway sits inside the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which President George W. Bush created and Obama expanded ahead of his trip to make it the world’s largest protected stretch of ocean.

During an afternoon on the island, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Obama planned to get briefed on the environmental characteristics on the island. The White House said he also would “interact directly with the wildlife.” More than 7,000 species can be found there, including many that exist only in that region.

Obama’s conservation tour comes at the start of a busy trip to Asia, Obama’s final as president and one of his last opportunities to lock in his administration’s seven-year effort to expand U.S. engagement with Asia, including trade ties and cooperation on climate.

In China to attend the Group of 20 major economies summit, Obama planned to hold a formal meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has become Obama’s unlikely partner in pushing for global action on climate. Environmental groups have been pushing Obama and Xi to use the visit to formally enter their nations into the sweeping global climate deal struck in Paris last year.

Before returning to Washington, Obama also was to become the first sitting president to visit Laos, where he’ll meet with the country’s leaders and attend a pair of regional summits.

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President Barack Obama steps out of the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, as he departs for a quick trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md to visit with wounded service members. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Business: Global stocks mixed in listless trade ahead of US jobs data

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TOKYO (AP) — Global stocks were mixed in listless trading Wednesday ahead of key jobs data later this week in the U.S. that could lead to higher interest rates.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 rose 0.5 percent in early trading to 4,479.46 and Germany’s DAX inched down 0.01 percent to 10,656.05. Britain’s FTSE 100 added 0.05 percent to 6,824.12. U.S. shares were also directionless, with Dow futures slipping 0.02 percent to 18,441, while S&P 500 futures were up 0.01 percent at 2,175.40.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 gained 1.0 percent to finish at 16,887.40, cheered by a stronger dollar that boosts the earnings of Japanese exporters. South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.3 percent to 2,034.65. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down nearly 0.2 percent to 22,976.88, while the Shanghai Composite gained 0.4 percent to 3,085.49.

FED FACTOR: Investors continue to wait to see whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates later this year. Comments by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Vice Chair Stanley Fisher at a conference last week in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, signaled that the Fed is ready to raise interest rates later this year.

JOBS DATA: The next key piece of U.S. economic data is coming on Friday with the August jobs report. Economists expect employers added 182,500 jobs in August and that the unemployment rate fell slightly to 4.8 percent. A strong jobs report would give the Federal Reserve additional ammunition to raise interest rates either at its September meeting or later this year.

ENERGY: In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 21 cents to $46.14. It fell 63 cents to $46.35 a barrel Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price oil internationally, fell 38 cents to $48.35 a barrel.

THE QUOTE: “U.S. rate hike fever continues dominating the foreign exchange landscape. The U.S. dollar is trading favorably despite the next major catalyst, Friday’s jobs report. The market is stuck between the good cop, bad cop performance from Yellen and Fischer at Jackson Hole,” said Stephen Innes, senior trader at Oanda.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 103.19 yen from 102.33 late Tuesday. The euro slipped to $1.1146 from $1.1174.

Breaking: ISIS spokesman killed in Aleppo, group says

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(CNN)   —-   ISIS spokesman Mohammad al-Adnani has been killed, according to the terror group’s Amaq news agency and a statement from the group Tuesday.

It is unprecedented for ISIS and its news wing to make such an announcement, and al-Adnani’s death marks the highest-profile killing among the terror group.
The Amaq statement said al-Adnani died while inspecting military operations in the area of Aleppo, Syria. ISIS has not revealed the cause of death.
Representatives of the US-led coaltion against ISIS have not commented on the reported death of al-Adnani.
In January, al-Adnani was reported injured in a coalition airstrike.

IS destruction of Iraqi base could hinder Mosul operation

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QAYARA AIR BASE, Iraq (AP) — The air base that Iraqi forces hope to use as a staging area to take Mosul back from the Islamic State group was almost completely destroyed by the retreating militants, raising new doubts over whether the long-awaited operation will begin this year.

Iraqi forces seized the Qayara air base south of Mosul in July, in what U.S. and Iraqi officials said was a major step toward the eventual liberation of the country’s second largest city, which fell to IS in 2014. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on Mosul residents “to get ready for the liberation of their areas.”

But Iraqi army commanders stationed at the base say it will take months of reconstruction before it is ready to receive cargo planes and house the tens of thousands of troops needed for the march on Mosul. Their assessments call into question whether Iraq will be able to launch the operation this year, as the prime minister has repeatedly pledged.

“Daesh began destroying this base from the moment they took it over,” Col. Karim Rodan Salim said, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym. “No less than 95 percent of the base has been destroyed.”

IS militants stripped buildings of wiring, toppled blast walls, leveled airplane hangars with explosives and mined runways.

Salim and his men are living in trailers on a patch of tarmac in the shadow of one of the partially collapsed hangers. At a nearby runway dozens of piles of dirt and rocks mark suspected explosives left by IS, Salim said. He estimates it will take at least six months of rebuilding before the base is ready for the 50,000 troops he says will be needed to retake Mosul.

Originally built in 1979, the facility was renamed Saddam Base after it was rehabilitated by the former Iraqi dictator. IS captured the base in the summer of 2014, when it swept across much of northern and western Iraq and drove panicking Iraqi troops out of Mosul. The base is more than six kilometers (four miles) long and has runways large enough to accommodate cargo planes.

The coalition hopes to transform the base into a logistics center ahead of the Mosul operation. The Pentagon announced earlier this month that about 400 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division will deploy to Iraq as part of that effort. They are among 560 additional troops President Barack Obama approved for the Iraq mission in July.

On Monday, a convoy of dozens of armored coalition vehicles carrying heavy equipment and supplies could be seen along the road leading to the base.

The U.S.-led coalition has stepped up a campaign of airstrikes around Mosul in recent weeks and fast-tracked training programs for Iraqi forces in an effort to meet the prime minister’s deadline of launching the operation by year’s end.

“The seizure of this base is important because it demonstrates the Iraqi security forces’ ability to maintain momentum as Daesh gets weaker and continues to lose territory,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of coalition land forces in Iraq.

IS has retreated from areas around Mosul in recent days, including the nearby town of Qayara, where it set oil wells on fire before the advancing troops. The extremist group has come under mounting pressure on a number of fronts in Syria and Iraq in recent months, losing a string of towns and cities in both countries.

But it has sabotaged infrastructure on its way out, leaving behind a swath of destruction that that in the short-term is hindering further advances by Iraqi forces and in the long-term will require a daunting reconstruction effort.

Across northern and western Iraq, engineering teams are busy rebuilding downed bridges and carefully removing thousands of roadside bombs and other booby-traps. Iraqi forces recaptured Ramadi, the provincial capital of the western Anbar province, six months ago, but the city is still too dangerous for most residents to return.

“What we see here was an organized destruction,” Salim said. “But we were expecting it. Daesh never leaves anything behind.”

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A general view of Qayara air base on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 that Iraqi forces say they plan to use as a key staging area for the long awaited operation to retake militant-held Mosul, which has been almost completely destroyed by the Islamic State group. Iraqi army commanders now stationed at the base say it will take months of reconstruction before the base is ready to house the tens of thousands of troops needed for the mosul push, calling into question Iraq’s ability to launch the operation this year as the prime minister has repeatedly pledged.(AP Photo/Susannah George)

State: Benghazi emails involving Clinton recovered by FBI

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department says about 30 emails involving the 2012 attack on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya, are among the thousands of Hillary Clinton emails recovered during the FBI’s recently closed investigation into her use of a private server.

Government lawyers told U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta Tuesday that an undetermined number of the emails among the 30 were not included in the 55,000 pages previously provided by Clinton to the State Department. The agency said it would need until the end of September to review the emails and redact potentially classified information before they are released.

The hearing was held in one of several lawsuits filed by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, which has sued over access to government records involving the Democratic presidential nominee. The State Department has said the FBI provided it with about 14,900 emails purported not to have been among those previously released. Clinton previously had said she withheld and deleted only personal emails not related to her duties as secretary of state.

In a separate development Tuesday, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the FBI is expected to release documents soon related to its investigation, which focused on whether Clinton and her aides mishandled government secrets.

The official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity, said documents in the case would be made public as the FBI responds to Freedom of Information Act requests. It wasn’t immediately clear when the documents would be released or exactly what they would include.

Though he described Clinton’s actions as “extremely careless,” FBI Director James Comey said his agents found no evidence that anyone intended to break the law and said “no reasonable prosecutor” would have brought a criminal case.

The FBI this month provided Congress portions of its file from the agency’s yearlong investigation.

The FBI interviewed Clinton for several hours at FBI headquarters in Washington just days before announcing its decision to close the investigation. The Justice Department accepted the FBI’s recommendation.

CNN reported that the records could be made public as early as Wednesday.

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Follow Associated Press reporters Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://twitter.com/etuckerAP and Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck

France criticizes Turkish military intervention in Syria

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BEIRUT (AP) — French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday criticized Turkey’s “contradictory” military intervention in Syria and warned Russia not to become a “protagonist” in the war, a day after a U.S. official warned that clashes between Turkish troops and Kurdish forces would detract from the fight against the Islamic State group.

The mounting criticism comes as a spokesman for the Kurdish-led forces in Syria said IS militants carried out a two-pronged attack on villages south and west of the former militant stronghold of Manbij, taking advantage of clashes between his forces and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels.

The Kurdish-led forces seized Manbij from IS earlier this month after a 10-week campaign.

Turkish troops entered Syria last week and together with allied Syrian rebels have pushed to clear both IS militants and Kurdish-led forces from the border area around the Syrian town of Jarablus. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish forces an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a domestic group it deems a terrorist organization.

In a speech Tuesday, Hollande said “multiple, contradictory interventions carry the risk of a general inflammation” of the fighting that has devastated the country.

He said he could understand Turkey’s concern about protecting its borders and fighting the Islamic State group, but criticized Ankara’s actions against Kurdish rebels allied with the U.S.-led coalition who are fighting the extremists. France is part of that coalition.

Shervan Darwish, a spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, part of the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces, said the militants used at least three car bombs in Tuesday’s attacks. The SDF, aided by airstrikes from the U.S-led coalition, repelled the attack initially but Darwish said clashes continued on Tuesday. In a statement on Twitter, IS said they seized two villages in the area.

“The Turkish occupation of parts of Syria hampers the war against terrorism and by targeting us (the Turkey-backed forces) gave Daesh the space to reorganize its ranks and attack us,” Darwish told The Associated Press, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Turkish troops and the Syrian rebels they are backing are “aiming for our troops, not Daesh,” Darwish added.

Turkey’s president vowed to press ahead with the military operation until IS and Kurdish Syrian fighters no longer pose a security threat to Ankara. In comments published Tuesday in the pro-government newspaper, Daily Sabah, Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin called on the U.S. to “revise their policy of supporting (the Kurdish-led force) at all costs.”

The Kurdish-led forces “are shamelessly using the war in Syria to create a de facto terrorist state in Syria,” the spokesman wrote. “Turkey will not allow that.”

Last week, Turkey sent its troops and warplanes to back Syrian rebels in their advance on Jarablus, a town close to the Turkish border and the next IS-stronghold after Manbij. The incursion prompted clashes between the two U.S.-allies — Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters.

In recent months, the U.S.-led allied Kurdish forces have gained control of most of the territory along the Turkey-Syria border, reinforcing the ethnic group’s aspirations for a contiguous autonomous region there.

The U.S. on Monday urged Turkish troops and Kurdish forces in northern Syria to halt their fighting, saying the clashes were hindering efforts to defeat IS.

Turkey appears determined to create a de facto “safe zone” free of IS and the Kurds near its border. The Turkish military said Turkey-backed Syrian rebels — a mix of various Islamist rebel factions — have cleared several villages of “terrorist entities” and now control an area totaling some 400 square kilometers (about 150 square miles) south and west of Jarablus.

On Tuesday, Turkish-backed rebels posted footage of their troops praying and walking through villages they captured north of Manbij, across the Sajour River, a Euphrates tributary.

Darwish said SDF forces have pulled back to south of the Sajour and into the Manbij area, a move unlikely to be accepted by Turkey since Ankara wants them to withdraw completely east of the Euphrates river.

He said Turkey-backed rebels shelled a village south of Jarablus, killing at least five civilians. He accused Turkey of targeting civilians. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five people were killed in shelling on the village of al-Dandanieh, in rural Manbij. The Observatory said it was not clear if IS or Turkey-backed rebels were behind the shelling.

In Paris, Hollande urged Russia to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition and said he would invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to France in October, saying Russia should be “a player in negotiations, not a protagonist in the action.”

Hollande said Assad’s regime uses Russian military support to carry out bomb attacks on civilians, which “plays into the hands of extremists”.

Hollande said “the absolute urgency is a halt to fighting and a return to negotiations.” He also called for an “immediate truce” in the city of Aleppo, a main battlefield in Syria’s five-year civil war.

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French President Francois Hollande gestures as he addresses French ambassadors, Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016 in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, Pool)

Stojanovic contributed to this report from Istanbul. Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report from Paris.

Comic performer Gene Wilder kept his serious side off camera

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Revered as a comedic and storytelling genius by Hollywood’s top entertainers, Gene Wilder was a humble man who downplayed his comic gifts, was a serious director and remained deferential to his longtime collaborator, Mel Brooks.

“I am him in fantasy,” Wilder once said of playing the lead in Brooks’ films.

After Wilder’s death was announced Monday, Brooks called his colleague “one of the truly great talents of our time.”

“He blessed every film we did together with his special magic and he blessed my life with his friendship,” Brooks said in a statement. “He will be so missed.”

Wilder died Sunday night of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at age 83. His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, said Wilder was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, but kept the condition private so as not to disappoint fans.

Though Wilder started his acting career on the stage, millions knew him from his work in the movies, especially the ones he made with Brooks, such as “The Producers,” ”Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein.” The last film — with Wilder playing a California-born descendant of the mad scientist, insisting that his name is pronounced “Frahn-ken-SHTEEN” — was co-written by Brooks and Wilder and earned the pair an Oscar nod for adapted screenplay.

With his unkempt hair and big, buggy eyes, Wilder was a master at playing panicked characters caught up in schemes that only a madman such as Brooks could devise, whether reviving a monster in “Young Frankenstein” or bilking Broadway in “The Producers.” Brooks would call him “God’s perfect prey, the victim in all of us.”

But he also knew how to keep it cool as the boozing gunslinger in “Blazing Saddles” or the charming candy man in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” His craziest role: the therapist having an affair with a sheep in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.”

Wilder was close friends with Richard Pryor and their contrasting personas — Wilder uptight, Pryor loose — were ideal for comedy. They co-starred in four films: “Silver Streak,” ”Stir Crazy,” ”See No Evil, Hear No Evil” and “Another You.”

But Wilder insisted he was not a comedian. He told Robert Osborne in 2013 it was the biggest misconception about him.

“What a comic, what a funny guy, all that stuff! And I’m not. I’m really not. Except in a comedy in films,” Wilder said. “But I make my wife laugh once or twice in the house, but nothing special. But when people see me in a movie and it’s funny then they stop and say things to me about ‘how funny you were.’ But I don’t think I’m that funny. I think I can be in the movies.”

He could be quite serious, said actress Carol Kane, his co-star in 1977’s “The World’s Greatest Lover.”

“I don’t think Gene was depressed, but he was very serious and very sensitive and not afraid to expose what many people would call a feminine side, an emotional side,” she said Monday.

A Milwaukee native, Wilder was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933. When he was 6, his mother suffered a heart attack that left her a semi-invalid. He soon began improvising comedy skits to entertain her, the first indication of his future career.

He started taking acting classes at age 12 and continued studying through college. In 1961, Wilder became a member of Lee Strasberg’s prestigious Actor’s Studio in Manhattan.

That same year, he adopted the stage name Gene Wilder and made both his off-Broadway and Broadway debuts. He won the Clarence Derwent Award, given to promising newcomers, for the Broadway work in Graham Greene’s comedy “The Complaisant Lover.” A key break came when he co-starred with Anne Bancroft in Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage” in 1963.

A few years later, Brooks cast Wilder in “The Producers,” for which Wilder was nominated for a supporting actor Academy Award. Brooks also encouraged Wilder to become a director himself.

“He gave me the chutzpah to stand up on a chair and shout out: ‘I don’t know what the answer is! Somebody help me,'” Wilder told The Associated Press in a 1977 interview. “And when you can do that, people usually love you for it and rush in to help.”

He went on to write several screenplays and direct five films. He married “Saturday Night Live” headliner Gilda Radner in 1984 and they costarred in two of his films: “The Woman in Red” and “Haunted Honeymoon.”

“He was compassionate and inspirational and poetic as a director,” Kane recalled. “And clearly one of the great clowns — the Chaplin of talkies in some way, I would say.”

Wilder’s desire to tell his stories well led him to pay special attention to directing himself.

“The tendency for most directors who direct themselves is to spend too little time on themselves, oddly enough. When you can finally say, ‘Me, me,’ you want to say, ‘Oh, that’s enough of me,’ because it’s more fun to direct the other actors than it is to direct yourself,” he said in the 1977 AP interview. “When I look at the film with an audience, and I look up at the screen, I say, ‘This is what I intended.'”

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AP film writers Lindsey Bahr in Los Angeles and Jake Coyle in New York and former AP reporter Larry McShane contributed to this story.

U.S., European military advisers work to boost lagging Afghan combat readiness

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(PhatzNewsRoom / WP)    —-   CAMP SHAHEEN, Afghanistan — Ten days ago, Maj. Kabir Hamidzai was sitting in a Humvee within Taliban firing range, relaying information between an army troop commander and an attack helicopter pilot overhead.

A column of Afghan soldiers was moving toward an insurgent position from one side of a hill; a squad of Special Operations forces was advancing from the other. Hamidzai’s role was to guide two chopper pilots from both directions, protecting the troops and then striking the insurgents.

Last week, back at this base in northeastern Afghanistan where he trains future combat air controllers, the officer described the recent operation in Baghlan province. “Both convoys came together, the pilots fired their rockets, and 50 of the enemy were killed,” he said with a satisfied nod.

It was a small victory in a war that is being fought on two fronts, sometimes pulling in two directions. One is the ongoing conflict between Taliban insurgents and Afghan forces, which have been abruptly weaned from 15 years of Western funding and combat support while facing a fierce, persistent enemy.

The other is an ambitious effort by U.S. military officials and several NATO partners to create an independent, professional Afghan defense force. This includes training military fighter pilots, establishing rest and training rotations for infantry troops, and making sure administrators can deliver fuel, uniforms and bullets when they are needed.

“We are trying to build a plane while flying it,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. David W. Hicks, senior commander for the U.S. Air Expeditionary Wing based in Kabul. His metaphor applies to almost every aspect of the U.S. mission to “train, advise and assist” Afghan forces since the withdrawal of most NATO combat forces in 2014.

In a literal sense, the planes have already been built. This year, the United States has shipped eight A-29 fighter aircraft and 23 MD-530 attack helicopters to Afghanistan, while scores of Afghan pilots have undergone intensive training in the United States and Europe.

Since June, the first group of pilots have been deployed frequently to escort and defend Afghan troops, but their numbers seem impossibly small, and their entry into the war extremely late, at a time when Taliban forces have launched aggressive new campaigns in scattered, strategic provinces.

By all accounts, the pilots are highly motivated, but they also have had to adjust from the top-down military culture of the Soviet Union, which built the Afghan defense forces in the 1980s, to the Western emphasis on making their own judgments in midair, including assessing whether civilians are too close to a target to fire their rockets or drop their bombs.

“It’s not worth killing one bad guy if it harms families or children,” said Mohammed, 25, an Afghan Air Force MD-530 pilot based in Kabul. “I know I am responsible for my decisions. I am the commander in the air.” U.S. military officials asked that such pilots not be identified by their last names, citing security reasons.

Decentralizing the military bureaucracy and teaching Afghan forces to survive without the Western largesse have been a constant challenge. Both encouraged dependence and fostered corruption, which is viewed by many as the single largest obstacle to effective Afghan military performance in the war.

Military supplies often vanish and end up in markets. Fuel coming by truck from Pakistan passes through many hands and can easily be siphoned off. Local commanders exaggerate how many bullets they have used and sell the replacements. Humvees with broken axles sit for months without being repaired. Fighting units run out of supplies because they are not ordered in time.

American and NATO advisers say the only way to ensure accountability and efficiency is by instilling modern administrative methods. But this is slowed by low literacy rates among Afghan troops, including many officers, and by entrenched nepotistic practices that make it difficult to get rid of incompetent staff.

“Limiting opportunities for corruption takes a lot of paperwork. We mostly teach people the basics: how to fill out forms, how to track things on computers, how to make sure they order enough supplies in advance,” said Lt. Col. Gwenda Niezlen, a Dutch officer who works with Afghan troops at Camp Shaheen in Balkh province.

For the Afghan infantry troops who bear the brunt of the war, just getting enough food, rest and ammunition can be a challenge on long deployments. American advisers are trying to set up a system in which soldiers rotate regularly through periods of fighting, resting and training, but the plan is still in the early stages and the army has been stretched thin this summer battling Taliban offensives.

Last year, Afghan casualties were the highest since the war began, with about 16,000 soldiers and police killed or wounded. But U.S. military officials said Afghan forces are doing better this year. In a briefing last week, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, senior spokesman for the U.S. military mission, said the Taliban had won “some tactical victories,” but that “overall, Afghan forces are generally on track with their campaign plans.”

Unlike the respected air force, where more than 90 percent of service members reenlist, the attrition rate in the Afghan National Army is officially estimated at 15 to 20 percent a year, mostly from soldiers going home after their first contract ends; some Afghans say it is much higher. Officials must scramble to fill the gap with recruits, who have to be trained from scratch.

At Camp Shaheen last week, a company of soldiers just back from the front lines was lining up to drill under a hot sun. The men looked tired and bedraggled. One grizzled officer said he had been fighting the Taliban for nine years, but that his company had lost at least 25 men. “The Taliban hide in trees and places we can’t see them. We need more air support,” he pleaded.

In an adjacent field, a group of fresh recruits was lined up for inspection before heading out to train. Asked why they had joined the army, several said they wanted to serve their country, but then added that their families needed the money.

“I’m happy, but I haven’t been to the war yet,” said Sayed Shah, 20, a recruit from Sar-e Pol province, adding that his promised salary of $130 a month would be his family’s only income. “I will do my best to fight,” he said, then added in a burst of inspiration, “I want to stay until I become a general.”

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Afghan army recruits cast shadows as they line up for training. The army’s attrition rate is officially estimated at 15 to 20 percent a year, mostly from soldiers going home after their first contract ends. Some Afghans say it is much higher.

Typhoon hits northern Japan, threatening to bring floods

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TOKYO (AP) — A typhoon slammed into northern Japan on Tuesday evening, threatening to bring floods to an area still recovering from the 2011 tsunami.

Typhoon Lionrock made landfall near the city of Ofunato, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) northeast of Tokyo. It’s the first time a typhoon has made landfall in the northern region since 1951, when the Japan Meteorological Agency started keeping records.

Even before it made landfall, the storm had already paralyzed traffic, caused blackouts and prompted officials to urge residents to evacuate. It was packing winds up to 126 kilometers (78 miles) per hour Tuesday evening.

More than 170,000 people were subject to evacuation, including 38,000 in Ofunato, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. More than 10,000 homes in the northern region were without electricity, with power lines damaged from the winds.

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami left more than 18,000 people dead in the wide swaths of Japan’s northern coast, including 340 in Ofunato.

As of Tuesday evening, Typhoon Lionrock had brought 15 centimeters (6 inches) of rainfall to the region over the past 24 hours, and was expected to dump up to 8 centimeters (3 inches) of rain per hour in some areas, the meteorological agency said, urging residents to use caution and stay away from the coastline.

Major airlines canceled more than 100 flights to and from the northern region. Bullet train services in the Tohoku and Hokkaido regions were suspended.

At the Fukushima nuclear power plant, decimated by the 2011 disaster, some outdoor decommissioning work was suspended as a precaution.

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Waves crash against a coast in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. A typhoon is about to barrel into northern Japan, threatening to bring floods to an area still recovering from the 2011 tsunami. Typhoon Lionrock has already paralyzed traffic, caused blackouts and prompted officials to urge residents to evacuate.(Jun Hirata/Kyodo News via AP)

US urges halt to Turkish, Kurdish clashes in northern Syria

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The U.S. on Monday urged Turkish troops and Kurdish forces in northern Syria to halt their fighting, saying it hinders efforts to defeat the Islamic State group. But Turkey’s president vowed to press ahead with the military operation until the IS and Kurdish Syrian fighters no longer pose a security threat to Ankara.

It was the first U.S. criticism of its NATO ally since it launched a U.S.-backed incursion into northern Syria to help Syrian rebels seize the town of Jarablus from the Islamic State group. They have been clashing with Kurdish Syrian forces around the town to try to halt their advance.

The battle now pits Turkey against the Kurdish-led force known as the Syria Democratic Forces— a U.S.-backed proxy that is the most effective ground force battling IS militants in Syria’s 5-year-old civil war. It puts Washington in the difficult spot of having to choose between two allies, and it is likely to divert resources from the fight against IS.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Washington has asked Turkey to “stay focused” on the fight against the Islamic State and not to engage with the SDF.

“We’ve called on both sides not to fight one another, not to fight each other,” Carter said.

He told reporters at the Pentagon that Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to his Turkish counterpart Sunday. Carter added that he intends to discuss the issue next week in Europe with Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the clashes were of “deep concern,” adding that they were not coordinated with U.S. forces, “and we do not support them.”

“Uncoordinated operations and maneuvers only provide room for ISIL to find sanctuary and continue planning attacks against Turkey, the SDF, the United States, and our partners around the world,” the statement said.

Turkish officials responded by insisting that Kurdish forces “immediately” withdraw east of the Euphrates River or face more attacks by Turkish forces.

“No one has the right to tell Turkey to ‘fight this terror organization but don’t fight that terror organization,'” said Omer Celik, a Turkish cabinet minister.

Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper, in an online edition, quoted Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus as responding to the Pentagon by saying the U.S. should keep to its promise and use its influence to press its Kurdish allies to withdraw to the east.

The sharp rhetoric — and the continued fighting — reflects the complicated and conflicting interests at stake in northern Syria after Turkish tanks rolled across the border Aug. 24 with the dual aim of containing the IS group and Kurdish forces.

The U.S. has supported Turkey in its demand that the SDF withdraw east of the Euphrates, which cuts into Jarablus. The goal is to clear the region south of Jarablus of Kurdish forces, thus keeping them from linking with other Kurdish-controlled areas in Afrin in Syria’s northwestern corner.

Turkey pressed ahead with its offensive, seemingly bent on creating a de facto “safe zone” free of IS and the Kurds near its border. The Turkish military said Turkey-backed Syrian rebels — a mix of various Islamist rebel factions — have cleared 10 more villages of “terrorist entities” and now control of an area totaling some 400 square kilometers (about 150 square miles) south and west of Jarablus.

In an emailed statement, Turkish military officials said Syrian opposition forces were continuing their operations to clear IS-controlled areas.

Syrian opposition groups, meanwhile, reported that Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have captured more towns and villages as part of the operation named “Euphrates Shield,” now in its sixth day.

Cook said the U.S. doesn’t support reported Turkish airstrikes and artillery shelling of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters — or Kurdish attacks on Turkish troops — in areas where IS fighters no longer operate.

In another sign of brewing discord, Cook said the Kurdish pullback to the east side of the Euphrates has “largely occurred.”

At the White House, Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, expressed concern that further action by Turkish troops against the Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces “would complicate efforts to have that united front against ISIL that we want,” using another acronym for the Islamic State group.

Rhodes said that while the U.S. supported Turkey’s efforts to clear IS fighters from Jarablus and secure its border, it would oppose Turkish efforts to move south and engage in activities against the SDF. He also said the U.S. has communicated to the SDF that they should not engage in military activity against Turkish forces.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish operations will continue “until terror organizations such as Daesh, the PKK and its Syrian arm, the YPG, cease to be threats for our citizens.”

Daesh is the Arabic name for the Islamic State group; the PKK is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey; and the YPG is the main Syrian Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units.

Earlier this month, the Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces crossed the Euphrates and drove IS militants out of Manbij, a key supply hub south of Jarablus, following a costly 10-week campaign.

“The SDF have proven to be a reliable and capable force, and our support for the SDF in its fight against ISIL is ongoing and will continue to do so,” Cook said, using another acronym to refer to the Islamic State group. “They have fought hard and sacrificed to try and rid Syria of this hateful group.”

The Jarablus Military Council, which is part of the SDF, said its fighters will withdraw to areas south of the Sajour River, a tributary of the Euphrates. The Sajour is north of Manbij.

“We declare the withdrawal of our forces to south, to the Sajour River, to preserve the lives of civilians and so that they (Turks and their allies) don’t have any justification to continue shelling civilians,” the council said.

The move is unlikely to be accepted by Turkey, since Ankara wants the rebels to withdraw completely east of the Euphrates.

Syrian opposition activists have said at least 35 civilians were killed in northern Syria in the Turkish-led operation so far. Turkey denied any civilians had been hit. A Turkish soldier was killed Saturday by a Kurdish rocket attack, the first such fatality in Turkey’s ground offensive.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkey-backed rebels have captured 21 towns and villages near Jarablus from the Kurdish-dominated SDF.

The Observatory also reported clashes between rebels and IS fighters on the western edge of Jarablus. The Local Coordination Committees, an activist collective, said the rebels captured seven more villages since late Sunday.

Turkish artillery fired 61 rounds against 20 “terrorist” targets in and around Jarablus in the past 24 hours, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

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A Turkish tank stationed near the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, Monday, Aug. 29, 2016. Turkey’s state-run news agency says three rockets fired from Syria have hit Turkish border town of Kilis, injuring five children, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey will press ahead with its military operations in Syria until the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants no longer pose a security threat. Erdogan said Turkey was determined to take all steps necessary both inside Turkey and abroad to protect Turkish citizens.(Ismail Coskun/IHA via AP)

Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

Politics: Trump’s deportation waffle highlights campaign weaknesses

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SEATTLE (AP) — Donald Trump and his aides used to say that voters didn’t care about the nitty-gritty of policy details. But now those details are tripping up his campaign.

For more than a week now, as he’s tried to shine the spotlight on his rival, Trump has appeared to wrestle with one of his signature proposals: A pledge to expel everyone living in the U.S. illegally with the help of a “deportation force.”

At a Fox News town hall taping last week, in the face of pressing questions, the GOP nominee proceeded to poll the audience at length on the fate of an estimated 11 million people. It was a stunning display of indecision from a candidate who has asked voters to put enormous faith in his gut instincts.

Trump is now planning a major speech Wednesday, during which he’s expected to finally clarify his stance. Supporters are hoping for a strong, decisive showing. But the episode underscores how little time his campaign has invested in outlining how he would accomplish his goals as president, especially when compared with the detailed plans of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. And for critics, many already disposed to vote against him, his wavering on what has been his signature issue seems like a warning that he’s unable to handle a central element of any president’s job — making decisions.

“It’s just puzzling,” said Lanhee Chen, who has served as a policy adviser to several Republican presidential candidates. “This is the issue on which he rose to prominence in the primary and the issue on which he continues to stake much of his campaign.”

From the start, Trump has never been the kind of candidate to pore over thick policy books.

Indeed, he has mocked Clinton on the subject.

“She’s got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day. Nothing’s ever going to happen. It’s just a waste of paper,” he told Time Magazine in June. “My voters don’t care and the public doesn’t care. They know you’re going to do a good job once you’re there.”

To date, Trump’s campaign has posted just seven policy proposals on his website, totaling just over 9,000 words. There are 38 on Clinton’s “issues” page, ranging from efforts to cure Alzheimer’s disease to Wall Street and criminal justice reform, and her campaign boasts that it has now released 65 policy fact sheets, totaling 112,735 words.

“I’ve laid out the best I could, the specific plans and ideas that I want to pursue as your president because I have this old-fashioned idea,” Clinton said during a recent speech in Colorado. “When you run for president, you ought to tell people what you want to do as their president.”

Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has said she’s pushing her boss to get more specific. Yet his positions on a host of issues remain vague at best.

For example, while Trump has slammed the Common Core education standards and touts the benefits of local control of education, he has no formal, detailed plans for improving public schools. He talks about student loan debt and the increasing costs of higher education, but has yet to propose solutions. He has teased plans to make childcare more affordable, but has missed his own deadline for unveiling them.

Trump’s supporters say questions about his recent waffling on the deportation question are overblown. His running mate, Mike Pence, describes him as “a CEO at work” as he consults with various stakeholders.

“You see someone who is engaging the American people, listening to the American people,” Pence told CNN on Sunday. “He is hearing from all sides.”

But Chen, the Republican policy adviser, said a President Trump arriving at the White House without detailed plans could be limited in how much he might achieve, since a new president’s power is at its apex early on.

“If you’re not able to hit the ground running, chances are you’re going to run into serious resistance if you sit there studying something for the first 100 days,” he said.

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FILE – In this Aug. 27, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Des Moines, Iowa. Trump promises on Twitter that he’ll make a major speech on illegal immigration on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, carrying his self-declared “immigration week” into a second. Trump appears unable to make a decision on what his policy on his signature issue ought to be, an odd place for a candidate 10 weeks before Election Day and a dark harbinger of indecision for a potential president. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Follow Jill Colvin on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/colvinj

IS buried thousands in 72 mass graves, AP finds

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HARDAN, Iraq (AP) — Surrounded by smoke and flames, the sound of gunshots echoing around him, the young man crouched in the creek for hours, listening to the men in his family die.

On the other side of the mountain, another survivor peered through binoculars as the handcuffed men of neighboring villages were shot and then buried by a waiting bulldozer. For six days he watched as the extremists filled one grave after another with his friends and relatives.

Between them, the two scenes of horror on Sinjar mountain contain six burial sites and the bodies of more than 100 people, just a small fraction of the mass graves Islamic State extremists have scattered across Iraq and Syria.

In exclusive interviews, photos and research, The Associated Press has documented and mapped 72 of the mass graves, the most comprehensive survey so far, with many more expected to be uncovered as the Islamic State group’s territory shrinks. In Syria, AP has obtained locations for 17 mass graves, including one with the bodies of hundreds of members of a single tribe all but exterminated when IS extremists took over their region. For at least 16 of the Iraqi graves, most in territory too dangerous to excavate, officials do not even guess the number of dead. In others, the estimates are based on memories of traumatized survivors, Islamic State propaganda and what can be gleaned from a cursory look at the earth. Still, even the known victims buried are staggering — from 5,200 to more than 15,000.

Sinjar mountain is dotted with mass graves, some in territory clawed back from IS after the group’s onslaught against the Yazidi minority in August 2014; others in the deadly no man’s land that has yet to be secured.

The bodies of Talal Murat’s father, uncles and cousins lie beneath the rubble of the family farm, awaiting a time when it is safe for surviving relatives to return to the place where the men were gunned down. On Sinjar’s other flank, Rasho Qassim drives daily past the graves holding the bodies of his two sons. The road is in territory long since seized back, but the five sites are untouched, roped off and awaiting the money or the political will for excavation, as the evidence they contain is scoured away by the wind and baked by the sun.

“We want to take them out of here. There are only bones left. But they said ‘No, they have to stay there, a committee will come and exhume them later,'” said Qassim, standing at the edge of the flimsy fence surrounding one site, where his two sons are buried. “It has been two years but nobody has come.”

IS made no attempt to hide its atrocities. In fact it boasted of them. But proving what United Nations officials and others have described as an ongoing genocide — and prosecuting those behind it — will be complicated as the graves deteriorate.

“We see clear evidence of the intent to destroy the Yazidi people,” said Naomi Kikoler, who recently visited the region for the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. “There’s been virtually no effort to systematically document the crimes perpetrated, to preserve the evidence, and to ensure that mass graves are identified and protected.”

Then there are the graves still out of reach. The Islamic State group’s atrocities extend well outside the Yazidi region in northern Iraq.

Satellites offer the clearest look at massacres such as the one at Badoush Prison in June 2014 that left 600 male inmates dead. A patch of scraped earth and tire tracks show the likely killing site, according to exclusive photos obtained by the imagery intelligence firm AllSource Analysis.

Of the 72 mass graves documented by AP, the smallest contains three bodies; the largest is believed to hold thousands, but no one knows for sure.

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ALL THEY COULD DO WAS WATCH THE SLAUGHTER

On the northern flank of Sinjar mountain, five grave sites ring a desert crossroads. It is here that the young men of Hardan village are buried, under thistles and piles of cracked earth. They were killed in the bloody IS offensive of August 2014.

Through his binoculars, Arkan Qassem watched it all. His village, Gurmiz, is just up the slope from Hardan, giving a clear view over the plain below. When the jihadis swept over the area, everyone in Gurmiz fled up the mountaintop for refuge. Then Arkan and nine other men returned to their village with light weapons to try to defend their homes.

Instead, all they could do was watch the slaughter below. Arkan witnessed the militants set up checkpoints, preventing residents from leaving. Women and children were taken away.

Then the killings began. The first night, Arkan saw the militants line up a group of handcuffed men in the headlights of a bulldozer at an intersection, less than a kilometer (half mile) down the slope from Gurmiz. They gunned the men down, then the bulldozer plowed the earth over their bodies.

Over six days, Arkan and his comrades watched helplessly as the fighters brought out three more groups of men — several dozen each, usually with hands bound — to the crossroads and killed them. He didn’t always see what they did with the bodies. One time, he saw them lighting a bonfire, but he couldn’t see why.

Finally, the jihadis brought in artillery and prepared to make an assault on Gurmiz. Arkan and his comrades fled up the mountain to where their families had taken refuge.

Now, since IS fighters were driven out of the area, the 32-year-old has returned to his home. But he’s haunted by the site. As documented by the aid group Yazda, which has mapped the Sinjar sites, the graves are in a rough pentagon flanking the crossroads, largely unprotected. Around one of them is a mesh fence and a wind-battered sign. As Arkan spoke at the site, a shepherd herded his flock nearby.

“I have lots of people I know there. Mostly friends and neighbors,” he said. “It’s very difficult to look at them every day.”

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“THIS BODY IS WEARING MY FATHER’S CLOTHES”

As IS fighters swarmed into the Sinjar area in early August 2014, Talal fled his town along with his father, mother, four sisters and younger brother. They and dozens of other men, women and children from his extended clan converged on an uncle’s farm outside the town of Tel Azer. They prayed it was remote enough to escape the killings that were already engulfing so many Yazidis.

It wasn’t.

The jihadis fired at the house from a distance. Then they rolled up in their vehicles and shot one man in the head as they stood in the yard. They surrounded the farmhouse, ordered everyone outside and demanded the impossible: Convert.

The Yazidi faith, one of the region’s oldest, has elements of Christianity and Islam but is distinct. Yazidis worship the Peacock Angel, fallen and forgiven by God under their tradition, and their shrines feature carved images of the birds and references to the sun. Muslim extremists condemned them as “devil worshippers” and over the centuries have subjected them to multiple massacres — 72, by the Yazidis’ count.

In its own propaganda, the Islamic State group made clear its intention to wipe out the Yazidi community. In an issue of its online English-language magazine Dabiq, it scolded Muslims for allowing the Yazidis to continue existing, calling their ancient religion a form of paganism. It quoted Quranic verses to justify killing the Yazidis unless they become Muslim.

Thwarted in their halfhearted attempt at conversions, the fighters separated about 35 teenage girls and young women from the rest, crammed them into a few cars and drove away. The militants herded the older women and young children into the farmhouse and locked the door.

Then they lined the men and teenaged boys against the wall of the stables — around 40 in all, including Talal.

There were too many of them, too bunched up, to efficiently mow down, so the fighters then ordered them to lie on the ground in a row, Talal said. That was when his uncle told him to make a run for it. Talal bolted into his uncle’s hayfield, as did several other men. The militants fired at them, and the bullets ignited the hay, dry from the summer sun. The fire covered Talal’s escape, and he took shelter in a nearby creek.

There he hid, listening as the gunmen shot his family to death. He eventually fled toward the mountain, joined by three others who had survived the massacre. Four out of 40.

Back at the farm, the gunmen eventually left and the women and children emerged, looking around with growing horror.

Nouri Murat, Talal’s mother, found her husband. His body was untouched, but his head was shattered. Her daughters, she said, were confused at first. “This is strange, this body is wearing my father’s clothes,” one of them said. As Nouri frantically searched around the property for any surviving menfolk, her 9-year-old daughter Rukhan lay down beside her father’s corpse.

Finally, other women persuaded the family to head to the mountain before the Islamic State fighters returned.

As they began the long walk north, Nouri noticed Rukhan’s bloody fist. Fearing her daughter was wounded, she pried open the girl’s clenched fingers. Inside were a handful of her father’s teeth.

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“THEY DON’T EVEN TRY TO HIDE THEIR CRIMES”

Nearly every area freed from IS control has unmasked new mass graves, like one found by the sports stadium in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Many of the graves themselves are easy enough to find, most covered with just a thin coating of earth.

“They don’t even try to hide their crimes,” said Sirwan Jalal, the director of Iraqi Kurdistan’s agency in charge of mass graves. “They are beheading them, shooting them, running them over in cars, all kinds of killing techniques, and they don’t even try to hide it.”

No one outside IS has seen the Iraqi ravine where hundreds of Shiite prison inmates were killed point blank and then torched. Satellite images of scraped dirt along the river point to its location, according to Steve Wood of AllSource. His analysts triangulated survivors’ accounts and began to systematically search the desert according to their descriptions of that day, June 10, 2014.

The inmates were separated out by religion, and Shiites were loaded onto trucks, driven for a few kilometers (miles) and forced to line up and count off, according to accounts by 15 survivors gathered by Human Rights Watch. Then they knelt along the edge of the crescent-shaped ravine, according to a report cited by AllSource.

“I was number 43. I heard them say ‘615,’ and then one ISIS guy said, ‘We’re going to eat well tonight.’ A man behind us asked, ‘Are you ready?’ Another person answered ‘Yes,’ and began shooting at us with a machine-gun. Then they all started to shoot us from behind, going down the row,” according to the Human Rights Watch account of a survivor identified only as A.S.

The men survived by pretending to be dead.

Using their accounts and others, AllSource examined an image from July 17, 2014, that appeared to show the location as described, between a main road and the railway outside Mosul. The bodies are believed to be packed tightly together, side by side in a space approximately the length of two football fields end to end, in what the AllSource analysis described as a “sardine trench.” Tire tracks lead to and from the site.

“There’s actually earth that has been pushed over and actually moved to cover parts of the ravine. As we look across the entire ravine we only see that in this one location,” said Wood. “Ultimately there are many, many more sites across Iraq and Syria that have yet to be either forensically exhumed or be able to be detailed and there’s quite a bit more research that needs to take place.”

The key, Wood said, is having photos to indicate a grave’s location taken soon after its creation.

Justice has been done in at least one IS mass killing — that of about 1,700 Iraqi soldiers who were forced to lie face-down in a ditch and then machine-gunned at Camp Speicher. On Aug. 21, 36 men convicted in those killings were hanged at Iraq’s Nasiriyah prison.

But justice is likely to be elusive in areas still firmly under IS control, even though the extremists have filmed themselves committing the atrocities. That’s the case for a deep natural sinkhole outside Mosul that is now a pit of corpses. In Syria’s Raqqa province, thousands of bodies are believed to have been thrown into the giant al-Houta crevasse.

Conditions in much of Syria remain a mystery. Activists believe there are hundreds of mass graves in IS-controlled areas that can only be explored when fighting stops. By that time, they fear any effort to document the massacres, exhume and identify the remains will become infinitely more complicated.

Working behind IS lines, local residents have informally documented some mass graves, even partially digging some up. Some of the worst have been found in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. There, 400 members of the Shueitat tribe were found in one grave, just some of the up to 1,000 members of the tribe believed to have been massacred by IS when the militants took over the area, said Ziad Awad, the editor of an online publication on Deir el-Zour called The Eye of the City who is trying to document the graves.

In Raqqa province, the bodies of 160 Syrian soldiers, killed when IS overran their base, were found in seven large pits.

So far, at least 17 mass graves are known, though largely unreachable, in a list put together from AP interviews with activists from Syrian provinces still under IS rule as well as fighters and residents in former IS strongholds.

“This is a drop in an ocean of mass graves expected to be discovered in the future in Syria,” said Awad.

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Butler reported from Washington. Contributors include Balint Szlanko and Salar Salim in Erbil; Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad; Zeina Karam and Philip Issa in Beirut; Maya Alleruzzo in Cairo.

Business: Global stocks mostly rise on hopes for higher US rates

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TOKYO (AP) — Global shares were mostly higher Tuesday as hopes continued for a U.S. Federal Reserve interest rate hike later this year.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 added 0.4 percent to 4,441.93 and Germany’s DAX rose 0.7 percent to 10,621.31. Britain’s FTSE 100 inched down less than 0.1 percent to 6,834.22. U.S. shares were set to stay little changed. Dow futures inched up 0.03 percent to 18,495, while S&P 500 futures were down 0.02 percent to 2,178.90.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 was down less than 0.1 percent, to close at 16,725.36. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.4 percent to 2,039.74. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.9 percent to 23,028.02, while the Shanghai Composite inched up 0.2 percent to 3,074.68.

FED FACTOR: Major U.S. banks posted solid gains on Wall Street as traders bet that the Fed was likely to nudge interest rates higher in December or even at its next policy meeting in September. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told a conference last week that the case for raising rates was strengthening given improvements in the economy.

THE QUOTE: “The Federal Reserve’s rate-hike decision is largely based on three main indicators: the performance of the labor market, economic activity and inflation. In light of strong jobs reports over the last two months, the likelihood of an impending rate hike has substantially increased,” said Margaret Yang Yan, market analyst at CMC Markets Singapore.

JOBS DATA: Global markets are awaiting the U.S. Labor Department monthly jobs data, being released Friday, for signs on whether a U.S. recovery is on solid footing. Data on Japan released Tuesday showed an improvement in unemployment, but worries about growth momentum remain.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 10 cents to $47.08. It had fallen 66 cents to $46.98 a barrel Monday. Brent crude, used to price oil internationally, fell 1 cent to $49.44 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose 102.33 yen from 102.21 yen late Monday. The euro was slightly lower at $1.1174 from $1.1177.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/yuri-kageyama

Breaking: Actor Gene Wilder, star of Mel Brooks movies, dies at 83

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gene Wilder, the frizzy-haired actor who brought his deft comedic touch to such unforgettable roles as the neurotic accountant in “The Producers” and the mad scientist of “Young Frankenstein,” has died. He was 83.

Wilder’s nephew said Monday that the actor and writer died late Sunday at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Jordan Walker-Pearlman said in a statement that Wilder was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, but kept the condition private so as not to disappoint fans.

“He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,” Walker-Pearlman said.

Wilder started his acting career on the stage, but millions knew him from his work in the movies, especially his collaborations with Mel Brooks on “The Producers,” ”Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein.” The last film — with Wilder playing a California-born descendant of the mad scientist, insisting that his name is pronounced “Frahn-ken-SHTEEN” — was co-written by Brooks and Wilder.

“Gene Wilder, one of the truly great talents of our time, is gone,” Brooks wrote in a statement Monday. “He blessed every film we did together with his special magic and he blessed my life with his friendship. He will be so missed.”

With his unkempt hair and big, buggy eyes, Wilder was a master at playing panicked characters caught up in schemes that only a madman such as Brooks could devise, whether reviving a monster in “Young Frankenstein” or bilking Broadway in “The Producers.” Brooks would call him “God’s perfect prey, the victim in all of us.”

But he also knew how to keep it cool as the boozing gunslinger in “Blazing Saddles” or the charming candy man in the children’s favorite “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” His craziest role: the therapist having an affair with a sheep in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.”

“The greatest comedic mind of my childhood is now gone,” actor Josh Gad wrote on Twitter. “#RIP #GeneWilder & thank you 4 your pure imagination. This one hits hard.”

Tweeted Jim Carrey: “Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take a human form. If there’s a heaven he has a Golden Ticket.”

Wilder was close friends with Richard Pryor and their contrasting personas — Wilder uptight, Pryor loose — were ideal for comedy. They co-starred in four films: “Silver Streak,” ”Stir Crazy,” ”See No Evil, Hear No Evil” and “Another You.” And they created several memorable scenes, particularly when Pryor provided Wilder with directions on how to “act black” as they tried to avoid police in “Silver Streak.”

But Wilder would insist in a 2013 interview that he was no comedian. He told interviewer Robert Osborne it was the biggest misconception about him.

“What a comic, what a funny guy, all that stuff! And I’m not. I’m really not. Except in a comedy in films,” Wilder said. “But I make my wife laugh once or twice in the house, but nothing special. But when people see me in a movie and it’s funny then they stop and say things to me about ‘how funny you were.’ But I don’t think I’m that funny. I think I can be in the movies.”

In 1968, Wilder received an Oscar nomination for his work in Brooks’ “The Producers.” He played the introverted Leo Bloom, an accountant who discovers the liberating joys of greed and corruption as he and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) conceive a Broadway flop titled “Springtime For Hitler” and plan to flee with the money raised for the show’s production. Matthew Broderick played Wilder’s role in the 2001 Broadway stage revival of the show.

Though they collaborated on film, Wilder and Brooks met through the theater. Wilder was in a play with Brooks’ then-future wife, Anne Bancroft, who introduced the pair backstage in 1963.

Wilder, a Milwaukee native, was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933. His father was a Russian emigre, his mother was of Polish descent. When he was 6, Wilder’s mother suffered a heart attack that left her a semi-invalid. He soon began improvising comedy skits to entertain her, the first indication of his future career.

He started taking acting classes at age 12 and continued performing and taking lesson through college. In 1961, Wilder became a member of Lee Strasberg’s prestigious Actor’s Studio in Manhattan.

That same year, he made both his off-Broadway and Broadway debuts. He won the Clarence Derwent Award, given to promising newcomers, for the Broadway work in Graham Greene’s comedy “The Complaisant Lover.”

He used his new name, Gene Wilder, for the off-Broadway and Broadway roles. He lifted the first name from the character Eugene Gant in Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Back, Homeward Angel,” while the last name was clipped from playwright Thornton Wilder. A key break came when he co-starred with Bancroft in Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage,” and met Brooks, her future husband.

“I was having trouble with one little section of the play, and he gave me tips on how to act. He said, ‘That’s a song and dance. He’s proselytizing about communism. Just skip over it, sing and dance over it, and get on to the good stuff.’ And he was right,” Wilder later explained.

Before starring in “The Producers,” he had a small role as the hostage of gangsters in the 1967 classic “Bonnie and Clyde.” He peaked in the mid-1970s with the twin Brooks hits “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein.”

He went on to write several screenplays and direct several films. In 1982, while making the generally forgettable “Hanky-Panky,” he fell in love with co-star Gilda Radner. They were married in 1984, and co-starred in two Wilder-penned films: “The Woman in Red” and “Haunted Honeymoon.”

After Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989, Wilder spent much of his time after promoting cancer research and opened a support facility for cancer patients. In 1991, he testified before Congress about the need for increased testing for cancer.

That same year, he appeared in his final film role: “Another You” with Pryor.

Wilder worked mostly in television in recent years, including appearances on “Will & Grace” — including one that earned him an Emmy Award for outstanding guest actor — and a starring role in the short-lived sitcom “Something Wilder.” In 2015, he was among the voices in the animated “The Yo Gabba Gabba! Movie 2.”

As for why he stopped appearing on the big screen, Wilder said in 2013 he was turned off by the noise and foul language in modern movies.

“I didn’t want to do the kind of junk I was seeing,” he said in an interview. “I didn’t want to do 3D for instance. I didn’t want to do ones where there’s just bombing and loud and swearing, so much swearing… can’t they just stop and talk instead of swearing?”

Wilder is survived by his wife, Karen, whom he married in 1991, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Katherine, from whom he was estranged.

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FILE – In a Dec. 9, 1977 file photo, actor Gene Wilder is shown during an interview with Jean Claude Bouis at his New York City Hotel. Wilder’s nephew said Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, that the actor and writer died late Sunday at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

This story has been corrected to show that Gene Wilder was born in 1933, not 1935. Also Gilda Radner and Wilder co-starred in “The Woman in Red,” not “The Lady in Red.”

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AP film writers Lindsey Bahr in Los Angeles and Jake Coyle in New York and former AP reporter Larry McShane contributed to this story.

Opinion: No, Donald Trump, America Isn’t a Hellhole

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-    Donald Trump has taken a strange turn lately. O.K., he has taken a lot of strange turns — that’s what happens when you nominate a short-attention-span candidate who knows nothing about policy and refuses to sit still for more than three minutes. But never mind what passes for Trumpian policy ideas. What’s odd is the shift in what the problem is supposed to be.

When the Trump campaign started, it was, at least nominally, about economics. Foreigners are stealing your jobs, the candidate declared, both through unfair trade and by coming here as immigrants. And he would make America great again with punitive tariffs and mass deportations.

But the story changed at the Republican convention. There was remarkably little economic discussion on display; there wasn’t even much economic demagogy. Instead, the focus was all on law and order, on saving the nation from what the candidate described as a terrifying crime wave.

That theme has continued in recent weeks, with Mr. Trump’s “outreach” to minority voters. His notion of a pitch to these voters is to tell them how horrible their lives are, that they are facing “crime at levels that nobody has seen.” Even “war zones,” he says, are “safer than living in some of our inner cities.”

All of this is really strange — because nothing like this is actually happening.

Back when the Trump campaign was ostensibly about the loss of middle-class jobs, it was at least pretending to be about a real issue: Employment in manufacturing really is way down; real wages of blue-collar workers have fallen. You could say that Trumpism isn’t the answer (it isn’t), but not that the issue was a figment of the candidate’s imagination.

But when Mr. Trump portrays America’s cities as hellholes of runaway crime and social collapse, what on earth is he talking about? Urban life is one of the things that has gone right with America. In fact, it has gone so right that those of us who remember the bad old days still find it hard to believe.

Let’s talk specifically about violent crime. Consider, in particular, the murder rate, arguably the most solid indicator for long-run comparisons because there’s no ambiguity about definitions. Homicides did shoot up between the early 1960s and the 1980s, and images of a future dystopia — think “Escape From New York” (1981) or Blade Runner (1982) — became a staple of popular culture. Conservative writers assured us that soaring crime was the inevitable result of a collapse in traditional values and that things would get even worse unless those values were restored.

But then a funny thing happened: The murder rate began falling, and falling, and falling. By 2014 it was all the way back down to where it was half a century earlier. There was some rise in 2015, but so far, at least, it’s barely a blip in the long-run picture.

© Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Basically, American cities are as safe as they’ve ever been. Nobody is completely sure why crime has plunged, but the point is that the nightmare landscape of the Republican candidate’s rhetoric — call it Trump’s hellhole? — bears no resemblance to reality.

And we’re not just talking about statistics here; we’re also talking about lived experience. Fear of crime hasn’t disappeared from American life — today’s New York is incredibly safe by historical standards, yet I still wouldn’t walk around some areas at 3 a.m. But fear clearly plays a much diminished role now in daily life.

So what is all of this about? The same thing everything in the Trump campaign is about: race.

I used scare quotes when talking about Mr. Trump’s racial “outreach” because it’s clear that the real purpose of his vaguely conciliatory rhetoric is not so much to attract nonwhite voters as it is to reassure squeamish whites that he isn’t as racist as he seems. But here’s the thing: Even when he is trying to sound racially inclusive, his imagery is permeated by an “alt-right” sensibility that fundamentally sees nonwhites as subhuman.

Thus when he asks African-Americans, “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” he betrays ignorance of the reality that most African-Americans work hard for a living and that there is a large black middle class. Oh, and 86 percent of nonelderly black adults have health insurance, up from 73 percent in 2010 thanks to Obamacare. Maybe they do have something to lose?

But how was he supposed to know? In the mental world he and those he listens to inhabit, blacks and other nonwhites are by definition shiftless burdens on society.

Which brings us back to the notion of America as a nightmarish dystopia. Taken literally, that’s nonsense. But today’s increasingly multiracial, multicultural society is a nightmare for people who want a white, Christian nation in which lesser breeds know their place. And those are the people Mr. Trump has brought out into the open.

Read my blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, and follow me on Twitter, @PaulKrugman.

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Analysis: Syrian Rebels Threaten Territory Held by Kurds, in a Clash of U.S. Allies

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-    BEIRUT, Lebanon — In a new escalation that further complicates American involvement in the Syrian war, Syrian rebels pressed deeper into the northern part of the country on Sunday, seizing territory with the aid of Turkish airstrikes.

The rebels, with Turkey’s help, last week took the border town of Jarabulus from the Islamic State — an incursion supported by the United States. But the rebels are now advancing into territory controlled by Syrian Kurds.

That means the new fighting pits two American-backed Syrian forces against each other: rebel groups aided by the C.I.A. and allied intelligence agencies, and Kurdish-led militias that work with the Pentagon under an umbrella group called the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F. The United States has considered the Kurdish-led militias its most reliable partner on the ground in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The United States has in recent days appeared to rebalance its support for the Kurdish militias with its backing of the Syrian rebels and Turkey, a NATO ally. The Turks consider the Syrian Kurdish militias their enemy and are intent on keeping them from taking over an unbroken stretch of land along the border.

As part of that rebalancing, the United States warned the Kurds last week that they should return to the eastern side of the Euphrates River, essentially asking them to cede control of areas they had seized recently from Islamic State fighters.

But it is unclear what the United States will do if its allies continue to fight each other.

Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary, wrote in an email on Sunday: “While we are closely monitoring reports of clashes south of Jarabulus — where ISIL is no longer located — between the Turkish armed forces, some opposition groups, and units that are affiliated with the S.D.F., we want to make clear that we find these clashes unacceptable.”

He added: “This is an already crowded battle space. Accordingly, we are calling on all armed actors to stand down immediately and take appropriate measures to deconflict.”

The offensive on Sunday was on the western side of the Euphrates, including in the villages of Jib al-Kousa and Amarna, where the airstrikes hit. The Kurdish-led militias said that they had left the area, but that groups aligned with them remained in charge. The Syrian rebels, however, said the Kurdish militias had not left and had started the fight by attacking a Turkish tank.

Amarna and Jib al-Kousa fell to the rebels, according to a Turkish statement. It added that 10 villages had been taken from Kurdish control and four from the Islamic State.

It was not the first time the American-backed groups had clashed — they have bitter differences over the possibility of Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria — but their battles could be the most consequential yet, occurring at a volatile time in the multisided five-year conflict.

The most powerful Syrian Kurdish party is reeling from what its supporters see as an American betrayal after the United States gave the green light for Turkey to send tanks and allied rebels into Syria last week.

Turkey sees a chance to curb the growing power of the Syrian Kurdish party, which it says is indistinguishable from the P.K.K., a Kurdish insurgent group that Turkey is battling at home and considers a terrorist organization. But Turkey is also in the midst of a delicate partial rapprochement with the Syrian government’s main ally, Russia, which is watching to see how far Turkey will go in backing the rebels trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

All of that is happening as Russia and the United States seek, without success so far, to lay out parameters for joint military action against extremist groups, including the Islamic State, and a road map to a political transition in Syria in a bid to end the war.

As the battleground in northern Syria became increasingly confused, it was unclear what was happening to the civilians caught in the crossfire. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, and Kurdish local news outlets declared that 35 civilians had been killed in the two villages hit by Turkish airstrikes. The Turkish government said it had killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists.”

It was also unclear where the weekend offensive would stop. Some rebels threatened to advance to Manbij, a town recently recaptured from the Islamic State by the Kurdish-led forces with the help of intensive American airstrikes. The Kurds say that they have left the town, which is west of the Euphrates and is mainly Arab, but that they have handed the area to a local military council made up of their allies.

Some Syrian rebels interviewed by telephone said they were determined to take back what they considered Arab land from the Kurdish-led forces, who have captured a long stretch of the border. The Kurdish-held territory is separated by an area still under Islamic State control.

But others said they wanted to fight only the Islamic State and the Syrian government, not Syrian Kurds. One of those rebels, Ahmad Kanjo, a commander, said he had been forced to act because his fighters had come under attack by Kurdish-led forces.

“We weren’t planning to open a front with them,” he said, but added that an attack from Kurdish forces had hit a Turkish tank — Turkey confirmed that one soldier had been killed — and had killed three of his men.

“We are lost,” he said in a telephone interview. “My enemy was supposed to be Daesh” — an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State — “and the regime, but the Kurds are attacking me from the back.”

“I don’t know who is bombing whom,” he said.

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© Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Turkish tanks on Saturday driving from Karkamis, Turkey, across the border into Syria.

Inside the secret U.S.-North Korea ‘Track 2’ diplomacy

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(PhatzNewsRoom / WP)    —   U.S. experts and former officials secretly met several times with top North Korean officials this year, and some of them have emerged believing the regime of Kim Jong Un is ready to restart talks about its nuclear program.

There has been no official dialogue between the U.S. government and North Korea since Kim assumed power following his father’s death in 2011. But Pyongyang has quietly maintained contact with Washington through a series of “Track 2” dialogues. Pyongyang often sends senior diplomats to attend these sessions. The Americans who take part are former officials and top Korea and nuclear experts. The meetings have taken place in Berlin, Singapore and Beijing.

North Korea has drastically increased the pace of its nuclear and ballistic missile tests since the young Kim came to power, including with a successful submarine missile launch last week. Conventional wisdom in Washington is that there’s no chance for real dialogue with the regime. But that is a source of dispute among the Americans who are talking to North Korean officials.

“The main thing they are interested in is replacing the current armistice with a peace treaty. In that context, they are willing to talk about denuclearization,” Joel Wit, a nuclear expert with the U.S.-Korea Institute, told me. “They made it fairly clear that they were willing to discuss their nuclear weapons program, that it would be on the table in the context of the peace treaty.”

Wit traveled to Berlin in February with other U.S. experts and met with Ri Yong Ho, who in May was promoted to North Korea’s foreign minister. He said the Pyongyang delegation sent signals that the door was open for resumed negotiations.

Robert Carlin, a former U.S. official and North Korea negotiator, was on the Berlin trip. In July, he wrote an article analyzing a new statement from North Korea in which Pyongyang also talked about denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula as part of a grand bargain with the United States.

Other Americans who have met recently with the North Koreans are skeptical that real signals are being sent or any real opening for negotiations has emerged. Victor Cha, the top Asia official at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, was at the same meetings as Wit and Carlin but came away with the opposite conclusion.

“They don’t seem like they are speaking in a leaning-forward quasi-official capacity,” he said. “They seem to be just spouting talking points.”

Cha said the latest North Korean rhetoric is not substantively different from what the regime was saying before and that those who see signals of a new, more open stance from Pyongyang are engaged in wishful thinking. “In the past, you didn’t have to work as hard to find those signals,” he said.

The closest U.S. officials came to actually meeting directly with North Korean officials was in June, during a private conference in Beijing called the Northeast Asian Security Dialogue. Sung Kim, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, was there, while Choe Son Hui, deputy director general of the North Korean foreign ministry’s U.S. affairs department, led Pyongyang’s delegation.

The State Department has said no formal meeting took place, but one participant told me Kim and Choe may have talked on the sidelines. During the conference, Choe laid out terms for a resumption of dialogue, according to that participant. Choe said Pyongyang will no longer discuss giving up existing nuclear assets but could strike a deal stopping a future buildup.

“To me, they were saying, ‘We’re here to send a message that the door is not closed to negotiations, we’re ready to talk, but don’t expect us to give up what we have,’” the participant said.

For many in Washington, including the White House, that position is a non-starter, because it means North Korea has no intention of living up to its previous commitments to denuclearize. This summer, the Obama administration has drastically increased sanctions on Pyongyang in response to Kim’s continued testing of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.

There’s probably no time for a new dialogue with Pyongyang to yield progress before the Obama administration departs. If Hillary Clinton is elected, her top aides have said they will also focus on increasing pressure on Kim through new sanctions before pursuing talks. That’s the playbook that was used with Iran.

But North Korea is not Iran. It already has enough material for perhaps a dozen bombs and could have enough for 79 weapons by the end of Clinton or Donald Trump’s first term, according to the Institute for Science and International Security. Multilateral sanctions with Pyongyang are less effective because the country only really depends on China, which is unlikely to economically strangle its problematic client state.

If the North Koreans are sending signals to Americans that they want to talk, the U.S. government has a responsibility to explore that possibility. But if North Korea is serious, it must send a clearer message and show greater willingness to end its belligerence.

______

© Korean Central News Agency/Reuters North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured during a test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile in an image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on Aug. 25.

Turkey-backed rebels expel Kurdish forces from Syrian towns

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BEIRUT (AP) — Rebels backed by Turkey made major gains Sunday in northern Syria, expelling Kurdish-led forces from towns and villages as part of a determined campaign by Ankara to push the militants east of the Euphrates River.

At least 35 civilians were killed, according to activists. The dramatic escalation of Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian civil war last week aimed to help the Syrian rebels drive the Islamic State group out of the border town of Jarablus. But it also is aimed at U.S.-allied Kurdish forces that have gained control in recent months of most of the territory along the Turkey-Syria border.

The fighting pits Turkey, a NATO ally, against a U.S.-backed proxy that is the most effective ground force battling IS militants in Syria in the 5-year-old civil war. It leaves Washington in the tough spot of having to choose between its two of its allied forces, and is likely to divert resources from the fight against IS.

A Turkish soldier was killed by a Kurdish rocket attack late Saturday, the first such fatality in Turkey’s ground offensive dubbed Euphrates Shield that began Aug. 24.

Speaking at a rally in the border town of Gaziantep, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his military is committed to fighting terrorism in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey, he said, also is determined to “uproot” the Syrian Kurdish group, calling it a terrorist organization. But he didn’t specify a goal for the fight against the Kurdish forces.

Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the militants of the Islamic State group, but the airstrikes that began Saturday marked the first time it has targeted Kurdish-led forces in Syria.

“We will support all work to clean Syria and Iraq of Daesh,” Erdogan told the rally, using an Arabic acronym for the IS group. “That’s why we are in Jarablus, that’s why we are in Bashiqa (in Iraq). If necessary, we will not shy away from taking responsibility in the same way in other areas.”

Turkey has troops stationed in Bashiqa in northern Iraq, and it was not clear if his reference to Jarablus means he intends to base his troops there.

Erdogan then turned his focus to the main Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, known as the PYD.

“We are as determined about the PYD, the separatist terror organization’s Syrian wing,” he said. Ankara views the PYD and the militia affiliated with it, which forms the backbone of the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces, or SDF, as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency that is raging in southeastern Turkey.

“We will continue until we uproot this terror organization,” Erdogan told the rally.

A spokesman for a Syrian rebel group said the Turkish-backed offensive will continue south of Jarablus to clear IS and Kurdish forces from northeastern Aleppo. Turkish leaders have vowed to drive both IS and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, away from the border.

Turkey’s military said Sunday its warplanes killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists” and destroyed five buildings used by the fighters in response to attacks on advancing Turkish-backed rebels in the Jarablus area.

Various factions of the Turkey-backed Syrian rebels said they had seized several villages and towns from Kurdish-led forces south of Jarablus, including Amarneh, where fighting was fiercest in recent days.

The Kurdish-led forces “must pull back to the east of the Euphrates. We will fight all terrorist groups, including (the Kurdish-led fighters) … in all of northeast Aleppo,” said Capt. Abdel-Salam Abdel-Razzak, a spokesman for the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group.

Turkish-backed fighters will move south of Jarablus, toward Manbij and beyond, he said.

Earlier this month, the Kurdish-led SDF crossed the Euphrates and drove IS militants out of Manbij, a key supply hub south of Jarablus, after a 10-week campaign. Both Turkey and the United States have ordered the YPG militia to withdraw to the east bank of the river. YPG leaders say they have, but their units advise the Syrian Democratic Forces, and it is not clear if any remain west of the Euphrates.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bombing killed at least 20 civilians and four Kurdish-led fighters in Beir Koussa, a village about nine miles (15 kilometers) south of Jarablus, and left another 15 dead in a village to the west.

SDF spokesman Shervan Darwish said the airstrikes and shelling began overnight and continued Sunday along the front line, killing many civilians in Beir Koussa and nearby areas. He said the bombing also targeted the village of Amarneh. He said 50 Turkish tanks were taking part.

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party condemned the attack on the village. It also condemned what it said was international silence regarding “Turkish occupation” of Syria.

The Syrian state news agency SANA reported that 20 civilians were killed and 50 wounded by Turkish artillery and airstrikes, calling it “encroachment” on Syrian sovereignty under the pretext of fighting IS. Turkey is a leading backer of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, but both Ankara and Damascus share concerns over Kurdish ambitions for autonomy.

Syrian warplanes renewed their bombing of the besieged al-Waer neighborhood in the central city of Homs. An activist in the neighborhood of Bebars al-Talawy said there were at least a dozen airstrikes, killing one person.

The neighborhood came under attack Saturday, including incendiary bombs that killed two children, a brother and sister. Images of doctors treating other children for their burns were posted on social media sites. The district’s hospital was bombed and taken out of operation earlier this month.

Human Rights Watch said it had documented the use of incendiary weapons in at least 18 different instances between June and August in rebel-held areas. The group blamed Russian and Syrian joint military operations room for the use of such weapons in violation of international law.

The al-Waer neighborhood of nearly 75,000 people has been under siege since March and has been one area that U.N agencies have reported difficult to access. An aid convoy reached the area Aug. 25.

According to residents, the escalation followed recent threats by soldiers at checkpoints that the Syrian government’s patience was running out with the district, the last rebel holdout in the city.

It also follows the evacuation of Daraya, a Damascus suburb, as part of a deal struck between the government and rebels after a bombing campaign and siege.

The Homs Local Council appealed to the U.N. envoy to Syria to negotiate a truce for al-Waer, condemning the government’s “siege policy” that aims to force residents and fighters to surrender.

___

Turkish troops return from the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. Turkey on Wednesday sent tanks across the border to help Syrian rebels retake the key Islamic State-held town of Jarablus and to contain the expansion of Syria’s Kurds in an area bordering Turkey.(Ismail Coskun, IHA via AP)

Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul and Mucahit Ceylan in Karkamis, Turkey, contributed to this report.

IS suicide attack in Yemen kills 45 government fighters

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A suicide car bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in Yemen’s southern city of Aden on Monday killed at least 45 pro-government recruits who had been preparing to travel to Saudi Arabia to fight Houthi rebels in Yemen’s north, officials said.

The men were at a staging area near two schools and a mosque, registering to join the mission when a pickup truck suddenly accelerated through the building’s gate as a food delivery arrived, exploding amid the crowd, witnesses said.

“Bodies and body parts are scattered all over the place,” said Mohammed Osman, a neighbor who rushed to the scene. “It was a massacre,” he said.

Over 60 wounded were being taken to three area hospitals, Yemeni security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The men had been signing up to join a unit the Saudis hope will ultimately be made up of 5,000 fighters. After some training, the new force will deploy to the Saudi cities of Najran and Jizan, near the border, the officials said.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders reported on social media that their hospital in Aden had received 45 dead, while the Yemeni officials earlier put the figure at 25 but said it was likely to rise.

The IS-run Aamaq news agency said the attack was carried out “by a fighter from the Islamic State who targeted a recruitment center.”

Ahmed al-Fatih, who had been working at the center, said security at the site was lax.

“There was no consideration of security,” he said. “So it was easy for al-Qaida or Daesh to pull off such an act,” he added, using an Arabic acronym to refer to IS.

Yemen is embroiled in a civil war pitting the internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led coalition against the Shiite Houthi rebels, who are allied with army units loyal to a former president. The fighting has allowed al-Qaida and an IS affiliate to expand their reach, particularly in the south.

The U.N. and rights groups estimate at least 9,000 people have been killed since fighting escalated in March 2015 with the start of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting the Houthis and their allies. Some 3 million people have been displaced inside the country, the Arab world’s poorest.

U.N.-mediated peace talks in Kuwait were suspended earlier this month with no signs of progress.

The Houthis and forces allied to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee the country. The Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis has pushed them out of southern Yemen, but has failed to dislodge them from Sanaa and the rest of the north.

___

A picture made available on 28 August 2016 shows smoke drifting through the air from a Houthi-held weapon depot following airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on a mountain overlooking Sana’a, Yemen on Saturday. According to reports, the Saudi-led coalition continued to carry out airstrikes on Houthi positions in Yemen a few days after US Secretary of State John Kerry announced a new initiative to end the 18-month conflict in the troubled Arab country.(Photo: Yahya, Arhab, epa)

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

Prosecutors: Brussels attack probably arson, not a bomb

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BRUSSELS (AP) — The Brussels prosecutor is dismissing reports that a bomb exploded early Monday outside Belgium’s criminal institute, describing the incident as more likely an arson attack designed to destroy criminal evidence.

Officials told a news conference that five people had been detained in the vicinity of the crime lab following the incident and were being questioned by police.

“It’s probably not terrorism. It’s a criminal act,” said prosecutors’ spokeswoman Ine Van Wymersch. “I cannot confirm that there was any bomb.”

“The location was not chosen randomly,” Van Wymersch added, saying the lab contains “sensitive information” being used in ongoing investigations.

The forensic facility assists and advises Belgium’s justice authorities in carrying out their investigations.

State broadcaster RTBF and other outlets had reported that a car drove through a security barrier at the site about 2 a.m., followed by an explosion that caused significant damage to the facility on Brussels’ north side. Nobody was injured.

Investigators said the suspected arsonists set fire to a laboratory used to analyze DNA samples found at crime scenes.

“So it’s an act that could be linked to (destroying) several files,” Van Wymersch said.

She said any explosion heard by residents may have been caused by material being consumed in the fire.

Belgium has been on high alert since coordinated March 22 suicide bomb attacks on the Brussels airport and subway killed 32 people.

Belgium’s police and army have also been deployed in large numbers since suicide bombers attacked Paris last November, leaving 130 dead. Many of the attackers had links to Belgium.

Tensions have been running high in Belgium in recent weeks amid a series of criminal knife and shooting attacks and two hoax anthrax attacks.

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