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TOKYO (AP) — North Korea released dozens of photos Thursday of the Hwasong-15, a new intercontinental ballistic missile it claims can reach any target in the continental United States. The photo dump, published in the paper and online editions of the ruling party’s official daily, is a goldmine for rocket experts trying to parse reality from bluster.
Their general conclusion is that it’s bigger, more advanced and comes with a domestically made mobile launcher that will make it harder than ever to pre-emptively destroy. But there’s a potentially major catch: it might not have the power to go much farther than the West Coast if it is loaded down with a real nuclear warhead, not a dummy like the one it carried in its test launch on Wednesday.
Here’s a closer look:
The North’s new missile appears to be significantly bigger than the Hwasong-14 ICBM it tested twice in July. Note how it dwarfs North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who stands about 170 centimeters (5 feet 7 inches) tall. In a tweet just after the photos were published, Michael Duitsman, a researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, said: “This is very big missile … And I don’t mean ‘Big for North Korea.’ Only a few countries can produce missiles of this size, and North Korea just joined the club.” Size is important because a missile targeting the United States would have to carry a lot of fuel. Duitsman also suggested the new ICBM appears to have a different engine arrangement and improved steering.
North Korea boasted repeatedly in its announcement of the launch Wednesday that the Hawasong-15 was fired from a domestically made erector-launcher vehicle. Its photos back that up. Being able to make its own mobile launch vehicles, called TELs, frees the North from the need to get them from other countries, like China, which is crucial considering the tightening of international sanctions that Pyongyang faces. TELs make it easier to move missiles around and launch them from remote, hard-to-predict locations. That makes finding and destroying the Hawasong-15 before a launch more difficult.
North Korea claims the Hwasong-15 can carry a “super-heavy” nuclear payload to any target in the mainland United States. The re-entry vehicle, that nose cone in the photo, does indeed look quite large. But the heavier the load the shorter the range. Michael Elleman, a leading missile expert, has suggested in the respected 38 North blog that Hwasong-15′s estimated 13,000-kilometer (8,100 mile) range assumes a payload of around 150 kilograms (330 pounds), which is probably much lighter than any real nuclear payload the North can produce. To get to the West Coast, the North needs to keep that weight down to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds). Whether it can do that remains questionable. “Kim Jong Un’s nuclear bomb must weigh less than 350 kilograms (800 pounds) if he expects to strike the western edges of the US mainland,” Elleman esitmated. “A 600-kilogram (1,300-pound) payload barely reaches Seattle.”
Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at erictalmadge.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators about former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed to The Associated Press.
The person said Wednesday that the questioning of Kushner earlier this month took about 90 minutes or less and was aimed in part at establishing whether Kushner had any information on Flynn that might be exculpatory. The person said multiple White House witnesses have been asked about their knowledge of Flynn, who was forced to resign from his national security adviser job at the White House in February after officials concluded he had misled them about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
The confirmation of Kushner’s interview came as prosecutors working for Mueller postponed grand jury testimony related to Flynn’s private business dealings.
The reason for the postponement was not immediately clear, but it comes one week after attorneys for Flynn alerted Trump’s legal team that they could no longer share information about the case. That discussion between lawyers was widely seen as a possible indication that Flynn was moving to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation or attempting to negotiate a deal for himself.
An attorney for Flynn, Robert Kelner, did not immediately respond to email and phone messages Wednesday afternoon. Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined comment.
In a statement, Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said, “Mr. Kushner has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and will continue to do so.”
The details of Kushner’s questioning and the postponement of the grand jury testimony were confirmed by people familiar with Mueller’s investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation.
The grand testimony that had been scheduled for the coming days related to Flynn’s firm, Flynn Intel Group, its work with a public relations firm and interactions with congressional staff, one of the people said.
Mueller and the FBI have been interested in hearing from employees at the public relations firm, SGR LLC, because of the firm’s work with Flynn Intel Group. SGR LLC, which does business as Sphere Consulting, did public relations work on a film Flynn Intel Group was working on about Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. The film was never completed.
Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department in May to oversee an investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The investigation, which produced its first criminal charges last month against three former Trump campaign officials, incorporated an earlier FBI inquiry into Flynn’s lobbying and investigative research work on behalf of a Turkish businessman. Flynn’s firm was paid $530,000 for the work.
Sphere employees have cooperated for months with Mueller’s investigation, including by turning over documents requested by investigators and sitting for voluntary interviews.
An October 2016 meeting that was expected to be the subject of the grand jury testimony has been described as a bait-and-switch carried out on behalf of Flynn’s firm.
As the AP reported in March , Flynn’s business partner, Bijan Kian , invited a representative of the House Homeland Security Committee to Flynn Intel’s offices in Alexandria, Virginia, to discuss secure communications products. But after discussing the products, the session quickly turned into a lobbying pitch that mirrored Turkish government talking points.
Kian and others involved were particularly interested in pushing for congressional hearings to investigate Gulen, whom the Turkish government has blamed for a botched coup and who has been living in exile in Pennsylvania. Gulen has denied any involvement.
Flynn Intel Group’s requests for congressional hearings went nowhere.
Flynn disclosed some of the details of the meeting in a filing with the Justice Department earlier this year. According to that filing, an employee of Sphere consulting was present during the meeting.
CNN first reported the postponement.
(PhatzNewsRoom /NYT) —- WASHINGTON — At a Wednesday afternoon rally in Missouri, President Trump played up what he called the “biggest tax cuts in history” and boasted about economic growth “in a nonbraggadocious way.”
“In fact, they’re going to say Trump is the opposite of an exaggerator,” he said of his rosy projections, in a speech full of exaggerations and falsehoods. Here’s an assessment.
He is wrong that “for years, they haven’t been able to get tax cuts, many, many years since Reagan.”
President Ronald Reagan, who enacted a major tax cut in 1981 and lowered tax rates again in 1986, was hardly the last president to have done so. President Bill Clinton signed the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. President George W. Bush enacted two major tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. The stimulus passed under President Barack Obama included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts, and Mr. Obama later extended the Bush tax cuts with the American Tax Payer Relief Act of 2012.
He inaccurately suggested the plan wouldn’t help the wealthy.
Mr. Trump insisted that the tax bill is “not good for me” or the wealthy. Referring to Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, the president said: “I keep hearing Schumer, ‘This is for the wealthy!’ If it is, my friends don’t know about it.”
That is not supported by most analyses of the tax plans being considered in Congress.
Under the Senate plan, every income level would receive a tax cut in 2019, but people earning $20,000 to $30,000 annually would face a tax increase the next year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. By 2027, most people making under $75,000 each year would see a tax increase, while those making more would continue to receive a tax cut.
Under the House plan, every income group would see tax cuts through 2027, but the richest one-fifth of Americans would receive 56 percent to almost 75 percent of the cuts, according to the Tax Policy Center.
Based on his 2005 tax return, Mr. Trump himself could save more than $1.1 billion under the White House tax framework, according to an analysis by The New York Times, and the same amount under the House plan, a tax expert at Marcum L.L.P. told NBC.
He falsely called the current plan as the “biggest tax cut in the history of our country, bigger than Reagan.”
A 2013 Treasury Department report assessed the size of major tax bills either as a percentage of the economy, by the reduction in federal revenue or in inflation-adjusted dollars. The 1981 Reagan tax cut is the largest under the first two metrics. It was equivalent to 2.9 percent of gross domestic product and reduced federal revenue by 13.3 percent. The 2012 Obama tax cut amounted to the largest cut in inflation-adjusted dollars: $321 billion a year.
For Mr. Trump’s tax cut to exceed the Reagan cuts as a share of G.D.P., the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates it would need to cost roughly $6.8 trillion over 10 years. To have a larger effect on revenue, it would need to cost $5.7 trillion. No version of the current tax cut plan meets those benchmarks.
The budget blueprint that Republicans released in mid-October, the bill passed in the House in November and the bill currently being considered in the Senate all amount to a tax cut of about $1.5 trillion over 10 years. This would place as the 12th-largest as a share of the economy.
He falsely suggested that the stock market was previously flat.
Mr. Trump spoke of tepid growth before he took office. “In all fairness, the stock market was going this way,” he added, drawing a flat line with his hand. The stock market has hit record highs under Mr. Trump, but the uptick began after the financial crisis in 2008.
The link he drew between market performance and G.D.P. growth also contradicts his own comments. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump said the economy was “doing terribly” at 1.2 percent G.D.P. growth, which occurred in the first quarter of this year. But during that quarter, he jubilantly posted on Twitter about the stock market’s “longest winning streak in decades.”
He exaggerated when he said a 3.3 percent growth was the “largest increase in many years.”
The Commerce Department adjusted its estimate of G.D.P. growth to 3.3 percent in the third quarter of 2017 from a previous estimate of 3 percent. This is the largest increase in about three years, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The economy grew at 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015 and at 5.2 percent in the third quarter of 2014, and the increase was larger than 3.3 percent in five other quarters under Mr. Obama.
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LONDON (AP) — The mayor of London on Thursday added his voice to mounting calls for President Donald Trump’s state visit to the U.K. to be canceled over his retweets of a British far-right group.
Sadiq Khan said Trump has promoted “a vile, extremist group” and an official visit by him to Britain “would not be welcomed.”
Trump’s retweeting of anti-Muslim videos from far-right fringe group Britain First has been widely condemned in Britain. Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said the president was wrong to have done it.
In response, Trump urged May to focus on “the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom,” rather than on him.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Thursday repeated the government’s view that Trump had been “wrong” to retweet the videos.
“I hope the prime minister’s comments will have some impact on the president,” she said.
Rudd told lawmakers that “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right.”
“This government will not tolerate any groups that spread hate by demonizing those of other faiths or ethnicities,” she said.
May has sought to cultivate a close relationship with Trump, visiting him in Washington days after his inauguration in January and extending the offer of a state visit hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.
The Twitter storm has prompted renewed calls for the trip to be called off. Trump had already faced strong opposition in Britain over his attempt to ban travel to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim countries.
Rudd told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the invitation had been accepted and the visit was planned, though “the dates and the precise arrangements have yet to be agreed.”
Rudd also welcomed a suggestion by Conservative lawmaker Peter Bone that Trump delete his Twitter account.
“I’m sure many of us might share his view,” Rudd said.
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KARANGASEM, Indonesia (AP) — When an enormous volcano belches ash and the people who live around it flee, you get out too, right? Probably. But apparently not always.
The compelling impulse to see an aggressive and majestic show of nature, and to record an uncontrollable force, is motivating some visitors to the tropical island of Bali to stick around for a while rather than just head for the nearest airport.
Take Mark Levitin. He’s not going anywhere. The activity inside Mount Agung is the 12th volcanic eruption he’s witnessed up close.
“It’s just beautiful. I like the power of them,” said the lanky 39-year-old, who grew up in Russia and Israel.
“We’re living on what is essentially a huge bowl of magma with a very thin crust,” Levitin said. “Even the place we call home is mostly hot enough to vaporize us in an instant.”
Many foreigners are making haste to leave the idyllic Indonesian island after its airport, shut for 2 ½ days due to drifting ash, reopened on Wednesday afternoon, providing what could prove to be a brief window to depart by air for tens of thousands who were stranded.
Some airlines are advising people who’d already booked travel to Bali that they can cancel, defer or change their destination because the airport could easily be forced to close again by a bigger eruption or by the billowing columns of ash moving back in its direction. Its last major eruptions, in 1963, killed about 1,100 people and the volcano didn’t quiet down for a year.
But leaving is not the agenda for Mariano Gonzales, a polygot travel guide from the Canary Islands, who to his surprise was turned away from an ash-covered hotel he arrived at three days into his two-week Bali vacation.
“I was a little bit shocked because everybody was a little bit stressy because they saw me arriving with my bags and I didn’t know anything about this volcano,” said Gonzales, who is now staying in Amed, a picturesque fishing village with a spectacular view of the smoking volcano about 15 kilometers (9 miles) away.
He said he tried to get closer to the mountain but was turned back at a checkpoint.
“We feel comfortable. We’re enjoying our beer and this beautiful view,” said Gonzales, sitting cliff side at the Sunset Point bar that has a panorama of the cone-shaped mountain, the Bali sea and rows of brightly painted fishing boats below.
“We are not scared about it. It’s a nature thing. If it has to happen it will happen so nobody will stop it,” he said.
Indonesian disaster officials ordered 100,000 people to leave the exclusion zone that in places extends 10 kilometers from the crater after the mountain began violently erupting on Saturday.
Since then it has gushed ash almost continuously, hurling the gray-back columns of dust, steam and smoke 4,000 meters (13,200 feet) high and glowing a menacing red at night as lava wells up inside. Lahars of muddy volcanic debris have flowed down its sides through some villages.
Though many Balinese did heed the officials and leave the immediate danger zone, some feel they have no choice but to keep farming their lands in the volcano’s shadow.
Katut Wiri and her family were planting crops Thursday in an area that authorities warn would be in the path of hot ash clouds and mudflows during a major eruption.
“If I’m not planting these fields, somebody might come and claim it and start farming on it. So I won’t have any land to farm,” said the mother of three. “So that’s why I came and started planting.”
Two light brown Bali cows dragged a rustic plough that turned over the dark soil made fertile by other eruptions decades and centuries ago. Wiri and her mother-in-law poked the tilled dirt with sticks and expertly aimed seeds at the small holes while smoothing the earth over the incipient crop with their feet.
“Yes I’m afraid. I feel really nervous. My heart pounds. Seeing the condition of the volcano frightened me,” said Wiri.
Levitin, who said volcanos are a sideline to his main interest of photographing shamanic rituals, believes the Amed area, though close to the volcano, is protected by its geographic features such as ridges.
“My first volcano was almost 20 years ago in Costa Rica. Almost killed me,” he said. “I had no experience and didn’t know how to do it and I almost walked right into a bombardment of volcanic rocks.”
But, he adds, in the unlikely event an eruption is huge beyond any expectations, nowhere on Bali would be safe.
“If you see a hot cloud coming toward you the best thing you can do is start praying because it’s basically too late to do anything else.”
BEIJING (AP) — Global stock markets were mixed Thursday after U.S. tech stocks fell and China reported stronger manufacturing as investors looked ahead to a key OPEC meeting.
KEEPING SCORE: In early trading, Germany’s DAX rose 0.7 percent to 13,154.00 while London’s FTSE 100 fell 1.6 percent to 7,381.43. France’s CAC 40 advanced 0.4 percent to 5,418.22. On Wednesday, the DAX gained 0.3 percent and the CAC 40 rose 0.6 percent while the FTSE 100 slid 0.7 percent. On Wall Street, the future for the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.3 percent while that for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 0.1 percent.
ASIA’S DAY: The Shanghai Composite Exchange lost 0.6 percent to 3,317.18 while Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 gained 0.6 percent to 22,724.96. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gave up 1.5 percent to 29,177.35 and Seoul’s Kospi fell 1.4 percent to 2,476.37. Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 declined 0.7 percent to 5,969.90 and India’s Sensex lost 1.4 percent to 33,135.48. Benchmarks in New Zealand and Malaysia rose while markets in Taiwan and elsewhere in Southeast Asia declined.
CHINA MANUFACTURING: A monthly survey showed Chinese manufacturing activity improved in November, adding to signs of a pickup in global and domestic demand. The China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said its purchasing managers’ index rose to 52.4 from October’s 51.6 on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 show activity accelerating. Components of the survey that measure imports, exports and new orders all improved, while the indicator for employment weakened. “The breakdown shows a broad-based pickup in demand,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report.
OPEC: With crude prices at two-year highs, OPEC and allied oil producing-nations appear ready to agree to extend output cuts at a meeting Thursday after Iraq’s energy minister said there was broad agreement for such a move. Prices are up almost 20 percent over a year ago. And the bets have been that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their non-OPEC partners will try to keep supply tight by prolonging the daily 1.8 million barrel output reductions agreed to a year ago. Some market watchers say quotas agreed in November 2016 will be stretched into 2018, and the comments by Iraq’s Jabbar Ali Hussein Al-Luiebi strengthened such expectations.
ANALYST’S TAKE: “The better than expected Chinese November PMI figures were seen providing little to support prices given a market that largely anticipates steady expansionary manufacturing figures,” said Jingyi Pan of IG. “Oil will take center stage with today’s OPEC meeting. While the realization of the technical committee’s recommendation may ensue, reactions could still be a wild card.”
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 8 cents to $57.39 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 69 cents on Wednesday to $57.30. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 21 cents to $62.74 in London. It lost 71 cents the previous session to $62.53.
CURRENCY: The dollar strengthened to 112.34 yen from 111.90 yen. The euro declined to $1.1833 from $1.1847.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — In the dead of night, North Korea test-launches its most powerful missile yet. Six minutes later, rival South Korea unleashes a barrage meant to show it will hit back — hard — if war ever comes.
The nightmare scenario, made reality again Wednesday, is terrifying and increasingly routine. Yet there are signs it might also signal something surprising: a calculated bit of restraint as Pyongyang nears a unique potential declaration, possibly in leader Kim Jong Un’s annual New Year’s Day speech. The North, some speculate, may announce that since it now considers itself a nuclear power equal to the United States, it can put more effort into Kim’s other priority of trying to fix one of the world’s worst economies.
In short, could the end be near for North Korea’s years of headlong, provocative nuclear development?
Wednesday’s test of what the North called a new ICBM capable of hitting the entire U.S. mainland was, like all the others, calibrated to both convey defiance and boast of a dramatically improving military capability to Washington. But Pyongyang also did very specific things that kept the launch well back of the point of shoving U.S. President Donald Trump toward any military attack:
— It did not shoot its missile over Japan, which it has done twice in recent months.
— It did not fire its missile, as it previously suggested it might, into the waters around the U.S. military hub of Guam in the Pacific.
— It did not conduct potentially the most worrying next step short of war: An atmospheric test of a nuclear weapon flying onboard a long-range missile over the Pacific.
Small victories, maybe. Certainly no guarantee of what the future holds for a country that prides itself on keeping outsiders guessing and on pushing its weapons development to the brink. But the glimmer of restraint suggests the North may see itself nearing the point where it can claim military victory, however far that might be from the truth, and turn more toward other matters by next year, the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding.
A strong indication backing this analysis is right there in Pyongyang’s official statement on the launch, which was read on a special TV broadcast hours after the missile lifted off.
After watching the Hwasong-15 missile blast into the pre-dawn darkness, “Kim Jong Un declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power.”
While everything North Korea says in its propaganda must be viewed with extreme skepticism, the country does have a habit of laying out goals and meeting them, or at least claiming it has met them.
North Korea’s test could indeed indicate that the country will soon consider its nuclear program “done” and focus on its sluggish economy, said Vipin Narang, a nuclear strategy expert at MIT. “But there are many things that can intervene to accelerate or decelerate it,” he says.
“The pessimist in me says they are trying to get the range (of the ICBM settled) first, and then, if we still doubt” their abilities, could conduct a full-blown operational atmospheric test of a live nuclear warhead atop a ballistic missile, Narang said. “But the optimist in me says that’s so risky it would take a major provocation or insult to get them to try it.”
Trying to predict what North Korea will actually do next — a favorite if frustrating game of analysts and government officials for decades — is notoriously futile. And Pyongyang may simply continue its torrid testing pace of its weapons, which, despite internal and global hype, are not yet a match for those of any of the established nuclear powers.
It’s important to realize, Narang says, that the North’s program is truly developmental, which means “it needs to hit certain milestones. Range, reliability and re-entry are what they are probably focused on most intently at the moment.”
Many observers expect at least one more big test aimed at showing the full range of the ICBM by sending it flying over Japan and deep into the Pacific. And the North has yet to perfect its submarine-launched missiles.
A bigger worry would be if the North, trying to quiet doubts about whether it has a warhead small enough to fit on a long-range missile, attempted a risky thermonuclear atmospheric missile explosion. North Korea’s foreign minister in September suggested his country may test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.
Amid the speculation over what comes next, the North chose words Wednesday that suggested it was aiming to reassure, not to panic.
The new ICBM, it said, “meets the goal of the completion of the rocket weaponry system development set by” the North. In a reference to Kim Jong Un’s double-pronged goal of boosting both the nuclear program and the economy, it shows the North Korean people’s ability to uphold “simultaneous development of the two fronts with loyalty” so that they can stand up to the U.S. “nuclear blackmail policy” while enjoying a “peaceful life.”
After months of tests and a drumbeat of war threats by both Koreas and the United States, many will be eager to accept the North’s claim of nuclear “completion.” But Pyongyang’s suggestion that it signals a “peaceful life” around the corner? That’s a much harder sell.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Foster Klug is the South Korea bureau chief for The Associated Press, based in Seoul. He has covered the Koreas since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at @apklug
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — After 2 ½ months of relative quiet, North Korea launched its most powerful weapon yet early Wednesday, claiming a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that some observers believe could reach Washington and the entire eastern U.S. seaboard.
In a special state media broadcast hours later, North Korea said it successfully fired a “significantly more” powerful, nuclear-capable ICBM it called the Hwasong-15. Outside governments and analysts concurred the North had made a jump in missile capability.
A resumption of Pyongyang’s torrid testing pace in pursuit of its goal of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can hit the U.S. mainland had been widely expected, but the power of the missile and suddenness of the test still jolted the Korean Peninsula and Washington. The launch at 3:17 a.m. local time and midday in the U.S. capital indicated an effort to perfect the element of surprise and to obtain maximum attention in the United States.
In a government statement released through state media, North Korea said the Hwasong-15, the “greatest ICBM,” could be armed with a “super-large heavy nuclear warhead” and is capable of striking the “whole mainland” of the United States. The North said the missile reached a height of 4,475 kilometers (2,780 miles) and traveled 950 kilometers (590 miles) before accurately hitting a sea target, similar to the flight data announced by South Korea’s military.
It said leader Kim Jong Un after the successful launch “declared with pride” that the country has achieved its goal of becoming a “rocket power.” State TV said Kim gave the order on Tuesday and broadcast a photo of Kim’s signed order where he wrote: “Test launch is approved. Taking place at the daybreak of Nov. 29! Fire with courage for the party and country!”
The firing is a clear message of defiance aimed at the Trump administration, which a week earlier had restored North Korea to a U.S. list of terror sponsors. It also ruins nascent diplomatic efforts, raises fears of war or a pre-emptive U.S. strike and casts a deeper shadow over the security of the Winter Olympics early next year in South Korea.
A rattled Seoul responded by almost immediately launching three of its own missiles in a show of force. President Moon Jae-in expressed worry North Korea’s missile threat could force the United States to attack the North before it masters a nuclear-tipped long-range missile, something experts say may be imminent.
“If North Korea completes a ballistic missile that could reach from one continent to another, the situation can spiral out of control,” Moon said at an emergency meeting in Seoul, according to his office. “We must stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us with nuclear weapons or where the United States considers a pre-emptive strike.”
Moon has repeatedly declared the U.S. cannot attack the North without Seoul’s approval, but many here worry Washington may act without South Korean input.
The launch was North Korea’s first since it fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan on Sept. 15 and may have broken any efforts at diplomacy. U.S. officials have sporadically floated the idea of direct talks with North Korea if it maintained restraint.
The missile also appears to improve on North Korea’s past launches.
If flown on a standard trajectory, instead of Wednesday’s lofted angle, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles), said U.S. scientist David Wright, a physicist who closely tracks North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. “Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States,” Wright wrote in a blog post for the Union for Concerned Scientists.
North Korea’s description of a “super-large heavy” warhead could raise debate on whether it plans another nuclear test to demonstrate it has such a weapon. When the North flight-tested two of its older ICBM models, the Hwasong-14s, in July, it said the missiles were capable of delivering “large-sized heavy” warheads. The North went on to conduct its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, which it described as a detonation of a weapon built for ICBMs.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing the possibility of a nuclear test “cannot be discounted,” lawmaker Kim Byung-kee said.
The missile was launched from near Pyongyang, and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said it landed inside of Japan’s special economic zone in the Sea of Japan, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of Aomori, which is on the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu.
A big unknown, however, is the missile’s payload. If, as expected, it carried a light mock warhead, then its effective range would have been shorter, analysts said.
The analyses of Wednesday’s test suggest progress by Pyongyang in developing a weapon of mass destruction that could strike the U.S. mainland. President Donald Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from having that capability — using military force if necessary.
Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the missile is likely an upgraded version of its old ICBM with an enhanced second-stage. He believes the North will try to evaluate the weapon’s performance, including the warhead’s ability to survive atmospheric re-entry and strike the intended target, before it attempts a test that shows the full range of the missile.
In response to the launch, Trump said the United States will “take care of it.” He told reporters after the launch: “It is a situation that we will handle.” He did not elaborate.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday afternoon at the request of Japan, the U.S. and South Korea.
When the Trump administration declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, the U.S. also imposed new sanctions on North Korean shipping firms and Chinese trading companies dealing with the North. North Korea called the terror designation a “serious provocation” that justifies its development of nuclear weapons.
South Koreans are famously nonchalant about North Korea’s military moves, but there is worry about what the North’s weapons tests might mean for next year’s Winter Olympics in the South. Moon ordered a close review of whether the launch could hurt South Korea’s efforts to successfully host the games in Pyeongchang, which begin Feb. 9.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who spoke with Trump, said Japan will not back down against any provocation and would maximize pressure on the North in its strong alliance with the U.S.
Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington, Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns in Washington, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump sized up his coming week on Sunday and tweeted that it was a “big week for Tax Cuts and many other things of great importance to our Country.”
But over the next 48 hours he dished out tweets and quips that instead put the spotlight on an assortment of other matters — Pocahontas, NFL players who kneel during the national anthem, his disputes with the news media and Democrats who are “weak on crime.”
The tangents diverted attention from Trump’s agenda at a time of maximum consequence for his tax proposal and with a crush of December deadlines looming. And they offered fresh evidence of the president’s tendency to latch on to particular cultural touchstones and refuse to let them go.
The president has been mocking Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” since last year’s presidential campaign and he reignited the feud with a passing comment during a White House ceremony on Monday honoring Native Americans.
He’s been fanning the NFL-anthem issue throughout the fall football season. And he continues to bash political opponents like Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi as tax-hiking pushovers who are unwilling to bolster law enforcement, the military or the nation’s borders.
Hours before a scheduled White House meeting with the two Democrats and Republican congressional leaders, Trump slammed Schumer and Pelosi on immigration, crime and taxes, adding, “I don’t see a deal!” The two Democrats abruptly pulled out of the meeting, prompting Trump to leave empty seats for them on either side of him in the Roosevelt Room alongside Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Trump’s broadsides may seem random but they serve the president well on another front, by energizing his core supporters with darts that are sure to delight.
Even as the White House is searching for the votes to push a major tax package through the Senate, the president and his allies are itching for a fight with Warren, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and vocal Trump critic.
Trump has long mocked Warren’s claims about being part Native American, which first surfaced during her 2012 Senate race against Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Even in a country that has grown more diverse with each passing decade, the president has brushed aside criticism that the term is a racial slur.
Warren said following a protest outside the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Tuesday that Trump “seems to think that that’s somehow going to shut me up,” and prevent her from “talking about the tax bill that would favor giant corporations instead of working families.”
“He’s wrong. It’s not going to make any difference,” Warren said.
But Trump’s allies welcome the comparisons to Warren, a liberal icon in a party grappling with a leadership vacuum and still searching for the best way to counter the president.
“It’s about her not telling the truth and the extent to which she wants to engage in a debate on this, please keep going,” said former Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett.
“The more the conversation is him vs. her or the progressive Bernie Sanders wing of the party, it makes him look even better, because frankly there are a lot of Americans in between the coasts who are scared to death of progressive values,” Bennett said.
Trump’s focus on his Republican base has been magnified in his fresh dispute with Schumer and Pelosi. Long gone are the days when the president mused about cutting deals with his Democratic counterparts “Chuck and Nancy.”
His tweet about them on Tuesday helped allay concerns among some Republicans that he might use the meeting to negotiate with Democrats — without significant GOP input — on a budget deal or to protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and whose protected status is set to lapse next year.
Trump’s allies dismiss the notion that the president’s focus on side issues is an unwelcome distraction during a week in which the administration hopes to clear a big hurdle on taxes and give the president a major legislative achievement before the 2018 midterm elections after frustrating setbacks on health care. The president was making the case for the tax cuts during a speech Wednesday in St. Charles, Missouri.
“There’s no option for failure here. If they don’t hang together, they’re going to hang separately in 2018,” said Stephen Moore, a fellow at the conservative-oriented Heritage Foundation who advised the Trump campaign. “There’s no room for failure here. They have to deliver.”
— Rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct, the House is moving ahead on legislation to require anti-sexual harassment training for all members and their staffs.
The vote comes amid a wave of accusations against lawmakers that has thrust the issue of gender hostility and discrimination on Capitol Hill squarely into the spotlight, and prompted calls for the embattled lawmakers to step down.
The measure would require lawmakers, their staffs and interns “to complete a program of training in workplace rights and responsibilities each session of each Congress” that includes anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training.
The Senate unanimously adopted a similar measure earlier this month. That vote came as titans of media, entertainment and sports faced swift punishment after allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Since then, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the longest serving member of the House, is under fire after a news website published a report detailing a settlement with a staffer who said Conyers sexually harassed her, then fired her after she rebuffed his advances. A second former staffer has come forward with more claims of inappropriate behavior.
Conyers earlier this week announced that he’s stepping down from his leadership position on the House Judiciary Committee. Two Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state have called on Conyers to resign. The Ethics Committee has opened an investigation.
Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, recently apologized after a nude photo of him was leaked on social media.
Two weeks ago, a woman came forward to accuse Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., of forcibly kissing her during a USO tour in the Middle East in 2006, before he was elected to public office. Leeann Tweeden also released a photograph in which Franken appears to be groping her breasts while she sleeps. Two other women have since accused Franken of fondling their buttocks while posing for photographs.
Franken has apologized and said he welcomes a Senate Ethics investigation.
Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., one of the resolution’s sponsors, earlier this month told a story at a House hearing about a staffer who left Capitol Hill after a current member of Congress exposed himself to her. Comstock said she does not know the identity of the lawmaker.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., another co-sponsor, revealed at the same hearing that two current members, one Democrat and one Republican, have also engaged in sexual harassment. Speier declined to name the members, citing non-disclosure agreements as well as the wishes of the victims not to identify their harassers.
Next week, that committee will hold another hearing to review the Congressional Accountability Act, and propose reforms to the way in which harassment complaints are filed and handled on Capitol Hill.
The vote comes as Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore faces allegations of preying on teenage girls decades ago. Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have called on Moore to step aside, saying they believe the women. President Donald Trump has all but endorsed Moore, who denies the allegations.
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The final hearing at a United Nations war crimes tribunal was dramatically halted Wednesday when a former Bosnian Croat military chief claimed to have taken poison.
Slobodan Praljak yelled, “I am not a war criminal!” and appeared to drink from a small bottle, seconds after judges reconfirmed his 20-year prison sentence for involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
Presiding Judge Carmel Agius had overturned some of Praljak’s convictions but upheld others and left his sentence unchanged.
Agius quickly halted the hearing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It could not immediately be confirmed whether Praljak had taken poison or the status of his health. The court’s press office declined comment.
Dutch police, an ambulance and a fire truck quickly arrived outside the court’s headquarters and emergency service workers, some of them wearing helmets and with oxygen tanks on their backs, went into the court. There was no immediate indication that Praljak had been taken away for treatment.
Wednesday’s hearing was the final case at the groundbreaking tribunal before it closes its doors next month. The tribunal, which last week convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic of genocide and other crimes, was set up in 1993, while fighting still raged in the former Yugoslavia. It indicted 161 suspects and convicted 90 of them.
The appeals judges upheld a key finding that late Croat President Franjo Tudjman was a member of a plan to create a Croat mini-state in Bosnia.
The original trial began in April 2006 and provided a reminder of the complex web of ethnic tensions that fueled fighting in Bosnia and continues to create frictions in the country even today.
Two other suspects had also had their sentences upheld before the hearing was halted, including the former prime minister of a Croat entity in Bosnia, Jadranko Prlic, who was sentenced to 25 years.
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KARANGASEM, Indonesia (AP) — The airport on the Indonesian resort island of Bali reopened Wednesday after an erupting volcano forced its closure two days ago, but the country’s president said the danger had not passed and urged anyone within the mountain’s exclusion zone to get out “for the sake of their safety.”
Volcanic ash reaching 25,000 feet (7,600 meters) in the air began drifting south and southeast of Mount Agung, leaving clean space above the airport for planes to land and take off, said airport spokesman Arie Ahsannurohim.
The airport, which handles more than 400 flights a day, had closed Monday, disrupting travel for tens of thousands of people trying to enter or leave the popular vacation destination. Thick ash particles are hazardous to aircraft and can choke engines.
Despite the all-clear from authorities, flights are unlikely to rapidly return to normal levels and a change in the direction of the ash or a new more powerful eruption could force the airport’s closure again.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered all concerned ministries and agencies, as well as the military and police, to help Bali’s government deal with the disaster.
“I hope there will be no victims hit by the eruption,” he said.
Authorities have told 100,000 people to leave an area extending up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) in places from the volcano as it belches gray and white plumes. Nearly 40,000 people are now staying in 225 shelters, according to the Disaster Mitigation Agency in Karangasem. But tens of thousands more have remained in their homes because they feel safe or don’t want to abandon their land and livestock.
In the village of Tulamben inside the exclusion zone, farmers were plowing their fields with cattle Wednesday, seemingly unbothered by the smoking mountain behind them swelling with orange lava.
In Sukadana village, about 8 kilometers from the crater, a few remaining residents said mudflows of volcanic debris and water had passed through the area for a couple of days before solidifying.
Some stranded tourists managed to get off the island before the airport reopened, but they faced an arduous journey involving crowded roads, buses, ferries and sometimes overnight waits in yet another airport in Surabaya on the island of Java.
“This is a very unforgettable experience for us. So much hassle and definitely one for the books,” said Sheryl David, a tourist from Manila, Philippines, who arrived Saturday in Bali with three friends and was supposed to leave Tuesday. She remained stuck in a third airport on Wednesday in the capital, Jakarta, waiting for a flight home that required buying a new ticket, but said the experience didn’t dampen her feelings about the island.
“Yes, still a paradise,” she texted.
The volcano’s last major eruption, in 1963, killed about 1,100 people, but it is unclear how bad the current situation might get or how long it could last. A worst-case scenario would involve an explosive eruption that causes the mountain’s cone to collapse.
“An analogy would be the twin towers collapsing in New York on 9/11,” said Richard Arculus, a volcano expert at Australian National University. “You saw people running away from the debris raining down and columns of dust pursuing people down the street. You will not be able to outrun this thing.”
Indonesian officials first raised the highest alert two months ago when seismic activity increased at the mountain. The activity decreased by late October, and the alert was lowered before being lifted to the highest level again Monday.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has more than 120 active volcanoes.
Associated Press journalists Ali Kotarumalos and Margie Mason in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Kiko Rosario in Bangkok contributed to this report.
TOKYO (AP) — Global share benchmarks advanced Wednesday following a broad rally on Wall Street that lifted U.S. stocks to a milestone-shattering finish. Investors appeared to shrug off the latest launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea.
KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX gained 0.7 percent to 13,152.52 and the CAC 40 of France was up 0.4 percent at 5,414.30. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.6 percent to 7,418.15 as strength in the British pound weighed on sentiment. Futures pointed to a tepid start on Wall Street, with Dow futures up 0.2 percent and S&P 500 futures nearly unchanged.
NORTH KOREA MISSILE: North Korea on Wednesday ended the longest pause in its missile tests this year with what appeared to be its most powerful version yet of an intercontinental ballistic missile meant to target the United States. North Korea’s 20th launch of a ballistic missile this year adds to fears that the North will soon have a military arsenal that can viably target the U.S. mainland. But it barely registered in regional markets.
ANALYST’S TAKE: “Initially, the news about another missile test created some uncertainty in the market, but it was short lived due to the fact that the reaction from the U.S. was muted,” Naeem Aslam of Think Markets UK Ltd. said in a commentary.
U.S. DATA BOOST: Investors got a strong dose of encouraging U.S. economic news when the Conference Board said its consumer confidence index rose this month to its highest level in 17 years. Economic growth clocked at a healthy 3 percent annual pace in the third quarter, and the unemployment rate fell to a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. A separate index showed U.S. home prices rose at the fastest pace in more than three years in September.
ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index gained 0.5 percent to 22,597.20, while South Korea’s Kospi edged 0.1 percent lower to 2,512.90. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 added 0.5 percent to 6,011.10. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong fell 0.2 percent to 29,623.83 and the Shanghai Composite index rebounded from early losses to gain 0.1 percent, at 3,337.86. India’s Sensex slipped 0.1 percent to 33,599.84 and shares in Southeast Asia were mixed.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gave up 33 cents to $57.66 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It dropped 12 cents to settle at $57.99 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 41 cents to $62.83 per barrel. It declined 23 cents to close at $63.61 in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar ticked up to 111.48 yen from 111.46 Japanese yen on Tuesday. The euro rose to $1.1869 from $1.1839.
AP Business Writer Alex Veiga in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
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KARANGASEM, Indonesia (AP) — A volcano gushing towering columns of ash closed the airport on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali for a second day Tuesday, disrupting travel for tens of thousands, as authorities renewed their warnings for villagers to evacuate.
Mount Agung has been hurling clouds of white and dark gray ash about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) high and lava is welling in its crater.
The local airport authority said its closure for another 24 hours was required for safety reasons. Volcanic ash poses a deadly threat to aircraft, and ash from Agung is moving south-southwest toward the airport. Ash has reached a height of about 30,000 feet (9,000 meters) as it drifts across the island.
“I don’t know, we can’t change it,” said stranded German tourist Gina Camp, sitting on a bench at the airport. “It’s the nature and we have to wait until it’s over.”
She decided to look on the bright side, saying she planned to go back outside to enjoy another day on the island.
Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency raised the volcano’s alert to the highest level Monday and expanded an exclusion zone to 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the crater. It said a larger eruption is possible, though a government volcanologist has also said Agung could stay at its current level of activity for weeks and not erupt explosively.
NASA detected a thermal anomaly over the weekend, said Gede Swantika, a senior volcanologist in Bali.
“It means that there’s a direct conduit from the magma storage chambers in the crust up to the surface,” said Richard Arculus, a volcano expert at Australian National University. “What stops most eruptions from happening is that you don’t have a conduit from where the magma’s reached, to the surface. Once you’ve got that opened …. it means there’s easier access for the magma upward out into the open.”
Agung’s last major eruption in 1963 killed about 1,100 people.
Authorities have told 100,000 people to leave homes nearest the volcano, though tens of thousands stayed because they felt safe or didn’t want to abandon livestock. Mudflows have been seen on the mountain’s slopes, and authorities warned more are possible, since it’s the rainy season in Bali.
Volcanologist Erik Klemetti at Dennison University in Ohio said Agung’s 1963 eruption was big enough to cool the Earth slightly but it’s unclear whether this time it will have a similar major eruption or simmer for a prolonged period.
“A lot of what will happen depends on the magma underneath and what it is doing now,” he said.
The closure of the airport has affected tourists already on Bali and people who were ready to fly to the island from abroad or within Indonesia. Airport spokesman Ari Ahsanurrohim said more than 440 inward and outward flights were canceled Tuesday and about 59,500 travelers were affected, about the same number as on Monday.
Bali is Indonesia’s top tourist destination, with its Hindu culture, surf beaches and lush green interior attracting about 5 million visitors a year.
Buses were deployed to the airport and to ferry terminals to help stranded travelers, Indonesia’s Directorate General of Land Transportation said.
The agency’s chief, Budi, said major ferry crossing points have been advised to prepare for a surge in passengers and vehicles. Stranded tourists could leave Bali by taking a ferry to Java and then traveling by land to the nearest airports.
Ash has settled on villages and resorts around the volcano and disrupted daily life outside the immediate danger zone.
“Ash that covered the trees and grass is very difficult for us because the cows cannot eat,” said Made Kerta Kartika from Buana Giri village. “I have to move the cows from this village.”
Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has more than 120 active volcanoes.
Wright reported from Jakarta. Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Joe McDonald in Beijing and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Jerome Powell says that if confirmed as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, he expects the Fed to continue raising interest rates gradually to support its twin goals of maximum employment and stable prices.
Under his leadership, Powell also says, the Fed would consider ways to ease the regulatory burdens on banks while preserving the key reforms Congress passed to try to prevent another financial crisis.
Powell’s comments came in written testimony prepared for his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee.
A member of the Fed’s board since 2012, Powell was nominated by President Donald Trump to succeed Janet Yellen after her four-year term as chair ends in February. Trump decided against offering Yellen a second term.
In his remarks released Monday, Powell sought to send the reassuring message that he would represent a figure of stability and continuity at the nation’s central bank while remaining open to making certain changes as appropriate.
On banking regulations, Powell said in his testimony, “We will continue to consider appropriate ways to ease regulatory burdens while preserving core reforms … so that banks can provide the credit to families and businesses necessary to sustain a prosperous economy.”
Among those reforms, Powell mentioned the stricter standards for capital and liquidity that banks must maintain under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and the annual “stress tests” that the biggest banks must undergo to show they could withstand a severe downturn.
Regarding interest rates, Powell said, “We expect interest rates to rise somewhat further and the size of our balance sheet to gradually shrink.” The Fed has begun gradually shrinking its balance sheet, which swelled after the financial crisis from bond purchases it made to help reduce long-term borrowing rates.
The Yellen Fed has raised rates four times starting in December 2015, including two rate hikes this year. Economists expect a third rate hike to occur in December, and they’re projecting at least three additional rate increases in 2018.
Powell cautioned that while Fed officials want to make the path of interest rate policy as predictable as possible, “the future cannot be known with certainty.” For that reason, he said, it’s important for the Fed to retain the flexibility it needs to adjust its policies in response to economic developments.
In deciding not to offer Yellen another four years as chair, Trump made her the only Fed leader in nearly four decades not to be offered a second term.
Yellen, a Democrat who was nominated by President Barack Obama and became the first woman to lead the Fed, announced last week that she would step down from the Fed board once Powell is confirmed to succeed her as chair. Yellen could have remained on the board even after Powell became chair.
Yellen will leave the Fed in February after a tenure characterized by a cautious stance toward rate hikes, relative transparency about the Fed’s expectations and projections and support for the stricter bank rules that were enacted after the 2008 financial crisis.
In his five years as a member of the Fed’s seven-member board of governors, Powell has built a reputation as a centrist. He never dissented from the policies advocated by Yellen or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke.
In his own remarks on rate policies, Powell has so far stuck close to the Yellen line. In a speech in June, he said that while low unemployment argued for raising rates, weak inflation suggested that the Fed should move cautiously in doing so. That wary approach reflected Yellen’s own warnings about the need to raise rates only incrementally, depending on the latest economic data.
Powell’s actions on the Dodd-Frank Act, the law enacted to tighten banking regulations after the 2008 crisis, may turn out to be the area where he will differ most from his predecessor. Yellen rejected arguments that the tighter regulations had hurt economic growth by making banks less likely to lend. Powell, for his part, has suggested that in some areas, the Dodd-Frank restrictions might have gone too far.
In a congressional appearance in June, Powell said that the “core reforms” should be retained but that in some respects there was a need to “go back and clean up our work.” He indicated that two areas where loosening the rules might be considered were in easing regulations on smaller banks and revising the “Volcker rule” curbs on investment trades by big banks.
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BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s long-running civil war may be winding down slowly, but the country is awash in weapons and a confounding array of local militias and thousands of foreign troops, some of which may never leave.
With crucial aid from allies Iran and Russia, President Bashar Assad has regained control over large areas of Syria in advances that appear to have put to rest the possibility of a military overthrow, at least for now. But his rule is extremely reliant on continued assistance from Iranian-sponsored militias, which have spread across the war-ravaged country.
The fight against the Islamic State group, which proliferated soon after the conflict began in 2011, has provided a convenient justification for foreign troops to be deployed in Syria with the pretext of fighting the extremists. Now that IS no longer holds any significant urban territory in Syria, the numbers of some forces may be scaled down, but foreign powers with longer-term ambitions and interests will try to maintain a presence in the country for years to come. That will further complicate prospects for a peace settlement.
Some countries have already indicated that they plan to stay for the foreseeable future.
The presence of U.S. troops in northern Syria was initially meant to help train and support Kurdish-dominated local forces fighting the Islamic State group.
The number of troops has grown gradually. Although the official limit on U.S. troops has remained at 503 since shortly before President Barack Obama left office, the actual number is now believed to be more than 1,500, including special forces, a Marine artillery unit, forward air controllers and others. They are spread across more than a dozen bases in northern Syria.
The end of the fight against IS takes away any legal justification for the presence of U.S. troops in Syria, but U.S. officials are now suggesting they plan to maintain a U.S. troop presence in the north until an overall settlement for the war is found. That has raised concern about a more permanent project that risks drawing the U.S. into a conflict with Syria and Assad’s ally, Iran.
“We’re not just going to walk away right now before the Geneva process has cracked,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said earlier this month, referring to the U.N.-backed political talks.
Kurdish officials have asked the U.S. to stay on, fearing that a quick withdrawal would facilitate Assad’s forces swooping in on Kurdish-held territory in the north.
Earlier this month, the Syrian government called on the United States to withdraw its forces now that the fight against the Islamic State group is nearly over. The Foreign Ministry statement said the presence of U.S. troops will not force a political solution to the conflict.
Russia has never said how many of its military personnel, warplanes and other weapons are in Syria. Turnout figures in voting from abroad in the September 2016 parliamentary election indicated the number of Russian military personnel in Syria at the time was about 4,300. The Russian presence has likely increased, as Moscow this year deployed its military police to patrol so-called “de-escalation zones” in Syria.
Open-source materials — including video from the Hemeimeem air base, the main hub for the Russian military in Syria since its campaign began in September 2015 — indicate that Russia has several dozen jets and helicopter gunships there.
Russia also has deployed special forces to conduct intelligence and coordinate airstrikes. Senior Russian military officers also have helped train and direct Syrian government troops. In recent months, Russian military police have become increasingly visible in Syria.
The chief of the Russian military general staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, said last week that Russia will “significantly” reduce its military foothold in Syria as the campaign nears its end.
At the same time, he indicated Russia will maintain a presence at both the Hemeimeem air base and the navy supply facility in Tartus. Gerasimov added that the military’s Reconciliation Center, a group of officers who have helped negotiate and maintain truces in Syria and coordinated the delivery of humanitarian aid, also will stay.
Syria has allowed Russia to use Hemeimeem air base indefinitely without cost. Moscow also has signed a deal with Syria to use the Tartus base for 49 years, which could be extended if both parties agree.
The Russian military plans to modernize the air base to allow it to host more warplanes. It also intends to expand the Tartus facility significantly to make it a full-scale naval base capable of hosting warships, including cruiser-sized vessels.
THE IRANIANS AND SPONSORED MILITIAS
Of all the foreign troops in Syria, perhaps none have been as widespread and potentially lasting as the Iranians. The Islamic Republic of Iran has made an enormous effort to keep Assad in power, providing extensive military and financial support throughout the six-year civil war.
It has deployed Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Syria as well as Iranian officers who provide military and political support. Iranian officials say more than 1,000 Iranian fighters have been killed in Syria and Iraq after they were deployed to defend Shiite holy shrines.
Tens of thousands of Iranian-sponsored pro-government local militias known as the National Defense Forces are deployed across Syria, in addition to Iraqi Shiite militias and thousands of Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon who have been key factors in turning the war in the government’s favor. Hezbollah is deployed in wide areas along Syria’s border with Lebanon, where the Shiite group has built military facilities and long-term bases it is unlikely to leave anytime soon.
Iran’s strategy aims to ensure it can continue to pursue its vital interests after the war, using parts of Syria as a base and making certain that a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut remains open.
Turkey first sent ground forces into Syria last year in a campaign dubbed “Operation Euphrates Shield.” It was aimed at fighting the Islamic State group, although Turkey also seeks, above all, to limit the expansion of Syria’s Kurds along its border with Syria. Ankara perceives the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be an extension of the Kurdish insurgents who have waged a three- decade insurgency in Turkey.
Turkish officials have not disclosed how many Turkish soldiers are deployed in Syria but security experts estimate that at least 2,500 troops are stationed in a swath of territory revolving around the towns of al-Rai, al-Bab and Jarablus — a border zone that Turkey and Turkey-backed rebels took back from IS last year under “Euphrates Shield.”
An estimated 400 more Turkish troops are in the Idlib region as part of an agreement reached among Turkey, Russia and Iran to create a “de-escalation zone” in the area.
Turkey is building schools and hospitals in areas liberated under “Euphrates Shield” to encourage the return of refugees, and it was unclear how long the Turkish troops would stay in the zone.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that the Turkish troops could target a Syrian Kurdish group that Turkey considers to be a security threat in the Afrin region, north of Idlib, once the “de-escalation” mission is over.
Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, contributed.
HOMEWOOD, Ala. (AP) — With two weeks to go until the Alabama election for U.S. Senate, Kathie Luckie of Hoover said she is “teetering” with her choice.
A Republican, she usually supports the GOP candidate. But she said Roy Moore has always been “a little radical” for her taste, even before he was hit with recent allegations of sexual misconduct.
“It’s a struggle. I’m just kind of bouncing around with my decisions. Right now, I’m caught between don’t vote or vote Republican,” said Luckie, a retired UPS supervisor from Hoover. Even though she’s not a Moore fan, she said, “I do believe it’s important for a Republican to get into the office.”
Voters like Luckie — reliable Republicans in the middle — will determine whether Moore or Democrat Doug Jones wins on Dec. 12. While Moore needs evangelicals to show up at the polls and Jones will rely heavily on black Democrats, a large swath of Alabama Republicans — typically Christian and conservative — holds the key to victory for both.
Moore is counting on them to send another Republican to Washington while Democrats hope Jones peels off some Republicans and others, turned off by Moore, stay home.
Doug Jones signs are a common sight in Homewood, a leafy suburb near downtown Birmingham where incumbent Republican Sen. Luther Strange lives.
Harold Cook, 67, typically votes Republican but said he might vote for a write-in this time.
“I’m not sure we need to go back to people who defy the law. The state has been through this before with the governor in the 1960s,” Cook said. “I’m tired of seeing Roy Moore on the news.”
Moore was a polarizing figure in Alabama — winning his last statewide election with 51 percent — before the allegations of sexual misconduct. He was removed as state chief justice in 2003 when he disobeyed a court order to move a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument out of the state Supreme Court building. After winning election to the post again, he was permanently suspended last year for urging state probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples, in defiance of the federal courts.
Two women have accused Moore of sexually assaulting or molesting them decades ago, when he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s and they were teenagers. At least five others have said he pursued romantic relationships when they were between ages 16 and 18. Moore has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct and said he never dated “underage” women, although he has not defined what he meant by “underage.”
It’s been a quarter of a century since a Democrat was elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama, where many white voters almost reflexively vote for the Republican in statewide races.
Zac McCrary, an Alabama-based Democratic pollster, said Jones must focus on issues that cross party lines and will “never have good math” if he presents it as a “D″ versus “R″ battle.
“He’s fighting real muscle memory among much of the white electorate,” McCrary said.
Jones has launched an advertisement with Republicans explaining their decision to support him. His wife, Louise, has been doing coffee talks with suburban women. In speeches, Jones hammers on “kitchen table issues” and breaking away from divisive politics.
“Alabama has an opportunity to either go backwards with a divisive figure, the kind of figure that I think Alabamians are tired of. Or they can send someone who has reached across the aisle, who’s worked with both sides, who is trying to be someone who will find common ground with people,” Jones said Sunday at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Support for Moore is stronger in rural areas. Crossing an intersection down the street from a Sav-A-Life anti-abortion center in Troy, 77-year-old Bert Fridlin said he never votes Democrat. He won’t this time either, he said, citing Jones’ support of abortion rights.
President Donald Trump on Sunday tried to frame it as a partisan battle. Disregarding concerns from Senate Republican leaders who have disavowed Moore, Trump tweeted out criticisms of Jones and said it would be a “disaster” for a Democrat to win the Alabama race.
David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant, said Trump’s words might sway Republicans who were considering sitting out the race.
“But now they’ve got the president saying, ‘Hey, I need Roy Moore to help us on things like tax reform.’ I think it does affect certain voters,” Mowery said.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s year-end agenda is at a critical juncture as he heads Tuesday to Capitol Hill to rally Senate Republicans on taxes — and then pivot to negotiations with Democrats pressing for victories of their own in a separate, high-stakes showdown over the budget and immigration.
Trump is still seeking his first marquee win in Congress, but the White House and top GOP leaders have work to do to get their tax bill in shape before a hoped-for vote later this week. Party deficit hawks pressed for a “backstop” mechanism to limit the risk of a spiral in the deficit, even as defenders of small business pressed for more generous treatment for Main Street.
On a separate track from taxes is a multi-layered negotiation over a huge Pentagon budget increase sought by Trump and Republicans and increases for domestic programs demanded by Democrats. Democrats carry leverage into the talks, which have GOP conservatives on edge.
A temporary spending bill expires Dec. 8 and another is needed to prevent a government shutdown. Hurricane aid weighs in the balance and Democrats are pressing for legislative protections for immigrants known as “Dreamers,” even as conservative Republicans object to including the issue in the crush of year-end business.
Tuesday would bring Trump’s third visit to the Capitol in little more than a month — this time to make the sale to Senate Republicans on his signature tax bill. But among the holdouts are GOP Trump critics, including Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee — though GOP leaders are seeking to rope in straggling Republicans with a flurry of deal-cutting.
“There’s still some loose ends. We’re not quite there yet,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “But I think we’re going to get there, I really do.”
Trump’s sessions with big groups of Republicans tend to take the form of pep rallies, and when visiting a Senate GOP lunch last month Trump spent much of the time on a rambling account of the accomplishments of his administration.
Later on Tuesday, the bipartisan top four leaders of Congress — Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for the House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — will head to the White House to touch gloves on a range of year-end issues.
Topping the bipartisan agenda is a heavily-sought year-end spending package to give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze.
Trump hasn’t engaged much with Pelosi and Schumer since a September meeting that produced an agreement on a short-term increase in the government’s so-called debt limit and a temporary spending bill that is keeping the government’s doors open through Dec. 8.
Trump reveled in the bipartisan deal for a time and generated excitement among Democrats when he told then he would sign legislation to protect from deportation immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
Trump in September reversed an executive order by former President Barack Obama that gave protections to these immigrants, many of whom have little or no connection to their home country. Shortly afterward, he told Pelosi and Schumer he would sign legislation protecting those immigrants, provided Democrats made concessions of their own on border security.
Since the president is such a wild card, neither Democrats nor Republicans were speculating much about what Tuesday’s meeting might produce.
“Hopefully, we can make progress on an agreement that covers those time-sensitive issues and keeps the government running and working for the American people,” Schumer said.
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TOKYO (AP) — European shares were higher Tuesday following a downbeat day in Asia, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her conservative bloc was willing to discuss forging a “stable government” with the Social Democrats.
KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 gained 0.3 percent in early trading to 5,377.54, while Germany’s DAX added 0.3 percent to 13,033.67. Britain’s FTSE 100 edged up nearly 0.2 percent to 7,396.45. U.S. shares were set to drift higher, with Dow futures up 0.1 percent at 23,593.00. S&P 500 futures were also up 0.1 percent at 2,603.90.
GERMAN POLITICS: Merkel said Monday her conservative bloc was willing to start talks on trying to forge a “stable government” with the Social Democrats, with an eye on the large challenges Germany faces both internationally and domestically. The Social Democrats, Merkel’s partners in the outgoing government, initially refused to consider another so-called “grand coalition” after disastrous election results. But following an appeal from the country’s president they reversed course Friday and said they were open to holding talks.
ANALYST VIEWPOINT: European “bulls have more reasons to stay bullish. The foremost, raising hopes of the German political deadlock will be resolved soon, Chancellor Merkel struck a chord with the former ally Social Democrats,” Rob Carnell of ING said in a commentary. “Among others reasons are likelihood of improved Eurozone economic activity and inflation,” he said.
NORTH KOREA WORRIES: Reports that Pyongyang may be readying another missile launch weighed on investor sentiment in Asia. The Kyodo news service and other Japanese media reported, citing unidentified government sources, that Japan was on alert after catching radio signals suggesting North Korea might be preparing for a ballistic missile launch. Japan’s government spokesman said the country is on alert but would not comment on the reports.
ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 was nearly unchanged at 22,486.24. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost nearly 0.1 percent to 5,984.30. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.3 percent to 2,514.19. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was little changed, slipping less than 0.1 percent to 29,680.85, while the Shanghai Composite recovered to 3,333.66, up 0.3 percent. Shares in Southeast Asia were mixed.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude dropped 33 cents to $57.78 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell 84 cents to settle at $58.11 per barrel on Monday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, declined 18 cents to $63.20.
CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 111.27 yen from 111.11 yen. The euro strengthened to $1.1905 from $1.1897.
AP Business Writer Yuri Kageyama on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama
WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, The Associated Press has found.
Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting.
“It’s utterly confounding,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. “You’ve got to tell your people. You’ve got to protect your people.”
The FBI declined to discuss its investigation into Fancy Bear’s spying campaign, but did provide a statement that said in part: “The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information.”
Three people familiar with the matter — including a current and a former government official — said the FBI has known for more than a year the details of Fancy Bear’s attempts to break into Gmail inboxes. A senior FBI official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the hacking operation because of its sensitivity, declined to comment on when it received the target list, but said the bureau was overwhelmed by the sheer number of attempted hacks.
“It’s a matter of triaging to the best of our ability the volume of the targets who are out there,” he said.
The AP did its own triage, dedicating two months and a small team of reporters to go through a hit list of Fancy Bear targets provided by the cybersecurity firm Secureworks.
Previous AP investigations based on the list have shown how Fancy Bear worked in close alignment with the Kremlin’s interests to steal tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party . The hacking campaign disrupted the 2016 U.S. election and cast a shadow over the presidency of Donald Trump, whom U.S. intelligence agencies say the hackers were trying to help . The Russian government has denied interfering in the American election.
The Secureworks list comprises 19,000 lines of targeting data . Going through it, the AP identified more than 500 U.S.-based people or groups and reached out to more than 190 of them, interviewing nearly 80 about their experiences.
Many were long-retired, but about one-quarter were still in government or held security clearances at the time they were targeted. Only two told the AP they learned of the hacking attempts on their personal Gmail accounts from the FBI. A few more were contacted by the FBI after their emails were published in the torrent of leaks that coursed through last year’s electoral contest. But to this day, some leak victims have not heard from the bureau at all.
Charles Sowell, who previously worked as a senior administrator in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and was targeted by Fancy Bear two years ago, said there was no reason the FBI couldn’t do the same work the AP did.
“It’s absolutely not OK for them to use an excuse that there’s too much data,” Sowell said. “Would that hold water if there were a serial killer investigation, and people were calling in tips left and right, and they were holding up their hands and saying, ‘It’s too much’? That’s ridiculous.”
The AP found few traces of the bureau’s inquiry as it launched its own investigation two months ago.
In October, two AP journalists visited THCServers.com , a brightly lit, family-run internet company on the former grounds of a communist-era chicken farm outside the Romanian city of Craiova. That’s where someone registered DCLeaks.com, the first of three websites to publish caches of emails belonging to Democrats and other U.S. officials in mid-2016.
DCLeaks was clearly linked to Fancy Bear. Previous AP reporting found that all but one of the site’s victims had been targeted by the hacking group before their emails were dumped online.
Yet THC founder Catalin Florica said he was never approached by law enforcement.
“It’s curious,” Florica said. “You are the first ones that contact us.”
THC merely registered the site, a simple process that typically takes only a few minutes. But the reaction was similar at the Kuala Lumpur offices of the Malaysian web company Shinjiru Technology , which hosted DCLeaks’ stolen files for the duration of the electoral campaign.
The company’s chief executive, Terence Choong, said he had never heard of DCLeaks until the AP contacted him.
“What is the issue with it?” he asked.
Questions over the FBI’s handling of Fancy Bear’s broad hacking sweep date to March 2016, when agents arrived unannounced at Hillary Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn to warn her campaign about a surge of rogue, password-stealing emails.
The agents offered little more than generic security tips the campaign had already put into practice and refused to say who they thought was behind the attempted intrusions, according to a person who was there and spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversation was meant to be confidential.
Questions emerged again after it was revealed that the FBI never took custody of the Democratic National Committee’s computer server after it was penetrated by Fancy Bear in April 2016. Former FBI Director James Comey testified this year that the FBI worked off a copy of the server, which he described as an “appropriate substitute.”
“MAKES ME SAD”
Retired Maj. James Phillips was one of the first people to have the contents of his inbox published by DCLeaks when the website made its June 2016 debut.
But the Army veteran said he didn’t realize his personal emails were “flapping in the breeze” until a journalist phoned him two months later.
“The fact that a reporter told me about DCLeaks kind of makes me sad,” he said. “I wish it had been a government source.”
Phillips’ story would be repeated again and again as the AP spoke to officials from the National Defense University in Washington to the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado.
Among them: a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes; a former head of Air Force Intelligence, retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula; a former defense undersecretary, Eric Edelman; and a former director of cybersecurity for the Air Force, retired Lt. Gen. Mark Schissler.
Retired Maj. Gen. Brian Keller, a former director of military support at the Geospatial Intelligence Agency, was not informed, even after DCLeaks posted his emails to the internet. In a telephone call with AP, Keller said he still wasn’t clear on what had happened, who had hacked him or whether his data was still at risk.
“Should I be worried or alarmed or anything?” asked Keller, who left the spy satellite agency in 2010 and now works in private industry.
Not all the interviewees felt the FBI had a responsibility to alert them.
“Perhaps optimistically, I have to conclude that a risk analysis was done and I was not considered a high enough risk to justify making contact,” said a former Air Force chief of staff, retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, who was targeted by Fancy Bear in 2015.
Others argued that the FBI may have wanted to avoid tipping the hackers off or that there were too many people to notify.
“The expectation that the government is going to protect everyone and go back to everyone is false,” said Nicholas Eftimiades, a retired senior technical officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency who teaches homeland security at Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg and was himself among the targets.
But the government is supposed to try, said Michael Daniel, who served as President Barack Obama’s White House cybersecurity coordinator.
Daniel wouldn’t comment directly on why so many Fancy Bear targets weren’t warned in this case, but he said the issue of how and when to notify people “frankly still needs more work.”
In the absence of any official warning, some of those contacted by AP brushed off the idea that they were taken in by a foreign power’s intelligence service.
“I don’t open anything I don’t recognize,” said Joseph Barnard, who headed the personnel recovery branch of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command.
That may well be true of Barnard; Secureworks’ data suggests he never clicked the malicious link sent to him in June 2015. But it isn’t true of everyone.
An AP analysis of the data suggests that out of 312 U.S. military and government figures targeted by Fancy Bear, 131 clicked the links sent to them. That could mean that as many as 2 in 5 came perilously close to handing over their passwords.
It’s not clear how many gave up their credentials in the end or what the hackers may have acquired.
Some of those accounts hold emails that go back years, when even many of the retired officials still occupied sensitive posts.
Overwhelmingly, interviewees told AP they kept classified material out of their Gmail inboxes, but intelligence experts said Russian spies could use personal correspondence as a springboard for further hacking, recruitment or even blackmail.
“You start to have information you might be able to leverage against that person,” said Sina Beaghley, a researcher at the RAND Corp. who served on the NSC until 2014.
In the few cases where the FBI did warn targets, they were sometimes left little wiser about what was going on or what to do.
Rob “Butch” Bracknell, a 20-year military veteran who works as a NATO lawyer in Norfolk, Virginia, said an FBI agent visited him about a year ago to examine his emails and warn him that a “foreign actor” was trying to break into his account.
“He was real cloak-and-dagger about it,” Bracknell said. “He came here to my work, wrote in his little notebook and away he went.”
Left to fend for themselves, some targets have been improvising their cybersecurity.
Retired Gen. Roger A. Brady, who was responsible for American nuclear weapons in Europe as part of his past role as commander of the U.S. Air Force there, turned to Apple support this year when he noticed something suspicious on his computer. Hughes, a former DIA head, said he had his hard drive replaced by the “Geek Squad” at a Best Buy in Florida after his machine began behaving strangely. Keller, the former senior spy satellite official, said it was his son who told him his emails had been posted to the web after getting a Google alert in June 2016.
A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who like many others was repeatedly targeted by Fancy Bear but has yet to receive any warning from the FBI, said the lackluster response risked something worse than last year’s parade of leaks.
“Our government needs to be taking greater responsibility to defend its citizens in both the physical and cyber worlds, now, before a cyberattack produces an even more catastrophic outcome than we have already experienced,” McFaul said.
Donn reported from Plymouth, Massachusetts. Associated Press writers Vadim Ghirda in Carcea, Romania, Chad Day in Washington, Frank Bajak in Houston, Justin Myers in Chicago and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.
Satter, Donn and Butler can be reached at:
EDITOR’S NOTE — Raphael Satter’s father, David Satter, is an author and Russia specialist who has been critical of the Kremlin. His emails were published last year by hackers and his account is on Secureworks’ list of Fancy Bear targets. He was not notified by the FBI.
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KARANGASEM, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian authorities ordered a mass evacuation of people Monday from an expanded danger zone around an erupting volcano on Bali that has forced the island’s international airport to close, stranding tens of thousands of travelers.
Mount Agung has been hurling clouds of white and dark gray ash about 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) into the atmosphere since the weekend and lava is welling up in the crater, sometimes reflected as a reddish-yellow glow in the ash plumes. Its explosions can be heard about 12 kilometers (7 1/2 miles) away.
Videos released by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency showed a mudflow of volcanic debris and water known as a lahar moving down the volcano’s slopes. It said lahars could increase because it is rainy season and warned people to stay away from rivers.
The agency raised the volcano’s alert to the highest level early Monday and expanded the danger zone to 10 kilometers (6 miles) in places from the previous 7 1/2 kilometers. It said a larger eruption is possible.
Spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference in Jakarta that the extension of the danger zone affects 22 villages and about 90,000 to 100,000 people. He said about 40,000 people have evacuated but others have not left because they feel safe or don’t want to abandon their livestock.
“Authorities will comb the area to persuade them,” he said. “If needed we will forcibly evacuate them.” About 25,000 people were already living in evacuation centers after an increase in tremors from the mountain in September sparked an evacuation.
Lava rising in the crater “will certainly spill over to the slopes,” Sutopo said.
The volcano’s last major eruption in 1963 killed about 1,100 people.
Villager Putu Sulasmi said she fled with her husband and other family members to a sports hall that is serving as an evacuation center.
“We came here on motorcycles. We had to evacuate because our house is just 3 miles from the mountain. We were so scared with the thundering sound and red light,” she said.
The family had stayed at the same sports center in September and October when the volcano’s alert was at the highest level for several weeks but it didn’t erupt. They had returned to their village about a week ago.
“If it has to erupt let it erupt now rather than leaving us in uncertainty. I’ll just accept it if our house is destroyed,” she said.
Bali’s airport was closed early Monday after ash, which can pose a deadly threat to aircraft, reached its airspace.
Flight information boards showed rows of cancellations as tourists arrived at the busy airport expecting to catch flights home.
Airport spokesman Air Ahsanurrohim said 445 flights were canceled, stranding about 59,000 travelers. The closure is in effect until Tuesday morning though officials said the situation will be reviewed every six hours. It had a ripple effect across Indonesia, causing delays at other airports because Bali’s I Gusti Ngurah Rai airport is a national hub with many transiting flights.
China said there were 17,000 Chinese tourists on Bali before the latest eruption. The Chinese consulate said on its website that airlines and travel services were arranging 100 buses to take Chinese tourists to catch ferries to neighboring Java.
Bali is Indonesia’s top tourist destination, with its gentle Hindu culture, surf beaches and lush green interior attracting about 5 million visitors a year.
Some flights to and from Bali were canceled on Saturday and Sunday but most had continued to operate normally as the towering ash clouds were moving east toward the neighboring island of Lombok.
“We now have to find a hotel and spend more of our money that they’re not going to cover us for when we get home unfortunately,” said Canadian tourist Brandon Olsen, who was stranded at Bali’s airport with his girlfriend.
Indonesia’s Directorate General of Land Transportation said 100 buses were being deployed to Bali’s international airport and to ferry terminals to help travelers stranded by the eruption.
The agency’s chief, Budi, said major ferry crossing points have been advised to prepare for a surge in passengers and vehicles. Stranded tourists could leave Bali by taking a ferry to neighboring Java and then traveling by land to the nearest airports.
Indonesia’s tourism ministry said member hotels of the Indonesia Hotel and Restaurant Association will provide a night’s free accommodation to people affected by the airport closure.
Ash has settled on villages and resorts around the volcano, and soldiers and police distributed masks over the weekend.
In Karangasem district that surrounds the volcano, tourists stopped to watch the towering plumes of ash as children made their way to school.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has more than 120 active volcanoes.
Mount Agung’s alert status was raised to the highest level in September following a dramatic increase in tremors from the mountain, which prompted more than 140,000 people to leave the area. The alert was lowered on Oct. 29 after a decrease in activity, but about 25,000 people remained in evacuation centers.
Wright reported from Jakarta. Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.
PHOENIX (AP) — The arrests of six Middle Eastern men caught entering the United States illegally from Mexico two years ago set off alarm in border states and in some right-wing blogs and other media outlets.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called it a matter of national security and invoked the Islamic State group in a statement calling for stepped-up border security in response to the arrests. Conservative publications like the Washington Examiner reported on the men from “Middle East terror hotbeds,” while Fox News questioned whether “Islamic State militants could be probing security.”
Now, documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request reveal the men were fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands and were cleared of any terrorism ties. They also were physically and verbally abused by two Mexican smugglers with a history of crossing the border illegally and went days without food and water, the records show.
The case highlights the highly politicized nature of the U.S.-Mexico border as hysteria sometimes overtakes facts in an era where President Donald Trump, during his campaign, labeled Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. Some blogs incorrectly reported the men were released. Others tied them to the Islamic State.
In fact, the men cooperated with the government, and four have been deported. The remaining two are in removal proceedings, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe.
The five men from Pakistan and one from Afghanistan were arrested at a time when the Islamic State group was committing some of its bloodiest acts, just days after coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris heightened fears about attacks in the U.S.
The arrests also came around the same time as two Syrian families with children presented themselves at the border seeking asylum. The families were Christian and fleeing persecution. Still, the incident prompted a tweet from Trump that said, “Eight Syrians were just caught on the southern border trying to get into the U.S. ISIS maybe? I told you so. WE NEED A BIG & BEAUTIFUL WALL!”
But none of the cases had any ties to terrorism.
Government officials have long denied there have been any arrests of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border with ties to the Islamic State, and private security analysts agree.
Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis for Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor, said he knows of no instances of terrorists sneaking into the U.S. through the southern border.
He says it’s much more likely a terrorist would use the Canadian border to sneak into the country, as Ahmed Ressam did in 1999. Ressam planned to bomb the Los Angeles airport and used false documents to enter the U.S. from Canada. Border authorities caught him with a car full of explosives.
Stewart added it’s highly unlikely the Mexican cartels, which control smuggling corridors, would help a terrorist enter the United States.
“The last thing they want is to be labeled as narco-terrorists. That’s just terrible for business,” Stewart said. “I’m honestly much more concerned about meth, fentanyl and heroin than I am of Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State coming across.”
Despite most border crossers being from Latin America, a small number come from far-away places like China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Investigative files obtained by the AP show the Middle Eastern men completed a long and costly journey to America.
The Afghan man told Border Patrol agents he left his home seven months earlier and traveled through at least 10 countries before making it to the U.S. He was detained for weeks in Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico and paid nearly $15,000 in smuggling fees along the way.
Once the men reached the U.S. border, the smugglers told them crossing illegally into Arizona would be a matter of a few easy hours.
But their trip took several days in treacherous conditions.
The men spent three or four days walking through the desert. They ran out of water on the first night and food on the second, and then trekked through mountains near the border in snow and rain. The men said they had no jackets.
They said the smugglers verbally accosted them and threw rocks at them if they walked too slowly. The Afghan man said one of the smugglers punched him in the chest. When one man injured his ankle, a smuggler said “Bye-bye” and kept walking. Another man who couldn’t keep up said he paid the smugglers more to slow down.
The men were arrested in November 2015 after triggering a Border Patrol sensor about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of the border.
The arrests were first reported by right-wing blogs, then other news organizations. Three days after the Middle Eastern men were taken into custody, Ducey issued a statement saying their arrests were troubling, “especially in light of new threats on the United States from ISIS in a video released in just the last 24 hours.”
But the FBI had already cleared the men, finding they had no ties to terrorism, according to the documents.
When asked about the governor’s tweet, Ducey’s spokesman issued a statement that touted the Republican’s border efforts but did not address the issue of invoking the Islamic State when the men had no terrorism ties.
“The governor continues to put public safety at the forefront,” spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said.
The men were interviewed separately, and all told authorities about abuses at the hands of the two Mexican smugglers. They became witnesses in the case against Ernesto Dorame-Gonzalez and Martin Lopez-Alvarado, who had committed prior immigration offenses and pleaded guilty to smuggling charges.
“We find smugglers are more interested in treating people as a commodity instead of human beings,” said Stephanie Dixon, a spokeswoman with the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector. “Many people are being lied to by smugglers, which leads to deaths and illnesses, for the sole purpose of criminal profiting.”
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Even while fiercely denying allegations of sexual harassment, Michigan Rep. John Conyers is giving up his leadership position as top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, acknowledging a congressional probe into his possible misconduct had become an unwelcome distraction.
The 88-year-old lawmaker indicated he would not resign from Congress and would keep fighting the allegations first made public a week ago that he sexually harassed female staff members.
“I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family,” Conyers said in a statement Sunday, pledging full cooperation with the House Ethics Committee. The longest-serving active member of Congress, Conyers is the only African-American to have held the position of chairman or ranking member on the Judiciary panel, which oversees a range of U.S. law enforcement issues from civil rights and impeachment of federal officials to sexual harassment.
“I cannot in good conscience allow these charges to undermine my colleagues in the Democratic Caucus, and my friends on both sides of the aisle in the Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives,” Conyers said. He urged lawmakers to afford him “due process” before issuing a judgment.
His sudden announcement came as a scandal-weary Congress prepared to return from its Thanksgiving break, with increasing attention on the issue of sexual misconduct involving multiple men in entertainment, media and politics. Along with Conyers, Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore also are the subject of accusations.
“We are at a watershed moment on this issue, and no matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Sunday.
News website BuzzFeed reported last Monday that Conyers’ office paid a woman more than $27,000 under a confidentiality agreement to settle a complaint in 2015 that she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected his sexual advances. BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately — rubbing their legs and backs — or requesting sexual favors.
The House Ethics Committee is reviewing the allegations of harassment and age discrimination as well as using “official resources for impermissible personal purposes.”
This week, the House will vote on requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs. Pelosi said Sunday that Congress should also act “to put an end to the days of secret settlements paid for by taxpayer dollars,” similar to the one signed by Conyers.
The Senate has already approved a measure requiring all senators, staff and interns to be trained on preventing sexual harassment.
“We must ensure the Congress has a climate of dignity and respect with zero tolerance for sexual harassment,” Pelosi said.
Conyers, first elected to the House in 1964, made clear he would prefer to keep his Judiciary post but had come to realize he could not “in light of the attention drawn by recent allegations made against me.”
At least one House Democrat, Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, has called on Conyers to resign from Congress. Two others, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chairman of the largest group of congressional liberals, had said Conyers should at least step aside from his leadership role on the Judiciary panel.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who sponsored legislation to overhaul the system by which sexual complaints are made and settled on Capitol Hill, said Congress must show a greater commitment to addressing sexual misconduct. Last month, she shared her own story of being sexually assaulted by a high-level aide while she was a staffer.
“This is absolutely a priority that we must focus on in terms of fixing the system,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” ″We say zero tolerance, but I don’t believe that we put our money where our mouths are.”
Earlier Sunday, Pelosi had defended Conyers as an “icon” for women’s rights and told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he will do the “right thing.”
“This is about going forward,” Pelosi said. “We also have to address it for every person, every workplace in the country, not just in the Congress of the United States. And that’s very important. And a good deal of that would be done by the Judiciary Committee.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is the next most-senior Democrat on the committee.
“Even under these unfortunate circumstances, the important work of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee must move forward,” Nadler said. “I will do everything in my power to continue to press on the important issues facing our committee, including criminal justice reform, workplace equality, and holding the Trump administration accountable.”
“Ranking Member Conyers has a 50-year legacy of advancing the cause of justice, and my job moving forward is to continue that critical work,” he added.
On Sunday evening, a group of 12 female former Conyers staff members released a statement in support of the embattled congressman. The statement did not dispute any of the allegations against Conyers and supported the ethics investigation, but vouched for Conyers’ behavior and character.
“While we do not pass judgment on the specific allegations reported in the press or the women who brought them, our experiences with Mr. Conyers were quite different than the image of him being portrayed in the media,” the statement said. “Mr. Conyers was a gentleman and never behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner in our presence. He was respectful, valued our opinions, challenged our thinking, and treated us as professionals.”
Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Some Republicans are hoping lawmakers will soon wrap up investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that have dragged on for most of the year. But with new details in the probe emerging almost daily, that seems unlikely.
Three congressional committees are investigating Russian interference and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign was in any way involved. The panels have obtained thousands of pages of documents from Trump’s campaign and other officials, and have done dozens of interviews.
The probes are separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller can prosecute for criminal activity, while Congress can only lay out findings, publicize any perceived wrongdoing and pass legislation to try to keep problems from happening again. If any committee finds evidence of criminal activity, it must refer the matter to Mueller.
All three committees have focused on a June 2016 meeting that Trump campaign officials held in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer and others. They are also looking into outreach by several other Russians to the campaign, including involvement of George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty this month to lying to the FBI as part of Mueller’s probe. New threads continue to emerge, such as a recent revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was messaging with WikiLeaks, the website that leaked emails from top Democratic officials during the campaign.
A look at the committees that are investigating, and the status of their work when they return from their Thanksgiving break:
SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE
The Senate intelligence panel, which has been the most bipartisan in its approach, has interviewed more than 100 people, including most of those attending the Trump Tower meeting. Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and the panel’s top Democrat, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, have said they plan to bring in Donald Trump Jr. The president’s son was one of several Trump campaign officials in the meeting.
The committee has looked broadly at the issue of interference, and called in executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google, pushing them to take steps to prevent Russian election meddling on their platforms. Warner told The Associated Press the committee is still looking for more information from those companies, which were initially reluctant to cooperate.
Burr has said that he wants to wrap up the probe by early spring, when congressional primaries begin. While there are many areas of bipartisan agreement on the meddling, it’s unclear whether all members will agree to the final report. It’s also unclear if the report will make a strong statement on whether the Trump campaign colluded in any way with Russia.
Warner said it’s plain there were “unprecedented contacts” as Russians reached out to the Trump campaign but what’s not established is collusion.
HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE
In the House, Democrats hope the intelligence committee can remain focused on the Russia probe as the panel’s GOP chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, and other Republicans have launched new, separate investigations into Democrat Hillary Clinton and a uranium deal during President Barack Obama’s administration. Nunes stepped back from the Russia probe in April after criticism that he was too close to the White House, but remains chairman of the committee.
Some Republicans on the panel have grown restless with the probe, saying it has amounted to a fishing expedition and pushing for it to end. Still, the committee has continued to interview dozens of witnesses involved with the Trump campaign, among them several participants in the 2016 meeting. On Nov. 30, the panel will interview Attorney General Jeff Sessions behind closed doors. Lawmakers are interested in Sessions’ knowledge about interactions between Trump campaign aides and Russians, and also his own contacts.
The top Democrat on the panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, told AP the committee has multiple interviews before the New Year. He said the Republican investigations into Clinton and Obama could be “an enormous time drain,” but they have not yet fully organized. He says the committee must be thorough and he doesn’t believe the Russia investigation should end soon.
SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
The Senate Judiciary Committee has also divided along partisan lines as Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat, haven’t agreed on some interviews and subpoenas. But as in the House, the panel has proceeded anyway, conducting bipartisan, closed-door interviews with several people who were in the 2016 meeting.
The panel is showing recent signs that it is aggressively pursuing the investigation. The committee is the only one to have interviewed Trump Jr. And just before the Thanksgiving break, it sent Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a letter asking him to be more forthcoming with the committee.
Grassley has been focused on a law that requires foreign agents to register and the firing of James Comey as FBI director. Along with the other committees, Judiciary is also looking into a dossier of allegations about Trump’s own connections to Russia.
It’s not known if the panel will issue a final report, or if its probe will conclude before next year’s elections.
BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets tumbled Monday as investors looked ahead to a possible U.S. Senate vote this week on proposed tax changes and a week of economic data announcements.
KEEPING SCORE: The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.8 percent to 3,327.65 and Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 lost 0.3 percent to 22,477.31. Seoul’s Kospi plunged 1.4 percent to 2,508.72 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.8 percent to 29,637.40. Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 was little-changed at 5,981.10. Benchmarks in Southeast Asia also retreated.
WALL STREET: U.S. stocks set more records following the Thanksgiving Day break as technology companies did much of the heavy lifting. Energy companies rose with the price of oil. Macy’s and other retailers rose after the department store’s CEO said Black Friday sales were going well. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.2 percent to 2,602.42, its first close above 2,600. The Dow Jones industrial average added 0.1 percent to 23,557.99. The Nasdaq composite gained 0.3 percent to 6,889.16.
U.S. TAXES: The House has passed a 10-year, $1.4 trillion tax cut that blends a sharp reduction in business tax rates with more modest relief for individuals. The Senate expects to vote on its version this week. Republicans can pass the measure without Democratic votes.
GERMAN POLITICS: Chancellor Angela Merkel faces pressure from her conservative bloc to aim for a quick coalition deal with center-left rivals without conceding too much ground on core issues such as immigration. Financial markets have been on edge about Europe’s biggest economy since talks between Merkel’s conservative bloc and two smaller parties collapsed a week ago. Merkel’s partners in the outgoing government, the center-left Social Democrats, initially refused to consider a repeat but said Friday they are open to holding talks. If Merkel can’t put together a coalition, the only options would be a minority government or a new election. Merkel’s conservatives have pushed to curb migrant flows and are keen to ensure that Germany sticks to a balanced budget.
ANALYST’S TAKE: “There was little Thanksgiving calm last week, as markets were swayed by both political worries over difficulties in forming a German government, and a set of FOMC minutes that betrayed increased caution over U.S. inflation profiles,” said Mizuho Bank in a report. “Besides German politics, the dominant focus for markets will be on U.S. tax reforms.”
WEEK AHEAD: China releases a gauge of November manufacturing that investors are watching for an update on slowing economic activity. Japan is due to report factory output, inflation and housing data, while India reports economic growth and South Korea’s central bank will hold a policy meeting. In the United States, data are due out on manufacturing. Outgoing Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and her successor, Jerome Powell, are due to appear before the Senate Banking Committee.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 24 cents to $58.71 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 93 cents on Friday to close at $58.95. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 7 cents to $63.40 in London. It gained 23 cents on Friday.
CURERNCY: The dollar edged up to 111.46 yen from Friday’s 111.21 yen. The euro advanced to $1.1926 from $1.1854.
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani authorities acting on a court order released a U.S.-wanted militant Friday who allegedly founded a banned group linked to the 2008 Mumbai, India attack that killed 168 people, his spokesman and officials said.
Hafiz Saeed, who has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. Justice Department and has a $10 million bounty on his head, was released before dawn after the court this week ended his detention in the eastern city of Lahore.
The move outraged Indian authorities, but Saeed’s spokesman Yahya Mujahid confirmed his release, calling it a “victory of truth.”
“Hafiz Saeed was under house arrest on baseless allegations and jail officials came to his home last night and told him that he is now free,” he said.
Saeed ran the Jamaat-ud-Dawa organization, widely believed to be a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, which India believes was behind the deadly attack in Mumbai.
Pakistan has been detaining and freeing Saeed off and on since the attack and he and four of his aides were put under house arrest in Lahore in January under a vague law known as Maintenance of Public Order. His release came after a three-judge panel dismissed the government’s plea to continue his house arrest, which ended Thursday. His aides had been released earlier.
Saeed is known for publicly supporting militant groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India and is claimed by both. Many in the Indian-controlled portion favor independence or a merger with Pakistan and violence has increased in Indian-controlled Kashmir in recent years.
In recent years Saeed often addressed protest rallies, asking the world community to pressure India to give the right of self-determination to the people in Kashmir.
Hours after his release, he addressed a congregation of thousands of followers at a sprawling mosque in Lahore and asked Islamabad not to hold talks with India unless New Delhi agrees to a troop withdrawal from Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Saeed said he was detained for highlighting the Indian atrocities in Kashmir, but Pakistan’s independent judiciary freed him because allegations against him were baseless.
“I am not struggling for any personal gains. My struggle is aimed at safeguarding the interests of Pakistan. I want Kashmir’s freedom from India and this is my crime. I was arrested for it,” he told worshippers, who chanted “God is Great.”
In an emotional speech, Saeed said Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power for his “betrayal” of the Kashmiri people. He did not explain, but Sharif was removed from office in July for alleged corruption.
Earlier, supporters welcome Saeed on his arrival at the mosque by showering him with rose petals.
Saeed’s release angered neighboring India, which for years has asked Pakistan to take action against all those linked to the Mumbai attack. It is widely believed that Pakistan has long tolerated banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Islamic militant groups.
India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar in a statement expressed outrage that a “self-confessed and UN proscribed terrorist was being allowed to walk free and continue with his evil agenda.”
“He was not only the Mastermind, he was the prime organizer of the Mumbai Terror Attacks in which many innocent Indians and many people from other nationalities were killed,” the statement said.
Kumar said Saeed’s “release confirms once again the lack of seriousness on the part of Pakistani government in bringing to justice perpetrators of heinous acts of terrorism.”
India has said it has evidence that Saeed was involved in the Mumbai attack, but Islamabad has long said sufficient evidence is not available to charge him. India claims the attackers were in contact with people in Pakistan when the assault was underway.
Relations between Pakistan and India were strained after the attack on India’s financial hub. Indian authorities detained one of the assailants, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, who was sentenced to death and later hanged in the city of Pune in India. While in custody, Kasab confessed that Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the attack, which shocked the international community.
Kasab was the only surviving gunman from the coordinated three-day attack, which targeted two luxury hotels, a Jewish center, a tourist restaurant and a crowded train station. Nine other gunmen were killed during the siege.
India has said the attackers entered Mumbai by boat carrying cellphones, grenades and automatic weapons. The attack was broadcast live on television.
Pakistan often says India is violating human rights in Kashmir, where security forces have killed or wounded dozens of protesters at anti-India rallies in recent months.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi, India, contributed to this report.