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Immigration Crisis Analysis: US has split up families throughout its history

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Some critics of the forced separation of Latino children from their migrant parents say the practice is unprecedented. But it’s not the first time the U.S. government has split up families, detained children or allowed others to do so.

Throughout American history, during times of war and unrest, authorities have cited various reasons and laws to take children away from their parents. Here are some examples:

SLAVERY

Before abolition, children of black slaves were born into slavery and could be sold by owners at will. Black women could do little to stop the sale of children and often never saw them again after they were sent away.

Owners also split apart parents who had no legal rights to prevent their sale. To resist, slave families regularly ran away together but faced harsh physical punishment, even death, if caught by slave hunters.

Last week, both White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney Jeff Sessions cited the Bible in defending the policy of forced separation of Latino migrant children. Sessions referenced Romans 13, which urges readers “to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” The same passage was cited before the Civil War to justify slavery, to allow slave hunters to return runaway slaves to their owners and to pull slave children away from mothers.

NATIVE AMERICAN BOARDING SCHOOLS

After the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, when the Army slaughtered 150 Lakota men, women and children in the last chapter of America’s long Indian wars, authorities forced Native American families to send their children to government- or church-run boarding schools. The objective, as Carlisle Indian Industrial School founder Capt. Richard H. Pratt put it, was to “kill the Indian in him and save the man.”

At 150 or so Indian schools around the country, officials made Native American children cut their hair and outlawed all Native American languages. They forced children to adopt Christianity and attempted to “Americanize” children by introducing them to white customs and white history.

Native American children returned home almost unrecognizable to their parents.

Still, some children resisted the boarding school experience by setting fires to buildings, running away or taking their own lives. Others continued to speak their native language in secret. Some Navajo “code talkers,” who used a code based on their native language to transmit messages in World War II, were products of military-style boarding schools as children.

POVERTY

During the early 1900s, states sometimes pulled children from poor families and placed them in orphanages. But reformers in the 1920s and 1930s began promoting the idea that children should not be separated from their families, according to “In the Shadow Of the Poorhouse: A Social History Of Welfare In America” by Michael B. Katz.

However, local and state authorities still used poverty as a reason to take children away from Native American and black families, McClain said. Sometimes the ordered separation came over concerns about a parent’s mental health.

Malcolm X in his autobiography recalled welfare workers coming to take him and his siblings away as children from his struggling single mother after their father, an outspoken black preacher, was mysteriously murdered. The future civil rights leader lived in various foster homes and boarding houses. His mother, without her children, had a breakdown and was sent to a mental institution.

IMMIGRATION

During the Great Depression, local authorities in California and Texas participated in a mass deportation of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans whom they blamed for the economic downturn. Between 500,000 and 1 million Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans were pushed out of the country during the 1930s repatriation, as the removal is sometimes called.

Some families hid children away from relatives in the U.S. to prevent them from being sent to a foreign country they had never visited, according to Francisco Balderrama, a Chicano studies professor at California State University-Los Angeles and co-author of “Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s.”

Many families felt they were being forced to separate from their children, who were U.S. citizens.

“And many children,” Balderrama said, “never saw their parents again.”

JAPANESE INTERNMENT CAMPS

Starting in 1942, when the U.S. was at war with Japan, around 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were ordered by the U.S. government into prison camps around the country. An estimated 30,000 were children.

The 1999 documentary “Children of the Camps” highlighted the trauma children faced while being detained with their grief-stricken parents. Some older children waited to turn 18 so they could volunteer to fight for the U.S. to prove their families’ loyalty despite not wanting to be separated from their parents. Diaries and later interviews show many of those who went into the military did so reluctantly.

Kiyoshi K. Muranaga, whose family was interned at Granada Relocation Center in Colorado, joined the U.S. Army but was killed in Italy. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton.

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UPDATE:

— Trump administration officials say they have no clear plan yet on how to reunite the thousands of children separated from their families at the border since the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the U.S. illegally is criminally prosecuted.

“This policy is relatively new,” said Steven Wagner, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services “We’re still working through the experience of reunifying kids with their parents after adjudication.”

Federal officials say there are some methods parents can use to try to find their children: hotlines to call and an email address for those seeking information. But advocates say it’s not that simple.

In a courtroom near the Rio Grande, lawyer Efren Olivares and his team with the Texas Civil Rights Project frantically scribble down children’s names, birthdates and other details from handcuffed men and women waiting for court to begin. There are sometimes 80 of them in the same hearing.

The Texas Civil Rights Project works to document the separations in the hopes of helping them reunite with the children.

A woman from El Salvador says she hasn’t spoken to her 8-year-old son in a month, since immigration officials separated them after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. (June 19)

They have one hour to collect as much information as they can before the hearing begins. The immigrants plead guilty to illegally entering the U.S., and they are typically sent either to jail or directly to an immigration detention center. At this point, lawyers with the civil rights group often lose access to the detainees.

“If we don’t get that information, then there’s no way of knowing that child was separated,” Olivares said. “No one else but the government will know that the separation happened if we don’t document it there.”

Olivares has documented more than 300 cases of adults who have been separated from a child. Most are parents, but some are older siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents. Some are illiterate and don’t know how to spell the children’s names.

More than 2,000 minors have been separated from their families since early May. The children are put into the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with the aim of keeping them as close to their parents as possible and reuniting the family after the case goes through the courts, said Wagner.

But it’s not clear that’s working.

According to Olivares, the agency is generally “very willing to help,” often helping to find a child even if there’s a misspelling in the group’s records. But if a child has been transferred out of a government shelter — including if the child has been deported — agency representatives won’t give any information.

“Sometimes the parent gives us contact information for a relative,” Olivares said. “If they have the phone number right and the phone number is working … we call that number and sometimes we’re able to locate that relative and ask them what they know.”

In May, the Department of Justice adopted the zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the U.S. illegally is criminally prosecuted. Children can’t be jailed with their parents. Instead, after the adult is charged, children are held briefly by Homeland Security officials before being transferred to Health and Human Services, which operates more than 100 shelters for minors in 17 states.

The department has set up new facilities to manage the influx of children, and Wagner said they were prepared to expand as more children come into custody.

The children are classified as unaccompanied minors, a legal term generally used for children who cross the border alone and have a possible sponsor in the U.S. willing to care for them. Most of the more than 10,000 children in shelters under HHS care came to the U.S. alone and are waiting to be placed with family members living in the U.S.

But these children are different — they arrived with their families.

“They should just give the kids back to their parents. This isn’t difficult,” said Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gelernt represents a Brazilian asylum seeker in a closely watched lawsuit that seeks a nationwide halt to family separation. The woman, identified as Mrs. C in court documents, was split from her son for nearly a year after entering the country illegally in August near Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

On Tuesday, Olivares’ team had seven people left to interview with five minutes left. They took down just the names, dates of birth, and countries of origin of the children.

“One woman (said), ‘What about me, what about me?’” Olivares said a few hours later. “She wanted to give us information because she realized what we were trying to do.”

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GOP OPTIONS:

— President Donald Trump told House Republicans he is “1,000 percent” behind their rival immigration bills, providing little clear direction for party leaders searching for a way to defuse the escalating controversy over family separations at the southern border.

And it’s uncertain if Trump’s support will be enough to push any legislation through the divided GOP majority.

GOP lawmakers, increasingly fearful of a voter backlash in November, met with Trump for about an hour Tuesday at the Capitol to try to find a solution that both holds to Trump’s hard-line immigration policy and ends the practice of taking migrant children from parents charged with entering the country illegally. Many lawmakers say Trump could simply reverse the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and keep families together.

While Trump held firm to his tough immigration stance in an earlier appearance Tuesday, he acknowledged during the closed-door meeting that the coverage of family separations is taking a toll. Trump said his daughter, Ivanka, had told him the situation with the families looks bad, one lawmaker said.

“He said, ’Politically, this is bad,’” said Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas. “It’s not about the politics, this is the right thing to do.”

Republican lawmakers and President Donald Trump searched anxiously Tuesday evening for a way to end the administration’s policy of separating families after illegal border crossings while Democratic Congress members protested the meeting. (June 19)

But Trump touched on many topics during the meeting, including his historic meeting with the North Korean Kim Jong Un. He praised a few GOP lawmakers by name for defending him on TV, according to one Republican in the room. And he took a jab at Rep. Mark Sanford, congratulating the South Carolina Republican on his recent campaign, according to others granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting. Sanford, a frequent Trump critic, lost after his GOP primary opponent highlighted his criticism of the president.

As Trump walked out of the session in the Capitol basement, he was confronted by about a half-dozen House Democrats, who yelled, “Stop separating our families!”

Later in the day, protesters heckled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, chanting “Shame!” and “End family separation!”

A department spokesman tweeted that during a work dinner, the secretary and her staff heard from a small group of protesters who “share her concern with our current immigration laws.”

Leaders in both the House and Senate are struggling to shield the party’s lawmakers from the public outcry over images of children taken from migrant parents and held in cages at the border. But they are running up against Trump’s shifting views on specifics and his determination, according to advisers, not to look soft on his signature immigration issue, the border wall.

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said Trump told lawmakers he “would continue to support the legislation, and that people shouldn’t be worried that he would change his mind.” She said it was a light moment. “Everybody laughed.”

Even if Republicans manage to pass an immigration bill through the House, which is a tall order, the fight is all but certain to fizzle in the Senate.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader from New York, is adamant that Trump can end the family separations on his own and that legislation is not needed.

Without Democratic support, Republicans cannot muster the 60 votes needed to move forward on legislation.

Schumer said with most Americans against family separations, it’s Republicans “feeling the heat on this issue, and that’s why they’re squirming.”

In the House, GOP leaders scrambled Tuesday to produce a revised version of the broader immigration bill that would keep children in detention longer than now permitted — but with their parents.

The major change unveiled Tuesday would loosen rules that now limit the amount of time minors can be held to 20 days, according to a GOP source familiar with the measure. Instead, the children could be detained indefinitely with their parents.

The revision would also give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to use $7 billion in border technology funding to pay for family detention centers, said the person, who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and commented only on condition of anonymity.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Republicans are rallying behind a different approach. Theirs is narrow legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow detained families to stay together in custody while expediting their hearings and possible deportation proceedings.

Cruz’s bill would double the number of federal immigration judges, authorize new temporary shelters to house migrant families and limit the processing of asylum cases to no more than 14 days — a goal immigrant advocates say would be difficult to meet.

“While cases are pending, families should stay together,” tweeted Cruz, who is in an unexpectedly tough re-election battle.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters he’s reaching out to Democrats for bipartisan backing.

The family separation issue boiled over Tuesday at a House hearing on an unrelated subject, when protesters with babies briefly shut down proceedings.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, pleaded with Republicans on the panel to “stand up” to Trump.

Under the administration’s current policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.

More than 2,300 minors were separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The national outcry has roiled midterm election campaigns, emboldening Democrats while putting Republicans on the defensive.

Top conservatives, including key Trump allies, have introduced bills to keep the migrant families together. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he has introduced a measure that “becomes a backup proposal” if others fail.

The House is to vote later this week on two bills that address broader immigration issues to protect young immigrant “Dreamers,” who have been living in the U.S. illegally since childhood, from deportation and fund Trump’s border wall.

But outlook for passage is dim. One conservative measure is expected to fail. And it’s unclear if Trump’s backing will help the compromise legislation that GOP leaders negotiated with moderate Republicans. Rep. Steve Scalise of Lousiana, the GOP whip, told reporters he thought it had enough support to pass. Votes are expected Thursday.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.,a member of the House Freedom Caucus, says he doesn’t like compromise bill “because it’s all compromising in one direction.”

Perry was not at the meeting with Trump, but said he doubts the president’s words will affect his position.

“Well, good for him, but he’s not running for Congress.”

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Jill Colvin, Ken Thomas, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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See AP’s complete coverage of the debate over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the border: https://apnews.com/tag/Immigration

Immigration Crisis: Youngest migrants held in ‘tender age’ shelters

Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, The Associated Press has learned.

Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.

Since the White House announced its zero tolerance policy in early May, more than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in a new influx of young children requiring government care. The government has faced withering critiques over images of some of the children in cages inside U.S. Border Patrol processing stations.

Decades after the nation’s child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is starting up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers that the government separated from their parents.

“The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which provides foster care and other child welfare services to migrant children. “Toddlers are being detained.”

Bellor said shelters follow strict procedures surrounding who can gain access to the children in order to protect their safety, but that means information about their welfare can be limited.

By law, child migrants traveling alone must be sent to facilities run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services within three days of being detained. The agency then is responsible for placing the children in shelters or foster homes until they are united with a relative or sponsor in the community as they await immigration court hearings.

But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement last month that the government would criminally prosecute everyone who crosses the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has led to the breakup of migrant families and sent a new group of hundreds of young children into the government’s care.

The United Nations, some Democratic and Republican lawmakers and religious groups have sharply criticized the policy, calling it inhumane.

Not so, said Steven Wagner, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services.

“We have specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category,” he said. “They’re not government facilities per se, and they have very well-trained clinicians, and those facilities meet state licensing standards for child welfare agencies, and they’re staffed by people who know how to deal with the needs — particularly of the younger children.”

Until now, however, it’s been unknown where they are.

“In general we do not identify the locations of permanent unaccompanied alien children program facilities,” said agency spokesman Kenneth Wolfe.

The three centers — in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville — have been rapidly repurposed to serve needs of children including some under 5. A fourth, planned for Houston, would house up to 240 children in a warehouse previously used for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Turner said he met with officials from Austin-based Southwest Key Programs, the contractor that operates some of the child shelters, to ask them to reconsider their plans. A spokeswoman for Southwest Key didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

“And so there comes a point in time we draw a line and for me, the line is with these children,” said Turner during a news conference Tuesday.

On a practical level, the zero tolerance policy has overwhelmed the federal agency charged with caring for the new influx of children who tend to be much younger than teens who typically have been traveling to the U.S. alone. Indeed some recent detainees are infants, taken from their mothers.

Doctors and lawyers who have visited the shelters said the facilities were fine, clean and safe, but the kids — who have no idea where their parents are — were hysterical, crying and acting out.

“The shelters aren’t the problem, it’s taking kids from their parents that’s the problem,” said South Texas pediatrician Marsha Griffin who has visited many.

Alicia Lieberman, who runs the Early Trauma Treatment Network at University of California, San Francisco, said decades of study show early separations can cause permanent emotional damage.

“Children are biologically programmed to grow best in the care of a parent figure. When that bond is broken through long and unexpected separations with no set timeline for reunion, children respond at the deepest physiological and emotional levels,” she said. “Their fear triggers a flood of stress hormones that disrupt neural circuits in the brain, create high levels of anxiety, make them more susceptible to physical and emotional illness, and damage their capacity to manage their emotions, trust people, and focus their attention on age-appropriate activities.”

Days after Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy, the government issued a call for proposals from shelter and foster care providers to provide services for the new influx of children taken from their families after journeying from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

As children are separated from their families, law enforcement agents reclassify them from members of family units to “unaccompanied alien children.” Federal officials said Tuesday that since May, they have separated 2,342 children from their families, rendering them unaccompanied minors in the government’s care.

While Mexico is still the most common country of origin for families arrested at the border, in the last eight months Honduras has become the fastest-growing category as compared to fiscal year 2017.

During a press briefing Tuesday, reporters repeatedly asked for an age breakdown of the children who have been taken. Officials from both law enforcement and Health and Human Services said they didn’t know how many children were under 5, under 2, or even so little they’re non-verbal.

“The facilities that they have for the most part are not licensed for tender age children,” said Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, who met with a 4-year-old girl in diapers in a McAllen warehouse where Border Patrol temporarily holds migrant families. “There is no model for how you house tons of little children in cots institutionally in our country. We don’t do orphanages, our child welfare has recognized that is an inappropriate setting for little children.”

So now, the government has to try to hire more caregivers.

The recent call for proposals by the federal government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement said it was seeking applicants who can provide services for a diverse population “of all ages and genders, as well as pregnant and parenting teens.”

Even the policy surrounding what age to take away a baby is inconsistent. Customs and Border Protection field chiefs over all nine southwest border districts can use their discretion over how young is too young, officials said. And while Health and Human Services defines “tender age” typically as 12 and under, Customs and Border Protection has at times defined it as 5 and under.

For 30 years, Los Fresnos, Texas-based International Education Services ran emergency shelters and foster care programs for younger children and pregnant teens who arrived in the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. At least one resident sued for the right to have an abortion in a high-profile case last March.

For reasons the agency did not explain, three months ago the government’s refugee resettlement office said it was ending their funding to the program and transferred all children to other facilities. This came weeks before the administration began its “zero tolerance” policy, prompting a surge in “tender age” migrant children needing shelter.

In recent days, members of Congress have been visiting the shelters and processing centers, or watching news report about them, bearing witness to the growing chaos. In a letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, a dozen Republican senators said separating families isn’t consistent with American values and ordinary human decency.

On Tuesday, a Guatemalan mother who hasn’t seen her 7-year-old son since he was taken from her a month ago sued the Trump administration. Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia was released from custody while her asylum case is pending and thinks her son, Darwin, might be in a shelter in Arizona.

“I only got to talk to him once and he sounded so sad. My son never used to sound like that, he was such a dynamic boy,” Mejia-Mejia said as she wept. “I call and call and no one will tell me where he is.”

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Colleen Long contributed from New York.

Burning kites from Gaza damage Israeli farms, wildlife

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KIBBUTZ NIR AM, Israel (AP) — After years of rocket attacks and militant infiltrations from Gaza, residents of southern Israel are now coping with a new kind of threat: incendiary kites and balloons that have damaged farmlands and nature reserves.

The crude devices launched by Palestinians inside the blockaded territory have not been lethal. But they have sparked fires that have damaged agriculture, killed wildlife and whipped up considerable indignation.

“It’s caused significant economic damage but more than that it is emotional,” said Itzik Ebbo, 78, a member of Kibbutz Nir Am, a collective farming community. “These are crops we poured our hearts into. These are fields we hiked with our children and grandchildren.”

Sullen locals have become a fixture on Israeli TV, guiding reporters around smoldering fields and lamenting the loss of life among snakes, turtles and the like.

The phenomenon is the latest twist in nearly three months of intermittent Palestinian border protests. To many Israelis the “kite terrorism” is yet more evidence of implacable — and creative — Palestinian hostility. But viewed another way it is a desperate ploy on behalf of the 2 million Palestinians largely penned into the impoverished seaside strip. A decade-old blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt to weaken Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group has ravaged the local economy and caused widespread despair.

Israeli forces have killed more than 120 Palestinians and wounded over 3,800 since the protests began on March 30. Israel says it’s the only way to prevent mass breaches of the border that would include militants. But the vast majority of the Palestinian casualties have been unarmed, drawing heavy international criticism of Israel’s open-fire orders. Israel blames Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers for the bloodshed.

Drifting aimlessly over the border, the kites have caused more than 450 fires over the past month, torching some 7,000 acres (2,800 hectares) of land and causing some $2 million in damages.

Israel says it plans to deduct from tax funds it collects for the Palestinians to compensate farmers, and the military has been stepping up its measures in recent days by firing warning shots at launchers. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed Monday that “kite terrorism cannot continue.” But Israel’s decision-makers must also consider the risk of sparking all-out war, as happened four years ago.

Israel accuses Hamas, a militant group that seeks its destruction, of using the protesters as cover in an effort to engineer violent infiltrations.

The current round of violence has yet to claim any serious Israeli casualties. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system has neutralized much of the rocket fire. A nearly-completed underground barrier and new technological means have thwarted or destroyed much of the Hamas tunnel network.

But Israel has struggled with the low-tech kites and balloons drifting over the border.

Gazans began flying kites with burning rags or cotton-stuffed cans attached to them several weeks ago and have since added helium-filled balloons with incendiary material attached. Aided by the hot and windy conditions, the devices have dropped in dry brush, destroying wheat and sunflower fields and sending animals scurrying away.

Palestinian activists argue such economic damage is not unlike that caused to them by the blockade.

The launchers seem to take pride in their project.

One of the leaders, an 18-year-old who asked to withhold his name for fear of Israel targeting him, said it started with bored teens flying Palestinian flags.

“We wanted to provoke the Israelis more, so we attached a burning rag to the kite. Thanks to God’s will, the thread was cut and the kite fell on the other side and started a fire. This is how we got the idea,” he said, adding that a kite only cost $1 to make and a balloon just 50 cents.

“Unless there are 15 to 20 fires, we don’t consider this a good day,” he added.

The military says drones intercept some 90 percent of the devices and it has also fired shots near kite launchers, targeting what it says are vehicles and Hamas posts used to launch the kites.

“These are not toys. These are dangerous weapons that are used in order to terrorize Israeli civilians,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman.

Conricus would not comment on calls by hard-line government ministers to kill kite launchers on the spot, as Israel does to those firing rockets.

Meanwhile the fires rage daily. Terrain along the border is pockmarked with black spots of scorched hillsides and charred palm trees. In Nir Am, which abuts Gaza’s northeast border, the fires have inched dangerously close to adjacent train tracks and a gas station. Residents and visiting firefighting crews are on standby to deploy at a moment’s notice.

“Balloons and kites should be something fun, not something to avoid,” said Betty Gavri, 77.

In an effort to shift the narrative, kibbutz residents and their children recently floated colorful balloons and kites toward Gaza in what they said was a message of peace. They’ve also begun a replanting drive to replace the damaged fields. But Gavri is skeptical much will improve until larger changes in the region take place and the lives of Palestinians in Gaza improve as well. “I’m convinced that until they have something to lose there won’t be a big change on our doorstep,” she said.

Kobi Sofer, a ranger for Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, said vegetation could rebound relatively quickly but it will likely take many years, if at all, for the entire ecosystem of plants, predators and prey to recover. Sofer says he has seen scorched porcupines, snakes, turtles, lizards and other rodents and insects, not to mention their feeding grounds. Touring the area, the only animals in sight were birds pecking at charred carcasses.

“All the years of rocket fire and military maneuvering never left anything like this,” said Sofer, a 17-year veteran ranger, as he gestured toward a scorched hilltop overlooking Gaza. “It’s a helpless feeling.”

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Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed.

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Follow Aron Heller at HYPERLINK “http://www.twitter.com/aronhellerap”

Syrian army drops leaflets over southern region amid tension

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian army helicopters dropped leaflets Tuesday over rebel-held parts of the country’s south calling on civilians to help the military clear the area of militants amid an increase of violence in the region that was among the first to rise against the government seven years ago.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said the leaflets were dropped over the rebel-held villages of Dael and Ibtah in the Daraa province.

Syrian government forces have been massing troops ahead of a possible attack on Daraa province and the nearby Quneitra region that border Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The United States warned last month it would take “firm and appropriate measures” to protect a cease-fire in southern Syria if government forces move against rebels there. The region has also been a source of regional tensions between Iran and Israel in recent months.

“The situation is very tense and it looks like the battle is knocking on the door,” said Jalal al-Ahmad a media activist based in southern Syria. He said Syrian troops as well as members of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group who are armed with anti-tank missiles and sophisticated monitoring equipment are sending reinforcements to the area. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported shelling and airstrikes in different parts of Daraa on Tuesday. It added that government elite forces including the Republican Guards and Tiger Forces are already in the area although it is still not clear if the government will launch an all-out offensive in the coming days.

The United States, Russia, and Jordan agreed last year to include Daraa in a “de-escalation zone” and freeze the lines of conflict there. But the area has been tense following a series of recent Israeli strikes on Syrian and Iranian forces. Iran is a close ally of Assad, and its advisers are embedded with his troops.

Assad said last week that contacts aimed at reaching a settlement in the volatile area were “ongoing” between the Russians, the U.S., and the Israelis, adding that the relationship between Syria and Iran “will not be part of any settlement” and is “not in the international bazaar.”

There has been speculation that Iran might pull its forces back from near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in some kind of settlement.

Israel has warned it will not tolerate a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria. Last month, it carried out a wave of airstrikes in response to what it said was an Iranian rocket attack on its positions in the Golan. It was the most serious confrontation between the regional archrivals to date.

Also on Tuesday, Syria expressed its strong condemnation and “absolute rejection” of the deployment of Turkish and American troops in the vicinity of the northern town of Manbaj, stressing that it is more determined to liberate all Syrian soil of any foreign presence.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the incursion comes in the context of the continuing “Turkish and American aggression on Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity, and aims to prolong the crisis in Syria.”

The ministry called on the international community to condemn the U.S. and Turkish act “which constitutes a flagrant violation of the purposes and the principles of the United Nations Charter.”

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq condemned on Tuesday the targeting of pro-Syria paramilitary troops in eastern Syria after an airstrike killed mostly Iraqi Shiite forces deployed to fight the Islamic State group.

In a statement, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry expressed “rejection and condemnation of airstrikes targeting troops deployed in areas where they are fighting Daesh, whether in Iraq or Syria.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Targeting these troops “is a support to Daesh to regroup and to expand,” the statement added. It called for continuing coordination between the U.S.-led coalition and troops on the ground to support them in the fight.

Iraqi Shiite forces and Syria accused on Monday the U.S.-led coalition of conducting the Sunday airstrikes along the Iraq-Syria border, killing at least 22 fighters and sounding 12 others. Iraqi officials in Baghdad put the death toll at 25 Shiite fighters, with 25 others wounded and three missing.

U.S. military spokesman Col. Sean Ryan denied the strikes were carried out by U.S. or coalition forces, but said they were investigating.

The officials said the dead were mostly members of Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades, which have been active in Syria’s civil war fighting alongside government forces. Also killed were some members of the Shiite Sayyed al-Shuhada Battalions, they said.

The Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Also Tuesday, Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades denounced what it called a “heinous crime” that “will not go unanswered,” blaming the attack on the “idiots Trump and Netanyahu.” It warned it was ready to confront Israel and America without hesitation.

No details were available on the strikes, but Syrian state TV said they occurred around midnight in the village of al-Hari, to the southeast of the border town of Boukamal along Iraqi border.

Last week, IS launched a major offensive against Boukamal, reaching the outskirts of the town before being pushed back by government forces. The loss of the town would deal a major blow to Iran-backed forces on both sides of the border, who have established a corridor through eastern Syria to link Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.

Syrian and Iraqi forces have driven IS from virtually all the territory it once held in both countries, but the militants still control some remote areas along the border.

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Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed.

US leaving UN’s Human Rights Council, cites anti-Israel bias

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is leaving the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, which Ambassador Nikki Haley called “an organization that is not worthy of its name.” It’s the latest withdrawal by the Trump administration from an international institution.

Haley said Tuesday the U.S. had given the human rights body “opportunity after opportunity” to make changes. She lambasted the council for “its chronic bias against Israel” and lamented the fact that its membership includes accused human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Venezuela and Congo.

“We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights,” Haley said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Haley at the State Department, said there was no doubt that the council once had a “noble vision.”

But today we need to be honest,” Pompeo said. “The Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.”

The announcement came just a day after the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the Trump administration for separating migrant children from their parents. But Haley cited longstanding U.S. complaints that the 47-member council is biased against Israel. She had been threatening the pull-out since last year unless the council made changes advocated by the U.S.

“Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded,” Haley said.

Still, she suggested the decision need not be permanent, adding that if the council did adopt reforms, “we would be happy to rejoin it.” She said the withdrawal notwithstanding, the U.S. would continue to defend human rights at the United Nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the U.S. decision “courageous,” calling it “an unequivocal statement that enough is enough.”

The move extends a broader Trump administration pattern of stepping back from international agreements and forums under the president’s “America First” policy. Although numerous officials have said repeatedly that “America First does not mean America Alone,” the administration has retreated from multiple multilateral accords and consensuses since it took office.

Since January 2017, it has announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, left the U.N. educational and cultural organization and pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. Other contentious moves have included slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum against key trading partners, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Opposition to the decision from human rights advocates was swift. A group of 12 organizations including Save the Children, Freedom House and the United Nations Association-USA said there were “legitimate concerns” about the council’s shortcomings but that none of them warranted a U.S. exit.

“This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world,” the organizations said in a joint statement.

Added Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch: “All Trump seems to care about is defending Israel.”

On Twitter, al-Hussein, the U.N. human rights chief, said it was “Disappointing, if not really surprising, news. Given the state of #HumanRights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”

And the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank close to the Trump administration, defended the move, calling the council “notably incurious about the human rights situations in some of the world’s most oppressive countries.” Brett Schaefer, a senior fellow, pointed out that Trump could have withdrawn immediately after taking office but instead gave the council 18 months to make changes.

Haley has been the driving force behind withdrawing from the human rights body, unprecedented in the 12-year history of the council. No country has ever dropped out voluntarily. Libya was kicked out seven years ago.

The move could reinforce the perception that the Trump administration is seeking to advance Israel’s agenda on the world stage, just as it prepares to unveil its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan despite Palestinian outrage over the embassy relocation. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is visiting the Middle East this week as the White House works to lay the groundwork for unveiling the plan.

Israel is the only country in the world whose rights record comes up for discussion at every council session, under “Item 7” on the agenda. Item 7 on “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories” has been part of the council’s regular business almost as long as it has existed.

The United States’ current term on the council ends next year. Although the U.S. could have remained a non-voting observer on the council, a U.S. official said it was a “complete withdrawal” and that the United States was resigning its seat “effective immediately.” The official wasn’t authorized to comment publicly and insisted on anonymity.

That means the council will be left without one of its traditional defenders of human rights. In recent months, the United States has participated in attempts to pinpoint rights violations in places like South Sudan, Congo and Cambodia.

The U.S. pullout was bound to have ripple effects for at least two countries at the council: China and Israel. The U.S., as at other U.N. organizations, is Israel’s biggest defender. At the rights council, the United States has recently been the most unabashed critic of rights abuses in China — whose growing economic and diplomatic clout has chastened some other would-be critics, rights advocates say.

The Chinese government expressed regret over Washington’s decision to pull out of the council. In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the council is “an important platform” for countries to discuss human rights and that Beijing has been committed to supporting the group’s work.

But the Chinese government is often accused by Western countries of human rights violations and by rights groups of seeking to undermine the mechanisms of the U.N. human rights council. In March, a Chinese diplomat repeatedly interrupted a speech by a prominent Chinese dissident to block him from addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council, a failed attempt that bared China’s sensitivity on human rights.

The foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, dismissed the U.S. criticism that the council is problematic because it includes China and other authoritarian governments, saying that claim is “a total disregard of facts.” ″Everyone without bias can see clearly China’s great achievement and progress in terms of human rights,” Geng said.

There are 47 countries in the Human Rights Council, elected by the U.N.’s General Assembly with a specific number of seats allocated for each region of the globe. Members serve for three-year terms and can serve only two terms in a row.

The United States has opted to stay out of the Human Rights Council before: The George W. Bush administration opted against seeking membership when the council was created in 2006. The U.S. joined the body only in 2009 under President Barack Obama.

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Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

South Korea leader urges denuclearization steps from North

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BEIJING (AP) — South Korea’s president urged North Korea on Wednesday to present a plan with concrete steps toward denuclearization, raising the pressure on its leader Kim Jong Un during his visit to Beijing to discuss the outcome of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim left for Pyongyang later in the day after making his third visit to China this year, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency, underscoring the major improvement in relations between the communist neighbors.

Xinhua said Kim met Chinese President Xi Jinping for a second day of talks on Wednesday and cited Kim as saying the visit was an opportunity to “deepen the friendship” between the two leaders and advance bilateral ties.

Kim earlier visited an agricultural technology park and rail traffic control center, accompanied by Beijing’s top official, Cai Qi, Xinhua said.

Kim’s motorcade was seen leaving the North Korean Embassy on Wednesday afternoon as police closed off major roads and intersections in central Beijing. Gawking pedestrians watched the passing motorcade that included Kim’s limousine — a black Mercedes-Benz Maybach with gold emblems on the rear doors — as well as several minibuses and 15 motorcycle police clad in white suits.

Chinese State broadcaster China Central Television has aired video of Chinese President Xi Jinping welcoming North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on a visit to Beijing. (June 19)

The motorcade traveled to Beijing’s airport, where the limousine entered the charter flight terminal.

In Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea to present actionable plans on how it will scrap its nuclear program, and for the United States to swiftly take unspecified corresponding measures.

“It’s necessary for North Korea to present far more concrete denuclearization plans, and I think it’s necessary for the United States to swiftly reciprocate by coming up with comprehensive measures,” Moon said. Moon’s office said he made the remarks to Russian media ahead of his trip to Moscow later this week.

Moon, who has met with Kim twice in recent months, said the North Korean leader is willing to give up his nuclear program and focus on economic development if he’s provided with a reliable security guarantee. Moon described Kim as “forthright,” ″careful” and “polite.”

China backs the North’s call for a “phased and synchronous” approach to denuclearization, as opposed to Washington’s demand for an instant, total and irreversible end to the North’s nuclear programs.

A report by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim expressed his gratitude to Chinese President Xi Jinping for China’s support when they met on Tuesday. KCNA said Kim told Xi at a welcoming banquet that North Korea-China ties are developing into “unprecedentedly special relations.”

At his summit with Trump last week in Singapore, Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization in exchange for U.S. security guarantees. The U.S. and South Korea also suspended a major joint military exercise that was planned for August in what was seen as a major victory for North Korea and its chief allies, China and Russia.

China has touted the prospects of more trade and investment if North Korea makes progress in talks on abandoning its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs.

That could allow the lifting of U.N. Security Council economic sanctions that have hamstrung North Korea’s foreign trade, although the U.S. insists those measures can only be eased after the North shows it has ended its nuclear programs. The U.S. says China is in agreement on that point, although Chinese officials say sanctions should not be an end in themselves.

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Associated Press journalists Sam McNeil and Gerry Shih in Beijing and Hyung-jin Kim and Yong Jun Chang in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Business: Global stocks rise, unfazed by US-China tensions

SINGAPORE (AP) — Asian and European stocks rose on Wednesday as investors rallied around signs that the global economy was on track, amid heated exchanges between the world’s two largest economies over trade.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares rose in early trading. Germany’s DAX rose 0.4 percent to 12,727.61 and France’s CAC 40 added 0.3 percent to 5,405.57. Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 1.2 percent to 7,695.94. Wall Street was poised to open higher. Dow futures added 0.4 percent to 24,808.00 and broader S&P 500 futures were up 0.3 percent to 2,773.00.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index rebounded 1.2 percent to close at 22,555.43 and South Korea’s Kospi gained 1.0 percent to 2,363.91. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.8 percent to 29,696.17 and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China increased 0.3 percent to 2,915.73. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 climbed 1.2 percent to 6,172.60. Taiwan’s benchmark rose, but Southeast Asian indexes were mixed.

NEW EUROZONE BUDGET: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed to create a Eurozone budget ahead of next week’s European Union summit. The new budget aims to boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency. It also hopes to find a European solution for migration issues — the center of a dispute between Merkel and her Bavarian allies.

POSITIVE HOUSING DATA: The solid U.S. job market has helped to boost demand for new homes. The Commerce Department said housing starts rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.35 million in May, the strongest pace since July 2007. All of May’s construction gains came from a 62 percent jump in the Midwest, while building slumped in the Northeast, South and West.

U.S.-CHINA TARIFFS: A budding trade war between the U.S. and China is showing no signs of abating. On Tuesday, China’s government called President Donald Trump’s threat of new tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods blackmail and warned that it would retaliate with measures of its own. Trump has already announced a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion of Chinese products starting July 6. China retaliated by raising import duties on $34 billion worth of American goods, including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey.

QUOTEWORTHY: “Trade tension is going to dominate market sentiment in the weeks to come. The market is waiting for Beijing to come out with counter measurements to offload more chips,” said Margaret Yang, market analyst at CMC Markets Singapore.

ENERGY: Oil futures ticked up ahead of Friday’s OPEC meeting. Saudi Arabia and Russia are seeking to raise production by 1.5 million barrels per day, but they may not get their way. Analysts expect the group to consider an increase in production of about 1 million barrels a day, ending the output cut agreed on in 2016. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 52 cents to $65.42 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract settled at $64.90 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 50 cents to $75.58 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 110.14 yen from 110.07 in late trading Tuesday. The euro dipped to $1.1561 from $1.1575.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Wednesday, June 20:

1. Wall Street Futures Point To Higher Open

U.S. stock futures pointed to a higher open, as global stocks recovered amid a lull in an escalating trade dispute between the United States and China.

At 5:50AM ET, the blue-chip Dow futures were up 115 points, or around 0.5%, putting the index on track to break a six-day losing streak.

The S&P 500 futures ticked up 8 points, or 0.3%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures indicated a gain of 20 points, or roughly 0.3%.

U.S. stocks stumbled on Tuesday, as intensifying worries over a brewing trade war between the U.S. and China rattled markets.

Investors will again remain attuned to any news on the trade front out of the White House as the relatively slow week of scheduled economic and corporate news continues.

The economics calendar will bring investors the May report on existing home sales as the highlight, with economists forecasting sales rose 1.5% to an annualized pace of 5.52 million homes.

The earnings calendar will be pretty empty with Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU) the only notable company reporting results.

Elsewhere, European markets were higher for the first time in four sessions, led by gains for markets in Germany, where the DAX popped 0.5%.

Earlier, Asia stocks rose firmly across the board, as the prospect of central bank support from the People’s Bank of China helped ease worries over the deepening trade dispute between Washington and Beijing.

2. General Electric Booted From The Dow, Walgreens To Replace

General Electric lost its spot in the Dow Jones Industrial Average after over a century in the blue-chip stock index, capping a miserable year for the once-powerful conglomerate, S&P Dow Jones Indices said after markets closed on Tuesday.

It was one of the original components of the index of 30 stocks in 1896. It has been a continuous member since 1907, or 111 years. In the past year, its stock has been battered as the company overhauls its business.

GE will be replaced on the Dow by drugstore chain Walgreens Boots Alliance prior to the start of trading on June 26.

David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement adding Walgreens to the Dow will make the index “more representative of the consumer and health-care sectors of the U.S. economy.”

Following this announcement, shares of Walgreens (NASDAQ:WBA) were up 3.4% in pre-market hours trading while GE (NYSE:GE) shares were down 2.1%.

3. Dollar Holds At 11-Month Highs, As Euro, Pound Slide

Away from equities, the U.S. dollar held onto its recent gains to trade at a near 11-month high against a currency basket, as risk aversion sparked by concerns over a worsening trade feud between Washington and Beijing ebbed.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was a shade higher at 94.80, holding below Friday’s eleven-month high of 95.13.

Meanwhile, the euro was a touch lower a day after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi reiterated that monetary policy will remain persistent, prudent and patient in the wake of the bank’s dovish guidance on interest rates last week.

The British pound struggled near a seven-month low ahead of a key Brexit vote in parliament scheduled for later today.

4. Oil Markets Await Fresh Weekly U.S. Inventory Data

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) will release its official weekly oil supplies report for the week ended June 15 at 10:30AM ET, amid forecasts for an oil-stock drop of 2.1 million barrels.

The weekly data will also offer fresh indications on how fast domestic output levels continue to rise. U.S. crude production – driven by shale extraction – is currently at an all-time high of 10.9 million barrels per day (bpd).

After markets closed Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute said that U.S. oil inventories fell by 3.0 million barrels last week.

Oil prices were on the front foot ahead of the data, with U.S. WTI crude futures rising 48 cents, or around 0.7% to $65.38 per barrel, while London-traded Brent crude futures were at $75.68 per barrel, up 59 cents, or about 0.8%.

Looming larger over markets, however, is a June 22 meeting in Vienna of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) with some other producers, including Russia, to discuss supply.

5. Powell, Draghi, Kuroda Panel Highlights Last Day Of ECB Forum

The fifth annual ECB Forum on Central Banking wraps up in Sintra, Portugal today.

The highlight of the final day of the three-day gathering will be the policy panel scheduled for 9:30AM ET (13:30GMT) with the participation of ECB President Mario Draghi, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Bank of Japan (BoJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda.

Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe is also scheduled to appear on the panel, which will be moderated by Stephanie Flanders, head of Bloomberg Economics.

The topic is price and wage-setting in advanced economies.

Opinion: When Did Caging Kids Become the Art of the Deal?

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT Editorial Board)    —    Watching President Trump blame Democrats for his administration’s inhumane practice of snatching immigrant children from their parents at the border evokes nothing so much as an abusive husband blaming his wife for the beatings he delivers:

Why do you make me do this? I hate doing this! If you’d only be reasonable and listen to me, things wouldn’t have to be this way.

As anyone paying even minimal attention to politics knows, this immoral policy is not “the Democrats fault for being weak and ineffective with Boarder Security and Crime,” to quote one randomly spelled and capitalized tweet out of three to that effect in a little over 12 hours. It’s not really Republicans’ fault, either — at least not yet. Both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations began efforts to curtail the flow of people across the southern border, but neither went so far as to pursue a “zero tolerance” approach that tore apart families en masse. Congress has not passed any bills requiring the practice since then. This bit of nastiness belongs entirely to Mr. Trump — he has made a choice to torment undocumented families — and his attempt to pass the buck is dishonest and gutless. In other words, it’s what we’ve come to expect when Mr. Trump finds himself in an uncomfortable spot.

But the horror show at the border has gotten awkward for Mr. Trump. When the normally fawning Rev. Franklin Graham and other conservative religious leaders start publicly questioning this president’s inerrancy, you know Mr. Trump has really distinguished himself in his iniquity. Even the first lady felt moved to publicly distance herself from her husband’s cruelty, calling for a nation “that governs with heart.” Things have gotten so radioactive that, at a Monday briefing, the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, found it easiest to fall back on incoherence, alternating between blaming Congress for the situation and denying that any such situation existed.

Perhaps recognizing the growing political hazard, the president is headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday evening to try to drag Republican House members deeper into his dumpster fire. Marc Short, his legislative affairs director, has said that the president will explain to Republican lawmakers the logic and “history” behind the decision to split up families. “The policy is incredibly complicated, and it is one we need to do a better job of communicating,” Mr. Short said.

Right, that’s the root of the problem here: inelegant messaging.

Mr. Trump is also expected to inject himself into the conference’s already fraught debate over immigration legislation, voicing support for two proposals that the G.O.P. House will likely be voting on in the coming days.

The president’s preferred bill is a hard-line plan fathered by Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. That bill would, among other steps, tighten asylum standards, slash legal immigration by 25 percent by ending both the diversity visa lottery and doing away with most family-based immigration, and consign Dreamers to permanent limbo by requiring them to re-up their status every three years. And, of course, the bill would fund The Wall. It all fits nicely with Mr. Trump’s tendency to talk about immigrants as though every one of them is an aspiring MS-13 foot soldier.

The president also has said — after some initial confusion on his part, according to the White House — that he’d be willing to sign the “compromise” plan hammered out in large part by House leadership. The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018, much like Mr. Goodlatte’s bill, would tighten asylum standards, kill the diversity visa and fund The Wall. It would be somewhat more flexible about family-based immigration and make provisions for some Dreamers to ultimately apply for green cards. It would deal with the current policy of splitting up families by allowing for children to be kept in ICE detention along with their parents. Jailing families together: This is what is considered progress in the current immigration climate.

Whatever the details, Mr. Trump will be using the Tuesday meeting as an opportunity for some additional arm-twisting. If Republican lawmakers have any sense of self-preservation, much less moral decency, they will refuse to engage with Mr. Trump over immigration while he is attempting such grotesque political blackmail.

For the president, this vile border mess has become a test to see how hard he can squeeze lawmakers. The White House has made clear that it regards immigrant children as useful levers to force Congress to pass legislation. With the midterms looming, Republican House members are desperate to look like they’re making progress on this issue. Mr. Trump (whose administration is planning a fresh wave of immigration crackdowns in the coming months) is betting that, with enough pressure, he can bend enough nervous moderates to pass a bill through the House on a party-line vote — and maybe, if he keeps hammering away at Democrats, even squeak it through the Senate.

In reality, by making the immigration topic even more radioactive, Mr. Trump has made a rational legislative debate much less likely. House Democrats would be nuts, politically and on policy grounds, to swallow either of the unpalatably conservative plans they are being offered. And even if a bill passes the lower chamber, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is unlikely to let his troops take a politically noxious vote during a high-stakes election cycle. No matter how much Mr. Trump beats his chest, it’s hard to see any proposal becoming law any time soon.

Lawmakers should not negotiate with the president until he puts a stop to this “zero tolerance” insanity. Even if Republican members can’t be swayed by the immorality of the practice, they should look at this situation in terms of preserving their own power: If they let Mr. Trump roll them by using innocent children as hostages, he will learn the lesson that brutality is the key to getting what he wants.

Maintaining checks and balances can be tricky with any president, but that’s especially true when a commander in chief has authoritarian impulses. As made evident by his slavering over such brutal autocrats as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump believes that effective leadership is all about crushing anyone who stands in your way, collateral damage be damned. If lawmakers aren’t willing to stand up to him in a case where justice and public sentiment are so clearly on their side, they might as well hand him the keys to the Capitol right now.

Immigration Crisis: Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.

Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with House Republicans comes at a time when lawmakers in both parties are up in arms over the administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings.

Under the policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the previous administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May.

The fight is erupting at a time when the House was already embroiled in an election-year struggle over immigration legislation that threatens to depress voter turnout in November.

Democrats have seized on the family separation issue, swarming detention centers in Texas to highlight the policy. They are demanding that the administration act to keep migrant families together. Republicans are increasingly joining Democrats in that call.

Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton called for an immediate end to the “ugly and inhumane practice,” adding, “It’s never acceptable to use kids as bargaining chips in political process.” Kansas GOP Sen. Pat Roberts said he is “against using parental separation as a deterrent to illegal immigration.”

“The time is now for the White House to end the cruel, tragic separations of families,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a statement.

The Trump administration insists the family separations are required under the law.

At a White House briefing Monday, Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared, “Congress alone can fix it.” That line has been echoed by others in the administration, including Trump himself, who has falsely blamed a law passed by Democrats for the “zero tolerance” approach to prosecutions of families crossing the border.

Two immigration bills under consideration in the House could address the separations, but the outlook for passage is dim. Conservatives say the compromise legislation that GOP leaders helped negotiate with moderates is inadequate.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said he’s skeptical that even a full-throated endorsement from Trump will be enough to get the compromise bill through the House.

The compromise bill shifts away from the nation’s longtime preference for family immigration to a new system that prioritizes entry based on merits and skills. It beefs up border security, clamps down on illegal entries and reinforces other immigration laws.

To address the rise of families being separated at the border, the measure proposes keeping children in detention with their parents, undoing 2-decade-old rules that limit the time minors can be held in custody.

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., another Freedom Caucus member, said he expects the GOP compromise bill to be defeated if it reaches the floor. “There’s not enough votes because it doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.

Faced with the prospect of gridlock in the House, senators appear willing to take matters into their own hands.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican leader, said Senate Republicans are working on language to address the family separations that could receive a floor vote, potentially as part of a spending bill package.

“I don’t think the answer to family separation is to not enforce the law. I think the answer to family separation is: Don’t separate families while you’re enforcing the law,” Cornyn told reporters. “It’s all within our power, and people have to overcome their desire to preserve an issue to campaign on.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he wants to do away with a legal settlement that requires the government to release children from custody and to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers, in order of preference.

GOP senators including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine also said they’ve been discussing family separation legislation.

Graham told reporters the measure would keep migrant families together, provide additional judges so detained families would face shorter waiting periods, and supply facilities for the families to stay. He said he did not know how much the proposal would cost.

The administration, meanwhile, is hoping to force Democrats to vote for the bills or bear some of the political cost in November’s midterm elections. Democrats brushed aside that pressure.

“As everyone who has looked at this agrees, this was done by the president, not Democrats. He can fix it tomorrow if he wants to, and if he doesn’t want to, he should own up to the fact that he’s doing it,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Senate Democrats have rallied behind an immigration bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Her bill would prohibit the separation of migrant children from their parents, with exceptions for findings of child abuse or trafficking. If separations occur, Homeland Security would have to provide clear guidelines for how parents can contact their kids.

One House Republican in a swing district, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, said he’s willing to endorse the Feinstein bill if that’s what it takes.

“I reached out to Sen. Feinstein’s office to let her know I want to help her put a stop to this human rights disaster at the border. If that means introducing her bill in the House, I’d be honored to stand with her,” he said.

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See AP’s complete coverage of the debate over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the border: https://apnews.com/tag/Immigration

Kim Jong Un visits China to discuss next steps on nukes

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BEIJING (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is making a two-day visit to Beijing starting Tuesday in which he’s expected to discuss with Chinese leaders his next steps after his nuclear summit with U.S. President Donald Trump last week.

Kim’s visit to Beijing, while expected, is one way for China to highlight its crucial role in U.S. efforts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. The U.S. has long looked to China to use its influence with North Korea to bring it to negotiations, but the visit comes as ties between Beijing and Washington are being tested by a major trade dispute.

Chinese President Xi Jinping “is exerting a lot of influence from behind the scenes,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Glaser said it was predictable Xi would want to be briefed by Kim directly about the North Korean leader’s talks with Trump.

“I expect they will talk about the path going forward and where priorities should lie,” Glaser said. Those priorities, from China’s perspective, would be to ensure that Beijing is included in any peace treaty talks and in creating an environment on the Korean Peninsula that will make it unnecessary for U.S. troops to remain.

Chinese state media reports North Korean leader Kim Jong Un starts a two-day visit to Beijing on Tuesday, following his summit with President Trump. It didn’t report if Kim had already arrived, but a large motorcade was seen leaving the airport. (June 18)

Security was tight Tuesday morning at the Pyongyang airport, where another flight was unexpectedly delayed, and later at the Beijing airport, where paramilitary police prevented journalists from shooting photos. A motorcade including sedans, minibuses, motorcycles and a stretch limo with a golden emblem similar to one Kim used previously was seen leaving the airport.

Roads near the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where senior Chinese officials meet with visiting leaders, were closed and the same motorcade was later seen heading into the compound. A ring of police vehicles and black sedans surrounded the perimeter of the guesthouse, where Kim stayed on his first visit earlier this year.

A similar convoy of vehicles was seen leaving the state guesthouse in the direction of the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing on Tuesday afternoon. Kim’s presence in Beijing and the schedule of his visit, including any meetings with Xi, have not been confirmed.

Kim was diplomatically isolated for years before making his first foreign trip as leader in March to meet with Xi in Beijing. This is his third visit to China, North Korea’s main ally and key source of trade and economic assistance. Following his summit with Trump, Kim was expected to meet with Chinese leaders to discuss progress in halting his country’s missile and nuclear weapons programs in exchange for economic incentives.

China’s foreign ministry refused to provide details on Kim’s visit other than to say that Beijing hopes it will help deepen relations between the countries.

Geng Shuang, a ministry spokesman, said at a regular briefing Tuesday that the visit would “strengthen our strategic communication on major issues to promote regional peace and stability.”

Geng said Beijing supported Russia’s calls last week for unilateral sanctions on North Korea — ones that aren’t imposed within the United Nations framework — to be canceled immediately.

“China always stands against the so-called unilateral sanctions outside the Security Council framework. This position is very clear and we believe sanctions themselves are not the end,” Geng said.

While Beijing and Moscow have supported U.N. restrictions, they bristle at Washington imposing unilateral sanctions to put pressure on North Korea.

The Singapore meeting resulted in a surprise announcement of a U.S. suspension of military drills with its South Korean ally, a goal long pursued by China and North Korea. That move is seen as potentially weakening defenses and diplomacy among America’s Asian allies, while bolstering China and Russia.

The U.S. has stationed combat troops in South Korea since the Korean War, in which China fought on North Korea’s side and which ended in 1953 with an armistice and no peace treaty.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Kim’s visit to China highlights the “constructive role” Beijing could play in disarming North Korea.

Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said Seoul and Beijing share a “strategic goal” in achieving the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and that progress in nuclear diplomacy has been facilitating high-level contacts between North Korea and its neighbors.

Noh also downplayed concerns that improving relations between China and North Korea could result in loosened Chinese sanctions against North Korea, saying that Beijing has repeatedly stated its commitment to U.N. Security Council resolutions against the North.

Chinese state media’s treatment of Kim’s visit departed from past practice of not announcing his travels until Kim returned home. Analysts said Beijing appeared to be trying to normalize such visits.

Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at Renmin University’s School of International Studies in Beijing, said that unlike previous visits, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV announced Kim’s visit before his departure.

“This is an improvement. This shows that China is moving toward a healthier and more normal direction in relations with North Korea,” Cheng said. He added that the frequency of Kim’s visits was “unprecedented.”

Yang Mu-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kim’s repeated visits to Beijing this year show that the recent chill in the two countries’ ties over Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles had fully lifted.

“I believe that indicates that the blood alliance between the North and China has been completely restored,” Yang said.

The visit comes as a dispute over the large trade imbalance between China and the U.S. has been escalating, straining ties between the world’s two largest economies and moving them closer to a potential trade war.

Trump recently ordered tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods in retaliation for alleged intellectual property theft. The tariffs were quickly matched by China on U.S. exports, a move that drew the president’s ire. On Tuesday morning China woke to news that Trump had directed the U.S. Trade Representative to prepare new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese products, a move swiftly criticized by Beijing.

A trade war with the U.S. could make it less attractive for China to use its influence over North Korea to help the U.S. achieve its objectives of denuclearization.

“The potential comprehensive trade war will make the cooperation between China and U.S. in North Korea’s nuclear issue more complicated,” Cheng said. “There will be a big question mark over whether China and the U.S. will continue this cooperation.”

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Associated Press journalists Gillian Wong and Shanshan Wang in Beijing, Adam Schreck in Pyongyang, North Korea, and Kim Tong-hyung and Yong Jun Chang in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

‘Papa! Papa!’ Audio of children stokes rage over separation

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BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — An audio recording that appears to capture the heartbreaking voices of small Spanish-speaking children crying out for their parents at a U.S. immigration facility took center stage Monday in the growing uproar over the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.

“Papa! Papa!” one child is heard weeping in the audio file that was first reported by the nonprofit ProPublica and later provided to The Associated Press.

Human rights attorney Jennifer Harbury said she received the tape from a whistleblower and told ProPublica it was recorded in the last week. She did not provide details about where exactly it was recorded.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she had not heard the audio but said children taken into custody by the government are being treated humanely. She said the government has high standards for detention centers and the children are well cared for, stressing that Congress needs to plug loopholes in the law so families can stay together.

The audio surfaced as politicians and advocates flocked to the U.S.-Mexico border to visit U.S. immigration detention centers and turn up the pressure on the Trump administration.

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And the backlash over the policy widened. The Mormon church said it is “deeply troubled” by the separation of families at the border and urged national leaders to find compassionate solutions. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, reversed a decision to send a National Guard helicopter from his state to the Mexican border to assist in a deployment, citing the administration’s “cruel and inhumane” policy.

At the border, an estimated 80 people pleaded guilty Monday to immigration charges, including some who asked the judge questions such as “What’s going to happen to my daughter?” and “What will happen to my son?”

Attorneys at the hearings said the immigrants had brought two dozen boys and girls with them to the U.S., and the judge replied that he didn’t know what would happen to their children.

Several groups of lawmakers toured a nearby facility in Brownsville, Texas, that houses hundreds of immigrant children.

Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico said the location was a former hospital converted into living quarters for children, with rooms divided by age group. There was even a small room for infants, complete with two high chairs, where two baby boys wore matching rugby style shirts with orange and white stripes.

Another group of lawmakers on Sunday visited an old warehouse in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of children are being held in cages created by metal fencing. One cage held 20 youngsters.

More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility, which is divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children.

In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for people trying to enter the U.S., Border Patrol officials say they must crack down on migrants and separate adults from children as a deterrent to others trying to get into the U.S. illegally.

“When you exempt a group of people from the law … that creates a draw,” said Manuel Padilla, the Border Patrol’s chief agent there.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking to reporters during a tour of San Diego immigration detention facilities with Rep. Juan Vargas and other House Democrats, said family separation is a “heartbreaking, barbarian issue that could be changed in a moment by the president of the United States rescinding his action.”

“It so challenges the conscience of our country that it must be changed and must be changed immediately,” she said during a news conference at a San Diego terminal that is connected to the airport in Tijuana, Mexico, by a bridge.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced late Monday that he was introducing emergency legislation intended to keep immigrant families together.

“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers,” Cruz said. “This must stop.”

President Donald Trump emphatically defended his administration’s policy Monday, again falsely blaming Democrats.

“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” he declared. “Not on my watch.”

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Snow reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.

South Korea says US drills suspended to aid talks with North

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Tuesday presented a united front with the United States on a decision to call off a major military drill, one week after President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement that he would suspend such exercises with the longtime Asian ally.

Shortly after the U.S. and South Korean militaries formally announced the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises slated for August had been called off, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said the decision was necessary to support ongoing talks both countries have with North Korea.

“South Korea and the U.S. made the decision as we believe this will contribute to maintaining such momentum,” said Choi Hyun-soo, the ministry’s spokeswoman.

The announcement was widely anticipated following Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week. Trump said after the summit in Singapore that he would suspend the U.S. military’s “war games” with South Korea unless and until the talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program break down.

His statement appeared to catch both South Korea and the Pentagon by surprise, but they presented a united front in canceling the upcoming exercise.

Dana White, spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Department, said planning for the summer drills had stopped, but no decisions have been made on any other military exercises with South Korea. Joint exercises with Japan and other countries in the Pacific will continue.

Choi echoed that nothing has been decided on other exercises. She was unwilling to provide a straightforward answer when asked whether there had been any discussions between the allies’ militaries on suspending the drills before Trump’s sudden announcement.

“We consider the ongoing denuclearization negotiations with North Korea as crucial, so as long as those negotiations continue, the decision by the governments of South Korea and the United States will be maintained,” she said.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera showed understanding for the move but stressed the need for the two countries to continue their other joint drills.

He called U.S.-South Korean exercises “important pillars” for maintaining regional peace and stability. Plans for U.S.-Japan exercises are unchanged, he added.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said the suspension of U.S.-South Korean drills was a “positive and constructive move.” During the tensions created by North Korean weapons tests in recent years, China had called for a “dual suspension” in which the North would stop its nuclear and missile tests and Washington and Seoul would halt their military exercises to lower animosity and lead to talks.

“We support this, we hope the relevant parties will move in the same direction to make greater efforts to promote the peace and denuclearization process for the peninsula,” Geng Shuang said in a regular briefing.

Last year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian went on for 11 days in August and involved about 17,500 U.S. and 50,000 South Korean troops. Also participating were other nations that contributed forces during the 1950-53 Korean War, including Australia, Britain, Canada and Colombia.

The summertime military exercises usually coincide with a nationwide civilian defense drill in South Korea in which citizens take shelter in buildings and subway stations at the sound of air-raid sirens. Presidential spokesman Kim Eui-keum said the civilian drill could be held as planned, suspended or modified to reflect “changing circumstances.”

The other major U.S. military exercises with South Korea — Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — took place earlier this spring. They historically include live-fire drills with tanks, aircraft and warships and feature about 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops. The drills were delayed this year because of North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.

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Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Chris Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this story.

Blurring the border, Turkey deepens roots in northern Syria

AL-BAB, Syria (AP) — A newly paved road links the Turkish town of Cobanbey to its Syrian sister, al-Bab, across the border. In al-Bab, Turkish and Syrian flags line the streets, and signs on government buildings are in Arabic and Turkish. One of the first billboards honors Turkish soldiers killed in the battle to liberate this town from Islamic State militants.

Al-Bab, still scarred by war, is busy with construction. A large Turkish-funded hospital is nearly complete. A huge tree-encircled plot on the main highway will be the town’s first industrial zone. A census and registration of land deeds are underway.

Overseeing the beehive is a veteran Turkish provincial official, Senol Esmer, deputy governor of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, sent here to direct al-Bab’s development. His office is in the local police station which swarms with Turkish security alongside construction workers building an extension.

The main reason for Turkey’s support “is humanity,” Esmer said. “We call it ‘justice of fraternity’ because we have been living together with these people for 600 years, since Ottoman times. And after that, as neighbors,” he said, referring to Syria’s longtime place in the Ottoman Empire, which fell with World War I.

Turkey is growing long-term roots in its northern Syrian enclave, nearly two years after its troops moved in, modeling the zone on its own towns and bringing in its own administrators and military, financial and security institutions.

Turkey now holds sway over more than 4,000 square kilometers (1,500 square miles) of Syrian territory. Almost a quarter of Syria’s population is under Turkish control indirectly or directly — including 3.6 million refugees in Turkey, around 600,000 people living in the enclave, most of them displaced from elsewhere in Syria, and the 2 million people in Idlib, the last remaining rebel-held province, where Turkey has gained a major say.

The major Turkish investment has raised speculation Ankara has ambitions to revive old imperial claims to Syrian provinces.

But there are key strategic goals behind its deepening hold. Fundamentally, Turkey aims to keep out its nemesis, the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG.

Also, Turkey, presenting itself as the protector of the Syrian opposition, is now positioned to be the main negotiator along with Russia over shaping Syria’s future. Moscow may be open for that: It gave a green-light for Ankara’s move into Syria. Turkey hopes its weight will lure Washington away from the alliance with the Kurds to rely on it as a bulwark against Iranian influence in Syria.

The Turkish intervention is the “most important development” in the Syrian conflict since Russia threw its military might behind President Bashar Assad in 2015, said Nicholas Heras, of the Washington-based Center for New American Security.

Having troops on the ground and controlling large parts of the Syrian population “definitely means no solution is possible without Turkish cooperation,” said Heiko Wimmen, project director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon with the International Crisis Group.

The zone is the latest phase in the evolution of Turkey’s aims in Syria’s war. At first, it joined a Western and regional alliance funding and arming rebels with the aim of ousting Assad. Then it said it needed to protect its own security, fearing the growing clout of the Kurdish militia. Ankara considers the YPG a front for its own domestic Kurdish insurgency. The United States allied with the militia to fight the Islamic State group, and it now holds nearly 25 percent of Syria, including much of the border with Turkey and Syria’s richest oil fields.

In the summer of 2016, Turkey launched its military incursion alongside allied Syrian fighters to drive out both the Islamic State group and the YPG.

It took more than three months of fighting for the Turkish-led forces to take al-Bab district, killing more than 70 Turkish soldiers. But the battle cemented the working relationship with Moscow: For the first time, the Russian air force backed Turkish forces advancing on the town. Al-Bab’s strategic location allowed Turkey earlier this year to uproot the YPG from its westernmost stronghold Afrin, thwarting a contiguous Kurdish entity along the border. That secured Turkey’s hold on northwest Syria, but also brought it close to Syrian government forces.

Now Ankara is installing a Turkish-European style government in what it calls the Euphrates Shield area.

Esmer, the Turkish official, oversaw the formation of a 21-member governing body in al-Bab, which employs nearly 150 staff, most paid by Turkey. He estimated the council will collect some $1.7 million in revenues from rents, taxes and municipal fees in 2018.

“We provide the flour, but they (Syrians) process it to make bread. With a small profit, they organize the distribution,” Esmer said. artefacts

Most Turkish spending goes to health and education. Thousands of teachers are paid by Turkey. Schools are being rehabilitated and new ones are coming up. A new $17-million hospital financed by the Turkish Health Ministry opens this month in al-Bab. A Turkish university plans a branch in the town, and others held tests here for Syrian students wanting to enroll in Turkey.

Turkey has moved its troops out of towns, positioning them mostly on nearby hills. In al-Bab, it trained some 2,000 Syrian security, including 100 women, to police checkpoints in al-Bab.

New courts are overseen by Turkish judges and prosecutors but uses former Syria government judges, following Syria’s French-inspired code. A terrorism court opened in Azaz. Al-Bab boasts a modern correction facility.

To facilitate financial transactions, Turkish post offices — which serve as banks — transfer salaries and funds to Syrian towns, in Turkish liras.

Ahmed Hussein Taher, a school principal in Jarablus, said that means the 1,300 teachers in the town get salaries far more quickly and efficiently. Taher was promoted to principal by the Turkish-backed administration, a post he said he never would have had under Assad since he wasn’t a ruling party loyalist.

“We teach Turkish language classes to first and second graders. Hopefully in the coming years we’ll offer it to all grades,” he said. “Turkish language is a must. Our Turkish brothers have given us everything and we work with them.”

In al-Bab, engineer Zakaria Haj Hassan ordered pipes from Turkey to install in a new industrial zone that he hopes will attract Syrian investors, both here and in Turkey.

Dependency on Turkey, he said, is natural and historic.

“I remember our grandparents singing: ‘from Aleppo to Antep’,” he said, using the old Ottoman name for Gaziantep. “We still have relatives in Turkey.”

As for the future, he said, “Are we going to be part of Turkey? Are we going to be a small independent statelet? We don’t know. Those who are nationalists would call it colonialism. Those who are religious would say we are all Muslims. We have no problem. In the old days, we were one nation from Istanbul to Yemen to Morocco.”

A big test for Turkey is keeping security.

Thousands of Syrian fighters worked with the Turkish military to liberate these areas. Thousands more flooded in since then as the Syrian government seized rebel-held areas elsewhere. Turkish officials estimate that now up to 60,000 Syrian gunmen operate in the Turkish zone, with nowhere else to go and no other supporter but Turkey.

Bloody clashes have frequently broken out among them, mostly triggered by lack of resources, competing leadership and disputes between locals and newly arrived fighters.

Violence paralyses towns for days.

One battle erupted in al-Bab when a gunman claimed an empty lot of land, claiming it had been IS property, and the local owner protested, prompting clashes with heavy machine guns. The newly-trained local security didn’t interfere. Days later, a gunman beat a nurse in a hospital, setting off fighting that ended when his commander offered to hand him over.

There have also been reports of radicalism among the militias, with some seeking to impose strict Islamic dress on women and others seizing and looting homes of Kurdish residents.

A senior Turkish official blamed the Syrian government, saying it seeks to “destabilize” the Turkish zone by flooding the area with the thousands of gunmen transferred from other areas.

“But we are not going to let that happen. It is part of our military planning,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations. Turkey’s objective is “to get Syria back on its feet. If there is a power vacuum and social structures are weakened, it will end up back where it was.”

The challenge is greater in neighboring Idlib, where a “witch’s brew” of more extremist organizations, including al-Qaida, are in control, said Heras. Turkey, in agreement with Russia, has set up observation posts around Idlib, protecting the area as it seeks to remodel rebels there into a more moderate force. But those posts also bring it into potential friction with Syrian troops.

Mohammed ElSheikh, 25, a humanitarian worker in al-Bab, said he expects Turkey’s control of northern Syria to last for a decade. He said Turkey is serving “the Syrian revolution” and that it and Moscow will work out a new system that keeps Syria together but doesn’t include Assad.

But ElSheikh said Turkish control can be heavy-handed as well. He said it took him months to wade through Turkish bureaucracy and security checks for approval of his organization, which supports school drop-outs.

Turks, he said, “must help Syrians, not rule them. Right now, they are ruling.”

In tit-for-tat, Trump threatens more tariffs against China

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Trade Representative to prepare new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports on Monday as the two nations moved closer to a potential trade war.

The tariffs, which Trump wants set at a 10 percent rate, would be the latest round of punitive measures in an escalating dispute over the large trade imbalance between the two countries. Trump recently ordered tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods in retaliation for intellectual property theft. The tariffs were quickly matched by China on U.S. exports, a move that drew the president’s ire.

“China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology,” Trump said in a statement Monday announcing the new action. “Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong.”

Trump added: “These tariffs will go into effect if China refuses to change its practices, and also if it insists on going forward with the new tariffs that it has recently announced.”

China’s Commerce Ministry on Tuesday criticized the latest threat of tariffs, saying it was an “act of extreme pressure and blackmail that deviates from the consensus reached by both parties after many negotiations, and is a disappointment to the international community.”

“If the U.S. becomes irrational and issues this list, China will have no choice but to adopt strong countermeasures of the same amount and quality,” the ministry statement said.

Trump said that if China responds to this fresh round of tariffs, then he will move to counter “by pursuing additional tariffs on another $200 billion of goods.”

It wasn’t immediately clear when the new tariffs could be put in place, as the trade office has yet to identify the Chinese goods to be penalized or conduct a legal review. The first round of penalties announced by both nations is set to take effect July 6.

The intellectual property sanctions were the latest in a spate of protectionist measures unveiled by Trump in recent months that included tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. and a tough rhetoric on trade negotiations from North America to Asia.

The escalation in the dispute with China may also serve as a warning to other trading partners with whom Trump has been feuding, including Canada and the European Union.

The move quickly drew praise from former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon, who told The Associated Press: “President Trump told China and the world tonight that America will not back down when it comes to economic aggression.”

But Wall Street has viewed the escalating trade tensions with wariness, fearful they could strangle the economic growth achieved during Trump’s watch. Gary Cohn, Trump’s former top economic adviser, said last week that a “tariff battle” could result in price inflation and consumer debt — “historic ingredients for an economic slowdown.”

Trump’s comments came hours after the top U.S. diplomat accused China of engaging in “predatory economics 101” and an “unprecedented level of larceny” of intellectual property.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the remarks at the Detroit Economic Club as global markets reacted to trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

He said China’s recent claims of “openness and globalization” are “a joke.” He added that China is a “predatory economic government” that is “long overdue in being tackled,” matters that include IP theft and Chinese steel and aluminum flooding the U.S. market.

“Everyone knows … China is the main perpetrator,” he said. “It’s an unprecedented level of larceny.”

“Just ask yourself: Would China have allowed America to do to it what China has done to America?” he said later. “This is predatory economics 101.”

Asked to comment on Pompeo’s remarks, the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing said in a regular briefing with reporters that the U.S. had lost credibility as a free trader.

“We don’t want a trade war, but we’re not afraid of a trade war,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

Pompeo raised the trade issue directly with China last week, when he met in Beijing with President Xi Jinping and others.

“I reminded him that’s not fair competition,” Pompeo said.

Trump had announced a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion in Chinese imports. China is retaliating by raising import duties on $34 billion worth of American goods, including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey. Trump also has slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and European allies.

Pompeo on Monday described U.S. actions as “economic diplomacy,” which, when done right, strengthens national security and international alliances, he added.

“We use American power, economic might and influence as a tool of economic policy,” he said. “We do our best to call out unfair economic behaviors as well.”

In a statement, Trump says he has an “excellent relationship” with Xi, “but the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”

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Karoub reported from Detroit. Associated Press writers Ken Thomas in Washington and Gillian Wong and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

Business: Global stocks tumble after new Trump tariff threat

BEIJING (AP) — Global stock markets fell Tuesday after U.S. President Donald Trump escalated a dispute with Beijing over technology policy by threatening a tariff hike on an additional $200 billion of Chinese goods.

KEEPING SCORE: In early trading, Germany’s DAX plunged 1.8 percent to 12,606.14 and France’s CAC 40 fell 1.4 percent to 5,372.20. London’s FTSE 100 lost 0.8 percent to 7,565.81. On Monday, the DAX retreated 1.4 percent and the CAC 40 shed 0.9 percent while the FTSE 100 lost less than 0.1 percent. Wall Street looked poised for losses, with the future for the Dow Jones industrial average off 1.6 percent and that for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index off 1.3 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: The Shanghai Composite Index fell 3.8 percent to 2,907.82 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 2.8 percent to 29,468.15. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 retreated 1.8 percent to 22,278.48 and Seoul’s Kospi gave up 1.5 percent to 2,340.11. India’s Sensex shed 0.6 percent to 35,331.28 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 declined 0.6 percent to 6,102.10. Benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and Southeast Asia all declined.

TRADE TENSIONS: Trump directed the U.S. Trade Representative to prepare new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, stepping up a dispute companies and investors worry could drag down global trade and economic growth. Trump accused Beijing of being unwilling to resolve the dispute over complaints it steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. China’s Commerce Ministry criticized the White House action as blackmail and said Beijing was ready to retaliate.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to back down became apparent this morning, once again sinking markets into a risk-off atmosphere,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a report. Pan said market attention turned to China for “signs of further retaliation.”

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks finished mixed in trading that ended before Trump issued his tariff threat. Household goods companies took some of the worst losses as the S&P 500 fell for the third time in four days. The S&P 500 fell 0.2 percent, while the Dow lost 0.4 percent. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks rose 0.5 percent. Many investors feel smaller and more U.S.-focused companies are less vulnerable in the event of a major trade dispute.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 88 cents to $64.97 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 79 cents on Monday to $65.85. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 55 cents to $74.79 per barrel in London. The contract rose $1.90 the previous session to $75.34.

CURRENCY: The dollar declined to 109.75 yen from Monday’s 110.54 yen. The euro edged down to $1.1552 from $1.1623.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Tuesday, June 19:

1. Trump Seeks Additional $200B In Tariffs Against China

U.S. President Donald Trump fired a fresh salvo in the ongoing trade spat between the U.S. and China, further raising tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Trump said late on Monday that he had asked U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer to identify $200 billion worth of Chinese products that will be subject to additional tariffs of 10%.

The new duties will go into effect “if China refuses to change its practices, and also if it insists on going forward with the new tariffs that it has recently announced,” the president said in a statement provided by the White House.

It’s the latest development in escalating trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies. On Friday, the U.S. announced a 25% tariff on up to $50 billion of Chinese products, prompting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration to respond with a 25% tariff on $34 billion of U.S. goods.

2. China Vows To Retaliate

China’s Commerce Ministry vowed that it will take counter measures if the U.S. publishes an additional tariffs list.

In a statement posted on its website this morning, the ministry said China will protect its interests, taking both quantitative and qualitative measures against the move.

The fresh threats of additional tariffs violate prior negotiations and consensus reached between the two countries, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said. A trade war will hurt companies and people in both countries, it added in the Chinese statement.

China’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said the country does not want a trade war, but it’s not afraid to engage in one.

The latest back-and-forth measures have sparked concerns that Washington and Beijing have entered into a full-blown trade war that could damage global growth.

3. Dow Futures Plunge More 300 Points

U.S. stock futures pointed to sharp losses at the open, as worries over a brewing trade war between the United States and China kept investors on the edge.

At 5:40AM ET, the blue-chip Dow futures were down 350 points, or around 1.4%, on track for a sixth losing session in a row.

The S&P 500 futures slumped 32 points, or 1.1%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures indicated a loss of 76 points, or roughly 1%.

In earnings news, notable results expected out Tuesday include Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) and FedEx (NYSE:FDX), which are both expected to report earnings after the market close.

Elsewhere, European markets slid for a third straight session to hit their weakest level in almost two months, as automakers and miners, seen among the sectors most at risk of a trade war, led losses.

Earlier, Chinese markets led losses in Asia, with major markets in the region closing sharply lower. On the mainland, the Shanghai composite fell 3.8% to close near two-year lows, while the smaller Shenzhen composite sank 5.8%.

4. U.S. Housing Data, Fed Speakers On Tap

Market players will focus on U.S. housing sector data to gauge the strength of the world’s largest economy and how it will impact monetary policy in the months ahead.

The Commerce Department at 8:30AM ET is expected to report building permits fell 1.4% from a month earlier to 1.35 million units, while housing starts are forecast to rise 1.4% to 1.31 million units.

Among central bank speakers, St. Louis Federal Reserve Chief James Bullard is due to appear at 7:00AM ET at the 2018 ECB Forum on Central Banking in Sintra, Portugal.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was 0.5% higher at 94.90, remaining within sight of Friday’s 11-month high of 95.13.

In the bond market, the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield dipped to around 2.87%.

5. Oil Markets Stay Volatile Ahead Of OPEC Meeting

Crude oil markets remained volatile as energy investors weighed potential outcomes for a meeting of major crude producers later this week.

Oil ministers from OPEC, Russia and other major producing countries will meet in Vienna on Thursday and Friday to review their current production agreement that has held back 1.8 million bpd from the market for the past 18 months.

OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, and non-member Russia have proposed relaxing production cuts gradually, while OPEC members Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Algeria have opposed such a move.

New York-traded WTI crude futures shed 85 cents, or 1.3%, to $64.84 per barrel, while Brent futures declined 40 cents, or 0.6%, $74.95 per barrel.

Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute is due to release its weekly report on U.S. commercial crude inventories at 4:30PM ET, amid forecasts for an oil-stock decline of 2.6 million barrels.

Family separation policy starts dividing Republicans

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The emotional policy of separating children from their parents is also starting to divide Republicans and their allies as Democrats turn up the pressure.

Former first lady Laura Bush called the policy “cruel” and “immoral” while GOP Sen. Susan Collins expressed concern about it and a former adviser to President Donald Trump said he thought the issue was going to hurt the president at some point. Religious groups, including some conservative ones, are protesting.

Mrs. Bush made some of the strongest comments yet about the policy from the Republican side of the aisle.

“I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” she wrote in a guest column for the Washington Post Sunday. She compared it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which she called “one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she favors tighter border security, but expressed deep concerns about the child separation policy.

“What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” she said. “That’s traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country.”

Former Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci said in a weekend interview that the child separation interview could be dangerous for Trump. He said the president “should be immediately fixing this problem.”

“This is a fuse that has been lit,” he said. “The president is going to get hurt by this issue if it stays out there very, very long.”

The signs of splintering of GOP support come after longtime Trump ally, the Rev. Franklin Graham, called the policy “disgraceful.” Numerous religious groups, including some conservative ones, have pushed to stop the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents.

This pressure is coming as White House officials have tried to distance themselves from the policy. Trump blames Democrats falsely for the situation. The administration put the policy in place and could easily end it after it has led to a spike in cases of split and distraught families.

“Nobody likes” breaking up families and “seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms,” said presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

Trump plans to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss pending immigration legislation amid an election-season debate over one of his favorite issues. The House is expected to vote this week on a bill pushed by conservatives that may not have enough support to pass, and a compromise measure with key proposals supported by the president. The White House has said Trump would sign either of those.

Conway rejected the idea that Trump was using the kids as leverage to force Democrats to negotiate on immigration and his long-promised border wall, even after Trump tweeted Saturday: “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!”

Asked whether the president was willing to end the policy, she said: “The president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board.”

To Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the administration is “using the grief, the tears, the pain of these kids as mortar to build our wall. And it’s an effort to extort a bill to their liking in the Congress.”

Schiff said the practice was “deeply unethical” and that Republicans’ refusal to criticize Trump represented a “sad degeneration” of the GOP, which he said had become “the party of lies.”

“There are other ways to negotiate between Republicans and Democrats. Using children, young children, as political foils is abhorrent,” said Sen Jack Reed, D-R.I.

Even first lady Melania Trump, who has tended to stay out of contentious policy debates, waded into the emotional issue. Her spokeswoman says that Mrs. Trump believes “we need to be a country that follows all laws,” but also one “that governs with heart.”

“Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.

The House proposals face broad opposition from Democrats, and even if a bill does pass, the closely divided Senate seems unlikely to go along.

Trump’s former chief strategist said Republicans would face steep consequences for pushing the compromise bill because it provides a path to citizenship for young “Dreamer” immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Steve Bannon argued that effort risked alienating Trump’s political base and contributing to election losses in November, when Republicans hope to preserve their congressional majorities.

Conway and Schiff appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Collins was on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Lujan and Bannon spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” and Scaramucci was on Fox 11 in Los Angeles.

Puerto Rico issues new data on Hurricane Maria deaths

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Eight days after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Efrain Perez felt a pain in his chest.

Doctors near his small town sent him to Puerto Rico’s main hospital for emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm. But when the ambulance pulled into the parking lot in the capital, San Juan, after a more than two-hour drive, a doctor ran out to stop it.

“He said, ’Don’t bring him in here, I can’t care for him. I don’t have power. I don’t have water. I don’t have an anesthesiologist,’” Perez’s daughter, Nerybelle, recalled.

The 95-year-old Perez died as the ambulance drove him back to southwestern Puerto Rico but he is not included in the island’s official hurricane death toll of 64 people, a figure at the center of a growing legal and political fight over the response to the Category 4 storm that hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017.

Facing at least three lawsuits demanding more data on the death toll, Puerto Rico’s government released new information on Tuesday that added detail to the growing consensus that hundreds or even thousands of people died as an indirect result of the storm.

According to the new data, there were 1,427 more deaths from September to December 2017 than the average for the same time period over the previous four years. Additionally, September and October had the highest number of deaths of any months since at least 2013. But the statistics don’t indicate whether the storm and its aftermath contributed to the additional deaths.

The Puerto Rican government says it believes more than 64 people died as a result of the storm but it will not raise its official toll until George Washington University completes a study of the data being carried out on behalf of the U.S. territory.

The issue is clouded by the fact that the federal government and U.S. states and territories have no uniform definition of what constitutes a storm-related death. The National Hurricane Center counts only deaths directly caused by a storm, like a person killed by a falling tree. It does not count indirect deaths, like someone whose medical equipment fails in a blackout.

Puerto Rico began by counting mostly direct deaths, with some indirect ones. Then it stopped updating its toll entirely while it waits for the George Washington University study, due later this summer.

The death count has had political implications. Visiting Puerto Rico on Oct. 3, two weeks after the storm hit, President Donald Trump asked Gov. Ricardo Rossello what the death toll was.

“Sixteen,” Rossello answered.

“Sixteen people certified,” Trump said. “Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”

On Monday, two Democrats introduced a bill to the Republican-controlled Congress that would establish federal procedures for counting deaths after a natural disaster, saying that will help improve the federal response and be key to allocating federal funds. The $2 million proposed project would allow the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire the National Academy of Medicine to do a study on how best to assess fatalities during and after a disaster, given that the process is currently left up to U.S. states and territories.

“Nobody rebuilding his or her life after a natural disaster should suffer the negligence we’ve seen in Puerto Rico,” Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona said. “Too many Puerto Rican families are suffering additional burdens today because officials won’t acknowledge their loved ones’ deaths.

Like Perez, thousands of sick Puerto Ricans were unable to receive medical care in the months after the storm caused the worst blackout in U.S. history, which continues to this day, with 6,983 home and businesses still without power.

The data released Tuesday showed increases in several illnesses in 2017 that could have been linked to the storm: Cases of sepsis, a serious bloodstream infection usually caused by bacteria, rose from 708 in 2016 to 835 last year. Deaths from diabetes went from 3,151 to 3,250 and deaths from heart illnesses increased from 5,417 to 5,586.

The data was not broken down by month, preventing an analysis of whether the illnesses rose after Hurricane Maria.

CNN and the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism sued the Puerto Rican government after it refused to release a detailed accounting of deaths in the wake of the storm. On June 5, a judge gave the government until Tuesday to release a database listing the causes of death of all those who died from two days before the storm until today, along with all the death certificates and burial and cremation certificates for the same period.

“People still don’t have a clear picture as to how many lives were lost due to a lack of food, medicine, health services or simply because of an ineffective response to an emergency. That’s why it’s urgent to shed light on all components of government preparedness and response,” Judge Lauracelis Roques wrote in her ruling.

The government on Tuesday requested more time to release all the death certificates, saying Social Security data had to be redacted from 48,000 individual documents. The judge rejected the request and the government planned to announce its next steps later in the day.

Meanwhile, thousands of Puerto Ricans were hoping the release of the information will lead to their loved ones being included in the storm’s toll, something they say will provide a sense of closure and show the American public the true cost of the hurricane.

Until now, Perez has been “one of those who do not count,” his daughter told The Associated Press. “That’s a lie.”

Lucila Pardo, 96, spent nearly four months in a sweltering nursing home that did not have power and developed bed sores by the time she was moved in early January to another home where electricity had been restored. By then, the sores had become infected and she was taken to a hospital where she spent two weeks before dying of septicemia.

“That figure of 64 is a lack of respect for those who died from other consequences,” said Pardo’s granddaughter Analid Nazario.

“The hospital wrote a letter apologizing,” Nazario told the AP, adding that they were understaffed.

A Harvard study published last month estimates there were as many as 4,600 more deaths than usual in the three months after Maria, although some independent experts questioned the methodology and the numbers in that study. Still, previous studies have found the number of direct and indirect hurricane-related deaths is higher than the official toll, including a 2017 report that said there were nearly 500 more deaths than usual on the island in September.

Days before the government was ordered to release the new data, Puerto Rico’s Institute of Statistics sued the demographic registrar for the information. On June 1, the agency released information showing there were an additional 1,397 deaths from September to December 2017 compared with the same period the previous year.

Among those who died the first week of October was Raul Antonio Morales, a 95-year-old diabetic who didn’t have the insulin he needed because the nursing home where he lived didn’t have power or a generator, according to his granddaughter, Maytee Sanz. She said relatives tried to obtain a generator, but there was none available. A doctor at the nursing home certified that Morales died of natural causes, and he is not included in the official death toll.

“I think the government has been extremely inept and inefficient regarding the statistics,” Sanz said. “There were a lot of deaths certified as natural simply because they … were not electrocuted or did not drown, but they were a result of the hurricane. When you don’t have access to insulin or a respiratory machine, you have no way of surviving.”

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Associated Press writer Larry Fenn in New York contributed to this report.

Syria says US-led strike hits troops in east, US denies

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian state media reported Monday that an airstrike against pro-government forces in the far east of the country caused casualties, an attack that Iraqi officials said killed at least 25 Shiite paramilitaries and was just across the border from its own territory.

The Syrian state TV report blamed the attack on the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group, saying it occurred around midnight in the village of al-Hari, to the southeast of the border town of Boukamal. But a coalition spokesman denied that, saying it had not carried out any strikes in the area.

The state TV report, quoting an unnamed military official, gave no breakdown of the casualties other than saying there “were several martyrs and others were wounded.”

In Baghdad, Iraqi officials said state-sanctioned Shiite paramilitaries came under attack south of the town of Qaim, just across the border from Boukamal. They said 25 fighters were killed, three are missing and about 30 were wounded. But did not give details into how the attack was carried out, saying only that investigations were under way, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The officials said the dead were mostly members of Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades, which have been active in Syria’s civil war fighting alongside government forces. Also killed were some members of the Sayyed al-Shuhada Battalions, they said.

U.S. military spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said the coalition was looking into the reports.

“We are aware of the strike near Boukamal, however there have been no strikes by U.S. or coalition forces in that area,” he said. “We’re looking into who that could possibly be, but it wasn’t the U.S. or the coalition.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the airstrike killed 38 foreign fighters allied with the Syrian government, mostly Iraqis. Shiite militias fighting alongside government forces in Syria include large numbers of Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan fighters.

Last week, IS launched a major offensive against Boukamal, reaching the outskirts of the town before being pushed back by government forces. The loss of the town would deal a major blow to Iran-backed forces on both sides of the border, who have established a corridor through eastern Syria to link Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.

Syrian and Iraqi forces have driven IS from virtually all the territory it once held in both countries, but the militants still control some remote areas along the border.

Syrian troops and allied militias, backed by Russian airstrikes, have been conducting operations west of the Euphrates River, while the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia, is operating on the eastern banks. The U.S.-led coalition has struck pro-government forces in the past when they have tried to cross the river. The overnight attacks took place on the western side.

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Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad.

Trump adviser Roger Stone reveals new meeting with Russian

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller is examining a previously undisclosed meeting between longtime Donald Trump confidante Roger Stone and a Russian figure who allegedly tried to sell him dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The meeting between Stone and a man who identified himself as Henry Greenberg was described in a pair of letters sent Friday to the House Intelligence Committee and first reported by The Washington Post.

Stone and Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign aide who arranged the 2016 meeting, did not disclose the contact in their interviews with the committee. But they now believe the man was an FBI informant trying to set them up in a bid to undermine Trump’s campaign. Greenberg could not immediately be reached for comment, but in a text to the Post he denied he was working for the FBI when he met with Stone.

The letters obtained by The Associated Press and written by Stone and Caputo’s lawyers say that, in late May 2016, Caputo received a call from his Russian business partner introducing him to Greenberg, who claimed he had information about Clinton that he wanted to share with the campaign.

Caputo suggested Greenberg meet with Stone, who had left the campaign in 2015 but remained an informal Trump adviser.

At Caputo’s request, Stone met with Greenberg at a Florida cafe, where Greenberg asked for $2 million in exchange for the information, according to Stone’s lawyer. Stone swiftly rejected the offer, explaining that neither he nor Trump would ever pay for “political information,” his lawyer wrote.

Both men say they quickly forgot about the episode, which marks the latest in a long list of unusual contacts between Russians and Trump campaign officials as well as offers of help.

The special counsel has spent months investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump campaign aides played any role in the foreign interference plot. Trump and his lawyer, meanwhile, have tried to discredit the investigation, insisting it’s unfounded and plagued by misconduct and political bias.

“WITCH HUNT!” Trump tweeted on Sunday, insisting: “There was no Russian Collusion. Oh, I see, there was no Russian Collusion, so now they look for obstruction on the no Russian Collusion. The phony Russian Collusion was a made up Hoax. Too bad they didn’t look at Crooked Hillary like this. Double Standard!”

As part of their campaign, Trump and his loyalists have tried to convince the public that the FBI violated its usual operating procedures, including installing “spies” inside Trump’s campaign, though there’s no evidence that’s the case.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a member of Trump’s legal team, on Sunday dismissed the significance of the Stone meeting.

“So, yes, sure, there was contact, as there was in that meeting. But that meeting led to nothing. This led to nothing. So, if anything, it’s proof there was no collusion,” he said in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” adding that Mueller’s team “can investigate from here to, you know, to Timbuktu, and they’re not going to find a darn thing.”

Both Stone and Caputo failed to disclose the Greenberg meeting in their interviews with the House Intelligence Committee — an omission their lawyers said was accidental.

Caputo’s lawyer, Dennis Vacco, said his client had “simply forgotten about this brief encounter in 2016,” and only remembered it as he was preparing for his interview with Mueller’s team.

Caputo told the AP that Mueller’s team asked him at length about the meeting.

“They knew more than I did, which set off alarms. I thought — was this a setup?” he recalled.

Caputo said he hired investigators using money from his legal defense fund to dig into Greenberg’s background and has produced a “dossier” with the findings, which Stone endorses.

“Mr. Stone believes it is likely that Mr. Greenberg was actively working on behalf of the FBI at the time of their meeting with the intention of entrapping Mr. Stone and to infiltrate and compromise the Trump effort,” his lawyer, Grant J. Smith, wrote.

The FBI declined to comment, but has said its counterintelligence investigation didn’t begin until July 2016, two months after the meeting.

The Washington Post, citing interviews and documents, reported that Greenberg has at times used the name Henry Oknyansky, and claimed in a 2015 court filing that he had been providing information to the FBI for 17 years.

The Post notes the meeting happened around the same time that others members of the Trump campaign were being approached by people with Russian ties offering dirt on Clinton.

Several members of the campaign were also approached by another U.S. government informant in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the race. Several news outlets including the Post, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News have identified an FBI confidential source as Cambridge University professor Stefan A. Halper.

Strong quake near Osaka, Japan, kills 3, knocks over walls

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TOKYO (AP) — Residents in western Japan were cleaning up debris Monday after a powerful earthquake hit the area around Osaka, the country’s second-largest city of commerce, killing three people and injuring hundreds while knocking over walls and setting off fires.

The magnitude 6.1 earthquake that struck the area early Monday damaged buildings and left many homes without water or gas. The quake also grounded flights in and out of Osaka, and paralyzed traffic and commuter trains most of the day.

By the evening, bullet trains and some local trains had resumed operation, with stations swollen with commuters trying to get home, many of them waiting in long lines. An exodus of commuters who chose to walk home filled sidewalks and bridges.

Some commuters took refuge at nearby shelters instead of going home. Video on Japan’s NHK public television showed dozens of men wearing ties and carrying briefcases sitting on gym mats at a junior high school gymnasium in Ibaraki city, where some families also gathered.

A 9-year-old girl was killed by a falling concrete wall at her school, and the two other fatalities were men in their 80s.

A magnitude 6.1 earthquake near the major Japanese city of Osaka has killed at least three people. Authorities say the number of people treated for injuries suffered in the strong earthquake Monday morning now exceeds 210. (June 18)

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 307 people were treated for injuries at hospitals. Most of the injured were in Osaka. Osaka officials did not give details, but the injuries reported in Kyoto and three other neighboring prefectures were all minor.

The quake struck shortly after 8 a.m. north of Osaka at a depth of about 13 kilometers (8 miles), the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The strongest shaking was north of Osaka, but the quake rattled large parts of western Japan, including Kyoto, the agency said.

Dozens of domestic flights in and out of Osaka were grounded, while train and subway service in the Osaka area, including bullet trains, were suspended to check for damage. Passengers exited trains on the tracks between stations.

Some subway service resumed in the afternoon, but stations remained crowded with passengers waiting for trains to restart, many of them sitting on the floor. Long lines of people waited to board bullet trains as they resumed operation.

The quake knocked over walls, broke windows and set off scattered building fires. It toppled bookcases in homes and scattered goods on shop floors. It also cracked roads and broke water pipes, leaving homes without water.

A falling concrete wall knocked down and killed the 9-year-old girl, Rina Miyake, as she walked at her elementary school in Takatsuki. NHK aired video showing the collapsed upper half of the high wall, which was painted cheerfully with trees, flowers and blue sky and surrounded the school swimming pool.

Takatsuki Mayor Takeshi Hamada apologized over her death because of the wall’s collapse. The structure was old and made of concrete blocks — a known risk in earthquakes. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga ordered the Education Ministry to conduct nationwide safety checks of concrete block structures at public schools.

More than 1,000 schools were closed in Osaka and nearby prefectures, Kyodo News reported. Wall cracks and other minor damage were found at several schools.

A man in his 80s died in the collapse of a concrete wall in Osaka city. An 85-year-old man in nearby Ibaraki died after a bookcase fell on top of him at home, according to the disaster management agency.

Many homes and buildings, including a major hospital, were temporarily without power, though electricity was restored at most places by midafternoon.

Due to damage to underground gas lines, 110,000 homes in Takatsuki and Ibaraki cities were without gas, and repairs are expected to take as long as two weeks, according to Osaka Gas Co.

More building damage was found in the afternoon as disaster and relief workers inspected and cleaned up the affected areas. Roofs and roof tiles at homes and at least one temple fell to the ground in Osaka. At a shrine in Kyoto, stone lanterns broke and collapsed to the ground.

Defense troops joined rescue and relief operations in parts of Osaka, along with special vehicles to deliver clean drinking water.

Residents cleaned up debris at home and stores throughout the day. Meteorological agency officials warned of strong aftershocks in the area, urging residents to stay away from damaged structures.

The earthquake reminded many of the magnitude 7.3 Hanshin-Kobe quake in 1995 that killed more than 6,000 people in the region. Monday’s quake also followed a series of smaller quakes near Tokyo in recent weeks. Japan’s northern prefectures are still recovering from the magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami in 2011 that killed more than 18,000.

“It was not as bad as the Kobe quake,” said Jun Kawanami, a 30-year-old lawyer in Osaka. He said his wife ducked under a table and elevators in his office building were out of operation. “I used the stairs but I was out of breath by the time I arrived at my office on the 22nd floor,” he said.

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Hiromi Tanoue in Osaka contributed to this report.

Business: World markets lower over tariffs, German tensions

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SINGAPORE (AP) — Global stocks were mostly lower Monday on concerns over trade tensions as the U.S. and China scheduled the start of tariffs on each other’s goods, and a row over migrants in Germany brewed. Markets in China and Hong Kong were closed for a holiday.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares sank in early trading. Germany’s DAX lost 0.6 percent to 12,936.10 and France’s CAC 40 shed 0.5 percent to 5,477.31. Britain’s FTSE 100 dipped 0.1 percent to 7,626.71. Wall Street was poised to open lower. Dow futures dropped 0.5 percent to 24,995.00 and broader S&P 500 futures were down 0.4 percent at 2,773.90.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index dropped 0.8 percent to close at 22,680.33. South Korea’s Kospi lost 1.2 percent to 2,376.24. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.2 percent to 6,104.10. Southeast Asian indexes were mostly lower. Markets in China and Hong Kong were closed for the Duanwu Festival commemorating the death of Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese poet and minister.

U.S.-CHINA TARIFFS: Tariffs mooted by the world’s two biggest economies are set to take effect from July 6, bolstering fears of a trade war. President Donald Trump has announced a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion of Chinese products. China is retaliating by raising import duties on $34 billion worth of American goods, including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey.

DISPUTE IN GERMANY: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies are tangled in a dispute with the German leader over migration, a conflict that could escalate into a threat to her government. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who heads the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, wants Germany to refuse migrants who were previously registered as asylum-seekers in other European countries. Merkel opposes unilateral action, arguing that it would weaken the 28-nation European Union. A CSU leadership meeting on Monday will likely authorize Seehofer to go ahead with his plan.

THE QUOTE: “Caution appears to be the key word for Asian markets today as investors digest the potential implications of the U.S.-China tit-for-tat tariff measures,” said Selena Ling, chief economist at OCBC Bank.

ENERGY: Oil futures were mixed after reports that OPEC countries planned to increase production of oil by as much as 1.5 million barrels a day. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 32 cents to $64.74 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost $1.83 to settle at $65.06 per barrel on Friday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 62 cents to $74.06 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar inched down to 110.54 yen from 110.62 in late trading Friday. The euro weakened to $1.1591 from $1.1607.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Monday, June 18:

1. U.S.-China Trade Worries Take Center Stage

Escalating trade rhetoric will keep investors on their toes after both the United States and China announced tariffs last week, raising tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

The Trump administration said on Friday it will impose a 25% tariff on a list of 818 items of Chinese goods worth around $34 billion beginning July 6. Measures affecting an additional 284 products worth $16 billion will be subject to review before taking effect.

In response, China said a 25% tariff will be implemented on U.S. goods, including soybeans, oil and electric vehicles, worth $34 billion starting July 6. Another list of U.S. imports worth $16 billion will be subject to review before being applied.

Washington and Beijing appeared increasingly headed toward open trade conflict after several rounds of negotiations failed to resolve U.S. complaints over Chinese industrial policies, lack of market access in China and a $375 billion U.S. trade deficit.

2. Dow Futures Fall More Than 100 Points

U.S. stock futures pointed to heavy losses at the open, as worries over a trade war between the United States and China kept investors on the edge.

At 5:45AM ET (1045GMT), the blue-chip Dow futures were down 145 points, or around 0.6%, on track for a fifth losing session in a row.

The S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures also indicated similar losses at the open for their respective markets.

There are no major earnings or economic data scheduled for today.

Elsewhere, in Europe, the majority of the continent’s bourses were lower in mid-morning trade, with most sectors in the red.

Earlier, Asian markets largely closed with losses, though Chinese markets were shut for a holiday.

3. Dollar Stays Near 11-Month Peak

The dollar held near 11-month highs against a currency basket, supported by the diverging monetary policy outlook between the U.S. and Europe, although worries over a brewing trade conflict between the U.S. and China slowed its gains.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was a shade higher at 94.50, remaining within sight of Friday’s 11-month high of 95.13.

The greenback enjoyed its best weekly performance in seven weeks last week after a hawkish Federal Reserve pointed to a faster pace of monetary tightening this year while the European Central Bank gave a dovish signal.

In the bond market, the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield stood at around 2.91%.

4. OPEC Said To Discuss Smaller Output Hike Than Expected

Oil markets weighed potential outcomes for a meeting of major oil producers in Vienna later this week.

The latest headlines said that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) along with Russia will discuss an oil output hike of 300,000 to 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), as it seeks a compromise to overcome Iranian dissent.

Last month, it was reported that the OPEC and Russia were aiming to boost output by 1 million bpd at the June meeting.

Oil prices turned higher in the wake of the above headlines. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up 62 cents, or 0.8%, to $74.05 a barrel, after hitting a session low of $72.46, its lowest level since May 2.

Elsewhere, U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude dipped 29 cents, or 0.5%, to $64.56, bouncing back from an intraday low of $63.41, a level last seen on April 10.

5. ECB’s Central Banking Forum Kicks Off In Portugal

The fifth annual European Central Bank (ECB) “Forum on Central Banking” is scheduled to take place in Sintra, Portugal from Monday to Wednesday.

It will focus on price and wage-setting in advanced economies.

During three days of sessions and panels, approximately 150 central bank governors, academics, financial journalists and high-level financial market representatives will exchange views on current policy issues and discuss the chosen topic from a longer-term perspective.

The highlight of the summit is likely to be Wednesday’s panel discussion including ECB President Mario Draghi, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Bank of Japan (BoJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda.

Looming war games suspension raises concern in Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — After being blindsided by President Donald Trump’s decision to shelve major U.S. military exercises in South Korea, Seoul appears to be going along with it.

A senior South Korean presidential official said Friday that Washington and Seoul have begun discussions on temporarily suspending the massive “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” exercises that usually take place in August and possibly other joint drills while nuclear diplomacy with North Korea continues. Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Defense Minister Song Young-moo held “deep” discussions about the drills with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis in a telephone conversation Thursday evening.

The presidential official, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules, said an official announcement on the drills is “coming soon, within the next few days” and it seems almost certain the exercises will be halted.

The official spoke a day after South Korean President Moon Jae-in, holding a National Security Council meeting for the first time since a North Korean long-range missile test in November, said the allies can be flexible about their military pressure on the North. But that’s only as long as North Korea, which launched a diplomatic initiative in 2018, remains sincerely engaged in negotiations on its nuclear disarmament, Moon said.

Moon’s assessment highlights the big “if.” There are lingering questions over whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will ever agree to fully relinquish a hard-won nuclear arsenal he may see as a stronger guarantee of his survival than whatever security assurances the United States could provide. Those doubts only increased after Tuesday’s summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore, where they issued an aspirational vow to seek the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur.

The joint drills and the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea have been the core of the alliance between the two countries.

Trump’s decision to suspend the exercises, coupled with the vague joint statement issued after his summit with Kim, have reinforced fears in South Korea that the North is attempting to take advantage of a U.S. president who appears to care less about the traditional alliance than his predecessors.

Such concerns are shared in Japan, the region’s other major U.S. ally. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodra told reporters Friday that the joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea are “important pillars in maintaining regional peace and stability.”

Not everyone thinks suspending the war games is a bad idea. Some analysts say putting off the drills is a necessary trust-building step with North Korea following nearly 70 years of hostility and would allow the allies to push the process forward more easily.

But others are decidedly more critical, saying Trump wasted critical leverage against North Korea, which has yet to take material steps toward denuclearization.

“We will know whether it was a good move or not in a month or two,” said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “If the North responds by providing evidence of its claimed closure of a missile engine test site and also freezes and shuts down some of its nuclear facilities, then the suspension of the drills can be chalked up as a success. If the North doesn’t take quick steps toward denuclearization, then we gave up the drills for nothing.”

Kim Jae-yeop, a professor of defense strategy at South Korea’s Hannam University, said the suspension of the drills was likely the one clear move the allies had to lure North Korea into a denuclearization process.

He said it would have been a colossal mistake to pre-emptively lift the heavy economic sanctions against North Korea, and that Washington couldn’t unilaterally remove the most stringent measures anyway because they were passed by the U.N. Security Council.

Washington and Seoul tried to entice North Korea with a possible declaration to formally end the Korean War, which halted 65 years ago with an armistice, not a peace treaty, but apparently that wasn’t enough for Kim Jong Un.

“Unlike sanctions, the allies can just snap their military exercises back on if it becomes clear North Korea won’t be delivering on their end,” said Kim, the professor, who said the allies would be able to maintain operational readiness with routine and lower-level drills.

He also noted that the allies have used the war games as a bargaining chip before. To entice North Korea to sign on to a non-nuclear agreement, Seoul and Washington called off the now-defunct “Team Spirit” drills in 1992. But, annoyed with North Korea’s refusal to allow nuclear inspections, they revived the exercises the following year.

This year, the allies delayed their springtime drills for weeks to encourage North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The U.S. and South Korea hold major joint exercises every spring and summer in South Korea. The spring one — actually a pair of overlapping exercises called “Key Resolve” and “Foal Eagle” — includes live-fire drills with tanks, aircraft and warships, and usually involves about 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops.

The summer Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise consists mainly of computer simulations to hone joint decision making and planning. Some 17,500 American and 50,000 South Korean troops participated last year.

North Korea has always reacted to the exercises with belligerence and often its own demonstrations of military capability.

During last year’s Ulchi exercises, North Korea fired a powerful new intermediate range missile over Japan in what its state media described as a “muscle-flexing” countermeasure to the drills . North Korean leader Kim then called for more weapons launches targeting the Pacific Ocean to advance his country’s ability to contain Guam, a U.S. military hub. North Korea did not carry out a threat to lob missiles toward Guam.

During the Ulchi drills in 2016, North Korea successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile, a critical military breakthrough that raised alarm in South Korea and Japan. Shortly after the drills, the North carried out its fifth nuclear test.

The suspension of the drills could allow more diplomatic space for Washington and Seoul to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea. But for Seoul, the way Trump announced the decision is also a cause for concern, some experts say.

In addition to not consulting with South Korea before saying the war games should be stopped, Trump called the exercises “very provocative,” contradicting countless previous declarations by Washington and Seoul over the years that the drills are routine and defensive in nature. Trump also complained that the drills “cost a fortune” and said he would eventually want to bring home all U.S. troops from South Korea.

Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Korea University, said Trump’s comments indicate he considers the stoppage of the drills and the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea as a goal, rather than a concession to be granted to North Korea if it takes irreversible and verifiable steps to relinquish its nuclear weapons, facilities and materials.

“What has become clear is that the security provided by the U.S.-South Korea alliance has likely reached its limit,” said Nam, a former analyst for South Korea’s spy agency. “South Korea has to start thinking about new defense strategies so that it could maintain security against North Korea on its own.”

An editorial published Friday in the conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, echoed Nam’s concern, saying the U.S.-South Korean alliance is being substantially undermined while the prospects for disarming the North are getting murky.

“Now everyone is concerned about the security of the North Korean regime, but who’s looking after the safety and security of South Korean people?” the newspaper said.

___

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this story.

Trump accused in lawsuit of misusing charitable foundation

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s attorney general sued President Donald Trump and his foundation Thursday, accusing him of illegally using the charity’s money to settle disputes involving his business empire and to boost his political fortunes during his run for the White House.

The president called the case “ridiculous.”

The lawsuit against Trump and the foundation directors — his children Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka — seeks $2.8 million in restitution, additional unspecified penalties and the dissolution of the foundation, which Trump had already pledged to dismantle.

The attorney general’s office detailed what it said was a closely coordinated effort by Trump’s campaign and the foundation to burnish his political image by giving out big grants of other’s people money to veterans’ organizations during the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, the first presidential nominating contest of 2016.

“The foundation’s grants made Mr. Trump and the campaign look charitable and increased the candidate’s profile to Republican primary voters and among important constituent groups,” Democratic Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s lawsuit said.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, New York’s Attorney General Barbara Underwood said President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation served as a personal piggy bank for his businesses, legal bills and presidential campaign. (June 14)

It accused the foundation of “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations.”

Underwood referred her findings to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action. IRS and FEC representatives declined to comment.

The Trump Foundation’s mission says its funds are to be used “exclusively for charitable, religious, scientific, literary or educational purposes,” according to the lawsuit.

In exchange for tax-exempt status, charities are required to follow rules that include a strict prohibition against involvement in political campaigns.

In tweets, Trump vowed: “I won’t settle this case!”

He said former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who started the investigation, “never had the guts to bring this ridiculous case” before resigning last month after being accused of physically abusing women he dated. Schneiderman has denied the allegations.

Trump’s foundation called the case “politics at its very worst,” noting that Schneiderman, a Democrat, was a vocal Trump opponent. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, meanwhile, called Underwood “outrageously biased.”

The 31-year-old foundation said that it has given more than $19 million to charitable causes while keeping expenses minimal, and that Trump and his companies have contributed more than $8 million.

Underwood is a career government lawyer who was appointed after Schneiderman’s resignation. She has said she doesn’t intend to run for election.

Schneiderman began investigating the charity in 2016, after The Washington Post reported that the foundation’s spending personally benefited the presidential candidate. Some of the expenditures uncovered by The Post were cited in the lawsuit.

In a handwritten note, Trump directed that $100,000 in foundation money go to settle legal claims against Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, the lawsuit said.

The foundation also paid $158,000 to resolve a lawsuit over a prize for a hole-in-one contest at Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, New York; $10,000 to buy a 6-foot (1.8-meter) portrait of Trump at a charity auction; and $5,000 for advertisements published in the programs for charitable events. The ads promoted Trump’s hotels.

The suit also singled out a $32,000 payment that the foundation made to satisfy a Trump company pledge to contribute to a land-preservation group.

After New York’s attorney general began investigating, Trump’s business empire reimbursed the foundation for various payments and returned the painting to the foundation.

Despite the prohibition on political activity, Trump’s foundation cut a $25,000 check in 2013 to Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s re-election campaign, the lawsuit notes. After a watchdog group complained to the IRS in 2016, Trump reimbursed the foundation and paid a $2,500 fine.

Then Trump’s foundation was “co-opted” by his presidential campaign, the lawsuit says.

Four days before the Iowa caucuses, Trump held a televised rally and fundraiser for veterans’ organizations. The event raised approximately $5.6 million, half of which went to the Trump Foundation; the rest was given directly by donors to veterans groups, the lawsuit says.

The foundation then gave campaign staff members control over the money raised, the attorney general charged.

“Is there any way we can make some disbursements this week while in Iowa?” then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski wrote in an email.

Lewandowski did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The foundation went on to make at least five grants of $100,000 each to Iowa groups before the caucuses, with Trump presenting giant checks at a series of campaign rallies. The checks bore Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan along with the foundation’s address.

Trump didn’t give any money personally at the time, but several months later, after media pressure, followed through on a pledge to donate $1 million.

During his campaign, Trump was highly critical of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s family charity, the Clinton Foundation, for taking donations from people who met with her while she was secretary of state.

Whatever the claims against Trump’s foundation, Iowa groups that got checks said Thursday they were grateful for the money.

Support Siouxland Soldiers used its $100,000 donation to open an emergency food pantry and provide clothing, haircuts and other services to veterans, founder Sarah Petersen said. She said she is not sure what to make of the lawsuit against Trump.

“I think people support a candidate based on lots of decisions and choices and positions on the issues,” she said. “I don’t know that giving a charity a donation would sway a lot of voters.”

___

Associated Press writers Ryan J. Foley in Iowa City, Iowa; Jake Pearson in New York and Tami Abdollah and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed.

Afghan official: US drone kills Pakistan Taliban chief

This gallery contains 1 photo.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A U.S. drone strike in northeastern Kunar province killed Pakistan Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, the insurgent leader who ordered the assassination of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday.

In a telephone interview, Mohammad Radmanish said Fazlullah and two other insurgents were killed early Thursday morning.

According to a statement attributed to U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Lt. Col Martin O’Donnell, the U.S. carried out a “counterterrorism strike” Thursday in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan targeting “a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization.”

The statement did not say whether the strike had killed anyone and did not identify Fazlullah as the target.

Radmanish said the attack took place in Marawara district, near the border.

Yousafzai survived the assassination attempt in 2012. Fazlullah had ordered her killing for promoting girls’ education. Yousafzai returned to her hometown earlier this year, opening a school funded by a charity she established to promote girls education globally.

She has often said that Fazlullah’s attempts to silence her backfired and instead he amplified her voice around the world.

A ruthless leader, Fazlullah ordered the bombing and beheadings of dozens of opponents when his band of insurgents controlled Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley from 2007 until a massive military operation routed them in 2009.

His insurgent group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban, also took responsibility for the brutal attack on an Army Public School in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar in December 2014 when more than 140 children and their teachers were slaughtered.

Survivors of the attack told of insurgents roaming through the school shooting their victims, some as young as six years old, in the head.

Fazlullah rose to prominence through radio broadcasts in Swat demanding the imposition of Islamic law, earning him the nickname “Mullah Radio.” His radio talks also aired the grievances of many in the northwest against the government, such as its slow-moving justice system. He also reached out to women, promising to address their complaints about not getting a fair share of their inheritance.

His brutality often included public beheadings, often of police officers. His exact age is not known but he was believed to be in his late 30s.

____

Associated Press writerMunir Ahmed in Islamabad Pakistan also contributed to this report

FBI report: Anti-Trump texts ‘cast a cloud’ over email probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the FBI investigated both candidates running for president in 2016, two FBI employees exchanged thousands of personal texts and messages that included a running political commentary — including newly released messages in which one of them expressed a desire to “stop” the election of Donald Trump.

In a highly anticipated report released Thursday, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said those messages sullied the FBI’s reputation and “cast a cloud” over its investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails, even if they did not affect the investigation itself. The report, which faulted former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the probe, also cited anti-Trump communications sent by three other unnamed FBI employees.

The messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page — both of whom worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe — have also given congressional Republicans ample fodder to criticize the Clinton investigation, which eventually cleared her, and to question the department’s ongoing probe into Russian intervention and whether President Donald Trump’s Republican campaign was involved. That investigation, now led by Mueller, is also looking into whether Trump obstructed justice.

“Peter Strzok should not have a job anywhere near our Justice Department,” said North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican who is close to Trump, after a briefing on the report. The House Judiciary Committee said Thursday they would subpoena Strzok to testify.

Strzok is a respected, veteran counterintelligence agent who helped lead the Clinton investigation. Page was less well-known and has left the agency since the text messages were revealed.

Both Strzok and Page worked on the Clinton probe. Strzok was also assigned to Mueller’s team; he was removed from the Russia probe in the summer of 2017 after the department found out about the texts. Page only briefly worked on Mueller’s team and left before the texts were discovered.

Texts between the two included their observations of the 2016 election and criticism of Trump. They used words like “idiot,” ″loathsome,” ″menace” and “disaster” to describe him. In one text four days before the election, Page told Strzok that the “American presidential election, and thus, the state of the world, actually hangs in the balance.”

Many of the texts had already been made public after the FBI sent them to Congress. But in a new, inflammatory text revealed in the report, Page wrote Strzok in August 2016: “(Trump’s) not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”

Strzok responded: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

The inspector general’s report said that exchange “is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects. This is antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”

Still, investigators said they did not find “documentary or testimonial evidence” that the bias affected the probe. And Strzok’s lawyer, Aitan Goelman, said the report revealed no evidence that the FBI agent’s political views affected the handling of the Clinton investigation.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said that “conduct in the report” had already been referred to the department’s disciplinary arm, but he would not say which employees had been referred or for what conduct. Page no longer works for the agency.

In interviews included in the report, both Strozk and Page acknowledged that some of their texts could be read as showing their bias against Trump, both during the early stages of the collusion investigation and after Trump assumed office in January 2017.

But both insisted bias played no part in their motivations.

In addition to Strzok and Page, the report identifies another FBI attorney who had sent anti-Trump messages and had been assigned to the Clinton investigation and also the investigation into Russian interference. The report says this attorney, called “FBI Attorney 2,” was “the primary FBI attorney assigned to (the Russia) investigation beginning in early 2017″ and had also worked for Mueller. The report says the attorney left Mueller’s investigation in late February 2018, shortly after the inspector general provided Mueller with some of the instant messages they had discovered.

The report describes some of those messages, including one the day after the election in which he lamented the results and said he was “so stressed about what I could have done differently.” He also wrote to a colleague, “I just can’t imagine the systematic disassembly of the progress we made over the last 8 years.” In another message, he called then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence “stupid.”

The report also details anti-Trump instant messages between other employees assigned to the Clinton case. In one case, a male agent and a female agent who are now married exchanged messages in which the female agent called Trump’s Ohio supporters “retarded” and later messaged, “f— Trump.” On Election Day, the male agent messaged “I’m … with her,” referring to one of Clinton’s campaign slogans. The male agent was one of two agents who had interviewed Clinton for the investigation.

___

Associated Press writers Chad Day, Stephen Braun and Eric Tucker contributed to this report

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