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Update December, 2019


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US House Speaker Pelosi rebukes reporter: 'Don't mess with me'

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responds forcefully to a question from a reporter who asked if she hated President Trump, after announcing earlier that the House is moving forward to draft articles of impeachment against Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By LAURIE KELLMAN

WASHINGTON (AP) — Finger pointing and voice hoarse, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday delivered a broadside to a reporter that might well apply to all of impeachment-era Washington: "Don't mess with me."

It was a warning scarcely needed among the official set, least of all by President Donald Trump as he fights Pelosi and the Democrats in their drive to impeach him. Only a few hours earlier, Pelosi had instructed the Judiciary Committee to write articles of impeachment — formal charges — against Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and resisting Congress' probe.

The House speaker insisted she brought impeachment proceedings  because Trump's conduct and the Constitution left the House no choice.

"The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution," Pelosi said from the speaker's office at the Capitol. "He is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections."

But as the California Democrat began exiting a news conference two hours later, James Rosen, a reporter for Sinclair Broadcast Group, asked, "Do you hate the president, Madam Speaker?"

What followed was a remarkable display from the famously poised Pelosi.

She stopped near the edge of the podium, jabbed a finger and said tersely: "I don't hate anybody."

Pelosi went on to call Trump a "coward" on gun policy, "cruel" on immigration and "in denial" on climate change.

"This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president's violation of the oath of office. And as a Catholic I resent your using the word hate in a sentence that addresses me.''

Trump tweeted that Pelosi "just had a nervous fit."

"She says she 'prays for the President.' I don't believe her, not even close," he added.

Pelosi, a native of Baltimore, often speaks of her faith as a guide to matters ranging from legislation to life in general. Catholic catechism states that "deliberate hatred is contrary to charity" and urges believers to pray for those who hold animosity toward them, a teaching that Pelosi has invoked by saying that she prays for Trump.

It's not the first time she's confronted the challenging interplay between politics and her faith. In 2009, during her previous stint as House speaker, Pelosi, who supports abortion rights, met with Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, for a conversation that the Vatican later said touched on "protecting human life at all stages of its development."

On Thursday, she returned to the podium after the reporter's question about "hate," and finished by pointing a thumb toward herself.

"Don't mess with me when it comes to words like that."

Moments later, Trump and House Republicans lashed out in heated personal tones.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, "Pelosi and the Democrats are clearly are blinded by their hate for the President."

Pelosi has generally dominated confrontations with Trump all year in her second turn as House speaker, second in line to the presidency.

In January, she forced Trump to re-open the government without the border wall he was demanding. She allowed him into the House chamber to deliver the traditional State of the Union speech, but stole that show by clapping sideways and smirking at Trump from her seat above and behind him.

Trump knows her finger-pointing well. Most recently, during a White House meeting, she stood, pointed at him and said, "all roads lead to Putin," Russia's president — and walked out.


OPEC talks end without announcement of expected cuts

General view of a meeting of oil ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

By KIYOKO METZLER and DAVID McHUGH

VIENNA (AP) — The countries that make up the OPEC oil-producing cartel ended talks late Thursday without an announcement on possible deep cuts to production that would support the price of fuel around the world.

An OPEC spokesman told waiting journalists at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) that an expected news conference would not take place and that a written statement might come later. Saudi Arabia's energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, and other officials then left the meeting without announcing any deal.

OPEC's members have been expected to prolong production cuts that they agreed on for the past three years, while Russia's energy minister said that even deeper cuts were under discussion. The price of crude has been held down in recent years by a resurgence in supplies from countries outside OPEC, particularly the United States.

As it stands, OPEC nations have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day through March. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, whose country is not part of OPEC but joins part of the meeting to coordinate production, said Thursday that the group was discussing a further cut of 500,000 barrels a day "in order to safely go through the seasonal demand trough in the first quarter 2020."

OPEC officials were to broaden discussions to include non-OPEC members on Friday.

Saudi Arabia is bearing the burden of the largest share of OPEC's production cuts. But some member countries such as Iraq have been breaching the agreement and producing more than their allotted amount.

Analysts note that if countries are already not complying with the current agreement, voting for more cuts could be pointless.

"I think the Saudi position is they're willing to cut more if needed, but they want better compliance," said Bhushan Bahree, executive director of global oil at research group IHS Markit.

Brent crude oil hovered near $63 per barrel Thursday. Prices have fluctuated throughout the year, reaching nearly $75 in April after U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela limited world supply, but lingering trade tensions between the U.S. and China dampened economic expectations pushed prices back down.

West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark crude, was trading above $58.

Russia has indicated it wants its oil production re-calculated to exclude gas condensate, a liquid byproduct of natural gas production. Condensate is counted against production totals for non-OPEC members but not for members.

Even if members of the cartel cut production, there is more oil coming to market from non-OPEC nations, including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Norway and Guyana, which will more than make up for any drop in production, according to IHS Markit.


Putin offers US an immediate extension to key nuclear pact

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the International Volunteer Forum at the Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia, Dec. 5, 2019. (Shamil Zhumatov/Pool Photo via AP)

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Thursday to immediately extend the only remaining nuclear arms reduction pact with the United States, but a senior U.S. official said Washington wants a broader deal involving China.

Speaking at a meeting with military officials, Putin said that Russia has repeatedly offered the U.S. to extend the New START treaty that expires in 2021 but that it hasn't heard back.

"Russia is ready to extend the New START treaty immediately, before the year's end and without any preconditions," he said.

The pact, which was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. The treaty, which can be extended by another five years, envisages a comprehensive verification mechanism to check compliance, including on-site inspections of each side's nuclear bases.

Its expiration would remove any limits on Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals for the first time in decades.

Arms control advocates have argued that the failure to extend the pact would be highly destabilizing at a time when Russia-U.S. relations have sunk to the lowest levels since the Cold War.

Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly voiced concern about Washington's reluctance to discuss the treaty's extension.

"Our proposals have been on the table, but we have got no response from our partners," Putin said.

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official suggested the Trump administration is not interested in an immediate extension and sees no rush anyway as New Start doesn't expire until Feb. 2021.

John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, told a Senate committee that the administration's main priority is getting Russia and China to agree to begin negotiations on a broader arms treaty to supplant New START.

"If the United States were to agree to extend the treaty now, I think it would make it less likely that we would have the ability to persuade Russia and China to enter negotiations on a broader agreement," Rood said.

In an apparent bid to encourage the U.S. to extend the treaty, the Russian military last month showed its latest hypersonic weapon to U.S. inspectors. The Defense Ministry underlined that it demonstrated the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle as part of transparency measures under the New START.

Putin unveiled the Avangard in 2018 along with other prospective weapons, noting that its ability to make sharp maneuvers on its way to a target will render missile defense useless.

New START is the only remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty after both Moscow and Washington withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty earlier this year.

The U.S. said it pulled out because of Russian violations, a claim the Kremlin has denied.

Putin reaffirmed Russia's pledge not to deploy missiles banned by the INF treaty until the U.S. and its allies do so.

"Russia isn't interested in unleashing a new arms race," he said.


Democrats say Trump impeachment charges must come swiftly

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., makes a statement at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Pelosi announced that the House is moving forward to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By LISA MASCARO and MARY CLARE JALONICK

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats moved aggressively to draw up formal articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Thursday, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying he "leaves us no choice" but to act swiftly because he's likely to corrupt the system again unless removed before next year's election.

A strictly partisan effort at this point, derided immediately by Trump and other leading Republicans as a sham and a hoax, it is a politically risky undertaking. Democrats say it is their duty, in the aftermath of the Ukraine probe,  while Republicans say it will drive Pelosi's majority from office.

Congress must act, Pelosi said. "The democracy is what is at stake."

"The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution," she said in a somber address at the Capitol. "He is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections."

Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong. He tweeted that the Democrats "have gone crazy."

At the core of the impeachment probe is a July phone call with the president of Ukraine, in which Trump pressed the leader to announce investigations of Democrats, including political rival Joe Biden, at the same time the White House was withholding military aid from an ally bordering an aggressive Russia.

Drafting articles of impeachment is a milestone moment, only the fourth time in U.S. history Congress has tried to remove a president, and it intensifies the rigid and polarizing partisanship of the Trump era that is consuming Washington and dividing the nation.

The speaker delivered her historic announcement in solemn tones at the Capitol, drawing on the Constitution and the Founding Fathers in forcefully claiming Congress' oversight of the president in the nation's system of checks and balances. Democrats are already beginning to prepare the formal charges, pushing toward House votes, possibly before Christmas.

"Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment," Pelosi said.

Seemingly eager to fight, Trump tweeted that if Democrats "are going to impeach me, do it now, fast." Though he has fought the House investigation, trying to bar current and former officials from testifying, he said he now wants to move on to a "fair trial" in the Senate.

Approval of articles of impeachment is considered likely in the Democratic-majority House. Conviction in a following trial in the Republican-dominated Senate seems very unlikely.

Once reluctant to pursue impeachment, warning it was too divisive for the country and needed to be bipartisan, Pelosi is now leading Congress into politically uncertain terrain for all sides just ahead of the election year.

Republican are standing lockstep with Trump, unswayed by arguments that his actions amount to wrongdoing, let alone impeachable offenses. That is leaving Democrats to go it alone in a campaign to consider removing the 45th president from office.

Pelosi emphasized the Russia connection, from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into 2016 election interference to the president's phone call this summer with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that set off alarms in Washington.

Russia and President Vladimir Putin benefited most from Trump's actions toward Ukraine, she said.

"All roads lead to Putin. Understand that," she declared at a news conference. "That was the a-ha moment."

She spoke solemnly and calmly, but that changed when she was asked as she was leaving if she hates Trump.

Pelosi stiffened, returned to the podium and responded sharply that the president's views and politics are for the voters to judge at elections but impeachment "is about the Constitution." She said that as a Catholic, she does not hate the president but rather is praying for him daily.

Trump quickly tweeted back that he didn't believe her.

Trump's allies argue that voters, not lawmakers, should decide the president's future. But Democrats say the nation cannot wait for the 2020 election, alleging Trump's past efforts to have foreign countries intervene in the presidential campaign are forcing them to act to prevent him from doing it again. Pelosi said the still-anonymous whistleblower's complaint about Trump's Ukraine call changed the dynamic, creating the urgency to act.

The number of articles and the allegations they will include will be both a legal and political exercise for the House committee chairmen, who will be meeting privately. They must balance electoral dynamics while striving to hit the Constitution's bar of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Pulling from the House's 300-page investigation of the Ukraine matter, Democrats are focusing on at least three areas — abuse of power, bribery and obstruction — that could result in two to five articles, they say.

They argue that Trump abused the power of his office by putting personal political gain over national security interests; engaging in bribery by holding out $400 million in military aid that  Congress had approved for Ukraine; and then obstructing Congress by stonewalling the investigation.

Some liberal Democrats want to reach further into Trump's actions, particularly regarding the findings from special counsel Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. That could produce an additional article of obstruction not only of Congress, but also of justice.

But more centrist and moderate Democrats, those lawmakers who are most at risk of political fallout from the impeachment proceedings, prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans can more easily understand.

The GOP Leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy, said Pelosi is more concerned about tearing the president down than building the country up. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized Democrats for focusing on impeachment over other issues, though many House-passed bills are waiting for action in his chamber. "It's all impeachment, all the time," he said.

At the White House, press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted that Pelosi and the Democrats "should be ashamed."

House members are preparing to vote on the articles of impeachment in the Judiciary Committee, possibly as soon as next week. The committee set a Monday hearing to receive the Intelligence Committee's report outlining the findings against the president.

The House is expecting a full vote by Christmas. The would send the issue to the Senate for a trial in the new year.


Trump calls Trudeau '2-faced' after palace gossip goes viral

In this grab taken from video on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, France's President Emmanuel Macro, centre right, gestures as he speaks during a NATO reception. (Host Broadcaster via AP)

By JILL LAWLESS

WATFORD, England (AP) — NATO leaders professed unity on Wednesday at a summit near London — but a spat over off-the-cuff chit chat at a royal reception rattled their show of solidarity.

U.S. President Donald Trump branded the leader of America's northern neighbor "two-faced" after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to gossip about Trump in comments caught on camera and microphone.

Trudeau was seen standing in a huddle with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Britain's Princess Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II at Tuesday evening's Buckingham Palace reception for NATO leaders.

After Johnson asked Macron, "is that why you were late?" Trudeau could be heard saying "he was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top." Trudeau confirmed that was a reference to Trump's long and unscheduled question-and-answer session with journalists earlier Tuesday.

Trudeau also said: "You just watched his team's jaws drop to the floor." He explained Wednesday that was in reference to Trump's decision to hold the next Group of Seven meeting at Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Footage of the palace reception was recorded by a pool camera. The clip was posted online by Canadian broadcaster CBC and has been viewed more than 5 million times.

Speaking Wednesday at the summit venue in Watford, outside London, Trump said Trudeau was likely upset that the U.S. president had broached the fact that Canada falls short of the NATO target of spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defense.

"Well he's two-faced," Trump told reporters. "And honestly, with Trudeau he's a nice guy, I find him to be a very nice guy but you know the truth is that I called him out on the fact that he's not paying 2% and I guess he's not very happy about it."

Trudeau had a quiet word and a handshake with Trump as he arrived at the summit Wednesday, and later tried to shrug off the episode.

"As you all know, we have a very good and constructive relationship between me and the president," Trudeau told reporters at a news conference.

Asked if the incident had given him pause for thought, Trudeau said that ensuring the focus of attention remained on matters of substance "is something that we're all going to try to do a little harder."

Johnson, meanwhile, professed ignorance when asked by reporters about the conversation.

"That's complete nonsense," he said, adding: "I really don't know what is being referred to there."

Leaders of the 29 NATO states met to mark the 70th anniversary of the military alliance — and trying to patch up differences over defense spending, the alliance's strategic direction and member nation Turkey's military action in northern Syria.

The two-day gathering ended with a show of unity, as the leaders declared their commitment to the alliance's principle of collective defense, saying in their final declaration that "an attack against one Ally shall be considered an attack against us all."


French trains stop as mass strike begins over pensions

In this May 14, 2018 file photo, a striking rail worker walks on the tracks of the Saint-Charles train station, in Marseille, southern France. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)

By ANGELA CHARLTON and ALEX TURNBULL

PARIS (AP) — French trains rolled to a halt Wednesday evening, kicking off massive nationwide strikes and protests against President Emmanuel Macron's plans to overhaul the retirement system, seen as an untouchable symbol of the French way of life.

Tourists canceled travel plans and Paris deployed thousands of police to cope with what was expected to be a challenging day Thursday.

The walkout was expected to hit transportation the hardest, as flights, trains and buses canceled service and most of the Paris subway system came to a halt. Workers at the national railway SNCF stopped work Wednesday evening, while other services planned to shut down Thursday morning for an indefinite period.

In Paris, where workers' unions were planning a big march Thursday, police warned of possible violence and damages and ordered all businesses, cafes and restaurants along the protest route to close. Authorities also issued a ban on protests on the Champs-Elysees avenue, around the presidential palace, parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement said that 6,000 police officers would fan out around the city, notably amid fears that protest groups and extremist troublemakers could join the action.

The Eiffel Tower warned tourists to delay a visit to the iconic monument because the strike would disrupt access on Thursday.

The Louvre Museum said its opening Thursday could be delayed, and some viewing rooms may be closed.

Hotels across Paris reported receiving numerous cancellations ahead of the strike, as wary tourists eyed closing transportation routes and decided to skip their Paris vacations.

The SNCF railway expected nine out of 10 high-speed trains to be canceled. International train lines were expected to be affected, too. No tickets were available on Eurostar trains across the English Channel until Tuesday.

Air France said about 30% of its domestic flights would be canceled.

The government said 55% of teachers would be on strike Thursday, and hospitals also would be affected.

Workers are angry at Macron's plan to streamline the country's 42 state pension systems, fearing they will have to work longer and earn less upon retirement.

For Amina Hamade, 17, who lives in the Paris suburb of Poissy and takes the train to her high school in the nearby town of Les Mureaux, the strike provides a good excuse to skip school Thursday and Friday.

Tarik Slimani, a butcher in Les Mureaux, sees the strike as a political stunt that will hurt the economy. Everyone who relies on public transportation to get to work will pay the price, he said.

At Montparnasse train station, Samira Quasan, a 28-year-old tourist from Chicago, described moving around her travel plans to and from Bordeaux because of the strike. Parisian Marie Boudal had to do the same for her grandchild's baptism in Lyon.

Some travelers complained about the disruptions, while some showed support for the striking workers.

"They really are attacking something that was one of the few remaining things that we had" — the pension system, said Sylviane Charles, a 57-year-old school principal whose school was slated to close Thursday. "And so you end up with widespread despair."


Kim again rides horse up sacred peak as N. Korea raps Trump

This undated photo provided on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his wife Ri Sol Ju, right, riding on white horse during his visit to Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

By HYUNG-JIN KIM

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rode a white horse up a sacred mountain in his second symbolic visit in less than two months, state media reported Wednesday, as his military chief lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump for talking about a possible military option against the North.

Mount Paektu and white horses are symbols associated with the Kim family's dynastic rule. Kim has made previous visits there before making major decisions.

The comments by his military chief are the latest sign that prospects for a resumption of nuclear talks between North Korea and the U.S. are unclear. North Korea has threatened more provocation if the United States fails to meet a year-end deadline set by Kim for it to make a proposal to salvage the negotiations.

On Wednesday night, Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the (North) Korean People's Army, issued a statement berating Trump for suggesting that the U.S. could use military force against North Korea if diplomacy fails and warned that any attack would cause a "horrible" consequence for the Americans.

"One thing I would like to make clear is that the use of armed forces is not the privilege of the U.S. only," Park said.

He said Kim was also "displeased to hear" about Trump's comments.

Speaking in London where he was attending a NATO summit, Trump on Tuesday said his relationship with Kim was "really good" but also called for him to follow up on a commitment to denuclearize. Trump added, "We have the most powerful military we ever had, and we are by far the most powerful country in the world and hopefully we don't have to use it. But if we do, we will use it."

Trump has previously threatened to bring down "fire and fury" on North Korea and derided Kim as "little rocket man" when he carried out a series of weapons tests in 2017 aimed at building nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the mainland U.S. But his comment Tuesday on the possible use of military force enraged North Korea because he hasn't recently used such threats and instead has bestowed Kim with praise. In September last year, Trump called Kim "very open" and "terrific" and said he and Kim "fell in love."

In London, Trump also said Kim "likes sending rockets up, doesn't he?" He added that "That's why I call him rocket man."

North Korea didn't immediately respond to Trump's "rocket man" comment. Kim previously called Trump a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard."

Earlier Wednesday, the North's state media released many photos showing Kim riding a horse to snow-covered Mount Paektu along with his wife and other top lieutenants, all on white horses. Kim last climbed the mountain, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, on horseback in mid-October.

"The imperialists and class enemies make a more frantic attempt to undermine the ideological, revolutionary and class positions of our party," Kim said in an apparent reference to the U.S. and South Korea. "We should always live and work in the offensive spirit of Paektu."

The nuclear negotiations have remained stalled for months, with North Korea trying to win major sanctions relief and outside security assurances in return for partial denuclearization. Kim and Trump have met three times.

The North's Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday it's entirely up to the United States to choose what "Christmas gift" it gets from the North. North Korean officials have previously said whether North Korea lifts its moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests depends on what actions the U.S. takes.

Last week, North Korea test-fired projectiles from what it called a "super-large" multiple rocket launcher that South Korea's military said landed in the waters off the Norths' east coast.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday the ruling Workers' Party will hold a central committee meeting in late December to discuss unspecified "crucial issues" in line with "the changed situation at home and abroad." The specific agenda was unclear.

On Monday, Kim visited Samjiyon county at the foot of Mount Paektu to attend a ceremony marking the completion of work that has transformed the town to "an epitome of modern civilization," KCNA said. It said the town has a museum on the Kim family, a ski slope, cultural centers, a school, a hospital and factories.

Samjiyon was one of the main construction projects that Kim launched in an effort to improve his people's livelihoods and strengthen his rule at home. The construction spree has also been seen as a demonstration of his power in the face of international sanctions designed to squeeze his economy and get him to give up his nuclear program.


Albania PM optimistic of world support on quake recovery

In this Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019 photo, a wall clock that was stoped working during the time of the deadly earthquake that struck in Albania early Tuesday, is seen inside a damaged building in the city of Durres.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's prime minister said Wednesday he was pleased with the international support he secured at a NATO summit on dealing with the aftermath of a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that killed 51 people and injured more than 3,000 others.

Edi Rama said before leaving the NATO summit in London that he had positive meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders from Europe and Canada and that he received a positive reaction to his aspiration to hold an international donors' conference.

The European Union and the United Nations are coordinating international efforts, including those from the United States, to assist Albania after the earthquake that affected more than half of the country's 2.8 million population.

Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, said in a tweet that the EU's executive branch has pledged 15 million euros to Albania and that it will help organize a donors' conference.

The Nov. 26 quake damaged more than 11,000 buildings and left an estimated 12,000 people homeless who are now sheltering in hotels, public buildings, tents, with relatives and in neighboring Kosovo.

The worst-hit areas were Durres, a popular beach vacation spot for Albanians, 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of Tirana, and the nearby northern town of Thumane. Many schools still remain closed.


Tesla CEO Musk facing defamation trial for 'pedo guy' tweet

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks before unveiling the Model Y at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne, Calif. March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

British cave expert Vernon Unsworth talks with guests at an event titled the "United as One" in Bangkok, Thailand Sept. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)

By BRIAN MELLEY

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Elon Musk is going on trial Tuesday for his troublesome tweets in a defamation case pitting the billionaire against a British diver he allegedly branded a pedophile.

The Tesla CEO will be called to testify early in the case in Los Angeles federal court to explain what he meant when he called Vernon Unsworth, who helped rescue youth soccer players trapped underwater in a Thailand cave, "pedo guy" in a Twitter spat more than year ago.

Musk later apologized for lashing out at Unsworth on Twitter after the diver belittled Musk's efforts to build a tiny submarine to save the trapped boys as a "PR stunt." The tweet, widely interpreted as a reference to a pedophile, was removed by Musk, who disputed that's what he meant.

"'Pedo guy' was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up," Musk said in a court declaration. "It is synonymous with 'creepy old man' and is used to insult a person's appearance and demeanor."

Unsworth's lawyers have laughed off that explanation and said his claim was undercut by a subsequent tweet when he said, "Bet ya a signed dollar it's true" in response to a question about whether he had accused Unsworth of being a pedophile.

The lawyers also said he hired private investigators to dig up evidence Unsworth was a child molester, which they never found, according to Unsworth's lawyers.

The lawsuit is not the first time Musk's tweets have landed him in hot water.

Musk and Tesla reached a $40 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year on allegations he misled investors with a tweet declaring he had secured financing to buy out the electric car maker. He agreed in the settlement to have future tweets about the company screened.

He was forced back into court on accusations he violated that agreement by tweeting a misleading figure about how many cars Tesla would manufacture this year. The SEC sought to hold him in contempt of court, which led to a new agreement imposing tighter controls on Musk's tweets about the company.

The cave drama played out for more than two weeks in the summer of 2018 when the 12 boys — ages 11-16 — and their soccer coach were trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand.

Musk and engineers from his SpaceX rocket company custom built a mini-submarine to help with the rescue. The device was heavily publicized but never used.

Unsworth, a diver and caving expert whose advice was considered crucial in the rescue operation, said the sub would never have fit in the cave's tight spaces. He told CNN that Musk could "stick his submarine where it hurts."

Musk responded two days later with his series of tweets.

Musk claims he wasn't making a factual statement and no one reading his tweet would take it seriously and interpret it as defamatory.

Despite removing the tweets, he later suggested in emails to the news website BuzzFeed that Unsworth was a "child rapist" and had moved to northern Thailand to take "a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time." He provided no evidence.

Unsworth is seeking unspecified damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress. The defense has resisted efforts to turn over financial records to show Musk's wealth but has stipulated his net worth exceeds $20 billion.


Powerful typhoon leaves at least 4 dead in Philippines

Vehicles pass by toppled electrical poles as Typhoon Kammuri slammed Legazpi city, Albay province, southeast of Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP Photo)

Police inspect a truck that was damaged as Typhoon Kammuri slammed Legazpi city, Albay province, southeast of Manila, Philippines, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP Photo)

By JIM GOMEZ

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Typhoon Kammuri barreled across the Philippines with fierce winds and rain Tuesday, leaving at least four people dead, forcing hundreds of thousands of villagers to abandon high-risk communities and prompting officials to shut Manila's international airport.

Kammuri toppled trees and electrical posts, ripped off tin roofs and battered a provincial airport as it blew across island provinces in the southern fringes of the main northern Luzon island before blowing into the South China Sea. It weakened but remained dangerous with maximum sustained winds of 130 kilometers (81 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 200 kph (124 mph) as it exited, forecasters said.

At least four people died and several others were reported injured, with officials attributing the low casualty figure to the early evacuation of hundreds of thousands of villagers from villages prone to high waves, flash floods and landslides.

A villager was electrocuted while fixing the battered roof of his house in Libmanan town in Camarines Sur province in the hard-hit Bicol region, regional disaster response officer Claudio Yucot said. In Oriental Mindoro, one of the last provinces to be lashed by the typhoon, a man died after being pinned by a fallen tree and another perished after being hit by a tin roof, Gov. Humerlito Dolor said.

A construction worker on his way home on a motorcycle was hit by a falling tree and died in the port city of Ormoc in Leyte province, police said.

"There could have been more if we did not do pre-emptive evacuations," Dolor told reporters.

The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons and tropical storms each year and has frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making the archipelago of more than 100 million people one of the world's most disaster-prone nations.

Evacuating entire villages and communities and providing supplies to huge numbers of residents camped in schools and government buildings used as emergency shelters is common during typhoons, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, largely because many mostly poor communities are in disaster-prone areas.

Kammuri's pounding rain and wind damaged the airport in Legazpi city in Albay province, collapsing a portion of its ceiling, scattering chairs in the arrival and departure areas and shattering glass panes. A truck turned on its side after being buffeted by strong winds in the city, near Mount Mayon, one of the country's most active volcanos.

Albay is one of several provinces in the Bicol region which lost post power due to toppled posts and downed transmission lines. Nearly 2 million people were affected by the power outages, officials said.

In Manila, officials shut the international airport for seven hours starting before noon Tuesday as the typhoon roared through provinces south of the capital. More than 400 domestic and international flights were canceled due to the airport closure, airport manager Ed Monreal said.

Authorities moved thousands of Boy Scouts attending a jamboree in the mountainous town of Botolan in the northwestern province of Zambales.

The Philippines postponed several competitions in the Southeast Asian Games, which it is hosting, because of the stormy weather, including wind surfing, polo and tennis matches in Manila and outlying provinces. Organizers said other events would be delayed if needed for safety but there was no plan to extend the 11-day games which opened Saturday.

The coast guard suspended sea travel in the northeast, stranding more than 7,000 travelers along with thousands of cargo ships and smaller watercraft in the archipelago nation.


UK politicians hold breath as Trump arrives mid-campaign

Home Secretary Priti Patel, center left, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, center, and MP Will Quince pose holding a sign before a rally event as part of the General Election campaign, in Colchester, England, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. (Hannah McKay/Pool Photo via AP)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks outside Birkbeck/SOAS University of London, as he announces his party's plan for the extension of workers' rights, whilst on the General Election campaign trail, in London, Tuesday, Dec.3, 2019. Britain goes to the polls on Dec. 12. (David Mirzoeff/PA via AP)

By JILL LAWLESS

LONDON (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump says he doesn't want to interfere in Britain's election campaign. But his presence in London nine days before the Dec. 12 vote is a complication for Prime Minister Boris Johnson — and ammunition for Johnson's opponents.

Trump, who is attending a meeting of NATO leaders, said Tuesday he'd "stay out of the election."

"I don't want to complicate it," he said.

Too late. Britain's opposition parties are relishing the visit by Trump, who is widely unpopular in the U.K., and whose statements of support for Johnson and Britain's departure from the European Union are seen as more harmful than helpful.

Trump repeated his support for Brexit and for Johnson on Tuesday.

"I think Boris is very capable and I think he'll do a good job," he said.

The main opposition Labour Party seized on Trump's two-day visit to renew allegations that a post-Brexit U.S.-U.K. trade deal could damage the U.K.'s state-funded National Health Service.

Labour is campaigning heavily on the claim that the overstretched but treasured NHS is not safe in Conservative hands.

Johnson has called that allegation "nonsense."

"This is pure Loch Ness Monster, Bermuda Triangle stuff," he said Tuesday.

But Labour says the U.S. could try to demand during trade talks that Britain pay American pharma firms more for drugs. It could also push for extended patents that would prevent Britons buying cheaper generic versions of U.S.-patented drugs — something that happened in talks on a U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.

Documents from preliminary talks between U.S. and U.K. negotiators over two years from July 2017 — obtained and released by Labour last week — mention that "patent issues" around "NHS access to generic drugs will be a key consideration" in talks.

Trump said Tuesday that the United States had no interest in the NHS.

"We have absolutely nothing to do with it and we wouldn't want to. If you handed it to us on a silver platter, we want nothing to do with it," he told reporters as he met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Trump has sent mixed messages on the issue, however. In June, he said "everything" — including the NHS — would be "on the table" in future trade negotiations.

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs in next week's election. Johnson wants to secure a majority in the election so he can push through the Brexit divorce deal he negotiated with the EU.

Under the terms of that deal, the U.K. would leave the EU on Jan. 31 but remain part of the EU's single market, and bound by the bloc's rules, until the end of 2020.

Polls suggest Johnson's Tories have a lead over the Labour opposition, and Corbyn is trying to close the gap by focusing on domestic issues such as education and health care, which have been stretched by years of public spending cuts by the Conservative government.

Johnson says Corbyn, a socialist who has often criticized NATO and Western military intervention, would endanger Britain's national security if he became prime minister. He told The Sun newspaper that Britain's allies "are very anxious" about the prospect of a Corbyn government.

Asked Tuesday about Corbyn, Trump said: "I know nothing about the gentleman."

"I can work with anybody, I'm a very easy person to work with," he added.

The Conservatives have sought to avoid any slip-ups that could cost the party its poll lead. Opponents have accused Johnson of running scared of scrutiny after he declined to take part in a televised debate on climate change with other party leaders last week and refused to commit to a one-on-one TV interview.

The Conservatives complained to Britain's broadcasting regulator after Channel 4 put an Earth-shaped ice sculpture on a podium in Johnson's place during the climate debate.

Regulator Ofcom rejected the complaint Tuesday, saying Conservative views had been adequately represented.

"This program, including the use of the ice sculpture, did not raise issues warranting further investigation under our due impartiality and elections rules," it said.


Greta Thunberg says voyage 'energized' her climate fight

 

Climate activist Greta Thunberg waves as she arrives in Lisbon aboard the sailboat La Vagabonde Tuesday, Dec 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Pedro Rocha)

By BARRY HATTON and FRANK JORDANS

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in Portugal on Tuesday after a three-week voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, telling cheering supporters that the journey had "energized" her for the fight against climate change.

The Swedish teen, whose one-woman protests outside the Swedish parliament helped inspired a global youth movement, sailed into the port of Lisbon after making a last-minute dash back from the United States to attend this year's U.N. climate conference.

Thunberg has been steadfast in her refusal to fly because of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by planes, a stance that put her planned appearance at the meeting in doubt when the venue was moved from Chile to Spain a month ago.

"We've all been on quite an adventure," Thunberg told reporters shortly after stepping off the catamaran La Vagabonde, on which she'd hitched a ride back home to Europe. "It feels good to be back."

Thunberg's appearances at past climate meetings have won her plaudits from some leaders — and criticism from others who've taken offense at the angry tone of her speeches.

"I think people are underestimating the force of angry kids," Thunberg said. "If they want us to stop being angry, then maybe they should stop making us angry."

The 16-year-old said she planned to spend several days in the Portuguese capital before heading to Madrid, where delegates from nearly 200 countries are discussing how to tackle global warming.

"We will continue the fight there to make sure that within those walls the voices of the people are being heard," she said.

The white 48-foot (15-meter) yacht carrying Thunberg, her father Svante, an Australian family and professional sailor Nikki Henderson sailed into Lisbon amid blue skies, with a small flotilla of boats escorting it to harbor.

Her trip contrasted with the many air miles flown by most of the U.N. meeting's 25,000 attendees.

Thunberg wanted a low-carbon form of transport to get to the climate meeting, which was switched at short notice to Spain from Chile due to unrest there.

The yacht leaves little or no carbon footprint when its sails are up, using solar panels and hydro-generators for electricity.

"I am not traveling like this because I want everyone to do so," said Thunberg. "I'm doing this to sort of send the message that it is impossible to live sustainable today, and that needs to change. It needs to become much easier."

Chile's Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt, saluted Thunberg's role speaking out about the threat of climate change.

"She has been a leader that has been able to move and open hearts for many young people and many people all over the world," Schmidt told The Associated Press at the summit in Madrid.

"We need that tremendous force in order to increase climate action," she said.

Near to the conference, some 20 activists cut off traffic in central Madrid and staged a brief theatrical performance to protest climate change.

Members of the international group called Extinction Rebellion held up a banner in Russian that read: "Climate Crisis. To speak the truth. To take action immediately."

Some activists jumped into a nearby fountain while others threw them life jackets. They chanted: "What Do We Want? Climate Justice."

Others dressed in red robes with their faces whitened to symbolize the human species' peril danced briefly before police moved in to end the protest.

Meanwhile, the U.N. weather agency released a new report showing that the current decade is likely to set a new 10-year temperature record, providing mounting evidence that the world is getting ever hotter.

Preliminary temperature measurements show the years from 2015 to 2019 and from 2010 to 2019 "are, respectively, almost certain to be the warmest five-year period and decade on record," the World Meteorological Organization said.

"Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than the last," the agency said.

While full-year figures aren't released until next March, 2019 is also expected to be the second or third warmest year since measurements began, with 2016 still holding the all-time temperature record, it said.

This year was hotter than average in most parts of the world, including the Arctic. "In contrast a large area of North America has been colder than the recent average," the U.N. said.

The World Meteorological Organization's annual report, which brings together data from numerous national weather agencies and research organizations, also highlighted the impacts of climate change including declining sea ice and rising sea levels, which reached their highest level this year since high-precision measurements began in 1993.


Russian scientists present ancient puppy found in permafrost

This is a handout photo taken on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, showing a 18,000 years old Puppy found in permafrost in the Russia's Far East, on display at the Yakutsk's Mammoth Museum, Russia. (Sergei Fyodorov, Yakutsk Mammoth Museum via AP)

This is a handout photo taken on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, showing a 18,000 years old Puppy found in permafrost in the Russia's Far East, on display at the Yakutsk's Mammoth Museum, Russia. (Sergei Fyodorov, Yakutsk Mammoth Museum via AP)

By DARIA LITVINOVA and ROMAN KUTUKOV

YAKUTSK, Russia (AP) — Russian scientists on Monday showed off a prehistoric puppy, believed to be 18,000 years old, found in permafrost in the country's Far East.

Discovered last year in a lump of frozen mud near the city of Yakutsk, the puppy is unusually well-preserved, with its hair, teeth, whiskers and eyelashes still intact.

"This puppy has all its limbs, pelage – fur, even whiskers. The nose is visible. There are teeth. We can determine due to some data that it is a male," Nikolai Androsov, director of the Northern World private museum where the remains are stored, said at the presentation at the Yakutsk's Mammoth Museum which specializes in ancient specimens.

In recent years, Russia's Far East has provided many riches for scientists studying the remains of ancient animals. As the permafrost melts, affected by climate change, more and more parts of woolly mammoths, canines and other prehistoric animals are being discovered. Often it is mammoth tusk hunters who discover them.

"Why has Yakutia come through a real spate of such unique findings over the last decade? First, it's global warming. It really exists, we feel it, and local people feel it strongly. Winter comes later, spring comes earlier," Sergei Fyodorov, scientist with the North Eastern Federal University, told The Associated Press.

"And the second very serious, deep reason, of why there a lot of finds is the very high price of mammoth tusk in the Chinese market."

When the puppy was discovered, scientists from the Stockholm-based Center for Palaeogenetics took a piece of bone to study its DNA.

"The first step was of course to send the sample to radio carbon dating to see how old it was and when we got the results back it turned out that it was roughly 18,000 years old," Love DalÚn, professor of evolutionary genetics at the center, said in an online interview.

Further tests, however, left the scientists with more questions than answers — they couldn't definitively tell whether it was a dog or a wolf.

"We have now generated a nearly complete genome sequence from it and normally when you have a two-fold coverage genome, which is what we have, you should be able to relatively easily say whether it's a dog or a wolf, but we still can't say and that makes it even more interesting," DalÚn said.

He added that the scientists are about to do a third round of genome sequencing, which might solve the mystery.


Prosecutors say Russia let MH17 suspect leave the country

In this July 17, 2014. file photo, people walk amongst the debris at the crash site of MH17 passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine, that left 298 people killed. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

By MIKE CORDER

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Russia deliberately allowed a suspect in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to leave the country, Dutch prosecutors said Monday, calling it a breach of a European extradition treaty.

Prosecutors announced that Volodymyr Tsemakh is considered a suspect in the shooting down of the passenger plane and deaths of all 298 passengers and crew. He has not been charged with any offenses.

The Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a Buk missile on July 17, 2014, over territory in eastern Ukraine that was controlled at the time by pro-Moscow rebels.

An international team of investigators has concluded that the missile and its launcher came from the Russian army's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade, based in the Russian city of Kursk.

The international investigation is being led by prosecutors in the Netherlands because nearly 200 of the passengers killed were Dutch citizens.

Russia has always denied responsibility for shooting down the flight and claimed that the Buk missile came from Ukrainian army arsenals.

Tsemakh, a Ukrainian who was questioned by investigators probing the downing of the flight known as MH17 while in custody in Ukraine in connection with other allegations, was handed to Russia as part of a prisoner swap in September.

Dutch prosecutors said in a statement that they asked Russia to arrest Tsemakh after the swap so he could be extradited.

While Russia does not extradite its own citizens, it could have handed over Tsemakh since he is Ukrainian, the Dutch prosecutors said, adding that they had contacted Moscow several times to warn authorities there that Tsemakh might attempt to flee.

Prosecutors said that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Foreign Minister Stef Blok also both urged Moscow to comply.

Despite those efforts, Russia now says that Tsemakh's whereabouts are no longer known and media reports suggest he has returned to eastern Ukraine, prosecutors said.

"The Public Prosecution Service has concluded that Russia willingly allowed Mr. Tsemakh to leave the Russian Federation and refused to execute the Dutch request. While under the European Convention on Extradition, it was obliged to do so," the prosecution statement said.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Three Russians and a Ukrainian have been charged with murder over their alleged roles in bringing down flight MH17. None of them have been extradited. Their trial is scheduled to start March 9 at a courtroom near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

The trial will go ahead without the suspects if they are not turned over to Dutch authorities.


Philippine capital warned as strong typhoon approaches

Residents ride a pedicab as they evacuate to higher grounds in preparation for the coming of Typhoon Kammuri in Legazpi, Albay province, southeast of Manila, Philippines on Monday Dec. 2, 2109. (AP Photo)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines' main island, including the national capital, Manila, is under a tropical cyclone warning for a typhoon forecast to hit Monday night into Tuesday.

Local governments told thousands of people to evacuate vulnerable areas such as coastal communities. The worst conditions are forecast for southeastern provinces on Luzon, the most populous island in the archipelago.

Officials said Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport would close from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Tuesday.

Philippine forecasters say Typhoon Kammuri (also called Tisoy) had3 maximum sustained winds of 150 kph (93 mph) near the center and gusts up to 185 kph (115 mph) at midafternoon Monday.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration warned of potentially severe flooding for Albay province, Samar and Leyte islands. For the metropolitan Manila region in western Luzon, intense rainfall was possible into Wednesday.

Some events during the Southeast Asian Games being hosted in the Philippines have been rescheduled and postponed for safety reasons.


EU leads international help to Albania quake recovery

In this Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 photo, a plastic flower among rubbles of a collapsed building damage building in Thumane, western Albania following a deadly earthquake.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

By LLAZAR SEMINI

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Dozens of structural engineers from Europe and elsewhere are heading to Albania to help rebuild the country after a devastating earthquake last month killed 51 people and destroyed thousands of buildings, officials said Monday.

The European Union and the United Nations are coordinating international efforts to assist Albania after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Nov. 26, affecting more than half of the country's population.

An EU team is leading the damage assessment and distribution of aid. Six EU member states have sent 50 structural engineers, with more to come, to assess the damage together with the local counterparts.

"In the midst of sorrow, grief and fear, this week has shown the unfailing links between Albanians and their friends in the EU," said Luigi Soreca, the EU ambassador to Albania.

The U.S. Agency for International Development also has deployed structural engineers from the Fairfax County and Los Angeles County fire departments to assist with damage assessments.

Albanian Defense Minister Olta Xhacka praised the international response so far, saying the 780 rescuers who rushed to the country right after the quake helped to prevent more deaths.

The quake that hit Albania's Adriatic coast also injured more than 3,000 people. Authorities give preliminary figures of 7,900 damaged buildings countrywide and more than 6,000 homeless sheltered in hotels, public buildings, tents and with relatives, while neighboring Kosovo has provided shelter to others.

The quake has affected about 1.9 million people out of the country's 2.8 million population, according to the EU office in the capital of Tirana.

The worst-hit areas were the port town of Durres, a popular beach vacation spot for Albanians 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of Tirana and the nearby northern town of Thumane.

U.S. singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha visited Bubq village, 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of the capital Tirana, to hand over aid.

Rexha, who is of ethnic Albanian origin, said she raised money through her fans to build two homes and is hoping to raise more.

"It's really sad what's happening here. That's why I came here," she said.

Prosecutors have started an investigation into possible illegal construction and violations of construction regulations.

Poor construction, building code violations and corruption are considered among the main reasons for the quake damage.

Albania's government has called on the international community for financial aid and expert assistance, saying it is incapable of doing it alone.

"The hardest part of this situation starts now because the material damage is really great," said Xhacka before leaving for the NATO summit in London where Albania will also look for help.

Soreca said Monday that Brussels will look into how it will help Albania rebuild itself with a mid- to long-term perspective.

On Thursday, the new European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarcic, who started his post Monday, visits Tirana to talk about the reconstruction planning.
 


July 25 forecast: Sunny, with cloud of impeachment for Trump

The U.S. Capitol at sunset in Washington Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In this Sept. 25, 2019, file photo, a White House-released memorandum of President Donald Trump's July 25, 2019, telephone conversation with Ukraine's newly elected president Volodymyr Zelenskiy is photographed in Washington. If there was one day that crystallized all the forces that led to the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, it was July 25. That was the day of his phone call with Ukraine’s new leader, pressing him for a political favor. (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow, File)

By NANCY BENAC

WASHINGTON (AP) — The forecast for July 25 was typical for Washington: sunny, mid-80s. President Donald Trump had good reason to be feeling bright and sunny himself.

It was the morning after Robert Mueller's congressional testimony at the conclusion of the Russia investigation, and Trump and his allies were expressing relief, thinking the rumblings about impeachment would at last fade, even if the special counsel hadn't offered the president the total exoneration Trump claimed.

By 7:06 a.m., Trump was tweeting positive reviews from his favorite TV show, "Fox & Friends," where co-host Ainsley Earhardt declared, ``Yesterday changed everything, it really did clear the president."

An hour later, Trump moved on to a tweet talking up his approval ratings, the stock market, unemployment and more. ``Country doing great!" he wrote.

But a reconstruction of what started as an unremarkable summer Thursday reveals that even before daybreak, anxiety was coursing through the White House about a coming phone call that didn't appear on the president's public schedule.

By nightfall, Trump had set in motion events that would trigger only the fourth impeachment inquiry in history, imperiling his presidency and further calcifying divisions in a polarized nation.

At the time, it seemed no one had a complete picture of what was afoot. But through weeks of congressional investigation and hearings, a timeline of the day's events has emerged, offering a portrait of one of the most consequential days of Trump's presidency.

"STRAY VOLTAGE"

Trump was scheduled to talk with Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy at 9 a.m. Zelenskiy, a former comedian fond of showing off his bulging biceps, was angling to lock in a visit to the White House, a valuable currency that he hoped would demonstrate to Russia that he had Trump's backing.

Trump and Zelenskiy had gotten along just fine during their first chat in April, basically an exchange of pleasantries. National security officials were worried that this time would be different.

There were "some concerns that, you know, there could be some stray voltage," Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, testified later.

He was referring to growing indications that Trump was fixated on baseless conspiracy theories that Ukraine had tried to take down candidate Trump in the 2016 elections. There was talk that Zelenskiy would only get a White House visit if he agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump's top Democratic rivals, and the 2016 U.S. elections.

None of that was in the National Security Council's "call package," with its suggested talking points for Trump's conversation. Nor was any of that in the prewritten "readout" of the call, laying out what was expected to happen.

Both of those turned out to be merely aspirational.

Shortly before the call, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, got on the phone with Trump to offer his own advice.

Sondland, working with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, had put together a plan under which Ukraine would get its White House meeting only in exchange for agreeing to investigations of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine, and the 2016 election, when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

At 8:36 a.m., Kurt Volker, then Trump's special envoy to Ukraine, texted a Zelenskiy aide after talking to Sondland: "Heard from White House — Assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / "get to the bottom of what happened" in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!"

DOUR v. OBSEQUIOUS

The half-hour call started with pleasantries but quickly took a sharp detour.

Trump, his voice lower than normal, was "dour," according to Vindman, who was among a dozen or more people listening in from the U.S. side.

Zelenskiy, overly eager to please, was "obsequious," according to Tim Morrison, Vindman's boss and one of the other sets of ears on the call.

Zelenskiy's attempts at humor fell flat. They "just didn't seem to carry with the president," Vindman recalled.

Soon, Trump was stressing how much the U.S. had done for Ukraine and grousing about Europe's failure to do more.

And then came 10 words from Trump that triggered the impeachment investigation: "I would like you to do us a favor though."

Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into Crowdstrike, part of a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Clinton. From there, Trump segued to pressing for investigation of another discredited notion — that Biden had ousted a Ukrainian prosecutor who was looking into Hunter Biden's dealings with Burisma, the energy company where he was on the board.

Zelenskiy, speaking a mix of Ukrainian and choppy English, had one mission: find as many ways as possible to say yes, yes and yes again. Four times he said "yes." Twice, he assured Trump he was "absolutely right," and "not just 100% but actually 1,000%."

"I agree with you 100%," he added later.

More important to Trump, though, Zelenskiy promised that "all the investigations will be done openly and candidly."

Yet Zelenskiy wasn't committing precisely to the investigations of Democrats that Trump wanted. He was speaking generally of his commitment to clean up corruption in his country.

He was short one very important "yes."

"IT WAS WRONG"

Trump would later insist the call was "perfect," but some of those who listened were gravely alarmed. Even while Trump was still speaking, there were some worried glances among those taking notes in the Situation Room.

The call ended at 9:33 a.m., and within an hour, Vindman was in the office of NSC lawyer John Eisenberg.

The idea of an American president pressuring a foreign leader to investigate his political foes was "troubling and disturbing," Vindman told congressional investigators. "I thought it was wrong."

Acting separately, Morrison, a Trump political appointee, also made his way to Eisenberg's office that day. Morrison was worried that details of the call would leak and damage Ukraine's bipartisan support in Congress.

Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence who was also on the call, told legislators she found the call's detour into domestic politics "unusual and inappropriate."

By that night, NSC staff had finished editing a rough transcript of the conversation. and Eisenberg made sure that access to it was more closely restricted than usual to keep details from leaking.

STRIKE THAT

A readout is a description of a private conversation or meeting, prepared for public consumption. It's often written before the event because such phone calls, and scripts, are typically choreographed in advance.

The NSC's prewritten readout of the phone call, though, was worthless. It turned out there had been little discussion of the anticipated topics, and Trump had said a lot of things that weren't expected.

"Basically we struck almost all the materials from that statement because we hadn't covered any of the terrain that we thought we were going to," Vindman told legislators.

The bland three-sentence statement issued by the White House at 12:51 p.m. gave no hint of what had really happened.

A six-sentence statement issued by the Ukrainians at almost the same time wasn't much more illuminating — and seemed to be yet another highly aspirational take on the matter.

"Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA," it read.

'WHAT WAS GOING ON?'

The inbox for Laura Cooper's staff at the Defense Department filled in more pieces of the puzzle that afternoon.

A pair of emails from the State Department — one at 2:31 p.m., the second at 4:25 p.m. — made it clear that the Ukrainians were already worried about whether they would get hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military assistance that had been approved by Congress. It wasn't just about a White House visit.

The Trump White House wanted to hold up the aid until Zelenskiy made a public pledge to conduct investigations. Republicans have argued there was no "quid pro quo" — a pledge of investigations in exchange for military aid — because the Ukrainians weren't aware the aid was on hold when Zelenskiy spoke to Trump. But these emails indicate the Ukrainians knew or suspected the aid was frozen when the call took place.

Cooper, a deputy assistant defense secretary, also testified that her staff got a question that day from a contact at the Ukrainian Embassy asking "what was going on" with the assistance.

Talk about delaying the military aid had been percolating for weeks by then.

But that night, at 6:44 p.m., a staffer in the White House's Office of Management and Budget signed a document that officially put the money on hold. All it took was a footnote stating that the money was "not available for obligation" while its use was under review.

The document was signed by Mark Sandy, OMB's deputy associate director for national security, who told lawmakers that he had been handling aid apportionments for years and had never before been told to put one on hold. He had asked his bosses repeatedly why it was being done. He didn't get an answer.

SUNGLASSES AND UMBRELLAS

While fallout from the call ricocheted within the White House, much of Washington went about its business unaware of the looming threat to Trump. So did Zelenskiy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who months later would give a green light to an impeachment investigation, was meeting with House Democrats when the call took place. Then she strode down the steps at the Capitol for an outdoor news conference. Whipping off her sunglasses, she pledged to make August "too hot to handle" for Republican senators who were blocking Democratic legislation.

On a rainy day in Ukraine, Zelenskiy's social media team posted a photo of the president holding his own umbrella — and contrasted it with a photo of his predecessor relying on someone else to hold one.

Trump had plenty more to say that day. He spoke at a sunlit Pentagon ceremony for new Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He also made a State Dining Room appearance to help his daughter Ivanka promote the administration's job training initiatives.

DOWN THE DRAIN

Trump ended his day as he began it, in his comfort zone with Fox News.

On Sean Hannity's show, the president said he'd been "through hell" during the Mueller investigation. Hannity declared that with that investigation over, impeachment fantasies had been "totally completely flushed down the drain."

Eighteen days later, a whistleblower sent a nine-page complaint to Congress about the president's July 25 call.

On Sept. 27, Pelosi announced the impeachment investigation.


The EU ushers in its new heads of commission and council

 

From left, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, European Parliament President Sassoli, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and European Council President Charles Michel pose for photographers as they mark the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty at the House of European History in Brussels, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

BRUSSELS (AP) — New leaders took over Sunday at the top of the European Union's executive and council, taking their positions at a turbulent time for the bloc with the looming British departure and other pressing issues.

Germany's Ursula von der Leyen officially replaced Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, two days after a handover ceremony, becoming the first woman in the job. Belgium's Charles Michel succeeded Donald Tusk as EU Council president and chair the summits of EU leaders.

Von der Leyen and Michel marked the day in Brussels with events for the 10th anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty in the House of European History.

European Parliament President David Sassoli hosted the ceremony, welcoming the new leaders — all the while calling on them to deliver on promises made to its 508 million citizens, saying "it is now time to act."

"We need to turn the promises of the past few months into results that improve people's lives," Sassoli said. "From the fight against climate change to tackling the rise in the cost of living, Europeans want to see real action."

Momentum is building to face the challenge of climate change and von der Leyen has said it will be a top priority for her.

The future of how the British Brexit decision will play out should become more clear after a new election on Dec. 12.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to secure a majority in the election so he can push through the Brexit divorce deal he negotiated in October with the EU. Under the terms of that deal, the U.K. would leave the EU on Jan. 31 but remains part of the EU's single market, and bound by the bloc's rules, until the end of 2020.


After wind scare, balloons fly in Macy's Thanksgiving parade

 

Participates make their way down New York's Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Astronaut Snoopy balloon makes its way down New York's Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

The Grinch balloon floats down Sixth Avenue during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

A woman in a flower costume marches in front of the Wiggle Worm balloon during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

A clown with balloons fights with winds as it make its way down Columbus Circle during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

By SABRINA CASERTA

NEW YORK (AP) — The beloved balloons flew, but lower than usual, in a windy Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade after an anxious weather watch.

Wind had threatened to ground the giant inflated characters. But officials announced less than an hour before Thursday's start time that the balloons could fly, if in a down-to-Earth way.

As the parade continued — even while city emergency officials sent out a public alert about wind gusts — handlers struggled with some giant balloons and pulled them close to the ground. Meanwhile, winds did keep giant balloons out of Philadelphia's Thanksgiving Day parade.

The Macy's parade balloons might have been lowered, but Susan Koteen's spirits weren't. She has traveled from Florida, three years in a row, to see the parade.

"We love it. Because it's exciting, it's patriotic, and it just — it warms your heart," she said.

Spectators lined up a half-dozen deep along the route on a gusty fall day, with leaves and confetti swirling in the wind.

A "Green Eggs and Ham" balloon joined the lineup, Smokey Bear returned for the first time since 1993, and spectators got to see new versions of favorites Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants.

A smaller new balloon, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's "Love Flies Up to the Sky," and two star-shaped balloons ultimately didn't make the lineup because of tears and stress from inflation before the parade, Macy's said. A giant Ronald McDonald balloon also tore before the parade and was pulled out midway through, the company said. The McDonald's character had a visibly deflated leg.

Macy's spokesman Orlando Veras called the parade "a fantastic event despite these minor challenges."

During the middle of the parade, the wind was 13 mph (21 kph) with gusts up to 32 mph (51 kph), according to the National Weather Service.

City rules require balloons to be grounded if sustained winds exceed 23 mph (37 kph) and gusts exceed 34 mph (55 kph). The balloons have been grounded only once for weather-related reasons, in 1971.

On Thursday, in a windy spot near the start of the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) route, a Nutcracker balloon knocked into a handler, who fell down but then continued along. A Grinch balloon touched some trees as it passed a corner, drawing an "ooh!" from the crowd.

To parade-goer Kate O'Connor, the wind was "scary, especially around the corners — they're like wind tunnels."

It was still cool to see the balloons up close, "but they're really meant to be seen from underneath," said the resident of Newtown, Connecticut, who comes to the parade every other year with her daughter, Megan, 8.

Joanna Mammen and her family came from Bradford County in northern Pennsylvania to revisit the parade she attended every year while growing up in the Bronx.

"My favorite float, as a kid, was Santa Claus," said Mammen, 69. "Most of the other floats from that time, the kids these days wouldn't even recognize. But it's a beautiful tradition, to come out and experience the crowd."

It was a first-time experience for her husband, Bill. And for him, it was all about sharing the fun with the couple's son, Jason, and 2-year-old grandson, Lincoln.

"Thanksgiving is not just about the people I love. It is the people I love," he said.

Willie Brown traveled from Dallas to see the parade, particularly entertainers Ciara and Kelly Rowland.

"This was really a bucket list item for me, Macy's Day Parade in New York City," the 23-year-old said. "You grow up seeing glimpses on TV, but it's something I knew I needed to experience."

The parade, one of the city's most popular events, features about 8,000 marchers, two dozen floats, entertainers and marching bands, ending with an appearance from Santa Claus.

The character balloons can go as high as 55 feet (16 meters) off the ground and as low as 10 feet (3 meters).

The rules requiring them to be grounded in high winds came after a "Cat in the Hat" balloon blew into a lamppost near Central Park in 1997, critically injuring a woman.

In 2005, an M&M's balloon smacked into a lamppost in Times Square, causing cuts and bruises to a woman in a wheelchair and her 11-year-old sister.

In 2017, a gust on an otherwise calm day sent a smaller balloon into a tree branch. That one popped and fell harmlessly onto the crowd.


Hundreds rally in Myanmar to show support for Suu Kyi

People attend a rally Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Yangon, Myanmar. About 700 people rallied Sunday to show support for Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as she prepares to defend the country against charges of genocide at the U.N.’s highest court. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — About 700 people rallied Sunday to show support for Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as she prepares to defend the country against charges of genocide at the U.N.'s highest court.

Members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party swelled the ranks in front of the colonial-era City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, as the crowd waved national flags and listened to music and poetry. A popular local singer told them that "Mother Suu is the bravest human being in the world – her weapon is love."

Many carried banners saying, "We stand with you, Mother Suu."

The case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague relates to a harsh counterinsurgency campaign waged by Myanmar's military against members of the country's Muslim Rohingya community in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes.

The head of a U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned recently that "there is a serious risk of genocide recurring."

Gambia filed the case at the ICJ, also known as the world court, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The case alleges that Myanmar's actions against the Rohingya are "genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part."

Myanmar has strongly denied the charges but says it stands ready to take action against wrong-doers if there is sufficient evidence.

A statement on the website of the Ministry of the Interior said recently that the renewed international pressure on the country was due to a lack of understanding of "the complexities of the issue and the narratives of the people of Myanmar."

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, will lead the delegation to The Hague in her capacity as foreign minister.

Hearings are due to start on Dec. 10. The case is expected to last several years..
 


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