Diplomat provides House with detailed account on Ukraine

By LISA MASCARO, MARY CLARE JALONICK and LYNN BERRY Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former U.S. Ambassador William Taylor, a diplomat who has sharply questioned President Donald Trump’s policy on Ukraine, has provided lawmakers with a detailed account of his recollection of events at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment probe , they said Tuesday.
Lawmakers emerging from the room after the early hours of the private deposition said Taylor had given a lengthy opening statement, with a recall of events that filled in gaps from the testimony of other witnesses.
“The testimony is very disturbing,” said New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who attended the start of the Taylor interview.
Taylor, who declined to comment as he entered the closed-door deposition, is the latest diplomat with concerns to testify. His appearance is among the most watched because of a text message in which he called Trump’s attempt to leverage military aid to Ukraine in return for a political investigation “crazy.” He was subpoenaed to appear.
Rep Ami Bera, D-Calif., said Taylor is a career civil servant who “cares deeply” about the country. He said Taylor’s memory of events was better than that of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador who testified last week but couldn’t recall many specific details.
Taylor was expected to discuss text messages he exchanged with two other diplomats earlier this year as Trump pushed the country to investigate unsubstantiated claims about Democratic rival Joe Biden’s family and a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.
The diplomat was one of several intermediaries between Trump and Ukrainian officials as the president advocated for the investigations. Taylor had been tapped to run the embassy there after the administration abruptly ousted the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, in May.
In a series of text messages released earlier this month by Ukrainian envoy Kurt Volker, Taylor appeared to be alarmed by Trump’s efforts as the U.S. was also withholding military assistance to Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress.
“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor wrote in excerpts of the text messages released by the impeachment investigators.
Taylor has stood by the observation that it was “crazy” in his private remarks to investigators, according to a person familiar with his testimony who was granted anonymity to discuss it.
Taylor’s description of the policy is in sharp contrast to how Trump has tried to characterize it. The president has said many times that there was no quid pro quo, though his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney contradicted that last week. Mulvaney later tried to walk back his remarks.
Taylor, a former Army officer, had been serving as executive vice president at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think tank founded by Congress, when he was appointed to run the embassy in Kyiv after Yovanovitch was removed before the end of her term following a campaign against her led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
He was welcomed back to Kyiv as a steady hand serving as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009.
“He’s the epitome of a seasoned statesman,” said John Shmorhun, an American who heads the agricultural company AgroGeneration.
Before retiring from government service, Taylor was involved in diplomatic efforts surrounding several major international conflicts. He served in Jerusalem as U.S. envoy to the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers. He oversaw reconstruction in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, and from Kabul coordinated U.S. and international assistance to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2003.
He arrived in Kyiv a month after the sudden departure of Yovanovitch and the inauguration of Ukraine’s new president, prepared to steer the embassy through the transition. He was most likely not prepared for what happened next.
In July, Trump would have his now-famous phone conversation with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which he pressed him to launch the investigations. Trump at the time had quietly put a hold on nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine was counting on in its fight against Russian-backed separatists.
In the follow-up to the call, Taylor exchanged texts with two of Trump’s point men on Ukraine as they were trying to get Zelenskiy to commit to the investigations before setting a date for a coveted White House visit.
In a text message to Sondland on Sept. 1, Taylor bluntly questioned Trump’s motives: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told him to call him.
In texts a week later to Sondland and special envoy Kurt Volker, Taylor expressed increased alarm, calling it “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” In a stilted reply, several hours later, Sondland defended Trump’s intentions and suggested they stop the back and forth by text.
Taylor had also texted that not giving the military aid to Ukraine would be his “nightmare” scenario because it sends the wrong message to both Kyiv and Moscow. “The Russians love it. (And I quit).”
U.S. diplomats based at the Kyiv embassy have refused to speak with journalists, reflecting the sensitivity of the impeachment inquiry. The embassy press office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
___
Berry reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.

Trump likens House impeachment inquiry to ‘a lynching’

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump enraged Democrats on Tuesday by comparing their impeachment inquiry to a lynching, assigning the horrors of a deadly and racist chapter in U.S. history to a process laid out in the Constitution.
“That is one word no president ought to apply to himself,” said Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking African American in Congress. “That is a word that we ought to be very, very careful about using” he said.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., called on Trump to delete the tweet.
“Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you. Delete this tweet,” wrote Rush, who is also black.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., tweeted to Trump: “No sir! No, @realDonaldTrump: this is NOT a lynching, and shame on you for invoking such a horrific act that was used as a weapon to terrorize and murder African Americans.”
Republican legislators largely tried to put the focus on what they said was the unfair way in which Democrats are conducting the impeachment inquiry
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump’s description was “pretty well accurate.” He called the impeachment effort a “sham” and a “joke” because the president does not know the identity of his accuser, and the process is playing out in private.
Lynchings, or hangings, were used mostly by whites against black men in the South, beginning in the late 19th century amid rising racial tensions. By comparing his possible impeachment to a lynching, Trump also likened Democrats to a lynch mob.
Under pressure over impeachment, blowback over his Syria policy and other issues, the Republican president tweeted Tuesday: “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights.
“All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching. But we will WIN!”
Trump has a habit of trying to portray himself as the victim.
His tweet came a day after he lashed out at critics of his decision — since rescinded — to schedule a major international economic summit for 2020 at one of his Florida golf properties. During remarks Monday, he lamented people who invoke the “phony emoluments clause.”
The clause is in the Constitution and bans presidents from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments, without the consent of Congress. Impeachment and its process are also in the Constitution.
A whistleblower’s complaint that Trump was attempting to use his office for personal political gain during a July 25 phone conversation with Ukraine’s president led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open the impeachment inquiry.
Trump insists he did nothing wrong. He has characterized the conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as “perfect” and argues that sore-loser Democrats are still trying to overturn the 2016 election that put him in the White House and keep him from winning a second term next year.
Lynchings were fueled by anger toward blacks across the South, where many whites blamed their financial problems on newly freed slaves living around them, the NAACP notes.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, a U.S. appeals court in Atlanta was to consider whether federal judges can order grand jury records unsealed in the mob lynching of two black couples . The young black sharecroppers were stopped along a rural road in 1946 by a white mob that dragged them out and shot them multiple times east of Atlanta. More than 100 people reportedly testified before a grand jury, but no one was ever indicted in the deaths of Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey.
___
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

‘Just too much’: Meet the uber-rich who want a wealth tax

By JOSH BOAK AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — When the grand vacation homes of Newport Beach were empty on a beautiful Memorial Day weekend, Molly Munger decided it was time for the U.S. to consider taxing wealth.
As her family’s boat moved through the harbor a few years ago, Munger, whose father is a billionaire investor, saw that many of her neighbors’ houses were sitting dark and vacant. She knew why: The owners now controlled enough money to holiday at one of their several other luxury homes. It didn’t sit right, she said.
“It’s just too much to watch that happen at the top and see what is happening at the bottom,” said Munger, 71, a California civil rights lawyer whose father, Charlie, built his fortune as vice chairman of Warren Buffett’s firm Berkshire Hathaway. “Isn’t it a waste when beautiful homes on the beach are empty for most of the summer?”
Munger is now among a handful of billionaires and multimillionaires making a renewed push for the government to raise their taxes and siphon away some of their holdings. As Democratic presidential candidates debate a new tax on wealth rather than on incomes, this group of uber-rich people is urging them on.
“I believe in free markets. I’m the daughter of a capitalist. But not Darwin-like free, unregulated and red in tooth and claw,” Munger said.
The chief argument from these tycoons, financiers and scions is that the government could spend their money more effectively than they could on their own by improving schools, upgrading infrastructure and protecting the environment. It challenges a long-standing belief among many politicians and economists that lower taxes on corporations and investment incomes are the most efficient way to deliver growth and spread wealth down the income ladder.
The idea also is a direct challenge to the reputed billionaire in the White House, Donald Trump, who once backed a wealth tax but in 2017 enacted a dramatic tax cut that favored the rich.
Twenty people, including one who remained anonymous, signed on to a letter this summer essentially asking to be taxed more. The group included financier George Soros, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and heiress Abigail Disney, and others often involved in liberal causes. Bill Gates, the world’s second richest person, didn’t sign it but has since said he “wouldn’t be against a wealth tax” on a net worth that roughly exceeds $100 billion.
While Democrats have long pushed for higher taxes on the top income tiers, the current debate goes further — whether to impose annual taxes on what people own, not just on what they earn.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has endorsed a wealth tax on holdings above $50 million that could potentially raise as much as $2.75 trillion over 10 years. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ tax would start at $32 million. At last week’s presidential debate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, expressed openness to levying a wealth tax, while Tom Steyer argued for higher taxes on his own $1.6 billion fortune.
There were some detractors: Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang argues wealth taxes in other nations have failed to raise enough revenues.
Former Vice President Joe Biden criticized the Warren and Sanders plans as “demonizing wealth” and argued instead for focusing on income taxes and raising the rates charged on earnings from investments.
Biden’s view is backed by many in the economic establishment, even those who say they support using the tax code to counter income inequality.
Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary and Harvard University president, argues a wealth tax is essentially unworkable. The richest Americans would find ways to avoid it, making it difficult to implement and unlikely to break the hold on politics by powerful companies and rich donors, he said Friday at a panel on wealth taxes at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. Summers estimates that changes to the income tax could raise more than $2 trillion over 10 years from the top earners, but he doubts that a wealth tax would curb the influence of the richest Americans.
But the economists who developed the idea dispute the notion that tax avoidance is an unbreakable law of nature. Wealthier Americans paid taxes in the past when tax avoidance was viewed as freeloading, said Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley whose work has drawn attention to the wealth tax as a fix for worsening inequality.
“The tax system reflects the values of society,” he said.
The top 1% of Americans hold nearly 40% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 50% of Americans effectively control none of it, according to the World Inequality Database, an index Saez helped develop. Many in the wealthiest sliver of that top 1% pay lower rates than most Americans because of how their income gets taxed, according to his calculations.
Ian Simmons is among the well-off declaring they’re ready to pay more.
Simmons runs an investment fund called the Blue Haven Initiative with his wife, Liesel Pritzker Simmons. The 43-year-old joined the effort to recruit other moneyed families to support a wealth tax in the June letter.
The idea of taxing a relatively steady base of trillions of dollars felt consistent to Simmons with what he first learned at the Harvard University introductory economics class taught by Martin Feldstein, who was President Ronald Reagan’s economic adviser.
“This is really a conservative position about increasing the stability of the economy in the long term and having an efficient source of taxation,” he said.
Simmons’ family money came in part from mail order retailer Montgomery Ward, which opened in 1872, an innovation aided by the U.S. Postal Service. The Hyatt hotel chain that helped form his wife’s family fortune was aided by the government’s construction of the interstate highway system.
That’s part of the reason he supports a wealth tax – because his family’s fortune stems in part from government programs, echoing Warren’s key argument for her tax plan.
When Simmons called the retired real estate developer Robert Bowditch this year to endorse the idea, the 80-year-old did the math on what it would mean for his own lifestyle. He figured it would cut into some of his charitable giving, but the returns would be much greater because the public would be able to decide in a democratic fashion on how the money would be spent.
“Charitable giving by itself simply cannot provide enough money to support public goods and services, such as public education, roads and bridges, clean air,” Bowditch said. “It has to be done by taxes.”
Rich people have had limited success as advocates for tax hikes. In 2011, billionaire Buffett’s declaration that he paid a lower tax rate than his employees spawned President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise rates on people making more than $1 million. The so-called “Buffett rule” fizzled in Congress.
In 1999, when Trump was mulling a presidential bid for the Reform Party, he proposed a one-time tax of 14.25% on fortunes above $10 million, saying at the time that it could eliminate the national debt.
“It’s a win-win for the American people,” Trump said then. Asked if the president still supports the idea, the White House declined to comment Tuesday.

Chicago teachers’ strike highlights support staff shortages

By KANTELE FRANKO Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Demands by striking Chicago teachers for more nurses, librarians and social workers are highlighting concerns that resonate in high-poverty school districts nationwide, where shortages of support staff leave educators feeling stretched.
Unions and professional groups for such employees say those jobs often are lower priority when budgets are tight, but their absence can have profound effects on student learning and teachers’ work. They contend support staff is vital to properly address everyday student issues such as physical and mental health problems or homelessness.
In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, the teachers who have been out on strike since last Thursday are seeking commitments for support staff hiring alongside other demands including higher pay and affordable housing citywide. The demands are part of the union’s “social justice” agenda.
Bridget Nelson, a social sciences teacher at a magnet high school in Chicago, said her school is lucky to have a nurse most days but a social worker still is responsible for more than 2,000 students.
“Adolescence is a challenging time, and we worry about depression and stress like a lot of educators,” Nelson said. “Some students have support at home, but others don’t. They should have support at school to help give them what they need.”
The support-staff issue has come up elsewhere in spring protests by thousands of educators in North Carolina and South Carolina; in Minnesota, where a state survey recently found an increase in students’ mental and emotional health concerns; and in strikes in California, where teachers won promises for hundreds of additional nurses and more counselors in Los Angeles schools and more psychologists and special education instructors in Oakland.
Shortages are causing problems in schools across the country, said Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
While discussing labor unions on a visit this month to a government class in an urban Ohio high school, Cropper said she asked the students what they would want prioritized in negotiations. A girl who had attempted suicide answered first: a counselor. Another student wanted a nurse.
“We’ve got kids who are dealing with thinking about committing suicide or coming to school hungry or watched a domestic abuse situation over the weekend,” Cropper said. “We can’t possibly begin to think that we’re going to teach them something that’s going to stick with them until we’ve dealt with these other issues.”
Most teachers don’t have specific training to tackle those sorts of concerns, so they’re advocating for schools to add more colleagues who do, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said.
The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students but has found the average ratio to be nearly double that. The National School Nurses Association’s most recent estimates, from a study published early last year, indicated less than 40% of schools had a full-time nurse and about a quarter didn’t employ one at all.
In those cases, teachers may have to assess and address issues such as gym class injuries, and preventive care can dwindle, said Donna Mazyck, the executive director of the nurses association.
At John Tartan Elementary School in North Las Vegas, an assistant trained in basic first aid often handles minor injuries and distributes basic medications because the nurse splits duty at multiple schools, said Marie Neisess, a veteran teacher and reading specialist there.
The school of 400-plus students also has a counselor, a social worker and a psychologist, but they struggle to keep up with the needs of the student body, which includes children facing challenges such as severe behavioral problems, foster care or a parent’s incarceration, she said.
“We’re all kind of putting Band-Aids on the very big problem that we have here,” Neisess said.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot had campaigned with an education plan that included staffing schools with full-time nurses, social workers and librarians, and enabling students to get mental health services. The district has committed to hiring more nurses, social workers and support staff but objected to making that part of the teachers’ contract.
The union also has expressed concern about the various roles counselors are expected to fill, including as substitute teachers and lunchroom help, and asked for contract language that spells out that people will only be asked to do the jobs for which they are hired.
Pushing for something enforceable in writing makes sense to Matt Mandel, a middle-school English teacher in the Philadelphia School District, who said the local union there has fought to have a nurse and counselor at each school.
“In these urban districts like Philadelphia and Chicago, our kids need more,” Mandel said, “and we always find ways to justify giving them less.”
___
Associated Press reporter Kathleen Foody in Chicago contributed to this report.

Canada’s Trudeau wins 2nd term but nation more divided

By ROB GILLIES Associated Press
TORONTO (AP) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a second term in a stronger-than-expected showing in Canada’s national elections, claiming a “clear mandate” Tuesday despite a Parliament and nation increasingly fractured along regional lines.
Trudeau’s Liberal Party took the most seats in Parliament but lost its majority in Monday’s balloting. That means it will have to rely on an opposition party to pass legislation.
The prime minister’s early morning address to supporters came as his Conservative rival, Andrew Scheer, had just begun speaking to his own backers, forcing TV networks to break away from Scheer.
But the prime minister struck a conciliatory note: “To those who did not vote for us, know that we will work every single day for you, we will govern for everyone.”
With results still trickling in, the Liberals had 157 seats — 13 short of the 170 needed for a majority in the 338-seat House of Commons — while the Conservatives had 121.
While Trudeau claimed a mandate, his party won fewer raw votes nationally than the Conservatives did, and failed to win a single seat in the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the Conservatives dominated.
There is a growing outrage in Alberta, home to the third-largest oil reserves in the world, over Trudeau’s inability to get a pipeline built to the Pacific Coast so that Alberta’s oil can command a higher price.
“To Canadians in Alberta and Saskatchewan,” he said after his victory, “know that you are an essential part of our great country. I have heard your frustration, and I want to be there to support you. Let us all work hard to bring our country together.”
At the same time, Trudeau said Canadians elected a progressive government that will fight climate change. That means he will keep a national carbon tax in place that has also angered western Canada.
In what was supposed to be a concession speech, Scheer said the results showed Trudeau was much weakened since his 2015 election, when pundits had predicted the beginning of another Trudeau dynasty. Trudeau’s father, Pierre, was prime minister from 1968 to 1984, apart from a brief interruption in 1979-80.
“Conservatives have put Justin Trudeau on notice,” Scheer said. “And Mr. Trudeau, when your government falls, Conservatives will be ready, and we will win.”
Canada was also further divided by the electoral success of the separatist Bloc Quebecois in the French-speaking province of Quebec. The Bloc won 32 of the province’s 78 districts, up from 10.
The party, however, didn’t talk about separatism during the campaign and is not expected to seek a referendum for independence from Canada.
Trudeau, 47, prevailed after a series of scandals that diminished his rock-star appeal from 2015 and tarnished his image as a liberal icon.
Old photos of him in blackface and brownface surfaced last month, and Trudeau was also accused of bullying his female attorney general into dropping the prosecution of a Canadian engineering company.
Also, environmentalists have accused him of betrayal for spending billions to buy the pipeline in a so-far unsuccessful bid to get the stalled project moving again. It has been held up by environmental opposition and court challenges.
“I’m surprised at how well Trudeau has done,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. “I don’t think anybody expected Trudeau to get a majority, but they (the Liberals) are not that far off.”
Trudeau’s Liberals are likely to rely on the New Democrats to form a new government and pass legislation. That will further alienate Western Canada because New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh is against the pipeline project.

Russia, Turkey hold talks on future of border region

By SUZAN FRASER and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV Associated Press
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — As the leaders of Russia and Turkey sought to work out the fate of the Syrian border region, the United States ran into a new hitch in getting its troops out of Syria, with neighboring Iraq’s military saying Tuesday that the American forces did not have permission to stay on its territory.
The Iraqi announcement seemed to contradict U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who a day earlier said the forces leaving Syria would deploy in Iraq to fight the Islamic State group.
The conflicting signals underscored how the United States has stumbled from one problem to another in getting its troops out of Syria after President Donald Trump abruptly ordered their withdrawal. Amid fears the Americans’ departure will revive IS, Esper is considering keeping some troops in Syria to protect oil fields held by Kurdish-led fighters, backing away from the full withdrawal first touted by Trump.
After the Iraqi statement, Esper said he would speak to the Iraqi defense minister on Wednesday and underlined that the U.S. has no plans to keep the troops in Iraq “interminably” and intends to “eventually get them home.”
The U.S. pullout opened the door for Turkey to launch its offensive against Kurdish fighters on Oct. 9. After a storm of criticism, Washington moved to broker a five-day cease-fire that was set to expire Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Russia has stepped into the void to strengthen its role as a power broker in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin held talks in the Black Sea town of Sochi just hours before the cease-fire was set to expire.
The talks are likely to be crucial in determining arrangements along the Syrian-Turkish border, where Ankara demands a long “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish fighters.
Seeking protection after being abandoned by the Americans, the Kurds turned to the Syrian government and its main ally, Russia. The Syrian army has advanced into parts of the area, and Russia deployed its troops in some areas to act as a buffer force.
Russia has powerful sway on all sides. Turkey has suggested it wants Russia to persuade the Syrian government to cede it control over a major chunk of territory in the northeast. The Kurds are hoping Russia can keep Turkey out and help preserve some of the autonomy they carved out for themselves during Syria’s civil war.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has vowed to reunite all the territory under Damascus’ rule. On Tuesday, Assad called Erdogan “a thief” and said he was ready to support any “popular resistance” against Turkey’s invasion.
“We are in the middle of a battle and the right thing to do is to rally efforts to lessen the damages from the invasion and to expel the invader sooner or later,” he told troops during a visit to the northwestern province of Idlib.
The immediate question was the fate of the U.S.-brokered cease-fire, which was to run out at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) Tuesday evening.
Erdogan said 1,300 Syrian Kurdish fighters had yet to vacate a stretch of the border as required under the deal. He said 800 fighters had left so far. The Kurdish-led force has said it will carry out the pullout.
If it doesn’t, Erdogan warned Tuesday, “our offensive will continue from where it left off, with a much greater determination.”
“There is no place for the (Kurdish fighters) in Syria’s future. We hope that with Russia’s cooperation, we will rid the region of separatist terror,” he said.
Under the accord, the Kurdish fighters are to vacate a stretch of territory roughly 120 kilometers (75 miles) wide and 30 kilometers (20 miles) deep between the Syrian border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.
But that leaves the situation in the rest of the northeastern border unclear. Currently, other than the few places where Syrian troops have deployed, they are solely in the hands of the Kurdish-led fighters — a situation Ankara has repeatedly said it cannot tolerate. Turkey considers the fighters terrorists, because of their links to Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey.
Turkey wants to control a “safe zone” extending more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) along the border, from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. There, it plans to resettle about 2 million of the roughly 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.
Russia sent a new signal to Turkey about the need to negotiate directly with Assad. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov emphasized that only Damascus could authorize the Turkish troop presence on the Syrian territory.
Assad’s visit Tuesday with Syrian forces in Idlib province underlined Damascus’ goal of regaining the border. Idlib is adjacent to a border enclave that Turkey captured several years ago in another incursion. Turkey also has observation points inside Idlib, negotiated with Russia, to monitor a cease-fire there between the government and opposition fighters and jihadi groups.
Erdogan is “a thief,” Assad told the troops. “He stole the factories and the wheat and the oil in cooperation with Daesh (the Islamic State group) and now is stealing the land.”
He said his government had offered clemency to Kurdish fighters — whom it considers separatists — to “ensure that everyone is ready to resist the aggression” and fight the Turkish assault.
Syrian state media reported, meanwhile, that government forces entered new areas in Hassakeh province at the far eastern end of the border, under the arrangement with the Kurds.
Turkey’s incursion into Syria has led to an international outcry, which has in turn enraged Erdogan, who has accused his NATO allies of not standing by Turkey.
European Council President Donald Tusk condemned the incursion and called on Turkey — which is a candidate for EU membership — to pull out troops.
“No one is fooled by the so-called cease-fire,” Tusk told EU lawmakers. Any course other than a Turkish withdrawal “means unacceptable suffering, a victory for Daesh (the Islamic State group), and a serious threat to European security.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer proposed the establishment of an internationally controlled security zone in Syria, “with the inclusion of Turkey and Russia.”
____
Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Elena Becatoros in Istanbul, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

British PM says he’ll pull Brexit bill if lawmakers delay

By JILL LAWLESS and DANICA KIRKA Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was headed for a showdown Tuesday with lawmakers who want to put the brakes on his drive to push his European Union divorce bill through the House of Commons in just three days and take Britain out of the bloc by Oct. 31.
Johnson said that if Parliament imposes a longer timetable, he will withdraw the bill and call a vote on holding a snap general election — a threat aimed at breaking the political deadlock over Brexit that has dragged on for more than three years since British voters opted to leave the EU.
“I will in no way allow months more of this,” said Johnson, who took power in July vowing that the U.K. would leave the bloc on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, come what may.
“If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead … decides to delay everything until January or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the government continue with this (bill),” he said.
Last week Johnson struck a divorce deal with the 27 other EU leaders, but on Saturday he failed to win Parliament’s backing for it. His only remaining hope of leaving on time is to get lawmakers to pass the Brexit-implementing bill into law before the scheduled departure date, nine days away.
Johnson’s threat to pull the bill, which would turn the exit deal into law, piles pressure on lawmakers as they consider whether to approve the government’s legislation. The bill faces two votes Tuesday, with lawmakers first being asked to approve it in principle, followed by a vote on the government’s schedule for debate and possible amendments.
Johnson said backing the bill would allow lawmakers to “turn the page and allow this Parliament and this country to begin to heal and unite.”
The Brexit deal sets out the terms of Britain’s departure, including measures to maintain an open border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. It also enshrines the right of U.K. and EU citizens living in the other’s territory to continue with their lives, and sets out the multibillion pound (dollar) payments Britain must make to meet its financial obligations to the EU.
But the deal does not cover the nitty gritty of future relations between the U.K. and the EU: Instead, it confirms a transition period lasting until at least the end of 2020 — and possibly 2022 — in which relations will remain frozen as they are now while a permanent new relationship is worked out.
If the bill doesn’t pass and Britain leaves the EU without a deal, there will be no transition period, uncertainty for millions of citizens and a host of new tariffs, customs checks and other barriers to trade on Day 1. Most economists say that would send unemployment rising, the value of the pound plummeting and plunge the U.K. into recession.
Johnson’s Conservatives hold just 288 of the 650 House of Commons seats, so he will need support from opposition and independent lawmakers to pass the bill, though many analysts expect it be approved.
The sticking point is expected to be the three-day timetable because of concerns it doesn’t provide enough time for scrutiny of the 115-page document. Major bills usually take weeks or months to pass through Parliament, giving time for line-by-line scrutiny by lawmakers.
Green lawmaker Caroline Lucas tweeted that lawmakers “had more time to debate the Wild Animals in Circuses Act (affecting 19 animals) than they will to decide the future of 65 million people. It’s hard to think of anything which better illustrates this Govt’s contempt for people, Parliament & democracy.”
Ominously for the government, some lawmakers who support the Brexit deal said they would vote against the short timetable.
“Unless you are prepared to contemplate more expansive debate, there is not the slightest possibility of considering the deal that has been obtained within the time available,” Ken Clarke, a senior lawmaker recently ousted from Johnson’s Conservative Party group in Parliament, told the Guardian newspaper.
Johnson’s government had sought a “straight up-and-down vote” Monday on the agreement.
But the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, refused to allow it because lawmakers voted to delay approving the Brexit deal on Saturday, and parliamentary rules bar the same measure from being considered a second time during a session of Parliament unless something has changed.
Bercow’s ruling plunged the tortuous Brexit process back into grimly familiar territory: acrimonious uncertainty.
If Parliament agrees to Johnson’s timetable, opposition lawmakers plan to seek amendments that could substantially alter the bill, for example by adding a requirement that the Brexit deal be put to voters in a new referendum, or by requiring the government to extend the transition period until a new trade deal with the EU has been agreed.
The government says such major amendments would wreck its legislation, and it will withdraw the bill if the opposition plan succeeds.
With the Brexit deadline looming and British politicians still squabbling over the country’s departure terms, Johnson has been forced to ask the EU for a three-month delay to Britain’s departure date.
He did that, grudgingly, to comply with a law passed by Parliament ordering the government to postpone Brexit rather than risk the economic damage that could come from a no-deal exit.
European Council President Donald Tusk said Tuesday that EU leaders “will decide in coming days” whether to grant Britain that extension — what would be the third.
___
Associated Press writer Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
___
Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

South Sudan’s former child soldiers struggle to move on

By SAM MEDNICK Associated Press
YAMBIO, South Sudan (AP) — When he escaped the armed group that had abducted him at the age of 15, the child soldier swore he’d never go back. But the South Sudanese teen still thinks about returning to the bush, six months after the United Nations secured his release.
“Being asked to kill someone is the hardest thing,” he told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity for his safety.
And yet the army offered him a kind of stability he has yet to find outside it. “I had everything, bedding and clothes, I’d just steal what I needed … here, I haven’t received what I was expecting,” he said.
He lives with family, adrift, waiting to attend a U.N.-sponsored job skills program, struggling to forget his past.
There are an estimated 19,000 child soldiers in South Sudan, one of the highest rates in the world, according to the U.N. As the country emerges from a five-year civil war that killed almost 400,000 people and displaced millions, some worry the fighting could re-ignite if former child soldiers aren’t properly reintegrated into society.
“Without more support, the consequence is that the children will move towards the barracks where there’s social connection, food and something to do,” said William Deng Deng, chairman for South Sudan’s national disarmament demobilization and reintegration commission. “They loot and raid and it will begin to create insecurity.”
Since the fighting broke out in 2013, the U.N. children’s agency has facilitated the release of more than 3,200 child soldiers from both government and opposition forces.
Yet even after a peace deal was signed a year ago, the rate of forced child soldier recruitment by both sides in the conflict is increasing, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said in a statement earlier this month.
“Ironically, the prospect of a peace deal has accelerated the forced recruitment of children, with various groups now seeking to boost their numbers before they move into the cantonment sites,” said commission chairwoman Yasmin Sooka. According to the peace deal the government and opposition should have 41,500 troops trained and unified into one national army.
Children who leave armed groups often struggle to adjust.
The AP followed several child soldiers among 121 released in February. Many said they are still haunted by their pasts, unable to talk about their experiences for fear of being stigmatized and often incapable of controlling their anger.
“Whenever I think about the bush, even if I’m playing football, I feel like stopping and picking something up and hitting my friends,” said a 13-year-old. The AP is not using the names of the former child soldiers to protect their identities.
Abducted by armed men when he was 11, he worked as a spy for an opposition group and at times was forced to witness and partake in horrific acts. He watched a soldier kill a child for refusing to do his chores, and he was forced to set a house on fire, burning alive everyone inside.
“I hear those people screaming in my dreams,” he said.
Once released, the former child soldiers are given a three-month reintegration package including food and the opportunity for educational and psychosocial support. However, the system is overburdened and underfunded.
“It’s a lot of work. Sometimes I can only spend 15 to 20 minutes with each child,” said Joseph Ndepi, a social worker with World Vision who is supporting 46 children.
Many families don’t know how to deal with their children’s change in behavior once they’ve returned.
“When he initially got out he was so rough he’d beat the kids, and when our mom tried to intervene he’d turn on her,” one 16-year-old said of her elder brother. Both children were abducted and released from armed groups at the same time.
While the girl wanted to forget the past, her brother tried to relive it.
At night he’d sneak out of the house and perform mock ambushes to see how close he could get to robbing people’s properties without being caught, the 17-year-old said. Since starting therapy he has stopped the late-night excursions and reined in his temper.
Some of the children’s behavior is related to the power they felt in the army, said Kutiote Justin, a social worker with Catholic Medical Mission Board, an international aid group. One former child soldier he works with insists on calling himself “the commander.”
A lack of resources for reintegration could hurt long-term assistance.
About 420 children have participated in vocational courses to learn professions such as welding, carpentry and tailoring, yet it’s unclear if there will be enough funding to continue past December.
Almost $5 million is needed for the next two years but currently only $500,000 is available, according to UNICEF.
“Donors aren’t funding to the same extent they used to and now there’s potentially an even greater need,” said spokesman Yves Willemot. And more child soldiers are expected to be released in the near future, he said.
South Sudan’s government isn’t investing in child soldier reintegration, according to the national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration commission. The hope is that once a unity government is formed in mid-November, a key part of the peace deal, the international community will be more inclined to contribute.
But the peace deal is fraught with delays and questionable political will. The government hasn’t committed the $100 million it pledged for the peace process, and key elements such as training a unified army have yet to be realized.
Meanwhile, families whose children have returned from the fighting are doing what they can to keep them from leaving again.
In August the 17-year-old felt lonely, so he packed his bags and headed for the bush. He got as far as the main road before his family’s words echoed through his head.
“Stay with your people, don’t go to that place,” he said, recalling their advice. “Just stay here in peace.”
___
Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa

Oslo police shoot to stop man driving on sidewalk, 3 injured

By JAN M. OLSEN Associated Press
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — An armed Norwegian man stole an ambulance and drove it along a sidewalk in Oslo on Tuesday, injuring two toddlers as police tried to stop him by shooting at the tires and ramming the vehicle.
The 32-year-old man was injured and arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, authorities said.
Inside the stolen ambulance, police found an Uzi submachine gun, a shotgun and what they said were “large amounts” of narcotics.
“It is too early to say whether this is terror-related, but we are investigating broadly and fully,” police said in a statement.
Investigator Grete Lier Mettid said the suspect was known to have had ties to far-right groups.
Police did not identify the man by name.
“It is, however, too early to say anything about the motive,” Lier Mettid told a news conference in the Norwegian capital.
Johan Fredriksen, a senior police officer, said the ambulance ran into a stroller carrying two seven-month old twins, though they were not believed to be seriously injured.
An elderly couple who dived under a parked car to avoid the ambulance escaped injury.
Police shot at the tires to stop the ambulance and did not target the man, Fredriksen said. The vehicle stopped after being rammed by police.
A video posted by several Norwegian media showed how police officers pulled the man out of the ambulance through the side window because the front door had been damaged when it collided with obstacles, including a road sign.
The yellow-and-blue ambulance was stolen after authorities responded to a traffic accident on an Oslo traffic circle in which a car had turned over. The man left the scene on foot and pointed a weapon at police officers before stealing the ambulance.
A 25-year-old woman who was a passenger in the overturned car was later arrested. Both the man and the woman are known to the police, Lier Mettid told reporters.
Anders Bayer, a spokesman for Oslo University Hospital, confirmed to Norwegian news agency NTB that the ambulance was stolen by an armed person. Three employees in the vehicle when it was stolen were unharmed, Bayer added.
The Aftenposten newspaper published a photo showing a man wearing green trousers lying next to the vehicle surrounded by police officers. Another photo in the daily showed a handcuffed man, flanked by police, walking toward an ambulance stretcher.
A witness told the newspaper that the ambulance was driving at high speed followed by a police car in pursuit.
“I heard several shots,” Omar Khatujev told Aftenposten.

More choices and stable premiums for ‘Obamacare’ next year

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumers will have more health insurance choices next year under the much-debated Obama health care law and premiums will dip slightly for many, the Trump administration announced Tuesday.
President Donald Trump was elected on a promise to repeal “Obamacare.” But despite his repeated efforts the program has stabilized three years into his administration. That may be short-lived.
The administration is asking a federal appeals court in New Orleans to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional, an overhang of uncertainty clouding its future.
For now, the Department of Health and Human Services is touting a second consecutive year of positive-sounding numbers. An additional 20 insurers will participate for 2020, expanding consumer choice in many states, officials said. Nearly 70 percent of customers will have three or more insurers from which to pick a plan.
About 10 million people are covered through the health law’s insurance markets, which offer taxpayer-subsidized private plans for people who aren’t covered on the job. Former President Barack Obama’s namesake law will be 10 years old next year.
Premiums for a hypothetical 27-year-old choosing a standard plan will decline 4% on average in 2020 for states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website, the Trump administration said. About a dozen states run their own sign-up websites, but most rely on HealthCare.gov.
A low-cost midrange plan for that hypothetical 27-year-old will charge monthly premiums of $374 next year, officials said. The law’s income-based subsidies can drop that to around $50.
However, people who don’t qualify for income-based assistance must pay full price, and that’s before any deductibles and copays. Unsubsidized customers may just decide to go uninsured, particularly if they’re healthy.
A previous Republican Congress repealed the law’s unpopular penalty to get more people signed up — fines for going without coverage.
Six states will see premiums decline by 10% or more, officials said. They are Delaware, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.
Three states — Indiana, Louisiana and New Jersey — will see premiums increase 10% or more.
Even as it pursues “Obamacare’s” demise in the courts, the Trump administration is trying to take credit for the program’s current stability.
“Until Congress gets around to replacing it, the president will do what he can to fix the problems created by this system for millions of Americans,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said. “The president who was supposedly trying to sabotage this law has been better at running it than the guy who wrote it.”
Independent experts say it’s more complicated than that.
They credit the Trump administration for working with a dozen states to approve waivers that can bring down premiums by setting up a backstop system to pay bills from the costliest patients.
However, experts say the original design of the law’s subsidies is probably the major stabilizing force. People eligible for financial assistance are insulated from price spikes because they pay only a fixed percentage of their income. Because their own costs didn’t change much, customers with subsidies kept coming back to the market through years of double-digit increases in list-price premiums.
“As long as the subsidies are in place the changes that are happening … are not going to push this market off a cliff,” Standard & Poor’s director and lead analyst Deep Banerjee said.
Experts say yet another factor is that insurers that have stuck with the program have learned over time how to operate profitably.
Although the program is stable, enrollment has been slowly eroding since Trump took office, from 12.2 million in 2017 to 11.4 million this year. The slippage has come mainly in the HealthCare.gov states, where the federal government runs sign-up season. Slashing the ad budget was one of the Trump administration’s early actions.
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has recommended that the administration follow standard federal practices by setting sign-up goals and actively managing the program to meet enrollment targets. Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the administration doesn’t believe such targets are needed and instead her agency has focused on keeping the HealthCare.gov website running smoothly and improving the enrollment experience for customers.
Verma also disclosed that the administration has made some “minor” changes in how it reports data about the program. While those tweaks appear to be in the weeds, they’re likely to get close attention from Democrats who accuse Trump of “sabotage” of the health law.
Sign-up season starts Nov. 1 in most states and runs through Dec. 15. States that run their own open enrollment may have different dates.
The appeals court in New Orleans could issue its ruling during that time, but Azar said he’s not concerned even if the judges say the whole program should be tossed.
“Our messaging would be to keep calm and carry on,” he said, noting that the case is expected to go to the Supreme Court. “There will be no immediate disruption to anyone.”