Akcakale, OC T 11 (AP/UNB) — Turkey pressed its air and ground assault against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria on Thursday for a second day, pounding the region with airstrikes and an artillery bombardment that raised columns of black smoke in a border town and sent panicked civilians scrambling to get out.
Amid the fierce fighting, residents fled with their belongings loaded into cars, pickup trucks and motorcycle rickshaws, while others escaped on foot. The U.N. refugee agency said tens of thousands were on the move, and aid agencies warned that nearly a half-million people near the border were at risk.
It was a wrenchingly familiar scene for many who had fled the militants of the Islamic State group only a few years ago.
There were casualties on both sides: Turkish officials in two border provinces said mortar fire from Syria killed at least six civilians, including a 9-month-old boy and three girls under 15. On the Syrian side, seven civilians and eight Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began, according to activists in Syria.
The Turkish offensive was launched three days after U.S. President Donald Trump opened the way by pulling American troops from their positions near the border alongside their Kurdish allies.
At a time when Trump faces an impeachment inquiry, the move drew swift criticism from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, along with many national defense experts, who say it has endangered not only the Kurds and regional stability but U.S. credibility as well. The Syrian Kurdish militia was the only U.S. ally in the campaign that brought down the Islamic State group in Syria.
Trump warned Turkey to act with moderation and safeguard civilians. But the opening barrage showed little sign of holding back: The Turkish Defense Military said its jets and artillery had struck 181 targets so far.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the military intends to move 30 kilometers (19 miles) into northern Syria and that its operation will last until all "terrorists are neutralized."
More than a dozen columns of thick smoke rose in and around the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, one of the offensive's first main targets. Turkish officials said the Kurdish militia has fired dozens of mortars into Turkish border towns, including Akcakale.
As the shelling intensified, cars packed with civilians crowded a bridge linking Syria and Iraq.
"When we came, there were about four lanes of cars on the road and a 1-kilometer-long queue of cars," said Murad Hassan, a Syrian Kurd from Qamishli.
A Kurdish-led group and Syrian activists said that despite the bombardment, Turkish troops had not made much progress on several fronts. Their claims could not be independently verified.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 109 "terrorists" were killed, a reference to the Syrian Kurdish fighters. He did not elaborate, and reports from the area did not indicate anything remotely close to such a large number of casualties.
Erdogan also warned the European Union not to call Ankara's incursion into Syria an "invasion." He threatened, as he has in the past, to "open the gates" and let Syrian refugees flood into Europe.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish forces halted all operations against IS in order to focus on fighting Turkish troops, Kurdish and U.S. officials said. The Syrian Kurdish fighters, along with U.S. troops, have been involved in mopping-up operations against IS fighters in the desert after their territorial hold was toppled earlier this year.
Ankara says the Kurdish militia is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has led an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people. The U.S. and other Western countries also deem the PKK a terrorist group.
Turkey, a NATO member, considers its operations against the Kurdish militia in Syria a matter of survival, and it also insists it won't tolerate the virtual self-rule that the Kurds have carved out in northern Syria along the border.
The Turkish assault aims to create a corridor of control along the length of the border — a so-called "safe zone" — clearing out the Kurdish fighters. Such a zone would end the Kurds' autonomy in the area and put much of their population under Turkish control. Ankara wants to settle 2 million Syrian refugees, mainly Arabs, in the zone.
Turkey began its offensive, dubbed "Operation Peace Spring," on Wednesday with airstrikes and artillery shelling, followed by ground troops later in the day.
Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said their fighters repelled the Turkish ground attacks. "No advance as of now," he tweeted Thursday.
But Maj. Youssef Hammoud, a spokesman for Turkish-backed opposition fighters in the operation, said they captured the village of Yabisa, near Tal Abyad, a spokesman for the fighters said. In a tweet, he called it "the first village to win freedom."
Turkey's state-run news agency says at least 11 villages were captured — nine in Tel Abyad and two in Ras al-Ayn.
Clashes took place in the predominantly Kurdish border town of Ras al-Ayn, one of the few urban centers under the Kurdish administration, according to media activists and a war monitor. Syrian fighters backed by Turkey advanced from the eastern and western sides of the town, according to the North Press Agency, which operates in Kurdish-held areas, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The refugee agency UNHCR said tens of thousands of people have fled their homes since Wednesday, while the Observatory put the figure at more than 60,000.
International aid agencies warned of an escalating humanitarian crisis. The statement was co-signed by 14 organizations, including Doctors of the World and Oxfam, saying an estimated 450,000 people live within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of the Turkish border "and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritize the protection of civilians."
There already are more than 90,000 internally displaced people in the region, it said, with camps and detention centers holding tens of thousands of fighters with families.
Trump's decision marked a stark change in his position from last year, when he vowed to stand by the Kurds, saying they "fought with us" and "died with us." On Wednesday, Trump called Turkey's operation "a bad idea," but also said he didn't want the U.S. to be involved in "endless, senseless wars."
The U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a statement on Turkey's operation following a closed meeting. The five European council members who called the meeting — the U.K., France, Germany, Belgium and Poland — urged Ankara in a joint statement afterward "to cease the unilateral military action." They warned that "renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements."
In Copenhagen, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was "absolutely essential" to de-escalate the conflict.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg avoided any direct criticism of Turkey's operation, but he urged Ankara to show "restraint," noting in Athens that the common enemy in the region is still the Islamic State group.
The Syrian government has condemned Turkey's military incursion and vowed to repel it.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the operation and warned of "ethnic cleansing" against the Kurds. He said Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the "gallant Kurdish people."
Kurdish forces are holding more than 10,000 IS members. Those include 2,000 foreigners, among them two British militants believed to be part of a cell that beheaded hostages. El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey are part of nearly 50 IS members to be moved by Friday from Syria to Iraq, according to two Iraqi intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Washington, OCT 11 (AP/UNB) — The acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday criticized a judge's ruling barring his agency from relying solely on databases that have at times led to the wrongful detention of American citizens.
Speaking Thursday at the White House, Matthew Albence called the September ruling an example of "judicial overreach" that threatened public safety.
Following Albence was a Texas sheriff who suggested the ruling would require releasing jailed immigrants who were "drunks" and would "run over your children," a comment that was immediately denounced by advocates.
U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. barred ICE from issuing requests known as "detainers" based solely on database searches considered to be unreliable. The ruling applies to states that do not explicitly authorize civil immigration arrests using detainers.
ICE cross-checks jail rosters around the U.S. with federal databases that track people's nationality and immigration status. When it detects that a person is unauthorized to be in the U.S., ICE will issue a detainer asking the agency to hold the person until he or she can be taken into immigration custody.
Advocates say relying on electronic databases alone to issue detainers is unreliable because they often have erroneous data and can lead to falsely accusing people of being in the U.S. illegally.
Citing ICE's data, Birotte wrote that 42 detainers between May 2015 and February 2016 were explicitly lifted because the person was a citizen. Nearly 800 detainers out of almost 13,000 issued during that time were withdrawn because the person was a citizen "or otherwise not subject to removal," the judge wrote.
Asked about the detention of Americans, Albence said he could not speak about ongoing litigation.
"Many times, individuals that we come across that are United States citizens don't even know that they are because the laws around citizenship are so complicated," he said.
President Donald Trump — as well as his top officials and allies — has long assailed judges who have ruled against his administration's efforts to restrict immigration and ramp up arrests and deportations.
Jennie Pasquarella, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which helped bring the lawsuit, said the ruling was "critical to protecting the rights of everyone" and ensuring that ICE does not subject people to baseless arrests and detention.
U.S. immigration agencies earlier this year detained an American-born 18-year-old for more than three weeks even though he had copies of paperwork documenting his citizenship.
A Democratic congresswoman from California visiting a Border Patrol processing center in South Texas in July encountered a 13-year-old girl holding a U.S. passport next to her mother, who had been accused of crossing the border illegally.
Albence spoke next to local sheriffs from around the U.S. who are cooperating with ICE. As the agency has faced resistance to its operations in some parts of the country, the Trump administration has held several White House events featuring local officials who support its immigration priorities.
Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn of Fort Worth, Texas, said many unauthorized immigrants in his jail were accused of felonies like murder and sexual assault as well as drunken-driving offenses. He said Birotte's ruling "will put our communities in jeopardy."
"If we have to turn them loose or they get released, they're coming back to your neighborhood and my neighborhood," he said. "These drunks will run over your children, and they will run over my children."
Waybourn said about 7% of the 4,200 people currently detained in Tarrant County are in the U.S. illegally. His office issued a statement saying that nearly 25% of the unauthorized immigrants jailed in Tarrant County were accused of driving while intoxicated or being a DWI "repeat offender."
The sheriff also acknowledged that many people who cross the U.S.-Mexico border migrate "looking for a better day, for something better for their family."
Texas State Rep. Chris Turner, whose district includes Tarrant County, tweeted that the comments were "ignorant, irresponsible fear-mongering" in light of the August mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman alleged to have targeted Mexicans killed 22 people.
Pasquarella said Waybourn's statement was "fueled by xenophobia and racism."
"They're applying this narrative they would never apply to citizens just because they're not citizens," she said.
Stockholm, OC T 11 (AP/UNB) — Nobel Prizes for literature were awarded Thursday to two writers enmeshed in Europe's social and political fault lines: a liberal Pole who has irked her country's conservative government and an Austrian accused by many liberals of being an apologist for Serbian war crimes.
The rare double announcement — with the 2018 prize going to Poland's Olga Tokarczuk and the 2019 award to Austria's Peter Handke — came after no literature prize was awarded last year due to sex abuse allegations that rocked the Swedish Academy, which awards the literature prize.
Yet if prize organizers hoped to get through this year's awards without controversy, they will likely be disappointed.
The Swedish Academy called Handke "one of the most influential writers in Europe" and praised his work for exploring "the periphery and the specificity of human experience."
But the 76-year-old author has long faced criticism for his vigorous defense of the Serbs during the 1990s wars that devastated the Balkans as Yugoslavia disintegrated. He spoke at the 2006 funeral of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who at the time was facing war crimes charges, calling him "a rather tragic man."
Handke — who once called for the Nobel Prize to be abolished — said he was "astonished" to receive the literature award.
"I never thought they would choose me," Handke told reporters outside his home in suburban Paris.
"It was very courageous by the Swedish academy, this kind of decision," he added. "These are good people."
If Handke's victory caused uncomfortable ripples, the choice of Tokarczuk was welcomed by liberal-minded authors and readers in her native Poland and beyond.
The 57-year-old novelist, known for her humanist themes and playful, subversive streak, has often irked Poland's populists and conservatives. The academy said she was chosen for works that explore the "crossing of boundaries as a form of life."
Already a major cultural figure in Poland, Tokarczuk has a growing international profile, especially since she won the Booker International prize in 2018 for the novel "Flights."
She told Polish broadcaster TVN on Thursday that she was "terribly happy and proud" that her novels, which describe events in small towns in Poland "can be read as universal and can be important for people around the world."
Handke has been a big name in European literature for decades, crafting works — starting with his first novel, "The Hornets," in 1966 — that combine introspection and a provocative streak. One early play was called "Offending the Audience" and featured actors insulting theatergoers.
He has written screenplays, several of them for German director Wim Wenders, who also filmed Handke's 1970 novel, "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick."
He was praised by the Swedish Academy for writing powerfully about catastrophe, notably in "A Sorrow Beyond Dreams," his 1972 autobiographical novel about his mother's suicide.
But his staunch support of the Serbs during the 1990s Balkans wars has set him at odds with many other Western intellectuals.
In a 1996 essay, "Justice for Serbia," Handke accused Western news media of always depicting Serbs as aggressors. He denied that genocide was committed when Bosnian Serb troops massacred some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the enclave of Srebrenica in 1995, and was an opponent of NATO's airstrikes against Serbia for that country's violent crackdown in Kosovo in the late 1990s. In an interview with Serbia's state TV earlier this year, Handke said those behind the bombing "don't belong to Europe and the planet Earth."
Handke's views led novelist Salman Rushdie in 1999 to call him a contender for "International Moron of the Year." Rushdie's publicist at Penguin Random House said Thursday that Rushdie stood by what he wrote in 1999.
Novelist Jennifer Egan, president of PEN America, said the writers' group deeply regretted the choice of Handke.
"We are dumbfounded by the selection of a writer who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide," she said. "At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than this."
In 2006, Handke turned down the Heinrich Heine award from the German city of Duesseldorf after his selection sparked a row among the city's politicians. His selection as winner of the International Ibsen Award for drama in 2014 also prompted protests from human rights groups.
That same year, he told the Austrian Press Agency that the Nobel Prize should be abolished because of its "false canonization" of literature.
Serbian officials and media hailed Handke on Thursday as a "great friend of Serbia," but Kosovans reacted angrily to his Nobel Prize. Vlora Citaku, Kosovo's ambassador to the United States, tweeted that "In a world full of brilliant writers, the Nobel committee chooses to reward a propagator of ethnic hatred & violence. Something has gone terribly wrong!"
Albanian Foreign Minister Gent Cakaj, who was born in Kosovo, tweeted that the award was "an ignoble & shameful act."
In contrast, the win by Tokarczuk — Poland's fifth Nobel literature laureate — was greeted with praise even by her erstwhile critics.
Tokarcuzk has been attacked by Polish conservatives — and received death threats — for criticizing aspects of the country's past, including its episodes of anti-Semitism. She is also a strong critic of Poland's current right-wing government.
Her 2014 novel "The Books of Jacob" tackles the forced conversion of Polish Jews to Catholicism in the 18th century. Her book "Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead" is a crime thriller with feminist and animal-rights themes that offers a sometimes unflattering depiction of small-town Polish life.
Culture Minister Piotr Glinski, who said earlier this week that he has not finished any of Tokarczuk's books, tweeted his congratulations and said he now felt obliged to go back and read her books all the way through.
Polish President Andrzej Duda called it a "great day for Polish literature."
Tokarczuk is only the 15th woman to win the Nobel literature prize in more than a century. Of the 11 Nobels awarded so far this week, all the other laureates have been men.
Both literature winners will receive a full cash prize, valued this year at 9 million kronor ($918,000), a gold medal and a diploma at a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10.
The literature prize was canceled last year after an exodus of members from the exclusive Swedish Academy following sex abuse allegations. Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of a former academy member, was convicted last year of two rapes in 2011.
The Nobel Foundation had warned that another group would award the literature prize if the academy didn't improve its tarnished image, but said in March it was satisfied the Swedish Academy had revamped itself and restored trust.
The 2018 and 2019 awards were chosen by the Swedish Academy's Nobel Committee, a new body made up of four academy members and five "external specialists." Nobel organizers say the committee suggests two names that then must be approved by the Swedish Academy. It's unclear whether academy members simply rubber-stamped the experts' choice.
The literature awards follow Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine handed out earlier this week. The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Friday and the economics award on Monday.
Hong Kong, OC T 11 (AP/UNB) — Under pressure from China, Apple has removed a smartphone app that enabled Hong Kong protesters to track police. It has cut off access in mainland China to a news app that extensively covered the anti-government demonstrations. And it has made it harder to find an emoji representing the Taiwanese national flag.
The tech company's latest acts of capitulation to China's ruling Communist Party have alienated some Hong Kong consumers and angered democracy activists around the world. But the truth is, few U.S. companies have as much of their business tethered to China as Apple.
"That's the price you pay if you want to be in the market," said Matt Schrader, a China analyst for the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund. "You have to abide by demands to censor information: anything that paints the party or its history, or its top leaders, in an unflattering light, or disagrees with their preferred portrayal of China as a country."
Apple relies on Chinese factories to assemble iPhones, which generate most of the company's profits. Apple has also cultivated a loyal following in the country. China has emerged as the company's third-largest market behind the U.S. and Europe, accounting for 20% of its sales during its past fiscal year.
President Donald Trump's trade war with China has already complicated things for Apple, raising fears that Beijing will impose measures to hurt Apple in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese products and sanctions against Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications equipment giant.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has spent much of the past year walking a thin line, trying to prod a truce between the U.S. and China while also trying to protect his company's interests.
His efforts so far have largely paid off, helping to shield the iPhone from being hit by tariffs in either the U.S. or China. But that could change in mid-December, when the Trump administration has promised to expand import duties on more consumer electronics.
With the specter of those tariffs, Apple has even more of an incentive to placate China's government and avoid provoking Beijing.
In a worst-case scenario, analysts have estimated retaliatory action from China could cut Apple's profit 10% to 20%. That would translate into a loss of $6 billion to $12 billion in a single year, based on Apple's profits last year.
Apple defended its decision Thursday to pull the police-tracking HKmap.live from its online app store. For some people in Hong Kong, the app was a handy tool that helped steer them away from possible baton charges, volleys of tear gas and police ID checks.
But the company said the app "has been used to target and ambush police" and "threaten public safety."
"Criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement," Apple said. "This app violates our guidelines and local laws."
Thursday's move followed pressure from various channels, including the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily, which asked: "Is Apple guiding Hong Kong thugs?"
Hong Kong's crisis has put pressure on those doing business with China to take sides. The protests were triggered by a now-abandoned government plan to allow criminal suspects to be extradited for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts in mainland China. It has escalated into a broader battle over Beijing's efforts to curb the Western-style civil liberties and autonomy promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997.
Beijing's criticism of Apple followed government attacks last weekend on the NBA over a tweet by the general manager of the Houston Rockets in support of the protesters. China's state TV canceled broadcasts of NBA games.
One of the police-tracking app's users, Hong Kong office worker Acko Wong, 26, scoffed at the suggestion that the app helped give free rein to criminals.
"How do you ambush a group of police with equipment and gear like helmets and shields?" he asked.
Sharing the skepticism were U.S. politicians like Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who tweeted criticism of the company Thursday: "Who is really running Apple? Tim Cook or Beijing?"
Apple didn't reply to emailed requests to explain other recent measures criticized as caving in to China.
The company cut off mainland access to the news website Quartz, which has covered the Hong Kong protests. CEO Zach Seward denounced "this kind of government censorship of the internet." The news app was still available in Hong Kong.
Apple also recently removed an emoji representing the Taiwanese flag — which China doesn't recognize — from the virtual keyboard of its smartphone operating system in Hong Kong and Macau. The emoji could still be found if users searched for it.
The latest moves are on top of Beijing's previous demands that Apple remove virtual private network apps from its online store in China. China has sought to tighten control over VPNs, which create encrypted links between computers and can be used to see blocked websites that the government has deemed subversive.
London, OC T 11 (AP/UNB) — Protesters in New York City brought traffic to a standstill in the city's busiest hub and an activist in London climbed atop a plane as climate change demonstrators entered the fourth day of rallies around the world.
Protesters transported a green boat on a trailer into Times Square and then sat down and refused police orders to move.
The boat bore the logo of the activist group Extinction Rebellion. It also had the words "Act Now" written on it and a string of brightly colored flags.
Some of the demonstrators carried signs in the shape of orange rescue lifebuoys, with the words, "Save our Future."
The New York Police Department made dozens of civil disobedience arrests and removed the vessel some time later, which led to re-opened area streets and brought the traffic back to normal.
In London, a climate change activist scaled a British Airways plane at London City Airport. Extinction Rebellion identified the activist as a former Paralympic cyclist. A video streamed by the group showed the activist clinging to the fuselage.
British Airways says that customers were booked onto alternative flights to Amsterdam.
In a separate incident, BBC Newsnight political editor Nicholas Watt tweeted that his flight from London to Dublin had been grounded after a protester stood up to deliver a lecture on climate change just as it was to take off.
Activists sought to shut down London City Airport on Thursday as part of their wave of protests worldwide.
The environmental protests have been taking place in cities around the world.
The group got its start in London last year, and has since spread to other countries.