Sanaa, Nov 5 (AP/UNB) — Fighting has escalated around Yemen's key port city of Hodeida, with more than 150 combatants killed over the weekend from both the rebel and government-backed sides, officials said Sunday.
Airstrikes and naval artillery pounded rebel positions around the Red Sea coastal city, where government backed-troops are launching a major ground assault to try to wrest it from dug-in rebels. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The rebels, known as Houthis, said they repelled the latest offensive on Hodeida, killing or wounding 215 troops, but did not provide a breakdown. They said they destroyed 20 armored vehicles over the past 24 hours.
Fierce fighting also erupted in the provinces of Bayda, to the south, and Saada, a Houthi stronghold in the north, they added.
The offensive came despite recent calls by the Trump administration for a cease-fire by late November.
Yemen has been at war since March 2015 when the Houthis occupied northern regions and forced the government into exile. Since then, a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition supporting the largely exiled government has blockaded the rebel-held north and waged a devastating air campaign, causing thousands of deaths. The U.S. has sold billions of dollars' worth of arms to Saudi Arabia and provides logistical and other support to the coalition.
The coalition accuses the Houthis of acting as Iran's proxy.
The war has led to one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. Three-quarters of Yemen's people require life-saving assistance, according to the U.N. Population Fund. An estimated 10,000 people have been killed and more than 8 million are at risk of starvation from a looming famine.
The regional director of the U.N. children's agency, Geert Cappelaere, said the warring sides in Yemen make it difficult to deliver and distribute humanitarian aid to the country.
He said the situation is a "living hell" for all Yemeni children, singling out the death last week of 7-year-old Amal Hussein who had suffered from severe malnutrition.
"Unfortunately, Amal is not the only Yemeni child suffering that fate," he told a news conference in Amman, Jordan. "Thirty thousand children in Yemen die every single year of malnutrition as one of the most important underlying causes. There is not one Amal — there are many thousands of Amals."
The Associated Press had photographed Amal — whose name means "hope" in Arabic — in August. A photograph of the emaciated child with a protruding rib cage and stick-like arms also appeared recently on the front page of The New York Times.
Medics say her death was the result of insufficient medical care as supplies dwindle and many people like Amal live far from treatment centers.
Mariam Ali, Amal's mother, told the AP on Sunday that she had been walking on foot under the rain for over an hour to reach a health center when her daughter died in the middle of the road lasts week.
"I collapsed and only woke up to find myself home surrounded by neighbors who wrapped me in a blanket while my husband took Amal away," Mariam said.
She has six children who have suffered bouts of vomiting and diarrhea but recovered, whereas while Amal was sick for four years before she passed away.
Colombo, Nov 5 (AP/UNB) — China and India are closely watching the constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka, which has been a battleground in their struggle for geopolitical supremacy in South Asia.
Chinese and Indian diplomats have been careful not to overtly take sides in the political turmoil, which has seen President Maithripala Sirisena oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replace him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, and suspend Parliament.
Wickremesinghe, meanwhile, has holed up at the prime minister's residence and insisted he is Sri Lanka's rightful leader.
The caution exercised by the Asian giants stands in contrast to calls from Western diplomats for Parliament to immediately be summoned for a floor vote on Rajapaksa's appointment and underscores the economic and military importance the countries place on the Indian Ocean island nation.
"They're hedging their bets," said Bharath Gopalaswamy, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. India and China "both have stakes in the global system and want to play a bigger role, so they have to signal they'll work with whomever."
For China, Sri Lanka is a critical link in its massive Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to use infrastructure projects to expand trade across a vast arc of 65 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa and Europe. It has handed out billions of dollars in loans for Sri Lankan projects over the past decade.
Located just 23 kilometers (14 miles) off its southeast coast, India sees Sri Lanka as a bulwark in its military defenses to ward off potential Chinese incursions and also sees the island as a key partner for regional trade. India has grown wary of China's economic influence over Sri Lanka and was troubled by a 2014 port visit from a Chinese submarine and warship.
Sri Lanka's ties to both nations date back thousands of years. It was a stop along China's old Silk Road trade routes, where merchants picked up pepper, cinnamon, ivory and pearl.
Sri Lanka traces much of its genealogy and culture to India, with folklore saying the island's majority Sinhalese are descendants of an Indian prince banished there 2,000 years ago.
The nation's minority Tamils, meanwhile, are in part the descendants of more than a million tea and rubber plantation workers brought to Sri Lanka from southern India by British colonial rulers in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Yet that hasn't always led to smooth relations. During Sri Lanka's decadeslong civil war, which pitted Tamil rebels against the government, India intervened in the 1980s by sending a peacekeeping force that quickly found itself engaged in battle with the rebels. They were asked to withdraw a few years later amid allegations of abuses against Tamils.
China filled the vacuum left by India, providing military assistance that helped the Rajapaksa-led government defeat the rebels in 2009. In 2012, China helped block a UN Human Rights Council resolution demanding that the Sri Lankan government investigate war crimes. It would later pass, but it prompted little action by Rajapaksa, who was in power from 2005 to 2015.
China is partly involved in the current crisis because of tensions over the billions of dollars of loans it has given to build a network of highways, the Hambantota seaport and airport in Rajapaksa's home district, and other projects. The most iconic of these has been the $1.5 billion port city being built on reclaimed land off Colombo's coast.
Sri Lanka's debt more than tripled during Rajapaksa's presidency, Sri Lankan Central Bank figures show.
New Delhi and other international critics have called the loans a debt trap.
Central bank figures , however, show that Sri Lanka's debt to India stood at 145 billion rupees (about $19.9 billion) in 2017 versus 135 billion rupees (about $18.5 billion) owed to China the same year.
Rajapaksa's defeat at the polls in 2015 was partly a reaction to all of that debt, said Gopalaswamy, the analyst.
Likewise, Wickremesinghe, prime minster from 2015, saw his popularity begin to wane last year after his government handed over operations of the Hambantota port to a Chinese company in a 99-year lease.
"From a democracy perspective, there's been huge public resentment because the quality of these projects is questionable, there's little parliamentary scrutiny and no one knows where this money ends up," Gopalaswamy said.
Responding to public outrage over the lease, China in July offered Sirisena a nearly $300 million grant that the president said could be used "for any project of my wish."
With so much at stake, the Chinese ambassador to Sri Lanka, Cheng Xueyuan, was among the first to congratulate Rajapaksa after he was appointed prime minister on Oct. 27. But that day, Cheng also visited Temple Trees, the official prime minister's residence, where Wickremesinghe has been holed up since his ouster.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that Cheng's visits to rival prime ministers was simply part of China's policy of maintaining "friendly exchanges will all parties in Sri Lanka," repeating China's routine assertion that it doesn't interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
But after the surprise win of an opposition candidate in the Maldives who campaigned on a promise to reduce China's role in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation, Sri Lanka's strategic position has increased. If projects in the Maldives are canceled, Sri Lanka would be China's main Indian Ocean link between Asia and the Seychelles, off the coast of East Africa.
A spokesman for Sri Lanka's new government, Kehaliya Rambukwella, said Rajapaksa had spoken to Chinese officials about revising the terms of the Hambantota port lease.
New Delhi doesn't have many options for how to respond to the crisis, said G. Parthasarthy, a retired Indian diplomat and an expert on Sri Lanka affairs.
"We would like to see South Asia integrated much more closely with India, so we cannot be seen as taking sides," Parthasarthy said, adding that India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe in separate visits to New Delhi last month.
The day after his ouster, Wickremesinghe met with Colombo-based diplomats from the U.S., Britain, Australia, the European Union and India, among others. Many issued statements calling for the country's constitution and democracy to be respected. Sirisena held his own meeting with foreign diplomats on Oct. 29.
Wickremesinghe said he hasn't received any official support from foreign powers, nor has he sought any.
"I agree with them that the constitution must be followed," he said.
Since the crisis began, constitutional scholars have argued over whether Sri Lankan law allowed the president to remove the prime minster and appoint someone new.
Sirisena on Sunday ordered Parliament to reconvene Nov. 14 for a confidence vote on Rajapaksa. China and India will be closely watching to see if the vote eases or exacerbates the crisis.
Washington, Nov 5 (AP/UNB) — The day of reckoning for American politics has nearly arrived.
Voters on Tuesday will decide the $5 billion debate between President Donald Trump's take-no-prisoner politics and the Democratic Party's super-charged campaign to end the GOP's monopoly in Washington and statehouses across the nation.
There are indications that an oft-discussed "blue wave" may help Democrats seize control of at least one chamber of Congress. But two years after an election that proved polls and prognosticators wrong, nothing is certain on the eve of the first nationwide elections of the Trump presidency.
"I don't think there's a Democrat in this country that doesn't have a little angst left over from 2016 deep down," said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List, which spent more than ever before — nearly $60 million in all — to support Democratic women this campaign season.
"Everything matters and everything's at stake," Schriock said.
All 435 seats in the U.S. House are up for re-election. And 35 Senate seats are in play, as are almost 40 governorships and the balance of power in virtually every state legislature.
While he is not on the ballot, Trump himself has acknowledged that the 2018 midterms, above all, represent a referendum on his presidency.
Should Democrats win control of the House, as strategists in both parties suggest is likely, they could derail Trump's legislative agenda for the next two years. Perhaps more importantly, they would also win subpoena power to investigate the president's many personal and professional missteps.
Tuesday's elections will also test the strength of a Trump-era political realignment defined by evolving divisions among voters by race, gender and especially education.
Trump's Republican coalition is increasingly becoming older, whiter, more male and less likely to have a college degree. Democrats are relying more upon women, people of color, young people and college graduates.
The political realignment, if there is one, could re-shape U.S. politics for a generation.
Just five years ago, the Republican National Committee reported that the GOP's very survival depended upon attracting more minorities and women. Those voters have increasingly fled Trump's Republican Party, turned off by his chaotic leadership style and xenophobic rhetoric. Blue-collar men, however, have embraced the unconventional president.
One of the RNC report's authors, Ari Fleischer, acknowledged that Republican leaders never envisioned expanding their ranks with white, working-class men.
"What it means to be Republican is being rewritten as we speak," Fleischer said. "Donald Trump has the pen, and his handwriting isn't always very good."
A nationwide poll released Sunday by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal details the depth of the demographic shifts.
Democrats led with likely African-American voters (84 percent to 8 percent), Latinos (57 percent to 29 percent), voters between the ages of 18-34 (57 percent to 34 percent), women (55 percent to 37 percent) and independents (35 percent to 23 percent).
Among white college-educated women, Democrats enjoy a 28-point advantage: 61 percent to 33 percent.
On the other side, Republicans led with voters between the ages of 50 and 64 (52 percent to 43 percent), men (50 percent to 43 percent) and whites (50 percent to 44 percent). And among white men without college degrees, Republicans led 65 percent to 30 percent.
Democrats hope to elect a record number of women to Congress. They are also poised to make history with the number of LGBT candidates and Muslims up and down the ballot.
Former President Barack Obama seized on the differences between the parties in a final-days scramble to motivate voters across the nation.
"One election won't eliminate racism, sexism or homophobia," Obama said during an appearance in Florida. "It's not going to happen in one election. But it'll be a start."
Trump has delivered a very different closing argument, railing against Latin American immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border.
With the walking caravan weeks away, Trump dispatched more than 5,000 troops to the region. The president also said soldiers would use lethal force against migrants who throw rocks, before later reversing himself.
Still, his xenophobic rhetoric has been unprecedented for an American president in the modern era: "Barbed wire used properly can be a beautiful sight," Trump told voters in Montana.
The hyper-charged environment is expected to drive record turnout in some places, but on the eve of the election, it's far from certain which side will show up in the greatest numbers.
The outcome is clouded by the dramatically different landscape between the House and Senate.
Democrats are most optimistic about the House, a sprawling battlefield extending from Alaska to Florida. Most top races, however, are set in America's suburbs where more educated and affluent voters in both parties have soured on Trump's turbulent presidency, despite the strength of the national economy.
Democrats need to pick up two dozen seats to claim the House majority.
Billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who personally invested $110 million to help Democrats this year, largely in the House, has seized on voter education levels in picking target races, according to senior aide Howard Wolfson.
"In this cycle, it seemed as if there was a disproportionately negative reaction among highly educated voters to Trump," he said.
As a result, Bloomberg's team poured money into otherwise overlooked suburban districts in states like Georgia, Washington state and Oklahoma because data revealed voters there were better-educated.
Democrats face a far more difficult challenge in the Senate, where they are almost exclusively on defense in rural states where Trump remains popular. Democratic Senate incumbents are up for re-election, for example, in North Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana — states Trump carried by 30 percentage points on average two years ago.
Democrats need to win two seats to claim the Senate majority, although most political operatives in both parties expect Republicans to add to their majority.
While Trump is prepared to claim victory if his party retains Senate control, at least one prominent ally fears that losing even one chamber of Congress could be disastrous.
"If they take back the House, he essentially will become a lame-duck president, and he won't win re-election," said Amy Kremer, a tea party activist who leads the group Women for Trump.
"They'll do anything and everything they can to impeach him," she said.
Indeed, powerful Democratic forces are already pushing for Trump's impeachment, even if Democratic leaders aren't ready to go that far.
Liberal activist Tom Steyer spent roughly $120 million this midterm season. Much of that has gone to boost turnout among younger voters, although he has produced a nationwide advertising campaign calling for Trump's impeachment.
Steyer insisted that most Democrats agree.
"We're not some fringe element of the Democratic Party. We are the Democratic Party," he said.
By Election Day, both sides are expected to have spent more than $5 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The flood of campaign cash, a midterm record, has been overwhelmingly fueled by energy on the left.
Money aside, Steyer said he and concerned voters everywhere have invested their hearts and souls into the fight to punish Trump's party.
"That's what's at stake: my heart and soul, along with everybody else's," he said.
North Ogden, Nov 5 (AP/UNB) — A Utah mayor who was also a Utah Army National Guard major training commandos in Afghanistan was fatally shot by one of his Afghan trainees, officials said Sunday.
Brent Taylor, 39, had taken a yearlong leave of absence as mayor of North Ogden north of Salt Lake City for his deployment to Afghanistan.
He was a military intelligence officer with Joint Force Headquarters and was expected to return to his mayoral job in January. Another U.S. military member whose name was not immediately made public was wounded in Saturday's attack that killed Taylor, who died from wounds from small arms fire, military officials said.
Maj. Gen. Jefferson S. Burton, the adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, told reporters that Taylor's mission was to help train and build the capacity of the Afghan national army.
"He was with folks he was helping and training. That's what's so painful about this. It's bitter," Burton said. "I do believe that Major Taylor felt he was among friends, with people he was working with."
Utah media outlets cited a statement from NATO saying that Taylor was shot by one of the commandos being trained and that the attacker was killed by Afghan forces.
Taylor leaves behind a wife and seven children. His remains are scheduled to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Monday evening.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Taylor "was there to help. He was a leader. He loved the people of Afghanistan... This is a sad day for Utah, for America."
"Brent was a hero, a patriot, a wonderful father, and a dear friend," U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said on Twitter. "News of his death in Afghanistan is devastating. My prayers and love are with Jennie and his seven young children. His service will always be remembered."
Taylor served two tours in Iraq and was on his second tour in Afghanistan.
Taylor in January when he was being deployed told local media that he was assigned to serve on an advisory team training the staff of an Afghan commando battalion.
Hundreds of residents of North Ogden lined the street to see him off as police escorted him and his family around North Ogden, a community of about 17,000.
Taylor became the city's mayor in 2013.
Canberra, Nov 5 (AP/UNB) — A newly elected independent lawmaker said on Monday a tough policy toward asylum seekers was a major reason Australia's conservative government lost its parliamentary majority.
Kerryn Phelps on Monday was declared the winner of an Oct. 20 by-election forced when former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quit parliament after his conservative coalition turned against him.
The high-profile medical doctor and gay rights advocate will take her seat when Parliament resumes on Nov. 26. The government now holds half of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives and may need to negotiate with independent lawmakers such as Phelps to pass its legislative agenda.
Phelps partly blamed the tough refugee policy for a voter swing against the government in the wealthy Sydney seat of Wentworth of more than 19 percent since Turnbull last won it in 2016.
Australia refuses to allow asylum seekers who attempt to reach its shores by boat to ever settle in the country. Asylum seekers are banished to the poor island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea where some have languished for more than five years.
"What the Australian people have said is that it's not good enough to trap people on an island offshore from Australia indefinitely for no reason other than that they sought asylum on our shores," Phelps told a Sydney ceremony that declared her victory.
"The children on Nauru must be evacuated as soon as possible," she added.
A government envoy said last week that Australia hoped to have all the asylum seeker children on Nauru brought to the Australian mainland by the end of the year.
Children and their parents were being brought to Australia at an increasing pace in recent weeks in an indication that their plight had become an electoral liability. There were only 38 children left on Nauru last week.
The government's policy has all but ended the people-smuggling boat traffic from Southeast Asian ports.
Pressure has mounted on the government from doctors and rights groups to make an exception for children, but some government lawmakers argue that would only encourage asylum seekers to put children at risk by bringing them on treacherous voyages to Australia on rickety boats.
The United States agreed in 2016 to accept up to 1,250 refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea. But after more than a year of screening, only 439 have found new homes in the U.S.
With the government behind in opinion polls and elections due early next year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already begun campaigning. He kicked off a four-day bus tour on Monday through crucial seats in Queensland state.
Morrison said his government remained functional despite losing its majority.
"It's obviously easier if there's one extra but with one less, the government will continue to function in the way you'd expect it to — in a professional way working closely with" independent lawmakers, Morrison told reporters.