The remains of an ancient ape found in a Bavarian clay pit suggest that humans' ancestors began standing upright millions of years earlier than previously thought, scientists said Wednesday.
An international team of researchers says the fossilized partial skeleton of a male ape that lived almost 12 million years ago in the humid forests of what is now southern Germany bears a striking resemblance to modern human bones. In a paper published by the journal Nature, they concluded that the previously unknown species — named Danuvius guggenmosi — could walk on two legs but also climb like an ape.
The findings "raise fundamental questions about our previous understanding of the evolution of the great apes and humans," said Madelaine Boehme of the University of Tuebingen, Germany, who led the research.
The question of when apes evolved bipedal motion has fascinated scientists since Charles Darwin first argued that they were the ancestors of humans. Previous fossil records of apes with an upright gait — found in Crete and Kenya — dated only as far back as 6 million years ago.
Boehme, along with researchers from Bulgaria, Germany, Canada and the United States, examined more than 15,000 bones recovered from a trove of archaeological remains known as the Hammerschmiede, or Hammer Smithy, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) west of the Germany city of Munich.
Among the remains they were able to piece together were primate fossils belonging to four individuals that lived 11.62 million years ago. The most complete, an adult male, likely stood about 1 meter (3 feet, 4 inches) tall, weighed 31 kilograms (68 pounds) and looked similar to modern-day bonobos, a species of chimpanzee.
"It was astonishing for us to realize how similar certain bones are to humans, as opposed to great apes," Boehme said.
Thanks to several well-preserved vertebra, limb, finger and toe bones, the scientists were able to reconstruct how Danuvius moved, concluding that while it would have been able to hang from branches by his arms, it could also straighten its legs to walk upright.
"This changes our view of early human evolution, which is that it all happened in Africa," Boehme told The Associated Press in an interview.
Like humans, Danuvius had an S-shaped spine to hold its body upright while standing. Unlike humans, though, it had a powerful, opposable big toe that would have allowed it to grab branches with its foot and safely walk through the treetops.
Fred Spoor, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, called the fossil finds "fantastic" but said they would likely be the subject of much debate, not least because they could challenge many existing ideas about evolution.
"I can see that there will be a lot of agonizing and re-analysis of what these fossils mean," said Spoor, who wasn't involved in the study.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with French President Emmanuel Macron Wednesday in Beijing.
Noting that both China and France are permanent members of the UN Security Council and major world economies, Li said mutually-beneficial cooperation featuring win-win results between the two countries will not only benefits the two sides, but also Europe and the world.
Against the backdrop of a complex international landscape, Li said China and France will send positive messages to the world by enhancing strategic communication, expanding practical cooperation and promoting people-to-people exchanges.
Noting that China and the European Union (EU) have finished their negotiation on geographical indications, Li called on the two sides to keep promoting China-EU investment agreement negotiation to yield positive results at an early date.
China is ready to work with France to enhance coordination regarding the reform of the WTO to safeguard free trade and multilateralism, said Li, encouraging the two countries to deepen cooperation in areas including nuclear energy, aviation, the third-party market and promote the implementation of more high-quality projects in line with market and business principles.
Li reiterated China's international commitment to address climate change, saying that China will continue to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with France and Europe in this regard.
Macron said during his visit, China and France have yielded tangible achievements in the fields of nuclear power, agricultural food and products, aviation and culture, and have charted a development path of bilateral relations for the next stage.
France stands ready to work with China to enhance high-level exchanges, deepen practical cooperation in trade and economy, culture, tourism and the third-party market, strengthen communication and cooperation in the WTO reform, address climate change and bio-diversity, and jointly safeguard multilateralism and free trade.
Democrats announced Wednesday they will launch public impeachment hearings next week, intending to bring to life weeks of closed-door testimony and lay out a convincing narrative of presidential misconduct by Donald Trump.
First to testify will be William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, who has relayed in private his understanding that there was a blatant quid pro quo with Trump holding up military aid to a U.S. ally facing threats from its giant neighbor Russia.
That aid, at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, is alleged to have been held hostage until Ukraine agreed to investigate political foe Joe Biden and the idea, out of the mainstream of U.S. intelligence findings, that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
The testimony of Taylor a career envoy and war veteran with 50 years of service to the U.S., is what Democrats want Americans to hear first.
Taylor has told investigators about an "irregular channel" that the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, set up for Ukraine diplomacy, and how the White House was holding up the military aid, according to a transcript of his closed-door interview released Wednesday.
"That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president committed to pursue the investigation," Taylor said.
He was asked if he was aware that "quid pro quo" meant "this for that."
"I am," he replied.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and Republicans largely dismiss the impeachment inquiry, now into its second month, as a sham.
But Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee leading the probe, said that with two days of hearings next week Americans will have a chance to decide for themselves.
"The most important facts are largely not contested," the California Democrat said. "Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn firsthand about the facts of the president's misconduct."
Along with Taylor, the public will hear from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump fired after what she and others say was a smear campaign against her, and career State Department official George Kent. Taylor and Kent will appear Wednesday, Yovanovitch on Friday.
To prepare for what's ahead, the White House is beefing up its communications operations.
Trump ally Pam Bondi, the former attorney general of Florida, and Tony Sayegh, a former Treasury Department spokesman, are expected to join the White House team to work on "proactive impeachment messaging," a senior administration official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal staffing.
The Trump administration has ordered officials not to participate in the House inquiry. But lawmakers have spent weeks hearing from current and former government witnesses, largely from the State Department, as one official after another has relayed his or her understanding of events.
The testimony from Taylor further connected Trump, Giuliani and the administration to a quid-pro-quo agreement that came to light after a government whistleblower's complaint about Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Even before that call, Taylor said, he and other diplomats involved in Ukraine policy started having concerns about a shadow foreign policy being run by Trump and his private attorney.
Taylor testified that the concerns reached high levels at the White House. In a July 10 meeting with Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton, Trump's ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland raised the idea of Ukrainian investigations.
That "triggered Ambassador Bolton's antenna, political antenna, and he said 'we don't do politics here,'" Taylor testified, noting that Bolton ended the meeting.
Bolton, who resigned from the administration later, has been asked to appear before the House investigators for a closed-door interview this week. His lawyer said he would not come without a subpoena.
All three of those scheduled to appear in public hearings next week have already testified behind closed doors, and investigators in recent days started releasing hundreds of pages of transcripts from their interviews.
Yovanovitch, who was ousted in May at Trump's direction, testified that she had been told to "watch my back" and that people were "looking to hurt" her. Kent and Taylor testified about their concerns about her dismissal at the same time Giuliani was taking a leading role on Ukraine policy.
The spark for the inquiry was the July phone call from Trump to the new Ukrainian president. According to a rough transcript, released by the White House, Trump asked Zelenskiy to probe Biden and his family and interference in the 2016 election.
Taylor, who testified in October, had repeatedly conveyed concerns about the "irregular channel" that Giuliani had set up at Trump's instruction to bypass the embassy and the State Department.
"The security assistance got blocked by this second channel," he said.
In his appearance last month, Taylor told lawmakers that it was the "unanimous opinion of every level of interagency discussion" that the military aid should be resumed without delay.
Republicans, signaling a line of attack they may pursue during the open hearings, argued that he received none of the information firsthand.
In the final stretch of questioning, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., grilled him on whether he had primary knowledge that Trump was demanding that Ukraine investigate the Bidens. Taylor said he had not spoken directly to Trump or Giuliani. Zeldin says that information was "secondhand or thirdhand."
Trump allies also have argued that there couldn't have been an inappropriate arrangement because Ukraine didn't even know the aid was being held up. But Taylor said the new government under Zelenskiy recognized it had to commit to investigations to get the aid or a promised meeting with Trump at the White House.
He said the Ukrainians worried that opening the investigations, in particular of the gas company Burisma, which had Biden's son on its board, would have involved them in the 2020 election campaign in the U.S.
They didn't want to do that, he said.
Taylor said he had specifically raised his concerns with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and told him he would resign if strong U.S. support for Ukraine somehow evaporated.
"This would have been throwing Ukraine under the bus," he said. "And I told the secretary: 'If that happens, I'll come home. You don't want me out there, because I'm not going to defend it, you know. I would say bad things about it."
Taylor told investigators that the "Russians are paying attention to how much support the Americans are going to provide the Ukrainians."
He said, "So the Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of Zelenskiy at the hand of the Americans, and would give the Russians a freer hand, and I would quit."
At one point, Taylor said he was hearing from colleagues in Washington that it was difficult for them to arrange a meeting with Trump to try to persuade him to release the aid.
Why? It was around the time the president was interested in buying Greenland from Denmark, he said, and that "took up a lot of energy" at the National Security Council.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions will announce that he is entering the race for his old U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, two Republicans with direct knowledge of his plans said Wednesday.
Sessions, 72, will be making a return to the political stage a year after stepping down as President Donald Trump's first attorney general when their relationship soured over his recusal from the Russia investigation.
The two Republicans confirmed to The Associated Press that Sessions is expected to announce his candidacy Thursday. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. They said Sessions has not spoken to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about it, nor has he informed Trump of his decision.
The longtime senator's candidacy upends the 2020 Republican primary, which has a crowded field competing to challenge Democratic Sen. Doug Jones for the once reliably red seat.
Some GOP primary rivals wasted no time going on the offensive.
Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville said Sessions has been "out of the swamp for less than two years, and now he's itching to go back."
"He's another career politician that the voters of Alabama will reject. As Attorney General, he failed the President at his point of greatest need," Tuberville said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, the first Republican to announce a run for the Senate seat, played up his loyalty to Trump when asked about Sessions' plans to enter the race.
"Alabama deserves a Senator who will stand with the President and won't run away and hide from the fight," Byrne said in a Wednesday statement.
Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump's 2016 campaign, and the two supported similar policies on immigration and law enforcement. But Sessions' recusal from the Russia inquiry prompted blistering public criticism from Trump, who eventually asked him to resign.
Despite enduring repeated public mocking, Sessions has remained a Trump loyalist who continues to back the president's policies.
In a speech last month at a Republican Party fundraiser in Huntsville, Sessions reiterated his support for the president even as he joked about life after being "fired" from a job. Sessions praised Trump's effort on trade, immigration and foreign policy.
"That's why I supported him and why I still do support him," Sessions told the crowd of about 500. "He is relentlessly and actually honoring the promises he made to the American people."
Sessions, for years a popular figure among state Republicans, represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2017. He will enter the race as a presumed front-runner, but the effect of Trump's online and verbal lashings has yet to be seen in Alabama, where the president remains popular.
In June, Trump called his selection of Sessions as attorney general his "biggest mistake."
"I would say if I had one do-over, it would be, I would not have appointed Jeff Sessions to be attorney general," Trump said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."
One of the Republicans who spoke anonymously to the AP sees no indication that Trump has changed his feelings about Sessions and thinks he'll eventually fall back because of the president's attacks.
But David Hughes, a political scientist at Auburn University at Montgomery, said there is no reason to think Sessions wouldn't immediately be a front-runner.
"He has a baked-in constituency. He has a huge donor network. ... He's got name recognition and the people of Alabama still largely like him," Hughes said.
In Alabama, midterm voters gave mixed assessments of their former senator. About as many said they had a favorable opinion of Sessions as unfavorable, 45% to 42%, according to AP VoteCast, a midterm survey of more than 750 voters in Alabama.
Democratic voters were overwhelming negative, with 75% saying they view Sessions unfavorably. Even among Republican voters, about a quarter said they had a negative impressions; about two-thirds rated Sessions favorably.
The Republican primary also includes Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill; former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who lost to Jones in a special election two years ago; state Rep. Arnold Mooney; and businessman Stanley Adair.
A Salvadoran woman seeking asylum in the United States spends her days holed up in her cousin's cramped slum house just across the border in Mexico — too scared to leave after receiving a savage beating from two men three weeks ago while she was strolling home from a convenience store.
The assault came after she spent four months in captivity in Mexico, kidnapped into prostitution during her journey toward the U.S.
The woman, 31, is among 55,000 migrants who have been returned to Mexico by the Trump administration to wait for their cases to wind through backlogged immigration courts. Her situation offers a glimpse into some of the program's problems.
Critics have said the administration's policy denies asylum seekers like the Salvadoran woman fair and humane treatment, forcing them to wait in a country plagued by drug-fueled violence — illustrated this week by the slaughter near the U.S. border of six children and three women . All were U.S. citizens living in Mexico.
The Trump administration insists that the program is a safe alternative in collaboration with the government of Mexico, even as the president vows to wage war on drug cartels that are a dominant presence in the dangerous border cities where migrants are forced to wait.
The Department of Homeland Security added in a report last week that the program is "an indispensable tool in addressing the ongoing crisis at the southern border and restoring integrity to the immigration system."
The woman said in an interview that she fled Santa Ana, El Salvador, on Jan. 31 after days on the run from a police officer who demanded sexual acts.
She never said goodbye to her five children — ages 5 to 12 —fearing the officer would discover where they lived. The Associated Press granted her anonymity because she fears for her safety if her identity is revealed.
She said she was kidnapped after leaving a Mexican government office on its southern border with Guatemala after inquiring about getting asylum in Mexico.
She and others were taken in a minivan to Ciudad Juarez, on Mexico's border with Texas. Captors in a large room argued over who would take possession of the men, women and children gathered there.
One wanted to extort money from her family. A second wanted to force her into prostitution and she ended up with him before her escape this summer to the home of a stranger who paid for her bus ticket to her cousin who lives across the border from San Diego.
She said she shared her story with U.S. authorities after she walked across the border illegally alone on Sept. 18 where the wall ends in Tijuana, Mexico, and waited for an agent to arrest her. They rejected her pleas that it was too dangerous for her to return to Mexico to wait for a date in U.S. immigration court for a judge to hear her case.
Then, on Oct. 14., she said she was punched and whipped with a belt by assailants near her cousin's home in a hillside neighborhood of dirt and concrete roads and empty, half-built homes occupied by drug addicts and squatters.
She still had bruises as her case was heard last week in San Diego, when immigration Judge Lee O'Connor made no secret of his disdain for the policy of keeping asylum seekers waiting in Mexico.
The scene in the courtroom was chaotic, with the infant child of a Honduran woman whimpering and then bellowing as O'Connor entered.
"Silence in the courtroom!" he barked. A guard escorted the child and his mother to the hallway.
The judge questioned the two attorneys representing asylum seekers about how long it took them to visit clients in Mexico, noting infamously long waits to cross the border.
"Hours," the judge marveled.
But the judge ruled the Salvadoran woman and the Honduran family were ineligible for the program because, in his view, the law governing asylum seekers only allows it for people who present themselves at official border crossings — not for immigrants like her who entered illegally.
Customs and Border Protection officials then sent the woman back to Mexico with a notice telling her she had another court date set for Dec. 16, even though her case had been terminated.
The woman's lawyer, Siobhan Waldron, accused Customs and Border Protection of making up the Dec. 16 court date to get the woman out of the U.S. and back to Mexico. Waldron said she does not know what will come next for her client.
Customs and Border Protection did not provide answers to emailed questions about the woman's case. But Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review, confirmed Wednesday that the Salvadoran woman has no future court dates set.
For now, the Salvadoran woman sleeps on a foam mattress in a sparsely furnished one-bedroom home of concrete slabs and plywood walls — still scared to leave.
She claimed that U.S. authorities told her while she was in custody that efforts to remain in the U.S. were futile.
"There's nothing you can do," she said she was told by one official. "This is not your country."