AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST - InfoNews

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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

November 24, 2017 - 8:04 PM

Militants attack Egyptian mosque, kill at least 235 people

CAIRO (AP) — In the deadliest-ever attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt, militants assaulted a crowded mosque Friday during prayers, blasting helpless worshippers with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades and blocking their escape routes. At least 235 people were killed before the assailants got away.

The attack in the troubled northern part of the Sinai Peninsula targeted a mosque frequented by Sufis, members of a mystic movement within Islam. Islamic militants, including the local affiliate of the Islamic State group, consider Sufis heretics because of their less literal interpretations of the faith.

The startling bloodshed in the town of Bir al-Abd also wounded at least 109, according to the state news agency. It offered the latest sign that, despite more than three years of fighting in Sinai, the Egyptian government has failed to deter an IS-led insurgency.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed that the attack "will not go unpunished" and that Egypt would persevere with its war on terrorism. But he did not specify what new steps might be taken.

The military and security forces have already been waging a tough campaign against militants in the towns, villages and desert mountains of Sinai, and Egypt has been in a state of emergency for months. Across the country, thousands have been arrested in a crackdown on suspected Islamists as well as against other dissenters and critics, raising concern about human rights violations.

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Consumer watchdog head names a successor, and Trump does too

NEW YORK (AP) — The director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau resigned Friday and named his own successor, leading to an open conflict with President Donald Trump — who announced a different person as acting head of the agency later in the day.

That means there are now effectively two acting directors of the CFPB, when there should only be one.

Typically an acting director position would be filled according to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. But Richard Cordray, along with his resignation, elevated Leandra English, who was the agency's chief of staff, into the deputy director position.

Under the Dodd-Frank Act that created the CFPB, English would become acting director. Cordray — an Obama appointee — specifically cited the law when he moved English, a longtime CFPB employee and ally of his, into that position.

Within a few hours, President Donald Trump announced his own acting director of the agency, Mick Mulvaney, who is currently director of the Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney had widely been expected to be Trump's temporary pick for the bureau until a permanent one could be found.

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Trump denounces attack in Egypt, calls again for travel ban

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday denounced the deadly mosque attack in Egypt and reached out to its president, asserting the world must crush terrorists by military means — and insisting the U.S. needs a southern border wall and the travel ban tied up in courts.

"Need the WALL, need the BAN!" Trump tweeted before his planned call to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. "God bless the people of Egypt."

That attack's aftermath played out as Trump mixed work and play in sunny Florida, golfing — quickly, he claimed — with pros Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson, speaking with foreign leaders and tweeting briskly.

Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, before his attention turned to the attack in Egypt, where at least 235 people were killed when Islamic militants attacked a crowded mosque during prayers in the Sinai Peninsula, setting off explosives and spraying worshippers with gunfire.

"The world cannot tolerate terrorism," Trump tweeted in response. He added, "We must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!"

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US backtracks on decision to close Palestinian office in DC

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration backtracked Friday on its decision to order the Palestinians' office in Washington to close, instead saying it would merely impose limitations on the office that it expected would be lifted after 90 days.

Last week, U.S. officials said the Palestine Liberation Organization mission couldn't stay open because the Palestinians had violated a provision in U.S. law requiring the office to close if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis. The move triggered a major rift in U.S.-Palestinian relations that threatened to scuttle President Donald Trump's ambitious effort to broker Mideast peace before it ever got off the ground.

Yet the United States delayed shuttering the office for a week while saying it was working out the details with the Palestinians, before abruptly reversing course late Friday, as many Americans were enjoying a long Thanksgiving Day weekend. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said the U.S. had "advised the PLO Office to limit its activities to those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians."

Vasquez said even those restrictions will be lifted after 90 days if the U.S. determines the Israelis and Palestinians are engaged in serious peace talks. The White House, in an effort led by Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, has been preparing a comprehensive peace plan to present to both sides in the coming months.

"We therefore are optimistic that at the end of this 90-day period, the political process may be sufficiently advanced that the president will be in a position to allow the PLO office to resume full operations," Vasquez said.

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Risky stalemate as science battles human fears at Fukushima

ONAHAMA, Japan (AP) — More than six years after a tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan has yet to reach consensus on what to do with a million tons of radioactive water, stored on site in around 900 large and densely packed tanks that could spill should another major earthquake or tsunami strike.

The stalemate is rooted in a fundamental conflict between science and human nature.

Experts advising the government have urged a gradual release to the nearby Pacific Ocean. Treatment has removed all the radioactive elements except tritium, which they say is safe in small amounts. Conversely, if the tanks break, their contents could slosh out in an uncontrolled way.

Local fishermen are balking. The water, no matter how clean, has a dirty image for consumers, they say. Despite repeated tests showing most types of fish caught off Fukushima are safe to eat, diners remain hesitant. The fishermen fear any release would sound the death knell for their nascent and still fragile recovery.

"People would shun Fukushima fish again as soon as the water is released," said Fumio Haga, a drag-net fisherman from Iwaki, a city about 50 kilometres (30 miles) down the coast from the nuclear plant.

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Pope's place as refugee champion tested in Myanmar

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis heads to Myanmar and Bangladesh with the international community excoriating Myanmar's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims as "ethnic cleansing" but his own church resisting the label and defending Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the only hope for democracy.

Francis will thus be walking a fraught diplomatic tightrope during the Nov. 27-Dec. 2 visit, which will include separate meetings with Suu Kyi, the powerful head of Myanmar's military as well as a small group of Rohingya once Francis arrives in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Francis has defined his papacy by his frequent denunciations of injustices committed against refugees, and he would be expected to speak out strongly against the Rohingya plight. But he is also the guest of Myanmar's government and must look out for the well-being of his own tiny flock, a minority of just 659,000 Catholics in the majority Buddhist nation of 51 million.

"Let's just say it's very interesting diplomatically," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke responded when asked if Francis' 21st foreign trip would be his most difficult.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, an American Jesuit commentator, was more direct: "I have great admiration for the pope and his abilities, but someone should have talked him out of making this trip," Reese wrote recently on Religion News Service.

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'We dare not squander the moment:' Zimbabwe's new leader

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabweans must set aside "poisoned" politics and work together to rebuild the nation and re-engage the world, new President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Friday, delivering an inclusive message to an exultant crowd that packed a stadium for his inauguration.

Mnangagwa, blamed for a number of the crackdowns and damaging policies of his mentor and predecessor, the ousted Robert Mugabe, also promised that "democratic" elections will be held on schedule in 2018 and that foreign investment will be safe in Zimbabwe, a message aimed at laying the groundwork for economic revival.

"We dare not squander the moment," Mnangagwa said in a speech whose sense of promise matched the joyful mood of a nation hungry for change after Mugabe's 37-year rule. The former leader resigned Tuesday after pressure from the military, former allies in the ruling party and massive street protests.

Helicopters and planes flew in formation, an artillery unit fired a 21-gun salute, honour guards with fixed bayonets high-stepped and Zimbabwean pop star Jah Prayzah had people dancing on a day celebrating a new stage in the nation's history. Such an occasion had seemed almost impossible to contemplate for many Zimbabweans as the years dragged on under the 93-year-old Mugabe, who took power after the end of white minority rule in 1980.

Mnangagwa, 75, was fired as vice-president by Mugabe on Nov. 6 in a dispute over the growing presidential ambitions of Mugabe's unpopular wife, Grace. The former justice and defence minister, however, had been one of Mugabe's closest confidants, raising questions about just how much change and reconciliation there will be on his watch.

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Trump tells Turkey's leader: US to stop arming Syrian Kurds

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The United States will cut off its supply of arms to Kurdish fighters in Syria, President Donald Trump told the Turkish president on Friday, in a move sure to please Turkey but further alienate Syrian Kurds who bore much of the fight against the Islamic State group.

In a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump said he'd "given clear instructions" that the Kurds will receive no more weapons — "and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago," said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The White House confirmed the move in a cryptic statement about the phone call that said Trump had informed the Turk of "pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria."

The White House called the move "consistent with our previous policy" and noted the recent fall of Raqqa, once the Islamic State group's self-declared capital but recently liberated by a largely Kurdish force. The Trump administration announced in May it would start arming the Kurds in anticipation of the fight to retake Raqqa.

"We are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return," the White House said, using an acronym for the extremist group.

The move could help ease strained tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, two NATO allies that have been sharply at odds about how best to wage the fight against IS. Turkey considers the Kurdish Syrian fighters, known by the initials YPG, to be terrorists because of their affiliation to outlawed Kurdish rebels that have waged a three decade-long insurgency in Turkey. Yet the U.S. chose to partner with the YPG in Syria anyway, arguing that the battle-hardened Kurds were the most effective fighting force available.

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Retailers work to attract shoppers to stores on Black Friday

NEW YORK (AP) — Retailers worked hard to attract shoppers to stores on Black Friday, offering in-person deals meant to counter the ease of shopping by phone on Amazon.

A better economy and colder weather helped, to be sure. But stores have also tried to improve the store experience and offer better service. They've also made a big push toward offering store pickup for online orders, hoping to get people to pick up more items. But they're fighting a circumstance in which online leader Amazon is the first and only stop for many shoppers.

So they're getting creative with the deals.

Victor Moore said he arrived about two hours ahead of Best Buy's 8 a.m. opening in Nashville and scored one of the about 14 "doorbuster" deals on a 55-inch Toshiba smart TV for $280, a $220 savings. Moore said he's done some online shopping, but the allure of in-store-only deals drew him out from behind the computer.

"This is the first successful doorbuster that I've ever been a part of," Moore said. "I've been in lines before, but never actually got the items that I was waiting for."

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"Die Hard" for jihadists? IS recruits with heroic tales

WASHINGTON (AP) — Beyond the slick, Hollywood-style cinematics, the Islamic State is targeting Western recruits with videos suggesting they, too, can be heroes like Bruce Willis' character in "Die Hard."

That's the conclusion of The Chicago Project on Security and Threats, which analyzed some 1,400 videos released by IS between 2013 and 2016. Researchers who watched and catalogued them all said there is more to the recruitment effort than just sophisticated videography, and it's not necessarily all about Islam.

Instead, Robert Pape, who directs the security centre, said the extremist group is targeting Westerners — especially recent Muslim converts — with videos that follow, nearly step-by-step, a screenwriter's standard blueprint for heroic storytelling.

"It's the heroic screenplay journey, the same thing that's in Wonder Woman, where you have someone who is learning his or her own powers through the course of their reluctant journey to be hero," Pape said.

The project at the University of Chicago separately has assembled a database of people who have been indicted in the United States for activities related to IS. Thirty-six per cent were recent converts to Islam and did not come from established Muslim communities, according to the project. Eighty-three per cent watched IS videos, the project said.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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