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Shelling is continuing in northern Syria, one day after Turkey agreed to a U.S. plan to halt its assault on Kurdish-controlled areas for five days. Turkey invaded the region after President Trump withdrew U.S. support for the Kurds. Vice President Mike Pence announced the deal after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.
Vice President Mike Pence: “The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours. All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal.”
Turkey has refused to call the deal a ceasefire. On Thursday, a Kurdish commander said they would accept the deal but only along part of the border. The New York Times reports the deal “amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president” because it would allow Turkey to keep occupying parts of northern Syria. In addition, the U.S. would lift its sanctions on Turkey. It remains unclear what will happen to Kurds who live near the Turkish border. Former Obama official Colin Kahl told The Guardian, “If they really think they’re going to push the Kurds all the way back to behind the M4 highway, that’s a huge population transfer. It would involve massive ethnic cleansing essentially.” Meanwhile, Amnesty International is accusing Turkey of committing war crimes by carrying out summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians in northern Syria. Kurdish authorities report at least 218 civilians have been killed in the Turkish offensive, including 18 children.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney publicly confirmed on Thursday that President Trump blocked nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure Kiev to investigate the Democrats. House Democrats say Mulvaney’s admission could mark a turning point in the impeachment probe. Mulvaney made the comments while being questioned during a televised press briefing at the White House.
Mick Mulvaney: “Did he also mention to me in past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money. Now there was a report” —
Jonathan Karl: “So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he —
Mick Mulvaney: “It was on the” —
Jonathan Karl: — “ordered to withold funding to Ukraine.”
Mick Mulvaney: “The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate.”
Jonathan Karl: “But, to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened, as well.”
Mick Mulvaney: “We do — we do that all the time with foreign policy.”
Mick Mulvaney went on to continue to defend the administration’s actions.
Mick Mulvaney: “And I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
Mick Mulvaney’s comments shocked many in Washington for directly undercutting President Trump’s claim that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine. Hours after the press conference ended, Mulvaney accused the media of misconstruing his comments and issued a statement contradicting his previous remarks. The statement read, in part, “Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election.”
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland confirmed to House impeachment investigators that President Trump had delegated Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, to be in charge of foreign policy around Ukraine, sidestepping the State Department. Sondland said, “I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the president’s 2020 re-election campaign.”
Energy Secretary Rick Perry has announced he is resigning by the end of the year. He was recently subpoenaed as part of the House impeachment inquiry over his role in Ukraine.
The White House has announced the next G7 summit will be held at the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort in Florida. The announcement was widely criticized. Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, said, “It’s hard to imagine a more blatant violation of the Constitution’s anti-corruption provision than the president steering foreign governments to stay at his luxury resort property.” On Thursday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney dismissed the criticism, claiming the the White House had determined the Trump-owned resort was the best possible site in the entire country to host the summit.
Mick Mulvaney: “We know the environment we live. You all know the environment that we live in. And he knows exactly that he’s going to get these questions and exactly get that reaction from a lot of people. And he’s simply saying, 'OK, that's fine. I’m willing to take that,’ the same way he takes it when he goes to Trump Mar-a-Lago, the same place when he goes to play Trump Bedminster. He got over that a long time ago. He — we absolutely believe this is the best place to have it. We’re going to have it there. And there’s going to be folks who will never get over the fact that it’s a Trump property. We get that. But we’re still going to go there.”
Mulvaney also revealed one of the world’s most pressing issues — the climate crisis — will not be on the agenda at the G7.
Reporter: “As you’re looking at the content of what you want to do next year” —
Mick Mulvaney: “Yeah.”
Reporter: — “it’s probably going to be hot in Florida in June. Will climate change be one of the issues that you discuss?”
Mick Mulvaney: “Climate change will not be on the agenda.”
In news from Afghanistan, civilian casualties have reached a new high. The United Nations reports a record 4,300 civilians were injured or killed in Afghanistan between July and September. These are the highest figures since the U.N. began counting in 2009. This comes as the U.S. is intensifying its air war. Last month, U.S. Air Force aircraft dropped 948 missiles and bombs, more than in any month in five years.
British lawmakers are scheduled to vote Saturday on a new Brexit deal reached between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Labour Party cannot support the Brexit deal.
Jeremy Corbyn: “This is a day when the prime minister seems to have made a deal with the European Union which doesn’t give us the complete freedom of movement between Britain and Northern Ireland, because it creates a customs union border down the Irish Sea. And secondly, it does nothing to deal with all the concerns that we’ve raised during Theresa May’s premiership and his about a race to the bottom in rights and protections, and we believe the deal he’s proposed is heading Britain in the direction of a deregulated society with the sell-off of national assets to American corporations.”
In Chicago, a citywide strike by teachers and school support staff has entered its second day, forcing the closing of the nation’s third-largest school system. Twenty-five thousand teachers represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, as well as 7,500 support staff represented by SEIU, launched their strike on Thursday.
The New York City Council has approved an $8 billion plan to close Rikers Island by 2026 and build four new jails across New York City, in what many are calling a national model for prison reform. New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson backed the closing of Rikers.
Speaker Corey Johnson: “Conditions matter. These jails are disgusting. These jails should have been closed years ago. We are doing it today. I will proudly vote yes. Thank you all very, very much.”
For decades, human rights activists have protested the violence, abuse and mismanagement inside Rikers Island and have called for its closure, yet many activists now oppose the plan to replace Rikers with four new jails. The group No New Jails NYC staged a protest outside City Hall on Thursday. This is Nabil Hassein, a member of the group.
Nabil Hassein: “In 2015, the same mayor and a lot the same city councilmembers voted to increase the NYPD budget by over $100 million to hire 1,300 more cops. Now they want to spend 10, 11 — who knows how many — billions of dollars building what would be the tallest skyscraper jails in the world. These so-called progressives need to take that money and spend it on what would actually keep New Yorkers safe and keep New Yorkers out of jail, things like housing, education, healthcare, including mental healthcare. These are the things that the city should be spending resources on, instead of investing billions of dollars in locking up our children, our children’s children. They’re talking about multigenerational jails that would be here for decades. And we’re here to stop them.”
In Louisiana, a Cuban asylum seeker has died of apparent suicide while being held in solitary confinement at an ICE detention center. The ACLU of Louisiana condemned the death of Roylán Hernández-Díaz, saying, “We will not stand by while ICE tortures people who are exercising their right to seek asylum in the United States.” Meanwhile, the group Freedom for Immigrants is reporting two Cuban asylum seekers detained in New Mexico recently slit their wrists, and at least 19 others are planning on doing so in an act of mass resistance.
A general strike has shut down much of Barcelona and the Catalonian region of Spain. This comes after days of street protests by Catalan separatists. On Monday, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to up 13 years in prison over their role in Catalonia’s 2017 bid for independence.
Lebanon is witnessing its largest protests in years. Earlier today, demonstrators blocked roads with burning tires and marched in Beirut. On Thursday, the Lebanese government dropped a plan to institute new taxes on calls made through WhatsApp. Protesters have condemned the Lebanese government for failing to tackle the country’s economic crisis.
Protester: “We are all poor, and we are asking for jobs, for our rights, electricity, water. We are demanding education. One is begging to teach his son. We want to live in dignity.”
Mexican security forces briefly captured one of the sons of El Chapo on Thursday but then released him after authorities came under attack by heavily armed drug cartels. Ovidio Guzmán López, a leader of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, was detained in the city of Culiacán during a routine police check. But then members of his cartel responded by laying siege to the city, overwhelming the police and Mexican National Guard. Fighting raged for hours. At least two people died. The Mexican police eventually withdrew and released Guzmán. At least 20 prisoners also escaped during the chaotic day.
The legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso has died at the age of 98. She was the founder of the internationally renowned National Ballet of Cuba. Despite being partially blind, Alonso became one of the most celebrated dancers in the world.