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On Eve of Brexit Summit, Northern Ireland Rejects Johnson’s Compromise

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his 27 counterparts from across the European Union are converging on Brussels Thursday for a summit they hope will finally lay to rest the acrimony and frustration of a three-year divorce fight.

Yet even before dawn, Johnson had a serious setback when his Northern Irish government allies said they would not back his compromise proposals. The prime minister needs all the support he can get to push any deal past a deeply divided parliament.

It only added to the high anxiety that reigned Thursday morning, with the last outstanding issues of the divorce papers still unclear.

Technical negotiators again went into the night Wednesday to fine tune customs and sales tax regulations that will have to regulate trade in goods between the Northern Ireland and Ireland, where the U.K. and the EU share their only land border.

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attends the weekly EU College of Commissioners meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Oct. 16, 2019. EU and British negotiators have so far failed to get a breakthrough in the Brexit talks.

And they were set to continue right up to the summit’s midafternoon opening. If a deal is agreed on during the two-day summit, Johnson hopes to present it to Britain’s Parliament at a special sitting Saturday.

After months of gloom over the stalled Brexit process, European leaders have sounded upbeat this week. French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday that “I want to believe that a deal is being finalized,” while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said negotiations were “in the final stretch.”

Johnson, who took office in July vowing Britain would finally leave the EU on Oct. 31, come what may, was slightly more cautious. He likened Brexit to climbing Mount Everest, saying the summit was in sight, though still shrouded in cloud.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party added to those clouds early Thursday.  DUP leader Arlen Foster and the party’s parliamentary chief Nigel Dodds said they “could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues,” referring to a say the Northern Irish authorities might have in future developments.

Both the customs and consent arrangements are key to guaranteeing an open border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — the main obstacle to a Brexit deal.

Foster and Dodds said they would continue to work with the U.K. government to get a “sensible” deal. The problem is that the closer Johnson aligns himself with the DUP, the further he removes himself from the EU, leaving him walking a political tightrope.

Brexit negotiations have been here before, seemingly closing in on a deal that is dashed at the last moment. But hopes have risen that this time may be different. Though with Britain’s Oct. 31 departure date looming and just hours to go before the EU summit, focus was on getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details to be hammered out later. That could mean another EU summit on Brexit before the end of the month.

So far, all plans to keep an open and near-invisible border between the two have hit a brick wall of opposition from the DUP.

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Art Exhibit Highlights Impact of Climate Change

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A warming planet is triggering extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels, and loss of wildlife habitats. An American art exhibit is delving into the effects of climate change, which include melting glaciers and the destruction of coral reefs.  VOA’s Deborah Block takes us to the University of Rhode Island to see how art is used to fight climate change.

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Smart Tech for the City of 2030

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The future was here at a recent marquee tech show in Japan.  The Consumer Exhibition of Advanced Technology, or CEATEC, showcased technologies that may simplify our lives … or rapidly bring them to an end. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi takes us back to the future!

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Chinese Snooping Tech Spreads to Nations Vulnerable to Abuse

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When hundreds of video cameras with the power to identify and track individuals started appearing in the streets of Belgrade, some protesters began having second thoughts about joining anti-government demonstrations in the Serbian capital.

Local authorities assert the system, created by Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, helps reduce crime. Critics contend it erodes personal freedoms and exposes citizens to snooping by the Chinese government.

The cameras, equipped with facial recognition technology, are being rolled out across cities around the world, particularly in poorer countries with weak track records on human rights where Beijing has increased its influence through big business deals. With the United States claiming that Chinese state can get backdoor access to Huawei data, the rollout is raising concerns about the privacy of millions of people.


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Iran Detained 2nd French Researcher, Colleagues Say

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The Iranian government has been holding a second French researcher in custody for the past four months, according to his colleagues.

Roland Marchal, a sub-Saharan Africa specialist at Paris university Sciences Po, was arrested in June when he traveled to Iran to visit his partner, Fariba Adelkhah, according to Sciences Po professor Richard Banegas.
Iranian authorities disclosed in July that they had arrested Adelkhah, a prominent anthropologist who holds dual French-Iranian nationality, on charges that have not been made public.
There was no immediate acknowledgement of Marchal’s arrest in Iranian state media.  
It’s unclear exactly what charges Marchal faces, but Banegas told The Associated Press that he and his colleagues consider him “an academic prisoner.”
The French Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.




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Moscow Warns Turkey to Wrap Up Syria Incursion Quickly

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Russians officials urged Turkey to limit the duration and scale of its cross-border military incursion into northeast Syria, stressing Turkish troops must at all costs avoid clashing with Syrian government forces, which have moved north and are racing to take over Kurdish border towns ahead of the Turks.

The Kremlin’s special envoy to Syria Tuesday appeared to toughen Russia’s language about the offensive, dubbing it for the first time as “unacceptable.” Previously the Kremlin appeared to endorse the incursion, with top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Russia would go along with Turkey as it acknowledged Ankara had legitimate border security concerns.

But Russian officials had from the start detailed red lines — including that the offensive wouldn’t lead to any permanent Turkish occupation.

FILE – A checkpoint, abandoned by Syrian Democratic Forces after Turkish military operations began, pictured on Oct. 11, 2019, outside Ras al-Ayn, Syria. (A. Lourie/VOA)

In return for the acceptance of the incursion, which Ankara says is aimed at clearing a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia allied with secessionist Turkish Kurds from the border lands, Russian officials made little pretense of their expectation that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would later acquiesce with Moscow’s plans for Syria’s future, one that will see President Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s ally, reassert control across the whole of Syria.

Speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi during an official visit by Putin to the Gulf emirate, Russian envoy Alexander Lavrentiev indicated Moscow expects Ankara to wrap up its offensive quickly. He said Turkish troops had the right under an agreement struck between Damascus and Ankara in 1998, the Adana pact, to temporarily push up to a maximum of 10 kilometers into Syria to conduct counter-terrorism operations.

“But it doesn’t give them the right to remain on Syrian territory permanently and we are opposed to Turkish troops staying on Syrian territory permanently,” he emphasized. “We don’t approve of their actions,” he added.

Shortly after Lavrentiev briefed reporters, Russian officials said President Putin and his Turkish counterpart spoke on the phone. According to them, Putin told Erdogan that the situation risked becoming unstable, noting that several hundred Islamic State captives being held by Syrian Kurds had exploited the chaos and escaped. Putin invited Erdogan to visit Russia in the next few days for urgent talks, a proposal Ankara had accepted, Kremlin officials say.

FILE – Turkish tanks and troops are stationed near Syrian town of Manbij, Syria, Oct. 15, 2019.

The sharper language may suggest, say analysts, that Ankara has overreached, as far as the Kremlin is concerned and has surprised Moscow by going deeper into Syrian territory than Russian officials had expected. That has prompted Russian worries about Erdogan’s longer term aims and concern that he may intend to prolong the Turkish military presence in Syria, using it as leverage in talks brokered by Moscow about Syria’s political future.

“Maybe Erdogan is proving to be a more difficult partner than the Kremlin had anticipated,” quipped a Western diplomat based in the Russian capital. But he added it was unlikely Erdogan will want to fall out with Putin and disrupt Ankara’s warming ties with Moscow, especially as he comes under pressure from erstwhile NATO allies to withdraw.

On Tuesday, President Erdogan rejected a U.S. call for an immediate ceasefire in northern Syria. Erdogan’s comments come ahead of a visit to Turkey by the U.S. vice-president and U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. “They say ‘declare a ceasefire’. We will never declare a ceasefire, Erdogan told reporters.

Critics of the Trump administration say the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria effectively gave Turkey a “green light” for the cross-border offensive. Trump officials deny this and on Monday Washington announced sanctions on Turkish ministries and senior government officials as punishment for the incursion. Several of America’s European allies have announced they will stop arms exports to Turkey.

The raft of U.S. sanctions on Turkey include scrapping a proposed $100 billion trade deal and tariffs on Turkish steel up to 50 per cent. In a statement President Donald Trump accused Turkey of creating “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” by “undermining” the campaign against the Islamic State, as well as endangering civilians.

As Western powers sought to gain some traction on Ankara, Russia appears to have been quick to try to fill the vacuum left by the U.S. troop withdrawal and to confirm a role it has earmarked for itself as the regional powerbroker. Local Kurdish sources told VOA over Skype that Russian troops had started to patrol to keep Turkish and Syrian government forces apart.

FILE – Russian and Syrian national flags flutter on military vehicles near Manbij, Syria, Oct. 15, 2019.

Russian envoy Lavrentiev confirmed the on-the-ground activity saying that Moscow had brokered the deal between the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces and the Assad government. He said it was in “no one’s interests” for Assad forces and Turkish troops to clash. “Russia will not allow it,” he said. There have been some reports of scattered clashes between Turkish-backed forces and both Assad troops and the SDF, with at least one Turkish soldier killed.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces has been greeted gleefully by pro-Kremlin media outlets with state-owned RT television giving viewers a guided tour of a former U.S. military base near the town of Manbij. “Good morning, everybody, from Manbij,” the journalist, Oleg Blokhin, said in the report. “I’m at the American base where they still were yesterday, and this morning it’s already ours.”

But even the tub-thumping RT questioned whether Moscow has bitten off more than it can chew by setting itself up as the region’s power broker, pondering in one opinion article whether Putin can please everyone in the Middle East.


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US Pushing for Cease-fire After Turkey’s Push Into N. Syria

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The United States says diplomatic efforts are on “high gear” to press for a cease-fire after Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, as Washington tries to get the situation under control, according to a senior State Department official.

“Goal number one is to carry out diplomacy to try to find a cease fire. Get the situation under control. It’s very, very confusing.  It’s dangerous for our troops. It’s placing the fight against ISIS at risk. It’s placing at risk the safe imprisonment of almost 10,000 detainees,” the official said, using an acronym for the Islamic State terror group.

The official noted that there has not been “any major successful breakout so far of detainees,” referring to imprisoned IS fighters and their families.  Syrian Kurdish officials have said hundreds of suspected IS prisoners have escaped.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House, Oct. 14, 2019, in Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump has announced sanctions against Turkish officials over the military operation and he plans to send a delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to Ankara for talks to resolve the situation.

“I can just tell you that it’s (Pence’s trip) going to be launched very quickly,” the State Department official told reporters Tuesday. “And again our first goal is to basically have a heart to heart talk with the Turks.”

President Donald Trump speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Oct. 12, 2019.

President Trump has faced harsh criticism in the week since the White House announced Turkey was going forward with its long-held plans to try to carve out a buffer zone along its border with Syria free from the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters it accuses of being terrorists linked to separatist Kurds in Turkey. The U.S. military has long said its Kurdish allies have been instrumental in the fight against IS, and the elimination of IS’s caliphate.

“We’re very concerned about their [Turkey’s] actions and the threat that they presented to peace, security, stability, and territorial integrity of Syria, of our overall political plans, and the risk of humanitarian disaster, and human rights violations, some of which we’ve seen not by Turkish troops, but by what we call the TSO-Turkish supported Syrian opposition elements, armed opposition elements, who are responsible for those horrible pictures you saw,” the U.S. official said Tuesday.

Turkey’s incursion pushed the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces to reach an agreement with the Syrian government that has brought Syrian troops back into the northeastern part of the country for the first time in years, including on Monday reaching the town of Manbij.

A U.S. military spokesman said Tuesday American troops left the town of Manbij as part of their withdrawal from the area.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to his ruling party officials, in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 10, 2019.

Trump spoke Monday with both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and General Mazloum Kobani, the head of the mostly Kurdish SDF that the United States has relied on to battle Islamic State militants in Syria.

In addition to the call to halt the military operation, the United States raised steel tariffs and halted negotiations on a $100-billion trade deal with Turkey.

U.S. Democrats and Republicans have faulted the Trump administration for what is unfolding, saying the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area cleared the way for the U.S. ally SDF to be put in danger as well as the potential for Islamic State militants under SDF detention to break free and stage a resurgence.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 24, 2019.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Trump’s “erratic decision-making is threatening lives, risking regional security and undermining America’s credibility in the world.”

She said both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate will proceed this week with “action to oppose this irresponsible decision.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that while Turkey does have legitimate security concerns linked to the Syrian conflict, the operation against the U.S.-backed Kurds jeopardizes the progress won against IS.

“Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS,” McConnell said.  “And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States’ strategic interests.”

A senior administration official rejected criticisms against Trump in the call with reporters Monday, saying only Erdogan’s actions are to blame.

The official said Turkish President Erdogan “took a very, very rash, ill-calculated action that has had what, for him, were unintended consequences.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 11, 2019.

Earlier Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Erdogan “bears full responsibility” for what happens.

He called the Turkish offensive “unnecessary and impulsive,” and said it has undermined what he called the successful multinational mission to defeat Islamic State in Syria.

Esper said he plans to go to Brussels next week to press other NATO allies to apply sanctions on Turkey.

Nike Ching contributed to this report.

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Dutch Police Investigate Family Living in Isolation on Farm

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Dutch authorities were Tuesday trying to piece together the story of a family found living isolated from the outside world in the rural east of the Netherlands.

Mayor Roger de Groot said that the six-member family is believed to have lived for nine years on a farm in Ruinerwold, 130 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Amsterdam.

Drone images of the farm showed a cluster of buildings with a large vegetable garden on one side. The small property appeared to be ringed by a fence and largely obscured by trees.

Dutch media reported that the family was made up of five adult siblings and their father.

De Groot told reporters the siblings were aged from 18-25. He said their mother is believed to have died “a number of years ago.”

Local police said in a tweet that officers visited the farm after being alerted by somebody “concerned about the living conditions” of its residents.

Police said they arrested a 58-year-old man who rented the property, but it wasn’t immediately clear why or what his relationship was to the family. Police said he wasn’t the father.

Police investigating the farm found “a number of improvised rooms where a family lived a withdrawn life,” De Groot said in a statement.

Local bar owner Chris Westerbeek told broadcaster RTV Drenthe that he called police after a man “with a confused look in his eyes,” with unkempt hair, a long beard and old clothes walked in to his bar and ordered five beers for himself.

“He said where he came from, that he’d run away and that he needed help urgently,” Westerbeek said.

De Groot said the police investigation is looking into “all possible scenarios,” but didn’t elaborate.

He said the family was now “in a safe place receiving appropriate care and attention.”


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Dye Artisans Keep Ancestors’ Traditions Alive

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Dodging waves at low tide, a barefooted, shirtless Mixtec man is carefully walking along the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. He navigates his way through the gray rocks on a quest to catch a particular kind of snail, Purpura pansa. When he catches one, he presses just the right part of the snail’s foot to encourage it to secrete a neurotoxin directly onto a skein of cotton yarn. The milky liquid stains the yarn in a greenish color. As it oxidizes, the color turns blue and finally becomes a brilliant reddish-purple hue.

FILE – A laborer collects thread that has been dyed and left to dry in the sun, in Calcutta, India, June 1, 2005.

Extracting colors from snails is an ancient dyeing method that the Mixtec people have been practicing for around 1,500 years. Like their ancestors, Mixtec dyers do not hurt the snails. They carefully return them to their habitat. They give them time to recover and recharge. They also stay away from the snails during the mating season.

This group of Mixtec dyers is among more than two dozen artisans whom author Keith Recker profiled in his book, True Colors — World Masters of Natural Dyes and Pigments.

FILE – Vendors sell marigold flower garlands in Allahabad, India, Oct. 19, 2017.

Recker is interested in natural dyes because he finds them fascinating.

“There is usually more than one thing happening in the union between the natural coloring substance and fiber,” he says. “I think the eye is much more entertained by this complexity than it is by chemical simplicity where you only have one weave length, one vibe coming to your eye from the fiber.”

To explore traditional techniques and personal approaches to natural dyeing, Recker embarked on a journey and met with artisans from all over the world, from West Africa to Bangladesh to China to Northern California to Mexico to Uzbekistan.

“Before 1856, when the first synthetic dye was invented in England by a chemist who made a beautiful purple color out of tar, all colors were natural. They were made in some vividly amazing ways,” Recker notes. “Dyes were mostly extracted from plants, but in some cases from animals.”

Most of these artisans not only keep their ancestors’ handmade natural dyeing techniques alive, they pass them to younger generations as they train other artisans in their communities.

Colorful journey

Artisans come from different artistic and cultural backgrounds, however, their work is similar in many ways.

FILE – Pigment extracted from the cochineal insects are displayed at a Cochineal Campaign lab in Nopaltepec, state of Mexico, Sept. 30, 2014.

Audrey Louise Reynolds, for instance, is an artisan living in Upstate New York. She extracts beautiful colors from turmeric, while Rupa Trivedi in Mumbai, India, creates a range of colors from marigold, hibiscus and rose flowers and coconut husks. With much trial and error and online research, the self-taught artist understood the principles of natural dyes and started her business 15 years ago.

Maria Elena Pompo, who moved from Venezuela to the United States and from engineering to fashion design, also developed her natural dyeing technique through experimentation.

“She colors her clothing with recycled avocado pits,” Recker says. “She goes around Brooklyn, collecting avocado pits from Mexican restaurants and uses them in a very precise way to create a whole range of blushes and yellowy apricots and pink browns. It is very low impact because they’re things that would otherwise go to trash.”

FILE – A man crushes a cochineal insect to show its red color in Huejotzingo, Mexican state of Puebla, Sept. 25, 2014.

Red is one of basic colors artisans use in dyeing fabrics, but they extract it from different resources.  

In southwestern Mexico, the Gutierrez Contreras family members who are weaving textiles using old Zapotec traditions are famous for working with cochineal.

“Cochineal is a red color that comes from dried beetles,” Recker explains. “That sounds terrible, but the body of these dried beetles is made of carminic acid, which is still the safest red colorant we’ve known of.”

Carpetmakers Fatillo Kendjeav and his family, in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, extract a variety of red shades from madder roots. They use other natural ingredients to deepen the authenticity of their carpets, such as walnut hulls to create deep browns, and pomegranate skins to create a beautiful bronze green. They also use onion skins, apple, grape and mulberry leaves to create different shades of yellow.
Recker notes that these artisans tend to use such natural plants not only as colorants, but also as food and medicine.

True color advocates
As many people have become more conscious about natural foods and healthy eating habits, some see wearing naturally dyed fabrics as another step toward a healthier lifestyle. These dyeing techniques also have a lower impact on the environment as they encourage recycling and reusing practices, says Recker.

“If you learn how to use natural ingredients available around you, you can easily refresh an old, tired T-shirt, or a scarf, or a sheet and give it a new life instead of throwing them away,” adds the author.

Even if he does not inspire readers to do it themselves, Recker hopes raising awareness about natural colors will press the fashion industry worldwide to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

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Nigerian Police Rescue 67 From ‘Inhuman’ Conditions at Islamic ‘School’

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Police in northern Nigeria rescued nearly 70 men and boys from a second purported Islamic school where they were shackled and subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatments.”

The raid in Katsina, the northwestern home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, came less a month after about 300 men and boys were freed from another supposed Islamic school in neighboring Kaduna state where they were allegedly tortured and sexually abused.

“In the course of investigation, sixty-seven persons from the ages of 7 to 40 years were found shackled with chains,” Katsina police spokesman Sanusi Buba said in a statement.

Men and boys are pictured after being rescued by police in Sabon Garin, in Daura local government area of Katsina state, Nigeria, Oct. 14, 2019.

“Victims were also found to have been subjected to various inhuman and degrading treatments.”

The raid occurred on Oct. 12 in Sabon Garin in the Daura local government area of Katsina state. Police issued a statement Monday and said they were working to reunite the victims with their families.

Police arrested one man, 78-year-old Mallam Bello Abdullahi Umar, for running what they called an “illegal detention/remand home.”

Lawai Musa, a trader who lived near the center, told Reuters by phone that families sent unruly men and boys there believing it was an Islamic teaching facility that would straighten them out and teach them Islamic beliefs.

“The way he is treating the children is un-Islamic” he said. “We are not happy, they were treated illegally.”

Islamic schools

Islamic schools, known as Almajiris, are common across the mostly Muslim north of Nigeria. Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), a local organization, estimates about 10 million children attend them.

In June, President Buhari, himself a Muslim, said the government planned to ban the schools, but would not do so immediately. After the incident in Kaduna, the president issued a statement calling on traditional authorities to work with government to expose “unwanted cultural practices that amount to the abuse of children.”

Buhari’s office declined to immediately comment on the Katsina raid, saying it would issue a statement after a full briefing from police.

“The command enjoins parents to desist from taking their children/wards to illegal, unauthorized or unapproved remand/rehabilitation centers,” the police statement said.

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California Regulator Sanctions Utility Over Power Outages

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California’s top utility regulator blasted Pacific Gas and Electric on Monday for what she called “failures in execution” during the largest planned power outage in state history to avoid wildfires that she said “created an unacceptable situation that should never be repeated.”
The agency ordered a series of corrective actions, including a goal of restoring power within 12 hours, not the utility’s current 48-hour goal.

“The scope, scale, complexity, and overall impact to people’s lives, businesses, and the economy of this action cannot be understated,” California Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer wrote in a letter to PG&E CEO Bill Johnson.

FILE – Pacific Gas and Electric employees work in the PG&E Emergency Operations Center in San Francisco, Oct. 10, 2019.

PG&E last week took the unprecedented step of cutting power to more than 700,000 customers, affecting nearly 2 million Californians. The company said it did it because of dangerous wind forecasts but acknowledged that its execution was poor.
Its website frequently crashed, and many people said they did not receive enough warning that the power was going out.
“We were not adequately prepared,” Johnson said at a press conference last week.

PG&E spokespeople did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment on the sanctions.

In addition to restoring power faster, the PUC said the utility must work harder to avoid such large-scale outages, develop better ways to communicate with the public and local officials, get a better system for distributing outage maps, and work with emergency personnel to ensure PG&E staff are sufficiently trained.
She ordered the utility to perform an audit of its performance during the outages that began Wednesday, saying the utility clearly did not adopt many of the recommendations state officials have made since utilities was granted the authority to begin pre-emptive power shutoffs last year. The review is due by Thursday, and she ordered several PG&E executives to appear at an emergency PUC hearing Friday.

Governor’s criticism
Gov. Gavin Newsom has also criticized PG&E for its performance during the outage, blaming what he called decades of mismanagement, underinvestment and lousy communication with the public. On Monday the Democratic governor urged the utility to compensate affected customers with a bill credit or rebate worth $100 for residential customers or $250 for small businesses.

Newsom said the shutoffs affected too many customers for too long, and it is clear PG&E implemented them “with astounding neglect and lack of preparation.”

Batjer’s letter also said that PG&E’s service territory, design of its transmission lines and distribution network and “lack of granularity of its forecasting ability” mean it can’t do pre-emptive power shut-offs as strategically as some other utilities, but she said it must work harder to reduce the number of customers affected by future outages.

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US Defense Secretary Blasts Erdogan for ‘Unnecessary’ Syria Incursion

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Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “bears full responsibility” for the resurgence of Islamic State, a growing humanitarian crisis, and possible war crimes.

This was the Pentagon’s strongest condemnation so far of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Esper calls Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds “unnecessary and impulsive.” He says it has undermined what he calls the “successful” multinational mission to defeat Islamic State in Syria by allowing “many dangerous ISIS detainees” to flee detention camps that had been guarded by the Kurds.

FILE – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 11, 2019.

Esper says U.S. relations with Turkey have been damaged. He says he plans to go to Brussels next week to press other NATO allies to slap sanctions on Turkey.

Turkish forces entered into northern Syria last week after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the pull out of the approximately 1,000 U.S. forces in the area. They will be redeployed elsewhere in the Middle East to “monitor the situation,” according to Trump.

The U.S. had been fighting side-by-side with the Kurds in Syria to defeat Islamic State. The extremists were just one rebel faction trying to overthrow the Syrian government.

Turkey regards the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish separatists inside Turkey.

‘Irresponsible’ actions 

Syrian Kurds say they feel forsaken by the United States. They also believe much of the Arab world and the U.N. Security Council are ignoring them.

FILE – Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prepare to join the front against Turkish forces, near the northern Syrian town of Hasakeh, Oct. 10, 2019.

But Esper says Turkey’s “irresponsible” actions have created an unacceptable risk to U.S. forces in northern Syria, including the possibility of the U.S. getting “engulfed in a broader conflict.”

Trump continued Monday to defend his decision to order the U.S. out of the area against strong criticism from both parties and European allies.

“Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey?” Trump tweeted. “Never ending wars will end! The same people who got us into the Middle East mess are the people who most want to stay there!”

Trump said he is raising tariffs on Turkish steel imports and is prepared to impose sanctions on current and former Turkish officials. Trump also says he is stopping trade talks with Turkey.

“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” he said.

‘Gravely concerned’

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called on the entire House to pass a resolution condemning Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria. But she also agrees that Turkey must be condemned for its actions.

FILE – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 17, 2019.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he is “gravely concerned” about the Turkish offensive, contending it will jeopardize “years of hard-won progress” in destroying Islamic State.

McConnell said he would hold talks with Trump administration officials this week on how “to avoid a strategic calamity” in the region.

Syrian forces entered a town near the Turkish border Monday, a day after reaching an agreement with Syrian Kurds to move into the region in an attempt to counter the Turkish onslaught.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported Monday’s troop movement in Tal Tamr, about 20 kilometers from the border, saying it was done to “confront the Turkish aggression” and was welcomed by the people there.

The fighting since the Turkish operation began nearly a week ago has killed dozens of civilians, observers say.

The U.S. State Department has condemned reports of pro-Turkish fighters executing civilians.

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Biles Dazzles on Floor to Win Record 25th World Championship Medal

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American Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history on Sunday when she won the beam and floor finals to take her career tally to 25 medals.

Soon after securing a convincing victory on the beam in Stuttgart to overtake Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo’s record tally of 23 world medals, the 22-year-old Biles successfully defended her floor title to win medal number 25.

The four-time Olympic champion is now the owner of 19 gold medals across four championships against 12 for Scherbo, who competed in five world events between 1991 and 1996.

Making her final appearance of the week in front of a raucous crowd, Biles wasted no time as she landed a superb triple-twisting double back flip — known as the Biles II – on her first pass.

Biles’s double layout with a half turn — another skill named after her — put her out of bounds for a 0.1 penalty but she did enough to post a winning score of 15.133.

“Honestly, I just couldn’t move. I was so tired,” Biles said of her final pose on the stage.

“This is really the best worlds performance I have ever put out.”

The Americans took a one-two finish as Sunisa Lee finished with 14.133 for the silver medal, while Russian Angelina Melnikova came third.

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>FILE - US gymnyst Simone Biles poses with her gold medal for artistic gymnastics during the victory ceremony at the Rio Olympic Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 16, 2016.
Olympic Champ Simone Biles Says She was Abused by Doctor

Simone Biles watched as her friends and former Olympic teammates came forward to detail abuse at the hands of a now-imprisoned former USA Gymnastics team doctor.Drawing in part from their strength, the four-time gold medalist acknowledged Monday she is among the athletes who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar.Biles, who won five medals overall at the 2016 Olympics, released a statement via Twitter outlining that abuse.


Earlier, Biles delivered a polished routine on the beam before a full twisting double tuck dismount for an impressive 15.066.

Although Biles had twice before won the world beam title, in 2014 and 2015, it has not always been plain sailing for her on the apparatus.

Her slip on the landing of a front tucked somersault at the 2016 Rio Olympics meant she had to settle for a bronze in the event. Last year again, she dropped off the beam during the women’s all-around final at the world championships.

But she has regained her swagger this week, under the watchful eyes of balance beam coach Cecile Landi, and posted top scores in all four attempts — qualifying, the team and all-around finals and Sunday’s apparatus final.

“It meant a lot because Cecile has really been working on bringing my confidence back up to where it used to be on the beam,” Biles said.

“To go out there and nail the routine, just like I do in practice, it felt really good and I knew she was really proud.”

As another title-winning score was announced in the arena, Biles punched the air in jubilation before joining celebrations with the U.S. team.

“I was really excited,” she added. “I thought it was going to be at least 14.8, 14.9, but to see 15, I was like well that’s pretty crazy, so I was very proud.”

Last year’s winner Liu Tingting of China took silver with 14.433, while team mate Li Shijia won the bronze.

Biles finished her campaign in Stuttgart with five gold medals from six events to mark ideal preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Her barnstorming run included a record fifth all-around gold, an individual vault title, as well as helping the U.S. to a fifth straight world team title.