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Nigeria has closed its land borders to all movement of goods and has no timeline for reopening them, the head of the nation’s customs agency said, as part of an effort to curb smuggling.”All goods for now are banned from being exported or imported through our land borders and that is to ensure we have total control over what comes in,” Hameed Ali, comptroller-general of the Nigerian Customs Service, told reporters in Abuja on Monday. Africa’s largest economy launched a partial border closure in August as part of an effort to thwart smuggling of rice and other goods, and there had been widespread local media reports of a broader closure.But Ali’s announcement was the first official confirmation of a total shutdown in trade across Nigeria’s land borders — including goods that had been moving legally.”We are strategizing on how best the goods can be handled when we eventually get to the point where this operation will relax for the influx of goods,” he said. He did not give a timeline for any relaxation of the controls.The closure has no impact on Nigeria’s economically crucial oil exports, which are shipped out almost entirely via the nation’s seaports and offshore oil platforms.Ali added that despite the land border closure, it would still be possible for goods to cross at points equipped with special scanners, but did not say where those locations were.Ali said reopening the borders would depend on the actions of neighboring states, and that as long as they and Nigeria were not in accord on what goods should be imported or exported overland, the frontier would remain shut.The move is likely to make a variety of food items, such as rice, tomatoes, poultry and sugar, more expensive for consumers.While it was illegal to bring these items into the country via land borders even before the border closure, they had been widely smuggled.”Already we are seeing effects on prices and inflation and I’m guessing we will see effects on Q3 GDP once that data comes out in November,” said Nonso Obikili, director at the Turgot Center for Economics and Policy Research in Abuja.Exports are also restricted, which will stop movements of cocoa and sesame seeds via land borders, Obikili said.Ali noted that legal exports could continue via seaports, but Nigeria’s congested terminals and dilapidated road and rail networks make it difficult to quickly change export routes.Deliveries of gasoline in Nigeria had also dropped by nearly 20 percent during the early stage of the border closure, according to the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency.Gasoline, whose prices is capped in Nigeria, is frequently smuggled across land borders and sold in neighboring countries.
European Union officials hoped to sketch out a Brexit deal with Britain within hours, but negotiations stretched into early Wednesday in the latest effort at producing an agreement in more than three years of false starts and sudden reversals.
The bloc said it might be possible to strike a divorce deal by Thursday’s EU leaders’ summit, which comes just two weeks before the U.K’s scheduled departure date of Oct. 31. One major proviso: The British government must make more compromises to seal an agreement in the coming hours.
Britain and the EU have been here before – within sight of a deal only to see it dashed – but a surge in the British pound Tuesday indicated hope that this time could be different. The currency rose against the dollar to its highest level in months.
Even though many questions remain, diplomats made it clear that both sides were within touching distance of a deal for the first time since a U.K. withdrawal plan fell apart in the British House of Commons in March.
Still, talks that first lingered into Tuesday night turned into negotiating past midnight as no deal materialized between experts from both sides holed up at EU headquarters in a darkened Brussels.
Late Tuesday, Martin Schirdewan, a German member of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, said an agreement was “now within our grasp” following a breakthrough in negotiations.
This week’s EU leaders’ meeting – the last scheduled summit before the Brexit deadline – was long considered the last opportunity to approve a divorce agreement. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists his country will leave at the end of the month with or without an agreement, although U.K. lawmakers are determined to push for another delay rather than risk a chaotic no-deal Brexit.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said at a meeting of the bloc’s ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday that the main challenge now is to turn the new British proposals on the complex Irish border issue into something legally binding. EU member Ireland has a land border with the U.K.’s Northern Ireland, and both want to keep goods and people flowing freely across the currently invisible frontier.
A frictionless border underpins both the local economy and the 1998 peace accord that ended decades of Catholic-Protestant violence in Northern Ireland. But once Britain exits, that border will turn into an external EU frontier that the bloc wants to keep secure.
Barnier wants a clear answer by Wednesday morning, so EU capitals can prepare for the bloc’s two-day summit that begins Thursday. “It is still possible this week,” said Barnier. As so often, intricate details kept hopes from turning into immediate reality.European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU General Affairs ministers, Article 50, at the European Convention Center in Luxembourg, Oct. 15, 2019.
The big question is how far Johnson’s government is prepared to budge on its insistence that the U.K., including Northern Ireland, must leave the European Union’s customs union – something that would require checks on goods passing between the U.K. and the EU, including on the island of Ireland.
The British government has given away little detail of the proposals it has made on the issue; even government ministers have not been told specifics. In broad terms, the U.K. is proposing that Northern Ireland – but not the rest of the U.K. – continue to follow EU customs rules and tariffs after Brexit in order to remove the need for border checks.
But that sounds like a customs union in all but name – and would mean new checks or tariffs on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
An EU official said Barnier told a teleconference of some lawmakers that the Irish Sea would largely become the customs border between the EU and the U.K. That would avoid having a visible land border on the island of Ireland between the two. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were ongoing.
But Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, the party that props up Johnson’s minority government, strongly opposes any measures that could loosen the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
After DUP leaders met with Johnson late Tuesday at the prime minister’s office, the party said negotiations continued but “it would be fair to indicate gaps remain and further work is required.”
Brexit supporters are also wary that maintaining any kind of customs union with the EU will tie the U.K. to the bloc’s regulations and limit its ability to strike new trade deals around the world – undermining what were supposed to be some of the key benefits of a withdrawal.
The customs proposals on the table also appear similar to those put forward by former Prime Minister Theresa May. Opposition from pro-Brexit lawmakers, including Johnson, led to those being rejected by Parliament three times.
In public, Johnson has not changed his tune. But the British leader was working hard behind the scenes to secure a deal that would allow him to fulfil his vow to take the U.K. out of the bloc. And some of the staunchest Brexit-backers appeared willing to give him a chance.
“I am optimistic that it is possible for us to reach a tolerable deal that I will be able to vote for,” said pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker.
On Tuesday, Johnson called French President Emmanuel Macron – one of the EU leaders most skeptical about Britain’s intentions – to discuss where elements of a compromise could be found. Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, called the conversation “constructive.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who had a long, intense talk with Barnier early Tuesday, said the EU believes a deal “is difficult, but it is doable.” He said Barnier addressed EU ministers and “did point to progress in the last number of days where the gaps have been narrowed.”
Still, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said the British proposals to keep the Irish border protected from smuggling and fraud once it leaves the bloc were insufficient.
EU ministers insisted it was Johnson’s turn to make the next move – and he seemed to be listening. In addition to the call with Macron, Johnson shifted Britain’s weekly Cabinet meeting from Tuesday to Wednesday to give his ministers a better idea of Brexit progress.
If talks fail or stumble ahead of the EU summit, there could always be an extraordinary meeting just before the Brexit deadline – or it could be extended again. It has already been postponed twice.
“There will be progress tomorrow, the question is how big this progress will be,” said a senior German official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. “Is this progress so great that work is still needed, but this work can be done in the next few days? Or is the progress such that two more months’ work is needed?”
Germany released draft security guidelines Tuesday for next generation wireless networks that stopped short of banning Huawei, as the U.S. warned again it would reconsider intelligence sharing with allies that use the Chinese company’s equipment.The Federal Network Agency catalog of conditions for suppliers of new 5G networks include requiring certification of critical components and ensuring trustworthiness of manufacturers, without singling out Huawei for exclusion.Huawei said it welcomed the German government’s move to “create a level playing field” for 5G suppliers, in which “all vendors are equally and fairly welcome to participate in the construction of 5G networks if they fulfill the security requirements.”FILE – A woman walks by a Huawei retail store in Beijing, July 30, 2019.The U.S. has been lobbying allies in Europe to shun Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of networking equipment, over worries its equipment might aid Chinese electronic spying — claims the company has repeatedly denied. The Trump administration cut off its access to U.S. technology in May, part of a broader geopolitical feud between Washington and Beijing over technology and trade.
The top U.S. cybersecurity diplomat, Rob Strayer, said that along with testing equipment and software for vulnerabilities, governments should also take into account the background of the manufacturer’s home country, including whether it has independent courts and the rule of law.
U.S. officials worry that companies in China are required to cooperate with intelligence requests under a national intelligence law.
“If there’s technology that’s untrusted deployed in their networks, then we have to reassess how we share information with countries like Germany,” Strayer told in a telephone media briefing, though he added he hadn’t yet reviewed the German rules, which are open for consultation and could become law by the end of the year.
Strayer also praised a European Union assessment of 5G security risks last week that warned about a range of cyber threats including from hostile countries and “state-backed actors,” even though it avoided singling out China or Huawei.
New 5G networks promise superfast download speeds and reduced signal delay that can power a wave of innovations such as factory robots and remote surgery, but their increased reliance on software raises the risks of cyberattacks.
U.S. sanctions on Turkey over its Syrian military offensive are being dismissed by the political leadership in Ankara, as financial markets shrug off the measures.Sanctions were announced against Turkish officials on Monday as negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal ended. While a tariff on Turkish steel was doubled to 50%, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the measures would remain until Turkey declared a cease-fire with the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG.Last week, Turkish forces launched a major military attack into Syria against the YPG, considered by Ankara to be linked to terrorism inside Turkey. The YPG has been a U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State terror group.With over 100,000 people displaced by the fighting, and fears mounting that the operation is opening the door to a resurgence of the Islamic State group, international condemnation continues to grow.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the Trump administration’s measures.”We have seen all the threats from sanctions to embargoes, just because we fight against terrorism,” he said.Erdogan later pledged to continue with the operation until “all our objectives had been achieved.”FILE PHOTO: A merchant counts Turkish lira banknotes at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, March 29, 2019. Erdogan’s defiant stance comes as Turkish financial markets were mostly unaffected by the sanctions. Analysts say sanctions were widely seen in Turkey as symbolic and posed little threat to financial institutions or the broader economy.U.S. President Donald Trump’s previous increase of Turkish steel tariffs a year ago over the jailing of American pastor Andrew Brunson plunged the Turkish economy into crisis. Brunson subsequently was released; however, some analysts say the Turkish financial markets are more resilient.”The then-imposition of sanctions on an ally was pretty much uncharted territory,” said an international banking analyst, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “But since then, the markets are more prepared for assessing sanctions.”News of Trump’s sanctions saw the Turkish currency, the lira, increase in value, along with gains in the broader financial markets. The gains came after several days of losses fueled by growing fears of more draconian sanctions from the United States. Both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress are united in a rare bipartisan consensus in condemning Turkey’s military operation.FILE – Sen. Lindsey Graham, speaks to reporters after a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 21, 2019.Trump’s sanctions are seen as at least postponing, if not averting, more stringent measures against Turkey. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen are proposing legislation targeting Turkey’s energy and military sectors, along with other financial measures.Graham has indicated he is ready to wait to see if Trump’s measures will be effective. Analysts suggest, at least for now, that Turkey has had a narrow escape.”If Graham’s bill passes, Turkey will be in deep trouble,” said analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners. “Last week, [Turkish] state banks sold a billion dollars to stabilize the currency. This threat of sanctions is a long-term affair.”The threat of significant damage to Turkey’s economy from sanctions remains.”If these sanctions don’t achieve the required results, and if Turkish involvement in Syria goes on and even deepens, then there might be further sanctions, as this path has been opened,” the anonymous analyst said.Local traffic follows as U.S. Army vehicles with flags drive down the street allegedly near the Syrian-Turkish border town Kobane, Syria, Oct. 12, 2019 in this still image taken from video. Deeper punishmentPence warned of further U.S. measures if Turkey continues with its military operation. He also gave a specific warning to Ankara not to attack the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobane on Turkey’s border. Erdogan has declared it a key objective in Turkey’s military offensive.The Turkish operation seeks to create what Erdogan calls “a “safe zone” in Syria about 400 kilometers (250 miles) long and 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep. The zone not only aims to secure the Turkish border from the threat of the Kurdish militia, but also to allow the return of up to 2 million refugees living in Turkey.”We will secure the area extending from Manbij [in Syria] to the Iraqi border, and then facilitate 1 million Syrian refugees’ return home in the first phase. And later on, the return of 2 million people,” Erdogan said Tuesday in a speech in Baku, Azerbaijan.Analysts say Erdogan faces increasing domestic pressure, with growing public discontent over the presence of 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.Pence said he plans to visit Turkey for high-level talks, which are expected this week. Analysts warn that Erdogan’s room for maneuver is likely to be limited.”I can’t imagine the repercussions at home of Turkish soldiers picking up and going back,” Yesilada said. “Erodgan will have to pay some price for staying there in some limited way.”
Russia moved to fill the void left by the United States in northern Syria on Tuesday, deploying troops to keep apart advancing Syrian government forces and Turkish troops. At the same time, tensions grew within NATO as Turkey defied growing condemnation of its invasion from its Western allies.Now in its seventh day, Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish fighters has caused tens of thousands to flee their homes, has upended alliances and is re-drawing the map of northern Syria for yet another time in the 8-year-old war.Russia moved quickly to further entrench its role as a power broker after President Donald Trump ordered the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria. The American move effectively abandoned the Kurdish fighters who were allied with the U.S. and cleared the way for Turkey’s invasion aimed at crushing them.Smoke and dust billow from targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, Oct. 15, 2019.Desperate for a new protector, the Kurdish administration struck a deal with the Russia-backed government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces on Sunday began moving into Kurdish-administered areas to shield them against Turkey.Syrian troops waved flags in the streets after they rolled into Manbij, a flashpoint town west of the Euphrates River that Turkey had been aiming to capture and wrest from Kurdish control. Video by Russian journalists with the troops showed what appeared to be an abandoned outpost where U.S. forces had been stationed.
A U.S. military spokesman, Col. Myles B. Caggins, confirmed U.S. troops had completed their pullout from Manbij. During the withdrawal, contacts were kept open with the Turks and Russians to ensure the several hundred American forces there got out safely, U.S. officials said.U.S. troops have had outposts in Manbij since 2017, when they went in to avert a battle over the town between Turkish and Kurdish fighters.Now Russia was playing that role. Outside Manbij, Russian troops patrolled front lines between Turkish and Syrian army positions to keep them apart, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.
U.S. ‘deeply concerned'”No one is interested” in fighting between Syrian government troops and Turkish forces, said Alexander Lavrentyev, Moscow’s envoy for Syria. Russia “is not going to allow it,” he told Russian state news agencies.A motorist drives past a Turkish forces truck transporting armored personnel carriers at the border with Syria in Karkamis, Gaziantep province, southeastern Turkey, Oct. 15, 2019.Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters Washington is “deeply concerned” that Russian troops are patrolling between the two sides.
Russia has been a staunch ally of Assad for decades and entered the Syrian conflict in 2015, providing air cover that eventually turned the tide of the war in his favor. The Russian military has shipped weapons to Damascus, trained thousands of troops and put its advisers in key Syrian military units.In the first week of the Turkish assault, at least 154 fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been killed, as well as 128 fighters from Turkish-backed Syrian factions , according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor of the war. It said at least 69 civilians have been killed in Syria. Turkey says six of its soldiers have died, as well as at least 20 Turkish civilians killed by Kurdish mortar fire across the border.Manbij and Ras al-AynDespite the Syrian and Russian deployments, Turkey insisted it would capture Manbij. Asked on Sky News if Turkey’s military was willing to fight Assad’s army, Vice President Fuat Oktay said, “We hope it’s not going to happen, but again we are determined to get control over Manbij.”Mortar fire from Manbij killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded seven others, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. An Associated Press team later saw up to 200 Turkish troops along with armored vehicles crossing near Manbij and Kobani, a border town that is not yet secured by Syrian forces. Farther east on the border, Turkish and Kurdish forces were in heavy battles over the town of Ras al-Ayn, captured by Turkish troops days earlier.Turkish forces fire rockets toward targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, Oct. 15, 2019.A U.S. official said the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops being withdrawn from northern Syria will reposition in Iraq, Kuwait and possibly Jordan. The U.S. forces in Iraq could conduct cross-border operations against the Islamic State group in Syria as they did before creating the now-abandoned partnership with Syrian Kurdish-led forces, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive planning for a U.S. pullout.After opening the way for the Turkish assault with its pullout, Washington is now trying to restrain its fellow NATO member.Turkey’s criticsTrump on Monday announced sanctions aimed at Turkey’s economy. The U.S. called on Turkey to stop the offensive and declare a cease-fire, while European Union countries moved to broaden an arms sale embargo against their easternmost ally.Trump was sending Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser Robert O’Brien to Ankara to try to begin negotiations to stop the fighting. Pence said Trump spoke directly to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who promised not to attack the border town of Kobani, which in 2015 saw the Islamic State group’s first defeat in a battle by the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.The U.N. Security Council planned a closed meeting Wednesday on the situation, requested by Germany and other EU members. “Everybody hopes that … we can do something to bring back the parties to the peace process,” said the current Security Council president, South Africa’s U.N. Ambassador Jerry Matjila.NATO ambassadors also will meet Wednesday in Brussels on Turkey’s offensive, said alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.Erdogan reactionErdogan defended Turkey’s offensive in a column in the Wall Street Journal, urging the international community to support Ankara’s effort to create what it calls a resettlement “safe zone” for refugees in northeastern Syria, or “begin admitting refugees.”Turkish tanks and troops are stationed near Syrian town of Manbij, Syria, Oct. 15, 2019.”Turkey reached its limit,” Erdogan wrote of the 3.6 million Syrians in his country. He said Turkey’s warnings it would be unable to stop refugee floods into the West without international support “fell on deaf ears.”Turkey said it invaded northern Syria to create a zone of control the entire length of the border and drive out the Kurdish fighters, which it regards as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
Instead, after the Kurds’ deal with Damascus, a new de facto carving up of the border appeared to be taking shape.Turkish forces control the beginnings of a truncated zone roughly in the center of the border about 100 kilometers (60 miles) long between the towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain.
Syrian government troops were moving into or increasing their presence in areas on either side of that enclave, including Manbij to the west and the cities of Qamishli and Hassakeh in the far northeastern corner of Syria.Though they gain protection from the Turks by the deal with Damascus, the Kurds risk losing the virtual self-rule they have enjoyed across the northeast — the heartland of their minority community — ever since Assad pulled his troops from the area seven years ago to fight rebels elsewhere.
The U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator said at least 160,000 civilians in northeastern Syria have been displaced amid the Turkish operations, mostly from Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad, where people are fleeing south.
KYIV — Ukraine is at the center of the impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump, as Democrat opponents claim he pressured Kyiv to investigate the son of his political rival Joe Biden. The web of allegations and counter-claims is rooted in Ukraine’s efforts to clamp down on corruption following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
Many Ukrainians now fear their country could suffer from the fierce political battles in Washington.
In the past six years, Ukraine has weathered revolution and war and remains beset by economic and existential threats. So it is with shock and bewilderment that the country finds itself at the center of an American presidential showdown.
“Truth be told, I think this problem is all between the Republicans and the Democrats. These are not our problems,” Kyiv resident Irina told VOA.
“I think that Ukrainian people know for sure that all this is an American circus, a theater, and we shouldn’t pay any attention,” said Volodymyr Kostik, who was born in Ukraine but was visiting Kyiv from his home in Florida.FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25, 2019. President Trump alleges that Joe Biden forced the resignation of the then-Ukrainian chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to protect Biden’s family, a charge the former Democratic vice president denies.
Shokin had previously been investigating alleged corruption at the energy firm Burisma, where Biden’s son Hunter sat on the board of directors. Shokin’s deputy at the time, David Sakvarelidze, told VOA his boss was ousted because he was ineffective.“I’m sure that the United States’ and the international community’s demand to dismiss Shokin was an outcome and a logical result of his corruptness and of his, let’s say, incompatibility with the post-Maidan [post-revolution] era in Ukraine. Biden’s reaction was an outcome and a result of the reports that the United States embassy was sending to Washington, D.C. and it was once again connected to unwillingness to fight corruption,” Sakvarelidze said.
Clear evidence of that corruption, say critics, is rooted in the events of early 2014 when government security forces launched a brutal crackdown on protesters in Independence Square, killing more than 100 people. Not a single official has been prosecuted over the deaths and for many Ukrainians, that is symbolic of the corruption at the highest level of the prosecution system.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was elected in April on a pledge to prosecute corrupt officials. He must avoid being sucked into an American crisis, argues former lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko, who served on the parliament’s anti-corruption committee.FILE – Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden attend an NCAA basketball game in Washington, Jan. 30, 2010.
“The risk is to be involved in the conflict on the side of Republicans or Democrats. The only way to lower damage is to stay neutral, stay balanced, and stay as far as possible from this contact line of the conflict, and to stay (keep) maneuvering between these requests from both sides,” Leshchenko said.
Ukraine’s biggest fear is becoming the collateral damage of an American political war, says Brian Bonner, editor of the Kyiv Post newspaper and a long-time Ukraine observer.
“People here did think and have believed that the United States was a steadfast ally. And then when it appears that Trump is just interested in shaking down the Ukrainian president to dig into Biden, then it became just more sleazy politics as usual.”
President Trump rejects claims that he pressured Ukraine into investigating Biden. The timing of the diplomatic crisis could hardly be worse, as Ukraine tries to negotiate with Russia over ending the war in the eastern Donbas region. Many Ukrainians feel let down, says analyst Ilyia Kusa of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future.
“They were even saying that, ‘The U.S. is not interested in Donbas, they’re not interested in Crimea, they’re not interested in our struggle against Russia. He (President Trump) only tries to benefit himself and to treat Ukraine only as a mere source of some kind of dirty materials against his political opponent.”
The political warfare in the United States has provoked fascination – but also fear over the commitment of Ukraine’s key Western ally, even as its soldiers continue to fight and die on the frontlines of its conflict with Russia.
France’s prime minister said on Tuesday decisions by Turkey and the United States in Syria would have serious consequences in the region and that it was inevitable that their actions would lead to a resurgence of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.”This is devastating for our security with the inevitable resurgence of Islamic State in northeastern Syria and probably also northwest Iraq and so the destabilization of a government that doesn’t need that,” Edouard Phillipe told parliamentary questions.He accused Washington of allowing and strengthening the Turkish offensive because of its decision to unilaterally withdraw 1,000 troops from Syria.
U.S. President Donald Trump is pressuring Turkey to stop its offensive in northern Syria with calls for a cease-fire and sanctions against Turkish officials, as he plans to send a delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to Ankara for talks to resolve the situation.Trump’s action follows sharp 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.Turkey’s incursion pushed the 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.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.Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the World Turkish Business Council meeting, in Baku, Azerbaijan, Monday. Oct. 14, 2019.”We all firmly believe that the United States is the only party with the gravitas to arbitrate with both sides,” a senior administration official told reporters.Trump directed the Pence-led delegation to go to Turkey “as quickly as possible to see if we can achieve a deal,” according to an administration official.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.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 Islamic State.”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 Erdogan “took a very, very rash, ill-calculated action that has had what, for him, were unintended consequences.”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.
A woman alleging she was raped by Serbian forces during the Kosovo War filed a criminal complaint Monday with the country’s Special Prosecution’s Office, asking that her attacker be prosecuted.Shyhrete Tahiri-Sylejmani became only the second among an estimated 20,000 raped during the 1998-1999 war to publicly recount her experience.”I am here with you to share with you the pain I have in my soul,” she said in front of reporters and TV cameras in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. “I represent all mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters that suffer the same pain. I want to give them courage. It is never easy. Think of the kind of pain that shatters your heart and it can never be healed again. I am here to demand justice.”Feride Rushiti of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims, who stood beside Tahiri-Sylejmani, expressed dismay that justice still eludes the victims and that those who committed rape and other war crimes are still at large.”These crimes remain unpunished. That is why we are here today to demand justice for the 20,000 women, men, girls and boys who have experienced this crime, horror, torture and mistreatment during the war,” she said.Public faces of survivorsIn October 2018, Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman became Kosovo’s first survivor of wartime rape to publicly accuse her alleged attackers and tell her story.In April of this year, she recounted her harrowing experiences in testimony before the 5,000 dresses and skirts hang inside a stadium, in an exhibition titled “Thinking of You” by Kosovo-born Alketa Xhafa-Mripa, in Pristina, June 2015. The artist hoped to draw attention to the stigma suffered by victims of wartime sexual violence.Shedding the stigmaMany survivors kept quiet for decades, fearing the shame and public humiliation that rape can bring to an extended family in a historically patriarchal society.As Kosovo struggled to rebuild and secure international recognition in the wake of its 2008 declaration of independence, the issue of sexual violence remained largely on the back burner.Last year, the government started to provide reparations for victims of sexual war crimes under a law that compensates veterans of the Kosovo War.Claimants welcome the lifetime monthly compensation of $275 for the physical and psychological trauma — about 90% of the average salary for Kosovar women.Even so, Tahiri-Sylejmani and Krasniqi Goodman insist the compensation is no substitute for justice.
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.Vice President Mike Pence says Trump is sending him to the Middle East in an apparent attempt to push Turkey and the Kurds to the negotiating table.Pence says Trump spoke to Erdogan on Monday, calling for an immediate end to the military operation.The U.S. is “simply not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion of Syria any longer,” Pence said.’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 stopping trade talks with Turkey while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions on the Turkish defense, interior, and energy ministers and their departments.”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.But the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, says the sanctions Trump and Mnuchin announced “do not go far enough to punish Turkey for its egregious offenses in Syria.”In Syria, government 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.