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China’s Xi Jinping urges Communist Party to renew itself

Chinese President Xi Jinping has kicked off the country's 19th Communist Party Congress in Beijing. Xi, who told his audience the party needed to reinvigorate itself, is expected to shake up the Politburo. China's 19th Communist Party Congress opened in Beijing on Wednesday with a speech from President Xi Jinping who called on the party to "resolutely oppose" any actions that "undermine" it. Thousands of delegates applauded as Xi entered the packed Great Hall of the People, followed by his two predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. Xi's lengthy, carefully formulated speech highlighted the party's achievements during Xi's first term, including the "strengthening and revitalizing of the armed forces" as well as China's role as a "torch bearer" in the fight against climate change. Reforms for the world's second-largest economy featured prominently in Xi's speech along with praise for his fight against corruption in the party, which Xi said had achieved "overwhelming momentum." "The fight against corruption has formed an overwhelming posture and strengthened in development," Xi said in a speech carried live on state television. Xi outlines China's 'challenges' In a speech meant to highlight China and Xi's successes, the president also made an unusual move to note the "severe challenges" facing the country ahead. The Chinese leader noted that certain development issues had been insufficiently addressed, including problems in employment, education, medical care and a widening income gap. "Realizing our great dream demands a great struggle," Xi said, later noting: "We must rid ourselves of any virus that erodes the party's health." Politburo shake-up A total of 2,338 delegates from around the country are taking part in the week-long, mostly closed-door event that will culminate in a likely overhaul of the party's top ruling body. The thousands of delegates gathered at the congress, which takes place every five years, will choose the Central Committee — a decision-making body of some 376 members. Around half of the Central Committee's members will likely step down this year after reaching the informal retirement age of 68. Combined with Xi's anti-graft campaign, which has seen several other members removed from the party, the departures mean the committee will experience its largest turnover in decades. The Central Committee will then select the Politburo Standing Committee, an all-powerful group that includes the president and will rule China's 1.4 billion people for the next five years. Five of the seven Politburo Standing Committee members are expected to retire this year, with Xi loyalists expected to take their place. Analysts say that since assuming leadership of the party in 2012, Xi has swiftly consolidated power by jailing political rivals for corruption, restructuring the military and asserting China's position on the world stage. Another key point in the congress that experts say to watch out for is whether or not Xi's political philosophy "Xi Jinping Thought" will be added to the constitution. If the measure includes his name, it would put him on the level of modern China's founder, Mao Zedong, and the father of the country's economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has kicked off the country’s 19th Communist Party Congress in Beijing. Xi, who told his audience the party needed to reinvigorate itself, is expected to shake up the Politburo. China’s 19th Communist Party Congress opened in Beijing on Wednesday with a speech from President Xi Jinping who called on the party to “resolutely oppose” any actions ... Read More »

Espionage case begins for Swiss bank spy accused of targeting tax fraud investigators in Frankfurt, Germany

Switzerland allegedly sent one of its spies to Germany to find out who kept leaking secret banking data to tax authorities. He spent four years digging into tax investigators and planting a mole before he was caught. A Swiss man accused of spying on German tax authorities on behalf of Bern faced court in Frankfurt, the German financial capital, on Wednesday. The 54-year-old has been charged with espionage for allegedly working to unmask the source of a trove of secret financial data, on a CD, purchased by a German state government in 2010. The administration in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) had used the information to crack down on German citizens concealing money in Swiss bank accounts to avoid paying taxes. The Swiss government admitted in 2011 that its Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) was involved with an investigation into stolen data, but declined to comment further on the case. NRW has spent €€17.9 million ($21.1 million) since 2010 to buy financial data, saying that it recovered nearly €7 billion in tax revenues as a result. Read more: German 'James Bond' Werner Mauss gets two-year suspended sentence for tax evasion Switzerland issues arrest warrant for German tax investigators The Swiss man, identified only as Daniel M., was alleged to have spied on NRW tax authorities and some of their tax investigators from 2011 to 2015. According to Germany's federal prosecutor's office, he also gathered personal information on state tax investigators so they could be prosecuted in Switzerland for purchasing the tax data CDs. After his alleged investigations, Switzerland issued arrest warrants for three NRW tax investigators for illegally obtaining banking data, which is protected under the country's strict secrecy laws. But they are actually unlikely to face arrest unless they travel to Switzerland. A mole in the system He allegedly contracted a German security firm to help his investigation and even placed a mole within NRW's tax authority. Prosecutors allege he was paid €€3,000 a month for his efforts, while also receiving €€13,000 for the personal details of tax officials, and was promised €€90,000 for placing a mole in the tax office. Daniel M., a former policeman and a high-ranking security officer at Swiss banking giant UBS, was arrested in Frankfurt in April 2017. Prosecutor offers deal for information At the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht - OLG) in Frankfurt on Wednesday, Federal prosecutor Lienhard Weiss said he would agree to a suspended sentence of between 18 months and two years, plus a fine of €50,000 euros, in exchange for information. "If there is a confession and the defendant makes plausible statements on the identity of the informant, then a plea ... would be imaginable," he said. Daniel M. could face up to five years in jail if convicted of espionage on behalf of a foreign state. The presiding judge said a suspended sentence could be in order, if Daniel M. gave a "credible" confession. "We need concrete information on the ... payments, to whom they were made and for what," Judge Josef Bill said on Wednesday. Daniel M.'s lawyer said he would make a statement when the trial continues on October 26. Case has strained ties Read more: Swiss-German row over tax evasion escalates The espionage case has placed considerable strain on ties between Bern and Berlin, with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel rebuking the wealthy neighbor and summoning its envoy in light of the revelations. In 2015 Switzerland signed a deal with the European Union to exchange banking data starting in 2018 as part of an international pledge to clamp down on tax cheats, making the case especially embarrassing.

Switzerland allegedly sent one of its spies to Germany to find out who kept leaking secret banking data to tax authorities. He spent four years digging into tax investigators and planting a mole before he was caught. A Swiss man accused of spying on German tax authorities on behalf of Bern faced court in Frankfurt, the German financial capital, on ... Read More »

German conservatives launch ‘constructive’ coalition talks

Angela Merkel's conservative bloc has begun talks on forging a three-way coalition. During the negotiations, all parties will have to find common ground on a slew of divisive issues, from immigration to climate policy. Exploratory talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) allies and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) kicked off on Wednesday. "Today was a first, very constructive, good discussion that will of, course, be followed by more discussions," Peter Tauber, CDU general secretary, told reporters following a two-hour closed-door meeting. Party officials from the FDP and CSU were similarly upbeat about the talks, which aim to build Germany's first national three-party government. 'A good feeling' After failing to secure a clear majority in Germany's September elections, Merkel's conservatives are hoping to govern in an alliance with the liberal FDP and the left-leaning Greens. Tauber said he had a "good feeling" about a meeting with the Greens later in the day. The FDP and the Greens will then hold talks separately on Thursday, with over 50 people from all parties set to gather for their first joint sit-down on Friday. If this week's exploratory talks go well, the parties will move into formal coalition negotiations. The prospective alliance has been dubbed a "Jamaica" coalition because the colors of the parties involved match the Caribbean country's flag. Read more: How long will Germany have to wait for a government? Jamaica is far away "Jamaica and Germany are 8,500 kilometers apart," Nicola Beer of the FDP told reporters after the first round of talks with the CDU/CSU on Wednesday. "I think today the first few meters of that journey have gone well." Merkel has acknowledged that the talks won't be easy. There are significant policy differences between staunch conservatives in the CDU/CSU, for example, and the left faction of the Greens. To avoid a deadlock in the negotiations, all sides will likely have to compromise on a range of thorny issues, including European Union reform, action on climate change, taxation and refugee policy. No government before 2018 A number of critics in the chancellor's own bloc have called for a shift to the right after September's election saw the conservatives suffer their worst result since 1949, while the far-right Alternative for Germany party made strong gains. CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who has been highly critical of Merkel's decision to open the borders to asylum seekers in 2015, reiterated Wednesday that limiting immigration was a "very, very important" goal. That's a position the Greens strongly disagree with. Greens negotiator Jürgen Trittin has warned of growing populist tendencies in the CDU/CSU bloc, saying that their hardline demands on the refugee issue would present "massive hurdles." The distribution of ministerial posts between the parties is also expected to be a tricky point of discussion. Most analysts say it's unlikely a new government will be formed before the end of the year.

Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc has begun talks on forging a three-way coalition. During the negotiations, all parties will have to find common ground on a slew of divisive issues, from immigration to climate policy. Exploratory talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) allies and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) kicked off on ... Read More »

Fallen soldier’s mother says President Donald Trump disrespected her son

The US president is alleged to have told the wife of a soldier killed in action in Niger that her husband "knew what he signed up for." The soldier's mother said she was present when Trump made the "insensitive" remarks. The mother of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Niger this month, told The Washington Post newspaper on Wednesday that US President Donald Trump "disrespected" her son in a condolence phone call. Cowanda Jones-Johnson backed the account of Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, who claimed Trump told Johnson's widow, Myeshia Johnson, that her husband "must have known what he signed up for." "President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband," Jones-Johnson told The Washington Post. Trump's statement was first reported by Wilson, who said she was with Johnson's widow on the way to receive the fallen soldier's remains at Miami International Airport when the president called to express his condolences. According to Wilson, Trump told Myeshia Johnson that her husband "knew what he signed up for ... but when it happens it hurts anyway." The representative described the president's statement during the five-minute call as "so insensitive" in an interview with Miami Local 10 news. After the phone call, Myeshia "was crying, she broke down." Referring to President Trump, Wilson said 'he didn't even know his name.'" President Trump lashed back, terming Wilson's claim as "totally fabricated." Trump later told reporters: "I did not say what she said," and "I had a very nice conversation." When asked about what "proof" he could offer, Trump said: "Let her make her statement again then you will find out." Before Trump's tweet, the incident had already gone viral on American media, making it the latest event in a growing controversy following Trump's accusation that past presidents often did not honor fallen military servicemen and women. Read more: How Donald Trump turned a simmering NFL controversy into a movement that splits the country Politicizing the fallen At a Monday press conference, when pressed on whether or not he had reached out to the relatives of troops killed in an October 4 ambush in Niger, President Trump claimed that previous presidents had not contacted family members of soldiers who had died in combat. "The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls," Trump said on Monday, later adding that he didn't know whether President Obama in particular called fallen soldiers' families. "President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told," he said. "All I can do is ask my generals. Other presidents did not call, they'd write letters. And some presidents didn't do anything." In response to Trump's claim, retired army General Martin Dempsey tweeted that both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama honored military service and implicitly criticized Trump for politicizing military deaths. Trump also drew his own chief of staff, John Kelly, into the controversy during a Tuesday interview on Fox News Radio. "You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?" Trump said, referencing Kelly's son who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. According to US media reports citing an anonymous White House official, Obama did not call Kelly upon his son's death, though it was not known whether the former president wrote a letter. Obama did receive Kelly at a White House breakfast for family members of soldiers killed in combat. There is no official protocol outlining presidential actions to be taken upon death of military servicemen and women. However, it is typical for presidents to express their condolences in a phone call or letter. Some also visit air bases or airports to receive the remains of the fallen as they are flown back to the US.

The US president is alleged to have told the wife of a soldier killed in action in Niger that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” The soldier’s mother said she was present when Trump made the “insensitive” remarks. The mother of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Niger this ... Read More »

Oliver Kahn: ‘Nobody embodies Bayern Munich more than Uli Hoeness’

During the filiming of the documentary The Mia San Mia Phenomenon, Oliver Kahn told DW what makes Bayern Munich such a unique club. He says that the perceived 'arrogance' of Bayern doesn't always win friends. DW: Oliver Kahn, what names do you associate with Bayern Munich's "Mia san Mia" phenomenon? Oliver Kahn: I came in contact with a number of them during the 14 years that I played there. Of course there is the then-manager and current president, Uli Hoeness. I believe nobody embodies this phenomenon more than he does. I played with Lothar Matthäus, Jens Jeremies and Stefan Effenberg, and there are certainly many, many other players who I could name. And eventually, I too was part of this, although in my case, it took a while. Can you remember when you first became aware of Bayern Munich? Let me explain this with an anecdote: I moved up the ranks of the youth teams at the Karlsruhe SC and at some point, I think I was seven or eight years old, Bayern Munich played in Karlsruhe. I was among 40,000 spectators in the Karlsruhe end. I was the only one with a Bayern flag (laugh). This raised some eyebrows, but I was too young for anybody to actually do anything about it. This goes to show that I was already fascinated by this club in my very early years. What was so fascinating about it? Success. Bayern made things possible that only Bayern could. What other team could come back from a 2-1 home defeat to Real Madrid to win the tie in the second leg in Madrid? What other German team could still be hopeful of victory following a weak performance in a first-leg match against Inter Milan or AC Milan? That was the was things were in the 1970s, even when they fell behind in a European Cup or Bundesliga match, they were always capable of coming back. Then there was the 2000-01 Bundesliga season, when Patrick Anderson scored to win the title in the dying seconds of the final game. This is part of the special aura that surrounds this club. Everyone who comes to Bayern Munich knows this. Is it possible to escape the reputation of Bayern Munich? When you sign for Bayern Munich, you do so primarily because you know you will have the opportunity to win the biggest titles in club football there. And you will be almost guaranteed to win the Bundesliga title. But what are you really after, as a footballer? You want to experience moments of greatness, you want to get to the Champions League final, you want to play in the final of the German Cup and perhaps win it in dramatic fashion. When you play for Bayern Munich you are surrounded by the best. This means that you too will become better. These are the reasons, apart from the financial aspect, why players go to Bayern Munich. What's your view on Uli Hoeness? I think no one has understood better than he has how to combine the requirements of the business side of professional football, the commercialization of Bayern Munich the company, with Bayern Munich the sports club. The word "company" may come across as too cold, as being about maximizing profit. But at the same time, Uli Hoeness has never lost sight of the fact that Bayern is an institution that people identify with, which is a matter of the heart for many fans. There is a certain art to this, especially in the present day, and I believe this is why he is so popular. Of course, he is also a sly dog, and – to exaggerate – someone who would kill for this club if anyone set out to harm it. On the other hand, Hoeness has always maintained a certain humanity. That is why he is someone that people like to deal with. He is a certain kind of entrepreneur, he is a people person. Why is it that when it comes to Bayern Munich you either love them or hate them, but that there is no in-between? [Bayern CEO] Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently lamented that "the club isn't polarizing enough anymore." (laugh) In other words, Bayern's biggest problem is that the club is loved by everybody. This, of course, is nonsense. But the way things are in Germany, when any successful person or football club expresses this success outwardly, in the sense of "Mia san Mia," for example, many will perceive this as a sign of arrogance – and this doesn't always make you friends. That has been the experience of many who have represented Bayern, particularly the club's captains, such as Lothar Matthäus, Stefan Effenberg or me. As the captain you are the leader of this polarizing club, so you have to endure this or that. Former goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, 48, played 429 Bundesliga matches for Bayern Munich between 1994 and 2008. He also made 86 appearances for Germany. Kahn won the Bundesliga eight times, the German Cup six times, and was part of the Bayern team that won the Champions League in 2001. He was named the world's best goalkeeper three times. The interview was conducted by Niels Eixler

During the filiming of the documentary The Mia San Mia Phenomenon, Oliver Kahn told DW what makes Bayern Munich such a unique club. He says that the perceived ‘arrogance’ of Bayern doesn’t always win friends. DW: Oliver Kahn, what names do you associate with Bayern Munich’s “Mia san Mia” phenomenon? Oliver Kahn: I came in contact with a number of ... Read More »

German police launch massive crackdown on Hells Angels group

Hundreds of police officers have moved to raid apartments and seize property of a Hells Angels' charter in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The Concrete City biker club is said to include "proven criminals." The northwestern German state formally banned the Concrete City charter and its supporter club Clan 81 and launched a crackdown against the groups on Wednesday. Some 700 police officers were involved in the crackdown in over a dozen German cities, including Cologne, Wuppertal and Düsseldorf in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Special police units, experts on organized crime and people acquainted with the "biker scene" also took part in the effort. Read more: Hells Angels member charged in Frankfurt shooting NRW state Interior Minister Herbert Reul said that both "the purpose and the activity of the biker club and its supporters goes against the law." "The members of the club are proven criminals. Their everyday life consists of violence, weapons, drugs and forced prostitution," Reul said in a statement. Hells Angels were attempting to lay claim to "power and territory" in their turf wars with rival clubs, he added. "The state will not tolerate the growth of these parallel societies that disregard its authority and its monopoly on legitimate use of force," according to the minister. Bikers to oppose the ban The authorities have so far seized weapons, drugs, computers, and over 60,000 euro ($70,000) in cash belonging to the two groups, as well as bikers' "cuts" — the vests bearing symbols of their association. The police crackdown is expected to continue until Wednesday afternoon. The coordinated action has been unfolding "without any incident," a police spokesman said. Commenting on the raids, Hells Angels' lawyer Wolf Bonn accused the police of taking items which could not be considered evidence, including biker's watches, motorcycles, and even a bachelor thesis. "We are now trying to form a comprehensive picture of the measures and people affected, and we are looking into legal moves to oppose the ban," the lawyer said. Ensuring 'law and order' Violent clashes between biker factions and biker-related crimes are relatively common in Germany, which boasts over 70 Hells Angels charters. In NRW, members of the world's most famous motorcycle club have a history of bloody rivalry with the Bandidos, also an international biker association A leader of a Hells Angels faction, Aygün Mucuk, was gunned down in the clubhouse in Wettenberg a year ago. Earlier this year, around 40 Hells Angels members attempted to break through a police checkpoint in Cologne, allegedly to disrupt the birthday party for the local Bandidos leader. The police later raided the clubhouse, finding a firearm, a case of ammunition and a machete. Last month, four Hells Angels bikers went on trial in Leipzig over a 2016 murder of a biker from a rival gang. The Wednesday ban is part of a state-wide strategy of zero tolerance for biker gangs in NRW. "We are going to make sure that there are law and order in the entire North Rhine-Westphalia," Interior Minister Reul said. "This has nothing to do with this romanticized image of motorcycle riders. We are dealing with criminal organizations."

Hundreds of police officers have moved to raid apartments and seize property of a Hells Angels’ charter in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The Concrete City biker club is said to include “proven criminals.” The northwestern German state formally banned the Concrete City charter and its supporter club Clan 81 and launched a crackdown against the groups on Wednesday. ... Read More »

Malta’s overdue struggle against corruption, crooks and imbeciles

The murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has re-focused attention on corruption and money-laundering scandals in Malta. The island that critics - including her own son - described as a "mafia state." After the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, EU lawmakers have called on the European Commission to do more to combat money-laundering and corruption in Malta after looking the other way for too long. Caruana Galizia was the first to reveal the Maltese names in the "Panama Papers," the 11.5 million documents leaked in May 2016 that revealed how wealth was hidden and laundered across the world. Perhaps most notably, she wrote about offshore shell companies held in Panama and elsewhere by members of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's government - as well as his wife. Many of the accusations in her widely read blog, whose last post was published less than an hour before her death on Monday, were repeated by her son Matthew Caruana Galizia in a Facebook post published on Tuesday. "It is of little comfort for the prime minister of this country to say that he will 'not rest' until the perpetrators are found," he wrote. "First he filled his office with crooks, then he filled the police with crooks and imbeciles, then he filled the courts with crooks and incompetents. If the institutions were already working, there would be no assassination to investigate - and my brothers and I would still have a mother." MEPs step in The German Green party Member of European Parliament Sven Giegold, who met Daphne Caruana Galizia as a member of the European Parliament's Panama Papers inquiry, wrote his own blog post in the wake of the journalist's death, accusing the European Commission of doing too little to end the "culture of impunity" in Malta. "We had a plenary debate [on Malta] in June, and after the debate, we put questions to the European Commission asking for precise information on possible treaty violations by Malta, and the Commission until now has not answered," he told DW. "I believe Malta is breaking EU money-laundering laws, and the European Commission has been idle. They have not enforced money-laundering laws in many areas." The problem with Malta Malta, like many smaller EU states and separate entities within states, such as the UK's islands Jersey and Guernsey — create financial environments that ease tax evasion and allow corruption. Other members of the EU inquiry were "shocked" by the circumstances on Malta, according to Molly Scott Cato, MEP of the British Green party, who said the information Caruana Galizia provided helped to set up the committee. "This is coming out of the free flow of capital that's been around since the 1980s," Cato said. "It's enabled the global plutocrat to spread money around to avoid paying tax. The problem is, once you start with that, corruption follows — so we know we've got criminal money, we've got money financing terrorism. "The level of corruption in Malta doesn't come as a surprise to me," she added. "But it's obviously shocking that someone would be killed like this. Our absolute priority is that we need to have a full inquiry, and it needs to be seen to be independent, because, unfortunately, there is no longer much confidence in the ability of the Maltese authorities to conduct their investigations." That much was backed up by a tweet sent out by Herman Grech, a journalist at the Times of Malta newspaper, who said the investigation has been slow to get started. But Grech was also keen to defend Malta's reputation: "If you were to ask me is the police in a bad state, my answer is yes: I don't think the police are competent and equipped enough to deal with certain problems this country is facing. Is this place a mafia state? No it's not. I find it quite ridiculous that it is being called that." Not that there weren't systemic problems in the country, Grech added. "It's a problem that former politicians are appointed to the bench," he said. "We're filling up important posts with partisan people. So I'm not discounting corruption." Grech also said that while the Maltese crime rate was relatively low, gang-related crime had always been a problem. "Statistically, Malta is one of the safest countries in Europe, but we've had five or six car bombs in the last two years - none of them have been resolved," he said.

The murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has re-focused attention on corruption and money-laundering scandals in Malta. The island that critics – including her own son – described as a “mafia state.” After the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, EU lawmakers have called on the European Commission to do more to combat money-laundering and corruption in Malta after ... Read More »

Iraqi forces enter Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk

Iraq's counter-terrorism forces have raised the flag over the provincial council's headquarters in Kirkuk. The Iraqi army earlier captured oil fields and a military base held by Kurdish forces near the oil-rich city. Iraq's elite counter-terrorism forces on Monday entered Kirkuk and captured key government buildings in the Kurdish-controlled city, according to security sources. They raised the Iraqi flag over the provincial council's headquarters in Kirkuk and took control of the governor's building. Read more: The Middle East's complex Kurdish landscape Turkey has offered to help Iraq's federal government oust Kurdish fighters from Kirkuk after reports that fighters of Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were inside the oil-rich city. Tensions between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan have escalated since the the Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted last month for an independent state in a non-binding referendum, which controversially included disputed territories such as Kirkuk. What you need to know Following a controversial Kurdish independence referendum, Iraqi forces gave Kurdish forces a Sunday deadline to retreat to positions agreed upon in a 2014 accord. When Kurdish forces failed to do so, Iraqi security forces advanced on areas surrounding oil-rich Kirkuk, culminating in the capture of oil fields, regional government buildings, an airport and a military base on Monday. Kurdish peshmerga forces retreated, effectively allowing Iraqi security forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias to move into the city unopposed. 'Impose security' Iraqi state TV reported that Iraqi forces had taken control of "vast areas" outside of Kirkuk city. Kurdish peshmerga forces reportedly retreated back from positions outside the city, but were setting up defenses in the city as thousands of civilians fled in cars north to Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. Read more: What is the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum? Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered security forces "to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with the population of the city and the peshmerga." He said that instructions were given for forces to stay out of the city. The Kurdistan Region Security Council claimed peshmerga had destroyed several US-supplied Humvees belonging to the PMU. Hemin Hawrami, an adviser to Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, quoted the peshmerga command as saying Abadi's government would "pay a heavy price" for the assult on Kirkuk. US: 'Avoid additional escalatory actions' The US Defense Department, which has supplied and trained both the peshmerga and Iraqi army, urged its two allies in the war against the "Islamic State" (IS) "to avoid additional escalatory actions." It added that it opposed destabilising actions that distract from the battle against IS militants. The Iraqi troops and the Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been engaged in a standoff since Saturday, when they took positions on opposite banks of a river on the southern outskirts of the city of Kirkuk. Kurdish forces were given a deadline of 2 a.m. local time Sunday (2300 UTC Saturday) to surrender their positions and return to their pre-June 2014 positions. Turkey offers help against PKK In a statement, the Turkish foreign ministry said on Monday it supported the Iraqi government in retaking control of Kirkuk, offering to aid Iraqi forces to oust Kurdish forces from the oil-rich city. "We are ready for any form of cooperation with the Iraqi government to end the PKK presence in Iraqi territory," the ministry said. Baghdad said on Sunday fighters from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were present in Kirkuk among Kurdish peshmerga forces, in what it said amounted to a "declaration of war." Read more: In Iraq, minorities pin hopes on a Kurdish state "It is impossible to remain silent" faced with "a declaration of war towards Iraqis and government forces," the National Security Council headed by the Iraqi prime minister said in a statement. The PKK-affiliated ANF News Agency said its fighters had been called to mobilize and form a "defensive line to protect the people." The PKK has close ties with some Iraqi Kurdish parties, particularly the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Turkey's offer also stems from its support for its ethnic cousins, the Turkmen, which reside in the Kirkuk province. Kirkuk: In Kurdish hands since 2014 Abadi has demanded that Kurdish leaders disavow the September 25 referendum, but the Kurds have rejected the demand. Baghdad called the referendum "anti-constitutional." Turkey, Iran and the United States were all against the vote. After the referendum, the Iraqi parliament asked Abadi to use armed force to retake control of Kirkuk, which is inhabited by Kurds as well as Sunni and Shiite Turkmen and Arabs. Last week, Abadi said he would accept a "joint administration" with the Kurds in the province. Read more: Opinion: Kurds find few friends in independence referendum The Kurdish peshmerga have controlled Kirkuk since 2014, when it prevented the province's oil fields from falling into the hands of IS after the Iraqi army collapsed. With Baghdad weak, the Kurds moved to expand territory under their control outside the three provinces that officially make up the Kurdistan region. The Kurds and Baghdad have long been in dispute over oil resources and revenue sharing. But the apparent collapse of the peshmerga within a day also led to bitter accusations between rival Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, highlighting factionalism that has plagued the Kurdish camp.

Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces have raised the flag over the provincial council’s headquarters in Kirkuk. The Iraqi army earlier captured oil fields and a military base held by Kurdish forces near the oil-rich city. Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism forces on Monday entered Kirkuk and captured key government buildings in the Kurdish-controlled city, according to security sources. They raised the Iraqi flag over ... Read More »

Bowe Bergdahl pleads guilty in desertion case

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in Afghanistan. He is accused of endangering fellow soldiers who searched for him after he walked off his post. US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl , 31, who spent five years in captivity in Afghanistan after being taken by the Islamist Taliban, on Monday admitted leaving his post in Afghanistan's Paktika province in June 2009, but said he never wanted to put anyone at risk. "I was captured by the enemy against my will," he told the court in Fort Bragg in the US state of North Carolina. "At the time I had no intention of causing search and recovery operations. ... It's very inexcusable." He said he got lost 20 minutes after leaving the combat outpost, and was captured by the Taliban two or three hours later. In a podcast in 2015, he had said that he left his post to draw attention to "leadership failure" in his unit. He has, however, also previously rejected any notion that he sympathized with his captors, and said he was kept in a small cage for most of the time he was in captivity. Life sentence possible After Bergdahl entered his guilty pleas to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, which the judge accepted, the prosecutor, Major Justin Oshana, told the judge that there was no pretrial agreement between the two sides. The charge of misbehavior before the enemy carries a possible life sentence. Bergdahl was freed from Taliban captivity in 2014 after a prisoner swap arranged by the Obama administration — an exchange that was vehemently criticized by Republicans. Current US President Donald Trump also derided Bergdahl himself while on the campaign trail last year, calling him "a no-good traitor who should have been executed." Bergdahl's lawyers have argued that such comments make it impossible for him to have a fair trial. The judge decided in June to allow evidence of serious wounds to fellow soldiers who searched for Bergdahl at the sentencing phase, something that could weigh heavily against the accused. The official search for him lasted for 45 days, with two soldiers wounded in firefights that the judge said they would not have become involved in if they hadn't been looking for Bergdahl.

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in Afghanistan. He is accused of endangering fellow soldiers who searched for him after he walked off his post. US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl , 31, who spent five years in captivity in Afghanistan after being taken by the Islamist Taliban, on Monday admitted leaving ... Read More »

Spain issues new Catalonia deadline, saying response wasn’t ‘credible’

The Spanish government has given Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont another three days to say whether the region has declared independence. Puigdemont had asked for direct talks with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria on Monday rejected Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont's call for direct negotiations and set a fresh deadline of Thursday to drop a bid for independence. Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Madrid that the central government had wanted a simple "yes or no" answer from Puigdemont about whether Catalonia had declared a split from Spain by 10 a.m. local time (0800 UTC/GMT) on Monday and he had failed to give one. "It wasn't very difficult to say 'yes' or 'no,'" Saenz de Santamaria said. "It is not difficult to return to reason in these next three days." Puigdemont's gambit: talks with Rajoy In a two-page letter sent ahead of Monday's deadline, Puigdemont didn't clarify whether he had declared independence from Spain. Instead, he asked for two months of negotiations on the issue with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. "Over the coming two months, our main objective is to appeal to you to dialogue," and allow "international, Spanish and Catalan" mediators to open a path of negotiation, the letter to Rajoy said. Puigdemont wrote that his regional government's "suspension of the political mandate" to declare independence showed his government's "firm intention to find the solution rather than generate confrontation." However, the letter did state that Catalonia's parliament had a "democratic mandate" to declare independence after October 1's disputed referendum. Puigdemont's government defied Spanish authorities by staging the vote. Fewer than half of eligible voters participated, but of those who did, roughly 90 percent supported secession. Catalonia's status has been in question since last Tuesday, when Puigdemont issued a symbolic independence declaration — only to suspend it moments later and say he would seek talks with Spain's government.

The Spanish government has given Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont another three days to say whether the region has declared independence. Puigdemont had asked for direct talks with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria on Monday rejected Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont’s call for direct negotiations and set a fresh deadline of Thursday to drop a ... Read More »

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