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Wednesday
Oct162019

'Don't be a tough guy': President Trump sent threatening letter to Turkish President Erdogan on day of invasion

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump admonished the president of Turkey in a surreal personal letter sent last week in which he threatened to be "responsible for destroying the Turkish economy" and said his fellow leader should not be "a tough guy" or a "fool."

The letter was first reported by Fox News and later confirmed as accurate to ABC News by a senior administration official.

The date of the letter, Oct. 9, is the same day Turkey launched its incursion against Kurdish forces who were previously U.S. allies in northern Syria.

In the letter, Trump asks Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not to slaughter thousands of people and threatens to destroy the Turkish economy.

He closes the letter by stating, "History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool! I'll call you later."

This letter was dated just three days after the White House sent out a statement announcing that the U.S. would pull forces from the region and the Turkish operation would begin. That statement made no objection to the incursion.

The president has faced bipartisan criticism for the Turkey-Syria conflict, after his decision to pull back U.S. troops ahead of a Turkish operation against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.

Trump has since called for a ceasefire and peace settlement. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien are headed to Turkey to meet with officials there.

Many are weighing in on the letter on social media, with some expressing incredulity at its authenticity, and others expressing concerns for the political ramifications.



"This Trump letter to Erdogan is the most damaging correspondance that could’ve been leaked ahead of VP Pence’s visit to Ankara tomorrow," tweeted Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Now, Erdogan has no option but to delay ceasefire in Syria less he be humiliated in front of his nation as weak and bowing to America’s threat."

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Wednesday
Oct162019

Protests continue for supporters of Catalan Independence

donfiore/iStock(BARCELONA, Spain) -- Violent protests have been underway in Catalonia after Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to long prison sentences.

Many people in Catalonia have long sought independence from Spain to form a new European nation.

The protests broke out into riots on Tuesday when over 40,000 people took to the streets.

Spain's government said it would do whatever it takes to stop the violence and issued the statement that it "will act, if needed, with firmness, proportionality and unity."

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Wednesday
Oct162019

American prosecutor gunned down in Micronesia had 'most dangerous job' on the tiny island

Simon Hammerling speaks to ABC News in a Skype interview, Oct. 15, 2019. (ABC News)(LONDON) — Simon Hammerling was at home on Monday evening baking brownies with a child he and his wife were helping to take care of when he heard three loud gunshots.

He ran outside to find one of their dogs shot dead in their car and his wife, Rachelle Bergeron, slumped over on the ground by the side of their house on Yap, an island group in the Federated States of Micronesia.

"I just kind of fell by her, not really thinking about anything else," Hammerling recalled in a Skype interview with ABC News. "She was just crouched over and breathing really heavy."

Bergeron had returned from her daily jog around 7 p.m. and was shot while opening the trunk of the car to let out the dog.

Hammerling said he didn't see who fired the shots. He called police, while neighbors and friends also rushed over to help. His coworker, Amos Collins, said Bergeron was already unconscious when a police officer arrived on scene.

"We made the decision there to take her to the hospital," Collins told ABC News in a Skype interview. "We got a blanket under her and lifted her onto my flatbed."

They drove straight to the local hospital on Yap, where medical staff placed Bergeron on a gurney and took her into the emergency room.

"We basically stood back and watched them try to resuscitate her," Collins said. "They continued to try to revive her until just shortly before 8, when they finally said they couldn't get her back."

Bergeron, a 33-year-old American serving as the acting attorney general of Micronesia's Yap State, died from her gunshot wounds that night.

"Yap's spirit is broken by this senseless and heinous act," Yap State Gov. Henry Falan said in a video statement Tuesday. "I promise to do everything in my power to have justice prevail."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State confirmed the death of an American on Yap on Monday.

"We offer our sincerest condolences to the family on their loss, and are providing all appropriate assistance to the family," the spokesperson told ABC News in a statement. "Out of respect to the family during this difficult time, we have no further comment."

The FBI is sending a team of agents to the tiny island of Yap, nearly 4,500 miles west of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, to investigate Bergeron's death.

"At the request of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Federated States of Micronesia, the FBI Honolulu Division is providing investigative assistance in the matter of the death of Rachelle Bergeron Acting Attorney General for the State of Yap," FBI spokesperson Michelle Ernst told ABC News in a statement Tuesday.

Bergeron and Hammerling were approaching their one-year wedding anniversary when she died. Hammerling described his late wife as "bubbly," "strong" and "passionate."

"I loved her very much," he told ABC News. "I miss her already."

Bergeron, a Wisconsin native, graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2010. She practiced law in Washington, D.C., New York City and India before moving to Micronesia in 2015 to take a job as the assistant attorney general of Yap State.

She started dating Hammerling in 2016, and the couple wed just last year.

Hammerling, who's from Germany, has been involved in missionary work on Yap for over a decade. He's currently a pilot and mechanic with Pacific Mission Aviation, a Christian missionary organization in the region.

Both Hammerling and his colleague, Collins, described Yap as a very safe place to live, where gun violence is practically unheard of, overall crime is low and people leave their doors unlocked. Private ownership of firearms is prohibited in the Federated States of Micronesia.

"This is a shock to all of us," Collins told ABC News. "Because it's a small island, it's a very small town feel. Everybody knows everybody, and it's probably why crimes don't happen as much because if you do something you're going to get caught."

"But when a tragedy hits like this, it's amazing to see how the local people care about us, even as expats," he added. "I think we're all in the same boat together, that we want this person to be caught and brought to justice."

Collins said Bergeron's post as acting attorney general is the "most dangerous job" on Yap.

Bergeron saw the worst of Yap as she prosecuted criminals across the island group, which is less than 50 square miles and home to about 11,000 people. She was passionate about human rights and sought to help victims of abuse and trafficking. Because of her work, she faced threats and dealt with people who were angry over her decisions, according to those who knew her.

"She always had people that were giving her a hard time," Hammerling said, adding that he didn't know of any specific incidents. "But there was always the other side because she really loved justice."

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Wednesday
Oct162019

Pope Francis calls for better nutrition access on UN World Food Day

DorSteffen/iStock(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Francis highlighted nutrition inequality on the U.N.'s World Food Day, pointing out that rich countries and poor countries suffer from obesity for different reasons.

“It is a cruel, unjust and paradoxical reality that, today, there is food for everyone and yet not everyone has access to it,” Francis said in a statement Wednesday. He noted that in low-income countries, people “eat little but increasingly poorly.”

Obesity, which is a risk factor for conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer, affects more than 650 million people around the globe and has nearly tripled since 1975, according to the World Health Organization.

In the United States, there’s some evidence that food insecurity is associated with obesity. That’s in part because of structural and economic barriers to high-nutrition food options, combined with comparatively cheaper and more accessible calorie-dense, low-nutrition foods.

“To escape from this spiral, we need to promote ‘economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources,’” Francis said. “Nutrition represents an important starting point.”

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Wednesday
Oct162019

September 2019 ties for warmest on the planet: NOAA

Marccophoto/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Last month tied for the warmest September since temperatures began being recorded in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The average global land and ocean surface temperature for September was 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average for the 20th century, according to the findings NOAA released Wednesday. South America, Africa, Asia, the Gulf of Mexico and the Hawaiian region all had top-three warmest Septembers on record.

In addition, the Arctic sea ice coverage for September was the third-lowest on record, according to NOAA. The Arctic reached its annual minimum sea ice extent on Sept. 18 at 1.6 million square miles, which marked the end of the melt season.

The Antarctic sea ice extent for the month was 1.3% below the average between 1981 and 2010.

The only other September that was just as hot was in 2015, according to NOAA. Septembers in 2015, 2016 and 2019 had global land and ocean surface temperature greater or equal to 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit.

Last month was also the 43rd consecutive September and 417th consecutive month overall with temperatures above the 20th-century average, according to NOAA.

In addition, the first nine months of 2019 saw the second-warmest period for January for September in the 140-year record.

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Wednesday
Oct162019

Hong Kong’s leader heckled, annual policy speech disrupted

sezer ozger/iStock(HONG KONG) -- Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam was drowned out by pro-democracy lawmakers and prevented from delivering her annual policy speech on Wednesday, and eventually resorted to making the address by video.

As Lam entered the city's Legislative Council chamber, her voice was overwhelmed as some lawmakers shouting out “five demands, not one less." Lam exited the chamber, only to return 20 minutes later to make a second attempt. But she was again cut off, as lawmakers used portable speakers to blare what appeared to be audio of protesters clashing with police, and projected the words “five demands, not one less" on the wall behind the chief executive.

Some lawmakers were seen wearing paper masks of Chinese President Xi Jinping, a not-so-subtle nod to the newly enacted ban on wearing face masks.

She was escorted out of the chamber, flanked by security, and was heckled to the exit door. Outside Hong Kong’s government complex, a few dozen protesters were outnumbered by a massive presence of armed riot police.

Lam's speech -- a sort of "state of the union" -- was eventually released as a recorded video. In it, Lam addressed routine matters, like the government's response to a housing shortage, but also spoke to the unrest that has been rocking Hong Kong since June.

The protest movement has been successful in its original goal of having a controversial extradition bill removed from consideration. But has expanded to call for Lam's ouster, open elections to replace her and an investigation into the police conduct against demonstrators.

“While we respect different opinions and understand people’s enthusiasm in fighting for justice and rights, I believe our society will agree that continued violence and spread of hatred would erode the core values of Hong Kong, disrupt social peace and undermine the excellent system that took years of efforts to build,” Lam said.

She said citizens have the right to protest, but added that “any act that advocates Hong Kong’s independence and threatens the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests will not be tolerated.”

Law and social order must be restored as “early as possible” so that Hong Kong can "emerge from the storm and embrace the rainbow,” Lam said as she ended the address.

In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Lam said she would hold a public forum on Thursday night. During that event, Lam will interact with the public over Facebook.

Meanwhile, the group Civil Human Rights Front issued a statement saying that Jimmy Sham, a leading activist, had been attacked by a group of four to five people with hammers and that he is being treated for wounds to his head, hands and feet.

There was no immediate comment from the police.

The group has called for a police investigation into the incident and said it will participate in a protest this Sunday.

"In such a bloody era painted by horror, we cannot be defeated by political terror," it said in a statement. "We call for more people to come out to stand their ground and show the perpetrators and this regime that we will not stand down."

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Wednesday
Oct162019

Prince William and Kate follow in Princess Diana's footsteps in mountains of Pakistan

KeithBinns/iStock(ISLAMABAD) -- Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, spent day three of their five-day tour of Pakistan visiting the country’s mountainside to talk about climate change.

William and Kate visited Chitral in the Hindu Kush region, a place that William’s late mother Princess Diana also visited during her first solo visit to Pakistan in 1991.

Diana wore a Chitrali hat during her visit, just as William and Kate did on Wednesday.

William and Kate were also shown a book of pictures of the late princess visiting the northern area of Pakistan in 1991, one of several visits she made to the country before her death in 1997.

In addition to the Chitrali hats, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also donned the embroidered coat, for William, and shawl and colorful jacket, for Kate, that they were given as gifts upon arriving in Chitral.

The royals traveled by helicopter to the Chiatibo Glacier in Broghil National Park, where they stood together to take in the views and learn more about how climate change is affecting Pakistan and its people.

The snow on the glacier is supposed to be a major source of water for the country, but locals say water scarcity is a major problem in Pakistan.

William and Kate have used their trip to Pakistan to focus on issues important to them, including the environment and championing the causes of young people.

Their visit to Islamabad Model College on Tuesday put a spotlight on the inequity of education in Pakistan, where 49% of girls are out of school, according to Kensington Palace.

Later this week, William and Kate are scheduled to visit the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, a local hospital for which Princess Diana helped raise money.

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Tuesday
Oct152019

US demonstrates 'show of force' after Turkish militia gets too close to base

Christopher Drzazgows/U.S. Air Forces(WASHINGTON) -- American F-15s and Apache helicopters carried out a "show of force" in Syria on Tuesday after Turkish-backed militia fighters "came very close" to a U.S. base, according to a U.S. official.

The incident underscores the complex battlefield in Syria as 1,000 American troops are withdrawing from the country in the middle of fighting between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurds.

The U.S. official said the incident occurred near Ayn Issa, a town 18 miles from the Turkish border, where U.S. troops withdrew from their positions earlier this week.

According to the official, Turkish-backed militia fighters "came very close" to a base used by U.S. and Kurdish forces, putting the U.S. forces at risk.

The Turkish-backed fighters had violated an agreement with the U.S. to not get too close to U.S. forces and threaten them, the official added.

Typically, aerial shows of force involve aircraft flying at low altitude above opposing forces to demonstrate potential strength, should it be required.

The U.S. military also formally contacted the Turkish military to protest the risk posed to the American forces by the nearby presence of Turkish-backed fighters.

The 1,000 American forces have begun to withdraw from the battlefield areas in northern Syria. Earlier on Tuesday, Russian military forces appeared in Manbij after the withdrawal of the estimated 100 American troops stationed in that town.

A second U.S. official told ABC News the withdrawal of American troops and equipment in northeast Syria could take weeks. Most troops are expected to be withdrawn via aircraft. Equipment will be shipped out via air and by land.

A third U.S. official told ABC News additional military forces will have to enter Syria in order to transport out the equipment. This includes transport vehicles and whatever forces are required for protection.

According to the official, the U.S. has made contact with the Russian military, Kurdish forces and the Turkish military to ensure they're aware that the U.S. military troops in Syria are focused on a withdrawal.

Under the withdrawal plan authorized by President Donald Trump, a small contingent of U.S. military forces will remain at At Tanf Garrison, a military facility near the border with Jordan and Iraq.

In a statement issued on Monday, Trump said the small force would remain to deal with remaining ISIS fighters, but U.S. officials have previously acknowledged the main purpose of the force at At Tanf is to check Iranian military weapons flows and advances into Syria.

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Tuesday
Oct152019

Prince Harry and Meghan talk baby Archie at gala for kids with serious illnesses

NataliaCatalina/iStock(LONDON) -- Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, made their first joint appearance since their South Africa tour to attend the WellChild Awards, an awards ceremony for kids with serious illnesses and their caregivers.

Harry and Meghan met one-on-one with three of the night's winners, a 16-year-old boy who cares for his younger brother, a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and a 6-year-old boy diagnosed with leukemia last year.

While talking to the 12-year-old girl, Milly Sutherland, Harry bonded with her over both being redheads while Meghan shared that she had just taken the couple's 5-month-old son Archie to his first playgroup.

"I just took Archie for his first class," Meghan said, according to ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie. "It was a lot of fun. He loved it.”

Harry is patron of WellChild, which describes itself as the "national UK children's charity helping to get seriously ill children and young people out of hospital and home to their families."

The Duke of Sussex delivered a poignant speech in which he said attending the event and meeting the families "pulls at my heart strings in a way I could have never understood until I had a child of my own."

“Last year when my wife and I attended we knew we were expecting our first child. No one else did at the time, but we did," Harry said. "And I remember squeezing Meghan’s hand so tight during the awards, both of us thinking what it would be like to be parents one day and, more so, what it would be like to do everything we could to protect and help our child should they be born with immediate challenges or become unwell over time."

"And now, as parents, being here and speaking to all of you pulls at my heart strings in a way I could have never understood until I had a child of my own," he said.

The WellChild Awards is the first time the couple has appeared together in public since the news broke last week that Harry started legal action against several British tabloids with regard to "the illegal interception of voicemail messages."

A few days before that it was confirmed that Harry and Meghan are also taking legal action against another British tabloid, the Mail on Sunday, for what they allege was an invasion of privacy.

"There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face -- as so many of you can relate to -- I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been," Harry said in announcing the legal action, adding later in the statement, "I have been a silent witness to [Meghan's] private suffering for too long. To stand back and do nothing would be contrary to everything we believe in."

The legal action against the Mail on Sunday was confirmed on Oct. 1, just as Harry and Meghan wrapped up their tour of South Africa.

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Tuesday
Oct152019

Woman from Russian 'troll factory' that targeted 2016 election briefly detained in Minsk

Martin Holverda/iStock(MOSCOW) -- A Russian woman indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller as an employee of the Russian "troll factory" that conducted a propaganda campaign targeting the 2016 U.S. presidential election was briefly detained and then released in Belarus on Tuesday, reportedly at the request of the United States.

The Russian foreign ministry on Tuesday confirmed that the woman, Anna Bogacheva, was detained in Minsk by Belorussian law enforcement agencies, but did not give any details on why she had been held. Alexander Malkevich, a Russian rights ombudsman who has previously linked himself to the troll factory, wrote on social media that according to his sources Bogacheva had been detained "by Interpol at the request of the U.S." in relation to the election meddling in 2016.

Bogacheva was one of 13 Russians charged by the Department of Justice in February 2018 as part of Mueller's investigation into Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. In the indictment, Bogacheva and the others were accused of working at the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based company, better known as a troll factory, which prosecutors said churned out tens of thousands of divisive social media posts in an attempt to influence the American electorate. For those efforts, the Justice Department chose to charge Bogacheva and the others, along with the Internet Research Agency, with defrauding the United States.

The Internet Research Agency was set up and funded by a businessman viewed as close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The businessman, Evgeny Prigozhin, was nicknamed "Putin's Chef" because he runs a catering company that has supplied state events. Prigozhin, the IRA and his catering firm, Concord Catering and Concord Management, were also charged in the same Justice Department indictment.

Bogacheva herself was accused of working at the IRA from at least April 2014 to June 2014, according to the Justice Department indictment. She allegedly worked on the "Translator" project, the effort by the IRA that specifically targeted the U.S. population with English-language posts on social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. The indictment alleged Bogacheva had overseen the project's data analytics department.

In addition, Mueller's investigators said Bogacheva was one of a group of IRA employees that had traveled to the United States in summer 2014 with the goal of collecting "intelligence" for the IRA's disinformation operations.

"BOGACHEVA, together with other Defendants and coconspirators, planned travel itineraries, purchased equipment (such as cameras, SIM cards, and drop phones), and discussed security measures (including "evacuation scenarios") for Defendants who traveled to the United States," the indictment read. It said Bogacheva had traveled widely, visiting Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas and New York between June 4 and June 26, 2014.

Bogacheva was also charged with lying on her visa application for that trip.

None of the 13 Russians indicted for their work at the Internet Research Agency have ever been arrested and this would be the first time a Russian charged by Mueller in relation to the election interference operation had been detained. In addition to the IRA indictments, Mueller's investigation also led to the charging of 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking email accounts linked to the Democratic Party and then releasing them online. U.S. officials have said they believe there is little chance any of the Russians charged under Mueller will ever face a U.S. courtroom. Russia has refused to make any of those charged available to U.S. investigators.

Her detention in Belarus, however, seems to have been short. On Tuesday, Russia's embassy in Minsk said that Bogacheva had already told its embassy staff that she was free.

 Belarus's Prosecutor General's Office on Tuesday told the news agency Interfax-West that it had submitted a request to Interpol asking it to potentially remove her from its international wanted list on its territory. It said it had found "no basis" for holding Bogacheva with the goal of extraditing her abroad, Dmitry Brylev, the prosecutor office's spokesperson told Interfax.

"Yes, they detained her. Today she was released," Brylev said.

Malkevich, who first announced her detention, wrote on his account on the messenger service Telegram that according to his sources Bogacheva was already on her way back to Russia. Malkevich wrote on social media that according to his sources Bogacheva had been detained "by Interpol at the request of the U.S." in relation to the election meddling in 2016.

Bogacheva's detention in Belarus raised eyebrows, since President Alexander Lukashenko is almost uniquely close to Russia. Russia's invasion of Crimea and disputes over energy, however, have caused tensions recently between Minsk and Moscow, and Lukashenko has appeared to seek better relations with Europe and the United States. Last month, he hosted the White House's then-National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Arresting and then extraditing Bogacheva would almost certainly have provoked a major diplomatic row with Russia, which has always denied it had sought to influence the 2016 election.

Russian officials reacted angrily to the news of Bogacheva's detention.

"It is not clear to any sane person in Russia why Belarus, our fraternal republic with which we are building the Union State, behaves in this way," Viktor Vodolatsky, a member of Russia's parliamentary committee on the Community of Independent States Affairs, told the state news agency RIA Novosti.

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