For 76-year-old Joe Biden, age a factor as he mulls 2020 runTHOMAS BEAUMONT, MEG KINNARD and BILL BARROW•In this Dec. 13, 2018, photo, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. As he considers running for president, Biden is talking with friends and longtime supporters about whether, at 76, he’s too old to seek the White House, according to several sources who have spoken with the former Democratic vice president. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)As he considers running for president, Joe Biden is talking with friends and longtime supporters about whether, at 76, he’s too old to seek the White House, according to several sources who have spoken with the former Democratic vice president.The discussions suggest Biden is aware that his age may be the biggest hurdle to launching another bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, especially in an era when many in the party yearn for a new generation of leadership. He would be the oldest person to ever be elected president.Past and current advisers to Biden have held frequent conversations about options to alleviate concerns about age, including teaming him with a younger running mate. One option that has been floated, according to a source with knowledge of the talks, is outgoing Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who at 46 has become the subject of intense 2020 speculation after nearly beating GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Representatives for Biden and O’Rourke declined to comment for this story.At a town hall Friday in El Paso, Texas, O’Rourke said he hadn’t made a decision about whether to seek the presidency.The question of age has roiled Democratic politics since the midterms. At 78, Rep. Nancy Pelosi is on her way to regaining the House speaker’s gavel — but only after she agreed with mostly younger lawmakers to serve in the position for no more than four years. Other potential presidential contenders, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 69, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, 77, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 76, face the prospect of competing against Democrats who are decades younger.The younger set of the 2020 class includes Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota along with Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana and Obama housing secretary Julian Castro. They’re all in their 40s and 50s.Iowa Democratic activist Dale Todd, who was an early backer of Barack Obama in 2007, said he has misgivings about potential candidates in their 70s, despite their experience.”Can you mobilize younger voters with older candidates? Bernie showed us that you can, but can you effectively mobilize a winning coalition with an older candidate? That is our conundrum, and I would suggest you probably can’t,” said Todd, who has lent early advice to Booker. „We want freshness coupled with experience; we also want energy and passion in our candidates.”Ronald Reagan was 73 when he won the White House a second time, making him the oldest person to win a presidential election. Donald Trump was 70 when he won the presidency in 2016.Biden is expected to decide in January or February whether to seek the White House. He has done little to tamp down talk that his answer may be yes.He touts his age as a sign of experience, pointing to 36 years in the Senate, eight years as vice president and a career deeply enmeshed in domestic, international and military policy. At an event in Montana this month, Biden described himself as „the most qualified person in the country to be president.””The issues we face as a country today are the issues that have been in my wheelhouse, that I’ve worked on my whole life,” he said.Speaking Thursday at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Biden spoke of a promise he made to his dying son that he wouldn’t withdraw from the world.And yet, Biden has also said he could not re-enter the grueling race for the presidency unless he feels his family, still dealing with Beau Biden’s 2015 death, is fully on board.The Utah event was expected to be Biden’s last public appearance of the year. He’ll spend the coming weeks deliberating with family over his next steps, according to multiple people familiar with his thinking. They requested anonymity because Biden is still weighing his options.Despite questions about age, it’s hard to argue Biden is short on energy or passion.In the span of just 24 hours this month, he jetted from an appearance in San Francisco back to his home in Delaware and back to California again. In the days leading up to the midterms, he followed a robust schedule intended in part to test his stamina for a national campaign. In late October, he was in three states — Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri — over the course of one day._Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, and Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
Melania Trump is her own winter wonderland in Céline at Congressional BallSabrina Rojas Weiss•President Trump speaks while first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, look on at the White House Congressional Ball on Dec. 15, 2018. (Photo: Yuri Gripas-Pool/Getty Images)At the White House Congressional Ball on Saturday Night, Melania Trump wore a wintry white Céline gown and accepted her husband’s praise for her much-maligned Christmas decorations. In a tumultuous week for both the president and the first lady, the former model mostly let her shimmering appearance speak for her.
Trump’s last notable Céline outfit was the breezy red-and-white shirt dress she wore when arriving in Ghana in October. In Saturday’s sequined long-sleeve, floor-length dress, Trump resembled a beautiful ice sculpture as her husband spoke of his accomplishments and what he hoped to pass in the next two years. The president made no mention of the legal shadows hanging over his administration.“Welcome to the White House. Enjoy the evening. Merry Christmas and happy and healthy New Year,” Melania Trump said. The first lady’s hair looked considerably less blond than it had during her interview on Fox News Thursday. That may have been a result of different lighting, or she may have darkened it since then.Also on Saturday evening, the first lady’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, published an op-ed on CNN.com defending her. The network had previously posted an opinion piece stating that she “doesn’t understand what it means to be first lady,” after she told Fox News that the hardest part of her job is the way “opportunists” use her name. This was during a week in which lawyer Michael Cohen’s hush money payments to Donald Trump’s two alleged mistresses were back in the headlines.“The media consistently ignores the first lady’s work on behalf of the people of this country, and children in particular, in favor of more trivial matters,” Grisham wrote. According to the Daily Mail, the Trumps stayed at the Congressional Ball for only 29 minutes before heading back to the residence.
FILE PHOTO: Boys walk amid ruins of houses during the conflict in the northwestern city of Saada
By Aziz El Yaakoubi and Mohammed Ghobari
DUBAI/ADEN (Reuters) – Weeks of U.N. shuttle diplomacy and Western pressure delivered a breakthrough in Yemen peace efforts when the warring parties last week agreed to cease fighting in a contested Red Sea port city and withdraw forces.
The challenge lies in securing an orderly troop withdrawal from Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing starvation, amid deep mistrust among the parties.
At the same time, the United Nations must prepare for critical discussions on a wider truce and a framework for political negotiations to end the conflict.
The nearly four-year-old war, which has killed tens of thousands of people, pits the Iran-aligned Houthi group against other Yemeni factions fighting alongside the Saudi-led coalition trying to restore the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Houthis, who ousted Hadi’s administration from the capital Sanaa in 2014, and their coalition foes are due to start implementing the Hodeidah ceasefire on Tuesday. [nL8N1YL0BN]
Coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are under pressure from Western allies including the United States and Britain, which supply arms and intelligence to the Sunni Muslim alliance, to end the war as Riyadh comes under scrutiny after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
WHY IS HODEIDAH SO IMPORTANT?
It is the main port used to feed Yemen’s 30 million people and has been the focus of fighting this year, raising global fears that a full-scale assault could cut off supply lines and lead to mass starvation. The war and the ensuing economic collapse has left 15.9 million people facing severe hunger.
The Houthis currently control the city. Coalition-backed Yemeni forces have massed on the outskirts in an offensive aimed at seizing the seaport. Their aim is to weaken the group by cutting off its main supply line.
The alliance, bogged down in military stalemate, also wants to secure the coast along the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers.
The coalition captured the southern port of Aden in 2015 and a string of ports on the western coast, but the Houthis control most towns and cities in Yemen, including Hodeidah and Sanaa.
Analysts say implementing the agreement is important, as any lapse in momentum could be used by the coalition as a justification to resume its offensive on Hodeidah.
WHERE DO THINGS STAND NOW?
Griffiths said when the deal was announced on Thursday that troop withdrawal from the port should begin „within days” and later from the city. International monitors would be deployed and all armed forces would pull back completely within 21 days.
The UAE has massed thousands of Yemeni forces — drawn from southern separatists, local units from the Red Sea coastal plain and a battalion led by a nephew of late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh — on the outskirts of Hodeidah.
A U.N.-chaired committee including both sides would oversee withdrawal of forces. The United Nations has said it would play a leading role in the port, but the agreement did not spell out who would run the city.
In remarks illustrating the risks of a resumption of the bloodshed in Hodeidah, each side has said the city would ultimately fall under their control.
Griffiths has asked the U.N. Security Council to urgently pass a resolution backing deployment of a robust monitoring regime, headed by retired Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert.
The envoy is also working on securing other confidence-building steps hanging over from the peace talks, including reopening Sanaa airport and supporting the central bank.
WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP TO PEACE?
A second round of talks is due to be held in January on a framework for negotiations and transitional governing body.
The Houthis, who have no traction in the south, want a meaningful role in Yemen’s government and to rebuild their stronghold of Saada in the north of the country, analysts said.
The analysts say Saudi Arabia can live with a Houthi political role as long as they disarm. Riyadh says it does not want a military movement like Lebanon’s Iran-allied Hezbollah near its borders.
„Moving forward, the inclusion of key factions that have so far been excluded from the process will be key,” said Adam Baron of the European Council for Foreign Relations.
Yemen’s fractious armed groups and parties, numerous before the war, have proliferated further since 2015, and each has their own agenda. The war also revived old strains between North and South Yemen, formerly separate countries which united into a single state in 1990 under slain former president Saleh.
Southern separatists resented concentration of resources in the north. Some of the Shi’ite Zaydi sect chafed as their north heartland became impoverished and in the late 1990s formed the Houthi group, which fought the army and forged ties with Iran. Jihadists set up an al Qaeda wing.
Mass pro-democracy protests in 2011 forced Saleh to step down after some of his former allies turned on him and the army split. His deputy Hadi was elected to a two-year term to oversee a democratic transition, but was undermined.
In 2014, the Houthis seized Sanaa aided by Saleh loyalists, forcing Hadi to share power. When a federal constitution was proposed, both Houthis and southern separatists rejected it.
The Houthis arrested Hadi in 2015, but he escaped and fled to Aden. The coalition then entered the war on Hadi’s side.
(Additional reporting and writing by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean)
TOKYO (AP) — A suspected gas explosion destroyed wooden buildings housing a restaurant and a real estate office in northern Japan on Sunday night, injuring 42 people, police and local media said.
The powerful explosion in Sapporo, the capital city of Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido, shook nearby buildings, shattered windows and scattered wooden debris across the area. Some residents told reporters they thought the blast was an earthquake.
One person was in serious condition, but police said the other injuries were mostly mild.
Police are investigating the cause of the explosion in Sapporo’s Toyohira district. Kyodo news agency reported that a gas safety center official noted five propane gas tanks outside of the pub and two outside the real estate office.
The fire burned for nearly six hours, Kyodo said, and photographs and TV footage showed smoke rising above charred, collapsed debris as dozens of firefighters poured water onto the building. Windows on an apartment building next door were broken, and cars parked outside were partially covered with debris that had fallen on them.
A witness told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that he smelled gas after the sound of an explosion. It said neighbors were being provided shelter overnight.
Fierce clashes broke out in Yemen’s crucial port city of Hodeidah on Sunday, leading UN and Yemeni officials to delay the „official” start of the hard-fought ceasefire agreed last week.
Residents reported skirmishes on the outskirts of town with missiles and automatic gunfire heard near the city’s eastern 7th July suburb.
Unconfirmed television reports said that the Saudi-led coalition had launched two airstrikes on Ras Isa, a port north of Hodeidah.
On Thursday, the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels agreed to a UN-brokered truce in Hodeidah with the Saudi-led coalition that backs the official government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
UN officials said it was necessary to delay the implementation of the ceasefire until December 18th to convey orders to troops on the ground.
On Sunday afternoon, UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths issued a plea to both to “respect their obligations as per the text and the spirit of the Stockholm Agreement” and “engage in the immediate representation of its provisions.”
„Without peace, we will be facing in 2019 a much worse situation than today” as a result of food shortages, warned UN chief Antonio Guterres on Sunday.
Hodeidah is almost completely controlled by the Houthis, and their withdrawal from key positions like the port is one of the central components of the UN-brokered deal reached last week in Sweden.
By moving units away from the Red Sea port, international officials hope to get desperately needed food and aid into the country to ease Yemen’s festering humanitarian crisis.
Under the deal, which could create the breathing space for meaningful peace talks, international monitors are to be deployed in Hodeidah to observe as all armed forces pull back completely within 21 days of the start of the ceasefire.
Skirmishes and clashes like those seen in Hodeidah over the past two days are not in themselves a sign that the ceasefire is doomed, said independent Yemen analyst Hisham Al-Omeisy.
“Even in previous ceasefires, there was a huge de-escalation infighting, but still sporadic fighting here and there, like we’ve seen over the past few days,” he told the Telegraph.
He cited recent conversations with Houthi contacts where the atmosphere in Hodeidah was cited as “toxic” and characterised by a deep mistrust of the Saudi-led coalition. A rise in looting by Houthi forces, he said, showed „bad faith” ahead of the agreed withdrawal.
BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping has declared an „overwhelming victory” in his fight against graft within the ruling Chinese Communist Party, while still vowing that the campaign to weed out deep-seated corruption will continue, state media reported.
Xi has pledged to wage war on graft until corruption of all kinds has been expunged at all levels of the Communist Party, from high-level „tigers” to low-level „flies”.
He proclaimed during a twice-a-decade meeting of the top party leadership in October 2017 that his fight against graft had achieved „overwhelming momentum”.
However, Xi announced at a meeting of the party’s Politburo on Friday that the fight had now obtained an „overwhelming victory”, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The shift from „momentum” to „victory” reflects an important judgment from the party leadership, CCTV said.
China’s powerful graft watchdogs handled 464,000 cases and punished 406,000 people in the first nine months of 2018.
„We must forcefully reduce the number of cases and effectively stop them from growing,” the Politburo said, according to CCTV.
Xi said efforts to overhaul China’s extensive anti-graft architecture must continue to modernize the systems of oversight for party members and state employees.
China’s new National Supervisory Commission was formally established in March, extending the graft fight to all state employees and giving legal backing to the party’s controversial internal investigation and detention techniques.
Some Chinese academics have voiced concerns that the reforms will roll back years of work by legal reformers to protect the rights of suspects during investigations.
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Paul Tait)
Doha (AFP) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday said US sanctions will have no impact on the policies of the Islamic republic at home or abroad.
„It is obvious that we are facing pressure by the US sanctions. But will that lead to a change in policy? I can assure you it won’t,” Zarif told the Doha Forum policy conference in Qatar.
„If there is an art we have perfected in Iran and can teach to others for a price, it is the art of evading sanctions,” he added.
The US imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran this year, after earlier unilaterally pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal with global powers.
Discussing the Yemen conflict, Zarif denied Tehran had ever armed the Huthi rebels battling pro-government forces in the country.
„We have never provided weapons to Huthis,” he said when challenged on what arms it had supplied.
„They have enough weapons, they don’t need weapons from Iran,” Zarif said.
He said there were only „allegations” that Iran had sent weapons to Yemen, whereas there were „facts” that other countries had shipped arms.
„I don’t need to show any evidence about the jets that were flying in Yemen bombing the Yemenis.
„Those are American-made jets and those are Saudi fighters, I assume, which are piloting those jets,” Zarif said.
„If there are allegations about Iranian weapons, there are facts about US weapons, facts about Saudis bombing the hell out of the Yemenis,” he added.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia intervened in the Yemen conflict in 2015 as part of a coalition backing the government.
Zarif said the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia were responsible for the „humanitarian nightmare” in war-torn Yemen.
He also accused Riyadh of seeking „tension” with Iran.
Zarif also alluded to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi, saying Saudi Arabia believes „it can get away with murder”.
Khashoggi, a palace insider turned critic of the regime, was killed shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Protest against the new labour law in Budapest
By Krisztina Than
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands of Hungarians thronged the streets of Budapest on Sunday in the fourth and largest protest in a week against what they see as the increasingly authoritarian rule of right-wing nationalist Viktor Orban.
Braving sub-zero temperatures, setting off flares and waving Hungarian and European Union flags, about 10,000 demonstrators walked from historic Heroes’ Square toward parliament and then state TV in a march dubbed „Merry Xmas Mr. Prime Minister.”
The march was largely peaceful until police fired tear gas at protesters jostling outside the TV station late at night. Footage showed people crouching and blinded by the gas.
The demonstration was organized by opposition parties, students, and trade unions to demand a free media, withdrawal of a labor law increasing overtime, and an independent judiciary.
„All I want for Xmas is democracy,” read one banner.
Hundreds of police in riot gear shepherded what was one of the biggest demonstrations Orban has faced since he rose to power in 2010 and began wielding his large parliamentary majority to pressure courts, media and non-government groups.
The prime minister projects himself as savior of Hungary’s Christian culture against Muslim migration into Europe, and won a third straight term earlier this year.
On Saturday, Orban’s ruling party Fidesz said „criminals” were behind the „street riots” and accused Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros of stoking the protests.
Soros is a strong critic of Orban but denies claims against him as lies to create a false external enemy.
Late on Sunday, several opposition lawmakers gained access to the state TV building in Budapest seeking to have a petition read out, but security personnel told them that was impossible.
„The TV is lying!” shouted protesters, of the state channel viewed as mouthpiece for the government.
„Dirty Fidesz!” they added.
„Discontent is growing,” said Andi, 26, a sociology student who did not want to give her full name.
„They have passed two laws this week which … won’t serve Hungarian people’s interest,” she added, referring to the labor legislation critics dub a „slave law” and new courts for sensitive issues such as elections, protests and corruption.
Frequently clashing with the European Union over his policies, Orban has tweaked the election system to favor Fidesz and put loyalists at the head of institutions, while allies have enriched themselves.
But he has rarely angered large voter groups at home, and the opposition is weak and fragmented.
(Additional reporting by Bernadett Szabo; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Cawthorne)
By Celia Mebroukine and Antoine Boddaert
PARIS (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters took to the streets of French cities on Saturday in the fifth weekend of demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron’s government, ignoring calls to hold off after a gun attack in Strasbourg this week.
In Paris, police were out in force to contain outbursts of violence. But the demonstrations were noticeably smaller than in previous weeks, possibly a response to the Strasbourg attack or to the cold, rainy weather.
Police fired water cannon and teargas in the afternoon to disperse groups of protesters in sporadic, brief clashes with riot police on the Champs-Elysees and adjacent streets.
Topless feminist activists braved the cold to face off with security forces, a few meters away from the Elysee Palace, the president’s residence.
And French media showed footage of clashes between police and protesters in Nantes, western France, and further south in Bordeaux and Toulouse.
The ‘yellow vest’ movement started in mid-November with protests at junctions and roundabouts against fuel tax increases, but quickly became a wider mobilization against Macron’s economic policies.
Successive weekends of protests in Paris have lead to vandalism and violent clashes with security forces. Despite the protests, several major stores, such as the Galeries Lafayette, opened to lure in Christmas shoppers.
Loic Bollay, 44, marching on the Champs-Elysees in a yellow vest, said the protests were more subdued but the movement would go on until the demonstrators’ grievances were addressed.
„Since the Strasbourg attack, it is calmer, but I think next Saturday and the following Saturdays…it will come back.”
The Interior Minister said around 69,000 police were active on Saturday with a reinforced presence in Toulouse, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne.
Official figures said 66,000 protesters had been counted in France by 1700 GMT, compared to 126,000 at the same time a week before.
In Paris, some 4,000 protesters marched in splintered groups in several neighborhoods, and at least 168 were arrested, a Paris police official said.
On Friday, President Macron called for a return to calm in France after nearly a month of protests by the so-called ‘yellow vest’ movement against his government’s policies. The demonstrations have hit growth and caused widespread disruption.
„France needs calm, order and a return to normal,” Macron said, after a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels.
In a televised address on Monday, Macron announced wage rises for the poorest workers and tax cuts for pensioners in further concessions meant to end the movement, but many said they would maintain pressure.
The government, as well as several unions and opposition politicians had called on protesters to stay off the streets, after four people were killed in a gun attack at a Christmas market in the historic city of Strasbourg.
(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Ros Russell, William Maclean, Alexander Smith)
A Polish man who faces a 15-year prison sentence if convicted for alleged links to Papuan separatists is scheduled to appear in court Monday for the start of his trial, an Indonesian official said.
Jakub Fabian Skrzypski was detained and charged in August for intending to film an arms deal between rebels in Indonesia’s restive province of Papua, a prosecutor said.
The trial will be held in Wamena where Skrzypski was arrested, the town’s prosecutor Ricarda Arsenius said.
„The indictment will be read out on Monday”, Arsenius told AFP, adding that Skrzypski is in good health.
Police said they had confiscated from Skrzypski and three Indonesians more than 130 rounds of ammunition and documents detailing the struggle of the Free Papua Movement.
Skrzypski’s lawyer Latifah Anum Siregar said the Pole, who was living in Switzerland before his arrest, denied any wrongdoing.
„We’ll see what the prosecutors’ indictment is. We are ready to submit evidence to refute the charges,” Latifah Anum Siregar told AFP.
In a letter sent to the Swiss newspaper Le Temps in September, Skrzypski said he was merely a tourist in Papua.
„They (the investigators) are telling stories about ammunitions, but I’ve never seen or possessed any.
„They are trying to accuse me of an attempted coup, but all I’ve done was meeting some indigenous Papuans, who were not armed,” he said in the letter.
Papua, a former Dutch colony, declared itself independent in 1961, but neighbouring Indonesia took control of the region two years later on the condition it hold an independence referendum.
About 1,000 handpicked Papuan unanimously chose in the UN-backed referendum to be part of Indonesia, though some considered it a sham.
The region, one of Indonesia’s poorest, has since experienced numerous attacks on civilians with the most recent one earlier this month.
At least 16 employees of a state-owned company, who were building bridges in a major infrastructure push for the impoverished region, were killed by separatist rebels in early December.
The National Liberation Army of West Papua (TPNPB) claimed responsibility for the killings, describing the workers as legitimate targets for participating in what they said was a military-controlled project.
At least four more workers remain missing, while a soldier was also killed by the rebels, authorities said.