Politics Trump says build US-Mexico wall or he’ll seal border
Sebastian Smith,•Demanding border wall money, Trump threatens to close Mexico border Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump threatened Friday to seal the US-Mexico border „entirely” if Congress does not approve billions of dollars in funding for a wall.In a burst of early morning tweets, the president said the alternative to funding his controversial wall project would be total separation from Mexico — including making US car companies pull out their factories based on the other side of the frontier.The threat yet again upped the ante in a political row that has led to a partial shutdown of the US government and seems set to dominate the start to the third year of Trump’s presidency.”We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall,” Trump tweeted.Trump said he would then take US-Mexican relations back to the days before the NAFTA agreement opened free trade across Canada, Mexico and the United States.That would „bring our car industry back into the United States where it belongs,” he said.It was not clear how separating the two huge neighbors would work. Bilateral trade totaled an estimated $615.9 billion in 2017, according to US government figures.Neither did Trump make any mention of the new free trade agreement, known as the USMCA, which he only recently signed with the two neighboring countries to replace NAFTA and which he has repeatedly praised as a huge boost for American commerce.In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sidestepped Trump’s threat, telling journalists: „We don’t want to be imprudent and we don’t think we should get into this.”- $5 billion question -Trump wants $5 billion in funding for a wall along the more than 2,000-mile border, which he says is currently too porous to stop illegal immigration and which he says has become a magnet for criminals, drugs and even terrorists.Opponents — especially in the Democratic party but also some in Trump’s Republican party — say that a physical wall is impractical and that the idea is being used as a political tool to whip up xenophobia in Trump’s right-wing voter base.Both sides have dug in. Democrats refuse to approve funding and the president — who has made hardline immigration polices a centerpiece of his presidency — has retaliated by refusing to sign off on a wider spending bill, leaving some 800,000 federal employees without pay.Negotiations on lifting that partial government shutdown, perhaps by providing some border security funding, have sputtered out and no new debate is scheduled before next Wednesday.The president, who had already scrapped a Christmas visit to his Florida golf resort has also „canceled his plans for New Year’s,” his incoming chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said on Fox News.Asked about the startling rhetoric, Mulvaney told Fox that Trump „is trying to draw light to the fact this is a crazy discussion to be having.”- Caravan ‘invasion’ -Experts are divided on solutions to policing the long, often inhospitable border separating the world’s biggest economy from the far poorer countries to its south.Although there is a huge cross-border drug trade and immigrants often enter illegally, others have genuine claims for asylum. Central Americans are also deeply integrated in the US economy, often performing physically demanding, low-pay jobs in construction, agriculture and other vital sectors.Trump has consistently painted the asylum seekers and economic migrants in outlandish terms, raising the specter of rapists, gang members and people with infectious diseases roaming freely across the border.Trump has latched particularly on to what have become known as the „caravans” — groups of several hundred or even more migrants who walk on epic treks across Central America and Mexico to try and reach the United States.According to Trump the „caravans” amount to organized attempts at invading the United States.In one tweet Friday, Trump warned: „word is that a new Caravan is forming in Honduras and they are doing nothing about it.”As a result, he said, „we will be cutting off all aid” to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.The impoverished, often dangerous countries have long received American assistance to boost democracy, human rights, education and security.But according to State Department figures, the aid is already dropping steeply.Honduras is currently set to receive $65.7 million in 2019, down from $105.6 million in 2017, while Guatemala is slated for $69.4 million, down from $145 million.El Salvador received $88 million in 2017 and is set for $45.7 million next year.
FILE – In this file photo dated Tuesday Nov. 27, 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron, left, greets Romanian President Klaus Iohannis at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Romania will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on Jan. 1, 2019, although President Klaus Iohannis said last month that Romania wasn’t up to the job. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, FILE)
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on Jan. 1 from Austria. The role is partly symbolic but does involve setting the EU agenda and being a diplomatic go-between to reach consensus among the 28 members on issues ranging from Brexit to fishing rights.
Here are five things you should know about the East European country’s first ever EU presidency.
IS IT READY?
President Klaus Iohannis last month said Romania wasn’t up to the presidency, creating momentary panic in the EU. Finland immediately upped its readiness (it’s due to take over from Romania on July 1).
Romania’s most powerful politician, Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, then asked party colleagues to find a way to prosecute Iohannis for treason over those remarks. Iohannis has since struck a more optimistic tone and there is reported to be an unstated agreement between Iohannis and Premier Viorica Dancila to present a reasonably united face regarding the EU presidency during its duration.
March 29 is the official date when Britain leaves the EU, deal or no-deal. Romania, which has up to half a million citizens working in the U.K., will host an EU summit in the picturesque Transylvanian city of Sibiu for the event.
European Parliamentary elections for the 751-seat Parliament will happen from May 23-26.
Romania has 257 files, including issues such as migration and a multiannual EU budget, to deal with during its presidency. It will likely try to close as many as possible, insiders say. A number of EU officials will be seconded to Bucharest to help out.
The big sticking point in the presidency is corruption and the rule of law in one of the bloc’s most graft-riddled states. When Romania joined the bloc in 2007, its justice system remained under special monitoring, and that hasn’t been lifted — most recently due to a contentious judicial overhaul the Social Democrats embarked on two years ago that critics say will stifle efforts to tackle high-level graft.
The government was successful in dismissing chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi over mismanagement allegations. That was in July and Kovesi — highly praised by the EU and U.S. for hundreds of successful prosecutions during her five-year mandate — still hasn’t been replaced.
Dragnea is pressing for an amnesty for „thousands of people” he says were wrongly imprisoned by anti-corruption prosecutors. Romania’s government claims prosecutors have had too much power and the country should be allowed to decide its own laws.
PRESIDENT v. GOVERNMENT
Romania’s presidency will likely bring to the fore disagreements between Iohannis, a centrist whom Brussels regards as a supporter of the anti-corruption fight, and Dragnea, who has recently been vocal in his criticism of foreign companies and banks and considers the anti-corruption fight to be deeply unfair.
Dragnea, who was handed a 3½-year prison sentence in June for abuse of office, will hear his appeal in that case during the presidency. Although he can’t be premier due to a 2016 conviction for vote-rigging, he recently hinted he may eye a run for president against Iohannis in the 2019 election.
The airport in the German city of Hannover was closed for over four hours after a car drove onto the runway.
The unnamed driver has been arrested, and all flights were diverted from 3:30pm until 8pm.
A police spokesman said a car with a Polish license plate managed to get on to the runway just after a plane had landed.
“Officers from the Federal Police were able to stop the car and overwhelm the man,” said Hannover police, in a statement.
The incident comes after the airport increased security over the Christmas period.
“The security areas are currently vacated, currently there is no clearance,” police said, immediately after the incident.
„Flight operations are currently suspended. The investigation continues.”
Eurocontrol, the organisation responsible for air traffic management, said there were no flights due to land or take off until 8pm.
“Zero rate applied for arrivals and departures due to an ongoing security issue on the airfield,” Eurocontrol said.
“Delays are high.”
Flights resumed at 8:06pm, the airport announced on its website.
Chelsea Clinton slams congressman’s comments to Fox News about ‘only 2’ migrant children dying: ‘For shame’
An interview a Republican representative gave to Fox News about the deaths of two migrant children while in ICE custody has rankled many — including Chelsea Clinton.
The former first daughter took to Twitter to decry comments made by Rep. Peter King during an interview with Fox News’s Julie Banderas on Friday. The Republican congressman from New York defended ICE and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen following outcry over the Christmas Eve death of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo. The young boy was the second migrant child to die while being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities; 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died earlier this month.
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“I think it’s wrong to be piling on and blaming ICE,” King said. “They’ve had hundreds of thousands of people that they had custody of over the years, and I think these are the only two children that have died, certainly in recent memory.”
ONLY. TWO. so “pro-life”.
„These are the only two children that have died, certainly in recent memory … considering what does happen in housing projects … I think ICE has an excellent record.” – Rep. Peter King
Though King called the deaths “terrible,” many commenters have accused him of downplaying their seriousness. Some critics have called him a “monster,” while others said his remarks were at odds with his “pro-life” stance.
Clinton, last heard defending Barron Trump from online mockery, was among those condemning King’s statement. She also singled out his insistence that migrants “had bad health to begin with” and labeled his non-sequitur reference to housing projects “dog-whistle racism.”
For shame. No parent would say this about their own child. No person should say this about anyone’s children. “Excellent record” would be no deaths, no harm & no children in detention. And, please don’t miss the dog-whistle racism in the middle.
GOP Rep. Peter King praised ICE’s „excellent record” since „only two children” have died in recent memory.
„These are the only two children that have died, certainly in recent memory … considering what does happen in housing projects … I think ICE has an excellent record.”
Clinton’s tweet drew praise — and even a plea for her to follow in her parents’ political footsteps.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 6 in 10 military veterans voted for Republican candidates in the November midterm elections, and a similar majority had positive views of President Donald Trump’s leadership. But women, the fastest growing demographic group in the military, are defying that vote trend.
That’s according to AP VoteCast, a nationwide survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters — including more than 4,000 current and former service members — conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago. It found that veterans overall approved of Trump’s job performance, showing high support for the president’s handling of border security and his efforts to make the U.S. safer from terrorism.
Male veterans were much more likely to approve of Trump than those who haven’t served, 58 percent to 46 percent.
But 58 percent of female veterans disapproved of Trump, which is similar to the share of women overall (61 percent).
Some takeaways on veterans:
Overall, 56 percent of veterans — both current and former service members — said they approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 43 percent disapproved. Voters who have not served in the military were more likely to disapprove (58 percent) than approve (42 percent) of the president’s job performance.
The survey found that differences in support for Trump between veterans and nonveterans extended across racial and ethnic groups, including among whites (62 percent of veterans approve versus 49 percent of nonveterans), Latinos (53 percent vs. 28 percent) and African-Americans (22 percent vs. 10 percent).
The poll showed veterans more likely than nonveterans to say Trump has the right temperament to serve as president (48 percent to 32 percent) and that he’s a strong leader (59 percent to 49 percent). They were slightly more likely to say Trump cares about „people like you” (46 percent to 40 percent).
On the issues, veterans were significantly more likely than those who have not served to approve of Trump’s handling of border security, 62 percent to 48 percent, and to think the Trump administration has made the U.S. safer from terrorism, 51 percent to 35 percent.
DRAIN THE SWAMP?
Veterans had good success running for Congress compared to previous years. Eighteen new veterans were elected to the House, seven of whom are Democrats.
That’s the largest number of new veterans elected to the House since 2010, and the biggest influx of Democratic vets since 1996, according to Seth Lynn, a University of San Francisco professor who runs Veterans Campaign, a group that prepares veterans for careers in politics. One fresh veteran face — Republican Rick Scott of Florida — will join the Senate.
In all, more than 170 veterans were on November’s congressional ballot as major-party candidates. Some vets, such as Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot, ran close House races but ultimately fell short on Election Day.
A total of 96 military veterans will serve as lawmakers next year, 66 Republicans and 30 Democrats.
Lynn said veterans in previous elections had often chosen to run for office due to concerns over U.S. military policy, such as President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. But he said veteran candidates this election cycle seemed moved by general voter dissatisfaction with government.
„The military is the institution where many Americans have the most confidence, but that isn’t the case with Congress,” Lynn said. „For many of the Democratic women veterans who chose to run, it was basically a response to how they felt the Trump administration was doing and a call to service.”
The poll shows significant concerns among men who have served in the military about accusations of sexual misconduct: 40 percent said they are very concerned about men not being given the opportunity to defend themselves when they’re accused. That’s compared with 28 percent who said they are very concerned about women not being believed when they make allegations.
Words by Kerry Justich.
Melania Trump may have accompanied her husband President Donald Trump during his unannounced trip to visit the troops in Iraq and Germany on Wednesday, but after the couple’s arrival back in Washington D.C. early Thursday morning people are questioning if it’s really the First Lady by Donald’s side, or instead a body double wearing sunglasses and a mini skirt.
As the couple deplaned from Marine One before the sun had even come up, Twitter began to debate the oddities of Melania’s outfit choice.
First and foremost pointing out the unconventional decision to wear big sunglasses while it was essentially pitch black outside.
But, secondly, suggesting that FLOTUS may not even be wearing trousers.
Melania forgot her pants, but remembered her sunglasses?
1) Could that skirt be any shorter?
2) Sunglasses at night, Melania? Really?
3) You are the First Lady of the United States. Try acting like it and not like an aging rock star groupie. Please.
— Carol Danvers, Noble Warrior Hero ︽✵︽ (@LAinSouthernNJ) December 27, 2018
President Trump returns to White House after surprise Iraq trip http://mag.time.com/JvCuGGb
President Trump Returns to White House After Surprise Iraq Trip
President Trump returned to Washington D.C. early Thursday following a surprise trip to Iraq
Upon closer inspection, people began to realise that Melania was actually wearing tan leather leggings and flats underneath a Prada peacoat.
But the clarification didn’t stop people from implying that the confusing outfit may be an indication that it wasn’t actually the First Lady making an appearance.
Melania just looks odd. Are we certain that’s her? Bad judgment fits. With sunglasses and without pants…
Why does that NOT look like Melania? Why the sunglasses? Weird.
The speculation is reminiscent of when people first claimed that Melania may have a body double when she stepped out in sunnies back in October 2017.
Even after that was verified as fake news, however, some can’t seem to let go of the theory.
Many also came to Melania’s defense to say that she might just be wearing sunglasses to protect her eyes from the flashing cameras, which could be true considering it isn’t the first time she’s worn them at night.
Read more from Yahoo Style UK:
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans say more investigation is needed into decisions made by the FBI and the Justice Department in 2016 as they brought an unceremonious end to their yearlong look at the department’s handling of probes into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails and Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
In a letter released Friday evening, less than a week before Republicans cede the House majority to Democrats, the chairmen of two House committees described what they said was the „seemingly disparate treatment” the two probes received during the presidential election in 2016 and called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate further.
House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte and Rep. Trey Gowdy, House Oversight and Government Reform chairman, both of whom are retiring next week, sent a letter to the Justice Department and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying they reviewed thousands of documents and conducted interviews that „revealed troubling facts which exacerbated our initial questions and concerns.” Republicans have said since the election that they believe Justice officials were biased against President Trump when they started an investigation into his ties to Russia and cleared Clinton in a separate probe into her email use.
Americans ranked former first lady Michelle Obama as the most admired woman in the world in Gallup’s annual poll. It’s the first time in 17 years former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton didn’t top the list.
Former President Barack Obama topped the list for most admired man for the 11th year in a row.
Michelle Obama was runner-up to Clinton on the list for the past three years, but she has been in the public eye lately with the publication of her bestselling memoir, “Becoming.”
From Dec. 3 to Dec. 12, Gallup conducted phone interviews with a random sample of 1,025 Americans, asking them to name the man or woman living in any country who they most admire. The results were published Thursday.
In voting for most-admired woman, 15 percent named Obama and 5 percent named media executive Oprah Winfrey. Clinton and current first lady Melania Trump tied for third at 4 percent.
Barack Obama topped the men’s list with 19 percent, and President Trump came in second for the fourth consecutive year with 13 percent. Former President George W. Bush and Pope Francis tied for third with 2 percent.
Obama could tie former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander in World War II, for being declared most-admired man the most times: 12. Clinton holds the record as most admired woman — 22 times — thanks to decades in public life as first lady, senator and two-time presidential candidate.
The top ten included other prominent women in American politics — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai and television personality Ellen DeGeneres also made the list.
For men, the top-ten list was rounded out by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former President Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, former Vice President Joe Biden, Vice President Mike Pence and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Gallup has asked Americans this question every year since 1946, with the exception of 1976.
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The wrapping up of the congressional investigation, done in a letter and without a full final report, was a quiet end to a probe that was conducted mostly behind closed doors but also in public as Republican lawmakers often criticized interview subjects afterward and suggested they were conspiring against Trump.
The investigation’s most public day was a 10-hour open hearing in July in which former FBI special agent Peter Strzok defended anti-Trump texts he sent to a colleague as he helped lead both investigations. Strzok fought with Republican lawmakers in a riveting spectacle that featured Strzok reading aloud from his sometimes-lewd texts, and Democrats and Republicans openly yelling at each other.
Goodlatte and Gowdy laid out several concerns in the letter, many of them echoing a report issued this year by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog. That report concluded that Strzok’s anti-Trump text messages cast a cloud on the agency’s handling of the probe and also that fired FBI Director James Comey repeatedly broke from protocol, including when he announced his recommendation against charging Clinton. But unlike the congressional investigation, the report also found there was no evidence that Comey’s or the department’s final conclusions were motivated by political bias toward either candidate.
Democrats have blasted the GOP-led congressional probe, saying it was merely meant as a distraction from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the judiciary committee, and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on the oversight panel, are expected to end the investigation when they take power in January. Nadler has called it „nonsense.”
California Rep. Adam Schiff, who does not sit on either panel but is the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, tweeted Friday evening that the Republican investigation is ending „not with a bang, but with a Friday, buried-in-the-holidays whimper, and one foot out the door.”
The Republicans have insisted that they were not trying to undermine the Mueller probe.
„Contrary to Democrat and media claims, there has been no effort to discredit the work of the special counsel,” Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote in the letter. „Quite the opposite, whatever product is produced by the special counsel must be trusted by Americans and that requires asking tough but fair questions about investigative techniques both employed and not employed.”
Republicans have repeatedly asked for a special counsel to look into the 2016 questions, but former Attorney General Jeff Sessions never granted their request. The department is now led by Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, a Trump ally who has not weighed in on the issue.
The Republicans sent the letter not only to McConnell but to several other Republican Senate committee chairmen, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who will become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote that „while Congress does not have the power to appoint a special counsel, Congress does have the power to continue to investigate. They said they believe „the facts uncovered thus far” warrant continued oversight.
Goodlatte and Gowdy have also asked for the Justice Department release transcripts from their investigation. The committees sent the transcripts to the department last week so they could be reviewed for any classified information, but they have not been released.
By Orhan Coskun and Lesley Wroughton
ANKARA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s declaration in a phone call with Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border.
In the phone call two weeks ago, Trump had been expected to deliver a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to launch a crossborder attack targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, U.S. officials say.
Instead, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria.
„Trump asked: ‘If we withdraw our soldiers, can you clean up ISIS?'”, a Turkish official told Reuters. He said Erdogan replied that Turkish forces were up to the task.
„Then you do it,” Trump told him abruptly. To his national security adviser John Bolton, also on the call, Trump said: „Start work for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.”
„I have to say it was an unexpected decision. The word ‘surprise’ is too weak to describe the situation,” said the official, one of five Turkish sources who spoke to Reuters about the Dec. 14 call between the two leaders.
Trump’s decision was also a shock in Washington, where senior administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, tried for days to change the president’s mind, U.S. officials said. When Trump made clear he would not back down, Mattis and a senior official coordinating the fight against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, both resigned.
On a visit to a U.S. air base in Iraq this week, Trump said that military commanders had repeatedly requested extensions for the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria – requests that he finally turned down because he said Islamic State was largely beaten.
„We’ve knocked them silly. I will tell you I’ve had some very good talks with President Erdogan who wants to knock them out also, and he’ll do it,” he told American troops.
RISK FOR TURKEY
For Turkey, Trump’s decision offers opportunity and risk.
Ankara has complained bitterly for years that the United States, a NATO ally, had chosen the Kurdish YPG militia as its main partner on the ground in Syria against Islamic State.
Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist group, inseparable from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey in which 40,000 people have been killed.
The U.S. withdrawal potentially frees Turkey’s military to push the YPG back from 500 km of border without risking a confrontation with American forces. It also removes a main cause of this year’s diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
But it also opens up an area of Syria far larger than anything Turkey had expected to fill, potentially pitting it against not just Kurdish forces but also the Damascus government – which is committed to regaining control of all of Syria – and its Russian and Iranian backers.
The YPG on Friday asked the Syrian government to take over the town of Manbij, which the Kurdish militia currently controls with U.S. support, to protect it from Turkish attack.
And if Turkish forces are to take on Islamic State in its last pocket of Syrian territory near the Iraqi border, they would first have to cross 250 km of territory controlled by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.
„Erdogan got more than he bargained for,” said Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute. „He had asked the U.S. to drop the YPG, but not withdraw from Syria”.
Erdogan has for years backed rebels who once hoped to topple Bashar al-Assad, but the Syrian president’s survival has been assured by support from Tehran and Moscow even though the north and east – including Syrian oilfields – remain beyond Assad’s control for now.
As it takes stock of the new challenge, Turkey is launching intensive talks with Washington and Moscow. Ankara expects U.S. military officials to visit within days, as well as Bolton and possibly the U.S. special Syria envoy, James Jeffrey.
Turkey’s intelligence chief and defense and foreign ministers are also due in Moscow on Saturday, the spokesman for Erdogan’s AK Party said.
„Of course it will be difficult. The whole issue needs to be planned again from the start,” a Turkish security official said.
A U.S. official said military planners were drafting plans that could see a withdrawal over the course of several months. One of the proposals under consideration is a 120-day withdrawal period, according a person familiar with discussions.
Washington is also grappling with what to do with weapons it provided to the YPG militia and promised to take back after the campaign against Islamic State ended.
Turkey says the weapons must be collected so they are not used against Turkish troops, but U.S. officials say they cannot disarm their own allies when the fight is not yet over.
Erdogan announced last week Turkey is postponing its planned military operation against the YPG in light of Trump’s decision.
The Turkish military has already carried out two incursions into north Syria, backed by pro-Turkey Syrian rebels. In 2016 they targeted Islamic State and Kurdish fighters, and earlier this year took control of the YPG-held Afrin region.
But Ankara and its Syrian rebel allies alone do not have the capacity to take over the whole region which the United States is abandoning, Cagaptay said. Turkey’s priority therefore may be to secure its southern frontier.
„Distancing the YPG from the border and wiping out these elements is of critical importance,” the security official said.
He stressed the need for careful coordination over who should fill other areas which departing U.S. forces will leave, and warned of problems ahead if agreement could not be reached.
„Is it a big victory for Turkey?” another official said. „I’m not sure right now.”
(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara and Humeyra Pamuk and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan)
Anti-government protest in central Belgrade
By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbians protested against President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party in downtown Belgrade on Saturday.
Thousands of people chanted „Vucic thief” as they marched peacefully through the city center in the fourth such protest in as many weeks. They demanded media freedoms, an end to attacks on journalists and opposition politicians.
Backers of the Alliance for Serbia, an opposition grouping of 30 parties and organizations, say Vucic is an autocrat and his party is corrupt, something its leaders vehemently deny.
In an interview with the pro-government Studio B TV during the protest, Vucic said he was ready to discuss the opposition demands.
„I am ready to look at what causes dissent of the people,” he said, after being jeered by a group of protesters as he entered the television station building.
Vucic earlier suggested he was willing to test his party’s popularity in a snap vote, although Vuk Jeremic, a former foreign minister and the head of the small People’s Party, part of the alliance, said the opposition would boycott any election.
„There will be no legitimate elections in Serbia with the participation of the opposition until after normal conditions for elections and living are created,” Jeremic said.
According to a poll by the Belgrade-based CESID election watchdog in October, Vucic’s SNS enjoys the backing of 53.3 percent of electorate while other parties are trailing far behind.
If the opposition ran as an alliance, rather than individual parties, they could count on around 15 percent of the vote. Their joint participation in a vote has yet to be agreed and so far they are only united in their animosity to Vucic and his party.
The SNS-led ruling coalition has a comfortable majority of 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament. The next national election is due in 2020.
Major opposition protests have been relatively rare in Serbia since the popular unrest that ousted former strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
Most of current opposition leaders served in successive pro-Western coalitions that led Serbia between 2000 and 2012 when SNS forged a coalition with Milosevic’s Socialists and came to power.
A nationalist firebrand during the violent collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Vucic later embraced pro-European values and set Serbia’s membership in the European Union as the country’s strategic goal. He also maintains close ties with Russia and China.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Alison Williams)