News briefs: Hundreds of troops are sent to Iraq

Associated Press

AP News in Brief Thursday 

Militiamen withdraw from US Embassy but Iraq tensions linger

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran-backed militiamen withdrew from the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Wednesday after two days of clashes with American security forces, but U.S.-Iran tensions remain high and could spill over into further violence.

The withdrawal followed calls from the government and senior militia leaders. It ended a two-day crisis marked by the breach of the largest and one of the most heavily fortified U.S. diplomatic missions in the world. 

The attack and its volatile aftermath prompted the Pentagon to send hundreds of additional troops to the Middle East an d U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to delay a European and Central Asian trip.

In an orchestrated assault, hundreds of militiamen and their supporters broke into the embassy compound, destroying a reception area, smashing windows and spraying graffiti on walls to protest U.S. airstrikes against an Iran-backed militia over the weekend that killed 25 fighters.

The U.S. blamed the militia for a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in the northern city of Kirkuk last week that killed a U.S. contractor.

Year end violence across US

NEW YORK (AP) — When a machete-wielding attacker walked into a rabbi's home in Monsey, New York, during Hanukkah and a gunman fired on worshippers at a Texas church 14 hours later, the two congregations in different regions of the country joined a growing list of faith communities that have come under attack in the U.S. 

It is a group that crosses denominations and geography and has companions around the world. The frequency of attacks has faith leaders and law enforcement grappling with how to protect people when they are at their most vulnerable. 

FBI hate crime statistics show that incidents in churches, synagogues, temples and mosques increased 34.8% between 2014 and 2018, the last year for which FBI data is available. 

"For a person bent on hate crime against a particular religion or race, you go to a place where you know a lot of people in that group will be congregating — and vulnerable," said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Boston's Northeastern University. "One place you can go to find people of a certain religion is where they worship." Most congregations, he said, do not have security.

Three of the deadliest attacks on congregation members have occurred since June 2015, when a gunman killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA TODAY and Northeastern University. The database includes attacks where four or more victims are killed.

Japanese prosecutors raid Nissan ex-chair Ghosn's Tokyo home

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese prosecutors on Thursday raided the Tokyo home of former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn after he skipped bail and fled to Lebanon before his trial on financial misconduct charges.

Tokyo prosecutors and police did not immediately comment. Japanese media showed investigators entering the home, which was Ghosn's third residence in Tokyo since he was first arrested a year ago. Authorities have now searched each one.

Government offices in Japan are closed this week for the New Year's holidays. 

It is unclear how Ghosn avoided the tight surveillance he was under in Japan and showed up in Lebanon. 

Ghosn said Tuesday in a statement that he left for Lebanon because he thought the Japanese judicial system was unjust, and he wanted to avoid "political persecution." 

Some flee, others restock before Australian wildfires worsen

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Thousands of tourists fled Australia's wildfire-ravaged eastern coast Thursday ahead of worsening conditions as the military started to evacuate people trapped on the shore further south. 

Cooler weather since Tuesday has aided firefighting and allowed people to replenish supplies. Vehicles formed long lines at gas stations and supermarkets, and traffic was gridlocked as highways reopened. But fire conditions were expected to deteriorate Saturday as high temperatures and strong winds are forecast to return.

"There is every potential that the conditions on Saturday will be as bad or worse than we saw" on Tuesday, New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

Authorities said 381 homes had been destroyed on the New South Wales southern coast this week and at least eight people have died this week in the state and neighboring Victoria, Australia's two most-populous states, where more than 200 fires are currently burning.

Fires have also been burning in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.

Global air crash deaths fall by more than half in 2019

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019, according to a report by an aviation consulting firm.

The To70 consultancy said Wednesday that 257 people died in eight fatal accidents in 2019. That compares to 534 deaths in 13 fatal accidents in 2018. 

The 2019 death toll rose in late December after a Bek Air Fokker 100 crashed Friday on takeoff in Kazakhstan, killing 12 people. The worst crash of 2019 involved an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX plane that crashed March 10, killing 157 people. 

The report said fatal accidents in 2018 and 2019 that led to the grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX raised questions about how aviation authorities approve aviation designs derived from older ones, and about how much pilot training is needed on new systems. 

The group said it expects the 737 MAX to eventually gain permission to fly again in 2020. 

Fleeing war, poverty, African migrants face racism in Egypt

CAIRO (AP) — Two Sudanese sisters, Seham and Ekhlas Bashir, were walking their children home from elementary school in a Cairo neighborhood when a group of Egyptian teenagers crowded around them. The boys taunted them, calling them "slave" and other slurs. Then they tried to rip off Ekhlas' clothes.

An onlooker intervened, scolding the young harassers, and the sisters and their three children managed to escape. But they were shaken. 

They had just arrived in Cairo months earlier, fleeing violence in their homeland. The harassment brought up traumatic memories of detention, torture and rape they said they experienced at the hands of militias in Sudan's Nuba mountains. 

"We have come here seeking safety," said Ekhlas, recounting the incident that took place in November. "But the reality was very different."

Egypt has for decades been a refuge for sub-Saharan African migrants trying to escape war or poverty. But the streets of Cairo, a metropolis of some 20 million, can bring new dangers in the form of racist harassment or even violence in ways that other significant migrant communities here, such as Libyans and Syrians, don't face. While other major centers of African migration like Europe have been wrestling with racist violence, Egypt has only made small starts toward addressing the issue. 

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern dies at 77

NEW YORK (AP) — David Stern had basketball as a passion and law as a profession, one he figured he could return to if a job at the NBA didn't work out.

He never did.

Instead he went to Europe, Asia and plenty of other places around the world, bringing with him a league that was previously an afterthought in the U.S. and turning it into a global powerhouse.

Stern, who spent 30 years as the NBA's longest-serving commissioner and one of the best in sports history, died Wednesday. He was 77.

"Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today," Hall of Famer Michael Jordan said. "He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before."

Israel PM seeks immunity, buying time until after vote

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he would seek immunity from corruption charges, likely delaying any trial until after March elections, when he hopes to have a majority coalition that will shield him from prosecution.

Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. After failing to assemble a governing majority following back-to-back elections last year, he will get a third shot at remaining in office in March.

Wednesday's announcement essentially turns the upcoming election into a referendum on whether Netanyahu should be granted immunity and remain in office, or step down and stand trial. A recent poll indicated that a majority of Israelis oppose giving him immunity.

In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu repeated his assertion that he is the victim of an unfair conspiracy, lashing out at prosecutors, the media and his political enemies. Claiming credit for a series of economic and security achievements on his watch, he said he would seek to invoke the law that would protect him from prosecution as long as he remains in office.

"In order to continue to lead Israel to great achievements, I intend to approach the speaker of the Knesset in accordance with chapter 4C of the law, in order to fulfill my right, my duty and my mission to continue to serve you for the future of Israel," he said.

Larsen, who threw only perfect World Series game, dies at 90

NEW YORK (AP) — Don Larsen, the journeyman pitcher who reached the heights of baseball glory when he threw a perfect game in 1956 with the New York Yankees for the only no-hitter in World Series history, died Wednesday night. He was 90.

Larsen's agent, Andrew Levy, said the former pitcher died of esophageal cancer in hospice care in Hayden, Idaho. Levy said Larsen's son, Scott, confirmed the death.

Larsen was the unlikeliest of characters to attain what so many Hall of Famers couldn't pull off in the Fall Classic. He was 81-91 lifetime, never won more than 11 games in a season and finished an unsightly 3-21 with Baltimore in 1954, the year before he was dealt to the Yankees as part of an 18-player trade.

In the 1956 World Series, won in seven games by the Yankees, he was knocked out in the second inning of Game 2 by the Brooklyn Dodgers and didn't think he would have another opportunity to pitch. But when he reached Yankee Stadium on the morning of Oct. 8, he found a baseball in his shoe, the signal from manager Casey Stengel that he would start Game 5.

"I must admit I was shocked," Larsen wrote in his autobiography. "I knew I had to do better than the last time, keep the game close and somehow give our team a chance to win. Casey was betting on me, and I was determined not to let him down this time."

Pete Buttigieg raises $24.7 million during 4th quarter

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Pete Buttigieg's campaign says he raised more than $24.7 million in the last three months and now has a campaign staff of 500 people nationwide, a show of financial and organizational strength heading into the presidential primaries.

In a memo from campaign manager Mike Schmuhl, Buttigieg's campaign said Wednesday it had received more than 2 million contributions from over 733,000 people and had raised $76 million since he launched his bid for president. It's a notable feat for the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana — Buttigieg gave up the position Wednesday when his successor was sworn in.

Buttigieg has come under fire for holding big-dollar fundraisers with wealthy donors that, until recently, he kept private. But in the fundraising announcement, Buttigieg's campaign touted that its average contribution was about $38. And the big-dollar fundraisers have paid off — Buttigieg's 2019 fourth-quarter haul is far beyond the $19.2 million he raised during the third quarter of the year.

Schmuhl also touted the fact that the campaign has opened 65 field offices across the four early primary states, including 35 in Iowa, the first state where Democrats make their primary preference known, next month. Buttigieg has been polling among the top three candidates in Iowa, though he still polls in the middle of the pack nationwide and faces lingering questions about his ability to broaden his support beyond white voters.

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