News in brief: The limits of impeachment

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The challenge is becoming increasingly clear for House Democrats prosecuting President Donald Trump's impeachment case as the Senate convenes for a second day of arguments in the landmark trial.

No matter how overwhelming the evidence confronting Trump, it becomes less compelling when presented again and again, day after day, as Democrats try to convince not just fidgety senators but an American public deeply divided over the Republican president in an election year. 

The team led by Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of House Intelligence Committee, constructed a gripping account of Trump's political pressure on Ukraine and attempt to cover up the "corrupt scheme" central to the charges. But the limits are apparent. Prosecutors must rely on the same loops of videotaped testimony — ambassadors, national security officials and even the president himself — after Trump's GOP Senate allies blocked new witnesses. 

It's a political risky moment for Democrats, who were once reluctant to take on impeachment during an election year but are marching toward a decision by the Senate that the American public also will judge.

"We're trying this case to two juries — the Senate and the American people," Schiff acknowledged Wednesday ahead of opening arguments. "The American people are watching. The American people are listening. And they do have an open mind."

24 hours in, senators flout quaint impeachment rules

WASHINGTON (AP) — So much for the Senate's quaint rules and tradition.

Almost immediately after Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled in Wednesday's session of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, bored and weary senators started openly flouting some basic guidelines in a chamber that prizes decorum. 

A Democrat in the back row leaned on his right arm, covered his eyes and stayed that way for nearly a half-hour. Some openly snickered when lead prosecutor Adam Schiff said he'd only speak for 10 minutes. And when one of the freshman House prosecutors stood to speak, many of the senator-jurors bolted for the cloak rooms, where their phones are stored. 

"I do see the members moving and taking a break," observed freshman Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, one of the House prosecutors, in mid-speech at the center podium. "I probably have another 15 minutes."

The agony of the senator-jurors had begun to show the night before, with widespread but more subtle struggles to pay attention to opening arguments. Gum-chewing, snacking, yawning and alleged napping could be seen throughout the cramped chamber. 

China shuts city of millions to stop spread of deadly virus

BEIJING (AP) — China closed off a city of more than 11 million people Thursday in an unprecedented effort to try to contain a deadly new viral illness that has sickened hundreds and spread to other cities and countries amid the Lunar New Year travel rush. 

Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded the Wuhan's train station, where metal barriers blocked the entrances at 10 a.m. sharp. Only travelers holding tickets for the last trains were allowed to enter, with those booked for later trains being turned away. Virtually everyone at the scene was wearing masks, news website The Paper's live broadcast showed. 

Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in Wuhan were eerily quiet. Social media users posted that movie theaters were canceling showings and complained that food vendors were exploiting the situation with huge price increases on fresh produce.

Images of the city posted online following the closure showed long lines and empty shelves at supermarkets as residents stocked up for what could be weeks of relative isolation. 

"To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science," Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization's representative in China, told The Associated Press in an interview at the WHO's Beijing office. "It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work."

UN court orders Myanmar to prevent Rohingya genocide

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — In a sweeping legal victory for members of the Rohingya Muslim minority, the United Nations' top court on Thursday ordered Myanmar take all measures in its power to prevent genocide against the Rohingya people.

The court's president, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the International Court of Justice "is of the opinion that the Rohingya in Myanmar remain extremely vulnerable."

The court added that its order for so-called provisional measures intended to protect the Rohingya is binding "and creates international legal obligations" on Myanmar.

At the end of an hour-long sitting in the court's wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice, judges also ordered Myanmar to report to them in four months on what measures the country has taken to comply with the order and then to report every six months as the case moves slowly through the world court.

Rights activists immediately welcomed the unanimous decision.

World leaders rally in Jerusalem against anti-Semitism

JERUSALEM (AP) — Dozens of world leaders descended upon Jerusalem on Thursday for the largest-ever gathering focused on commemorating the Holocaust and combating modern-day anti-Semitism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain's Prince Charles, Vice President Mike Pence and the presidents of Germany, Italy and Austria were among the more than 40 dignitaries attending the World Holocaust Forum, which coincides with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

Pence and Putin arrived Thursday morning within less than an hour of each other and both were scheduled to meet Israeli leaders before and after the main event. 

The three-hour-long ceremony at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial — called "Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism" — looks to project a united front in commemorating the genocide of European Jewry amid a global spike in anti-Jewish violence in the continent and around the world.

But the unresolved remnants of World War II's politics have permeated the solemn assembly over the differing historical narratives of various players. Poland's president, who's been criticized for his own wartime revisionism, has boycotted the gathering since he wasn't invited to speak while Putin was granted a central role even as he leads a campaign to play down the Soviet Union's pre-war pact with the Nazis and shift responsibility for the war's outbreak on Poland, which was invaded in 1939 to start the fighting.

Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nine parents who were deported as the Trump administration separated thousands of migrant families landed back into the U.S. late Wednesday to reunite with children they had not seen in a year and a half. 

The group arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Guatemala City in a trip arranged under the order of a federal judge who found the U.S. government had unlawfully prevented them from seeking asylum. An asylum advocate confirmed the nine parents were all aboard the flight.

Some of the children were at the airport to greet them, including David Xol's 9-year-old son Byron. 

David fell to one knee and tearfully embraced Byron for about three minutes, patting the back of his son's head.

"He was small," David said after rising to his feet. He looked at his attorney — who accompanied him on the flight — raised his hand about chest-high and said, "He grew a lot." 

Firefighting plane crashes in Australia, killing 3 Americans

SYDNEY (AP) — Three American crew members died Thursday when a C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker crashed while battling wildfires in southeastern Australia, officials said.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the crash deaths in the state's Snowy Monaro region as Australia attempts to deal with an unprecedented fire season that has left a large swath of destruction. 

Coulson Aviation in the U.S. state of Oregon said in a statement that one of its Lockheed large air tankers was lost after it left Richmond in New South Wales with retardant for a firebombing mission. It said the accident was "extensive" but had few other details.

"The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it's crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash," said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. 

He said all three aboard were U.S. residents. 

'Who is she?' - US Treasury chief takes swipe at Thunberg

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is in no position to give economic advice until she's gone to college and come out with an economics degree.

At a press briefing at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos, Mnuchin took a swipe at the 17-year-old environmental campaigner for her recommendation that both the public and private sectors should divest from fossil fuels.

When asked how that would affect the U.S. economic model, Mnuchin took a swipe at Thunberg.

"Is she the chief economist? Who is she? I'm confused," he said. Then following a brief pause, he said it was "a joke."

"After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us," he concluded.

Iran uses violence, politics to try to push US out of Iraq

BEIRUT (AP) — Iran has long sought the withdrawal of American forces from neighboring Iraq, but the U.S. killing of an Iranian general and an Iraqi militia commander in Baghdad has added new impetus to the effort, stoking anti-American feelings that Tehran hopes to exploit to help realize the goal. 

The Jan. 3 killing has led Iraq's parliament to call for the ouster of U.S. troops, but there are many lingering questions over whether Iran will be able to capitalize on the sentiment. 

An early test will be a "million-man" demonstration against the American presence, called for by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and scheduled for Friday.

It is not clear whether the protesters will try to recreate a New Year's Eve attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad by Iran-supported militias in the wake of U.S. airstrikes that killed 25 militiamen along the border with Syria. Iran might simply try to use the march to telegraph its intention to keep up the pressure on U.S. troops in Iraq. 

But experts say Iran can be counted on to try to seize what it sees as an opportunity to push its agenda in Iraq, despite an ongoing mass uprising that is targeting government corruption as well as Iranian influence in the country. 

AP Explains: Why US troop cuts in Africa would cause alarm

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Even as destroyed U.S. military aircraft smoldered from an al-Shabab attack that killed three Americans this month in Kenya, the al-Qaida-linked group issued a taunting message to African troops: The U.S. will abandon you just as it did the Kurds. 

Islamic extremists are already exploiting possible U.S. military cuts in Africa that have caused a rare bipartisan outcry in Washington, with lawmakers stressing the need to counter China and Russia and contain a growing threat from Islamic State group affiliates. 

Here's a look at the issue that has caused alarm among some U.S. security allies, while the U.S. probes the deadliest attack against its military in Africa since 2017.

WHAT'S AT STAKE?

Worried U.S. partners have pointed out the poor timing of reducing the U.S. military presence: Africa's extremist groups "set a record pace of activity in 2019" with more than 10,400 killings, a doubling of activity since 2013, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies says in a new report. 

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