US Defense Secretary Blasts Erdogan for ‘Unnecessary’ Syria Incursion

Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “bears full responsibility” for the resurgence of Islamic State, a growing humanitarian crisis, and possible war crimes.This was the Pentagon’s strongest condemnation so far of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.Esper calls Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds “unnecessary and impulsive.” He says it has undermined what he calls the “successful” multinational mission to defeat Islamic State in Syria by allowing “many dangerous ISIS detainees” to flee detention camps that had been guarded by the Kurds.FILE – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 11, 2019.Esper says U.S. relations with Turkey have been damaged. He says he plans to go to Brussels next week to press other NATO allies to slap sanctions on Turkey.Turkish forces entered into northern Syria last week after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the pull out of the approximately 1,000 U.S. forces in the area. They will be redeployed elsewhere in the Middle East to “monitor the situation,” according to Trump.The U.S. had been fighting side-by-side with the Kurds in Syria to defeat Islamic State. The extremists were just one rebel faction trying to overthrow the Syrian government.Turkey regards the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish separatists inside Turkey.Vice President Mike Pence says Trump is sending him to the Middle East in an apparent attempt to push Turkey and the Kurds to the negotiating table.Pence says Trump spoke to Erdogan on Monday, calling for an immediate end to the military operation.The U.S. is “simply not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion of Syria any longer,” Pence said.’Irresponsible’ actions Syrian Kurds say they feel forsaken by the United States. They also believe much of the Arab world and the U.N. Security Council are ignoring them.FILE – Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prepare to join the front against Turkish forces, near the northern Syrian town of Hasakeh, Oct. 10, 2019.But Esper says Turkey’s “irresponsible” actions have created an unacceptable risk to U.S. forces in northern Syria, including the possibility of the U.S. getting “engulfed in a broader conflict.”Trump continued Monday to defend his decision to order the U.S. out of the area against strong criticism from both parties and European allies.”Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey?” Trump tweeted. “Never ending wars will end! The same people who got us into the Middle East mess are the people who most want to stay there!”Trump said he is raising tariffs on Turkish steel imports and is stopping trade talks with Turkey while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions on the Turkish defense, interior, and energy ministers and their departments.”I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” he said.’Gravely concerned’Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called on the entire House to pass a resolution condemning Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria. But she also agrees that Turkey must be condemned for its actions.FILE – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 17, 2019.Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he is “gravely concerned” about the Turkish offensive, contending it will jeopardize “years of hard-won progress” in destroying Islamic State.But the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, says the sanctions Trump and Mnuchin announced “do not go far enough to punish Turkey for its egregious offenses in Syria.”In Syria, government forces entered a town near the Turkish border Monday, a day after reaching an agreement with Syrian Kurds to move into the region in an attempt to counter the Turkish onslaught.Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported Monday’s troop movement in Tal Tamr, about 20 kilometers from the border, saying it was done to “confront the Turkish aggression” and was welcomed by the people there.The fighting since the Turkish operation began nearly a week ago has killed dozens of civilians, observers say.The U.S. State Department has condemned reports of pro-Turkish fighters executing civilians.

Kosovo War Rape Survivor Comes Forward, Demands Justice

A woman alleging she was raped by Serbian forces during the Kosovo War filed a criminal complaint Monday with the country’s Special Prosecution’s Office, asking that her attacker be prosecuted.Shyhrete Tahiri-Sylejmani became only the second among an estimated 20,000 raped during the 1998-1999 war to publicly recount her experience.”I am here with you to share with you the pain I have in my soul,” she said in front of reporters and TV cameras in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. “I represent all mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters that suffer the same pain. I want to give them courage. It is never easy. Think of the kind of pain that shatters your heart and it can never be healed again. I am here to demand justice.”Feride Rushiti of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims, who stood beside Tahiri-Sylejmani, expressed dismay that justice still eludes the victims and that those who committed rape and other war crimes are still at large.”These crimes remain unpunished. That is why we are here today to demand justice for the 20,000 women, men, girls and boys who have experienced this crime, horror, torture and mistreatment during the war,” she said.Public faces of survivorsIn October 2018, Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman became Kosovo’s first survivor of wartime rape to publicly accuse her alleged attackers and tell her story.In April of this year, she recounted her harrowing experiences in testimony before the 5,000 dresses and skirts hang inside a stadium, in an exhibition titled “Thinking of You” by Kosovo-born Alketa Xhafa-Mripa, in Pristina, June 2015. The artist hoped to draw attention to the stigma suffered by victims of wartime sexual violence.Shedding the stigmaMany survivors kept quiet for decades, fearing the shame and public humiliation that rape can bring to an extended family in a historically patriarchal society.As Kosovo struggled to rebuild and secure international recognition in the wake of its 2008 declaration of independence, the issue of sexual violence remained largely on the back burner.Last year, the government started to provide reparations for victims of sexual war crimes under a law that compensates veterans of the Kosovo War.Claimants welcome the lifetime monthly compensation of $275 for the physical and psychological trauma — about 90% of the average salary for Kosovar women.Even so, Tahiri-Sylejmani and Krasniqi Goodman insist the compensation is no substitute for justice.

Pope’s Bodyguard Resigns Over New Financial Leaks Scandal

Pope Francis’ chief bodyguard has resigned over the leak of a Vatican police flyer identifying five Holy See employees who were suspended as part of a financial investigation.
The Vatican said Monday that Vatican police chief Domenico Giani bore no responsibility for the leaked flyer but resigned so as not to disrupt the investigation and “out of love for the church and faithfulness” to the pope.
The person who leaked the document to Italian newsweekly L’Espresso remains unknown.Giani has stood by Francis’ side and jogged alongside his popemobile during hundreds of public appearances and foreign trips.The police chief signed the Oct. 2 flyer after his agents raided two Vatican offices in the investigation of financial irregularities surrounding a London real estate deal.

Protests Erupt After Spain Sentences Catalan Separatists Leaders

Spanish riot police have clashed with protesters outside Barcelona’s airport Monday after the Supreme Court sentenced nine former Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy prison terms for their attempt to declare independence from Spain in 2017.Witnesses say police with batons charged at the protesters who were blocking the entrance to El Prat airport.Spain’s airport operator says that at least 20 flights were canceled.Protesters in the Catalan region also stopped some train service in the region by placing wood on the tracks and blocking roads.The protesters converged on the transportation hubs Monday after Spain’s high court sentenced Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for their role in pushing for the region’s independence.The former regional vice president, Oriol Junqueras, received the longest prison term of 13 years behind bars for sedition and misuse of public funds.The court found three other defendants guilty only of disobedience and did not sentence them to prison.The court, however, acquitted all defendants of the most severe charge, rebellion.The former head of Catalonia’s regional government called the Monday ruling an “atrocity.”Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, center, speaks to the media at a sports center, assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government and where Puigdemont was originally expected to vote, in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, Spain, Oct. 1,Carles Puigdemont wrote on Twitter: “100 years in prison in total. An atrocity. Now more than ever … It is time to react like never before. For the future of our sons and daughters. For democracy. For Europe. For Catalonia.”Puigdemont was not a defendant in the landmark ruling over the banned referendum and short-lived independence declaration because he fled to Belgium, where he now lives in self-imposed exile.After its ruling, the Supreme Court issued a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont.Catalan’s current regional leader, Quim Torra, called the court’s ruling an insult to democracy.Spain’s caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, said in a statement broadcast on live television that the sentences of the Catalan separatists must be carried out.He also said he hoped that the sentences will help to “turn the page” in relations between Catalonia and greater Spain. 

Trump: US Will Impose ‘Big Sanctions’ Against Turkey for Onslaught on Kurds

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday promised “big sanctions” against Turkey for its invasion into northern Syria against Kurdish fighters, but again defended his withdrawal of American troops who had been fighting alongside the Kurds against Islamic State terrorists.”Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey?” Trump said on Twitter. “Never ending wars will end! The same people who got us into the Middle East mess are the people who most want to stay there!”….Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly. Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters ride on a vehicle at the border town of Tel Abyad, Syria, Oct. 14, 2019.Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported Monday’s troop movement in Tal Tamr, about 20 kilometers from the border, saying it was done to “confront the Turkish aggression” and was welcomed by the people there.The extraordinary deal between the Kurds, Syria, and Russia — Syria’s main ally — comes four days after Turkish forces moved against the Kurds in northern Syria after Trump withdrew nearly all U.S. forces.Turkey regards the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as terrorists aligned with separatists inside Turkey, although Western countries have viewed them as a key ally in the fight against Islamic State.A Kurdish statement said, “In order to prevent and block this assault, agreement has been reached with the Syrian government whose duty is to protect the borders and Syrian sovereignty, for the Syrian army to enter and deploy along the length of the Syrian-Turkish border.”Syrian Kurds say they feel totally forsaken by the United States after fighting side-by-side with U.S. forces. They also believe much of the Arab world and the U.N. Security Council are ignoring them.”We had to find a solution… now you see what has happened to us and they don’t want to support us,” the defense minister of the Kurdish city of Kobani, Ismat Sheikh Hassan, said Sunday. “Again, we should not trust anybody. We should rely on ourselves. Every Kurd should carry a gun and prepare himself.”With the United States moving to withdraw all of its remaining troops from northern Syria, Trump said Sunday, “Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change.””The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years,” he wrote on Twitter.  “Turkey considers the PKK the worst terrorists of all. Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them!”U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 11, 2019.U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Fox News Sunday there will be a “deliberate withdrawal” of the last 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria”We pushed back on Turkey to not do this operation,” Esper said. But he said Turkey was “fully committed to do this no matter what we did.””This is part of the terrible situation that Turkey has put us in,” Esper said, adding that the U.S. “didn’t sign up to fight Turkey, a long-time ally, on behalf of the Kurds.”French president Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel prior to their meeting at the Elyse Palace in Paris, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a joint news conference that Turkey is risking an “unbearable humanitarian situation.”The World Health Organization said Monday it is “gravely concerned about the humanitarian health situation in northeast Syria.”It said the military operations have already displaced 200,000 people since last week, and that there are fewer health workers able to provide services due to displacement and health providers suspending operations.

Britain, EU Enter Make-or-Break Brexit Week

Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeated Monday that Britain must leave the EU on October 31, as divorce talks resumed in Brussels in a pivotal week that could define how and when Brexit finally happens.In an elaborate ceremony in parliament in London, Queen Elizabeth II set out Johnson’s legislative programme for the coming year, with leaving the EU top of the agenda.”My government’s priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on October 31,” she said in a speech to robed peers from a gilded throne in the upper House of Lords.”My government intends to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly cooperation.”But this depends on the outcome of closed-door discussions in Brussels, where officials are racing to reach a deal on Britain’s exit terms before a summit of EU leaders starting on Thursday.If he cannot get a deal by Saturday, Johnson will fall foul of a British law demanding he ask the EU to delay Brexit for a third time rather than risk a potentially disastrous “no deal” departure.”A deal is possible and it’s possible this month,” Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said as he arrived for talks with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.”It may even be possible this week but we’re not there yet.”Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, briefed EU ambassadors late Sunday after a weekend of talks between officials described as “intense” and “constructive”.After weeks of gloom, the last few days have given a glimmer of hope that an agreement can be reached but there has so far been no decisive breakthrough.Barnier warned on Sunday that “a lot of work remains to be done”.This message echoed by Johnson’s spokesman in London, who said on Monday: “The talks are constructive but there is a lot of work still to do.”More than three years after the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU, divorce talks remain stuck on how to avoid customs checks between British Northern Ireland and Ireland.After British MPs rejected a previous plan, Johnson put forward fresh proposals earlier this month — but they have been met with a cool response in Brussels. ‘Release the chutzpah’Johnson took over from his predecessor Theresa May in July vowing no more delays, after she postponed Brexit twice in a failed attempt to get her own divorce deal through the British parliament.But he has no majority in the House of Commons, leaving him powerless even to call an election without the support of opposition parties.In a statement issued alongside Queen Elizabeth II’s speech, Johnson said the British public were “tired of stasis, gridlock and waiting for change”.It was time to leave the EU and seize new opportunities, “to tear away that bureaucratic red tape, to set our own rules, and to release the talent, creativity, innovation and chutzpah that exists in every corner of our United Kingdom”.As well as a commitment to Brexit, the Queen’s Speech included a raft of domestic measures, from tackling domestic violence to plastic pollution.’The clock is ticking’ Earlier, finance minister Sajid Javid announced the government’s first post-Brexit budget would take place on November 6 “to shape the economy for the future”.But Johnson is unlikely to get any of his plans through the Commons, and if an election comes, a new Queen’s Speech will be necessary.”I’m not sure they’ll still be in office on November 6 and it doesn’t appear to be at all certain that we will leave the EU on October 31,” said Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon.Some resolution is expected when the British parliament holds its first Saturday sitting since the 1982 Falklands War.A law passed against Johnson’s wishes last month requires him to ask the EU to delay Brexit by three months if MPs have not approved a Brexit deal or a “no deal” departure by October 19.Johnson could theoretically refuse, although he would face an immediate court challenge.EU leaders could complicate matters further still by deciding to offer Britain extension terms that parliament cannot accept.But Brussels insists the ball is now in Johnson’s court.”If the British government wants a solution, it must move quickly now,” a European diplomat told AFP. “The clock is ticking,”

Poland’s Ruling Party Declares Victory in Divided Nation

Poland’s conservative governing Law and Justice party won the most votes in Sunday’s election in the deeply divided nation and appeared, according to an exit poll, to have secured a comfortable majority in parliament to govern for four more years.The exit poll, conducted by the research firm Ipsos, projected that Law and Justice won 43.6% of the votes. That would translate into 239 seats, a majority in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.The poll said a centrist pro-European Union umbrella group, Civic Coalition, would come in second with 27.4%. The biggest party in the coalition is Civic Platform, which governed Poland in 2007-2015.Coalition leaders cheered and welcomed the result as a spur toward uniting society around common goals.Other parties projected to surpass the 5% threshold to get into parliament were a left-wing alliance with 11.9%, the conservative agrarian Polish People’s Party with 9.6% and a new far-right alliance called Confederation with 6.4%.The exit poll had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. Final vote results, which are expected by Tuesday, could shift, as they have in past elections.A prominent journalist, Konrad Piasecki, said that “at the moment it looks like the largest triumph in the history of parliamentary elections” in Poland. But he also cautioned that results varying even slightly from the exit poll could mean big changes to the distribution of seats in parliament.Law and Justice has governed Poland since 2015 and is popular for its social conservatism and generous social spending. It ran a campaign that highlighted its social programs and vowed to defend traditional Roman Catholic values.It has been accused of weakening the rule of law in the young democracy with an overhaul of the judicial system that has given the party more power over the courts and has drawn criticism as well for using state media as a propaganda outlet and for anti-gay rhetoric.Pawel Zerka, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said the high level of support for Law and Justice, known in Poland by its acronym PIS, “should not be interpreted as a sign that Poles have become nationalist or xenophobic. Rather, it reveals an effective party machine – and an ability of PIS to mobilize voters with policies based on direct social transfers.”Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is considered the real power behind Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government, cautioned that the exit polls weren’t the final results but nonetheless declared victory.“We received a lot but we deserve more,” Kaczynski told party supporters as he held high a bouquet of roses.Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna said the fight wasn’t fair, an apparent reference to the way Law and Justice harnessed state media to pump out positive coverage of itself while casting a poor light on political rivals.“This was not an even struggle; there were no rules in this struggle,” Schetyna said.The left-wing party leaders celebrated their expected return to parliament after failing to get any seats in 2015.Critics fear that four more years for Law and Justice will reverse the democratic achievements of this Central European nation, citing the changes to the judiciary and the way the party has marginalized minorities, for instance with its recent campaign depicting the LGBT rights movement as a threat.Law and Justice’s apparent success stems from tapping into the values of the largely conservative society while also evening out extreme economic inequalities.It is the first party since the fall of communism to break with the austerity of previous governments, whose free-market policies transformed Poland into one of Europe’s most dynamic economies.However, many Poles were left out in that transformation and inequalities grew, creating grievances. Law and Justice skillfully addressed those concerns with popular programs, including one that gives families a monthly stipend of 500 zlotys ($125) for each child, taking the edge off poverty for some and giving others more disposable income. It says it has been able to pay for its programs thanks to a tighter tax collection system.It has also clearly benefited from the sacrifices forced by earlier governments and the growth of Europe’s economy.In his victory speech, Kaczynski referred to his party’s improvement of public finances and said it would continue on that path.“We are finishing a certain stage; we are starting a new one,” he said. “It is not easier, maybe more difficult. But I hope that it will be finished with even greater success.”

Teen’s Parents Fly to US Hoping to Meet Driver Who killed Him

Parents of the British teen killed when his motorcycle collided with car allegedly driven by an American diplomat’s wife are on their way to the U.S. hoping to seek justice.Harry Dunn, 19, died in August in near the Croughton Royal Air Force base in Northhamptonshire, which is used by the U.S. Air Force as a communications center.Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, told the BBC the family hopes to meet with the suspected driver, identified by British police and Prime Minister Boris Johnson as Anne Sacoolas, wife of an American intelligence officer based at Croughton.Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity and returned to the United States while the case was still being investigated. She has since written a letter of apology to Dunn’s family.But Charles said Sunday, “It’s nearly seven weeks now since we lost our boy, sorry just doesn’t cut it.”That’s not really quite enough,” she told Sky News. “But I’m still really open to meeting her, as are the rest of us. I can’t promise what I would or wouldn’t say, but I certainly wouldn’t be aggressive.”Charles also said the family was thankful to receive a letter Saturday from the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that said since Sacoolas had left Britain, “immunity is no longer pertinent”.The family is hoping Sacoolas will return to Britain.  They have even called on U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene on their behalf.But Trump told a news conference Wednesday that Sacoolas would not return. Harry Dunn’s death was a “terrible accident,” the president said but he noted that driving on the worn side of the road “happens”.  

Clowns of the World Call on People to Find Joy, Laughter in Their Lives

Things are tough all over, so some red-nosed, seltzer-spraying, pie-tossing lovers of fun said: Let’s find some joy.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi tells us what it’s all about

Putin Heads to Saudi Arabia, Offers Himself as Peacemaker

Russian leader Vladimir Putin travels to Saudi Arabia, a traditional U.S. ally, Monday, offering to act as a peacemaker between Riyadh and Tehran in a diplomatic offensive aimed at balancing Moscow’s relations across the Middle East.His second aim, say analysts, is to needle Washington. While courting Iran, Russia’s ally in Syria, the Kremlin has also been wooing Tehran’s top foes, Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as other major powers in the region like Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance.Putin’s visit coincides with a Pentagon announcement that it is dispatching 3000 additional troops and two squadrons of fighter jets to the Gulf kingdom in an effort, U.S. officials say, to deter Iranian aggression following the drone and Cruise missile attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities last month, which rattled global energy markets and added to war tensions in the Gulf.Saudi Arabia and the U.S., as well as other Western powers, blame Iran for the attack.In recent months, Russia’s president has been assiduously courting Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a move which has been compared by some analysts to trolling the U.S. in the Gulf. The Crown Prince hasn’t discouraged the attention — as much a warning, some analysts say, to Western powers and as a rebuff of their criticism for his human rights record.FILE – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a G-20 session with other heads of state, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 30, 2018.At the G-20 summit last year in Buenos Aires, just weeks after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Putin was pictured laughing heartily with the Saudi ruler over a shared joke and giving him a high-five. The bonhomie between the pair stood in marked contrast with the shunning by other World leaders and dignitaries of the Crown Prince, who’s widely blamed, despite his denials, for the macabre killing of the journalist, a U.S. resident, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.“The Russian government declined to criticize the Saudi authorities over the killing [of Khashoggi], and over the last year has made steady progress in offering itself as a new, reliable friend,” says Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, an independent advocacy organization based in the U.S..Saudi and Russian officials are scheduled to announce more than two billion dollars-worth of Saudi investment in Russia during Putin’s visit, his first to the kingdom since 2007. The head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Kirill Dmitriev, said Moscow and Riyadh will sign ten major agreements covering agriculture, transport, railways, fertilizers, petrochemicals, and industrial intelligence.The RDIF opened an office in Saudi Arabia four days ago, its first ever foreign office. The move is being seen by some as a maneuver by the Kremlin to make up for the reduction in Western foreign investment in the wake of sanctions imposed initially on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea.“I am convinced that the Russia-Saudi summit will give further strong impetus to our multifaceted partnership, contribute to its qualitative growth and strengthen mutual understanding between the two peoples,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week.Speaking to broadcasters Saturday ahead of his trip, Putin decried attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, no matter who was behind them. He also urged Iran’s neighbors to “respect” the interests of Iran, a country that has “existed on its territory for thousands of years.” But at the same time he praised increasing cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia.Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an interview with Al-Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia, in Sochi, Russia, in this undated picture released on Oct. 13, 2019. (Sputnik/M. Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)…During the interview the Russian leader offered, once again, to sell the Saudis advanced Russian-made air defense systems, either the S-300 which Turkey has purchased, or the S-400, bought by Iran. Last month, during a press conference in Ankara alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin tauntingly suggested Riyadh should do the same and buy from Russia.“We are ready to help Saudi Arabia to protect their people,” Putin said. “And they need to make one clever decision as Iran did, buying our S-300, and as Mr. Erdogan did by deciding to buy the most advanced S-400 Triumph air defense systems from Russia. These kinds of systems are capable of defending any kind of infrastructure in Saudi Arabia from any kind of attack,” he added.His remarks prompted chortles from the Iranian delegation.U.S. defense experts say it would be against Saudi Arabia’s defense and diplomatic interests to be lured by Putin into buying a Russian system. If Saudi Arabia did decide to purchase the S-400 or S-300, it would likely be denied access to the best U.S. defense technologies and military training and the purchase would also prompt a likely withdrawal of all U.S. military aircraft based in the Gulf kingdom, leaving Saudi Arabia reliant on Russia for its defense.Pentagon officials say intelligence-collection capabilities of the S-400 would endanger U.S. planes operating in the vicinity.FILE – First parts of a Russian S-400 missile defense system are unloaded from a Russian plane near Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019.When Turkey acquired the S-400, the White House immediately canceled plans to supply the NATO ally U.S. F-35 strike fighters. They also say the S-400 would be a poison pill for Saudi Arabia — the system would likely rely on Russian operatives and codes to identify unfriendly warplanes and as Iran has the most advanced Russian system, it would know its weaknesses and ways to trick the technology.Despite Putin’s offers of a surface-to-air missile system, the Russians appear to be marketing harder their new anti-drone system, the  Pantsir, an anti-UAV system Rosoboronexport, the export agency, is scheduled to put on display at the Dubai Airshow in November.“Recent events in the world have shown that the effective fight against reconnaissance and strike UAVs, as well as other air attack weapons, is becoming increasingly important to ensure the protection of high-priority facilities,” Rosoboronexport said in a press release issued days after the Saudi attacks.FILE – A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.However, the Russian UAV system is likely to be redundant with the U.S. dispatching more air-defense capabilities to Saudi Arabia. On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the dispatch to the Gulf kingdom of  “additional Patriot and THAAD [terminal high altitude area defense] air and missile defense batteries.”“In response to Iranian provocation since May, the U.S. has deployed an array of additional capabilities to the region, including airborne early warning aircraft squadrons, maritime patrol aircraft squadrons, Patriot air and missile defense batteries, B-52 bombers, a carrier strike group, amphibious transport dock, unmanned aircraft, and engineering and support personnel,” he said.Defense purchases aside, Putin’s trip is an historic one, which the Kremlin has been keen to play up at a time Washington is embroiled in domestic political wars and its focus on the Gulf diminished.

74 Migrants Rescued off Libyan Coast, 110 Others Turned Back

Humanitarian groups on Sunday said they have rescued 74 migrants on a rubber boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya while Tunisian authorities reported blocking a smuggling boat carrying 110 migrants from setting off for Italy.Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee said their Ocean Viking ship rescued the migrants Sunday morning about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the Libyan coast near an oilfield. The groups said six children were among those rescued.Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said three coast guard boats pursued the smuggling boat after it left Friday night from the city of Sfax. Officers shouted through loudspeakers at the boat and passengers threw projectiles that injured two officers and broke windows.The coast guard eventually forced the boat back toward Tunisia and rescued 25 migrants who had jumped into the sea.Meanwhile, three small boats carrying migrants reached Italian shores on Sunday. ANSA, the Italian news agency, said two boats – one carrying 15 people, the other 11 – landed on the island of Lampedusa. The agency says a third boat with 15 Tunisians aboard landed in southern Sicily. 

Voters in Poland, Hungary Vote in Parliamentary Elections 

Poles are voting Sunday in a parliamentary election that the ruling party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski is favored to win easily, buoyed by the popularity of its social conservatism and generous social spending policies that have reduced poverty.Law and Justice is the first party since the fall of communism to break with the austerity of previous governments. Those free-market policies took a moribund communist economy and transformed it into one of Europe’s most dynamic. However, many Poles were left out in that transformation and inequalities grew, creating grievances that Law and Justice has addressed skillfully. Its most popular program, called 500+, gives away 500 zlotys ($125) to families per month per child, taking the edge off poverty for some and giving more disposable income to all recipients.However, many of the party’s liberal critics fear that another four-year term for Law and Justice will reverse the achievements made three decades ago in this Central European nation, long hailed as a model of democratic transformation. They cite an erosion of judicial independence, pluralism and minority rights since the party took power in 2015.More than 30 million people in this nation of 37 million are qualified to vote. They are choosing lawmakers in the 460-seat lower house of parliament and in the 100-seat Senate.Challenge in HungaryOne country away, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s dominant right-wing Fidesz party is facing a challenge from opposition parties who are backing a joint candidate in many cities in local elections nationwide.Fidesz has been easily winning local, national and European Parliament elections since 2010, but a more unified opposition and the release of a video showing one of the party’s best-known mayors, former Olympic champion gymnast Zsolt Borkai, participating in an orgy on a yacht have shaken up the last days of the campaign.More than 8 million people are eligible to vote Sunday for more than 3,000 mayors and 17,200 local council members elected for five-year terms.