APTOPIX Ecuador Political Crisis

Begging for tear gas ceasefire

Anti-government demonstrators kneel to ask riot police to stop throwing tear gas during clashes in Quito, Ecuador, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. Protests, which began when President Lenin Moreno's decision to cut subsidies led to a sharp increase in fuel prices, have persisted for days. 

Turkish military forces advance in Syria as US troops come under fire

AKCAKALE, Turkey (AP) — Turkish forces faced fierce resistance from U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters on the third day of Ankara’s offensive in northern Syria as casualties mounted, international criticism of the campaign intensified and estimates put the number of those who fled the violence at 100,000. In a complicating twist, Washington said its troops also came under fire from NATO ally Turkey.

No U.S. troops were hurt in Friday’s explosion at the small U.S. outpost, and the artillery strike marked the first time a coalition base was in the line of fire since Turkey’s offensive began.

U.S. officials said the Americans have vacated the post on a hill outside the town of Kobane, and added that a large base in the town was not affected by the shelling. The officials spoke anonymously because they were discussing an ongoing military operation.

Turkey said the U.S. was not targeted and its forces were returning fire from Kurdish fighters about half a mile from the U.S. outpost. The Turkish Defense Ministry said it ended the strike after communicating with the U.S.

Navy Capt. Brook DeWalt, a Pentagon spokesman, says the explosion came within a few hundred meters of the area where U.S. troops were.

The artillery strike so close to American forces showed the unpredictable nature of the conflict days after U.S. President Donald Trump cleared the way for Turkey’s air and ground invasion, pulling back U.S. forces from the area and saying he wanted to stop getting involved with “endless wars.”

The decision drew swift bipartisan criticism that he was endangering regional stability and risking the lives of Syrian Kurdish allies who brought down the Islamic State group in Syria.

Earlier, Turkey said it captured more Kurdish-held villages in the border region, while a hospital in a Syrian town was abandoned and a camp of 4,000 displaced residents about 12 kilometers (7 miles) from the frontier was evacuated after artillery shells landed nearby.

Reflecting international fears that Turkey’s offensive could revive the Islamic State group, two car bombs exploded outside a restaurant in the Kurdish-controlled urban center of Qamishli, killing three people, and the extremists claimed responsibility. The city also was heavily shelled by Turkish forces.

US bolsters Saudi defense against Iran with jets, missiles

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is deploying dozens more fighter jets and additional air defenses to Saudi Arabia, beefing up efforts to defend the kingdom against Iran even as President Donald Trump repeatedly insists that America must get out of endless Middle East wars.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the deployments Friday just hours after Iran said two missiles struck one of its oil tankers traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon moves are part of a broader response to the suspected Iranian missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14.

The heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have led the U.S. to pour about 14,000 more U.S. troops into the region since May, including additional ships to maintain maritime security in the Persian Gulf area.

The decision underscores the complexities of America’s Middle East policies that struggle to align Trump’s desire to pull troops out of the region with what have been persistent threats from Iran and a volatile military operation against Islamic State militants in Syria.

“From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars,” Trump has said.

Esper said the decision followed discussions with the Saudi minister of defense about the country’s defensive capabilities.

“Saudi Arabia is a longstanding security partner in the Middle East and has asked for additional support to supplement their own defense and defend the international rules-based order,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.

Brian Hook, the special U.S. envoy for Iran, told reporters at the State Department that the decision to send additional forces to Saudi Arabia had been arrived at after weeks of consultations with Saudi officials and others in the region, including in meetings in Washington with Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister.

Fishermen live in stain of Venezuela’s broken petroleum industry

CABIMAS, Venezuela (AP) — Nobody lives as closely with the environmental fallout of Venezuela’s collapsing oil industry as the fishermen who scratch out an existence on the blackened, sticky shores of Lake Maracaibo.

The once prized source of vast wealth has turned into a polluted wasteland, with crude oozing from hundreds of rusting platforms and cracked pipelines that crisscross the briny tidal bay. Much of it coats the fishermen’s daily catch of blue crab that has to be scrubbed clean before it’s shipped to market in the United States and elsewhere.

The sludge smears fishing boats, clogs outboard motors and stains nets. At the end of each sunbaked workday, fishermen wash oil clinging to their hands and feet with raw gasoline. They say the prickly rash in their skin is the price of survival.

“This seems like the end of the world,” said 28-year-old Lenin Viera, acknowledging the hard reality hundreds of fishermen like him face near the city of Cabimas: If they don’t work, their families don’t eat.

The world’s largest crude reserves fueled an oil boom making Venezuela — a founding member of OPEC — one of Latin America’s richest nations through the 1990s. The lake’s namesake city, Maracaibo, with more than a million people earned the nickname “Venezuela’s Saudi Arabia” for its high-end restaurants, luxurious shopping and bright lights adorning an 5.4 mile bridge spanning the lake.

But the boom has since turned to bust. Venezuela’s production nationwide has crashed to one-fifth of its all-time high two decades ago. Critics blame the socialist revolution launched by the late, charismatic Hugo Chavez. His successor, President Nicolás Maduro, accuses the “imperialist” U.S. of leading an economic war bent on destroying his socialist nation.