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US Cutting Off Arms Supply to Kurds Fighting in Syria

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ANKARA, Turkey — The United States will cut off its supply of arms to Kurdish fighters in Syria, a move by President Donald Trump that is sure to please Turkey but further alienate Syrian Kurds, who bore much of the fight against the Islamic State group.

In a phone call Friday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump said he’d “given clear instructions” that the Kurds will receive no more weapons — “and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The White House confirmed the move in a cryptic statement about the phone call that said Trump had informed Erdogan of “pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria.”

The White House called the move “consistent with our previous policy” and noted the recent fall of Raqqa, once the Islamic State group’s self-declared capital but recently liberated by a largely Kurdish force. The Trump administration announced in May it would start arming the Kurds in anticipation of the fight to retake Raqqa.

“We are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return,” the White House said, using an acronym for the extremist group.

The move could help ease strained tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, two NATO allies that have been sharply at odds about how best to wage the fight against IS. Turkey considers the Kurdish Syrian fighters, known by the initials YPG, to be terrorists because of their affiliation to outlawed Kurdish rebels that have waged a three decade-long insurgency in Turkey. Yet the U.S. chose to partner with the YPG in Syria anyway, arguing that the battle-hardened Kurds were the most effective fighting force available.

Cavusoglu, who said he was in the room with Erdogan during Trump’s call, quoted the U.S. president as saying he had given instructions to U.S. generals and to national security adviser H.R. McMaster that “no weapons would be issued.”

“Of course, we were very happy with this,” Cavusoglu said.

Yet for the Kurds, it was the latest demoralizing blow to their hopes for greater recognition in the region. Last month, the Kurds in neighbouring Iraq saw their recent territorial gains erased by the Iraqi military, which seized the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas from the Kurdish regional government in retaliation for a Kurdish independence referendum that the U.S. ardently opposed.

Trump’s decision appeared to catch both the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department off guard. Officials at both agencies, who would normally be informed of changes in U.S. policy toward arming the Syrian Kurds, said they were unaware of any changes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was unclear whether the Trump administration notified the Kurds of the move before telling the Turks. Nor was it clear as to how much significance the change would have on the ground, considering the fight against IS is almost over.

The United States has been arming the Kurds in their fight against IS through an umbrella group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, which is comprised of Kurdish as well as Arab fighters. But the retreat of IS, which has lost nearly all its territory in Syria, has altered the dynamics in the region and a U.S. defence official said he was unaware of any additional arms scheduled to be transferred to the Kurds, even before the Turkish announcement.

Last week, Col. Ryan Dillon, the chief spokesman for the U.S. coalition that is fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, said there has yet to be any reduction in the number of U.S. advisers working with the SDF. His comments appeared to suggest the possibility that changes in the level and type of U.S. military support for the Syrian Kurds could be coming.

As the fight against IS has waned in recent months, the U.S. has pledged to carefully monitor the weapons it provides the Kurds, notably ensuring that they don’t wind up in the hands of Kurdish insurgents in Turkey known as the PKK.

Both Turkey and the U.S. consider the PKK a terrorist group. But the United States has tried to draw a distinction between the PKK and the Syrian Kurds across the border, while Turkey insists they’re essentially the same.

In both Syria and Iraq, the U.S. relied on Kurdish fighters to do much of the fighting against IS, but those efforts have yet to lead to a realization of the Kurds’ broader aspirations, most notably an independent state.

Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurds, in particular, has been a major thorn in U.S.-Turkish relations for several years, given Turkey’s concerns about the Kurds’ territorial aspirations. In particular, Turkey has feared the establishment of a contiguous, Kurdish-held canton in northern Syria that runs along the Turkish border.

Relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States have also soured recently over a number of other issues, including Turkey’s crackdown on dissent following a failed coup attempt last year. Ankara has also demanded that the U.S. extradite a Pennsylvania-based cleric that it blames for fomenting the coup, but the U.S. says Turkey lacks sufficient proof.

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Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

This article was from The Canadian Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

© Copyright 2017 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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'Stain on America!' Trump denounces 'Fake News Media' after string of major reporting errors exposed

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President Trump on Sunday slammed “the Fake News Media,” which he called “out of control,” after a string of major errors in reporting on his presidency emerged over the past week.

“Very little discussion of all the purposely false and defamatory stories put out this week by the Fake News Media,” he tweeted. “They are out of control – correct reporting means nothing to them.”

The president continued, “Major lies written, then forced to be withdrawn after they are exposed…a stain on America!”

Trump’s comments came after a Washington Post reporter tweeted a misleading photo about the crowd size at Friday’s rally in Pensacola, Fla., during which Trump took aim at ABC News’ Brian Ross and CNN. 

In a now-deleted tweet, the Post’s Dave Weigel posted a photo of a half-empty arena to mock Trump for saying the rally was “packed to the rafters.”

But that photo was not taken while Trump was speaking. Trump tweeted photos showing the arena when it was full.

“.@daveweigel @washingtonpost put out a phony photo of an empty arena hours before I arrived @ the venue, w/ thousands of people outside, on their way in,” he tweeted. “Real photos now shown as I spoke. Packed house, many people unable to get in. Demand apology & retraction from FAKE NEWS WaPo!”

Weigel tweeted, “Sure thing: I apologize,” saying he deleted the photo after another reporter informed him he had “gotten it wrong.”

“It was a bad tweet on my personal account, not a story for Washington Post. I deleted it after like 20 minutes. Very fair to call me out,” Weigel said in another tweet.

Trump later called for Weigel to be fired.

Earlier at the Friday rally itself, Trump slammed ABC News’ Brian Ross.

“They took this fraudster from ABC — they suspended him for a month,” he said. “They should have fired him for what he wrote.”

Ross was suspended for four weeks without pay after he reported that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had been directed by Trump — when he was a candidate for president — to make contact with the Russians. ABC News later corrected the report to note that the order to Flynn came when Trump was already president-elect.

Trump also said Friday that CNN had apologized “just a little while ago” for a reporting error.

“They apologized! Oh thank you, CNN. Thank you so much. You should have been apologizing for the last two years,” he said.

CNN had to correct a story that suggested the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump Jr., had been tipped off early about hacked DNC emails from WikiLeaks when it later emerged that the alert was about material already publicly available.

CNN responded, “CNN’s initial reporting of the date on an email sent to members of the Trump campaign about Wikileaks documents, which was confirmed by two sources to CNN, was incorrect. We have updated our story to include the correct date, and present the proper context for the timing of email.”

No disciplinary action will be taken in the matter, a CNN official said in a tweet.

On Saturday, Trump accused CNN of “a vicious and purposeful mistake.”

Fox News’ Brian Flood and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Alex Pappas is a politics reporter at FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexPappas.

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Pennsylvania Dem linked to gambling ring awaits sentencing

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Former Pennsylvania state Rep. Marc Gergely – who resigned last month – is awaiting sentencing on corruption charges in relation to an illegal gambling machine ring.

Gergely, 48, a Democrat from Allegheny County who served in the state House for seven terms, is set to appear in court Monday for his sentencing on charges of conspiracy and violating the state’s campaign finance laws on cash contributions.

He was forced to step down from his state House seat in November as a condition of a plea deal he entered in August for the two misdemeanor charges.

Gergely was accused of working in tandem with liquor attorney Louis Caputo and using his position to enrich and “protect” Ronald “Porky” Melocchi – a former owner of video gaming machines.

He reportedly exerted his influence to convince business owners, skeptical of gambling, to install machines owned by Melocchi.

“While other vendors could at times offer more lucrative terms in an effort to secure new ‘stops,’ Melocchi would rely upon the character and business traits that he possessed as well as his connections to compete with these other vendors,” the state grand jury wrote, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

It added: “Whereas Melocchi might not be able or willing to offer large amounts of money to the owners/operators of prospective ‘stops’, he could introduce them to Gergely and Caputo as a show of strength in terms of the people with whom he had a connection.”

Prosecutor Mark Serge said in April that both Gergely and Caputo gave the appearance of Melocchi having “friends in high places.”

In addition to conspiracy charges, Gergely was also accused of passing along a contribution from Melocchi to another individual – in violation of the state’s campaign finance laws on anonymous or third-party contributions, the Post-Gazette reported.

Caputo was found guilty of criminal solicitation last summer and sentenced to five years of probation. Melocchi pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of being involved with corrupt organizations and gambling devices. He was sentenced to 10 years of probation.

Before Gergely resigned last month he also pushed for a gambling expansion bill that would permit the placement of gambling machines at truck stops in Pennsylvania. The bill passed in October and has since been signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

The special election to select Gergely’s successor will be held Jan. 23, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.

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Roy Moore denies misconduct allegations in new interview: 'I did not date underaged women'

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Ahead of Tuesday’s special election in Alabama, Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, who has been battling accusations of past sexual misconduct, denied in a new interview that he ever dated underaged girls.

“These allegations are completely false. I did not date underaged women. I did not molest anyone. And so these allegations are false,” Moore said during the interview with The Voice of Alabama Politics, a television news show affiliated with the website The Alabama Political Reporter.

“I do not know them. I had no encounter with them. I never molested anyone. And for them to say that, I don’t know why they’re saying it, but it’s not true,” the 70-year-old Moore said.

“I said I did not know any of the women who have charged me with sexual allegation of molestation. And I did not know any of the women,” Moore added. “When I saw these pictures on the advertisements of my opponent, I did not recognize any of those people. I did not know them.”

Moore is trying to win Tuesday’s election against Democrat Doug Jones, a contest that initially was seen an easy GOP victory — until November, when a number of women stepped forward to accuse Moore of engaging in sexual misconduct when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers as young as 14.

Moore, in an interview last month following the initial set of accusations, did say he may have dated women in their later teens during that time in his life.

“Not generally, no. If I did, I’m not going to dispute anything but I don’t remember anything like that,” Moore told Sean Hannity during an interview on his radio show when asked about dating women “as young as 17.”

The age of consent in Alabama is 16.

In the Hannity interview, Moore acknowledged that he remembered two of the women, Debbie Wesson Gibson and Gloria Thacker Deason, who both spoke to The Washington Post for the newspaper’s first story. Gibson told the Post that she was 17 years old when Moore asked her out, while Deason said she went out with Moore when she was 18.

President Donald Trump has been stepping up his support for Moore, who analysts say needs the votes of the GOP base to pull off a win.

The president, who officially endorsed Moore last week after previously giving lukewarm support, on Saturday tweeted his support for Moore while painting Democratic nominee Doug Jones as a liberal who will vote against his agenda.

On Friday night, as Fox News reported, the president talked up his support for Moore during a rally in Pensacola, Florida — just across the state line from South Alabama.

“We cannot afford … to lose a seat in the very, very close United States Senate,” Trump said Friday. “We need somebody in that Senate seat who will vote for our ‘Make America Great Again’ agenda … So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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