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World News

    The Lebanese president says he wants some 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in his country to henceforth start returning to their homes, voluntarily or not. President Michel Aoun, in a state visit to France, said Monday that U.N. assistance given to aid Syrian refugees in 'camps of misery' in Lebanon would be better used to return them to their country 'from now on.' 'We don't want to wait for their voluntary return,' Aoun insisted, speaking at the Elysee Palace alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. Aoun said that most of the Syrian regions from which the refugees hail are 'now secure.' Macron distanced himself from his counterpart's viewpoint, saying that the absence of a political solution in Syria prevents refugees from returning back home permanently.
  • A cricket legend who may be Pakistan's future prime minister says the United States should stop trying to destroy the Taliban and instead talk to them with help from Pakistan. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Imran Khan, considered a likely contender for premier after next year's parliamentary elections, rejected U.S. President Donald Trump's allegation that his country harbors extremists. He said Pakistanis 'felt hurt' when Trump blamed Pakistan for sheltering militants while unveiling the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan in August. He said that the Taliban have safe havens in Afghanistan and that Pakistan is being subjected the group's attacks launched from Afghan soil. U.S. officials have long said that Pakistan turns a blind eye to militants operating along the porous Afghan border.
  • The eurozone's top official said Monday that Greece and its European creditors are on a good path to completing the latest round of bailout talks, with a view to a 'clean exit' from strict fiscal supervision. Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the recession-battered country is regaining credibility, with a 'very strong' fiscal performance in 2016 and 2017. 'A clean exit, and full exit in August of next year — that's our common goal so that Greece is once again independent financially and sovereign in its decision-making,' Dijsselbloem said after meetings with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and top financial officials in Athens. He renewed a European pledge to provide additional relief for repayment of Greeks staggering national debt that is nearly 180 percent of gross domestic product. 'At the beginning of next year, we will design a mechanism to make sure that more debt relief will come in place over time if needed and if the growth is disappointing.' Greece's once anti-bailout left-wing government has promised to speed up cost-cutting reforms in the next few months. And George Chouliarakis, the deputy finance minister, said the government planned to tap private bond markets 'several times' before the end of the rescue program. Greece has relied on international bailouts since 2010. In exchange, it imposed painful spending cuts, tax hikes and reforms. Dijsselbloem said he believed the result of Sunday's German elections shouldn't affect Greece's bailout program. 'The elections in an individual country cannot change what we have agreed' in the meetings of eurozone finance ministers, Dijsselbloem added. Also Monday, the European Union said it has ended its procedures meant to force Greece to reduce its deficit as the country gets its books back in order despite being mired in debt. EU headquarters said Greece's 'deficit is now below 3 percent of GDP,' the ceiling for European government deficits. Greece's debt stood at 179 percent of GDP last year. But it recorded a budget surplus of at 0.7 percent of GDP in 2016, and while a small deficit is forecast this year, the EU said the Greek fiscal outlook is improving. ___ Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
  • Nearly 2,000 demonstrators gathered in the Libyan capital on Monday in support of a Swiss-based Libyan businessman who had called for a rally to reject the leadership of both main sides in the divided country. Basit Igtet has sought political entree in the oil-rich country before and recently gathered thousands of Facebook followers and proposed himself as a potential leader for the country, split between rival militia-backed factions in the east and west. 'No Hifter, no Serraj, Igtet is here,' demonstrators chanted, referring to Fayez Serraj, the prime minister-designate of the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, and Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the commander of Libya's self-styled national army, based in the eastern city of Benghazi. Both of those sides opposed the rally, and hundreds of counter-demonstrators attended and shouted anti-Igtet slogans. Igtet himself was present at one point, but did not speak. As night fell, the two sides clashed with fistfights before security forces intervened and separated them with dozens of vehicles. Most headed home afterward. Libya sank into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed leaders Moammar Gadhafi. The main leaders from both sides recently agreed to cooperate to ease tensions, and the U.N has proposed a new 'Action Plan' to unite the country.
  • American military contractors operating in Iraq are accusing Baghdad of employing strong-arm tactics to make them pay exorbitant income taxes, a practice they've warned the Trump administration is hampering the fight against Islamic State extremists. To force payment of the taxes, which the companies say are haphazardly calculated and can total millions of dollars, Iraqi authorities have held up — and even threatened to stop altogether — delivery of essential supplies, including food, fuel and water, bound for U.S. and coalition forces, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press. Iraqi government officials also have refused to issue, or have delayed, the delivery of work visas to employees of companies that won't hand over the money. A senior executive at a U.S. company that supports American troops in Iraq said contractor vehicles are stopped at checkpoints frequently and ordered to produce documents that certify they've paid the taxes or prove their company has received an extension from Iraq's tax commission. The executive spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation from the Iraqi government for speaking out publicly. He said the Iraqis typically calculate the tax bills by first determining the total value of the contract and then charging 20 percent of what they estimate the company's gross revenue would be. That can lead to eye-popping yet wildly inaccurate totals as high as $20 million. The big number is really aimed at getting the company to agree on a smaller yet still substantial amount, the executive said. Najiha Abbas Habib, director general of Iraq's tax authority, rejected the allegation U.S. contractors are being gouged. American companies working in Iraq are not exempt from taxation, she said, adding that Iraq's tax rates are actually lower than other Middle East countries. 'Many foreign companies operate in Iraq without paying any taxes at all,' Habib said. Robert Mearkle, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, denied the tax demands have undercut the counterterrorism mission. 'Iraqi enforcement of tax laws has not disrupted U.S. efforts to defeat ISIS,' he said in an emailed statement, using an alternative acronym for the militant group that in 2014 burst into western and northern Iraq from Syria. But a trade group representing a number of the contractors told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson several months ago that the tactics present a 'direct threat to the U.S. government's mission in Iraq.' The Professional Services Council also said in the previously undisclosed May 1 letter to Tillerson that the arbitrary way the Iraqis are collecting the taxes heightens the potential for fraud and waste in a country that already ranks as one of the most corrupt in the world. David Berteau, president of the Professional Services Council, estimated in an AP interview that the Pentagon spent about $1 billion in just the last year on contracts with about 20 U.S. companies for support in Iraq. The work ranges from supplying U.S. and coalition bases to construction and weapon system maintenance. Berteau said the companies either seek reimbursement from the U.S. government for the taxes or build the expense into the price they charge on the contract. 'Either way, U.S. taxpayers eventually foot the bill,' Berteau said. But the Trump administration hasn't confronted senior Iraqi officials over the matter. Tillerson, in a brief response he sent the organization in early July, said a diplomatic note between the two countries approved in 2014 during the Obama administration gave U.S. government personnel but not contractors protections from Iraqi law. Tillerson said the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad routinely engages with the Iraqi government 'to ensure fair treatment' of the U.S. contractors working there. But he also said it's 'always important that U.S. companies follow local laws,' which include the payment of taxes. And Tillerson gave no indication the Trump administration would pursue what U.S. companies with overseas contracts really want: an agreement with the Iraqi government that gives them exemptions from the taxes and other legal protections to shield them from being prosecuted in Iraqi courts. Iraq's push for the taxes has coincided with a sustained drop in oil prices. Oil revenue makes up nearly 95 percent of Iraq's budget, but the country has been reeling under an economic crisis since 2014, when prices began falling from a high of above $100 a barrel. The seizure of territory across Iraq by the Islamic State group in 2014, including the fall of Mosul, worsened the situation. Badly needed resources have been diverted from productive investment to fight a long and costly insurgency. U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq, referred questions to the State Department. The command declined to provide a list of the U.S. companies in Iraq with Defense Department contracts. Among the companies operating in Iraq are General Dynamics Land Systems and DynCorp International. General Dynamics, which is based in Michigan, received a $65 million contract late last year to support Iraq's fleet of M1A1 battle tanks. DynCorp, located in McLean, Virginia, won a contract in 2015 with a potential value of $139 million to school Iraqi troops in vehicle maintenance and repair. Neither company responded to requests for comment about whether they'd paid taxes to the Iraqi government. In its version of the annual defense policy bill, the GOP-led House Armed Services Committee expressed concern over Iraq's tax collection efforts. The legislation, approved in July, requested a briefing by the Defense and State departments on 'tax collection, visa denials, and other issues that are affecting U.S. civilian contractors in Iraq.' And Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, has thrown his support to the U.S. companies, telling Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that he's concerned the income tax demands could lead American contractors to avoid Iraq altogether. Cornyn wrote in early August that Iraq is 'the only unstable conflict zone in the world where U.S. contractors and their employees have no legal tax protections.' ___ Associated Press writers Susannah George and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report. ___ Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rplardner
  • An Oxford University student who stabbed her boyfriend with a bread knife will be able to avoid prison after receiving a suspended sentence Monday. Lavinia Woodward was given a 10-month suspended sentence. The judge had said in May that he might not impose prison time, which prompted some British newspapers to complain she was getting special treatment because of her connection to the elite university. The Sun tabloid wrote that she was judged 'too brainy to be jailed.' Oxford Crown Court Judge Ian Pringle told Woodward there were many 'mitigating' factors that allowed him to suspend her sentence. 'Principally, at the age of 24 you have no previous convictions of any nature whatsoever,' he said. 'Secondly, I find that you were genuinely remorseful following this event.' He also said experts had concluded she suffered from a personality disorder, a severe eating disorder and dependence on alcohol and drugs. The judge credited her with being 'determined' to get rid of her drug and alcohol addictions. 'Finally, and most significantly, you have demonstrated over the last nine months that you are determined to rid yourself of your alcohol and drug addiction and have undergone extensive treatment including counseling to address the many issues that you face,' he said. Woodward had pleaded guilty earlier to 'unlawful wounding,' which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The incident happened on Dec. 30. The judge said her boyfriend visited her, found out she had been drinking, and called her mother, which infuriated Woodward. He said she then attacked him with a bread knife, stabbing him in the lower leg, before turning the knife on herself. He said the boyfriend intervened to prevent her from harming herself.
  • The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local): 7:15 p.m. An international human rights group says two airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition on northern Syria earlier this year killed 84 civilians, including 30 children. Human Rights Watch said Monday the attack raises concerns that the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group did not take 'adequate precautions to minimize civilian casualties.' The coalition has been targeting IS in Syria since September 2014. Airstrikes intensified in recent months as the extremists are being squeezed on several fronts by different groups. HRW said it documented coalition attacks in March on a school housing displaced families in the town of Mansourah and a market and a bakery in the town of Tabqa, west of the city of Raqqa. It said IS fighters were present at the sites and so were scores of civilians. ___ 4 p.m. Russia has denied carrying out an airstrike that a U.S.-backed Syrian force said killed one of its fighters. The Syrian Democratic Forces said a Russian airstrike on Monday killed one of its fighters and wounded two others in a gas field in eastern Syria that they had recently captured from the Islamic State group. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement that Russia is continuing to target IS militants in the area, and that its surveillance does not show SDF forces fighting IS. Konashenkov said neither the SDF nor the U.S-led coalition has approached it about the reported attack. On Sept. 16, the SDF said a Russian airstrike wounded six of its fighters, but Moscow denied carrying out the attack. ___ 3:15 p.m. The main U.S-backed Syrian force fighting the Islamic State group says a Russian airstrike on a gas field it recently captured from the extremists killed one of its fighters. A statement issued by the Syrian Democratic Forces said two other fighters were wounded in Monday's strike in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. It says the attack occurred on the Conoco gas field, which the SDF captured from IS on Saturday. On Sept. 16, the SDF said a Russian airstrike wounded six of its fighters, but Moscow denied carrying out the attack. Russian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest allegation. ___ 1:30 p.m. Syrian state media say two people have been killed in shelling on President Bashar Assad's ancestral village of Qardaha. Syria's state broadcaster said Monday the village has been shelled by 'terrorists' for two days straight. It says two people were wounded Sunday. Qardaha is located in the coastal mountains of northwest Syria. Assad's father, the late president Hafez Assad, was born in Qardaha. He was buried there in 2000. The village has been largely spared from the violence of Syria's civil war, which grew out of demonstrations in 2011 against the Assad family's four-decade rule. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the shelling, saying two civilians have been killed.
  • Venezuela's top diplomat says U.S. President Donald Trump acted 'as if he were the world's emperor' at the United Nations last week. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza spoke Monday at the U.N. General Assembly's annual meeting of world leaders. Last week, Trump told the assembly Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was running a 'corrupt regime.' Maduro responded from Caracas by calling Trump 'the new Hitler' of international politics. On Sunday, Trump signed an order that will bar certain Venezuelan government officials and their immediate families from entering the U.S. Venezuela's Supreme Court gutted the opposition-controlled congress in March. The ruling was later reversed. Recently, a new constitutional assembly composed entirely of government loyalists has gone after Maduro's political opponents. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country's political and economic turmoil.
  • We’ve seen something similar in comic book movies, but this was real life when a 23-year-old man, literally caught a train. The man, who was not identified, was seen train surfing on the Joondalup line over the weekend, in Perth, Australia, Perth Now reported. >> Read more trending news The man jumped on the back of the train at the Leederville Station Saturday afternoon. He clung to a windscreen as the train reached speeds of almost 68 mph, Perth Now reported. He eventually made his way to the carriage when it made it to Glendalough Station. He was arrested at Stirling Station, charged with trespassing.
  • The Latest on Brexit (all times local): 6:25 p.m. Britain says that any commitment toward outstanding payments into the EU budget will have to be clearly linked to a future political and trade relationship once the nation has officially left the group. U.K. chief negotiator David Davis promised that Britain 'will honor commitments we have made during the period of our membership' but added it could 'only be done in the context of an in accordance with a new deep and special partnership.' The EU has been insisting their needs to be 'sufficient progress' on Britain's outstanding financial commitments to the EU before any new relationship can be discussed. Estimates of the amounts Britain would still have to pay the EU have diverged wildly from some 20 billion euros to 100 billion euros. ___ 5:50 p.m. The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator says that EU rules will apply without exception during any eventual transition period after Britain officially leaves the bloc in 2019. Michel Barnier said Monday that 'the totality of the EU regulations, the enforcement, the financial conditions, supervision — all that will be maintained during this period, without exception.' His remarks came after he informed EU ministers about the state of Brexit talks and minutes before he launched into a fourth round of negotiations in Brussels. British Prime Minister Theresa May called Friday for a two-year transition period after her country leaves on March 29, 2019. ___ 5:35 p.m. The Czech Republic's foreign minister has told British counterpart Boris Johnson that he welcomes that Britain is ready to honor its financial commitment to the European Union. British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday that her government would keep paying the EU and following its rules during a two-year transition period after Brexit in March 2019. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek stressed the EU still needs 'more precise and detailed information' from Britain, reflecting a position by Europeans who want to see how May's offers made in a speech in Florence translate into concrete proposals. Zaoralek also says he gave Johnson a ping pong set as a present, saying that's a game he has played with the EU. Johnson replied: 'The ball is now in your (EU) court.' ___ 10:10 a.m. The European Union presidency says time is running out for Britain to seal an agreement on leaving the EU, with a fourth round of Brexit negotiations about to begin in Brussels. Estonian deputy EU affairs minister Matti Maasikas, whose country holds the bloc's rotating presidency, said Monday that 'we really need to move forward now. Time is of the essence.' He was speaking before hosting a meeting of European affairs and foreign ministers, to be attended by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Barnier and his team also meet their British counterparts later Monday for four days of talks. British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday that her government would keep paying the EU and following its rules during a two-year transition period after Brexit in March 2019.
  • Looking for ways to deal with hundreds of thousands of younger illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents, a group of Republican Senators introduced a plan on Monday which would let those “Dreamers” remain in the U.S. legally, but wait up to fifteen years in line with others who are seeking American citizenship. “This is not an amnesty bill where we take those individuals and just say, we’re going to give you a quick route to citizenship, and ignore the realities of what happened coming in,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). “They were children, many of them were two or three years old when they came,” Lankford told a news conference at the Capitol. “They’ve grown up in this country, they know no other place.” Sen. Tillis and Sen. Lankford introducing “succeed act”- bill offers merit-based pathway for dreamers to stay in the US pic.twitter.com/NSkU0aGGEu — Dorey Scheimer (@DoreyScheimer) September 25, 2017 The plan from Lankford, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), would not allow “Dreamers” to bring in relatives during that 15 year wait for possible citizenship – as critics worry it will mean ‘chain migration’ once those younger illegal immigrants are allowed to stay in the U.S. legally. Lankford made clear this bill to deal with the “DACA” children should not be considered on its own, but only as part of a broader Congressional deal on immigration matters. “This individual piece is not designed to be a stand-alone,” Lankford said, rattling off issues like border security, programs to stop companies from hiring illegal immigrants, and cracking down on people who enter the country legally, but then stay longer than their visa allows them to be in the U.S.
  • U.S. researchers are getting ready to recruit more than 1 million people for an unprecedented study to learn how our genes, environments and lifestyles interact. Today, health care is based on averages, what worked best in short studies of a few hundred or thousand patients. The massive “All of Us” project instead will push what’s called precision medicine, using traits that make us unique to forecast health and treat disease. The goal is to end cookie-cutter health care. A pilot is under way now. If all goes well, the National Institutes of Health plans to open enrollment early next year. Participants will get DNA tests, and report on their diet, sleep, exercise and numerous other health-affecting factors. It’s a commitment: The study aims to run for at least 10 years.
  • A kayaker found a grain bag containing six puppies floating in a river Sunday in Uxbridge. >> Read more trending newsThe bag was tied up and the puppies were dumped in the river and left for dead, police said. Uxbridge animal control was called to the scene and took the puppies. All of them are expected to be OK and are being taken care of. The puppies are receiving the necessary care, and will be available for adoption after they have been medically cleared. Uxbridge Police do not have any suspects yet.
  • Some Target workers will be getting more money in their paychecks starting next month. The company announced that starting in October, it will be paying at least $11 an hour, up a dollar from its current $10 an hour minimum wage, CNBC reported. But the retail chain isn’t stopping there. Company officials are promising that the pay will be increased to $15 by 2020. Target is answering Walmart’s pay increase last year to $10 an hour, Reuters reported. Target has promised that the minimum pay rate will apply to 100,000 temporary workers it will hire for the holiday shopping season, CNBC reported. Currently, Target employs 323,000 people at more than 1,800 stores. Earlier this year, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill that would raise federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The current federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 an hour.
  • It appeared no drivers, crew or other team members participated in a protest during the national anthem to start the NASCAR Cup series race Sunday. >> Read more trending newsSeveral team owners and executives said they wouldn’t tolerate anyone in their organizations protesting. They could be fired if they had. “It’ll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus,” Richard Childress, who was Dale Earnhardt’s long time team owner, said of protesting. “Anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.” As the NFL, NBA and MLB have seen players, owners and teams protest and remark on social media in the wake of President Donald Trump's comments Friday and throughout the weekend about athletes who peacefully protest during the national anthem, several NASCAR owners weighed in. Richard Petty was asked if drivers protesting during the anthem would be fired, and he said, “You’re right.” “Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem oughta be out of the country. Period. What got ’em where they’re at? The United States,” Petty said. The Associated Press contributed to this report.