Shooting on Toronto streets leaves 13 injured, 2 dead

One person is dead and 13 people are injured after a gunman opened fire in the middle of the street late Sunday in Toronto. The shooter is also dead, gunned down following the shooting spree, according to Toronto police.

Toronto police said one innocent bystander, a “young lady,” was killed in the exchange of gunfire. Another girl, of 8 or 9 years old, is in critical condition.

The other 12 people are being treated at the hospital — all victims were struck by gunfire.

The shooting took place near Danforth Street and Logan Avenue, which is in the city’s Greektown neighborhood, often referred to as The Danforth.

Police escort civilians away from the scene of a shooting, Sunday, July 22, 2018, in Toronto. AP
Police escort civilians away from the scene of a shooting, Sunday, July 22, 2018, in Toronto.
Police work the scene of a shooting in Toronto on Sunday, July 22, 2018.AP
Police work the scene of a shooting in Toronto on Sunday, July 22, 2018.

Police confirmed they responded quickly and engaged in a shootout with the suspect, who used a handgun.

The incident began at about 10 p.m., police said.

“I’m not calling it random,” said Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders. “I don’t know why he did what he did; he won’t be able to tell us because he is deceased.”

It’s unclear how many shots were fired, but a person in the neighborhood posted a video on Twitter in which at least five shots can be heard. The user tweeted, “So scary!! The gun violence in Toronto is crazy.”

Toronto police said they have no motive for the shooting, and asked any eyewitnesses to come forward or anyone with video to provide it to police.

When asked about the suspect, Saunders said they knew “nothing at this point in time.”

Plainclothes police officers work the scene of shooting in Toronto on Sunday, July 22, 2018.AP
Plainclothes police officers work the scene of shooting in Toronto on Sunday, July 22, 2018.
Police work the scene of a shooting in Toronto on Sunday, July 22, 2018.AP
Police work the scene of a shooting in Toronto on Sunday, July 22, 2018.

Saunders said he could not confirm whether the shooting was an incident of terrorism, but police were investigating all possibilities.

“I’m keeping everything open, I’m looking at every possible motive,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to speculate, too.”

Toronto’s mayor also spoke at a press conference overnight, reaffirming previous comments about Toronto’s problems with gun violence.

“We still live in a great city, but we have to be ever more vigilant about these kind of things,” Mayor John Tory said.

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Australian love-scam victim wins her appeal in Cambodia

An Australian woman serving a 23-year prison sentence in Cambodia has achieved a stunning legal victory after her 2014 drug smuggling conviction was quashed by Cambodia’s Supreme Court.

The woman, 46-year-old Yoshe Ann Taylor, a kindergarten teacher and mother of two from Queensland, fell victim to an internet scam, revealed by Fairfax Media in 2016 to have been run by an international drug smuggling syndicate.

Australian woman Yoshe Ann Taylor, imprisoned in Cambodia for her role in attempting to smuggle 2.2kg of heroin to Australia in 2013.

Australian woman Yoshe Ann Taylor, imprisoned in Cambodia for her role in attempting to smuggle 2.2kg of heroin to Australia in 2013.

Photo: Supplied

Ms Taylor, who was lured to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on the promise of starting a business in the arts and crafts, was arrested at the airport in September 2013 after being caught trying to leave the Cambodia with two kilograms of heroin concealed in her luggage.

The Cambodia Supreme Court’s decision means that her case will now be remitted to the Cambodian Court of Appeal to be redetermined.

Unbeknown to Cambodian authorities at the time of Taylor’s 2014 trial, or her unsuccessful appeal in 2016, her co-accused, Nigerian national, Nwoko Precious Chineme, who went by the online pseudonym “Precious Max”, had duped several other Australian nationals caught entering Australia with drugs after making similar trips Cambodia.

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In Damascus, Syrians dare to hope that war’s end may be near

Crossing into Syria from neighboring Lebanon, visitors are greeted by giant posters of President Bashar Assad.

The signs proclaim: “Welcome to victorious Syria.”

In the capital of Damascus, many of the checkpoints that for years have snarled traffic are gone. The city is again connected to its sprawling suburbs once held by the opposition, and many former residents and visitors from other parts of Syria fill its streets.

There’s a new feeling of hope that an end is near to Syria’s seven-year civil war.

“It is almost over,” Nazeer Habash, 60, said as he walked home near the Hijaz train station in central Damascus. “It is like a child when he starts to walk, taking one step after another, and victory will always be on our side.”

In a central square not far from where rebel shells used to land just a few months ago, families and groups of teenagers took selfies. Children played on a large sculpture spelling out, “I (heart) Damascus.”

The celebratory mood in government-controlled areas stems from successive military advances in the past year.

It is fed by a feeling that Assad, thanks to unwavering support from allies Russia and Iran, has won — or at least has defeated those opposition fighters trying to topple him.

The country has suffered catastrophic damage and some aspects of the conflict are far from over. Still, many Syrians — even some among the opposition — are hoping for some degree of security and stability.

The government now controls major opposition strongholds and key cities like Aleppo, Homs and even Daraa, the southern city where the uprising was born from protests in March 2011.

The vital border crossing with Jordan, sealed for years, is expected to reopen soon after troops recaptured Daraa province, and hopes are high for the resumption of trade and Syrian exports to Arab countries.

Syrians can now drive all the way form the Jordanian border in the south to the central province of Hama on one of the country’s most important highways that was severed by insurgents for years in several locations. There is talk that the railway from Damascus to Aleppo might resume operations later this year.

The latest government triumph came this week when rebels agreed to surrender their last pockets of control in Quneitra province in the southwest, opening the way for Assad’s forces to re-establish authority along the Israeli frontier.

“The direct threat to Damascus has ended. And since it’s the capital, its conditions affect all other parts of the country,” said Rami al-Khayer, 27, as he sipped a hot beverage with a friend at the famous Nofara cafe in the capital’s old quarter.

The scene in devastated areas once controlled by rebels outside Damascus is starkly different. But even amid the ruins there, life is slowly returning to normal, with more businesses reopening and people tricking back.

In Douma, the largest town near Damascus and site of an alleged chemical attack in April, trucks and bulldozers work around the clock to clear the remains of destroyed buildings, sending up clouds of dust.

The operation in Douma is the start of a long process to clear debris from eastern Ghouta, the string of towns and villages east of Damascus that were held by rebels and under siege by government forces for five years. Until the rebels surrendered in the spring, the residents suffered under food shortages, with cases of malnutrition reported. Now, almost everything is available, although prices are still too steep for many.

Two months ago, Mohammed Sleik reopened his sandwich shop near Douma’s badly damaged Grand Mosque. During the siege, he had to search for supplies; now they are brought to his door.

“Things are getting better but slowly,” Sleik said as he prepared a sandwich of french fries in pita bread for a customer at his shop, named Zaman al-Sham — Arabic for “Era of the Levant.”

He said he sells about 170 sandwiches a day, more than three times what he sold before government forces captured the area. Sleik has six employees at his shop, where the menu includes beans, falafel and fries.

Stores are reopening on Douma’s main street of Jalaa, and shoppers on a recent day were buying farm produce, clothes and shoes.

In nearby Ain Terma, a town that suffered much heavier destruction than Douma because it is closer to the capital, residents complain that electricity and running water are still scarce. They must rely on generators for power and tanker trucks to deliver water to their homes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and NGOs such as Oxfam have placed giant red plastic tanks of drinking water every 100 meters in the streets of Ain Terma and Douma so residents can fill containers for free.

“Now we have a state here,” said Taha Aboud, 60, owner of a shoe repair shop in Ain Terma. Every day, he said, government trucks distribute bread for free.

After being hemmed in for years, Ghouta residents can travel to and from Damascus, although they must register at checkpoints when they enter and leave.

“We were living underground, and now we are above,” said Samih Hanafi, standing outside his barbershop in Ain Terma.

Suha Touma, a teacher from Hassakeh, brought her daughter Chrystabel to Damascus’ landmark Umayyad Square to play in a garden decorated with the colorful “I (heart) Damascus” sculpture. They traveled from the northeastern province of Hassakeh to spend the summer in Damascus for the first time in years, now that it is safe.

“We see that victory will be very near, and we see the end of the conflict coming soon,” she said as her daughter ran around the garden.

“I hope that my daughter will become a teacher like myself so that she teaches the future generations to love their country,” she said with a wide smile.

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Pompeo assails Iran’s leaders, compares them to ‘mafia’

(Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched a rhetorical assault on Iran’s leaders on Sunday, comparing them to a “mafia” and promising unspecified backing for Iranians unhappy with their government.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a press briefing at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Pompeo, in a California speech to a largely Iranian-American audience, dismissed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who negotiated a nuclear deal with the United States and five other countries, as “merely polished front men for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry.”

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew in May from the 2015 nuclear accord designed to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran has said its nuclear work is just for electricity generation and other peaceful projects.

Iran “is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government,” Pompeo said, citing what he called Iranian leaders’ vast wealth and corruption.

Pompeo’s speech was the latest step in a communications offensive launched by the Trump administration that is meant to foment unrest in Iran and help pressure its government to end its nuclear program and support of militant groups, U.S. officials familiar with the matter said.

The offensive is meant to work in concert with severe economic sanctions that Washington plans to reimpose in the coming months, including on Tehran’s oil exports, its principal revenue generator.

The United States will work with countries that import Iranian oil “to get imports as close to zero as possible” by Nov. 4, Pompeo said.

Rouhani cautioned Trump on Sunday about pursuing hostile policies against Tehran, saying: “War with Iran is the mother of all wars.” But he did not rule out peace between the two countries, which have been at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests,” Rouhani said, in an apparent reference to reports of efforts by Washington to destabilize Iran’s Islamic government.

Trump responded to Rouhani in a tweet late on Sunday, saying: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”

‘LONG-IGNORED VOICE OF PEOPLE’

Publicly, the Trump administration says its policy with Iran is not “regime change,” but to change Tehran’s behavior so it stops nuclear and missile work, support for proxies in the Middle East and backing of militant groups.

“While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country, the United States … will support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, to a packed house of about 1,000 people. He received frequent applause, although one audience member heckled him over the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Several dozen protesters lined the route to the site, including one group that distributed fliers opposing both Iran’s current government and any U.S. intervention in Iran.

Pompeo said senior Iranian leaders had benefited from embezzlement, sweetheart deals and other ill-gotten gains.

Iran’s ayatollahs, he said, were “hypocritical holy men” who “seem more concerned with riches than religion.”

Pompeo said the U.S. government broadcasting agency was launching a 24/7 Farsi-language channel on TV, radio, digital and social media platforms. The U.S. government also is taking steps to help Iranians get around internet censorship, he said.

Reporting by Warren Strobel in Washington and Dana Feldman in Simi Valley, Calif.; Editing by Peter Cooney

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Russia demands that the US release agent Maria Butina Video

Transcript for Russia demands that the US release agent Maria Butina

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This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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Complicity risk dogs congressional Republicans after Helsiniki

That battle will be put to the test again this week, when senators have their first chance to grill Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the meeting and lawmakers begin to formally weigh enacting additional sanctions on Russia.

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Photo: AP

All this is playing out against the backdrop of midterm elections, where lawmakers will face Republican voters who are still wildly enthusiastic about Trump and have, in many cases, adopted his scepticism about the Russian interference. Attacks by Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill and Fox News against those investigating him have not only fired up the president’s base but, polls show, substantially eroded trust in the impartiality of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the FBI itself.

Democrats view Russia’s election interference as nothing short of an existential threat to US democracy, and have repeatedly pushed Republican leaders to take a tougher line toward Trump and stop the attacks on investigators.

“The road to the Helsinki disaster was paved by Republican inaction every time Trump overstepped,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader. “Their silence, their acquiescence to things they know are wrong have given Trump the extra jolt he needed.”

Even before Trump was elected, Democrats and Republicans grappled with how to respond as Russians were hacking and leaking Democratic emails, flooding social media with pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton messages, and even organising pro-Trump rallies. In September 2016, President Barack Obama summoned congressional leaders to the Oval Office to ask them to issue a strongly-worded bipartisan letter to state and local officials raising alarms about the Russian threat.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Photo: AP

Democrats say Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, dragged his feet and watered down the letter’s language. Harry Reid, the former Democratic leader, said McConnell “set a tone of weakness and complicity,” while Denis R. McDonough, Obama’s former chief of staff, accused McConnell of “a stunning lack of urgency.”

Aides to McConnell strongly disputed that account and said Democrats were shifting blame for the Obama administration’s failure to prevent the interference. “They made a lot of mistakes; they should not compound them now by trying to shift their failures onto others,” said Don Stewart, McConnell’s deputy chief of staff.

After the election, as the full scope of the Russian campaign was coming into focus, Republican leaders empowered their intelligence committees to begin full-scale investigations into their new president and his campaign, over Trump’s objections.

Six months later, Republicans again angered the White House by passing, nearly unanimously, legislation imposing tough new sanctions on Russia as punishment for their interference. Wary of Trump’s friendly posture toward Russia, the lawmakers limited his authority to lift them and dared him to issue a veto. Republicans say they also appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars in new grants to states for election security and issued detailed reports on hardening election security.

And a smaller group of senators have chided Trump for second-guessing his intelligence agencies and attacking law enforcement agencies.

“I’ve said it over and over again, I’ve said it to the president,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If we have problems, let’s fix them, but when you start trying to cause Americans purposefully to distrust the Department of Justice or the FBI, you’re doing tremendous damage to our nation.”

But in the House, Trump loyalists have taken the opposite tack. They have wielded the considerable oversight powers of Congress to initiate a damaging investigation of the Russia investigators, publicly sowing doubts about the conclusions of US intelligence agencies and the work of the FBI and the Justice Department. Often drowning out the more temperate voices in their party, they have provided a forceful lift to Trump’s frontal assault on the special counsel investigation and potentially emboldened him on the world stage.

Just as the House Intelligence Committee began the chamber’s Russia investigation, the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, moved immediately to undercut the inquiry with a bizarre late-night dash to the White House. There, he received classified intelligence that, he suggested, at least partly justified Trump’s unsupported claim that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.

The unusual episode quickly became the subject of an ethics investigation in the House, and Nunes temporarily removed himself from his committee’s Russia inquiry. Rather than take a back seat, he began collecting documents and evidence that Republican allies of Trump have used against the Mueller investigation.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, has not participated in those attacks and has defended Mueller. But he has also given Nunes and his allies wide latitude, and has defended him. “He’s focusing on keeping our country safe, focused on national security,” Ryan told reporters in February, rejecting demands from Democrats that Nunes be stripped of his chairmanship.

Along the way, Trump and his allies have benefited from the missteps by the FBI and the Justice Department. After the department released damning anti-Trump texts from two top FBI officials, congressional Republicans put them center stage — especially in the conservative news media — by accusing them of cooking up a politically-motivated investigation of the president.

“The public trust in this whole thing is gone,” Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican, said in December, demanding that the Mueller investigation be called off.

The attacks have not let up. There were charges that the FBI and Justice Department abused their power to spy on a former Trump campaign aide; charges by Trump and some Republicans that the FBI had planted spies inside the Trump campaign itself (“Spygate,” the president called it); repeated threats to impeach Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry, who recently announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers.

And when the House Intelligence Committee closed its Russia investigation, declaring no evidence of collusion, it raised doubts about the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Putin had wanted Trump to win, before backtracking. (In Helsinki last week, Putin confirmed that he had indeed wanted Trump to win. “Yes, I did. Yes, I did,” he told reporters.)

“What’s been allowed to happen on the House Intelligence Committee is shameful, disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful,” said Mark Salter, a longtime adviser to Senator John McCain.

McConnell and Ryan have repeatedly said Mueller should be allowed to finish his job.

But even now, the threats continue. On the same day that Rosenstein announced the last round of special counsel indictments, Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was spotted on the House floor carrying the deputy attorney general’s impeachment papers.

A day earlier, House Republicans convened a raucous hearing featuring Peter Strzok, one of the FBI agents who sent the anti-Trump texts, as the sole witness. Over nearly 10 hours and countless shouting matches, they grilled Stzrok on everything from the early days of the Russia investigation he helped start to his love life, prompting him at one point to declare that the hearing was “another victory notch in Putin’s belt.”

Meadows and others say they are not out to protect Trump but to conduct legitimate oversight. Congress has a right to know, they say, particularly if investigators have made mistakes. They insist they take no issue with examining Russia’s cybercampaign, but view the investigation into whether the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia as a partisan attack on Trump.

“I think he sees it as a push to delegitimize his presidency, and I would not necessarily disagree,” Meadows said. “There are a lot of people who are using this narrative to delegitimise the election results from November.”

The Helsinki meeting, where Trump stood shoulder to shoulder with Putin and signaled he accepted the Russian president’s denials, might have been a turning point for the party. But in the days that have followed, it seems only to have reinforced the competing positions.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” McCain said in the wake of the summit.

But a day later, at a regular forum hosted by the Freedom Caucus, lawmakers close to Trump declared the meeting a success, pinning blame not on his performance but on the reporters who had the audacity to ask the two leaders about the attacks.

“They ask about election collusion or election meddling,” Representative Andy Harris, a Republican said. “That’s the problem.”

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Aide to French president Macron hit with initial charges in May Day protester assault

A French judge handed preliminary charges Sunday to one of President Emmanuel Macron’s top security aides after video surfaced that showed him beating a protester at a May Day demonstration.

The initial charges against Alexandre Benalla came the same day French authorities opened a judicial investigation of the assault. The multiple alleged offenses included violence, interfering in the exercise of public office and the unauthorized public display of official insignia.

The video made public by Le Monde newspaper on Wednesday has sparked the first major political crisis for Macron since he took office last year. Lawmakers and the president’s political opponents have questioned why Benalla was not fired and referred for prosecution when presidential officials learned about the beating months ago.

The recording shows Benalla, who is not a police officer, wearing a police helmet at the May 1 protest. Surrounded by riot police, he brutally dragged a woman from the crowd and then repeatedly beat a young male protester on the ground.

The man was heard begging Benalla to stop. The officers did not intervene.

Four others were also charged Sunday night: Vincent Crase, who worked for Macron’s party and was with Benalla on the day of the protest, and three police officers who were suspected of illegally passing footage from the event to Benalla.

Crase was handed preliminary charges of violence and prohibited possession of a weapon.

Benalla, 26, handled Macron’s campaign security and remained close to France’s youngest president after his election. The presidential palace initiated proceedings to fire Benalla Friday and investigators raided his house Saturday.

Macron’s office has said Benalla only was supposed to be accompanying officers to the May protest as an observer.

However, the president’s office has been heavily criticized since it revealed that it knew about the assault before last week. Macron pledged as a candidate to restore integrity and transparency to the presidency.

Lawmakers were aghast to learn that Benalla initially received only a two-week suspension and still had an office in the presidential palace 2 1/2 months after the beating.

Suspicion about a possible cover-up surfaced after what appeared to be inconsistent answers from Macron’s office. It said last week that since May, Benalla had been working in an administrative role instead of security. But Benalla was photographed by the president’s side as his bodyguard during France’s July 14 national holiday.

Macron’s political adversaries have seized the opportunity. Les Republicans party leader Laurent Wauquiez said the government was “trying to conceal a matter of state”.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted: “If Macron doesn’t explain himself, the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair.”

Macron has remained silent about the behavior captured on video. Lawmakers plan to question Interior Minister Gerard Collomb this week.

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China’s currency hits lowest level against US dollar in over a year

Can the US win a trade war with China?

China’s currency is plunging again. But how low will it go?

The yuan weakened by nearly 1% against the US dollar on Thursday and continued its slide Friday, hitting its lowest level in over a year. It has now fallen by more than 8% over the past three months amid a global trade spat and concerns over an economic slowdown in China.

Analysts said the yuan’s latest dip came after China’s central bank indicated that it was willing to accept a weaker currency.

A sliding currency could help China’s huge export industry cope with new US tariffs, as it makes Chinese products cheaper for buyers who pay in dollars. That could in turn boost an economy that posted its slowest growth rate in nearly two years — 6.7% — in the second quarter.

Unlike the dollar or euro, the yuan does not float freely against other currencies. Instead, China’s central bank — the People’s Bank of China — helps guide the currency by setting a daily trading range.

Analysts at research firm BMI noted Friday that the yuan is weakening because investors expect the bank to loosen monetary policy “in a bid to support an economy that is facing multiple headwinds,” including a trade war with the United States.

Related: China’s yuan is weakening against the dollar. Here’s what’s going on

yuan dollar friday

The United States and China have slapped tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s goods, and President Donald Trump is threatening to strike again at even more Chinese exports.

A weaker yuan risks increasing trade tensions with the Trump administration, which has repeatedly accused China of keeping its currency artificially low to support its huge export industry.

The latest declines prompted Trump to complain in an interview with CNBC on Thursday that the yuan was “dropping like a rock” against the dollar.

“Our currency is going up. I have to tell you, it puts us at a disadvantage,” Trump added.

Analysts say it’s unlikely that China would use the weaker yuan as a weapon in the trade war. They point to the chaos caused in Chinese and global markets by sharp falls in the currency in 2015 and 2016.

“Whether or not China is wittingly undertaking a depreciation policy, the question will increasingly be on investors’ minds as the slide deepens,” Societe Generale strategists wrote in a note on Friday.

Related: China’s economy shows signs of slowing. A trade war won’t help

There are other factors weighing on the yuan. Given the strength of the US economy, the Federal Reserve is expected to keep raising interest rates. That makes it more attractive for investors to hold US dollars, prompting them to sell other currencies.

“Gravity is doing its job again as monetary policy diverges further between the United States and China,” said Margaret Yang, an analyst at investment firm CMC Markets.

The question is how much further the yuan may fall.

Qi Gao, a currency analyst at Scotia Bank, expects the currency to weaken almost another 2% against the dollar. That would be when it would feel compelled to halt the yuan’s descent, he added.

It’s a careful balancing act for policymakers.

If the yuan falls too quickly, it could prompt money to flood out of China as investors lose confidence and seek to exchange it for assets in dollars and other currencies.

“Chinese authorities will likely prevent the currency from moving too sharply in any direction,” said Hannah Anderson, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

CNNMoney (Hong Kong) First published July 19, 2018: 7:53 AM ET

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Syrian ‘White Helmets’ flee to Jordan with Israeli, Western help

JERUSALEM/AMMAN (Reuters) – Hundreds of Syrian “White Helmet” rescue workers and their families fled advancing government forces and slipped over the border into Jordan overnight with the help of Israeli soldiers and Western powers, officials said.

An explosion is seen at Quneitra at the Syrian side of the Israeli Syrian border as it is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 22, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a brief video statement on Sunday he had helped the evacuation at the request of U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders – and there had been fears that the workers’ lives were at risk.

The group, known officially as Syria Civil Defence, has been widely hailed in the West and credited with saving thousands of people in rebel-held areas during years of bombing attacks by Damascus and its allies.

Its members, known for their white helmets, say they are neutral. But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers have dismissed them as Western-sponsored propaganda tools and proxies of Islamist-led insurgents. There was no immediate response from Damascus on Sunday.

A Jordanian government source said 422 people were brought from Syria, over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights frontier and into Jordan, down from a figure of 800 announced earlier by the foreign ministry in Amman.

The evacuees will be kept in a “closed” location in Jordan and resettled in Britain, Germany and Canada within three months, the source added.

A second non-Jordanian source familiar with the agreement said the original plan had been to evacuate 800 people, but only 422 made it out as operations were hampered by government checkpoints and the expansion of Islamic State in the area.

Syria and its Russian allies have launched an offensive on rebels in the sensitive southwestern border zone.

“FANTASTIC NEWS”

Netanyahu said Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others had spoken to him recently asking for help in extracting the White Helmets. “The lives of these people, who have saved lives, were now in danger. I therefore authorized their transfer via Israel to other countries as an important humanitarian gesture,” Netanyahu said.

Trump did not mention the operation during a series of tweets on Sunday.

Britain hailed the evacuation, saying it and other allies had requested it.

“Fantastic news that we – UK and friends – have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families – thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request,” tweeted British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

German weekly magazine Bild, which broke news of the evacuation and published footage of buses used to transport the Syrians across Golan, said 50 of them would be granted asylum by Berlin.

“Humanity dictates that many of these brave first-aiders should now find protection and refuge, some of them in Germany,” it quoted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas as saying.

A spokeswoman for the German interior ministry said Berlin would take in eight White Helmets plus their families. It was not immediately clear whether that amounted to the same 50 people.

A Canadian Foreign Ministry statement on Saturday said the White Helmets “have witnessed vicious atrocities committed by the Assad regime and its backers”. It added: “We feel a deep moral responsibility to these brave and selfless people.”

Russia’s embassy in the Netherlands welcomed the White Helmets’ departure. “Definitely there will be less chances of new so-called #CW (chemical weapon) attacks in Syria after forced evacuation by the collective West of the notorious #WhiteHelmets,” it tweeted.

Damascus and its allies have accused rebels and their supporters of staging chemical attacks in an attempt to frame the government. Western powers have accused Syria of attacking rebel-held areas with illegal chemical weapons.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Dominic Evans in Istanbul and Michelle Martin and Holger Hansen in Berlin; Editing by Dale Hudson and Andrew Heavens

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The Latest: 14 killed in blast near airport in Afghanistan

The Latest on developments in Afghanistan (all times local):

8:15 p.m.

An Afghan interior ministry spokesman says that 14 people, including both civilians and military forces, have been killed in the suicide attack near Kabul’s airport shortly after the country’s controversial first vice president landed on his return from abroad.

Spokesman Najib Danish added that 50 other people were wounded in the attack.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack through its Aamaq News Agency.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack in a statement released by the presidential palace.

———

7:15 p.m.

Hashmat Stanekzai, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said that 11 people, including both civilians and military forces, have been killed in the suicide attack near Kabul’s airport shortly after the country’s controversial first vice president landed on his return from abroad.

Mohib Zeer, an official form the public health ministry, also confirmed that 11 people were killed in the attack and 48 others wounded.

Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the likely the target of the attack, escaped unharmed.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion, but both Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in the Afghan capital.

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5:20 p.m.

An Afghan spokesman says there has been a large explosion near the Kabul airport shortly after the country’s controversial first vice president landed on his return from abroad.

Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and members of his entourage were unharmed in the explosion on Sunday, which took place as his convoy had already left the airport.

The Interior Ministry’s spokesman, Najib Danish, says the explosion took place outside of the airport. It was unclear what had caused it.

Danish says that Dostum was likely the target of the attack.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion, but both Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in the Afghan capital.

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11:40 a.m.

An Afghan spokesman says the country’s first vice president, a former Uzbek warlord, is returning home after more than a year of living in Turkey.

Presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri says Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum is expected to return to Kabul on Sunday afternoon.

He says Dostum had been undergoing medical treatment in Turkey, was now well and would resume work.

Dostum left the country under controversial circumstances in 2017, after the attorney-general’s office opened an investigation into allegations that his followers had tortured and sexually abused a former ally turned political rival.

Dostum had since reportedly been prevented by the government from returning to Afghanistan.

Dostum, accused of war crimes committed after the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, has been criticized by the United States for human rights abuses.

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