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UK’s Johnson, Likening Himself to Incredible Hulk, Vows Oct. 31 Brexit 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson likened himself to the unruly comic book character The Incredible Hulk late Saturday in a newspaper interview in which he stressed his determination to take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31. 

The Mail on Sunday reported that Johnson said he would find a way to circumvent a recent Parliament vote ordering him to delay Brexit rather than take Britain out of the EU without a transition deal to ease the economic shock. 

“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” Johnson was quoted as saying. “Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be — and that is the case for this country. We will come out on October 31.” 

Britain’s Parliament has repeatedly rejected the exit deal Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, negotiated with the EU, and this month rejected leaving without a deal — angering many Britons who voted to leave the bloc more than three years ago.  

No ‘backstop’

Johnson has said he wants to negotiate a new deal that does not involve a “backstop,” which would potentially tie Britain against its will to EU rules after it leaves in order to avoid checks on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

The EU has so far insisted on the backstop, and Britain has not presented any detailed alternative. 

Nonetheless, Johnson said he was “very confident” ahead of a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday. 

“There’s a very, very good conversation going on about how to address the issues of the Northern Irish border. A huge amount of progress is being made,” Johnson told The Mail on Sunday, without giving details. 

Johnson drew parallels between Britain’s situation in Brexit talks and the frustrations felt by fictional scientist Bruce Banner, who when enraged turned into The Incredible Hulk, frequently leaving behind a trail of destruction.  

“Banner might be bound in manacles, but when provoked he would explode out of them,” he said. 

FILE – British politician Sam Gyimah speaks during a People’s Vote press conference at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in London, May 9, 2019.

Earlier on Saturday, former Conservative minister Sam Gyimah said he was switching to the pro-EU Liberal Democrat party in protest at Johnson’s Brexit policies and political style. 

Opinion polls late Saturday painted a conflicting picture of the Conservative Party’s political fortunes under Johnson, who wants to hold an early election to regain a working majority in Parliament. 

A poll conducted by Opinium for The Observer newspaper showed Conservative support rose to 37% from 35% over the past week, while Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour held at 25% and Liberal Democrat support dropped to 16% from 17%. Support for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party remained at 13%. 

However, a separate poll by ComRes for The Sunday Express put Conservative support at just 28%, down from 30% and only a shade ahead of Labour at 27%. 

ComRes said just 12% of the more than 2,000 people it surveyed thought Parliament could be trusted to do the right thing for the country. 

Attacks on Saudi Oil Facilities Knock Out Half Kingdom’s Supply

RIYADH/DUBAI/LONDON – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said it attacked two plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on Saturday, knocking out more than half the kingdom’s output, in a move expected to send oil prices soaring and increase tension in the Middle East. 

The attacks will cut the kingdom’s output by 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd), according to a statement from state-run oil company Saudi Aramco, or more than 5% of global oil supply. 

The pre-dawn strikes followed earlier cross-border attacks on Saudi oil installations and on oil tankers in Persian Gulf waters, but these were the most brazen yet, temporarily crippling much of the nation’s production capacity. Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest exporter, shipping more than 7 million barrels of oil to global destinations every day, and for years has served as the supplier of last resort to markets. 

While the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put the blame squarely on Iran, writing on Twitter that there was “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.” 

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo said. 

FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a photo session with other leaders and attendees at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019.

Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone that Riyadh had the will and capability “to confront and deal with this terrorist aggression,” according to Saudi state news agency SPA. 

The United States condemned the attacks and Trump told the crown prince that Washington was ready to work with the kingdom to guarantee its security, according to the White House. The U.S. Department of Energy also said it was ready to release oil from its strategic petroleum reserve if necessary. Energy Secretary Rick Perry also said his department would work with the International Energy Agency, which coordinates energy policies of industrialized nations, if global action is needed. 

Saudi Arabia, leading a Sunni Muslim coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, has blamed regional rival Shiite Iran for previous attacks, which Tehran denies. Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge denied by the group and Tehran. 

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki said an investigation had been launched into who planned and executed the strikes. He said the Western-backed alliance would counter threats to global energy security and economic stability. 

Aramco Chief Executive Amin Nasser said there were no casualties from the attacks. 

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Aramco would have more information within 48 hours, and it would draw down oil in storage to compensate for the loss. Aramco is in the process of planning what is expected to be the world’s largest initial public offering. 

Heart of oil market

“Abqaiq is perhaps the most critical facility in the world for oil supply,” said Jason Bordoff, who runs the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and served on the U.S. National Security Council during Barack Obama’s presidency. “The risk of tit-for-tat regional escalation that pushes oil prices even higher has just gone up significantly.” 

Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 14, 2019.

Abqaiq is 60 km (37 miles) southwest of Aramco’s Dhahran headquarters. The oil processing plant handles crude from the world’s largest conventional oilfield, the supergiant Ghawar, and for export to terminals Ras Tanura — the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility — and Juaymah. It also pumps westward across the kingdom to Red Sea export terminals. 

Two of the sources said Ghawar was flaring gas after the strikes disrupted gas processing facilities. Khurais, 190 km (118 miles) farther southwest, contains the country’s second-largest oilfield. 

“These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost,” the U.S. Embassy quoted Ambassador John Abizaid as saying in a Twitter post. 

Andrew Murrison, a British foreign affairs minister, called on the Houthis to stop threatening civilian areas and Saudi commercial infrastructure. 

It was the latest in a series of Houthi missile and drone strikes on Saudi cities that have largely been intercepted but have recently hit targets, including the Shaybah oilfield last month and oil pumping stations in May. Both those attacks caused fires but did not disrupt production. 

“This is a relatively new situation for the Saudis. For the longest time they have never had any real fears that their oil facilities would be struck from the air,” Kamran Bokhari, founding director of the Washington-based Center for Global Policy, told Reuters. 

Aramco’s CEO said in a statement that the situation had been brought under control. A Reuters witness said the fire in Abqaiq appeared to have been extinguished by early evening. 
 
Escalating tension

Regional tension has escalated after Washington quit an international nuclear deal and extended sanctions on Iran. 

FILE – Bodies lie on the ground after being recovered from under the rubble of a Houthi detention center destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes, in Dhamar province, southwestern Yemen, Sept. 1, 2019.

The violence is complicating U.N.-led peace efforts to end the Yemen war, which has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine. The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

The coalition intervened in Yemen after the internationally recognized government was ousted from power in Sanaa by the Houthis, who say they are fighting a corrupt system. 

The coalition launched airstrikes on Yemen’s northern Saada province, a Houthi stronghold, on Saturday, a Reuters witness said. Houthi-run al Masirah TV said a military camp was struck. 

The Houthis’ military spokesman, without providing evidence, said drones hit refineries at both Saudi sites, which are more than 1,000 km (621 miles) from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and pledged a widening of assaults against Saudi Arabia. 

Afghan Government Says Elections First, Peace Deal Afterward

The Afghan government will consider making a “legitimate” peace with insurgents only after national elections are held this month, an official told reporters Saturday, despite the atmosphere of political uncertainty following the sudden halt in U.S.-Taliban peace talks. 
 
President Donald Trump abruptly called off talks to end American’s longest war last week. The Afghan government was largely shut out of the negotiations and was concerned that any finalized U.S.-Taliban deal would delay the elections while a national unity government was formed, forcing the exit of President Ashraf Ghani. 
 
“Nothing will impede the presidential election from happening,” said the Afghan presidential spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi. 
 
He said that a peace deal with the Taliban could come only after holding the presidential election scheduled for Sept. 28. “Legitimacy of peace cannot be achieved without elections,” he said. 

Security concerns
 
Sediqqi also suggested that there will be a “big change” toward improving security across the country ahead of the voting. The Taliban, who consider the Afghan government a U.S. puppet, have warned Afghans not to vote and have said polling stations will be targets. 
 
Sediqqi pointed to a Taliban delegation’s visit to Russia, just days after Trump called off talks, to say the insurgents are faced with a “political failure” of their own. He added that the Taliban should hold talks directly with the Afghan government — which they have refused to do — rather than foreign powers. 
 
On Friday, a Taliban negotiating team visited Russia, where they held consultations with Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for Afghanistan. 
  
The Interfax news agency cited an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the meeting underlined the necessity of renewing talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, and that the Taliban confirmed their readiness to continue dialogue with Washington. 
  
It was the Taliban’s first international visit following the collapse of talks with Washington. The team was led by Mullah Sher Mohammad Stanikzai. 
  
Trump tweeted Saturday that the Taliban was being hit hard militarily in the wake of the U.S. pulling out of negotiations following the death of a U.S. soldier. 
  
“The Taliban has never been hit harder than it is being hit right now,” he said. “Killing 12 people, including one great American soldier, was not a good idea. There are much better ways to set up a negotiation. The Taliban knows they made a big mistake, and they have no idea how to recover!” 
 
Moscow has twice this year hosted meetings between the Taliban and prominent Afghan personalities. 
  
Sediqqi said that the Afghan government has suspended its own peace efforts for now. After the elections, the “progress of the peace process” will be a priority, he said. 

Bomb in Kapisa province
 
Separately in eastern Kapisa province, a bomb killed at least three civilians who had gathered to watch a volleyball game, said Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry. 
 
Rahimi added that two other civilians were wounded when Friday’s blast occurred in the Tagab district. No group immediately claimed responsibility. 
 
Also in southern Kandahar province, in an insider attack, two policemen turned on their colleagues and shot dead at least nine police officers at a checkpoint, according to a provincial official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. 
 
The attack happened in the Shah Wali Kot district late on Friday night and both attackers fled the area, the official said. 
 
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for the attack. 

‘Bull’ Wins Top Prize at Deauville 

The American Film Festival in Deauville, France, awarded its top prize to Annie Silverstein’s Bull, jury president Catherine Deneuve announced Saturday. 
 
Silverstein’s first full-length feature, which was also selected for the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes film festival in May, was awarded Deauville’s Grand Prize, as well as the festival’s Critics Award and the Louis Roederer Foundation Revelation Prize. 
 
The film “paints an extremely fair and disturbing picture of Donald Trump’s America, America abandoned by its policies whether in school or in health,” said actress Anna Mouglalis, head of the Revelation jury. 
 
Bull tells the story of 14-year-old Kris from Houston, Texas, who after trashing her neighbor’s house in a fit of youthful defiance seems destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps to the state penitentiary. 
 
To make amends, Kris is forced to help Abe Turner, an ex-bull rider scraping by on the Texas rodeo circuit, with errands at home and at his work. While traveling with Abe, she discovers a passion for bull riding. Yet, bad influences back home lure her back into delinquent ways. 
 
Gerard Lefort, head of the Critics Award jury, described the film as a “captivating story with a staggeringly mature performance by actress Amber Havard, despite her young age.” 
 
In the 45th edition of the Deauville festival, a total of 14 films were in competition, including nine first films and six directed by women, Deneuve said. 
 
Two other films — Michael Angelo Covino’s The Climb and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse — were also awarded jury prizes. 

Tropical Storm Warning Discontinued in Bahamas 

The Bahamian government has discontinued a tropical storm warning as Humberto moves away from the island nation struggling to recover from Hurricane Dorian. 
 
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Humberto was expected to become a hurricane by Sunday night or early Monday but wouldn’t threaten land by the time it intensified to that strength. 
 
Officials warned that the storm could still cause dangerous swells in the northwest Bahamas and along the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina later this weekend and early next week. 
  
At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm was located about 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Great Abaco Island. Humberto was moving 7 mph (11 kph) north-northwest with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph). 

Trump Insists Economy is Strong While Pushing for Growth

President Donald Trump has pegged his re-election bid on the strength of the U.S. economy. Amid growing concerns of a potential slowdown, the president insists the economy is strong, at the same time he’s pushing for growth by floating another potential round of tax cuts and urging the Federal Reserve to slash interest rates further. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

American Farmers Hope for US-China Trade Deal as Pork, Soybean Tariffs Ease

China has announced a tariff exemption on U.S.-produced pork, withdrawing duties as high as 72%, one of many tariffs Beijing imposed on American agricultural products amid a protracted trade war with Washington. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, farmers feel the economic pinch even as China’s need to import pork is growing.
 

Ex-New Mexico Priest Gets 30 Years for Child Sexual Abuse

A former Roman Catholic priest who fled to Morocco before he was returned to the United States and convicted of sexually abusing an altar boy in New Mexico in the 1990s was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison, prosecutors said.

U.S District Judge Martha Vazquez imposed the sentence in Albuquerque federal court on Arthur Perrault, 81, a onetime Air Force chaplain and colonel, U.S. Attorney John Anderson said in a statement.

“There are few acts more horrific than the long-term sexual abuse of a child,” Anderson said. “At long last, today’s sentence holds Perrault accountable for his deplorable conduct.”

U.S. Attorney John Anderson, right, and federal prosecutor Sean Sullivan converse after a former Roman Catholic priest who fled the country decades ago was sentenced to 30 years in prison, Sept. 13, 2019, in Santa Fe, N.M.

Perrault’s trial attorney, Samuel Winder, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Perrault was convicted by a federal jury in April on six counts of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact with a minor in 1991 and 1992 at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, prosecutors said.

The victim, now an adult, testified that Perrault befriended him when he was 9 years old, showering him with gifts and trips before sexually assaulting him, prosecutors said.

Although he was convicted of abusing one victim, prosecutors alleged in court filings that Perrault was a serial child molester who abused numerous young people in more than 30 years as a priest in New Mexico and Rhode Island.

At his trial, seven other alleged victims testified that Perrault, ordained in 1964, abused them during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

The Roman Catholic Church has been roiled by allegations of sexual abuse since 1992, when the Boston Globe newspaper revealed a decades-long cover-up by church hierarchy of sexual misconduct by its clergy.

The U.S. Catholic Church has paid out more than $3 billion to settle clergy abuse cases, according to BishopAccountability.org, which tracks the issue.

Under federal law, a convicted defendant must serve at least 85% of a sentence, meaning Perrault will likely die in prison.

Perrault fled the United States in 1992 when his criminal conduct became public, prosecutors said. He was located in Morocco, where he was arrested in 2017 following his indictment on the sex charges, and was extradited to New Mexico.

Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, said Perrault served in the Air Force Reserve Chaplain Corps, and for a time was on active-duty status.

Saudi Arabia: Drone Attacks Spark Fires at 2 Oil Facilities

Drone attacks targeted a major Saudi Aramco processing facility and oilfield in eastern Saudi Arabia Saturday, the Interior Ministry said, sparking a huge fire at one of the sites before dawn.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes amid previous drone attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

It wasn’t clear if there were any injuries in the assault on the processing plant in Buqyaq and at the Khurais oil field. Online videos apparently shot in Buqyaq included the sound of gunfire in the background. Smoke rose over the skyline and glowing flames could be seen a distance away.

The fires began after the sites were “targeted by drones,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Aramco did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press.

The company describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq as “the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world.” 

The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then later transports it onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day.

The plant has been targeted in the past by militants. Al-Qaida-claimed suicide bombers tried but failed to attack the oil complex in February 2006.

There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend across the world. Benchmark Brent crude had been trading at just above $60 a barrel.

Buqyaq is some 330 kilometers (205 miles) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

More Than Ever, Pompeo at Helm of Trump Foreign Policy

Speaking at the White House after John Bolton’s surprise exit as national security adviser, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo couldn’t hide a smile of satisfaction.

With the departure of Bolton, Pompeo has become the undisputed king of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy — with the exception, that is, of Trump himself.

The former soldier, lawyer and businessman has made a quick ascent in Washington since arriving as a Kansas congressman elected in the 2010 right-wing populist “Tea Party” movement.

But many speculate that Pompeo will choose not to stay long in his newly powerful position, enticed by an opening to represent Kansas in the Senate next year, perhaps with an eye on running for the top prize in the 2024 presidential election.

FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks with National Security Adviser John Bolton before a joint news conference between President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House, June 7, 2018.

Knowing when to give up

First tapped as CIA director before moving to the State Department last year, Pompeo is so close to Trump that the president last year said he was his only adviser with whom he has never argued.

Expectations even rose that Trump would name Pompeo to replace Bolton — a rare dual-role as national security adviser and secretary of state last held by Henry Kissinger.

Trump Thursday ruled out the possibility but called Pompeo “fantastic” and said, “I get along with him so well.”

Yet Pompeo’s power, analysts say, comes with a paradox. While Bolton, a Washington insider for over four decades, bulldozed his way to steer U.S. foreign policy to the right on issues from Iran to Venezuela, Pompeo has risen because he is careful to follow Trump’s lead.

“Pompeo is influential but it is important to be realistic about his influence — he’s influential because he does not push his agenda too much,” said Tom Wright, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution.

“He knows when to give up. He is the last person standing but also he’s not particularly influential on policy,” he said.

“He pushes his views and then he gives up quite early on if he sense that Trump is going in another direction.”

FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pounds her fists as she responds to intense questioning on the on U.S. diplomatic sites in Benghazi, Libya, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Criticism of Clinton

Pompeo, 55, made his name in Congress by blasting Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, for not stopping the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

As the top U.S. diplomat, Pompeo hit the ground running with assertive conservative positions, such as demanding far-reaching concessions by Iran if it wants to remove unilateral U.S. sanctions.

But Pompeo on Tuesday instead left open the possibility that Trump would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and said there were no preconditions.

Pompeo became Trump’s fixer on North Korea, flying four times last year to the totalitarian state as the U.S. leader sought a potentially landmark deal with Pyongyang.

Pompeo’s State Department has also negotiated with the Taliban in hopes of achieving Trump’s goal of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and ending the U.S. involvement in the 18-year conflict.

“Trump wants to have this diplomatic outreach to America’s rivals. It’s not Pompeo’s idea. It’s the president having an agenda and getting rid of people who oppose this,” Wright said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answers a question from an audience member after giving a speech at the London Lecture series at Kansas State University, Sept. 6, 2019, in Manhattan, Kan.

Trump’s pivot toward diplomacy comes as he gears up for an election campaign next year, when he hopes to be able to present concrete achievements on the foreign policy front.

Pompeo has until June 1 to decide whether to run for the seat in Kansas, a state that has the longest streak of any state in electing Republicans to the Senate.

A Senate seat would ensure Pompeo retains a senior post in Washington regardless of the outcome of next year’s election or the whims of Trump.

But for now, Pompeo is a rare Trump official whose job appears secure.

Asked in an interview last month about their relationship, Pompeo said he often voiced disagreements with Trump.

“But when he makes a decision and it’s legal, it is my task to go execute that with all the energy and power that I have.”