PBS NewsHour

News Wrap: ‘Fair chance’ U.S. airstrike played role in Mosul civilian deaths

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JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: The U.S. commander in Iraq now says there’s a — quote — “fair chance” that a U.S. airstrike played a role in killing scores of civilians in Mosul. It happened on March 17. But Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend also voiced doubt that the weapons used could have collapsed an entire building.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi general claimed the airstrike actually hit a tanker truck loaded with explosives that ISIS fighters were driving toward Iraqi troops.

YAHYA RASOOL, Spokesman, Joint Command Operations (through interpreter): It is a new tactic being used by the members of this terrorist group, using big car bombs against the troops that impact the civilians to inflame the public and to convey a wrong message to the world that the joint forces of the international coalition are behind the killing and bombings.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amnesty International charged today that coalition forces are not taking taken adequate precautions in the battle for Mosul.

From Russia today, a warning: The Defense Ministry in Moscow says that U.S. naval patrols in the Black Sea are a potential threat to Russian security. The Black Sea is bounded by Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as Ukraine and Russia. U.S. American warships took part in NATO exercises there last week.

Thousands of people in Northeastern Australia spent a long day waiting out the fury of Tropical Cyclone Debbie. The storm pounded the coastal region for hours with heavy rain, towering seas and winds up to 160 miles an hour. It tore up trees, ripped up power lines, and left nearly 50,000 people in the dark.

Back in this country, a sex abuse scandal involving the USA Gymnastics Organization took center stage at a Senate hearing. Hundreds of women have come forward to say they were sexually assaulted or exploited by coaches, trainers and a team doctor, Larry Nassar. One of his alleged victims, Olympic medalist Jamie Dantzscher, tearfully shared her personal story.

JAMIE DANTZSCHER, Olympic Medalist: Many times, the abuse took place in my own room, in my own bed. Worse, he abused me in my hotel room in Sydney at the Olympic Games. When I first spoke out about my abuse at the hands of Dr. Nassar, I thought I was the only one. I was disbelieved and even criticized by some in the gymnastics community for bringing this disturbing issue to light.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The former head of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, resigned under pressure earlier this month. A group of U.S. senators is now pushing a bill that says groups overseeing Olympic sports must immediately report sexual abuse allegations to police.

A federal judge in Detroit approved a plan today to replace water lines at 18,000 homes in Flint, Michigan. It’s part of a settlement over lead contamination. The deal calls for work to be done by 2020. It could cost nearly $90 million, with the federal and state governments splitting the bill.

And on Wall Street today, stocks moved higher on a survey that showed consumer confidence at its highest in more than 16 years. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 150 points to close at 20701. The Nasdaq rose 34 points, and the S&P 500 added nearly 17.

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Struggling to scrape by, Syrian refugees take low-paying jobs in Turkey

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JUDY WOODRUFF: It was on a visit to the huge refugee camp at Zaatari in Jordan today that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for more international support for Syrian refugees and for the countries hosting them.

To the north of Syria, Turkey now hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees. President Erdogan there says 70,000 people with special talents will be granted citizenship.

But a Turkish charity is urging the government to grant citizenship to all refugees, to stop exploitation, and to prevent violence erupting between Turks and Syrians.

Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Western Turkey.

MALCOLM BRABANT: The Hajeeras from Northeastern Syria are creating a new shelter after being evicted from their tent by paramilitary police. They live with the constant worry of being moved on again.

Aid workers say raids on unofficial refugee camps are part of the strategy to stop migrants from reaching Europe. In an attempt to avoid discovery, these people are staying out of sight in semi-derelict farm buildings.

This rough farmland was home to about 300 refugees for the winter. But the Syrians were cleared out and told to find accommodation in hotels, houses or apartments.

The farmer objected to us filming, called the police, and followed us for several miles as we looked for people willing to talk.

MARIAM IBRAHIM, Syrian Refugee (through interpreter): Mariam is my name, Mariam. I’m 30 years old, Mariam Ibrahim. Our life is awful. We have no source of income. Nothing. Only God is by our side. We have no money. We are on our knees. We’re struggling to survive. We just work to live.

MALCOLM BRABANT: The landowner is charging Mariam $100 a month to pitch her tent. She is alone with her five children and has little choice.

MARIAM IBRAHIM (through interpreter): They say living in houses is better for you than living in tents. So, how do we feel? I mean, we are crammed on top of one another. I don’t have the means or help or money to live in a house.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Despite barely earning enough to support her family, Mariam is trying to send money to Syria for her sick husband left behind in an area where Kurdish forces are fighting Islamic State.

There’s irregular work in the fields around the town of Torbila. Here, they’re harvesting leeks. The Syrians say adults might get $10 for a 12- to 14-hour day. That’s about half the statutory Turkish minimum wage. The children earn far less.

BOY (through interpreter): In Syria, they are all dead or living with death.

BOY (through interpreter): We are better off in Turkey compared to Syria. There’s no fighting. We are comfortable here.

AHMED MOHAMMED KHALAF, Syrian Refugee (through interpreter): I came to Turkey to work in the orange orchards or flower fields. The daily pay is low, like 75 cents.

BOY (through interpreter): Now we are working and coming back from rock bottom. But I think of being in school and learning everything.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Refugee supporters say stories like this are replicated all along Turkey’s Aegean Coast, the gateway to the Greek Islands.

The three million Syrians sheltering in Turkey are inhabiting a precarious twilight world where they have no real access to state services and are treated like second-class citizens. They may be safe from war, but they and their children are exploited and vulnerable. Little wonder that so many of them wish to cross this sea to Europe for a better life.

In September 2015, Izmir was smuggling central. This mosque was full of people angling to buy a passage to Europe. But after the E.U. signed a $3 billion deal with Turkey to stem the migrant flow, the crowds have vanished from the courtyard, and also from this cafe, which was a rendezvous for traffickers and their clients.

The Syrians are doing what’s necessary to survive on the wrong side of the tracks. Many of their children work in leather or textile sweatshops. These young Syrians were on a lunch break from a textile factory and would only confirm they have been working for years, despite being underage.

Under new Turkish laws, Syrian children with identity papers are allowed to attend state schools. But aid agencies estimate that only 5,000 out of 22,000 eligible children in the Izmir area have taken up that right. The rest are believed to be working.

Mohammed Sali Ali founded a charity to help Syrian refugees.

MOHAMMED SALI ALI, Charity Founder (through interpreter): When the parents fled Syrian, they had some money in their pockets. But, after a few months, they ran out of money. They don’t have any income. They don’t have any work or trade. So they had to choose between begging and sending the kids to work.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Turkey is hosting more refugees than any other country. Aid agencies warn of growing racial tension.

And in the back streets of Izmir, there’s clear resentment from Turks about the impact refugees have on the labor market, at a time when there’s 12 percent unemployment nationally, a seven-year high.

OMER YESHIL, Turkey (through interpreter): The Turks should first think about their own people. Retired people are starving. I can’t even find work with the minimum wage. We, as Turkish citizens, can hardly make a living. Do you understand? We are worse off than the Syrians.

ADNAN KIRBY, Turkey (through interpreter): At the moment, because the Syrians’ employment went down a lot, they work on the cheap. And because they work for low wages, the situation for Turkish workers is bad now.

MAN (through interpreter): They are our guests here. Why should we complain? One day, when things are OK again in their own land, they will go back.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But Zahir Bhatah is planning to stay, along with his 4-year-old autistic son, Anver. He didn’t dare take a rubber dingy to Greece.

ZAHIR BHATAH, Syrian Refugee: The sea is very dangerous. My son is very small. And he cannot swim. I have many friends who drowned in the sea. So I am get so scared to travel to Europe. So I decided to stay in Izmir.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Bhatah used to be a heart surgeon in Damascus. In Izmir, he worked as a baker for a while. He’s applying for Turkish citizenship under President Erdogan’s new initiative.

ZAHIR BHATAH: I think it’s better for me to find a chance to work as a doctor in Turkey.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Other refugees are taking Turkish lessons to improve their chances of assimilation and employment. Last year, at Ramadan, the Turkish president promised citizenship for all refugees from Syria and Iraq, but had to retreat because of widespread opposition.

Now an aid group called Bridging People says that Turks should remember what happened to hundreds of thousands of theirs countrymen when they migrated to Germany for work after the Second World War.

Burcu Senturk, a spokeswoman for Bridging People, argues that Turkey should copy the Germans and grant the Syrians citizenship.

BURCU SENTURK, Bridging People: When they come here, they are not refugees. They are people with their families and hopes. And I think, in due time, they will be settling down in Turkey with their unique stories and unique qualifications. And this is why we need to embrace all of them.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Senturk argues that Turks will benefit from such a proposal.

BURCU SENTURK: I think that this will protect many Syrians and other nations’ refugees in Turkey if they become citizens. And since the Turkish workers and the other nationalities’ workers will be working in the same conditions, it will also decrease the potential for racism and violence between the people.

MALCOLM BRABANT: While the president may be sympathetic, campaigners say they need to convince lawmakers from the ruling party that the alternative to citizenship is potential strife in the future from stateless disenfranchised people, especially the young, like the 8-year-old who says he was clawed by a Turkish teacher.

Children selling tissues, the underage fruit-picker banned from playing soccer on a farmer’s land, they face an uncertain future.

But the heart surgeon is optimistic that his hosts will judge that his skills are worth harnessing and make him a Turk.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Malcolm Brabant in Izmir.

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AP fact check: Spicer says case closed on Russia. It’s not

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in D.C. Photo by Joshua

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The question of collusion between Russian interests and Donald Trump’s campaign is far from answered, despite repeated assertions by the president’s spokesman that it’s case closed.

Sean Spicer angrily dismissed inquiries about the matter Tuesday, declaring that “every single person who’s been briefed on this, as I’ve said ad nauseam from this podium … have been very clear that there is no connection between the president or the staff here and anyone doing anything with Russia.”

That goes for “Republican, Democrat, Obama appointee” and career civil servants, he added. They “have all come to the same conclusion.”

THE FACTS: The matter is being investigated by the FBI and two congressional committees, so no conclusions have been reached at all.

According to a report published at the end of the Obama administration by the outgoing director of intelligence, James Clapper, no coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia had been established. But investigations are continuing into that very question.

FBI Director James Comey said last week: “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

He said that “as with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”

As for Clapper’s report, his spokesman Shawn Turner said last week that the findings “could not account for intelligence or evidence that may have been gathered since the inauguration on January 20th.”

Spicer’s claim that even Democrats who have been briefed on the matter agree there was no collusion is at odds with statements from Democrats. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a recipient of classified briefings, has said “there is more than circumstantial evidence now” of a relationship between Russian interests and Trump associates.

Michael Flynn was fired as national security adviser when his pre-inauguration contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. emerged. As for “staff here” being in the clear, as Spicer put it, they have neither been identified as targets of the investigations nor ruled out.

A close adviser to Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, has agreed to talk to lawmakers about his business dealings with Russians. Other Trump associates have volunteered to be interviewed by the House and Senate intelligence committees as well.

AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

WATCH: Spicer says White House has ‘no problem’ with former acting AG Sally Yates testifying on Russia

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Trump to meet China’s Xi first week in April, U.S. official says

A combination of file photos showing Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo by Toby
         Melville/Lucas Jackson/Reuters

A combination of file photos showing Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo by Toby Melville/Lucas Jackson/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with President Donald Trump the first full week of April, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

The first in-person encounter between the leaders comes after Trump sharply criticized China during the presidential campaign. But he is now seeking Beijing’s help in pressuring North Korea over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Trump and Xi also are likely to discuss the U.S. president’s threats to counter what he claims are unfair Chinese trade practices. Trump has promised to raise import taxes on Chinese goods and declare Beijing a currency manipulator. It’s unclear if Trump will follow on either threat while seeking China’s cooperation on North Korea.

Though the White House hasn’t formally announced Xi’s visit, the leaders are expected to gather at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — where Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February.

The State Department official confirmed the timing of Xi’s trip while discussing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s upcoming travel plans.

Tillerson had planned to skip a meeting of NATO foreign ministers scheduled for April 5-6 so he could attend Xi’s meeting with Trump, the official said. The NATO gathering in Brussels was rescheduled for Friday so Tillerson could attend, said the official, who briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity even though Trump has criticized media for using anonymous sources.

Under Trump, regular opportunities for journalists to question Tillerson or other State Department officials in public have been significantly curtailed.

The agency held no televised briefings, a State Department mainstay for decades under administrations of both parties, for six weeks after Trump’s inauguration. They resumed in March under a new format: Two televised briefings per week and two over-the-phone briefings.

Now the televised briefings have again been canceled, due to staffing changes. Instead, they’re only holding telephone briefings, restricted to one topic per day as chosen by the State Department.

Those calls are held on “background,” meaning journalists can question senior officials but are prohibited from naming them in any stories, and the State Department has declined requests to conduct the calls on the record.

The State Department has said typical, on-the-record briefings may resume soon.

WATCH: What’s the future of relations with China, Japan under Trump?

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