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Nation and World briefs for May 17

Syria denies US allegations of mass killings, crematorium

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria on Tuesday rejected U.S. accusations it carried out mass killings at a prison near Damascus and then burned the victims’ bodies in a crematorium, describing the allegations as “lies” and “fabrications.”

The allegations are a “new Hollywood plot” to justify U.S. intervention in Syria, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said, noting what it called a U.S. track record of using false claims as a pretext for military aggression.

The State Department said Monday it believes that about 50 detainees are hanged each day at the Saydnaya military prison, a 45-minute drive north of Damascus.

Many of the bodies are then burned in the crematorium “to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place,” said Stuart Jones, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East. He accused the government of President Bashar Assad of sinking “to a new level of depravity.”

The Syrian government forcefully denied it.

Jailhouse videos show quirks of Charleston church gunman

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A week before the sentencing phase of his trial, Dylann Roof got a visit in jail from his mother, who pleaded with him to reconsider his decision to act as his own lawyer in the fatal shootings of nine black worshippers at a South Carolina church.

But Roof was more concerned with the clothes he would wear to court. Since he could not have his first choice of his comfortable jail jumpsuit, he wanted two-tone gray pants, inseam 29, not 30, so they wouldn’t hang over his shoes. He also wanted thicker sweaters. And he wanted his lawyers at the defense table for one reason.

“So I can abuse them,” Roof said with an awkward laugh in one of four jailhouse videos released Tuesday by federal court officials.

In the nearly three hours of footage from family visits, Roof laughed at his dad’s jokes, tried to trick his mom into thinking he had tinsel and a stocking in his cell for Christmas and told his half-sister he would invite her to his execution. He also upbraided his mom for feeding his cats too many treats and told his dad not to believe all of Donald Trump’s promises now that he’s president.

He even cried, convinced he had syphilis despite extensive examinations by doctors. Recently released court papers indicate that the 23-year-old told a psychologist that he never had a girlfriend.

Texas moving to exclude ‘dreamers’ from college work-study

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas legislators are seeking to deny work-study aid to immigrants attending public college under a temporary residency permit, a move that starkly contrasts with a policy enacted 16 years ago that positioned the state as the nation’s most welcoming place for foreign-born students.

Under the proposal, which is on the verge of clearing the Texas Legislature, only individuals eligible for federal financial aid would qualify for the state’s off-campus, work-study program.

That group includes U.S. citizens, permanent residents and refugees. It doesn’t include students who came into the country illegally as children and have a work visa allowing them to stay longer, or immigrants granted permission to stay in the country because they were crime victims.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many Texas college students would be denied services if the measure is enacted.

Sen. Charles Schwertner, who sponsored the amendment, would not respond to requests for comment on the floor of the state Senate. At a hearing earlier this month he said the measure simply served to “ensure that students receiving state-subsidized employment are legally eligible to work in the United States.”

Convicted soldier Chelsea Manning will stay on active duty

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the soldier convicted in 2013 of illegally disclosing classified government information, will remain on active duty in a special status after her scheduled release from prison Wednesday, the Army said Tuesday.

An Army spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson, said Manning will be on “excess leave” while her court-martial conviction is under appellate review. In that status she will be unpaid but will be legally entitled to military medical care.

“In an active-duty status, although in an unpaid status, Manning is eligible for direct care at medical treatment facilities, commissary privileges, morale welfare and recreation privileges, and exchange privileges,” Johnson said in a written statement.

A former intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning is being released in accordance with former President Barack Obama’s decision to grant her clemency in his final days in office. She was known as Bradley Manning before transitioning in prison.

Manning was convicted in 2013 of leaking secret military and State Department documents and battlefield video. A native of Crescent, Oklahoma, she was convicted in a military court martial of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. She was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.

El Daily Stormer: Neo-Nazi website is now in Spanish, too

(AP) How does a leading neo-Nazi website that has railed against Hispanic immigrants expand its audience beyond a loyal base of U.S. white supremacists? By publishing a Spanish-language edition, of course.

The Daily Stormer — infamous for orchestrating internet harassment campaigns by its “Troll Army” of readers — recently launched El Daily Stormer as a “news portal” tailoring its racist, anti-Semitic content for readers in Spain and Latin America.

Andrew Auernheimer, a notorious computer hacker and internet troll who writes for the English-language site, says the Spanish edition fits their mission to spread Hitlerism across the world.

“We want our message to reach millions more people,” he said in a telephone interview.

Hate sites have realized that the U.S. has no monopoly on white nationalists and other far-right extremists, says Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. Others, such as Stormfront, already created multilingual forums.

Kushners tap China’s $24B ‘golden visa’ market

BEIJING (AP) — When the sister of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner promoted investment in her family’s new skyscraper from a Beijing hotel ballroom stage earlier this month, she was pitching a controversial American visa program that’s proven irresistible to tens of thousands of Chinese.

More than 100,000 Chinese have poured at least $24 billion in the last decade into “golden visa” programs across the world that offer residence in exchange for investment, an Associated Press analysis has found. Nowhere is Chinese demand greater than in the United States, which has taken in at least $7.7 billion and issued more than 40,000 visas to Chinese investors and their families in the past decade, the AP found.

The Chinese investors flocking to these programs are people like Jenny Liu, a doctoral student in the eastern city of Nanjing, who sold her apartment two years ago and moved in with her parents. She used the money from the sale to invest $500,000 in a hotel project in the United States. If the project creates enough jobs in two years, she’ll get a prized “green card” and a pathway for a less stressful education for her 9-year-old son.

“My son has a lot of homework to do every day, but I don’t think he has learned a lot from school,” Liu said. “I hope he can actually pick up some useful knowledge or skills rather than only learn how to pass tests.”

The flood of investors reflects how China’s rise has catapulted tens of millions of families into the middle class. But at the same time, it shows how these families are increasingly becoming restless as cities remain choked by smog, home prices multiply and schools impose ever-greater pressure on children. They also feel insecure about being able to protect their property and savings.

 

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