Plane with Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team crashes in Colombia, 75 dead

 

A charter plane carrying Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense to the biggest game in its history crashed in the Colombian mountains after an electrical fault, killing 75 people on board, authorities said on Tuesday.

Colombia’s worst air disaster in two decades came as the team from Brazil’s top soccer league flew to face Atletico Nacional of Medellin in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, South America’s equivalent of the Europa League.

The plane, en route from Bolivia where the team had a stopover, went down about 10:15 p.m. on Monday night with 72 passengers and a crew of nine on board.

It had reported electrical problems and declared an emergency minutes earlier as it neared its destination, Medellin airport officials said.

At the crash scene near the town of La Union in wooded highlands outside Medellin, dozens of bodies were laid out and covered with sheets around the wreckage of the BAe 146.

The plane was shattered against a mountainside with the tail end virtually disintegrated. Rain hampered dozens of rescuers as they combed the muddy and forested area.

Colombia’s civil aviation head, Alfredo Bocanegra, said there were 75 confirmed fatalities, with six injured survivors. They were listed as three players, a journalist and two members of the flight crew. Two of the six were in grave condition.

It was the first time Chapecoense, a small club from the southern Brazilian town of Chapeco, had reached the final of a major South American club competition.

Brazilian news organizations said 21 journalists had been on board the plane to cover the match.

Global soccer was stunned, matches were canceled around South America, and Brazil declared three days of mourning.

“I express my solidarity in this sad hour during which tragedy has beset dozens of Brazilian families,” President Michel Temer said.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted his condolences. “Solidarity with the families of the victims and Brazil,” he said.

~Reuters

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Iraqi forces push deeper into eastern Mosul

 

Iraqi special forces said they recaptured six districts of eastern Mosul on Friday, expanding the army’s foothold in the Islamic State bastion a day after its leader told his jihadist followers there could be no retreat.

An officer in the elite Counter Terrorism Service, which has spearheaded the Mosul offensive, said troops had launched a major operation against the militants who are now almost surrounded in their last major urban redoubt in Iraq.

CTS special forces took over Malayeen, Samah, Khadra, Karkukli, Quds and Karama districts, the army said.

“This is something very big – it means large parts of the left bank have been liberated,” CTS commander Lieutenant-General Talib Shaghati said, referring to the half of Mosul which lies on the east bank of the Tigris.

However, a resident of one district which the army declared recaptured told Reuters after the announcement that clashes continued.

“It’s true urban warfare,” he said by telephone.

In the neighborhood of Intisar, still fiercely contested by the army and jihadists, a Reuters correspondent heard heavy gunfire and explosions. Black smoke rose from an area nearby and damaged buildings showed signs of combat.

The territory taken by the government still amounts to just a fraction of the sprawling city, which is divided into dozens of residential and industrial districts and was home to 2 million people before it was captured by Islamic State in 2014.

The battle to drive the fighters out is the biggest ground operation in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003, and is likely to decide the fate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State caliphate that has defied the world for two years.

The advances took the troops 1 mile (1 1/2 km) inside the city. Districts captured so far, however, are less built-up than other areas, particularly those on the west bank of the Tigris, where the population is more exclusively Sunni Muslim Arab and the hardline Sunni Islamists could be more deeply embedded.

Iraqi officers and those from a U.S.-led coalition providing air and ground support to the offensive say progress has been faster than expected but stress that the operation is still in its early stages.

SPECIAL FORCES

Iraqi regular troops and special forces, Shi’ite militias, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and other groups backed by U.S.-led air strikes launched their campaign to retake Mosul nearly three weeks ago.

Winning back the city would crush the Iraqi half of a cross-border caliphate declared by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from a Mosul mosque two years ago.

Islamic State also holds large parts of neighboring Syria, but Mosul is by far the largest city under control of the ultra-hardline militants in either country, many times bigger than any other city the militants have held.

In a speech released on Thursday Baghdadi said there could be no retreat in a “total war” against the forces arrayed against Islamic State, telling fighters they must remain loyal to their commanders.

Baghdadi’s whereabouts are unknown. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said intelligence suggested he had “vacated the scene”, and a Kurdish intelligence source said he was believed to be in the region of Baaj, about 130 km (80 miles) west of Mosul.

Mosul is still home to nearly 1.5 million people, who risk being caught up in brutal urban warfare. The United Nations has warned of a potential humanitarian crisis and a refugee exodus. Iraqi officials say Islamic State is holding the civilian population as human shields.

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said on Friday Islamic State fighters had killed hundreds of people, including 50 deserters and 180 former Iraqi government employees, around Mosul.

They have also transported 1,600 people from the town of Hammam al-Alil, south of Mosul, to Tal Afar to the west, possibly for use as human shields against air strikes, and told residents to hand over boys above the age of nine, in an apparent recruitment drive for child soldiers.

The United Nations says 22,000 people have been displaced since the start of the Mosul campaign, not including thousands from outlying villages forced to head to Mosul by retreating Islamic State fighters who used them as human shields.

ROCKET LAUNCHERS

Mosul residents, speaking to Reuters by telephone, said Islamic State fighters were deploying artillery and rocket launchers in and near residential areas.

Some were hidden in trees near the Wahda district in the south, while others were deployed on the rooftops of houses taken over by the militants in the Ghizlani district close to Mosul airport, they said.

~ Reuters

What if everyone’s wrong?

Image result for us elections 2016

Trump has a path, and if the polls are wrong, it’s wider than thought.

Hillary Clinton leads in most national polls and in enough battleground states to put her on pace to surpass the 270 electoral votes she needs Tuesday to become the next president. But not far beneath the surface, as Donald Trump has narrowed the gap following the late-breaking FBI announcement of a renewed review of emails related to her private server, lurks a question making Democrats squirm in these frenzied final days.

What if the polls are wrong?

And more: What if Clinton’s vaunted data operation and ground game don’t deliver? What if there is, in fact, a “silent majority” of Trump fans? What if Clinton’s banked stash of early votes is insufficient? What if, as President Barack Obama’s former campaign manager David Plouffe not so affectionately describes nervous Democrats, the “bed-wetters” are right?

“Our magnificent, historic movement has surprised the world and defied expectations at every single turn,” Trump told a crowd in Orlando, Florida, this week. “And now, next Tuesday, we will have one more glorious surprise for the pundits, the politicians and the special interests when we win and return the power back to the people.”

It’s an outcome that official Washington — more consumed with potential Clinton Cabinet picks (Biden! Sandberg!), her policy agenda, the battle for the Senate — seems wholly unprepared for.

“I don’t think Washington has ever been in touch with this election,” said longtime Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “I end every speech with the Yogi Berra saying, ‘It ain’t over until it’s over’ and it ain’t over until we get the votes counted.”

While Trump remains decidedly the underdog, his path to 270 is not nonexistent. In the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll, Trump trailed by 3 percentage points, shrunken from 9 points behind only weeks ago.

“The trend lines are clearly going in our direction,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said this week on MSNBC.

As Clinton’s margin has eroded in recent days, the political focus has shifted from Democratic boasts of flipping Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Utah to safeguarding Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Averages of the public polls in all those latter Democratic states still show Clinton leading — albeit by tighter margins — which would essentially choke off Trump’s path to the White House.

“We’ve seen this a couple times where Hillary Clinton is leading by 3 to 5. Something happens. Her numbers spike to 10. They drop back down. Everyone wets themselves. Rinse. Repeat,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama. “She was never going to win by 10.”

Still, Pfeiffer understood the uneasiness, saying he’s asked about it everywhere he goes. “The consequences of a loss here are much greater than they’d be in a normal year,” he said. “You’re more nervous if you’re playing Russian roulette than flipping a coin.”

Then there is the fact that polls — and polling averages — are not infallible. In 2012, Romney led 20 Florida polls in October and November and Obama led in only seven. Obama won the state. And in 2014, in the battle for the Senate majority, pollsters missed the result in race after race far in excess of the margin of error.

In Virginia, Sen. Mark Warner had led the polling average by nearly 10 percentage points on Election Day. He won by less than 1 point. In Kentucky, Sen. Mitch McConnell won by nearly 15 points, 8 points ahead of the polling average. In Arkansas, Tom Cotton outperformed the polling average by 10 points. In Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts trailed the polling average on Election Day, and he won by more than 10 points.

Josh Holmes, who served as McConnell’s campaign manager and monitored the map nationwide as Republicans retook the Senate majority that year, heeded caution for those trumpeting the demise of Trump already.

“It’s never over,” he said.

Two years ago, Holmes said, “the environment was improving almost every week as we got closer to Election Day, so what you didn’t know was which way voters would finally break at the polls.