ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The Latest on developments related to Syria (all times local):
Syrian state TV says government forces have reached the perimeter of a rebel-held air base deep inside what was once opposition territory in northwest Syria.
The station said on Saturday the government is attacking Abu Dhuhour base in Idlib province.
Pro-government forces reached the base earlier this month but pulled back 10 days ago to fight off a counter-offensive by rebels and al-Qaida-linked insurgents.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says pro-government forces have surrounded Abu Dhuhour base from three sides.
Rebels took over the base in 2015 but have not been able to use it as an airfield because they do not have an air force.
Turkey’s military says it has retaliated against fire into Turkey from across the border in a Kurdish-controlled enclave in northwest Syria.
A brief military statement said Saturday the military responded to two days of “harassment” by attacking refugee and shelters in the enclave of Afrin allegedly belonging to a Syrian Kurdish militia group that Turkey considers to be a “terror” organization. The military did not provide details.
Turkey has vowed to launch a ground operation into Afrin to eradicate the threat from the group it says is an extension of Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. It has been massing troops and tanks at its border.
Turkey’s defense minister said Thursday the offensive into Afrin had “de facto” started, in reference to sporadic Turkish military shelling of the area.
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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The leadership of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party is holding a key meeting amid media reports of talks about the removal of President Jacob Zuma, whose scandal-plagued tenure has hurt the party’s popularity and the economy.
The party’s National Executive Committee said Saturday that the ANC must rebuild trust with South Africans and reclaim a “moral legitimacy” that dates to its role as the main anti-apartheid movement but has been sullied by corruption allegations surrounding Zuma and his associates.
The ANC says its new leader, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, and party officials will liaise with Zuma to ensure “effective coordination” between the party and the government.
However, several South African media outlets say some senior ruling party officials are working to replace Zuma with Ramaphosa.
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By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The world’s most powerful government shut down on Saturday after President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress failed to reach a deal on funding for federal agencies, highlighting the country’s deep political divisions.
For the first time since October 2013 – when a similar standoff that lasted 16 days kept only essential agency operations intact – federal workers were being told to stay at home or in some cases to work without pay until new funding is approved.
The shutdown began a year to the day after Trump was sworn in as president.
His inability to cut a deal despite having a Republican majority in both houses of Congress marks arguably the most debilitating setback for his crisis-plagued administration.
Democrats had insisted that any bill to renew government funding also contain permanent protections for approximately 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants who were brought illegally into the United States as children.
Last week, Trump rejected a bipartisan Senate deal that would have accomplished that as well as hand the White House $2.7 billion in new money for immigration enforcement at America’s borders.
Minutes before Friday’s midnight deadline for a funding deal, Trump’s White House issued a statement blaming Democrats for the shutdown. “We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands,” it said.
The shutdown was cemented when the Senate, meeting late into Friday night, blocked a bill to maintain the federal government’s funding through Feb. 16.
The vote was 50-49, well short of the 60 needed in the 100-member chamber to vault the bill over a procedural hurdle.
Four Republicans joined most Democrats in killing the measure. A fifth Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted “no” too, but only as part of a parliamentary maneuver to make it easier to bring another bill to the floor.
The breakdown ended a long day of closed-door meetings in Congress and at the White House.
Even as they promised to work on getting the government back up again as soon as possible, Republicans and Democrats blamed each other for the predicament.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined Trump in attacking Democrats.
“What we’ve just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible political games,” McConnell said.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said his party took significant steps to reach a deal, including raising the possibility of funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, which they have ardently opposed.
“It’s almost as if you were rooting for a shutdown,” Schumer said in comments on the Senate floor aimed directly at Trump.
Republican and Democratic leaders were expected to renew negotiations on Saturday in the hope of restoring government financing before Monday.
The immediate impact of the government shutdown was also eased somewhat by its timing, starting on a weekend when most government employees normally do not work anyway.
No matter the timing, the Defense Department said its combat operations in Afghanistan and other military activities would continue, while federal law enforcement officers also would remain on duty.
Without a quick deal, most day-to-day operations in the federal government will be disrupted. Hundreds of thousands of government employees will be put on temporary unpaid leave, including many of the White House’s 1,700 workers.
Trump’s administration said it planned to keep national parks open with rangers and security guards on duty. The parks were closed during the last shutdown in 2013, upsetting many tourists and resulting in the loss of $500 million in visitor spending in areas around the parks and at the Smithsonian museums.
No one is likely to be on hand, for instance, to manually wind an historic clock outside the U.S. Senate chamber. Many Capitol maintenance workers also were being instructed to stay home.
The shutdown will start to have more serious consequences on Monday as government employees ranging from financial regulators and tax collectors to scientists and civilian staff at the Pentagon will have to stay away from work.
Early on Saturday, McConnell offered up a new plan. Instead of the Feb. 16 end date for the temporary spending bill, he proposed Feb. 8.
Senate Democrats had argued this week for an extension of just four or five days to force both sides into serious negotiations on the immigration issue.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and Amanda Becker; Editing by Kieran Murray)
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