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Nation & World Briefs


Thursday, December 21, 2017
Pence to Afghan president: US is ‘here to see this through’

KABUL, Afghanistan — Vice President Mike Pence told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on a secret visit Thursday to Afghanistan that the U.S. is “here to see this through” as they discussed a newly announced U.S. strategy to break the stalemate in America’s longest war and consulted on upcoming parliamentary elections.

Pence’s surprise pre-Christmas visit was the first to the war-torn country by either Trump or the vice president, and it came as the Trump administration charts a pathway to ending the 16-year war in Afghanistan.

“We’re here to see this through,” Pence told Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah at the presidential palace in Kabul, arriving after a helicopter ride through smoky, dark skies surrounding Afghanistan’s capital.

Later, at a rally-style event at Bagram Air Base, Pence told hundreds of U.S. troops that he believed “victory is closer than ever before.”

Famed conductor accused of sexual misconduct

SAN FRANCISCO — Three opera singers and a classical musician say that world-renowned conductor Charles Dutoit sexually assaulted them — physically restraining them, forcing his body against theirs, sometimes thrusting his tongue into their mouths, and in one case, sticking one of their hands down his pants.

The women accuse the 81-year-old artistic director and principal conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of sexual misconduct on the sidelines of rehearsals and performances in five cities — Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Saratoga Springs, New York.

“He threw me against the wall, shoved my hand down his pants and shoved his tongue down my throat,” retired mezzo-soprano Paula Rasmussen recounted of an incident she said occurred in his dressing room at the LA Opera in September 1991.

Soprano Sylvia McNair, herself a two-time Grammy winner, said Dutoit “tried to have his way” with her at a hotel after a rehearsal with the Minnesota Orchestra in 1985.

Wisconsin girl convicted in Slender Man stabbing sentenced

MADISON, Wis. — One of two Wisconsin girls who tried to kill a classmate to win favor with a fictional horror character named Slender Man was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in a mental hospital, the maximum punishment possible.

Anissa Weier, 16, pleaded guilty in August to being a party to attempted second-degree intentional homicide, but she claimed she wasn’t responsible for her actions because she was mentally ill. In September, a jury agreed.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren on Thursday sentenced Weier to 25 years in a psychiatric institution, retroactive to the date of the crime. That means she would be institutionalized until age 37.

Weier and Morgan Geyser lured Payton Leutner into a wooded park in Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb, in 2014. Geyser stabbed Leutner 19 times while Weier urged her on, according to investigators. Leutner survived after she crawled out of the woods to a path where a passing bicyclist found her.

Both Weier and Geyser told detectives they felt they had to kill Leutner to become Slender Man’s “proxies,” or servants, and protect their families from him. All three girls were 12 years old at the time.

Catalan parties that want split from Spain leading election

BARCELONA, Spain — Catalan political parties that support independence from Spain were poised to regain a majority in Catalonia’s regional parliament, according to provisional results with more than 90 percent of votes counted Thursday.

Unless the results change after the final votes are counted, the three secessionist parties together have won enough votes for 70 seats in the 135-seat assembly.

The result would mean that the pro-independence parties would once again get a chance to form a regional government, nearly two months after Spain dismissed the previous government following a unilateral declaration of independence by Catalan lawmakers.

Catalan voters turned up in force Thursday for a regional election seen as a crucial test of strength for the powerful movement that wants Catalonia to split from Spain.

Obamacare surprise: Strong showing as nearly 9M sign up

WASHINGTON — In a remarkably strong show of consumer demand, nearly 9 million people signed up for “Obamacare” next year, as government numbers out Thursday proved predictions of its collapse wrong yet again.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said more than 8.8 million people have signed up in the 39 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website. That compares to 9.2 million last year in the same states — or 96 percent of the previous total.

The level exceeds what experts thought was possible after another year of political battles over the Affordable Care Act, not to mention market problems like rising premiums and insurer exits. On top of that, the Trump administration cut enrollment season in half, slashed the ad budget, terminated major payments to insurers, and scaled back grants for consumer counselors.

“This level of enrollment is truly remarkable, especially given the headwinds faced by the program,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

From Associated Press