10 things you need to know today: November 29, 2019

1.

President Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to spend part of Thanksgiving with U.S. troops. During the visit, Trump’s first to Afghanistan, he announced that the U.S. and the Taliban have reopened peace talks. He said he believes the Taliban want a truce in America’s longest war. “We’re meeting with them,” Trump said. “And we’re saying it has to be a ceasefire.” Trump had cut off talks with the Taliban in September and canceled a secret meeting between Taliban and Afghan leaders after a flurry of violence. During Trump’s 3 1/2 hours at Bagram Air Field, Trump also served turkey to U.S. soldiers, who cheered him when he entered the dining hall. About 12,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan. [The Associated Press]

2.

Police restored school administrators’ control of Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Friday, declaring that there were no pro-democracy protesters left on the wrecked campus after a two-week siege. Police arrested hundreds of protesters during the showdown. On Thursday, a team of about 400 officers conducted a sweep of the university, and found nearly 4,000 firebombs, 921 gas canisters, and 588 containers of chemicals, including acid and other corrosive liquids. The transfer of control back to school officials marked the end of one of the most intense clashes between protesters and police in a month of escalating unrest following the death of a student who fell from a parking structure during a police operation. [The New York Times, South China Morning Post]

3.

North Korea on Thursday launched two short-range projectiles into the waters off its east coast, South Korea’s military said. “Our military expresses its strong regret over (the launches) and urges (North Korea) to immediately stop acts that escalate military tensions,” said Maj. Gen. Jeon Dong Jin, a senior operations officer at Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missile test came three days after North Korea said its soldiers had held artillery drills near a disputed sea boundary. The latest missile launches were the 13th public weapons test conducted by North Korea this year as Pyongyang pushes for a new U.S. proposal to resume stalled talks on trading nuclear concessions for sanctions relief. [The Associated Press, The Washington Post]

4.

The European Parliament on Thursday passed a symbolic measure declaring a “climate emergency.” The move raises pressure on member states to take action to curb emissions blamed for climate change ahead of a United Nations climate summit starting Dec. 2 in Spain. In recent months, hundreds of regional and local administrations have approved similar declarations, but Thursday’s vote was significant because the European lawmakers who passed the measure represent 500 million people. “Five years ago, no one would have expected the European Parliament to declare a climate emergency, so there’s some progress,” said Sebastian Mang of Greenpeace. Dissenters in the 429-225 vote objected to the use of the word “emergency,” suggesting the use of “urgency” instead. [The Washington Post, Reuters]

5.

The holiday shopping season kicks off on Friday with traditional Black Friday sales. Many retailers got a jump on the competition by getting started with deep discounts on Thanksgiving Day, and analysts forecast data to show that online shoppers spent a record $4 billion on Thanksgiving. The total had already reached $2.1 billion as of 5 p.m. Thursday, a 20.2 percent increase compared to the same point last year. Demand was so high on Thursday that Costco’s website and app were briefly hampered by heavy traffic. Black Friday is continuing to evolve, as many stores try to snag a bigger share of holiday sales by cutting prices days or even weeks before what used to be a one-day shopping frenzy. Shoppers are expected to spend up to $731 billion in November and December, roughly 4 percent more than in the same period last year. [USA Today, MarketWatch]

6.

Powerful winter storms hammered parts of the country on Thursday, complicating Thanksgiving travel. Heavy snow forced the closure of Interstate 5, a major highway in Southern California, leaving dozens of vehicles stuck with snow still falling. The highway, which joins Southern California with the rest of the state, was reopened later in the day, but forecasters warned more snow and rain could fall in the area. A so-called bomb cyclone, with a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure, brought up to four feet of snow in some mountainous areas in the Pacific Northwest. The winter storm was expected to move east, bringing snow and high winds across much of the West before continuing toward the Great Plains late on Friday. [Reuters]

7.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key witness in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump, on Thursday reiterated his denial of sexual misconduct allegations made by three women in an article jointly published Wednesday by ProPublica and Portland Monthly magazine. In the article, Sondland said the claims were “concocted” for “political purposes.” One of the women said Sondland backtracked on plans to invest in her business after she rejected his advances during a tour of a hotel he owns. Another accuser, a work associate, said Sondland exposed himself to her. The third, who is 27 years younger than Sondland, said he forcibly kissed her when they met to discuss a possible job. One of the accusers, Nicole Vogel, owns Portland Monthly. The alleged incidents took place years ago, before Sondland was named as Trump’s E.U. ambassador. [The Wall Street Journal, ProPublica]

8.

Thousands of demonstrators rallied in Hong Kong on Thursday to express appreciation for two U.S. laws supporting human rights in the Chinese-ruled semi-autonomous city. President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on Wednesday. It requires an annual review to confirm that the former British colony still has enough autonomy to justify its special trade status. “I guess Trump wanted to give us a Thanksgiving present, and we’re glad to accept,” said Wong Yiu-chung, a Lingnan University politics professor who attended the rally. Chinese officials on Thursday angrily condemned the U.S. measures as “an epitome of gangster violence,” and an act of foreign meddling intended to hurt China’s economic growth. [Los Angeles Times]

9.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday urged President Trump to avoid commenting on Britain’s upcoming election during next week’s NATO summit in London. “The best (thing) when you have close friends and allies like the U.S. and the UK is for neither side to get involved in each other’s election,” Johnson told LBC radio. Johnson pushed for the early election hoping to break a stalemate over Britain’s planned exit from the European Union. Trump has already made controversial comments in the vote, saying in October that Johnson should join forces with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and that the opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn would be “so bad” for the country. [Reuters]

10.

Acclaimed American free-solo rock climber Brad Gobright died in a fall while on a well-known path on a rock known as El Sendero Luminoso, or the Shining Path, in northern Mexico’s Potrero Chico national park, Mexican authorities said. His body was recovered Thursday. Gobright and a climbing partner, Aidan Jacobson, fell about 20 feet to a ledge after their rope got stuck, but Jacobson landed in a bush, which broke his fall. “It was basically a blur,” Jacobson, 26, told Outside magazine. “He screamed. I screamed. I went through some vegetation, and then all I remember is seeing his blue Gramicci shirt bounce over the edge.” Gobright fell nearly 985 feet to his death, which the State Department confirmed in a statement, saying, “We offer our sincerest condolences to his family on their loss.” [CNN, The New York Times]

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