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    Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday he still plans to shift the American military’s focus to competing with China and Russia, even as security threats pile up in the Middle East. Esper outlined his strategic goals and priorities in a speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum, an annual gathering of government, defense industry and military officials. Esper, who became Pentagon chief in late July, said he is sticking to the national defense priorities set by his predecessor, Jim Mattis, who was sitting in his audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Since Mattis resigned one year ago in protest of President Donald Trump’s push to withdraw from Syria, the Middle East has become even more volatile. At least 14,000 additional U.S. troops have been sent to the Persian Gulf area since May out of concern about Iranian actions. Syria itself has arguably become a more complex problem for Washington, with Turkish forces having moved into areas in the north where American forces had been partnering with Syrian Kurdish fighters against remnants of the Islamic State extremist group. Also, Iraq is facing civil protests and a violent crackdown by security forces. The deadly shooting at a Navy base at Pensacola, Florida, on Friday by a Saudi Air Force officer could complicate U.S.-Saudi military relations, although Esper said Friday that relations remain strong. Esper this week denied news reports that he was considering sending up to 14,000 more troops to the Middle East, but he acknowledged to reporters Friday that he is worried by instability in Iraq and Iran. In his speech Saturday, Esper made only a passing reference to Iran, citing Tehran’s “efforts to destabilize” the region. He focused instead on shifting the U.S. military’s focus toward China and Russia — “today’s revisionist powers.” He accused Moscow and Beijing of seeking “veto power” over the economic and security decisions of smaller nations. On Friday, Esper said he realizes that it will be difficult to move resources out of the Middle East to increase the focus on China and Russia. He said he has been studying the force and resource requirements for every area of the globe to determine how to rebalance those resources. “My ambition is and remains to look at how do we pull resources — resources being troops and equipment and you name it” — from some regions and either return them to the United States or shift them to the Asia-Pacific region, he said Friday. “That remains my ambition, but I have to deal with the world I have, and so I gotta make sure at the same time I deter conflict — in this case in the Middle East,” he said. “I want to have sufficient forces there to make sure” the U.S. does not get into an armed conflict with Iran.
  • Kaillie Humphries’ World Cup bobsled debut for the United States was a winning one. The former Canadian bobsled star won this season’s women’s opener on Saturday, posting the fastest time in both heats at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, New York for her 23rd career World Cup victory — and her first for the U.S. Humphries teamed with Lauren Gibbs to finish two runs in 1 minute, 53.48 seconds, posting the fastest time in both heats. “I’ve been through a lot emotionally over the last year, so knowing I have the skill to focus and turn it on when I need to builds confidence,” said Humphries, who won two Olympic golds in her career for Canada. “I can rely on my teammates and they trust me back. Some things aren’t perfect, but I’m a high-performing athlete and there will always be things I want to improve on.” That might be bad news for the rest of the women’s bobsled circuit. Humphries showed no rust whatsoever in her first World Cup race in nearly two years. The event Saturday was Humphries’ first major international race since she won the bronze for Canada at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. She sat out last season after filing a complaint with Canadian officials and saying she no longer felt safe in that nation’s program. She gained her release to join the U.S. team in September and competed in a pair of North American Cup races last month. Germany’s Stephanie Schneider drove to the silver, and Germany also got the bronze in the sled piloted by Kim Kalicki. Schneider was nearly one-third of a second behind Humphries, Kalicki nearly a half-second back. In bobsled, those are significant margins. “This feels fantastic to start the season so strong,” Humphries said. “It’s a great way to start this next chapter. The team has been so supportive and there’s been an incredible team effort this week to make this win happy today. I’m feeling really happy and proud.” Humphries learned to drive on the Lake Placid track, and has had enormous success there. She’s now won nine major international medals on that track — five golds, including the 2012 world championship, along with a silver and three bronzes. She gets a chance to add to her total next weekend, when the second World Cup race of the season is also held there. Lake Placid is hosting two World Cups this season because the planned opener in Park City, Utah, had to be moved because of mechanical problems at the 2002 Olympic track. Also for the U.S., the sled driven by Brittany Reinbolt and pushed by Sylvia Hoffman was seventh — exactly one second behind Humphries. Hoffman is scheduled to push for Humphries next weekend.
  • Previewing potential articles of impeachment, the House Democrats on Saturday issued a lengthy report drawing on history and the Founding Fathers to lay out the legal argument over the case against President Donald Trump's actions toward Ukraine. The findings from the House Judiciary Committee do not spell out the formal charges against the president, which are being drafted ahead of votes, possibly as soon as next week. Instead, the report refutes Trump's criticism of the impeachment proceedings, arguing that the Constitution created impeachment as a “safety valve” so Americans would not have to wait for the next election to remove a president. It refers to the writings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others to link Trump's actions in his July phone call with Ukraine's president seeking political investigations of his rivals to the kind of behavior that would “horrify” the framers. “Where the President uses his foreign affairs power in ways that betray the national interest for his own benefit, or harm national security for equally corrupt reasons, he is subject to impeachment by the House,” the Democrats wrote. “Indeed, foreign interference in the American political system was among the gravest dangers feared by the Founders of our Nation and the Framers of our Constitution.” Democrats are working through the weekend as articles are being drafted and committee members are preparing for a hearing Monday. Democrats say Trump abused his power in the July 25 phone call when he asked the Ukrainian president for a favor and engaged in bribery by withholding nearly $400 million in military aide that Ukraine depends on to counter Russian aggression. Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it's part of a troubling pattern of behavior from Trump that benefits Russia and not the U.S. Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong. “Witch Hunt!”the president tweeted Saturday morning. He implored his millions of followers to “Read the Transcripts!' of his telephone calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to judge for themselves. The articles of impeachment are likely to encompass two major themes — abuse of office and obstruction — as Democrats strive to reach the Constitution's bar of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.'' In releasing his report Saturday, Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the president's actions are the framers' “worst nightmare.' “President Trump abused his power, betrayed our national security, and corrupted our elections, all for personal gain. The Constitution details only one remedy for this misconduct: impeachment,” Nadler said in a statement. “The safety and security of our nation, our democracy, and future generations hang in the balance if we do not address this misconduct. In America, no one is above the law, not even the President.” The report released Saturday is an update of similar reports issued during the Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton impeachments and lays out the justification for articles under consideration, including abuse of power, bribery and obstruction. It does not lay out the facts of the Ukraine case, but it hints at potential articles of impeachment and explains the thinking behind Democrats' decision to draft them. Without frequently mentioning Trump, it alludes to his requests that Ukraine investigate Democrats, a move he believed would benefit him politically, by saying a president who 'perverts his role as chief diplomat to serve private rather than public ends' has unquestionably engaged in the high crimes and misdemeanors laid out in the Constitution. That is true 'especially' if he invited rather than opposed foreign interference, the report says. The report examines treason, bribery, serious abuse of power, betrayal of the national interest through foreign entanglements and corruption of office and elections. Democrats have been focused on an overall abuse of power article, with the possibility of breaking out a separate, related article on bribery. They are also expected to draft at least one article on obstruction of Congress, or obstruction of justice. In laying out the grounds for impeachable offenses, the report directly refutes several of the president's claims in a section called 'fallacies about impeachment,' including that the inquiry is based on secondhand evidence, that a president can do what he wants to do, and that Democrats' motives are corrupt. 'The President’s honesty in an impeachment inquiry, or his lack thereof, can thus shed light on the underlying issue,' the report says. In pushing ahead with the impeachment inquiry, Democrats are bringing the focus back to Russia. Pelosi is connecting the dots — “all roads lead to Putin,' she says — and making the argument that Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine was not an isolated incident but part of a troubling bond with the Russian president reaching back to special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings on the 2016 election interference. “This isn’t about Ukraine,' she explained a day earlier. ''It’s about Russia. Who benefited by our withholding of that military assistance? Russia.' It's an attempt to explain why Americans should care that Trump pushed Ukraine to investigate rival Joe Biden while withholding the military aid that Congress had approved. At the same time, by tracing the arc of Trump's behavior from the 2016 campaign to the present, it stitches it all together. And that helps the speaker balance her left-flank liberals, who want more charges brought against Trump, including from Mueller’s report, and centrist Democrats who prefer to keep the argument more narrowly focused on Ukraine. Pelosi and her team are trying to convey a message that impeachment is indeed about Ukraine, but also about a pattern of behavior that could stoke renewed concern about his attitude toward Russia ahead of the 2020 election. Late Friday, White House counsel Pat Cipollone informed the Judiciary Committee that the administration would not be participating in upcoming hearings, decrying the proceedings as 'completely baseless.' And Trump's campaign announced new rallies taking the case directly to voters — as well as a new email fundraising pitch that claims the Democrats have “gone absolutely insane.' 'The Democrats have NO impeachment case and are demeaning our great Country at YOUR expense,' Trump wrote in the email to supporters. “It's US against THEM.” Impeachment articles could include obstruction of Congress, as the White House ordered officials not to comply with House subpoenas for testimony or documents in the inquiry. They could also include obstruction of justice, based on Mueller's report on the original Trump-Russia investigation. There is still robust internal debate among House Democrats over how many articles to write and how much to include — and particularly whether there should be specific mention of Mueller's findings from his two-year investigation into Trump's possible role in Russia's 2016 election interference. The special counsel could not determine that Trump's campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia. However, Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump of obstructing justice in the probe and left it for Congress to determine.
  • A man has been hospitalized in critical condition after apparently trying to poison himself in a French courtroom when a judge pronounced him guilty of rape and kidnapping that led to death. The dramatic gesture came at the end of a high-profile trial into one of France's bigger cold cases: the 2002 killing of Elodie Kulik, a young woman. DNA evidence later led police to Willy Bardon, who was convicted Friday. French journalists inside the courtroom described seeing Bardon swallow an unidentified pill in the defendant's box. One of his lawyers told Europe-1 radio on Saturday that his client was desperate and convinced of his innocence. The Amiens prosecutor said the pill contained pesticide, according to French media. An investigation was opened into how he obtained the pill.
  • Manchester City fans hurled objects at Manchester United midfielder Fred as their Premier League title defense faded further with a 2-1 loss in the city derby on Saturday. In the same incident, as Fred prepared to take a corner with United leading 2-0, a fan was caught on camera appearing to mimic a monkey at the Etihad Stadium. City’s problems were not just coming from their fans. The champions were torn apart by the fifth-place visitors in the first half, conceding goals in a six-minute span from Marcus Rashford’s penalty and Anthony Martial’s strike. Although Nicolas Otamendi’s header reduced the deficit in the 85th, City couldn’t prevent United from claiming only a second away win of the season. It left City with as many losses — four — as last season. And Pep Guardiola’s side fell 14 points behind Liverpool, which is 11 points ahead of Leicester. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Nobel Literature Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk says she thinks a new sort of fiction may be needed to counteract the modern era's tendency to isolate and divide people. In her Saturday lecture in Stockholm ahead of receiving the prize next week, the Polish author complained of the “exhausting white noise of oceans of information” in the internet era. ''It has turned out that we are not capable of bearing this enormity of information, which instead of uniting, generalizing and freeing, has differentiated, divided and enclosed us in individual little bubbles,' she said. Tokarczuk suggested this discourages people from understanding how actions are interconnected, thus contributing to climate crisis and political tensions. She said she dreams of a new kind of “fourth-person” narrator in fiction who could encompass the views of each character in a novel. “We can regard this figure of a mysterious, tender narrator as miraculous and significant. This is a point of view, a perspective, from which everything can be seen. Seeing everything means recognizing the ultimate fact that all things that exist are mutually connected into a single whole, even if the connections between them are not yet known to us,” she said. Tokarczuk is the 2018 literature laureate. Her prize was announced only two months ago because the Swedish Academy postponed naming a winner last year due to internal turmoil connected with a sex abuse scandal. The 2019 Nobel Literature winner, Peter Handke, has also brought controversy to the body because of widespread criticism of him as an apologist for Serbian war crimes during the 1990s. One Swedish Academy member said he is boycotting Nobel ceremonies this year in protest of Handke's selection and a member of the literature nominating committee has announced his resignation. Handke jousted with journalists who were questioning his views at a Friday news conference, saying he preferred receiving soiled toilet paper to answering their questions. But his lecture on Saturday was contemplative, telling how his writing was first inspired by religious litanies he heard from a village church. He concluded by reciting a poem by the late Swedish Nobel laureate Tomas Transtomer in which an angel whispers 'do not be afraid of being human.' The Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, economic and literature are being presented Tuesday in the Swedish capital. Earlier Saturday, several Nobel laureates in science spoke about climate change at their news conferences in Stockholm. Didier Queloz, an astronomer who shares this year’s Nobel physics prize for discovering a planet outside the Earth’s solar system, said people who shrug off climate change on the grounds that humans will eventually leave for distant planets are wrong. “The stars are so far away I think we should not have any serious hope to escape the Earth,” Queloz said. ”We’re not built to survive on any other planet than this one ... we’d better spend our time and energy trying to fix it.” ___ Heintz reported from Moscow.
  • MaCio Teague scored 19 points, Freddie Gillespie had 17 points and 13 rebounds and No. 18 Baylor defeated No. 12 Arizona 63-58 on Saturday for the Wildcats' first loss. Admission was free at Baylor's campus arena because the Bears were playing Oklahoma in the Big 12 football championship game, which started about the same time 100 miles north of Waco at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. It was supposed to be the first true road game for the Wildcats (9-1), but their fans might have outnumbered the Baylor contingent. They loudly chanted “U of A” before the Baylor introductions but had a hard time getting into the game early, with Arizona giving up a 15-0 run and shooting 33 percent in the first half. The Wildcats, whose 52-game home winning streak was stopped by Baylor last December, did enough to stay close and had the fans chanting several times in the second half. Arizona finally got the deficit under six by scoring five points on one possession to get within 57-56 with less than two minutes remaining. Jemarl Baker Jr. hit a 3 as a foul was called and Zeke Nnaji made both free throws. Teague, who was 9 of 10 on free throws, made a pair at the other end, then blocked a 3-point attempt by Nico Mannion, who led the Wildcats with 15 points. Leading by four, Baylor got another block from Gillespie in the final minute. Nnaji scored 12 for Arizona, which made just two of 18 3-pointers after coming in sixth in the nation at 43% shooting from long range. The last miss came from Josh Green with a chance to tie in the final seconds. The Bears (7-1) started hot in the fourth-ever Top 25 matchup in Waco but cooled off while Arizona simply stayed cold. Baylor shot 30% to 27% for the Wildcats, who came in fourth in the nation in scoring at 87.1 points per game. The Wildcats stayed close by making free throws. Mannion was 8 of 8 and Chase Jeter matched Teague by going 9 of 10. Arizona was 28 of 34 from the line. BIG PICTURE Arizona: The Wildcats didn't play well in their first real test this season, and first true road game against ranked team since beating rival Arizona State 77-70 in February 2018. Arizona won't have to wait long for the next one. No. 9 Gonzaga visits next Saturday. Baylor: The Bears took control early without a lot of help from Jared Butler, third in the Big 12 in scoring coming in. The sophomore guard didn't score until after the 15-0 run that put Baylor up 22-8 and finished with 13 points. UP NEXT Arizona: Omaha at home Wednesday. Baylor: Butler at home Tuesday. ___ For more AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
  • With its top leader absent, the party of Evo Morales gathered Saturday in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba to start choosing its candidates for new elections called after the resignation and exile of the former president amid protests over vote results. Morales' Movement Toward Socialism, or MAS, party is divided almost three weeks after Bolivia's first indigenous president, prompted by the military and nationwide protests, left for political asylum in Mexico saying he was the victim of a coup d'état. Critics of the long-ruling leader say he used fraud to win a fourth straight term in office in the Oct. 20 vote. 'Evo is not alone', shouted party militants, mostly from social and indigenous organizations, in a Cochabamba coliseum. The date for the new elections has not yet been set. Morales, who is currently in Cuba for a medical appointment, said via Twitter that “today the people are uniting, organizing and mobilizing to recover democracy and continue the process of change.' MAS president Rimer Ágreda said the gathered delegates will vote to punish members who betrayed the party, apparently referring to party members who didn't back Morales. 'We have to give a punishment vote to all (those) who are at the service of the U.S. embassy,' he added. Morales has said that he was ousted with U.S. support. Chamber of Deputies president Sergio Choque said Morales will have final say over the candidates chosen. 'We will go (the elections) with new candidates coming from the social sectors. It was unclear how long the candidate selection process would take. Morales left the Andean country on Nov. 11 for Mexico, a day after his resignation. Sen. Jeanine Áñez then assumed the presidency temporarily for 90 days. A consensus of political forces was later reached to call new elections and cancel the Oct. 20 vote, which an Organization of American States report has said with filled with irregularities and manipulation. On Friday, news emerged that Morales had temporarily left Mexico for Cuba. A former aide did not specify whether Morales made the trip for a routine medical checkup or to treat a specific ailment. Morales underwent treatment in Cuba in 2017 for nose, ear and throat complaints.
  • The flaming barricades are mostly gone, protesters have largely dissipated and traffic is once again clogging the streets of Haiti’s capital, but hundreds of thousands of people are now suffering deep economic aftershocks after more than two months of demonstrations. The protests that drew tens of thousands of people at a time to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse also squeezed incomes, shuttered businesses and disrupted the transportation of basic goods. “We are nearing a total crash,” Haitian economist Camille Chalmers said. “The situation is unsustainable.” Haiti’s economy was already fragile when the new round of protests began in mid-September, organized by opposition leaders and supporters angry over corruption, spiraling inflation and dwindling supplies, including fuel. More than 40 people were killed and dozens injured as protesters clashed with police. Moïse insisted he would not resign and called for dialogue. The United Nations World Food Program says a recent survey found that one in three Haitians, or 3.7 million people, need urgent food assistance and 1 million are experiencing severe hunger. The WFP, which says it is trying to get emergency food assistance to 700,000 people, blames rising prices, the weakening local currency, and a drop in agricultural production due partly to the disruption of recent protests. In the last two years, Haiti’s currency, the gourde, declined 60% against the dollar and inflation recently reached 20%, Chalmers said. The rising cost of food is especially crucial in the country of nearly 11 million people. Some 60% make less than $2 a day and 25% earn less than $1 a day. A 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice has more than doubled in price in the local currency, said Marcelin Saingiles, a store owner who sells everything from cold drinks to cookies to used tools in Port-au-Prince. The 39-year-old father of three children said he now struggles to buy milk and vegetables. “I feed the kids, but they’re not eating the way they’re supposed to,” he said, adding that he has drained the funds set aside for his children’s schooling to buy food. A growing number of families across Haiti can’t even afford to do that since the protests began, with barricades preventing the flow of goods between the capital and the rest of the country. Many of those live in Haiti’s rural areas, which also have been hardest hit by demonstrations that continue in some cities and towns. Wadlande Pierre, 23, said she temporarily moved in with her aunt in the southwest town of Les Cayes to escape the violent protests in Port-au-Prince. However, she had to move back to the capital because there was not gas, power or water in Les Cayes, and food was becoming scarce. “There is no access to basic items that you need,” she said. Pierre is now helping her mother, Vanlancia Julien, sell fruits and vegetables on a sidewalk in the neighborhood of Delmas in the capital. Julien said she recently lost a couple hundred dollars’ worth of produce because she could not go out on the street to sell due to the protests. “All the melon, avocado, mango, pineapple, bananas, all of them spoiled,” she said. Last year, sales were good, but she is now making a third of what she used to earn before the protests began, even though streets have reopened. “That doesn’t amount to anything,” she said. “The fact that people don’t go out to work, it’s less people moving around and makes it harder for me.” That also means businesses like the small restaurant that 43-year-old Widler Saint-Jean Santil owns often remain empty when they used to be full on a regular afternoon. He said the protests have forced many business owners to lay off people, which in turn affects him because clients can no longer afford to eat out. “If people are not working, there is no business,” he said. Among the businesses that permanently closed was the Best Western Premier hotel, which laid off dozens of employees. Chalmers warned that economic recovery will be slow if the political instability continues, adding that the situation is the worst Haiti has faced in recent history. “A lot of crises came together,” he said. “Not only the economic one, but the political and fiscal ones.” ___ Associated Press writer reported this story in Port-au-Prince and AP writer Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • The leaders of Russia and Belarus spent more than five hours Saturday in sensitive talks on deepening ties between the two allies — a meeting that triggered a protest in the Belarusian capital among those who fear Russia's intentions. No immediate deal was announced after the talks in Sochi on Russia's Black Sea coast between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, but a senior Russian official said they edged closer to an agreement. More than 1,000 opposition demonstrators rallied in Minsk to protest closer integration with Russia, which they fear could erode the post-Soviet independence of Belarus, a nation of 10 million. The protesters marched across the Belarusian capital, chanting “No to integration!” and “Belarus to Europe!” Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than a quarter-century, relies on cheap Russian energy and loans to maintain his country's Soviet-style economy. Russia and Belarus signed a union agreement in 1997 that envisaged close political, economic and military ties, but stopped short of forming a single nation. The Kremlin has recently cranked up the pressure on Belarus, raising energy prices and cutting subsidies. Russian officials say Minsk should accept closer economic integration if it wants to benefit from lower energy prices. Speaking at the start of talks in Sochi, Lukashenko urged Putin to continue sending fuel shipments to Belarus at Russia's domestic prices. “We just want equal conditions — nothing else,” Lukashenko said with a wry smile as he faced Putin across the table. “We shall talk about future prospects. It's a landmark meeting,” Putin said. “I hope we will keep doing all we can to make our peoples and nations feel close and keep moving primarily in the economic sphere, but also in the social field, to benefit from that integration.' Russian Economics Minister Maxim Oreshkin said the two sides narrowed their positions on oil, gas and other disputed issues and the leaders instructed officials to continue to iron out the remaining differences. Putin and Lukashenko are to meet again on Dec. 20 in St. Petersburg. Some in Belarus fear the new agreements could pave the way for a full merger of the two countries, concerns fueled by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. There also has been speculation that Putin, who has been in power for nearly two decades, could contemplate a merger with Belarus as a way to stay at the helm of the new union state of Russia and Belarus after his current Russian presidential term expires in 2024. “The Kremlin no longer wants to pay for rhetoric and is starting to demand political concessions from Minsk ahead of 2024, in a hint at the new state and the new job for Putin,” said Valery Karbalevich, an independent Minsk-based political analyst. Putin has been coy about his future plans. Lukashenko has bristled at the Russian pressure, charging that some Russian officials want to push Belarus into weakening its sovereignty. The Belarusian leader has vowed not to surrender Belarus’ post-Soviet independence but the opposition in Belarus has remained nervous. 'Politicians are playing with Belarusian sovereignty like in a card game, and we will keep protesting as long as a threat to our independence remains,' said Pavel Severinets, the organizer of Saturday's rally. The protest wasn't sanctioned by the authorities, but police allowed the demonstrators to march across downtown Minsk. “They are again trying to pull us back into that rotten empire that is trying to revive itself at the expense of neighbors,” said 19-year-old student Mikhail Olshansky, who covered his face with Belarus' pre-Lukashenko red-and-white flag. Lukashenko has shown little tolerance for dissent, earning him the nickname of Europe's last dictator, but he has increasingly sought to reach out to the West as he faces pressure from Russia. The U.S. and the European Union have repeatedly criticized Belarusian authorities for flawed elections and crackdowns on the opposition, but they have lifted some their sanctions in recent years as Belarus freed political prisoners. “Minsk is playing a simple game, trying to win advantages for its Soviet-style economy by threatening to break the union with Russia and get closer to the West,” Karbalevich said. 'That is the reason why repressions against the opposition were put on standby. Lukashenko doesn't want to wake up one day as a provincial governor in Russia.” ___ Isachenkov reported from Moscow.