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Turkish forces capture center of key Syrian border town

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Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, in a picture taken from the Turkish side of the border in Ceylanpinar on October 11, 2019, on the third day of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces.

Ozan Kose | AFP | Getty Images

Turkish forces captured a key Syrian border town under heavy bombardment Saturday, the Turkish military and a Syrian war monitor said, as Turkey’s offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters pressed into its fourth day with little sign of relenting despite mounting international criticism.

Turkish troops entered central Ras al-Ayn according to Turkey’s Defense Ministry, marking the most significant gain since the invasion began Wednesday. The ministry tweeted: “Ras al-Ayn’s residential center has been taken under control through the successful operations in the east of Euphrates” river.

An Associated Press journalist across the border heard the sound of sporadic clashes as Turkish howitzers struck the town and Turkish jets screeched overhead.

Syrian Kurdish forces appeared to be holding out in some areas of the town.

The Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces released two videos said to be from inside Ras al-Ayn, showing fighters saying that it is Saturday and they are still there.

The fighting was ongoing as the Kurdish fighters sought to reverse the Turkish advance into Ras Al-Ayn, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The push deeper into northern Syria by Turkish troops came days after U.S. President Donald Trump cleared the way for Turkey’s air and ground invasion, pulling back U.S. forces from the area and saying he wanted to stop getting involved with “endless wars.”

Trump’s decision drew swift bipartisan criticism that he was endangering regional stability and risking the lives of Syrian Kurdish allies who brought down the Islamic State group in Syria. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces was the main U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State group and had lost 11,000 fighters in the nearly five-year battle against the extremists.

Earlier in the day, Turkish troops moved to seize control of key highways in northeastern Syria, the Turkish military and the Observatory said.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said that Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces had taken control of the M-4 highway that connects the towns of Manbij and Qamishli.

The SDF said that Turkish troops and their Syrian allies reached the highway briefly before being pushed back again.

Turkish troops also cut the route linking the northeastern city of Hassakeh with Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and once commercial center, according to the Observatory.

Since Wednesday, Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters backed by Ankara have been advancing under the cover of airstrikes and artillery shelling, reaching the Manbij-Qamishli road about 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the Turkish border.

Turkey has said it aims to push back the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which it considers terrorists for its links to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency within its own borders. The YPG is a main component of the SDF.

The U.N. estimated the number of displaced at 100,000 since Wednesday, saying that markets, schools and clinics also were closed. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly a half-million people at risk in northeastern Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday Turkey won’t stop until the Syrian Kurdish forces withdraw below a 32 kilometer (20 miles) deep line from the border.

The Turkish military aims to clear Syrian border towns of Kurdish fighters’ presence, saying they are a national security threat.

A civilian wounded in a mortar strike from Syria the previous day in the Turkish border town of Suruc died, Anadolu news agency also reported Saturday, bringing the civilian death toll to 18 in Turkey. Turkey’s interior minister said hundreds of mortars, fired from Syria, have landed in Turkish border towns.

The Observatory that keeps track of Syria’s civil war said 74 Kurdish-led SDF fighters have been killed since Wednesday as well as 49 Syrian opposition fighters backed by Tukey in addition to 21 civilians on the Syrian side.

Turkey’s defense ministry said it “neutralized” 415 Syrian Kurdish fighters. The number could not be independently verified. Four Turkish soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the offensive, including two who were killed in Syria’s northwest.

France’s leader warned Trump in a phone call that Turkey’s military action in northern Syria could lead to a resurgence of Islamic State activity.

President Emmanuel Macron “reiterated the need to make the Turkish offensive stop immediately,” his office said in a statement Saturday.

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SpaceX launches NASA astronauts for the first time

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX is launching NASA astronauts for the first time on Wednesday, so long as weather does not disrupt the current plan.

The mission is called Demo-2 and will be the first launch of NASA astronauts from the U.S. since 2011. It is also the first crewed launch in the history of Elon Musk’s company, its most important milestone yet.

You can watch the livestream above or follow along at CNBC’s live blog here.

If NASA and SpaceX decide to postpone the launch, the mission has back-up times set for Saturday at 3:22 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule stand upright on the launchpad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center ahead of the Demo-2 launch.

NASA

The historic importance of Demo-2 is drawing a wide audience, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley to the nation’s capital. VIPs scheduled to attend at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center include President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. SpaceX founder and CEO Musk plans to watch from within the mission control room just a few miles from the launch site.

Subscribe to CNBC PRO for exclusive insights and analysis, and live business day programming from around the world.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos rebuffs warehouse safety concerns

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Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos addresses the audience during a keynote session at the Amazon Re:MARS conference on robotics and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas on June 6, 2019.

Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended the company’s response to the coronavirus crisis at its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday. 

Shareholders pressed Bezos and other Amazon executives for answers on the company’s treatment of warehouse workers, the potential for fallout from enhanced scrutiny of Amazon and for updates on its progress around issues related to the environment and pay equity.

There were no shareholder resolutions on the docket that dealt with warehouse working conditions. Still, the topic was a recurring theme among shareholders who presented proposals and submitted questions to Bezos, as well as in Amazon’s own prepared remarks during the virtual meeting, illustrating that it remains top of mind for people inside and outside of the company.   

Bezos began his address to shareholders at the virtual meeting by thanking Amazon’s frontline warehouse and delivery employees, saying they’ve provided a “lifeline” to customers who’ve been stuck at home.

“I am deeply grateful for each of you for the important work you are doing for customers,” Bezos said.

Warehouse workers, labor advocacy groups and legislators have repeatedly criticized Amazon’s response to the coronavirus, arguing the company moved too slowly in its efforts to provide personal protection equipment, temperature checks and other tools to keep employees safe. 

Bezos pushed back on these accusations, saying Amazon quickly realized the need to protect workers during the pandemic. He lauded Amazon’s senior leadership and its board, saying “they’ve done a remarkable job.” 

“I’m proud of the job the team has done there,” Bezos said. “We’ve taken this seriously from the very beginning.” 

Bezos added that Amazon has changed how work is conducted inside warehouses to slow the spread of the coronavirus and is now “in the process” of building its own testing laboratories, with the hopes of administering tests to warehouse workers across the country.

Amazon repeated this message throughout the meeting as it showed a set of videos of warehouse and delivery workers, clad in face masks, who touted the expanded safety measures at their facilities. One worker said their job was like “walking into the chocolate factory and you won the golden ticket,” while another worker said they appreciated that Amazon “went overboard on safety.”

The company’s efforts to highlight its safety measures faced some criticism from shareholders during the meeting, including Maren Costa, a former Amazon user experience designer and member of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ). In April, Amazon fired Costa and Emily Cunningham, also a user experience designer, from the company for breaking company rules. 

Costa referred to the resignation of Amazon vice president Tim Bray and the recent firings, which also included several protesters, as evidence of a “vein of toxicity that runs through the company.” Costa last week took part in an “alternative” shareholder meeting with Amazon investors who called for Amazon to disclose the outcomes of its investments in coronavirus-related efforts. 

During the Q&A session, Bezos disputed claims that Amazon fired employees for speaking out against its labor practices and said Amazon “welcomes” continued scrutiny of the company.

Bezos: We ‘dramatically undercharge’ for Prime

Bezos also touched on Amazon’s progress executing its comprehensive climate change plan and the value of its Prime subscription service. 

When asked if Prime has become too expensive, Bezos countered by saying Amazon’s strategy is to “dramatically undercharge” for the service. 

“Our strategy is to build value in advance with Prime,” Bezos said. “We always want Prime to be way more valuable than what we charge for it.”

The subscription service has increasingly attracted attention from antitrust regulators like the Federal Trade Commission, which has questioned whether it harms Amazon’s competitors by bundling several valuable services into one package. Prime subscribers pay $119 a year, or $12.99 per month, for free, two-day shipping on orders and access to Prime Video, among other perks. 

Amazon also faces several other ongoing antitrust probes. The company is being investigated by FTC officials over its business practices in retail and cloud computing, according to reports from several outlets. The Department of Justice and the House Judiciary Committee have both opened broad antitrust reviews of Big Tech.

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Coronavirus effects on the young could lead to a ‘lockdown generation’

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The multiple shocks facing young people from the coronavirus pandemic could result in them being scarred throughout their working lives, creating a “lockdown generation,” the United Nations’ labor agency warned. 

More than one in six young people, aged 18-29, have stopped working since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN’s International Labour Organization said in its fourth report on the impact of Covid-19 on the global workforce

While this is only a slight increase on the nearly 14% of young people unemployed in 2019, the ILO pointed out that the youth unemployment rate was already higher than any other group. 

Meanwhile, those young people who had remained employed during the pandemic had seen their working hours fall by 23%.

The ILO said that more than four in 10 young people, aged 15-24, employed globally were working in hard-hit sectors when the crisis began and nearly 77% of this cohort were in informal jobs, compared to 60% of adult workers aged 25 and above. 

And another survey the ILO recently conducted with UNESCO and the World Bank found that 98% of respondents reported a partial or complete closure of schools and training centers. 

The ILO therefore argued that young people were being “disproportionately affected” by the coronavirus crisis, with these multiple shocks to their education, training, employment and income. 

Guy Ryder, ILO director-general, said if young people’s “talent and energy is side-lined by a lack of opportunity or skills it will damage all our futures and make it much more difficult to re-build a better, post-COVID economy.” 

He argued that “significant and immediate action” needed to be taken to improve their situation, with the ILO recommending programs guaranteeing employment and training be implemented in both developed, as well as low- and middle-income economies.

Testing and tracing 

The ILO also said in its report that testing and tracing Covid-19 infections was “strongly related to lower labour market disruption,” than confinement and lockdown measures. 

The reduction in working hours halved on average in countries with strong testing and tracing methods, it said. This was because it rolled back the reliance on strict lockdown measures, promoted public confidence and helped minimize operational disruption in the workplace. 

More than 5.6 million people worldwide have contracted the coronavirus, while 351,146 have died from the disease, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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