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Brazil’s chief justice dashes da Silva’s hopes for release

RIO DE JANEIRO – The chief justice of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court quickly overturned a lower court ruling Wednesday that could have opened the way for former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to get out of jail.

Federal Court Judge Marco Aurelio had ruled that prisoners serving sentences but appealing are constitutionally entitled to freedom, though he also said cases would have to be reviewed by the relevant presiding judge to determine if an inmate was eligible.

Lawyers representing da Silva rushed to submit a petition seeking the immediate release of the former leader, who has been in prison since April after being convicted on charges that during his 2003-2010 administration he accepted bribes in exchange for favoring specific companies. Da Silva maintains his innocence and is appealing the conviction.

The president of the high court, Dias Toffoli, dashed da Silva’s hopes several hours later by throwing out Aurelio’s ruling at the request of Attorney General Raquel Dodge.

Dodge released a statement earlier criticizing Aurelio’s decision, saying that keeping those convicted in prison “is necessary to contribute to the end of impunity, and ensure the credibility of government institutions.”

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, a hard-right politician who takes office Jan. 1, took to Twitter to congratulate Toffoli for overturning the decision. Bolsonaro said it would have benefited tens of thousands of prisoners and put Brazil at risk.

Da Silva is the defendant in nine cases related to the mammoth “Car Wash” corruption investigation that has upended Brazilian politics, leading to da Silva’s leftist Workers Party losing power as well as numerous business executives and top politicians from a variety of parties ending up in prison.

Back and forth rulings of this type have become common in Brazil, where many people see the justice system as becoming highly politicized with courts playing ideological favorites.

“This type of ruling brings a strong component of instability and political radicalization to the Supreme Court,” said Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University. “We have seen over the last months both the left and the right accusing the Supreme Court of becoming heavily politicized and interfering in areas that are outside its purview.”

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Australian leader Scott Morrison visits troops in Iraq

SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a pre-Christmas visit to hundreds of troops in Iraq, telling them he wanted to say thank you from “one Australian to another.”

But Morrison canceled a planned visit to Afghanistan on the advice of the defense force chief due to operational security reasons.

Morrison traveled to Iraq on Wednesday to meet special forces soldiers and other Australian military personnel who are training the Iraqi Army to combat the Islamic State group.

It was the conservative prime minister’s first visit to the Middle East since he took the top job in August.

“I understand it’s a sacrifice. I understand it’s a big thing to be away from your family at this time of year,” Morrison told troops at the Taji military complex north of Baghdad. “And that’s why I’ve decided to come just to say ‘thank you’ from one Australian to another.”

Morrison broke bread with hundreds of soldiers across Iraq from before dawn until after dark. He stressed that he would honor their contributions long after their active service ended.

He said that for many troops, it would be the first Christmas away from their families and friends, while others had endured the tyranny of distance before.

“On behalf of my family, to you and your families, I want to say thank you very much for your service,” Morrison said. “But I also want to thank you as a prime minister, as the leader of the government, as a member of the Australian Parliament, on behalf of our entire nation.”

There are currently about 800 Australian soldiers deployed in Iraq, including about 300 who are involved in Task Force Taji.

The rotating group has trained almost 40,000 Iraqi soldiers since its mission began in 2015. Its focus has gradually shifted from delivering front-line training to mentoring Iraqi security forces.

Capt. Steve Moye, who is beginning his first deployment, said he has noticed an immediate impact.

“Even just in the four weeks we’ve been here, the improvement in the individual skills of the Iraqi soldiers has been exponential,” he said.

With a wife and two kids back home in Brisbane, Moye reshuffled birthday parties and opened Christmas presents early before he was deployed overseas. He said he wasn’t sure how he would cope on Christmas Day.

Handshakes and small talk gave way to brass bands and a bilateral meeting when Morrison sat down with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi at his palace in Baghdad. Abdul-Mahdi stressed the need for ongoing security cooperation to liberate Iraq from the Islamic State group and on improving economic relations to drive investment and jobs.

“The stability of Iraq is the stability of the region, and the stability of the region would be stability for the whole world,” he said.

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Morocco: Terrorist ties to Scandinavian hiker slaying

RABAT, Morocco – The lone suspect arrested in the killing of two Scandinavian tourists is connected to a terrorist group, and three other suspects are on the run, Moroccan prosecutors and a security official said Wednesday.

State television 2M reported on its website that authorities consider the two women’s slayings a terrorist act. Local media reported that the suspects had links to the Islamic State group.

The killing has shocked Morocco, a popular tourist destination where such attacks on foreigners are extremely rare. The bodies of the women, one Danish and one Norwegian, were found Monday in the Atlas Mountains, a destination prized by hikers.

The Rabat public prosecutor’s office said in a statement Wednesday that the only captured suspect has affiliations to a terrorist group, without naming the group.

The suspect was arrested in Marrakech on Tuesday. Three other suspects have been identified and but are still on the run, a security official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.

Broadcaster 2M released photos and videos Wednesday of forensic investigators and others working around the women’s brightly colored tent on a rocky hillside. The broadcaster said the tent held food and belongings for three people, including an ID card.

The bodies were found in a remote mountainous region, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the village of Imlil — often the starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak.

Moroccan media outlets reported that investigators have video surveillance footage showing three suspects putting up a tent near the victims’ tent and leaving the area after the slaying.

Authorities in Denmark and Norway have warned their citizens from hiking without local guides in Morocco.

Danish police officials said Wednesday they sent an officer to Morocco to assist in the investigation.