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Washington- The United States and Britain accused Russia on Friday of fabricating a story about chemical weapons use by Syrian rebels and warned Moscow against undermining a shaky truce. Russia’s defense ministry said rebels fired weapons containing chlorine on November 24 on the regime-held city of Aleppo, with Syrian state media reporting that around 100 Syrians were hospitalised for breathing difficulties. Russia responded to the purported attack with air raids on Idlib, the latest major stronghold of rebels and jihadists battling President Bashar al-Assad, throwing into question a truce reached in mid-September. The United States said it had “credible information” that the chlorine account was false and that Russian and Syrian forces instead had fired tear gas. “The United States is deeply concerned that pro-regime officials have maintained control of the attack site in its immediate aftermath, allowing them to potentially fabricate samples and contaminate the site before a proper investigation of it by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. “We caution Russia and the regime against tampering with the suspected attack site and urge them to secure the safety of impartial, independent inspectors so that those responsible can be held accountable,” he said. He said that Russia and Syria were “using it as an opportunity to undermine confidence in the ceasefire in Idlib.” In a similar statement, Britain said it was “highly unlikely” that chlorine or the opposition were involved in the incident. “It is likely that this was either a staged incident intended to frame the opposition, or an operation which went wrong and from which Russia and the regime sought to take advantage,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said, also backing an investigation by the OPCW,  the international chemical weapons watchdog. Western powers, the United Nations and human rights groups have repeatedly pointed to chemical attacks by Assad’s forces. A sarin gas attack in April 2017 in the town of Khan Sheikhun killed 83 people, according to the UN. US President Donald Trump replied by ordering 59 cruise missiles to strike a Syrian air base, a reversal from his predecessor Barack Obama’s controversial reluctance to respond militarily. Russia, the top international backer of Assad, and the Syrian government both denied the incident, saying footage of suffering victims including children was staged. In the latest incident, a US official said that suspicions were raised as Russia and Syria immediately put out similar official media accounts and quickly carried out strikes. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that witnesses did not report the odor of chlorine that is characteristic of such attacks. “Technical analysis of videos and images of munition remnants indicate the mortars portrayed in Russian media are not suitable for delivering chlorine,” the official said. Russia’s allegations over the latest incident come amid elusive efforts to find a political solution to Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions. Negotiators from Russia and fellow Assad ally Iran met last week with opposition supporter Turkey in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, making no apparent headway in a UN-backed goal of setting up a constitutional committee by the end of the year. But Russia and Turkey agreed to keep working to preserve the U-shaped buffer zone around Idlib, which is keeping pro-government forces out of the region. Jan Egeland, in a press conference last week before he stepped down as the head of the UN Humanitarian Task Force for Syria, warned that the flare-up amounted to “a...
Dec 10 2018 | Posted in : English News | No Comment | read more...
Mexico City-  Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is taking aim at the finances of the powerful Jalisco cartel in what a top anti-money laundering official said was an opening salvo in the fight to stop criminal gangs from flourishing with impunity. Santiago Nieto, new head of the finance ministry’s Financial Intelligence Unit, told Reuters on Thursday he had filed a complaint against three businesses and seven people linked to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. On Wednesday, the finance ministry had said Nieto’s unit filed its first complaint with prosecutors, but provided no details. The move against the Jalisco cartel, a relative newcomer that has risen to become one of Mexico’s most dangerous criminal gangs, sends a “first message” under Lopez Obrador, who took office Saturday, of his government’s determination to crack down on drug gang finances, Nieto said. “I am convinced the best way to prevent criminal behavior is by sending a message that these types of acts that violate trust and social norms will be punished,” he said in a telephone interview. Mexico’s drug war has raged for over a decade despite the capture of kingpins such as Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Although cartels have splintered, the flow of drugs north has continued unabated, while violence in Mexico has hit record levels. In October, the United States offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspected leader of the Jalisco organization, Nemesio Oseguera, also known as “El Mencho.” In a statement, the US embassy in Mexico said it welcomed increased collaboration with the Mexican government “on these critical issues, with the goal of improving security and stability on both sides of the border.” “Investigating and prosecuting the illicit financial flows of transnational criminal organizations are key steps toward ultimately dismantling them,” it said. Nieto said he was able to quickly file his complaints with prosecutors because the businesses and people they targeted already appeared on the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) so-called blacklist of drug traffickers. Complaints from the Financial Intelligence Unit generally include sufficient evidence to prompt prosecutors to open criminal investigations. Leftist Lopez Obrador, who has pledged to fight corruption, has repeatedly stressed that he wants good relations with the United States, Mexico’s neighbor and top trade partner. To improve prosecutions, Lopez Obrador will need to overhaul the attorney general’s office (PGR), which has been criticized for failing to punish money launderers by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global organization that sets standards for fighting illicit finance. “A lack of intelligence is not the issue. The problem is how do you transform that intelligence into evidence you can bring to a court of law,” said Alejandro Hope, an analyst who worked for Mexico’s national security intelligence agency, “We will see if the problems remain at PGR or not.” A FATF report this year pointed to a declining rate of already-low prosecutions based on data from the intelligence unit. Nieto said action by authorities slowed further in 2018 as previous president Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration concluded. The number of complaints from the unit declined and only three of them led to charges this year, he said. The new government would focus on filing more criminal complaints, freezing more bank accounts and seizing more goods and valuables from wrongdoers, Nieto added. He said the government would make a top priority of targeting the gangs and gas stations involved in rampant fuel theft. Lopez Obrador this week said he would soon unveil a plan...
Dec 10 2018 | Posted in : English News | No Comment | read more...
Washington- The Justice Department says that President Donald Trump directed illegal payments to buy the silence of two women whose claims of extramarital affairs threatened his presidential campaign, the first time prosecutors have connected Trump to a federal crime. In a court filing, prosecutors said former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen arranged the secret payments at the height of the 2016 campaign "in coordination with and at the direction of" Trump. Cohen has previously said Trump was involved in the hush-money scheme, but court documents filed ahead of Cohen's sentencing made clear prosecutors believe Cohen's claim. The filing stopped short of accusing the president of committing a crime. Whether a president can be prosecuted while in office remains a matter of legal dispute. But there's no ambiguity in Friday's filing that prosecutors believe Cohen's act was criminal and Trump was directly involved, a remarkable disclosure with potential political and legal ramifications for a president dogged by investigations. The payments are likely to become a target for House Democrats gearing up to investigate the president next year. It's unclear whether Trump faces legal jeopardy over his role. Federal law requires that any payments made "for the purposes of influencing" an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures. The court filing Friday makes clear that the payments were made to benefit Trump politically. In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including campaign finance violations, and detailed an illegal operation to stifle sex stories and distribute hush money to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who had both claimed they had affairs with Trump. Trump has denied having an affair. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid USD 130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement signed days before the 2016 election and is currently suing to dissolve that contract. Trump denied in April that he knew anything about Cohen's payments to Daniels, though the explanations from the president and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have shifted multiple times since then. Another attorney for the president, Jay Sekulow, did not immediately return a call for comment. Trump, in a Saturday morning tweet, said: "AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over USD 30,000,000), NO COLLUSION! In August 2016, the National Enquirer's parent company reached a USD 150,000 deal to pay McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair, which it never published, a tabloid practice known as catch and kill. In 2015, the company's chairman met with Cohen and Trump and "offered help with negative stories" about Trump's relationships with women by buying the rights to the stories, prosecutors said. After McDougal contacted the Enquirer, the chairman of its parent company, American Media Inc., contacted Cohen about the story. After Cohen promised the company would be reimbursed, the Enquirer paid McDougal USD 150,000, according to court documents. An audio recording released by Cohen in July appeared to capture Trump and Cohen discussing buying the rights to McDougal's story from the Enquirer's parent company. Trump's lawyers have said the payments were never made. Legal experts have said the issue of whether Trump violated the law would come down to whether Trump tried to influence the election and whether he knew it was legally improper. Former Sen. John Edwards, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, was indicted in 2011 in connection with payments made on his behalf by a wealthy campaign donor to keep Edwards' mistress quiet, which prosecutors argued amounted to illegal campaign contributions. Edwards argued the payments were meant to keep his wife from learning...
Dec 09 2018 | Posted in : English News | No Comment | read more...
London- A close ally of British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday became the first cabinet minister to float a possible Plan B if, as expected, Parliament next week rejects her plan to leave the European Union. With her own future in the balance, May insists her deal, laboriously negotiated with the EU over many months, is the only one on the table and that the alternatives are a painful ‘no-deal’ exit from the EU or possibly no Brexit at all. However, MPs, including from May’s own Conservative Party, look set to reject her deal, which envisages continued close ties with the EU, in a move that would pitch the world’s fifth-largest economy into even deeper uncertainty. While agreeing with May that her deal provides the best option for exiting the EU, Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Minister, said a Norway-style relationship with the bloc might also offer a way out of the current deadlock. “If it (May’s plan) doesn’t get through anything could happen: people’s vote, Norway plus, any of these options could come forward,” she told BBC radio on Saturday. Rudd told The Times newspaper in an interview her own preferred option, if May’s deal failed, was the “Norway Plus” model, adding it “seems plausible not just in terms of the country but in terms of where the MPs are”. Norway is not an EU member but is in the bloc’s single market, which allows for free movement of goods, capital, services and people. ‘Norway plus’ envisages Britain also staying in the EU’s customs union, which Norway is not in. The Times also reported on Saturday that plans were being made across party lines to vote against May’s leadership if she loses Tuesday’s vote. The Daily Telegraph quoted a senior Conservative lawmaker as saying she might be forced to resign. Rudd said she believed May should stay on as prime minister even if parliament rejects her Brexit deal. “There is no question of her going,” Rudd told the BBC. But The Times said the main opposition Labour Party was seeking an alliance with rebel Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party, the small Northern Irish party which props up the minority government, to call a vote of no-confidence in May’s...
Dec 09 2018 | Posted in : English News | No Comment | read more...
Islamabad- Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused the US of "pushing Pakistan away" and said he would never want to have a relation with Washington where his country is treated like a "hired gun". "I would never want to have a relationship where Pakistan is treated like a hired gun -- given money to fight someone else's war," Khan said in an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday, referring to the 1980s war against the Soviet Union and the ongoing war on terror. “We should never put ourselves in this position again. It not only cost us human lives, devastation of our tribal areas, but it also cost us our dignity. We would like a proper relationship with the US,” he said. Asked to elaborate on the ideal nature of relationship that he would like to have with the US, Khan said: "For instance, our relationship with China is not one-dimensional. It's a trade relationship between two countries. We want a similar relationship with the US." He said Pakistan was not "hedging" towards China, rather it was Washington's attitude, which had brought a change in the bilateral relationship. "The US has basically pushed Pakistan away." Asked why he "harboured anti-US sentiments", Khan said disagreeing with Washington's policies did not make him "anti-American". "This is a very imperialistic approach. You are either with me or against me."  Khan condemned the 2011 US operation in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, saying that it was "humiliating" that Washington did not trust Pakistan to kill the terrorist. "It was humiliating that we were losing our soldiers and civilians and (suffering terrorist) bomb attacks because we were participating in the US war, and then our ally did not trust us to kill Bin Laden," he said, adding that the US "should have tipped off Pakistan". "We did not know whether we were a friend or a foe." He also dismissed claims that there were safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan, saying that "there are no sanctuaries in Pakistan". Referring to US President Donald Trump's South Asia policy, Khan said he was committed to having dialogue to achieve peace in war-torn Afghanistan. "I talked for years about how there was no military solution in Afghanistan and they called me Taliban Khan. Now I'm happy that everyone realises there is only a political solution." Welcoming the US bid to engage in talks with the Afghan Taliban, he said that Islamabad did not want the US to leave Afghanistan in a hurry as they did in 1989. "The last thing we want is to have chaos in Afghanistan. There should be a settlement this time."...
Dec 08 2018 | Posted in : English News | No Comment | read more...
Hamburg- Germany’s Christian Democrats elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Friday to replace Angela Merkel as party leader, a decision that moves her into pole position to succeed Europe’s most influential leader as chancellor. Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, is Merkel’s protege and was the continuity candidate favoured by the party elite. She won the leadership with 517 votes out of 999 votes cast by delegates. Her rival, Friedrich Merz, won 482 votes in a run-off. A former state premier in Saarland, where she led a three-way coalition, Kramp-Karrenbauer has a reputation for uniting support across the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a talent for striking alliances with other parties. Sometimes dubbed “mini-Merkel”, Kramp-Karrenbauer is admired by the CDU upper echelons for her appeal across the party. “I have read a lot about what I am and who I am: ‘mini’, a copy, simply ‘more of the same’. Dear delegates, I stand before you as I am and as life made me and I am proud of that,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a passionate speech to the congress. Playing up her experience in regional government, she added to cheers and loud applause: “I learned what it is to lead, and above all learnt that leadership is more about being strong on the inside than being loud on the outside.” Merkel said in October she would step down as party chief but remain chancellor, an effort to manage her exit after a series of setbacks since her divisive decision in 2015 to keep German borders open to refugees fleeing war in the Middle East. Earlier, an emotional Merkel bowed out as party leader, telling the congress: “It has been a great pleasure for me, it has been an honour.” Kramp-Karrenbauer has differentiated herself from Merkel on social and foreign policy by voting in favour of quotas for women on corporate boards and taking a tougher line on Russia. She said last week that Europe and the United States should consider blockading Russian ships over the Ukraine crisis. ‘Mini-Merkel’ is new CDU boss Hamburg- Germany’s Christian Democrats elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Friday to replace Angela Merkel as party leader, a decision that moves her into pole position to succeed Europe’s most influential leader as chancellor. Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, is Merkel’s protege and was the continuity candidate favoured by the party elite. She won the leadership with 517 votes out of 999 votes cast by delegates. Her rival, Friedrich Merz, won 482 votes in a run-off. A former state premier in Saarland, where she led a three-way coalition, Kramp-Karrenbauer has a reputation for uniting support across the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a talent for striking alliances with other parties. Sometimes dubbed “mini-Merkel”, Kramp-Karrenbauer is admired by the CDU upper echelons for her appeal across the party. “I have read a lot about what I am and who I am: ‘mini’, a copy, simply ‘more of the same’. Dear delegates, I stand before you as I am and as life made me and I am proud of that,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a passionate speech to the congress. Playing up her experience in regional government, she added to cheers and loud applause: “I learned what it is to lead, and above all learnt that leadership is more about being strong on the inside than being loud on the outside.” Merkel said in October she would step down as party chief but remain chancellor, an effort to manage her exit after a series of setbacks since her divisive decision in 2015 to keep German borders open to refugees fleeing war in the Middle East. Earlier, an emotional Merkel bowed out as party leader, telling the congress: “It has been a great pleasure for me, it has been an...
Dec 08 2018 | Posted in : English News | No Comment | read more...
London- Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday that British lawmakers faced a choice ahead of a vote on her Brexit deal: approving her deal or facing an exit with no deal or even the reversal of Brexit. May said she was speaking to lawmakers about giving parliament a bigger role in whether the Northern Irish backstop arrangement would be triggered, though she gave few details. May said some in parliament were trying to frustrate Brexit and that she did not think another referendum on Brexit was the right course. "There are three options: one is to leave the European Union with a deal... the other two are that we leave without a deal or that we have no Brexit at all," May told BBC radio. "It's clear that there are those in the House of Commons who want to frustrate Brexit... and overturn the vote of the British people and that's not right." May repeatedly sidestepped questions on whether she would delay the Dec. 11 vote but did hint at possible concessions on the Northern Irish backstop. "There are questions about how decisions are taken as to whether we go into the backstop, because that isn’t an automatic," she said. "The question is: do we go into the backstop? Do we extend what I call the implementation period?"...
Dec 07 2018 | Posted in : English News | No Comment | read more...
Washington- Democrats taking control of the US House of Representatives in January plan to send Special Counsel Robert Mueller the transcripts of testimony by some of President Donald Trump’s closest associates so they can be reviewed for evidence and possible falsehoods said three sources familiar with the matter. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, son Donald Trump Jr, former advisers Roger Stone and Corey Lewandowski, personal aide Rhona Graff and former personal aides Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller all testified before the House Intelligence Committee while it was under control of its outgoing Republican majority. The sources said the transcripts of those interviews will be among those sent to Mueller’s team, which is investigating Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion by Trump’s campaign team. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, last week pleaded guilty to lying to two congressional committees about a proposed Trump Organization skyscraper in Moscow, including efforts to push ahead with the project even as Trump was running for president. That guilty plea triggered speculation that Democrats would push again to have the testimony of other Trump associates reviewed. At a House Intelligence Committee meeting in late September, Republicans rejected a proposal by Democrats that the full transcripts of interviews conducted by the committee during its own probe into allegations of Russian election interference be sent to Mueller and his team. Republicans did vote at that meeting to send 53 transcripts to the Director of National Intelligence for declassification and eventual release. So far, the committee has only made public the transcripts of interviews with three witnesses: former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, private military contractor Erik Prince, and Glenn Simpson, the founder of a research firm which hired a former British spy to produce a controversial dossier on alleged links between Trump and Russia. A spokesman for the committee’s incoming Democratic chairman, Representative Adam Schiff, said sending the transcripts to Mueller would not constitute a recommendation that criminal charges be brought, although that has also not been ruled out. “We do not foreclose the possibility of making a referral, but all we have decided is to provide the Special Counsel with the transcripts so that his team can evaluate them for evidence as well as potential perjury,” said the spokesman, Patrick Boland. In public statements, Schiff has singled out Roger Stone, who was an informal Trump campaign adviser, as someone who may have tried to mislead the committee. Two sources told Reuters that they expect Mueller’s office to examine the transcripts of the testimony from Stone as well as key Trump associates including Kushner and Donald Jr for possible falsehoods.
Dec 07 2018 | Posted in : English News | No Comment | read more...