Category Archives: World

Trump attacks 'fake news' following Kushner reports

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump attacked the news media and dismissed leaks from the White House as “fake news” on Sunday, following reports his son-in-law tried to set up a secret channel of communications with Moscow before Trump took office.

Shortly after Trump’s remarks on Twitter, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly made the rounds of Sunday television news shows to praise any so-called back channel communications, especially with Russia, as “a good thing.”

The Republican president returned to the White House after a nine-day trip to the Middle East and Europe that ended on Saturday to face more questions about alleged communications between Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington.

“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media,” Trump wrote in a series of Twitter posts on Sunday.

In a statement later on Sunday night, carried by the New York Times, Trump praised Kushner and the work he has done in the White House.

“Jared is doing a great job for the country,” he said. “I have total confidence in him. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person.”

The White House faces mounting questions about potential ties between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign, which are also the subject of criminal and congressional investigations.

Trump officials were preparing to establish a “war room” to address an issue that has begun to dominate his young presidency.

Aides said Trump was expected to meet with lawyers as early as Sunday, the New York Times reported.

‘DASHBOARD WARNING LIGHT’

Two Republican U.S. senators played down the Kushner reports on Sunday, while the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, took a darker view of such contacts with representatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“My dashboard warning light was clearly on and I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence community – very concerned about the nature of these approaches to the Russians,” Clapper told NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, had contacts with Moscow in December about opening a secret back channel of communications, according to news reports published while Trump was away on his trip.

The 36-year-old Kushner, a real estate developer with no previous government experience, had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, seven current and former U.S. officials told Reuters.

“Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names,” Trump wrote, “it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!”

Contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials during the campaign coincided with what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was a Kremlin effort through computer hacking, fake news and propaganda to boost Trump’s chances of winning the White House.

‘A GOOD THING’

White House officials defended the concept of secret communications channels without commenting specifically on the Kushner case. National security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters on Saturday that so-called back-channeling was not unusual.

Kelly, the homeland security secretary, carried the same message on Sunday.

“It’s both normal, in my opinion, and acceptable,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organizations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us, is a good thing.”

Kelly told “Fox News Sunday” there was nothing wrong with the Trump transition team trying to build relationships with the Russians as they prepared to take over the White House.

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said such secret channels may be used in situations including peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan or for the release of American hostages.

“But for people associated with the campaign after that campaign has ended and where the Russians during that campaign were helping you, to try to establish a back channel and hide it from your own government, that’s a serious allegation,” he said.

Schiff was particularly concerned about a Washington Post report that the back channel would have been conducted at a Russian diplomatic facility to avoid monitoring in U.S. communications systems. “You have to ask, well, who are they hiding the conversation from?” he said on ABC.

Schiff said he expected Kushner, who serves as an unpaid adviser to Trump, to appear before his committee and suggested his security clearance be reviewed.

Kushner initially had come to the attention of FBI investigators last year as they began scrutinizing former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s connections with Russian officials, the two sources told Reuters.

Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN he doubted the Kushner reports were accurate. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, noted that Kushner has been willing to answer questions. “They reached out to us yesterday to make sure that we knew that was the case and I’m sure he’s willing to do so,” Corker said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Though he had not seen evidence of collusion when he stepped down on Jan. 20, Clapper said all the signs made an FBI investigation not only appropriate but necessary.

“Russia, at least for my money, is our primary adversary,” he told NBC. “They are not our friends. They are in to do us in.

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Putin set to visit France in hope of mending strained ties

MOSCOW: On a trip that will likely shape Russia-France ties for years to come, President Vladimir Putin is set to visit France for talks with newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron after expressing sympathy for his rivals during the campaign.

After Moscow lost its bets in the French vote, the visit offers the Russian leader a chance to turn the page and try to establish ties with Macron as the Kremlin has struggled to mend a bitter rift in relations with the West.

Monday’s meeting comes in the wake of the Group of Seven’s summit over the weekend where relations with Russia were part of the agenda, making Macron the first Western leader to speak to Putin after the talks.

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British Airways IT crash: Passengers face disruption

LONDON: British Airways passengers are facing a third day of disruption at Heathrow after an IT glitch blamed on outsourcing to India that grounded scores of planes, leaving thousands of travellers stranded over the weekend.

The airline said it intends to run a full schedule at Gatwick today and to operate a full long-haul schedule and a “high proportion” of its short-haul programme at Heathrow.

BA passengers have been told to check the status of their flights before travelling to the airports where scenes of chaos unfolded over the weekend.

The airline claimed it was making “good progress” in recovering from the worldwide IT glitch.

“We operated a full schedule at Gatwick on Sunday. At Heathrow, we operated virtually all our scheduled long-haul flights, though the knock-on effects of Saturday’s disruption resulted in a reduced short-haul programme,” Sky news quoted a BA spokeswoman said:

“We apologise again to customers for the frustration and inconvenience they are experiencing and thank them for their continued patience.”

Thousands of passengers had their travel plans disrupted as a result of the problem, with one workers’ union blaming the outsourcing of IT jobs to India for the chaos, a claim denied by the airline.

The company said there was no evidence the failure was the result of a cyber attack.

Experts predict the knock-on effect could continue for several days and BA is facing huge compensation costs, with reports suggesting the bill could top 100 million pound.

Passengers faced hours-long lines to check in, reclaim lost luggage or rebook flights at Terminal 5, BA’s hub at Heathrow.

Alex Cruz, the airline’s chairman and CEO, issued a video message on Twitter to reassure passengers about their lost luggage and apologise.

Alex Cruz, BA chairman and CEO, apologised to customers in a video message on Twitter and said, “I know this has been a horrible time for customers. Some of you have missed holidays, some of you have been stranded on aircraft, some of you have been separated from your bags. Many of you have been stuck in long queues whilst you waited for information.

“On behalf of everyone at BA I want to apologise for the fact that you had to go through these very trying experiences.”

BA operates hundreds of flights from Heathrow and Gatwick on a typical day — and both are major hubs for worldwide travel.

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Sri Lanka monsoon toll climbs to 164

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka‘s monsoon toll climbed to 164 with the discovery of more bodies of people buried in landslides triggered by intense rains, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said Monday.

Friday’s deluge also caused the island’s worst flooding in 14 years and drove nearly half a million people out of their inundated homes in the southern and western regions.

The DMC said 104 people were still listed as missing while another 88 remained in hospital.

Police said an air force Mi-17 transport helicopter crashed in the southern Baddegama area Monday while transporting relief supplies to flood victims.

“The helicopter crashed onto a house, but fortunately there were no casualties,” a police official in the area told AFP by telephone.

The air force has deployed a dozen aircraft for mercy missions to evacuate marooned villagers as well as carry food and other essentials to the affected areas.

The government said relief operations had intensified over the weekend following a break in the monsoon rains.

However, the meteorological department said it expected more rain on Monday and Tuesday that could hamper relief operations.

Flood waters were receding in the worst affected districts of Ratnapura and Kalutara but the authorities said cleaning up operations could take weeks.

Nearly 2,000 houses were damaged or destroyed.

Sri Lanka has sought international assistance, with India sending two naval ships laden with supplies over the weekend.

The United Nations said it would donate water containers, water purification tablets and tarpaulin sheets while the World Health Organization will support medical teams in affected areas.

Pakistan was in talks with Colombo to send relief supplies. Islamabad recently gave 10,000 tonnes of rice to Sri Lanka to help drought victims.

The meteorological department said the rains ended a prolonged drought that had threatened agriculture as well as hydropower generation.

The flooding is the worst since May 2003 when 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon, officials said.

Monsoon rains last year caused flooding and landslides, killing more than 100 people.

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North Korea fires missile in latest provocation

SEOUL: North Korea test-fired a missile Monday into Japan’s maritime economic zone — the latest in a series of provocative launches that have ratcheted up tensions over its nuclear weapons ambitions.

It was the North’s third ballistic missile test in as many weeks and the 12th this year — carried out in defiance of UN sanctions warnings and US threats of possible military action.

US military monitors said the short-range missile flew for six minutes, while Japan said it fell into the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) — waters extending 200 nautical miles from its coast.

The launch comes in fresh defiance of tough talk from US President Donald Trump, who promised last week at the G7 summit that the “big problem” of North Korea “will be solved”.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe swiftly condemned the test and vowed concerted action along with its US ally.

“We will never tolerate North Korea’s continued provocations that ignore repeated warnings by the international community,” Abe told reporters.

“As agreed during the G7 summit, the North Korean problem is the international community’s top priority. In order to deter North Korea, we will take concrete action with the United States.”

The North has been stepping up efforts towards its ultimate goal — developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that can deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental US.

The isolated but nuclear-armed North has test-fired a missile almost every week for the past three weeks.

The latest, a short-range Scud, flew about 450 kilometres (280 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) between the Korean peninsula and Japan, the US Pacific Command said.

Monday’s test also marked the second time this year that a North Korean missile fell provocatively close to its neighbour Japan.

Despite Trump’s strident warnings, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in an interview that aired Sunday before the launch that a war with North Korea would be “catastrophic.”

“The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, which is the capital of South Korea,” he told CBS News.

“This regime is a threat to the region, to Japan, to South Korea. And in the event of war, they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well.

“But the bottom line is, it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into a combat, if we’re not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means.”

Mattis declined to say what kind of action from Pyongyang would constitute a “red line” for Washington, saying the administration needs “political manoeuvre room.”

South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-In, ordered a meeting of the national security council to assess the launch, which came a day after North Korea said its leader Kim Jong-Un had overseen a test of a new anti-aircraft weapons system.

The South condemned the test as a “grave threat” and a challenge to the new leader who advocates dialogue with the North in a break from his conservative predecessors.

“That the North repeated such provocations after the inauguration of our new leadership… is a direct challenge to our demand for peace and denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” the foreign ministry said.

The missile launches, and Pyongyang’s threat to stage its sixth nuclear test, have prompted calls for tougher UN sanctions and a warning from Trump that military intervention was an option under consideration.

Following North Korea’s test-firing of what analysts said was its longest-range rocket yet earlier this month, the UN Security Council vowed to push all countries to tighten sanctions against Pyongyang.

But China, the North’s main trade partner and ally, has made it clear that the push for diplomatic talks — and not imposing more sanctions — is the priority.

The US has said it is willing to enter into talks with North Korea — but only if it halts its missile and nuclear tests.

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Merkel warns US, Britain no longer reliable partners

FRANKFURT AM MAIN: Europe “must take its fate into its own hands” faced with a western alliance divided by Brexit and Donald Trump‘s presidency, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday.

“The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days,” Merkel told a crowd at an election rally in Munich, southern Germany.

“We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” she added.

While Germany and Europe would strive to remain on good terms with America and Britain, “we have to fight for our own destiny”, Merkel went on.

Special emphasis was needed on warm relations between Berlin and newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron, she said.

The chancellor had just returned from a G7 summit which wound up Saturday without a deal between the US and the other six major advanced nations on upholding the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Merkel on Saturday labelled the result of the “six against one” discussion “very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory”.

Trump offered a more positive assessment on Twitter Sunday, writing: “Just returned from Europe. Trip was a great success for America. Hard work but big results!”

The US president had earlier tweeted that he would reveal whether or not the US would stick to the global emissions deal — which he pledged to jettison on the campaign trail — only next week.

On a previous leg of his first trip abroad as president, Trump had repeated past criticism of NATO allies for failing to meet the defensive alliance’s military spending commitment of two percent of GDP.

Observers noted that he neglected to publicly endorse the pact’s Article Five, which guarantees that member countries will aid the others they are attacked.

The omission was especially striking as he unveiled a memorial to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the US, the only time the mutual defence clause has been triggered.

Trump also reportedly described German trade practices as “bad, very bad,” in Brussels talks last week, complaining that Europe’s largest economy sells too many cars to the US.

Sunday’s event saw Merkel renew bonds with the Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister party to her own centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), ahead of a parliamentary vote in September.

Polls show the chancellor, in power since 2005, on course to be re-elected for a fourth term.

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Two dead, 18 hurt in China knife attack: State media

BEIJING: A knife attacker killed two people and injured 18 in a rampage in southwest China, state media reported, the latest such attack in recent years.

The man, aged 30 and believed to be suffering from mental health problems, is in police custody after the assault in Guizhou Province, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

All twenty victims were rushed to hospital after the attack, but two later died, said the report.

Few other details were available.

Knife attacks are not uncommon in China.

In January a man armed with a kitchen knife stabbed 11 children at a kindergarten in China’s southern Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

In February last year, a knife-wielding assailant wounded 10 children in Haikou, in the southern island province of Hainan, before committing suicide.

In 2014 state media reported that a man stabbed three children and a teacher to death and wounded several others in a rampage at a primary school that refused to enrol his daughter.

That followed a March 2013 incident in which a man killed two relatives and then slashed 11 people, including six children, outside a school in China’s commercial hub Shanghai.

Violent crime has been on the rise in China in recent decades as the nation’s economy has boomed and the gap between rich and poor has expanded rapidly.

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Airstrikes kill 17 in Syria near de-facto IS capital, Raqqa

BEIRUT: Syrian opposition activist groups say airstrikes have killed at least 17 people just south of the northern city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 18 people were killed in the airstrikes on the road between the villages of Ratla and Kasrat. It said Sunday’s airstrikes hit buses, adding that the identity of the dead is not known.

The activist-operated Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said 17 civilians were killed in the airstrike on buses carrying civilians.

Both groups blamed the U.S.-led coalition, which has been carrying out airstrikes in Syria against IS since September 2014.

U.S.-backed Syrian fighters have been marching toward Raqqa for weeks under the cover of coalition airstrikes.

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New Russian jet takes to air to rival Airbus, Boeing

MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday held a successful test flight of its new MC-21 medium-haul passenger jet that it hopes will revive its troubled civil aviation industry and challenge giants Airbus and Boeing.

The plane, whose prototype was unveiled last June, flew for 30 minutes at a height of 1,000 metres and a speed of 300 kilometres (186 miles) per hour, said its makers, the Irkut Corporation aircraft manufacturer.

The plane took off from the Siberian city of Irkutsk where the Irkut company is based, said Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, writing on Twitter.

Rogozin, who oversees aviation and space, wrote as he watched at the scene: “We’re flying!”

President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov told RIA Novosti state news agency that Rogozin “by phone reported to Putin that our medium-haul plane took wing, carrying out its first test flight.”

The president of Irkut, Oleg Demchenko, said in a statement that “today is a historic day for our staff and for all the big team that worked on creating the MC-21.”

The jet was piloted by two of the country’s most decorated test pilots, Oleg Kononenko and Roman Taskayev.

Kononenko, who has been awarded the Hero of Russia medal, said that the “flight assignment was completed fully” and the “flight went normally.”

“There were no negative points identified that prevented the continuation of the tests,” Kononenko was quoted as saying by the company.

Rogozin posted on Twitter photos of workers tossing one of the test pilots into the air after the flight.

The MC-21 can carry up to 211 passengers and is designed for the mass-market travel industry. It can fly up to 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles), according to the makers.

Russia has its hopes set on competing with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, which dominate the international civil aviation market.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said last year he hoped the new plane “will compete with other countries.”

The makers promise a “new level of comfort” for passengers thanks to the largest fuselage in the plane’s class and large windows.

Irkut says it has signed contracts with a number of airlines, including Russian flagship carrier Aeroflot, UTair and the Kyrgyzstan Air Company.

Rogozin said last week the company has 185 firm orders for the plane, quoted by RIA Novosti.

The maiden flight comes six years after Russia’s short-haul Sukhoi Superjet aircraft came into service in 2011. They have since suffered serious technical issues that have forced the plane’s grounding.

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25-year-old arrested over Manchester attack: Police

LONDON: British police said they had arrested a 25-year-old man Sunday and were conducting a search of a house in connection with the suicide bombing that killed 22 people at a Manchester pop concert.

Officers arrested the man on terror charges in Old Trafford, to the east of the city, and were searching an address in the Moss Side area of Manchester, according to a statement from Greater Manchester Police.

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