Category Archives: World

Pak minister vows to quit in fresh blow to Sharif

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan said on Thursday he would quit his post once the Supreme Court has ruled on corruption accusations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whatever the verdict.

The announcement by one of Sharif’s longstanding political allies marks a fresh blow for the premier as he awaits a ruling, expected on Friday, that could disqualify him from office.

Khan said he had clashed with members of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) over how to tackle the Panama Papers leak, which led to an investigation into how Sharif obtained his wealth.

Sharif this month dismissed as slander a report from the corruption investigation that raised questions about his wealth.

“The day Supreme Court decides – whether it is in favour of Nawaz Sharif or against him – I have decided I will quit my ministry and I will also quit the National Assembly,” Khan said.

Khan said his heart was no longer in politics and he wanted to end his 33-year association with PML-N.

“I’m done with politics,” Khan told a news conference.

Khan’s importance to PML-N over the years has been enhanced by his close ties with Pakistan’s powerful military. Khan’s elder brother once served as chief of the army general staff and his brother-in-law was also a powerful general.

Analysts say Khan has often acted as a bridge between the military and Sharif, who has had tumultuous relations with the army during his three stints in power.

SUPREME COURT VERDICT

Khan praised Sharif’s decency during his news conference, but he lashed out against sycophants close to the premier and spoke of a conspiracy to exclude him from meetings.

“I had the courage to tell the truth in front of Nawaz Sharif no matter how bitter that truth was,” Nisar said.

Political analyst Rasul Baksh Rais said the Supreme Court’s decision would make or break the PML-N’s fortunes in elections due next year, but added that Khan’s departure would have little impact.

“If the ruling goes against Mr. Nawaz Sharif, then the Muslim League-N is not going to maintain its coherence, its public appeal. It will lose and the winner will be … (opposition leader) Imran Khan” said Rais, who teaches politics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Any ruling short of disqualification would mean “politics as usual”, he added.

Muslims enter Jerusalem holy site for first time in two weeks

JERUSALEM: Palestinians ended a boycott and entered a sensitive Jerusalem holy site for the first time in two weeks on Thursday after Israel removed controversial security measures there, potentially ending a crisis that sparked deadly unrest.

AFP journalists saw thousands of worshippers streaming into the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, for afternoon prayers. The site includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

A last-minute confrontation threatened to derail the planned end of the boycott as Israeli police were keeping one of the gates leading to the holy site closed.

The gate is where two Israeli policemen were killed on July 14, prompting the new security measures.

Police later opened the gate and Palestinians stuck to their plan to end the boycott.

A tense standoff had been underway between Israel and Muslim worshippers at the holy site despite the removal of metal detectors on Tuesday.

Newly installed railings and scaffolding where cameras were previously mounted were also cleared early Thursday, after which police said all new security measures had now been removed.

Muslims had refused to enter the compound and prayed in the streets outside after Israel installed the new security measures.

Palestinians viewed the move as Israel asserting further control.

In response to the removal of the security measures, Muslim authorities called on worshippers to return.

Israeli authorities said the metal detectors were needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the compound and emerged from it to attack the officers.

Deadly unrest erupted in the days after the new measures were introduced, with clashes breaking out around the compound and in the occupied West Bank, leaving five Palestinians dead.

A Palestinian also broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank last week and stabbed four Israelis, killing three of them.

Some people can't see past my skin colour: Michelle Obama

DENVER: Michelle Obama says breaking the glass ceiling in becoming the first black first lady left a few lasting emotional scars.

Obama spoke at an event for the Women’s Foundation of Colorado in Denver on Wednesday night. The Denver Post reports Obama (http://dpo.st/2uYFY04 ) said she was hurt “knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who won’t see me for what I am because of my skin color.”

The Post says she referenced people calling her an ape and talking about her body.

Obama says she wants the world to know women endure “small tiny cuts” every day “and we’re still getting up.”

She reiterated she wouldn’t seek public office but she and former President Barack Obama would remain in public service.

Russia signs deal to use Syria air base for 49 years

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin has signed a law ratifying a deal with the Syrian government allowing Russia to keep its air base in Syria for almost half a century, official documents show.

The original deal, signed in Damascus in January, sets out the terms under which Russia can use its Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province which it has used to carry out air strikes against forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin approved the agreement on Wednesday, after the two chambers of the Russian parliament backed it earlier this month, according to the government’s official information portal.

The document says Russian forces will be deployed at the Hmeymim base for 49 years with the option of extending that arrangement for 25-year periods.

The base has been at the heart of Moscow’s military foray since it intervened in the conflict in September 2015, helping turn the tide in favour of Assad, one of Russia’s closest Middle East allies.

Tears in rain: North Korea marks 'Victory Day'

PYONGYANG: In heavy rain, North Koreans put down their umbrellas to bow before the mausoleum of founder Kim Il Sung and his son on Thursday as the country marked the end of the Korean War, which it calls Victory Day.

There had been widespread speculation in US and South Korean intelligence circles that the North might choose to mark the anniversary with a fresh missile launch, following its first successful test earlier this month of an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts judged capable of reaching Alaska or Hawaii.

As of late Thursday, no such launch had materialised and, in Pyongyang, the day was given over to memorialising the ruling Kim dynasty as the defenders of the nation.

“Our country is ever-victorious because we have the greatest leaders in the world,” said Hong Yong-Dok, who was at the Kumsusan Palace with his granddaughters.

The Korean people had suffered at the hands of “US imperialists for ages, and even my parents were killed by them in the Korean war. So we must teach our descendants to take revenge on the US imperialists,” he told AFP.

July 27, 1953 marks the signing of the armistice between China, North Korea, and US-backed United Nations forces that had fought each other to a stalemate over three years.

Nonetheless the North – whose invasion of the South started the war, despite its insistence that it was invaded by the United States – regards itself as having won what it calls the Fatherland Liberation War.

The conflict left the peninsula devastated, with the South’s capital Seoul changing hands four times.

Korea has been divided ever since, with the now democratic South emerging from the wreckage to enjoy an economic boom that has propelled it to become Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

In the absence of a peace treaty the two sides are technically still at war, and under the Kim family dynasty, now in its third generation in leader Kim Jong-Un, the North has embraced an “army first” policy.

It has developed nuclear weapons, detonating five devices so far, and celebrated the recent ICBM test as a giant leap forward in its development of a credible delivery system to threaten the US mainland.

The North occasionally times its missile firings to coincide with significant anniversaries, leading to habitual speculation of an imminent test before each one.

Inside the Kumsusan Palace, a sprawling complex of colonnaded marble chambers and chandeliers, Kim and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il lie in state.

Their embalmed bodies rest in glass coffins on biers in separate halls suffused with dim red light, soldiers standing guard in each corner as a steady stream of visitors bows before them three times.

“I was moved to tears when I met the great leaders,” retired financial official Ri Sun-Gyong, 71, said afterwards, her voice trembling with emotion. “I always miss them.”

Ordinary North Koreans normally only express officially-approved sentiments when talking to international media.

Geopolitical tensions have mounted in recent months over the North’s weapons ambitions, which have seen it subjected to multiple rounds of United Nations sanctions, and Washington was expected later Thursday to formally declare a ban on US citizens visiting the country.

North Korean newspapers carried a commentary saying America’s “final ruin” was “already sealed” and it had “only one way out” — “to withdraw the anachronistic hostile policy toward the DPRK and kneel and apologise before its army and people”.

Despite his death in 1994, Kim Il-Sung remains Eternal President of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North is officially known, while Kim Jong-Il – who died in 2011 – is Eternal General-Secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party.

Pyongyang resident Kim Un-Sil, 40, took her seven-year-old son to Mansu Hill in the centre of the city, where giant statues of the two men look out over the capital, to pay their respects.

“I just wanted to tell my son, the new generation, that our Korean history is the history of victory,” she said.

US admiral stands ready to obey a Trump nuclear strike order

CANBERRA: The US Pacific Fleet commander said on Thursday he would launch a nuclear strike against China next week if President Donald Trump ordered it, and warned against the military ever shifting its allegiance from its commander in chief.

Adm Scott Swift was responding to a hypothetical question at an Australian National University security conference following a major joint US-Australian military exercise+ off the Australian coast. The drills were monitored by a Chinese intelligence-gathering ship off northeast Australia.

Asked by an academic in the audience whether he would make a nuclear attack on China next week if Trump ordered it, Swift replied: “The answer would be: yes.”

“Every member of the US military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as commander and chief appointed over us,” Swift said.

“This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem,” he added.

Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt Charlie Brown later said Swift’s answer reaffirmed the principle of civilian control over the military.

“The admiral was not addressing the premise of the question, he was addressing the principle of civilian authority of the military,” Brown said. “The premise of the question was ridiculous.”

The biennial Talisman Saber exercise involved 36 warships including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, 220 aircraft and 33,000 military personnel.

It was monitored by a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy Type 815 Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence vessel from within Australia’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

I'm not going anywhere: Rex Tillerson

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday that he was “not going anywhere,” denying news reports that he was considering leaving his post.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Tillerson told reporters at the State Department. Asked how long he would stay on, Tillerson turned and smiled, saying, “As long as the president lets me.”

Asked about his relationship with President Donald Trump, Tillerson said simply, “Good.”

The speculation over Tillerson’s remaining in Trump’s cabinet came after days of Trump publicly attacking Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump said Sessions had “taken a VERY weak position” on investigating his former opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private email server.

On Monday, Trump called Sessions “beleaguered.”

Donald Trump bans transgenders from serving in US military

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a ban on transgenders serving in the U.S military, opening up another political firefight while for the most part pleasing his conservative, Middle American base.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump wrote on Twitter in a surprise announcement.

“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” he added.

The move reversed transgenders’ hard-won rights during the Obama administration to serve in the military, among the several Obama-era liberal and progressive advances that Trump has rolled back.

By some accounts there are more than 15,000 transgender personnel in the U.S military. There is now growing apprehension that the issue of sexual orientation could return centerstage as conservatives seek to push back liberal gains of the last several years.

Coming on top of several contentious issues – notably healthcare — already roiling the country, the strike against transgenders surprised both Trump critics and supporters because he had presented himself during the presidential campaign as a friend of the LGBTQ community and a moderate on the issue.

To applause from the moderate wing of the party at the Republican convention, he promised to protect LGBTQ community “from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology” in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting, adding, “As a Republican, I’m so happy to hear you cheering for what I just said.”

Turns out that was either posturing or the ultraconservative wing of the party prevailed on him. As it is, conservative media outlets such as Drudge Report and Breitbart News are starting to turn critical because they are disappointed with the President not pressing forward with their conservative agenda.

Even India, with all the social stigma attached to transgenders (called Hijras), has made modest advances, including a transgender rights bill that calls for legal and civil rights despite the concurrent criminalization of homosexuality.

Expectedly, the White House strike against transgenders outraged Democrats and liberals.

“Every patriotic American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to serve. Full stop,” raged former vice-president Joe Biden even as legal challenges were being discussed in some quarters.

Some Republican lawmakers were also taken aback. “No American, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be prohibited from honor + privilege of serving our nation #LGBT,” tweeted Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who has a transgender son.

Also opposed to the Trump strike against transgenders — Senate Armed Services committee chairman John McCain, who came to the Hill from the hospital bed yesterday to give President a fighting chance to repeal Obamacare. McCain’s daughter Megan McCain is a gay rights activist who supports same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and gays and lesbians serving in the military.

Trump opened up the new front even as he continued to harangue his own cabinet colleague, administration appointees, and GOP lawmakers. For the third day running he hounded his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while admonishing another Republican Senator, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, for not supporting him on the Obamacare repeal effort.

US attorney general to unveil leak probes soon: Media reports

WASHINGTON: US attorney general Jeff Sessions plans to announce soon several criminal investigations into intelligence leaks, news outlets reported on Wednesday, as the nation’s top law enforcement official faced mounting criticism from President Donald Trump.

The announcement has “been in the works for some time and will most likely happen sometime in the next week,” Fox News reported, citing an unnamed US official. The Washington Post also reported the planned announcement, citing multiple unnamed officials.

The investigations will look at news stories that publicized sensitive intelligence material, according to the reports.

Officials at the US Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that Sessions has not aggressively pursued people who leaked intelligence secrets during his time in office, one of a series of criticisms apparently aimed at pushing the former Republican Alabama senator to step down.

Trump also said again he was frustrated that Sessions had recused himself from federal investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, but stopped short of saying whether he would fire him.

Top Republican lawmakers have rallied to Sessions’ defense as allies of the attorney general said Trump appeared to be trying to pressure him to quit by repeatedly criticizing him on Twitter and in interviews.

The latest apparent leak involved Sessions himself. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Russia’s ambassador to Washington was overheard via surveillance by US spy agencies telling his bosses that he had discussed campaign-related matters, including issues important to Moscow, with Sessions during the 2016 presidential race. The newspaper cited current and former US officials familiar with US intelligence intercepts.

Earlier this month, a report written by Republican members of the Senate’s homeland security panel said the Trump administration faced an “alarming” amount of media leaks that posed potential danger to national security and urged law enforcement officials to step up their investigations.

Separately, Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, told CNN on Wednesday that he recognized that leaks to the media “would never stop” but that he was determined to end any coming from the White House communications office.

On Tuesday, he told reporters on Air Force One after Trump’s trip to Ohio that he would probably restructure the communications operation at the White House and fire staff if leaks did not cease: “If the leaks continue, then I’ve got to let everybody go.”

Leaks of classified intelligence that endanger national security have customarily prompted investigations, including by the administration of President Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor.

Wildfires prompt 10,000 evacuations on French Riviera

MARSEILLE: Firefighters evacuated thousands of campers and local residents after a wildfire broke out on France’s tourist-thronged Riviera coast overnight.

The blaze was the latest of several wind-whipped fires that are ravaging forest and scrubland on the hills and slopes that spill into the Mediterranean sea between the Marseilles and the city of Nice in the southeastern corner of France.

Not far west of the yacht-filled marinas of Saint-Tropez resort, 10,000 people were evacuated – 3,000 of them from campsites – as a fast-encroaching fire ripped through the hills of La Lodes les Manures, the Lavabo and Bromes.

“A fast-spreading fire broke out at 22:50 (2050 GMT), burning up about 800 hectares of land,” the local government prefect’s office said in a statement.

Hundreds of firefighters fought the blaze with planes and helicopters dropping tonnes of water on the tinder box hills where fires regularly break out in summer time, often as a result of a carelessly discarded cigarette butt.

Thousands of hectares of land have been devastated by flames since the start of the week, although Tuesday night’s evacuation was far larger than other more minor ones where dozens of people and horses were moved to safety from fast-encroaching infernos.

High winds risked whipping up more fires, said the prefect’s office of the Vary region, where most of the blazes are located.

So far there have been no deaths reported in the summertime wildfires, unlike in other countries such as Portugal where they have killed dozens.