Category Archives: World
LAGOS: Boko Haram Islamists who kidnapped 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, northeast Nigeria, just over a month ago have returned 76 of the students to the town, the government said on Wednesday.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed said the release was “unconditional” and the result of “back-channel efforts” with the help of “some friends of the country”, without elaborating.
“The 76 are those who have been documented so far,” he said, adding that they were released at about 3am (0200 GMT) and that a full head-count was under way.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said last week the government had “chosen negotiation” to secure the return of the Dapchi girls rather than use military force.
Mohammed said: “For the release to work, the government had a clear understanding that violence and confrontation would not be the way out as it could endanger the lives of the girls, hence a non-violent approach was the preferred option.
“Within the period when the girls were being brought back, (an) operational pause was observed in certain areas to ensure free passage and also that lives were not lost.”
Nigeria’s presidency said separately that the girls were in the custody of the country’s intelligence agency, the Department of State Services.
The Dapchi kidnapping on February 19 brought back painful memories of a similar abduction in Chibok in April 2014, when more than 200 girls were taken.
Aisha Alhaji Deri, a 16-year-old student who was among those kidnapped in Dapchi, told reporters they were not mistreated during their time in captivity.
But she added: “When we were being taken away, five of us died on the way.
“They brought us back this morning, dropped us outside the motor park and said we should all go home and not go to the military because they will claim to have rescued us.”
Parents earlier told AFP the girls were brought back to Dapchi in nine vehicles at about 8am. Some of the students headed to their homes in surrounding villages.
Bashir Manzo, who heads a parents’ support group in Dapchi, said: “These girls were not accompanied by any security personnel.
“Their abductors brought them, dropped them outside the school and left, without talking to anyone.”
Parents in the remote town said the girls had been taken for medical check-ups after their ordeal and that security was tight in the town.
Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war during its nearly nine-year insurgency which has claimed at least 20,000 lives and made more than two million others homeless.
The Islamic State (IS) group affiliate has not claimed responsibility for the abduction but it is understood that a faction headed by Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi was behind it.
In August 2015, IS publicly backed Barnawi as leader of Boko Haram, or Islamic State West Africa Province, over Abubakar Shekau, whose supporters carried out the Chibok abduction.
Analysts have attributed a financial motive to the Dapchi kidnapping given government ransom payments made to Boko Haram to secure the release of some of the captives from Chibok.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International claimed that the military ignored repeated warnings about the movements of Boko Haram fighters before the kidnapping.
The military rejected the allegation, calling it an “outright falsehood”.
Similar claims were made about the hours leading up to the Chibok abduction, which brought sustained worldwide attention on the conflict for the first time.
The Chibok abduction also triggered a global campaign for their release, spearheaded by the US former first lady Michelle Obama. There was no similar campaign for the Dapchi girls.
Since May 2016, 107 Chibok girls have escaped, been found or been released as part of a government-brokered deal with the jihadists.
SINGAPORE: Singapore’s parliament Wednesday passed a controversial law giving authorities the power to block all electronic communications at the scene of a terror attack, despite protests it will erode media freedom.
The law allows police to stop anyone within the vicinity of what they deem to be a “serious incident”, including a terror attack, from taking photos and video or communicating about police operations through text and audio messages.
The government says the affluent financial hub is a prime target for militants, and that during attacks elsewhere live broadcasts unwittingly helped attackers to anticipate moves against them.
However activists argue the law risks further damaging an already poor record what it comes to press freedom in the tightly-controlled city-state.
Josephine Teo, the second minister for home affairs, told MPs the measure would only be used in a specific area and would be lifted when security operations are over.
“Reporting is still allowed, just not live reporting. We will allow selected media into the area for later coverage,” she said.
Lawmakers voted overwhelming in favour of the measure. Parliament is dominated by MPs from the People’s Action Party, which has governed Singapore for over five decades.
When the proposal was tabled in parliament earlier this year, Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said it would “black out the news precisely when the public needs to be accurately informed”.
Singapore’s domestic press is closely controlled. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks the country 151st out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, with a number-one ranking being the best.
Civil society groups have also raised concerns that the term “serious incident” is vaguely defined and could lead to authorities targeting already rare peaceful protests.
BUJUMBURA: Declared this month by supporters as Burundi‘s “eternal supreme guide,” President Pierre Nkurunziza now wants changes to the constitution that would let him rule until 2034. The referendum in May could spark further deadly violence in the African nation that the UN human rights chief has called one of “the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times.”
Nkurunziza is just the latest African leader to seek the dismantling of term limits to stay in power. Critics call his latest move a bid to be president for life.
In 2015 his decision to seek a disputed third term plunged the country into bloody protests that left an estimated 1,200 people dead, and International Criminal Court judges last year authorized an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored crimes including murder, rape and torture. More than 400,000 people have fled the country.
Even before Nkurunziza over the weekend signed a decree setting May 17 for the referendum, opposition and human rights groups accused ruling party members of arresting activists campaigning against the proposed changes to the constitution. Those include extending the president’s term from five years to seven, which means Nkurunziza could rule for another 14 years when his current term expires in 2020.
In Muyinga province, two local chiefs appear in videos circulated on social media urging people to “crush and arrest opponents campaigning for `no.”‘
And this week, police rejected concerns over the death on Sunday of Simon Bizimana, who had been detained after appearing in a video on social media talking about his refusal to register for the referendum. Bizimana died of malaria at home and “he was never tortured,” police said in a statement on Twitter.
Most of the people targeted belong to the FNL opposition party, whose leader Agathon Rwasa is Burundi’s most prominent opposition figure and the first vice president of the national assembly.
Rwasa told The Associated Press that his supporters would stand their ground despite the intimidation.
“You cannot force somebody to change his mind if he is not ready to change it,” he said.
Rwasa said he was concerned Nkurunziza’s party would instigate the publication of what he called fake referendum results. “I am sure this referendum will provoke a great divide in Burundians since many won’t vote yes,” he said.
The referendum has galvanized the opposition and activists who again are demanding Nkurunziza’s exit.
Burundian rights group Ligue Iteka has condemned the referendum, saying it “stirs up tensions” and noting Nkurunziza’s alleged threat in December that those who “oppose the constitution draft revision will suffer serious consequences.”
Vital Nshimirimana, the leader of a campaign by 23 civic groups against the proposed amendments, said the campaign’s goal is to stop the destruction of the Arusha accords, which ended a 13-year civil war in which about 300,000 people were killed. The accords also created a system of checks and balances in government and has been cited for calming the ethnic violence that has plagued the country since independence.
Nkurunziza rose to power in 2005 following the signing of the accords, then was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted the vote. He argued that he was eligible for a third term in 2015 because lawmakers, not the general population, had chosen him for his first term, while critics called the move unconstitutional.
The May referendum “is a very dangerous project for the future of the country as much as the country is still in an unsolved conflict related to the third term of Pierre Nkurunziza,” Nshimirimana said.
More than 60 people have been arrested for allegedly campaigning against the referendum, he said, citing the arrests as a sign that the vote will not be free and fair.
Burundian authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of serious rights abuses, saying they are the victim of propaganda by exiles opposed to the government. The authorities say the East African nation is safe for everyone.
The country’s first vice president, Gaston Sindimwo, has dismissed the strong criticism last month by the UN human rights chief as a fabrication. Many observers disagree.
Michel Kafando, the UN special envoy to Burundi, told the UN Security Council last month that the political situation continues to be tense.
“Only the majority party and some other allied groups are able to conduct unobstructed political activities,” he said. “Such a situation cannot be suitable for the organization of credible elections.”
TAIPEI: Taiwan said Wednesday it had scrambled jets and sent ships to track a Chinese aircraft carrier which passed through the Taiwan Strait as Beijing’s leader gave the island a fierce warning against separatism.
The Liaoning and accompanying vessels entered Taiwan’s air defence zone on Tuesday, the same day Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a blistering nationalistic speech- warning against what he called any attempts to split China.
“All acts and tricks to separate the country are doomed to fail and will be condemned by the people and punished by history,” Xi said in a speech ending the annual session of the National People’s Congress.
China, which sees self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, has stepped up air and naval patrols around the island since Beijing-sceptic President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in May 2016.
She refuses publicly to accept the “One China” formula agreed between Beijing and Taiwan’s previous government.
Chinese warplanes conducted 25 drills around Taiwan between August 2016 and mid-December last year, according to Taipei.
The Liaoning, China’s sole operational aircraft carrier, left around noon Wednesday, Taiwan’s defence ministry said.
The Soviet-built ship caused a stir in Taiwan when it first entered the strait in January last year in what was seen as a show of strength by Beijing.
It sailed past Taiwan again last July en route to Hong Kong and returned in January this year.
Taipei’s defence ministry said no unusual activities by the carrier group had been spotted “and we urge the public to rest assured”.
China still sees Taiwan as its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war and have been ruled separately ever since.
The carrier’s latest voyage came days after President Donald Trump signed new rules allowing top-level US officials to travel to Taiwan.
An irked Beijing has called on Washington to “correct its mistake”.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong is currently visiting the island and will speak at a business dinner alongside President Tsai later Wednesday.
China’s foreign ministry said it had lodged an official protest with Washington over Wong’s visit.
“We urge the United States to abide by the One China principle,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing in Beijing.
She called on the US to “stop any form of official exchanges and contacts with Taiwan, and prudently and properly handle Taiwan-related issues, so as to avoid serious damage to Sino-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.
KABUL: For days Hamida Barmaki‘s smiling face stared out over traffic in Kabul, painted in a towering mural near the home of the warlord blamed for her death, until it was mysteriously covered over in white.
The short-lived image on a concrete blast wall marked the beginning of a provocative campaign by social activist group ArtLords, whose artists are calling out Afghanistan‘s most powerful by depicting people killed by warlords in giant murals in public places.
They have been threatened on social media, branded infidels and told by gunmen and mullahs to stop painting — but are unrepentant.
“This was a warning shot to everyone that we will not let you sleep at night, we will come after you, we will paint in front of your homes,” ArtLords co-founder and president Omaid Sharifi told AFP at his studio in the Afghan capital.
Rather than seek justice for the countless victims — something that is not realistic given the huge number of them and the country’s weak judicial system – the group hopes to pressure warlords to acknowledge their past actions and apologise, said Sharifi, 31.
Barmaki’s portrait was near the home of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the most notorious warlords in Afghanistan’s history.
His group claimed involvement in the 2011 suicide attack on a Kabul supermarket that killed Barmaki — a prominent law professor and human rights activist — as well as her husband and their four children. The Taliban also claimed responsibility for the attack. Conflicting claims have long been a feature of the 16-year war.
Hekmatyar, whose spokesman declined to comment on the mural, is one of several infamous warlords whom Kabul has sought to reintegrate into the mainstream political system in the post-Taliban era.
A two-time prime minister, he is accused of responsibility for the death of thousands of people during Afghanistan’s 1992-1996 civil war.
Other such figures include General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful ethnic Uzbek linked to multiple human rights abuses in Afghanistan who is now the country’s first vice president, and Atta Mohammad Noor, the former governor of Balkh province.
Noor is seen as a potential presidential contender but has been accused of links to people involved in kidnapping and other crimes.
The murals — which typically cover several square metres — will put faces to the victims, Sharifi says, and send a message to warlords that “we have not forgotten… what they did in this country”.
Over the past four years ArtLords has turned Kabul’s grey maze of concrete barricades — shaped like a wide-based inverted ‘T’ to provide protection from bomb blasts — into a canvas to tackle issues such as rampant corruption and abuse of power.
With permission from local authorities, businesses and institutions, the group’s artists have painted more than 400 murals on blast walls and other prominent places in around half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Sharifi said the latest campaign would also target the violence of the Taliban and other militant groups now terrorising the country.
“There will be murals that say ‘you’re not going to heaven’,” Sharifi said.
It is risky work for the group’s 45 artists, who are paid for their efforts.
Sharifi said he rarely goes out and is careful to use different routes when he does.
“The threat is very real. At any moment anything can happen, a bomb can go off,” Sharifi said.
“Despite all these challenges… we have to take responsibility. Somebody has to do it.”
The mural of Barmaki has changed the “narrative of street art in Afghanistan” and people were now recognising art as a “powerful tool” for social change, he said.
It has also galvanised other socially conscious artists around the country to use street art to send “very harsh messages to these people”.
While ArtLords receives widespread support from Afghans and the international community for its work, reaction on social media to the Barmaki mural has been mixed.
Some have applauded the group’s “courage and guts” while others have accused them of bias and exacerbating discord in the country.
“Use your art to promote unity and serve Afghanistan, do not use it to spread division,” Facebook user Yaser Baburi wrote.
Sharifi admits the new campaign will upset people “because we will remind them of all these crimes”.
“But I think this is the way to continue this discussion and force these people to come out and apologise for what they’ve done.”
With the help of the public, ArtLords is compiling a list of warlords and of people allegedly killed by them, who will be the faces of the next murals.
“We will have faces of these victims in front of their (warlords’) houses or the streets they are passing by,” Sharifi said, without disclosing who will be targeted.
“There are a lot of names that come to mind.”
MOGADISHU: Shortly after sunrise, a group of young women arrives at a football pitch in Mogadishu, where they shrug off their hijabs — some changing underneath the billowing veil — to reveal their team kit.
Young Somali men stand nearby, some disapproving but all watching closely, as the women jog up and down, dribble a worn-out ball between colourful cones and do sit-ups, less than 200 metres (656 feet) from a heavily guarded security checkpoint.
The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabaab.
The Al-Qaida linked Islamist group launches regular attacks in Mogadishu and considers forms of entertainment, such as football, to be evil, worse still if women are involved.
“It is obvious that we are scared despite the fact that we put on heavy clothes over our shorts and T-shirts (until) we get to the pitch. It is very difficult to walk normally with sports clothes — we never wear sports clothing in society,” said Hibaq Abdukadir, 20, one of the footballers.
She is among 60 girls, who have signed up to train at the Golden Girls Centre in Mogadishu, Somalia’s first female soccer club.
Mohamed Abukar Ali, the 28-year-old co-founder of the centre, said he was inspired to create the club after he realised that Somalia had no female footballers.
“We are… trying to make these girls the first Somali female football professionals,” he said.
However this is not an easy task.
“When the girls have to attend training sessions, we have to organise to pick them up and bring them here and back home after the session because they are girls and we think about their security,” said Ali.
“There are so many challenges, from security to lack of resources… but that will not deter our ambition to establish female football clubs in this country,” he said. “We believe it is the right time and we should have the courage to think differently.”
Many of the girls who have joined the club said they had always wanted to try playing football but never had the opportunity.
“I have been playing football for seven months, but my family has only known about it for two months,” said Sohad Mohamed, 19.
“I used to dodge my mother about where I was going because she would not allow me to play football, but at least my mum is okay with it now, even though the rest of my family is not happy.”
In Somalia, it is taboo for women to appear in public dressed in shorts, trousers or T-shirts, with Islamic scholars saying sports clothing is not appropriate Islamic dress for women.
The players wear tights underneath their baggy shorts, and cover their hair, but still face criticism for their dress.
“I come to watch them train but frankly speaking, I would not be happy to see my sister doing it, this is not good in society’s eyes because they look naked,” said Yusuf Abdirahman, who lives near the football field.
Mohamed Yahye, another onlooker, is happy to see women playing football but is also concerned about how they are dressed.
“I think there is nothing wrong with women playing football, the only thing they should change is the dress code, they need to wear something that is not slim-fitting. But as long as their body is not seen, they are in line with the Islamic dress codes,” he said.
However the Golden Girls are not fazed.
“My ambition is so high that I aim for the same progress as those female footballers who play for Barcelona,” said Abdukadir.
TOKYO: Russia‘s foreign minister threatened on Wednesday to retaliate against Britain for “anti-Russian measures”, with the two countries at loggerheads over the poisoning of a spy in southern England.
Speaking after a meeting with Japanese counterpart Taro Kono, Sergei Lavrov said: “If the British government continues taking some anti-Russian measures, we will hit back under the principle of reciprocity.”
Lavrov urged the British government to “respond calmly” over the March 4 attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who remain in critical condition.
Britain says only Russia had the capability, motive and intent to be behind the attack, which used the nerve agent Novichok reportedly developed by the former Soviet Union.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed this as “nonsense”.
Britain reacted by expelling 23 Russian diplomats and their families – around 80 people in total – and has also cut off high-level contacts.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said London was “actively considering” other measures.
Yesterday, the head of the OPCW chemical watchdog said it would take two to three weeks to complete laboratory analysis of samples taken from the poisoning.
The affair has poisoned Russia’s already shaky relations with many Western countries.
The EU has expressed its solidarity with Britain and leaders at a summit later this week will agree to “coordinate on the consequences” for Russia, according to a draft statement seen by AFP.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis suggested yesterday that Moscow’s suspected involvement shows Russia has “chosen to be a strategic competitor.”
However, President Donald Trump skipped the issue when congratulating Putin on his re-election and proposed a summit in the “not-too-distant future.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced “outrage” over the attack in a call to May, according to her office.
Skripal, 66, a former Russian officer who sold secrets to Britain and moved there in a 2010 spy swap, remains in a coma along with his 33-year-old daughter after they were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury.
SEOUL: South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday a three-way summit with North Korea and the United States is possible and that talks should aim for an end to the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula.
Moon is planning a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month after a flurry of diplomatic activity in Asia, Europe and the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump has also said he would meet Kim by the end of May.
“A North Korea-U.S. summit would be a historic event in itself following an inter-Korean summit,” Moon said at the presidential Blue House in Seoul after a preparatory meeting for the inter-Korean summit.
“Depending on the location, it could be even more dramatic. And depending on progress, it may lead to a three-way summit between the South, North and the United States,” he said.
Seoul officials are considering the border truce village of Panmunjom, where Moon and Kim are set for a one-day meeting, as the venue for talks between not only Kim and Moon but also a possible three-way meeting.
The rush of recent diplomatic contacts began in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in South Korea last month and helped ease tensions on the Korean peninsula caused by North Korea’s pursuit of its nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of United Nations Security Council sanctions.
Moon said the series of summits should aim for a “complete end” to the nuclear and peace issues on the Korean peninsula.
He said he has a “clear goal and vision”, which is for the establishment of a lasting peace to replace the ceasefire signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean war. It also includes the normalisation of North Korea-U.S. relations, the development of inter-Korean ties, and economic cooperation involving Pyongyang and Washington, he said.
“Whether the two Koreas live together or separately, we have to make it in a way that they prosper together and in peace, without interfering or causing damage to each other,” Moon said.
South Korea and the United States will resume joint military drills next month, although the exercises are expected to overlap with the inter-Korean summit.
Seoul and Washington delayed the annual drills until after the Winter Olympics, helping to foster conditions for a restart of intra-Korea talks.
North Korea regularly denounces the drills as preparation for war but a South Korean special envoy has said Kim understood that the allies must continue their “routine” exercises. That exchange has not been confirmed.
The North’s official KCNA news agency said on Wednesday a “dramatic atmosphere for reconciliation” has been created in cross-border ties and there has been has also been a sign of change in North Korea-U.S. relations.
That was “thanks to the proactive measure and peace-loving proposal” made by Pyongyang, not Trump’s campaign to put maximum pressure on the country, KCNA said in a commentary.
A Blue House official also said South Korea was in discussion with China and Japan for a three-way summit in Tokyo in early May. The three countries have not held such a meeting since November 2015, with relations soured by historical and territorial tension.
JERUSALEM: Israel’s military admitted for the first time Wednesday it was responsible for a 2007 air raid against a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, a strike it was long believed to have carried out.
The admission along with the release of newly declassified material related to the raid comes as Israel intensifies its warnings over the presence of its main enemy Iran in neighbouring Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also repeatedly called for the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran to be changed or eliminated.
US President Donald Trump, who met Netanyahu at the White House this month, has said that the nuclear deal must be “fixed” by May 12 or the United States will walk away.
An Israeli military spokesman declined to respond to questions related to the admission and the release of the documents, including over the timing, which could be seen as a warning regarding Iran’s activities.
The declassified material includes footage of the strike, video of a speech by military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot on the operation and pictures of secret army intelligence communiques about the site.
A military statement summarising the operation lays out the case for why Israel carried out the strike at the desert site in the Deir Ezzor region of eastern Syria on what it says was a nuclear reactor under construction.
It has long been widely assumed that Israel carried out the strike. Syria has meanwhile denied it was building a nuclear reactor.
“On the night between September 5th-6th, 2007, Israeli Air Force fighter jets successfully struck and destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in development,” the Israeli statement says.
“The reactor was close to being completed. The operation successfully removed an emerging existential threat to Israel and to the entire region — Syrian nuclear capabilities.”
Israel’s admission is by no means the first time its military has been identified as the source of the attack.
In 2008, less than a year after the strike, US officials accused Syria of having sought to build a secret nuclear reactor and acknowledged Israel destroyed it in the raid.
The UN atomic watchdog declared in 2011 that the Syrian site was “very likely” to have been a nuclear reactor, adding that information provided to it suggested that it was being built with North Korean assistance.
Israel said in its new disclosures that secrecy surrounding the strike was necessary due to the sensitive security situation.
In defending the strike, it notes that Islamic State group jihadists later overran much of Deir Ezzor during Syria’s civil war, while also saying that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “in the past used chemical weapons against his own citizens.”
“The nuclear reactor being held by Assad would have had severe strategic implications on the entire Middle East as well as Israel and Syria,” it said.
While Israel’s admission will come as little surprise, the declassified material provides new details on what is widely known as “Operation Orchard.”
The material speaks of an ultra-secretive operation, with very few knowing details of the strike and a cover story provided.
Israeli intelligence had picked up on what it determined was the construction of the nuclear reactor and followed its development, it says.
Four F-16s and four F-15s were involved in the strike, with the operation beginning at 10:30 pm on September 5 and the planes returning at 2:30 am the following day.
Grainy footage of the strike included in the material shows a target locking on to a building that is blown apart shortly afterward.
Israel determined that the alleged reactor was “totally disabled, and that the damage done was irreversible.”
Israeli military chief of staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, who was northern commander at the time, recalled in a video in the material meeting with his officers shortly before the raid.
“I don’t give them the exact details of the target and its essence, but I say that there’s going to be a significant attack in the upcoming 24-48 hours, an event that in low likeliness could lead to war,” he said.
“Low, to me, is even 15 or 20 percent, which is a lot.”
Syria and Israel have fought in repeated wars since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948. The two countries are still technically at war.
Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011, but it acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes there to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is fighting alongside Assad’s regime, like Iran and Russia.
Israel has expressed growing concern over what it sees as Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria.
It also accuses Iran of seeking to build factories to construct precision-guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon that could be used against Israel.
Beyond that, Netanyahu has warned that Israel will “never let Iran develop nuclear weapons.”
Eisenkot spoke of the “message” of the 2007 strike, while making reference to a 1981 Israeli raid against a nuclear reactor in Iraq.
“The message from the 2007 reactor attack was that Israel won’t accept the construction of abilities that could constitute an existential threat to the state of Israel,” he said in the video.
“That’s the message from ’81, that’s the message from 2007 and that’s our future message to our enemies.”
MOSCOW/WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Tuesday congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election and said they would likely meet soon as relations between the two countries grow more strained over allegations of Russian meddling in the US electoral system.
Trump’s overture to Putin was criticized by top senators in his own Republican party, who called Sunday’s election a sham. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there was a “lack of credibility in tallying the result.”
When asked if Russia’s election was free and fair, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders responded: “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate.”
Putin won a landslide victory to extend his rule over the world’s largest country for six more years at a time when his ties with the West are on a hostile trajectory.
“I congratulated him on the victory, the electoral victory,” Trump told reporters at the White House while meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“The call had to do also with the fact that we will probably get together in the not too distant future so we can discuss arms, we can discuss the arms race.”
The White House later said there were no specific plans for a meeting.
Speaking of the arms race, Trump said: “We will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have.”
Last week, the Trump administration hardened its stance on Russia by accusing Moscow of hacking into America’s energy grid and approving the first sanctions on Russian entities and citizens for meddling in the 2016 US election. Russia denies interference in the election.
The United States also joined Britain, France and Germany in demanding that Russia explain a military-grade nerve toxin attack in England on a former Russian double agent.
Trump, who vowed to improve relations with Russia on taking office 14 months ago, is under pressure from Congress to take a tougher stance on Putin, his inner circle and scores of Russian oligarchs. Trump has not been highly critical of Russia in public, while maintaining there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russians.
Republican US Senator John McCain chastised Trump for the congratulatory call.
“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” McCain said in a statement.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said there had been no real choice in Russia’s presidential election and complained it had been marked by unfair pressure on critical voices.
The US State Department endorsed the OSCE’s preliminary findings, said spokeswoman Heather Nauert, and called Trump’s call to Putin “protocol.”
The Kremlin said Tuesday’s conversation had been broadly constructive and focused on overcoming problems in relations.
“The leaders spoke in favour of developing practical cooperation in different spheres, including on questions of how to ensure strategic stability and fight international terrorism,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Moscow and Washington are also at odds over crises in Ukraine and Syria, which Trump said would be discussed in a meeting along with the denuclearization of North Korea.
Putin and Trump agreed on the need to avoid an arms race and discussed “a possible high-level meeting,” the Kremlin said.
Putin has struck a softer tone towards the West since Sunday, saying he has no desire for an arms race and would do everything he could to resolve differences with other countries.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies separately that Putin and Trump had not discussed the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. London has blamed Moscow for the attack, a charge Russia denies.