Ex-cop says Duterte paid him and others to kill crime suspects, bomb mosques

Mon, 2017-02-20

MANILA, Philippines: A retired Philippine police officer said Monday that President Rodrigo Duterte, when he was a mayor, ordered and paid him and other members of a so-called liquidation squad to kill criminals and opponents, including a kidnapping suspect, his family and a critical radio commentator.
Human rights lawyers who presented Arthur Lascanas at a news conference said his allegations could be grounds for impeaching Duterte. There was no immediate comment from Duterte or his office.
Duterte has denied his administration backs unlawful killings of suspects under his deadly crackdown against illegal drugs that is feared to have killed more than 7,000 mostly drug users and petty drug pushers since he took office in June.
The killings under the crackdown, an expansion of his anti-drug campaign when he was a longtime mayor of southern Davao city, have alarmed the United States, other Western governments and the UN rights officials.
In many public speeches Duterte has told policemen to defend themselves if drug suspects fight back and has openly threatened drug lords and dealers with death.
Lascanas’s comments came after he denied to a Senate hearing last year that he had been involved in any extra-judicial killings in Davao. He testified at the inquiry last October after he was implicated by another witness, Edgar Matobato, a former militiaman who said Duterte ordered him and others to kill criminals in gangland-style assaults that left hundreds of people dead.
Breaking into tears at one point, Lascanas said Monday he was speaking up because he was bothered by his conscience, including his role in the deaths of his two brothers, whom he ordered killed because they were drug users.
“I had my own two brothers killed. Even if I end up dead, I’m content because I’ve fulfilled my promise to the lord to make a public confession,” he said.
Lascanas narrated several killings that he said Duterte had ordered, permitted or financed as mayor of Davao, including the 1993 bombing of mosques as retaliation after Muslim rebels were blamed for the bombing a Roman Catholic cathedral.
Lascanas said he and his group shot dead a kidnapping suspect along with the man’s pregnant wife, young son, father-in-law and two others with the consent of Duterte.
After his group informed Duterte about the capture of the suspected mastermind of a kidnapping in Davao, Lascanas quoted the mayor as saying: “All right, make it clean.”
Another target was radio commentator Jun Pala, who was critical of Duterte. He was killed in 2003 by gunmen, who then got financial rewards from the then mayor, Lascanas said.

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Washington prepares to bring North Koreans to US for talks -report

Mon, 2017-02-20

WASHINGTON: Preparations are under way to bring senior North Korean officials to the United States for talks with former US officials, the first such meeting in more than five years, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The talks would be the clearest indication yet that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to communicate with the new Trump administration.
Planning for the “Track 1.5 talks” is still in a preparatory stage, the Post reported, citing multiple people with knowledge of the arrangements.
That name, reflecting planned contact between former US officials and current North Korean ones, is a reference to what are known as “Track 2” talks involving former officials on both sides.
The US State Department has not yet approved the North Koreans’ visas for the talks, the newspaper said.
A State Department spokesman commented to Reuters only that Track 2 meetings “routinely” take place on a variety of topics around the world and occur independent of the US government.
A White House official commented that the US government had no plans to meet with North Korea.
North Korea’s testing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile drew international condemnation last week. President Donald Trump told a news conference after the test: Obviously North Korea is a big, big problem and we will deal with that very strongly.”

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Mattis to decide soon on troop levels in Afghanistan

Sun, 2017-02-19

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he plans to make some decisions soon on whether to recommend an increase in the number of US troops in Afghanistan and whether the totals should be based on military requirements rather than pre-set limits.
Mattis told reporters traveling with him that he spoke for several hours by video conference on Sunday with US Gen. John Nicholson, the top American commander there. Mattis said he will collect his thoughts and then send recommendations to the White House where, he said, President Donald Trump is open to his advice.
Earlier this month, Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he needs a few thousand more troops to train and advise Afghan forces.
At the time, Nicholson didn’t provide an exact number, but argued for greater flexibility in setting US troop commitments in Afghanistan, where the war is entering its 16th year. Defense and military leaders would prefer a troop level based on military requirements, rather than on a specific, predetermined number.
“The president has been rightfully reticent on it because he’s waiting for my assessment and the assessment from the intelligence community,” Mattis said during a press conference. “It shouldn’t take too long. I’ve got to integrate a fair number of issues to give a good recommendation for the way ahead.”
The Pentagon chief was scheduled to fly into Afghanistan to meet with commanders and leaders on Sunday, but he said bad weather prevented the trip.
He said the call with Nicholson and a meeting Saturday in Munich with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani were part of his effort to get the latest information on the situation both politically and strategically.
During the hearing, Nicholson told senators that the additional troops could come from the United States or other nations in the US-led coalition.
He noted that when then-President Barack Obama ordered a cut in US troops to 8,400 last year, commanders were forced to hire contractors to do jobs that American forces would normally do.
As an example, Nicholson said that because of the troop cut, the aviation brigade that deployed to Afghanistan was able to bring its helicopters, pilots and staff. But its mechanics had to behind at Fort Riley, Kansas, and contractors were hired instead at a cost of “tens of millions of dollars,” affecting the unit’s readiness.
The Obama administration came under fire for what critics said was unnecessary micromanagement of the military deployments.
Of the American forces now in Afghanistan, more than 2,100 are conducting counterterrorism missions. The remainder are part of the training and advisory mission. Another several hundred US forces are stationed outside the country, but can quickly deploy into the warzone if needed from elsewhere in the region.
On a separate issue, Nicholson told the senators that Russian meddling is complicating the counterterrorism fight. Mattis said that part of his evaluation will look at “what other countries in the region are doing in Afghanistan to help or hinder us.”
Mattis added that while the Afghans have lost some territory to the Taliban, the insurgents have suffered a lot of damage and haven’t met their tactical objectives.
He acknowledged that Afghan forces have had a lot of casualties, but he said they’ve held on and, “the Taliban is in a worse position today, even though I do not equate that to success on our side.”

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Trump says remark about Sweden referred to something on TV

Sun, 2017-02-19

HELSINKI: Swedes have been scratching their heads and ridiculing President Donald Trump’s remarks that suggested a major incident had happened in the Scandinavian country. The American president now says he was referring to something he saw on television.
During a rally in Florida on Saturday, Trump said “look what’s happening last night in Sweden” as he alluded to past terror attacks in Europe. It wasn’t clear what he was referring to and there were no high-profile situations reported in Sweden on Friday night.
The comment prompted a barrage of social media reaction on Sunday, with hundreds of tweets, and a local newspaper published a list of events that happened on Friday that appeared to have no connections to any terror-like activity.
On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to explain: “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.” A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says that Trump was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, not referring to a specific issue.
The president may be referring to a segment aired Friday night on the Fox News Channel show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that reported Sweden had accepted more than 160,000 asylum-seekers last year but that only 500 of the migrants had found jobs in Sweden. The report, which was illustrated with video of broken windows and fires, went on to say that a surge in gun violence and rape had followed the influx of immigrants.
Reacting to Trump’s original remarks, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson said that the government wasn’t aware of any “terror-linked major incidents.” Sweden’s Security Police said it had no reason to change the terror threat level.
“Nothing has occurred which would cause us to raise that level,” agency spokesman Karl Melin said.
Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted , “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”
Addressing Trump in an article on Sunday, the Aftonbladet tabloid wrote, “This happened in Sweden Friday night, Mr.President,” and then listed in English some events that included a man being treated for severe burns, an avalanche warning and police chasing a drunken driver.
One Twitter user said, “After the terrible events #lastnightinSweden, IKEA have sold out of this” and posted a mock Ikea instruction manual on how to build a “Border Wall.”
Sweden, which has a long reputation for welcoming refugees and migrants, had a record 163,000 asylum applications in 2015. The country has since cut back on the number it annually accepts.
Its most recent attack linked to extremism happened in the capital, Stockholm, in December 2010. An Iraqi-born Swede detonated two explosive devices, including one that killed him but no one else.
In the month he has been president, Trump’s remarks and those of his staff have fueled numerous news media “fact checks” pointing out inaccuracies and falsehoods. On the subject of terrorism, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway referred to a “Bowling Green Massacre” that never occurred.
Former foreign minister Bildt told Swedish Radio after his initial confounded tweet Sunday that he sees danger in how Trump relates to facts.
“If we are in a situation where there is tension in the world, we stand between war and peace,” he said. “If we then have a president who spreads lots of false rumors, it can be truly dangerous.”

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Senior Trump appointee fired after critical comments

Sun, 2017-02-19

WASHINGTON: A senior Trump administration official was fired following criticism in a private speech of President Donald Trump’s policies and his inner circle of advisers.
Craig Deare, whom Trump appointed a month ago to head the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere division, was on Friday escorted out of the Executive Office Building, where he worked in Washington.
A senior White House official confirmed that Deare is no longer working at the NSC and has returned to the position he previously held at the National Defense University. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an incident not otherwise made public, and provided no further details.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday that Deare “was sent back to his original position.” Asked if government employees should be concerned that they could be fired for criticizing the president, she said: “I don’t think any person that is there in order to carry out the president’s agenda should be against the president’s agenda.”
Current and former administration officials say Deare’s termination was linked to remarks he made Thursday at a private talk at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
According to one person who attended the discussion, Deare slammed the Trump administration for its policies on Latin America, specifically its rocky start to relations with Mexico. That person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private event.
Trump signed an order in the first week of his presidency to build a border wall with Mexico, jumpstarting a campaign promise. The move prompted Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto to cancel his trip to Washington in late January.
The person who attended the Wilson Center discussion also said that Deare openly expressed frustration over being cut out of most of the policy discussions about Mexico, saying that members of Trump’s inner circle, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, have not consulted with NSC directorates as the White House formulates policy.
Deare has been on the faculty of National Defense University in Washington since 2001. He joined the university’s College of International Security Affairs in 2010 and most recently served as dean of administration.
The person who attended the Wilson Center talk also noted that Deare made several remarks about how attractive Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, appeared, remarks that person described as “awkward.”
Deare did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Officials with the Wilson Center also declined a request for information, saying the discussion was off the record.
Deare is the second senior NSC official to leave in under a week. On Monday, Trump’s national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, resigned after revelations that he discussed sanctions with a Russian diplomat before Trump was sworn in, then misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of those conversations.

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US senators consider sanctions against Iran for missile development

Reuters, AP
Mon, 2017-02-20

MUNICH: US Republican senators plan to introduce legislation to impose further sanction on Iran, accusing it of violating UN Security Council resolutions by testing ballistic missiles and acting to “destabilize” the Middle East, a US senator said on Sunday.
On the other hand, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif brushed aside new pressure from the US on Sunday, declaring that his country is “unmoved by threats” but responds well to respect.
“I think it is now time for the Congress to take Iran on directly in terms of what they’ve done outside the nuclear program,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Munich Security Conference.
Graham said he and other Republicans would introduce measures to hold Iran accountable for its actions.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since a Iranian ballistic missile test which prompted Trump’s administration to impose sanctions on individuals and entities linked to the country’s Revolutionary Guards.
“Iran is a bad actor in the greatest sense of the word when it comes to the region. To Iran, I say, if you want us to treat you differently then stop building missiles, test-firing them in defiance of UN resolution and writing ‘Death to Israel’ on the missile. That’s a mixed message,” Graham said.
Sen. Christopher Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the same panel there was nothing preventing Congress from imposing sanctions beyond those that were lifted as a result of the 2016 nuclear agreement with Iran.
Murphy, a Democrat, told the panel that he had backed the nuclear deal in the explicit understanding that it would not prevent Congress from taking actions against Iran outside the nuclear issue.
“There’s going to be a conversation about what the proportional response is,” Murphy said, referring to Iran’s missile test. “But I don’t necessarily think there’s going to be partisan division over whether or not we have the ability as a Congress to speak on issues outside of the nuclear agreement.”
Murphy said the US needed to decide whether it wanted to take a broader role in the regional conflict.
“We have to make a decision whether we are going to get involved in the emerging proxy war in a bigger way than we are today, between Iran and Saudi,” he said.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the US and five other world powers, under which Tehran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, but has not said what he plans to do about it.
His administration has said Iran was “on notice” over a recent ballistic missile test, and imposed new sanctions on more than two dozen Iranian companies and individuals.
“Iran doesn’t respond well to threats,” Iranian minister Zarif told the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of top diplomats and defense officials. “We don’t respond well to coercion. We don’t respond well to sanctions, but we respond very well to mutual respect. We respond very well to arrangements to reach mutually acceptable scenarios.”
“Iran is unmoved by threats,” he said.
“Everybody tested us for many years — all threats and coercions were imposed on us,” Zarif added. He mocked “the concept of crippling sanctions,” which he said merely ended with Iran having acquired thousands more centrifuges, used for enriching uranium.
Iran has always said it has no interest in nuclear weapons. Asked how long it would take to make one if it did decide it wanted such weapons, Zarif replied: “We are not going to produce nuclear weapons, period. So it will take forever for Iran to produce nuclear weapons.”

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UN envoy questions US engagement on Syria

AFP, Reuters
Mon, 2017-02-20

MUNICH: UN envoy Staffan de Mistura on Sunday questioned US President Donald Trump’s engagement in solving the Syrian war, just days ahead of a new round of peace talks in Geneva.
“Where is the US in all this? I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” he said, adding that the new administration was still trying to work out its priorities on the conflict.
The top three US priorities include fighting Daesh, “how to limit the influence of some major regional players and how to not to damage one of their major allies in the region,” de Mistura told the Munich Security Conference.
“How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington,” he said.
Mistura stressed that what was ultimately key was an inclusive political solution to end the six-year conflict.
“Even a cease-fire with two guarantors can’t hold too long if there is no political horizon,” he said, referring to a fragile truce brokered by Russia and Turkey in December.
Any political solution has to be inclusive to be credible, he said, stressing that peace talks in Astana last week organized by Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the cease-fire deal provided an opening that should be explored.
The UN envoy said talks to be held in Geneva from Feb. 23 would aim to see if there was a window for political negotiations to advance.
“Astana is the only place for the cessation of hostilities and Geneva is to see if there is any space for political discussion,” de Mistura said, referring to separate cease-fire talks in the Kazakh capital between Turkey, Russia and Iran.
He said the Geneva talks would be based on UN Security Council resolution 2254.
“I can’t tell you (if it will succeed), but we have to push for momentum. Even a cease-fire cannot hold too long if there is no political (solution).”
Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the coalition against Daesh, acknowledged that Trump’s administration is “re-looking at everything, which is a very healthy process from top to bottom.”
The new US administration was still reviewing its Syria position, but that it was seeking a role to reinforce Russian and Turkish efforts to cement a cease-fire in the country.

Opposition says Assad must go
The Syrian opposition is fully committed to peace talks in Geneva, a senior official said on Sunday, adding the talks would need to pave the way for a political transition.
“We are fully committed for the Geneva talks,” Syrian National Coalition President Anas Al-Abdah told delegates at the Munich Security Conference. “We cannot address the profound security threats … while Assad remains in power,” he said.
No solution can be found “as long as Assad remains in power,” he told the Munich forum.
More than 310,000 people have died since a popular uprising in 2011 against Assad morphed into all out civil war, with more than half the population forced to flee their homes.

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Putin critic leaves Russia for treatment after ‘poisoning’

Mon, 2017-02-20

MOSCOW: A Russian opposition politician who fell into a coma due to poisoning this month has left the country for treatment abroad after his condition improved, his lawyer said Sunday.
“This morning Vladimir Kara-Murza flew out of the country… to go through rehabilitation treatment after his second acute poisoning,” lawyer Vadim Prokhorov wrote on his Facebook page. “The diagnosis in his hospital discharge report is still the same: ‘Toxic influence of an unknown substance,’” he added.
Kara-Murza, 35, previously experienced sharp deterioration of health due to poisoning two years ago, which included kidney failure and nearly killed him.
Tests in laboratories abroad found high levels of heavy metals in his blood, but the Russian Investigative Committee denied his request to probe whether he was a target of intentional poisoning.
His family said that the latest collapse, which saw him put on a ventilator and renal dialysis in a Russian hospital, could be a result of the 2015 incident.
Kara-Murza was an ally of the late opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead close to the Kremlin in February 2015.
He currently works with the Open Russia foundation of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who served 10 years in jail after openly opposing President Vladimir Putin.

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McCain criticizes Trump over continued media attacks

Mon, 2017-02-20

MUNICH: US Sen. John McCain, defending the media against the latest attack by President Donald Trump, warned that suppressing the free press was “how dictators get started.”
The Arizona Republican, a frequent critic of Trump, was responding to a tweet in which Trump accused the media of being “the enemy of the American people”.
The international order established after WWII was built in part on a free press, McCain said in an excerpt of an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that was released in advance of the full Sunday morning broadcast.
“I hate the press. I hate you especially,” he told interviewer Chuck Todd from an international security conference in Munich. “But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.”
On Sunday, a top aide denied that Trump is having difficulty filling the key post of national security adviser because of White House moves to politicize the office.
Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago getaway in Florida, was set to interview four candidates to replace Mike Flynn, the retired general who was ousted as national security adviser for deceiving Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington.
Separately, Trump apparently referred to the Scandinavian country as the site of a terror incident as he spoke to his supporters on Saturday.
He was addressing a campaign-style rally in Florida when he launched into a list of places that have been targeted by terrorists.
“You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible,” he said, provoking mockery on social media.
He went on to name Brussels, Nice and Paris — European cities that have been struck by deadly terror attacks.
Swedish Embassy in Washington has asked for an explanation, the foreign ministry in Stockholm said Sunday.
Meanwhile, London’s mayor said that Trump should not receive a state visit in Britain because of his “cruel” policies on immigration.
Sadiq Khan said Sunday the US president should not get VIP treatment when he comes to Britain later this year because of his “ban on people from seven Muslim-majorities countries” and his decision to block refugees from entering the US.
Khan said that “in those circumstances we shouldn’t be rolling out the red carpet.”

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4 North Korean suspects fled Malaysia after Kim’s murder

Mon, 2017-02-20

KUALA LUMPUR: Four North Korean suspects in the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fled Malaysia on the day he was attacked at Kuala Lumpur airport and apparently killed by a fast-acting poison, police said on Sunday.
A North Korean man, a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman have been arrested already in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong Nam last Monday, which has triggered a diplomatic spat between Malaysia and Pyongyang.
South Korean and US officials believe Kim Jong Nam was killed by agents from the reclusive North, whose diplomats in Kuala Lumpur sought to prevent an autopsy on the 46-year-old’s body and demanded it be handed over.
“We believe the North Korean regime is behind this incident considering five suspects are North Koreans” Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman at the South Korea’s Unification Ministry that handles inter-Korea affairs, told a briefing on Sunday.
Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, had spoken out publicly against his family’s control of isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea.
The young, unpredictable North Korean leader had issued a “standing order” for his elder half-brother’s assassination, and there had been a failed attempt in 2012.
Deputy Inspector-General of police Noor Rashid Ibrahim told a news conference that Malaysia is coordinating with Interpol to track down the four suspects but would not reveal where they flew to on the day of the murder.
“The four suspects are holding normal passports, not diplomatic passports,” he said. “Next plan is to get them. We of course have international cooperation especially with Interpol, bilateral involvement with the country involved, we will go through those avenues to get the people involved.” He named the four who escaped as Ri Ji Hyon, Hong Song Hac, O. Joong Gil, and Ri Jae Nam. The police are looking for three other people who are not suspects but who they believe could help with their enquiries, one of whom is North Korean.
Police said the cause of death was still not known and that they were waiting for pathology and toxicology tests after conducting a post-mortem.
Police believe the two women carried out the attack on Kim Jong Nam, thrusting a cloth seeped in some chemical into his face in the departure lounge of the airport, where he had been due to take a flight to Macau.
The mother of the Indonesian women, Siti Aishah, told Reuters on Saturday that her daughter had been duped into believing she was part of a TV show or advertisement.
“She said she wanted to go to Malaysia for filming on a show to make people surprised by spraying perfume on somebody else,” said Benah, who goes by one name. “She was offered a job by someone to become an advertisement model for perfume.”
Asked about the theory that the women thought they were playing a prank, Noor Rashid said: “I think there is footage being released … and you can interpret from the footage.”
South Korea’s intelligence agency told lawmakers in Seoul that Kim Jong Nam had been living with his second wife in the Chinese territory of Macau, under China’s protection.

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