Embattled national security adviser’s fate uncertain

The Associated Press
Tue, 2017-02-14

WASHINGTON: Embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn’s fate as one of President Donald Trump’s senior aides is uncertain following reports that he discussed US sanctions with a Russian envoy before Trump’s inauguration.
A top White House official sidestepped repeated chances Sunday to publicly defend him. The president, who spent the weekend at his private club in Florida, has yet to comment on Flynn’s status. Nor has Vice President Mike Pence, who previously denied that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US.
Pence and Flynn spoke twice on Friday, according to an administration official.
Trump has told associates he is troubled by the situation, but he has not said whether he plans to ask Flynn to step down, according to a person who spoke with him recently. Flynn was a loyal Trump supporter during the campaign, but he is viewed skeptically by some in the administration’s national security circles, in part because of his ties to Russia.
The administration official and both people with ties to Trump spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Stephen Miller, Trump’s top policy adviser, skirted the issue on several Sunday news shows, saying it was not his place to weigh in on the “sensitive matter” or to say whether the president retains confidence in Flynn.
On Friday, The Washington Post reported that Flynn addressed sanctions against Russia in a call with Kislyak. The report contradicted repeated denials from Trump officials, including Pence, who vouched for Flynn in a televised interview.
Flynn has since told administration officials that sanctions may have come up in the calls, which coincided with the Obama administration slapping penalties on Russia for election-related hacking.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who led Trump’s transition planning before the election, said Flynn would have to explain his conflicting statements about his conversations with Kislyak to Trump and Pence.
“Gen. Flynn has said up to this point that he had not said anything like that to the Russian ambassador. I think now he is saying that he does not remember whether he did or not,” Christie said on CNN. “So, that is a conversation he is going to need to have with the president and the vice president to clear that up, so that the White House can make sure that they are completely accurate about what went on.”
Trump meets Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and later in the week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The White House is also dealing with fallout from the rocky rollout of Trump’s immigration executive order, which has been blocked by the courts. The order was intended to suspend the nation’s refugee program and bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US
Advocacy groups contend the government has rounded up large numbers of people as part of stepped-up enforcement. The agency calls the effort no different from enforcement actions carried out in the past.

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Austrian police arrest man who appeared in public as Hitler

Tue, 2017-02-14

VIENNA, Austria: Austrian police have detained a man for glorifying the Nazi regime, after he appeared in public dressed as Adolf Hitler, a police spokesman said.
The 25-year-old was arrested on Monday night in Braunau am Inn, the Hitler’s birthplace, the spokesman said.
The daily newspaper Oberoesterreichische Nachrichten said on Saturday the man had been seen outside the house in which Hitler was born and in a local bookstore browsing through magazines about World War Two.
He had a Hitler-style moustache and similar haircut to the dictator’s, and wore “a suit reminiscent of Hitler,” the paper said, adding he identified himself in a local bar as “Harald Hitler.”
“It is definitely not a carnival joke or an art project, the young man knows exactly what he is doing,” the police spokesman said.
Hitler, born in 1889, led Nazi Germany into World War Two and the Holocaust. Glorifying Hitler or the Nazis is a crime in Austria, which Nazi Germany annexed in 1938. (Reporting by Kirsti Knolle)

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German nationalists seek to oust member for Nazi past speech

Mon, 2017-02-13

BERLIN: A prominent member of a German nationalist party could face expulsion over a speech in which he suggested that the country end its tradition of acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past.
Alternative for Germany said party leaders voted by the necessary two-thirds majority Monday to open expulsion proceedings against Bjoern Hoecke, who heads its branch in the eastern state of Thuringia.
The decision comes as the party prepares for a national election in September in which it hopes to enter parliament for the first time.
Hoecke last month said Germany needs to perform a “180-degree turn” when it comes to remembering its past, and said the Berlin memorial to the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust is a “monument of shame.”
“This is the conclusion of a process that has been going on for some time,” Frauke Petry, the party’s national co-leader and a longtime foe of Hoecke’s, said. In 2015, Hoecke was criticized for racism after talking about the “life-affirming African proliferation model” and rebuked by party leaders.
With his Jan. 17 speech, Hoecke overstepped the mark of the “democratically tolerable,” Petry said. “We think that this step was necessary because, in such an important election year, the party must be united.”
It is unclear how high the chances are of Hoecke being expelled. The matter will initially be considered by a party tribunal in his home state. He also has allies elsewhere in the party, which is known for strong internal rivalries.
Hoecke said he regrets the leadership’s decision but is confident about the proceedings. “I am convinced that I violated neither the statute nor the principles of the party,” he said.
The four-year-old Alternative for Germany, known by its acronym AfD, has risen in polls over the past year as it assailed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow large numbers of migrants into Germany.
In a separate case, AfD’s Bavarian branch acknowledged Monday that a candidate for the parliamentary election posted a picture of Adolf Hitler to an internal WhatsApp chat, under the headline “Missing since 1945” and with the caption “Adolf, please respond! Germany needs you!“
Regional AfD leader Petr Bystron told the dpa news agency that the post by Elena Roon would be investigated. “We take this seriously,” he said.
Roon told the Merkur newspaper she made the posting “without bad intent” and distances herself from far-right extremism and anti-Semitism.
— Associated Press

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Trump hosts Trudeau for tricky White House talks

Agence France Presse
Mon, 2017-02-13

WASHINGTON: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived at the White House Monday for what could be difficult trade and immigration talks with his political opposite, President Donald Trump.
After striking up a much-flaunted “bromance” with president Barack Obama, the youthful liberal leader is in Washington to woo a septuagenarian Republican, with whom he shares little in common.
The focus of discussions will be Trump’s determination to put “America first” and rip up the North America Free Trade Agreement, as well as differences over immigration.
Trump has followed the dictum that good fences make good neighbors — vowing to increase tariffs on imports and build a wall on the Mexican border and trying to ban migrants from several Muslim-majority nations.
The US-Canadian border remains open, but Trump’s travel ban has called into question the “pre-clearance” system allowing Canadians to clear US Customs and immigration checks at their point of departure.
Trudeau visit got off to an awkward start, when he arrived at the White House early and his limousine was forced to wait on the driveway for around five minutes before Trump came out.
The two men then greeted each other with a handshake and headed into the Oval Office.
Trudeau is the third foreign leader received by the Republican billionaire since he took office on January 20, following meetings with Britain’s Theresa May and Japan’s Shinzo Abe.
The US and Canadian leaders will have lunch and hold a roundtable with businesswomen to discuss women in the workforce. A joint press conference set for 2:00 p.m. (1900 GMT).
The 45-year-old Canadian prime minister has pledged to speak “frankly and respectfully” with the new occupant of the White House.
“Canada will always stay true to the values that have made us this extraordinary country, a place of openness,” Trudeau said Friday in Yellowknife, the capital of the country’s Northwest Territories.
The economic ties between America and its northern neighbor, who share the world’s longest common border, run deep: three-quarters of Canada’s exports go to the US, and Canada is the top destination for exports from about 30 US states.
Renegotiating NAFTA will not be simple and Trudeau, a fervent supporter of free trade, has emphasized the importance of the tripartite pact for his country’s economy and warned against protectionism.
On Friday, he recalled “the fact that millions of good jobs on both sides of our border depend on the smooth flow of goods and services across the border.”
Trump has not been specific on how he wants the talks to develop, but has repeatedly trashed the 23-year-old pact, calling it a “catastrophe” for American jobs and threatening to slap tariffs on imports from Mexico.

Trump and Trudeau are a study in contrasts: their path to power, their political stripes, their style — they could not be more different.
Trudeau, the son of a well-liked prime minister, came to power promising to “provide a positive and good government for Canadians” and enhance the country’s image abroad.
Manhattan property mogul Trump won the White House in a shock November election victory over Hillary Clinton after painting a dark picture of a country in turmoil and vowing to put “America first.”
Welcomed with great fanfare to Washington nearly a year ago by Obama, Trudeau hailed the Democratic president’s “leadership” on climate change.
But it’s clear he will find a quite different take on the issue from Trump, who counts several climate skeptics in his inner circle and seems determined to undo large parts of his predecessor’s legacy.
So far, Trudeau has not commented directly on Trump’s controversial immigration order — which temporarily bans all refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
But he made his stance clear in a tweet posted the day after Trump signed his decree late last month.
“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau wrote.
The pair do agree on the massive Keystone XL pipeline project, which would link Canada’s oil sands with US Gulf Coast refineries. The project had been blocked by Obama, but has been given the green light by Trump.

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Merkel says Europe can only be strong if Germany, France prosper

Mon, 2017-02-13

BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that Europe can only be strong when both Germany and France are prosperous. She also said that Germany and France want to be the engine leading the European Union forward.
“We will exchange ideas about economic policy as Germany and France are intertwined together through close trade relations,” Merkel told a news conference in Berlin with French Prime Minister Bernhard Cazeneuve. “And Europe can only be strong when both countries are prosper economically.”
She also said that she planned to discuss transatlantic relations with Cazeneuve at their meeting after the news conference in Berlin.

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North Korean missile test may have been big step forward

Mon, 2017-02-13

SEOUL, South Korea: Beyond the usual, lofty propaganda, North Korea’s test of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile contains an important, potentially worrying development.
The country’s jubilant young dictator, Kim Jong Un, said the missile provides the country with another nuclear attack capability.
Sunday’s launch — the first major North Korean challenge for US President Donald Trump — is drawing intense scrutiny from outside weapons experts because of North Korea’s claim to have used solid fuel.
If true, it would be a big step forward in North Korea’s quest to boost its ability to attack the United States and its close allies, South Korea and Japan. Instead of relying on missiles that have to be fueled on a fixed launch pad, North Korea’s military could drive the new missiles anywhere and fire them at will from mobile launchers.
Here’s a look at Sunday’s launch and what it means for security on an already tense Korean Peninsula.
The fuel in solid-fuel rockets is already loaded inside, which can shorten launch preparation times, increase the weapon’s mobility and make it harder for outsiders to detect what’s happening before liftoff.
Most of North Korea’s missiles currently use liquid propellant, which usually needs to be added on a launch pad before the weapon is fired. The rockets North Korea has used for satellite launches in recent years, which were condemned by the UN as tests of banned long-range missile technology, relied on liquid fuel.
“Liquid fuel is like a technology from the 1960s and ‘70s, while solid fuel is a modern fuel for missiles,” said Lee Choon Geun, an analyst from South Korea’s state-funded Science and Technology Policy Institute. “That’s why we think their latest launch (with solid fuel) is a serious development.”
Before Sunday’s test, analysts thought North Korea’s solid-fuel weapons were limited to a submarine-launched ballistic missile that the country test-fired last August and short-range KN-02 missiles.
This latest test is important because, if confirmed, North Korea would have a missile that could be launched anywhere from a ground-based mobile vehicle. While submarines are also a stealthy way to do that, North Korea doesn’t have enough of them. There are doubts that the KN-02 missile, whose range is about 120 kilometers (75 miles), can carry nuclear warheads.
North Korea’s claim couldn’t be independently confirmed, but Lee said video and photos of the launch appear to show that the missile used solid fuel. A South Korean defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of department rules, also said that US and South Korean military surveillance equipment showed it probably used solid fuel.
North Korean media quoted Kim Jong Un as saying that North Korea’s rocket industry “has radically turned” from liquid-fuel engines to high thrust solid fuel-powered ones.
North Korean state media said the missile launched Sunday was a surface-to-surface “Pukguksong-2” that can carry nuclear warheads. It is likely to be an upgraded version of the submarine-launched missile named “Pukguksong” launched in August.
South Korea’s military said the latest missile flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles) before dropping into international waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. North Korea said the missile made a high-altitude flight because of security worries in neighboring countries.
If the missile was fired at a normal angle, it could have flown farther. Some analysts say its maximum range could be up to 3,000 kilometers (1,870 miles), while others put it at 1,200 kilometers (750 miles).
Either way, the missile could target South Korea and Japan, where about 80,000 US troops are stationed.
North Korea’s ultimate goal is a nuclear-tipped long-range missile that can attack the US mainland.
In his New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un said North Korea had reached the final stages of preparations to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. It’s not clear when that might happen.
Analysts say Sunday’s missile test isn’t directly linked to ICBM test preparations. Still, some say North Korea may have used the launch to test some technology it will need for an ICBM.
Last year, North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth atomic bomb tests and claimed a series of technical breakthroughs in its push for a long-range nuclear missile.
But foreign analysts say North Korea has yet to develop warheads small enough to be loaded on a long-range missile designed to hit targets like the US mainland. South Korean officials also believe North Korea hasn’t yet developed a re-entry vehicle for a missile — something that’s needed to return a warhead to the atmosphere from space so it can hit its intended target.
North Korea may have fired the missile to celebrate the Feb. 16 birthday of Kim’s late dictator father, Kim Jong Il. Or it could be trying to see how the Trump administration will react. Or it may just be a regularly scheduled missile test under a broader timetable for weapons development.
The test could also be an attempt to bolster internal unity in a way that doesn’t provoke the United States too much, as a long-range missile or nuclear test would do, said Lee Illwoo, a Seoul-based commentator on military issues.
The missile test came as Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe condemned the launch as “absolutely intolerable,” and Trump said Washington would stand behind Japan, “its great ally, 100 percent.”
The United States, Japan and South Korea have requested urgent diplomatic talks Monday at the United Nations, which prohibits North Korea from engaging in any ballistic missile activities.
But it’s unlikely that the meeting will lead to any serious punishment for North Korea, which is already under a slew of UN and other international sanctions.
– AP

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Top French banker: Le Pen’s euro exit would cost billions

Associated Press
Mon, 2017-02-13

PARIS: France’s central bank chief says that presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s proposal to leave the euro currency would cost the country more than 30 billion euros ($32 billion) a year in extra debt interest.
Francois Villeroy de Galhau vigorously defended the euro on France-Inter radio Monday, warning voters not to believe Le Pen’s nationalist promises of stronger purchasing power if France abandons the shared currency.
Villeroy de Galhau said leaving the euro would unleash high inflation, devastating individuals’ savings.
A major question is how Le Pen would handle France’s considerable debt. She said last week she would redenominate most of it into a new currency.
The central bank chief estimated that the extra debt interest would be over 30 billion euros a year, roughly equivalent to France’s entire military budget.

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Pakistan high court bans Valentine’s Day

Mon, 2017-02-13

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court Monday banned public celebrations of Valentine’s Day in the capital Islamabad, the latest attempt by authorities to outlaw a holiday seen by many in the traditional Muslim society as vulgar and Western.
The Islamabad high court issued the order after a petitioner declared love was being used as a “cover” to spread “immorality, nudity and indecency… which is against our rich traditions and values.”
The ruling, seen by AFP and greeted with approval by Islamist parties, also called for the electronic and print media to stop promoting Valentine’s Day.
Some restaurants in Islamabad continued to send out text messages advertising Valentine’s Day promotions even after the ban was announced.
However preparations appeared muted in more conservative areas such as Peshawar, capital of northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where only a handful of shops were selling Valentine’s Day-themed goods.
The annual occasion is increasingly popular among young Pakistanis, many of whom seize the chance to celebrate romance by giving cards, chocolates and gifts to their sweethearts.
But the country remains deeply conservative, and many disapprove of the holiday as an indecent Western import.
Last year, Pakistan president Mamnoon Hussain had urged the nation to refrain from celebrating Valentine’s Day, saying it had no place in the Muslim-majority nation. Other officials blasted it as “vulgar and indecent.”

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UN chief says Fayyad right man for Libya envoy despite US objection

Mon, 2017-02-13

DUBAI: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he believed former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad was the right person to be the world body’s envoy to Libya after the United States raised objections to the choice.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has expressed disappointment over Guterres’s choice, saying the United Nations had for too long been “unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel.”
“It is a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” Guterres said at a summit in Dubai.
“I do not think there is any valid reason to avoid someone who is very competent to do a job that is extremely important,” he said, adding ending the Libyan conflict was in “everybody’s interest.”
It is unclear whether the US objection has ended Fayyad’s candidacy. Guterres declined to answer questions when approached by Reuters immediately after his comments.
Guterres dismissed the accusation that the United Nations is biased on Israeli-Palestinian issues and said the body’s only loyalty was to its charter.
“The UN needs to be able to act with impartiality in all circumstances and cannot be biased in favor of anybody,” he said.
Guterres said the United Nations would have to engage with the administration of US President Donald Trump as it would “with any other administration.”
Trump, while president-elect, criticized the United Nations as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time” while a spokeswoman said the new administration would “demand some reform and change.”
“Let’s do everything possible to make this relationship a constructive relationship. Having said so, we need to respect our values and we need to make sure a multilateral approach to global problems is valued,” Guterres said.
The UN chief, on a tour of the Middle East, also praised Syria’s main opposition body for approving a delegation to take part in peace talks on Feb. 20 in Geneva.
The talks “are a first step for serious progress in finding a transition that allows for a political solution in which all Syrians feel represented,” he said.
The High Negotiation Committee’s (HNC, the main umbrella group) decision to send a delegation follows indirect talks last month in Kazakhstan where Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to monitor a fragile truce in Syria. 

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