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New Trump order drops Iraq from travel ban list

Author: 
MATTHEW LEE and VIVIAN SALAMA | AP
Wed, 2017-03-01
ID: 
1488348406740825800

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s new immigration order will remove Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens face a temporary US travel ban, US officials said Tuesday, citing the latest draft in circulation. Trump is expected to sign the executive order in the coming days.
Four officials told The Associated Press that the decision followed pressure from the Pentagon and State Department, which had urged the White House to reconsider Iraq’s inclusion given its key role in fighting the Daesh group.
Citizens of six other predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — will remain on the travel ban list, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the order before it is signed. Those bans are effective for 90 days.
The new order includes other changes as well. The officials said the 12-page document no longer singles out Syrian refugees for an indefinite ban and instead includes them as part of a general, 120-day suspension of new refugee admissions.
The officials also said the order won’t include any explicit exemption for religious minorities in the countries targeted by the travel ban. Critics had accused the administration of adding such language to help Christians get into the United States while excluding Muslims.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump signed his original executive order in late January. It sparked immediate confusion, panic and outrage as some travelers were detained in US airports before being sent back overseas and others were barred from boarding flights at foreign airports.
The government initially blocked US green card holders before offering those legal residents special permission to come into the country. It finally decided the order didn’t apply to them.
The State Department provisionally revoked roughly 60,000 valid visas in all, before a federal judge in Washington state blocked the government from carrying out the ban. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision.
Under the revised order, officials said, all existing visas will be honored.
In his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump on Tuesday evening defended his effort.
“We will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe and to keep out those who would do us harm,” he said.
After Trump signed the original order, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi refuted the ban and said he would consider reciprocal measures. Many Iraqi lawmakers urged the government to ban Americans from Iraq in response, despite the potential effects that might have on the anti-IS fight.
Al-Abadi then met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Baghdad this month and underscored the US-Iraqi partnership. And Mattis walked back comments made by Trump, suggesting that Americans could get another chance to seize Iraqi oil as compensation for its military efforts there.
“We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” Mattis told reporters on that trip. Al-Abadi also met with Vice President Pence in Munich earlier this month, where the two publicly discussed ways of strengthening cooperation.
The Trump administration’s changes to the immigration order follow a report by intelligence analysts at the Homeland Security Department, which found insufficient evidence that citizens of the seven Muslim-majority countries posed a terror threat to the United States. A draft of the analysis was obtained last week by the AP.
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Associated Press writer Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.

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Suspects charged with murder in Malaysian airport nerve agent attack

Author: 
EILEEN NG | AP
Wed, 2017-03-01
ID: 
1488349878670890900

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Appearing calm and solemn, two young women accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader, were charged with murder Wednesday.
The women, who arrived in court under the protection of masked special forces carrying machine guns, are at the center of a bizarre killing at a busy Kuala Lumpur airport terminal. Many speculate the attack was orchestrated by North Korea, but Pyongyang denies any role.
“I understand but I am not guilty,” Vietnamese suspect Doan Thi Huong told the court in English after the murder charge was read. She looked briefly at the public gallery as she was led out and bowed her head.
The other suspect, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, nodded as her translator told her: “You are accused of murdering a North Korean man at the departure hall” of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. She was dressed in a red T-shirt and jeans.
The women did not enter pleas because the magistrate court where they appeared has no jurisdiction over a murder case. Lead prosecutor Iskander Ahmad told the court he will ask for the case to be transferred to a higher court and for both women to be tried together.
Each faces a mandatory death sentence if convicted. Both women were wearing bulletproof vests as they were escorted from the court to Kajang Prison.
Kim Jong Nam was attacked as he waited for his flight home to Macau on Feb. 13. He died shortly after two women went up behind him and wiped something onto his face.
Both women have reportedly said they thought they were part of a prank TV show playing harmless tricks on unsuspecting passengers. Aisyah told authorities she was paid the equivalent of $90.
The attack was caught on grainy airport surveillance video; Huong was seen clearly in a T-shirt with “LOL” emblazoned across the front.
Gooi Soon Seng, Aisyah’s lawyer, spoke to his client for the first time Wednesday.
“Her eyes were red and she says she’s innocent,” he said.
Also Wednesday, the court approved a gag order to prevent police and potential witnesses from making public statements about the case.
Meanwhile, Kim’s corpse is at the center of a growing diplomatic battle between North Korea and Malaysia.
Speculation is rampant that North Korea was behind the killing, particularly after Malaysia said Friday that VX had killed Kim. Experts say the oily poison was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory.
On Tuesday, a high-level North Korean delegation arrived in Kuala Lumpur seeking custody of the body.
North Korea opposed Malaysian officials even conducting an autopsy, while Malaysia has resisted giving up the body without getting DNA samples and confirmation from next of kin.
Malaysian officials have confirmed that the victim of the attack was Kim Jong Nam. North Korea, however, has identified him only as a North Korean national with a diplomatic passport bearing the name Kim Chol.
Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said Malaysia will continue to insist that the body be identified by medical examiners through DNA or other means before it can be released. He said the protocol is to release it to the next-of-kin once identification is completed.
Kim Jong Nam is believed to have two sons and a daughter with two women living in Beijing and Macau.
The Pyongyang delegation is also seeking the release of a North Korean arrested in the case, 45-year-old Ri Jong Chol. Malaysia has not described his alleged role in the killing, and it was not clear if or when he could be charged.
Authorities are seeking seven other North Korean suspects, four of whom fled the country the day of Kim’s death and are believed to be back in North Korea. Others sought include the second secretary of North Korea’s embassy and an employee of North Korea’s state-owned airline, Air Koryo.
Kim Jong Nam was estranged from Kim Jong Un. He reportedly fell out of favor with their father, the late Kim Jong Il, in 2001, when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
He had been heading to Macau, where he has a home, when he was killed.
Isolated North Korea has a long history of ordering killings of people it views as threats to its regime. Kim Jong Nam was not known to be seeking political power, but his position as eldest son of the family that has ruled North Korea since it was founded could have made him appear to be a danger.

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Trump softens immigration stance, takes measured tone in speech

Author: 
Steve Holland and Jeff Mason | Reuters
Wed, 2017-03-01
ID: 
1488343594720654000

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump told Congress on Tuesday he was open to immigration reform, shifting from his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration in a speech that offered a more restrained tone than his election campaign and first month in the White House.
Trump, in a prime-time address to a country that remains divided over his leadership, emphasized his desire to focus on problems at home by boosting the US economy with tax reform, a $1 trillion infrastructure effort and an overhaul of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, known as Obamacare.
After a first month in office dominated by a fight over his temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations, Trump looked for a reset to move past a chaotic period that sowed doubts about his ability to govern effectively.
He called for national unity and showed a more measured tone, avoiding a repeat of his attacks on Democratic opponents and media organizations.
Democratic Senator Tom Carper said that “the person who wrote this speech must not have written the inaugural address. That one was “dark” and this one was more uplifting.”
At his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump painted a bleak picture of the country and described it as beset with “American carnage.”
US stock futures advanced at the start of Trump’s address, but gave back some gains later in the speech.
Trump focused part of the speech on foreign policy, stressing his support for NATO but insisting allies pay more for their defense.
In a possible nod to his bid to warm relations with Russia, Trump said: “America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.”
“We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict,” said Trump, who said, however, he would embark on a big defense buildup.
Trump said a broad immigration reform plan was possible if both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were willing to compromise. He said US immigration should be based on a merit-based system, rather than relying on lower-skilled immigrants.
Comprehensive immigration reform eluded his two predecessors because of deep divisions within Congress and among Americans over the issue. Trump said reform would raise wages and help struggling families enter the middle class.
“I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws,” said the Republican president, who took a hard line against illegal immigrants in his 2016 campaign.
Trump has used his early weeks in office to repeat vows to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and intensify deportations of illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.
At the same time, he has expressed sympathy for children who entered the country when their parents crossed the border without proper authority, the “dreamers” who so far are protected by an ordered signed by Obama.

‘Massive tax relief’
Trump voiced a need to persuade Americans to rally behind his agenda after a bitterly fought election, but he made his argument in terms of urging people to rally behind his effort for a “new chapter of American greatness.”
Trump said he wanted to provide “massive tax relief” to the middle class and cut corporate tax rates. But he did not offer specifics and failed to comment on the most pressing tax issue facing Congress, a proposed border adjustment tax to boost exports over imports.
Lawmakers have been looking to Trump for more leadership on an issue that has divided corporate America and Republicans in Congress.
Trump called on the Republican-led Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access and lower costs.
Republicans remain divided on how to accomplish that goal and Democrats are ardently opposed to tampering with a system that provides health insurance for millions of low-income Americans.
Trump’s comments lacked detail, but it was the first time he publicly supported tax credits, a nod to health insurers who say they are necessary to keep people in the market.
Former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said in the Democratic response to Trump’s speech that “you and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it.”
In the most emotional moment of the night, Trump singled out Carryn Owens, the widow of USNavy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in a raid on Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Owens, tears streaming down her face, clasped her hands and looked upward from her spot in the balcony as lawmakers and the president applauded her in the longest ovation of Trump’s hour-long speech.
Trump said the mission that her husband participated in obtained vital intelligence that could be used against Islamic militants, taking issue with news reports quoting US officials who said little was gained from the raid.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Ayesha Rascoe, Jeff Mason, Emily Stephenson, Doina Chiacu and Megan Davis)

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Russian veto gets Assad off the hook for 7th time

Author: 
Reuters, AFP, AP
Wed, 2017-03-01
ID: 
1488317610515986600

NEW YORK/GENEVA: Russia on Tuesday cast its seventh veto to protect the Syrian regime from UN Security Council action, blocking a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions over accusations of chemical weapons attacks during the six-year Syrian conflict.
China backed Russia and cast its sixth veto on Syria. Russia had said the vote on the resolution, drafted by France, Britain and the US, would harm UN-led peace talks between the warring Syrian parties in Geneva, which began last week.
Nine council members voted in favor, Bolivia voted against, while Egypt, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan abstained. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the draft resolution on Tuesday as “totally inappropriate.”
“For my friends in Russia, this resolution is very appropriate,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told the council after the vote.
“It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people. The world is definitely a more dangerous place,” she said.
Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov described the statements made against Moscow in the Security Council as “outrageous” and declared that “God will judge you.”
“Today’s clash or confrontation is not a result of our negative vote. It is a result of the fact that you decided on provocation while you knew well ahead of time our position,” said Safronkov.
Western powers put forward the resolution in response to the results of an investigation by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The international inquiry found that the Syrian regime, led by President Bashar Assad, was responsible for three chlorine gas attacks and that Daesh militants had used mustard gas.
British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the council before the vote: “This is about taking a stand when children are poisoned. It is that simple. It is about taking a stand when civilians are maimed and murdered with toxic weapons.”
French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said the failure by the council to act would “send a message of impunity.”
China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi said it was too early to act because the international investigation was still ongoing. “We oppose the use of chemical weapons,” he said.
Meanwhile, Russia called for terrorism to be included on the agenda of UN-sponsored peace talks on Syria in Geneva. Moscow wants the issue added to the agenda, which for the moment focuses on three “baskets” or areas: Governance, the constitution and elections.
“Definitely yes,” Gennady Gatilov, deputy foreign minister, told reporters when asked if terrorism should be included.
In another development, pro-regime forces have reached the outskirts of Palmyra in their push to drive Daesh from the ancient town. It is the regime’s second such offensive this year.
The activist-run Palmyra Coordination Committee says Syrian forces and their allies from the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group and Iranian advisers are at the town’s western gateway, located about 5 km from the famed Roman ruins.

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UKIP rows deepen as Farage calls for only MP to leave

Author: 
AFP
Wed, 2017-03-01
ID: 
1488313540285635000

LONDON: Bitter tensions in Britain’s anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) turned into open war on Tuesday as founder Nigel Farage called for its only member of Parliament to quit.
Farage said Douglas Carswell “actively and transparently seeks to damage us,” writing in the rightwing Daily Telegraph: “The time for him to go is now.”
A key force behind Britain’s vote to leave the EU last year, the party has been struggling for months with infighting and has failed to find a winning platform beyond its core message of euroskepticism and opposition to mass immigration.
A long-standing feud between Farage and Carswell came to a head following UKIP’s defeat last week in a by-election that had been viewed as the party’s best hope to win a second MP.
Tensions increased over Farage’s failed bid to obtain a knighthood for his role in the June referendum vote to leave the EU.
Emails leaked to the Telegraph show Carswell mocked Farage’s chances of receiving the honor, saying he should get an award for “services to headline writers.”
Farage told the paper that the former Conservative MP had not been supportive, adding: “He is consumed by jealousy and a desire to hurt both UKIP and me.”
The row comes after UKIP donor Arron Banks accused the party at the weekend of being run “like a jumble sale” under new leader Paul Nuttall and threatened to set up a rival movement if it did not shape up.
The Brexit vote was a success for UKIP but raised questions about the party’s relevance after Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May promised a clean break with the EU.
Farage resigned as UKIP leader after the referendum and went to the US to campaign for Donald Trump, but was forced to return as the party descended into chaos.
His successor Diane James quit after 18 days, and the favorite to follow her, Steven Woolfe, left the party after an altercation with a fellow MEP.
New leader Nuttall saw a chance to revive UKIP’s fortunes by standing in last week’s by-election in Stoke-on-Trent in northern England, where 69 percent of locals had voted for Brexit.
But his campaign was dogged by claims he lied about losing close friends in the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster, and the opposition Labour party held the seat.
In an interview with the conservative Sunday Express newspaper, Banks demanded to be made chairman of the party so he could “make it electable, or I am out of there.”
He called for Carswell to be ejected, saying “these dullards aren’t bringing in Tory votes, Stoke proved that. So what are they for?“
Farage suggested last week that UKIP lost in Stoke because it was not tough enough on immigration, an issue that dominated the EU referendum campaign.
On Tuesday, the MEP accused Carswell of being soft on the subject, adding: “I think there is little future for UKIP with him staying inside this party.”
Carswell responded saying: “If he wants to come and talk to the UKIP parliamentary party about any concerns he has, (it is) very happy to respond. It won’t take long, it’s just me.”
UKIP secured 12.5 percent of the vote in the 2015 election, but under Britain’s electoral system, Carswell was its only candidate to win a place in the 650-seat House of Commons.

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2 women to be charged with Kim murder, says Malaysia

Author: 
AFP
Wed, 2017-03-01
ID: 
1488310250775189700

KUALA LUMPUR: Two women arrested for the nerve agent assassination of Kim Jong-Nam are to be charged with his murder, Malaysia said Tuesday, as North Korea sent a senior diplomat to seek the return of the body.
The spectacular killing of Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother with VX, a fast-acting poison developed for warfare, sparked an international probe and lurid stories of Pyongyang’s Cold War-style tradecraft.
South Korea says its isolated neighbor was behind the assassination and claims the North’s agents engaged two outsiders to carry out the murder.
“They will be charged in court under Section 302 (murder) of the penal code,” Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali told AFP by text message, referring to the two suspects.
South Korea also called for “collective measures” to punish North Korea for using chemical weapons to kill Kim Jong-Nam.
The women, from Indonesia and Vietnam, will appear in court on Wednesday. If convicted, they could face death by hanging.
Both women have claimed they thought they were taking part in a practical joke.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah’s alleged accomplice, Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, told Hanoi officials she had been tricked into killing Kim. Aisyah’s boyfriend Farid bin Jalaluddin and a fourth suspect, 46-year-old North Korean man Ri Jong-Chol, are also in custody.

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Trump’s potential anti-Daesh plan: Obama’s on steroids

Author: 
JOYCE KARAM | ARAB NEWS STAFF
Wed, 2017-03-01
ID: 
1488295005523512200

WASHINGTON: While former US President Barack Obama came to office in 2009 pledging to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his successor Donald Trump has embraced more aggressive rhetoric, promising to “knock the hell out of” Daesh and to “win so much” in the Middle East.
But rhetoric aside, and as the Trump administration starts to draft policy plans to fight Daesh, the options it has on hand might be similar in strategy and goals to Obama’s, experts argue, while utilizing more force.
Yesterday, the US Defense Department handed its draft plan for defeating Daesh to the White House, as Defense Secretary James Mattis convened meetings with senior officials to finalize a holistic strategy stamped by Trump to defeat both Daesh and Al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq.
The review, which Trump tasked the Pentagon to draft a month ago, includes — according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford — military, diplomatic and financial measures against Daesh.
Dunford told a policy crowd at Brookings last Thursday: “We’ve been given a task to go to the president with options to accelerate the defeat of ISIS (Daesh) specifically, but also obviously other violent extremist groups as well (Al-Qaeda).” He added: “So we’ll go to him with a full range of options from which he can choose.”
Dunford emphasized the long list of options that the military will provide Trump with, allowing him as the “final decider” to work with different tactics. “I’m in the business of providing the president with options,” Dunford said, describing the war in Syria as “about as complex an environment as you can” get.
Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told Arab News that “the US has a broad spectrum of action to act along” against Daesh in Syria and Iraq. “The military capability is there, and none of the likely options will call for a long-term deployment of US ground troops.”
While Dunford did not take any option off the table, including ground troops, he emphasized the local component of any anti-Daesh plan. The goal would be “to drive the threat down to the level where local law enforcement and security forces can deal with that threat and, first and foremost, it’s incapable of conducting operations against the United States,” he said.
Itani described the options presented to the White House as “likely to be realistic,” including “the augmentation of special forces, looser rules of engagement, and increased material support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).” The SDF is a local Kurdish-majority force supported and equipped by the US to roll back Daesh.
Alternatively, Itani said the Trump administration could opt out “and drop the SDF strategy, and instead coordinate a new approach with Turkey,” whose relations with the SDF are strained. The Turkey route would take the US “through northern Raqqa and Aleppo provinces” in defeating Daesh.
These options of escalating the war against Daesh and pushing it out of Raqqa, while empowering local forces, “are an enhanced version of the Obama approach,” said Itani. The difference between Obama and Trump is that the former “had a lower threshold for risk, and therefore would’ve been happy for this fight to take its time provided casualties are lower, the footprint is smaller and civilian deaths are controlled.”
Trump, on the other hand, is “more aggressive and could deepen US investment in this fight while sharing Obama’s basic goals: That ISIS (Daesh) should be defeated, and the US shouldn’t be saddled with thinking too much about the aftermath.”
Dunford did not exclude the option of establishing safe zones on the list of recommendations to fight Daesh and contain the crisis. Trump has flirted with the idea of safe zones, pledging two weeks ago to build them and have the Gulf states cover the cost.
But finance is the easy part of the puzzle in any debate on safe zones in Syria. Harder questions, according to Itani, involve: “Who will police it? What will happen to the armed groups in the area? What if it’s breached?” These questions will likely be addressed in the White House strategy sessions and in talks with Syria’s neighbors, which could oversee these protected areas.
The US military leadership has also stressed the political aspect of any plan it presents to Trump against Daesh, viewing any escalation as a step toward reaching the negotiating table. That objective was also an Obama tactic, but one that had no legs to gain enough leverage and force a political settlement.

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UK judge says Tunisia police ‘shambolic’ during beach attack

Author: 
Associated Press
Tue, 2017-02-28
ID: 
1488287892832500100

LONDON: A British coroner says the Tunisian police response to a deadly gun attack on the beach resort of Sousse was “at best shambolic, at worst cowardly.”
Judge Nicholas Lorraine-Smith is delivering his findings Tuesday at an inquest into the deaths of 30 British tourists in the June 2015 attack at the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel.
In all, 38 people were killed by gunman Seifeddine Rezgui. The Daesh group claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Britain, inquests are held to establish the facts in cases of violent or unexplained deaths.
The judge rejected calls from victims’ lawyers to issue a finding of neglect by travel firms and hotels. He said local police were responsible for security, and “their response could and should have been effective.”

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Etna volcano erupts in fiery show of lava in eastern Sicily

Author: 
Associated Press
Tue, 2017-02-28
ID: 
1488287892822500000

ROME: Mount Etna has erupted in a fiery show of lava in eastern Sicily.
The volcano’s latest eruptions, which can last days and even weeks, began on Monday evening. The giant orange fountains of lava, spewing toward the sky, could be seen in the city of Catania and the resort town of Taormina.
Although volcanic ash clouds can cause flight disruptions, the nearby Catania airport was operating normally Tuesday. Authorities reported no danger to the towns that dot the mountain’s slopes.

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