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  1. People inspect missile remains in the besieged town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria, February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT: The U.N. Security Council on Friday delayed a vote on a demand for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, where pro-government warplanes have been pounding the last rebel bastion near Damascus in one of the deadliest bombing campaigns of the seven-year civil war. A draft resolution aimed at ending the carnage in the eastern Ghouta district and elsewhere in Syria will be put up for a vote in the 15-member council at noon (1700 GMT) on Saturday, Kuwait?s U.N. Ambassador Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi said. The 24-hour delay followed a flurry of last-minute negotiations on the text drafted by Sweden and Kuwait after Russia, a veto-holding ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, proposed new amendments on Friday. ?Unbelievable that Russia is stalling a vote on a ceasefire allowing humanitarian access in Syria,? U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley posted on Twitter. Talks have centered on the paragraph demanding a cessation of hostilities for 30 days to allow aid access and medical evacuations. A proposal for the truce to start 72 hours after the resolution?s adoption has been watered-down to instead demand it start ?without delay? in a bid to win Russian support. Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Moscow does not want to specify when a truce should start. It was not immediately clear how Russia would vote on Saturday. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France to be adopted. ?We?re not going to give up. ... I hope that we will adopt something forceful, meaningful, impactful tomorrow,? Olof Skoog, Sweden?s U.N. ambassador, told reporters. Previous ceasefires, however, have had a poor record of ending fighting in Syria, where Assad?s forces have gained the upper hand. The towns and farms of eastern Ghouta have been under government siege since 2013, with shortages of food, water and electricity that worsened last year. Earlier on Friday, the densely populated enclave was bombed for a sixth straight day, witnesses said. The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the government captured rebel-held parts of Aleppo in 2016. At least 462 people have been killed, including at least 99 children, and many hundreds injured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Friday. Syrian state media reported one person was killed and 58 injured in rebel shelling of sites in Damascus, including a hospital. Clouding any potential ceasefire is the Syrian government?s frequently used tactic of pushing rebels to surrender their strongholds after long sieges and military offensives. Insurgents in eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out an evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians of the kind that ended rebellions in Aleppo and Homs after heavy bombardment in earlier years. ?We refuse categorically any initiative that includes getting the residents out of their homes and moving them elsewhere,? Ghouta rebel factions wrote in a letter to the Security Council. Eastern Ghouta has 400,000 people spread over a larger area than other enclaves the government has recaptured. Late on Thursday, government aircraft dropped leaflets urging civilians to depart and hand themselves over to the Syrian army, marking corridors through which they could leave safely. Pressure on Russia Leading up to the Security Council vote, all eyes have been on Russia. Moscow has a history of standing in the way of Security Council measures that would harm Assad?s interests. Germany and France were among the nations to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to support the resolution. Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow wanted guarantees that rebel fighters will not shoot at residential areas in Damascus. Damascus and Moscow say they only target militants. They have said their main aim is to stop rebel shelling of the capital, and have accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding residents as human shields. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government planes and artillery hit Douma, Zamalka and other towns across the enclave in the early hours of Friday. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military. Medical charities say more than a dozen hospitals were hit, making it nearly impossible to treat the wounded. A witness in Douma who asked not to be identified said by telephone that the early morning bombing was the most intense so far. Another resident, in the town of Hamouriyeh, said the assault had continued ?like the other days.? ?Whenever the bombing stops for some moments, the Civil Defence vehicles go out to the targeted places. They work to remove the debris from the road,? Bilal Abu Salah said. The Civil Defence there said its rescuers rushed to help the wounded after strikes on Hamouriyeh and Saqba. The emergency service, which operates in rebel territory, says it has pulled hundreds of people out from under rubble in recent days. Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman for the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction, said it had thwarted nine attacks by pro-government militias trying to storm a front in the southeast of Ghouta.
  2. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov talks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski MUNICH: Moscow on Saturday dismissed as "blabber" and "fantasies" allegations that it interfered in the election that brought President Donald Trump to power, denials that drew immediate scorn from US officials. The traded barbs, made at the Munich Security Conference, came a day after the United States indicted 13 Russians for running a secret campaign to sway the 2016 vote. "I am amazed that... the Russians come, send someone every year to basically refute the facts," US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said. Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Munich attendees about the US charges: "So as long as we don?t see facts, everything else is blabber." The indictments, which include the first charges laid by US special counsel Robert Mueller for election interference, detailed a stunning operation launched in 2014 in a bid to sow division and influence American politics "including the presidential election of 2016". Mueller alleges that by mid-2016, the campaign ? under the direction of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin ? became focused on boosting Trump and demeaning his rivals including Democrat Hillary Clinton. It allegedly involved hundreds of people working in shifts and with a budget of millions of dollars. Three companies were also indicted. ?Simply fantasies? Mueller charges that members of the group posed as US citizens on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, posting content that reached "significant numbers" of Americans. The indictments made no judgement however on whether the alleged Russian efforts had altered the outcome of the election. When asked to comment on the charges at the gathering in Germany, Lavrov stressed that US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, had in the past "denied that any country influenced results of the election". Former Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak was equally dismissive when he took to the stage at the top security gathering in Munich. "We didn?t meddle in the American political life," said Kislyak, who was posted in Washington when Trump?s White House win stunned the world. "Whatever allegations are being mounted against us are simply fantasies that are being used for political reasons inside the United States in the fight between different sides of the political divide," he added. Kislyak?s own name has popped up in Mueller?s probe as part of his inquiries into contacts between Russia and the Trump team. In December, Mueller announced that former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with then-ambassador Kislyak in 2016. ?Incontrovertible? evidence Despite the vehement Russian denials, US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, speaking in Munich immediately after Lavrov, said "evidence" of such attempts to "interfere in our democratic process" would become harder to hide. "We?re becoming more and more adept at tracing the origins of this espionage and subversion, and as you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and in the public domain," McMaster said. While in the past, investigators were wary of divulging their IT intelligence capabilities, "now that this is in the arena of a law enforcement investigation, it?s going to be very apparent to everyone," McMaster said. Trump meanwhile has seized on the indictments as proof that his campaign team did not conspire with Moscow. "Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president," he tweeted Friday. "The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!" None of the 13 Russian suspects are in US custody.
  3. The article, which was adopted by a show of hands Tuesday night in the National Assembly, is the "cornerstone" of a law for "a state in the service of a trustworthy society" PARIS: French lawmakers have voted for a flagship article in a new law which will give citizens the "right to make mistakes" in dealings with the government without being automatically punished. The article, which was adopted by a show of hands Tuesday night in the National Assembly, is the "cornerstone" of a law for "a state in the service of a trustworthy society", according to the government. The law is part of reforms President Emmanuel Macron touted during his electoral campaign to allow citizens to make a mistake in good faith in their dealings with the authorities without risking punishment from the first infringement. It will be up to the administration to prove that the person was acting in bad faith. "The expansion of the right to make a mistake adopted by the Assembly just now!" minister of public action and accounts Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter. "It is a revolution in the relations between the administration and the administered." To err is human but the divine forgiveness of the government will be "limited to the first mistake", according to a change made to the article at the insistence of dissenters. At the opening of debate, the minister said the government had listened to "the French who like their public services but not their administration", citing a letter of grievances sent him by one "Alexandre". Lawmakers will have to consider dozens of further articles in the bill on the extent of the right to make mistakes. The right to err will not apply in a number of cases, such as public health. Considered a "catch-all" by some officials, the bill deals with subjects as diverse as modifying procedures for obtaining a permit for the installation of wind farms at sea or the possibility of making donations to churches by SMS.
  4. Donald Trump/File photo WASHINGTON: The US government was on the brink of an embarrassing shutdown Friday after senators failed to bring forward a stopgap motion to temporarily fund operations from midnight. The failure of the motion means President Donald Trump enters the first anniversary of his inauguration Saturday at the head of an administration that is out of funds. Trump admitted Friday that chances were "not looking good" that 11th-hour talks in Congress would break an impasse over spending and avert a US government shutdown. Less that two-and-a-half hours before a midnight deadline to reach a short-term deal to keep the federal government running at full capacity, Trump lashed out at Democrats. "Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border," he tweeted, citing some of the government projects and agencies that will find themselves unfunded. "Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy," he alleged. Earlier, after meeting top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, Trump had sounded more upbeat, saying they were "working on solutions" with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. But Schumer admitted a "good number of disagreements" remain between the two sides, despite a "long and detailed meeting" at which they discussed "all of the major outstanding issues." "The discussions will continue," the New York Democrat told reporters. The president shelved plans to fly to Florida to celebrate at his Mar-a-Lago estate the first anniversary of his inauguration -- which falls on Saturday -- to remain in Washington to ride out the storm. Political risks With mid-term congressional elections looming later this year, Republicans risk being blamed by voters if the government stops functioning over lack of funds. A new Washington Post/ABC poll found that 48 percent of Americans blame Trump and the Republicans for a potential shutdown, and only 28 percent hold Democrats responsible. There have been four government shutdowns since 1990. In the last one in 2013, more than 800,000 government workers were put on temporary leave. Essential functions like the military, law enforcement, the White House and Congress would continue working but with reduced staff. Some agencies would shut altogether. But others in the massive bureaucracy will be sent home without pay. International ratings agency Fitch said a partial shutdown was unlikely to affect America´s AAA/stable rating for US sovereign debt. Wall Street seemed unconcerned so far, with the S&P and Nasdaq closing at new records.
  5. PRAGUE: The cabinet of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis resigned on Wednesday, a day after losing a confidence vote on the billionaire politician?s first attempt to form a government while battling fraud allegations. Babis?s ANO party won a national election last October but holds only 78 of 200 seats in the lower house and has thus far been unable to persuade any of the eight other parliamentary parties to join a coalition because of the allegations, which concern EU subsidies. The government will stay in office until a new cabinet is put in place, which could take months. President Milos Zeman, who is due to accept the cabinet?s resignation later this week, has promised Babis a second try to form a government. With the economy powering ahead and wages rising as unemployment hovers around two-decade lows, markets have brushed off the political uncertainty. Much of the electorate also appears unconcerned, and support for ANO has grown despite the subsidy scandal. A CVVM institute poll in December showed the party at 35.5 percent compared to the 29.6 percent it won in October. This has made other parties wary of forcing a new election and several have declared they were open to negotiation. However, the prime minister?s role remains a sticking point. Police allege Babis, the country?s second-richest person, hid ownership of one of his companies a decade ago to win a 2 million euro subsidy, mostly from European Union funds, meant for small businesses. He denies wrongdoing. Parliament?s second-biggest party, the conservative Civic Democrats, has made Babis stepping aside a condition for talks. The Social Democrats and Christian Democrats - ANO?s former ruling partners - are open to talks but say they will not join a government with a prime minister facing a police investigation. The far-right SPD party and far-left Communists have signaled willingness to work with ANO, but Babis does not want a government with them. Ready to fight Babis was charged in the case but regained immunity from prosecution when he was re-elected to parliament. Lawmakers will vote on Friday whether to lift that immunity and are expected to do so. Babis, who calls the subsidy case a ploy by adversaries to chase him out of politics, said on Tuesday he would request it be lifted. In past months, Babis has repeatedly ruled out mirroring the arrangement in Poland whereby the head of the ruling PiS party, Jarorslaw Kaczynski, is considered de-facto leader despite holding no formal position in government. But Babis shifted slightly this week when asked by reporters on whether he could rule out a government without him, saying everything would depend on the upcoming negotiations. Babis founded ANO in 2011 after building an empire in food, agriculture, chemicals and media valued at $4 billion. After support for the party surged in a national election in 2013, it joined a government led by the Social Democrats. ANO won the October election with promises to fight political corruption, bring a businessman?s sense to government and raise the country?s profile within the EU. It has also said it will boost spending on crumbling roads, digitalize government and cut taxes. The vote brought gains for protest parties at mainstream parties? expense, tracking a trend that has spread across Europe, often complicating coalition-building as in Germany. The possible departure of Zeman as president is further muddying Czech political waters. His bid for re-election is facing a formidable challenge from academic Jiri Drahos in a run-off ballot on Jan. 26-27. Drahos has said it would be unacceptable for someone charged with a criminal offense to be prime minister.
  6. FILE PHOTO: Israeli lawmakers attend a vote on a bill at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem February 6, 2017. REUTERS JERUSALEM: Israel?s parliament gave preliminary approval on Wednesday for legislation that would make it easier for a court to impose a death sentence on assailants convicted of murder in attacks classified as terrorism. Israeli military courts - which handle cases involving Palestinians in the occupied West Bank - already have the power to issue the death sentence, although this has never been implemented. The only case of an execution in Israel was carried out against convicted Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1962. The amendment to the penal code would still require three more readings if it is to become law. Currently, a death penalty can only be imposed if a panel of three military judges passes sentence unanimously. If the amendment is adopted, a majority verdict would suffice. Wednesday?s motion was brought by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an ultra-nationalist in the conservative coalition government, who advocates tough action against Palestinian militants. Fifty-two of parliament?s 120 members voted in favor, and 49 were opposed. Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoner Club which represents Palestinians jailed in Israel, denounced the vote as ?an expression of the state of blindness and confusion in the policies of this fascist regime (where) extremist parties race to pass racist laws. ?While the world moves toward repealing the death penalty, Israel is working to ratify this law, which is directed against the Palestinians,? Fares told Reuters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted for the motion but said that such legislation required deeper discussion and that the matter would now be considered at ministerial level before further debate in the Knesset. In remarks to lawmakers, he said: ?I think that in extreme cases, when somebody slaughters and laughs (as he kills), he should not spend the rest of his time in jail and should be executed.? Asked by an Israeli Arab lawmaker whether he would also apply this reasoning to Jewish militants convicted of killing Palestinians, Netanyahu said: ?In principle, yes.? The successful vote was the latest in a number of motions brought by right-wing coalition members who feel able to pressure Netanyahu?s brittle government into enacting hard-line legislation.
  7. ROME: Italy will vote on March 4 in an election expected to produce a hung parliament, instability and possible market turbulence in the euro zone?s third largest economy. Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni?s cabinet set the date of the vote after the president dissolved parliament on Thursday, formally opening an election campaign which in practice has already been raging bitterly for weeks. With opinion polls suggesting no one will win a parliamentary majority, Gentiloni said he would remain in office and ensure continuity until a new administration was in place. As things stand, a center-right alliance around Silvio Berlusconi?s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) looks set to take the largest number of seats - potentially catapulting the 81-year-old four-times premier back to center stage even though he cannot become prime minister due to a tax fraud conviction. Gentiloni told reporters at the end of his one-year spell in power that Italy should not fear uncertainty, noting that it was now common to many European countries. ?We mustn?t dramatize the risk of instability, we are quite inoculated against it,? he said, in reference to Italy?s frequent changes of government, adding that elsewhere in Europe there has been ?an Italianisation of political systems?. Germany is locked in talks to produce a new government after inconclusive elections, while Spain and Portugal have minority governments and Britain is in tangled negotiations over its exit from the European Union. However, Italy, with the largest public debt in the euro zone after Greece?s and one of the bloc?s highest jobless rates, is considered particularly vulnerable. Its economy is on course this year for its firmest growth since 2010, but it remains among the most sluggish performers in Europe as it has been since the start of monetary union in 1999. REVOLVING DOORS Gentiloni is the third prime minister since the last election in 2013, which also produced no clear winner. His predecessor, Matteo Renzi, quit in December 2016 after voters threw out his planned constitutional reforms in a referendum. Speaking earlier on Thursday at the prime minister?s traditional year-end news conference, Gentiloni appealed to parties not to peddle fear and make unrealistic promises. All the main political forces are pledging to raise the budget deficit and slash taxes despite record high public debt, and immigration is set to be a central theme of the campaign, with right-wing parties frequently warning of a migrant ?invasion?. The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement leads opinion polls with about 28 percent of the vote, followed by the ruling Democratic Party (PD), of which Gentiloni is a member, on around 23 percent. However, most seats in parliament are seen going to a conservative alliance, with Berlusconi?s Forza Italia on around 16 percent and the right-wing Northern League and Brothers of Italy on 13 and 5 percent respectively. The PD?s support has been falling, hurt by banking scandals and internal splits, and there has been speculation that Gentiloni may take over from its leader Renzi as its candidate for prime minister at the election. Gentiloni, whose popularity ratings are higher than Renzi?s, refused to be drawn on this, but advised the PD to reject populism and run a sober campaign as ?a tranquil party of government?. ?This is the message the PD has to give, and if it does so I think it will regain support,? he said. Although the presidency is usually a mainly ceremonial role, President Sergio Mattarella is likely to become a central figure if the election produces no clear winner. He is expected to ask the center right to try to form a government if, as expected it is the largest coalition. But if it cannot muster a majority then the second chance may fall to the maverick 5-Star if it is still the largest party. Its leader Luigi Di Maio said on Thursday he would work for a policy deal with other parties after the election, shifting away from the movement?s previous refusal to form alliances.
  8. Switzerland's President Doris Leuthard speaks during a news conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, December 4, 2017. REUTERS ZURICH: A referendum in Switzerland to clarify the country?s relationship with the European Union would be helpful, Swiss President Doris Leuthard said on Sunday, after ties between the two sides cooled this week. Switzerland?s frictions with the EU, of which it is not a member, arise as Britain negotiates its withdrawal from the bloc following a referendum in June last year and seeks a new trading relationship with its closest neighbors. Talks on securing a new ?framework? treaty to govern the Swiss-EU relationship have been underway for some time, with Brussels wanting to replace the more than 100 bilateral accords which regulate its relationship with Bern. But relations soured this week when the EU granted Swiss stock exchanges only limited access to the bloc, prompting Swiss threats of retaliation for what it called discrimination. ?The bilateral path is important,? Leuthard told Swiss newspapers Sonntags Blick. ?We therefore have to clarify our relationship with Europe. We have to know in which direction to go. ?Therefore a fundamental referendum would be helpful.? Talks on the an all-encompassing agreement made headway last month after Switzerland agreed to increase its contribution to the EU?s budget. Such a deal would ensure Switzerland adopts relevant EU laws in return for enhanced access to the bloc?s single market, crucial for Swiss exports. But a deal would be opposed by the anti-EU Swiss People?s Party (SVP), currently the biggest group in parliament. Leuthard, who steps down as president at the end of the year, said the latest row had not overshadowed her year in the rotating office. ?Of course, the differences with Brussels are now in focus. Here our attitude is clear - for the EU to link such a technical thing like stock exchange equivalency with a political question like the framework treaty, that is not possible,? She said some countries were putting Switzerland in the same category as Britain, while others wanted to strengthen their own financial centers at Switzerland?s expense. ?Others think we are cherry pickers who benefit too much from the single European market, they want to increase pressure for a framework agreement,? Leuthard said. Pressure from outside would did not contribute to a beneficial climate in Switzerland over a potential agreement, she said. She said she understood Swiss scepticism towards the EU, but there was no alternative to finding an accommodation with the bloc which generates around two thirds of Swiss trade. ?We can strengthen the cooperation with India and China, but the EU remains central. We need a mechanism and regulated relationship with the EU, that would also prevent political games like we are having at the moment,? Leuthard said.
  9. Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, US, December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files NEW YORK: Major global stock indexes slipped on Friday in light pre-holiday trade, exacerbated by weakness in several blue-chip companies? shares, while Spanish bond yields rose after separatists won a Catalan election. Shoe and apparel maker Nike Inc.?s shares dropped 2.3 percent after it forecast muted current-quarter revenue growth, highlighting its struggles to regain market share in North America from Adidas. UnitedHealth Group Inc slid 0.7 percent after the health insurer agreed to buy Chilean healthcare company Banmedica SA for $2.8 billion. Despite the dip, Wall Street ended the week higher after rallying sharply ahead of a $1.5-trillion tax cut bill that passed in Washington on Wednesday. U.S. President Donald Trump signed the tax overhaul into law on Friday. Stock markets around the world shot up as the law, seen as boosting corporations and leading to economic growth, advanced through both chambers of the Republican-dominated Congress. ?It?s been a strong week,? said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. ?Whether the market is up a little bit or down a little bit is not indicative of larger trends ... It?s easy to push things around when not many people are trading.? Investors were also winding down ahead of the Christmas holiday on Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 28.23 points, or 0.11 percent, to close at 24,754.06, the S&P 500 lost 1.23 points, or 0.05 percent, to 2,683.34 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 5.40 points, or 0.08 percent, to 6,959.96. MSCI?s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.02 percent. For the week, the S&P rose 0.29 percent, the Dow added 0.42 percent and the NASDAQ gained 0.34 percent. In Europe, the premium investors demand for holding Spanish bonds over top-rated German peers fell to its lowest in almost three months as Catalonia held an independence election. The euro slid 0.1 percent to $1.1858, but Europe?s common currency was still up nearly 13 percent this year, on track for its best yearly performance in 14 years. Spanish stocks were among the biggest losers, confirming analyst expectations that any shake-out from the Catalonia vote would be mostly confined to Spain. U.S. Treasury yields, which reached a nine-month peak after the American tax vote, pushed slightly higher as investors hung up their hats before Christmas and ahead of next week?s supply of short-to-medium-term government debt. The yield curve, while mildly flatter on the day, was on track for its largest weekly steepening since July following the bill?s passage, which was seen as hastening the pace of interest rate increases. Investors appeared to brush off U.S. data on durable goods orders, personal spending, new home sales and consumer sentiment. Next week, investors will watch for the release of December U.S. consumer confidence survey data. Economists polled by Reuters expect it to decline from its strongest levels since late 2000. In commodities, oil prices waned in light trading but remained near their highest since 2015 on pledges from OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC producer Russia that any exit from crude output cuts would be gradual. Palladium prices jumped to 17-year highs as strong demand from auto catalyst makers reinforced the prospect of market shortages, while gold rose for the sixth straight session to a 2-1/2-week high on U.S. economic data. In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin once again became an eye-catching mover, this time because it plunged by nearly 30 percent to below $12,000, before recovering to trade above $14,000, still down nearly 9 percent. Investors dumped bitcoin in manic trading after its blistering ascent to a peak close to $20,000 prompted warnings by experts of a bubble.
  10. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, December 21, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he expected US President Donald Trump?s administration to rescind without delay its ?unfortunate decision? to recognize Jerusalem as Israel?s capital. In comments on Twitter, Erdogan said he welcomed the ?overwhelming support? for the resolution in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), where more than 100 countries voted in favour of calling for the United States to reverse its decision.
  11. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps during a celebration ? for nuclear scientists and engineers who contributed to a hydrogen bomb test ? in September 2017. KCNA via REUTERS UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is due to vote on Friday on a US-drafted resolution that seeks to toughen sanctions on North Korea in response to its latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch, diplomats said. The draft, seen by Reuters on Thursday, seeks to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum product exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year and demand the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within 12 months. It would also cap crude oil supplies to North Korea at 4 million barrels a year. The United States has been calling on China to limit its oil supply to its neighbour and ally. The text was circulated to the 15-member council on Thursday. While it was not immediately clear how China would vote, traditionally a draft on North Korea is not given to all members until it is agreed by Beijing and Washington. The US has been negotiating with China on the draft resolution for the past week, diplomats said. If adopted, it would be the 10th resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea over its missile and nuclear programs since 2006. To pass, a resolution needs at least nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China. The US late last month warned North Korea?s leadership it would be ?utterly destroyed? if war were to break out after Pyongyang test-fired its most advanced missile, putting the US mainland within range. During a speech on Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ?stressed that nobody can deny the entity of the DPRK which rapidly emerged as a strategic state capable of posing a substantial nuclear threat to the US,? according to North Korea?s official KCNA news agency. DPRK is the acronym for the country?s official name, Democratic People?s Republic of Korea. UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman visited Pyongyang earlier this month ? the first senior UN official to do so since 2011 ? and said North Korean officials did not commit to talks but he believes he left ?the door ajar?. The US-drafted resolution repeats the previous language by reaffirming the council?s ?support for the Six-Party Talks, calls for their resumption?. So-called six-party talks on North Korea?s nuclear program stalled in 2008. In a bid to further choke North Korea?s external sources of funding, the draft resolution also seeks to ban North Korean exports of food products, machinery, electrical equipment, earth and stone, including magnesite and magnesia, wood, and vessels. It would ban exports to North Korea of industrial equipment, machinery, transportation vehicles, and industrial metals. The draft resolution would subject 19 new North Koreans and the Ministry of the People?s Armed Forces to a global asset freeze and travel ban. It also seeks to allow countries to seize, inspect, and freeze any vessel in their ports or territorial waters that they believe was carrying banned cargo or involved in prohibited activities. Separately, China and Russia on Thursday asked for more time to consider a US proposal to blacklist 10 ships for transporting banned items from North Korea, diplomats said. It was unclear how much more time would be given. The vessels are accused of ?conducting illegal ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels or illegally transporting North Korean coal to other countries for exports,? the US said in its proposal. Countries are required to ban blacklisted ships from entering their ports. The council?s North Korea sanctions committee in October designated four ships as banned for carrying coal from North Korea.
  12. Palestine's Envoy to UN Riyad Mansour. Photo: AFP file UNITED NATIONS: The Palestinians? UN envoy on Thursday described as a "massive setback" for the United States a UN vote in favour of a motion rejecting Washington?s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel?s capital. "One hundred twenty-eight versus nine ? that?s a massive setback for the United States of America," Ambassador Riyad Mansour told AFP, commenting on the result of the vote at the General Assembly. Palestinians welcome support after UN vote The Palestinian president welcomed Thursday a United Nations General Assembly resolution criticising the US government´s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel´s capital. "This decision reaffirms once again that the just Palestinian cause enjoys the support of international law, and no decision by any party can change the reality," a statement from Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas´s spokesman said, stressing it showed "that Jerusalem is occupied territory under international law." "We will continue our efforts in the United Nations and all international forums to end the occupation and create a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem," the statement added. The General Assembly adopted the motion rejecting US President Donald Trump´s December 6 decision by 128 votes to nine, with 35 abstentions. Trump had warned ahead of the vote in the 193-nation assembly that "we're watching" and threatened reprisals against countries backing the measure, which reaffirms that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiations. The measure was sent to the General Assembly after it was vetoed by the United States at the Security Council on Monday, although all other 14 council members voted in favour.
  13. UNITED NATIONS: US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned Thursday of reprisals ahead of a UN vote expected to reject the US decision on Jerusalem, warning "the United States will remember this day." "This vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN," Haley told the UN General Assembly. UN member-states will vote today (Thursday) on a motion rejecting US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, under strong pressure from President Donald Trump who has threatened to cut funding to countries that back the measure. The UN General Assembly will hold an emergency session to decide on a draft resolution that the United States vetoed at the Security Council on Monday after all other 14 council members voted in favour of the measure. On the eve of the vote, Trump suggested there could be reprisals for countries that support the motion, put forward by Yemen and Turkey on behalf of Arab and Muslim countries. "They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us," Trump said at the White House. "Well, we´re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We´ll save a lot. We don´t care." The draft resolution mirrors the vetoed measure, reaffirming that any decision on the status of Jerusalem has no legal effect and must be rescinded. It does not mention Trump´s decision but expresses "deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem." Diplomats expect strong support for the resolution, which is non-binding, despite the US pressure to either abstain, vote against it or simply not turn up for the vote. On Tuesday, US Ambassador Nikki Haley sent an email to fellow UN envoys to put them on notice that "the president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us." "We will take note of each and every vote on this issue," she wrote in the message seen by AFP. On Twitter, Haley posted that "the US will be taking names" when the ambassadors of the 193-nation assembly cast their vote on Thursday. "Nikki, that was the right message," Trump said. A council diplomat said Canada, Hungary and the Czech Republic might bow to US pressure, but the motion is all but certain to be approved. No country has veto powers in the General Assembly, contrary to the council where the United States, along with Britain, China, France and Russia, can block any resolution.
  14. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - AFP File Photo ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday called on UN member states not to be swayed by US leader Donald Trump's threat to cut funding, during a key vote on a motion rejecting US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. "I am calling on the whole world: never sell your democratic will in return for petty dollars," he said in a televised speech in Ankara. Trump threatened to cut funding to countries that backed the motion to be voted on Thursday at the UN General Assembly. The US decision on December 6 to recognise the city as Israel's capital broke with international consensus and unleashed protests across the Muslim world, prompting a flurry of appeals to the United Nations. At an emergency session, the UN General Assembly will decide Thursday on a draft resolution reaffirming that Jerusalem is an issue that must be resolved through negotiations and that any decision on its status has no legal effect and must be rescinded. The measure was sent to the General Assembly after it was vetoed by the United States at the Security Council on Monday, although all other 14 council members voted in favour. Trump warned that Washington would closely watch how nations voted, suggesting there could even be reprisals for countries that back the motion which was put forward by Yemen and Turkey on behalf of Arab and Muslim countries. Erdogan accused Trump of making "threats". "How do they call America? The cradle of democracy. The cradle of democracy is seeking to find will in the world that can be bought with dollars," he said. "Mr Trump you cannot buy with dollars Turkey's democratic will. Our decision is clear," he said. Erdogan said he believed that "the world will teach a very good lesson to America today (Thursday)."
  15. [embed_video1 url=http://stream.jeem.tv/vod/330d5d71e835da8e01949b8fccf56f3b.mp4/playlist.m3u8?wmsAuthSign=c2VydmVyX3RpbWU9MTIvMjEvMjAxNyAxMTo1NjowNyBBTSZoYXNoX3ZhbHVlPUQ1bFloRFpOV3JzWktSNDNqSzFYQVE9PSZ2YWxpZG1pbnV0ZXM9NjAmaWQ9MQ== style=center] UNITED NATIONS: The upcoming UN vote on Jerusalem will send a message to the United States that the world stands with Palestine, said Pakistan?s envoy Dr Maleeha Lodhi on Wednesday. ?United States should decide whether to stand with the world or an occupying force which is the reason for instability and chaos in the Middle East.? Dr Lodhi?s statements came ahead of a United Nations vote on a motion rejecting US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel?s capital, under strong pressure from President Donald Trump who has threatened to cut funding to countries that back the measure. Pakistan warns US Jerusalem move threatens to drive Middle East into further chaos Pakistan?s Ambassador to the UN Dr Maleeha Lodhi addressed Security Council on Wednesday ?Pakistan is among the countries which have co-sponsored this resolution. We are hopeful that the General Assembly will adopt this with a heavy majority. This resolution is similar to the one which was vetoed by the US.? Dr Lodhi emphasised that Pakistan had rejected the US decision terming it illegal and leading to chaos and instability being fueled in the Middle East. The UN General Assembly will hold an emergency session to decide on a draft resolution that the United States vetoed at the Security Council on Monday after all other 14 council members voted in favour of the measure. UN votes on Jerusalem after Trump warns 'we're watching' Draft resolution calling for Trump?s declaration to be withdrawn was vetoed by the United States On the eve of the vote, Trump suggested there could be reprisals for countries that support the motion, put forward by Yemen and Turkey on behalf of Arab and Muslim countries. "They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us," Trump said at the White House. "Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We´ll save a lot. We don´t care." The draft resolution mirrors the vetoed measure, reaffirming that any decision on the status of Jerusalem has no legal effect and must be rescinded. It does not mention Trump´s decision but expresses "deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem." Diplomats expect strong support for the resolution, which is non-binding, despite the US pressure to either abstain, vote against it or simply not turn up for the vote.
  16. US President Donald Trump excuses reporters after his remarks to them at the start of a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, US, December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that vote in favour of a draft United Nations resolution calling for the United States to withdraw its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel?s capital. ?They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we?re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We?ll save a lot. We don?t care,? Trump told reporters at the White House. The 193-member UN General Assembly will hold a rare emergency special session on Thursday ? at the request of Arab and Muslim countries ? to vote on a draft resolution, which was vetoed by the United States on Monday in the 15-member UN Security Council. The remaining 14 Security Council members voted in favour of the Egyptian-drafted resolution, which did not specifically mention the United States or Trump but which expressed ?deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.? US Ambassador Nikki Haley, in a letter to dozens of UN states on Tuesday seen by Reuters, warned that Trump had asked her to ?report back on those countries who voted against us.? She bluntly echoed that call in a Twitter post: ?The US will be taking names.? Several senior diplomats said Haley?s warning was unlikely to change many votes in the General Assembly, where such direct, public threats are rare. Miroslav Lajcak, president of the General Assembly, declined to comment on Trump?s remarks, but added: ?It?s the right and responsibility of member states to express their views.? A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also declined to comment on Trump?s remarks on Wednesday. ?I like the message that Nikki sent yesterday at the United Nations, for all those nations that take our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council, or they vote against us potentially at the assembly,? Trump said. ?Bullying? Trump abruptly reversed decades of US policy this month when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel?s capital, generating outrage from Palestinians and the Arab world and concern among Washington?s Western allies. He also plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The draft UN resolution calls on all countries to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem. A senior diplomat from a Muslim country, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of Haley?s letter: ?States resort to such blatant bullying only when they know they do not have a moral or legal argument to convince others.? A senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, described it as ?poor tactics? at the United Nations ?but pretty good for Haley 2020 or Haley 2024,? referring to speculation that Haley might run for higher office. ?She?s not going to win any votes in the General Assembly or the Security Council, but she is going to win some votes in the US population,? the Western diplomat said. A senior European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed Haley was unlikely to sway many UN states. ?We are missing some leadership here from the US and this type of letter is definitely not helping to establish US leadership in the Middle East peace process,? the diplomat said. Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city?s eastern sector, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally. ?The first name that she should write down is Bolivia,? Bolivia?s UN Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz said of Haley?s message. ?We regret the arrogance and disrespect to the sovereign decision of member states and to multilateralism.?
  17. US Ambassador Nikki Haley UNITED NATIONS: US Ambassador Nikki Haley has warned countries that she will report back to President Donald Trump with the names of those who support a draft resolution rejecting the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel´s capital. The UN General Assembly will hold an emergency session Thursday to vote on the proposed measure that the United States vetoed at the Security Council. "The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us," said the letter from Haley seen by AFP. "We will take note of each and every vote on this issue," she wrote to several UN ambassadors. On Twitter, Haley posted that "the US will be taking names" during the vote on Thursday at the 193-nation assembly. Turkey and Yemen requested the urgent meeting on behalf of the Arab group of countries and the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The two countries circulated a draft resolution on Tuesday that mirrors the vetoed measure, reaffirming that any decision on the status of Jerusalem has no legal effect and must be rescinded. Egypt had put forward the draft at the council which was backed by all 14 other Security Council members in the vote on Monday. Like the Egyptian draft, the text before the assembly does not mention Trump´s decision but expresses "deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem." No fear Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour said he expected "overwhelming support" for the measure stating that Jerusalem is an issue "to be resolved through negotiations" between Israel and the Palestinians. "The General Assembly will say, without the fear of the veto, that the international community is refusing to accept the unilateral position of the United States," Mansour told reporters. No country has veto powers in the General Assembly, contrary to the council where the United States, along with Britain, China, France and Russia, can block any resolution. Trump´s December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem broke with international consensus, triggering protests across the Muslim world and drawing strong condemnation. Key US allies Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Ukraine were among the 14 countries in the 15-member council that voted in favor of the measure. After that vote, Haley described the 14-1 vote "an insult" and warned "it won´t be forgotten." She went further on Tuesday, warning in her Twitter post: "At the UN we´re always asked to do more & give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don´t expect those we´ve helped to target us. "On Thurs there´ll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names." After the clash at the top UN body, the White House announced that US Vice President Mike Pence was delaying a trip to the Middle East planned for this week. Israel seized control of the eastern part of the city in the 1967 Middle East war and sees all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital. The Palestinians view the east as the capital of their future state. Several UN resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from territory seized during the 1967 war.
  18. People walk past an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/Files NEW YORK: Global stock markets edged lower on Tuesday, while US Treasury yields rose, as Republican legislation with steep cuts to corporate taxes cleared the House of Representatives and headed towards a final vote in the Senate. US stocks hit successive highs ahead of the tax overhaul bill, but modest selling has crept into the market as most traders see the positive impact of the bill as already priced in. ?I really think it might be: buy the rumour, sell the news,? Jim Paulsen ? the chief investment strategist with the Minneapolis-based Leuthold Group ? said. ?Wall Street has had long enough to vet this thing.? The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 37.45 points (0.15 percent) to end at 24,754.75, the S&P 500 lost 8.69 points (0.32 percent) to 2,681.47, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 30.91 points (0.44 percent) to 6,963.85. The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index lost 0.51 percent and MSCI?s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.30 percent. The US House of Representatives approved the tax bill by a vote of 227-203. A Senate decision could come Tuesday night on what would be the biggest US tax overhaul in more than 30 years. However, the US Senate parliamentarian has ruled against three provision of the Republican tax bill, forcing the House of Representatives to hold a second vote on the legislation, Senator Bernie Sanders said. US President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of the week if it is passed by the Senate. The plan includes slashing the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, which analysts say would likely increase profits, buybacks and dividend payouts. A slump in technology stocks, led by Apple Inc, also helped drag markets down in afternoon trading. Apple shares fell more than 1 percent after broker Instinet downgraded the stock to ?neutral? from ?buy? on doubts about iPhone X sales. US Treasury yields rose with the benchmark yield hitting a seven-week high as the tax bill pushed forward. Before the House vote, bonds were selling in reaction to data that showed US domestic home construction rose to a 13-month peak in November, with single-family home construction hitting a 10-year high. Now, bond investors could be pulling back on expectations of economic growth, Jack Ablin ? the chief investment officer with Chicago-based BMO Private Bank ? said. ?Some may be concerned the boost on the fiscal side can be offset by monetary tightening,? Ablin said. Benchmark 10-year US Treasury notes were last down 20/32 in price to yield 2.4644 percent, from 2.392 percent late Monday. The 30-year bond was down 1-17/32 in price to yield 2.206 percent, from 2.744 percent. The US dollar, which slipped on tax plan doubts on Monday, began to flatten on the unexpectedly strong housing data. In late trading, the dollar rose 0.3 percent against the yen to 112.92 yen. It was little changed against the Swiss franc, but higher versus sterling as well as the Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand dollars. The dollar index, which fell 0.26 percent, was weaker against the euro, which was up 0.5 percent to $1.1840. Gold, which dipped as US Treasury yields rose, is on track to post its narrowest trading range of any quarter in a decade in the last three months of the year. Spot gold added 0.1 percent to $1,262.07 an ounce. US gold futures fell 0.02 percent to $1,265.20. Oil rose slightly, aided by an ongoing North Sea pipeline outage, supply cuts and expectations that US crude inventories had fallen for the fifth week. Brent crude was up 42 cents or 0.66 percent to $63.83 a barrel. US crude rose 47 cents or 0.8 percent to $57.69.
  19. US Vice President Mike Pence walks outside the House of Representatives at the US Capitol in Washington, US, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts WASHINGTON: Congressional Republicans hit a last-minute snag on Tuesday in their drive to pass the biggest US tax overhaul in 30 years, requiring them to hold another vote on Wednesday and delaying what was still likely to be their first major legislative win under President Donald Trump. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the tax package on Tuesday afternoon and sent it to the Republican-led Senate. But a staff official there ruled that three provisions of the House bill did not comply with the Senate?s complex rules, said Independent Senator Bernie Sanders. As of early evening, the plan was for the Senate to delete the three offending provisions and vote on the bill. If approved, as widely expected, the altered bill would be sent back to the House for another vote on Wednesday. Final approval there would send the bill to Trump to sign into law. Democrats seized on the embarrassing stumble as evidence of the Republicans? rushed, secretive development of the bill. ?The House revote is the latest evidence of just how shoddily written the GOP tax scam really is,? House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. The problematic provisions deal with using educational savings accounts for homeschooling and with private university endowments. The Senate parliamentarian disqualified them on procedural grounds, throwing a wrench into what would have been a day of celebration for Republicans and for Trump. ?Listen, people screw up. A member of the staff screwed up. It?s not the end of Western civilization. We have the votes today; we?ll have them tomorrow,? Republican Senator John Kennedy told MSNBC on Tuesday evening. White House legislative affairs director Marc Short, commenting on the need for a House revote, said, ?I don?t think it?s that uncommon for a big piece of legislation like this.? Fiscal hawks The bill?s major components include steep tax cuts for corporations and wealthy taxpayers, a revamp of how the United States taxes multinational companies, and a new tax deduction for the owners of ?pass-through? businesses, ranging from mom-and-pop stores to large real estate and financial enterprises. It offers temporary tax rate cuts for some individuals and families, while reducing sharply the number of Americans who itemize deductions on their tax returns and cutting back the number and scope of available deductions. In its first vote, the House passed the bill by 227-203, overcoming united opposition from Democrats, who blasted the bill as a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy. Republicans insist the package will boost the economy and job growth. They see the measure as crucial to defending their majorities in the House and Senate in congressional elections coming in November 2018. But 12 Republicans voted against it, including 11 from New York, California and New Jersey, all high-tax states where affluent homeowners could be hurt by the bill?s new limits on deducting state and local taxes. ?I voted against the tax bill today because it significantly reduces the ability of New Jerseyans to deduct state and local taxes,? Republican Representative Leonard Lance said in a statement, adding he also had concerns about its impact on the federal deficit and the mounting, $20 trillion national debt. In a shift for a party once dominated by fiscal hawks, just one House Republican ? Walter Jones of North Carolina ? voted against the bill solely because it would expand the deficit and add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the debt over 10 years. The bill repeals part of the Obamacare health system and allows oil drilling in Alaska?s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, just two of many items added to the bill to secure votes of support as it rocketed through Congress in mere weeks. The last time Congress overhauled the tax code was in 1986 under former Republican President Ronald Reagan, a process that took years. The Reagan tax reform was a bipartisan effort drafted after dozens of public hearings and months of open debate. The latest package was written behind closed doors by six Republican Trump administration and congressional leaders, with little input from the party?s ranks and none from Democrats. Middle-income households would see an average tax cut of $900 next year under the bill, while the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans would see an average cut of $51,000, according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. ?You're lying? In remarks on the House floor ? where he was twice interrupted by protesters in the audience, including a woman who shouted, ?You?re lying!? ? House Speaker Paul Ryan said, ?Today, we give the people of this country their money back.? He said in a statement, ?On January 1, Americans are going to wake up with a new tax code. In February, they?re going to see withholdings go down so they see bigger paychecks. And April 15 will be the last day they have to comply with the old, bad system. This is a good day for America.? The bill?s passage had a little evident impact on stock markets, which have rallied for months on the prospect of tax cuts for corporations. The benchmark Dow Jones industrial average closed down less than 1 percent at 24,792. ?The market had been pretty well expecting this,? said Chuck Carlson, head of Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana. The end-of-year sprint toward passage by Congress marked a remarkable recovery of Republican fortunes since mid-2017 when the party?s drive to dismantle former Democratic President Barack Obama?s signature healthcare law crumbled in the Senate and prospects for a tax overhaul seemed doomed by party infighting. Short, the White House official, told reporters that Trump was excited about the progress of the tax bill ?but I think that the healthcare vote still hangs over us a little bit. So there?s a little bit of a cautious excitement?.
  20. Trump this month announced that he would recognise Jerusalem as Israel?s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, sparking protests and strong condemnation. ? AFP United Nations, United States: The UN Security Council will vote Monday on a draft resolution that would reject US President Donald Trumps decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, diplomats said. Egypt requested the vote Sunday, a day after it presented the measure that is likely to be vetoed by the United States. Breaking with international consensus, Trump this month announced that he would recognise Jerusalem as Israel?s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, sparking protests and strong condemnation. US Vice President Mike Pence will visit Jerusalem on Wednesday, wading into the crisis over one of the most controversial issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel seized control of the eastern part of the city in the 1967 Middle East war and sees all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital. The Palestinians view the east as the capital of their future state. The draft resolution obtained by AFP stresses that Jerusalem is an issue "to be resolved through negotiations" and expresses "deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem," without specifically mentioning Trump?s move. "Any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded," it said. Diplomats said they expected the United States to use its veto power to block the measure but that most, if not all, of the 14 other members are expected to back the draft resolution. Ukraine, a US ally at the council, however raised concerns about the decision to quickly move to a vote and requested additional time, a council diplomat said. The council will hold a closed-door meeting Monday to discuss the draft resolution ahead of the vote, diplomats said. No embassies in Jerusalem The draft resolution calls on all countries to refrain from opening embassies in Jerusalem, reflecting concerns that other governments could follow the US lead. It demands that all member-states not recognise any actions that are contrary to UN resolutions on the status of the city. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed hope that Turkey would soon be able to open an embassy to a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, as he again denounced Trump?s recognition of the city as the Israeli capital. Several UN resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from territory seized during the 1967 war and have reaffirmed the need to end the occupation of that land. The Palestinians had sought a toughly-worded draft resolution that would have directly called on the US administration to scrap its decision, but the final version was softened to draw maximum support. Backed by Muslim countries, the Palestinians are expected to turn to the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution rejecting the US decision, if, as expected, the measure is vetoed by the United States at the council. On Saturday, Israel?s UN Ambassador Danny Danon "strongly condemned" the draft, dismissing it as an attempt by the Palestinians "to reinvent history." "No vote or debate will change the clear reality that Jerusalem has and always will be the capital of Israel," Danon said in a statement. Aside from the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia can veto any resolution presented at the council, which requires nine votes for adoption.
  21. Lebanon's Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk talks after closing the polling stations during Beirut's municipal elections in the Interior ministry in Beirut, Lebanon May 8, 2016. REUTERS/file BEIRUT: Lebanon has set a date of May 6 next year to hold its first legislative election in nearly a decade, potentially transforming the politics of a country caught in a confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk signed a decree setting the date on Friday, allowing the vote to go ahead at last. The election has been postponed three times since the last vote in 2009, with politicians citing security concerns, political crisis and a dispute over the election law. Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri?s coalition government, which took office a year ago, agreed on the new election law in June, but setting the date was held up while officials debated technical details and registered Lebanese citizens abroad. Lebanon?s political landscape has shifted dramatically since the last election. Hariri?s pro-Western, Saudi-backed political alliance has split up. For the past year he has led a power-sharing government which includes the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi?ite movement Hezbollah, despised by his Saudi allies. Hariri sparked a political crisis last month by announcing his resignation while in Riyadh and denouncing Hezbollah and Iran. He stayed abroad for two weeks before returning, and finally withdrew his resignation last week. Lebanon has a complex electoral system designed to maintain civil peace in a country where Sunnis, Shi?ites, Christians and Druze fought numerous civil wars since independence in 1943. The 128-seat parliament includes 64 Christians apportioned among seven denominations, and 64 Muslims, including equal numbers of Sunnis and Shi?ites. The country is divided into districts that each vote for multiple lawmakers according to strict religious quotas. The president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shi?ite Muslim, representing the three biggest groups in parliament. The international community has repeatedly stressed the importance of Lebanon holding timely elections to restore confidence in its institutions and maintain stability. Machnouk said Lebanese abroad would be able to vote on April 22 and 28.
  22. MOSCOW: Opponents of Donald Trump made up allegations of Russian interference in last year's US elections to discredit him, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at his annual press conference Thursday. "All this was made up by people who are opposed to Trump so as to delegitimise his work," the president said in response to a question about allegations of Russian influence. Putin said representatives of the Russian government had met with Trump´s team but said this was normal diplomatic practice. "Our ambassador was accused of meeting with someone, but this is normal practice worldwide," the president said. "What is so transgressive in this case and why should it take on this spy-thriller tone?" Putin said he hoped relations between the two countries would improve but suggested it would not be possible in the current US political climate. Asked to assess Trump's work so far as president, Putin said it was up to US voters rather than him to judge. "We can see several quite significant achievements in the short time he has been at work," Putin said, citing the markets and consumer confidence in particular.
  23. SURENDRANAGAR: Tens of thousands of Indians voted in the first stage of assembly elections in the western state of Gujarat on Saturday, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces his toughest electoral test since coming to power with a landslide victory in 2014. Modi has himself led the campaign to ensure that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retains power in his home state, as a combined opposition mounted the biggest challenge ahead of the general election in 2019. Three big polls carried out in the run-up to the vote on Saturday and next week have predicted a victory for BJP but with a greatly reduced majority. Voters started turning up early in the morning and some had to wait for about 15 minutes due to a malfunction in the electronic voting machine. In the first few hours, more than 15 percent of voters in Surendranagar district cast their ballot, according to state government officials. An ABP-CDS poll this week gave the BJP 91-99 seats in the 182-member state house and the main opposition Congress 78-86, suggesting a close fight. To win, a party needs 92 seats. The surveys have often gone wrong, though, and Modi himself remains far more popular across the country than his rivals, including Rahul Gandhi who is leading the Congress charge to weaken Modi in his home base. Votes from the election will be counted on Dec. 18 and the results announced the same day. In the first stage of state assembly elections on Saturday, 977 candidates are trying their luck in 89 constituencies spread across 19 districts of Gujarat, according to the Election Commission. More than 21 million people will vote during the first stage of the election on Saturday. Modi has thrown himself into the campaign, addressing dozens of rallies over the past month, saying he alone could deliver on development. Gujarati businesses, which form the core of Modi?s support base, have complained that the Goods and Services Tax introduced this year and late last year?s shock move to abolish 500 and 1,000 rupee bank notes, accounting for 86 percent of cash in circulation, aggravated already tough economic conditions. Hindu-majority Gujarat is one of India?s richest and fastest growing states but also one of its most communally divided. About 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed after a wave of riots rocked Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was chief minister. A Supreme Court investigation found no case against Modi, who denied any wrongdoing.
  24. Half of Britons support a second vote on whether to leave the European Union and a majority think the government may be paying too much money to the EU to open the way to trade talks, according to a new opinion poll. The poll, published in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, found 50 percent of people supported another vote on the final terms of Britain?s exit deal, 34 percent rejected another referendum and 16 percent said they did not know. The newspaper said it was the first major opinion poll since last week?s media reports that Britain is preparing to pay about 50 billion euros ($59 billion) to help to move on to talks on a future trade pact with the EU. Mike Smithson, an election analyst who runs the www.politicalbetting.com website and a former Liberal Democrat politician, said on Twitter it was ?the first time any pollster has recorded backing? for a second Brexit referendum. Since the referendum in 2016, high profile opponents of Britain?s exit - from French President Emmanuel Macron, to former British prime minister Tony Blair and billionaire investor George Soros - have suggested Britain could change its mind and avoid what they say will be disastrous for the British economy. Blair said on Sunday he was trying to reverse Brexit because claims by the leave campaign, such as the National Health Service getting an extra 350 million pounds a week once Britain leaves the EU, have been proved false. Blair told the BBC that the government aims in the Brexit negotiations will fail because it wants to leave the single market, but retain all of the benefits, and voters can change their minds. ?It?s reversible. It?s not done until it?s done,? he said. ?When the facts change, I think people are entitled to change their mind.? Brexit supporters argue any attempt to halt the exit process would be anti-democratic. According to the Survation poll only 11 percent of voters said Britain should pay 50 billion pounds to quit the EU, while 31 percent said the government should not pay anything at all. The poll also found 35 percent of those surveyed said they would be worse off financially after Brexit, while 14 percent said they would be better off. The online poll, carried out by research firm Survation, interviewed 1,003 adults in Britain between 30 November and 1 December. Survation said it carries out polls for media organizations including the BBC, Sky News, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. The polling agency correctly predicted a narrowing in the vote between the ruling Conservative party and the opposition Labour Party in this summer?s general election that resulted in May leading a minority government.
  25. Mohammad bin Salman The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman is leading the voter of Time magazine's Person of the Year. With 13 per cent of the vote, Mohammad bin Salman is ahead of social media campaign #MeToo (6%) and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick (5%). Hilary Clinton, Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin and Justin Trudeau have four per cent each of the vote. Voting ends on 4 December and the Time?s Person of the Year will be announced on 6 December. In 2016, US President Donald Trump was named Person of the Year and this year there was controversy surrounding him and the title. Last week, US President Trump said he turned down being named Time´s "Person of the Year" after the magazine asked him for an interview and photo shoot but did not confirm he would be chosen. He tweeted: "Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named ´Man (Person) of the Year,´ like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. "I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!" Time responded on its own Twitter account: "The President is incorrect about how we choose Person of the Year. TIME does not comment on our choice until publication, which is December 6." Trump has three per cent of the vote in 2017. According to the Time?s, the editor has jurisdiction over he is deemed Person of the Year but an important role is played by the reader.