Trump loses lawsuit challenging subpoena for financial recoBy Jan Wolfe •Trump objected to a judge’s plan to fast-track his lawsuit over House subpoena Video Not Available By Jan Wolfe (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Monday ruled in favor of a U.S. House of Representatives committee seeking President Donald Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm, dealing an early setback to the Trump administration in its legal battle with Congress.U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington also denied a request by Trump to stay his decision pending an appeal.Last Tuesday Mehta heard oral arguments on whether Mazars LLP must comply with a House of Representatives Oversight Committee subpoena.Mehta said in Monday’s ruling that the committee „has shown that it is not engaged in a pure fishing expedition for the President’s financial records” and that the Mazars documents might assist Congress in passing laws and performing other core functions.”It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct – past or present – even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry,” Mehta said.Mehta said Mazars has seven days to comply with the subpoena.It was the first time a federal court had waded into the tussle about how far Congress can go in probing Trump and his business affairs.Trump told reporters the decision was „crazy” and that it would be appealed.”It’s totally the wrong decision by obviously an Obama-appointed judge,” Trump said.Trump is refusing to cooperate with a series of investigations on issues ranging from his tax returns and policy decisions to his Washington hotel and his children’s security clearances.The standoff deepened on Monday when Trump told former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a subpoena to testify about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation before a different congressional committee.Trump’s lawyers have argued that Congress is on a quest to „turn up something that Democrats can use as a political tool against the president now and in the 2020 election.”The House Oversight Committee claims sweeping investigative power and says it needs Trump’s financial records to examine whether he has conflicts of interest or broke the law by not disentangling himself from his business holdings, as previous presidents did.Lawyers for Trump and the Trump Organization, his company, last month filed a lawsuit to block the committee’s subpoena, saying it exceeded Congress’ constitutional limits.Mehta was appointed in 2014 by Democratic former President Barack Obama, who was often investigated by Republicans in Congress during his two terms in office.Mazars has avoided taking sides in the dispute and said it will „comply with all legal obligations.”The ruling was „a resounding victory for the rule of law,” Elijah Cummings, the House Oversight Committee chairman, said in a statement.”Congress must have access to the information we need to do our job effectively and efficiently, and we urge the President to stop engaging in this unprecedented cover-up and start complying with the law,” Cummings said.A judge in Manhattan will hear arguments on May 22 in a similar lawsuit Trump filed to block subpoenas issued to Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp.Mehta’s ruling „will probably have considerable weight in similar factual contexts where the House is seeking other records,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Writing by Jan Wolfe and Howard Goller; Editing by Dan Grebler, Grant McCool and James Dalgleish)
By Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin
RIYADH (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump issued a new threat to Tehran on Sunday, tweeting that a conflict would be the „official end” of Iran, as Saudi Arabia warned it stood ready to respond with „all strength” and said it was up to Iran to avoid war.
The heightened rhetoric follows last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets and the firing of a rocket on Sunday into Baghdad’s heavily fortified „Green Zone” that exploded near the U.S. embassy.
„If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Trump said in a tweet without elaborating.
A U.S. State Department official said the rocket attack in Baghdad did not hit a U.S.-inhabited facility and produced no casualties nor any significant damage. No claims of responsibility had been made, but the United States was taking the incident „very seriously.”
„We have made clear over the past two weeks and again underscore that attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and will be responded to in a decisive manner,” the official said in an emailed statement. „We will hold Iran responsible if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces, and will respond to Iran accordingly.”
Riyadh, which emphasized that it does not want a war, has accused Tehran of ordering Tuesday’s drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group. Two days earlier, four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
In response, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) began „enhanced security patrols” in the international waters of the Arabian Gulf area on Saturday, the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said on Sunday.
Iran has denied involvement in either incident, which come as Washington and the Islamic Republic spar over sanctions and the U.S. military presence in the region, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict.
„The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want a war in the region nor does it seek that,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference on Sunday.
„It will do what it can to prevent this war and at the same time it reaffirms that in the event the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with all force and determination, and it will defend itself and its interests.”
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss implications of the attacks.
„The current critical circumstances entail a unified Arab and Gulf stance toward the besetting challenges and risks,” the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement.
The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said in its statement about increased maritime patrols that GCC countries were „specifically increasing communication and coordination with each other in support of regional naval cooperation and maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf,” with navies and coast guards working with the U.S. Navy.
Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Muslim ally the UAE has not blamed anyone for the tanker sabotage operation, pending an investigation. No-one has claimed responsibility, but two U.S. government sources said last week that U.S. officials believed Iran had encouraged the Houthi group or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry it out.
The drone strike on oil pumping stations, which Riyadh said did not disrupt output or exports, was claimed by the Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition in a war in Yemen since 2015.
The Houthi-controled SABA news agency said on Sunday, citing a military source from the group, that targeting Aramco’s installations last week was the beginning of coming military operations against 300 vital military targets.
Targets include vital military headquarters and facilities in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, as well as their bases in Yemen, the source told SABA.
The head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, derided Riyadh’s call to convene Arab summits, saying in a Twitter post that they „only know how to support war and destruction”.
A Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were „highly likely” to have facilitated the attack on vessels near the UAE’s Fujairah emirate, a main bunkering hub lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
SAUDI PRINCE CALLS POMPEO
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed the possibility of war erupting, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the „illusion it can confront Iran”. This stance was echoed by the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday.
„We are not pursuing war but we are also not afraid of war,” Major General Hossein Salami was cited as saying by the semi-official news agency Tasnim.
Washington has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, trying to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero, and beefed up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats to United States troops and interests.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed regional developments, including efforts to strengthen security and stability, in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Saudi Media Ministry tweeted on Sunday.
„We want peace and stability in the region but we will not sit on our hands in light of the continuing Iranian attack,” Jubeir said. „The ball is in Iran’s court and it is up to Iran to determine what its fate will be.”
He said the crew of an Iranian oil tanker that had been towed to Saudi Arabia early this month after a request for help due to engine trouble were still in the kingdom receiving the „necessary care”. The crew are 24 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.
Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are arch-adversaries in the Middle East, backing opposite sides in several regional wars. In a sign of the heightened tension, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighboring Iraq.
Bahrain on Saturday warned its citizens against travel to Iraq and Iran and asked those already there to return. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued an advisory to U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington in Dubai, Nandita Bose in Wahsington, Ali Abdelaty in Cairo, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by Stephen Kalin, Ghaida Ghantous and David Lawder; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Mark Potter, Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity amid tensions with the U.S. over Tehran’s atomic program, nuclear officials said Monday, just after President Donald Trump and Iran’s foreign minister traded threats and taunts on Twitter.
Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what’s needed for an atomic weapon.
But by increasing production, Iran soon will exceed the stockpile limitations set by the accord. Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to set new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels in a Middle East already on edge. The Trump administration has deployed bombers and an aircraft carrier to the region over still-unspecified threats from Iran.
Already this month, officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers were sabotaged; Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia; and U.S. diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something dismissed by Tehran.
A rocket landed Sunday near the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, days after nonessential U.S. staff were ordered to evacuate from diplomatic posts in the country. No one was reported injured. Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that the rocket was believed to have been fired from eastern Baghdad, an area home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.
The Iranian enrichment announcement came after local journalists traveled to Natanz in central Iran, the country’s underground enrichment facility. There, an unidentified nuclear scientist gave a statement with a surgical cap and a mask covering most of his face. No one explained his choice of outfit, although Israel is suspected of targeting Iranian nuclear scientists.
The state-run IRNA news agency later quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as acknowledging that capacity had been quadrupled. He said Iran took this step because the U.S. had ended a program allowing it to exchange enriched uranium to Russia for unprocessed yellowcake uranium, as well as ending the sale of heavy water to Oman. Heavy water helps cool reactors producing plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Kamalvandi said Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of the development. The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog did not respond to a request for comment. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build them.
Before Iran’s announcement, Trump tweeted: „If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
Trump’s remarks reflect what has been a strategy of alternating tough talk with more conciliatory statements he says is aimed at keeping Iran guessing at the administration’s intentions. He also has said he hopes Iran calls him and engages in negotiations.
He described his approach in a speech Friday, saying, „It’s probably a good thing because they’re saying, ‘Man, I don’t know where these people are coming from,’ right?”
But while Trump’s approach of flattery and threats has become a hallmark of his foreign policy, the risks have only grown in dealing with Iran, where mistrust between Tehran and Washington stretch four decades. While both sides say they don’t seek war, many worry any miscalculation could spiral out of control.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif soon responded by tweeting that Trump had been „goaded” into „genocidal taunts.” Zarif referenced both Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan as two historical leaders that Persia outlasted.
„Iranians have stood tall for a millennia while aggressors all gone,” he wrote. „Try respect – it works!”
Zarif also used the hashtag #NeverThreatenAnIranian, a reference to a comment he made during intense negotiations for the 2016 nuclear accord.
Trump campaigned on pulling the U.S. from the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since Trump withdrew America a year ago from the pact, the U.S. has re-imposed previous sanctions and come up with new ones, as well as warning other nations they would be subject to sanctions as well if they import Iranian oil.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told journalists in Geneva that Iran should not doubt the U.S. resolve, warning that „if American interests are attacked, they will retaliate.”
„We want the situation to de-escalate because this is a part of the world where things can get triggered accidentally,” Hunt said.
Meanwhile, Oman’s minister of state for foreign affairs made a previously unannounced visit Monday to Tehran, seeing Zarif, the state-run IRNA news agency said. The visit by Yusuf bin Alawi comes after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said last week. Oman long has served as a Western backchannel to Tehran and the sultanate hosted the secret talks between the U.S. and Iran that laid the groundwork for the nuclear deal negotiations.
In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s military intercepted two missiles fired by the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. The missiles were intercepted over the city of Taif and the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, the Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya reported, citing witnesses. The Saudi Embassy in Washington later confirmed the interceptions.
Hundreds of rockets, mortar rounds and ballistic missiles have been fired into the kingdom by the rebels since a Saudi-led coalition declared war on the Houthis in March 2015 to support Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
The Houthis’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel denied the rebels had any involvement with this round of rocket fire.
Between the two targeted cities is Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba toward which Muslims pray. Many pilgrims are in the holy city for Ramadan.
Early Tuesday, Saudi Arabia said the Houthis targeted civilian infrastructure in the kingdom’s border city of Najran, without elaborating. The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge such an attack.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Bassem Mroue in Baghdad, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.
(Bloomberg) — Blunt, ignorant and confused are some of the criticisms voiced by allies on U.S. policy toward Iran. But none sees the Trump administration preparing for war.
Governments worldwide are alarmed at the tension between Washington and Tehran, concerned about the risk of escalation or military miscalculation and frustrated at a lack of communication about U.S. goals. What keeps the anxiety in check from Berlin to Moscow to Ankara is President Donald Trump’s oft-stated aversion to starting fresh wars.
Many allies share U.S. concerns about Iran’s meddling in places like Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and the prospect of it one day acquiring nuclear weapons. But Washington faces opposition – at times the exasperation has spilled into public view – for ripping up the 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran, for its heavy sanctions on the regime and for a ratcheting up of military activity in the Gulf.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s trip to Brussels last week yielded little support for the U.S. position, with Europe doubling down on its commitment to the deal that Trump abandoned last year.
Pompeo also got nothing new on Iran from President Vladimir Putin during a subsequent visit to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, according to a senior Russian official with knowledge of the discussions. Distrust between Moscow and Washington is so great that no separate deal is possible on Iran, said another person close to the Kremlin.
Still, Russia is counting on Trump to rein in both the hawks in the U.S. administration and regional allies, led by Israel.
“We’ve studied Trump’s approach and tactics pretty well over the past two and a half years; he’s not a military man, he doesn’t like to fight,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, which advises the Kremlin. “He likes to make a show of strength and use economic levers. His idea is that sanctions will force Tehran in the end to negotiate.”
In Berlin, officials view Trump as the main force to halt the spiral toward conflict, primarily due to his well-known resistance to foreign interventions, said a senior lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition.
Indeed, a U.S. official said late last week that Trump isn’t seeking conflict – though he’d consider using the military if needed. And the president, when asked about war with Iran, said „I hope not.” On Sunday, Trump tweeted that if Iran wanted to fight it would be „the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
Trump has spoken frequently of his desire to reduce what the U.S. spends on security support for others, be it NATO or troops in places like South Korea. He’s said for too long other countries have taken advantage of the U.S., without boosting their own military capacity. The U.S. has been a significant presence globally since World War II, and is seen as a buffer against China as a rising global power. A particular red line for Trump appears to be boots on the ground in a fresh conflict.
Still, the overall U.S. strategy on Iran causes concern. One French government official said Trump and senior aides such as National Security Adviser John Bolton are wrong to think that tightening the screws on Iran’s economy would convince its leaders to bend.
Germany, too, has no choice but to maintain a certain level of cooperation with Iran, the lawmaker in Berlin said. Europe is pressing ahead with a trade clearinghouse, known as Instex, to circumvent around U.S. sanctions and is eager to settle its first transaction with Iran, another official said.
At the same time, there’s frustration in Germany at the opacity of Washington’s motives.
Read more: What Europe Can, Can’t Do to Save Iran Nuclear Deal: QuickTake
That’s also a complaint from U.S. allies elsewhere. Each day brings only more confusion, one Asian government official said. An official familiar with Turkey’s thinking said the actions of those within the U.S. administration do however appear coordinated.
“Usually the Americans and Trump are very clear — you could say almost brutal,” said Jacques Maire, a former diplomat who’s a member of parliament for President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party. “This time, I have to say I’m not always clear what is the end game, what is the goal.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif undertook his own Asian tour to seek renewed commitments to deliver the economic benefits that were supposed to derive from the 2015 nuclear deal. He went to New Delhi, Tokyo and Beijing, where he won a pledge from China on Friday to support Iran’s efforts to safeguard its interests.
Read more: Exasperated Europeans Face Surprise Pompeo Visit on Iran
Japan is worried that Iran, a country with which it has had good ties for decades, will be forced out of the nuclear deal by hawks in the Trump administration. But Tokyo also has no intention of breaking away from the path set by its longtime ally Washington.
“Iran is asking the Japanese to do anything and everything that they can to persuade the United States to be a little more rational, but I don’t know whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can really convince Trump,” said Kazuo Takahashi, emeritus professor of international politics at Open University in Japan.
In the Middle East, key U.S. ally Israel is keeping its head down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered cabinet ministers to avoid making public statements on the possibility of a U.S.-Iran war, according to three Israeli officials familiar with the matter.
Read more: Saudi Prince Says Iran Ordered Pipeline Attack as Tensions Rise
Israel views Trump’s goal as getting an improved nuclear deal that covers Iran’s ballistic-missile development and sponsorship of regional militias such as Hezbollah. That said, if Iran miscalculates and strikes U.S. bases or other interests, triggering retaliation, Israel wouldn’t worry, the officials said. They don’t regard Iran as having the capability to strike Israel.
It’s Iran that is encouraging “false narratives” of war, said Firas Maksad, director of the Arabia Foundation, a Washington think tank that’s close to the Saudi Arabian government.
Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have an interest in Washington and Tehran reaching a new understanding, he said. Trump, “while averse to another Middle Eastern war not unlike his predecessor, understands the need for a deal with Iran that goes beyond an arms control agreement to include other aspects of destabilizing behavior,” he said.
“All involved understand that the path to such an understanding will have to go through a difficult period of brinkmanship.”
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir told reporters on Sunday that Saudi Arabia does not want war with Iran „in any way, but at the same time we won’t allow Iran to continue its hostile policies toward the kingdom.”
A senior European diplomat said that while governments don’t see conflict as likely, that doesn’t mean they aren’t nervous. Leaving the nuclear deal was a mistake that increases risks on multiple fronts, the diplomat said.
It’s a broad concern that’s surfaced elsewhere over the gamut of Trump’s policy beyond Washington, from Venezuela to North Korea, trade tariffs, China’s Huawei and now Iran.
Turkey, for example, “is very much worried over Trump’s roller-coaster global foreign policy,” said Muhittin Ataman, director of foreign policy studies at the Ankara-based SETA think tank. It “injects more uncertainty rather than predictability to challenging problems around the world.”
(Updates with Trump’s latest tweet on Iran.)
–With assistance from Udi Segal, Jon Herskovitz, Henry Meyer, Vivian Nereim, Iain Marlow, Patrick Donahue, Selcan Hacaoglu and Boris Groendahl.
To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Crawford in Berlin at email@example.com;Ilya Arkhipov in Sochi at firstname.lastname@example.org;Gregory Viscusi in Paris at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at firstname.lastname@example.org, Tony Czuczka
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CORRECTS DATE – In this Friday, May 17, 2019, photo, released by the U.S. Navy, sailors work around an MV-22 Osprey as it lands on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea. Commercial airliners flying over the Persian Gulf risk being targeted by „miscalculation or misidentification” from the Iranian military amid heightened tensions between the Islamic Republic and the U.S., American diplomats warned Saturday, May 18, 2019, even as both Washington and Tehran say they don’t seek war. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Smalley/U.S. Navy via AP)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The latest on developments in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere in the Mideast amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran (all times local):
The U.S. military command that oversees the Mideast has confirmed an explosion outside the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and says there are no U.S. or coalition casualties.
A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, Bill Urban, says in a statement that Iraqi Security Forces are investigating Sunday’s incident.
A State Department spokesman says that „a low-grade rocket” landed within the International Zone near the U.S. Embassy and that there was no significant damage or impact on any U.S.-inhabited facility.
The spokesman says that such attacks will not be tolerated and will be responded to „in a decisive manner” and that the U.S. will hold Iran responsible „if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces.”
Days after saying he hoped the U.S. and Iran would not go to war, President Donald Trump threatened Iran with destruction if it seeks a fight.
Trump issued the warning after a rocket landed less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy on Sunday in Baghdad’s Green Zone, further stoking tensions in the region.
Trump tweeted: „If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
Iranian officials say the country is not looking for war.
Trump had seemed to soften his tone after the U.S. recently sent warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. On Thursday, when asked if the U.S. and Iran were headed toward armed conflict, he answered: „I hope not.”
An apparent rocket attack has exploded in the Iraqi capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government headquarters and the U.S. Embassy.
Iraq’s state-run news agency says a Katyusha rocket crashed inside the area without causing any casualties.
Alert sirens sounded briefly in Baghdad after the explosion was heard, according to Associated Press reporters on the east side of the Tigris River.
The apparent attack comes amid heightened tensions across the Persian Gulf, after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. The U.S. also has ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq.
Iraq hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave.
The U.S. Navy says it has conducted exercises in the Arabian Sea with an aircraft carrier strike group ordered to the Persian Gulf to counter an alleged, unspecified threat from Iran.
The Navy said Sunday the exercises and training were conducted with the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group in coordination with the U.S. Marine Corps, highlighting U.S. „lethality and agility to respond to threat,” as well as to deter conflict and preserve U.S. strategic interests.
Also taking part in exercises were the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, both deployed to the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations in the Persian Gulf.
The Navy says the exercises, conducted Friday and Saturday, included air-to-air training and steaming in formation and maneuvering.
A top Saudi diplomat says the kingdom does not want war but will defend itself, amid a recent spike in tensions with archrival Iran.
Adel al-Jubeir, the minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke early Sunday, a week after four oil tankers were targeted in an alleged act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and days after Iran-allied Yemeni rebels claimed a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline.
Saudi Arabia has blamed the pipeline attack on Iran. Gulf officials say an investigation into the tanker incident is underway.
A-Jubeir told reporters: „We want peace and stability in the region, but we won’t stand with our hands bound.”
Ministers from major oil-producing countries were to meet in Saudi Arabia later Tuesday.
Here comes the SM-6.
This Missile Might be the U.S. Navy’s Most Important Weapon in Decades
The Tomahawk and its controversies might make headlines, but as the U.S. Navy re-arms for high-tech warfare, the SM-6 is the missile to watch.
The U.S. Navy in late January 2019 confirmed the designation of its newest cruise missile, in the process clarifying its long-term plan for arming its growing fleet of warships.
The plan heavily leans on one missile, in particular. It’s the SM-6, an anti-aircraft weapon that quickly is evolving to perform almost every role the Navy assigns to a missile.
(This first appeared earlier in the year.)
The Navy dubbed the newest version of the venerable Tomahawk cruise missile the „Block V” model, Jane’s reported. There are two separate variants of the Block V missile, one with an anti-ship warhead and another with a warhead the Navy optimized for striking targets on land.
Raytheon’s Tomahawk has been the subject of controversy in Washington, D.C. In order to save money the Obama administration wanted to pause production of the long-range missile, which since the 1980s has been the Navy’s main weapon for striking land targets from the sea.
Congress overruled the Obama administration and continued buying Tomahawks for roughly $1 million apiece, adding potentially hundreds of the missiles to the thousands the fleet already possesses.
At least 12 people were injured in the blast near the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo on Sunday.
Sources say the majority of those injured were foreign tourists. One security source said they included South African nationals.
There have been no reports of deaths.
Mohamed el-Mandouh, who witnessed the blast, said he heard a “very loud explosion” while sitting in traffic nearby.
Images showing a damaged bus with its windows blown out and what looked to be injured tourists, some covered in blood, have been circulated on social media.
In December, three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian guide were killed and at least 10 others injured when a roadside bomb hit their tour bus less than 2.5 miles from the Giza pyramids.
Security, Middle East
U.S. Support Has Fueled, Not Moderated, the Yemen War
U.S. Support Has Fueled, Not Moderated, the Yemen War
The Yemen war grinds on. The U.S.-backed “coalition” managed a rare success as the Houthis, who now control the Sanaa government, withdrew from the port of Hudaydah. However, that leaves the Saudis and Emiratis still far from victory in a war begun in 2015 which was supposed to last just a couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, Washington’s misguided relationship with the tyrannical Gulf monarchies led the Obama administration to back their aggressive assault on Yemen. Congress recently voted to end U.S. support for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s (KSA) brutal military campaign, but President Donald Trump vetoed the resolution. Sounding like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s press corps, the administration claimed that it hoped to end the war by backing Riyadh’s murderous attacks on Yemeni civilians.
Modern Yemen has existed for about six decades. Modern Yemen has been at war for about six decades. Indeed, there once were two Yemens. Alas, unification merely moved the unceasing conflict from without to within the Yemeni state.
The latest round of fighting involved the Houthis, who spent years battling strongman and President Ali Abdullah Saleh, before joining the recently ousted Saleh against his successor, President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. This modern game of thrones mattered little to the United States, other than diverting the Yemeni government’s attention from extremist groups, such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The fireworks also didn’t matter much to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, since the Houthis had only limited relations with Iran and no capacity to endanger their nation’s more powerful neighbors.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Hundreds of demonstrators marched to the Alabama Capitol on Sunday to protest the state’s newly approved abortion ban, chanting „my body, my choice!” and „vote them out!”
The demonstration came days after Gov. Kay Ivey signed the most stringent abortion law in the nation— making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases unless necessary for the mother’s health. The law provides no exception for rape and incest.
„Banning abortion does not stop abortion. It stops safe abortion,” said Staci Fox, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, addressing the cheering crowd outside the Alabama Capitol.
Alabama is part of a wave of conservative states seeking to mount new legal challenges to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Governors in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.
None of the laws has actually taken effect, and all are expected to be blocked by the courts as the legal challenges play out with an ultimate eye on the Supreme Court.
Marchers on Sunday said the measures have energized supporters of legalized abortion, and they say they are digging in for a legal and political fight. Along the route they took, the protesters passed by scattered counterdemonstrators raising signs against abortion.
Two speakers at the rally on the Capitol steps shared their stories of having an abortion, including a woman who came out of the crowd to describe the abortion she had after being raped at a party at age 18.
Carrying an orange sign with a coat hanger and the caption „No Never Again,” 69-year-old Deborah Hall of Montgomery said she remembers life before Roe and can’t believe the push to return there.
„I had friends who had illegal abortions and barely survived,” said Hall, who for a time ran a clinic in Montgomery that provided abortion, birth control and other services.
„I still cannot believe it. It’s really a scary time for everybody,” she said of the push to overturn Roe.
Similar demonstrations were held in Birmingham and Huntsville on Sunday.
Amanda Reyes, who runs Yellowhammer Fund, a nonprofit that provides funding to help low-income women obtain abortions, said donations have begun streaming in since passage of the Alabama bill.
Groups this week paid for a small plane carrying a banner „Abortion is Okay!” to circle the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion.
The Alabama law would make it a felony, punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison to perform an abortion. There would be no punishment for the woman receiving the abortion.
But the protest outside the Capitol Sunday comes in a state where a majority of voters recently agreed to put anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution. Fifty-nine % of state voters in November approved the constitutional amendment saying the state recognizes the rights of the „unborn.”
„To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God,” Ivey said in a statement after signing the ban into law.
The Alabama law has also come under criticism by some conservatives who have expressed discomfort by the lack of exceptions for rape and incest.
President Donald Trump, while not mentioning Alabama’s law, wrote in a weekend tweet that he is strongly „pro-life” but favors exceptions.
„As most people know, and for those who would like to know, I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions – Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother – the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets.
Rep. Terri Collins, the sponsor of the Alabama law, said the purpose is to challenge Roe and added that Alabama lawmakers can come back and add exemptions if states regain control of abortion access.
China now has more warships than the United States Navy. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), informally known as the Chinese Navy, recently hit a landmark number of 300 ships-thirteen more than the U.S. Navy.
Although admittedly imposing, the number doesn’t tell the whole story. America’s fleet is much larger on a ship-by-ship basis, including eleven nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and an almost equal number of amphibious assault ships.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ ChinaPower project has uploaded an analysis of the PLAN versus the navies of several other regional countries and major powers. At 300 warship hulls, the PLAN is the largest navy in the world, counting aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines, and amphibious assault ships. The U.S. Navy trails at 287 hulls, Russia has 83 hulls, the U.K. 75 hulls, and Australia at 48 hulls. According to CSIS, the Chinese Navy has more ships than “Germany, India, Spain, and the United Kingdom” combined.
The bulk of Beijing’s Navy includes 23 destroyers, 59 frigates, and 37 corvettes, or a total of 119 surface ships. Under the surface China has 76 submarines, including ballistic missile submarines armed with long range nuclear missiles, nuclear-powered attack submarines, and diesel electric attack submarines.
As in most cases, the numbers are quite what they seem. The bulk of China’s naval buildup has been in the area of surface ships, many of which are not suitable for long range, expeditionary warfare. Corvettes such as the Jingdao-class Type 056, for example, are small, lightly armed ships useful only for showing the flag and hunting submarines off China’s coastline and in nearby seas.
The next ship up, the Jiangkai-II-class Type 054A frigate, is slightly larger but lacks the ability to contribute to the defense of a carrier battle group or a long-range punch. Those two ship types alone make up a third of China’s fleet.
The major problem with China’s naval buildup? China lacks the major power projection platforms essential to any navy destined to conduct long-range operations. China has just one carrier, and no amphibious assault ships capable of carrying helicopters and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter-class aircraft. It has no cruisers, a surface ship larger than a destroyer and, in the U.S. Navy, the principle ship designed to protect carriers and amphibious ships from mass missile attack.
Although the U.S. Navy has thirteen fewer ships than the Chinese Navy, by total ship tonnage it actually outweighs the Chinese Navy by a considerable margin. America’s navy weighs roughly three million tons more than the China’s-an enormous advantage. The average U.S. warship is much, much larger than its Chinese counterpart, making them more capable in their assigned missions and capable of sailing far from home.
One reason for the U.S. Navy’s advantage: eleven nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, each of which weighs close to 100,000 tons fully loaded, giving the U.S. Navy a massive 1,000,000+ ton advantage. Then there are the Wasp and America-class amphibious assault ships, each of which displaces 40,000 tons, of which the U.S. has ten. The U.S. Navy also has 22 guided missile cruisers to China’s none, and the service’s guided missile destroyers are larger and generally more powerfully armed than their Chinese counterparts.
China’s hull superiority is no accident: it’s the result of a supercharged economy that allowed Beijing to increase defense spending by double digits for more than two decades. It’s also not over: China commissioned 18 warships in 2016 and 14 in 2017. (the U.S. commissioned 5 ships in 2016 and 8 ships in 2017.)
China is also putting the finishing touches on a second carrier, Type 002, and is simultaneously building two more Type 003 improved carriers. At least one Type 075 amphibious assault ship roughly equivalent to the Wasp and America-class ships is under construction. Finally, China is building at least four Renhai-class Type 055 warships, which the Pentagon classifies as guided missile cruisers. Not only is China poised to broaden its lead in hulls, it is also adding larger platform ships that gave the U.S. Navy its huge advantage.
Comparing the U.S. and Chinese navies is like comparing apples and oranges, but China is starting to build apples too, and at its current rate of naval construction, the country could have a fleet to match the U.S. Navy in a few decades.
China’s military is expected to peak somewhere around 2030, as the country’s population ages and its economy slows. Still, at 2017 levels the country will build another 154 warships. What kind of ships China builds and how large its fleet ultimately becomes could determine the balance of power in the Pacific.
Turkish-built armoured vehicles unloaded at Tripoli port
Tripoli (AFP) – Despite a UN embargo, weapons are still flowing into Libya where an assault on the capital by strongman Khalifa Haftar threatens to escalate into a proxy war between regional powers.
Haftar, whose self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) is allied with an administration in eastern Libya, is supported especially by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
On the other side, Turkey and Qatar back the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) which is recognised by the international community.
Haftar on April 4 launched an attack on the capital that has ground to a halt on the southern outskirts of Tripoli in the face of GNA forces backed by militias from western Libya.
Both sides have called in reinforcements as fresh weaponry arrives despite a UN arms embargo officially still in place since a 2011 revolt that toppled Libya’s longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi.
The GNA boasted on Saturday of new „armour, ammunition and… weapons” for its fighters.
It did not specify the source but posted photographs on its Facebook page of dozens of Turkish BMC Kirpi armoured vehicles at Tripoli port.
The Moldova-flagged vessel which made the delivery belongs to a Turkish firm and set sail from a port in Turkey, according to navigation websites.
Arnaud Delalande, a defence consultant and specialist on Libya, interpreted the delivery as an apparent open show of support for the GNA.
In a swift response, pro-Haftar websites on Sunday posted photos and videos of Jordanian-built armoured cars they said were being supplied to the LNA.
Such deliveries „show that neither party plans to give in and that it is headed more towards a war of attrition”, said Delalande.
A military source in eastern Libya, contacted by AFP, declined to confirm or deny the delivery of Jordanian armour but said „there is no halt to the flow of reinforcements” to the front line.
– Roughly even in air war –
On the GNA side, Turkish support „will help narrow the gap in weaponry between the two sides”, said Wolfram Lacher of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin.
He said: „The large number of UAE-made armoured vehicles had helped Haftar’s forces in suburban areas, and they could now lose that advantage.”
However, „the risk is that such overt support (from Turkey) will prompt Haftar’s backers to step up their assistance, and perhaps to intervene even more directly.”
For Lacher, „this war is now turning into a proxy war between rival Middle Eastern powers”.
„The more both sides receive arms and ammunition from their foreign backers, the longer the war will last, the more destructive it will be, and the more difficult it will be to resolve,” he said.
The more than six-week-old battle for Tripoli has already cost over 450 lives and left 2,000 injured and displaced almost 70,000 residents, according to UN agencies.
Both sides have ignored international calls for a ceasefire and dialogue.
The front lines are largely frozen, although „the balance of power on the ground is in favour of the pro-GNA forces but not decisively”, said Delalande.
In the air battle, the rival forces are roughly even with around 15 fighter-bombers on each side, he said.
But increased air support from the UAE, especially through the Chinese-built Wing Loong drones deployed in eastern Libya since 2016, could swing the balance of power in Haftar’s favour, he said.
According to a report seen by AFP, UN experts are probing the UAE’s possible military involvement in Libya following Blue Arrow missile strikes in April by Chinese-built drones of the type used by the Emirati military.
The UN’s group of experts on the country noted in a September report an increase in the number of armoured vehicles being supplied to the LNA as well as mortars and rocket launchers.
Libyan analyst Jalal al-Fitouri said „secret or public imports of arms have been going on for years” but have now been stepped up by both sides.
By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
KIEV (Reuters) – Television comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy took the oath of office as Ukraine’s new president on Monday, promising that as hard as he had worked in the past to make Ukrainians laugh, he would now work to keep them from crying.
As his first act, he dismissed the parliament still dominated by loyalists of his defeated predecessor, setting up an election in two months in which his new party has a chance to win its first seats.
The inauguration day was marked by informal moments that conveyed the outsider persona that helped carry the political novice to a landslide victory last month.
Zelenskiy high fived cheering supporters who held their arms outstretched outside the Soviet-era parliament building, and stopped for a selfie with the crowd. At one point he jumped up to kiss a man on the forehead. He later eschewed a motorcade to make his way to his new office on foot.
„Dear people, during my life I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians smile,” he said in his speech to parliament. „In the next five years, I will do everything, Ukrainians, so that you do not cry.”
But there were already signs of friction with a political class in which Zelenskiy has few allies. Parliament is still dominated by the bloc named for Zelenskiy’s defeated opponent Petro Poroshenko and smaller parties founded mostly as personal vehicles for political insiders.
The decision to dissolve parliament prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who came to power in 2016 as part of Poroshenko’s coalition. Groysman said he was stepping down to fight the upcoming snap election.
„I proposed to the president, the parliament, that we together form a new agenda and very quickly begin to make decisions that would make Ukraine stronger. The president has chosen a different path,” Groysman said.
Zelenskiy grew to national fame playing the TV comedy role of a schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a pupil films him making a foul-mouthed tirade against corrupt politicians and posts the video online. His campaign exploited the parallels with that fictional narrative, portraying him as an everyman who would stand up to a crooked political class.
In his inauguration speech, Zelenskiy called on officials to take down the customary portraits of the president that hang in their offices, and put up pictures of their children instead.
Groysman, a public face of a reform program aimed at attracting foreign aid, will step down on Wednesday in the same week as a mission from the International Monetary Fund is set to come to Kiev for talks about a $3.9 billion loan program. The government hopes to secure a $1.3 billion tranche within weeks.
Ukraine’s most pressing issue is conflict with its neighbor Russia, which annexed its Crimea region in 2014 and backed separatists in a war in the east that has killed 13,000 people.
Zelenskiy said his first task was to achieve a ceasefire, adding that dialogue could only happen after the return of Ukrainian territory and prisoners of war.
„THANKS FOR CONTINUING TO DIVIDE PEOPLE!”
He briefly switched from the Ukrainian language to Russian during his speech to talk about the need to win over the hearts and minds of people in separatist areas.
That prompted the head of a populist party, Oleh Lyashko, to interrupt the speech to interject that Ukrainians living in Crimea and the east also understood Ukrainian.
Zelenskiy replied: „They understand the Ukrainian language, yes. Thank you very much! Thanks for continuing to divide people, Mr. Lyashko!”
At the U.N. Security Council on Monday, Russia failed to get enough support to convene a meeting over a decision by Ukraine’s parliament last week that grants special status to the Ukrainian language and makes it mandatory for public sector workers.
Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen accused Russia of wanting to hold the meeting to „welcome the new Ukrainian president with an act of intimidation.” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected his remarks.
Zelenskiy called on lawmakers to use the two months until the election to pass laws that would strip them of immunity from prosecution and ban officials from enriching themselves.
„You will have two months for this. Do it and you will deserve medals,” Zelenskiy said.
Despite his everyman image, critics accuse Zelenskiy of having too close a relationship with a powerful businessman, Ihor Kolomoisky, whose TV channel broadcasts his comedy shows. Zelenskiy has rejected those accusations.
Zelenskiy also said he wanted to replace the head of the state security service, the general prosecutor and the defense minister. He has so far not spelled out his nominations for key appointments that fall within his purview.
Kiev resident and Zelenskiy supporter Mykola Korniyenko welcomed the president’s move to dissolve parliament.
„Do you see how many of them are there? Four hundred fifty snouts who eat greedily but are never full, while we cannot buy proper food for ourselves, cannot get proper clothing, cannot afford proper housing. Is this right?”
(Writing by Matthias Williams, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Peter Graff and Lisa Shumaker)
ZURICH/GENEVA (Reuters) – Swiss voters agreed by a nearly two-to-one margin on Sunday to adopt tighter gun controls in line with changes to European Union rules, heading off a clash with Brussels.
The measure passed in the binding referendum under the Swiss system of direct democracy by a 64-36% margin, provisional final results showed.
The restrictions, which apply to non-EU member Switzerland because it is part of Europe’s Schengen open-border system, had raised hackles among shooting enthusiasts ahead of the vote.
Failure to adopt the rules could have forced Switzerland to leave the passport-free Schengen zone and the Dublin joint system for handling asylum requests.
After militants killed scores of people in Paris in 2015, the EU in 2017 toughened laws against purchasing semi-automatic rifles such as the ones used in those attacks and made it easier to track weapons in national databases.
The initial EU proposal provoked an outcry because it meant a ban on the Swiss tradition of ex-soldiers keeping their assault rifles.
Swiss officials negotiated concessions for veterans and gun enthusiasts who take part in the country’s numerous shooting clubs, but any restrictions imported from the EU go too far for right-wing activists concerned about Swiss sovereignty.
„To me, the new obligations linked to the possession of guns are not that restrictive, while the risk of not being able to benefit from Schengen’s advantages are very real,” said one bank employee who gave his name only as Philippe.
„It has nothing to do with blackmail, it is just that Switzerland has to align itself with a system to which it participates.”
Gun rights proponents complained the rules could disarm law-abiding citizens and encroach on Switzerland’s heritage and national identity, which includes a well-armed citizenry.
(Reporting by Michael Shields and Marina Depetris; Editing by Louise Heavens and Peter Graff)
Brussels (AFP) – Four days before Europe’s 400 million potential voters are called to the polls, EU leaders hope to reverse the usual low turnout to avoid opening the door to eurosceptic forces.
The European Parliament, that will be elected in votes across 28 nations between Thursday and Sunday, has never been more important in framing the continent’s laws.
But each such continent-wide vote since the first one in 1979 has seen a lower turnout than the last, and much of the energy in this year’s race has come from populists opposed to deeper integration.
No big personalities have emerged among the supposed candidates to lead the European Commission, the top job in Brussels and one that may end up being assigned by Europe’s national leaders.
– Protest vote –
Political scientists say the European parliamentary election amounts to 28 parallel national votes, often marked by low turnouts and a strong tendency towards protest voting.
This will be the case in Britain, which kicks off the cycle of voting on Thursday and where MEP Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is dominating the race.
But the spectacle of Britain’s chaotic departure may have concentrated minds elsewhere in Europe, and a ZDF opinion poll found that 60 percent of Germans may take part, up from 47 percent in 2014.
Voter participation has traditionally been lowest among the young, but this year concerns about a „climate emergency” have seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets to demand action.
– Little known leaders –
It has always been difficult to find candidates for top EU jobs that inspire passion across so many different countries and language groups, but previous frontrunners were at least experienced leaders.
None of the so-called „spitzenkandidats” — figures chosen by pan-European parties to lead their campaigns — is a former national leader.
Indeed, the frontrunner as head of the biggest group, the centre-right EPP, is obscure German conservative Manfred Weber, a veteran legislator with no executive experience and a low profile.
Some low-watt star power is provided by outgoing competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, whose ministerial career inspired the Danish fictional TV series Borgen, but her campaign never caught light.
In reality, if Weber or Vestager gets the job it will not be the voters’ choice but because member state leaders decide to nominate one of them after the political horsetrading that follows the vote.
– Nationalist backlash –
For now, only Britain is on the verge of quitting the union altogether, but nationalists, right-wing populists and eurosceptic conservatives hope to break apart the cosy Brussels consensus.
Polling at the start of the campaign period pointed to around 173 members being elected from these groups, even if their own differences would make it hard for them to unify as one voting bloc.
Since then, however, a scandal involving talk of Russian money and influence peddling has forced the resignation of Austria’s far-right Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.
It remains to be seen whether the spectre of a resurgent far-right will mobilise left-wing and liberal voters to block them.
– Main parties weaker –
While they may remain the biggest voting blocs, the main centre-right and centre-left groupings that have dominated pan-European politics in recent years look set to lose ground.
Even if the Socialists hold the line, their strong contingent of Labour Party MEPs will only remain in Europe as long as Britain does, and outside of Spain their other members are losing ground.
The European People’s Party, home to EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, may remain the largest group, but it has broken with its Hungarian allies from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz.
According to opinion polls, the top two groups cold lose 30 seats each, meaning that the will not be able to form a joint majority and may have to reach out to liberals and Greens.
The liberal ALDE list is looking forward to an infusion of new blood from French President Emmanuel Macron’s new Renaissance movement and from Spanish party Ciudanos.
– Aftermath –
For veteran Brussel’s insiders, the big night will not be next Sunday when the first results of the parliamentary race emerge, but two days later when the national leaders meet for dinner in Brussels.
The first shots have been fired, with Merkel and Macron admitting to their differences, but between them, under EU Council president Donald Tusk, the leaders will debate the five top jobs in Europe.
Tusk hopes that by the time of the June 21 summit, they will have nominees to lead the Commission, the Council and EU policy, along with the parliamentary and the director of the European Central Bank.
Doha (AFP) – Qatari state-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera suspended two journalists on Sunday over a video they produced claiming the extent of the Holocaust was being misrepresented by Jews.
The clip, posted by Al Jazeera’s online AJ+ Arabic service, claimed „the narrative” that the Nazis killed six million Jews was „adopted by the Zionist movement”.
Six million Jews were systematically killed by the Nazis during World War II.
Images of the persecution of European Jews living under Nazi rule, as well as photographs of those killed, were overlayed with narration asking „why is there a focus only on them?”
The video said that „along with others, the Jews faced a policy of systematic persecution which culminated in the Final Solution”.
But the clip went on to suggest that because of the Jewish community’s access to „financial resources (and) media institutions”, it was able to „put a special spotlight” on the suffering of the Jews.
„The video content and accompanying posts were swiftly deleted by AJ+ senior management from all AJ+ pages and accounts on social media, as it contravened the network’s editorial standards,” the Al Jazeera Media Network said in a statement.
„Al Jazeera completely disowns the offensive content in question and reiterated that Al Jazeera would not tolerate such material,” added Yaser Bishr, the executive director of the digital division.
Bishr also called for „mandatory bias training”, according to the statement.
The clip and social media posts, first published on May 18, were „swiftly deleted” by management, it added.
Over the weekend thousands demonstrated in Vienna against the government after the scandal broke
Vienna (AFP) – Austria’s president on Sunday called for fresh elections in September after a corruption scandal embroiling the far-right brought down the coalition government in spectacular fashion.
Just days before key EU elections, Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was forced to resign in disgrace Saturday following explosive revelations from a hidden camera sting.
Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz — whose 18-month coalition with Strache’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) had been held up as a model by many on the European right — reacted by pulling the plug on their union.
„My preference is for early elections in September, if possible the beginning of September,” President Alexander Van der Bellen told journalists on Sunday after meeting Kurz.
Van der Bellen will hold further talks with other party leaders to fix a date, setting the scene for months of campaigning.
The dramatic developments followed the publication by two German newspapers on Friday of footage from a sophisticated hidden-camera sting months before Austria’s last parliamentary elections in 2017.
In the recordings — of unknown provenance — Strache is seen talking to a woman purporting to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.
The pair discuss how she could gain control of the country’s largest-circulation tabloid, the Kronen Zeitung, and install editorial staff who would help the FPOe’s 2017 election campaign.
In return, Strache held out the possibility of awarding public contracts.
Elsewhere in the footage, he discusses remodelling Austria’s media landscape to more closely resemble that of Viktor Orban’s Hungary, and appears to hint at ways political donations could escape legal scrutiny.
– ‘Enough is enough’ –
Kurz said Saturday the latest revelations were the final straw after a string of FPOe-related scandals dogging the government.
„Enough is enough,” he told a press conference in Vienna on Saturday, estimated to have been watched by more than two million people — nearly a quarter of the country’s population.
Strache for his part admitted in his emotional resignation statement that he had been „stupid” and „irresponsible”, but also sought to portray himself as the victim of a „targeted political attack”.
Controversial FPOe Interior Minister Herbert Kickl posted a defiant statement on Facebook Sunday blaming Kurz for the coalition’s collapse.
„We are ready for this confrontation,” Kickl said.
The opposition has demanded that Kickl and all other FPOe ministers be fired immediately but neither Van der Bellen nor Kurz commented on whether they would be allowed to stay, nor on who would replace the vice-chancellor.
Senior FPOe officials met amid high secrecy on Sunday and nominated Infrastructure Minister Norbert Hofer as the party’s next leader.
On Sunday thousands of demonstrators took to the streets for a planned pro-EU protest in Vienna, a day after the revelations prompted spontaneous protests.
Sunday’s gathering also had a strong anti-government flavour, with many using anti-Kurz and anti-FPOe slogans.
Meanwhile a Russian senator on Sunday rejected any possible implication of Moscow in the affair.
„You cannot draw a Russian link to this clearly ugly incident,” said ruling party senator Oleg Morozov.
– Politicians ‘for sale’ –
The turmoil in Vienna will reignite debate on the European centre-right about the pitfalls of cooperation with the far-right ahead of next week’s EU elections, in which populist parties are expected to gain ground.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted to the scandal by warning of the dangers of far-right politicians „for sale”, who wanted to „destroy the Europe of our values”.
The possibility of any future coalition between Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP) and the FPOe is already stirring controversy in the OeVP leadership. The party’s lead candidate for the European elections Othmar Karas has spoken out against the idea.
The scandal may also dent the prospects of the far-right populist alliance marshalled by Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, in which the FPOe plays a key part.
Observers said the dramatic events of the past two days were almost a re-run of the last time that the OeVP and FPOe went into coalition, in 2000.
Then as now, after only two years the OeVP chancellor — in that case Wolfgang Schuessel — felt compelled to call snap elections due to divisions with his FPOe coalition partner.
In 2002, the OeVP emerged strengthened from the elections, but it remains to be seen if Kurz can avoid damage from the fallout.
Kurz said on Saturday that he had found the string of FPOe-related scandals „difficult to swallow”.
But Pamela Rendi-Wagner, leader of the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) said on Sunday Kurz „bears full responsibility for the failure of this… experiment.
„He was the one who, out of pure selfishness, made Strache vice-chancellor and plunged the country into this deep crisis,” she said.
By Andreas Rinke
ZAGREB (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Saturday for Europe to push back against far-right parties, saying populist movements wanted to destroy core European values such as fighting corruption and protecting minorities.
Merkel made the remarks when asked about a scandal engulfing Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, whose leader Heinz-Christian Strache quit on Saturday as government vice-chancellor after he was videoed offering state contracts in exchange for political support.
„We’re having to deal with populist movements that in many areas are contemptuous of these values, who want to destroy the Europe of our values. We have to stand up to this decisively,” said Merkel, who has kept a low-profile during campaigning for next week’s EU parliamentary election.
„What falls under this is that minorities are not protected, that basic human rights are called into question and that corruption plays a role in politics,” she added after meeting Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in Zagreb.
Merkel has left the most vocal election campaigning to fellow countryman Manfred Weber, the top conservative candidate in the May 23-26 election.
Weber, also speaking in Zagreb, said the Austrian scandal vindicated his intention not to rely on votes from far-right parties in his bid for EU commission president.
„The far right and populists are ready to sell their patriotism and the values of their country for their gains”, he said, referring to the affair.
(Writing by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Helen Popper)
PHOTOS: Gun attack at bar in Brazil
A gang of gunmen reportedly attacked a bar in the capital of Brazil’s northern Pará state Sunday afternoon, and authorities said 11 people were killed.
The state security agency confirmed late Sunday only that six women and five men died in the incident in the Guamá neighborhood of the Pará state capital, Belém.
The G1 news website said police reported that seven gunmen were involved in the attack, which also wounded one person. The news outlet said the attackers arrived at the bar on one motorcycle and in three cars.
In late March, the federal government sent National Guard troops to Belém to reinforce security in the city for 90 days.
Brazil hit a record high of 64,000 homicides in 2017, 70% of which were due to firearms, according to official statistics.
Much of Brazil’s violence is gang related. In January, gangs attacked across Fortaleza, bringing that city to a standstill with as commerce, buses and taxis shut down. (AP)