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David Hookstead | Reporter

Paige VanZant thinks the UFC might be closing in on having a card that features only women.

The flyweight superstar is widely considered one of the main faces of the women’s side of the sport, and she’s hopeful that female fighters will only increase in popularity. (SLIDESHOW: These UFC Women Really Hate Wearing Clothes)

VanZant told The Sun the following in an article published Sunday:

We are doing so good and I think it’s awesome that there are so many fans behind women’s MMA and the stigma that fighting is for men is almost completely gone. In a few more years I think we will be able to have an all women’s UFC card – I think it’s that big at the moment. We’ve made that big statement that we belong in the UFC. I’ve never felt like I was at a disadvantage being a women in MMA, I just saw it as a chance to fight to prove my worth a person and athlete.

Lots of people might think a women’s only card sounds insane, but it’s really not at all. Think about a card featuring Ronda Rousey (in her prime), Cris Cyborg, Miesha Tate, Holly Holm and Paige VanZant, all fighting. (SLIDESHOW: These Are The Greatest Ronda Rousey Photos On The Internet)

That would sell a ton of pay-per-views without any problem at all. If you put that card together right now, it would draw a ton of eyeballs. (SLIDESHOW: These Are The Sexiest Paige VanZant Photos On The Internet)

I’d watch that in a heartbeat.

Is it realistic right now? No, and a large part of that is because Rousey’s out of the sport at this point. They need a star on her level to pull off an all-women’s card.

VanZant could be the perfect woman to lead the way if she can string some wins together. We already know she’s a star in the media.

I don’t know for sure if this will happen in the next year or two, but it’s not an impossible vision to see down the road.

I’m all-in on the idea, and I’d love to see it happen, especially if VanZant is involved. It’d be badass as hell.

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Source: The Daily Caller

Allan Lichtman | Distinguished Professor of History, American University

It may be heresy outside of President Trump’s circle to criticize Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but criticism is justified. Since the administration of Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s, special prosecutors or special counsels have conducted investigations involving presidents that are independent of the president or his political appointees. This independence sometimes led to clashes with presidents as in Saturday Night Massacre when President Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Yet, without independent investigations, Congress and the public can have no confidence in their results.

Unfortunately, Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings raised more questions than it answered. Here are five main takeaways.

Special Counsel Mueller Compromised His Obstruction Investigation

According to Barr summary of Mueller’s findings on obstruction: “The special counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”

But rather than making a recommendation on obstruction, Mueller shattered nearly 150 years of precedent and voluntarily compromised the independence of his investigation by punting to Attorney General William Barr. The attorney general is not only a political appointee, but he was also on record before his appointment in saying that essentially a president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice.

Obstruction of justice by itself is a serious crime and a basis for impeachment. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee, including a third of Republicans, voted an article of impeachment against President Nixon for obstructing investigations of the Watergate break-in even though he was not charged with involvement in the crime. In 1998, the full House voted an article of impeachment against President Bill Clinton for obstructing the investigation of his private consensual affair with Monica Lewinsky. Nearly every House Republican voted for this article and most Senate Republicans voted to convict Clinton for obstruction.

If the charge of obstruction turns on a president’s state of mind, why did Mueller fail to submit written questions on obstruction to the president and decline to press for an in-person interview?     

We Need to See the Full Mueller Report

As a historian I deal with primary source documents — in this case the full Mueller report. I know from experience that a summary of a primary document is often incomplete and misleading especially when prepared by an interested party like Barr, who has in the past denigrated the Mueller investigation.

Congress and the public must have an opportunity to view the full Mueller report and draw their own conclusions. The American people agree. A Morning Consult poll taken in late February found that 68 percent of registered voters said that the report should be made public. Only 10 percent said that it should not, with 22 percent undecided. Without access to the full report we’ll get only spin from Republicans and Democrats, further undermining the people’s fragile confidence in the institutions of their government.

Don’t Think of the Investigation as Wins and Losses

We should not think about the Mueller investigation like a sports contest with wins and losses for the president. We should think about what is good for the nation. It is good for the nation if an American president did not conspire with a hostile foreign power to rig an election. It is also good for the nation if the president did not obstruct the course of justice. However, obstruction remains an unsettled question that requires examination of the full report and further inquiry by Congress.

The Barr Summary Passes Over a Critical Finding of the Mueller Investigation

We know from Mueller’s indictments, that a critical finding of his investigation, looking forward, not backward, is that the Russian interfered massively in America’s 2016 presidential election. Yet the Barr summary barely mentions this interference in but a single line saying, “The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with these efforts.” Regardless, it now behooves President Trump to explain precisely what steps the American government will now take to protect the 2020 election from similar interference by the Russians or any other hostile foreign power.

There are Unanswered Questions on the Russia Connection

The Barr summary quotes the Mueller report as absolving the president and his associates of conspiring with the Russian government. But Barr leaves many questions unanswered. For example, we need to know how Mueller accounted for the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner with Kremlin-connected Russians. The Russians had openly promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Why did the Special Counsel failed to interview Don Jr. and Kushner about this meeting and other Russian connections?   

We need to know how the special counsel explained away Campaign Chair Paul Manafort’s offer to provide Russian oligarch Oleg Derispaska privileged access to the Trump campaign. We need to know how Mueller dealt with Manafort’s meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian with ties to Russian intelligence, to whom he provided internal Trump campaign polling information. We need to know why there were some 100 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians and why none of the contacts were reported to the FBI, even after the bureau warned the campaign about overtures from Russians.

Were all these contacts all merely coincidence? We still don’t know.

Allan J. Lichtman (@AllanLichtman) is distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C. and author of “The Case For Impeachment.”


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

Source: The Daily Caller

Allan Lichtman | Distinguished Professor of History, American University

It may be heresy outside of President Trump’s circle to criticize Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but criticism is justified. Since the administration of Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s, special prosecutors or special counsels have conducted investigations involving presidents that are independent of the president or his political appointees. This independence sometimes led to clashes with presidents as in Saturday Night Massacre when President Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Yet, without independent investigations, Congress and the public can have no confidence in their results.

Unfortunately, Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings raised more questions than it answered. Here are five main takeaways.

Special Counsel Mueller Compromised His Obstruction Investigation

According to Barr summary of Mueller’s findings on obstruction: “The special counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”

But rather than making a recommendation on obstruction, Mueller shattered nearly 150 years of precedent and voluntarily compromised the independence of his investigation by punting to Attorney General William Barr. The attorney general is not only a political appointee, but he was also on record before his appointment in saying that essentially a president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice.

Obstruction of justice by itself is a serious crime and a basis for impeachment. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee, including a third of Republicans, voted an article of impeachment against President Nixon for obstructing investigations of the Watergate break-in even though he was not charged with involvement in the crime. In 1998, the full House voted an article of impeachment against President Bill Clinton for obstructing the investigation of his private consensual affair with Monica Lewinsky. Nearly every House Republican voted for this article and most Senate Republicans voted to convict Clinton for obstruction.

If the charge of obstruction turns on a president’s state of mind, why did Mueller fail to submit written questions on obstruction to the president and decline to press for an in-person interview?     

We Need to See the Full Mueller Report

As a historian I deal with primary source documents — in this case the full Mueller report. I know from experience that a summary of a primary document is often incomplete and misleading especially when prepared by an interested party like Barr, who has in the past denigrated the Mueller investigation.

Congress and the public must have an opportunity to view the full Mueller report and draw their own conclusions. The American people agree. A Morning Consult poll taken in late February found that 68 percent of registered voters said that the report should be made public. Only 10 percent said that it should not, with 22 percent undecided. Without access to the full report we’ll get only spin from Republicans and Democrats, further undermining the people’s fragile confidence in the institutions of their government.

Don’t Think of the Investigation as Wins and Losses

We should not think about the Mueller investigation like a sports contest with wins and losses for the president. We should think about what is good for the nation. It is good for the nation if an American president did not conspire with a hostile foreign power to rig an election. It is also good for the nation if the president did not obstruct the course of justice. However, obstruction remains an unsettled question that requires examination of the full report and further inquiry by Congress.

The Barr Summary Passes Over a Critical Finding of the Mueller Investigation

We know from Mueller’s indictments, that a critical finding of his investigation, looking forward, not backward, is that the Russian interfered massively in America’s 2016 presidential election. Yet the Barr summary barely mentions this interference in but a single line saying, “The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with these efforts.” Regardless, it now behooves President Trump to explain precisely what steps the American government will now take to protect the 2020 election from similar interference by the Russians or any other hostile foreign power.

There are Unanswered Questions on the Russia Connection

The Barr summary quotes the Mueller report as absolving the president and his associates of conspiring with the Russian government. But Barr leaves many questions unanswered. For example, we need to know how Mueller accounted for the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner with Kremlin-connected Russians. The Russians had openly promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Why did the Special Counsel failed to interview Don Jr. and Kushner about this meeting and other Russian connections?   

We need to know how the special counsel explained away Campaign Chair Paul Manafort’s offer to provide Russian oligarch Oleg Derispaska privileged access to the Trump campaign. We need to know how Mueller dealt with Manafort’s meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian with ties to Russian intelligence, to whom he provided internal Trump campaign polling information. We need to know why there were some 100 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians and why none of the contacts were reported to the FBI, even after the bureau warned the campaign about overtures from Russians.

Were all these contacts all merely coincidence? We still don’t know.

Allan J. Lichtman (@AllanLichtman) is distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C. and author of “The Case For Impeachment.”


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

Source: The Daily Caller

David Hookstead | Reporter

Wealthy people tired of their cluttered yachts are in luck because you can now buy a “support yacht.”

Everybody knows that one of the worst parts about yachting is the lack of room at times for all your luxurious items. This is day one stuff. Anybody who is in the yacht game knows exactly what I’m talking about, and now that problem has been solved. (SLIDESHOW: These Are The Hottest Women On Instagram)

Bloomberg reported the following details on these new vessels:

Enter the support yacht. It’s essentially a boat designed to trail your main yacht and carry all the toys you don’t want cluttering up the mothership. Pioneered in the 1990s from old offshore oil and gas craft, support yachts have become as slick as the vessels they’re intended to serve.

Dutch shipbuilder Damen has delivered a half-dozen 70-meter support yachts with premium finishes like high-specification air conditioning and entertainment systems that cost about $50 million. The Damen Yacht Support line starts at 46 meters and $14 million.

You can check out a photo of the support yacht here. (RELATED:Falcons Owner Arthur Blank Spends $180 Million On New Yacht)

It’s about time somebody started looking out for the wealthy. My friends, the top .0001 percent also struggles. Do you have any idea what it’s like to yacht around Europe with a cluttered deck because of too many jet skis?

Never again will this be an issue for anybody willing to write a very small and reasonable check.

In all seriousness, imagine having so much money that you might spend up to $50 million on a support vessel for your main yacht. That’s the kind of money that starts wars.

If your backup yacht costs more than massive ranch in Montana, then you’re living life the right way.

Life must be nice when your toys clutter your main boat, so you buy a second one just to follow you around. That’s what America is all about.

If there was ever a better example of “f**k you money,” I certainly haven’t found it yet. I need to get myself one of these bad boys ASAP.

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Source: The Daily Caller

Whitney Tipton | Contributor

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was cutting his trip to the U.S. short after a rocket strike from Gaza hit a home just north of Tel Aviv and injured several people, according to Reuters.

“In light of the security events I decided to cut short my visit to the U.S.,” he told Reuters.

Netanyahu, who had only arrived Sunday for a four-day visit, will still meet with President Donald Trump today before boarding his return flight to Israel this afternoon.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 5: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands withIsrael Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. The prime minister is on an official visit to the US until the end of the week. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 5: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

The rocket from Gaza landed on a home in the small agricultural town of Mishmeret, north of Tel Aviv, in early morning. A military spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that Israel’s Iron Dome rocket interception system had not been deployed in the area and was unable to bring down the rocket.

It left one house destroyed in addition to the surrounding damage. Reuters reported one infant, a 3-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman were among those being treated for injuries.

Gazan officials have not claimed responsibility for the rocket, but are reportedly preparing for retaliation.

“There was a criminal attack on the state of Israel and we will respond forcefully,” Netanyahu said in a video statement sent to the Wall Street Journal.

The border along Israel and Gaza recently marked one year of continued border protests. President Trump recently expressed support for Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and is reportedly planning to make that statement official by signing a decree during today’s meeting, according to Reuters.

Netanyahu is running for an unprecedented fifth term. His main political rival, former Chief of the Israeli General Staff Benny Gantz, immediately issued a statement accusing Netanyahu of having “bankrupted national security” by permitting such attacks.

The election will be held April 9. (RELATED: Israel Holding Early Elections As Bribery Allegations Engulf Netanyahu)

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Source: The Daily Caller

  • Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign or any Trump associates conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
  • That finding deals a heavy blow to Democrats and some in the media who have pushed at least seven different theories of collusion over the past two-plus years.
  • Many of those theories derived from the infamous Steele dossier.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller put a nail in the coffin for the numerous conspiracy theories that the Trump campaign worked with Russian operatives to influence the 2016 election.

Over the past two years, at least seven main theories of collusion have appeared in the press and through the infamous Steele dossier.

Former Trump associates Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone were all alleged at various points to have colluded with Russia. The infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting was also alleged to be where collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia occurred.

And then there was the case of Peter Smith, the late GOP operative who allegedly worked with hackers to track down Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.

The theories percolated in the media, often stoked by Democrats like California Rep. Adam Schiff, who said he saw “more than circumstantial evidence” of collusion.

But Mueller dispelled those theories in a report of his 22-month investigation.

“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller wrote, according to Attorney General William Barr. (RELATED: Justice Department Details Mueller’s Conclusions: No Collusion)

Mueller found no evidence that Trump, his associates, or other Americans worked with Russians to release emails through WikiLeaks. He also found no evidence that Trump associates helped the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company that planted disinformation on American social media networks.

Here are those seven conspiracy theories.

Carter Page

The Steele dossier alleges that Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser, took part in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” between the Trump campaign and Russian leadership. According to former British spy Christopher Steele, Page was working under the direction of Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman, to carry out the conspiracy.

“The reason for using WikiLeaks was ‘plausible deniability’ and the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team,” alleged Steele in a memo in late July 2016.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Carter Page, former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, speaks to the media after testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee is conducting an investigation into Russia's tampering in the 2016 election. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Carter Page, former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, speaks in November 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In exchange for the help, Trump’s team agreed to side with Russia on the Ukraine issue.

According to Steele’s Aug. 10, 2016 memo, Page had “conceived and promoted” the idea of releasing stolen DNC emails through WikiLeaks in order to swing Democrats away from Hillary Clinton and towards Bernie Sanders.

Steele also claimed that Page met in Moscow with two Kremlin insiders, Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin, in early July 2016. Diveykin is alleged in the dossier to have told Page about blackmail material on both Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Page has vehemently denied the allegations from the dossier, which the FBI used to obtain four surveillance warrants against the former Trump aide.

Page was not charged in the Mueller investigation.

George Papadopoulos

The FBI’s initial collusion theory involved Papadopoulos, a 32-year-old energy consultant.

On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Papadopoulos based on a tip the bureau had received from the Australian government.

Alexander Downer, the Australian High Commissioner to the U.K., had claimed that during a May 10, 2016, meeting in London, Papadopoulos told him that Russia had information on Hillary Clinton that it planned to release later in the campaign.

Papadopoulos said that two weeks before that meeting, he had breakfast in London with another diplomat, Joseph Mifsud, who told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands” of her emails.

Papadopoulos insists that he did not tell anyone on the campaign about Mifsud’s remarks and that he did not view, handle or disseminate Clinton emails.

He pleaded guilty on Oct. 5, 2017, to lying to the FBI about the extent of his contacts with Mifsud, but he was never charged with a more serious crime.

He served a 14-day prison term and is releasing a book Tuesday.

Michael Cohen

The former Trump lawyer is accused in the dossier of visiting Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials for the purposes of paying off hackers.

“The agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign,” reads Steele’s Dec. 13, 2016, memo.

The dossier’s allegations against Cohen were viewed as some of the strongest claims of collusion that have surfaced during Russia gate.

Cohen has vehemently denied the claims since BuzzFeed published the dossier. On Feb. 27, after he had been sentenced in the special counsel’s probe to three years in prison, Cohen testified that he has never been to Prague.

The testimony was seen as a knockout blow for the dossier’s credibility. Mueller’s findings seemingly ended all debate on the matter.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Dec. 12 on charges of tax evasion, bank fraud, illegal campaign contributions and making false statements to Congress.

Paul Manafort

In addition to being linked in the dossier to Carter Page, the former Trump campaign chairman was found to have sent cryptic emails during the campaign referencing Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who was locked in a business dispute with Manafort.

The special counsel also focused Manafort’s role in sending polling data during the campaign to two Russian oligarchs.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in an email to an associate on July 7, 2016, The Washington Post has reported.

In April 2016, shortly after he joined the Trump team, Manafort asked the same associate in an email how he could use his new position to “get whole.”

The email has widely been interpreted as Manafort suggesting that he would use his job on the Trump campaign to settle his debts with Deripaska.

But little came of Manafort’s links to Deripaska. Manafort was convicted in federal court in Virginia on Aug. 21, 2018, on charges related to his Ukraine consulting work. He cooperated with the special counsel after pleading guilty on Sept. 14, 2018, to working as an unregistered foreign agent of Ukraine.

The special counsel’s office hinted at times that prosecutors had evidence that dealt with the core issues of the investigation, but they never presented the evidence during court hearings.

Manafort was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison on March 13.

Trump Tower

Democrats have seized on a June 9, 2016, meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians as the strongest verifiable evidence of collusion to emerge during the Russia saga.

Trump Jr. accepted the meeting after receiving an email on June 3, 2016, from Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who worked for Russian pop star Emin Agalarov.

In the email, Goldstone said that Agalarov’s billionaire father had met with Russia’s “Crown prosecutor” and wanted to offer the Trump campaign “with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very helpful to your father.”

Trump Jr. accepted, writing: “If it is what you say I love it.”

Donald Trump, Jr. greets supporters at campaign stop for Republican senate nominee Patrick Morrisey and Republican candidate for the House of Representatives Carol Miller ahead of the 2018 midterm elections at Phillips Machine Service in Beckley, West Virginia, U.S., November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Donald Trump, Jr. greets supporters in Beckley, West Virginia, U.S., November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Goldstone responded to say that a “Russian government attorney” would fly to the U.S. for the meeting.

Trump Jr. attended the meeting with Manafort and Jared Kushner. Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya attended along with Goldstone and several other Russians.

All attendees have claimed that the meeting was a waste of time and that no information regarding the campaign was exchanged.

Veselnitskaya provided the campaign with a short memo containing research compiled by Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that, ironically, commissioned the Steele dossier. Veselnitskaya was working at the time with Fusion GPS on an investigation of Bill Browder, a London-based financier who spearheaded the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions law opposed by the Kremlin.

Mueller investigated the Trump Tower meeting. Goldstone and other attendees appeared before Mueller’s grand jury.

Goldstone responded to Mueller’s finding of no collusion in a message to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“After 2 years, Robert Mueller has delivered his report, stating there was no collusion in the 2016 Presidential election,” Goldstone said. “That includes my email to Donald Trump Jr. and the subsequent Trump Tower meeting … which as I have stated from the beginning, had nothing to do with collusion.”

Veselnitskaya was indicted by prosecutors in Manhattan related to her work against Bill Browder. No other Trump Tower attendees other than Manafort were charged by the special counsel.

Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi

One theory of collusion that emerged over the past year was that Trump confidant Stone and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi were linked to WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors keyed in on Stone because of tweets he sent and remarks he made in August 2016 that suggested he had inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release emails stolen from Democrats.

Stone said in interviews that he had communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. On Aug. 21, 2016, he tweeted that it would “soon [be] the Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

Stone has insisted that he had no direct contact with WikiLeaks or Assange. He also claims that he did not know that WikiLeaks would release Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails in October 2016.

Roger Stone at Politicon at Pasadena Convention Center on July 29, 2017 in California. (John Sciulli/Getty Images)

Instead, he’s maintained that he received tips about the timing and seriousness of the email releases from Randy Credico, a left-wing activist who is friends with a WikiLeaks attorney.

Stone released text messages that showed Credico providing information about the timing of the email releases.

Corsi was a focus because of emails he sent in August 2016 in which he suggested he had inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans.

“Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps,” Corsi wrote in the Aug. 2, 2016, email to Stone, seemingly referring to Assange, who lives under asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

“One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.”

“Time to let more than Podesta to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC.”

Corsi was offered a plea deal by the special counsel but says he rejected it. Prosecutors wanted him to plead guilty to making false statements about exchanging WikiLeaks-related emails with Stone.

Corsi said he deduced on his own that WikiLeaks had Podesta’s emails and that he had no contact with anyone affiliated with the group.

Stone was indicted by the special counsel on Jan. 24, but not on charges related to conspiracy with Russia or WikiLeaks. He was instead charged with making false statements to the House Intelligence Committee regarding his discussions about WikiLeaks with associates and Trump campaign officials.

Peter Smith

One of the more bizarre collusion conspiracy theories involved Peter Smith, a GOP donor and political operative who lived in Chicago.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in June 2017 that Smith worked with numerous conservative operatives and hackers to obtain the 30,000 emails that Hillary Clinton deleted from her private server.

The conspiracy theory came to encompass close Trump associates, including Michael Flynn. Smith wrote in correspondence that he had been in contact with Flynn regarding the effort to hunt down Clinton’s emails.

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Mueller was asking witnesses about the Smith operation. The story festered in the media, with follow-up reporting from BuzzFeed.

Smith died by suicide on May 14, 2017.

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FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 11, 2019 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By Samia Nakhoul

BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights was manna from heaven for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks before an election.

For many Arabs, it crushed any hope that there will one day be a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians and increased doubts that Washington is an impartial arbiter.

But allies and enemies can agree on one thing: Trump’s statement last Thursday was a turning point in U.S. policy over territory Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in 1981, in a move the U.N. Security Council declared unlawful.

“I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Israel when Trump made his announcement on Twitter, told the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview.

Netanyahu, who has thanked Trump for the announcement, is seeking re-election on April 9 but faces a tough battle and possible indictment in three corruption cases in which he denies wrongdoing.

He was due to meet Trump on Monday on a trip highlighting what Netanyahu calls the strongest ever bond between an Israeli leader and a U.S. president, though Trump has said his decision on the Golan Heights was not connected with the election.

But Trump’s decision, following U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, could tempt other powers to annex land, undermine the roll-out of a U.S. Middle East peace plan and tilt Israel back into conflict with its Arab neighbors, Middle East analysts say.

“Donald Trump has made sure that Israel will be in a perpetual state of war with its Arab neighbors for many decades to come,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and author of the book Making the Arab World.

“What Trump has done is to hammer a deadly nail in the coffin of the peace process and Arab-Israeli reconciliation. This is a fundamental turning point. There is nothing left to discuss anymore.”

RESHAPING THE MIDDLE EAST

Trump’s move is, according to many analysts, partly intended to boost his own chances of re-election in 2020, by targeting the vast pool of U.S. evangelical Christians. Many of them voted for his in 2016 and they are championed in his administration by Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and others.

The announcement on the Golan Heights was the latest in a flurry of decisions that are widely seen as intended to redraw the contours of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Most have ticked the wish-list of Israel’s right-wing government and met longstanding demands of its U.S. supporters, including U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital. The Arab east of the city was occupied by Israel and then annexed after 1967 in a move that is legally repudiated internationally.

White House officials say the decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights acknowledge the reality on the ground, which they say must be the basis for legitimate peace negotiations.

Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said it was inconceivable Israel “would allow the Golan to be controlled by the state of Syria or by any of the rogue actors operating in the areas, including Iran.”

But with Sunni Arab leaders dealing with crises in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Sudan and Qatar, and their standoff with non-Arab Shi’ite Iran, they are less focused on Israel.

 

ARABS IN DISARRAY

Trump’s aides have indicated privately that they believe his moves on Jerusalem have provoked a less severe reaction in the Arab world than experts had predicted, a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

In particular, they did not appear to have blocked behind-the-scenes security contacts developed in recent years between Israel and the United States’ Gulf allies over their common enemy Iran, the person said.

Aides’ advice to Trump on recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was that Washington could again weather the storm, the same person said.

Support for the move in the Trump administration had gained momentum over the past year as Israel increasingly expressed concern about Iranian forces and their proxies taking up positions in southwestern Syria, the official said.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser and one of the administration’s leading Iran hawks, was an important proponent of the policy shift, the official said.

But skeptics say the move will also give Iran and its local ally Hezbollah what they would see as justification for new attacks on Israel and hamstring anti-Iranian Arab leaders if they are seen to accept the U.S. move.

The Trump administration has identified Iran as its main target in the Middle East, and withdrew from the deal signed by Tehran, the United States and other world powers in 2015 on curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

MORE TO COME

But after the moves on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Iran and Hezbollah may feel better able to present themselves as the only steadfast allies of the Palestinian cause.

They could also play into the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by helping him in his portrayals of Israel and the United States as enemies.

“This will give further power to the Iran axis of resistance between Iran-Hezbollah-Assad against Israel and the U.S.,” said Galip Dalay, visiting fellow at Oxford University and a fellow at Brookings Doha. “This axis has just been given a very strong symbolic victory and this will give them the high ground.”

He said Arab leaders could not publicly support Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights because it would threaten their popularity, in some cases already low.

“From the Arab standpoint, this makes them more hesitant to be supportive because the political space they need to maneuver has been eroded,” said Dennis Ross, a veteran Middle East negotiator. “Each move by this administration has put Arab states on the defensive.”

Ross also suggested that U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights could embolden the Israeli right-wing to step up its push for annexing settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

“I worry that the right in Israel can say ‘they recognized this. It will be a matter of time before we can annex all or part of the West Bank’,” he said. “That would be the end of the two-state solution.”

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 11, 2019 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By Samia Nakhoul

BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights was manna from heaven for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks before an election.

For many Arabs, it crushed any hope that there will one day be a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians and increased doubts that Washington is an impartial arbiter.

But allies and enemies can agree on one thing: Trump’s statement last Thursday was a turning point in U.S. policy over territory Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in 1981, in a move the U.N. Security Council declared unlawful.

“I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Israel when Trump made his announcement on Twitter, told the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview.

Netanyahu, who has thanked Trump for the announcement, is seeking re-election on April 9 but faces a tough battle and possible indictment in three corruption cases in which he denies wrongdoing.

He was due to meet Trump on Monday on a trip highlighting what Netanyahu calls the strongest ever bond between an Israeli leader and a U.S. president, though Trump has said his decision on the Golan Heights was not connected with the election.

But Trump’s decision, following U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, could tempt other powers to annex land, undermine the roll-out of a U.S. Middle East peace plan and tilt Israel back into conflict with its Arab neighbors, Middle East analysts say.

“Donald Trump has made sure that Israel will be in a perpetual state of war with its Arab neighbors for many decades to come,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and author of the book Making the Arab World.

“What Trump has done is to hammer a deadly nail in the coffin of the peace process and Arab-Israeli reconciliation. This is a fundamental turning point. There is nothing left to discuss anymore.”

RESHAPING THE MIDDLE EAST

Trump’s move is, according to many analysts, partly intended to boost his own chances of re-election in 2020, by targeting the vast pool of U.S. evangelical Christians. Many of them voted for his in 2016 and they are championed in his administration by Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and others.

The announcement on the Golan Heights was the latest in a flurry of decisions that are widely seen as intended to redraw the contours of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Most have ticked the wish-list of Israel’s right-wing government and met longstanding demands of its U.S. supporters, including U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital. The Arab east of the city was occupied by Israel and then annexed after 1967 in a move that is legally repudiated internationally.

White House officials say the decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights acknowledge the reality on the ground, which they say must be the basis for legitimate peace negotiations.

Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said it was inconceivable Israel “would allow the Golan to be controlled by the state of Syria or by any of the rogue actors operating in the areas, including Iran.”

But with Sunni Arab leaders dealing with crises in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Sudan and Qatar, and their standoff with non-Arab Shi’ite Iran, they are less focused on Israel.

 

ARABS IN DISARRAY

Trump’s aides have indicated privately that they believe his moves on Jerusalem have provoked a less severe reaction in the Arab world than experts had predicted, a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

In particular, they did not appear to have blocked behind-the-scenes security contacts developed in recent years between Israel and the United States’ Gulf allies over their common enemy Iran, the person said.

Aides’ advice to Trump on recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was that Washington could again weather the storm, the same person said.

Support for the move in the Trump administration had gained momentum over the past year as Israel increasingly expressed concern about Iranian forces and their proxies taking up positions in southwestern Syria, the official said.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser and one of the administration’s leading Iran hawks, was an important proponent of the policy shift, the official said.

But skeptics say the move will also give Iran and its local ally Hezbollah what they would see as justification for new attacks on Israel and hamstring anti-Iranian Arab leaders if they are seen to accept the U.S. move.

The Trump administration has identified Iran as its main target in the Middle East, and withdrew from the deal signed by Tehran, the United States and other world powers in 2015 on curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

MORE TO COME

But after the moves on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Iran and Hezbollah may feel better able to present themselves as the only steadfast allies of the Palestinian cause.

They could also play into the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by helping him in his portrayals of Israel and the United States as enemies.

“This will give further power to the Iran axis of resistance between Iran-Hezbollah-Assad against Israel and the U.S.,” said Galip Dalay, visiting fellow at Oxford University and a fellow at Brookings Doha. “This axis has just been given a very strong symbolic victory and this will give them the high ground.”

He said Arab leaders could not publicly support Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights because it would threaten their popularity, in some cases already low.

“From the Arab standpoint, this makes them more hesitant to be supportive because the political space they need to maneuver has been eroded,” said Dennis Ross, a veteran Middle East negotiator. “Each move by this administration has put Arab states on the defensive.”

Ross also suggested that U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights could embolden the Israeli right-wing to step up its push for annexing settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

“I worry that the right in Israel can say ‘they recognized this. It will be a matter of time before we can annex all or part of the West Bank’,” he said. “That would be the end of the two-state solution.”

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Source: OANN

A view shows a Russian one rouble coin in this picture illustration
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a Russian one rouble coin in this picture illustration taken October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

March 25, 2019

By Andrey Ostroukh

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian rouble strengthened on Monday to remain the world’s best-performing currency year-to-date as it received a boost from details of a report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

A U.S. investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not find that any of President Donald Trump’s campaign officials knowingly conspired with the Russian government in the 2016 election, according to details of the report released on Sunday.

The news dominated Russian media on Monday, raising hopes that Washington could refrain from imposing more sanctions against Moscow, something that proved harmful to Russian markets in recent years.

“The probability of harsh sanctions against Russia declines,” said Alexei Antonov, an analyst at Alor Brokerage.

“Conceptually, it should be supportive (for Russian assets) if we now assign a slightly lower likelihood to sanctions,” said Guido Chamorro, a portfolio manager at Pictet Asset Management.

Russian officials welcomed Mueller’s report. The Kremlin said Russia was ready to improve ties with the United States, while a senior lawmaker proposed a “reset” in ties with Washington.

The issue of relations between Trump and Moscow is likely to remain in focus in the foreseeable future, analysts at Sberbank CIB said.

“Two congressional committee hearings on Russia have been scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday, so there is a risk of negative headlines,” they said.

The rouble gained 0.6 percent to 64.30 at 1219 GMT , heading towards its strongest level since August 2018 of 63.63 which it hit last week. The rouble has gained more than 8 percent against the greenback this year.

Versus the euro, the rouble was 0.5 percent stronger at 72.74.

The rouble retains support from month-end tax payments that usually prompt export-focused companies to convert their dollar revenues to meet local liabilities. This month, tax payments are higher than usual.

The Russian bond market showed a limited reaction to the U.S. report.

Yields of 10-year benchmark OFZ treasury bonds, which move inversely with their prices, declined to 8.22 percent from 8.31 percent seen late on Friday, the day they moved higher following the central bank’s decision to hold rates.

Brent crude oil, a global benchmark for Russia’s main export, shed 0.3 percent to $66.85 a barrel but remained supportive for Russian assets as it hovered near 2019 highs.

Russian stock indexes erased earlier losses and headed higher. The dollar-denominated RTS index climbed 0.7 percent to 1,221.8 points, while the rouble-based MOEX Russian index was little changed at 2,492.3 points.

(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh,; Additional reporting by Marc Jones, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Toby Chopra and Ed Osmond)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Sisters from Saudi Arabia, who go by aliases Reem and Rawan, are pictured at an office in Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: Sisters from Saudi Arabia, who go by aliases Reem and Rawan, are pictured at an office in Hong Kong, China February 23, 2019. REUTERS/Aleksander Solum/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By Anne Marie Roantree and James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Two Saudi Arabian sisters are hoping for a “bright, beautiful future” after being granted asylum, fleeing what they describe as an abusive family and a repressive society.

The sisters fled from their family last September while on holiday in Sri Lanka and have been stranded in Hong Kong since an aborted attempt to get to Australia, where they hoped to secure asylum.

For reasons of safety, the sisters, aged 18 and 20, who say they were beaten by their father and brothers, asked that their names and faces not be revealed, nor the country to which they have now gone.

“Oh my God, I was so happy,” the curly haired younger sister told Reuters recently, describing how she felt when told asylum had been secured.

“I screamed ‘It’s real, it’s happening’ … It was just relief and unforgettable.”

The sisters spoke to Reuters in a room on the 22nd floor of a Hong Kong hotel shortly before they left the city. Hong Kong-based rights lawyer, Michael Vidler, who has been helping them, attended.

They said they have lived in fear for six months, shuttling between 15 safe houses, staying with a nun, families and at a shelter for abused women.

They feared being intercepted by Saudi officials or relatives and forced home, where they believe they could be punished for renouncing Islam, which is punishable by death under the Saudi system of Islamic law..

The Saudi Consulate in Hong Kong has not responded to requests for comment.

The sisters said they were treated harshly, at times beaten, by their brothers and father.

“They were like my jailer, like my prison officer. I was like a prisoner,” the younger sister previously told Reuters.

‘NO REGRET’

They were also critical of Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, under which women must have permission from a male relative to work, travel, marry, and even get some medical treatment.

“Women are just like slaves,” said the older sister, adding that her dream was to become a writer one day.

“I want to settle down and to feel safe, and (to know) that I have rights and I matter in that country. Just to live normal, and discover myself … because now I own my life.”

This is not the first case in Asia this year of young Saudi women fleeing what they said was repression.

In January, an 18-year-old Saudi woman was granted asylum in Canada after fleeing her family and barricading herself in a Bangkok hotel to resist being sent home.

Her case drew global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

The Saudi mission in Bangkok declined to comment on that case saying it was a family affair.

The kingdom has given women more rights in recent years. Women have been allowed to enter sports stadiums, vote in local elections, and take a greater role in the workforce as Saudi Arabia tries to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

A ban on driving was lifted last year but many women have taken to social media to push for more freedom. Campaigners say the main sticking point remains the guardianship policy.

‘FIND YOUR LIGHT’

Riyadh has also faced scrutiny from Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

The sisters watched the news of Khashoggi’s death unfold while in hiding in Hong Kong.

“I said to my sister, ‘I’m glad we left. This is the country we left’, there is no regret at all,” said the older sister, who counts George Orwell’s “1984” as one of her favorite books and likened its dystopian society to her homeland.

“It’s a science fiction book but it’s real in Saudi,” she said.

The pair hatched their escape plan over several years, secretly hoarding about $5,000, partly by scrimping on items they were given money to buy, and had timed it to coincide with the younger sister’s 18th birthday.

They said they had been wracked with uncertainty as a deadline for them to leave Chinese-ruled Hong Kong passed last month. Amnesty International had urged Hong Kong authorities not to return the sisters to Saudi Arabia.

The younger sister, who counts Radiohead and Queen among her favorite bands, said she hoped to inspire young people to stand against social injustice.

“Don’t just stick to the wall and cry. Because if you would cry it would be worse … Fight in your own way and you will find your own light.”

Dressed in a red T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, she said she had no regrets.

“There’s a bright, beautiful future awaiting me.”

(Reporting by James Pomfret and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN

Traders work on the floor at the NYSE in New York
Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

March 25, 2019

By Shreyashi Sanyal

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures dipped on Monday, struggling to shrug off global economic slowdown worries triggered by weak factory numbers, despite a report that President Donald Trump’s campaign did not collude with Russia and positive data from Germany.

S&P 500 futures initially rose on Sunday after the report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but it left unresolved the issue of whether Trump obstructed justice by undermining the investigations that have dogged his presidency.

Wall Street’s main indexes on Friday posted their biggest one-day percentage declines since Jan. 3, after a clutch of dour factory data caused the spread between yields of U.S. three-month Treasury bills to exceed those of 10-year notes for the first time since 2007.

An inverted yield curve is widely understood to be a leading indicator of recession.

On Monday, yields on the 10-year bonds rose back above three-month rates, after a rise in a key German business confidence index.

A survey showed German business morale rose unexpectedly in March after six consecutive drops, suggesting that Europe’s largest economy is likely to pick up in the coming months.

Investors will keep a close watch for developments on trade as top U.S. officials travel to Beijing for the latest round of high-level talks, scheduled to start on March 28.

At 7:15 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were down 37 points, or 0.14 percent. S&P 500 e-minis were down 5.25 points, or 0.19 percent and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 34 points, or 0.46 percent.

Among stocks trading premarket, Apple Inc dipped 0.3 percent ahead of an event where the company is widely expected to launch its video streaming service. The event is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. ET.

Akamai Technologies fell 3.8 percent after a report brokerage Deutsche Bank downgraded the stock to “sell” from “hold”.

Viacom Inc’s shares rose 4 percent after company and AT&T Inc renewed their contract to continue carriage of Viacom’s services.

(Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Amy Caren Daniel in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

Source: OANN

Rahul Gandhi, President of India's main opposition Congress party, pauses as he takes a question during a news conference at his party's headquarters in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO – Rahul Gandhi, President of India’s main opposition Congress party, pauses as he takes a question during a news conference at his party’s headquarters in New Delhi, India, February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

March 25, 2019

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s main opposition Congress party will give 72,000 rupees ($1,045) a year to the country’s poorest families if it is voted back to power, its president said on Monday.

Describing it as a “final assault on poverty”, Congress President Rahul Gandhi told reporters in New Delhi that the scheme would benefit 250 million people.

Gandhi’s announcement comes ahead of India’s general election beginning April 11.

($1 = 68.8540 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Krishna N. Das)

Source: OANN

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he returns to the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as the president returns from a weekend in Florida at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

March 25, 2019

By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that Donald Trump did not collude with Russia to win the presidency in 2016 gives the president a powerful weapon to use against his Democratic opponents and a potential boost to what is shaping up to be a tough bid for re-election in 2020.

Mueller’s conclusion that neither Trump nor his aides conspired with Russia in 2016 takes away a central charge that Democrats have flung at Trump for two years – that he did not win the presidency fairly or cleanly. The allegations have played out on an endless loop on cable TV news shows, overshadowing Trump’s presidency from day one.

Democrats have vowed to continue congressional investigations into the 2016 election campaign and Trump’s business practices. But without the solid foundation of a Mueller report that found evidence of any crimes by the president, they now risk seeming to overplay their hand.

“This is a gold star day for Donald Trump,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “Now the shackles are off. He’s able to demonize the news media and Democrats as perpetuating what he calls a hoax. And he’ll be able to use his innocence as fodder for the campaign trail.”

The question for Trump now is whether he will be able to bring a minimum of discipline to his campaign messaging and to the presidency itself.

History suggests he will have trouble with self-discipline. Just last week, he was immersed in a strange fight with a dead man, sharply criticizing the late Republican Senator John McCain and falsely accusing him of being at the root of some of the collusion allegations against him.

He has also been prone to making baffling abrupt decisions, such as occurred last week when he called off a round of sanctions against North Korea before they had even been imposed.

Despite the Mueller report’s conclusions, Trump remains an intemperate president, eager to lash out at any and all critics and perceived slights.

“This was an illegal takedown that failed,” Trump said on Sunday, even though Mueller left open the question of whether the former real estate magnate had attempted to obstruct the Russia probe, which did find extensive evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

“Now is the time to get back on the offense on the economy and growth,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed. “This is a good time to get back to a real healthy dose of message discipline for the entire administration, department-wide and the White House. That’s what you do when something like this happens.”

Trump, on a golfing weekend in Palm Beach, Florida, got the news in his private quarters at his Mar-a-Lago retreat from White House counsel Emmett Flood, and watched TV coverage of the Mueller report in his cabin on Air Force One.

Trump’s initial comments in reacting to the Mueller conclusion suggests he is not inclined to move past the investigation.

Speaking to reporters before boarding Air Force One for the flight back to Washington, Trump called for Democrats to be investigated, expanding on his often repeated assertion that the Mueller probe was Democrat-inspired. Mueller was appointed by Trump’s Department of Justice in 2017 after he fired FBI director James Comey.

“It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this,” Trump said. “Before I even got elected it began, and it began illegally.”

Trump’s comments could foreshadow an effort by his supporters to seek payback for the cloud that has hung over his time in the White House.

“I’m interested in moving on and trying to get this behind us, but people have to pay for what they’ve done for the past two years,” said former Trump campaign aide David Bossie. “We must investigate the investigators.”

CHALLENGES FOR DEMOCRATS

Trump’s path to re-election remains a perilous one. Analysts say he will probably need to win the Midwestern states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, just as he did in his improbable 2016 victory, and Democrats are already pouring resources into those states.

Trump will foreshadow his campaign message on Thursday night when he headlines a “Make America Great Again” rally in Michigan.

Trump supporters viewed the Mueller report as a blow to the more than a dozen Democrats who are campaigning for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

“This is very problematic for any Democrat who’s running for president in 2020 that was hoping they would face a weakened or beaten-down President Trump,” former Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said. “In fact, President Trump will likely see a ratings boost coming out of this and a strong tailwind pushing him toward the upcoming election.”

Reuters/Ipsos polling has shown that Americans decided early on in Mueller’s investigation whether they thought Trump was guilty of collusion or not. The polling found few undecided voters.

Brinkley said Democrats will need to adjust their tactics and emphasize their differences with Trump’s record on issues ranging from healthcare and climate change to immigration.

“Some of those charges are going to have to rise to be the main charges against Trump,” he said, noting there was fatigue with the Russia issue.

(Reporting By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Ross Colvin and Chris Reese)

Source: OANN

The text of Attorney General William Barr's letter to congressional lawmakers outlining the principal conclusions reached by the special counsel in the Russia probe (with footnotes below):

March 24, 2019

Dear Chairman Graham, Chairman Nadler, Ranking Member Feinstein, and Ranking Member Collins:

As a supplement to the notification provided on Friday, March 22, 2019, I am writing today to advise you of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and to inform you about the status of my initial review of the report he has prepared.

THE SPECIAL COUNSEL'S REPORT

On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a "confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions" he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. 600.8(c). This report is entitled "Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election." Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.

The report explains that the Special Counsel and his staff thoroughly investigated allegations that members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, and others associated with it, conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, or sought to obstruct the related federal investigations. In the report, the Special Counsel noted that, in completing his investigation, he employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.

The Special Counsel obtained a number of indictments and convictions of individuals and entities in connection with his investigation, all of which have been publicly disclosed. During the course of his investigation, the Special Counsel also referred several matters to other offices for further action. The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public. Below, I summarize the principal conclusions set out in the Special Counsel's report.

Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The Special Counsel's report is divided into two parts. The first describes the results of the Special Counsel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts. The report further explains that a primary consideration for the Special Counsel's investigation was whether any Americans – including individuals associated with the Trump campaign – joined the Russian conspiracies to influence the election, which would be a federal crime. The Special Counsel's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: "(T)he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." (1)

The Special Counsel's investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election. As noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated with the IRA in its efforts, although the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian nationals and entities in connection with these activities.

The second element involved the Russian government's efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.

Obstruction of Justice. The report's second part addresses a number of actions by the President – most of which have been the subject of public reporting – that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns. After making a "thorough factual investigation" into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as "difficult issues" of law and fact concerning whether the President's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

The Special Counsel's decision to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime. Over the course of the investigation, the Special Counsel's office engaged in discussions with certain Department officials regarding many of the legal and factual matters at issue in the Special Counsel's obstruction investigation. After reviewing the Special Counsel's final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president. (2)

In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that "the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference," and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President's intent with respect to obstruction. Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding. In cataloguing the President's actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department's principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of- justice offense.

STATUS OF THE DEPARTMENT'S REVIEW

The relevant regulations contemplate that the Special Counsel's report will be a "confidential report" to the Attorney General. See Office of Special Counsel, 64 Fed. Reg. 37,038,37,040-41 (July 9,1999). As I have previously stated, however, I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel's report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.

Based on my discussions with the Special Counsel and my initial review, it is apparent that the report contains material that is or could be subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which imposes restrictions on the use and disclosure of information relating to "matter(s) occurring before (a) grand jury." Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(2)(B). Rule 6(e) generally limits disclosure of certain grand jury information in a criminal investigation and prosecution. Id. Disclosure of 6(e) material beyond the strict limits set forth in the rule is a crime in certain circumstances. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. 401(3). This restriction protects the integrity of grand jury proceedings and ensures that the unique and invaluable investigative powers of a grand jury are used strictly for their intended criminal justice function.

Given these restrictions, the schedule for processing the report depends in part on how quickly the Department can identify the 6(e) material that by law cannot be made public. I have requested the assistance of the Special Counsel in identifying all 6(e) information contained in the report as quickly as possible. Separately, I also must identify any information that could impact other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other offices. As soon as that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining what can be released in light of applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.

***

As I observed in my initial notification, the Special Counsel regulations provide that "the Attorney General may determine that public release of' notifications to your respective Committees "would be in the public interest." 28 C.F.R. 600.9(c). I have so determined, and I will disclose this letter to the public after delivering it to you.

Sincerely,

William P. Barr

Attorney General

(1) In assessing potential conspiracy charges, the Special Counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign "coordinated" with Russian election interference activities. The Special Counsel defined "coordination" as an "agreement_tacit or express_between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference."

(2) See A Sitting President's Amenability to Indictment and Criminal Prosecution, 24 Op. O.L.C. 222 (2000).

Source: NewsMax

The text of Attorney General William Barr's letter to congressional lawmakers outlining the principal conclusions reached by the special counsel in the Russia probe (with footnotes below):

March 24, 2019

Dear Chairman Graham, Chairman Nadler, Ranking Member Feinstein, and Ranking Member Collins:

As a supplement to the notification provided on Friday, March 22, 2019, I am writing today to advise you of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and to inform you about the status of my initial review of the report he has prepared.

THE SPECIAL COUNSEL'S REPORT

On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a "confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions" he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. 600.8(c). This report is entitled "Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election." Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.

The report explains that the Special Counsel and his staff thoroughly investigated allegations that members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, and others associated with it, conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, or sought to obstruct the related federal investigations. In the report, the Special Counsel noted that, in completing his investigation, he employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.

The Special Counsel obtained a number of indictments and convictions of individuals and entities in connection with his investigation, all of which have been publicly disclosed. During the course of his investigation, the Special Counsel also referred several matters to other offices for further action. The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public. Below, I summarize the principal conclusions set out in the Special Counsel's report.

Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The Special Counsel's report is divided into two parts. The first describes the results of the Special Counsel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts. The report further explains that a primary consideration for the Special Counsel's investigation was whether any Americans – including individuals associated with the Trump campaign – joined the Russian conspiracies to influence the election, which would be a federal crime. The Special Counsel's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: "(T)he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." (1)

The Special Counsel's investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election. As noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated with the IRA in its efforts, although the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian nationals and entities in connection with these activities.

The second element involved the Russian government's efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.

Obstruction of Justice. The report's second part addresses a number of actions by the President – most of which have been the subject of public reporting – that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns. After making a "thorough factual investigation" into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as "difficult issues" of law and fact concerning whether the President's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

The Special Counsel's decision to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime. Over the course of the investigation, the Special Counsel's office engaged in discussions with certain Department officials regarding many of the legal and factual matters at issue in the Special Counsel's obstruction investigation. After reviewing the Special Counsel's final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president. (2)

In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that "the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference," and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President's intent with respect to obstruction. Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding. In cataloguing the President's actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department's principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of- justice offense.

STATUS OF THE DEPARTMENT'S REVIEW

The relevant regulations contemplate that the Special Counsel's report will be a "confidential report" to the Attorney General. See Office of Special Counsel, 64 Fed. Reg. 37,038,37,040-41 (July 9,1999). As I have previously stated, however, I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel's report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.

Based on my discussions with the Special Counsel and my initial review, it is apparent that the report contains material that is or could be subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which imposes restrictions on the use and disclosure of information relating to "matter(s) occurring before (a) grand jury." Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(2)(B). Rule 6(e) generally limits disclosure of certain grand jury information in a criminal investigation and prosecution. Id. Disclosure of 6(e) material beyond the strict limits set forth in the rule is a crime in certain circumstances. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. 401(3). This restriction protects the integrity of grand jury proceedings and ensures that the unique and invaluable investigative powers of a grand jury are used strictly for their intended criminal justice function.

Given these restrictions, the schedule for processing the report depends in part on how quickly the Department can identify the 6(e) material that by law cannot be made public. I have requested the assistance of the Special Counsel in identifying all 6(e) information contained in the report as quickly as possible. Separately, I also must identify any information that could impact other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other offices. As soon as that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining what can be released in light of applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.

***

As I observed in my initial notification, the Special Counsel regulations provide that "the Attorney General may determine that public release of' notifications to your respective Committees "would be in the public interest." 28 C.F.R. 600.9(c). I have so determined, and I will disclose this letter to the public after delivering it to you.

Sincerely,

William P. Barr

Attorney General

(1) In assessing potential conspiracy charges, the Special Counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign "coordinated" with Russian election interference activities. The Special Counsel defined "coordination" as an "agreement_tacit or express_between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference."

(2) See A Sitting President's Amenability to Indictment and Criminal Prosecution, 24 Op. O.L.C. 222 (2000).

Source: NewsMax

The U.S. Coast Guard Legend-class maritime security cutter USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750) pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam
The U.S. Coast Guard Legend-class maritime security cutter USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750) pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawii, U.S. to support the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012 exercise in this June 29, 2012 handout photo. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jon Dasbach/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

March 25, 2019

By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States sent Navy and Coast Guard ships through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the military said, as the United States increases the frequency of movement through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.

The voyage risks further raising tensions with China but will likely be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from Washington amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.

The two ships were identified as the Navy Curtis Wilbur destroyer and the Coast Guard Bertholf cutter, a U.S. military statement said.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the statement said.

“The U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” it added.

Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom of navigation patrols.

Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help defend the island nation and is its main source of arms. The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a wayward province of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory.

China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and worked to isolate the island internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report earlier this year describing Taiwan as the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization, which it said had made major advances in recent years.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said trade negotiations with China were progressing and a final agreement “will probably happen,” adding that his call for tariffs to remain on Chinese imported goods for some time did not mean talks were in trouble.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Source: OANN

Former FBI Director James Comey on Sunday tweeted a quixotic photo of himself gazing up into trees along with a caption that said, “so many questions,” following reports that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation found no collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

The post came after Attorney General William Barr submitted to Congress his summary of the main conclusions from Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller did not find Trump’s campaign or associates conspired with Russia, Barr wrote, and did the special counsel did not have sufficient evidence to prosecute obstruction of justice.

“In cataloguing the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the (Mueller) report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense,” Barr wrote.

Mueller, though, did not exonerate the president.

Trump, though, said the findings exonerated him.

This was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody's going to be looking at the other side," Trump told reporters on Sunday.

Mueller’s probe started in May 2017 after Trump’s sudden decision to dismiss Comey.

Source: NewsMax

Comoros incumbent President Azali Assoumani casts his ballot for the presidential election at a polling station in Mitsoudje
Comoros incumbent President Azali Assoumani casts his ballot for the presidential election at a polling station in Mitsoudje, in Comoros March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Amir Ahmed

March 24, 2019

MORONI (Reuters) – Opposition candidates said Sunday’s presidential poll in Comoros was marred by irregularities including barring of independent monitors and marking of ballot papers before voting began, charges rejected by the government.

About 300,000 voters in the Indian ocean archipelago of 800,000 people took part in the poll, with results expected to be announced by the electoral body CENI on Monday.

Incumbent Azali Assoumani, a former military officer, is widely expected to be re-elected from a field of 13 contenders.

“Election monitors for various independent candidates did not receive necessary accreditation documents to access the polling stations,” the 12 opposition candidates said in a joint statement on Sunday.

Some polling stations had opened earlier than the official time while some ballot boxes were already filled, they said.

The opposition also accused authorities of arresting some of their representatives and preventing others from accessing CENI’s premises.

Interior minister Mohamed Daoudou, who organized the poll, denied the opposition’s claims.

“The poll took place in a calm and peaceful atmosphere,” he said, adding voter turn out was 40 percent.

In the capital Moroni, groups of youths massed on main roads after polls closed in the early evening, erecting barricades and protesting against the alleged irregularities.

Last year Comoros was rattled by months of unrest as authorities moved to quell protests against Assoumani’s bid to extend presidential term limits.

People on the archipelago’s Anjouan island were angry that the move, which allowed Assoumani to participate in Sunday’s poll, would deny them the presidency under a system that rotates the post among the country’s three main islands.

(Reporting by Ali Amir Ahmed; editing by Elias Biryabarema and Kirsten Donovan)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City
FILE PHOTO: Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference to announce a plan to strengthen finances of state oil firm Pemex, at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

March 24, 2019

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Sunday the state had in the past been the main violator of human rights in the country, as he blamed violence and disappearances on his predecessors’ “neo-liberal” economic policies.

“There was a time in which the main violator of human rights was the state. It was the violator par excellence of human rights. That’s over,” Lopez Obrador said at an event in which his government set out plans to end disappearances in Mexico.

“I, as president, and at the same time as commander of the country’s armed forces, will never give the order to massacre, to repress the people of Mexico,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people are registered as disappeared in Mexico, where fighting between drug cartels and their clashes with security forces have been blamed for more than 200,000 deaths since late 2006.

The violence has been punctuated by mass killings, some of which have drawn international condemnation of the Mexican authorities. Most notorious was the 2014 disappearance of 43 student teachers in the southwestern city of Iguala.

The government said the youths were massacred after corrupt police handed them to a local drug gang, who incinerated their bodies. But many questions remain about the teachers’ fate, and the incident did lasting damage to the reputation of Lopez Obrador’s predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto.

Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, has sought to present his presidency as a complete break with previous administrations, and said he would not back a policy of “an eye for an eye” that tried to tackle “violence with violence.”

Homicides have remained close to record levels since the veteran leftist took power.

The event set out plans to increase coordination between authorities, relatives and emergency services under a “national search system” designed to track down the disappeared.

Lopez Obrador said the government would spare no expense in its efforts to find the missing, and to put names on some 26,000 unidentified bodies currently in storage.

During his address, which was attended by relatives of some of the many disappeared, the president again attacked the economic policies of previous governments, saying they were corrupt, had impoverished Mexico and encouraged violence.

“This is what we’re suffering from,” he said, “the rotten fruit of neo-liberal economics prescribed for 36 years.”

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Source: OANN

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

A New Mexico Archbishop urged Catholic faithful to stop venerating a ‘spiritually dangerous’ folk saint of death called La Santa Muerte.

John Wester, Archbishop of Santa Fe, said worship of La Santa Muerte, or Our Lady Of Holy Death, contradicts church teaching because it glorifies death, a characteristic associated with Satan, who the Christian scriptures say “comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.” Wester believes that people may be seduced into worshiping La Santa Muerte either because they mistakenly believe that it is a church-sanctioned saint, or because they are simply searching for answers. (RELATED: Faith, Drugs, And Human Sacrifice: A Mexican Folk Religion Has Texas Police Worried)

“It’s really wrong. I think in part, it’s (because) people are looking and searching. It’s a symptom of a search looking for answers,” Wester told The Associated Press.

“Our devotion is to the God of life,” he added.

La Santa Muerte, often depicted as a robed skeleton carrying a scythe in one hand and a globe or scales in the other, is an occult saint popular in Mexico with adherents also in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, California and elsewhere in Latino communities in the U.S.

Devotees touch the figures of Santa Muerte (Saint of Death) before the central altar asking for favors during the main celebration in the market of one of the most dangerous neighborhoods, known as Tepito in Mexico City, on November 1, 2012. (YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Devotees touch the figures of Santa Muerte (Saint of Death) before the central altar asking for favors during the main celebration in the market of one of the most dangerous neighborhoods, known as Tepito in Mexico City, on November 1, 2012. (YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

While some depict the folk saint as a benign if bizarre figure to whom the poor direct prayers and offerings of candles, fruits and sweets in exchange for provision and fortune, there is a very real dark side to worship of the folk saint. The FBI reports that members of Mexican drug cartels often pray to the figure, asking it to bring harm to law enforcement and rivals. In some cases, cartel and gang members have murdered people in ritualistic killings as offerings to La Santa Muerte.

“For U.S. law enforcement agencies, the rise of a criminalized and dark variant of Santa Muerte worship holds many negative implications,” said Dr. Robert J. Bunker, PhD in an FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. “Of greatest concern, the inspired and ritualistic killings associated with this cult could cross the border and take place in the United States.”

“Over half of the prayers directed at her include petitions to harm other people via curses and death magic,” Bunker added.

While Wester and a few other Catholic bishops in the U.S. have openly denounced La Santa Muerte, Bishop Walter F. Sullivan and Andrew Chesnut, author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint, said no other high-ranking Catholic clerics in the U.S. have done so. Chestnut believes they have avoided denouncing the demonic figure because it might contradict their messaging about migrants.

“In Latin America, church officials rebuke Santa Muerte almost weekly,” Chestnut told AP. For more U.S. bishops to attack worship of La Santa Muerte, he said, would risk portraying Mexican migrants as “dangerous and all connected to drug trafficking.”

Wester, however, remains resolute in his stand against La Santa Muerte, whom he said is “spiritually dangerous.”

“It should be completely avoided,” Wester said. “It is a perversion of devotion to the saints.”

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact [email protected].

Source: The Daily Caller

General election in Thailand
Uttama Savanayana, Palang Pracharat Party leader, holds a news conference during the general election in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

March 24, 2019

By Panu Wongcha-um and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A pro-military party was leading in Thailand’s first election since a 2014 coup, with the unofficial result delayed until Monday afternoon likely to indicate whether junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha can gain enough seats to remain prime minister.

The Election Commission had been scheduled to announce the unofficial results Sunday night for the 500-seat lower House of Representatives but later said it was delayed until Monday, without giving a reason.

But with Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat party all but guaranteed the support of the junta-appointed upper house, the Senate, under new electoral rules the junta drafted, it looked in a good position to keep Prayuth in office five years after he overthrew an elected government.

With 93 percent of overall votes counted, the Election Commission reported Palang Pracharat was leading with 7.64 million votes.

Trailing with 7.16 million votes was Pheu Thai, a party linked to the self-exiled ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose loyalists have won every election since 2001.

Palang Pracharat leader Uttama Savanayana cautioned the final results were not yet in but he seemed confident.

“We are pleased,” Uttama said. “As for discussion with other parties about forming the next government, we haven’t got to that stage yet.”

The numbers released were for the popular vote, but these did not reflect parliamentary constituency seats that would ultimately be won. Pheu Thai could still win the lion’s share of these because of its concentrated popularity in the north and northeast of the country.

Pheu Thai was on track to win at least 129 seats and Palang Pracharat at least 102 seats, based on a Reuters tally of the partial results of the 350 constituency seats contested.

Another 150 “party seats” will be allocated under a complex formula that favors smaller parties and is based on the total number of votes cast.

The strong showing by the pro-junta Palang Pracharat prompted dismay among many voters who had hoped that the poll would loosen the grip on power that traditional elites and the military have held in a country that has one of the highest measures of inequality in the world.

The Election Commission chairman said turnout was 66 percent, based on 90 percent of the vote counted.

At Pheu Thai’s headquarters in Bangkok, the mood fluctuated from cheerful to quiet disbelief.

“I didn’t think this is likely. I don’t think this is what the people wanted,” said Pheu Thai supporter Polnotcha Chakphet.

Pheu Thai leader Viroj Pao-in told reporters there had been some reports of vote-buying, though he stopped short of questioning the overall results.

ROYAL ROLE

The royal family, which wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions of Thais, played a part in the election though how far it influenced the outcome was unclear.

On the eve of the vote, King Maha Vajiralongkorn made an unexpected and cryptic statement, urging voters to put “good people” in power and to prevent “bad people from … creating chaos”.

His message was a departure from the approach of his late father, who died in 2016: in his latter years, the former king usually kept a distance between the monarchy and politics.

Although the king did not refer to any of the sides in the election race, there was speculation on social media that it was a coded reference to main political factions – broadly the middle class and urban establishment, who identify with the monarchy and the military, and their pro-Thaksin opponents.

King Vajiralongkorn also weighed in on electoral affairs last month after a startling turn of events when a pro-Thaksin party nominated Princess Ubolratana, the king’s sister, as its prime ministerial candidate.

Within hours, the king issued a statement saying her candidacy was “inappropriate” and she was disqualified.

Still, the connection between the princess and Thaksin persisted in voters’ minds, particularly after they were seen hugging on Friday at the wedding of his daughter in Hong Kong.

“We had a lot of dramas in the last hours before the election,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University told Reuters. “Thaksin overplayed with a royal involvement and that was countered by his opponent.”

DECK STACKED FOR MILITARY

Thailand has been racked for the past 15 years by crippling street protests both by Thaksin’s opponents and supporters that destabilized governments and hamstrung business.

Thaksin was thrown out by the army in 2006 and a government that his sister led by ousted in 2014.

Sunday’s election was to determine the make-up of parliament’s 500-seat House of Representatives. The lower house and the upper house, the junta-appointed Senate, will together select the next prime minister.

Critics have said a new, junta-devised electoral system gives a built-in advantage to pro-military parties and appears designed to prevent Pheu Thai from returning to power.

The provision means Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat and allies have to win only 126 seats in the House, while Pheu Thai and its potential “democratic front” partners would need 376.

The non-aligned Democrat Party, which many had thought could hold the balance of power, appeared to have been deserted by many voters. Its leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, announced his resignation within hours of the polls closing.

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Kay Johnson and Aye Min Thant, Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by John Chalmers)

Source: OANN

An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas
An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, Venezuela March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

March 24, 2019

CARACAS (Reuters) – Two Russian air force planes landed in Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to a local journalist, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.

A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas on Sunday.

The report comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticized as Russian encroachment in the region.

Reporter Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the first plane carried Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, adding that the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of material.

An Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left for Caracas on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping along the way in Syria, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.

The cargo plane left Caracas on Sunday afternoon, according to Adsbexchange, another flight-tracking site.

A Reuters witness saw what appeared to be the passenger jet at the Maiquetia airport on Sunday.

It was not immediately evident why the planes had come to Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Russia’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry did not reply to messages seeking a comment. The Kremlin spokesman also did not reply to a request for comment.

The Trump administration has levied crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry in efforts to push Maduro from power and has called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him. Maduro has denounced the sanctions as U.S. interventionism and has won diplomatic backing from Russia and China.

In December, two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro’s socialist government that infuriated Washington.

Maduro on Wednesday said Russia would send medicine “next week” to Venezuela, without describing how it would arrive, adding that Moscow in February had sent some 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

Venezuela in February had blocked a convoy carrying humanitarian aid for the crisis-stricken country that was coordinated with the team of opposition leader Juan Guaido, including supplies provided by the United States, from entering via the border with Colombia.

(Reporting by Carlos Garcia, Carlos Jasso, Diego Ore and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas, and Maria Tsvetkova and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Source: OANN

An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas
An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, Venezuela March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

March 24, 2019

CARACAS (Reuters) – Two Russian air force planes landed in Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to a local journalist, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.

A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas on Sunday.

The report comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticized as Russian encroachment in the region.

Reporter Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the first plane carried Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, adding that the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of material.

An Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left for Caracas on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping along the way in Syria, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.

The cargo plane left Caracas on Sunday afternoon, according to Adsbexchange, another flight-tracking site.

A Reuters witness saw what appeared to be the passenger jet at the Maiquetia airport on Sunday.

It was not immediately evident why the planes had come to Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Russia’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry did not reply to messages seeking a comment. The Kremlin spokesman also did not reply to a request for comment.

The Trump administration has levied crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry in efforts to push Maduro from power and has called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him. Maduro has denounced the sanctions as U.S. interventionism and has won diplomatic backing from Russia and China.

In December, two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro’s socialist government that infuriated Washington.

Maduro on Wednesday said Russia would send medicine “next week” to Venezuela, without describing how it would arrive, adding that Moscow in February had sent some 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

Venezuela in February had blocked a convoy carrying humanitarian aid for the crisis-stricken country that was coordinated with the team of opposition leader Juan Guaido, including supplies provided by the United States, from entering via the border with Colombia.

(Reporting by Carlos Garcia, Carlos Jasso, Diego Ore and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas, and Maria Tsvetkova and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Source: OANN

Democrats are pressing for full disclosure of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on the Russia investigation and vowing to use subpoena powers and other legal means if necessary to get it.

Attorney General William Barr was expected to release his first summary of Mueller's findings on Sunday, people familiar with the process said, on what lawmakers anticipated could be a day of reckoning in the two-year probe into President Donald Trump and Russian efforts to elect him. Since receiving the report Friday, Barr has been deciding how much of it Congress and the public will see.

Democrats are on a hair trigger over the prospect that some information may be withheld.

"I suspect that we'll find those words of transparency to prove hollow, that in fact they will fight to make sure that Congress doesn't get this underlying evidence," Rep. Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said on ABC's "This Week."

His plan: Ask for information and if that's denied, "subpoena. If subpoenas are denied, we will haul people before the Congress. And yes, we will prosecute in court as necessary to get this information."

At his resort in Florida, Trump stirred from an unusual, nearly two-day silence on Twitter with the anodyne tweet Sunday morning: "Good Morning, Have a Great Day!" Then followed up: "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"

Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Democrats won't be willing to wait long for the Justice Department to hand over full information on the probe into whether Trump's 2016 campaign coordinated with Russia to sway the election and whether the president later sought to obstruct the investigation.

"It won't be months," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Asked if he still believes Trump obstructed justice, he indicated there has been obstruction but "whether it's criminal is another question."

Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and oversaw much of his work, analyzed the report on Saturday, laboring to condense it into a summary letter of main conclusions.

The Russia investigation has shadowed Trump for nearly two years and has ensnared his family and close advisers. And no matter the findings in Mueller's report, the probe already has illuminated Russia's assault on the American political system, painted the Trump campaign as eager to exploit the release of hacked Democratic emails to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and exposed lies by Trump aides aimed at covering up their Russia-related contacts.

Barr has said he wants to release as much as he can under the law. That decision will require him to weigh the Justice Department's longstanding protocol of not releasing negative information about people who aren't indicted against the extraordinary public interest in a criminal investigation into the president and his campaign.

Democrats are citing the department's recent precedent of norm-breaking disclosures, including during the Clinton email investigation, to argue that they're entitled to Mueller's entire report and the underlying evidence he collected.

Even with the details still under wraps, Friday's end to the 22-month probe without additional indictments by Mueller was welcome news to some in Trump's orbit who had feared a final round of charges could target more Trump associates or members of the president's family.

The White House sought to keep its distance, saying Sunday it had not been briefed on the report. Trump, who has relentlessly criticized Mueller's investigation as a "witch hunt," went golfing Saturday and was uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter. Not so one of his guests, musician Kid Rock, who posted a picture with the president and the tweet, "Another great day on the links!" He added: "What a great man, so down to earth and so fun to be with!!"

The conclusion of Mueller's investigation does not remove legal peril for the president.

He faces a separate Justice Department investigation in New York into hush money payments during the campaign to two women who say they had sex with him years before the election. He's also been implicated in a potential campaign finance violation by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who says Trump asked him to arrange the transactions. Federal prosecutors, also in New York, have been investigating foreign contributions made to the president's inaugural committee.

As for Mueller, absent the report's details it was not known whether he concluded the campaign colluded with the Kremlin to tip the election in favor of the celebrity businessman. A Justice Department official did confirm that Mueller was not recommending any further indictments, meaning the investigation had ended without any public charges of a criminal conspiracy, or of obstruction of justice by the president.

In a letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the congressional judiciary committees, Barr noted on Friday that the department had not denied any request from Mueller, something Barr would have been required to disclose to ensure there was no political interference. Trump was never interviewed in person by Mueller's team, but submitted answers to questions in writing.

In a conference call Saturday about next steps, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a warning for his fellow Democrats, some of whom have pinned high political hopes on Mueller's findings: "Once we get the principal conclusions of the report, I think it's entirely possible that that will be a good day for the president and his core supporters."

A number of Trump associates and family members have been dogged by speculation of possible wrongdoing. Among them are Donald Trump Jr., who helped arrange a Trump Tower meeting at the height of the 2016 campaign with a Kremlin-linked lawyer, and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was interviewed at least twice by Mueller's prosecutors.

All told, Mueller charged 34 people, including the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and three Russian companies. Twenty-five Russians were indicted on charges related to election interference, accused either of hacking Democratic email accounts during the campaign or of orchestrating a social media campaign that spread disinformation on the internet.

Five Trump aides pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller and a sixth, longtime confidant Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to Congress and engaged in witness tampering.

Peter Carr, spokesman for the special counsel, said Saturday that the case of former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates will be handed off to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Gates was a key cooperator in Mueller's probe and court papers show he continues to help with several other federal investigations.

Justice Department legal opinions have held that sitting presidents may not be indicted. But many Democrats say Trump should not be immune from a public accounting of his behavior. Though the department typically does not disclose negative information about people who are not indicted, officials have at times broken from that protocol.

Former FBI Director James Comey famously held a July 2016 news conference in which he criticized Clinton as "extremely careless" in her use of a private email server but said the FBI would not recommend charges. The Justice Department also took the extraordinary step of making available to lawmakers the details of a secret surveillance warrant obtained on a Trump campaign aide in the early days of the Russia probe.

Source: NewsMax

Democrats complaining about special counsel Robert Mueller's lack of authority to indict the president as the reason there are no more indictments coming are ignoring "the logical conclusion: There was no collusion," according to Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.

"At this point the president has been proved right," Rep. Collins, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, told "Fox News Sunday" of "no collusion" and "witch hunt" claims by President Donald Trump. "I think he was obviously frustrated during this time, and rightfully so, as this report seems to show."

Democrats have long argued the special counsel would get to the bottom of 2016 election meddling after President Trump's victory, which has been delegitimized in the eyes of some Democrats. But continuing House Democrat investigations post-special counsel suggest it was never going to be enough to vindicate the president in their partisan view.

"In their main core of the collusion or investigation of obstruction, they're seemingly coming to the point that the president and those around him had nothing to do with this," Collins told host Chris Wallace. "That is the core finding at least in what we’re seeing so far."

As far as Democrats trying to "paint the president" by pointing to the indictments delivered thus far by Mueller's team – including Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn – they also prove nothing, according to Collins.

"I just think it shows you've got three people who chose to lie to investigators when nobody told them to lie to investigators as far as anything has been pointed out," Collins told Wallace. "If this report comes back – as it seems to be coming back – that there was no collusion on the president or the part of the campaign, then that is the part that we need to take and move from here.

"Why people lie, Chris, that’s a discussion for them and their lawyers and why they chose to do that."

Source: NewsMax

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks at a migration summit in Budapest
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks at a migration summit in Budapest, Hungary March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

March 24, 2019

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government could resume media campaigns against European Union bodies, he suggested on Sunday, as his nationalist Fidesz party gears up for European Parliament elections due on May 26.

On Wednesday the European Parliament’s main center-right grouping, the European People’s Party (EPP), voted to suspend Fidesz amid concerns it has violated EU principles on the rule of law.

The action was triggered in part by Orban’s media campaign attacking European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, depicting him as a proponent of mass immigration into Europe and as a puppet of Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros.

The European Commission has dismissed the claims as fiction.

Orban had ended the media attacks and apologized to members of the EPP, but he again struck a combative tone in an interview with public radio on Sunday.

“People are a bit angry with us in Brussels because, at the start of the European Parliament election campaign, we ran an information campaign in Hungary, essentially exposing what Brussels was up to,” Orban said.

“We have exposed them and, naturally, they are angry.”

Nationalist Orban has often clashed with the EU over his anti-immigration campaigns and judicial reforms.

“Our job now is to continuously inform the people about what Brussels is up to,” Orban added in Sunday’s interview.

“We should not back down, we should not be scared because the opponent takes offence and attacks us with the anger of people who are exposed.”

Asked whether Orban’s remarks meant Budapest would resume its anti-EU media campaigns, a government spokesman declined further comment, saying: “The prime minister’s words speak for themselves.”

Orban has also leveled criticism at European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the European Socialist candidate to suceed Juncker after the May elections.

Orban cast Timmermans as an out-of-touch Brussels bureaucrat living in what Orban called a “bubble”. Dutchman Timmermans is broadly disliked by nationalist parties in Eastern Europe, including in Hungary.

“Just this week there was a vote transforming the Dutch upper house, where the party of this Timmermans fell over spectacularly. He has lost the confidence of the people. And meanwhile he comes to Budapest and tours European capitals to lecture us about democracy,” Orban said.

“Such Timmermans-types, who are given the boot at home by their own people, should not be given a position in Brussels, because that will weaken cooperation in the entire EU.”

Orban also said that the outcome of the European vote would determine whether Fidesz remains in the EPP group or seeks a new alliance in Europe.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by David Goodman)

Source: OANN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in Jerusalem March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/Pool

March 24, 2019

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – With Israel’s election just two weeks away, Benjamin Netanyahu will get to showcase his close ties with Donald Trump in a U.S. visit just days after the president backed Israel’s hold over the occupied Golan Heights.

The prime minister’s White House meeting with Trump on Monday could be overshadowed in the United States by the expected release of a confidential report into a probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

But Netanyahu, facing possible indictment in three corruption cases and denying any wrongdoing, will play to a domestic audience in highlighting what he hails as the strongest bond ever between an Israeli leader and an American president.

Before returning on Thursday from the long-planned trip to the home stretch of a close race, Netanyahu can expect a warm reception from Trump, who along with the First Lady, will also host a dinner for Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

Trump helped set the scene for his ally on Thursday, announcing the time had come to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, strategic territory that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

The president’s move was widely seen in Israel – where Trump is a popular figure – as an attempt to provide an election boost to the right-wing Netanyahu, who had pressed for yet another departure from long-standing U.S. policy in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

Trump had already fulfilled two major items on Netanyahu’s wish list, recognizing contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moving the American embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv last May.

Those steps angered Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem, also captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It also set them firmly against a peace plan Washington says it will present after the Israeli ballot.

“We have never had such a bond between the prime minister of Israel and an American president,” Netanyahu, who has featured Trump on his campaign billboards, told reporters upon his departure from Tel Aviv.

For Trump, Netanyahu’s embrace resonates with U.S. evangelists, a core constituency for the Republican leader who is up for re-election in 2020.

CLOSE RACE

Before arriving in Washington on Sunday, Netanyahu said he would speak to Trump “about his historic declaration” on the Golan and “continued pressure on Iran” following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran that had relaxed sanctions on Israel’s arch-foe.

Netanyahu will also address the pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, at its annual convention in Washington, as will his main challenger in the election, former military chief Benny Gantz who heads a centrist party.

The prime minister said he will meet leaders of Congress during the visit. Netanyahu’s relations with Democrats have been strained by his unflinching support for Trump, friction with the Democratic party’s progressive wing and his thorny relationship with Barack Obama.

Opinions polls show Netanyahu running neck and neck with Gantz. The political newcomer has called for clean governance, building on the attorney-general’s announcement in February that he intends to indict Netanyahu on bribery and fraud charges, pending a hearing after the April 9 vote.

“(Trump’s statement about the Golan) will really help Netanyahu,” said Billha Ketter, 67, an event planner, speaking to Reuters in Rosh Pina, which abuts the Golan Heights. She accused the president of intervening in Israel’s election.

Opinion polls gauging whether Trump’s move is having an effect are expected later in the week.

(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Rosh Pina, Israel; Editing by Maayan Lubell/Keith Weir)

Source: OANN

Sister of Owais Malik, a suspected militant, displays her phone with the picture of Malik, at her home in south Kashmir's Kulgam district
Sister of Owais Malik, a suspected militant, displays her phone with the picture of Malik, at her home in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Zeba Siddiqui

March 24, 2019

By Zeba Siddiqui and Fayaz Bukhari

KULGAM, India (Reuters) – Kashmiri farmer Yusuf Malik learned that his son Owais, a 22-year old arts student and apple picker, had become an armed militant via a Facebook post.

Days after Owais disappeared from his home in this picturesque valley below the Himalayan ranges, his picture appeared on the social network, posted by a user the family said they did not recognize. The short, thin, curly-haired young man in casual jeans and a T-shirt stared resolutely at the camera, both hands clutching an AK-47 rifle.

In blood red font on the photo was scribbled his new allegiance: the Hizbul Mujahideen, or ‘The Party of Warriors’, the largest of the militant groups fighting to free the mostly-Muslim Kashmir from Indian rule.

“He was a responsible kid who cared about his studies,” said Yusuf, 49, staring down at the carpeted floor of his brick home where he sat on a recent winter morning, clasping his folded hands inside his traditional pheran cloak.

The family said it has not heard from Owais since.

Owais is one of a rising number of local militants fighting for independence of Kashmir – an insurgency being spread on social media amid India’s sustained, iron-fisted rule of the region.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops and armed police are stationed in this lush region at the foot of the Himalayas. India and rival Pakistan have always disputed the area and in the past three decades, an uprising against New Delhi’s rule has killed nearly 50,000 civilians, militants and soldiers, by official count.

Historically, that insurrection has largely been led by militants from Pakistan, who have infiltrated into the valley.

But now, an increasing number of locally-born Kashmiris are picking up arms, according to Indian officials. About 400 local Kashmiris have been recruited by militants since the start of 2016, nearly double the number in the previous six years, according to government data. India says Pakistani groups continue to provide training and arms – a claim Islamabad rejects. 

Just a month before Owais Malik showed up on Facebook, another young man, Adil Ahmad Dar, left his home in a nearby part of Kashmir to join a militant group. This February, his suicide attack on a paramilitary convoy killed 40 Indian policemen, and took India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

After Dar’s attack, Indian security forces launched a major crackdown, searching Kashmiri homes and detaining hundreds of supporters, sympathizers and family members of those in armed groups. At least half a dozen gunbattles broke out between Indian police and militants.

The families of Dar and other young militants, as well as some local leaders and political experts, say run-ins between locals and security forces are one of the main reasons for anger and radicalization. After the recent crackdown, they expect more young people to take up arms.

“FREEDOM, MARTYRS”

Outside the narrow lane that leads to the Malik family home in Kulgam in southern Kashmir, children walk to school past shuttered shopfronts and walls spray-painted with the word “azadi”, the local word for “freedom”. The graveyard at the end of the lane has an area for militants, who are remembered as “martyrs”.

Dar’s family claims he’d been radicalized in 2016 after being beaten up by Indian troops on his way back from school for pelting stones at them.

“Since then, he wanted to join the militants,” said his father Ghulam Hassan Dar, a farmer.

India’s home and foreign ministries did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

In news conferences since the suicide bombing, Lt. Gen. K.J.S. Dhillon, India’s top military commander in Kashmir, has dismissed allegations of harassment and rights abuses by Indian troops as “propaganda”. He said the recent crackdown by security forces has resulted in the killing of the masterminds of the attack, and militant recruitment has dipped in recent months.

Syed Ata Hasnain, a retired army general who has served in Kashmir for over 20 years, said the rise in homegrown fighters does not surprise him. 

“Those who were born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the conflict started, have now come of age,” he said. “This is a generation that has only seen the jackboot. The alienation of this generation is higher than the alienation of the previous generation.”

A 17th century Mughal emperor called Kashmir “paradise on earth”. But violence has ebbed and flowed in the valley since the subcontinent was divided into predominantly Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan after independence from Britain in 1947.

The question of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, was never resolved, and it has been the catalyst for two wars and several violent clashes between the countries.

Tensions have risen after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in New Delhi in 2014. Modi promised a tougher approach to Pakistan and gave security forces the license to retaliate forcefully against the insurgency.

CULT FOLLOWING

Around that time, many young Kashmiris started rallying around Burhan Wani, who had left home at the age of 15 to join the insurgency. Wani had a large following on social media, where he appeared in videos dressed in military fatigues and armed with an assault rifle, calling for an uprising against Indian rule. 

He and his brother were beaten by security forces when they were teenagers, his family told local media. Wani was 22 when he was killed by security forces in 2016 and thousands attended his funeral despite restrictions on the movement of people and traffic.

The United Nations said in a report last year that in trying to quell mass protests in Kashmir since 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to between 130 and 145 killings, according to civil society estimates.

Thousands were injured, including around 700 who sustained eye injuries from the use of pellet guns by security forces, it said. Thousands of people had simply disappeared since the insurgency began, it said.

The Indian government has rejected the report as false. Indian forces have long been accused of rights abuses and torture in custody in Kashmir, but officials routinely deny the charges.

Instead, India points the finger at Pakistan. Officials say the rebellion in Kashmir is being funded and organized by Pakistan and if they cut off those resources, the insurgency will weaken and it can then focus on building Kashmir’s economy. The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group claimed responsibility for the latest attack, which was the deadliest in the insurgency.

Pakistan says it only provides moral support to the Kashmiri right to self-determination.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Muslim spiritual leader of Kashmir who is considered a moderate separatist, contests that India has true plans to engage politically with the people of Kashmir.

“In the past five years we have seen that the government of India has only spoken to Kashmiris through the barrel of the gun, that’s it. There is no political approach,” he said.

“Nobody is dying in Kashmir for lack of roads, electricity and water.” 

LOSING ANOTHER SON

A few miles south of Owais Malik’s home in Kulgam lives Masuma Begum, who said her son and brother had been called in to an army camp two days after the latest bombing and have been held since then.

A military spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Behind the glass panes of a wall shelf above her were photos of a smiling young man, an assault rifle slung on his shoulder.

“That’s my other son, Tausif,” Masuma Begum said. The 24-year-old had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen in 2013 and been killed by the army the same year, she said. “I don’t want to lose another son.”

(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui and Fayaz Bukhari in KULGAM; Editing by Martin Howell and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Source: OANN

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha prepares to vote in the general election at a polling station in Bangkok
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (L) prepares to vote in the general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

March 24, 2019

By Kay Johnson

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai voters went to the polls on Sunday in a long-delayed election following a 2014 coup, in a race that pits a military junta chief seeking to retain power against a “democratic front” led by the populist party he ousted.

Turnout was expected to be high among the 51.4 million Thais eligible to vote for the 500-seat House of Representatives, which will choose the next government along with a Senate that is appointed entirely by the ruling junta.

Thailand has been under direct military rule since then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha overthrew an elected government linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was thrown out by the army in 2006.

Critics have said a new, junta-written electoral system gives a built-in advantage to pro-military parties and appears designed to prevent the main Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai party from returning to power.

Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001, but the past 15 years have seen crippling street protests that destabilized the government and hamstrung business.

Junta chief Prayuth, whose party has campaigned on maintaining order and upholding traditional Thai values of loyalty and devotion to the country’s monarch, appealed on his ability to keep peace as he made his final campaign appeal.

“Before, we always had crises. We must not let those crises happen again – understand?” he told a closing campaign rally.

The anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirts, mostly middle class and urban royalists who accuse his parties of corruption, have repeatedly taken to the streets, prompting the military to launch two coups in a decade.

Supporters of Thaksin, known as the Red Shirts, also occupied much of Bangkok’s main business and shopping districts for months in 2010 after a court dissolved a pro-Thaksin government, again paralyzing commerce until a crackdown that left at least 90 people dead and saw landmark buildings burned.

While the election results are due to be announced within a few hours of polls closing at 5 p.m. (1000 GMT), the make-up of the next government may not be clear for weeks afterwards, since no one party is likely to have enough seats for an outright win.

“I think it’s going to take a long time,” said Paul Chambers, lecturer in political science at Naresuan University in northern Thailand.

(Editing by John Chalmers and Sam Holmes)

Source: OANN

Lucy Robson shared a new trick shot video Saturday morning, and this one was a bit mind-boggling.

Everybody knows that Robson is great with a golf club. It’s one of the main reasons she’s such a star online. She just has an unreal ability to pull off trick shots. (SLIDESHOW: These Women On Instagram Hate Wearing Clothes)

However, this new routine is on a different level. She stacked up a ton of clear cups and chipped balls in one after another. (SLIDESHOW: 142 Times Josephine Skriver Barely Wore Anything)

Give it watch below. (SLIDESHOW: 71 Times Samantha Hoopes Stripped Down)

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

How does she do it? How does she always manage to impress with these videos? I don’t think I could pull that off if I had 100 different chances. (SLIDESHOW: This Blonde Bombshell Might Be The Hottest Model On The Internet) 

Of course, I don’t think I could pull off any of her stunts if I had a ton of different chances. Some the videos below look borderline impossible, and she just casually does it like it’s no big deal at all. (SLIDESHOW: 60 Times Abigail Ratchford Wore Almost Nothing)

Give them all a watch, and you’ll see what I mean.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

Never change, Robson. I can’t wait to see what she dials up next. I have no doubt it’ll be golden.

Source: The Daily Caller

Lucy Robson shared a new trick shot video Saturday morning, and this one was a bit mind-boggling.

Everybody knows that Robson is great with a golf club. It’s one of the main reasons she’s such a star online. She just has an unreal ability to pull off trick shots. (SLIDESHOW: These Women On Instagram Hate Wearing Clothes)

However, this new routine is on a different level. She stacked up a ton of clear cups and chipped balls in one after another. (SLIDESHOW: 142 Times Josephine Skriver Barely Wore Anything)

Give it watch below. (SLIDESHOW: 71 Times Samantha Hoopes Stripped Down)

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

How does she do it? How does she always manage to impress with these videos? I don’t think I could pull that off if I had 100 different chances. (SLIDESHOW: This Blonde Bombshell Might Be The Hottest Model On The Internet) 

Of course, I don’t think I could pull off any of her stunts if I had a ton of different chances. Some the videos below look borderline impossible, and she just casually does it like it’s no big deal at all. (SLIDESHOW: 60 Times Abigail Ratchford Wore Almost Nothing)

Give them all a watch, and you’ll see what I mean.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

Never change, Robson. I can’t wait to see what she dials up next. I have no doubt it’ll be golden.

Source: The Daily Caller

Lucy Robson shared a new trick shot video Saturday morning, and this one was a bit mind-boggling.

Everybody knows that Robson is great with a golf club. It’s one of the main reasons she’s such a star online. She just has an unreal ability to pull off trick shots. (SLIDESHOW: These Women On Instagram Hate Wearing Clothes)

However, this new routine is on a different level. She stacked up a ton of clear cups and chipped balls in one after another. (SLIDESHOW: 142 Times Josephine Skriver Barely Wore Anything)

Give it watch below. (SLIDESHOW: 71 Times Samantha Hoopes Stripped Down)

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

How does she do it? How does she always manage to impress with these videos? I don’t think I could pull that off if I had 100 different chances. (SLIDESHOW: This Blonde Bombshell Might Be The Hottest Model On The Internet) 

Of course, I don’t think I could pull off any of her stunts if I had a ton of different chances. Some the videos below look borderline impossible, and she just casually does it like it’s no big deal at all. (SLIDESHOW: 60 Times Abigail Ratchford Wore Almost Nothing)

Give them all a watch, and you’ll see what I mean.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

Never change, Robson. I can’t wait to see what she dials up next. I have no doubt it’ll be golden.

Source: The Daily Caller

Lucy Robson shared a new trick shot video Saturday morning, and this one was a bit mind-boggling.

Everybody knows that Robson is great with a golf club. It’s one of the main reasons she’s such a star online. She just has an unreal ability to pull off trick shots. (SLIDESHOW: These Women On Instagram Hate Wearing Clothes)

However, this new routine is on a different level. She stacked up a ton of clear cups and chipped balls in one after another. (SLIDESHOW: 142 Times Josephine Skriver Barely Wore Anything)

Give it watch below. (SLIDESHOW: 71 Times Samantha Hoopes Stripped Down)

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

How does she do it? How does she always manage to impress with these videos? I don’t think I could pull that off if I had 100 different chances. (SLIDESHOW: This Blonde Bombshell Might Be The Hottest Model On The Internet) 

Of course, I don’t think I could pull off any of her stunts if I had a ton of different chances. Some the videos below look borderline impossible, and she just casually does it like it’s no big deal at all. (SLIDESHOW: 60 Times Abigail Ratchford Wore Almost Nothing)

Give them all a watch, and you’ll see what I mean.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lucy Robson (@lucyrobson) on

Never change, Robson. I can’t wait to see what she dials up next. I have no doubt it’ll be golden.

Source: The Daily Caller

Presidential candidate for GERB party Tsacheva holds her ballot paper during a presidential election in Pleven
Presidential candidate for GERB party Tsetska Tsacheva holds her ballot paper during a presidential election in Pleven, Bulgaria, November 13, 2016. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

March 23, 2019

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva resigned on Saturday following media reports that she and three other ruling center-right GERB party politicians have bought luxurious apartments at below market prices, the government’s press office said.

Tsacheva has denied any wrongdoing and asked the Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the terms on which she had acquired a specious apartment in an upmarket Sofia neighborhood last year.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov accepted her resignation after meeting with her early on Saturday, the press office said in a statement.

“The two discussed the real estate deal linked with her name. Minister Tsacheva told the prime minister that she quit and did not want the tensions [around the deal] to affect the government’s work,” the statement said.

The Anti-Corruption Commission launched a probe on Friday into the properties purchased last year from the same developer.

One of the four politicians, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, leader of GERB’s parliamentary group, has also denied any wrongdoing. But Deputy Sports Minister Vanya Koleva resigned on Saturday over the deals.

The issue came to light earlier this week after the Bulgarian section of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the non-governmental Anti-Corruption Fund published their investigation into the property deals. Their report was picked up by other Bulgarian media outlets.

Speaking to journalists in the southern city of Stara Zagora, Tsacheva reiterated she had demanded the anti-corruption probe herself as she had no concerns about the outcome.

She rejected that she had committed an “abuse of office”, adding: “But while the probe lasts I do not want my involvement this case to weigh on the GERB party and the government.”

The reports have outraged many in the poorest European Union member state and Borissov has said that anyone who has breached the laws will have to deal with the consequences.

The news comes as political parties are preparing for EU parliament elections in May. Opinion polls show a narrow lead for GERB over opposition Socialists. The GERB-led government took office in May 2017 for a four-year term.

Despite pledges by consecutive governments to uproot widespread graft, Bulgaria ranks as the most corrupt EU member state, according to anti-corruption group Transparency International. Despite this, it has not yet sent a senior official behind bars on corruption charges.

Analysts say high-level corruption is the main obstacle to Bulgaria’s ambition to attract more foreign investment or to join the EU’s Schengen zone for free travel.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

Source: OANN

Prime Minister Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra
Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, March 20, 2019. AAP Image/Andrew Taylor/via REUTERS

March 23, 2019

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s re-election prospects got a lift on Saturday when Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), returned his ruling Liberal Party to power.

The NSW election, less than two months before a federal poll, was seen as a test case of Morrison’s strategy to seek re-election on the back of his government’s economic record.

Speaking shortly after victory was confirmed, Morrison said the victory in NSW foreshadowed a federal victory in May.

“In two months, we’ll be back here to celebrate another Liberal/National win,” Morrison told supporters in Sydney.

Morrison’s government is, however, well behind the main opposition Labor party in the most recent polls, trailing by 54 percent to 46 percent on a two-party preferred basis.

While the Australian economy is the envy of many, NSW’s finances are in even better shape. Unemployment in NSW is at a near record low, below even the national level which on Thursday was pegged at 4.9 percent.

State coffers have also swelled, topping more than A$400 billion ($286.44 billion) last year to be worth more than the economies of Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, despite signs of a property price-led pullback.

But echoing national discontent, Morrison’s Liberal Party saw support ebb away in NSW as some voters felt they have not enjoyed the benefits of the soaring economy.

Despite this and the Liberal Party’s coalition partner, the Nationals on course to lose several seats that may cost the government an outright majority, the main opposition Labor party conceded NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian will retain power.

Morrison will now hope to capitalize on the victory when his government delivers its final budget ahead of the election.

The conservative government has promised to deliver the country’s first budget surplus in a decade and armed with a hefty war chest, Morrison is likely to also promise tax cuts.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Source: OANN

A general view shows solar panels to produce renewable energy at the Urbasolar photovoltaic park in Gardanne
A general view shows solar panels to produce renewable energy at the Urbasolar photovoltaic park in Gardanne, France, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

March 23, 2019

By Lynn Adler

NEW YORK (LPC) – Global standards set in place by loan trade associations this week that tie syndicated loan pricing to companies’ sustainability performance are expected to stimulate the budding U.S. green lending market.

Less than a handful of U.S. companies have issued sustainability-linked loans since the first deal for natural gas utility CMS Energy was completed last June, far lagging firms in Europe which are leading the global push to improve environmental performance.

The new sustainability standards, which were issued on Wednesday by the Loan Market Association (LMA), the Loan Syndications and Trading Association (LSTA) and the Asia Pacific Loan Market Association (APLMA), are expected to bolster borrowers’ and investors’ confidence in green lending. 

Sustainability-linked loans are any kind of loans that incentivize borrowers with margin reductions or increases depending on their ability to meet pre-set environmental performance targets.

A lack of direction and consistency in being able to identify and measure these goals has been stifling growth so far, bankers said.

“By having pricing tied to a borrower’s improvement in sustainability performance, it directly incentivizes borrowers to make improvements,” said Tess Virmani, the LSTA’s associate general counsel. “If market interest keeps gathering steam, then the sustainability-linked loans will find a good home in the corporate loan market.”

One of the main differences between sustainability-linked loans and green loans, which are linked to use of proceeds, is that they can be raised for general corporate purposes rather than specific projects. Loans for general corporate purposes are more widely issued, which is likely to boost sustainability-linked loans.  

Key characteristics of sustainability-linked deals include disclosing the loan’s tie to the company’s overall social responsibility strategy; having sustainability pricing targets arranged between borrower and lender; reporting on sustainability performance and external reviews, according to the new lending principles.

TESTING THE WATERS

Global water technology company Xylem Inc became the fourth U.S. company to issue a sustainability-linked loan, with an $800 million revolving credit in early March. Xylem is the first general industrial company to commit to reducing its environmental footprint this way.

The four U.S. sustainability-linked loans that have come to the market so far — two this year and two last year — tally roughly $8 billion. Banks are targeting the sector as a growth area as they seek to improve their own credentials. 

“Banks want to show their growing commitment to sustainable development goals, and this is one of the products they might use to show that,” said Anna Zubets, vice president at Moody’s Investors Service.

Last year, sustainability-linked loans issued globally topped $36 billion, led by European companies, according to Moody’s.

Global issuance in the more mature green bond market, in contrast, could jump 20 percent to $200 billion this year, the rating agency said.

“The U.S. is a little behind on the discussion but you see it happening here as well. More than 80 percent of the S&P 500 listed companies are now issuing sustainability reports and it becomes a bigger discussion among shareholders and investors and asset managers, which is what we see among our client base,” said Anne van Riel, head of sustainable finance at ING.

“I expect that that will automatically carry over to more sustainable financing, whether green loans, green bonds or sustainable-linked loans.”

ING was the sustainability coordinator for Xylem’s deal, and helped the company to decide reasonable but ambitious performance targets to guide loan pricing.

Interest margins on Xylem’s general corporate purpose revolving credit will be based on social and corporate governance ratings by independent provider Sustainalytics. Citigroup, JP Morgan, ING, BNP Paribas and Wells Fargo were lead arrangers and bookrunners.

Pricing is initially based on ratings, opening at 110 basis points over Libor with a 15-basis points facility fee, and then will be adjusted up or down by up to 5 basis points based on its ability to achieve predetermined sustainability targets, according to a regulatory filing.

The other sustainability-linked loans completed in the United States so far include global logistics real estate group Prologis Inc in January, renewable energy and utility company Avangrid Inc last July and electric and natural gas utility CMS Energy and its main unit Consumers Energy last June.

“Some treasurers and CFOs are a bit more conservative, and when they see their peers doing it or see more market activity they will also follow,” said van Riel.

Having clear standards for the asset class is a way to hold management accountable for promises made, and make green identification more than a marketing tool.

“In order for money to continue to flow into these kinds of products, reporting standards are going to have to develop and mature so the market can be credible and management can be held accountable for goals,” Zubets said,

“Investors can have trust that if something is labeled as green it is actually going to deliver an impact.”

(Reporting By Lynn Adler; Editing by Tessa Walsh and Michelle Sierra)

Source: OANN

An anti-Brexit protester waves an EU flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London
An anti-Brexit protester waves an EU flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

March 23, 2019

By Andrew MacAskill and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of people opposed to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will march through central London on Saturday to demand a new referendum as the deepening Brexit crisis risked sinking Prime Minister Theresa May’s premiership.

After three years of tortuous debate, it is still uncertain how, when or even if Brexit will happen as May tries to plot a way out of the gravest political crisis in at least a generation.

May hinted on Friday that she might not bring her twice-defeated EU divorce deal back to parliament next week, leaving her Brexit strategy in meltdown. The Times and The Daily Telegraph reported that pressure was growing on May to resign.

While the country and its politicians are divided over Brexit, most agree it is the most important strategic decision the United Kingdom has faced since World War Two.

Pro-EU protesters will gather for a “Put it to the people march” at Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park around midday, before marching past the prime minister’s office in Downing Street and finish outside parliament.

James McGrory, the director of the People’s Vote campaign and one of the organizers of the march, said the campaign for a second Brexit referendum is now the biggest mass movement in Britain, dwarfing the membership of the main political parties.

“People from all walks of life see can what they were once offered bears no relation to what is being delivered and they are angry about it because it feels like a bad deal is being rammed down their throats,” he told Reuters.

Organizers were confident that the size of the crowd would exceed a similar rally held in October, when supporters said about 700,000 people turned up.

Two hundred coaches from around Britain were booked to take people to London for the march. One coach left the Scottish Highlands on Friday evening, and another left from Cornwall on England’s western tip early on Saturday morning.

A petition to cancel Brexit altogether gained 4 million signatures in just 3 days after May told the public “I am on your side” over Brexit and urged lawmakers to get behind her deal.

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, backed staying in the bloc.

But ever since, opponents of Brexit have been exploring ways to hold another referendum.

May has repeatedly ruled out holding another Brexit referendum, saying it would deepen divisions and undermine support for democracy. Brexit supporters say a second referendum would trigger a major constitutional crisis.

Some opinion polls have shown a slight shift in favor of remaining in the European Union, but there has yet to be a decisive change in attitudes.

Many voters in Britain say they have become increasingly bored by Brexit and May said on Wednesday that they want this stage of the Brexit process to be “over and done with.”

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Royal Bank of Scotland signs are seen at a branch of the bank, in London
FILE PHOTO: Royal Bank of Scotland signs are seen at a branch of the bank, in London, Britain December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

March 23, 2019

(Reuters) – Britain’s Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc is aiming to wind down 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) of bank loans held by local councils across the country, The Guardian http://bit.ly/2Oijrmm newspaper reported on Saturday.

The development follows criticism from activists and John McDonnell, finance spokesman of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, that high payments have led to diversion of cash from council services.

RBS is aiming to wind down the loan portfolio by the end of the year, the newspaper report said, adding that the main method of executing the winding down is through loan redemptions.

Such redemptions will allow clients including local authorities to pay back the loans earlier than their original contracts allowed.

RBS did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment early on Saturday.

(Reporting by Aishwarya Nair and Kanishka Singh in BENGALURU; Editing by Tom Hogue)

Source: OANN

A woman walks past a wall painted with the election symbol of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in an alley at a residential area in Kolkata
A woman walks past a wall painted with the election symbol of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in an alley at a residential area in Kolkata, India, March 22, 2019. Picture taken March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

March 23, 2019

By Zeba Siddiqui

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – For over a decade Arvind Singh has worked as a watchman in New Delhi, doing the rounds of the streets with a whistle and a wooden stick to keep vigil at night.

Watchmen like him are so ubiquitous in India, guarding everything from offices to homes and stores to factories, that their presence goes almost unnoticed. But over the past week, the watchman has dominated India’s headlines.

That’s because the latest campaign to be launched this week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi just before a general election beginning on April 11 is the “Main bhi chowkidar” or “I am also a watchman” campaign.

He tied an appeal to tens of millions of often poorly paid watchmen to the priorities of his own job, following a suicide bomb attack that killed 40 paramilitary policemen in the northern region of Kashmir last month.

“We both work day and night. You guard homes and I guard the nation,” Modi said in an audio speech addressed to watchmen on Wednesday.

“The watchman has become a symbol of the country’s nationalism,” he said, equating everyone from teachers and doctors to watchmen guarding the country in their own way.

The campaign came in response to the opposition Congress party’s slogan “chowkidar chor hai”, or the nation’s “watchman is a thief”, which it began using late last year to refer to Modi in connection with allegations of irregularities in the awarding of a defense contract. Modi has denied any wrongdoing.

In recent days, leaders and supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have launched a coordinated effort to popularize his watchman campaign, with many changing their social media names to add the prefix ‘chowkidar’.

But for many watchmen, who are among the millions in India’s vast informal economy where workers are often poorly paid and barely protected by labor laws, Modi’s campaign is a political gimmick that is unlikely to improve their lives.

“I don’t know why they started it,” said Rakesh Yadav, a 37-year-old watchman from India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.

“In the last four years they have done nothing for us,” he said, looking up from a newspaper while on duty outside a residential complex in New Delhi.

“If PM was a chowkidar, would Nirav Modi run away?” said another watchman, Mohammed Nayyar, referring to a billionaire jeweler who fled to Britain last year before an alleged $2 billion loan fraud he is accused of being involved in came to light. The jeweler is not related to the prime minister.

The cash-based economy suffered a serious hit from the Modi government’s shock move to ban high-value currency notes in 2016.

‘DONE A LOT’

Singh remembers being unable to feed his children for some days and standing in long queues at the banks to exchange the voided currency for new notes.

“What has changed in our lives? We are doing the same duty we were doing some years ago,” he said, adding that his salary had not increased from about $130 a month in three years.

The chowkidar campaign is a distinct reminder of Modi’s 2014 “chaiwallah” campaign in which he flaunted his past working for his father as a chaiwallah, or tea vendor.

It may be a gimmick, but such things have worked for Modi in the past, said Priyavadan Patel, a veteran political scientist from Modi’s home state of Gujarat and scholar at the Lokniti research program of Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

“The chaiwalla campaign worked in a big way,” Patel said.

Such connections with the common man helped the BJP to gain a big parliamentary majority, the likes of which had not been seen in three decades in India, in 2014.

But that’s unlikely to be repeated this time.

Polls predict Modi might win a second term but with a much smaller majority, amid concerns about a lack of jobs growth and millions of farmers dissatisfied over depressed crop prices.

Some of the most challenging battleground states for Modi’s party are those that depend on the farm economy. “The chowkidar campaign may not work in such areas,” Patel said.

One of those states is Bihar, where the watchman Singh migrated from 12 years ago. He said he wouldn’t go back because working on the farm back home was not profitable.

Yet, he said he believes in Modi, and praised him for air strikes on neighboring Pakistan in response to last month’s bomb attack.

“I feel like Modi ji has done a lot,” he said, using a suffix that denotes respect. “And I think he will do a lot more in the coming years.”

(Edited by Martin Howell, Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Mueller departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

March 23, 2019

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. law enforcement official could release as early as Saturday the main findings in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s confidential report on his 22-month-long inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and any potential wrongdoing by President Donald Trump.

Attorney General William Barr, who received the report from the former FBI director on Friday, told U.S. lawmakers he may be able to inform them of Mueller’s “principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.” Under Justice Department regulations, Barr is empowered to decide how much to disclose publicly.

The big question is whether the report contains allegations of wrongdoing by Trump or exonerates him. Mueller investigated whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow to try to influence the election and whether the Republican president later unlawfully tried to obstruct his investigation.

Mueller did not recommend any further indictments, a senior Justice Department official said, signaling there might be no more criminal charges against Trump associates arising from the investigation. Throughout his investigation, Mueller brought charges against 34 people and three companies, with prison sentences for some of Trump’s key former aides.

Lawmakers in both parties urged a quick release of the report, and Democrats in particular demanded that nothing be held back, saying they would issue subpoenas if necessary. Barr, who took office in February, was appointed by Trump after the president fired his predecessor Jeff Sessions in November.

“I remain committed to as much transparency as possible, and I will keep you informed as to the status of my review,” Barr told lawmakers in a letter.

By handing over the long-awaited report to Barr, Mueller marked the end of his work, with his spokesman saying the 74-year-old special counsel would conclude his service in the coming days.

Trump has denied collusion and obstruction. Russia has denied election interference. Trump has sought to discredit the investigation, calling it a “witch hunt” and accusing Mueller of conflicts of interest. But he said on Wednesday he does not mind if the public is allowed to see the report.

Key Trump aides, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, national security adviser Michael Flynn and personal lawyer Michael Cohen, have already either been convicted or pleaded guilty to charges brought by Mueller.

None of those charges, however, directly related to the question of collusion between the campaign and Moscow. The Justice Department has a policy that sitting presidents cannot face criminal charges.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer – the two top Democrats in Congress – said it was “imperative” the full report be made public, that Barr not give Trump and his team a “sneak preview” of the findings and that the White House not be allowed to interfere in decisions about what parts are made public.

They said the investigation focused on questions that “go to the integrity of our democracy itself: whether foreign powers corruptly interfered in our elections, and whether unlawful means were used to hinder that investigation.”

The White House has not received or been briefed on the report, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, adding that “we look forward to the process taking its course.”

‘OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, said, “The attorney general has said he intends to provide as much information as possible. As I have said previously, I sincerely hope he will do so as soon as he can, and with as much openness and transparency as possible.”

Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican and a strong ally of the president, expressed confidence the report would not find collusion with Russia.

“The reports that there will be no new indictments confirm what we’ve known all along: there was never any collusion with Russia. The only collusion was between Democrats and many in the media who peddled this lie because they continue to refuse to accept the results of the 2016 election,” Scalise said.

Even if the Mueller report exonerates Trump, that may not spell the end to his legal troubles. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance violations in a case overseen by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who said in court filings that Cohen carried out the crimes at the direction of Trump.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is also looking at the spending of Trump’s inaugural committee and business practices at the Trump Organization, the family’s company.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow meddled in the election with a campaign of email hacking and online propaganda aimed at sowing discord in the United States, hurting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and helping Trump.

A small number of House Democrats have pushed for Congress to impeach Trump and remove him from office but the party’s leadership including Pelosi has urged caution. No president has every been removed from office via impeachment.

Several House committees in the meantime are conducting aggressive investigations of Trump and people around him.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Makini Brice, Karen Freifeld, Susan Cornwell and Steve Holland in Washington, Nathan Layne in New York and Roberta Rampton in Florida; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Source: OANN

David Krayden | Ottawa Bureau Chief

OTTAWA, CANADA — Karl Rove said Friday he’s not surprised that the Mueller report has apparently found no evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia.

The former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush was speaking to 2,000 people at the Manning Networking Conference that brings together Canada’s conservative politicians, political action committees and opinion leaders every year.

Karl Rove answers questions from the crowd at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa, Canada on March 22, 2019. Dailiy Caller photo by Janet Krayden

Karl Rove answers questions from the crowd at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa, Canada on March 22, 2019. The Daily Caller photo by Janet Krayden

Rove said if there had been any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, we would have known about it long before Robert Mueller, whom Rove described as being a “straight arrow.” (RELATED: White House Reacts To Mueller Report Release)

“Every campaign leaks … no campaign in my experience has leaked worse than the Donald Trump campaign: 2016 was like if you wanted to know who had gone to the restroom at 11 o’clock in the morning, somebody would tell you,” Rove quipped.

Rove, who is known as “The Architect” for having masterminded Bush’s election victories, reserved his harshest words for former FBI Director James Comey.

Former FBI director James Comey arrives at the Irish Film Institute for for a public interview in Dublin, Ireland June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Former FBI director James Comey arrives at the Irish Film Institute for for a public interview in Dublin, Ireland June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

“Under U.S. law, [Comey] had no authority whatsoever to make the decision not to indict Hillary Clinton … He’s the head of the FBI. His job is to investigate and to make what’s called ‘a referral’ to the main Justice Department. He decided not to. Why? Because the attorney general of the United States was compromised by having met with William Jefferson Clinton on the tarmac in Phoenix. Well, fine. He should have referred it to the Justice Department. She should have said ‘I recuse myself.’”

Rove added that having decided not to charge Hillary Clinton, there was no point in then describing her email habits as “extremely careless.” (RELATED: New Emails Revealed By Judicial Watch Seem To Show More Classified Documents On Clinton’s Private Server)

When asked if he thinks the Mueller report will still hurt Trump’s chances for re-election, Rove said the ball is in the president’s court.

“I think it all depends upon how Trump reacts,” he said, suggesting that the chief executive should focus on his successful fiscal policies.

”Our economy is going to beat the band. We’ve got low unemployment, we’ve got wages growing faster than the economy, we’ve got more job openings than we’ve got job seekers, we’ve got the lowest unemployment rates for African-Americans since we began keeping the records by race in 1948 … ”

Rove said Trump has proven his economic critics wrong. “I love all these idiots who served in the previous administration who said, ‘Oh no, conservative economics will never achieve growth of three percent’… all these smart people who said, ‘That’s a fairy tale; it’s not going to happen.’”

“Well, welcome to fairytale land.”

Follow David on Twitter

Source: The Daily Caller

Special counsel Robert Mueller will not issue any additional indictments in the Russia investigation and has not filed any charges under seal, a senior Justice Department official told news outlets Friday.

The revelation would seem to be a positive sign for President Donald Trump and several Trump associates who faced legal jeopardy in the Mueller probe. It also means no Trump associates will face charges related to the main focus of the special counsel’s investigation: whether Trump of members of his campaign conspired with Russians to influence the 2016 election. (RELATED: BREAKING: Mueller Submits Report To Justice Department)

Mueller was appointed special counsel May 17, 2017. In those 22 months, Mueller has indicted or obtained guilty pleas from six Trump associates, most recently Jan. 24 against longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone. None of the Trump associates faced charges related to contacts with Russia.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: Special counsel Robert Mueller (L) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee meets with Mueller to discuss the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Special counsel Robert Mueller (L) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mueller provided a report of his investigation Friday to Attorney General William Barr, signaling the end of the probe. Barr notified the leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees that he had received the report and would likely provide more details to Congress over the weekend.

Trump critics have long speculated that Mueller would release a slew of indictments prior to or shortly after submitting his final report. Others asserted Mueller had filed a batch of sealed indictments that would be released at some point during the probe.

None of those predictions proved accurate.

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Source: The Daily Caller

Unidentified suspects talk inside the Rwandan high court after being convicted of belonging to extremist groups including al Shabaab and Islamic State and providing them support, in Nyanza
Unidentified suspects talk inside the Rwandan high court after being convicted of belonging to extremist groups including al Shabaab and Islamic State and providing them support, in Nyanza, Rwanda March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

March 22, 2019

KIGALI (Reuters) – A Rwandan high court on Friday sentenced 13 people to five years and two others to ten years in jail after convicting them of belonging to extremist groups including al Shabaab and Islamic State and providing them support.

The court in Rwanda’s southern Nyanza area acquitted 25 others after the prosecution failed to prove their involvement in extremist acts.

Police in the central African country arrested the 40 in January 2016, less than a week after they killed Muhammad Mugemangango, a preacher accused of encouraging youths to join extremist groups. Security personnel also seized jihadist materials such as books, CDs and social network messages.

One of those convicted, Salim Fundi, participated in “coordinating people in Rwanda who wanted to join terrorist group of al Shabaab in Somalia,” said Judge Eugene Ndagijimana while delivering the ruling.

Those convicted included three women, two of them arrested at the airport in Kigali while en route to Syria and another convicted of helping them with $1,000 for flight tickets.

Most Rwandans are Christians, Muslims account for about 2.5 percent of population.

After Mugemangango’s death, the country’s main Muslim association, Rwanda Muslims, said it planned to circulate messages condemning radicalization to all of Rwanda’s mosques.

“This case reminds that we should tell our youth to be cautious…(of) those who lure them after promising them that they will give them better things,” said Rwanda’s Muslim community mufti, Sheikh Salim Hitimana.

Al Shabaab is fighting to topple Somalia’s central government and establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation if Islamic law, while Islamic State once aspired to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

(Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana; editing by Elias Biryabarema)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's former President Michel Temer is seen at the Federal Police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro
FILE PHOTO: Brazil’s former President Michel Temer is seen at the Federal Police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/File Photo

March 22, 2019

By Christian Plumb

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – The arrest of a former Brazilian president on corruption charges is raising questions about how a Swedish consulting company won a contract to help build a nuclear power plant at the center of what prosecutors say was a massive bribery and kickback scheme.

The company, now known as AF Poyry, on Thursday became the latest in a series of multinationals caught up in Brazil’s sweeping “Car Wash” investigation, which has ensnared politicians as well as executives in businesses from oil trading to engineering and shipping.

In a statement, the company defended its 2011 victory in the bidding contest for work on the Angra 3 nuclear reactor on the Rio de Janeiro coast, saying it had beaten out three international competitors.

The consultancy, which was known as AF before it acquired a smaller Finnish peer, said it has “zero tolerance for fraud, bribery and corruption,” but declined to comment on the Brazilian investigation.

AF has not been formally accused in the probe, but at least two of its executives were cited in court filings on Thursday which accused former Brazilian President Michel Temer of running a scheme to extract some 1.8 billion ($470 million) in bribes related to the Angra nuclear power complex.

Temer, the leader of one of Brazil’s largest political parties before becoming vice president in 2011, took over from former President Dilma Rousseff after her impeachment in 2016. He was succeeded by President Jair Bolsonaro at the beginning of 2019. Temer has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

OTHERS TARGETED

Work on the Angra 3 reactor has advanced in fits and starts since the 1980s amid cost overruns and allegations of politically-driven decisions.

Among those targeted for arrest was Carlos Jorge Zimmermann, AF’s main Brazilian representative when it won the contract for Angra 3, who pushed for the inclusion of a Temer-linked company in the bidding consortium, prosecutors said.

They cited evidence that former Eletronuclear CEO Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, a retired admiral who has previously faced a number of bribery charges, had determined years before the 2011 auction that AF should win the bidding contest.

Pinheiro da Silva, according to a charging document filed by prosecutors, was a political appointee of Temer. A law firm representing Pinheiro da Silva did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Under pressure from Temer and his allies, the Eletronuclear CEO allegedly pushed for an architectural and engineering firm known as Argeplan with no background in building nuclear plants to be a partner in the AF-led consortium.

Argeplan, whose main experience was building metro stations in Sao Paulo, served as a vehicle for at least 2.4 million reais in cash bribes to Temer, prosecutors said.

Argeplan representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

AF Consult and its Brazilian unit, which had only three civil engineers on its payroll when it won the Eletronuclear contract, only hired Argeplan to guarantee that it would win the bid, prosecutors said.

“The investigations show that the hiring of AF Consult do Brasil, in partnership with Argeplan, was solely designed to permit the payment of undue advantages to Michel Temer’s group,” they wrote in the court documents.

AF Poyry said independent auditors hired by Eletronuclear, a unit of Brazilian state-controlled utility Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras SA, had “dismissed any wrongdoing in the contract.”

(Reporting by Christian Plumb; Additional reporting by Helena Soderpalm in Stockholm; Editing by Paul Simao)

Source: OANN

The headquarters of the African Development Bank (AfDB) are pictured in Abidjan
The headquarters of the African Development Bank (AfDB) are pictured in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, September 16, 2016. Picture taken September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

March 22, 2019

(Reuters) – The African Development Bank Group said on Friday that two General Electric Co subsidiaries would be temporarily barred from bidding on power contracts as part of a settlement of misconduct cases.

The agreement bars GE Power units in Egypt and Germany from bidding for up to 76 months, the bank said. The units, former parts of Alstom that GE acquired in 2015, were found to have engaged in bribery and fraud in 2006 and 2011, the bank said.

“This conduct happened long before GE acquired Alstom’s power business and we cooperated fully with the investigation,” GE said in a statement. “Ethical behavior and compliance are foundational to GE’s ability to successfully operate in more than 180 markets around the world.”

Other development banks may also enforce the bans, the bank said. “We have no reason whatsoever to doubt that the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank Group will follow the African Development Bank’s lead,” Johann Benohr, a senior advisor to the director of the office of integrity and anti-corruption at the African Development Bank Group, said in an email to Reuters.

The barred entities are Alstom Egypt for Power Projects S.A.E., based in Cairo, and GE Power Systems GmbH, based in Mannheim, Germany, the bank said.

GE is trying to restore profits at its money-losing power business as the conglomerate slims down to three main product lines: power plants, jet engines and wind turbines.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; editing by Diane Craft)

Source: OANN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

March 22, 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that he will sue two of his main political rivals for libel over remarks relating to a graft scandal relating to a German submarine deal.

In a video published on Netanyahu’s Facebook page the veteran Israeli leader said he has instructed his attorneys to take legal action against former army general Benny Gantz and ex-defence minister Moshe Ya’alon, both of the centrist Blue and White party.

Israel faces elections on April 9. Netanyahu faces no charges in the submarine matter, but possible indictment in three other corruption cases. He has denied all wrongdoing and accuses his opponents of carrying out a politically motivated “witch-hunt.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell)

Source: OANN

Adelle Nazarian | Contributor

We all support First Lady Melania Trump’s efforts to highlight education, values and the end of cyber-bullying. Through her “Be Best” campaign, the first lady has been a strong, consistent voice in support of our children. Unfortunately, her recent visit to the “Dove School of Discovery” in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has shed light on another important issue facing our nation.

Unbeknownst to the first lady, Dove is one of many charter schools in the United States linked to the “FETO” movement headed by Fetullah Gulen. Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. With one hand — according to the Turkish government — Gulen directs attacks that have killed hundreds of innocent Turks. On the other hand, Gulen-linked schools receive taxpayer funding.

A 2017 CBS News report revealed that FETO operates about 136 charter schools in 28 states and that since 2010, those schools have received over $2.1 billion in taxpayer dollars. That amount is growing well over $750 million dollars every year. And while the schools paint a beautiful picture of educational discovery and opportunity, most Americans have not seen what else their tax dollars underwrite.

On July 15, 2016, U.S. citizens and the rest of the world saw precisely what that tuition money helps to fund.

On that day, Gulen followers in Turkey undertook a savage coup attempt that killed almost 300 innocent Turkish citizens. The Gulenists hijacked NATO jets and used NATO aircraft to strafe the Turkish Parliament with members of all political parties — majority and minority parties — inside. Gulen’s followers also rolled tanks against the masses of Turkish people who took to the streets in July of 2016 to stand up for their democratically-elected government and to fight back against ideologues and extremists who would subjugate the will of 80 million people to the will of one man living in Pennsylvania. Americans can see and read more about that failed coup here:

Despite the failed coup attempt of 2016, the people of Turkey — representing every party across the political spectrum — fought for their right to self-determination and they won. The coup plotters were overwhelmed, and order restored. Just last year, the people of Turkey again voted to support their democratic way of life, with over 88 percent of Turks going to the polls to cast their votes. International observers and the leaders of the main opposition parties called the elections free and fair. It was a triumph of peaceful democratic systems over the forces of terrorism.

While average Americans may not pay much attention to the internal affairs of Turkey, they should pay close attention to whether their tax dollars are being used to destabilize Turkey. Turkey is a strong and reliable ally in the war on terrorism and serves on the front line in the fight against ISIS, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. As NATO’s eastern border, Turkey has played a vital role in helping maintain stability in Iraq, Syria and throughout the Middle East. It is important for Americans to fully understand that an attack on Turkey’s flank is an attack on America’s flank.

The FETO forces in the United States are smooth and know how to present the façade of peaceful education. Yet, behind the façade there is a long trail of financial irregularities hounding the movement. A simple Google search will turn up many instances in which money is allegedly siphoned from these schools for other purposes. In state after state, fraud investigations have been undertaken to determine if and how much taxpayer money has been diverted away from education. Complaints have been filed with the U.S. Department of Education, and there are reports the FBI is investigating the Gulen movement.

First Lady Trump continues serves us well by highlighting the extraordinary role of charter schools as an important part of our educational system. She has displayed her devotion and raised her voice for putting children first. In this instance, she has also done a major service by providing the United States with an opportunity to examine just how the Gulen movement uses its schools and American taxpayers as a funding source for less than reputable activities.

Adelle Nazarian (@AdelleNaz) is a documentary filmmaker. She worked previously as a journalist, including for Fox News.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

Source: The Daily Caller

FILE PHOTO: Worker is seen at a factory at the Keihin industrial zone in Kawasaki
FILE PHOTO: A worker is seen at a factory at the Keihin industrial zone in Kawasaki, Japan, March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

March 22, 2019

By Jonathan Cable and Stanley White

LONDON/TOKYO (Reuters) – Manufacturers in Europe, Japan and the United States suffered in March as surveys showed trade tensions had left their mark on factory output, a setback for hopes the global economy might be turning the corner on its slowdown.

Factory activity in the 19-country euro zone contracted at the fastest pace in nearly six years.

In Japan, manufacturing output shrank the most in almost three years, hurt by China’s economic slowdown.

And a measure of U.S. manufacturing was its weakest since June 2017 while forecasters at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia slashed their estimate for economic growth in early 2019.

German 10-year bond yields, which plunged on Thursday after the U.S. Federal Reserve signaled no more rate hikes this year, dived again to fall below zero.

In New York, the U.S. 10-year Treasury note yield plunged to a 14-month low as growth worries further weighed on inflation expectations.

That benchmark yield dropped below the yields on all maturities of T-bills for the first time in 12 years, a so-called yield-curve inversion that is often a harbinger of economic recession. [nL1N2190J6]

“While such an inversion has traditionally been an indicator of a recession, this time around it may be less about the prospects for the U.S. economy and more about spillovers from what is happening in Europe and the bond market there, together with the effects of the Fed’s surprising decision to be very dovish again with its unconventional policy tools,” said Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz in Newport Beach, California.

U.S. stocks, European shares and the euro also fell on Friday. The benchmark S&P 500 was off by 1.6 percent and on pace for its biggest drop in nearly three months.

Global trade tensions continue to be among the main culprits behind the gloom.

“No other factor shapes the euro zone business cycle more than the ups and downs of global trade,” economists at Berenberg, a bank, said.

The United States and China are due to resume face-to-face talks next week, but it is unclear if the two sides can narrow their differences and end the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

European officials are also worried about the risk of U.S. tariffs on car imports from Europe.

RISKS – US CHINA TENSIONS, BREXIT, ITALY

The drop in the euro zone’s manufacturing purchasing managers index to a 71-month low of 47.7 from 49.4 in February raised the risk trade flows could turn even more negative in the short term, the Berenberg economists said.

The manufacturing downturn was partly offset by stable — but relatively weak — growth in the euro zone’s dominant services industry.

But the surveys suggested the bloc’s economy had a poor start to 2019.

IHS Markit, which published the surveys, said the PMIs pointed to first-quarter economic growth of 0.2 percent in the euro zone, below the 0.3 percent predicted in a Reuters poll last week.

The euro zone grew 0.2 percent in the final three months of 2018, its slowest pace in four years. [ECILT/EU]

Earlier this month, the European Central Bank changed tack by pushing out the timing of its next rate increase until 2020 at the earliest and said it would offer banks a new round of cheap loans to help revive the economy.

“We highlight downside risks mainly stemming from the external side – e.g. trade tensions, a Chinese-led global slowdown,” Barclays economists Radu-Gabriel Cristea and Francois Cabau said about the euro zone.

“The protracted weakness in manufacturing remains a lingering risk, and overall growth concerns are likely to intensify should the industrial backdrop further deteriorate. At the same time, Italy and Brexit woes remain non-negligible, the uncertainty a further drag on sentiment.”

In the U.S. series, Markit’s measure of manufacturing activity slipped to 52.5 in March from 53 in February, falling short of economists’ forecasts for a modest rebound. Markit’s manufacturing output index was the weakest since June 2016.

“The survey is consistent with the official measure of manufacturing production falling at an increased rate in March and hence acting as a drag on the economy in the first quarter,” Markit’s chief business economist, Chris Williamson, said.

U.S. GDP is forecast to expand at an annualized rate of 1.6 percent this quarter, down from the 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to a Reuters poll of more than 100 economists released last week. In last month’s poll, first-quarter growth had been pegged at 1.9 percent.

The headline Flash Markit/Nikkei Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) was a seasonally adjusted 48.9, the same as February’s final reading.

The index was below the 50 threshold that separates contraction from expansion for the second consecutive month.

“Concern of weaker growth in China and prolonged global trade frictions kept business confidence well below its historical average in March,” Joe Hayes, an economist at IHS Markit, said.

The flash index for total new orders – domestic and foreign – fell to its lowest since June 2016, the survey showed.

Japan is exposed to the dispute between Washington and Beijing as it ships to China big volumes of electronics items and heavy machinery used to make finished goods destined for the United States.

(Writing by William Schomberg and Dan Burns; editing by Jon Boyle and Susan Thomas)

Source: OANN

People take shelter after Cyclone Idai in a secondary school in Guara Guara outside Beira
People take shelter after Cyclone Idai in a secondary school in Guara Guara outside Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Emma Rumney

March 22, 2019

By Emma Rumney

GUARA GUARA, Mozambique (Reuters) – At a camp near the city of Beira for people rescued from Mozambique’s catastrophic flooding, residents were dealing on Friday with worries about their future and shortages of pretty much everything – water, food and medicines.

Also, painfully, some of them lacked information about how their relatives were faring.

Aid organizations such as the World Food Programme and Red Cross are delivering food, water, shelter and other basic supplies to the camp at Guara Guara, which was set up by the government, and scores of others like it in the flood zone around Beira.

But with roads cut off, progress is slow. Camps like the one at Guara Guara, 45 km (30 miles) west of Beira, can be reached only by helicopter. There are a limited number of craft available and they are in huge demand.

Fernando Marevere, a local village chief, said the main concern for new arrivals at Guara Guara was food and medicines, which were both in short supply.

Eight large tents were sent to the camp on Wednesday, but on Friday most people were outside in the blazing sun, or huddling into small patches of shade cast by the branches of sparse trees.

People also took shelter in the village’s secondary school – whose roof was still intact – sitting or slumped, head down, at its wooden desks. A number of elderly women were curled up on their side on the dirt floor.

Fresh water was in low supply and there were no toilets. The camp’s residents, numbering in the hundreds, washed in a stream nearby.

Medical tents were small and cramped.

A young boy bawled as doctors worked on a deep cut on his foot, as a family friend held him still and shielded his face from the gore.

Augusto Jose, a pharmacy technician who had come from Beira to help, told Reuters the main concern was malaria, and how to diagnose it with so few tests at hand.

Esther Zinge, 60, from near the town of Buzi, had not eaten anything yet on Friday. She had missed breakfast while waiting in line with her husband for the doctor, because he was unwell.

“The help is coming, but it’s coming very slowly,” she said, adding that what did arrive had to be given to children first.

“We had to ask a local hospital for soya milk so we can stretch out the food. All we’ve had so far is biscuits,” she said. “The conditions are terrible, and more people keep coming.”

Cyclone Idai pummeled the port city of Beira and its low-lying surrounds last week with ferocious winds and tore inland, dumping torrential rains and causing massive flooding in swathes of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The storm killed 242 people in Mozambique and 259 in Zimbabwe, and numbers were expected to rise, relief agencies said. In Malawi, 56 died in heavy rains before the onset of Idai.

‘MISSING FAMILIES’

Left with nothing, many people at Guara Guara were concerned for their future or the health of their small children. But the biggest fear, a number of people said, was for relatives and friends they had not heard from since the waters started rising.

There is no electricity, phones or internet at the camp.

Louisa Ndena, 60, was sitting on the ground in a white aid tent surrounded by family members and toddlers.

“Besides our missing families, the thing we are most worried about is disease,” she said, explaining that there are no toilets, and if the village’s residents would not let them use theirs, they use bushes for privacy.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday its relief efforts included sending teams to the region to help families without access to telephones or the internet find their missing relatives.

“The agony of not knowing what happened to your loved ones in a disaster like Cyclone Idea is indescribable,” said Diane Araujo, an ICRC delegate deploying to Beira.

At Guara Guara, Albino Jose Albino, 18, was alone in the camp aside from friends, without an idea about what happened to his mother or seven siblings.

He too complained about a lack of food, water and shelter, but was more angry that he had no way to register his family as missing.

“They are not giving us details about our families, our lost families,” he said. “Someone should be responsible for this.”

(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Source: OANN

Caitlin McFall | Contributor

The 2020 presidential campaign is in full swing with a historic number of women running, and a very crowded race generally, as 14 candidates have officially announced they are running, so far; even more are expected to join the race.

Top female candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris have all come out swinging, taking strong stances on topics ranging from Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and even reparations. Each female candidate is proving to be different from the other, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar specifically is separating herself even more from the overall group.

The Minnesota Democrat is positioning herself as a moderate to appeal to the masses, repeatedly highlighting that her main objective is to “get stuff done.” She is running her campaign to attract progressive voters, but she is also making a conscience effort to not push away the undecided, independent or even conservative voter.

But her policies, along with many of her fellow female candidates, are largely being overshadowed by the male celebrity-status candidates.

According to recent polls, the candidate who is leading the race hasn’t even officially announced his candidacy yet. Joe Biden has dominated the news cycle, as speculations have circulated that he may have already picked his running mate – Stacey Abrams.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is coming in second with an average support rate of 23 percent. (RELATED: Several Economists And Researchers Say Trump Is ‘On Track For A 2020 Landslide’)

Sen. Harris is actually polling as the third most popular candidate. Though the coverage of her campaign has been overshadowed by former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who announced his presidential campaign just more than a week ago.

Will the ‘Year of the Woman’ cease to continue after the record-setting female House wins earlier this year?

Tune in to see what is happening with the female presidential campaigns.

Source: The Daily Caller


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