Obama calls on Congress to stop ‘farce’, end shutdown

Updated 06 October 2013
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Obama calls on Congress to stop ‘farce’, end shutdown

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Saturday called on the lower chamber of Congress to “stop this farce” and end the US government shutdown by unconditionally approving a federal budget.
“Take that vote. Stop this farce. End this shutdown now,” Obama said in his weekly radio and video address.
The US government closed all but its essential operations earlier in the week when Republican lawmakers refused to approve money for government operations without first delaying or defunding the new health care law, commonly known as Obamacare.
The US Senate has already approved a budget, and “there are enough Republican and Democratic votes in the House of Representatives willing to do the same, and end this shutdown immediately,” Obama said.
“But the far right of the Republican Party won’t let Speaker John Boehner give that bill a yes-or-no vote.”
Obama said that he “won’t pay a ransom in exchange for reopening the government. And I certainly won’t pay a ransom in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.”
Obama is refusing to negotiate with Republicans over the budget issues until they pass a temporary bill to open the government and agree to raise the $16.7 trillion US statutory borrowing limit — without which Washington could default on its debts for the first time ever starting on October 17.
“For as reckless as a government shutdown is, an economic shutdown that comes with default would be dramatically worse,” Obama said.
Both the House and the Senate will convene rare Saturday sessions.
But some Republican pragmatists who have signaled they would vote to pass a fresh spending bill worried that such a resolution is no longer achievable.
“I think that ship has sailed,” congressman Michael Grimm said on Friday.
“We’re getting too close to the debt ceiling vote. It looks like the only thing that’s going to work right now is a dialogue.”
Boehner on Friday appeared to be equally frustrated. “This isn’t some damn game,” he said after a news report cited an unnamed official saying that the White House is benefiting from the shutdown.
“All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion, reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under ‘Obamacare,’” Boehner said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in Indonesia, warned Saturday the political standoff was “reckless” and threatened to weaken the US standing abroad.
“If it were prolonged, or repeated, people would begin to question the willingness of the United States to stay the course and its ability to,” Kerry told reporters at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum on the Indonesian island of Bali.
“But that’s not the case and I don’t think it will be the case.”
Obama had been due to travel to Bali for an APEC leaders’ summit starting Monday, but canceled the trip — which would have also taken in Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines — to deal with the government shutdown.
Kerry, who is filling in for Obama, made it clear that he believed that the Republicans blocking government spending were playing a dangerous game.
“I think it is reckless, personally, to even provide those moments where you have these risks that are exposed,” Kerry said, referring to areas of spending on global security hotspots that have been suspended because of the shutdown.
Kerry also insisted that Obama’s so-called strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific had not been weakened by the president canceling his trip.
Meanwhile Kerry’s predecessor, former secretary of state and possible 2014 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, decried the “scorched earth” tactics in the government shutdown.
“We watch what happens in Washington with a certain amount of bewilderment, even disgust,” she said late Friday in a speech at Hamilton College in the town of Clinton, in upstate New York.
“The rest of the world watches it closely. When we let partisanship override citizenship, when we fail to make progress on the challenges facing our country, our standing in the world suffers,” Clinton said.
The shutdown has forced hundreds of thousands of federal workers to stay home without pay, while monuments such as the Statue of Liberty have been barricaded and national parks closed.
Amid the acrimony over who is to blame, Democrats quietly acknowledged that the two sides had opened lines of communication, after an earlier White House meeting with Obama and top congressional leaders went nowhere.
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Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

Updated 26 May 2019
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Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

  • Only the Afghans ‘can decide upon the future of their country’

KABUL, BERLIN: Germany, a leading donor and member of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, has been talking with the Taliban and the Afghan government in an effort to restart peace talks to end 18 years of conflict, officials said.

While the Taliban have been talking with US officials since October about withdrawal of international troops, they have so far refused formal talks with the Western-backed government, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.

Berlin’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Markus Potzel, has visited Kabul for talks with the Afghan government and met Taliban officials in Doha at least twice this month.

“The current chance for a process toward a more peaceful Afghanistan should not be missed. If the friends of Afghanistan — and Germany is one of them — together can help in this effort, then we should do it,” Potzel said.

“In the end, only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country.”

The chief US negotiator in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in March said that a draft agreement had been reached on a withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a commitment by the Taliban to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda.

But there has been no agreement yet on a cease-fire or a start to talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, both seen as key conditions for a settlement.

An Afghan delegation had been due to meet Taliban officials in the Qatari capital Doha last month to build the basis for possible negotiations, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute after a dispute over the number of participants.

FASTFACT

 

● At least 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed in the war last year. ● 14,000 US troops are still stationed in Afghanistan.

“We realize that US-Taliban talks will gain momentum only if the insurgent leaders start engaging with the Afghan representatives,” a senior German official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said that Germany was one among several countries to have offered help to seek a peaceful resolution. 

The EU and Indonesia are among those to have offered help, another Taliban official said, declining to be named.

Discussions were held with Germany about an Afghan-Taliban meeting in Germany but no decision has been made, Shaheen told Reuters.

 

Captives subjected to abuse

Afghan captives held by the Taliban have been subjected to abuse, ill-treatment and actions that may amount to torture, the UN said on Sunday.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it interviewed 13 detainees from a group of 53 recently rescued from the Taliban, mainly members of Afghan forces but also civilians and government officials captured by the insurgents.

The group was freed on April 25 when Afghan troops raided a Taliban-run detention facility in the Khas Uruzgan district in southern Uruzgan province.

Most of the captives were held since 2018, with three since 2016, the UNAMA statement said, adding they were kept in poor conditions and subjected to forced labor. It cites the detainees as saying that the Taliban killed some of their captives.

“I am gravely concerned about these serious allegations of ill-treatment, torture and unlawful killing of civilians and security personnel, as well as the deplorable conditions of detention,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of UNAMA.

The detainees were shackled while in captivity and almost all said they were beaten. The Taliban told them it was punishment for supporting the government, working with the Americans or fighting the insurgents.