Fired Tillerson says farewell to ‘a very mean-spirited town’

Outgoing US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledges applauding colleagues as he leaves the State Department in Washington D.C. for the last time. (Reuters)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Fired Tillerson says farewell to ‘a very mean-spirited town’

WASHINGTON: He came, he saw, he got fired on Twitter. And now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said farewell, with a parting plea Thursday to America’s diplomats not to let anyone violate their integrity.
Tillerson did not mention his erstwhile boss, President Donald Trump, as he spoke to several hundred State Department workers who gathered at headquarters in Foggy Bottom to watch him depart. Nor did he directly address the icy manner in which he was terminated last week after one of the shortest stints by a secretary of state in recent history.
“This can be a very mean-spirited town,” Tillerson said, eliciting laughter at first and then applause. “But you don’t have to choose to participate in that.”
When he arrived in the nation’s capital last year, Tillerson made no secret of his unwillingness to play the Washington-style games that turn governing into blood sport: one-upmanship, aggressive public posturing, surreptitious leaking and even sabotage. Weeks into his tenure, the Texas oilman famously declared he wasn’t big on press access, explaining, “I personally don’t need it.”
Others in Trump’s administration didn’t see it the same way, and Tillerson quickly found himself on the receiving end of negative reports, leaks from his rivals and mounting speculation about his future until being abruptly fired last week, four hours after returning from Africa. Often at odds with the White House, he also lost the confidence and support of many of the State Department’s 75,000 workers over his moves to cut the budget, leave key leadership positions vacant and downplay human rights and democracy-promotion as diplomatic priorities.
Still, there was sustained applause for several minutes as he departed the marbled lobby of the Harry S. Truman Building, the same lobby where the former Exxon Mobil CEO introduced himself as “the new guy” in his hallmark Texas drawl 14 months ago. A few former staffers whose tenures were even shorter than Tillerson’s also returned to see him off.
Then Tillerson set off for his home in Texas — “a more familiar climate,” Deputy Secretary John Sullivan joked, “which I know suits him well.” If the Senate agrees, he will soon be replaced by current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who frequently bumped heads with Tillerson over Iran and other issues.
“Never lose sight of your most valuable asset, the most valuable asset you possess: your personal integrity,” Tillerson says. “Only you can relinquish it or allow it to be compromised. Once you’ve done so, it is very, very hard to regain it. So guard it as the most precious thing you possess.”


New Zealand orders top-level inquiry into mosque massacres

Updated 25 March 2019
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New Zealand orders top-level inquiry into mosque massacres

  • "One question we need to answer is whether or not we could or should have known more," Ardern said
  • Ardern ruled out New Zealand re-introducing the death penalty for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday ordered an independent judicial inquiry into whether police and intelligence services could have prevented the Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15.
Ardern said a royal commission -- the most powerful judicial probe available under New Zealand law -- was needed to find out how a single gunman was able to kill 50 people in an attack that shocked the world.
"It is important that no stone is left unturned to get to how this act of terrorism occurred and how we could have stopped it," she told reporters.
New Zealand's spy agencies have faced criticism in the wake of the attack for concentrating on the threat from Islamic extremism.
Instead, the victims were all Muslims and the massacre was allegedly carried out by a white supremacist fixated on the belief that there was an Islamist plot to "invade" Western countries.
"One question we need to answer is whether or not we could or should have known more," Ardern said.
"New Zealand is not a surveillance state ... but questions need to be answered."
Ardern ruled out New Zealand re-introducing the death penalty for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant, 28, who was arrested minutes after the attack on the mosques and has been charged with murder.
She said details of the royal commission were being finalised, but it would be comprehensive and would report in a timely manner.
It will cover the activities of intelligence services, police, customs, immigration and any other relevant government agencies in the lead-up to the attack.
The gunman livestreamed the attack online, although New Zealand has outlawed the footage as "objectionable content".
Ardern reiterated her believe it should not be aired.
"That video should not be shared. That is harmful content," she said when questioned about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan showing excerpts of the footage at campaign rallies for local elections this month.
Erdogan had angered both Wellington and Canberra with campaign rhetoric about anti-Muslim Australians and New Zealanders being sent back in "coffins" like their grandfathers at Gallipoli, a World War I battle.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters travelled to Istanbul to meet Erdogan and address an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Peters said OIC members were full of praise for the support New Zealand had offered its small, tight-knit Muslim community in the wake of the killings.
"A number of them were weeping and sobbing at the demonstration (of support) by non-Muslim New Zealand towards the Muslim victims," he told reporters.
"It was dramatic and I was told by countless ministers that they've never seen anything of that type."
The body of an Indian student killed in the Christchurch mosque attacks, meanwhile, was returned Monday to her grieving family in Kochi, where relatives remembered a bright young woman dedicated to her studies.
Ansi Alibava, 25, was the first of at least five Indians shot dead on March 15 to be repatriated.
The family planned to hold a funeral ceremony for the masters student in their nearby hometown of Kodungallur.