Duterte regrets Myanmar ‘genocide’ remark

Second-placed series of images of World Press Photo 2018 contest for General News Stories shows Rohingya refugees carrying their belongings after fleeing Myanmar, as they walk on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River, Bangladesh. (File Photo: By Kevin Frayer, Getty Images via Reuters)
Updated 16 April 2018
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Duterte regrets Myanmar ‘genocide’ remark

  • Philippine president apologizes to Burma, saying he was being sarcastic because of European countries
  • Duterte pointed out that it wasn’t his intention to interfere in Myanmar’s internal affairs

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte apologized on Friday to Burma’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for saying that “genocide” is taking place in Myanmar.
Duterte made the “genocide” comment in a speech on April 5, in which he also expressed willingness to accept Rohingya refugees.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said Duterte’s change of statement was “expected of him.”
In a news briefing at the Davao International Airport upon his return from Boao Forum on Asia in China early Friday morning, the president pointed out that it wasn’t his intention to interfere in Myanmar’s internal affairs. He added that his “genocide” comment was sarcastic.
Addressing Suu Kyi, Duterte said: “I will apologize to you but if you have noticed, my statement was almost a satire ... because these Europeans are saying there’s a lot of violations of human rights in Burma.”
“They keep on attacking Burma ... So I say, what are you doing? Do you have any plans to provide a safe sanctuary even for a moment for those who are really the victims of war? There’s a civil war going on. None, they have no (plans),” he added.
While Duterte has offered to accept Rohingya refugees, he also said that “we should split it with Europe.”
“They keep on criticizing us, Aung (San Suu) Kyi and the others. Now, why did I say that? Madam Chancellor, let me confess to you publicly. I was making a ... a very sarcastic (remark),” Duterte said.
“I was just adapting their findings that there are a lot of violations in your country. I am not ready to intervene in your (internal affairs). I was just using (it) because I said, if you are willing, you guys in Europe, to receive, provide sanctuary or, in the meantime, allow the Rohingyas to stay in your country, I will also do it,” he continued.
Asked for a comment on Duterte’s apology, presidential chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said “it was in regard to his earlier statement which was more in the nature of sarcasm directed at European and Western countries that criticized the alleged human rights violations (in Myanmar) with no accompanying offer (of) sanctuary to the refugees.
“The apology was made in regard to PRRD’s (President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s) adopting the conclusion of the aforesaid critical governments that there were violations of human rights in Myanmar which would appear to be an intrusion into (their internal) affairs,” he added.
Panelo added that the offer to provide a place for the refugees was consistent with Duterte’s and the Filipino people’s compassionate and accommodating nature and the president’s policy of assisting those perceived to be victims of human rights violations from any part of the world.
Meanwhile, Casiple, when asked to comment on Duterte’s apology to the Myanmar leader, said: “That’s expected of him.”
“Even his genocide remark was expected of him. I think it’s because he is under attack on that issue (human rights). So I think that’s why he made that remark,” Casiple told Arab News.
“The problem is, Myanmar reacted to his comment. And considering the importance of the ASEAN to his foreign policy... what he did was the logical thing to do. He apologized. So that kills two birds with one stone,” he added,
Casiple also stressed that it’s a different case when the President is talking of formal policy. “Because it’s not spoken. It has to be a written agreement. So that would have to go through (Foreign Affairs Secretary Allan) Cayetano and so on.
“But the off-hand comments are basically his own, and I’ve always said to the media, don’t believe him. Only when he does something, then that would be it,” he added.


Trump backs down under fire, ‘clarifies’ on Russia meddling

Updated 40 min 11 sec ago
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Trump backs down under fire, ‘clarifies’ on Russia meddling

  • “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place”
  • “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia’” instead of “why it would”

WASHINGTON: Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime US enemy, President Donald Trump strained Tuesday to “clarify” his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he simply misspoke when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election.
Rebuked as never before by his own party, including a stern pushback from usually reserved Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the US president sought to end 27 hours of recrimination by delivering a rare admission of error.
“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia’” instead of “why it would,” Trump said of the comments he had made standing alongside Vladimir Putin on Monday’s summit stage in Helsinki.
That didn’t explain why Trump, who had tweeted a half-dozen times and sat for two television interviews since the Putin news conference, waited so long to correct his remarks. And the scripted cleanup pertained only to the least defensible of his comments.
He didn’t reverse other statements in which he gave clear credence to Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial of Russian involvement, raised doubts about his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions and advanced discredited conspiracy theories about election meddling.
He also accused past American leaders, rather than Russia’s destabilizing actions in the US and around the world, for the souring of relations between two countries. And he did not address his other problematic statements during a week-long Europe tour, in which he sent the NATO alliance into emergency session and assailed British Prime Minister Theresa May as she was hosting him for an official visit.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump conceded Tuesday. But even then he made a point of adding, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all.”
Moments earlier, McConnell felt the need to reassure America’s allies in Europe with whom Trump clashed during his frenzied trip last week.
With no if’s or but’s, the GOP leader declared, “The European countries are our friends, and the Russians are not.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump was trying to “squirm away” from his comments alongside Putin. “It’s 24 hours too late and in the wrong place,” he said.
By dusk, hundreds of activists, led by attorney Michael Avenatti and actress Alyssa Milano, staged a protest near the White House, with chants of “traitor!” echoing along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Trump still maintained that his meetings with NATO allies went well and his summit with Putin “even better.” But this reference to diplomatic success carried an edge, too, since the barrage of criticism and insults he delivered in Brussels and London was hardly well-received.
On Capitol Hill, top Republican leaders said they were open to slapping fresh sanctions on Russia, but they showed no sign of acting any time soon.
“Let’s be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, another steady Trump political ally. “What we intend to do is make sure they don’t get away with it again and also to help our allies.”
In the Senate, McConnell said “there’s a possibility” his chamber would act, pointing to a bipartisan measure from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to deter future Russian interference by ordering sanctions against countries if they do.
Both parties called for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials to appear before Congress and tell exactly what happened during Trump’s two-hour private session with Putin. Pompeo is to publicly testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 25.
Schumer also urged the Senate to take up legislation to boost security for US elections and to revive a measure passed earlier by the Judiciary Committee to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.
But minority Democrats have few tools to enforce anything.
In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi staged a vote Tuesday in support of the intelligence committee’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But even that largely symbolic measure was blocked party-line by Republicans.
Senators had floated a similar idea earlier, and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona said he was preparing a bipartisan bill. But The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said sanctions may be preferable to a nonbinding resolution that amounts to “just some messaging exercise.”
Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important US competitor — but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.
Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week’s federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
“He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. That’s the part he corrected on Tuesday.
White House officials did not elaborate on how Trump came to issue the clarification, but administration aides described being stunned by his initial remarks Monday. GOP leaders, outraged by Trump’s comments in Helsinki, found out about his attempts to quell the outrage the same way everyone else did, as one aide put it, by watching and learning.
After his walkback, Trump said his administration would “move aggressively” to repel efforts to interfere in American elections.
“We are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018,” he said. “And we have a lot of power.”
Fellow GOP politicians have generally stuck with Trump during a year and a half of turmoil, but he was assailed as seldom before as he returned from what he had hoped would be a proud summit with Putin.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul emerged as one of the president’s few defenders. He cited Trump’s experience on the receiving end of “partisan investigations.”
Back at the White House, Paul’s comments drew a presidential tweet of gratitude: “Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!“