Trump welcomes Italy’s Conte to White House

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President Donald Trump, left, and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, right, pose for a photo as Conte arrives at the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 30, 2018. (AP)
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US President Donald Trump and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shake hands during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, July 30, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 30 July 2018
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Trump welcomes Italy’s Conte to White House

  • Trump praises Italy's new premier for his handling of immigration issues, saying other European countries should follow Italy's lead
  • Conte thanks Trump for his ‘warm hospitality’, Trump tells him ‘you’ll always be treated warmly’

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump hosted Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the White House Monday, welcoming to a European populist with like-minded views on immigration and trade.
The visit began with a handshake and a smile from Conte at the West Wing portico.
Trump said in the Oval Office that it was a “great honor” to host Conte, and praised the Italian leader for doing a “fantastic job,” noting they met and became friendly at the recent G7 summit in Canada.
The two leaders were scheduled to hold a one-on-one Oval Office meeting and more extensive bilateral discussions before facing the media at 2:00 p.m. (1800 GMT).
Conte has “taken a very firm stance” on immigration, said Trump, who has pursued a “zero tolerance” policy at the US border, a crackdown that led to hundreds of children being separated from parents who crossed into the country from Mexico without papers.
Conte was chosen to lead the Italian government by the leaders of parties that won elections in March: the euro-skeptic Five Star Movement and the far-right League party.
The Italian press has suggested the White House meeting will serve to boost Conte, who is often overshadowed by his deputy prime ministers and those parties’ exuberant leaders: Matteo Salvini of the League party, and Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement.
Salvini however stole some of the attention Sunday by posting a controversial message on Facebook — “many enemies, much honor” — that echoed a well-known saying by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on the anniversary of the latter’s birthday.
Conte is on a drive to reform European Union regulations that say asylum requests should be the responsibility of a single member country, usually the one where the refugee first arrived.
Italy argues that the law places an unfair burden on countries that border the Mediterranean, and its new populist government has stepped up pressure on other EU countries to share responsibility for arriving refugees.
It has closed Italy’s ports to migrants and turned back several ships carrying refugees rescued at sea, threatening the future of those operations.
Both Trump and Conte also favor better relations with Russia.
Already deeply at odds with US allies on trade, the environment and Iran, the US leader opened another front in Canada by calling for Russia to be brought back into G7 meetings, ending its isolation over its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“I think it would be good for Russia, I think it would be good for the United States, I think it would be good for all of the countries of the current G7,” Trump said.
Conte, who was making his international debut at the Group of Seven talks, said he agreed with Trump, setting himself apart from his European colleagues.
The two men also share the same skepticism when it comes to free trade: Trump has blasted several international pacts such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), while Conte refused to ratify the CETA free trade agreement between the EU and Canada.
But according to Nick Ottens of the Atlantic Council, Trump “may not find the ally he expects” in Conte.
On trade, the new Italian government’s skepticism of multinational agreements could complicate Trump’s desire to see all EU customs tariffs eliminated, according to Ottens.
Meanwhile, in the defense realm, Italy has said it has no chance of reaching the target spending of two percent of GDP — let alone Trump’s stated goal at the latest NATO summit of four percent.
In early July, Italy’s defense minister Elisabetta Trenta announced a freeze on purchasing F-35 fighter aircraft, of which the US is the primary contractor.
Italy’s participation in NATO operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will be on both leaders’ agendas, along with Italy’s diplomatic efforts in Libya.
But a certain point of disagreement will be Trump’s standoff with Iran — and the sanctions that hurt Italian-Iranian commercial relations.


Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

Updated 29 min 30 sec ago
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Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

  • More than 27,000 people died and 1.8 million displaced since the start of Boko Haram conflict in 2009
  • Malkohi residents say they will support President Muhammadu Buhari because he helped curtail the extremists’ power

MALKOHI, Nigeria: Idriss Abdullahi was once a successful businessman and a husband to four wives, until the day he fled his home when Boko Haram insurgents advanced across northeastern Nigeria.
Five years on he lives beside dull farmland in a tented camp in Malkohi village, near the Adamawa state capital Yola, and tries to make a living selling firewood.
But the earnings are so meager he has had to divorce one of his wives.
“Even an animal lives better than me,” he told AFP in the camp he shares with 2,800 of his neighbors from the Borno state town of Gwoza, which the insurgents sacked in 2014.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the Boko Haram conflict began in 2009 and some 1.8 million others are still displaced.
President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 on a pledge to end the insurgency, which at its peak saw the extremists control an area the size of Belgium.
In Abdullahi’s hometown, the wild-eyed leader of the extremists, Abubakar Shekau, declared an Islamic caliphate.
An offensive involving Nigerian troops and foreign mercenaries pushed them back. But in recent months there have been signs of resurgence.
Despite that, residents of Malkohi say they’re ready to support Buhari at Saturday’s rescheduled vote — even if they can’t return to Gwoza to do so.
“It’s not that we actually love him,” Abdullahi said of the president. “It’s that he saved our lives from Boko Haram.”
Shortly after taking office, Buhari declared Boko Haram “technically defeated,” apparently fulfilling the promise that was seen as a key to his victory.
But in February last year, the group seized 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, in an echo of the 2014 abduction of more than 200 from Chibok that brought world attention to the conflict.
Malkohi itself hasn’t been spared; the group in 2015 bombed a government-organized camp across the road from the informal settlement where the former Gwoza residents stay.
An Islamic State-allied faction has in recent months overrun military bases, seizing equipment and weapons, and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee for their lives.
Nigeria’s election commission has been forced to set up special measures for them to vote: in Borno, some 400,000 displaced people will vote at 10 centers.
Several others have been created in Adamawa.
The main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has seized on the insecurity and claimed Buhari has failed in his core duty of keeping Nigerians safe.
But from their homes in Adamawa — Abubakar’s home state — Malkohi residents say they feel more forgotten than under attack.
“Up to now, hospitals have not been provided. Before, [aid groups] gave us drugs, but now we don’t receive any,” said Fanta Ali, a housewife at the camp.
The Malkohi camp today is made up of rows of shacks separated by dirt paths, on which barefoot children and turkeys strut.
The makeshift homes are constructed from tarpaulin donated by aid agencies who also built a water tower for the settlement.
Many Malkohi residents were prosperous in Gwoza but without money to start businesses they now rely on manual labor to get by.
“Seriously, I’m suffering,” said Abdulrahman Hassen, once a merchant and chair of a professional association who now farms for a living.
Returning to Gwoza, where Boko Haram remains strong, is still a distant prospect. Helping people go home will be on the next president’s to-do list.
The displaced say they’re made to feel like outsiders in Adamawa, and local residents call them thieves for farming the land around the camp.
Gwoza was badly damaged when it was retaken in 2015, and cellphone reception is so weak residents climb trees to get a signal, said Yunussa Takda, a youth leader in Malkohi.
Meanwhile, the town’s outlying villages are still unsafe.
“Under Buhari, we’ve seen that a lot of our villages that have been taken by Boko Haram haven’t been recovered,” he said. “Maybe if he’s given a second chance, we can go home.”
Umaru Ibrahim Bakare lost track of his pregnant wife and then three-year-old daughter in the chaos of Boko Haram’s initial attack on the town, and has been looking for them ever since.
He made an unsuccessful trip to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, aiming to find his family.
He remains hopeful after the Red Cross connected a friend with three children he’d lost when fleeing Boko Haram.
“We must vote Muhammadu Buhari to finish what he’s started and defeat the insurgency,” he said.