Talks on US government shutdown continue on Sunday

People walk past a sign announcing that New York funds are keeping the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island open for visitors as the US government shutdown enters its third week. (AFP)
Updated 06 January 2019
0

Talks on US government shutdown continue on Sunday

  • Democrats agreed there had been little movement Saturday, saying the White House did not budge on the president’s key demand
  • Donald Trump wants $5.6 billion to build a wall along the US-Mexico border

WASHINGTON: White House officials and congressional aides are returning to discussions Sunday to find a way to reopen the government after emerging from the first round of weekend talks without a breakthrough.

President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday: “Not much headway made today.” The president later tweeted that he planned to go to his retreat at Camp David, Maryland, on Sunday morning to discuss borders security and other topics with senior staff in a meeting separate from the negotiations.

Democrats agreed there had been little movement Saturday, saying the White House did not budge on the president’s key demand, $5.6 billion to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

The White House said funding was not discussed in-depth, but the administration was clear they needed funding for a wall and that they wanted to resolve the shutdown all at once.

Accusations flew after the more than two-hour session led by Vice President Mike Pence. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” accused Democrats of being there to “stall.” Democrats familiar with the meeting said the White House position was “untenable.”

A White House official said the meeting included a briefing on border security by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Democrats sought written details from the Department of Homeland Security on their budget needs, which the White House said it would provide.

With talks stalled, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that House Democrats plan to start approving individual bills to reopen shuttered departments starting with Treasury to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds.

“While President Trump threatens to keep the government shut down for ‘years’, Democrats are taking immediate further action to re-open government, so that we can meet the needs of the American people, protect our borders and respect our workers,” Pelosi said.

In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” set to air Sunday, Mulvaney argued that the administration was willing to deal. He said Trump was willing to forgo a concrete wall for steel or other materials.

“If he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, ‘See? He’s not building a wall anymore,’ that should help us move in the right direction,” Mulvaney said.

The president has already suggested his definition of the wall is flexible, referring to slats and other “border things.” But Democrats have made clear they see a wall as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed upon levels.

Trump had campaigned on the promise that Mexico would pay for the wall. Mexico has refused. He’s now demanding the money from Congress.

Trump, who did not attend the discussions, spent the morning tweeting about border security.

Showing little empathy for the hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed or working without pay, Trump declared — without citing evidence — that most are Democrats. He also asserted: “I want to stop the Shutdown as soon as we are in agreement on Strong Border Security! I am in the White House ready to go, where are the Dems?”

One Democrat, Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, said in his party’s weekly radio address that the shutdown “is part of a larger pattern of a president who puts his personal whims and his effort to score political points before the needs of the American people. ... He is pointing fingers at everyone but himself.”


ELN rebels behind Bogota car bomb attack that killed 21: Colombian government

Updated 19 min 16 sec ago
0

ELN rebels behind Bogota car bomb attack that killed 21: Colombian government

  • The scene outside the General Santander police academy in southern Bogota was chaotic in the immediate aftermath of the explosion

BOGOTA: Colombia’s ELN rebel group was responsible for the car bomb attack against a police academy that killed at least 21 and injured dozens, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said on Friday.

In Thursday’s attack, which the government described as an act of terrorism, the car broke through checkpoints into the grounds of the General Santander School before it detonated, shattering windows of apartments nearby.

The National Liberation Army (ELN), made up of some 2,000 fighters and considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, began peace talks with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos February 2017 but they have been put on hold by President Ivan Duque.

The country’s defense ministry had previously reported 11 dead and 65 injured. Colombia’s government declared three days of mourning Thursday after the attack.

The defense ministry said the “terrorist act” was carried out using a vehicle packed with 80 kilograms (around 175 pounds) of explosives.

“All Colombians reject terrorism and we’re united in fighting it,” President Ivan Duque tweeted in the aftermath.

Later in a statement to the nation, he said he had ordered reinforcements to Colombia’s borders and routes in and out of cities.

“I have also requested that priority be given to all the investigations ... to identify the masterminds of this terrorist attack and their accomplices,” he said.

The bomber — who authorities confirmed was killed in the attack — struck at the General Francisco de Paula Santander Officer’s School in the south of Bogota during a promotion ceremony for cadets.

No group has claimed responsibility, but public prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez named suspect Jose Aldemar Rojas Rodriguez as the “material author of this abominable crime.”

Martinez said Rojas Rodriguez entered the school compound at 9:30 a.m. driving a grey 1993 Nissan Patrol truck, but gave no details about the explosion.

He said the truck underwent an inspection in July in the Arauco department on the border with Venezuela — a traditional stronghold of ELN Marxist guerrillas.

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said one of the dead was an Ecuadoran cadet, while a second suffered light injuries.

“The brutal act of terrorism in Bogota took the life of a compatriot,” Moreno said on Twitter.

“My sincerest thoughts go to the family, friends and companions of Erika Chico.”

Meanwhile, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela said that 45 Panamanian cadets were present during the attack, with two injured.

Fanny Contreras, the Colombian armed forces’ health inspector, told local radio that the truck “entered (the school compound) suddenly, almost hitting the police, and then there was the explosion.”

Carol Oviedo said her brother Jonathan, a cadet, told her on the phone he had been injured, before the connection was cut.

“In two years since he joined the police, he’s never had to face a situation like this,” she said.

Like other families, she was lingering in the vicinity of the academy hoping to hear some news.

United States assistant secretary of state in charge of Latin America, Kimberly Breier condemned the attack and said: “Our condolences and sympathies go to the victims and family members of those killed.”

The US embassy in Bogota offered its “help in investigating this reprehensible attack.”

Rosalba Jimenez, 62, was opening her confectionary store near the school when the bomb went off.

“When we turned to look at the school the sky was grey with smoke. People were running, sirens... horrible, horrible, it seemed like the end of the world,” Jimenez said.

Authorities sealed off the area to the press and increased security service patrols in the south of the city, AFP reporters said.

Right-wing Duque, who assumed power in August, has peddled a tough line against Marxist rebels and drug traffickers in the largest cocaine producer in the world.

Peace talks with ELN guerrillas — who in the past have claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on police — stalled before Duque replaced Juan Manuel Santos as president, and have not been restarted.

Duque has made several demands, including the release of all hostages, as prerequisites to kick-starting the peace process, but the ELN has dismissed those as unacceptable.

After the 2016 peace accord signed by Santos and FARC guerrillas, turning the former rebels into a political party, the ELN is considered the last active rebel group in a country that has suffered more than half a century of conflict.

That cycle of violence has also involved paramilitaries, drug traffickers and other Marxist rebels, including FARC dissidents.

A year ago, six police died and 40 were injured in an attack on a police station in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla that was claimed by the ELN.

In February 2017, the ELN claimed responsibility for an attack on a police patrol in the Macarena neighborhood of Bogota that left one officer dead and several seriously wounded.

In June, three people — including a Frenchwoman — were killed and nine others wounded in an attack on a Bogota shopping mall that authorities blamed on a fringe left-wing group called the Revolutionary People’s Movement.