Government shutdown becomes longest in US history

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President Donald Trump has refused to sign off on budgets for swaths of government departments unrelated to the dispute. (AFP)
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The partial shutdown of the US government became the longest on record at midnight Friday when it overtook the 21-day stretch in 1995-1996, under president Bill Clinton. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Government shutdown becomes longest in US history

  • The Democrats’ refusal to approve $5.7 billion demanded by Donald Trump for the wall project has paralyzed Washington
  • Trump retaliated by refusing to sign off on budgets for swaths of government departments unrelated to the dispute

WASHINGTON: The US government shutdown that has left 800,000 federal employees without salaries as a result of President Donald Trump’s row with Democrats over building a Mexico border wall entered a record 22nd day Saturday.
The Democrats’ refusal to approve $5.7 billion demanded by Trump for the wall project has paralyzed Washington, with the president retaliating by refusing to sign off on budgets for swaths of government departments unrelated to the dispute.
As a result, workers as diverse as FBI agents, air traffic controllers and museum staff, did not receive paychecks Friday.
The partial shutdown of the government became the longest on record at midnight Friday when it overtook the 21-day stretch in 1995-1996, under president Bill Clinton.
Trump on Friday backed off a series of previous threats to end the deadlock by declaring a national emergency and attempting to secure the funds without congressional approval.
“I’m not going to do it so fast,” he said at a White House meeting.
Trump described an emergency declaration as the “easy way out” and said Congress had to step up to the responsibility of approving the $5.7 billion.
“If they can’t do it ... I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right,” he insisted.
Until now, Trump had suggested numerous times that he was getting closer to taking the controversial decision.
Only minutes earlier, powerful Republican ally Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted after talks with Trump: “Mr. President, Declare a national emergency NOW.”
It was not clear what made Trump change course.
But Trump himself acknowledged in the White House meeting that an attempt to claim emergency powers would likely end up in legal battles going all the way to the Supreme Court.
Opponents say that a unilateral move by the president over the sensitive border issue would be constitutional overreach and set a dangerous precedent in similar controversies.
The standoff has turned into a test of political ego, particularly for Trump, who came into office boasting of his deal making powers and making an aggressive border policy the keystone of his nationalist agenda.
Democrats, meanwhile, seem determined at all costs to prevent a president who relishes campaign rally chants of “build the wall!” from getting a win.
Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the US-Mexican frontier presents major challenges, ranging from the hyper-violent Mexican drug trade to the plight of asylum seekers and poor migrants seeking new lives in the world’s richest country.
There’s also little debate that border walls are needed: about a third of the frontier is already fenced off.
But Trump has turned his single-minded push for more walls into a political crusade seen by opponents as a stunt to stoke xenophobia in his right-wing voter base, while willfully ignoring the border’s complex realities.


For Trump, who visited the Texas border with Mexico on Thursday, the border situation amounts to an invasion by criminals that can only be solved by more walls.
“We have a country that’s under siege,” he told the local officials in the White House.
Some studies show that illegal immigrants generally commit fewer crimes than people born in the United States, although not everyone agrees on this.
More certain is that while narcotics do enter the country across remote sections of the border, most are sneaked through heavily guarded checkpoints in vehicles, the government’s own Drug Enforcement Administration said in a 2017 report.
It said that most smuggling is done “through US ports of entry (POEs) in passenger vehicles with concealed compartments or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor trailers.”
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives and a key figure in opposing Trump’s agenda, said money should be spent in many areas of border security, but not on walls.
“We need to look at the facts,” she said.
But Trump accused the Democrats of only wanting to score points against him with a view to the 2020 presidential elections.
“They think, ‘Gee, we can hurt Trump,’” he said. “The Democrats are just following politics.”

 


At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

Updated 8 min 1 sec ago
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At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

  • Police are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive
  • ‘Threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province’

DUBAI: At least three people have been killed and nine other injured in a shooting incident in Utrecht, in The Netherlands on Monday morning.

Dutch security forces were hunting for a 37-year-old Turkish man in connection with the incident, in what authorities said appeared to be a terrorist attack. The city's mayor confirmed the death of three people on Monday afternoon.

"At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously," Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said in a video statement on Twitter.

"We are working on the principle that it was a terrorist attack," he added.

Dozens of armed police plus canine units later surrounded a building a few hundred metres away, an AFP reporter at the scene said, but it was not clear if the gunman was inside.

Police said they believed a red Renault Clio had been carjacked around the time of the shooting and had been found abandoned later.

The Utrecht municipality said it advised "everyone to stay indoors until more is known, new incidents are not excluded," but this was withdrawn at around 4:30pm local time. The local hospital said it had set up a crisis centre. Tram traffic in the area was halted.

Authorities raised the terrorism threat to its highest level in Utrecht province, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure, and also at mosques.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks, saying he was deeply concerned about the incident.

Utrecht Police tweeted an image of a man named Gökmen Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.

The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the  National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.

Counter-terrorism forces have surrounded a building where the gunman may be located, local broadcaster NOS News reported.

There was gunfire at several locations in the city, the Dutch national counter-terrorism chief said.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Dutch anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told a news conference in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

Aalbersberg said in a statement that the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province,” referring to the highest level. 

“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message. He called on citizens to closely follow the indications of the local police. 

Police spokesman Bernhard Jens did not exclude more people might be involved. 

“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.

A hotline to address queries about the situation. The Netherlands has one of the strictest gun laws and ownership is limited to law enforcement, hunters and target shooters.

Local media reports have said counter-terrorism police were seen at the scene.

“Shooting incident... Several injured people reported. Assistance started,” the Utrecht police Twitter account said. “It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”

The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop. Tram traffic was temporarily stopped due to the incident, but the trams are currently running again between Zuilenstein, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

(With AFP and Reuters)