Bid to keep US sanctions on Russia’s Rusal fails in Senate

The US Senate has narrowly upheld a Treasury Department decision to lift sanctions from three companies connected to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, shown in this file photo. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
Updated 17 January 2019
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Bid to keep US sanctions on Russia’s Rusal fails in Senate

  • The vote fell short of the 60 votes necessary to advance to a final passage vote
  • A similar measure will be brought up for a vote in the House of Representatives

WASHINGTON: In a victory for President Donald Trump, the US Senate on Wednesday rejected legislation to keep sanctions on companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, including aluminum firm Rusal.
Senators voted 57-42 to end debate on the measure, as 11 of Trump’s fellow Republicans broke from party leaders to join Democrats in favor of the resolution, amid questions about Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That result fell short of the 60 votes necessary to advance to a final passage vote in the 100-member Senate, where Republicans have a 53-47 seat majority.
A similar measure will be brought up for a vote on Thursday in the House of Representatives, where Democrats control a majority of seats. But its long-term fate was uncertain. To keep the administration from lifting the sanctions, the measure must pass both the House and Senate and muster the two-thirds majority needed in both chambers to override an expected Trump veto.
Many members of Congress have been questioning the US Treasury Department’s decision in December to ease sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska — Rusal, its parent, En+, and power firm EuroSibEnergo — watering down the toughest penalties imposed on Russian entities since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Deripaska, an influential businessman close to Putin, himself would remain subject to US sanctions.
The Trump administration pushed Republican lawmakers not to support the resolution introduced by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, which would have prevented the administration from lifting the sanctions.
“Forty-two Republican senators chose today to stand with Vladimir Putin,” Schumer said in a statement. “I’m extremely disappointed that many of my Republican colleagues are too afraid of breaking with President Trump to stand up to a thug.”
Senate aides said Treasury officials had approached senators and staff repeatedly in recent days to argue that it was appropriate to lift the sanctions because Deripaska had agreed to cut back his controlling stakes.

Concern over ripple effects
They said the sanctions on Deripaska would punish him, but lifting restrictions on the companies would avoid potential effects on companies in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.
Rusal is the world’s largest aluminum producer outside China. The sanctions on the company spurred demand for Chinese metal. China’s aluminum exports jumped to a record high in 2018.
The Russian companies, along with some European governments, also lobbied for months for the sanctions to be eased.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the outcome of the Senate vote, saying he hoped it would pave the way for sanctions to be lifted that affect the Irish company Aughinish Alumina, a Rusal unit.
“We respect different views in US on sanctions, but our focus has always been on protecting jobs and livelihoods in Ireland and EU,” he said on Twitter.
Democrats had been optimistic they would get 60 votes on Wednesday, after 11 Republicans made the unusual break from Trump policies and supported the resolution in procedural voting on Tuesday.
Backers of the resolution of disapproval said it was too soon to ease sanctions, given Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine, the finding by US intelligence that Moscow interfered in the 2016 US election to boost Trump, and Russia’s support for the Syrian government in that country’s civil war.
The US military said on Wednesday that four Americans had been killed in Syria in a bomb attack claimed by Daesh militants.
Deripaska had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have shown. Manafort is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy against the United States.
The Senate’s Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, dismissed the Democratic-led resolution as a political stunt.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)


Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

Updated 12 min 26 sec ago
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Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

  • Eight blasts have ripped through churches and hotels
  • Social media blocked across the country in temporary ban

COLOMBO: An eight blasth has been reported in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, as the government announced an immediate curfew.

The curfew will begin on Sunday night at 6:00pm local time (1230 GMT) and run until 6:00am local time (0030 GMT), the Sri Lankan defense ministry said.

The attack took place just hours after a string of bombings ripped through churches and hotels on Sunday monrning, killing at least 160 people.

Access to major social media platforms and messaging services has been shut down by the Sri Lankan government.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the seventh blast hit a hotel in the southern Colombo suburb of Dehiwala, killing two people.

A hospital source said Americans, British and Dutch citizens were among those killed in the six blasts, which also injured hundreds of people.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts as “cowardly” and said the government was working to “contain the situation.”

The public has been told to excercise caution in the following days, with emergency numbers being circulated for people who want to seek help.

The country’s police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before the blasts that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches,” according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 42 people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.

The first explosions were reported at St. Anthony’s Shrine — a church in Colombo — and St. Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital. Dozens of people injured in the St. Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.

Inside St. Anthony's Shrine where one of the bombings took place. (AFP)

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.

An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant. He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.

An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.

(Reuters)

“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St. Anthony’s Shrine, and described “horrible scenes.” “I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added. Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.

The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood. Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries. The images could not immediately be verified.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the deadly string of Easter Sunday attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka as “truly appalling.”