Trump accuses impeachment witness of lying, defends use of Giuliani

Trump accuses impeachment witness of lying, defends use of Giuliani
This combination of file pictures created on Nov. 22, 2019 shows US President Richard Nixon on April 30, 1973, in Washington, DC, and US President Donald Trump on Nov. 20, 2019 in Austin, Texas. On August 7, 1974, a trio of top Republican Party leaders visited the White House and told president Richard Nixon that impeachment was inevitable. He resigned the next day. Fast forward 45 years, and another US president, Donald Trump, is facing impeachment by the House of Representatives and a potential trial in the Senate. Unlike Nixon, however, Trump appears to enjoy — for the time being at least — the support of Republican lawmakers and has given no hint of stepping aside. (AFP / Mandel Ngan and AFP files)
Updated 23 November 2019

Trump accuses impeachment witness of lying, defends use of Giuliani

Trump accuses impeachment witness of lying, defends use of Giuliani
  • Trump took issue with the testimony by David Holmes, a US embassy official in Ukraine, pinning him to charges that he pressed the Ukraine government to investigate potential presidential rival Joe Biden
  • A focus of the inquiry is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open two investigations

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Friday accused a witness in the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry of lying and offered an explanation for his controversial use of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine policy, saying Giuliani’s crime-fighting abilities were needed to deal with a corrupt country.
Trump made his remarks the day after the fifth and final scheduled day of public hearings in the US House of Representatives inquiry, which threatens his presidency even as he seeks re-election in November 2020.
The Republican president took issue with testimony on Thursday by David Holmes, a US embassy official in Ukraine. Holmes said under oath that at a Kiev restaurant he overheard a July 26 cellphone conversation in which Trump loudly pressed Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, for details on whether Ukraine would carry out politically motivated investigations the president was seeking.
“I guarantee you that never took place,” Trump told Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” program.
“That was a total phony deal,” he added.
Trump appointed Sondland to the envoy post after the wealthy Oregon hotelier donated $1 million to his inaugural committee. While Sondland in testimony described an easygoing relationship between the two, Trump said on Friday he had spoken with him “a few times,” adding, “I hardly know him, OK?“
In another development, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said that Twitter Inc. had returned control to him of his personal account. He accused the White House of blocking his access to it after he left his post in September.
In a post on the account, Bolton asked whether the White House had done so “out of fear of what I may say?” A person close to Bolton told Reuters there were numerous requests made to the White House on Bolton’s behalf to stop blocking his access before going to the company to regain control.
Bolton so far has declined to cooperate in the impeachment inquiry.
Later on Friday, Bolton told reporters at the Union Station in Washington: “We have regained control of the Twitter account. Twitter detached the White House.”
Asked if he was prepared to testify at the impeachment hearings, Bolton said: “I have no comment.”
Trump, a prolific Twitter user, denied in the Fox interview that Bolton’s access had been blocked by the White House.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Testimony at the hearings put a spotlight on Trump’s decision to give Giuliani, a private citizen with no formal job in his administration, an outsized role to shape American policy toward Ukraine rather than using the US government’s usual diplomatic and national security channels.
Bolton is among the various US officials described as being alarmed at Giuliani’s actions, including pushing Ukraine to conduct two investigations that could harm Trump’s political adversaries. Former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill recalled how Bolton called Giuliani “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”
During the hearings, current and former White House officials and diplomats voiced alarm at Giuliani’s activities.
Trump said Giuliani was the right person for the job.
“He’s like an iconic figure in this country for two reasons. He was the greatest mayor in the history of New York and he was the greatest crime fighter probably in the last 50 years,” Trump said of Giuliani, who previously served as the mayor of the largest US city and as a federal prosecutor.
“He’s also a friend of mine. He’s a great person,” Trump added. ” ... When you’re dealing with a corrupt country — if Rudy Giuliani — he’s got credentials because of his reputation... When Rudy Giuliani goes there and you hear it’s a corrupt country, I mean, it means a lot.”
Trump did not address what he actually told Giuliani to do.

Trump call
A focus of the inquiry is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open two investigations.
One involved Joe Biden, a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election, and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Trump has accused Biden of corruption, but has not provided evidence. Biden has denied wrongdoing.
The other investigation involved a debunked conspiracy theory promoted by Trump and his allies that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 US presidential election to hurt his candidacy and boost Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Trump touted that theory again on Friday.
US intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller determined that Russia used a campaign of propaganda and hacking to interfere in the election to try to help Trump win.
Testimony in the impeachment inquiry has shown that Trump in May instructed top US officials to work with Giuliani on Ukraine policy. This came after the president removed Marie Yovanovitch as US ambassador to Ukraine at Giuliani’s urging even as the former mayor was pressing officials in Kiev to conduct the two investigations.
Democrats also are looking into whether Trump abused his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Kiev into digging up dirt on his political adversaries. The money — approved by the US Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country — was provided to Ukraine in September only after the controversy spilled into public view.
Trump said Ukraine is “known as being the third most corrupt country in the world.”
“Are we going to be sending massive amounts of money to a country and they’re corrupt and they steal the money and it goes into everybody’s bank account?” Trump told Fox News.
Ukraine ranked 120 out of the 180 countries assessed in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2018. Its score of 32 out of 100 on the index, which is widely used by companies when deciding where to do business, indicates Ukraine has serious corruption issues.
If the Democratic-led House approved articles of impeachment — formal charges — against Trump, the Senate would then hold a trial on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for removing him.
“I want a trial,” Trump told Fox News.


Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’

Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’
Updated 11 min 46 sec ago

Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’

Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’
  • Sudesh Amman shot dead by police in February 2020 after stabbing 2 people
  • Prison officers found note in his cell in which he pledged allegiance to Daesh

LONDON: A terrorist who stabbed two people in south London last year had become increasingly violent and radicalized while in prison, where he is reported to have said he “wanted to kill the queen,” an inquest heard on Tuesday.

Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police in February 2020, 10 days after leaving prison on an early release.

Jurors at the central London inquest heard how Amman discussed becoming a suicide bomber and openly expressed his “extreme” views in prison.

After being released in January 2020, Amman, 20, was placed under constant armed surveillance, and there were concerns about his exit from prison.

He went on to injure a man and woman in a sudden knife attack in south London on Feb. 2 last year, before being shot dead by the team that was tracking his movements.

He was sentenced to 40 months in jail for preparing and engaging in acts of terrorism, but he was given an early release on Jan. 23, 2020, which sparked concerns.

The inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice was shown a prison report on Amman that detailed how he had “been shouting different things on the wings such as ‘this place is full of non-believers’ ... and ‘everyone here will come under the black flag (the symbol of Daesh)’.”

About a month before he was released on license, prison officers found a note in his cell in which Amman had pledged his allegiance to Daesh.

He also “appeared proud of being the youngest terrorist offender in Belmarsh (prison)” and “didn’t seem remorseful,” the inquest was told.

Leon Campbell, a probation officer, assessed that Amman was a high risk to the public, and that he could cause serious harm “due to his promoting of extremist ideas … and wanting to carry out a terrorist act.”

Jurors were told that a senior officer in London’s Metropolitan Police wrote to the governor of Belmarsh prison on Jan. 15, 2020, to request a delay to Amman’s release.

The request was rejected, with the officer reportedly being told that a delay to Amman’s release was impossible.


Head of group for exiled Belarusians found hanged in Ukraine

Head of group for exiled Belarusians found hanged in Ukraine
Updated 03 August 2021

Head of group for exiled Belarusians found hanged in Ukraine

Head of group for exiled Belarusians found hanged in Ukraine
  • Vitaly Shishov, leader of the Kyiv-based Belarusian House in Ukraine, was found hanged in a park not far from his home, police said
  • A probe has been launched, with police investigating whether it was a suicide or a murder made to look like suicide

KYIV, Ukraine: A Belarusian activist who ran a group in Ukraine helping Belarusians fleeing persecution was found dead in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, local police said Tuesday.
Vitaly Shishov, leader of the Kyiv-based Belarusian House in Ukraine, was found hanged in one of the city’s parks not far from his home, police said in a statement.
A probe has been launched, with police investigating whether it was a suicide or a murder made to look like suicide, head of Ukraine’s National Police Igor Klymenko told reporters on Tuesday.
The Belarusian House in Ukraine reported Monday that Shishov had gone missing during a morning run. The Belarusian human rights center Viasna cited Shishov’s friends as saying that he has recently been followed by strangers during his runs.
The Belarusian House in Ukraine helps Belarusians fleeing persecution with their legal status in Ukraine, accommodation and employment.
In Belarus in recent weeks, authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media, conducting more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists in July alone, and detaining dozens of people.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he has denounced as “bandits and foreign agents.”
Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
Belarus’ authoritarian government has at times gone to extremes in its crackdown on dissent, including recently diverting a plane to the capital of Minsk and arresting a dissident aboard.
The Belarusian House in Ukraine said in a statement Tuesday that Shishov was forced to move to Ukraine in the fall of 2020, when antigovernment protests and crackdown on demonstrators in Belarus were in full swing.
In Ukraine, he was under surveillance, and “both local sources and our people in Belarus” have alerted the group to the possibility of “various provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation.”
“There is no doubt that this was a planned operation by security operatives to liquidate a Belarusian, dangerous for the regime. We will continue to fight for the truth about Vitaly’s death,” the group said.
Yury Shchuchko from the Belarusian House in Ukraine told The Associated Press that Shishov was found with marks of beating on his face. “Nothing was stolen, he was in regular clothes people put on to work out, and he only had his phone with him,” Shchuchko said.
He also said that Shishov has previously noticed surveillance during his runs and that strangers would approach him and try to start a conversation.
“We have been warned to be more careful, because a network of Belarus KGB agents is operating here and everything is possible,” Shchuchko said. “Vitaly asked me to take care of his loved ones, he had a weird feeling.”
Klymenko of the National Police told reporters on Tuesday that there were indeed injuries discovered on Shishov’s body — scratched skin on his nose, a cut on his lip and an injury on his left knee. He wouldn’t say, however, whether these resulted from violence. Klymenko added that police haven’t received any complaints about surveillance from Shishov.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger in the August 2020 election who left for Lithuania under pressure from the authorities, expressed condolences to Shishov’s family on Tuesday.
“Belarusians can’t be safe even abroad, as long as there are those who are trying to inflict revenge on them,” Tsikhnaouskaya said in an online statement.
“Vitaly Shishov was helping Belarusians and was found hanged ... It happened on another country’s soil. Just like the hostage-taking took place on another country’s plane. Just like the attempt to forcefully bring a disloyal athlete back to Belarus from another country’s territory,” she said.
Earlier this week, Belarus Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya accused the country’s officials of hustling her to the airport and trying to put her on a plane back to Belarus after she publicly criticized the management of her team at the Tokyo Games. Tsimanouskaya refused to board the plane and instead will seek refuge in Europe.
In an interview Tuesday, she told the AP she feared she wouldn’t be safe in Belarus.
European officials on Tuesday urged Ukraine to conduct a thorough investigation into the death of the activist.
“We are deeply shocked by the news of the death of the Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov,” Austria’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter. “Our thoughts are with his loved ones. Austria calls for a thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances leading to his death.”
Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, told reporters in Geneva that the office hoped the authorities in Ukraine would conduct “a thorough, impartial and effective investigation on what happened and see if it was just a suicide, if it was a regular criminal murder, or if there is a relation with his activism.”


Sydney’s ticket out of COVID-19 lockdown? Six million vaccine jabs

Sydney’s ticket out of COVID-19 lockdown? Six million vaccine jabs
Updated 03 August 2021

Sydney’s ticket out of COVID-19 lockdown? Six million vaccine jabs

Sydney’s ticket out of COVID-19 lockdown? Six million vaccine jabs
  • A lifting of restrictions in the country’s most populous city and its surrounds in New South Wales state would be a boost for Prime Minister Scott Morrison

CANBERRA: Australian authorities said they could ease a COVID-19 lockdown that demands Sydney’s five million people stay home until the end of August if half the population is vaccinated, even as new infections linger near a 16-month high.
A lifting of restrictions in the country’s most populous city and its surrounds in New South Wales state would be a boost for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, under intense pressure for his government’s handling of the vaccine rollout, with the threat of a second economic recession in as many years looming.
New South Wales, which accounts for a third of all activity in Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.47 trillion) economy, has struggled to contain a surge of cases of the highly infectious Delta variant in Sydney despite the lockdown, currently due to be lifted on Aug. 29.
While the state on Tuesday reported another 199 locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours — near a 16-month high of 239 infections recorded in one day last week — Premier Gladys Berejiklian said curbs could be eased if six million people in New South Wales are vaccinated by the time the lockdown is due to end.
“Six million jabs is roughly half the population with at least one or two doses,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney. “That gives us additional options as to what life looks like on 29 August.”
Berejiklian didn’t say exactly how many in New South Wales were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, but said the state is on course to meet its vaccination target. She cautioned the number of people in the community while infectious would also need to come down.
Although Australia has largely kept its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 34,500 cases and 925 deaths, its national vaccination rollout has hit several roadblocks due to changing medical advice on AstraZeneca doses over blood clot concerns and supply constraints for Pfizer inoculation.
The target in New South Wales comes just days after national premier Morrison promised lockdowns would be “less likely” once the country inoculates 70 percent of its population above 16 years of age — a long way from the current 19 percent level. Morrison expects to hit the 70 percent mark by the end of the year.
On Tuesday Morrison rejected the idea of offering people financial incentives to boost vaccination rates.
“If do have hesitancy about vaccine, I am not going to pay them off,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
The PM also released the modeling behind the national strategy which showed Australia would need to vaccinate seven in 10 people to control the spread of the virus without economically damaging lockdowns.
The modelling, by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, also called for younger Australians to be the next focus of the vaccine campaign.
Once vulnerable Australians were inoculated, “uptake by young adults (aged 16 and over) will strongly influence the impact of vaccination on overall transmission,” notes published alongside the modelling said.
The lockdown of Sydney is expected to see the Australian economy shrink in the current quarter, and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has warned the length of the stay-at-home orders will determine whether a recession can be avoided.
Despite the ongoing threat to the economy, the Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday said it would stick with its plan to taper bond buying from September, contravening marketing expectations.
Meanwhile, Queensland state said on Tuesday it has reported 16 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number of new cases in a year.


‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN

‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN
Updated 03 August 2021

‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN

‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN
  • In Herat, another city under siege, hundreds of residents chanted from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Afghan forces battled the Taliban for control of a key provincial capital Tuesday, as the United Nations warned “indiscriminate” gunfire and air strikes were hurting civilians the most.
Officials said insurgents had seized more than a dozen local radio and TV stations in Lashkar Gah — capital of Helmand province and the scene of days of fierce fighting — leaving only one pro-Taliban channel broadcasting Islamic programming.
In Herat, another city under siege, hundreds of residents chanted from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault.
The hard-line Islamist group has seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal in early May, but are meeting resistance as they try to take provincial capitals.
That urban fighting, however, is taking its toll on civilians.
“Taliban ground offensive & ANA air strikes causing most harm,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tweeted Tuesday, referring to the Afghan national army.
“Deep concerns about indiscriminate shooting & damage to/occupation of health facilities & civilian homes.”
“Fighting was intense this morning,” said Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in Helmand’s capital, whose station was captured by the Taliban.
“We stopped broadcasting two days ago because the Taliban captured the building of our station.”
Afghan officials said Tuesday that 11 radio and four television stations in the city had been seized by the Taliban.
“Terrorists do not want the media to publish the facts and expose their injustices,” the Ministry of Information and Culture said.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.
In Herat, Afghan officials said government forces had managed to push back the insurgents from several areas of the city — including near the airport, which is vital for resupplies.
“Afghan security forces plus resistance forces launched a big operation in west of the city,” Jailani Farhad, spokesman for Herat’s governor, said.


COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount
Updated 03 August 2021

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount
  • A resurgent virus has returned with a vengeance, buoyed by stalling vaccination rates and deadly new mutations

BEIJING: Authorities in China’s Wuhan said Tuesday they would test the city’s entire population for COVID-19, as the virus returned to the place where it first emerged and the highly contagious Delta variant drove tightening lockdowns worldwide.
A resurgent virus has returned with a vengeance, buoyed by stalling vaccination rates and deadly new mutations even in places which had long touted their successes in overcoming the worst of the pandemic.
China brought domestic cases down to virtually zero after the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, allowing the economy to rebound and life to return largely to normal.
But a fresh outbreak has thrown that record into jeopardy, as the fast-spreading Delta variant reaches dozens of cities after infections among airport cleaners in Nanjing sparked a chain of cases that have been reported across the country.
In Wuhan — where the virus first emerged in December 2019 and which faced a grueling lockdown in the early months of the pandemic — authorities said they were launching a mass-testing program for all 11 million residents.
And across China, authorities have confined the residents of entire cities to their homes, cut domestic transport links and rolled out mass testing in recent days as the country battles its largest coronavirus outbreak in months.
Millions are also still under movement restrictions in Australia, where troops Monday hit the streets of the country’s largest city of Sydney and surrounding areas, which are entering the sixth week of a lockdown set to run until the end of August.
Authorities have been struggling to stop the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant in the city — and to ensure that residents follow containment rules — with more than 3,600 cases recorded since mid-June.
With about 15 percent of Australia’s 25 million people fully vaccinated, authorities are still relying on lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus.