Trump ‘terminates’ defense secretary Mark Esper

Trump ‘terminates’ defense secretary Mark Esper
US President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak to the media a White House press briefing. Trump fired Esper and said Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will be acting Secretary of Defense. (File/Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 10 November 2020

Trump ‘terminates’ defense secretary Mark Esper

Trump ‘terminates’ defense secretary Mark Esper
  • Trump replaces him with Christopher Miller, counterterrorism head
  • Trump split with Esper over a range of issues

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Monday that he had “terminated” Defense Secretary Mark Esper, appearing to use his final months in office after his election defeat to settle scores within his administration.
Trump split with Esper over a range of issues and was particularly angered by Esper’s public opposition to Trump’s threats to use active duty military forces this summer to suppress street protests over racial injustice after police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Democrats reacted with alarm, saying Trump’s move sent a dangerous message to America’s adversaries and dimmed hopes for an orderly transition as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.
“The abrupt firing of Secretary Esper is disturbing evidence that President Trump is intent on using his final days in office to sow chaos in our American Democracy and around the world,” said House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Representative Adam Smith, the Democrat who leads the House Armed Services Committee, condemned Trump’s decision as “childish” and “reckless.”
Trump said on Twitter that Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, was taking over as acting secretary of defense.
“Mark Esper has been terminated,” Trump said in a tweet, adding that Miller would be acting secretary “effective immediately.”

A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows called Esper to alert him that Trump would be firing him through Twitter.
As Trump put into motion a quick, unceremonious exit for Esper, Miller arrived at the Pentagon building just an hour or so after Trump’s announcement — before the Pentagon itself had even issued a statement acknowledging Esper’s dismissal.
It was unclear if Esper was still in the building at the time Miller arrived.
Sources said Esper had long been preparing for his resignation or dismissal following last week’s election, particularly if Trump were to win a second term in office. The fact that he dismissed Esper even after losing the election, however, was not a given.
MORE FIRINGS?
Paul Frymer, professor of politics at Princeton University, said Trump’s firing-via-Twitter was “typical of his whole presidency” and cautioned it could spell danger for Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has also clashed with Trump.
“He can’t control his impulses or temper and he demands loyalty to him over policy, constitution or anything else,” Frymer said.

Trump has had an uneasy relationship with the Pentagon, where Esper and top brass have repeatedly sought to avoid being seen as a political instrument of the Trump administration.
Esper’s predecessor, Jim Mattis, quit in 2018 over policy differences with Trump, including on Syria. Mattis in June criticized Trump as the “first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us.”
Like Mattis, Esper also disagreed with Trump’s dismissive attitude toward the NATO alliance and was wary of Trump’s inclination to see US military alliances through an explicitly transactional lens even as he backed Trump’s calls for allies to increase defense spending, sources said.
But he also split with Trump on headline-grabbing issues, including Esper’s desire to shield Alexander Vindman, then a lieutenant colonel working at the White House, from retaliation over his testimony in Trump’s impeachment inquiry.
Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institute think-tank said he did not believe Trump was likely to embark on a damaging shakeup of US national security policy despite firing Esper.
“He will want to believe he has some kind of reasonable legacy — in economics, in strengthening the military, in not starting new wars,” O’Hanlon said, noting Trump might want to try to run for office again in 2024.


UK court increases jail term for Muslim-hating far-right terrorist

UK court increases jail term for Muslim-hating far-right terrorist
Updated 11 sec ago

UK court increases jail term for Muslim-hating far-right terrorist

UK court increases jail term for Muslim-hating far-right terrorist
  • Michael Nugent, 38, celebrated the Christchurch mosque massacre and distributed bomb-making manuals online
  • Previous sentence of 42 months did not reflect the “gravity” of his crimes, judges said on Friday

LONDON: A convicted white-supremacist terrorist who shared bomb-making instructions online and celebrated the Christchurch mosque massacre has had 18 months added to his jail term by appeal-court judges in London.

Michael Nugent, 38, shared on the Telegram messaging app manuals that showed how to create homemade bombs and firearms, and described the attacks on worshipers at two mosques in New Zealand in March 2019 as a “game-changer.”

In June a court in Kingston, London, convicted him of terror offenses and jailed him for 42 months. But on Friday his sentence was increased to five years after a challenge by the UK’s attorney general, who argued that the penalty was not harsh enough given the seriousness of the crimes.

Nugent was said to have “honored” right-wing terrorists such as Brenton Tarrant, who shot and killed 51 people and injured 40 when he attacked the mosques in Christchurch. Tarrant live-streamed the atrocity on Facebook.

The Independent newspaper reported that Nugent created a video celebrating the attacks to mark the first anniversary of the outrage. In his diary, he wrote that ethnic minorities should be “sent home” and “sterilized,” adding: “Terrorism is the only way out of it.”

Judges said on Friday that the 42-month sentence Nugent was handed in June did not reflect the “obvious gravity” of his online radicalization efforts, which included running Telegram groups that could host up to 200,000 members.

A prosecutor said: “This channel attracted and became a safe haven for anyone who wished to post messages expressing and encouraging extreme racial hatred and violence toward black people.”

Nugent was apprehended after he passed instructions for making bombs and firearms to an undercover police officer who joined his channel.

His defense tried to argue that the terrorist’s actions were a product of deteriorating mental health, but Richard Smith, head of London’s Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, said: “Nugent freely shared his abhorrent extremist views with others over a messaging app and he passed on manuals detailing how to produce deadly weapons and explosive devices. This is another case which shows how harmful online extremism is.”


Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from Covid

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from Covid
Updated 22 October 2021

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from Covid

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from Covid
  • Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece's tourism industry
  • Pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector

ATHENS: The number of foreign tourists arriving in Greece has rebounded strongly this year, central bank data released Friday showed, but the key tourism sector still remains far below pre-pandemic levels.
Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece’s tourism industry, which accounts for a fifth of the overall economy, but pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector.
Greek central bank data showed that the number of tourist arrivals has jumped 80 percent this year to over 8.6 million.
Meanwhile, spending by tourists during the first eight months of the year has shot up by over 135 percent to nearly 6.6 billion euros ($7.7 billion), the Bank of Greece said in a statement.
But those figures are still far off the level in 2019, before the pandemic, when some 21.8 million tourists spent 13.2 billion euros.
Ahead of the peak summer tourism season, Greece ran a major campaign to voluntarily vaccinate most residents if its Aegean islands, its most popular travel destinations, to help lure back foreign tourists.
Most of the arrivals came from Germany, Britain, France and the United States.
Greece’s economy contracted by 9.0 percent in 2020, due in no small part to the drop in tourists.
The government expects the economy to rebound 6.1 percent this year and grow by 4.5 percent in 2022.


Holidaying Brits stranded in Morocco as North African kingdom cuts flights

Morocco banned travelers to and from the UK on Wednesday in response to rapidly rising coronavirus disease cases in Britain. (AP/File Photo)
Morocco banned travelers to and from the UK on Wednesday in response to rapidly rising coronavirus disease cases in Britain. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 22 October 2021

Holidaying Brits stranded in Morocco as North African kingdom cuts flights

Morocco banned travelers to and from the UK on Wednesday in response to rapidly rising coronavirus disease cases in Britain. (AP/File Photo)
  • Sky-high coronavirus cases prompted Morocco to ban flights to and from the UK
  • Flights suspended for ‘an unspecified period,’ the British government said

LONDON: Britons stuck in Morocco have no idea how they will get back to the UK after the North African kingdom banned flights from Britain and airlines ceased operating the route.

Morocco banned travelers to and from the UK on Wednesday in response to rapidly rising coronavirus disease cases in Britain.

The UK had more than 52,000 new infections on Thursday, compared with 6,000 in France and 2,500 in Spain.

Figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control showed that Morocco’s weekly rate of reported COVID-19 cases on Oct. 14 stood at just 10.4 per 100,000 people. The current rate in the UK is 445.5 per 100,000 people.

The UK Foreign Office updated its travel advice to reflect the ban, calling it a “suspension for an unspecified period.”

It added: “Travelers affected by flight cancelations should contact their airline or tour operator for advice on alternative routes via third countries (eg France, Spain) where flights are operating as normal.”

EasyJet, one of Europe’s largest air carriers, said on Thursday that it had received confirmation from Moroccan authorities that airlines would be allowed to operate scheduled flights back to the UK to take people home. A spokeswoman said that customers would be contacted “as soon as possible.”

However, some took to Twitter to complain that they had been told to come to the airport by easyJet, only to find out that their repatriation flight had been canceled.

It is not yet clear exactly how many Brits are stuck in Morocco, but there are usually more than 50 commercial flights from London to the kingdom each week, with seats for an estimated 6,500 passengers.

Morocco is a popular destination for British travelers, especially during the colder months, where the North African country’s warmer climate provides a much-needed respite from the British weather. 

Morocco has also banned flights to and from Germany and the Netherlands, because of their high COVID-19 caseloads.


Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine more than 90 percent effective in kids

Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine more than 90 percent effective in kids
Updated 22 October 2021

Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine more than 90 percent effective in kids

Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine more than 90 percent effective in kids
  • Shots could begin in early November with the first children in line fully protected by Christmas if regulators give the go-ahead
  • FDA was expected to post its independent review of the company's safety and effectiveness data later in the day

DUBAI: Kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appear safe and nearly 91 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infections in 5- to 11-year-olds, according to study details released Friday as the US considers opening vaccinations to that age group.
The shots could begin in early November — with the first children in line fully protected by Christmas — if regulators give the go-ahead.
Details of Pfizer’s study were posted online. The Food and Drug Administration was expected to post its independent review of the company’s safety and effectiveness data later in the day.
Advisers to the FDA will publicly debate the evidence next week. If the agency ultimately authorizes the shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make the final decision on who should receive them.
Full-strength Pfizer shots already are authorized for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem rising infections from the extra-contagious delta variant and help keep kids in school.
More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers already have signed up to get the shots into little arms.
The Biden administration has purchased enough kid-size doses — in special orange-capped vials to distinguish them from adult vaccine — for the nation’s roughly 28 million 5- to 11-year-olds. If the vaccine is cleared, millions of doses will be promptly shipped around the country, along with kid-size needles.
A Pfizer study tracked 2,268 kids in that age group who got two shots three weeks apart of either a placebo or the low-dose vaccine. Each dose was one-third the amount given to teens and adults.
Researchers calculated the low-dose vaccine was nearly 91 percent effective, based on 16 COVID-19 cases in youngsters given dummy shots versus three cases among vaccinated children. There were no severe illnesses reported among any of the youngsters, but the vaccinated ones had much milder symptoms than their unvaccinated counterparts.
In addition, young children given the low-dose shots developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teens and young adults who got regular-strength vaccinations.
That’s important information considering that hospitalizations of mostly unvaccinated children reached record levels last month.
The CDC reported earlier this week that even as the delta mutant surged between June and September, Pfizer vaccinations were 93 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations among 12- to 18-year-olds.
Pfizer’s study of younger kids found the low-dose shots proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects such as sore arms, fever or achiness that teens experience.
The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second dose, mostly in young men.
While children run a lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 has killed more than 630 Americans 18 and under, according to the CDC. Nearly 6.2 million children have been infected with the coronavirus, more than 1.1 million in the last six weeks as the delta mutant surged, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Moderna also is studying its COVID-19 shots in elementary school-age youngsters. Pfizer and Moderna are studying even younger children as well, down to 6-month-olds. Results are expected later in the year.


Italian political leader praises stronger Saudi ties ahead of Rome G20 Summit

Italian political leader praises stronger Saudi ties ahead of Rome G20 Summit
Updated 22 October 2021

Italian political leader praises stronger Saudi ties ahead of Rome G20 Summit

Italian political leader praises stronger Saudi ties ahead of Rome G20 Summit
  • Parliamentary speaker says cooperation in fight against terrorism ‘particularly important’
  • Calls for ‘commonly agreed strategy’ on migrants, saying ‘raising walls will not solve the issue’

ROME: Cooperation between Italy and Saudi Arabia in the fight against international terrorism has been praised by one of Italy’s key political figures who also called for the two countries to work closely together to deal with the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean as well as conflicts throughout the Middle East.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News ahead of the G20 Rome Summit, the Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Roberto Fico appealed for a “commonly agreed strategy” to manage the migrant and refugee issue, adding that Europe has an important role to play and “must provide a collective response.”

Fico, 46, has presided over the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Italy’s bicameral Parliament, since 2018 and is one of the most powerful figures in the country’s political hierarchy.

He is a leading voice in the Five Star Movement, the populist party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo that has played a central role in Italian coalition governments since 2018.

During his time in office Fico has been a powerful advocate for human rights worldwide, economic sustainability, environmentally friendly policies, and common access to essentials such as clean drinking water.

Fico told Arab News that he has high expectations of the G20 Rome Summit on Oct. 30-31, with Italy hosting the event after the 2020 forum was staged in Riyadh.

“The opportunities for debate on a multilateral level are most important because they make it possible to address complex issues affecting the entire planet, and to do so by bringing together all the main players involved,” he said.

A recent meeting of G20 parliamentary speakers that Fico co-chaired with Italian Senate President Elisabetta Casellati “confirmed the importance of debating these issues together and finding common solutions.”

Fico said that he believed the G20 Summit will help Italy’s recovery from the social and economic effects of the global pandemic.

“Italy has paid a very high price in human lives. The country is now in a recovery phase, but we still need to be very careful,” he said.

“Italy has been hit hard and has reacted in an extraordinary manner. Now we need to work on the health front and, at the same time, on our economic and social recovery, as we are indeed doing with a package of reforms to implement the Next Generation EU plan.”

Fico said relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia “have evolved in recent years, and cooperation in the area of anti-terrorism is particularly important.”

He added: “I am convinced, however, that more can be done in the area of human and civil rights, and in the management of crises and conflicts in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.”

Fico called for the global community to adopt “a commonly agreed strategy” to deal with the migrant crisis, with thousands of people risking their lives trying to reach Italy from Libya and Tunisia.

Italy is on the frontline of the crisis, he said, but Europe has a key role to play. “It must provide a collective response, hopefully with a single voice, to meet both the challenge of receiving them and, above all, the challenge of cooperation,” he added.

“No one can think of solving a problem as vast and complex as migration by raising walls. We need to devise solutions that are consistent with international law, and jointly agreed with the countries of origin and transit, in order to ensure the orderly management of migration flows.”

He also called for “a commitment to block foreign influence on the electoral process that the Libyans want and are working on.”