US House backs commission on Jan. 6 Capitol riot over Republican Party objections

Protesters seen all over Capitol building where pro-Trump supporters riot and breached the Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Shutterstock)
Protesters seen all over Capitol building where pro-Trump supporters riot and breached the Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 20 May 2021

US House backs commission on Jan. 6 Capitol riot over Republican Party objections

US House backs commission on Jan. 6 Capitol riot over Republican Party objections
  • 35 Republicans voted with Democrats in support of the commission, defying Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy

WASHINGTON: The House voted Wednesday to create an independent commission on the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, sending the legislation to an uncertain future in the Senate as Republican leaders work to stop a bipartisan investigation that is opposed by former President Donald Trump.
Democrats say an independent investigation is crucial to reckoning what happened that day, when a violent mob of Trump’s supporters smashed into the Capitol to try and overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. Modeled after the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the legislation would establish an independent, 10-member commission that would make recommendations by the end of the year for securing the Capitol and preventing another insurrection.
The bill passed the House 252-175, with 35 Republicans voting with Democrats in support of the commission, defying Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. Trump issued a statement urging Republicans to vote against it, calling the legislation a “Democrat trap.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is trying to prevent defections among his own ranks, echoing McCarthy’s opposition in a Senate floor speech Wednesday morning. Both men claimed the bill was partisan, even though membership of the proposed commission would be evenly split between the parties.
The January insurrection has become an increasingly fraught topic for Republicans, with a growing number in the party downplaying the severity of the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years. While most Republicans voted against forming the commission, only a few spoke on the floor against it. And the handful of Republicans who backed the commission spoke forcefully.
“This is about facts — it’s not partisan politics,” said New York Rep. John Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee who negotiated the legislation with Democrats. He said “the American people and the Capitol Police deserve answers, and action as soon as possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, said that Jan. 6 “is going to haunt this institution for a long, long time” and that a commission is necessary to find the truth about what happened. He recalled that he “heard the shouts, saw the flash-bangs, smelled the gas on that sorry day.”
Democrats grew angry as some Republicans suggested the commission was only intended to smear Trump. Several shared their own memories of the insurrection, when rioters brutally beat police, broke in through windows and doors and sent lawmakers running. Four of the rioters died, including a woman who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into the House chamber. A Capitol Police officer collapsed and died after engaging with the protesters, and two officers took their own lives in the days after.
“We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol Police with lead pipes across the head, and we can’t get bipartisanship? What else has to happen in this country?” shouted Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, on the floor just before the vote. He said the GOP opposition is “a slap in the face to every rank and file cop in the United States.”
The vote was yet another test of Republican loyalty to Trump, whose grip on the party remains strong despite his election defeat. House Republicans booted Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from their leadership last week for her criticism of Trump’s false claims, installing a Trump loyalist in her place. Cheney, in turn, suggested to ABC News that a commission could subpoena McCarthy because he spoke to Trump during the insurrection.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called McCarthy’s opposition to the commission “cowardice.” She released a February letter from the GOP leader in which he asked for an even split of Democrats and Republican commissioners, equal subpoena power and no predetermined findings or conclusions. The bipartisan legislation accommodates all three of those requests, she said.
“Leader McCarthy won’t take yes for an answer,” she said.
In the Senate, McConnell’s announcement dimmed the prospects for passage, as Democrats would need at least ten Republicans to vote with them. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed to force a vote on the bill, charging that Republicans are “caving” to Trump.
Schumer said that Republicans are trying to “sabotage the commission” and are “drunk” off Trump’s baseless claim that the election was stolen from him. That false assertion, repeated by the mob as the rioters broke into the Capitol, has been rebuked by numerous courts, bipartisan election officials across the country and Trump’s own attorney general.
Like in the House, some Senate Republicans have suggested they will support the legislation.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said Tuesday that given the violent attack, “we should understand what mistakes were made and how we could prevent them from happening again.” Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said he doesn’t agree with McConnell that the bill is slanted toward Democrats and “I’m inclined to support it.”
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said that she supports the idea of a commission but that the House bill would need adjustments.
Others have pushed their colleagues to oppose the commission. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, is working on a report with his Democratic colleagues that will include recommendations for security upgrades. He said an independent investigation would take too long and “frankly, I don’t think there are that many gaps to be filled in on what happened on Jan. 6, as it relates to building security.”
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, cited concern in the caucus that the investigation could be “weaponized politically” in the 2022 election cycle.
“I want our midterm message to be about the kinds of issues that the American people are dealing with,” Thune said. “It’s jobs and wages and the economy, national security, safe streets, strong borders and those types of issues, and not relitigating the 2020 election.”
Separately Wednesday, aides to Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., circulated a letter they said was from a group of around 40 to 50 anonymous US Capitol Police officers who had been speaking with the congressman.
“It is inconceivable that some of the Members we protect would downplay the events of January 6th,” the letter reads. “It is a privileged assumption for Members to have the point of view that ‘it wasn’t that bad.’ That privilege exists because the brave men and women of the USCP protected you, the Members.”
The letter was quickly repudiated by Capitol Police leaders, who said the agency doesn’t take any position on legislative matters.
Raskin said in an interview Wednesday evening that the officers approached his office with the letter, and that they and their families have been traumatized about what happened on the 6th. Raskin said “they can’t believe there is dissension in the Congress” about the simple facts of the insurrection.


Explosion at German chemical complex declared extreme threat

Explosion at German chemical complex declared extreme threat
Updated 5 min 5 sec ago

Explosion at German chemical complex declared extreme threat

Explosion at German chemical complex declared extreme threat
  • Police in nearby Cologne said they did not have any information on the cause or size of the explosion

BERLIN: An explosion at an industrial park for chemical companies shook the German city of Leverkusen on Tuesday, sending a large black cloud rising into the air.
Germany’s Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance classified the explosion as “an extreme threat” and asked residents to stay inside and keep windows and doors closed, German news agency dpa reported.
Operators of the Chempark site in Leverkusen, about 20 kilometers (13 miles) north of Cologne on the Rhine river, said the cause of the explosion was unclear.
They said on Twitter that firefighters and pollution detection vans had been deployed.
Police in nearby Cologne said they did not have any information on the cause or size of the explosion and were not aware of any injuries at this point. They asked all residents to stay inside and warned people from outside of Leverkusen to avoid the region.
They also shut down several nearby major highways.
Daily Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger reported that the explosion took place in the Buerrig neigbborhood at a garbage incineration plant of the chemical park.
The paper reported that the smoke cloud was moving in a northwestern direction toward the towns of Burscheid and Leichlingen. It said firefighters from all over the region had been called in to help extinguish the fire.
Leverkusen is home to Bayer, one of Germany’s biggest chemical companies.


US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China

US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China
Updated 15 min 1 sec ago

US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China

US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China
  • A top Chinese diplomat took a confrontational tone on Monday in rare high-level talks with the United States

SINGAPORE: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday he was committed to having a constructive relationship with China and working on common challenges as he laid out his vision for ties with Beijing, which have sunk to their lowest point in decades.
The United States has put countering China at the heart of its national security policy for years and President Joe Biden’s administration has called rivalry with Beijing “the biggest geopolitical test” of this century.
While Austin’s speech in Singapore will touch on the usual list of behavior Washington describes as destabilizing, from Taiwan to the South China Sea, his comments about seeking a stable relationship could provide an opening for the two countries to start to reduce tension.
“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened. Yet we do not seek confrontation,” Austin said, according to excerpts of his speech.
“I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army.”
Austin has been unable to speak with any senior Chinese official despite repeated attempts since starting as defense secretary in January.
Even with the tension and heated rhetoric, US military officials have long sought to keep open lines of communication with their Chinese counterparts, to be able to mitigate potential flare-ups or tackle any accidents.
A top Chinese diplomat took a confrontational tone on Monday in rare high-level talks with the United States, accusing it of creating an “imaginary enemy” to divert attention from domestic problems and suppress China.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the second-ranked US diplomat, had arrived on Sunday for the face-to-face meetings in China’s northern city of Tianjin.
“Big powers need to model transparency and communication,” Austin said.
Austin’s speech, which was postponed by a month because of Singapore’s COVID-19 outbreak, is being closely watched by regional nations concerned about China’s increasingly assertive behavior but heavily reliant on access to its large markets.
He is set to visit Vietnam and the Philippines later this week to emphasize the importance of alliances.


NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan
Updated 10 min 19 sec ago

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan
  • Country faces a ‘deeply challenging’ security situation as foreign troops leave

BRUSSELS: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday reiterated calls for a “negotiated settlement” with the Taliban in Afghanistan, admitting the country faced a “deeply challenging” security situation as foreign troops leave.
“The security situation in Afghanistan remains deeply challenging, and requires a negotiated settlement. NATO will continue to support Afghanistan, including with funding; civilian presence; and out-of-country training,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter after speaking to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.


Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law
Updated 27 July 2021

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law
  • Verdict closely watched for indications as to how similar cases will be dealt with in future
  • Defense lawyer: Impossible to prove that Tong Ying-kit was inciting secession merely by having used the slogan

HONG KONG: The first person to be tried under Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law was found guilty of secessionism and terrorism on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong High Court handed down the verdict in the case of Tong Ying-kit, age 24. He’s accused of driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers while carrying a flag bearing the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” on July 1 last year, a day after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on Hong Kong following months of anti-government protests in 2019.

The verdict was closely watched for indications as to how similar cases will be dealt with in future. More than 100 people have been arrested under the security legislation.

Tong pleaded not guilty to charges of inciting secession, terrorism and an alternative charge of dangerous driving. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty.

The trial, which ended July 20, was held in the High Court with no jury, under rules allowing this exception from Hong Kong’s common law system if state secrets need to be protected, foreign forces are involved or if the personal safety of jurors needs to be protected. Trials are presided over by judges handpicked by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

Tong’s defense lawyer has said it’s impossible to prove that Tong was inciting secession merely by having used the slogan.

The defense also said there is no evidence that Tong committed the act deliberately, that he avoided crashing into officers and that his actions couldn’t be considered terrorism since there was no serious violence or harm to society.

While Hong Kong has its own Legislative Council, Beijing’s ceremonial legislature imposed the national security law on the semiautonomous city after it determined the body was unable to pass the legislation itself because of political opposition.

That followed the increasingly violent 2019 protests against China’s growing influence over the city’s affairs, despite commitments to allow the city to maintain its own system for 50 years after the 1997 handover from British rule.

China’s legislature has mandated changes to the makeup of the city’s Legislative Council to ensure an overwhelming pro-Beijing majority, and required that only those it determines “patriots” can hold office.

Authorities have banned the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” stating that it has secessionist connotations. Library books and school curricula have also been investigated for alleged secessionist messages.

Hong Kong’s last remaining pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced out of business last month and a court denied bail for four editors and journalists held on charges of endangering national security as part of the widening crackdown.

Beijing has dismissed criticisms, saying it is merely restoring order to the city and instituting they same type of national security protections found in other countries.


Koreas restore communication channels, agree to improve ties

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP file photo)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP file photo)
Updated 27 July 2021

Koreas restore communication channels, agree to improve ties

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP file photo)
  • Some experts earlier said North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States or South Korea if its economic difficulties worsen

SEOUL, South Korea: North and South Korea have restored suspended communication channels between them and their leaders agreed to improve ties, both governments said Tuesday, despite a 2 ½ year-stalemate in US-led diplomacy aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reached the agreement during several exchanges of letters since April, the presidential office in Seoul said.
The two leaders agreed to “restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible,” Blue House spokesman Park Soo Hyun said in a televised briefing. Park said the two Koreas subsequently reopened communication channels on Tuesday morning.
North Korea’s state media quickly confirmed the South Korean announcement.
“Now, the whole Korean nation desires to see the North-South relations recovered from setback and stagnation as early as possible,” the official Korean Central News Agency said. “In this regard, the top leaders of the North and the South agreed to make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters.”
Last year, North Korea cut off all communication channels with South Korea in protest of what it calls South Korea’s failure to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their border. Some experts said the North Korean action signaled the North had grown frustrated that Seoul has failed to revive lucrative inter-Korean economic projects and persuade the United States to ease sanctions.
The nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have made little headway since early 2019, when the second of three summits between Kim and then-President Donald Trump collapsed. Kim has since threatened to bolster his nuclear arsenal and build more sophisticated weapons unless the Americans lifts policies the North considers hostile — believed to refer to the longstanding U.S-led sanctions.
Some experts earlier said North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States or South Korea if its economic difficulties worsen. Mismanagement, storm damage and border shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic have further depleted North Korea’s economy and Kim in recent speeches called for his people to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions. While his remarks may indicate the potential for a worsening economic situation, outside monitoring groups haven’t seen signs of mass starvation or social chaos in the country of 26 million people.
Tuesday marks the 68th anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The Koreas remain split along the world’s most heavily fortified border since the war’s end.
About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.