US House quickly defeats Republican hardliners’ effort to oust Speaker Johnson

US House quickly defeats Republican hardliners’ effort to oust Speaker Johnson
Republican hardliners Marjorie Taylor Greene and Thomas Massie speak to members of the press on the steps of the House of Representatives at the US Capitol on May 8, 2024 after the House voted overwhelmingly to defeat Greene's motion to oust Speaker Johnson from his leadership position. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 09 May 2024
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US House quickly defeats Republican hardliners’ effort to oust Speaker Johnson

US House quickly defeats Republican hardliners’ effort to oust Speaker Johnson
  • Democrats joined Republicans in a 359-43 vote to protect Johnson’s speakership to avoid a replay of the chaos that occurred in October
  • Hakeem Jeffries, the House's Democratic Party leader, said he hoped to see House Republicans turn against party hard-liners

WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives on Wednesday swiftly and overwhelmingly defeated an effort by firebrand Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene to remove Speaker Mike Johnson, a fellow Republican, from his leadership role.

Democrats joined Republicans in a 359-43 vote to protect Johnson’s speakership, in a bid to avoid a replay of the chaos that occurred in October when Republicans ousted his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy.
Greene’s move represented a rare Republican defiance of presidential candidate Donald Trump, who in a social media post following the House vote on Wednesday, said it was “not the time” for Republicans to try to push out their own speaker.
Greene’s measure, known as a motion to vacate, showcased the disorder that has marked Republicans’ slim 217-213 House majority, particularly since it had been clear that the effort would fail given Democrats’ opposition.
“I appreciate the show of confidence from my colleagues to defeat this misguided effort,” Johnson, 52, said following the vote. “Hopefully this is the end of the character assassination that has characterized the current Congress.”




Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks to members of the press after Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene introduced a motion to vacate on the floor of the House of Representatives seeking to remove Johnson from his leadership position May 8, 2024. (Getty Images/AFP)

Multiple Republicans criticized Greene’s move, including centrist Representative Marc Molinaro.
“This is not an individual who knows how to lead,” Molinaro said of Greene. “She’s not an individual who knows how to negotiate. And she certainly doesn’t seem to have any concern for the stability of the Congress or the people we represent.”
Greene stood flanked by fellow Republican Thomas Massie when she made her move against Johnson, criticizing him for a string of compromises with Democrats, who hold a majority in the Senate.
“Excuses like ‘this is just how you have to govern in divided government’ are pathetic, weak and unacceptable,” Greene said of Johnson. “Even with our razor-thin Republican majority we could have at least secured the border.”

 

 

Taunts and jeers
The chamber erupted in taunts and cheers at points as Greene read her resolution, with Democrats at times chanting “Hakeem, Hakeem,” a reference to their party leader, Hakeem Jeffries, in an echo of the many times they voted for him as speaker during Republicans’ multiple rounds of voting for speaker since the current House was seated in January 2021.
Johnson has angered many hard-liners by enacting bipartisan spending measures to avoid government shutdowns and aid US allies including Ukraine, without insisting on strict security measures for the US-Mexico border that Democrats reject.
The House Republicans’ border security bill had no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate.




House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries speaks to members of the press after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a motion to vacate against Speaker of the House Mike Johnson on May 08, 2024. (Getty Images/AFP)

A bipartisan compromise bill negotiated late last year and early this year in the Senate, with the Biden administration’s approval, was killed by House and Senate Republicans at Trump’s behest.
Johnson could be seen walking around the House floor after Greene began her call on Wednesday for his ouster, with Republican supporters shaking his hand and patting him on the back.
“Republicans have to be fighting the Radical Left Democrats, and all the Damage they have done to our Country,” Trump said in his Wednesday post. “We’re not in a position of voting on a Motion to Vacate. At some point, we may very well be, but this is not the time.”
The situation has bolstered Jeffries, who agreed to save Johnson from ouster after freeing Congress from the road block of Republican infighting by delivering crucial Democratic support for must-pass bills.
Greene in remarks to reporters after the vote did not rule out trying to oust Johnson again.
For his part, Jeffries said he hoped to see House Republicans turn against party hard-liners, saying, “The only thing we ask of our House Republican colleagues is for traditional Republicans to further isolate the extreme MAGA Republican wing of the GOP, which has visited nothing but chaos and dysfunction on the American people.”


White House slams ‘cheapfake’ clips portraying Biden ‘freezing’

White House slams ‘cheapfake’ clips portraying Biden ‘freezing’
Updated 18 June 2024
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White House slams ‘cheapfake’ clips portraying Biden ‘freezing’

White House slams ‘cheapfake’ clips portraying Biden ‘freezing’
  • In one video, an apparently disoriented Biden appears to wander away from fellow world leaders while watching a skydiving display during a G7 summit in Italy last week

WASHINGTON: The White House on Monday criticized Republicans for spreading videos purported to show President Joe Biden’s mental and physical decline, saying the images had been deceptively cut and manipulated.
“It tells you everything that we need to know about how desperate Republicans are here,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, branding the clips as “cheapfake” videos.
Outlets including the New York Post and an official Republican social media account have shared several seemingly damning short videos in recent days of the 81-year-old president.
In one video, an apparently disoriented Biden appears to wander away from fellow world leaders while watching a skydiving display during a G7 summit in Italy last week.
But Jean-Pierre said the footage was misleadingly edited, and Biden instead was moving to give a thumbs up to the parachutists.
“This was widely fact checked ... including by conservative media,” she said at a media briefing, adding “if you run that tape a little bit longer than you’d see ... what was happening.”
Earlier in the week NBC also debunked the claim, posting footage caught by its own cameras from another angle online which showed Biden interacting with the parachutists just a few feet away.
Another widely-shared clip was a close-up shot of Biden standing still as world leaders danced close to him during a concert at the White House — which opponents said showed a state of confusion.
“The president stood there listening to the music, and he didn’t dance. Excuse me. I did not know not dancing was (...) a health issue,” Jean-Pierre said of the video.
And on the weekend, the New York Post again shared a video appearing to show Biden getting lost on stage during a fundraising event in California, before being pointed to an exit by former president Barack Obama.
Andrew Bates, another White House spokesman, said on X that Biden was instead waiting on the stage to appreciate the applause from his supporters.
And Eric Schultz, a senior Obama adviser, posted a link to the Post article on X, writing: “this did not happen.”
Biden’s main rival in the November election, Republican Donald Trump, has made Biden’s advancing age one of his main campaign rallying points, trying to position himself as an energetic alternative — despite being, at 78, just three years younger.
Whoever wins the vote will set a new age record.
Biden is already the oldest man to hold the office and would continue to be so, while if Trump wins, he would become the oldest ever at an inauguration.
 

 


Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
Updated 18 June 2024
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Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
  • Greece has long been accused of carrying out illegal operations to force back migrants

ATHENS: Greece rejected Monday a BBC investigation that alleged its coast guard caused the deaths of dozens of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, denying accusations it had broken international law.
In an investigation published on its website on Monday, the BBC counted 43 migrants it said had died in the Aegean Sea after being turned back by Greek coast guards between May 2020 and May 2023.
Nine of the dead were deliberately thrown overboard, the publicly funded British broadcaster added.
Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis denied the claims.
“We monitor every publication, every investigation, but I repeat: what has been reported is in no way proven,” he said, adding the coast guard “saves dozens of human lives each day.”
Greece has long been accused of carrying out illegal operations to force back migrants braving the perilous crossing from Turkiye’s western coast in the hope of reaching the European Union.
Though Athens has always denied the practice, numerous investigations by international media and rights groups have documented its existence, often with video evidence.
The BBC said its investigation examined 15 such pushback operations over a three-year period.
As well as basing its reporting on local media, NGOs and the Turkish coast guard, the BBC was able to interview eyewitnesses.
They include a Cameroonian national who said he and two other migrants were arrested after landing on the island of Samos in September 2021.
He said the police forced them onto a Greek coast guard boat, beating them as they went, before throwing them out into the water.
He was the only one to survive, with the bodies of his two companions — an Ivorian and another Cameroonian — washing up on the Turkish coast.
The eyewitness’s lawyers are calling for the Greek authorities to open a double murder case into the incident.
The EU said it was aware of the “terrible allegations.”
“Greek authorities, as in all EU member states, must fully respect obligations under the asylum and international law,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told journalists in Brussels.
Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, have entered Greece in recent years from the sea and land borders with Turkiye.
The International Organization for Migration has declared the Mediterranean passage the world’s most perilous migration route.
In 2023, a migrant trawler with hundreds of people on board sank off the Greek coast, killing more than 600 people in one of Europe’s deadliest shipwrecks.
The survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard.
They allege that the coast guard took hours to mount a response to the sinking ship, despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone.


Reclusive Taliban leader warns Afghans against earning money or gaining ‘worldly honor’

Reclusive Taliban leader warns Afghans against earning money or gaining ‘worldly honor’
Updated 18 June 2024
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Reclusive Taliban leader warns Afghans against earning money or gaining ‘worldly honor’

Reclusive Taliban leader warns Afghans against earning money or gaining ‘worldly honor’
  • UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the invitation to the Doha meeting at the end of June does not imply recognition of the Taliban

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban’s reclusive supreme leader on Monday warned Afghans against earning money or gaining worldly honor at a time when the country is in the grip of humanitarian crises and isolated on the global stage.
Hibatullah Akhundzada gave his warning in a sermon to mark the festival of Eid Al-Adha at a mosque in southern Kandahar province, weeks before a Taliban delegation goes to Doha, Qatar for UN-hosted talks on Afghanistan.
This is the first round of talks the Taliban will attend since they seized power in August 2021. They weren’t invited to the conference of foreign special envoys to Afghanistan in the first round, and they snubbed the second round because they wanted to be treated as the country’s official representatives.
No government recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, whose aid-dependent economy was plunged into turmoil following their takeover.
UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the invitation to the Doha meeting at the end of June does not imply recognition of the Taliban.
Akhundzada reminded Afghans of their duties as Muslims and made repeated calls for unity in his 23-minute sermon.
Messages by him and another influential Taliban figure, Sirajuddin Haqqani, to mark a religious festival in April showed tensions between hard-liners and more moderate elements who want to scrap harsher policies and attract more outside support.
In Monday’s message, Akhundzada said he wanted brotherhood among Muslims and that he was unhappy about differences between citizens and Taliban officials. Public dissent over Taliban edicts is rare, and protests are swiftly and sometimes violently quashed.
He said he would willingly accept any decision to remove him as supreme leader, as long as there was unity and agreement on his ouster. But he was unhappy about differences and disagreement between people.
“We were created to worship Allah and not to earn money or gain worldly honor,” Akhundzada said. “Our Islamic system is God’s system and we should stand by it. We have promised God that we will bring justice and Islamic law (to Afghanistan) but we cannot do this if we are not united. The benefit of your disunity reaches the enemy; the enemy takes advantage of it.”
The Taliban have used their interpretation of Islamic law to bar girls from education beyond the age of 11, ban women from public spaces, exclude them from many jobs, and enforce dress codes and male guardianship requirements.
Akhundzada told Taliban officials to listen to the advice of religious scholars and entrust them with authority. He said officials shouldn’t be arrogant, boast, or deny the truth about Islamic law.
Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, who has written several books about Afghanistan and the Taliban, said Akhundzada’s appeals for unity were a sign of desperation because he refused to spell out the real issues facing Afghans such as unemployment, economic development, and building a consensus for social reform.
“I would not be convinced that this was a meaningful speech if I were the Taliban,” said Rashid.
Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute, said Akhundzada’s focus on unity may also be preemptive and meant to nip in the bud any possibility that rifts could flare up again.
He also questioned if the audience being targeted went beyond Afghans to focus on the global Muslim community.
“Operationally speaking, the Taliban don’t have transnational goals. But the supreme leader looks to command respect beyond Afghanistan’s borders,” said Kugelman.

 


Russian official says Ukraine pouring troops into contested Kharkiv region

Russian official says Ukraine pouring troops into contested Kharkiv region
Updated 18 June 2024
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Russian official says Ukraine pouring troops into contested Kharkiv region

Russian official says Ukraine pouring troops into contested Kharkiv region
  • “There is fighting still going on in the Kharkiv sector. The fiercest clashes are in Vovchansk and near Lyptsy,” Ganchev told Russian news agencies

A Russian official said on Monday that fighting was gripping parts of Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region which Moscow has been trying to seize and added that Ukraine’s military was pouring men and equipment into the contested area.
Ukrainian President Voldodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv’s forces were gradually pushing Russian troops out of the contested area. His top commander predicted that Moscow would try to press forward pending the arrival in Ukraine of sophisticated Western equipment, including U.S-made F-16 fighter jets.
Russian forces crossed into parts of Kharkiv region last month and officials say they have seized about a dozen villages.
Vitaly Ganchev, Russia-appointed governor of the areas of Kharkiv region controlled by Moscow, said Russian forces were beating back Ukraine’s latest counter-attacks in areas near Vovchansk, five kilometers (three miles) inside the border.
“There is fighting still going on in the Kharkiv sector. The fiercest clashes are in Vovchansk and near Lyptsy,” Ganchev told Russian news agencies.
“The enemy is sending reserves and trying to counter-attack but is meeting a fierce response from our armed forces.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the incursion sought to create a “buffer zone” to prevent Ukraine from shelling border areas, including Belgorod region, opposite Kharkiv.
Over the past week, Ukrainian officials have said the Russian advance is firmly under control.
Zelensky, in his nightly video address, said Ukrainian troops were “gradually pushing the occupiers out of the Kharkiv region.” The military’s General Staff reported 10 Russian attacks were repelled near Vovchansk and Lyptsi.
Ukraine’s top military commander, Oleksander Syrskyi, said on Telegram that Moscow’s commanders “were building intensity and expanding the geography of military activity.
“The enemy clearly understands that the gradual arrival of weapons and equipment from our partners, the arrival of the first F-16s, strengthens our air defenses,” he wrote. “Time is one our side and their chances of success will diminish.”
Ukrainian military bloggers said Kyiv’s forces were holding positions around Vovchansk and trying to break through Russian lines to consolidate units around the town.
Russian forces seized much of Kharkiv region in the early weeks of the February 2022 invasion, but Ukraine recaptured large swathes of territory later that year.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, 30 km (18 miles) from the border, stayed out of Russian hands, and months of Russian attacks have eased, Ukrainian officials say, thanks to the arrival of new weaponry.


France to cut military presence in West, Central Africa to 600 troops

France to cut military presence in West, Central Africa to 600 troops
Updated 18 June 2024
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France to cut military presence in West, Central Africa to 600 troops

France to cut military presence in West, Central Africa to 600 troops
  • Army not ruling out ‘pooling’ its bases with Americans or European partners, says chief of staff Gen. Thierry Burkhard

PARIS: France is planning to reduce its military presence in West and Central Africa to around 600 troops, which is in line with President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to limit the French military footprint in the region, three sources said.

In February 2023, Macron announced a “noticeable reduction” of French troop presence in Africa, as anti-French sentiment is running high in some former colonies, and countries like Russia are vying for greater influence.
According to a plan currently under discussion with African partners, France plans to reduce its so-called “pre-positioned” forces in Africa drastically.
According to two sources close to the government and a military source, France will keep only around 100 troops in Gabon in Central Africa, down from 350 today and around 100 in Senegal, in West Africa, down from 350.

FASTFACT

In February, President Emmanuel Macron tasked former Minister Jean-Marie Bockel with working out the new modalities of the French military presence with African partners.

Paris plans to keep around 100 troops in Ivory Coast on the southern coast of West Africa — down from 600 troops today — and around 300 personnel in Chad in north-central Africa, down from 1,000 now.
The three sources said the reduced presence could be periodically expanded based on the needs of local partners.  The French General Staff declined to comment.
Until two years ago, in addition to around 1,600 forces pre-deployed in West Africa and Gabon, France had over 5,000 troops in the Sahel region of Africa as part of the Barkhane anti-jihadist operation.
But it has been gradually pushed out by the juntas that came to power in Mali in 2021, in Burkina Faso in 2022 and Niger in 2023.
All three countries have now concluded security agreements with Russia, which has been seeking to expand its footprint on the continent.
Chad, ruled by Mahamat Idriss Deby, the son of Idriss Deby Itno, who was president for over 30 years, is the last Sahel country to host French soldiers.
Landlocked Chad is surrounded by the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, and Niger, host Russian paramilitary forces resulting from the reorganization of the Wagner group, whose founder Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a mysterious plane crash last August.
In February, Macron tasked former Minister Jean-Marie Bockel with working out the new modalities of the French military presence with African partners.
His conclusions are expected in July.
In May, Bockel told the Senate that France wanted to “reduce its visible presence, but maintain logistical, human and material access to these countries while reinforcing our action in response to their aspirations.”
The French army plans to set up a Paris-based command dedicated to Africa this summer, two sources close to the matter said.
The French army is not ruling out “pooling” its bases with Americans or European partners, the chief of staff of France’s armed forces, General Thierry Burkhard, has said.
According to Burkhard, the tighter new structure will make it possible to maintain relations with local military authorities, “gather intelligence,” and “pursue operational partnerships,” among other tasks.
Instead of combat missions, French soldiers will provide training and capabilities to partner countries at their request.