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Recent pleas by the leaders of Turkey, Egypt and others for Trump to get involved in the conflict have fallen on deaf ears, several foreign and US officials tell CNN. The Trump White House had taken an active interest in the conflict in 2019, reaching out to Gen. Khalifa Haftar, the warlord leading an offensive against the country’s United Nations-backed government. But in recent months, the President’s stance has changed, with Trump telling those leaders that he’d rather not get involved in another messy Middle Eastern conflict.

In particular, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt have worked to convince Trump to get involved diplomatically and put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to back down from its own objectives in the country. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed, have also weighed in, these officials said.

Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s ally in Libya, rebel commander, Gen. Haftar, suffered a string of defeats in recent months as his militias tried to oust the government in Tripoli so he could install himself as Libya’s ruler.

Turkey, Italy and Qatar, meanwhile, are collectively trying to prop up Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord. In recent days, the likelihood of a full-blown conflict breaking out increased after Egypt’s parliament green lighted the deployment of troops to Libya in support of Haftar’s rebel forces.

Trump has told all of them that he would rather avoid being involved ahead of the presidential election with so many other domestic issues weighing him down and urged them to sort the issue out amongst themselves, these officials said.

Erdogan is ‘constantly calling’ Trump

A US and Turkish official said that Erdogan is “constantly calling the President” to get him to get Russia to back down. The two governments don’t always provide readouts for those calls, the officials noted.

Trump has extolled his ties to other world leaders known for authoritarian methods, including Putin, el-Sisi and Erdogan. He hasn’t publicly admonished any of those countries for their human rights record, nor has he urged against some of their controversial military endeavors, instead, accepting the explanation that they are fighting extremists.

Even as the potential for war in Libya grows, Trump has not sought to talk any of his allies off their perch of a full-blown conflict.

“The President usually tells them, ‘do what you need to do. I’m not going to tell you what to do’,” one US official said.

Russia and Turkey’s backing of opposing sides in the Libyan civil war is part of a competition for future investment opportunities, including oil contracts worth billions, in the oil-rich country. France, Greece and other European nations have taken an interest in the conflict escalating on the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, warning that Russia’s involvement speaks to its interest in having a strong presence at Europe’s southern doorstep.

In recent weeks, fighters loyal to Libya’s government, supported by Turkey, pushed closer to the oil-rich city of Sirte on the Mediterranean Sea coast, ready for battle. Thousands of Russian military contractors with armored vehicles and Syrian militiamen have also surrounded the city in recent days in an effort to bolster forces loyal to Haftar.

The State Department has participated in some talks regarding Libya’s future, as the conflict rages on. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took part this year in a Libya summit hosted in Berlin, where countries including France, Russia and Turkey laid out a cease-fire plan, which ultimately failed, and called for an end to violence despite their own surreptitious support to the warring factions.

Mixed messages

But some accuse Washington of confusing things with mixed messages. Under former national security adviser John Bolton, the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt successfully lobbied Trump to shift US policy in Libya and reach out to Haftar, a senior US administration official and two Saudi officials said. Saudi Arabia’s bin Salman and Egypt’s el-Sisi urged Trump to back Haftar. Trump agreed, reaching out to Haftar in April 2019 to discuss “a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” the White House said. Bolton also had a separate conversation with Haftar during his tenure.

Those calls had marked a significant shift in Washington’s position, which, until then, had unequivocally supported the UN-recognized government in Tripoli and worked with it in the war on Islamic State.

Russia raises stakes with 'brazen' military intervention in Libyan conflict

Officials tell CNN that Bolton and others in his circle had convinced the White House that a bet on Haftar, who vows to root out Islamists who have taken hold of Libya in the post-Qaddafi era, was more promising than any State Department view, which one official described as “very much in the Turkey camp, but with the view that Russia is a bad actor.”

On Tuesday, Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said in a statement that the US strongly opposes “foreign military involvement, including the use of mercenaries and private military contractors, by all sides,” while falling short of mentioning Russia or any other actors by name.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control then announced on Thursday sanctions against individuals which it said had contributed to instability in Libya through smuggling. But ultimately, O’Brien emphasized that the US is “an active, but neutral actor” in the Libya conflict, noting in his statement that “it is clear there is no ‘winning’ side.”

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Matt Hancock Says “Everybody” Should Report Their Neighbours If They Flout Coronavirus Rules

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Matt Hancock has urged people to shop their neighbours if they fail to follow coronavirus rules (Credit: PA)


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Matt Hancock has urged people to report their neighbours for flouting coronavirus rules as he announced heavy new penalties for those who fail to self-isolate when asked.

The health secretary said he would not hesitate to alert the authorities if he became aware of anyone breaking the new “rule of six” restrictions and that “everybody should” do likewise. 

It comes after the government revealed new legal powers to hand out £10,000 fines to people who do not quarantine if they test positive for the virus, rates of which are rising rapidly across the country.

The measures also include a £500 support payment for those on lower incomes who have to self-isolate and cannot work from home, and a penalty for employers who punish employers for doing so.

Mr Hancock said the UK was at a “tipping point” and could face tougher national restricions if people fail to heed new guidelines.

“I don’t want to see more measures but unfortunately if people don’t follow the rules that’s how the virus spreads,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge.

“Everyone faces a choice and it comes down to individual moments – should I go to that party where there might not be social distancing? 

“The answer is no, you should not.”

Mr Hancock said local lockdowns had brought cases “right under control” in parts of the country, as London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned the capital could be placed under additional curbs as soon as Monday.

And the health secretary said he would “not rule out” Londoners being asked to work from home, as he prepared to meet City Hall officials on Sunday.

He told Times Radio: “I’ve been talking to the Mayor of London over the weekend about what’s needed in London and that’s an example of local action in the same way that I was talking about the councils in the north east.  And then we took action in Lancashire…and we had to bring in more measures in Wolverhampton.

“The conversation is…an ongoing one with the mayor.”

PoliticsHome is maintaining a live map of local lockdown restrictions across the UK, which is viewable here.

A source close to the mayor said on Saturday: “It’s clear that cases in London are only moving in one direction, we are now just days behind hotspots in the North West and North East.

“We can’t afford more delay. Introducing new measures now will help slow the spread of the virus and potentially prevent the need for a fuller lockdown like we saw in March, which could seriously damage the economy once again.”

Mr Hancock promised the UK has “got the cavalry coming over the next few months; the vaccine, the mass testing and the improvement in treatments”.

“But we’ve got to all follow the rules between now and then to keep people safe,” he told the BBC.

Asked what he expected the death rate could be if people failed to do so, the health secretary said: “It’s unknowable, because it depends on the behaviour of every single person in this country.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer warned new legal powers were not a “silver bullet” and urged ministers to fix the struggling test and trace programme.

He said Boris Johnson should apologise to the nation for the system’s failings and restart daily press briefings “so everybody knows what’s going on”.

“I don’t think a national lockdown is inevitable.  I think it’s more likely because testing is all over the place,” he told Sky News.

“I think one of the conerns I have and a lot of people have is because the government has lost control of testing, it doesn’t know where the virus is.”

He added: “We are in this position just when we need testing to be at its best.”

The Labour leader also called for schoolchildren to be prioritised for testing to avoid mass school closures, with tests and results offered within a 48-hour period.

 

 

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India Covid-19: Taj Mahal reopens after longest shutdown

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image copyrightGetty Images

image captionThe Taj Mahal is located in the northern Indian city of Agra

The iconic Taj Mahal has reopened its doors to visitors after six months – the longest it has ever been shut.

It was closed as the country went into a stringent lockdown in March to halt the spread of coronavirus.

It will now allow only 5,000 visitors daily and enforce Covid-19 safety measures as cases spike in India.

The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s leading tourist attractions, and drew as many as 70,000 people every day before the pandemic.

The 17th-Century marble mausoleum was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his queen, Mumtaz Mahal.

It was last shut briefly in 1978 when Agra city, where it is located, flooded. And before that, the monument closed for a few days in 1971, during a war between India and Pakistan.

Selfies allowed, but no ‘group photos’

The entire campus was sanitised before the doors opened at 8am and all officials were seen wearing masks and face shields, local journalist Yogesh Kumar Singh, who was at the monument when it opened, told the BBC.

Authorities said there would be temperature checks at the entrance, and visitors would be asked to use digital payment methods to buy tickets.

image copyrightYogesh Kumar Singh

image captionOfficials were seen wearing masks and face shields

They have also been told to follow social distancing on the property.

While visitors can take selfies or solo photographs, group photos are not allowed.

“But there is no rush, it feels so unlike Taj Mahal,” Mr Singh said. “I think many people will not turn up as long as cases continue to spike.”

India has reported more than five million cases so far, and Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj is located, has the country’s fifth-highest caseload.

  • Reality Check: Whose Taj Mahal is it anyway?

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Mr Kumar said it would be interesting to see how authorities enforce safety rules when large groups start visiting the site.

The Taj is surrounded by gardens where visitors spend a lot of time walking around and posing for photographs. But the mausoleum itself is a closed space, with almost no ventilation, making it vulnerable to Covid-19 transmission.

Typically, it is crowded as tourists move in and out of it in long lines.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionThe Taj Mahal has always attracted large crowds

A deserted look

Gautam Sharma, who drove from Delhi to visit the Taj Mahal on Monday, said he had been waiting for the day for months.

“I knew not many people will turn up initially, so I thought it will be safe to visit the monument in the first few days of reopening,” he said.

The monument had few visitors waiting at its doors as it opened Monday morning – an unusual sight in its long history.

image copyrightYogesh Kumar Singh
image captionThe entrance of the Taj usually has long queues

It is perhaps India’s most famous monument and is usually part of every foreign dignitary’s itinerary.

US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania visited the Taj in February. Other world leaders who have visited the monument include Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Thailand protests: Protesters declare ‘victory’ in Bangkok rallies calling for monarchy reform

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Thousands gathered in the nation’s capital for this weekend’s rallies, which began on Saturday and were part of a protest movement that has been gaining momentum since July.

Student leader and activist Panasaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul, 21, took to a public stage late Saturday to directly address Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn — an act that, under strict national laws, could be punishable by 15 years in jail if her comments are considered defamatory to the monarchy.

Panasaya listed to the crowd the ten demands of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a student union group of which she is the spokesperson. They include revoking laws against defaming the monarchy, a new constitution, abolishing royal offices, ousting the military junta and disbanding the king’s royal guards.

In an interview with CNN, Panasaya said: “I mean no harm to the monarchy.” But she also shared a message to the king: “You should reform it so that the monarchy can continue to exist in Thailand … If you pay attention to what I am saying, I’d like you to consider our demands.”

On Sunday, with thousands still out, a group from the rally announced it intended to deliver the ten demands to the Privy Council, the king’s advisers.

However, Panasaya and other marchers were stopped by police as they attempted to approach the council. In an exchange broadcast live on television, Panasaya instead agreed to hand the demands to police, and declared a victory for protesters.

Speaking to the crowds before they dispersed, protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak said: “Our victory is that we handed our letter directly to the king, so we can show that everyone is equal. Everyone has the same blood color — it’s red. Thank you everyone for celebrating our victory. We told people to raise their hand.”

Parit said the movement would continue to pursue its goals peacefully.

“We achieved all of this by non-violent methods and we will uphold the principle of non-violence in our movement,” Parit said Sunday.

On Sunday protesters also installed a “people’s plaque” near the Thai Royal Palace, commemorating their movement as the “vanguard of democracy.”

“Here, the people declare that this place belongs to the people, not the King,” the plaque reads. Protest leaders said it was a replacement for another plaque that had marked the end of monarchic rule in 1932, but went missing in 2017.

Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Sunday “expressed his gratitude to officers and all the people who have jointly cooperated to end the situation peacefully,” according to a statement from his official spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri.

“Both the protesters and officers have avoided confrontation and instigation which could lead to an unnecessarily tense situation,” the statement read.

“The government has the intention to allow people to lawfully express their rights under the constitution.”

Asked about the submission of a reform letter to the king, Burapachaisri said: “I am aware of their demands about monarchy reform from listening to their speeches on the stage but I don’t have them in detail yet. I would need time to gather info before we have further comments on this.”

Weekend protests escalate

Ahead of this weekend, official figures had tried to dissuade protesters from turning out — and dispel fears that the rallies could turn violent.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister warned protesters they could cause economic destruction if coronavirus spreads at gatherings, though he didn’t name protest groups individually or specifically address the planned weekend rallies.

And in a briefing on Saturday morning, the commander of the Thai Royal Police told people not to believe what he called rumors that police will “suppress the mobs,” and urged officers not to react if “provoked.”

Thailand's monarchy was long considered God-like. But protesters say it's time for change

Later that afternoon, protest leaders pushed open the gates of Thammasat University, a heart of student activism in Thailand. They gathered on the campus and at Sanam Luang, a public square near the king’s official residence at the Grand Palace.

This comes after two months of almost daily demonstrations, including one in Bangkok with an estimated 10,000 people on August 16. The movement began with students in towns across the country — but has since attracted a large cross-section of society.

Protesters and their supporters are calling for a range of institutional changes; for instance, Pita Limjaroenrat of the opposition Move Forward Party said his group will propose a council meeting to “re-write the constitution peacefully.”

Anti-government protesters break through a gate at Thammasat University as they arrive for a pro-democracy rally in Bangkok on September 19.

The best solution, Limjaroenrat says, is to elect a “group of persons” to re-write it. He told the media that if change does not occur in the country “the people will keep coming out on the street.”

But among these grievances, reforming the monarchy is becoming the central demand. At a previous protest on August 10, Panusaya read out a series of demands for palace reform, that include ensuring a genuine constitutional monarchy that places the monarch under the constitution.

That is a radical idea in Thailand, where the powerful royal institution is regarded by many with deity-like reverence — but dissatisfaction, especially among Thai youth, has been simmering for years.

Years of growing resistance

Thailand has endured years of political upheaval. A military coup in 2014 was followed by failed promises to restore democracy, and what activists say is a repression of civil rights and freedoms.

Activists say they are fed up with injustices such as the military’s continued hold on power through the constitution, the prolonged coronavirus state of emergency — which they say is being used to stifle political opposition and free speech — and a flailing economy that offers them little job prospects, as well as the disappearance of democracy activists living in exile.

It’s within this atmosphere that their ire is now being directed toward King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who assumed the throne in 2016 and was crowned in May 2019.

Security forces stand guard as anti-government protesters take part in a rally in Bangkok on September 19.

Vajiralongkorn is believed to spend much of his time overseas and has been largely absent from public life in Thailand as the country grappled with the coronavirus pandemic.

Since becoming King, billions of dollars worth of assets held by the Thai Crown have been transferred to Vajiralongkorn, asserting his control of royal finances and vastly increasing his personal wealth.

The Crown Property Act, passed in 1936, reorganized the Thai royal family’s assets into separate categorizes for royal assets. The repeal of the act meant that the Crown’s and the King’s personal holdings were placed into a single category to be administered by King Vajiralongkorn.

Although the absolute monarchy was abolished in Thailand in 1932, the monarch still wields significant political influence. Thais are still expected to follow a long tradition of worshiping the royal institution.

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok on September 19.

Change appears to taking root, however.

At schools in Bangkok and southern Thailand last month video posted to social media showed students singing the national anthem while wearing white ribbons and making the three-fingered salute from the “Hunger Games” movie franchise, which has become a symbol of defiance against the Thai government since the military coup.

CNN cannot independently verify the videos.

Traditionally, Thai citizens are supposed to stand still to pay respects to the anthem — played twice daily in public spaces — and the rule is even stricter in schools.

“The protests in Thailand are historic because this is the first time in Thailand’s history that urban demonstrators have demanded such reforms,” Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special adviser at Naresuan University’s Center of ASEAN Community Studies, told CNN last month.

CNN’s Jaide Garcia and Emma Reynolds contributed to this report.

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