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Pompeo holds crisis talks in Riyadh on missing journalist

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Khashoggi

Riyadh | US top diplomat Mike Pompeo held talks with Saudi King Salman on Tuesday seeking answers about the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, amid US media reports the kingdom may be mulling an admission he died during a botched interrogation.

“Rogue killers” could be blamed for the disappearance of Khashoggi, who has not been seen since he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to sort out marriage paperwork, US President Donald Trump said after telephone talks with the king.

Trump dispatched Pompeo to Riyadh for what the State Department described as “face to face meetings with the Saudi leadership”.

After his talks with the king, Pompeo was to have dinner with his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a US official told the accompanying press.

Turkish police on Monday searched the consulate for the first time since the disappearance of Khashoggi, a Saudi national and US resident who had become increasingly critical of Prince Mohammed.

Turkish officials have said they believe he was killed – a claim Saudi Arabia has denied – with the controversy dealing a huge blow to the prince’s efforts to showcase a reform drive and burnish the kingdom’s image.

US media reported on Monday that the kingdom is considering an admission that Khashoggi died after an interrogation that went wrong during an intended abduction.

The UN human rights chief called Tuesday for the lifting of the immunity of officials who might be involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“In view of the seriousness of the situation surrounding the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, I believe the inviolability or immunity of the relevant premises and officials… should be waived immediately,” Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

Until Monday, Riyadh had not allowed Turkish investigators to search the consulate – officially Saudi territory – with reports both sides were at odds over the conditions.

The investigators, who searched the premises for eight hours into Tuesday morning, took samples with them, including soil from the consulate garden, one official at the scene said.

Istanbul police are now also planning to search the nearby consul’s residence, a diplomatic source said.

Trump’s comments came after a telephone conversation with King Salman, father of the crown prince, the first such talks since the crisis erupted.

“Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen’,” Trump tweeted.

Riyadh’s most recent comments have focused on having no knowledge of any killing or denying that any order to kill Khashoggi had been given.

“The denial was very, very strong,” Trump later told reporters at the White House. “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”

But CNN cited two sources as saying the Saudis are preparing a report that his death resulted from a botched interrogation, while the Wall Street Journal said the kingdom was weighing whether to say that rogue operatives killed Khashoggi by mistake.

After his crunch talks in Riyadh Tuesday, Pompeo was expected in Turkey on Wednesday to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The search came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Salman also had their first telephone talks since the controversy erupted.

The controversy has troubled Saudi’s traditional Western allies, who are key arms suppliers to the kingdom, and also undermined efforts by Mohammed bin Salman to present himself as a modernising ruler.

An investment conference seen as a platform for the crown prince and dubbed the “Davos in the Desert”, scheduled to take place in Riyadh next week, has been hit by a string of prominent cancellations.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Ford chairman Bill Ford and Larry Fink, the head of investment giant BlackRock, were among the latest business barons to cancel plans to attend.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he still plans to attend but would “take (it)… into account” if more information came out.

The controversy meanwhile threw into doubt a USD 400 million deal the Saudi Public Investment Fund negotiated with Hollywood’s most powerful talent agency as part of the crown prince’s drive for a foothold in the entertainment industry.

Endeavour CEO Ari Emanuel said the Khashoggi case was “very, very concerning”, although he stopped short of pronouncing the deal was dead.

Trump has threatened the kingdom with “severe punishment” if it is shown that

Khashoggi was killed inside its Istanbul mission.

But he has also made clear he is reluctant to curb all-important arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Britain, France and Germany also released a rare joint statement saying they were treating Khashoggi’s disappearance “with the utmost seriousness” and calling for a “credible investigation”.

Riyadh, however, has vowed to hit back against any punitive measures imposed over the affair.

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Lankan MPs seek suspension of state funds allocated to Rajapaksa

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Rajapaksa

The Parliament, which was convened Monday for a third-floor test against Rajapaksa, was adjourned just 10 minutes after its opening.

 

Colombo| Sri Lankan lawmakers have submitted a motion to Parliament seeking the suspension of state funds allocated to disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has lost two no-confidence motions.

The Ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe‘s United National Party Parliamentarian Navin Dissanayake said that six United National Front MPs handed over the motion to be debated in Parliament, the Colombo Gazette reported Monday.

They are of the opinion that state funds of the “illegitimate Prime Minister” should be suspended forthwith, the paper said.

The motion is to be placed in the order paper and debated and a vote taken on the November 29, it added.

The Parliament, which was convened Monday for a third-floor test against Rajapaksa, was adjourned just 10 minutes after its opening.

The public and VIP galleries were shut for diplomats on a request by Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance. The security was also tightened to prevent any incident, officials said.

Sri Lanka is witnessing a political crisis since President Maithripapala Sirisena abruptly sacked prime minister Wickremesinghe and installed ex-strongman Rajapaksa in his place on October 26.

Sirisena later dissolved Parliament, almost 20 months before its term was to end, and ordered a snap election. The Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned President Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament and halted the preparations for snap polls on January 5.

Monday’s session was conducted peacefully. The House was adjourned till November 23 ten minutes after its opening.

Last week, Sri Lanka’s parliament witnessed unprecedented violence as lawmakers threw furniture and chilli powder at each other.

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California wildfire death toll rises to 77

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Chico (US) | Authorities say one more set of human remains has been found, bringing the total number killed in a devastating California wildfire to 77. A state incident report released Sunday evening says the flames destroyed more than 10,500 homes.

Over a thousand names remain on a list of those unaccounted for after the so-called Camp Fire swept through the rural town of Paradise on November 8. Authorities stressed that many of those may be safe and unaware they have been reported missing.

Hundreds of volunteers are sifting through ash and debris, searching for human remains before expected rains complicate their efforts. The predicted downpours could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search. The fire was 65 percent contained Sunday.

Crews searching for remains of people after the devastating Northern California wildfire are stepping up their efforts ahead of rains forecast for later this week that could complicate their work. A team of 10 volunteers along with a cadaver dog were examining burned houses Sunday in a Paradise neighbourhood looking for victims. They’re focusing on vehicles, bathtubs and mattress springs that would indicate a charred bed. If no remains are found, the team leaves a note in orange spray paint near the home.

Rain would help suppress the fire but could also complicate the search and recovery effort. Officials say ash that is now dry and easy to dust off would turn into paste, making it harder to uncover remains.

The National Park Service says all but one of 13 mountain lions being tracked in Southern California mountains have been accounted for following a devastating wildfire.

As of Friday, the only missing mountain lion was one dubbed P-74, a young male born last year. In addition, all four bobcats that the agency monitors via GPS have been located in the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles.

Officials have again increased the number of homes and other structures burned by a huge Southern California wildfire. The figure rose Sunday to 1,130 buildings destroyed – many of them homes – and 300 damaged. The tally is continuing.

Firefighters are making progress against the blaze that broke out November 8 and tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu. More evacuees have been allowed back in their homes and the 151-square-mile (391-square-kilometer) blaze is now 88 percent contained.

California’s governor is expressing optimism that President Donald Trump will support the state as it deals with raging wildfires. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” airing Sunday that the Republican president has “got our back” and has pledged to continue to help.

Trump initially blamed state officials for poor forest management in exacerbating the fires and threatened to cut off federal funding. He’s since signed an emergency declaration and toured the devastated areas Saturday with Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom. Brown also suggested in the CBS interview that the wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics “in less than five years” and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from wildfires going forward.

Pope Francis has prayed for victims of California’s wildfires and freezing weather on the US East Coast.

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Pakistan PM Imran Khan visits UAE to seek financial assistance

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Dubai | Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in the UAE on Sunday on a day-long visit to the Gulf country, where he is likely to seek financial assistance to minimise the cash-strapped Pakistan’s dependence on an IMF bailout package.

Khan, who is visiting the UAE for the second time in the last two months, met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE’s Armed Forces, at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi. He is accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Finance Minister Asad Umar among other officials, the Express Tribune reported.

“The purpose of the visit is to seek billions of dollars in aid as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) becomes unusually tough on Pakistan on the fiscal and monetary fronts, which is hindering early conclusion of talks,” the paper said. Pakistan wants USD 6 billion financial assistance from the UAE in the shape of cash deposits and oil on deferred payments, it added. The two sides may sign a memorandum of understanding on the financial assistance package, the paper quoted a cabinet minister as saying. Finance Minister Umar, however, denied that there is any link between the IMF conditions and the PM’s UAE visit.

Last month, Khan had a stopover in Dubai on his return from Saudi Arabia in September.  Saudi Arabia had agreed to provide Pakistan with a USD 6 billion rescue package during Khan’s visit to the Gulf Kingdom.

Early this month, Prime Minister Khan visited China, which reportedly agreed to provide USD 6 billion in aid to Pakistan. Khan will visit Malaysia later this week where he is likely to seek monetary assistance. Pakistan was facing a USD 12 billion financing gap for the current fiscal year.

The Pakistan government is keen to minimise the amount borrowed from the IMF by getting loans from “friendly” countries like Saudi Arabia, China and Malaysia as officials in Islamabad believe that the global lender could attach tough conditions.

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