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Donald Trump pays respects as president Bush lies in state in US Capitol



Donald Trump

Washington | President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania paid their respects Monday to late president George H W Bush, whose remains lay in state in the US Capitol.

The Trumps made a brief visit to the Capitol rotunda, where Bush’s flag-draped coffin was resting as part of tributes to honour the 41st US president and commemorate his extraordinary life. Bush died peacefully Friday at age 94, at his home in Houston, a passing that led Americans to reflect on his life of duty and service to country as a leader of the so-called “Greatest Generation.”

Only the second president to see his son follow him to the Oval Office, the Republican stalwart is being honoured with four days of commemorations and services in Washington and in Texas, where he will be buried Thursday. Trump is scheduled to attend a state funeral service Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral — the first presidential funeral since Gerald Ford died in 2006.

But late Monday, after Bush relatives and dignitaries had gone, the president was driven from the White House up to Capitol Hill. With the first lady at his side, Trump saluted, and they stood at Bush’s casket for about a minute. They exited the rotunda with little fanfare. Bush never warmed to Trump, and he had let it be known that he did not vote for him in 2016. Trump himself has criticized the elder Bush on the campaign trail.

But on Monday, Trump wrote members of Congress to hail Bush as a man who “led a life that exemplified what is truly great about America.” “President Bush worked selflessly throughout his long life to bring about a world of justice and lasting peace,” he wrote.

Bush was a decorated World War II fighter pilot, one-time ambassador to China, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, and vice president to Ronald Reagan before winning the White House. Military pallbearers carried the flag-draped casket into the rotunda as a fiery sunset bathed Washington in a glow. The somber ceremony was attended by his son George W. Bush — the nation’s 43rd president — and other relatives, dignitaries and more than 100 members of the House and Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lauded Bush — who occupied the White House from 1989 to 1993 — as a patriot who steered the country as straight as he had piloted his World War II airplane.

“He kept us flying high and challenged us to fly higher still. And he did it with modesty and kindness that would have been surprising in someone one tenth as tough and accomplished as he was,” he said. Bush was transported aboard the presidential Boeing 747 — made available at Trump’s direction — from Houston to Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland.

In Houston, relatives including his presidential son stood with hands on their hearts as the casket was carried to the aircraft. Bush is the 12th US president to lie in state in the rotunda. Just three months earlier, the honor was accorded to senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential nominee who died of brain cancer. Hundreds of members of the public began quietly filing into the Capitol late Monday to pay their final respects.

Among them was Kim Frinzell, a government employee who did not vote for Bush but grew to respect his accomplishments, including signing the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.


Blow to Sirisena as Lankan Parliament adopts confidence motion on ousted PM Wickremesinghe





Colombo| Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe emphatically proved his majority in Parliament on Wednesday, weeks after being sacked by President Maithripala Sirisena in a controversial move that plunged the island nation into a political turmoil.

As many as 117 out of 225 lawmakers in Parliament voted to pass a confidence motion in his leadership. The motion’s approval could be seen as a blow to President Sirisena who has steadfastly refused to reappoint 69-year-old Wickremesinghe due to his personal dislike of the ousted prime minister.

Sri Lanka is going through a major political crisis since October 26 when President Maithripala Sirisena, in a controversial move, removed Wickremesinghe and installed ex-strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Rajapaksa has so far failed to prove his majority in Parliament.

The main Tamil minority party TNA voted in favour of the confidence motion. However, the Marxist JVP, which has protested Sirisena’s extra constitutional action, abstained from voting.

If the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)’s six lawmakers had voted in his favour, Wickremesinghe would have commanded an unassailable majority in the House despite the president’s refusal to reinstate him.

Sirisena’s United People’s Freedom Alliance continued its boycott of Parliament when Sajith Premadasa, Wickremesinghe’s deputy, moved the motion in the morning. Premadasa urged Sirisena to end the October 26 unconstitutional action and reinstate Wickremesinghe to take the country back to the pre-October 26 position.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya later adjourned the Parliament session until December 18. Legislators supporting Sirsena and Rajapaksa have been boycotting Parliament since November 17 when there were violent scenes of fighting, breaking up of furniture and throwing chilli powder. Two key court orders on the legality of Sirisena’s action await delivery. The one on Parliament’s sacking is expected this week.

Sirisena, after sacking Wickremesinghe on October 26, dissolved Parliament and called for a snap election on January 5. However, the Supreme Court overturned his decision. Sirisena said that he has always taken decisions in the best interest of the country and the people. United National Party (UNP) leader Wickremesinghe last week urged the President not to “be like Hitler and some of the other dictators who used the referendum”.

Sirisena has said that Wickremesinghe is a stubborn, headstrong person who was following far right wing neo-liberal policies. Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa both claim to be the prime ministers with the former claiming that his dismissal is invalid because he still holds a majority in the 225-member Parliament.

Prior to the crisis, Wickramasinghe’s UNP had the backing of 106 parliamentarians while Rajapaksa and Sirisena combine had 95 seats. The President has said that due to sharp personal differences with Wickremesinghe, he would not reappoint him as the Prime Minister.

However, Wickremesinghe’s UNP claims that Sirisena will be left with no choice as he would be the man who will command the confidence in the House.

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International News

Chinese welcome Huawei executive’s release in Canada




Beijing | China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday denied knowledge of the detention of a former Canadian diplomat, as Chinese citizens rejoiced over a Canadian court’s decision to release a top Huawei Technologies executive on bail.

The release of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, prompted an outpouring of support on social media for her and her company, which is based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Zeng Yuan, a university student in Beijing, was among many who believe the detention of former diplomat Michael Kovrig was related to Meng’s case. “It is a kind of declaration to the Canadian government,” the finance student told The Associated Press. “This makes sense. China cannot sit and await its fate, and let them make ambiguous accusations against Chinese citizens.”

Meng was detained Dec 1 at the request of the US, which accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of US sanctions.

After three days of hearings, a British Columbia justice granted bail Tuesday of 10 million Canadian dollars (USD 7.5 million) to Meng, but required her to wear an ankle bracelet, surrender her passports, stay in Vancouver and its suburbs and confine herself to one of her two Vancouver homes from 11 pm to 6 am.

While declining to confirm Kovrig’s detention, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the International Crisis Group, where Kovrig is a Hong-Kong-based analyst, was not registered in China and its activities in the country were illegal.

“I do not have information to provide you here,” he said. “If there is such a thing, please do not worry, it is assured that China’s relevant departments will definitely handle it according to law.” Because Kovrig’s organization is not registered as a non-governmental organization in China, “Once its staff becomes engaged in activities in China, it has already violated the law,” Lu said.

He repeated China’s demand for the immediate release of Meng, whose father founded Huawei, a leading telecommunications equipment maker that has strong connections to the Chinese government and military. Meng’s case has set off a diplomatic furor among the three countries and complicated high-stakes U.S.-China trade talks.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed Kovrig’s detention.

The International Crisis Group said he was taken into custody Monday night by the Beijing Bureau of Chinese State Security, which handles intelligence and counterintelligence matters in the Chinese capital, Rob Malley, president of the Brussels-based group, said he thinks Kovrig was in Beijing on personal matters at the time of his arrest and was definitely not there for any illegal purpose or for any reason that would undermine Chinese national security.

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British PM Theresa May to face leadership challenge over Brexit




Theresa May

London | Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May will face a vote of no confidence on Wednesday over her controversial Brexit deal.  The challenge to May’s leadership was triggered after 48 Conservative Members of Parliament submitted letters demanding a vote to the 1922 Committee, which represents rank-and-file Conservative MPs in the House of Commons.

May, who has been prime minister since shortly after the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016, has faced criticism in her party for the Brexit plan she has negotiated.

Conservative MPs have triggered a vote of no confidence in 62-year-old May, plunging the Brexit process into chaos as Tory colleagues indicated they no longer had faith in the prime minister to deliver the deal, the Guardian reported.

A ballot will be held on Wednesday evening, Brady said, with votes counted “immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made as soon as possible”. In a press release, he said: “The threshold of 15 per cent of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative party has been exceeded.”

The prime minister will now need the backing of at least 158 Tory MPs to see off the Brexiters’ challenge, and her position would then be safe for one year. The House of Commons has 650 members. Because the Conservative Party is the largest party in the House of Commons, whoever is the leader of the party would be expected to be prime minister.

The vote could hardly have come at a worse time for May, who has been criss-crossing Europe to beg EU leaders for help passing her Brexit deal through the UK Parliament.

May was forced to postpone a vote on the deal on Monday when it became clear she was likely to be defeated in the House of Commons. Prime Minister May is determined to avoid a no-deal outcome: where the UK leaves the 28-member European Union without transitional arrangements in place. Businesses have warned it could lead to food shortages, grounded flights and a prolonged economic slump.

If a deal cannot be reached in time, the EU and the UK could agree to extend the March 29 deadline for Britain to leave the 28-member bloc.

The deadlock has led to growing calls for a second referendum on Brexit. Those calls were buoyed by a decision Monday by the European Court of Justice that the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 — its notification that it plans to leave the EU — should it so wish.

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