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

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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.

International

Three MPs quit UK PM May’s party over Brexit

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London | Three MPs resigned from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ruling Conservative party on Wednesday over what they described as a “shift to the right” on issues such as Brexit.

Anti-Brexiteers Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen wrote to May, informing her of their decision just hours before she heads to Brussels to seek concessions from the EU on a withdrawal agreement to get it passed through Parliament before the March 29 deadline.

May, who is now left with an even shakier majority in the House of Commons than before, said she was “saddened” by her colleagues’ move but insisted the government was on the right track as she made her appearance for the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament.

The three MPs, who will now join the breakaway Independent Group created by seven Opposition Labour MPs who had resigned earlier this week, said Brexit has “re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it” and there had been a “shift to the right”.

“Brexit has re-defined the Conservative party undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hardline ERG (European Research Group), which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy,” the MPs said in their letter, in reference to the hardline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg led ERG group within the Tories.

“The country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part,” the letter adds.

Soubry is a former government minister as part of former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet, while Wollaston is Chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee. Allen was elected to Parliament in 2015 and has been an outspoken MP since.

“I am saddened by this decision these are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it,” May said in her statement in response to the spate of resignations.

She admitted that the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement in the party, adding that by implementing the decision of the British people, she is doing the “right thing” for the country.

The new splinter group calling itself the Independent Group was created on Monday by seven former Labour MPs Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey with an eighth Labour MP Joan Ryan joining the ranks on Tuesday.

It would now seem like the group is gaining some momentum as the members move away from their party benches to sit independently in the Commons.

The common factor uniting different sides of the political divide in the form of the new splinter group is the contours of Britain’s exit from the EU, with some demanding a second referendum to let the British public have another say and others unhappy with the deal on the table.

May will seek to revisit the withdrawal agreement during her meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has repeatedly ruled out the reopening of the draft agreement reached at the end of last year.

Unless both sides are able to strike an amicable deal on Britain’s exit that can pass through the UK Parliament in time for the March 29 deadline, the UK is set to crash out in a chaotic no-deal Brexit with no arrangements in place.

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Putin warns new missiles could target ‘decision-making centres’

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Moscow | President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia would have to deploy missiles targeting “decision-making centres” if Washington sends missiles to Europe.

The announcement comes after the US said it would withdraw from a key Cold War-era arms treaty over what it said were Russian violations, prompting a mirror move from Moscow.

“Russia does not intend to be the first to deploy such missiles in Europe,” Putin said during an annual state of the nation address.

“If (the US) develops and deploys them in Europe… this will dramatically exacerbate the international security situation, creating serious threats to Russia,” he said.

“I’m saying this clearly and openly, Russia will be forced to deploy weapons that can be used… against the decision-making centres that are behind the missiles systems which threaten us.”

He earlier accused Washington of using “far-fetched accusations” to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement.

Putin said he understood concerns about the bilateral deal, namely that other countries could continue to develop weapons that are banned for the US and Russia.

“The current state of affairs of course raises questions,” he told the audience of lawmakers and celebrities.

“Our American partners should have been honest… and not use far-fetched accusations against Russia to justify their unilateral withdrawal from the treaty,” he added.

The United States has repeatedly accused Russia of violating the INF by developing banned weapons and this month President Donald Trump said Washington was starting a process to withdraw from the treaty.

In a tit-for-tat move, Putin said Moscow was also leaving the treaty and beginning work on new types of weapons that would breach the agreement.

Many analysts say abandoning the treaty effectively signalled the start of a new arms race.

The INF deal was signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.

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China closes Tibet to foreigners for sensitive anniversaries

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Beijing | China is keeping foreign travellers out of Tibet during sensitive political anniversaries.

Travel agencies contacted on Wednesday said foreign tourists would not be allowed into the Himalayan region until April 1. It’s not clear when the ban started, although some monitoring groups said it started this month.

March 10 is the 60th anniversary of an abortive 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, while anti-government riots occurred March 14, 2008, in the regional capital Lhasa.

While the foreigner travel ban is an annual occurrence, the occasion of the 60th anniversary is drawing special attention from the authorities. Amid heavy security on the ground, Tibet is almost entirely closed to foreign journalists and diplomats and information about actual conditions there is hard to obtain.

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