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Trump calls Khashoggi murder ”worst cover-up in history” as US revokes visas of some Saudi officials

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The Trump administration has sent CIA Director Gina Haspel to Turkey and she is expected to be back soon in the US with details of the ongoing Khashoggi probe.

 

Washington, Oct 24 (PTI) Saudi authorities staged the “worst cover-up ever” in the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump has said as the US announced its first punitive action in the case by revoking the visas of some of the senior Saudi officials involved.

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, disappeared after he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2 to collect a document for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish woman.

The Saudi government initially said he left the consulate through the back door.

Following a global outrage, Riyadh on Friday in a statement acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed in a fistfight inside the consulate after an interrogation went wrong.

Trump offered his most stinging indictment yet of a Saudi effort to silence a dissident journalist, calling the series of events that led to Khashoggi’s death “the worst cover-up ever.”

“They (the Saudis) had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly. And the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups. Very simple. Bad deal. Should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday.

Khashoggi’s death has severely dented the international reputation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that the US had “identified at least some” of the Saudi officials involved in the killing of Khashoggi and was revoking their visas.

“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable,” Pompeo said. “We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence.”

The US will continue to seek all relevant facts, consult the Congress, and work with other nations, to hold accountable those responsible for the killing of Khashoggi, Pompeo told reporters.

Given the information, currently, available with the United States, the administration is taking appropriate actions, he said. The visa revocation is the first punitive action the US has taken against Saudi Arabia since the death of Khashoggi, 60.

Responding to a question on the probe into the death of Khashoggi, Trump said, “And where it should have stopped is at the deal standpoint, what they thought about it. Because whoever thought of that idea, I think, is in big trouble. And they should be in big trouble.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the “savage murder” of the journalist was meticulously planned and demanded that all those linked to the killing face punishment.

He, however, acknowledged Turkey was still searching for answers to key questions, including who gave the order.

Trump told reporters that Erdogan was pretty tough on Saudi Arabia.

He was pretty rough on Saudi Arabia, I would say. I haven’t gotten a full recap, as you know. I have people in Turkey and I have people in Saudi Arabia and other places, and they’re all coming back as we speak, they’re heading back, he said.

The Trump administration has sent CIA Director Gina Haspel to Turkey and she is expected to be back soon in the US with details of the ongoing probe.

“I’ll know, I think, everything in a very short period of time. It’s a bad situation. But certainly, president Erdogan was not complimentary of what happened. That was a terrible thing that happened,” Trump said.

Trump reiterated that he does not want to scrap the USD 110 billion mega arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the total investment of USD450 billion from that country, but did not rule out not taking any action against the Saudis.

I want to see the facts first. Look, Saudi Arabia’s been a really great ally. They’ve been one of the biggest investors, maybe the biggest investor, in our country.

“They are doing hundreds of billions of dollar’s worth of investments. And, you know, so many jobs. So many jobs. Thousands and thousands of jobs,” he said.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, Trump signed an agreement with the Saudis for them to purchase USD 110 billion of US weapons, although so far only USD 43 billion of that has been detailed.

The ultimate number is around USD450 billion. I think that’s over a million jobs. A million to over a million jobs. So we do that, we’re just hurting ourselves. We’re just hurting ourselves,” Trump said.

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US airstrike in Somalia kills 52 al-Shabab extremists

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Johannesburg | The US military says it has carried out an airstrike in Somalia that killed 52 al-Shabab extremists in response to an attack on Somali forces.

The US Africa Command statement says the airstrike occurred on Saturday near Jilib in Middle Juba region.

The US says Somali forces had come under attack by a “large group” of the al-Qaida-linked extremists.

The statement does not say how many Somali forces were killed or wounded. There are no reports of Americans killed or wounded.

Al-Shabab controls large parts of rural southern and central Somalia and continues to carry out high-profile attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and elsewhere. The group claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on a luxury hotel complex in Kenya’s capital on Tuesday.

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Fuel pipeline blaze in Mexico kills at least 73

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Tlahuelilpan (Mexico) | An explosion and fire in central Mexico killed at least 73 people after hundreds swarmed to the site of an illegal fuel-line tap to gather gasoline amid a government crackdown on fuel theft, officials said.

Hidalgo state governor Omar Fayad announced that the toll had increased to 73 after the discovery of five additional bodies.

The blast — which Fayad said has injured 74 people — occurred near Tlahuelilpan, a town of 20,000 people about an hour’s drive north of Mexico City.

As soldiers guarded the devastated, still-smoking scene, forensic specialists in white suits worked among the blackened corpses — many frozen in the unnatural positions in which they had fallen — and grim-eyed civilians stepped cautiously along in a desperate search for missing relatives.

The pungent smell of fuel hung in the air. Fragments of burnt clothing were strewn through the charred brush.

When the forensic workers began attempting to load corpses into vans to be transported to funeral homes, some 30 villagers tried to stop them. They demanded their relatives’ bodies, saying funeral homes were too expensive.

The bodies were ultimately taken to a morgue, authorities said.

On Friday, when authorities heard that fuel traffickers had punctured the pipeline, an army unit of about 25 soldiers arrived and attempted to block off the area, Defense Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval told reporters.

But the soldiers were unable to contain the estimated 700 civilians — including entire families — who swarmed in to collect the spilled gasoline in jerrycans and buckets, witnesses said.

The armed soldiers had been moved away from the pipeline to avoid any risk of confrontation with the crowd when the blast occurred, some two hours after the pipeline was first breached, Sandoval said.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office only weeks ago, traveled to the scene on early Saturday.

He did not fault the soldiers, saying, “The attitude of the army was correct. It is not easy to impose order on a crowd.” He vowed to continue fighting the growing problem of fuel theft.

“I am deeply saddened by the suffering in Tlahuelilpan,” Lopez Obrador wrote on Twitter. He called on his “whole government” to extend assistance.

The US Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, tweeted that her department “stands ready to assist the first responders and the Mexican government in any way possible.” Video taken in the aftermath showed screaming people fleeing the scene as an enormous fire lit up the night sky.

“I went just to see what was happening, and then the explosion happened. I rushed to help people,” Fernando Garcia, 47, told AFP. “I had to claw through pieces of people who had already been burned to bits.”

The tragedy comes during a highly publicized federal government war on fuel theft, a problem that cost Mexico an estimated 3 billion in 2017.

Acting attorney general Alejandro Gertz described the latest disaster as “intentional” because “someone caused that leak. And the fire was a consequence of the crime.” But he acknowledged that investigators would be hampered by the fact that “the people closest to the explosion died.”

Federal and state firefighters and ambulances run by state oil company Pemex rushed to help victims with burns and take the injured to hospitals.

Local medical facilities struggled to cope with the flood of arriving victims, said AFP correspondents at the scene.

The fire had been brought under control by around midnight Friday, the security ministry said.

Pemex said it was also responding to another fire at a botched pipeline tap in the central state of Queretaro, though in that case there were no victims.

Mexico is regularly rocked by deadly explosions at illegal pipeline taps, a dangerous but lucrative business whose players include powerful drug cartels and corrupt Pemex insiders.

Fayad said that two hours after the pipeline was punctured, “we were informed that there had been an explosion” and the flames “were consuming everything around.” About 15 oil pipeline explosions and fires causing more than 50 fatalities each have occurred around the world since 1993.

Most were in Nigeria, where in 1998 more than 1,000 people died in such a blast. A fire after a pipeline rupture in Brazil killed more than 500 people in 1984.

The tragedy comes as anti-corruption crusader Lopez Obrador presses implementation of a controversial fuel theft prevention plan.

The government has shut off major pipelines until they can be fully secured and deployed the army to guard Pemex production facilities.

But the strategy to fight the problem led to severe gasoline and diesel shortages across much of the country, including Mexico City, forcing people to queue for hours — sometimes days — to fill up their vehicles.

The president, who took office on December 1, has vowed to keep up the fight and asked Mexicans to be patient.

At the scene, some locals blamed the shortages for the tragedy.

“A lot of people arrived with their jerrycans because of the gasoline shortages we’ve had,” said Martin Trejo, 55, who was searching for his son, one of those who had gone to collect the leaking fuel.

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British PM faces defeat in historic Brexit deal vote

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London | British Prime Minister Theresa May faces crushing defeat in a historic vote in parliament on Tuesday over the Brexit deal she has struck with the European Union, leaving the world’s fifth biggest economy in limbo.

With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29, Britain is still bitterly divided over what should happen next and the only suspense over the vote is the scale of May’s defeat.

The British leader’s last-minute appeals to MPs appear to have fallen on deaf ears and how much she loses by could determine whether she tries again, loses office, delays Brexit — or if Britain even leaves the EU at all.

“When the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this house… and ask: did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union,” May asked MPs on the eve of the vote, expected after 1900 GMT.

Opposition to the deal forced May to postpone the vote in December in the hope of winning concessions from Brussels.

EU leaders have offered only a series of clarifications but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Strasbourg on Tuesday raised the possibility of further talks while ruling out a full re-negotiation of the text.

“Everything has been done in recent weeks and months to signal our interest in a positive decision,” Maas said.

“However, I am sceptical that the agreement can be fundamentally reopened once again,” he said.

The vote is the climax of over two years of intense national debate after the shock Brexit referendum of 2016 — a result mostly pro-Remain MPs have struggled with.

Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers oppose the agreement for different reasons and many fear it could lock Britain into an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.

Pro- and anti-Brexit campaigners rallied outside parliament ahead of the vote. One placard read “EU Membership is the Best Deal”, another said: “No Deal? No Problem!” Uncertainty over Brexit has hit the British economy hard.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders lobby group warned MPs that Britain crashing out of the EU would be “catastrophic”.

Financial markets will also be watching the result closely, with several currency trading companies roping in extra staff for the vote and at least one putting a cap on trades to avoid excessive currency movements.

“Today’s vote is a foregone conclusion so sterling is unlikely to move significantly,” said Rebecca O’Keeffe, an analyst with online trader Interactive Investor.

“The fireworks will happen after today — when it is clear what happens next,” she said, predicting that a decision not to leave the EU would send sterling shooting up while a no-deal Brexit would send it down to record lows.

Rather than heal the divisions exposed by the Brexit referendum, the vote has reignited them. Pro-European MPs campaigning to force a second vote say they have faced death threats.

Brexit supporters have also voiced growing frustration with what they see as parliamentary blockage of their democratic vote.

Criticism of the deal is focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership which could take several years.

Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Northern Irish party on whom May relies for her Commons majority, told the BBC his party would not be forced into backing the deal by fears over the border.

“We fought (against) a terrorist campaign (in order) to stay part of the United Kingdom,” he said, evoking Northern Ireland’s past conflict.

“We are not going to allow bureaucrats in Brussels to separate us from the rest of the United Kingdom.” His boss Arlene Foster stressed “we cannot accept the backstop…it does violence to the union.” Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said May must call an election if she loses on Tuesday and has threatened to hold a confidence vote in her government if she does not.

In the event of a defeat, the government must set out what happens next by Monday at the latest.

Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that whatever the outcome May could ask to delay Brexit.

But a diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed.

The withdrawal agreement includes plans for a post-Brexit transition period to provide continuity until a new relationship is drawn up, in return for continued budget contributions from London.

Without it, and if there is no delay, Britain will sever 46 years of ties with its nearest neighbours with no agreement to ease the blow. (AFP) KUN

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