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Trump sacks US Attorney General Jeff Sessions; takes control of Russia meddling probe

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Washington | President Donald Trump on Wednesday sacked US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, virtually taking operational control of a sensitive probe into foreign interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

For months, Trump publicly attacked Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the probe in 2017 and blamed his decision for allowing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel.

Trump said Sessions will be temporarily replaced by his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who is a Republican loyalist.

Now, with Whitaker at the helm, Trump has someone leading the Justice Department who has already suggested that Mueller’s probe should be reined in.

CBS News reported that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is no longer leading the Mueller inquiry, and that Whitaker will now assume control.

In a tweet on Wednesday Trump said, “We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well (sic).”

“We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date,” he tweeted.

Observers opine that Trump’s move will have potential implication on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe as Whitaker has been overtly critical of the Mueller’s team to investigate beyond allegations Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in 2016 and other ties between the President, his family and aides, and Kremlin.

The wide-ranging investigation – overseen by the Department of Justice – has resulted in a series of criminal charges against several Trump associates.

Trump’s tweet came less than an hour after his marathon press conference at the White House where he told reporters that he will making announcements about changes in his Cabinet and senior White House and Administrative positions in a week.

In a one-page resignation letter to the President, Sessions, a former Alabama senator who was an early supporter of Trump, made it clear that the resignation came “at your request”.

“Since the day I was honoured to be sworn in as attorney general of the United States, I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country,” Sessions wrote.

“Dear Mr President, at your request I am submitting my resignation,” he wrote in an undated letter.

“Most importantly, in my time as attorney general, we have restored and upheld the rule of law,” Sessions added, while thanking the Republican president.

According to a White House official, Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly called Sessions on Wednesday before the President held a press conference.

The president cannot directly fire the special counsel, whose investigation Trump has repeatedly decried as a witch hunt. But Sessions’ replacement will have the power to fire Mueller or end the inquiry, US media reports said.

Reacting to Trump’s move, Democratic party Senate leader Chuck Schumer said, “Clearly, the president has something to hide.”

“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” Schumer said.

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Lankan MPs seek suspension of state funds allocated to Rajapaksa

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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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