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Washington demands probe into Yemen bus strike




Washington |The United States called for a “thorough” investigation following the deaths of 29 children in northern Yemen in a strike on a bus carried out by the Saudi-led coalition.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US was “concerned” by reports of an attack resulting in civilian deaths. “We are calling the Saudi led coalition to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident,” she said.

Nauert added the US takes credible accounts of civilian casualties “very seriously.” “We call on the parties to take appropriate measures to protect civilians,” she said.

A hospital in Saada province supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross “received the bodies of 29 children under the age of 15, and 48 wounded, including 30 children,” the organization announced on Twitter. A spokesman for the Red Cross in Sanaa told AFP the toll was not final as casualties from the attack were taken to several hospitals.

The coalition acknowledged carrying out a “legitimate military action,” but spokesman Turki al-Maliki told AFP claims that children were inside the bus were “misleading,” adding that the bus carried “Huthi combatants.”

Saada is a stronghold of Huthi rebels, whom the Saudi-led coalition are fighting in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s forces. The war in Yemen has left more than 10,000 dead since 2015, sparking what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The US has lent its Saudi allies support in the form of arms, intelligence and aerial refueling.


Theresa May says Brexit deal defeat could topple UK government




Theresa May

London | Prime Minister Theresa May warned on Sunday that parliament’s rejection of her Brexit deal could leave Britain in the European Union and bring the opposition Labour Party to power.

The embattled leader’s message came with her government fearing a heavy defeat on Tuesday of the draft withdrawal agreement she signed with Brussels last month.

Media reports said May is under pressure from her cabinet to delay the vote and fly to Brussels to secure more concessions ahead of a planned summit with 27 fellow EU leaders on Thursday and Friday. But Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told the BBC: “The vote is going ahead.” May said Britain “would truly be in uncharted waters” if the draft struck after nearly two years of tough talks is voted down less than four months before the March 29 Brexit date.

“It would mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit,” she told the Mail on Sunday. “We have a leader of the opposition who thinks of nothing but attempting to bring about a general election, no matter what the cost to the country… I believe Jeremy Corbyn getting his hands on power is a risk we cannot afford to take.”

May is facing her biggest crisis since coming to power a month after the nation voted by a 52-48 margin in June 2016 to leave the world’s largest single market after 46 years. She is under attack from more strident Brexit backers in her own party as well as europhiles who want either a second referendum or a pact that maintains stronger EU-UK ties than the one offered by May.

Her comments on Sunday are aimed at tamping down the hardline Conservative Party revolt led by the likes of her former foreign minister Boris Johnson. May’s team has been arguing for a number of days that her vision offers the cleanest break between the UK and EU that Brexit supporters can hope for at this late stage. But Johnson used a column in the Sun on Sunday to argue that “the best way to get a great deal is to prepare for no deal” by rejecting May’s draft.

Corbyn’s party is hoping that failure in parliament on Tuesday will trigger a broader revolt that leads to early elections and returns Labour to power for the first time since 2010. “I think time is really running out for her and if you can tell me if she will still be prime minister on Tuesday evening then perhaps I can tell you what we do next,” Labour shadow minister John Trickett told Sky News.

“Maybe she doesn’t quite know either, by the way. I think things have run out of control.” European officials said they might be able to find a way to offer a token concession in Brussels that May could take back to London and show rebellious MPs. But they added that such tinkering cannot alter the basis of the withdrawal agreement itself.

“Theresa May will come to the European summit on December 13 and 14 to ask for a renegotiation and the 27 will tell her no, the texts have been agreed,” an informed European source told AFP on condition on anonymity.

“They will then retreat and work on the (accompanying) protocol or clarify a point that is deemed important so that she can take it back to parliament.” May would then be expected to submit the touched-up version for a second vote at an unspecified date.

The European Court of Justice could inject still more drama into the Brexit endgame when it rules on Monday whether Britain can unilaterally halt its split from the bloc. The ECJ could also decide Brexit can only be postponed or suspended by unanimous agreement of the other 27 nations. May has rejected the idea of putting the brakes on Brexit.

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China: Canada’s detention of Huawei executive ‘vile in nature’





Beijing | China summoned the Canadian ambassador to protest the detention of a top executive of leading Chinese tech giant Huawei, calling it “unreasonable, unconscionable, and vile in nature” and warning of “grave consequences” if she is not released.

A report by the official Xinhua News Agency carried on the Foreign Ministry’s website said that Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng called in Ambassador John McCallum on Saturday over the holding of Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is reportedly suspected of trying to evade US trade curbs on Iran.

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies and has been the target of deepening US security concerns over its ties to the Chinese government. The US has pressured European countries and other allies to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.

Le told McCallum that Meng’s detention at the request of the United States while transferring flights in Vancouver was a “severe violation” of her “legitimate rights and interests.” “Such a move ignores the law and is unreasonable, unconscionable, and vile in nature,” Le said in the statement. “China strongly urges the Canadian side to immediately release the detained Huawei executive … or face grave consequences that the Canadian side should be held accountable for,” Le said.

Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said that Chinese pressure on the Canadian government won’t work “Perhaps because the Chinese state controls its judicial system, Beijing sometimes has difficulty understanding or believing that courts can be independent in a rule-of-law country. There’s no point in pressuring the Canadian government. Judges will decide,” Paris tweeted in response to the comments from Beijing.

A Canadian prosecutor urged a Vancouver court to deny bail to Meng, whose case is shaking up U.S.-China relations and worrying global financial markets. Meng, also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was detained at the request of the US during a layover at the Vancouver airport on December 1 the same day that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China agreed over dinner to a 90-day ceasefire in a trade dispute that threatens to disrupt global commerce.

The US alleges that Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It also says that Meng and Huawei misled American banks about its business dealings in Iran. The surprise arrest raises doubts about whether the trade truce will hold and whether the world’s two biggest economies can resolve the complicated issues that divide them.

Canadian prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley said in a court hearing Friday that a warrant had been issued for Meng’s arrest in New York Aug. 22. He said Meng, arrested en route to Mexico from Hong Kong, was aware of the investigation and had been avoiding the United States for months, even though her teenage son goes to school in Boston.

Gibb-Carsley alleged that Huawei had done business in Iran through a Hong Kong company called Skycom. Meng, he said, had misled U.S. banks into thinking that Huawei and Skycom were separate when, in fact, “Skycom was Huawei.” Meng has contended that Huawei sold Skycom in 2009.

In urging the court to reject Meng’s bail request, Gibb-Carsley said the Huawei executive had vast resources and a strong incentive to bolt: She’s facing fraud charges in the United States that could put her in prison for 30 years. The hearing will resume Monday after Meng spends the weekend in jail.

Huawei, in a brief statement emailed to The Associated Press, said that “we have every confidence that the Canadian and US legal systems will reach the right conclusion.” Canadian officials have declined to comment on Chinese threats of retaliation over the case, instead emphasizing the independence of Canada’s judiciary along with the importance of Ottawa’s relationship with Beijing.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said Canada “has assured China that due process is absolutely being followed in Canada, that consular access for China to Ms. Meng will absolutely be provided”.”We are a rule of law country and we will be following our laws as we have thus far in this matter and as we will continue to do,” Freeland said Friday.

While protesting what it calls Canada’s violation of Meng’s human rights, China’s ruling Communist Party stands accused of mass incarcerations of its Muslim minority without due process, locking up those exercising their right to free speech and refusing to allow foreign citizens to leave the country in order to bring pressure on their relatives accused of financial crimes.

The party also takes the lead in prosecutions of those accused of corruption or other crimes in a highly opaque process, without supervision from the court system or independent bodies.

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Chief of Staff John Kelly to leave White House by year-end: President Trump




John Kelly

Washington | White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will step down by the end of this year, US President Donald Trump has said, confirming that he will announce a replacement “over the next day or two”.

The 68-year-old retired Marine Corps general has been President Trump’s Chief of Staff since July 31, 2017. In the first seven months of the Trump administration, Kelly was the secretary of Homeland Security. “John Kelly will be leaving I don’t know if I can say ‘retiring’. But, he’s a great guy. John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Saturday.

“We will be announcing who will be taking John’s place…I shall be announcing that over the next day or two. But, John will be leaving at the end of the year. He has been with me almost two years now,” Trump said.

Nick Ayers, the 36-year-old chief of staff to the vice-president Mike Pence, is Kelly’s likely successor.  There were reports that the relationship between Trump and Kelly had deteriorated to such an extent that the two were no longer on speaking terms.

Kelly, who was brought in by Trump after he fired Reince Priebus, has been instrumental in bringing in a sense of discipline inside the White House. Kelly was one of the several generals appointed by Trump to key roles, including defense secretary Jim Mattis, and former national security advisers Michael Flynn and HR McMaster.

According to a report in ‘The Wall Street Journal’, the relationship between Kelly and Trump had completely broken down, leading the president to tell an associate to “stop calling John” and to instead “call Nick, he’s my guy”. Veteran journalist Bob Woodward wrote in his bestselling book ‘Fear’ that Kelly called Trump an “idiot” at the head of a “Crazytown” administration. Kelly, however, denied such reports and stayed in post.

In France in November for events marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war, Kelly visited an American cemetery outside Paris while Trump remained in the city, the White House insisting rain made a presidential visit impractical. Kelly’s exit from the White House is the latest in a series of reshuffles in the Trump administration.

On Friday, Trump said he will nominate William Barr his attorney general, replacing Matthew Whitaker who was named acting attorney general only a month ago. Whitaker replaced Jeff Sessions in the top Justice Department post. Sessions was fired after months of being attacked and ridiculed by the president on November 7.

Trump appointed State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert as the US’ next ambassador to the UN, replacing Indian-origin Nikki Haley who said in October that she would step down at the end of the year. McMaster was replaced on March 22 with John Bolton as the national security adviser. Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency chief quit on July 5.

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was fired by Trump on March 13 after rifts between them. On Friday, Trump tweeted that Tillerson was “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell”. James Comey, the FBI director, who led the Russia probe before Mueller, was fired by Trump in May last year. Michael Flynn resigned in February last year as Trump’s national security adviser.

Earlier in the day, Trump nominated General Mark Milley as his next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military advisor. If confirmed by the Senate, Gen Milley would replace General Joe Dunford who is scheduled to retire next summer. Milley currently is Chief of Staff of the Army. Trump described Gen Milley as a “great gentleman and a great patriot”.

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