Britain, US Start Post-Brexit Trade Talks

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP.


Britain begins post-Brexit trade talks with the United States on Tuesday, with 100 negotiators on each side joining via videoconference.

Many in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government hope for a free trade agreement with Washington as one of the biggest benefits of leaving the European Union.

Officials said the first round of talks would last two weeks and cover issues such as goods and services trade, digital trade, investment and how to support small businesses.

The US ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, said the deal could “jumpstart the economy after we conquer coronavirus” — a message repeated by British officials.

“The US is our largest trading partner and increasing transatlantic trade can help our economies bounce back from the economic challenge posed by coronavirus,” International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said.

Bilateral trade was worth £220.9 billion ($275 billion, 252.6 billion euros) in the last year, and a free trade deal could increase this by £15.3 billion on 2018 levels, in the long run, the British government says.

Truss and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will kick off the talks before officials take over, with further rounds due at six-week intervals.

Britain voted in a referendum in June 2016 to leave the EU, and after years of politically wrangling finally quit on January 31 this year.

Its departure allowed Britain to start trade talks with other countries, including the US.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Deaths Top 250,000 As Billions Raised For Vaccine Push

However, Britain remains in a transition period until December 31 that keeps its ties to the EU largely the same, to allow time for both sides to thrash out a new relationship.

Many in the EU had already warned of the difficulties of getting a trade deal with Britain by the end of the year.

The disruption of the coronavirus outbreak has prompted calls from some in Britain for the transition to be extended.

But Johnson, who led the 2016 “Leave” campaign and won a huge election victory in December promising to “Get Brexit Done”, has so far refused.

The latest round of UK-EU talks broke up on April 24 with little progress, stuck on key issues such as fishing rights, how to maintain common standards and the role of European judges.

A source close to the British negotiating team last week warned that “we’re talking past each other”, while expressing hope that a deal could be struck.


White House Defends Trump’s Aid Cut To Central America


The White House on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s decision to cut off aid to three small Central American countries, insisting they weren’t doing enough to stop the flow of migrants to the United States.

Trump announced the aid cut-off to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala last week and threatened once again to close the US border with Mexico in response to the migrant surge.

“If we’re going to give these countries hundreds of millions of dollars, we would like them to do more,” White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

READ ALSO: Israel Reopens Gaza Border Crossings After Rocket Strike

The aid has gone to fund programs to combat gangs and foster development in the three countries, with the aim of addressing the root causes of the mass migration.

“If it’s working so well, why are the people still coming?  Why these historic numbers again, 100,000 people will cross the border this month alone,” Mulvaney said.

“It’s not working well enough to help us solve our border crisis.  And that’s what the president’s focused on,” he said.

Critics warned, however, that US funding cuts are likely to worsen conditions, possibly adding to the migrant flow. And they said Trump’s threat to close the border with Mexico if carried out, would hurt the US economy.

Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, dismissed the threat to close the border as “a totally unrealistic boast” by Trump.

“We need to focus on what’s happening in Central America where three countries are disassembling before our eyes and people are desperately coming to the United States. The president cutting off aid to these countries will not solve this problem,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

White House counsellor, Kellyanne Conway spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” insisted Trump’s threat to close the border “certainly isn’t a bluff.”

On Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that, at the president’s direction, the State Department was ending its foreign assistance programs for the three Central American countries for 2017 and 2018.

The State Department did not say how much unspent money was involved in the step, which could be largely symbolic.

In comments to reporters Friday, Trump suggested as much as $500 million is at stake.

“We were giving them $500 million. We were paying them tremendous amounts of money, and we’re not paying them anymore because they haven’t done a thing.”


United States ‘Will Regret It’ If It Violates Nuclear Deal – Iran

FILE COPY Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani attending a cabinet meeting in the capital Tehran. Criticism is different to violence, warns Iran’s Rouhani.  HO / IRANIAN PRESIDENCY / AFP


Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, said Monday that the United States would regret violating the nuclear deal, and that Iran would respond in “less than a week” if that happened. 

“We will not be the first to violate the accord but they should definitely know that they will regret it if they violate it,” Rouhani told a conference to mark National Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran.

“We are much more prepared than they think, and they will see that if they violate this accord, within a week, less than a week, they will see the result.”

US President Donald Trump has threatened to walk away from the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions by May 12 unless tough new restrictions are imposed on Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Rouhani dismissed the threat, saying: “It’s been 15 months since this gentleman who came to power in America has been making claims and there have been many ups and downs in his remarks and his behaviour.

“(But) the foundations of the JCPOA (nuclear deal) have been so strong that during these 15 months of pressure… the structure has remained solid.”

The other partners to the agreement — Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the EU — all agree that Iran has stuck by its commitments, as does the International Atomic Energy Association which is tasked with inspecting Iran’s compliance.


Teachers Protest United States’ School Funding

Stormy Cole, a Stillwater, Oklahoma student displays a protest sign, during a teachers rally at the state capitol in Oklahoma.      Photo: J Pat Carter / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP


A teachers’ protest entered its second day in Oklahoma Tuesday as US state lawmakers faced a spreading schoolhouse revolt against a decade of deep cuts to public education.

On Monday, tens of thousands of teachers and their supporters mobbed the steps of the state capitol in Oklahoma City while protesters in Kentucky simultaneously besieged that state’s legislature in the city of Frankfort.

“We’re back today,” said Doug Folks, spokesman for the Oklahoma Education Association, the teachers union.

Turnout was expected to be lighter — “but just as passionate,” he told AFP.

The protests are part of a wave sweeping Republican-dominated states where teachers have had to cope with low pay and cuts to public schools as lawmakers slashed spending.

Oklahoma teachers vowed to continue protests until their demands for more funding and better pay are met.

Their counterparts in Kentucky did not plan to protest Tuesday because the state legislature was no longer in session, the Kentucky Education Association told AFP.

Demonstrators were inspired by their counterparts in West Virginia and Arizona, who also have protested. A nine-day strike last month won West Virginia’s teachers their first pay raise in four years.

Oklahoma lawmakers recently agreed to a rare tax increase to bump teacher pay by an average of $6,100 a year. But, that was not enough to placate educators, who insist cuts have been far deeper than what lawmakers have given back.

“Our teachers will be here,” Oklahoma Education Association president Alicia Priest told CNN on Tuesday, “Our community is behind us. We’ve got to get this done for the sake of our kids.”

The demonstrations have highlighted the teachers’ complaints — including salaries that were so low that some teachers needed second jobs, such as working as restaurant waiters or mowing lawns, to make ends meet.

Students at one rural Oklahoma school created an online video, pointing to leaking ceilings and displaying textbooks that fell apart when opened.

Oklahoma is one of 12 states that slashed education spending following the 2008 recession and failed to restore those funds as the economy improved, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington DC research and policy institute.


Trump Blasts United States’ Attorney General, Sessions Again

US 'Not Concerned' With Short Term Dollar Value, Says Mnuchin
FILE PHOTO  US President Donald Trump flanked by daughter Ivanka and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L).        Mandel NGAN / AFP


President Donald Trump blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions via Twitter Wednesday, labelling the country’s top law enforcement official “disgraceful” over his handling of White House allegations of illegal wiretapping.

It was the second critical tweet in a week against Sessions, who reportedly submitted his resignation at least once last year after Trump insulted him.

Trump on Wednesday questioned Sessions’ commitment to Republican demands that he investigate the use of so-called FISA national security warrants in 2016, when Barack Obama was president, to wiretap members of Trump’s election campaign team over their contacts with Russia.

On Tuesday, Sessions said he had ordered the inspector general of the Department of Justice to look into whether highly secretive FISA warrant process was abused.

“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse,” Trump asked in a tweet.

“Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” Trump said.

One week ago Trump took aim at the attorney general in another tweet referencing Justice Department investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with that.

“Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren’t they the subject of the investigation?” he wrote.

“Why aren’t Dem[ocrat] crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!” Trump wrote.

The Justice Department declined to comment on Trump’s tweets.

Sessions, a former Alabama senator who joined Trump’s campaign for the presidency early on, has been a stalwart enforcer of keynote administration policies like cracking down on illegal immigration, violent gang crime and drugs, and installing conservative judges and prosecutors across the justice system.

But Trump has frequently targeted Sessions with his ire, particularly over independent special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia and Trump’s possible obstruction of that investigation.

Because he was part of the campaign, Sessions recused himself early on from overseeing the probe, infuriating Trump.

According to former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus, he had to convince Sessions at least once last year to rescind a decision to resign, and rescued him from being fired on two other occasions.

Priebus told Chris Whipple for his upcoming book “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” that Sessions submitted his resignation in May 2017 after Trump called him an “idiot” in the Oval Office following the Justice Department’s appointment of Mueller to handle the Russia probe.

Priebus and Vice President Mike Pence convinced Sessions to stay, and then persuaded Trump to reject the resignation letter, according to an excerpt of the book published in vanity Fair.

Two months later, according to Priebus, Trump, frustrated over the Mueller probe, had to be talked out of firing Sessions, whom he had labelled “weak.”


Blatter Denies Grabbing Hope Solo’s Backside

This combination of pictures created on November 11, 2017 by AFP shows former FIFA then President Joseph Blatter (L) speaking at the start of the FIFA Ballon d’Or awards ceremony at the Kongresshaus in Zurich on January 7, 2013 and USA women’s national football team goalkeeper Hope Solo attending BODY at ESPYs at Milk Studios on July 14, 2015 in Hollywood, California. PHOTO; FABRICE COFFRINI, JASON MERRITT/AFP

The former head of world football Sepp Blatter said on Saturday that claims by United State women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo that he had grabbed her backside were “absurd”.

Solo told Portuguese newspaper Expresso that then-FIFA president Blatter had sexually harassed her at the 2013 Ballon d’Or ceremony.

The 36-year-old Solo, her country’s standout goalkeeper, claimed Blatter pounced as she was about to present an award to her teammate Abby Wambach.

“Sepp Blatter grabbed my ass, it was a few years ago at the Ballon d’Or ceremony just before I got on stage,” Solo said.

However, Blatter, 81, told AFP the accusations were “absurd and ridiculous”.

Solo, a World Cup winner, and two-time Olympic champion made the allegations on the sidelines of the Web Summit being held in Lisbon.

She said that sexual harassment at the hands of male officials was a common problem in women’s football.

“I have seen this all of my career and I would like to see more athletes speak about their experiences,” said Solo.

“It’s out of control, not just in Hollywood but everywhere,” she added in reference to the firestorm of sexual harassment allegations in entertainment, politics and sport since the scandal involving Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein unfolded.

Solo made reference to the fact that female players sometimes married their US college coaches “which obviously a coach should not be doing, especially with a young player.”

Blatter was president of FIFA from 1998 to 2015 until he was banned for corruption.

The Swiss official ran FIFA with an iron hand and oversaw a period in which football’s premier tournament was hosted in Asia for the first time and he paved the way for it to be held in Qatar in 2022.

After the corruption allegations emerged, FIFA banned Blatter from the sport for eight years, a term later reduced to six years after appeal.

Blatter told AFP last month that he would attend next year’s World Cup finals in Russia at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin.


U.S. Orders Closure Of Russian Consulate In San Francisco

US President Donald Trump speaks during his address to the nation from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia, on August 21, 2017. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP

The United States on Thursday ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco as well as two annexes in Washington and New York in two days, in a tit-for-tat response to Moscow’s drastic reduction of US diplomatic staff in their country.

The State Department said the decision was made “in the spirit of parity,” adding that the closures needed to be completed by Saturday.

At the start of Donald Trump’s presidency in January, the Republican leader said he hoped for improved relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But after the US Congress approved new economic sanctions against Moscow over its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, Putin in July ordered drastic cuts in US staff in retaliation.

Along with the San Francisco consulate, the installations ordered closed were a chancery annex in Washington, where Moscow has a giant embassy complex, and a consular annex in New York.

“The United States has fully implemented the decision by the government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

“We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries,” she added, noting that, with the closures ordered, “both countries will remain with three consulates each.”

Putin said 755 diplomatic staff — both Russian and American would have to stop work by Friday, although the US State Department has not confirmed the number.

The number of US diplomatic staff will now be capped at 455, the same number that Russia has in the United States.

It is not clear how many of the US-employed staff losing their jobs will be physically leaving the country, or how many are Russian citizens. The RBK news site cited sources saying that at least 600 are Russian.

“We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better,” Putin said when he announced the cuts.

“But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for anytime soon.”

On Thursday, Washington expressed hope that the two sides “can avoid further retaliatory actions… and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries.”
But the State Department warned: “The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.”

Washington had already announced it would suspend issuing all non-immigrant visas in Russia between August 23 and September 1.

Visa operations at US consulates will remain suspended indefinitely.


South Korea Conducts Anti-Terror Drills In Seoul Subway

South Korea conducted drills simulating bomb and poisonous gas attacks at a subway station on Tuesday in Seoul.

They are part of yearly contingency drills known as the “Ulchi Exercises”, amid mounting tension over North Korea’s weapons programmes.

Read Also: South Korea, U.S. Set For Divisive Military Drills

About 200 personnel from the Seoul Metro, police, military, fire department, local government as well as about 60 citizens participated in the exercise at the Sadang subway station.

The country’s four-day Ulchi Exercise began on Monday (August 21). About 4,000 government bodies, as well as 480,000 state employees, are expected to take part, according to Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

Trump Declares National Emergency On Opioid Abuse

Donald Trump

United State President Donald Trump on Thursday declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency and said his administration was drafting papers to make it official.

Trump spoke about a week after a White House commission on the opioid crisis led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recommended the president declare it a national emergency.

Trump said: “The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I am saying officially right now it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency. We are going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.

“We are going to draw it up and make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had. You know, when I was growing up they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs.

“There has never been anything like what has happened to this country over the past four or five years. And I have to say this in all fairness, this is a world wide problem, not just a United States problem. This is happening world wide. But this is a national emergency We are drawing documents now so we can so attest.”

The declaration could help unlock more support and resources to address the drug overdose epidemic, such as additional funding and expanded access to various forms of treatment, and it gives the government more flexibility in waiving rules and restrictions to expedite action.

National emergencies are typically declared for short-term crises, such as the Zika virus outbreak or a natural disaster. It is unclear what Trump’s declaration will mean for a complex, long-term public health problem.

Read Also: Trump Says North Korea Should Be Very Nervous  

Chicago Police Hold Four Over Live-Streamed Attack

 flag1The police in the U.S city of Chicago have arrested four people over a horrific video which was live-streamed on Facebook.

In the video, a bound and gagged man whom police say has special needs was being assaulted.

His assailants could also be heard making derogatory statements against white people and President-elect, Donald trump.

Attack victim after being tied up

In one part of the video they use a knife to remove part of his scalp.

The Chicago police have described the video as a “sickening” possible hate crime.

According to them, the incident which happened on Tuesday, took place in a flat on Chicago’s West Side.

In the 30-minute video, the attackers were also seen cutting the 18-year-old victim’s clothes, dropping cigarette ash on him, pushing his head back with a foot and drawing blood by cutting off some of his hair with a knife.

The BBC stated that in other videos posted online, the young man was beaten, made to drink from a toilet bowl and forced at knife-point to say “I love black people.”

U.S. Reassures Nigeria Of Support In 2015 General Election

James-EntwistleThe United States Ambassador To Nigeria, Mr James Entwistle, says the United States government remains committed to ensuring that the 2015 general elections will be free and fair.

Mr Entwistle, spoke in a meeting with officials of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja on Wednesday.

He appealed to Nigerians to shun acts that could incite violence‎.

The US Ambassador said that the United States would support Nigeria because of the long standing relationship between both countries.

“From our own historical experience, we understand the importance of election. The United States will support the Nigerian people in their quest to ensure a credible and transparent election that they want and deserve.

“That is what we stand for and as part of that, I will try to be in touch with all parties to understand them, so that we can be knowledgeable about the electoral process here.

“I think it is incumbent on all of us to work towards this. History shows us that one election can make the difference. It may not happen overnight, but genuine change in every society is only possible in a true democratic process,” he said.

Entwistle encouraged potential party candidates to publicly commit themselves to ensuring that “they would not encourage, foment or engage in violence before, during and after the elections”.

He asked Nigerians to come out en masse to participate in the voting exercise .

On his part,the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party,‎ Mr Adamu Muazu, said that the party remained committed to achieving credible elections in the country as exemplified in the just concluded Osun and Ekiti governorship elections and beyond.

“We will always present credible candidates who can win elections. We will continue to provide internal-driven democracy that will be driven by the people,” he said.

Mu’azu emphasied that President Goodluck Jonathan had continued to insist on a “one man, one vote”process which he said the party was proud of.

“We will, by the grace of God, work for the people of Nigeria. Our leader, the President has through our party, been campaigning that voting should be one man one vote.

“We take time to advertise this in national dailies to make sure that we will continue to have cordial relationship with the people and the international community,” he stressed.


Ebola : Canada Donates Vaccine To WHO For Use In Africa

Ebola virus diseaseThe Health Minister of Canada, Rona Ambrose,has  said that the Canadian Government would donate a small quantity of an experimental Ebola Vaccine developed in its government lab, to the World Health Organization (WHO) for use in Africa.

The Health Minister Rona Ambrose, said on Tuesday that she had offered the vaccine to Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director General of the WHO. The decision to donate the vaccine came after the WHO said on Tuesday that it was ethical to offer untested drugs to people infected by the virus.

The Canadian government would donate between 800 to 1,000 doses of the vaccine, with the final number given dependent on how much Canada holds back for research and clinical trials. The government will also keep a small supply in case it is needed domestically.

In an interview with Reuters, the Deputy Chief, Public Health Agency, Dr. Greg Taylor, said that the United State was also working on a vaccine and the WHO and governments involved were discussing possible use in Africa.

Canada only have about 1,500 animal doses of the vaccine, which it invented a few years ago, and would need four to six months to make a large quantity, he said. The government’s vaccine is separate from the treatment being developed by Canada’s Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp.

“We see this as a global resource, something we need to put on the global table, how can we make best use of this asset? “We’re looking to do that as fast as we can,” Taylor said, speaking from Ottawa.

The Ebola outbreak is the world’s largest and deadliest. So far, 1,013 people have died, the vast majority in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Canadian vaccine, which the agency licensed for commercialization to U.S. firm BioProtection Systems, a unit of Newlink Genetics, has proven effective in animals but has never been tested in humans, Taylor said.

Last week, Iowa-based NewLink said that BioProtection had a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense for studies to bring the Canadian Ebola vaccine closer to human testing.

“We’ve been trying to figure out how we can make a contribution in the fight against this disease and get our vaccine into the clinic,” Brian Wiley, NewLink vice-president of business development, told Reuters on Tuesday. “A large amount of work still needs to be done, but when there is a dire need the powers that be move at a quicker pace.”

Canada’s Taylor did not specify which of several U.S. vaccines in development he was referring to that may be used in Africa along with the Canadian vaccine.

Profectus BioSciences of Tarrytown, New York, has tested its Ebola vaccine in monkeys with good results, its chief science officer John Eldridge said on Tuesday.

Still, deciding whether to use an experimental drug on humans is “very difficult,” Taylor said.

“You really don’t know how safe it is, you don’t know what the side effects are going to be. But in this extraordinary circumstance in Africa right now, we’re trying to do everything we can to assist.”

The first doses in Africa would likely be available to health care workers, Taylor said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada was also involved in the development of ZMapp, an experimental Ebola treatment licensed by U.S. firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical that has been used to treat two infected American aid workers. Liberia said on Tuesday it will get Mapp’s drug to treat two doctors.