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US not covering up journalist Khashoggi’s murder: Pompeo

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Washington: The United States is still probing the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today, as US lawmakers continued to demand stronger US action to punish the perpetrators.

“America is not covering up for a murder,” Mr Pompeo said during a visit to Hungary, adding that the United States would take more action to hold accountable all those responsible for the US-based journalist’s death inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

After initially denying his death, Saudi Arabia has confirmed that its agents killed Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government. Riyadh denies its senior leaders were behind the killing.

 

US lawmakers, Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, have sought a strong response by Washington to Khashoggi’s murder and to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The Trump administration had faced a February 8 deadline to send a report to Congress on who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death and whether the US government would impose sanctions on those behind the killing.

Ahead of the deadline, a group of Republican and Democratic senators on Thursday renewed their push to penalize Saudi Arabia, unveiling legislation to bar some arms sales and impose sanctions.

President Donald Trump has resisted such legislative efforts, viewing weapons sales as an important source of US jobs and standing by Saudi crown prince and Trump’s ally, Mohammed bin Salman. Trump is also reluctant to disturb the strategic relationship with the kingdom, seen as an important regional counterbalance to Iran.

Eleven suspects have been indicted in Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s murder, and on Friday a top Saudi official rejected accusations that the crown prince ordered the killing.

A State Department representative said Pompeo had briefed US lawmakers on the murder investigation but gave no other details.

Democratic US Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, on Sunday said the required report was not submitted and accused the Trump administration of complicity in covering up the killing.

“This amounts to the Trump administration aiding in the cover-up of a murder,” Kaine said in a statement. “America should never descend to this level of moral bankruptcy.”


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UN envoy says risk of Israeli-Palestinian war looms large

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United Nations: The UN Mideast envoy says the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians “is fading by the day as the specter of violence and radicalism grows” and “the risk of war continues to loom large”.

Nikolay Mladenov also told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that a negotiated two-state solution is drifting further away.

In his words: “What is needed, first and foremost, is the necessary leadership and political will for change. Until that will can be found, Palestinians and Israelis will continue to slide into increasingly hazardous territory.”

 

Mladenov stressed that leaders must believe peace is possible through negotiations.

He also said leaders and the international community must be committed to support Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace deal based on U.N. resolutions and bilateral agreements.

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Saudi to free 850 Indian prisoners from its jails

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Mumbai: Saudi Arabia will release 850 Indians from its prisons after a request from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) visit to New Delhi, India’s Foreign Ministry has said.

Saudi jails hold the greatest number of Indians incarcerated in any country abroad. As of January 2019, 2,224 Indians were in prison in the kingdom for crimes including murder, kidnapping, bribery, and offences related to drugs and alcohol, according to Indian Foreign Ministry figures.

The approximately 2.7 million Indians in Saudi Arabia form the largest expatriate community in the kingdom, with many working in low-paid jobs in sectors such as construction, domestic services and retailing that Saudis spurn.

 

“At the request of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has ordered the release of 850 Indian prisoners lodged in Saudi jails,” India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a tweet.

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Trump’s confidence on lawsuit, calls it ‘open-and-closed case’

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Washington D.C. (USA): President Donald Trump expressed confidence on Tuesday that he would prevail against a lawsuit filed by 16 US states seeking to block his declaration of a national emergency to fund a wall along the US border with Mexico.

The group of states, including California and New York, has charged the president and top officials in his administration with taking away taxpayer funds for their communities to fulfil a promise from his 2016 campaign to curb illegal immigration and the flow of drugs.

Trump’s remarks to reporters in the Oval Office suggested he was not concerned or surprised by the states’ legal challenge.

 

“I think, in the end, we’re going to be very successful with the lawsuit,” Trump said. “It’s an open-and-closed case.”

The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed its own lawsuit in a US District Court in California, alleging that “Trump disregarded the will of Congress with his emergency declaration.”

Legal experts have said challenges to Trump’s emergency declaration, which critics have called unconstitutional, face an uphill and probably losing battle in a showdown likely to be decided by the conservative-majority US Supreme Court.

Trump declared the national emergency under a 1976 law after Congress declined to give him the USD 5.7 billion he wanted to build parts of the barrier this year.

The president’s demand for wall funding triggered a historic 35-day government shutdown that ended in January. Democrats and Republicans later agreed on a deal to avoid another shutdown with USD 1.4 billion allocated toward border fencing. Trump agreed to sign that and then declared a national emergency, redirecting an additional USD 6.7 billion beyond what lawmakers authorized for the project.

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Michigan joined forces for the lawsuit.

The states said Trump’s order would cause them to lose millions of dollars in federal funding for National Guard units dealing with counter-drug activities and that redirection of funds from authorised military construction projects would damage their economies.

Texas landowners and an environmental group also filed suit against the move.

Trump predicted the legal challenges when he made the announcement in the White House Rose Garden last week, and he defended his right to make the declaration on Tuesday.

“We need strong borders. We have to stop drugs and crime and criminals and human trafficking. And we have to stop all of those things that a strong wall will stop,” he said.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the country’s top Democrat, has called a wall immoral. The issue is likely to be a flashpoint in the 2020 presidential campaign, just as it was when Trump, a Republican, ran for president in 2016.

The ACLU suit, filed on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said that in addition to diverting taxpayer money from other federal projects, Trump’s barrier would affect “ecologically sensitive habitats” and disturb wilderness areas along the border.

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