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Putin says he told Trump that Russia prepared to extend START treaty: Fox News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview broadcast on Monday that he told U.S. President Donald Trump that Russia is prepared to extend the New START nuclear treaty that expires in 2021.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gestures during the joint press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari via REUTERS

“I reassured President Trump that Russia stands ready to extend this treaty, to prolong it, but we have to agree on the specifics at first, because we have some questions to our American partners,” Putin told Fox News in an interview after a summit with Trump on Monday in Helsinki.

“We think that they are not fully compliant with the treaty, but this is for experts to decide,” Putin added.

The New START treaty, signed on April 8, 2010, calls for deployable nuclear warheads and bombs to be capped at no more than 1,550. It limits deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and nuclear bombers to 700 and non-deployed ICBMs, SLBM and bombers to 800.

The treaty lasts for 10 years and can be extended by up to five years. The New START treaty gave both countries until February this year to reach the treaty limits.

Both sides say they met the treaty caps earlier this year, but Russia has raised questions about the U.S. conversion of some submarines and bombers to carry conventional weapons, saying it has no way to verify they cannot also be used for nuclear arms.

While Trump has criticized the treaty as a bad deal negotiated by his predecessor, proponents of the accord say it is important because it created a new monitoring regime, including data exchanges, that enable the two sides to verify compliance.

Reporting by Eric Beech; Writing by Eric Walsh and David Alexander; Editing by Peter Cooney

http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/Reuters/worldNews/~3/Y8kqJeJ97Ko/putin-says-he-told-trump-that-russia-prepared-to-extend-start-treaty-fox-news-idUSKBN1K62UU

Google’s job hunting service comes to UK

Job interview Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Google says the new service will benefit job hunters and employers

Google has secured several of the UK’s largest recruitment services for a local version of its jobs-hunting tool.

Reed, Guardian Jobs, Haymarket and Totaljobs.com are among those providing listings, in addition to global sites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor.

The facility automatically shows the “freshest and most relevant” openings based on a user’s location when they type relevant terms into Google Search.

But one expert said those involved might come to regret the tie-up.

For now, the US tech giant is not charging employment sites to feature their listings nor using the service to place any extra adverts beyond those that normally appear within its results.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Google lets users search for recent vacancies across a wide range of sites simultaneously

In addition, applicants must still click through to the individual third-party jobs platforms to apply for a post.

But one industry-watcher suggested this arrangement could change.

“Google is a behemoth of search, it controls the gateway to the internet – so I can understand why others feel they have to be part of its jobs service,” commented Robert Jeffrey, editor of People Management magazine.

“But undoubtedly it will start charging for placement and other premium services.

“And for third-party sites that represents a risk.”

Commute times

The Google For Jobs service already exists in the US, Spain and parts of Africa, where the firm claims to have already connected millions of people to new job opportunities.

In addition to the larger listing sites, Google has also partnered with thousands of smaller specialist platforms.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The Google For Jobs service is triggered by relevant queries within its main search facility

“What job seekers get is the ability to find jobs from all over the internet,” product manager Joy Xi explained.

“What the employers get is easier discoverability.”

She added that there were also other advantages over individual sites.

For example, Ms Xi said Google’s “search smarts” meant applicants would not have to carry out multiple searches to find similar posts listed under different titles – for example: programmer, software engineer and developer.

In addition, she said, the firm’s Maps data had been referenced to let users see how long it would take to commute to each post.

Even so, one major vacancies site is refusing to share its data – Indeed.

The 14-year-old firm also acts as a listings aggregator and claims to be the world’s most popular jobs hunt service with more than 200 million unique visitors a month.

Image copyright Indeed
Image caption US-based Indeed is a subsidiary of Japan’s Recruit Holdings

“At this time, Indeed has decided not to partner because we feel that’s the best decision for jobseekers,” its marketing chief Paul D’Arcy told the BBC.

“Moving forward, we will continue to evaluate this and other partnerships.”

Indeed’s recent efforts to maintain its lead include the acquisition of the CV-building service Resume.com, and launch of new tools for employers to help them tackle any hiring biases.

However, its decision to avoid the new service means links to Indeed pages now appear further down Google’s results pages.

“Indeed is the biggest in the market at the moment, and it may feel like it’s got the most to lose by getting into bed with Google,” said Mr Jeffrey.

“But it’s a brave move.”

Amazon faces web issues around the world on Prime Day

Amazon screenshot Image copyright Amazon screenshot

Shoppers in the US and elsewhere are struggling to access Amazon’s website as one of its biggest annual sales, Prime Day, gets underway.

Many reported the e-commerce platform had crashed, showing them only an error message that read: “sorry, something went wrong on our end”.

The issues are centred on the US but occurring on other continents too.

DownDetector.com, which tracks outages, said the issues began shortly after the sale kicked off at 3pm in the US.

In a tweet the Amazon said it was working to resolve the issues quickly.

According to reports, users have experienced errors on both the desktop site and the mobile app.

Some saw an error page featuring the “dogs of Amazon” and were unable to enter the site, while others could not enter specific product pages.

Some were unable to complete purchases at checkout, while others reported that the “deals” page and “Shop all deals” button had disappeared from the site.

Many shoppers reacted with irritation on Twitter.

According to DownDetector, most of the outages are centred on the US. However, it has also reported issues in Europe, Africa, South America, Russia, Asia and Australasia.

Others have reported experiencing problems with Amazon’s video streaming services and its virtual assistant Alexa.

Image copyright DownDetector
Image caption Most of the issues centre on the US, according to DownDetector

Amazon launched Prime Day in 2015 and by 2017 it was its second biggest shopping day, topped only by Cyber Monday.

The 36-hour event was projected to break records again this year, with industry analysts estimating the company could make at least $3.4bn (£2.6bn) in sales.

However, some have warned glitches will make it hard to achieve these numbers.

“The outage is especially problematic as many of Amazon’s Prime deals are promoted for a set window of time – something that could cause a great deal of frustration for potential customers,” GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders told CNBC.

Shock, alarm as Trump backs Putin on election meddling at summit

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Standing side by side with Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump refused on Monday to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of criticism at home.

On a day when he faced pressure from critics, allied countries and even his own staff to take a tough line, Trump spoke not a single disparaging word in public about Moscow on any of the issues that have brought relations between the two powers to the lowest ebb since the Cold War.

Instead, he denounced the “stupidity” of his own country’s policies, especially the decision to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Just three days ago, the U.S. Justice Department announced an indictment of 12 Russian spies for hacking into Democratic Party computer networks.

Trump’s handling of a joint news conference with Putin in Helsinki stirred a wave of condemnation in the United States, where the White House has struggled for months to dispel a suggestion that Trump was unwilling to stand up to Russia.

His performance was denounced as “treasonous” by a former CIA chief, and U.S. Senator John McCain called the meeting with Putin a “tragic mistake,” although some other Republicans were more cautious.

Asked if he believed U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in an effort to help him defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump said he was not convinced it was Moscow.

“I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Dan Coats, Trump’s director of national intelligence, made clear he did not share the president’s view. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

Some career diplomats also expressed alarm. Bill Burns, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state and ambassador to Russia, said in a telephone interview: “I have … seen a lot of performances by presidents on the world stage, but I cannot think of one that was more appalling than this one.”

Hours after the Helsinki summit, Trump tweeted: “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people. However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!”

‘FOOLISHNESS AND STUPIDITY’

Before the summit even began, Trump blamed his own country for the deterioration in relations.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” he said on Twitter.

The Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted back: “We agree”.

At the news conference, Trump was invited by reporters to offer any criticism of Russia, but he repeatedly declined. Asked if Russia was at all to blame for the poor ties, he said: “I hold both countries responsible. I think the U.S. has been foolish. We’ve all been foolish,” he said, before veering into a discussion about his election victory.

“I beat Hillary Clinton easily and frankly we beat her … we won that race and it’s a shame that there can be even a little bit of a cloud over it,” he said.

Trump’s warm words for Russia were a marked contrast from the past week when he repeatedly rebuked traditional U.S. allies at a summit of NATO and during a visit to Britain.

Asked if Putin was an adversary, he said: “Actually I called him a competitor, and a good competitor he is, and I think the word competitor is a compliment.”

Trump also refrained from publicly criticizing Russia’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region, another geopolitical win for Putin against Western efforts to isolate him.

Putin spoke of the importance of the two countries working together and praised Trump, at one point interrupting the news conference to give the U.S. president a soccer ball.

U.S. President Donald Trump receives a football from Russian President Vladimir Putin as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Asked whether he had wanted Trump to win the 2016 election and had instructed officials to help him, Putin said: “Yes I did,” although he denied any interference, saying the allegations were “complete nonsense.”

Putin suggested U.S. investigators could possibly travel to Russia to participate in questioning Russians accused by Washington of U.S. election meddling as long as Russian investigators would be allowed to do the same with U.S. spies operating in Russia, an idea Trump’s critics dismissed as ludicrous.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump’s performance sent a message of “weakness” to Moscow.

“Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections. This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves,” Graham said on Twitter.

The Republican head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, said Trump’s comments at the joint news conference made the United States look like a “pushover.”

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top congressional Republican, took a more tempered approach but insisted that Trump “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”

‘TREASONOUS’

Former CIA chief John Brennan went further, suggesting Trump should be removed from office.

“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” Brennan tweeted.

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi wrote on Twitter: “Every single day, I find myself asking: what do the Russians have on @realDonaldTrump personally, financially, & politically? The answer to that question is that only thing that explains his behavior & his refusal to stand up to Putin.”

The summit capped a trip abroad during which Trump accused NATO allies of failing to spend enough on their militaries and embarrassed British Prime Minister Theresa May by saying she refused to take his advice about how to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU. He referred to the European Union itself as a “foe” in trade and repeatedly criticized it.

Slideshow (18 Images)

In some of the strongest words yet reflecting the unease of Washington’s traditional allies, Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday that Europe could no longer rely on the United States.

“To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Denis Pinchuk; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Jussi Rosendahl and Andrew Osborn in Helsinki, Christian Lowe and Polina Devitt in Moscow and David Alexander, Arshad Mohammed, Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker, Jonathan Landay and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Grant McCool, Toni Reinhold and Peter Cooney

http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/Reuters/worldNews/~3/dalCidSw1LY/shock-alarm-as-trump-backs-putin-on-election-meddling-at-summit-idUSKBN1K601D

Mueller’s latest indictment is bad news for the Kremlin and other comments

Security desk: Indictment Should Make Kremlin Squirm
The real bombshell in last week’s indictment in the Russia hacking probe is Robert Mueller’s “apparent ability to link specific actions, such as searches and technical queries, to specific officers” of the GRU, Russian military intelligence. This, contends Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky, is “an enormous leap” from past disclosures by US intelligence. It draws “the first straight line from the hacking and spearphishing of US Democrats to the Russian government” — specifically, Military Unit 26165, which handles cryptography. How did Mueller do it? One possibility: “The US had a mole within the GRU.” Another: “The US or an ally penetrated the GRU network and watched the operation in real time.” Either way, “Russian military intelligence appears to have been seriously compromised.”

Professor: Shut Down the Nation’s Universities
Left-wing ideology dominated US universities when he first entered college in 1985, recalls DePaul Prof. Jason D. Hill at The Hill. But “free speech was alive” and “one still could get a fair, balanced education.” Not so today: “The core principles and foundations that keep the United States intact, that provide our citizens with their civic personalities and national identities, are being annihilated.” So he proposes a radical solution: Defund universities, disband and rebuild them with values “advocating individualism, capitalism, Americanism, free speech, self-reliance and the morality of wealth creation.” The “cultural relativists” who rule the campus favor letting “politicized knowledge supersede truth, objectivity, facts and genuine learning.” Sad to say, “one cannot argue with such people.” So “withdraw your support and let them fund themselves.”

Conservative: Now Dems Are Dumping Their Moderates
Over the weekend, reports National Review’s John Fund, the California state Democratic committee voted to spurn moderate Sen. Dianne Feinstein in favor of left-wing foe Kevin de Leon, whom she trounced in last month’s primary. Feinstein apparently “didn’t keep up with the changes in California.” And though she’s shifted left in recent months, “it wasn’t enough” — hard-left activists are demanding she “help shut down the Senate rather than allow Brett Kavanaugh to be confirmed for the Supreme Court.” Other moderate Democrats shouldn’t be complacent, warns Fund: “The party’s left wing is gunning for them” in a headlong rush to socialism. But if these “warmed-over Marxists “think they can scare voters into supporting Democrats by flying Donald Trump blimps and brandishing his image on posters, they may be in for a rude surprise.”

Culture critic: What Happened to Sacha Baron Cohen?
Twelve years after he appeared on-screen, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakh reporter, Borat Sagdiyev, is still funny because “he was a mirror that reflected the good, the bad, and the ugly” in America, says Liel Leibovitz at Tablet. But that was then. On his new TV show, Cohen looks and sounds “like someone you’d find posting feverishly to Twitter at two in the morning, hoping to ‘own’ the libs or ‘destroy’ the Republicans.” Like much of the rest of the media, “this one sharp comedic mind [has] grown lazy and sniffling, all sound and fury and signaling of virtue.” Fact is, he’s now traveling in “the shallow waters waded by the likes of John Oliver, Michelle Wolf and the other TV hacks who confuse outrage for insight and who select their targets from a very, very short list of pre-approved bugbears.”

Media writer: Israel Has Become a TV Powerhouse
Over the past two decades, reports Hannah Brown at Commentary, Israel “has become one of the world’s most prolific exporters of ‘formats’ — industry jargon for concepts and programs.” Israeli-originated hit TV series, of which there are dozens worldside, include “Homeland” and “Fauda.” Indeed, Palestinian fans who don’t speak Hebrew watch the latter series on Netflix with English subtitles, “and it’s become a guilty pleasure on the West Bank and in Gaza.” Moreover, pressure by anti-Israel activists to cancel the show “backfired” when Netflix decided it “was not going to let a group of easily offended activists dictate its programming.” So “the fact remains that millions of viewers around the world are watching programs developed by Israelis every day, and many more such shows are in the pipeline.”

— Compiled by Eric Fettmann

Putin says he told Trump Russia prepared to extend START treaty: Fox News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview broadcast on Monday he told U.S. President Donald Trump that Russia is prepared to extend the START nuclear treaty that expires in 2021.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gestures during the joint press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari via REUTERS

“I reassured President Trump that Russia stands ready to extend this treaty, to prolong it, but we have to agree on the specifics at first, because we have some questions to our American partners. We think that they are not fully compliant with the treaty, but this is for experts to decide,” Putin told Fox News in an interview following a summit between the two leaders on Monday in Helsinki.

Reporting by Eric Beech; Writing by Eric Walsh

http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/Reuters/worldNews/~3/Wau7tLA_Hkc/putin-says-he-told-trump-russia-prepared-to-extend-start-treaty-fox-news-idUSKBN1K62UU

Russiagate Promoters Forget Lessons of Iraq – Man Ejected from Helsinki Presser

The writer, Sam Husseini, who is also the communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that urges mainstream media outlets to interview progressive scholars and policy analysts, was dragged from the briefing just minutes before the two leaders were to take questions from the press.

​Sputnik spoke to Husseini before he was ejected. The writer was in Helsinki covering Trump and Putin protests and talking to various peace activists.

“I was at the protest called ‘Helsinki Calling’ yesterday, and it was what you might generously call, a big tent, lots of contradictory messages. Some some seemed authentically pro-peace of some variety,” Husseini told Sputnik News’ Lee Stranahan in the Finnish capital.

“There were nuclear ban people, some Palestine solidarity people, but there was what you could call the so called ‘resistance’ in the US or some echo of it. ‘I hate Trump,’ ‘I hate Putin,’ ‘I hate both Trump and Putin.’ It was kind of a mishmash that way of different things,” Husseini added.

The ‘whole Russiagate’ narrative was also pervasive at the protest, Husseini noted. Protesters shared the worldview that “we have had this world order of non-aggression and non-interference for all these decades and Putin has violated that. And all of — the Iraq War, US interventions around the world — all that’s supposed to be forgotten. And I think a lot of the ‘resistance’ in its hatred of Trump and Putin has implicitly on some level bought into that worldview.” 

“I think a lot of people who I knew who did the most serious work on Iraq are skeptical…. A lot of people who are leading this are the people who were on the sidelines or certainly were not putting out the most serious critique of the Iraq War as we were pulling up to it. It’s just hard to keep track of everybody sometimes,” Husseini added.

Caitlin Graf, a spokesperson for The Nation, said the publication was “troubled” by the removal. “At a time when this administration consistently denigrates the media, we’re troubled by reports that he was forcibly removed from the press conference before the two leaders began to take questions,” Graf told CBS News Monday. “This is a developing situation that we will be following closely.”

Britain’s May wins parliament vote after bowing to Brexit pressure

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May won a series of votes in parliament on Monday, keeping her over-arching strategy to leave the European Union just about on track after bowing to pressure from Brexit supporters in her party.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May greets U.S. President Donald Trump at Chequers, Britain July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

But by accepting the demands of hardline Brexit campaigners, she exposed her vulnerability in parliament, where both wings of her Conservative Party attacked each other, highlighting the deep divisions that have so far hampered progress in talks with the EU.

May has vowed to stick to her plan to negotiate the closest possible trade ties with the EU, saying her strategy was the only one that could meet the government’s aims for Brexit, the biggest shift in Britain’s foreign and trade policy for decades.

But even before the EU has had time to assess her vision for Britain’s future ties with the bloc, her plans have come under fire from both camps in the Conservative Party. One pro-EU ex-minister called it the “worst of all worlds”, while eurosceptics said the strategy kept Britain too close to the bloc.

On Monday, Brexit supporters targeted the government’s so-called customs bill, hoping to toughen up her plans. But instead of facing them down and fuelling tensions, the government accepted their four amendments.

May’s spokesman said the changes to the bill, formally called the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, did little more than put government policy into law.

But by hardening the language to emphasise that the future collection of duties and taxes by Britain and the EU be on a reciprocal basis, some lawmakers feared that Brexit supporters may have made May’s plan less sellable to the bloc.

Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, leaves the BBC after appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, in central London, Britain July 15, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Parliament voted 318-285 to pass the bill. It will now go to the upper house of parliament before becoming law.

After a rowdy debate when Conservatives criticized members of their own party, junior Treasury minister Mel Stride told parliament: “We have had a full, robust and comprehensive debate today as is entirely appropriate for a bill of this importance, importance to our ability to continue after our departure from the EU as one of the world’s great trading nations.”

For now, May’s plans appeared still largely on track.

NOT DEAD YET

May denied a suggestion in parliament that her Brexit plan was dead, and her spokesman said the decision to accept those amendments were “consistent” with the white paper policy document ministers agreed earlier this month.

Where the government might struggle is explaining its acceptance of the demand that the EU must collect tariffs on Britain’s behalf, if London is to do the same – a suggestion one expert said the bloc’s negotiators were unlikely to accept.

The government won the vote on the tariffs amendment with a narrow majority of three lawmakers. Junior Defence Minister Guto Bebb resigned his position after deciding to vote against the government, the 10th Conservative to quit over May’s plan.

The government’s acceptance of the amendments did little to ease the tensions in May’s party, which is at war with itself over the Brexit plans.

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for the second day of a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

In one of the rowdiest debates in parliament on Brexit so far, pro-EU Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said: “The only reason that the government has accepted these amendments is because it is frightened of somewhere in the region of 40 members of parliament, the hard no-deal Brexiteers, who should have been seen off a long time ago.”

The battle over the amendments is unlikely to be the last that May and her team will have to face, and may have spurred the government’s move to bring forward parliament’s mid-year summer break to Thursday rather than next week.

May had to fight hard to get the agreement of Cabinet ministers at her Chequers country residence earlier this month for her vision for Britain’s future ties with the EU. It was then undermined by the resignations of Brexit minister David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

They and other eurosceptic Conservatives say the plan to keep close trade ties with the EU – which is only a starting point for a second phase of talks with Brussels – betrays her promise of a clean break with the 27-nation bloc after Brexit.

From the other wing of May’s party, pro-EU former Education Minister Justine Greening called on Monday for a second referendum, saying it was the only way to break the stalemate in parliament over the best future relationship with the bloc.

Greening branded May’s plan as “a fudge I can’t support. It’s the worst of both worlds”.

May’s spokesman said there would be no second referendum under any circumstances, and restated her position that the Chequers plan was the only way to deliver a Brexit that worked in the best interests of the country.

May said she was sticking with her plans.

“I wouldn’t have gone through all the work that I did to reach that agreement only to see it changed in some way through these bills,” she told parliament.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, William James and Andrew MacAskill; Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney

http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/Reuters/worldNews/~3/SaYaGH_e9kg/britains-may-wins-parliament-vote-after-bowing-to-brexit-pressure-idUSKBN1K514S

Efforts to Isolate Russia Have Failed – Putin

“In 2021, the new START Treaty is about to expire so what are we going to do next?” Putin told Fox News. “I reassured President Trump that Russia stands ready to extend this treaty, to prolong it, but we have to agree on the specifics at first because we have some questions to our American partners.”

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

‘Politicking While Russian’: Fishy Timing, Claims in US Arrest of Russian Woman

“Maria Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation,” attorney Robert Driscoll, Burtina’s legal representation, said in a statement obtained by Sputnik News. Driscoll is the former deputy assistant attorney general and chief of staff, Civil Rights Division, of the US Department of Justice. “She is a Russian national in the United States on a student visa who recently graduated from American University in Washington, DC,” he said. 

The charge comes three days after US special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian nationals accused of conspiring to hack the Democratic National Committee with spearphishing emails. Hours before the Justice Department announced the charge, US President Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin commenced “successful” talks in Helsinki.

“The timing has to be designed to sort of influence the public perception,” Loud & Clear host Brian Becker said Monday, since “Trump is saying ‘Let’s have better relations, we are going to have better relations with Russia.'”

While allegations that Butina illegally lobbied in the US come amid fervor from Democrats, the intelligence community, and the mainstream media over Mueller’s latest indictments and friendly comments made by US President Donald Trump at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Mueller “has not expressed interest” in allowing Butina to interview him as she has requested, according to the statement from Driscoll.

She has, however, testified in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for eight hours and produced thousands of documents, according to her lawyer.

“Court filings detail the Russian official’s and Butina’s efforts for Butina to act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation,” a Monday statement from the DOJ says.

The crux of the allegation against Butina, who recently completed a masters degree in international relations, is that she acted as an unregistered foreign agent, communicating with a Russian official via email and Twitter direct messages, according to the indictment.

Her overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy include emailing a US “person in an effort to develop, maintain, and exploit a relationship,” emailing another US person to “organize an event for the purpose of influencing the views of US officials,” and acting as a foreign agent while she attended American University in DC. 

Fault Lines host Lee Stranahan, speaking from Helsinki, said that the indictment over alleged failure to inform the US Attorney General of her lobbying is to be expected from the DOJ. “We’ve had a situation where you see people arrested for ‘driving while black,’ right? That’s a thing that’s happened if you’re an African American in [the US]. Now what we’re seeing is ‘politicking while Russian.’ And the reason I say that is because we’ve had statements by [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper as well as by [former FBI Deputy Assistant Director and current agent Peter] Strzok that can only be described as racist. The former ODNI talked about Russians’ genetic propensity. You couldn’t say that — there’s literally — I can’t think of another nationality you could say that about without everyone going, ‘Well that’s the most racist thing I’ve ever heard.'”

Strzok originated the FBI investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia on July 31, 2016, and became the lead investigator, according to Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC). “Then you had Strzok saying he ‘hates the motherf*cking Russians’ and talking about them as savages,” Stranahan noted.

“The substance of the charge in the Complaint is overblown,” Butina’s lawyer’s statement reads. It characterizes the allegation — the sole allegation against Butina — as rendering it “unlawful for a foreign national student in the United States to develop a personal, professional, or networking relationship with an American, or to attend public events in hopes of meeting US political figures.” The statement characterizes the charge against Burtina as a “misuse of the Foreign Agent statute, which is designed to punish covert propaganda, not open and public networking by foreign students.”

While the substance of Butina’s alleged political interference is not included in DoJ documents — nor their statement accompanying the indictment — clues on the internet stem from a June Mother Jones article that says the political organization referenced in the DoJ statement is the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA has long been been demonized by Democrats over allegations of encouraging mass violence and obstructing reform to the US’ permissive gun laws, which they argue contribute to the epidemic of violence, particularly school shootings, in the country. “I think the NRA is telling people to shoot us,” tweeted Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. 

According to Russian official Aleksandr Torshin, the man believed to be the one Butina was allegedly working for, he and Butina are lifelong members of the NRA. Butina started a gun rights group in Russia called Right to Bear Arms in 2011 and they have together lobbied the Russian government to those ends, according to Mother Jones.

Torshin was under investigation by the FBI in pursuit of allegations that he helped Russia funnel money into the NRA to help Trump’s campaign, according to a January article from McClatchy, although no indictments have been issued to that end and no criminal convictions have been made. In US law, a conviction is secured after an allegation is proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The evidentiary requirements for an indictment are far lower. Torshin was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in April 2018.

According to Butina’s attorney, “over a dozen” FBI agents raided her apartment in April. She has “offered repeatedly to answer any questions the [DOJ] had,” said Driscoll, an attorney at McGlinchey Stafford. “Rather than avail itself of that opportunity the government chose to arrest Ms. Butina on Sunday” without notifying Butina’s attorney.

‘Suits’ star: ‘Massive void’ with Adams, Markle gone

“Suits” underwent several alterations to its storyline following the series exits of Patrick J. Adams and Meghan Markle, whose Mike Ross and Rachel Zane (finally!) married in last season’s finale and moved to Seattle.

That episode aired April 25 — about a month before Markle married Prince Harry in London — and the cast went right back to work.

“For sure coming back in April [to shoot the new season] and not having Patrick or Meghan, that was a massive void and it was really different filming that first episode,” says series star Gabriel Macht (Harvey Specter). “It was really different for me, I think. Patrick and I started the show together and we made a deal that we would create a certain atmosphere — one of trust, of risk and asking the right questions and challenging each other.

“Not only was it depressing [without Adams], I just loved having his company around,” says Macht. “It was a bit scary — that energy I relied on for so many years … he was my wingman and he wasn’t there. I texted him and he responded and said, ‘I’m here whenever you need me. I’m right here.’

“He was very supportive and helpful during the first few weeks of production [on Season 8].”

Former “Suits” stars Meghan Markle and Patrick J. AdamsUSA Network

The USA legal drama, back Wednesday night at 9, has added new cast member Katherine Heigl as hard-charging attorney Samantha Wheeler and features more screen time for Wendell Pierce — Rachel’s dad, Robert Zane, whose firm merged with Pearson Specter Litt in the Season 7 finale — and Dule Hill (Alex), who joined “Suits” last season and is now a regular. Series vets Rick Hoffman (Louis) and Sarah Rafferty (Donna) are also back on the case(s).

“We had incoming players who’ve been with us for a while — Dule, Amanda [Schull, who plays Katrina] — and Wendell, and then we had this one remaining quotient: Katie [Heigl] coming in as basically a question mark,” Macht says. “I’ve always thought of her as a really strong, formidable actress who takes risks and has done so well in her career and thought, ‘Let’s just hope the chemistry is there for all of us and it goes well.’

“Within the first day we knew she fit into the family,” he says. “She got the syntax and rhythms of the script. It’s become a reboot in a way, with Dule and Amanda being full-time along with Katie. And as much as I miss Patrick and Meghan, I see them through the set — there are photos of them and storylines still exist where we explore how their two characters influenced our characters.”

So does Macht think Adams’ Mike might reappear in a future episode?

“I think there’s always the chance and I’m really hoping that’s the case,” he says. “I think when the show comes to a close that’s when we’ll see him, if the firm becomes disrupted in some way and if Harvey is anywhere near the helm he’ll probably ask one more favor — and hopefully Mike comes to town.”

He adds that Harvey, who was “totally unemotional and uber-confident” when the show premiered, has taken “baby steps” in his character development throughout the years.

“By Season 8 we see he’s a vulnerable guy who does have insecurities and abandonment issues and this season we explore some of that abandonment again,” he says. “His brother is going through a divorce and Harvey ends up helping him and trying to re-engage with his family in a different way.”

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UK government wins approval for customs bill in lower house of parliament

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May won approval from the lower of house of parliament on Monday for a law designed to create an independent customs policy after Brexit.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators wave EU and Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Lawmakers in the House of Commons voted 318 to 285 in favor of the customs legislation, known as the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill, which will allow the government to levy duties on goods after leaving the European Union.

The bill must also be passed by the House of Lords to become law.

Reporting By Andrew MacAskill and Elizabeth Piper

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Head of Mexico’s ruling party resigns after record loss

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The head of Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) stood down on Monday after the party’s record defeat in the July 1 presidential election, reducing the long-dominant force of Mexican politics to a fraction of its former strength.

Rene Juarez Cisneros, president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), addresses supporters at the party’s headquarters in Mexico City, Mexico July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Ginnette Riquelme

Battered by corruption scandals, surging violence and poor economic growth, the centrist PRI was trounced by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a veteran leftist and staunch critic of the establishment who has pledged a major shakeup of politics.

The PRI, which has ruled Mexico for 77 of the last 89 years, secured just 16.4 percent of the vote and saw its representation in Congress cut by about three-quarters.

Announcing his departure at a news conference, PRI leader Rene Juarez said the scale of the loss meant the party would have to take a hard look at itself.

“The future transformation of the PRI should be the size of the current defeat,” said Juarez, who only took over in May. By then, the polls showed the PRI was heading for a huge reverse.

Claudia Ruiz Massieu, the party’s secretary general, will take over the PRI leadership. A niece of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Ruiz Massieu served as minister for tourism and later foreign minister under outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Reporting by Noe Torres; writing by Dave Graham and Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Leslie Adler

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U.S. condemns attacks by police in Nicaragua, calls for reforms

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington on Monday condemned attacks by paramilitary police against university students, journalists and clergy across Nicaragua, the U.S. State Department said.

In a statement, the department called on President Daniel Ortega’s government to heed his people’s call for democratic reforms immediately and hold elections. It noted that it had imposed U.S. visa restrictions on individuals responsible for human rights abuses or undermining democracy in Nicaragua, as well as their family members.

Reporting by Eric Walsh

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Mexico’s Damojh says steep take-off caused Cuba plane crash

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican aviation company Damojh said on Monday a very steep take-off angle led one of its planes to crash in Cuba in May, killing 112 people, according to black boxes retrieved from the wreckage.

Firefighters work at the wreckage site of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana’s main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

“The crew led the plane to take off with a very pronounced ascent, creating a lack of lift that caused the aircraft to plunge as a result,” the company said in a statement.

The May 18 accident just outside Havana prompted Mexico’s civil aviation authority to suspend Damojh’s operations while it looked into the firm and investigated the causes of the crash.

The little-known company had leased the Boeing 737 that crashed to Cuba’s flagship carrier Cubana.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon

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Netflix shares plunge as subscriber growth stalls

The Crown Image copyright Netflix
Image caption Netflix’s The Crown received 13 Emmy nominations this year

Netflix shares plunged by more than 14% in after-hours trade on Monday, after the firm reported disappointing subscriber growth.

Netflix said it added 5.2 million subscribers in the three months to the end of June, the same number it did during the period last year.

The streaming service had forecast growth of 6.2 million.

The decline in share price follows a successful run for the stock, which had roughly doubled so far this year.

The firm’s shares ended Monday’s trading session at about $400, but tumbled by 14% after the market closed, as investors digested the firm’s quarterly results.

Investors are worried about Netflix’s growth potential in the face of increased competition from tech giants such as Apple, YouTube and Amazon, as well as traditional firms, which have started to invest more in online streaming.

Disney, for example, plans to launch its own streaming service and stop licensing some of its material to Netflix.

Netflix acknowledged the challenges, but said its strategy is to “keep improving”.

“We believe that consumer appetite for great content is broad and that there is room for multiple parties to have attractive offerings,” it said.

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Netflix, which has said it will spend more than $8bn on original content this year, recently announced plans for a third season of its show, 13 Reasons Why

In a letter to investors, Netflix called it a “strong but not stellar quarter”, ending with about 130 million subscribers globally.

The firm added just 670,000 subscribers in the US – far short of the more than one million it added in the second quarter of 2017.

It added 4.5 million subscribers internationally, fewer than the two most recent quarters but up 8% year-on-year.

However, it said its finances were strong. The company reported $3.9bn in quarterly revenue, up 40% compared to the second quarter of 2017.

Profits totalled $384.3m, almost six times the figure during the same period a year ago.


Analysis – Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter, San Francisco

In its note to investors, Netflix pointed out a landmark achievement ahead of this year’s Emmy’s – it had, for the first time, earned more nominations than rival HBO. A huge stamp of approval for the firm’s original content.

But critical acclaim is worthless to Netflix unless it translates into booming business. Growth is the only metric that really matters to the firm’s investors, and so this is a big miss – reflected in the stock price tanking on Monday.

However, investors might be wise to not lose their heads – this disappointing earnings report comes off the back of two extremely strong quarters of comfortably beating expectations on adding subscribers.

Netflix said its strategy will be to “simply keep improving” as more players start to step up their efforts to muscle in on its turf.

UK junior defense minister resigns, votes against government: BBC

LONDON (Reuters) – British junior defense minister Guto Bebb resigned after voting against a government-backed amendment on the customs bill, part of plans for Britain’s exit from the European Union, BBC news reported on Monday.

Bebb, minister for defense procurement, voted against the amendment that will stop Britain collecting tariffs for the European Union after Brexit unless there is a reciprocal arrangement.

It was narrowly approved by parliament on Monday with the government’s support.

Reporting by Andy Bruce

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U.S. lawmakers slam Trump as ‘weak,’ ‘cowardly’ in summit with Putin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leading U.S. lawmakers, including numerous Republicans, harshly criticized President Donald Trump on Monday for failing to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election as the two presidents of nuclear powers stood side-by-side at a joint press conference.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a news conference at the United States embassy in Baghdad, Iraq July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Aboulenein

Trump, speaking in Helsinki after his first summit with Putin, said he saw no reason to believe his own country’s intelligence agencies over the Kremlin leader’s assurances that Russia did not interfere in the U.S. election.

A wave of condemnation immediately followed, with lawmakers calling Republican Trump “weak” and “cowardly,” while Senator John McCain said the summit was “a tragic mistake.” The war hero and former Republican presidential nominee, a frequent critic of the president, said Trump “failed to defend all that makes us who we are – a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad.”

On Friday, a U.S. special counsel announced indictments of 12 Russian spies on charges of hacking Democratic Party computer networks as part of the election meddling, the second set of charges against Russians in an investigation that Trump calls a political witch hunt.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Republican and a Trump appointee, in an unusual statement responding to Trump’s remarks, stood by the U.S. agencies.

“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” Coats said.

FILE PHOTO: Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) walks with reporters after speaking in the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

On his way home, Trump insisted in a post on Twitter that he has “GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.”

Relations between Washington and Moscow have been at their lowest point in the post-Cold War era and Trump had touted the summit as a chance to reduce tensions. Even before the allegations of Russian meddling, tensions were high over Moscow’s concerns about NATO expansion, Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and its military backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war in 2015.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said Russia undoubtedly interfered in the 2016 election.

“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” said Ryan in a statement.

Putin was re-elected in a disputed election in March with the main opposition leader Alexei Navalny barred from running on what he says was a pretext.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told reporters: “I’ve said a number of times and I’ll say it again. The Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community.”

Some other Republicans in Congress also criticized Putin without attacking Trump.

FILE PHOTO: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) speaks after the Democratic policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Trump’s eagerness to improve U.S. relations with Russia had been met with skepticism in Congress, where lawmakers nearly unanimously approved tough sanctions targeting Moscow in 2017.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, said Trump’s comments next to Putin made the United States look like a “pushover.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the summit was a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning …

“This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves.”

Senator Susan Collins said Trump’s “position is untenable,” while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, also a Republican, outlined Russian aggression on several fronts and said the United States “will not tolerate hostile Russian activities against us or our allies.”

Both Senate and House Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi went so far as to hint that Trump’s behavior might be explained by Putin possibly having some embarrassing information about Trump.

Schumer said Trump’s approach in Helsinki was unprecedented.

“For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak,” Schumer said.

Reporting By Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool

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Mnuchin says U.S. to consider waivers on Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States in certain cases will consider waivers for countries that need more time to wind down imports of oil from Iran as it seeks to avoid disrupting global oil markets while reimposing sanctions against Tehran, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin testifies to the House Financial Services hearing on state of the international financial system on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“We want people to reduce oil purchases to zero, but in certain cases if people can’t do that overnight, we’ll consider exceptions,” Mnuchin told reporters on Friday, clarifying some U.S. officials’ comments that there would be no exemptions. Mnuchin’s comments were embargoed for release on Monday as other U.S. officials were expected to begin talks in India this week on cutbacks in Iranian oil supplies.

Mnuchin spoke to reporters while en route from Mexico, where he was part of a high-level U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet Mexico’s next president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The Trump administration is pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November, when the United States reimposes sanctions against Tehran. Trump withdrew from the multi-national 2015 Iran nuclear deal against the advice of allies in Europe and elsewhere.

A delegation from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Treasury are expected for talks in Delhi this week to discuss Iran sanctions, according to Indian officials. U.S. crude oil exports to India hit a record in June as Indian refiners moved to replace supplies from Iran and Venezuela.

Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston, said India was expected to ask the United States to ensure adequate global oil supplies as Washington presses countries to cut back on Iran oil.

“That might include pressure to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which the administration indicated they were considering on Friday,” said Lipow.

“To put things in context, if we were to look at Iran in total, it’s exporting roughly 2.2 million barrels a day of sales, of which half is going to both China and India,” he said. “It’s very important for the U.S. to get India on board with the sanctions policy.”

Mnuchin said he would meet with counterparts from developed and developing countries during a G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Buenos Aires this week. U.S. sanctions against Iran are likely to be raised in his talks on the sidelines of the event.

“We’ve said very specifically, there’s no blanket waivers, there’s no grandfathering,” Mnuchin said. “We want to be very careful in the wind down around the energy markets to make sure that people have the time.”

“The State Department has the ability to issue waivers around significant reductions in the oil markets. That’s something that Treasury and State will be doing,” he said.

FRENCH REQUEST REJECTED

Mnuchin said Washington had made clear to allies that it expects them to enforce the sanctions against Iran, “but if there are specific situations we’re open to listening.”

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said over the weekend that Washington had rejected a French request for waivers for its companies operating in Iran, according to Le Figaro.

Paris had singled out key areas where it expected either exemptions or extended wind-down periods for French companies, including energy, banking, pharmaceuticals and automotive.

The Trump administration has said more than 50 foreign companies have withdrawn their business from Iran since Trump announced the U.S. was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia.

Pompeo, also speaking to reporters on Friday, said he had discussed U.S. plans to reimpose sanctions on Iran with “all but one” country. He did not name the country he had not yet consulted.

“What they’ve asked us to do is review how we get there and the timeline for that,” he said. “I’m very confident they understand.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Monday that Iran had filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice in the Hague against unilateral U.S. sanctions.

“Today Iran filed a complaint @CIJ_ICJ to hold US accountable for its unlawful re-imposition of unilateral sanctions,” Zarif tweeted. “Iran is committed to the rule of law in the face of US contempt for diplomacy & legal obligations. It’s imperative to counter its habit of violating int’l law.”

The court could not be reached for comment.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in remarks carried live on state television on Saturday, said Washington was more isolated than ever over sanctions against Iran, even among its allies.

His comments appeared to be trying to ease local concerns fueled by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran.

The likely return of U.S. economic sanctions has triggered a rapid fall of Iran’s currency and protests by bazaar traders usually loyal to the Islamist rulers.

Trump has said he asked Saudi Arabia to raise oil production if needed to ensure global oil supplies and the country has 2 million barrels per day of spare capacity.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)agreed with Russia and other oil-producing allies on June 23 to raise output from July, with Saudi Arabia pledging a “measurable” supply boost, but giving no specific numbers.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton,; Additional reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Bill Berkrot

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AmCham Welcomes Putin’s Proposal to Set Up Joint US-Russian Business Group

“It was a proposal to go back to the format which was known at various times as the Presidential Commission or as the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission and that that was a group that was organized by the two governments, which invited business to participate and encouraged business to work together, encouraged investment. I am actually quite curious to hear the US response to what I understood to be President Putin’s proposal to return to that format,” Rodzianko said.

The proposal presumes return to the format which was known at various times as the Presidential Commission or as the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission — a group organized by the two governments that invited businesses to participate and encouraged them to work together and invest more, Rodzianko said.

“I am actually quite curious to hear the US response to what I understood to be President Putin’s proposal to return to that format. I would, as a business leader with my area of responsibility primarily in Russia, I would certainly welcome it. But I think it requires both governments to work to create that platform, or that format. Then business will be most pleased to participate,” he said.

Unfortunately, US-Russia business relations are heavily constrained by the existence of sanctions, but business ties have continued to be constructive throughout the difficult period of Moscow-Washington relations, Rodzianko noted.

“But I think, using business ties as the leading edge of the relationship where the primary issues are political is maybe putting the cart before the horse,” AmCham CEO said.

The proposed high-level group may comprise businesses from a broad range of industries — from oil and gas to agriculture, consumer goods, medicine, medical equipment and everything in between, aeronautics, aerospace, he added.

Activists: Thousands of Congolese Threatened by National Park Oil Plans

Democratic Republic of Congo’s plan to drill for oil in national parks could leave thousands of farmers and fishermen who rely on the land in a struggle to survive, rights groups said Monday.

The central African country announced last month that it was taking steps toward declassifying parts of Virunga and Salonga national parks, both recognized as world heritage sites by the United Nations, to allow for oil exploration.

The parks, which together cover an area about the size of Switzerland, are among the world’s largest tropical rainforest reserves and home to rare species including forest elephants.

FILE - A silverback mountain gorilla is seen carrying her baby in the Virunga National Park, Nov. 25, 2008.
FILE – A silverback mountain gorilla is seen carrying her baby in the Virunga National Park, Nov. 25, 2008.

Allowing drilling in the parks would cause a loss of biodiversity, release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and pollute water that thousands of local people use for fishing and farming, according to several rights groups.

Congolese state spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters that the government will study the potential impact of oil drilling on local communities before they proceed.

The government has previously defended its right to authorize drilling anywhere in the country and said it is mindful of environmental considerations, such as protecting animals and plants, in the two national parks.

“There are lake-shore communities, especially in Virunga, that are very dependent on fishing and on the park’s integrity,” said Pete Jones of environmental advocacy group Global Witness.

“That really needs to be taken into account and doesn’t seem to be part of the debate that’s happening, which is a shame,” he told Reuters.

Conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also said it is concerned about the impact of oil drilling on at least 50,000 people who benefit from the fishing industry in Virunga, and tens of thousands more who farm on the outskirts of the parks.

“The risks of pollution are clear and present. The fishing industry would suffer considerably if it gets to that point,” said Juan Seve, WWF country director in Congo.

The oil industry would be unlikely to create local jobs since specialists would be brought in from abroad, he added.

The U.N.’s cultural agency UNESCO has previously said that oil exploration should not be conducted at world heritage sites.

After pummeling allies, Trump ends wild Europe trip with Putin embrace

HELSINKI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s week-long adventure on the world stage in Europe came to a raucous conclusion in Helsinki on Monday, with American allies fuming and confused and Russian President Vladimir Putin literally smiling at his good fortune.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin react at the end of the joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Trump’s trip to Belgium, Britain and Finland was marked by his frequent taunts and threats aimed at America’s NATO allies, a sharp contrast to his unrestrained bid to curry favor with Russia despite the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to aid his candidacy.

Even for Trump’s high-drama, tweet-driven presidency, this was the most heavily criticized trip abroad of his 18 months in office. The only smooth sections were a tea at Windsor Castle with Queen Elizabeth – although he kept the nonagenarian monarch waiting and walked in front of her – and golfing at his own Turnberry course in Scotland.

In Brussels, Trump sowed confusion and chaos, blasting NATO allies for not contributing enough money for their own defense, then praising them for their contributions. He arrived 45 minutes late to the second day of meetings and hijacked the agenda.

In an insult aimed at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump called Germany a “captive” of Moscow for its support of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia. Hours later, he said he has great relations with Merkel.

On to Britain, Trump tested the resolve of Prime Minister Theresa May in a critical week by telling a newspaper that one of her political opponents, recently resigned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, would be a great prime minister. The bombshell interview came out just after May had rolled out the red carpet to Trump for a gala dinner.

Trump criticized the Brexit deal that she negotiated regarding Britain’s departure from the European Union, then called her a great leader who should do as she sees fit.

Allies had hoped that his “America First” bluster, trashing of Western leaders and questioning of the post-World War Two defense framework would not translate into permanent damage to relations.

A senior NATO diplomatic source, who was in the meetings at last week’s NATO summit, said the mood was grim in the wake of Trump’s visit but there was also relief that he did not force a change in policy.

“The expectations in Europe that Trump would mellow are behind us now, we no longer have those illusions. But we need to put constraints on this, we need less histrionics,” the source said.

Leslie Vinjamuri, head of the U.S. and Americas program at the Chatham House think tank, said Trump’s style of first criticizing allies through tweets and then declaring publicly that all was well was part of a pattern that seemed intentional.

“The fancy term is multi-vocal signaling – in other words he sends messages out within the same half an hour, the same hour, and he’s speaking to different audiences. He’s very effective at it. Much of what he was doing on this visit was doublespeak,” Vinjamuri told reporters.

‘ERRATIC CONDUCT’

On the eve of his summit with Putin, Trump added insult to injury by calling the EU a “foe” for its trade policies in a CBS interview that aired on Sunday.

That language stood in stark contrast to the scene on Monday at Finland’s presidential palace, where Trump called the Russian leader, accused by the West of all manner of grievances, a “good competitor” and “I think the word competitor is a compliment.”

As Air Force One carried Trump back to Washington, he drew harsh condemnation from both Republicans and Democrats.

“Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct toward our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency,” Republican Senator John McCain said in a statement.

The president’s critics pointed to Trump’s refusal to publicly criticize Putin, who again denied that the “Russian state” interfered in the U.S. election and seemed puzzled by why the question kept coming up.

Always seeing the U.S. investigation into Moscow’s interference as casting doubt on the legitimacy of his 2016 election victory, Trump said that while American intelligence blamed Russia, he gave credence to Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial.

Trump left with no concrete achievements from his long-desired summit with Russia’s leader. Putin, who has been staring down American presidents since he rose to power in 2000, dismissed Trump’s concerns about Russia’s annexation of Crimea and gave vague promises to hold a dialogue about Syria and nuclear weapons.

The former KGB officer showed up late for the summit, held one-on-one talks with Trump for more than two hours and smiled and appeared to chortle when a reporter asked him whether Russia has compromising material from when then-businessman Trump visited Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant.

At the end of the event, Trump left with a tangible gift: Putin handed him a soccer ball to mark Russia’s hosting of the World Cup. One U.S. senator suggested Trump check it for listening devices and never let it enter the White House.

Whether Trump sustained long-lasting damage from the trip remains to be seen, but his supporters doubt it will hurt him with his political base, the voters who carried him to victory in 2016 and like to see him shake up the world order.

“I think his base feels that it would have been rude and not productive to stand not six feet away from the president of Russia and call him a liar,” said Republican strategist Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Williams James in London, Robin Emmott in Brussels and Phil Stewart and Amanda Becker in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Will Dunham

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U.S. lawmakers condemn Trump over Helsinki summit with Putin

(Reuters) – A wave of condemnation by U.S. lawmakers from both Republican and Democratic parties followed President Donald Trump’s failure at a Helsinki summit to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin about meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

The following are some of the comments by U.S. Senators and Representatives:

Republican Senator John McCain statement:

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate … The summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Twitter:

“Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning … This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves.”

House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi statement:

“President Trump’s weakness in front of Putin was embarrassing, and proves that the Russians have something on the President, personally, financially or politically.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell speaking to reporters:

“The Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan statement:

“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer news conference:

“In the history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an adversary in the way Trump supported President Putin.”

“He took the word of the KGB over the men and women of the CIA.”

Republican Senator John Cornyn speaking to reporters:

“Engaging with even somebody as evil as Putin is necessary … the way I interpret it is the president was trying to maintain some rapport with him but clearly I disagree with Mr. Putin and I agree with our intelligence officials that they did attempt to meddle in the election.”

Republican Senator Jeff Flake on Twitter:

“I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.”

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff on Twitter:

“President Trump just attacked our intelligence agencies and law enforcement for doing their jobs while standing next to a dictator who intervened in our election to help elect Trump.”

“Putin will take this as a green light to interfere in 2018, and it is. Cowardly and shameful.”

Compiled by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker in WASHINGTON; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool

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Egypt’s Parliament Passes Contentious Bills Regulating Media

Egypt’s parliament has passed three controversial draft bills regulating the press and media.

The draft bills, which won the parliament’s approval on Monday, will also regulate the Supreme Media Regulatory Council, the National Press Authority and the National Media Authority.

The bills still need to be approved by the president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, before they can become laws.

Prominent journalists have decried them as unconstitutional and in violation of basic press freedoms, saying they grant far-reaching powers to authorities to censor the press, revoke media licenses and restrict journalists’ work.

Former head of the journalists’ union, Yahia Kalash, said on Facebook that it was a “sad day” for the press.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Egypt as 161 out of 180 countries on their 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Colombia’s president-elect says there are no miracles, will tackle graft

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombian President-elect Ivan Duque on Monday admitted he faces great challenges when he takes office next month and said while he is not a miracle worker, he will do all he can to push the nation forward and reduce the gulf between rich and poor.

Colombia’s President-Elect Ivan Duque addresses the audience after receiving his credentials from the election council, in Bogota, Colombia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

Duque, a right-winger who will replace President Juan Manuel Santos on Aug. 7, received accreditation from Colombia’s electoral council confirming him as the legitimate winner of last month’s election.

Standing alongside his vice president, Marta Lucia Ramirez, Duque said he would strengthen security in the nation, protect community leaders threatened by crime gangs, reduce cultivation of illicit crops and bolster the economy.

Colombia’s President-Elect Ivan Duque addresses the audience after receiving his credentials from the election council, in Bogota, Colombia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

“We will not be inferior to the challenge that history gives us, we will not be inferior to the motivation that we have to work intensely,” Duque said during the ceremony as family and colleagues cheered.

“Here there will be no miracles, there will be hard work and if we unite Colombia around these common goals, we will turn them into the greatest opportunity in our history.”

Duque, 41, a business-friendly protégé of hard-line former President Alvaro Uribe, said he would present a series of anti-corruption policy measures to congress on the day he is sworn in to office.

Duque has promised to unite the Andean nation after years of antagonism over a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia (FARC) that ended the group’s part in five decades of conflict but angered many voters who want to see former rebel commanders jailed for crimes.

Colombia’s President-Elect Ivan Duque receives his credentials from the election council, in Bogota, Colombia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

Duque has promised to impose tougher punishments on rebels for war crimes.

He faces significant difficulties when he takes office. The economy remains weak; drug trafficking gangs have moved into areas once controlled by the FARC; and more than 800,000 Venezuelan migrants have crossed into Colombia, looking for food and work.

He has promised to bolster the $324 billion economy, keep investors happy by cutting business taxes, support the oil and coal sectors – top exports – and help manufacturing.

But he needs to show he is tackling inequality, corruption and inadequate social services if he wants to avoid creating opportunities for the left in future, possibly as soon as 2022, analysts have said.

A one-term senator, Duque worked at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, served as a consultant at the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) and as adviser to Santos when he was finance minister in former President Andres Pastrana’s government.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Helen Murphy; writing by Helen Murphy; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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Britain plans to bring forward parliament’s mid-year break: official

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s government intends to bring forward parliament’s mid-year recess to Thursday, a parliamentary official said on Monday.

A man cycles past Parliament buildings on Westminster Bridge during sunset in London, Britain, December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The official said the government has tabled a motion for parliament’s early closure to lawmakers, who are debating changes to Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for leaving the European Union put forward by Brexit supporters.

Reporting by Andy Bruce. Editing by Andrew MacAskill

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Egypt passes law that could shield top military brass from prosecution

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s parliament on Monday passed a law that could make senior military officers immune from future prosecution over to violence that followed the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Egyptian parliament attend a session at Egypt’s parliament in Cairo February 26, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

The law gives President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the right to name officers to be eligible for immunity from investigation into alleged offences committed while Egypt’s constitution was suspended between Mursi’s overthrow on July 3, 2013 and the reconvening of parliament on Jan. 10, 2016.

The law, submitted to parliament as recently as the end of June, also makes those named by Sisi reserve officers for life and accords them wide-ranging privileges, including diplomatic status when travelling abroad.

Any legal measures or investigation against such officers for actions committed over that period in the line of duty would require clearance from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the law states.

In one of the bloodiest events in Egypt’s recent history. hundreds were killed when security forces broke up a sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa Square in support of Mursi in August 2013. He was removed from office after mass protests against his rule.

Egyptian authorities have defended the security forces’ actions, saying protesters were given the opportunity to leave peacefully and that armed elements within Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood group initiated the violence.

After speeding through a legislative process that typically takes months, the law was passed by a show of hands in parliament with an overwhelming majority of attending lawmakers raising their hands in support. A Reuters reporter counted eight MPs voting against it.

Reporting by Cairo bureau; Editing by Toby Chopra and John Stonestreet

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World Cup Pussy Riot pitch intruders jailed for 15 days

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Moscow court on Monday handed down 15-day jail sentences on four members of the Pussy Riot protest group who interrupted Sunday’s World Cup final between France and Croatia when they ran onto the pitch wearing fake police uniforms.

Veronika Nikulshina, one of four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot who ran onto the pitch during the World Cup final between France and Croatia, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The pitch invasion by members of the punk band early in the second half of the final was a brazen act in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials from around the world.

The judge also banned the four from attending sports events for three years.

Veronika Nikulshina, one of four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot who ran onto the pitch during the World Cup final between France and Croatia, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The four were Veronika Nikulshina, Olga Pakhtusova, Olga Kurachyova and Pyotr Verzilov, the only male.

Kurachyova said their stunt, which held up the game only briefly, was meant to promote freedom of speech and condemn policies of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body.

“It is a pity that we disrupted the sportsmen,” Kurachyova told reporters on Monday.

“FIFA is involved in unfair games unfortunately. FIFA is a friend of heads of states who carry out repression, who violate human rights.”

Veronika Nikulshina, one of four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot who ran onto the pitch during the World Cup final between France and Croatia, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Verzilov said the performance was also meant to show how “the state, in the form of the police, intrudes into people’s lives”.

Three of Pussy Riot’s original members were jailed in 2012 for staging a protest against Putin in a church and the group has since become a symbol of anti-Kremlin direct action.

Croatian defender Dejan Lovren, who pushed the male intruder aside on the pitch, told reporters the incident had interrupted the game at an important moment for his team.

The match, which France won 4-2, was watched from the stands by Putin and the French and Croatian presidents.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Christian Lowe and Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Richard Balmforth

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Trump, after Helsinki summit, says he has confidence in U.S. intelligence

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, facing a barrage of criticism for his comments during a news conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisted in a post on Twitter on Monday that he has “GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.”

U.S. President Donald Trump waves after a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Trump was roundly condemned by U.S. lawmakers for his comments at a news conference with Putin where he cast doubt on his own intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia meddled with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people’,” Trump said on Twitter. “However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!”

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Eric Walsh

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Top US Official: China Overloading Poor Nations With Debt

China is saddling poor nations with unsustainable debt through large-scale infrastructure projects that are not economically viable, the head of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) said on Monday.

The criticism of Beijing — targeted by President Donald Trump in a trade war that has sent ripples through economies around the world — comes as Washington seeks to ramp up development finance in the face of China’s global ambitions.

Unveiled in 2013, President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road” initiative aims to build an infrastructure network connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

China has pledged $126 billion for the plan, which has been praised by its supporters as a source of vital financing for infrastructure-starved partners in the developing world.

But in an interview with Reuters in Johannesburg, OPIC CEO Ray Washburne warned that the Chinese strategy created a debt trap for many poor nations.

“Just look at any project in these countries and they’re overbuilding the size,” he said. “We try to have countries realize that they’re indebting themselves to the Chinese.”

Washburne is not the first to warn of growing debt linked to Chinese infrastructure projects.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde in April cautioned China’s Belt and Road partners against considering the financing as “a free lunch.”

Sri Lanka formally handed over commercial activities in its main southern port in the town of Hambantota to a Chinese company in December as part of a plan to convert $6 billion of loans that Sri Lanka owes China into equity.

U.S. officials have warned that a strategic port in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti could be next, a prospect the government there has denied.

Washburne also voiced concern over a $360 million expansion of the airport in Zambia’s capital Lusaka currently being carried out with financing from the Exim Bank of China.

“The local economy isn’t benefiting from that. It’s a much too large airport. They’ll have too much debt on it. At some point, someone’s got to pay. Pay or the Chinese take control,” he said.

Keeping pace

Lawmakers in the United States are advancing a new law — the BUILD Act – through Congress that Washburne says should bolster private U.S. investment in developing nations by doubling OPIC’s access to U.S. Treasury credit to $60 billion.

About a quarter of the active portfolio of OPIC, a government agency that helps U.S. businesses invest in emerging markets, is currently focused on Africa and it typically invests around $1 billion annually on the continent.

“With the right quality projects, it could double here,” Washburne said, adding that many investments would focus on the kinds of infrastructure projects Chinese firms are currently dominating.

“The Chinese are in with ports and railroads and highways, things that we need to be in as a competitor.”

OPIC this month launched an Africa-focused initiative that will earmark more than $1 billion over the next three years for projects supporting transportation, information and communications technology and value chains.

“Instead of giving them a fish, we want to teach them how to fish,” Washburne said. “They’ll have to stand on their own two feet. So we’re not in making loans or doing projects that don’t make economic sense.”

The biggest showdowns of the 2018 VMAs

The nominations are in for this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, and it’ll be a battle of two killer collaborations.

In one corner, we have Bruno Mars and Cardi B, whose “Finesse (Remix)” video — which brought back the fly ’90s hip-hop hoofing of “In Living Color” — is up for five Moon Persons.

In the other corner stand the Carters. Beyonce and Jay-Z’s “Apes–t” clip — shot at the effing Louvre, in case you doubted the magnitude of their power couple status — picked up nods in eight categories.

Both “Finesse (Remix)” and “Apes–t” are up for the ultimate prize, “Video of the Year,” where there biggest competition would seem to be from Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” the viral video that busted both moves and a message.

Other nominees for Video of the Year include Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug’s “Havana” and Drake’s “God’s Plan” (he’s pretty much owned 2018).

The second showdown to watch is the Artist of the Year award, which turns collaborators Cardi B and Mars into competitors.

Their main challenger would seem to be Drake, while the other contenders are Grande, Cabello and Post Malone.

Cardi B leads all nominees with 10, with nods across three videos: “Finesse (Remix),” “Dinero” (with Jennifer Lopez and DJ Khaled) and her solo “Bartier Cardi.” The Carters are next up with eight nominations, all for their epic “Apes–t.”

After Beyonce has already won Video of the Year for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” in 2009 and “Formation” in 2016, wouldn’t it be sweet if she could share top props with the man whose Roc necklaces she rocks?

That would be the perfect ending to this year’s VMAs, which will go down Aug. 20 at Radio City Music Hall.

Russia might seek peacemaker role after World Cup, Helsinki summit: Finland

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Russia may try to carve out a peacemaker role for itself after successfully hosting the World Cup and following the summit in Helsinki between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Finland’s foreign minister said on Monday.

Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini listens to media after government’s open session for members of public took place during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence in Porvoo, Finland May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Some analysts in Finland have raised concern that, with the World Cup out of the way, Russia might embark on an unpredictable power play rather similar to its annexation of Crimea which came soon after it had held the Winter Olympic Games in 2014.

“I think that after the World Cup and after this summit, there will be no such thing (like Crimea),” said Foreign Minister Timo Soini after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the margins of the summit.

“(Russia) might surprise in other way… because they have much more in hand to give up now than what they had back then. They might be a peacemaker in Ukraine, in Syria, in nuclear weapons.”

He said the Nordic EU member state was chosen as the summit venue partly because of its foreign policy line – backing the West but keeping up dialogue with Russia, its neighbor.

Trump told a news conference earlier on Monday that he had discussed a wide range of issues with Putin, including the war in Syria, Iran and nuclear arms control, and that the countries had now turned a corner for better on their relationship.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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Top Senate Democrat urges sanctions, hearings after Trump-Putin summit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called for a bipartisan effort to “ratchet up” sanctions on Moscow following U.S. President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki earlier on Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks after the Democratic weekly policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Schumer, speaking at a news conference, also urged Republican congressional leaders to call the U.S. national security team that accompanied Trump to Helsinki to immediately testify before Congress.

Reporting by Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by James Dalgleish

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After Helsinki, U.S. intel chief defends findings on Russian meddling

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. intelligence community has been clear about the threat posed by Russian political interference and will continue “to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence” assessments, the Director of National Intelligence said on Monday.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats departs after a classified briefing for the U.S. congressional leadership from FBI and intelligence officials on the FBI probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election held in the U.S. Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

U.S. President Donald Trump, after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, said he saw no reason to believe his own intelligence agencies rather than trust the Kremlin leader on the question of whether Russia interfered to help him win the 2016 presidential election.

“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” the director, Dan Coats, said in a statement.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by James Dalgleish

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Eight migrants found dead in lorry container in western Libya

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Eight migrants including six children were found dead on Monday after suffocating from petrol fumes while packed into a lorry container on the west Libyan coast, authorities said.

Migrants are seen after they were rescued from petrol fumes while packed into a lorry container on the west Libyan coast, in Zuwara city, Libya July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Hani Amara

Another 90 migrants recovered from the container were in critical condition and had been taken to a local hospital for treatment, the security directorate in the town of Zuwara said in a statement.

A lorry container where eight migrants including six children were found dead on the west Libyan coast, in Zuwara city, Libya July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Hani Amara

Zuwara is one of the points along Libya’s western coastline where smugglers and traffickers hold migrants before putting them on boats to try to cross to Europe.

The migrants were from various sub-Saharan African and Arab countries, as well as Pakistan and Bangladesh, the statement said. They had been shut inside a refrigerated container designed for transporting meat or fish which was found just outside Zuwara, close to the Mellitah oil and gas complex.

Zuwara is about 110km (68 miles) from the capital, Tripoli.

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“As a result of the length of time they were suffocated, eight of them died including six children, one woman and a young man,” the security directorate said, adding that gallons of petrol had been found in the container.

It posted pictures of at least nine plastic jerry cans inside the container, as well as a pile of life-jackets apparently intended for use in a boat crossing.

Daytime temperatures in northwest Libya have been in the mid to high 30s Celsius in recent days.

Smugglers and traffickers took advantage of Libya’s lawlessness to send hundreds of thousands of migrants to Italy over the past four years, though flows have slowed since last summer due to an Italian-backed crackdown on smuggling networks.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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UN chief condemns violence against civilian protesters in Nicaragua

Speaking on behalf of Mr. Guterres at the UN Headquarters, Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that “the use of lethal force is not only unacceptable but is also in itself an obstacle to obtaining a political solution to the current crisis”.

The UN chief called on the Nicaraguan Government to “provide effective protection to its population against attacks, ensure respect for human rights and establish accountability for the violence.”

According to media reports, at least 10 people were shot dead in Nicaragua on Sunday as police and paramilitary groups supporting the government, sought to remove roadblocks set up by anti-government demonstrators, who have been demanding that President Daniel Ortega step down.

The current wave of anti-government protests began following the announcement of changes to Nicaragua’s pension system on 18 April, which have since been scrapped.

The government says that the protesters are attempting to stage a coup d’etat against the administration of Mr. Ortega. It recently launched “Operation Clean-up” to try to remove the barricades and retake full control of urban areas.

Hundreds have been reportedly killed since the protests began. 

Earlier this month, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the Nicaraguan authorities to “take real steps” to prevent further loss of life in the country.

‘Massive Propaganda’: Team England Vet Chastises Countrymen After World Cup

“There was a massive propaganda campaign. People believed it would be hard here for those with a different skin color, as well as homosexuals. Russia was said to be lingering in the dark ages. However, when I came here, I saw nothing of that kind,” the 54 year-old footballer told Russian sports channel Match TV.

He acknowledged that he never met aggression in Russia nor did he see any negativity toward him personally.

“So, I’d like to address people in England and tell them the following: everything that they said about Russia is a shame as is. I’ll return home and prove that they had it wrong,” added the footballer, who played for the national squad from 1991 to 1998, netting 9 goals.

READ MORE: After Russian Success, Social Media Questions Wisdom of Qatar’s Winter World Cup

Earlier, a video emerged on YouTube of young British fan Theo, who travelled to Russia together with his father and subsequently busted stereotypes about life in the country, with his video shortly going viral, racking up a whopping 500,000 views.

Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup from June 14 till July 15, with France ultimately grabbing the tournament trophy after beating Croatia 4-2 in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.

U.S. lawmakers call Trump ‘weak’ in summit with Russia’s Putin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers from both parties on Monday criticized President Donald Trump for failing to issue a stern warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin about meddling in American elections, calling Trump’s message to Putin weak and a missed opportunity.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a news conference at the United States embassy in Baghdad, Iraq July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Aboulenein

Reaction on Capitol Hill was highly critical of Trump’s performance in a joint news conference in Helsinki with Putin after the two leaders’ first summit, a milestone in U.S.-Russian relations that have deteriorated in recent years.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that it was a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”

Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves.”

On Friday, a U.S. special counsel announced indictments of 12 Russian spies on charges of hacking Democratic Party computer networks as part of the interference in the election campaign.

Republican Trump, standing alongside Putin in front of reporters, said he saw no reason to believe Russia had hacked the election to help him win and that Putin “was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that Russia undoubtedly interfered in the 2016 election.

FILE PHOTO: Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) walks with reporters after speaking in the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” Ryan said.

Another Republican, Senator John McCain, described Trump’s summit with Putin as “a tragic mistake.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office said he had no immediate comment on Trump’s remarks in Helsinki.

Trump’s eagerness to improve U.S. relations with Russia has been met with skepticism in Congress, where lawmakers nearly unanimously approved tough sanctions targeting Moscow in 2017.

Several asked Trump to condemn Russia’s actions, both publicly and privately with Putin, and avoid striking deals to the detriment of European allies.

Top House of Representatives Democrat Nancy Pelosi wrote on Twitter, “Every single day, I find myself asking: what do the Russians have on @realDonaldTrump personally, financially, & politically? The answer to that question is that only thing that explains his behavior & his refusal to stand up to Putin.”

Trump said he holds both the United States and Russia responsible for years of strained relations.

The U.S. president had touted the summit as an opportunity to reduce tensions, inflamed by Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, its military backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which turned the tide of the Syrian civil war in 2015, and accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

FILE PHOTO: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) speaks after the Democratic policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Washington imposed sanctions on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said Trump’s approach in Helsinki was unprecedented.

“For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak,” Schumer said.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake called Trump’s words “shameful.”

“I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful,” Flake said on Twitter.

Representative Adam Schiff, senior Democrat on the House of Representatives intelligence panel, predicted Putin will take Trump’s remarks “as a green light to interfere” in 2018 congressional elections. Schiff called Trump “cowardly.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, said Trump’s comments next to Putin made the United States look like a “pushover.”

At the Helsinki summit, Putin gave Trump a soccer ball from the World Cup hosted by Russia during the past month and as an acknowledgment the United States will co-host the 2026 tournament.

Senator Graham afterward tweeted, “Finally, if it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.”

Reporting By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool

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Nicaraguans stage protest march in Managua after violent weekend

MANAGUA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Nicaraguans took to the streets of capital Managua on Monday to demand justice for the victims of a violent crackdown on protests against President Daniel Ortega, which claimed another 12 lives over the weekend.

The violence that has plagued the country for three months surged again over the weekend when armed groups and police loyal to Ortega burst into universities occupied by protesters and smashed road blocks set up in defiance of the government.

The attacks drew international condemnation and deepened local opposition to Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader facing his biggest test in office since he returned to power in 2007.

Around 300 people have died since unrest broke out in April, when Ortega attempted to trim pension benefits. The government later dropped the plan, but its heavy-handed response to the demonstrations sparked a wider protest against Ortega’s rule.

Ortega says he is open to dialogue, and has invited the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to verify his claim that human rights have been respected in the country.

Beyond the protest march called by students, relatives of victims of the violence walked down the main streets of Managua with their coffins, demanding justice for the dead.

“The population hasn’t given up because it’s still in the streets demanding freedom,” said Carlos Tünnermann, a member of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, one of the main civilian groups leading the opposition to Ortega.

    The opposition has called on Ortega to step down and hold early elections to put an end to the turmoil.

The 72-year-old Ortega, whose third consecutive term in office is due to finish in 2021, has gradually tightened his hold on Nicaragua’s institutions, alongside his wife and vice- president Rosario Murillo.

Reporting by Oswaldo Rivas, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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Senator McCain says Trump summit with Putin ‘tragic mistake’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senator John McCain on Monday called President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki “a tragic mistake” and a new low point for the United States, accusing the American leader of failing to defend his country.

FILE PHOTO: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at a press conference about the National Defense Authorization Act in Washington, U.S., October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

“Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are – a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad,” McCain wrote of Trump, a fellow Republican.

“It is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake,” he added in a statement.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by James Dalgleish

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World Cup pitch intruder jailed for 15 days

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Moscow court on Monday handed down a 15-day jail sentence on one of four people who interrupted Sunday’s World Cup final between France and Croatia when they ran onto the pitch wearing fake police uniforms.

Veronika Nikulshina, one of four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot who ran onto the pitch during the World Cup final between France and Croatia, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The judge also banned Veronika Nikulshina from attending sports events for three years.

Veronika Nikulshina, one of four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot who ran onto the pitch during the World Cup final between France and Croatia, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The pitch invasion by members of ‘Pussy Riot’ punk band was a brazen act in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Three others were due to be sentenced later on Monday.

Olga Kurachyova, one of the four who raced onto the pitch dressed in police-style outfits, said the stunt was meant to promote the freedom of speech and condemn the world footballing body, FIFA.

Veronika Nikulshina, one of four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot who ran onto the pitch during the World Cup final between France and Croatia, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Croatian defender Dejan Lovren, who pushed the male intruder aside on the pitch, told reporters the incident had interrupted the game at an important moment for his team.

“It is a pity that we disrupted the sportsmen,” Kurachyova told reporters on Monday.

“FIFA is involved in unfair games unfortunately. FIFA is a friend of heads of states who carry out repression, which violate human rights.

The match, watched from the stands by Putin and the French and Croatian presidents, was briefly halted early in the second half, but resumed after 25 seconds.

France went on to win the final 4-2.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Richard Balmforth

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Republican Senator Corker: Trump comments on Putin make U.S. look like ‘pushover’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker said President Donald Trump’s comments at a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday made the United States look like a “pushover.”

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks at the Milken Institute’s 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“When he had the opportunity to defend our intelligence agencies who work for him, I was very disappointed and saddened with the equivalency that he gave between them and what Putin was saying,” Corker told CNN in a reference to the agencies conclusions that Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and Putin’s denials that Republican Trump apparently accepted.

“The president’s comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover and I was disappointed in that, “ Corker said.

Reporting by David Alexander; editing by Grant McCool

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Colombian FARC leader Ivan Marquez declines to take Senate seat

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombian former FARC guerrilla commander Ivan Marquez said on Monday he will not take his seat in the Senate this week to protest the arrest of fellow rebel Jesus Santrich and changes to the peace accord he said betrayed and disfigured it.

FILE PHOTO: Ivan Marquez of the political party of FARC speaks during a news conference in Bogota, Colombia April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Marquez and another nine former leaders of the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia (FARC) were due to be sworn in to congress on Friday as part of a peace agreement signed in late 2016 that put an end their part in a five-decade conflict.

Benkos Bioho, another former FARC fighter, will take his seat instead, according to media reports.

Marquez also blamed changes to the original peace agreement and failure to allow the group to transform to legal politics as the reasons for his decision.

“I feel that Colombian peace is trapped in the networks of betrayal, and not so much because the agreement has not materialized – which requires some time – but because of the modifications introduced that disfigured the agreement,” Marquez said in a letter carried in local media.

Right-wing President-elect Ivan Duque will take office on Aug 7, replacing President Juan Manuel Santos, who won a Nobel Peace prize for his efforts to end the war. Duque has said he will make modifications to the accord and wants FARC leaders to serve sentences for crimes before they take their seats.

Santrich was indicted in April by a U.S. grand jury for conspiring with three others to export 10 tonnes of cocaine, worth $320 million in street value, to the United States.

Marquez called the arrest a “judicial setup” and said it put the peace deal between “life and death.”

Crimes committed by FARC members during the war are set to be adjudicated by a special tribunal, which opened on Friday, but those committed after demobilization are subject to regular judicial procedure, which includes the possibility of extradition.

The terms of the accords allowed alternative sentences if the former rebels confessed before the special tribunal and paid compensation to their victims.

The government says Santrich’s alleged crimes took place after the deal was signed.

More than 220,000 were killed during the war and millions have been displaced.

The FARC was allowed to form a political party, which kept its famous acronym as the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force. As part of the accord, five seats in each house were assigned to it through 2026.

Reporting by Helen Murphy; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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House speaker says Trump ‘must appreciate’ Russia is not an ally

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, following President Donald Trump’s remarks on Russia on Monday, said there was “no question” that Moscow interfered in the U.S. 2016 election and that Trump “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks with reporters during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy,” Ryan said in a statement.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by James Dalgleish

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U.S. State Department in talks with Turkey to sell Patriot system

FARNBOROUGH (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department is negotiating a potential deal to sell Turkey the Raytheon Co Patriot missile defense system as an alternative to the Russian-made S-400 system Turkey has agreed to purchase, an official said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. soldiers stand beside a U.S. Patriot missile system at a Turkish military base in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey, October 10, 2014.. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

U.S. Ambassador Kaidanow, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, told reporters that a delegation of U.S. government officials at the Farnborough Airshow was holding meetings with allies in the hopes of bolstering U.S. defense trade.

She said the U.S. State Department was in talks with Turkey and “trying to give the Turks an understanding of what we can do with respect to Patriot.” She did not say if the delegations were meeting at the air show.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Kevin Fahey, the Pentagon’s most senior official weapons buyer at the show, told reporters: “Turkey has had an interest in Patriot, so we’ve been working for a while how we can make that work.”

Turkey has attracted criticism from NATO allies over its planned purchase of the S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, which could jeopardize Ankara’s purchase of Lockheed Martin made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.

“Ultimately we are concerned that by purchasing these systems from the Russians it will be supportive of some of the least good behavior that we have seen from them (Russia) in various places including Europe but also elsewhere,” Kaidanow said, referring to all U.S. allies considering buying Russian systems.

She said Washington wanted to ensure that systems acquired by U.S. allies “remain supportive of the strategic relationship between us and our allies, in the case of Turkey that is Patriots.”

In April, the Trump administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of U.S. arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defense industry and create jobs at home.

Reporting by Mike Stone in Farnborough; Editing by Mark Potter and Jane Merriman

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Shock as Trump backs Putin on election meddling at summit

HELSINKI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said after meeting Vladimir Putin on Monday he saw no reason to believe his own intelligence agencies rather than trust the Kremlin leader on the question of whether Russia interfered to help him win the 2016 election.

On a day when he faced pressure from critics, allied countries and even his own staff to take a tough line, Trump said not a single critical word about Moscow on any of the issues that have brought relations between the two powers to the lowest ebb since the Cold War.

Instead, he denounced the “stupidity” of his own country’s policy, especially the decision to investigate election interference.

Trump’s performance is likely to create a political storm in the United States, where the White House has struggled for months to dispel a suggestion that Trump was unwilling to stand up to Putin.

His performance was denounced as “treasonous” by a former CIA chief and condemned as “shameful” by a Republican senator, although other Republicans were more cautious.

Trump held his meeting with Putin just days after a special prosecutor in the United States indicted 12 Russian agents for stealing Democratic Party documents to help him win the vote.

Asked if he believed U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help him defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, he said he was not convinced.

“I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, Trump said. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

FOOLISHNESS AND STUPIDITY

Before the summit even began, Trump blamed his own country for the deterioration in relations.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” he said on Twitter.

The Russian foreign ministry tweeted back: “We agree”.

At the news conference, Trump was invited by reporters to offer any criticism of Russia but he repeatedly declined. Asked if Russia was at all to blame for the poor ties, he said: “I hold both countries responsible. I think the U.S. has been foolish. We’ve all been foolish,” he said, before veering into discussion about his election victory.

“I beat Hillary Clinton easily and frankly we beat her…We won that race and it’s a shame that there can be even a little bit of a cloud over it,” he said.

Trump’s warm words for Russia were a marked contrast from the past week when he repeatedly rebuked traditional U.S. allies at a summit of NATO and during a visit to Britain.

Asked if Putin was an adversary, he said: “Actually I called him a competitor and a good competitor he is and I think the word competitor is a compliment.”

Putin spoke of the importance of the two countries working together and praised Trump, at one point interrupting the news conference to give the U.S. President a soccer ball.

U.S. President Donald Trump receives a football from Russian President Vladimir Putin as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Asked whether he had wanted Trump to win the 2016 election and had instructed officials to help him, Putin said “Yes I did”, although he denied any interference, saying the allegations were “complete nonsense”.

Republican Senator Lyndsay Graham said Trump’s performance would send a message of “weakness” to Moscow.

“Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections. This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves,” Graham said on Twitter.

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, said: “I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.”

TREASONOUS

Former CIA chief John Brennan went further, suggesting Trump should be removed from office: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

The summit caps a trip abroad during which Trump accused NATO allies of failing to spend enough on their militaries and embarrassed British Prime Minister Theresa May by saying she refused to take his advice about how to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU. He referred to the European Union itself as a “foe” in trade and repeatedly criticized it.

In some of the strongest words yet reflecting the unease of Washington’s traditional allies, Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday Europe could no longer rely on the United States.

“To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”

Slideshow (15 Images)

(This story has been refiled to add dropped word ‘saw’ in first paragraph)

Additonal reporting by Steve Holland, Jussi Rosendahl and Andrew Osborn in Helsinki and by Christian Lowe and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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U.S. Rep. Schiff: Trump comments give Putin OK on 2018 interference

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence panel said President Donald Trump’s comments in Helsinki on Monday essentially gave Russian President Vladimir Putin permission to interfere in November’s midterm election.

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Adam Schiff (R-CA) arrives for a closed-door briefing on Syria for the U.S. House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“President Trump just attacked our intelligence agencies and law enforcement for doing their jobs while standing next to a dictator who intervened in our election to help elect Trump,” Democratic U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said on Twitter. “Putin will take this as a green light to interfere in 2018, and it is. Cowardly and shameful.”

Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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Obama in Kenya for First Visit to Africa Since Leaving White House

Former U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Kenya on Sunday for his first visit to Africa since leaving the White House. On Monday, he spoke at the small village that was his late father’s homeland.

This is the fifth time that Obama has visited Kenya, his father’s birthplace.

Upon arriving in Nairobi on Sunday, he held talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga. On Monday, he inaugurated the Sauti Kuu Foundation, a sports and vocational training center set up by his half-sister in the small western Kenyan town of Kogelo.

Kogelo was the hometown of Barack Obama Sr. The former president last visited the village in 2006 when he was a U.S. senator.

Former US President, Barack Obama (2L) poses for a photograph with local young beneficiaries on July 16, 2018 during the opening of the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre, founded by his half-sister, Auma Obama (3R) at Kogelo in Siaya county, western Kenya.
Former US President, Barack Obama (2L) poses for a photograph with local young beneficiaries on July 16, 2018 during the opening of the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre, founded by his half-sister, Auma Obama (3R) at Kogelo in Siaya county, western Kenya.

In his speech Monday, Obama stressed the need for youth empowerment for development to occur in Africa.

“It begins with our young people in places like this, all of us providing the educational and economic and cultural opportunities that can empower some of the remarkable young people that you saw here today with the skills and the self-reliance to first change their own lives and then change their communities.”

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta meets former U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and Auma Obama at State House Nairobi, July 15, 2018.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta meets former U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and Auma Obama at State House Nairobi, July 15, 2018.

The former president applauded efforts by Kenyatta and Odinga to work together, after a prolonged and disputed presidential election in 2017.

“There has been real progress in this amazing country, and it should inspire today’s young Kenyans to demand even more progress,” he said. “The good news is that Kenya has a new constitution, it has a new spirit of investment and entrepreneurship. Despite some of the tumultuous times that seem to attend every election, we now have a president and a major opposition leader who have pledged bridges and have made specific commitments to work together. So, what we see here in Kenya is all part of an emergent, more confident and more self-reliant Africa.”

Obama also urged Kenyans to move past the ethnic tensions that have fueled violence during past election cycles and root out corruption that limits Kenya’s economic growth.

“It means no longer seeing different ethnicities as enemies or rivals but rather as allies and seeing the diversity of tribes not as a weakness but a strength,” he said. “It means making sure that economic growth reaches everyone, and not just a few at the top, that’s broadly shared across regions. It means guaranteeing educational opportunities to everybody, not just our boys but also our girls, because a nation that gives our daughters the same opportunities as our girls is more likely to succeed.”

The former U.S. president left Monday evening for South Africa, where he will deliver the 16th annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg.

Jailed Reuters Reporter Pleads Innocence in Myanmar Court

One of two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar maintained his innocence Monday to charges he broke the country’s secrecy laws in reporting on the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in December, accused of possessing documents linked to security operations against Rohingya militants in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.

During court proceedings, Wa Lone, the first to testify, recounted a meeting with a police officer in northern Yangon, after which he was almost immediately arrested. According to Reuters, Wa Lone says that the officer handed him documents and instructed him to photograph them. Wa Lone testified that although he met with policemen, he did not ever try to take any documents from them. The officer, Naing Lin, testified two months ago that he met with the two journalists on the day of their arrest, but that he gave them no documents.

He and Kyaw Soe Oo, are being tried for allegedly violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a case that has drawn international condemnation. If convicted, they could face 14 years in prison.

“We are deeply disappointed that the court declined to end this protracted and baseless proceeding against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” Reuters president and editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said in a statement earlier this month.

“These Reuters journalists were doing their jobs in an independent and impartial way, and there are no facts or evidence to suggest that they’ve done anything wrong or broken any law.”

Last week, as the journalists were charged, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said Myanmar’s courts are independent and that the case would be conducted according to the law.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state since August, after attacks by Rohingya militants against state security forces led to military reprisals. The U.N. said the military retaliated in a well-organized, systematic and coordinated manner. The U.N.’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has described the situation facing the mainly Muslim Rohingya in majority Buddhist Myanmar as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Fleeing Rohingya have told harrowing accounts of the military burning their villages in Rakhine, and of rapes, killings, looting and the laying of landmines to prevent them from returning to their homes.

A recent report by a U.N. investigator warned that Myanmar’s unprecedented level of human rights violations and abuses against its people will not end without concrete action by the international community against the government and military authorities.

Obama Set to Speak on Mandela Legacy in South Africa

Former U.S. President Barack Obama visits South Africa this week to deliver the 16th annual Nelson Mandela Lecture. The lecture honors the late Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was the central figure in the fight against white minority rule in South Africa.

All roads on Tuesday will lead to Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg to hear what former U.S. President Obama has to say about the legacy of former South African president Nelson Mandela.

He will speak one day before what would have been the late icon’s 100th birthday, and one day before Nelson Mandela International Day, an annual holiday declared by the United Nations in 2009.

Luzuko Koti, communications director at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, says about 15,000 people are expected to attend, including several former heads of states from Africa and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

“We are actually ready to roll tomorrow morning,” said Koti. “And I think all of the people we have asked to be here or invited to be here,they will be having a good experience tomorrow.”

The Mandela Foundation, which is hosting the event in partnership with Motsepe Foundation and the Obama Foundation, says the objective of the yearly lecture is to encourage people to discover their own strength and use it to change others’ lives.

Koti says the current global challenges led them to decide that Obama was the right person to deliver this year’s lecture.

“We looked at a person who can spread the message globally, who has a global platform and a global voice, who can raise the questions that are uncomfortable, that we would like people to engage with,” he said. “How do we become active citizens to solve the problems that we face? So, he was a perfect speaker to give us that.”

Obama’s speech is expected to focus on the need for better shelter, education, literacy and food security for the people of South Africa and other nations.

This is his first visit to South Africa since he came for Mandela’s funeral in December 2013.