Washington, Sept 8 (AP/UNB) — George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser who triggered the Russia investigation, was sentenced to 14 days in prison after he told a judge he was "deeply embarrassed and ashamed" for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries.
Papadopoulos, the first campaign aide sentenced in special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation, acknowledged Friday that his actions hindered an investigation of national importance, a move that the judge in his case said resulted in the 31-year-old putting his own self-interest above that of his country.
The punishment was far less than the maximum six-month sentence sought by the government but more than the probation that Papadopoulos and his lawyers had asked for.
Baghdad, Sep 08 (AP/UNB) — Angry protesters stormed the Iranian consulate in the southern city of Basra Friday, setting a fire inside as part of ongoing demonstrations that have turned deadly in the past few days, a security official and eyewitnesses said.
At least 10 protesters have died in clashes with security forces since Monday, including three who were shot dead by security forces on Thursday night as protesters lobbed Molotov cocktails and set fire to a government building and offices of Shiite militias in the city.
Residents of Basra and other cities in Iraq's oil-rich southern Shiite heartland have been protesting since July over endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and poor public services. Clashes erupted earlier this week, leaving several civilians and police dead. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into the violence which shows no sign of abating.
The violence prompted the temporary head of Iraq's parliament, the eldest lawmaker, to call an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the snowballing protests.
The protesters shouted anti-Iranian slogans outside the Iranian consulate Friday evening, including "Iran, out, out!" before they stormed it and set a fire inside. Smoke could be seen rising from the building. Protesters also burned an Iranian flag. Many residents of the predominantly Shiite city accuse Iranian-backed political parties of interfering with Iraqi politics and some hold them responsible for mismanagement and the poor services in the city.
Later Friday, angry protesters marched to the city's presidential palaces compound, where Shiite paramilitary troops are stationed, and tried to breach it. At least three cars driven by the troops ploughed into the protesters, killing one and wounding four others, according to a health official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
Elsewhere in the city, protesters tried to attack the headquarters of Assaib Ahl Al-Haq Shiite militia and the guards stationed there opened fire. It was not immediately clear if there were casualties.
Other protesters set tires on fire on main streets and highways, ignoring the curfew imposed by the authorities.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, security forces launched a search operation to determine the source of three mortar shells that landed inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the mortar shells that landed just after midnight Friday in an abandoned lot in the Green Zone, and no casualties were reported.
The rare attack comes amid a political crisis and against the backdrop of the Basra protests, adding to overall tensions in the country.
The newly-elected parliament earlier this week held its first session since the national elections in May. The session was adjourned amid disagreements as two blocs, both claiming to hold the most seats, vied for the right to form a new government.
The new parliament faces the twin tasks of rebuilding the north of the country following the war against the Islamic State group and rehabilitating services in the south, where severe water and electricity shortages have fueled protests.
A coalition led by al-Abadi and populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has the support of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, while an alliance between former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and militia leader Hadi al-Amiri has the backing of Iran.
Both alliances are dominated by Shiites, who have held the preponderance of power in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. But the largest Sunni blocs are aligned with al-Abadi and al-Sadr. Iraq's two main Kurdish parties have not taken a side.
A representative of the Shiite community's spiritual leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned during the Friday prayers sermon the violence against peaceful protesters and called for the quick formation of a new government that can deal with the challenges facing the country.
Fargo, Sep 08 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Friday that the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential is not only bad for the country, "it's really unfair for our midterms."
Trump also said special counsel Robert Mueller should have wrapped up the inquiry a "long time ago."
Asked about the investigation, which he has repeatedly denounced as a "witch hunt," Trump reiterated to reporters that there was no collusion between anyone one his presidential campaign and the Russian government.
But he said the time had long past for the investigation to have ended.
"We have to get it over with. It's really bad for the country. It's really unfair for our midterms. Really, really unfair for the midterms," Trump said. "This thing should have been over with a long time ago."
The president addressed reporters in the midst of a two-day campaign swing through states where Republicans hope to expand their narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate by knocking off vulnerable Democrats from Montana and North Dakota.
Trump was flying from Billings, Montana to Fargo, North Dakota, for fundraising events when he visited the press cabin aboard Air Force to address reporters accompanying him on the trip, part of an intense schedule of campaigning that Trump plans through the Nov. 6 elections.
Asked if he would consider allowing a government shutdown before the November elections, Trump said, "I would do it because I think it's a great political issue." But he said some Republican lawmakers would "rather not do it because they have races, they're doing well, they're up."
The president told Fox News in an interview broadcast earlier Friday that a government shutdown "is up to me, but I don't want to do anything that's going to hurt us or potentially hurt us because I have a feeling that the Republicans are going to do very well."
At a rally Thursday in Billings, Montana, Trump urged the defeat of Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, a top GOP target in the fall elections. He is expected to do the same against Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota during Friday's appearance in Fargo.
As he stood alongside Tester's opponent, state Auditor Matt Rosendale, Trump said Tester "will never drain the swamp because he happens to live in the swamp." He also criticized Tester for voting against Republican tax cuts.
Trump praised Judge Brett Kavanaugh's progress toward confirmation to the Supreme Court but decried the "anger and the meanness on the other side" and the Democrats' "sick" behavior as he sought to turn Kavanaugh's confirmation into a political litmus test for voters.
Democrats sought to block Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings from going forward.
"It's embarrassing to watch those people make fools of themselves as they scream and shout at this great gentleman," Trump said.
The president's strategy on the Supreme Court nomination aims to turn the screws on Tester and Heitkamp. Both red-state Democrats find themselves caught between their Senate leaders and their states' more conservative voters, who are more broadly supportive of Trump's pick.
Neither senator has laid down clear markers on how they will vote on Kavanaugh's nomination, which Senate Republican leaders hope to bring to a floor vote later this month — just weeks before the election.
Tester opposed Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Heitkamp voted for to confirm him.
White House officials contend the Supreme Court was a powerful motivator for Republican base voters in 2016, when Trump won the White House, and they're seeking to capitalize on Kavanaugh's nomination to help overcome an enthusiasm gap with Democrats. Likewise, a vote for Kavanaugh by either Tester or Heitkamp could frustrate a Democratic base eager for a more confrontational approach to the Trump administration.
Democrats question whether the Kavanaugh vote will resonate in the race to unseat Tester. He has emphasized his independence and willingness to cross the aisle to work with Trump, who carried Montana by 20 percentage points two years ago.
Likewise, Heitkamp is locked in a tough re-election fight in heavily Republican North Dakota, where she narrowly won six years ago and now faces a more formidable opponent in Rep. Kevin Cramer. Cramer has been a fervent supporter of Trump, who remains popular in North Dakota.
Dhaka, Sept 7 (UNB) – The landmark ruling by India’s Supreme Court to decriminalise same sex relationships is a giant step for equality in India, and will hopefully prompt other States to adopt similar legislation in line with international human rights law, a UN expert said.
“Criminalisation of homosexuality is one of the root causes behind grave and pervasive human rights violations against gay, lesbian, trans and bisexual persons,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
A world free from discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity depends to a large extent on dismantling criminalising provisions, which are often the result of colonial imposition, he said, applauding the judgement diluting Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, issued unanimously by a five-Judges bench on 6 September 2018.
“It is my sincere hope that, today, all other countries that still criminalise homosexuality and other forms of sexual orientation and gender identity, will carefully examine this ruling and decide that the time has come to bring themselves to full compliance with this human rights imperative,” the Independent Expert said.
Madrigal-Borloz, who has repeatedly stated that these forms of criminalisation of consensual sex between two adults violates international human rights law, noted that the Indian Supreme Court had remarked on the arbitrary and irrational nature of such criminalisation.
“I am encouraged by the Supreme Court’s findings, which evoke the principle of equality and the imperative of respecting a person’s identity. I am delighted that India – home to one-sixth of the world’s population - has taken this very meaningful step toward full compliance with its human rights obligations,” he said.
Madrigal-Borloz applauded the vital contribution of civil society in the drive to decriminalise same sex relations in India.
“Behind this and every other major State step to protect the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans persons there are years of steadfast commitment by human rights defenders, victims, advocates and activists,” he said. “This judgement, which comes after decades of litigation before the Indian Judiciary, is a reminder of the indispensable contribution of civil society to the mission of perfecting democracy and respect for human rights around the globe.”
Sapporo, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — Searchers used dogs, backhoes and shovels to dig through mud and debris Friday looking for survivors beneath the landslides caused by a powerful earthquake in northern Japan that left at least 16 people dead or presumed dead.
The magnitude 6.7 quake early Thursday unleashed scores of landslides that buried homes in avalanches of soil, rock and timber on the country's northernmost main island of Hokkaido. In Atsuma, a town of 4,600 people, 26 were still unaccounted for.
The landslides ripped through some homes and buried others. Some residents interviewed by national broadcaster NHK described awakening to find their relatives and next-door neighbors gone.
"The entire thing just collapsed," said one. "It's unbelievable."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said nearly half of the nearly 3 million households on the island had their power restored after a day of island-wide blackouts.
"The forecasts are for rain, and that could bring more landslides, so please continue to exercise extreme caution," he said.
The regional government said the bullet train to the provincial capital, Sapporo, was due to reopen later in the day. The city's regional airport also was beginning to resume operations after hundreds of flights had been cancelled, stranding thousands of travelers, due to Thursday's power outage and light quake damage.
Hokkaido is Japan's northern frontier and a major farming region with rugged mountain ranges and vast forests, and its people are accustomed to coping with long winters, isolation and other hardships.
It is sparsely populated compared to the rest of Japan, but disruptions were widespread. Many roads were closed and some were impassable.
In Sapporo, the regional capital and home to 1.9 million people, casualties were relatively light. But damage to some parts of the city was severe, with houses atilt and roads crumbled or sunken. A mudslide left several cars half buried, and the ground subsided, leaving drainpipes and manhole covers protruding by more than a meter (yard) in some places.
"I was on the 9th floor when it hit. I was about to go to sleep. Then, all of sudden, there came a big tremor. I never experienced such big tremor since I was born. So, I was really surprised," Sayaka Igarashi, 20, told The Associated Press.
"People are saying there could be aftershocks. I 'm worried that another big one will hit," said Ryota Kitsui, 29.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters Friday that it would take at least a week to fully restore power to all communities due to damage at a thermal power plant at Tomato-Atsuma that supplies half of Hokkaido's electricity.
"We're trying to do it faster, but it will likely take a week," Seko said. He urged residents to conserve power by keeping lights off, unplugging unused appliances and having family members stay together in one room.
"This will help us to restore power to more places," he said.
The last few months have brought a string of calamities in Japan. The quake came on the heels of a typhoon that lifted heavy trucks off their wheels and triggered major flooding in western Japan, and damaged the main airport near Osaka and Kobe. The summer also brought devastating floods and landslides from torrential rains in Hiroshima and deadly hot temperatures across the country.