Pompeo nomination for State Department barely clears Senate committee

CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination for secretary of state has barely cleared the Senate Foreign Committee. No Democrat voted in favor of the nominee, and the vote almost failed due to one Republican’s absence.

Initially, ten of the Republicans present voted in favor of Pompeo, and ten of the Democrats present voted against. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) voted by proxy, since he was giving a eulogy at a funeral and was not expected back in Washington until Monday evening. The committee’s rules require a majority of those present to be in favor, meaning Pompeo’s nomination was being held up.

Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) would not agree to a voice vote, saying he did not want to create a precedent. However Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) agreed to vote present, saying that Isakson’s absence was “not a fact pattern we expected.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who originally said he would oppose Pompeo’s nomination on grounds that the former congressman from Kansas favored regime change as a policy, changed his mind on Monday after conversations with Pompeo and President Donald Trump.

“I want Trump to be Trump,” rather than be surrounded by advisers who try to change the president’s mind, Paul told the committee.

Democrats reiterated their opposition to Pompeo, based mainly on his political positions. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) said that Pompeo’s links to the fossil fuel industry disqualify him because of how important it was to fight climate change, and cited Pompeo’s “disregard” for Muslim and LGBTQ Americans as making him unsuitable for diplomacy.

“I don’t want to vote for people who are anti-diplomatic to be the nation’s chief diplomat,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), noting that Pompeo was a good fit for the CIA, which he’s run since January 2017.

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Price of safety? IDF snipers ordered to shoot at any ‘threat,’ even if it is child – ex-general

Anyone, including children, who gets close enough to the Israeli-Gaza border poses a “threat” and could be considered a legitimate target by IDF forces, a retired general said, adding that such a policy ensures Israel’s safety.

“At the tactical level, any person who gets close to the fence, anyone who could be a future threat to the border of the State of Israel and its residents, should bear a price for that violation,” Israeli Brigadier General Zvika Fogel told the local Kan radio, as cited by the Electronic Intifada website.

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He then argued that a “child or anyone else” can “hide an explosive device or check if there are any dead zones … or to cut the fence” to allow infiltrators into the Israeli territory, if this person gets close enough to the border. In all such cases, the punishment for what he called “a violation of our border,” which cannot be “tolerated,” would be “death.”

The general, who was the chief of staff of IDF’s Southern Command, which controls the 65km (40 miles) border with Gaza, justified the military’s firing on Palestinians at the fence, noting that the Israeli forces do not necessarily shoot to kill in all such instances.

He then argued that the IDF snipers are not just randomly shooting Palestinians at their own discretion, as each target is allegedly carefully selected and assessed. “I know how a sniper does the shooting. I know how many authorizations he needs before he receives an authorization to open fire. It is not the whim of one or the other sniper who identifies the small body of a child now and decides he’ll shoot. Someone marks the target for him very well and tells him exactly why one has to shoot and what the threat is from that individual,” he said. Fogel added, however, that fatal injuries can be inflicted if one “shoot[s] at a small body.”

He then brushed off any criticism by saying that, even though the “picture is not a pretty” one, it is “the price that we have to pay to preserve the safety and quality of life of the residents of the State of Israel.”

The controversial interview came just days after the killing of a 15-year-old Gaza boy, Mohammed Ayoub, who was hit last Friday by a live bullet during the ‘March of Return’ protest in Gaza. A local cameraman who captured the shot, Abdul Hakim Abu Riyash, told RT that the teenager was nowhere near the frontline and was not carrying any sort of weapon.

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Ahed Tamimi at a military court. © Ammar Awad

The so-called ‘March of Return’ protest is being staged as Palestinians claim their former homes, appropriated from them by Israel in 1948. The protests began on March 30 and are expected to continue up until May 15, which for Palestinians marks the forced mass exodus from their land during the establishment of the state of Israel. Israelis celebrate it as Independence Day.

The bloody crackdown on the protesters launched by the IDF has already taken its toll on Palestinians. Since the start of the protests, almost 40 people have been killed and more than 1,400 injured by live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas used by Israeli forces against the demonstrators near the Gaza border, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Tel Aviv’s actions provoked angry reactions from international rights groups, who repeatedly condemned the use of force by Israelis against unarmed protesters.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) blasted the “calculated” killings and said Tel Aviv presented no evidence “that rock-throwing and other violence by some demonstrators seriously threatened Israeli soldiers across the border fence.”

Amnesty International also accused Israel of the use of “excessive, deadly force against protesters, including children.” In early April, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged Israel to ensure security forces do not use excessive force against Palestinian protesters.

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Russiagate’s next target: John Bolton?

Is President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser John Bolton a secret Russian stooge? NBC news thinks he might be.

As the narrative that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia stays alive, NBC news has found that if you join enough dots and squint just hard enough, Bolton “colluded” with Russian trolls to spread anti-Muslim propaganda.

In an article published Monday, NBC’s Heidi Przybyla highlighted Bolton’s chairmanship of the right-wing Gatestone Institute think tank between 2013 and last month. Gatestone publishes posts from right-wing authors, many of which concern the role of Islam in Europe and the west.

Headlines like ‘Germany Confiscating Homes to Use for Migrants,’ and ‘Rape Capital of the West’ are cited as proof of Bolton’s “Islamophobia”, despite the fact that he never actually wrote any of these pieces. Bolton himself mostly wrote about Iran, a country he maintains a hawkish stance on.

While a few of Gatestone’s articles have been accused of cherry-picking facts to promote a right-wing narrative, its stories on migrant sex crime and violence in Europe are not fiction, and similar stories have begun to appear in mainstream media. Bloomberg reported in January that refugee crime statistics in Germany confirm the right’s warnings, while Politico reported this month that despite a government PR campaign to downplay the problem, Sweden is plagued by rising levels of Islamic State recruitmen, shootings, bombings, and grenade attacks.

However, in the eyes of NBC the fact that several Gatestone authors spoke on Russian media outlets like RT and Sputnik somehow constitutes proof of Bolton’s collusion with Russia.

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© Vladimir Konstantinov

“It suits the Kremlin propaganda outlets to portray Western democracies as a failure that have been flooded by migrants and whose societies are breaking down, because then it will make it [democracy] less attractive to Russians,” Ben Nimmo, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s digital forensic research lab, told NBC.

According to this narrative, Russian trolls are responsible for Bolton’s appointment too. Przybyla points out how four suspected “Russian troll” Twitter account retweeted Gatestone articles, and one “troll account” tweeted a suggestion to Trump that he appoint Bolton to his cabinet.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have blamed Russia for her defeat ever since the 2016 presidential election. Last week, the DNC announced a lawsuit against the Trump campaign, the Russian government, and WikiLeaks for allegedly interfering in the election. The lawsuit is conspicuously light on evidence, and looks like“a last gasp at validating how Hillary Clinton lost a rigged election,” legal and media analyst Lionel told RT.

The connection between Bolton and Russia is even more tenuous. Overseeing a think tank that publishes politically incorrect articles plus five tweets from alleged Twitter trolls (as decided by the Atlantic Council) looks less like collusion and more like a desperate attempt to keep the failing Russiagate conspiracy theory alive.

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Russia had no interest in Skripal, UK hiding spy & daughter to stop them talking – ex-CIA mole to RT

The UK security services are most likely hiding the Skripals as they do not want them to reveal any details about their case, former Czech spy Karel Koecher told RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze.

“[Former Russian double agent Sergei] Skripal most definitely wasn’t a victim of any kind of operation or attack from the Russian side,” said Koecher, who was a Soviet mole who successfully penetrated the CIA. He went on to say that “as far as Russia is concerned, and I honestly believe it, they had absolutely no interest in Skripal at all,” adding that the mere fact that Moscow had previously agreed to swap him for Russian agents was evidence of that.

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Ben STANSALL

Attacking the former agent after he was swapped would “totally destroy Russian credibility as far as [spy] exchanges are concerned,” said the former Czech spy. He then explained that a spy swap is almost the “only way” to get agents with no diplomatic cover back in the event that they are caught or arrested. The Russian authorities would never put this mechanism in any kind of danger “because they certainly have to get their people back if they get into trouble.”

The whole Salisbury incident in which Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned looks more like a false flag attack, Koecher told Shevardnadze. The Skripals might just have become a “good opportunity” for “some kind of scenario of anti-Russian operations,” he said. “Maybe, it was just made up to have some kind of reason to escalate the anti-Russian operations and sanctions in public,” he suggested.

The UK security services are apparently hiding the former Russian double agent and his daughter “as much as they can,” Koecher said, adding that they would probably never let the two meet with Russian officials because London apparently fears that they could disclose facts which it does not want to become available to the public.

“The whole thing is so suspicious, you know, you cannot know what he [Sergei Skripal] is going to say,” Koecher said. “So even if he agrees to say what they [the British intelligence] tell him to say, he might change his mind when he is speaking on camera,” the former spy added.

Watch the full interview here.

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Macron in Washington DC to walk the line between criticism and adulation with Trump

As Emmanuel Macron arrives in Washington, the French President is expected to face pressure to tackle Trump on Iran, trade, and climate change, all while continuing to strengthen his cosy relationship with the US president.

Macron and his wife will join Donald and Melania Trump for a private dinner on Monday, followed by talks and a state dinner on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Macron will address a joint session of Congress, 58 years to the day after General Charles de Gaulle spoke on Capitol Hill in 1960.

Macron told Fox News on Sunday that himself and Trump “have a very special relationship.” Macron has been more successful than his fellow European leaders in building a relationship with Trump, taking the US President to a grandiose military parade in Paris and dining with him atop the Eiffel tower when he visited Paris last year.

In discussions with Trump, Macron is likely to walk a line between sycophancy and criticism. He is expected to pressure Trump into remaining in the Iran deal, signed between Iran and a bloc made up of the US, China, Russia, UK, France and Germany in 2015. Trump has said that the deal, which limits Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, is overly lenient and “was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

For his part, in his interview on Sunday, Macron said that, while he thinks the Iran deal is not perfect, he sees no better option. “Let’s preserve this framework,” he said, “because it’s better than the sort of North Korean type of situation.”

The French president will likely also be asking Trump for concessions for Europe on trade tariffs. “I hope he will not implement these new tariffs and he will decide for an exemption for the European Union,” he said on Fox. “You cannot make a trade war with your ally.”

Macron met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin last week to discuss their twin-pronged efforts to dissuade Trump from unilateral trade decisions. Merkel travels to Washington later in the week, where she may find it more difficult to establish a rapport with Trump. Macron and Trump reportedly speak often by phone, whereas Merkel did not speak to Trump for over five months until this March. Trump has repeatedly criticized Germany for failing to meet NATO’s required spend of 2 percent of GDP on defense, and has slammed Merkel for her ‘open-door’ migration policy that saw over a million refugees and migrants flood Germany in recent years.

Macron’s cosying up to Trump is a gamble for the ambitious French leader. Lending French support to the US airstrikes on Syria two weeks ago will strengthen the already warm relationship between the two presidents and could make Trump more amenable to discussion, but may alienate French voters. The Syria strikes were criticized by both the left and right in France, who remain proud of Jacques Chirac’s decision to stay out of the Iraq war in 2003. In lending military support to an American foreign escapade, Macron risks being seen as ‘France’s Tony Blair.’

Macron’s declaration of support for Kurdish militias in Syria –who are allies of the US– has already been described by analysts as a “bow to the US” and has been criticized by the Turkish government, who have been fighting a low-intensity military campaign against the Kurds for three decades.

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© George Panagakis

Furthermore, Macron’s own approval rating at home has fallen to 40 percent, the lowest since his election last year. With France rocked by strikes and demonstrations by rail workers, students, pensioners and more, the French electorate may very well look at Macron’s Washington trip with indifference.

Regardless of whether Macron tests the limits of his bond with Trump, and regardless of whether anything of substance comes from the two leaders’ discussions, the chance to be seen on the world stage might count as some sort of win for the French president, whose public displays of grandeur at the Versailles palace have been described by the French left as “Pharaonic” and “monarchical.”

Macron may be a self-described ‘radical centrist’, but he has referred to his own style of rule as “Jupiterian” – a reference to the Roman king of the gods, who rained thunder and lightning from the sky. For Macron it meant becoming a leader who rules from above with cold resolve, reveals little to the media, and speaks seldom and deliberately to the public.

Macron has said that France is still reeling from the effects of the French revolution, and that there is a void at the core of the democratic process. “In French politics, this absence is the presence of a King, a King whom, fundamentally, I don’t think the French people wanted dead,” he told journalist Eric Fottorino in his book Macron Par Macron (Macron By Macron).

This week’s lavish state dinners and talks with the leader of the free world could give Macron the chance to appear lofty and king-like, whatever the outcome.

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Van strikes pedestrians in Toronto, up to 10 people injured

A white van has struck a number of pedestrians in Toronto, with police reporting that between eight and ten people have been injured. However, the extent of their injuries is not yet known.

The incident on Yonge Street and Finch Avenue East occurred just after 1 pm local time, according to the Toronto Police Department.

According to local reports police have detained the driver of the vehicle. The area has been closed off.

The live pictures broadcast from the scene by local TV shows a number of police and emergency vehicles covering the intersection.

Several people are seen being treated on the sidewalk and several are being taken into emergency vehicles. A video from the site has emerged online.

The thoroughfares of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue East are located close to a metro station in east-west Toronto. The Toronto Transport Commission has closed off the Yonge Street station due to the police investigation.

Police have not confirmed about the reports on shooting.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

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Barcelona fans boo Spain’s national anthem in presence of king

Fans of Catalan football club Barcelona booed the national anthem at the Spanish Cup final, which was attended by King Felipe VI.

Whistles and jeers were heard from the stands during the playing of the national anthem before the final clash between football giants Barcelona and Seville on Saturday.

The game, which was held at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, saw Barcelona defeat their rivals 5-0 to win the Spanish Cup for the 30th time in the club’s history.

The fans were most likely expressing their resentment over the constitutional court’s decision to cancel the results of last year’s referendum, in which 90 percent of Catalans voted to separate from Spain.

Barça fans attending Saturday’s match were reportedly asked by police to remove the yellow shirts they wore to show support for the nine Catalan independence leaders held in prison.

READ MORE: South Africa football thugs brutally beat female guard in riot after cup defeat

“Placards or T-shirts whose significance or content could have increased the risk of public order problems or violence in and around the stadium were seized,” a police officer told AFP on Sunday.

Last October, Catalonia’s bid for independence was declared illegal by the constitutional court, triggering a massive wave of protests that engulfed the region.

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Trump urges Mexico to stop illegal migration into US, says it may be condition for new NAFTA treaty

Mexico should make efforts to stop people from illegally entering the US through its territory, President Donald Trump said. He also said the US could place the obligation on Mexico as part of a new NAFTA accord.

“Mexico, whose laws on immigration are very tough, must stop people from going through Mexico and into the U.S. We may make this a condition of the new NAFTA Agreement. Our Country cannot accept what is happening!” Trump said in a Twitter post, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico, which he pledged to re-negotiate shortly after his election victory.

The US leader then once again said that the US “must get Wall funding fast” as Washington is still looking for funding sources for Trump’s long-promised and costly border wall project. Earlier, he said that he instructed the secretary of Homeland Security not to let what he called “large caravans” of migrants into the US while criticizing the existing laws on sanctuary cities and the border. Trump denounced these laws, which he said were “inspired by Democrats,” as “bad and one-sided.”

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso said in response that his country would make decisions on its immigration policy in a “sovereign” manner. He also criticized Trump’s plans to include a provision concerning immigration issues in the new NAFTA treaty, saying it is “unacceptable” to condition the re-negotiation of the agreement on some unrelated matters.

READ MORE: Trump accuses Mexico, Honduras & others of sending ‘caravans’ of illegals into US

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Caviar diplomacy: Probe suspects Council of Europe members of corruption in favor of Azerbaijan

There is “a strong suspicion” that several Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe officials, including its former head, have been involved in corrupt activities in favor of Azerbaijan, a new PACE report said.

The officials have accepted luxury gifts, including caviar, carpets, and stays in top hotels in the Azeri capital, Baku, the 219-page report conducted by French, UK, and Swedish experts said, stating that “there was a strong suspicion that certain current and former members of PACE had engaged in activity of a corruptive nature.”

“The investigation body found that, in their activities concerning Azerbaijan, several members and former members of PACE had acted contrary to the PACE ethical standards,” the report, published on PACE’s website, said.

The report pointed out that there were allegations of suspicious practices in favor other countries at PACE, but the probe lacked resources to look into all of them. The investigators singled out Azerbaijan due to several NGOs blaming the country of attempts to avoid criticism at PACE “in exchange for gifts and money” to the body’s members.

Among those under suspicion is former PACE President Pedro Agramunt, who, according to the paper, was found to have played “a key role” in decisions in favor of Azerbaijan. Agramunt resigned from his post in 2017, following a vote of no confidence after he visited Syria and held a meeting with President Bashar Assad.

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Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (R) rides a cart with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Reuters / Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Kremlin)

Former Italian MP Luca Volonte was also linked to “activities of a corruptive nature” as he played “an important role” in undermining a report on political prisoners in the former Soviet state.

However, it stopped short of calling the lavish gifts bribes for favorable votes at PACE, saying that those were “courtesy gifts which were common in many countries and to which no particular importance was attached.”

“The parliamentarians involved are invited to suspend their activity while a (PACE) committee examines their situation on a case-by-case basis,” PACE President Michele Nicoletti said, as cited by AFP.

PACE is the parliamentary arm of the Council of Europe and the oldest human rights body on the continent, established in 1949 to uphold democracy and the rule of law. The organization, which unites 47 nations, has no legislative power, but its assessments attract wide publicity and are taken into consideration by the EU leadership.

Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe in 2001 and since then, PACE has been criticized for not taking a firm stance on alleged human rights violations and election fraud in the country.

In 2013, a report on the Azeri government using the judicial system to deal with its critics was controversially rejected by MPs. The same year, PACE has also been slammed after it declared the Azeri presidential election, in which Ilham Aliyev won in a landslide, “free, fair and transparent,” while other watchdogs reported “significant problems.”

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South Africa football thugs brutally beat guard in riot after cup defeat

Fans of South African football club the Kaizer Chiefs rioted after their team lost in the semi-final of the national cup, charging onto the pitch and causing serious injury to a security guard.

The Kaizer Chiefs, One of the most supported clubs in South Africa, were knocked out of the Nedbank Cup on Saturday, going down to a 2-0 defeat to the Free State Stars.
When the final whistle blew at the end of the game, the teams’ fans left their seats and invaded the pitch at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, smashing equipment, plastic chairs, cameras and attacking security staff.

Footage of the violent riot went viral, including clips showing a group of fans assaulting a security guard, who was seriously injured in the incident.

The woman is seen lying on the ground, being brutally beaten with plastic chairs and later kicked twice in the head by a man. The outrageous scene sparked a public outcry on social media, with many users urging strong punishments for the attacker.

South African Police Services spokeswoman Nqobile Gwala said on Sunday that two people were arrested following the riot. They are expected to face charges of public violence and malicious damage to property.

The Kaizer Chiefs, who have the highest average home attendance in South Africa, took responsibility for the horrifying scenes, with the head coach Steve Komphela immediately resigning after the game.

“We have to cut this culture of ill-discipline and delinquency. I have to be responsible and protect the players and administration, and set an example that this must stop,” he said.

“If it has to stop with me, then it must be so … I am effectively saying to you that I consider it my responsibility to protect everybody at stake.”

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