Month: April 2019

Home / Month: April 2019

Ecuador traded Julian Assange for a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which can only be handed out with the approval of Washington, John Shipton, the WikiLeaks co-founder’s father, has said.

“Ecuador doesn’t have its own currency. It uses the US dollar,” Shipton told 60 Minutes Australia. 

In late February, Ecuador has reached a $4.2 billion staff-level financing deal with the IMF to keep its struggling economy afloat. 

Less than two months later, Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno revoked Assange’s political asylum. The publisher and journalist was detained by the UK police, which dragged him out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He had been holed up there for almost seven years fearing extradition to the US for publishing evidence of its war crimes and shady policies on his whistleblowing project WikiLeaks.

RT’s Ruptly video agency was the only outlet present to capture the arrest on video. Shipton commented on the footage describing the “terrible” effect that the pressure has had on his son. “I’m 74, he looks as old as me. He’s 47.”

Assange’s father said his main fear now was that Britain will deport the whistleblower to the US. Formally, the Americans want to prosecute the publisher for an alleged cyber-conspiracy with former US Army soldier Chelsea Manning, who passed thousands of classified US military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. But many believe the number of charges will pile up once the US gets hold of Assange.

“The US was determined to ruin his life, for whatever reason. They want to demonstrate that publishers and whistleblowers will be destroyed,” Shipton said.

Julian Assange’s father John Shipton, poses with German MPs, outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London. © Reuters / Will Russell

He also laughed at the claims that his son was working with the Kremlin, which were first voiced by the Hillary Clinton camp. “Oh for god’s sake, Russian asset, spare me,” the father said.

Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential vote in the US not because the WikiLeaks published the emails of the Democratic National Committee, but because Clinton as Secretary of State “destroyed Libya and giggled like a madwoman seeing a bayonet that’s stuffed up Gaddafi’s a**hole,” he argued.

Shipton parted ways with Assange’s mother Christine Ann Hawkins when she was pregnant with Julian, but he kept in touch with his son and reportedly last visited him in the Ecuadorian embassy on Christmas.

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Sri Lankan security forces are on high alert amid warnings of more possible suicide bomb attacks in the country by assailants dressed in military fatigues using vans.

“There could be another wave of attacks,” the head of the police’s ministerial security division said in a letter to politicians, senior police and security forces officials.

“The relevant information further notes that persons dressed in military uniforms and using a van could be involved in the attacks.”

According to the report, seen by Reuters, the same groups behind the Easter Sunday bombings which killed over 250 people, National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim, were planning to target some five locations on Sunday or Monday. Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) claimed responsibility for the Easter attacks but solid evidence of its involvement has yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has banned all face coverings which may conceal a person’s identity including, but not limited to, burqas and niqabs, as authorities continue to investigate the bombing attacks.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping loves to watch the fantasy TV series Game of Thrones, but believes the brutal fictional world of Westeros shouldn’t become a template for international relations, a local paper has reported.

HBO’s fantasy drama, based on ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ by George R. R. Martin, is as much a smash hit in China as anywhere else around the globe, despite local viewers being shown an edited version with less sex and violence.

With the show in its final season, it appears that even the Chinese leader has been unable to resist the phenomenon. However, due to his extremely busy schedule, Xi has a special – even more condensed – cut of the show prepared for him, an unnamed government official told South China Morning Post. “We call it the diamond version,” he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to be fond of wine, just like many of ‘Game of Thrones’ characters. © Reuters / Nicolas Asfour

The Chinese leader recently showed his affection for GOT in public, telling his aides and foreign guests at a Beijing meeting that “we must all make sure the world we live in does not descend into the chaotic warring seven kingdoms of Westeros,” the source recalled.

Luckily, Xi has Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang to discuss the latest episodes with, as Li has apparently been watching too. The premier mentioned Game of Thrones during a recent summit in Dubrovnik – the ancient Croatian port town that served as the set for King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros, in the American show.

“While [Game of Thrones] is reaching its end, the new round of 16+1 [Central and Eastern European countries + China] cooperation is beginning… because this is not a ‘game,’ but a reflection of win-win cooperation,” Li said.

Curiously, George R. R. Martin’s books, which describe a medieval society (plus magic and dragons), mention the eastern empire of Yi Ti, ruled by god-emperors and clearly inspired by Imperial China. This land was never visited by the Game of Thrones characters on TV. One has to wonder, could the enthusiasm of top Chinese officials see the country’s Ministry of Culture sponsoring a Yi Ti-based spinoff of the cult show?

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Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez’ socialist party PSOE is set to come out on top in Sunday’s elections, but it’ll have to form a coalition in the fragmented parliament. Meanwhile, right-wing party Vox enters with over 20 seats.

With the Spanish political landscape increasingly fragmented, voters went to the polls on Sunday to take part in the country’s third general election in four years. Turnout was a high 75 percent, and all 350 seats in Spain’s Congress of Deputies were up for grabs.

With 84 percent of votes counted by Sunday evening, Sanchez’ decision to call a snap election in February looks to have paid off. His socialist PSOE party looks set to take 123 seats, or 29 percent of the vote. Previously, Sanchez led a minority government of 85 deputies, with the support of a handful of independence-favoring Catalonian parties.

Spain’s center-right People’s Party (PP) looks to have been eviscerated at the polls, netting only 65 seats, or 16 percent of the vote. The PP won 137 seats in the 2016 election, but were ousted from power following a no-confidence motion from Sánchez last year.

Populist centrist party Ciudadanos – which represents Catalonians who oppose the region’s independence movement – looks set to take 57 seats, or 15 percent of the vote. The party scored 32 seats in 2016.

Left-wing anti-austerity party Podemos lost out on Sunday, taking 35 seats, or 12 percent of the vote. The party, which sought to attract left-wing voters dissatisfied with the PSOE, has been rocked by infighting since it won 45 seats in 2016.

The rise of right-wing contenders Vox has been watched closely by the world’s media. Strongly opposed to regional independence movements and proudly against the liberalism of Sánchez’s PSOE, Vox was supported by former Donald Trump strategist Steve Bannon. The hardline conservatives are on track to pick up 24 seats, or 10 percent of the vote. Although some media outlets hungry to depict the “rise of the far right” predicted a higher score, 10 percent is a significant jump from 2016, when the party won only 0.2 percent of the vote.

With the count continuing, these numbers could fluctuate. However, it is highly likely that the PSOE will look to form a coalition government as soon as possible.

The “most probable possibility is the socialist party supported by minority and regional parties,” Marc Sanjaume-Calvet, political science researcher at Universitat Pompeu Fabra told RT. Podemos could also lend their support to a left-wing coalition, as could the centrists of Ciudadanos.

Hopes for a right-wing coalition have been all but dashed. The PP, Ciudadanos, and Vox could band together, but would still come up more than 30 seats short of a majority, and could not dream of securing the support of any of the regional independence parties.

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The world has spent $1.8 trillion on its military in 2018. The US is leading the charge, while some of its NATO allies are also buffing their war budgets citing the Russian threat despite Moscow decreasing its military spending.

The past year has been immensely successful for the war industry, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). According to its newest report, released on Monday, global military spending went up 2.6 percent to reach its highest level since at least 1988, when researchers began tracking the data.

US military expenditure stood at $649 billion last year, which amounts to 36 percent of the world’s total. Washington outspent its closest rival, China, by almost 200 percent. It also spent almost as much as the next eight countries combined.

The surge in military spending has been fueled by the exacerbating rivalry between the US and China, as well as the strained situation in Asia where India increased its spending by 3.1 percent and Pakistan by 11 percent.

“The tensions between countries in Asia as well as between China and the USA are major drivers for the continuing growth of military spending in the region,” said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure (AMEX) program.

READ MORE: Military & civil cooperation between Moscow & NATO nonexistent – Russian deputy FM

While Washington has been an undisputed leader of the chart for years, last year it upped its game even more, increasing its military spending for the first time since 2010. The surge in US defense spending is a direct reflection of the Trump administration’s policy, according to SIPRI.

“The increase in US spending was driven by the implementation from 2017 of new arms procurement programs under the Trump administration,” Dr Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI AMEX, noted.

Staying true to an upward trend of 24 years, China increased its spending by five percent. However, the pace of its military growth has slowed down to its lowest since 1994. In total, Beijing forked out $250 billion for military needs.

‘Policy of scapegoating’: Ron Paul speaks against US militarism feasting on China & Russia threats

Despite decreasing its military spending by a record six percent, Saudi Arabia retained third place, having spent $67.6 billion. India landed in fourth place with $66.5 billion, followed by France on $63.8 billion.

Russia slipped two places to claim sixth spot by spending some $61.4 billion on the military in 2018, 3.5 percent less than in 2017. Even though the numbers indicate that Moscow is not the country fueling a new arms race, SIPRI reported that a huge uptick in military spending by Poland (growing by 8.9 percent), the Baltics, Bulgaria and Romania and several others are due to the purported Russian scare.

“The increases in Central and Eastern Europe are largely due to growing perceptions of a threat from Russia,” Wezeman said.

While Trump has been behind a drastic increase in the Pentagon budget and that of NATO, the US president has recently lamented that the money would be better spent elsewhere, calling on China and Russia to “get together” and stop “making these weapons.” 

If the world were to spend this money on something else, the amount in question would constitute 2.1 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) or $239 per person, according to the SIPRI report.

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A Harare-bound Zimbabwean airliner requested an emergency landing and circled around the airport near Johannesburg, South Africa, after its engine suddenly caught fire shortly after takeoff.

A video, shared by a popular flight-spotting account on Twitter, shows bright flames bursting out of the aircraft’s left engine as it is flying in the night skies above Johannesburg.

The engine caught fire shortly after an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767-200 took off from the O.R. Tambo International Airport, near Johannesburg, on Sunday night. The pilots quickly requested an emergency landing.

But the flames were “manually extinguished” mid-air, the spokesperson for the Airport Companies South Africa said, so no emergency landing was needed. After circling around the airport, the plane made it safely to Harare, the capital of neighboring Zimbabwe.

“There was a tail pipe fire but that did not compromise the safety of the flight,” the airline told local media after the incident.

A similar incident happened earlier this month with a Tel Aviv-bound Boeing 767-300ER in Spain when its engine caught fire shortly after takeoff from Barcelona. The aircraft, belonging to Israeli airline Arkia, was forced to turn around and make an emergency landing.

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“He always knew a thing or two about magic tricks,” a tongue-in-cheek ad of Russian’s NTV channel said as it announced its “new” show will be hosted by none other than comedian-turned-Ukrainian president-elect, Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Russian TV’s promo was in itself a trick: the show was actually filmed back in 2011 for another channel, which apparently didn’t find it good enough and shelved it. But NTV decided to dig it out after Zelensky crushed incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, in the second round of the Ukrainian election in April – and became the talk of the town not only at home, but in Russia too.

The first episode of the program called “Magiya” (magic) is to be broadcast late on Friday. It’s a competition for illusionists and prestidigitators, whose skills are judged by a panel of celebrities.

The channel didn’t hesitate to seemingly mock its own soon-to-be host. In the teaser, Zelensky is heard saying: “Is it a problem? It’s not a problem. Money talks,” which may very well refer to claims that his sudden rise to power is due to the financial backing of Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoysky. In another fragment, the president-elect tears a $100 note into tiny pieces in a failed hocus-pocus.

But the Russian internet didn’t find airing the program such a good idea, with many people vowing to unfollow the channel on Twitter and stop watching it from now on.

“A new show from eight years ago. Why not find something in 1995?” one of the users wrote. The others wondered if it was all a “joke” and pointed out that using Zelensky for PR was “crazy” on NTV’s part.

Another commentator, either joking or oblivious, suggested that the president-elect found work on Russian television as he needs money to repay Ukraine’s debt to the IMF. There was also an opinion that the comedian only won the Ukrainian presidential election to be able to return to the Russian screens.

Zelensky is a controversial figure in Russia where he used to be quite popular, starring in movies and working as a TV host. But he changed his ways drastically after Russia’s reunification with Crimea and the breakout of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. He returned to Kiev and began actively bashing the Kremlin in his comedy performances.

Following the successful presidential race where he used his actor talent to the max in campaign videos, and set outrageous debate terms to meet his opponent Petro Poroshenko at an actual stadium, Zelensky has claimed in a Facebook post that he was “ready to discuss new conditions of coexistence of Ukraine and Russia.”

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Yellow Vest protesters who have suffered life-changing injuries at the hands of French police have launched their own association, promising fresh actions against police brutality.

Called “the mutilated for the edification of others,” the collective aims to accurately calculate the number of people who have been injured nationally by police during Yellow Vest protests. It also called for an end to the use of the non-lethal weapons deployed by French police — namely tear gas canisters and Flash Balls — and a large national demonstration is scheduled in Paris on May 26.

Among those attending was Jerome Rodrigues, a prominent Yellow Vest leader who was hit in the eye with a gas canister during a demonstration in January. “You have 19 people in front of you and you have only 26 eyes that look back,” he told the press conference. “Count, there is a small problem,” he added.

“We demand the truth, justice and the ban on so-called sublethal weapons,” said Robin Pages, another activist. He accused French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner of “lying” when the he suggested that only “10 people have been hit in the head by LBD [Flash Ball] shots.”

According to statistics gathered by the activist group Desarmons-les (“Disarm Them”), at least 154 people have been seriously injured by police use of non-lethal weapons during protests. Of that number, 22 people have lost the use of an eye due to Flash Balls. A further five have had their hands torn off by gas canisters.

The growing list of casualties has done little to prevent police use of non-lethal weapons, who fired gas at hundreds of protesters in order to prevent them from gathering at the EU Parliament building in Strasbourg on Saturday.

Now in entering its 25th week, the movement has morphed from one protesting a planned fuel tax hike into a wider campaign against austerity and the pro-business policies of the French government. 

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One of two Emirati men detained in Turkey on suspicion of both spying and having possible ties to the Jamal Khashoggi embassy murder case has reportedly taken his own life in prison, according to government and media sources.

The man was arrested by Turkish authorities 10 days ago and was later formally charged with “military and political” and “international espionage.” He was found dead having apparently hanged himself in his cell in Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul on Sunday.

Turkish authorities are now launching an investigation into the suspicious circumstances of the man’s death as he was being detained in solitary confinement.

The two men claimed they were Palestinian nationals but admitted to working on behalf of UAE intelligence, reports Al Jazeera. One of the two alleged UAE spies reportedly arrived in Turkey just two days after Khashoggi’s murder.

Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and then dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October in a case which sparked international outcry. So far, the the Saudi public prosecutor has charged 11 people in connection with Khashoggi’s murder.

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Under a state of emergency after a spate of suicide bombings last week, Sri Lanka has imposed a ban on all forms of face coverings. The measure is aimed at helping police with identification as they hunt for terrorism suspects.

The order comes into effect on Monday. It makes no exception for religious reasons, banning burkas, veils and masks alike.

“A decision has been taken by the president to ban all forms of face covering that will hinder easy identification under emergency regulations,” the presidential office stated on Sunday.

The Sri Lankan government enlisted the support of Muslim religious leaders before deciding in favor of the blanket ban on all garments that might hinder a person’s identification. Some Muslim clerics in the Buddhist-majority country vocally sided with the government, asking women to stop wearing burka and niqab, which leaves only a slit or a mesh, respectively, open for the eyes.

Muslims, who make up around 10 percent of the total population in Sri Lanka, are growing increasingly wary of potential retaliation over the attacks on Christian churches and luxury hotels perpetrated by radical Islamists with apparent links to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).

READ MORE: Sri Lankan military finds 15 bodies, including 6 kids, after shootout at suspected militant hideout

The state of emergency was declared after a series of deadly suicide blasts rocked the country on April 21, leaving 253 people dead and hundreds injured. In the following days, the country unleashed a sweeping crackdown on potential suspects in the attacks, arresting over 70 people all over the country and facing off with militants in anti-terrorist raids. After a gun battle with suspected terrorists in the city of Kalmunai on Friday, police reportedly discovered a stash of explosives and precursors in the apartment, including bags of fertilizer, gunpowder and acids. IS claimed the killed gunmen were its soldiers.

READ MORE: For Christ’s sake! Why do liberals get tongue-tied when discussing the world’s largest religion?

Some 10,000 Sri Lankan law enforcement officers are combing through the country in a bid to trace suspects in the attacks who are still at large. On Sunday, police said it detained two brothers believed to be the main suspects in the Easter Sunday attacks.

The restrictions have also affected the island nation’s Christian minority after the authorities ordered the closure of all Catholic churches as a precaution. Instead of holding a public Mass on Sunday, Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith delivered a sermon from his home chapel, broadcast live on television. Christians account for some 7.4 percent of the population, including some 6.1 percent who are Roman Catholics.

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