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Pompeo says Trump warned Russia on election meddling, disputes Lavrov’s account
11 December 2019, 8:22 PM

President Donald Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their meeting that Moscow’s meddling in America’s elections is unacceptable, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, contradicting Lavrov’s account that the two didn’t discuss elections.

Trump on Tuesday met with Lavrov at the White House, a visit that revived questions about whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election that brought Trump to power and whether it might do so again in 2020.

The White House said after the meeting that Trump warned Russia not to interfere in the 2020 elections, a statement that showed the president taking a tougher position on the issue than in the past. In 2018, flanked by Vladimir Putin, Trump said he believed the Russian leader’s claim that Moscow did not meddle in the 2016 vote, which put the president at odds with his own US intelligence agencies.

But Lavrov, when told about the White House statement, speaking through an interpreter at an evening news conference, said: “You know, we haven’t even actually discussed elections.”

Pompeo disputed Lavrov’s account on Wednesday and said such a warning was delivered in every meeting he has been in on Tuesday and that he has attended three.

“I can tell you that Foreign Minister Lavrov’s statement is not accurately a reflection of my recollection of that meeting. And there is no mistake that President Trump made clear in the meeting that he had with Lavrov … that President Trump personally, and America finds their meddling in our elections unacceptable,” Pompeo said.

Lavrov on Tuesday vehemently denied the American accusation that Moscow tried to sway the 2016 election and offered to publish a cache of communications between Washington and Moscow from that year which he said cleared Russia of the US allegations.

Lavrov’s last Oval Office meeting in May 2017 turned into a public relations disaster for Trump, who was accused by unnamed US officials of divulging highly classified information during that meeting about a planned operation by the Islamic State militant group. The allegations were denied by the White House.

Trump was also blasted for media reports that he told Russian officials that firing FBI Director James Comey had relieved him of “great pressure.” Comey’s dismissal ultimately led to a 22-month investigation by then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s role in the 2016 US presidential election.

The inquiry laid bare what Mueller and US intelligence agencies have described as a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, denigrate 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump.

Bullet holes are seen around the windows of the SYL hotel after fighting between Somali security forces and Al Shabaab gunmen, who lunched an attack on the hotel near the presidential residence in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Somali security forces kill Al Shabaab fighters to end hotel siege
11 December 2019, 12:05 PM

Somali security forces shot dead five Al Shabaab gunmen, who had killed three civilians and two soldiers during an attack on a hotel near the presidential residence in Mogadishu on Tuesday night, police said early on Wednesday.

Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda linked Islamist militant group, frequently launches bombing and gun raids in Mogadishu in a bid to topple Somalia’s UN-backed government. The group confirmed last night it had attacked the Syl hotel, a popular gathering place for officials and lawmakers.

The latest attack started at around 7 pm on Tuesday and ended at about 1 am on Wednesday, when all five attackers had been killed, deputy police commissioner General Zakia Hussen said in a statement on Twitter.

“The security forces ended the operation. Five people including three civilians and two soldiers died in the attack,” Hussen said.

“Eleven others were slightly injured, including nine civilians and two soldiers,” she added.

Hussen had said on Tuesday night that 82 people, including several officials, had been rescued from the Syl hotel.

Security officers had initially mistook the gunmen for the police, until they began shooting and throwing grenades, another police officer said on Tuesday.

Al Shabaab’s military spokesperson Abdiaziz Abu Musab said on Tuesday that the group’s fighters were behind the attack at the hotel compound near the presidential palace.

Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, has been embroiled in conflict and chaos since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew a dictator then turned on each other.

Al Shabaab, which once controlled much of the country, was forced out of Mogadishu in 2011 and has since lost most of its other strongholds. But its fighters regularly attack sites in Somalia and neighboring Kenya, which has troops in Somalia.

Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to appear for a hearing at British Columbia supreme court, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Huawei’s CFO wins Canada court fight
11 December 2019, 7:22 AM

Lawyers for Huawei’s chief financial officer have won a court battle after a judge asked Canada’s attorney general to hand over more evidence and documents relating to the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, according to a court ruling released on Tuesday.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes in the Supreme Court of British Columbia agreed with Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s legal team that there is an “air of reality” to their assertion.

But she cautioned that her ruling is limited and does not address the merit of Huawei’s allegations that Canadian authorities improperly handled identifying information about Meng’s electronic devices.

Meng, 47, was arrested at the Vancouver International Airport on December 1, 2018, at the request of the United States, where she is charged with bank fraud and accused of misleading the bank HSBC about Huawei Technologies’ business in Iran. She has said she is innocent and is fighting extradition.

She was questioned by Canadian immigration authorities prior to her arrest, and her lawyers have asked the government to hand over more documents about her arrest.

Meng’s legal team has contested her extradition in the Canadian courts on the grounds that the United States is using her extradition for economic and political gain, and that she was unlawfully detained, searched and interrogated by Canadian authorities acting on behalf of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

In her ruling, Holmes wrote that she found the evidence tendered by the attorney general to have “notable gaps,” citing the example of why the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) “made what is described as the simple error of turning over to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), contrary to law, the pass codes CBSA officers had required Ms. Meng to produce.”

Holmes also said the attorney general did not provide adequate evidence to “rebut inferences from other evidence that the RCMP improperly sent serial numbers and other identifiers of Ms. Meng’s devices to the FBI.”

Holmes said these gaps in evidence raise questions “beyond the frivolous or speculative about the chain of events,” and led her to conclude that Meng’s application “crosses the air of reality threshold.”

The order does not require the disclosure of documents – the attorney general may assert a privilege, which Meng could contest in court.

Neither the Canadian federal justice ministry nor Huawei immediately responded to requests for comment.

No timeline was outlined in Holmes’ ruling.

Meng’s extradition hearing will begin on January 20, 2020, in a federal court in Vancouver.

An ambulance carrying an injured person from an attack by Al Shabaab gunmen on a hotel near the presidential residence arrives to the Shaafi hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Islamists attack Somali hotel, police say two militants killed
11 December 2019, 6:02 AM

Islamist Al Shabaab gunmen attacked a hotel in Somalia’s capital near the presidential residence on Tuesday and police said they killed two attackers and rescued dozens of people from inside.

The two attackers were killed outside the hotel as they launched the attack, while two others stormed inside, deputy police commissioner General Zakia Hussen said, adding security forces had rescued 82 people, including several officials.

“We warn people against calling their relatives who they think are in the hotel until the operation is finished,” she wrote on Twitter while fighting still raged.

The militant group, which frequently launches bombing and gun raids in Mogadishu in a bid to topple the UN-backed government, confirmed it had attacked the Syl hotel, which is popular with officials and lawmakers.

The group had also attacked the hotel in 2016.

One police officer, who only gave his name as Ahmed, said security forces at the hotel had thought the gunmen were police as they approached, until they started shooting and hurling grenades. “We exchanged fire at the gate of the hotel,” he said.

Al Shabaab’s military spokesperson Abdiaziz Abu Musab said the group’s fighters stormed the hotel compound near the presidential palace. “The compound is home to enemy officials,” he said.

Osman Abdulle, a witness at a nearby hotel, said he heard gunfire inside the hotel late into the night on Tuesday.

“I could see dozens of people being rescued with ladders placed on the back wall of the hotel. We heard some blasts,” he told Reuters. “The whole area is still under siege.”

Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, has been mired in conflict and chaos since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew a dictator.

Al Shabaab, which once controlled much of the country, was forced out of Mogadishu in 2011 and has since then lost most of its other strongholds. But its fighters regularly attack sites in Somalia and neighboring Kenya, which has troops in Somalia.

Nobel peace laureate Abiy says militants, global powers threaten Horn of Africa
10 December 2019, 4:11 PM

Militant groups and global military powers both pose a threat to peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Tuesday after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for forging a peace accord with Eritrea.

Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize in October for his peacemaking efforts, which ended two decades of hostility with Ethiopia’s longtime enemy Eritrea.

In a speech delivered at Oslo City Hall before dignitaries including Norway’s King Harald V, Abiy praised the “good will” of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and described the two countries’ commitment to peace as “iron-clad”.

But Abiy, who at 43 is Africa’s youngest political leader, also spoke of the dangers facing his region.

“The global military superpowers are expanding their military presence in the area. Terrorist and extremist groups also seek to establish a foothold,” Abiy said, without specifying which countries or groups he had in mind.

“We do not want the Horn to be a battleground for superpowers nor a hideout for the merchants of terror and brokers of despair and misery,” he added.

As a soldier during the 1998-2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Abiy said he had witnessed the “ugliness of battle, its cruelty and what it can do to people.”

“War is the epitome of hell for all involved. I know because I have been there and back,” he said.

“I have seen brothers slaughtering brothers on the battlefield. I have seen older men, women, and children trembling in terror under the deadly shower of bullets and artillery shells.”

 

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