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Donald Trump
Trump becomes third US president to be impeached
19 December 2019, 6:44 AM

Donald Trump on Wednesday became the third US president to be impeached as the House of Representatives formally charged him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, in a historic step that will inflame partisan tensions across a deeply divided America.

The Democratic-led House’s passage of two articles of impeachment on a mostly party-line vote sets the stage for a trial next month in the Republican-controlled Senate – friendlier terrain for Trump – on whether to convict and remove him from office.

No president in the 243-year history of the United States has been removed from office by impeachment. That would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate, meaning at least 20 Republicans would have to join Democrats in voting against Trump – and none have indicated they will.

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has predicted there is “no chance” his chamber will remove Trump when it holds its trial. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the vote she would wait to name the House managers, or prosecutors, until she knew more about the procedures for the Senate trial. She did not specify when she would send the articles to the Senate.

“So far, we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us,” Pelosi told reporters.

Trump, 73, is accused of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, as well as a discredited theory that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to meddle in the 2016 election.

Democrats said Trump held back $391 million in security aid intended to combat Russia-backed separatists and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as leverage to coerce Kiev into interfering in the 2020 election by smearing Biden.

The second article accused Trump of obstruction of Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to comply with lawful House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to impeachment.

Trump, who is seeking another four-year term in the November 2020 presidential election, has denied wrongdoing and called the impeachment inquiry launched by Pelosi in September a “witch hunt.”

At a raucous rally for his re-election in Battle Creek, Michigan, as the House voted, Trump said the impeachment would be a “mark of shame” for Democrats and Pelosi, and cost them in the 2020 election.

“This lawless, partisan impeachment is a political suicide march for the Democrat Party,” Trump said. “They’re the ones who should be impeached, every one of them.”

‘HERE TO DEFEND DEMOCRACY’

During a day long debate before the vote, Pelosi read the US Pledge of Allegiance and said: “We are here to defend democracy for the people.”

“If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary,” Pelosi said.

As the debate unfolded, Republicans accused Democrats of seeking to use an unfair, rigged process to nullify the 2016 election and influence the 2020 vote.

“The matter before the House today is based solely on a fundamental hatred of our president. It’s a sham, a witch hunt – and it’s tantamount to a coup against the duly elected president of the United States,” Republican Representative Mike Rogers said.

Republican Representative Mike Kelly compared the impeachment to the Japanese attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor in 1941, calling the House proceedings another “date that will live in infamy” – similar to the words Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt used to describe the raid that killed about 2,400 people and led to America’s entry into World War Two.

The abuse of power article was passed on a 230-197 vote and the obstruction article was passed 229-198. All of the House Republicans opposed the articles, and two Democrats, Collin Peterson and Jeff Van Drew, voted no on both. Democrat Jared Golden voted against the obstruction charge but for abuse of power.

“The only part of the vote that was bipartisan was in opposition. The President is just getting stronger while support for the Democrats’ political theater has faded,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.

US Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate, voted present on both articles, declaring in a statement: “I could not in good conscience vote either yes or no.”

POLARIZED COUNTRY

Trump’s election has polarised the United States, dividing families and friends and making it more difficult for politicians in Washington to find middle ground as they try to confront pressing challenges like the rise of China and climate change.

The impeachment vote comes ahead of Trump’s re-election campaign, which will pit him against the winner among a field of Democratic contenders, including Biden, who have repeatedly criticised Trump’s conduct in office and promised to make it a key issue.

“President Trump abused his power, violated his oath of office, and betrayed our nation,” Biden said on Twitter after the vote, adding: “In the United States of America, no one is above the law — not even the president.”

Reuters/Ipsos polls show that while most Democrats want to see him impeached, most Republicans do not. Televised hearings last month that were meant to build public support for impeachment appear to have pushed the two sides further apart.

The House vote on Wednesday was just the latest, but also unquestionably the biggest, in a string of controversies that have buffeted the turbulent presidency of the New York real estate mogul and former reality TV personality.

Central to the impeachment inquiry was a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was US vice president.

Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption without offering evidence. They have denied wrongdoing.

A rough transcript of the call released by the White House showed Trump asking Zelenskiy, elected only three months earlier and eager for American support, to “do us a favour” and conduct the investigations in coordination with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani in the prior months had engaged in a concerted effort to persuade Ukraine to carry out the investigations. Testimony before House committees showed that Giuliani helped engineer Trump’s removal last May of the US ambassador to Ukraine, who was perceived as a roadblock to those investigations.

Impeachment is a remedy devised by the United States’ founders, wary of a monarch on American soil after breaking away from Britain and King George III in the 18th century, to enable Congress to remove a president who has committed “high crimes and misdemeanours.”

Only two previous presidents have been impeached. The House in 1998 impeached President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice arising from a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern, but the Senate acquitted him. The House impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868, focused on his removal of the secretary of war, but he was acquitted by one vote in the Senate.

In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment in the Watergate corruption scandal but before the full House could pass them.

A pair of male elephants is seen in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Botswana bans hunters after killing of research elephant
15 December 2019, 2:46 PM

Botswana’s government has revoked the licenses of two professional hunters who shot dead a research elephant and then destroyed its collar to try to hide the evidence.

In a statement late on Saturday, the environment and tourism ministry said that professional hunters Michael Lee Potter and Kevin Sharp had surrendered their licenses after shooting the elephant at the end of in November.

Their nationalities could not be immediately established.

Potter was banned for an indefinite period and Sharp for three years.

Neither hunter was available for comment.

“In addition, the two hunters will replace the destroyed collar,” the ministry said. “The ministry will work with the hunting industry to ensure that the necessary ethical standards are upheld.”

The shooting recalled the killing of ‘Cecil the lion’ by an American hunter in neighbouring Zimbabwe in 2015, also an animal that had a research collar and was supposed to be protected. His death provoked outrage on social media.

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi sparked global controversy when he lifted a ban on elephant hunting in May. The ban had been installed five years earlier by his predecessor, Ian Khama, an ardent conservationist.

Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow to 130 000 from 80 000 in the late 1990s.

Officials in the southern African country say the animals are causing problems for farmers by ripping up their crops, so hunting is necessary to reduce their numbers.

The mostly arid country, the size of France, has a human population of around 2.3 million, and its expanses of wilderness draw millions of foreign tourists to view its wildlife.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said damage and aftershocks could be expected.
Strong earthquake shakes southern Philippines
15 December 2019, 11:05 AM

A powerful earthquake struck near the Philippines city of Davao on Sunday, the US Geological Survey has said.

The tremor is the latest to strike the southern part of the country in recent months, causing damage to buildings.

The magnitude 6.8 quake was centered 61 km (38 miles) southwest of Davao on the island of Mindanao, at a depth of 28.2 km, the USGS said, revising down the magnitude from an earlier 6.9.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre says there’s no tsunami threat from the quake, based on available data.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) says damage and aftershocks could be expected.

Radio DZMM reported power was out in General Santos City, where patients at a local hospital were being evacuated.

Video footage of the latest quake posted by users on Twitter showed overhead electrical wires swaying and erupting in a shower of sparks. Another video showed water sloshing out of a residential swimming pool.

One picture said to be from Padada, close to the epicentre in the province of Davao del Sur, showed a building collapsed onto a car. Reuters could not immediately verify the images.

Mindanao was shaken by four powerful quakes in October and November, which together killed at least 20 people.

The Philippines sits on the geologically active Pacific “Ring of Fire” and experiences frequent tremors.

Containers are seen at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China.
China suspends planned Dec 15 US goods tariffs
15 December 2019, 10:02 AM

China has suspended additional tariffs on some US goods that were meant to be implemented on December 15, the State Council’s customs tariff commission said on Sunday.

The move comes after the world’s two largest economies agreed to a “phase one” trade deal on Friday.

The deal, rumours and leaks over which have gyrated world markets for months, reduces some US tariffs in exchange for what US officials said would be a big jump in Chinese purchases of American farm products and other goods.

China’s retaliatory tariffs, which were due to take effect on December 15, were meant to target goods ranging from corn and wheat to US made vehicles and auto parts.

Other Chinese tariffs that had already been implemented on US goods would be left in place, the commission said in a statement issued on the websites of government departments including China’s finance ministry.

“China hopes, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, to work with the United States, to properly resolve each other’s core concerns and promote the stable development of US-China economic and trade relations,” it added.

Beijing has agreed to import at least $200 billion in additional US goods and services over the next two years on top of the amount it purchased in 2017, the top US trade negotiator said Friday.

A statement issued by the United States Trade Representative, also on Friday, said the United States would leave in place 25% tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Activists hold a banner during a protest against climate change as the COP25 climate summit is held in Madrid.
EU leads call for stronger climate ambition
14 December 2019, 1:28 PM

The European Union warned on Saturday that a UN summit in Madrid must send a strong signal that countries are ready to do more to cut emissions, as fears grew that international efforts to fight climate change were slipping into reverse.

The two-week round of annual climate negotiations had been due to conclude on Friday, but dragged on into the weekend as delegates failed to resolve multiple disputes over implementing a climate accord forged in Paris four years ago.

Krista Mikkonen, Finland’s environment minister, speaking on behalf of the EU, told the latest session at the talks that it would be “impossible to leave” without agreeing a “strong message” on the need to redouble pledges to cut emissions next year, when the Paris deal enters a crucial implementation phase.

“This is something that the outside expects from us and we need to hear their calls,” Mikkonen said.

Countries including Nepal, Switzerland, Uruguay and the Marshall Islands echoed the call from the EU for more ambition.

Observers say that the latest draft statements drawn up by Chile, which is presiding over the summit, for consideration by delegates lack the kind of strong commitments needed to inject fresh momentum into the faltering Paris process.

“We are in the final (stage) of these negotiations and what we see thus far is that this text is completely unacceptable and it would be a betrayal of people around the world suffering from the impacts and those that are calling for action,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, told reporters.

“The Chilean presidency had one job, to protect the integrity of the Paris Agreement and not allow it to be torn apart by cynicism and greed and right now it is failing,” Morgan said, expressing mounting outrage among climate campaigners.

Morgan named the United States, which has begun the process of leaving the Paris Agreement, Japan, and Brazil as among the biggest obstacles to meaningful action.

With global emissions hitting a record high last year, countries pushing for stronger climate action say that big polluters must agree to submit more ambitious pledges next year to give the accord a fighting chance of success.

Bhutan’s Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi, who chairs a bloc of Least Developed Countries, told the session he could not “face our peoples back at home” without a stronger outcome to protect the world from the worst impacts of climate change.

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