Monthly Archives: February 2019

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Europe bracing for new migrant wave as weather warms

VALLETTA, Malta – Tens of thousands of people seeking better lives are expected to trek across deserts and board unseaworthy boats in war-torn Libya this year in a desperate effort to reach European shores by way of Italy.

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More than 181,000 people, most so-called “economic migrants” with little chance of being allowed to stay in Europe, attempted to cross the central Mediterranean last year from Libya, Africa’s nearest stretch of coast to Italy. About 4,500 died or disappeared.

READ MORE: World at risk of repeating horrors of the past, Prince Charles warns

Hundreds already have taken to the sea this month, braving the winter weather. In the latest reminder of the journey’s perils, more than 100 people were missing off Libya’s coast over the weekend after a migrant boat sunk.

Some European leaders are warning of a fresh migration crisis when sea waters warm again and more people choose to put their lives in the hands of smugglers.

WATCH: Hundreds of migrants try to storm border into Spain’s enclave of Ceuta

“Come next spring, the number of people crossing over the Mediterranean will reach record levels,” Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the European Union’s presidency, predicted. “The choice is trying to do something now, or meeting urgently in April, May…and try to do a deal then.”

The 28-nation EU already has a controversial deal to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey, which has agreed to try to stop the number of migrants leaving the country and to take back thousands more. In exchange, Turkey is supposed to receive billions of euros, visa-free travel for its citizens, and fast-tracked EU membership talks.

Now, the EU wants to adapt this outsourcing pact to the African nations that migrants are leaving or are jumping off from to reach Europe, despite criticism that the agreement sends asylum-seekers back to countries that could be unsafe for them.

The bottom line is that the Turkey deal works. The number of people arriving in the Greek islands, for instance, plunged over the last year despite political wrangling over whether Turkey’s government was meeting the conditions for securing the visa-free travel incentive.

And EU nations have even fewer scruples about turning away migrants who take the central Mediterranean route to Italy since they mostly are job seekers who would be ineligible for asylum.

READ MORE: Berlin, Turkey attacks prove restrictions on Muslims warranted: Donald Trump

Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Mali and Chad are all on the EU’s radar, and dealing with them is proving expensive. But the bloc’s arrangement with Turkey has shown that the best way of stemming migrant flows is to stop people taking to the sea. Libya and Egypt are the main migrant departure points, and pacts with them would probably have the biggest immediate impact.

Muscat wants to build on a deal Italy is trying to reach with Libya by adding EU funds and other support. He also thinks the EU’s anti-smuggler naval mission, Operation Sophia, should be extended into Libyan territorial waters to stop people in unsafe boats from reaching open water.

Easier said than done. The EU has been unable to secure United Nations backing for such a move, and Libya has no central authority with the reach or stability to negotiate a long-term agreement with the Europeans.

READ MORE: Record 5,000 migrants believed to have drowned trying to cross Mediterranean Sea in 2016, agencies say

“The reality of Libya right now is that there is no unified government controlling all parts of the country, and no end of groups willing to upend things if there is an advantage in it for them,” Carlo Binda, a Libya expert with Malta-based political and development advisers Binda Consulting International.

Libya’s neighbour Egypt appears a more viable option. Many people have set out for Europe from Egypt in recent months, mainly migrants from the Horn of Africa trying to avoid dangerous Libya and increasingly Egyptians themselves, according to the EU’s border agency Frontex.

Despite some instability, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a former general who led the 2013 military removal of an elected Islamist president, is a man with whom the Europeans feel they can do business. Sissi also wields plenty of influence in Libya.

Egypt’s economy has been battered by unrest since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. If there is one thing the world’s biggest trading bloc does well, it is raise funds to pay for its problems.

“Egypt is the country with which one could come to some sort of agreement,” Maltese Foreign Minister George Vella said. “There is stability to a certain extent, and they are interested because even they themselves have got their own problem with migration.”

Time is of the essence. The EU has for several years tried to cobble together migration polices while people died at sea.

The refugee emergency — Europe’s worst since World War II — also has raised tensions among EU member countries. Some countries have erected anti-migrant fences or reintroduced border controls amid deep disagreement over how to manage the challenge.

“Things are getting complicated. I would rather face the music now,” Muscat said.

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Alec Baldwin returns as SNL ‘rebroadcasts’ Donald Trump’s press conference

In the first episode of 2017, Saturday Night Live jumped right back into the political ring to take on President-elect Donald Trump’s now infamous press conference.

On Wednesday, Trump called BuzzFeed “a pile of garbage” for publishing an unverified dossier on him and argued with CNN’s Jim Acosta during his first news conference since July, calling him “fake news.”

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Those comments, along with his upcoming inauguration and ethical questions about letting his sons run his business, gave the sketch show a lot of fodder to play with.

FULL COVERAGE: SNL on Donald Trump

Alec Baldwin returned, playing Trump in the opening sketch, hitting all the major highlights at SNL’s “rebroadcast” of the conference.

Attacking Buzzfeed, he said: “You’re a failing pile of garbage, do you want to know why? I took your test yesterday and I’ll tell you right now, I’m not a Joey, I’m a Rachel!”

READ MORE: ‘Failing pile of garbage’: BuzzFeed reacts to Donald Trump

When asked about the information contained in the dossier, he focused on other issues, showering reporters with seemingly unknowingly references to the allegations in the dossier.

He also asked the crowd if they were excited about his inauguration day, and when a small group of people cheered he thanked them, noting he “definitely did not pay [them] to do that.”

In real life, the Republican President-elect has had trouble getting celebrities to perform at his inauguration celebrations; Three Doors Down and Tobey Keith are slated to play while Jennifer Holliday pulled out after backlash.

READ MORE: John Goodman helps Alec Baldwin mock Donald Trump on SNL (Dec. 2016)

But that didn’t deter SNL’s version.

“Also from America’s Got Talent, we’ve got Jackie whats-her-face.” (Meaning Jackie Evancho.)

“Best of all we have the one Rockette with the least money in her savings. We’ve also got some huge A-List actors coming, like Angelina Jolie, Ryan Gosling and Jennifer Lawrence. They will all be at my inauguration courtesy of Madame Tussauds.”

(Madame Tussauds is the famous chain of museums that produce life size wax statues of celebrities.)

After the cold open, host Felicity Jones, the star of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story , got some advice from SNL alum Tina Fey about how to deal with backlash from Trump, who has been known to give the show some bad reviews.

READ MORE: Donald Trump calls ‘SNL’ a ‘terrible’ show, predicts its cancellation

“No matter how it goes, the President of the United States is going to say it’s sad and overrated,” Fey explained, while appearing as a hologram and dressing similar to Star Wars’ Princess Leia. “Yeah, the president! It’s fine, no one cares.”

WATCH: Tina Fey appears in Felicity Jones’ ‘SNL’ monologue dressed like Princess Leia

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Israeli PM calls Middle East peace talks in Paris ‘rigged’

PARIS – Sending a forceful message to Israel’s prime minister and the incoming Donald Trump administration, dozens of countries called Sunday on Israel and the Palestinians to revive work toward long-elusive peace — including an independent Palestinian state.

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The closing declaration at a Mideast peace conference in Paris urged both sides to “officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution” and disassociate from voices that reject this. It also warned them against taking one-sided actions that could hurt talks, an apparent reference to Israeli settlement building.

READ MORE: Obama says Israel PM Netanyahu pressured to approve settlements, hurting two-state solution

While the Palestinians welcomed Sunday’s declaration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the conference “rigged” and cooked up behind Israel’s back to force it to accept conditions against national interests.

The French organizers argued the conference was necessary to keep hopes alive for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians — the solution favoured by the international community for the past two decades.

Many members of Netanyahu’s coalition want to abandon the two-state solution and expand settlements, and some have even called for annexing parts of the West Bank. Trump’s campaign platform made no mention of Palestinian independence.

In a nod to Israel, the final declaration of Sunday’s conference included criticism of incitement and “terror,” a reference to Palestinian attacks. And some of the pro-Palestinian language in an earlier draft was removed after diplomats huddled in Paris.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been increasingly critical of Netanyahu, represented the U.S. at the talks and defended the effort.

READ MORE: Israel to withhold bodies of Hamas fighters until Israeli soldiers’ remains are returned

He rejected Israeli criticism of the conference, saying the concept of a two-state solution to the conflict is “threatened” and must be reinforced if it is ever to happen. The communique, he said, endorses that without imposing a resolution.

“Given where things are going and what is happening, that is particularly important,” he said.

He also warned that it’s too early to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem, as proposed by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. “This is not the right time,” he said. “We think it’s ill-advised.”

Trump’s administration did not take part in the meeting and didn’t immediately comment on its final statement.

While Netanyahu has voiced support for a two-state solution, his critics, including Kerry, have said that continued settlement construction on occupied territories raises questions about his commitment to pursuing a peace deal.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon dismissed Sunday’s conference, tweeting that it was “flat as a failed soufflé.”

“A big show is no replacement for direct negotiations between the parties,” he said.

French President Francois Hollande agreed on the need for direct talks. “It is not a question of dictating to the parties … Only direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians can lead to peace. No one will do it in their place,” he said.

“The world cannot, should not resign itself to the status quo,” Hollande told the gathered diplomats from across Europe, the Mideast and other regions, as well as from the United Nations, the Arab League and other international organizations.

WATCH: Trump: Israel has been treated ‘very, very unfairly’

Hollande said he was sounding an “alert” that peace talks should be revived before violent extremists and Israeli settlements destroy any hope of a two-state solution. Hollande urged the diplomats to support peace efforts by offering economic incentives to Israelis and Palestinians.

The chief Palestinian representative to France warned the Trump administration not to “underestimate” the message of peace sent by the conference, or the U.N. resolution last month condemning Israel’s construction of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Salman Elherfi, speaking to The Associated Press, insisted “the option of two states is not the dream of a single country, but it has become the concern of the whole world to protect it.”

Palestinian officials hope the conference can lay out terms for eventual negotiations, notably on how to share Jerusalem and the need to stop Israeli settlements.

France and others expressed concern that the Trump administration could unleash new tensions in the region by condoning settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians and moving the U.S. Embassy. The embassy issue wasn’t mentioned, however, in the final declaration.

Netanyahu declined an invitation to a special meeting after the conference, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was initially expected, but his visit to Paris was postponed.

The Israeli prime minister said the gathering would do little to promote peace and marked the “last flutters of yesterday’s world.”

“Tomorrow will look different and tomorrow is very close,” he said in apparent reference to Trump’s incoming administration.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have not negotiated even indirectly since a failed U.S.-led peace effort in 2014.

While the conference was underway, a few hundred pro-Israel demonstrators, waving Israeli flags and placards denouncing the summit, gathered outside Israel’s embassy in Paris.

“The Palestinians and a number of Arab states have not expressed a will for peace,” said Serge Klarsfeld, a well-known French Nazi hunter. “If it existed and if the Arab world recognized the existence of Israel, we would find the means to solve all the problems very quickly.”

Associated Press writers Josef Federman, Aron Heller and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, and Philippe Sotto and Alex Turnbull in Paris contributed to this report.

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Donald Trump continues to attack civil rights legend John Lewis as inauguration looms

Donald Trump’s feud with civil rights icon John Lewis is highlighting the president-elect’s willingness to attack any and all political rivals even with his inauguration less than a week away.

The Republican billionaire slammed the Democratic congressman – and his Atlanta-area district – on Saturday, a day after Lewis described Trump as an illegitimate president. Lewis, like a handful of Democratic lawmakers, vowed to skip Trump’s Friday swearing-in ceremony.

READ MORE: Donald Trump unleashes 桑拿会所 attack on civil rights legend John Lewis

Trump tweeted that Lewis “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.”

WATCH: Atlanta residents shocked by Trump’s feud with Congressman and Civil Rights activist John Lewis

The incoming president added: “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”

Trump continued to jab Lewis on Saturday night, charging that the congressman “should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.”

“I can use all the help I can get!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s response was in line with his aggressive style throughout his unorthodox campaign in which he found political success even while attacking widely lauded figures- a prisoner of war, parents of a slain U.S. soldier, and a beauty queen, among others.

WATCH: Rev. Al Sharpton calls on Trump to be ‘King-like,’ speak to John Lewis

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Lewis is among the most revered leaders of the civil rights movement and devoted his life to promoting equal rights for African-Americans. He suffered a fractured skull while leading the march in Selma, Alabama more than a half century ago.

“The tweet is unnecessary, it’s unfortunate,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, who is African-American, said on MSNBC

“John Lewis has a walk that very few people in this country – least of all Donald Trump – have ever walked. So you have to respect that and pay attention to that in a real sense,” Steele said.

One of Lewis’ Democratic colleagues, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., also declared he would skip Trump’s inauguration, in part to defend Lewis.

READ MORE: Protesters host anti-Donald Trump marches, rallies across the US ahead of inauguration 

“Trump – who lost the popular vote – has made a series of racist, sexist and bigoted statements. In addition, he has attacked Gold Star parents, veterans such as John McCain and now civil rights icon John Lewis,” Lieu said.

He added, “For me, the personal decision not to attend the Inauguration is quite simple: Do I stand with Donald Trump, or do I stand with John Lewis? I am standing with John Lewis.”

WATCH: Trump feuding with CIA, Civil Rights leader, and China with days to go before the inauguration

The weekend clash highlighted the sharp contrast between how many African-Americans view Trump’s inauguration compared with that of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, eight years ago. Trump critics also noted that his aggressive tweet came days before the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Trump’s assertion that Lewis’ district is “falling apart” and “crime infested” is hard to back up with facts.

Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes the Atlanta metro region, is considered one of the nation’s fastest-growing areas, although its crime and poverty rates are higher than the national average.

The district has an 8.2 percent unemployment rate and the median household income is about $48,000, according to the Census Bureau.

READ MORE: Plan for pink ‘pussyhats’ in Washington after Donald Trump’s inauguration

The area also covers part of the upscale Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead, along with the headquarters for Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, Emory University, Georgia Tech, several historically black colleges and universities and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the world’s busiest.

WATCH: Trump meets with Martin Luther King III to discuss voting rights

The Lewis-Trump feud began when the 16-term congressman said he would not attend Trump’s swearing-in ceremony. It will mark the first time he skipped an inauguration since joining Congress three decades ago.

“You know, I believe in forgiveness. I believe in trying to work with people. It will be hard. It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” set to air Sunday.

“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Lewis said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said that Russia, in a campaign ordered by President Vladimir Putin, meddled in the election to help Trump win. After spending weeks challenging that assessment, Trump finally accepted that the Russians were behind the election-year hacking of Democrats. But he also emphasized that “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

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Mosul University fully liberated by Iraqi troops: military

BAGHDAD – U.S.-backed Iraqi government troops on Sunday fully liberated the sprawling complex of Mosul University, an Iraqi military spokesman said, a major step in the massive operation to retake the Islamic State group-held city of Mosul.

The spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, declared the campus was under the full control of Iraqi special forces, officially known as the Counter Terrorism Service, who raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings.

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READ MORE: Canadian killed fighting ISIS in Syria remembered as a ‘hero’

The troops searched campus buildings and removed bombs left by IS militants, Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil of the special forces said. Fadhil added that the troops also entered the nearby Andalus neighbourhood, which he expected would be fully retaken later in the day.

Iraqi forces had entered the university grounds Friday and managed to secure more than half of the campus the next day amid tough resistance from IS militants, who mainly deployed sniper and mortar fire to slow down the advancing troops.

Sunday’s progress is the latest in a string of swift territorial gains in recent weeks by the U.S.-backed Iraqi military. Some 30,000 troops — a force that includes not only Iraq’s conventional army but an array of other armed groups, including Shiite and Sunni paramilitary troops and Kurdish fighters — are taking part in the Mosul offensive which begun October 17.

The Islamic State group captured Mosul in 2014 along with nearly a third of Iraqi territory and large parts of neighbouring Syria. Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul is the last major IS urban bastion in the country.

Soldiers’ graffiti in Iraq’s Mosul angers Sunni Muslims


Soldiers’ graffiti in Iraq’s Mosul angers Sunni Muslims


Iraqi forces inch closer to Mosul


Iraqi army helicopter offers aerial view of Mosul


Civilians flee villages near Mosul by truck


Iraq’s special forces move into Mosul for first time in two years