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6 February 2020

TRUMP ACQUITTED BY SENATE IN IMPEACHMENT TRIAL

U.S. President Donald Trump, impeached by the House of Representatives , was
acquitted by the Senate late afternoon on Wednesday, bringing to a close a
bitter process that lasted close to five months. Senators voted 52 to 48 to
acquit Mr. Trump on the abuse of office charge, with Republican Mitt Romney
voting alongside all 47 Democrats. They voted 53-47 as per party lines to
acquit the president of the charge of obstruction of Congress.
"The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust," Mr. Romney
said before the vote. "Corrupting an election to keep one's self in office
is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one's oath of
office that I can imagine."
Mr. Romney is the first senator in U.S. history to vote to convict a
president from his own party. There was speculation earlier on Wednesday
that some Democrat senators - such as Krysten Sinema (Arizona) and Joe
Manchin(West Virginia) would vote with Republicans to acquit the President,
but they did not do so.
Shortly after the vote Mr. Trump tweeted a video of election signs starting
with 'Trump 2024' and culminating in 'Trump 4EVA' (i.e., 'Trump forever').
Mr. Trump has repeatedly joked that he might serve more than the
constitutionally mandated limit of two terms.
"Today, the sham impeachment attempt concocted by the Democrats ended in the
full vindication and exoneration of President Donald J. Trump," White House
Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said via a statement.
Senate Democrats could not get enough GOP votes to summon fresh witnesses
and evidence during the impeachment trial. Among the possible material
witnesses Democrats wanted to hear from was former National Security Advisor
John Bolton.
House Democrats are "likely " to subpoena Mr. Bolton, House Judiciary
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told reporters on Wednesday.


CHINA VIRUS TOLL NEARS 500; CRUISE SHIPS, HONG KONG FLIGHTS HIT

The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in China passed 490 on Wednesday,
as two US airlines suspended flights to Hong Kong following the first
fatality there and 10 cases were confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined in
Japan.
China's National Health Commission said another 65 deaths were reported on
Tuesday, a new daily record bringing the toll on the mainland to 490, mostly
in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan where the virus emerged
late last year.
There have been two deaths outside mainland China. A 39-year-old man in Hong
Kong with an underlying illness who had visited Wuhan city died on Tuesday.
A man died in the Philippines last week after visiting Wuhan, the first
virus-related overseas fatality.
Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections, bringing
the total accumulated number to 24,324.
Ten people on a cruise liner under quarantine at the Japanese port of
Yokohama tested positive for coronavirus, Japan's health minister said, a
figure that could rise as medical screening of thousands of patients and
crew continued.
The 10 infected people will be transported to a medical facility, while the
remaining around 3,700 people will be quarantined on board the Carnival Corp
ship Diamond Princess for 14 days. There are now 33 cases in Japan.
Carnival on Tuesday cancelled cruises scheduled to depart the Japanese ports
of Yokohama and Kobe this week because of delays related to the coronavirus
checks.
Another cruise ship, the World Dream operated by Dream Cruises, docked in
Hong Kong on Wednesday after being denied entry to Taiwan, with all
passengers and crew undergoing health checks, Hong Kong's Cable TV reported.
Nearly 230 cases have been reported in 27 other countries and regions
outside mainland China, according to a Reuters tally based on official
statements from the authorities involved.
"We have the ability and confidence to finally win this war of containment,"
China's state councillor Wang Yi told Thailand's foreign minister during a
call on Tuesday, according to China's foreign ministry.


TURKEY PLANE: ONE DEAD, 150 HURT AS JET SKIDS OFF RUNWAY IN ISTANBUL

A passenger plane landing at an airport in Istanbul has skidded off the
runway and broken into three parts, killing one person and injuring more
than 150, officials say.
The Pegasus Airlines jet was carrying 171 passengers and six crew members
from Izmir province in the west when it crashed at Sabiha Gokcen airport.
The Boeing 737 was trying to land in heavy tailwinds and rain.
The airport was closed and flights diverted after the accident.
Turkish media said the majority of people on board were Turkish but there
were also about 20 foreign nationals.
Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said: "Unfortunately, the Pegasus Airlines
plane couldn't hold on the runway due to poor weather conditions and skidded
for around 50-60m [164-196ft]."
He said the plane then fell between 30 and 40 metres off the end of the
runway.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca confirmed a Turkish citizen had died and 157
other people had been injured. He said none of the wounded people were in a
critical condition.
Video footage showed passengers climbing through one of the large cracks to
escape via one of the wings, and dozens of rescuers working around the jet.
Other footage on social media showed a blaze inside the aircraft, which was
later put out by firefighters.
Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan said authorities had not yet been
able to speak to the pilots, a Turkish national and a South Korean, who were
believed to have been injured in the accident.
Istanbul's public prosecutor has launched an inquiry.


HUNDREDS EVACUATE HOMES IN NEW ZEALAND TO ESCAPE FLOODING

Hundreds of people evacuated their homes and farms Wednesday to escape
flooding in southern New Zealand.
Authorities told many residents in the towns of Gore, Mataura and Wyndham
they should leave immediately as rivers continued to rise following heavy
rainfall.
Several hundred tourists were being evacuated from Milford Sound after
getting stuck there earlier this week when flooding and mudslides cut off
car access. Many of the tourists were evacuated by helicopter.
Authorities have declared a state of emergency in the South land region.
Weather conditions were improving Wednesday. Some rainfall is forecast over
the coming days, but not the heavy rain that has caused the flooding.


US IS 'THRIVING' AND 'HIGHLY RESPECTED AGAIN', SAYS TRUMP IN STATE OF UNION
ADDRESS

Making a strong pitch for his re-election amid the impeachment trial,
President Donald Trump said that America has made a great comeback and the
country is "thriving and highly respected again" as he boasted about the
economic growth under his regime.
Delivering his 3rd State of the Union Address, Trump said on Tuesday that in
just 3 short years, his administration has shattered the mentality of
American decline and rejected the downsizing of the country's destiny.
"We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time
ago, and we are never going back," Trump said during his over one hour
address.
The US President said that under his leadership, jobs are booming, incomes
are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging,
and "our country is thriving and highly respected again."
"Three years ago, we launched the great American comeback. America's enemies
are on the run, America's fortunes are on the rise and America's future is
blazing bright," he added.
Trump underlined the country's economic gains under his leadership,
asserting that "the American Dream is back" and is "stronger than ever
before".
"The years of economic decay are over...Gone too are the broken promises,
jobless recoveries, tired platitudes, and constant excuses for the depletion
of American wealth, power and prestige," Trump said on the eve of his likely
acquittal by the Senate in the impeachment trial.
The president asserted his country's economy is the best it has ever been.
Trump said that the US administration is strongly defending the national
security and "as we defend American lives, we are working to end America's
wars in the Middle East." Stressing that his administration has
undertaken unprecedented effort to secure the southern border of the US with
Mexico, Trump said that the country "should be a sanctuary for law-abiding
Americans - not criminal aliens."
He said that whosoever coming illegally to the US would be promptly removed.
Trump showered praise on the US military for for carrying out a "flawless
precision strike" that killed Iran's military commander Qasem Soleimani and
terminated his "evil reign of terror forever."
Trump said that the peace talks with the Taliban are underway and vowed to
bring the US troops back from war-torn Afghanistan.
Speaking about the US-China relationship, he said for decades, China has
taken advantage of the US, "now we have changed that, but, at the same time,
we have perhaps the best relationship we have ever had with China, including
with Chinese President Xi Jinping.


UN SECRETARY GENERAL SAYS LIBYA SITUATION A 'SCANDAL'

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called the situation in
Libya a "scandal" even as his envoy cited a "genuine will" by rival military
factions as they planned their first meeting to secure a lasting ceasefire.
"I am deeply frustrated with what's happening in Libya," Guterres said in a
press conference in which he was critical of countries that last month met
in Berlin to push for progress in Libya peace talks.
"They committed not to interfere in the Libyan process and they committed
not to send weapons or participate in any way in the fighting," Guterres
said at the United Nations headquarters in New York. "The truth is that the
Security Council (arms) embargo remains violated."
He called the mediation efforts of U.N. envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame "the
only good news" there.
Salame told reporters earlier Tuesday that there was a "genuine will to
start negotiating" between opposite sides, though he added that an arms
embargo was being violated by both sides and that new mercenaries and arms
were still arriving "by air and by sea" in Libya. Forces loyal to eastern
based commander Khalifa Haftar have been trying to take the capital,
Tripoli, for the past 10 months.
The talks bring together five senior military officers from Haftar's Libyan
National Army and five from forces aligned with the internationally
recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
Fighting has continued on the ground despite a call for a truce by Russia
and Turkey starting on Jan. 12 and the international summit on Libya in
Berlin on Jan. 19 aimed at reducing international interference. Haftar has
had material support from countries including the United Arab Emirates,
Egypt, Jordan, and Russia, U.N. experts and diplomats say, while the GNA is
backed militarily by Turkey.
Salame deplored the presence of more than "20 million pieces of weaponry" in
the country and said he had asked the U.N. Security Council to pass a
resolution to reaffirm an existing arms embargo and pass measures to ensure
it is respected.


EU SLAMS DONALD TRUMP'S MIDDLE EAST PEACE PLAN

The European Union Tuesday slammed US President Donald Trump's Middle East
peace plan, arguing that it "departs from" international agreements on the
Israel-Palestine conflict.
Last week, US President Donald Trump presented a proposal to address the
conflict. The plan, which Trump dubbed the "deal of the century," would give
Israel control over Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Jordan Valley,
while also calling for a Palestinian state. It was rejected by Palestinian
leadership both prior to and after its unveiling.
In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the plan
does not adhere to "internationally agreed parameters."
"To build a just and lasting peace, the unresolved final status issues must
be decided through direct negotiations between both parties," he said,
urging both sides to "re-engage and to refrain from any unilateral actions
contrary to international law."
On settlements, "steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass
unchallenged," read the statement. "We are especially concerned by
statements on the prospect of annexation of the Jordan Valley and other
parts of the West Bank."
The response, however, triggered an angry response from Israel, which backs
the plan.
"The fact that the High Rep of the EU, Josep Borrell, chose to use
threatening language towards Israel, so shortly after he assumed office and
only hours after his meetings in Iran, is regrettable &, to say the least,
odd," tweeted Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat.
"Pursuing such policies and conduct is the best way to ensure that the EU's
role in any process will be minimized," Haiat wrote.
The EU, which often issues slow responses due to the requirement for
unanimity among its 27 member states, stated last week that it would study
Trump's plan before issuing an official verdict.


RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN REMAINS COY ON HIS FUTURE POLITICAL PLANS

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that a nationwide vote on
constitutional changes he proposed wouldn't be used to extend his current
term in office, but remained tight-lipped about his future political plans.
Kremlin critics have seen Putin's amendments as part of his efforts to stay
at the helm after his current presidential term expires in 2024. The
proposed changes, however, don't make it clear exactly how he could do that.
Asked during a meeting with students and teachers if the vote could be used
to directly extend his term in office, Putin said it's not what he wants.
"I didn't propose that to extend my authority," Putin said. "The election of
the head of state must be held on a competitive basis."
Observers have speculated that once his term expires Putin could use the
amendments to continue calling the shots as head of the State Council or
prime minister. The former position, however, is yet to be defined and the
latter is clearly subordinate to the presidency, making it unlikely that
Putin would want it for himself.
It has remained unclear why the Russian leader is rushing through
constitutional changes four years before the end of his term.
Putin, a 67-year-old former KGB officer, who has led Russia for more than 20
years - the longest since Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Putin prefers to keep
his plans secret until the final moment.


CHURCH PROPOSAL DEMANDS RUSSIAN PRIESTS SHOULD STOP BLESSING NUKES

Russian priests should refrain from the practice of blessing nuclear weapons
and other weapons of mass destruction that can inflict indiscriminate loss
of life, according to new guidelines being discussed by the Russian Orthodox
Church.
During two decades in power, President Vladimir Putin has aligned himself
with the Orthodox Church, which has also developed closer ties with the
ministry of defence.
Russian priests have long appeared in images sprinkling holy water on
submarines, ballistic missiles, Soyuz space rockets and other pieces of
hardware as part of rituals to bless them.
But some of that is set to stop if the church approves a document drawn up
by an Orthodox Church commission.
"The blessing of military weapons is not reflected in the tradition of the
Orthodox Church and does not correspond to the content of the Rite," the
document, on the Moscow patriarchate's website, says.
Blessing or sanctifying weapons that can kill an "indefinite number of
people" must be excluded from pastoral practice, it says.
The proposals will be discussed until June 1 and the public should also take
part in the debate, the church's Moscow branch said.
In a striking symbol of close defence-church ties in Russia, the armed
forces are building their own sprawling cathedral at a military themed park
outside Moscow. It is set to be one of the tallest Orthodox churches in the
world.


IN CHINA, INFANT TESTS POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS JUST 30 HOURS AFTER BIRTH

A baby in China's epidemic-hit Wuhan city has been diagnosed with the novel
coronavirus just 30 hours after being born, Chinese state media reported
Wednesday.
The infant is the youngest person recorded as being infected by the virus,
which has killed nearly 500 people since emerging late last year.
CCTV quoted experts as saying it may be a case of "vertical transmission",
referring to infections passed from mother to child during pregnancy,
childbirth or immediately after.
The mother had tested positive for the virus before she gave birth.
The official Xinhua news agency reported Monday that a baby born last week
to an infected mother had tested negative.
The disease is believed to have emerged in December in a Wuhan market that
sold wild animals, and spread rapidly as people travelled for the Lunar New
Year holiday in January.
China's national health commission said on Tuesday that the oldest person
diagnosed with the virus is a 90-year-old, and that 80% of reported deaths
have been of patients 60 years of age and older.


FINLAND TO OFFER NEW FATHERS AS MUCH PAID LEAVE AS MOTHERS

Finland's woman-led centre-left government plans to nearly double the length
of paternity leave to give new fathers the same amount of paid time off work
as new mothers, it announced on Wednesday.
Paid paternity leave will be extended to nearly seven months, in line with
maternity leave. Around half can be given to the other parent.
Pregnant women are also entitled to a month of pregnancy leave before the
expected date of birth.
Minister of Health and Social Affairs Aino-Kaisa Pekonen said the aim of the
"radical reform" was both to improve gender equality and to boost a
declining birth rate.
"This enables better equality between parents and diversity among families,"
she said. She noted that other countries such as Sweden and Iceland had seen
increases in their birth rates after offering more leave for fathers.
Finland's governing coalition is made up of five parties, all led by women,
of whom four are under 35 years old.
Increasing gender equality has been one of the government's aims since it
took office in December.

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