An F/A-18F Super Hornet from the “Patriots” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140 flies over the U. S. aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), in Arabian Sea, May 22, 2019. Picture taken May 22, 2019. Garrett LaBarge/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
May 24, 2019
By Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday announced the deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East, describing it as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran as it accused the country’s Revolutionary Guards of direct responsibility for this month’s tanker attacks.
President Donald Trump’s administration also invoked the threat from Iran to declare a national security-related emergency that would clear the sale of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries without required congressional approval.
The actions were the latest by the Trump administration as it highlights what it sees as a threat of potential attack by Iran, and follows decisions to speed the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as send bombers and additional Patriot missiles to the Middle East.
The deployments, decried by Iran as escalatory, have come amid a freeze in direct communication between the United States and Iran that has raised concerns about the increasing risk of an inadvertent conflict.
Trump, however, described the latest deployments as defensive, in nature. The 1,500 troops include personnel manning missile defense systems, aerial surveillance to spot threats and engineers to fortify defenses. It also includes a fighter jet squadron.
“We want to have protection in the Middle East. We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective,” Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Japan.
The decision on troops marks a reversal of sorts for Trump, who only on Thursday said he thought no more forces were needed. Trump has sought to detangle the U.S. military from open-ended conflicts in places like Syria and Afghanistan.
The deployment is relatively small compared with the about 70,000 American troops now stationed across a region that stretches from Egypt to Afghanistan. In addition, some 600 of the 1,500 “new” troops are already in the Middle East manning Patriot missiles, but will see their deployments extended.
Still, the Democratic lawmaker who heads the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, said the deployment “appears to be a blatant and heavy-handed move to further escalate tensions with Iran.”
Eager to avoid escalation with Iran amid already heightened tensions, Pentagon officials stressed the defensive nature of the deployment in a news briefing and noted that none of the troops would be heading to hot spots like Iraq or Syria.
At the same time, the U.S. State Department informed Congress that it will go ahead with 22 arms deals worth some $8 billion, congressional aides said, sweeping aside a long-standing precedent for congressional review of such sales.
Some lawmakers and congressional aides had warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons sales like a major deal to sell Raytheon Co precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, was considering using the loophole to go ahead with the sale.
ATTACKS ON TANKERS
Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, on Friday described U.S. intelligence portraying a new Iranian “campaign” that used old tactics, and stretched from Iraq to Yemen to the waters in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital maritime chokepoint for the global oil trade.
“We believe with a high degree of confidence that this stems back to the leadership of Iran at the highest levels and that all of the attacks that I mentioned have been attributed to Iran through their proxies or their forces,” he said.
Gilday accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of being directly responsible for attacks on tankers off the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, in what could be a foreshadowing of the conclusion of ongoing investigations into the incident.
“The attack against the shipping in Fujairah, we attribute it to the IRGC,” Gilday said, explaining that the Pentagon attributed limpet mines used in the attack directly to the IRGC.
He declined to describe “the means of delivery” of the mines, however.
A Norwegian-registered oil products tanker and a UAE fuel bunker barge were among four vessels hit near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs located just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
Gilday also accused Iran-backed “proxy” forces of carrying out a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone last week.
The Pentagon did not provide evidence to support its claims but said it hoped to further declassify intelligence supporting them. Iran has dismissed the accusations entirely and accuses the United States of brinkmanship with its troop deployments.
Trump played down the potential for military conflict in the region, saying he believed Iran did not want a confrontation with the United States – even as Washington tightens sanctions with a goal of pushing Iran to make concessions beyond the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal.
Trump pulled out of the international deal between Iran and six major world powers last year.
“Right now, I don’t think Iran wants to fight. And I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” Trump said.
“But they cannot have nuclear weapons,” he continued. “They can’t have nuclear weapons. And they understand that.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Roberta Rampton in Washington, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Paul Simao, Susan Thomas and James Dalgleish)
Police officers are seen near the site of a suspected bomb attack in central Lyon, France May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot
May 24, 2019
LYON (Reuters) – French police were hunting a suspected suitcase bomber on Friday after an explosion in the central city of Lyon that injured 13 people, officials said.
The suspect was captured on security video leaving a bag in front of a bakery shortly before an explosion occurred at around 5:30 pm, police sources and local mayor Denis Broliquier said.
Most of those hurt were hospitalized for treatment to leg injuries that were described as light.
President Emmanuel Macron characterized the incident as an “attack” when the news broke during a live YouTube interview ahead of Sunday’s European elections. “My thoughts are with the injured,” he said.
Paris anti-terrorism prosecutors opened an investigation as police said they were treating the blast as an attempted homicide, and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner headed to the scene.
The partially masked suspect appeared in security camera footage wheeling a bicycle to the scene, before leaving a bag outside a branch of Brioche Doree, a popular bakery chain.
Police sources described the suspected attacker as a European or North African male, seen wearing beige Bermuda shorts, an army-green scarf or head wrap and dark glasses.
Soon after he left, the blast rained metal bolts on passersby in front of the premises on rue Victor Hugo, several blocks from the city’s main station, according to police.
Police forces across France have been instructed to increase security in public places and event venues, Castaner said.
(Reporting by Catherine Lagrange in Lyon, Emmanuel Jarry and Marine Pennetier in Paris; Writing by Laurence Frost; Editing by Peter Graff)
Supporters of Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gather during a protest calling for neutrality during the ongoing tensions between neighbouring Iran and the USA, in Baghdad, Iraq May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
May 24, 2019
By Ahmed Aboulenein
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Thousands of supporters of a populist Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim cleric urged political and factional leaders on Friday to stay out of any conflict between Baghdad’s two biggest allies, Iran and the United States.
Protesters from the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr, who once led Shi’ite militiamen against U.S. forces and is also vocally critical of Iranian influence in Iraq, chanted “no to war” and “yes to Iraq” in central Baghdad and the southern city of Basra.
Iraqis worry that their country will be caught up in any escalation of U.S.-Iranian tensions, which spiked earlier this month when President Donald Trump’s administration said it had sent additional forces to the Middle East to counter alleged threats including from Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
Politicians and Shi’ite paramilitary leaders have called for calm and the Iraqi government has tried to position itself as a mediator between the two sides.
“We’ve just recovered from Islamic State. Iraq must not be used as a base to try to harm any country. America doesn’t want Iraq to be stable,” said protester Abu Ali Darraji.
There was speculation that Sadr would speak to demonstrators in Baghdad but he did not appear. The firebrand leader, whose political bloc came first in Iraq’s parliamentary election last year, is a friend of neither Washington nor Shi’ite Iran.
The United States once described Sadr as the most dangerous man in Iraq, and designated his militia at the time, the Mehdi Army, a bigger threat to its forces than al Qaeda during an insurgency against U.S. troops after their 2003 invasion.
Sadr campaigned last year on a platform of Iraqi nationalism, opposed to both U.S. and Iranian influence in the country.
Amid rising U.S.-Iran tension, a rocket was fired last week into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, but caused no casualties. No group claimed responsibility; U.S. officials say they strongly suspect Iran’s local allies.
The attack came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraqi leaders that if they failed to keep in check powerful Iran-backed militias, Washington would respond with force.
U.S. intelligence had showed militias positioning rockets near bases housing U.S. forces, according to Iraqi security sources.
After pulling out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Trump restored U.S. sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions themselves.
Iraq has said it will send delegations to Washington and Tehran to help calm tensions.
Both Iran and the United States say they do not want war, but security officials and analysts warn that a small incident could spark a new spiral of violence in the volatile region.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses lawmakers during a parliamentary session before a vote on tax breaks in Athens, Greece, May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
May 24, 2019
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Friday that the European parliament election was also a vote of confidence in his policies, and a minister who is close to him said an early national election was possible depending on the result.
Tsipras, whose term ends in October, this month announced a package of tax breaks and benefits for pensioners, hit hard since 2010 when the debt crisis broke out. His Syriza party trails the conservative New Democracy party in opinion polls.
Speaking to state ERT TV, the leftist leader said he saw Sunday’s EU election as a vote of confidence on his plan to unravel austerity policies in 2019 and in 2020.
A national election is officially due in October.
Asked if he was considering a snap election in June and whether that hinged on the EU vote result, Tsipras said: “On Sunday, people may not be voting for a government but they will be voting on the policies that will govern the country in the coming years.”
“If these measures are rejected, all (prospects) are open,” Tsipras said, without providing details.
“Any percentage of defeat for the Syriza party … would open a discussion that I cannot foretell how would end. We would be entering an adventure,” he said.
State Minister Christoforos Vernadakis, one of Tsipras’ closest aides, said the government would look into its options after the EU vote result.
Asked about the prospect of an early national election in June, he told a local TV station: “I cannot rule it out.”
Greece emerged from its third international bailout in August last year. The debt-laded country has been outperforming fiscal targets agreed with its international creditors, giving Tsipras leeway for handouts.
The government’s latest package almost immediately triggered concern from euro zone finance ministers.
Tsipras said a victory on Sunday would empower him to negotiate with lenders on easing austerity.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
FILE PHOTO: Brazil’s Economy Minister Paulo Guedes speaks during a seminar about pension reform bill in Brasilia, Brazil May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo
May 24, 2019
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s Economy Minister Paulo Guedes threatened to step down in an interview published on Friday if his ambitious plans to overhaul the country’s social security system are watered down and diluted into what he called a “little reform.”
“I’ll get on a plane and I’ll live abroad. I’m old enough to retire,” Guedes said, in the interview published on magazine Veja’s website.
“If we do not reform, Brazil will catch fire. It will be chaos in the public sector,” he added, predicting that Brazil could go broke in 2020.
Guedes, who is seen as the economic heavyweight in President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, has taken the lead on selling pension reform to the country, although with mixed results. The proposal is still unpopular with ordinary Brazilians and has yet to win the necessary support of politicians in Brasilia.
Bolsonaro, commenting on Guedes’ reported remarks, said, “Nobody is obliged to stay as cabinet minister.”
“Logically, he (Guedes) is seeing this as a catastrophe, and I agree with him, if we do not approve a reform that is similar to the bill we sent to Congress,” the president told reporters during a public event in the northern city of Recife.
The bill wending its way through Congress aims to save 1.237 trillion reais ($307 billion) over a decade by raising the retirement age and increasing workers’ contributions. The government says it is vital to reviving the lackluster economy.
Guedes said on Thursday he was confident the bill could be approved in 60 days, and that it would pack a heavy fiscal punch.
In his interview with Veja, Guedes acknowledged there will be room for negotiation, which could reduce eventual savings to 800 billion reais. But he warned that anything below that could send him to the exits.
The Economy Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Link to interview in Portuguese: https://veja.abril.com.br/politica/aposta-no-tudo-ou-nada
(Additional reporting by Eduardo Simoes; Writing by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Tom Brown)
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to hold a classified briefing on Iran, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, for members of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
May 24, 2019
BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Berlin next week at the start of a trip to Europe and will hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel that had been scheduled earlier this month, but were called off at the last minute as tensions rose over Iran.
Pompeo will also visit Switzerland, the Netherlands and Britain on his May 30-June 5 trip, the U.S. State Department said.
A German government spokeswoman said Pompeo would meet with Merkel on May 31, and the German leader will stress that tensions with Iran over its nuclear program and role in the Middle East must be resolved peacefully.
The State Department said the talks would also involve Pompeo’s German counterpart, Heiko Maas. “The Secretary welcomes this opportunity to meet soon after his previously postponed visit to Germany,” the State Department said in a statement.
Pompeo had called off a visit to Berlin scheduled for May 7 and flew to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, instead amid soaring tensions between the United States and Iran.
A senior German diplomat was in Tehran on Thursday for meetings with Iranian officials to try to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that the Trump administration withdrew from last year.
Britain, France and Germany, which signed the deal along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for Washington’s withdrawal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting the accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb.
Washington has tightened sanctions on Iran with the aim of pushing it to make concessions beyond the terms of the 2015 deal.
It also deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East this month in response to what it called indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran. On Friday, President Donald Trump said he would send about 1,500 U.S. troops to the Middle East, mostly as a protective measure.
The State Department said that in Switzerland Pompeo will hold talks with Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and also meet with Swiss business leaders and the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In the Netherlands, Pompeo will attend the opening of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and he will then join Trump’s state visit to Britain, which starts on June 3.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Joseph Nasr and Leslie Adler)
FILE PHOTO: A trekker stands in front of Mount Everest, which is 8,850 meters high (C), at Kala Patthar in Solukhumbu District May 7, 2014. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar/File Photo
May 24, 2019
By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Three Indian climbers and one Nepali guide died on Mount Everest in the past couple of days, taking to seven the total number killed or missing on the world’s highest mountain in this year’s climbing season, Nepali officials said on Friday.
More than 120 climbers scaled Everest on Thursday, but some of them were caught in the crowd of people on the slopes, leading to exhaustion, dehydration and death, the officials said.
Hiking officials say between five and ten climbers die on Mount Everest in an average climbing year.
Two women from India were among those who died.
They were named as Anjali Sharad Kulkarni, 54, from the commercial capital of Mumbai, and 49-year-old Kalpana Das, from the eastern state of Odisha. Both died while descending from the summit, which is 8,850 meters (29,035 feet) high.
The Indian man who died, also while descending, was Nihal Ashpak Bagwan, 27, from India’s western city of Pune.
“Bagwan died of dehydration, exhaustion and tiredness after being caught in the jam of climbers,” said Keshab Paudel of the Peak Promotion hiking agency that handled the climber’s logistics.
“We don’t know for how long the jam lasted nor how many climbers were clogged by a single line near the summit,” Paudel said.
Lhakpa Sherpa of another agency, Arun Treks and Expeditions, said his client, Kulkarni, died of weakness while coming down to Camp IV on the South Col of Everest.
The deaths were confirmed by Mira Acharya, an official of Nepal’s tourism department.
Nepal has issued permits to 379 climbers on Mount Everest in the season, which ends this month.
The Nepali guide fell sick and died on Friday, officials said without giving details. Another Nepali guide perished on nearby Mount Makalu, they said, also without providing more information.
A total of 17 climbers have died or are missing on different Himalayan peaks in Nepal, seven of them Indians, since the start of the climbing season in March.
On the Tibetan side of the mountain there have been additional casualties, though it wasn’t immediately clear how many.
A member of a Swiss team died at 8,600 m (28,215 ft) on the Tibetan side of the mountain on Thursday, according to Everest blogger Alan Arnette, who cited a Swiss operator, Kobler & Partner. The climber’s full name has not been released.
“The winds have returned, plus the routes are extremely crowded on both sides, due to few summit weather windows this spring,” Arnette said on his blog http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/2019/05/23/everest-2019-3-new-deaths-now-6-on-everest-15-overall.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Martin Howell; Editing by Toby Chopra)
FILE PHOTO: Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan testifies before a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Defense – FY2020 Budget request on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
May 24, 2019
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will meet China’s defense minister on the sidelines of an Asia defense forum in Singapore, a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday, at a time of strained tensions between Beijing and Washington over trade and security.
“We’re doing a pull aside with the Chinese counterpart at Shangri-La,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe will deliver a speech on June 2 at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the first time since 2011 that a Chinese defense minister will be at the forum, having in recent years sent lower level officials.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)
A demonstrator carries a banner as she walks past police officers standing guard during an anti-government protest in Algiers, Algeria May 24, 2019. The banner reads: “Give me my freedom”. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
May 24, 2019
By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters took to the streets in the capital and other Algerian cities on Friday to demand the postponement of a presidential election and the removal of the ruling elite following the end of Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 20-year-rule last month.
A political source meanwhile told Reuters the interim government was expected to extend the current transition period to allow time for preparations for the election.
Friday’s protest marked the 14th consecutive week of demonstrations. They have continued through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan although numbers of the crowds are smaller than at the peak of the anti-Bouteflika protests.
They are calling for political reforms and the removal of all the clique of officials who have governed the North African nation since independence from France in 1962.
Bouteflika’s removal paved the way for a transition period that is due to end with a presidential election on July 4. But
demonstrators now demand the resignation of interim officials in charge of supervising the vote, including interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, who replaced Bouteflika for 90 days until the election, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.
“No to the July 4 election,” protesters draped in national flags chanted as they marched in central Algiers. Many held up banners that read: “Bensalah go, Bedoui go”.
Similar protests broke out in Algeria’s other main cities, including Annaba, Oran and Constantine.
The political source said the transition period, which is due to end a few days after the scheduled July 4 election, could be extended by at least three months.
“Time is running out and organizers have not finished preparations for the vote,” the source said.
Armed forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah said last week that elections were the only way to get out of the crisis, but did not mention a date for the vote.
He reietrated calls for appeasement, mentioning the army’s positive response to demonstrators’ demands for the prosecution of people seen as corrupt.
Bouetflika’s youngest brother Said and two former intelligence generals have been put in custody on charges of harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority.
Several businessmen have also been detained over allegations of involvement in corruption cases.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Angus MacSwan)