Briefing :- 8/6/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 8th of June, 2017 :-

1. Ex. FBI Director James Comey accuses Trump administration of defaming him, telling ‘lies’ :-

James Comey said on Thursday he was disturbed by President Donald Trump’s bid to get him to drop a probe into the former national security advisor, but the former FBI director would not say whether he thought the president sought to obstruct justice.

Comey told US lawmakers in one of the most widely anticipated US congressional hearing in years that the Trump administration had told lies and defamed him and the FBI when the president fired him on May 9.

In written testimony released on Wednesday, Comey said Trump had asked him in February to drop an FBI investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn as part of the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

“I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning,” Comey told lawmakers.

The hearing could have significant repercussions for Trump’s presidency as special counsel Robert Mueller and several congressional committees investigate alleged Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with this.

Russia has denied such interference and the White House has denied any collusion.

Trump triggered a political firestorm when he dismissed Comey.

The former FBI head said Trump’s administration had defamed him in comments made after his firing.

“Although the law required no reason at all to fire the FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organisation was in disarray, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader,” Comey said.

“Those were lies, plain and simple,” he said.

The Russia issue has dogged Trump’s first months in office, with critics saying that any efforts by him to hinder the FBI probe could amount to obstruction of justice.

Some legal experts said Comey’s testimony could strengthen any impeachment case in Congress to remove Trump from office built on an allegation of obstruction of justice.

Comey testified that he kept notes after meeting with Trump because “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.”

The White House has given shifting explanations on why Trump fired Comey. Trump has called Comey a “showboat” and a “grandstander” and said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” in dismissing him.

2. Desperate wait while bodies retrieved from Myanmar plane wreck :-

Hundreds of people gathered on a beach in southern Myanmar on Thursday desperately waiting for news of their loved ones as the first bodies arrived from the wreck of a military plane that crashed with more than 120 people on board.

Navy ships and air force planes have been scouring the waves since Wednesday afternoon, when the aircraft disappeared en route from the southern city of Myeik to the commercial hub of Yangon.

By mid-afternoon the commander-in-chief’s office said 29 corpses — 20 women, one man and eight children — had been retrieved from the sea after a navy vessel discovered wreckage from the plane off the coastline near Dawei town. Hundreds of locals, relatives and NGO workers clasping umbrellas watched as a fishing boat laden with the dead pulled up to San Hlan beach, where they were unloaded by NGO workers and uniformed soliders wearing masks and gloves.

An AFP reporter counted 29 corpses of different sizes, wrapped in black and white plastic bags, being brought onshore from the boat.

“My cousin’s sister’s family was in the plane crash — her husband, her child and herself,” said Kyaw Swar Myint, 44, from Dawei. “We heard news that the helicopter was now transporting about 20 dead bodies to the beach, so we are waiting here.”

A military officer said strong currents has made it hard for boats to reach the shore, so many of the bodies may have to be airlifted to land. The Chinese-made Shaanxi Y8 plane was carrying a total of 122 people when it disappeared on Wednesday afternoon during a routine flight, according to the army chief.

More than half of the passengers were from military families, including 15 children, 35 soldiers and 14 crew members, the army chief’s office said in a statement. Some were travelling for medical check-ups or to study in Yangon. It is monsoon season in Myanmar, but there were no major storms reported along the aircraft’s flight path on Wednesday afternoon.

The office of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi posted a statement expressing condolences to the victims.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered to help in recovery efforts, while the US embassy sent sympathies to the families of those lost in the ‘tragedy’.

The military said the plane was flying at over 18,000 feet (5,486 metres) when it lost contact with air traffic control at 1:35 pm (07:05 GMT) on Wednesday, about half an hour after takeoff. Gerry Soejatman, an independent aviation expert based in Jakarta, said the information indicated something went wrong “not long after or just before reaching cruising altitude”.

The military named the captain as “seasoned” pilot Lieutenant Colonel Nyein Chan, who it said had more than 3,000 hours of flying experience. He was flying the Chinese-made, four-engine Y8 turboprop — a medium-range transport plane based on the Soviet Antonov An-12, which has had numerous crashes over the decades.

Myanmar’s former junta bought several Y8s during their 50 years of isolated rule, when they were squeezed by Western sanctions. The plane’s maker, China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation, in a statement pledged to assist with investigations into the crash.

The military said the plane that crashed was delivered in March 2016 and had a total of 809 flying hours.

The debris — including two tires presumed to be from the plane were brought to shore before search efforts wrapped for the day — was found in the Andaman Sea, north of the last known location of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. That plane went missing in March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, but no wreckage has ever been found.

Myanmar’s military fleet has a chequered recent history of plane crashes. A five-strong crew died when an air force plane burst into flames soon after taking off from the capital Naypyidaw in February last year. Three army officers were also killed in June when their Mi-2 helicopter crashed into a hillside and burst into flames in south-central Bago.

3. Saudi rift with Qatar exposes growing division in the anti-Iran alliance :-

This is the worst diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region in decades.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt decided to break off ties with Qatar, accusing the Gulf state of supporting terrorism and of destabilising the whole region.

Qatar had fired the opening shot by what seemed to be open criticism of the Saudi-led and US-assisted anti-Iran alliance  pushed by Donald Trump after his visit to Riyadh on May 21.

On May 24, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the ruler of Qatar, allegedly criticised the US-Saudi move and described Iran as an “Islamic power”. The Qatar News Agency quoted the emir as saying, “There is no wisdom in harbouring hostility towards Iran”. This infuriated Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Qatar then questioned the veracity of the comments and said its news agency was hacked. Nevertheless, the diplomatic rift been deepening, culminating in the current crisis.

This is not the first time that Qatar, a thumb-shaped emirate of the size of the US state of Connecticut, has become embroiled a diplomatic imbroglio with its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

These three Gulf Arab states withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar’s capital Doha in early 2014, on the pretext that the country had links to the Muslim Brotherhood and gave refuge to its leaders after the fall of Egypt’s first democratically elected government in July 2013.

Saudi Arabia declared the Muslim Brotherhood, which it views as an alternative source of authority that’s opposed to hereditary monarchical rule, a terrorist organisation in early March 2014.

But the current crisis is much more serious than the 2014 diplomatic spat, which was resolved after eight months, with Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini ambassadors returning to Doha in November of the same year on the condition that Qatar would never allow the Muslim Brotherhood to operate from its territory.

Unlike the 2014 crisis, the current Qatari–Saudi rift is not just an intra-GCC falling out, as it involves Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran.

Qatar is seen by the Saudi government and its Emirati and Bahraini counterparts as a spoiler of efforts to forge a unified Arab–Muslim position, undergirded by the Trump administration, against Iran’s so-called “terrorist agenda” in Arab countries.

A week before US President Donald Trump visited Riyadh to consolidate the anti-Iran alliance, the Saudi Arabic-language daily newspaper Okaz reported a secret meeting between the Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, who was officially visiting Baghdad at the time, and the Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasim Sulaimani.

The newspaper accused Qatar of exiting “early from the Arab-Islamic consensus” on Iran, adding “its defence of the Iranian terrorist regime shows the secret Doha-Tehran alliance intends to strike at Arab and Islamic solidarity.”

All of this while Qatar signed the anti-Iran Riyadh Declaration issued after the Arab-Islamic-America summit on May 21 2017.

But why would Qatar, a country that hosts the largest US air force base in the Middle East (Al-Udeid), veer off the Saudi-led GCC military and diplomatic track?

Gulf watchers know that Qatar is suspicious of Saudi goals under the GCC umbrella, and it wants an independent foreign policy, free from Saudi or Iranian influence.

Qatar hardly sees Saudi Arabia as a harmless neighbour. Tensions in Saudi-Qatar relations started right after the former emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khaifa Al Thani (1995 – 2013) came to power via a bloodless coup in 1995 by overthrowing his father Sheikh Khalifa Bin Hamad Al Thani. Sheikh Khalifa was visiting Saudi Arabia at the time, which embarrassed the Saudi government.

Sheikh Hamad’s takeover in 1995 was preceded by a Saudi attack on a Qatari border security post in September 1992, in violation of a mutual defence treaty the two states had signed in 1982.

Riyadh also thwarted Qatari initiatives to export liquefied gas to other GCC member states in the 1990s. Emir Sheikh Hamad began to pull Qatar out of the Saudi shadow, a policy that Emir Sheikh Tamim is also pursuing.

Qatari satellite news channel Al Jazeera occasionally broadcasts programs criticising Saudi Arabia and, much to the anger of Riyadh, it hosted Saudi dissidents in a popular talk show in June 2002.

The incident led to Saudi Arabia recalling its ambassador from Doha in September 2002. Full diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored five years later, in September 2007, on Qatari assurance that Al Jazeera would refrain from broadcasting anti-Saudi programs.

4. India Presidential Race: Panel of 9 non-NDA parties to decide on consensus candidate :-

Leaders of at least nine non-NDA parties are part of the sub-group constituted to arrive at a consensus opposition candidate for the July 17 Indian presidential poll.

According to sources, the sub-group will be meeting next week to start deliberations among the opposition parties on the crucial poll.

They said Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav and RJD supremo Lalu Prasad aong others are part of the sub-group.

The group would comprise leaders of prominent parties like Left, TMC, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party besides the JD(U), RJD, NCP and DMK as well as the main opposition party-the Congress.

The sources said the possible names for the opposition candidate will only emerge after June 15 i.E. After a formal notification will be issued by the Election Commission on June 14.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is instrumental in forming this panel after she hosted a luncheon for the opposition leaders on May 26 which was attended by leaders of 17 parties.

“It was suggested at the May 26 luncheon that a sub-group of non-NDA parties be formed who could deliberate and bring consensus among the opposition parties on the matter,” said a senior leader.

It was also stated at the luncheon that as per the tradition, the ruling party should take the lead in suggesting a consensual candidate for the President’s post.

In case it does not do so, the opposition parties will come out with its own candidate after reaching at a consensus among the opposition ranks, the sources said.

With the ruling BJP yet to initiate efforts for a consensual presidential nominee, the Congress has said the non-NDA parties will make every possible attempt to find “the best person” for India and it has many “deserving” candidates.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the opposition has made it clear that the BJP-led NDA cannot take the country for granted on the issue, but he refused to come out with any specific name.

The CPI(M), on its part, said that it was in discussion with other parties for a person with “impeccable secular credentials who can discharge the responsibility as a custodian of the Constitution.”

A number of leaders of opposition parties had already met Sonia Gandhi last month after she stepped up discussions for forging opposition unity on the issue.

Gandhi has held parleys with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, DMK leader M K Stalin, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and RJD’s Lalu Prasad, among others.

The Congress chief has been at the forefront of efforts to evolve a consensus among opposition parties for putting up candidates who are “acceptable to the country” for the posts of president and vice president.

The names of former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishan Gandhi and former Speaker Meira Kumar have so far emerged as the Opposition’s choices for the top post.

The presidential election will be held on July 17 and the counting of votes is slated for July 20.

The tenure of incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee ends on July 24.


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