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Donald Trump not declaring emergency ‘right now’

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Washington, Jan 12: US President Donald Trump has said that he has no immediate plans to resort to a national-emergency declaration to build a wall on the border with Mexico, the issue behind a partial government shutdown now in its 21st day.

“What we’re not looking to do right now is a national emergency,” he said during a White House roundtable on border security on Friday.

“I’m not going to do it so fast,” Trump was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

Trump has said more than once in recent days that he would “probably” declare a national emergency, which would allow him to tap Pentagon funds for construction of a wall to resolve what he claims is a crisis on the border.

The Republican president demands that Congress provide $5.7 billion in funds for the wall as a condition for his agreeing to sign a spending bill that would allow affected federal government departments to resume normal operations.

Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, say they are prepared to appropriate $1.3 billion for border security, including enhancements to existing fences, but will not pay for construction of a new barrier.

While some prominent Republicans have endorsed the idea of the emergency declaration, other GOP lawmakers remain uneasy.

“We want Congress to do its job,” Trump said Friday, at the same time he called on Democratic legislators to return to Washington.

Most senators and House members from both parties have already left Washington for the weekend.

The shutdown has crippled roughly 25 percent of federal agencies and departments and roughly 800,000 public employees are on furlough or working without pay.

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Killing of Soleimani disgrace for US: Khamenei

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Ali Khamenei

Tehran, Jan 17 : While leading the Friday prayers for the first time since 2012, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the January 3 killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani in an American drone attack, was a “disgrace for the US”.

“They stealthily and cowardly assassinated Gen. Soleimani in a terrorist fashion. This resulted in a disgrace for America,” Khamenei said as he led the prayers in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque, where huge crowds of worshipers had already gathered from early Friday morning.

Regarding the January 8 Iranian missile attack on two military bases in Iraq that houses US troops which was in retaliation of Soleimani’s death, Khamenei said that Tehran’s response “dealt a blow to the American prestige”, reports Press TV.

The attack was a “military blow, but more important it was a blow to the American grandeur”, he added.

Khamenei also lashed out at British, German and French leaders who admitted this week to have launched a process that could lead to European sanctions being reimposed on Iran.

“You are too small to bring the Iranian nation to its knees,” he said.

Meanwhile, massive anti-US protest rallies were expected to be held after the prayers.

The last time Khamenei led Friday prayers in Tehran was in 2012 on the 33rd anniversary of the country’s Islamic Revolution.

Friday’s prayer service also came in the wake of widespread protests over the January 8 downing of the Kiev-bound Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 by an Iranian missile shortly after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.

The protests erupted across Iran after the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on January 12 admitted that the plane had been mistaken for a “cruise missile” during heightened tensions with the US.

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US-Taliban discuss peace deal in new talks

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Afghanistan peace deal

Doha, Jan 17 : The Taliban and the US have resumed their talks that are expected to continue for “several days” in the Qatari capital of Doha for finalizing an arrangement to sign a possible Afghanistan peace deal, the militant group said on Friday.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Efe news that its negotiating team led by Mullah Baradar Akhund held a meeting with US negotiators led by envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha.

“They held talks about the signing of the agreement and its related ceremony,” Mujahid said, adding that the fresh round of talks has been “productive” and would continue for “several days”.

Another Taliban spokesperson, Emran Khalil, wrote on his Twitter page that the two sides discussed the issues related to the “signing of the agreement and withdrawal mechanism of foreign troops” from Afghanistan.

Khalil said there were no changes in the draft peace deal that was “completed” last September.

“Hopefully, the date for the signing of the deal (will) be revealed soon.”

However, the spokesmen didn’t mention about a ceasefire or a possibility of Taliban scaling down its violent activities, which have been among the main demands of the Afghans, particularly of the government in Kabul before a peace deal is signed between the US and the insurgents.

On Thursday, Pakistan said the Taliban were ready to reduce violence for a breakthrough in the Afghan peace process.

On December 30, 2019, Mujahid denied any possibility of a ceasefire, but said they were discussing the reduction in violent activities after the US asked for it.

The new talks began earlier this week after a month-long break since the two sides paused the negotiations for internal consultations on December 12, 2019.

The Taliban and the US resumed the negotiations on December 7 following a three-month stalemate after President Donald Trump abruptly called off the talks in September over a deadly attack in Kabul that also killed an American soldier.

A possible US-Taliban agreement is expected to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks between the Taliban and the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The Taliban have for long rejected to hold any official and direct talks with the Afghan government before it reaches an agreement with the US on its troop withdrawal from the country.

The US and Taliban negotiators during a yearlong nine rounds of talks were said to have completed a peace draft agreement last September.

The draft agreement ensures that over 5,000 US troops will withdraw from five American bases in the first 135 days after the signing of the deal.

Since the end of the NATO combat mission in January 2015, the US maintains one contingent within the framework of the new allied mission of advising Afghan troops and another for “anti-terrorist” operations.

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Ukrainian prime minister offers resignation: statement

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Oleksiy Honcharuk

Kiev, Jan 17 : Ukraine’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk on Friday tendered his resignation after a leaked audio recording apparently revealed him criticising President Volodymyr Zelensky.

A voice sounding like Honcharuk’s, but not officially confirmed as his, says President Zelensky, a TV comedian and businessman who was elected last April, only has a “primitive” understanding of economics, reports the BBC.

“To remove any doubts in our respect for and trust in the President, I have written a resignation letter and submitted it to the president with the right to hand it to the Parliament,” Honcharuk, 35, made the announcement on his official Facebook page.

“He is a man in whom Ukrainians have expressed unprecedented confidence. And he has every right to evaluate the effectiveness of every member of his team.”

The presidential office said Zelensky had received the resignation and would consider it, reports Xinhua news agency.

The controversial audiotape was uploaded to an anonymous YouTube channel on Wednesday evening.

Honcharuk was apparently discussing the national budget with some other government ministers and finance chiefs.

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