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Trump asks Comey to drop Flynn probe, White House denies

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Washington, May 17, 2017: US President Donald Trump had asked former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey to end the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian ambassador here, the media reported on Wednesday.

According to sources, the request was documented in a memo written by Comey that quoted Trump as saying: “I hope you can let this go.”

The White House has however rejected the new allegations. According to a White House official, a “conversation of that nature” did not happen.

“While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, he has never asked Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any probe involving Flynn,” the official said in a White House statement.

“The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Comey.”

The revelation on Tuesday escalated the already raging political crises engulfing the White House triggered by the FBI’s probe into alleged cooperation between Trump aides and Moscow, and reports that the President shared classified information to top Russian officials, CNN reported.

The stunning new developments triggered immediate claims from Democrats that Trump was guilty of obstructing justice and extreme concern from the President’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

Adam Schiff, the highest ranked Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said this intervention by Trump, if correct, amounted to “interference or obstruction of the investigation”, the BBC reporterd.

Senator John MCain reportedly said at a dinner that the Trump scandals had now reached “Watergate size”.

Trump on May 9 fired Comey, who led the FBI investigation into the ties between Russian officials and Trump’s presidential campaign, an issue that Congress also addresses.

Flynn has been at the centre of that investigation shortly after Trump’s arrival to the White House.

Flynn advised Trump on foreign policy during the campaign and was later appointed NSA, a position he was forced to resign after lying about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador in Washington.

Sources said that Comey was so appalled by the request at an Oval Office meeting on February 14 that he wanted to document it to share his recollections of the encounter with senior FBI officials.

The report has put a new complexion on Trump’s firing of Comey, a move he later confided to NBC News was motivated by anger over the Russia probe.

A source said the encounter between Comey and Trump unfolded after the then FBI Director was in the Oval Office briefing Trump along with Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

After the briefing, Trump “asked Sessions and Pence to leave”, the source told CNN.

According to Comey’s memo, the President said: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

The President told Comey that Flynn, who was fired for lying to Pence about the content of his telephone conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the inauguration, hadn’t done anything wrong.

Tuesday’s developments sent shockwaves up to the Capitol Hill, where there has been increasing disquiet among Republicans due to allegations that the President divulged classified information to Russian officials.

Republican Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter from the FBI asking for the handover of “all memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings referring or relating to any communications between Comey and the President”.

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India, China and Russia hold consultation on Afghanistan

Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia currently enjoy observer status while Sri Lanka, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia and Nepal are dialogue partners.

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Nikolai Patrushev

Moscow/Beijing, May 22 : Afghanistan is a major source of terrorist threats for the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev said on Tuesday, four days after he held consultation on the issue with India and China.

For the SCO member-states, the threat of terrorism and extremism comes first and foremost from Afghanistan’s territory. We are convinced that any unilateral attempts to solve the situation in the Islamic republic by force bypassing the norms and principles of the international law may only worsen the situation and create additional security risks, Patrushev said.

His comments followed talks India, China and Russia held on Afghanistan and exchanged views in the Russian capital on May 17.

India’s Deputy National Security Adviser Rajinder Khanna, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou and Assistant to the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Aleksandr Venediktov consulted each other. Patrushev then held a group meeting with the delegation members of the three countries who took part in the consultation.

The three sides agreed to strengthen coordination and cooperation under the frameworks of the SCO and the BRICS countries, and to hold the next round of consultation in due course, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.

They also exchanged views on the situation in the Asia-Pacific region and cooperation under the frameworks of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the BRICS countries, reaching broad consensus, said the statement.

On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin at their informal summit in Sochi expressed concern over terrorism and radicalisation. In this context, they endorsed the importance of restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan in an atmosphere free from the threat of terrorism, and agreed to work together towards achieving this objective, said the Ministry of External Affairs.

Patrushev said Russia jointly with other SCO members had been calling for restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan through political settlement led by Afghan citizens.

The Tashkent conference on Afghanistan on March 26-27 confirmed the need to step up multilateral cooperation, including in the SCO framework. We view this meeting, and also meetings in the framework of the Kabul process as a logical continuation of consultations as part of the Moscow format and the SCO-Afghanistan contact group, TASS news agency quoted Patrushev as saying.

Any initiatives on the Afghan track should take into account the interests of regional states and rule out the prospects of imposing unacceptable scenarios on them. In this context, we support the Chinese side’s proposal to hold the second meeting of the contact group in Beijing, he said.

The SCO was formed in Shanghai in 2001 by six founding states – Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

In 2017, India and Pakistan became full-fledged members.

Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia currently enjoy observer status while Sri Lanka, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia and Nepal are dialogue partners.

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16 killed in Afghanistan blast

No group, neither the Taliban or the Islamic State, have claimed responsibility for the incident.

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Kabul, May 22 : At least 16 people were killed when a vehicle, packed with explosives detonated in the southern Kandahar province on Tuesday, authorities said.

Provincial Governor Tooryalai Wesa said that at least 16 people were killed and 38 others wounded in the explosion, Ariana News reported.

According to Wesa, the death toll is expected to rise, as most of the injured were in critical condition.

No group, neither the Taliban or the Islamic State, have claimed responsibility for the incident.

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India’s Ola in 3 more Australian cities

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New Delhi, May 22: Indian ride-sharing major Ola on Tuesday expanded its services in Australia to three more cities — Brisbane, Gold Coast and Canberra.

To celebrate its launch in these cities, Ola is offering discounted rides from Tuesday. Customers can download the Ola app either from Google Play or iOS App Store, register for an Ola account and begin booking their rides.

“Customers in these cities can book discounted rides using Ola app starting Tuesday,” the city-based online cab aggregator said in a statement here. The online transportation network company has been operating in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne since it forayed into the island-nation early in 2018.

So far, over 30,000 driver-partners have registered themselves with the company since its launch in Australia on January 30, the statement said.

“Over the coming months, Ola is working on its rollout in other Australian cities Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart,” it added.

Founded in 2011, Ola has been competing against Uber in the Indian ride-hailing market. The seven-year-old Ola claims to have over 125 million users in 110 cities across India.

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