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Trump asks proof of Russian meddling in US elections

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Miami, Dec 30, 2016: A spokesman for President-elect Donald Trump said that the US government needs to present evidence that Russia interfered in last month’s elections.

“If the United States has clear proof of anyone interfering with our elections, we should make that known,” Sean Spicer said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

The future White House press secretary said that right now we need to see further facts explaining that Trump is open to changing his opinion on the matter if the evidence warrants, Efe news agency reported.

President Barack Obama says the US will “take measures” against Russia in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged hacking of Democratic National Committee e-mails that put Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her team in a negative light.

The claim of Russian meddling arose following the publication by WikiLeaks of e-mails from the DNC and from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

The DNC communications showed that that supposedly neutral body was anxious to ensure that Clinton defeated Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries.

The CIA has concluded that Russia intervened to help Trump win the election, though WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has gone on record more than once that Russia was not the source of the material he published.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, US intelligence officials have told the press that they are certain Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the putative hacking.

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Lebanon to hold first parliamentary elections in 9 years

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Beirut, Dec 16: Lebanon is to hold its first parliamentary elections in nine years on May 6 next year, the media reported.

Citing Lebanese news agency NNA, Efe news reported on Friday that Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk signed the decree, which still requires approval from the government.

Under the provisional schedule, members of the Lebanese diaspora – who are being allowed to vote for the first time – will cast their ballots during the period April 22-27, according to NNA.

Parliamentary elections have been postponed repeatedly due to political instability.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said late last month that 92,810 candidates would take part in the next elections, but he didn’t mention a date.

The setting of a date for the ballot comes after Prime Minister Saad Hariri suspended the resignation he had announced in Riyadh.

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N.Korea threatens to be ‘most powerful nuclear, military state’

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United Nations, Dec 16: In a challenge to the global order, North Korea has issued a threat that it will become “world’s most powerful nuclear and military state”.

Pyongyang’s assertion of ambitions to global supremacy came on Friday after Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the Security Council, “The situation on the Korean Peninsula is the most tense and dangerous peace and security issue in the world today.”

Pyongyang “will march forward and make great advancement victoriously as world’s most powerful nuclear and military state upholding the line on simultaneous development of the Two Fronts,” North Korea’s Permanent Representative Ja Song-nam told the Security Council during a session on the threat from his country’s nuclear and missile programmes.

The mention of “Two Fronts” is a reference to North Korea’s theory of simultaneously developing its military capabilities, as well as its economy, which are both vulnerable to international sanctions.

With the characteristic bombast of his country’s rhetoric, Ja dismissed the Council as “tool” of the US, which he said is “terrified by the incredible might of our republic”.

He described the latest North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test on November 29 as the “Great November Event” leading to “completing the state nuclear force” and “building a rocket power”.

That missile, said to be capable of hitting targets anywhere in the US, landed off Japan’s coast within its economic exclusive zone in its test flight.

While claiming to be marching towards becoming the world’s most powerful military and nuclear state, Ja also asserted that Pyongyang “would not pose any threat to any country and region” as long as its interests were not threatened.

He asserted that his country could “fully guarantee” that there had been no “illegal transfer of nuclear weapons, its technology and weapon-grade nuclear materials”.

He was, however, significantly silent about missile technology proliferation.

Pakistan has received missile technology from North Korea in exchange for nuclear technology in deals going back to the 1990s, which have been confirmed by US officials and documented by the US and international media.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who spoke before Ja reiterated Washington’s warning that “all options are on the table” to contain North Korea’s nuclear threat while offering to keep the lines of communication with Pyongyang open.

“The US will use all measures necessary to defend itself,” Tillerson said. But he added, “We will meanwhile keep our channels of communication open.”

Later speaking to reporters, Tillerson said that Washington would not accept any preconditions for talks with Pyongyang.

Referring to proposals by China and Russia for the US and South Korea to stop joint military activities in return for North Korea ceasing nuclear and missile activities, he said: “We do not accept a ‘freeze-for-freeze’ as a precondition to talks.”

He added, “We do not accept any relaxing of the sanctions regime as a precondition of talks. We do not accept a resumption of humanitarian assistance as a precondition of talks.”

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I have your back 100 per cent, Donald Trump tells FBI

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Washington, Dec 16: US President Donald Trump has said he supports the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “100 per cent”, less than an hour after criticising the agency.

During a speech at the FBI National Academy’s graduation in Virginia, Trump heaped praise on the agency, saying it was full of “great people”, BBC reported on Friday.

His visit comes only days after he described the agency as “in tatters” and “the worst in history”.

Before travelling to the FBI campus on Friday, Trump said people were “very angry” with the agency’s actions.

“The president of the United States has your back 100 per cent,” he said later at the graduation ceremony in Quantico, Virginia.

“By the way, you are great people,” he added. “I’d say like 90 per cent are great, right? The other 10 per cent, that’s not working out so well.”

Earlier this month, Trump lambasted the agency and its former director, James Comey, whom he fired in May.

On his way to Quantico on Friday morning, Trump struck a different tone, telling reporters that “its a shame what’s happened with the FBI”.

He appeared to refer to recent reports that two FBI agents had privately exchanged text messages during the 2016 election, which included disparaging remarks about then-candidate Trump.

Republicans have claimed that the text exchange proves an anti-Trump bias in the special investigation being led by former FBI director Robert Mueller, who is examining possible campaign collusion with Russia and meddling in the US election process.

Trump denies that his team colluded with Russia to get him elected.

The two agents also reportedly insulted Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, as well as other prominent political figures, according to the contents of the text messages released to US Congress and obtained by US media.

FBI regulations state that agents are permitted to express opinions “as an individual privately and publicly on political subjects and candidates”.

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