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Trump fires intel official who handled whistleblower complaint

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Houston Howdy Modi Donald Trump

Washington, April 4 (IANS) US President Donald Trump told Congress that he has fired Michael Atkinson, the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) who first notified lawmakers of a whitleblower complaint that ultimately led to the Trump’s impeachment.

In a letter made public late Friday by the US media, Trump informed the Senate and House intelligence committees that he removed Atkinson from his duties, reports Xinhua news agency.

“This is to advise that I am exercising my power as President to remove from office the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, effective 30 days from today,” Trump wrote.

Trump said “it is vital” that he as the President has “the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspector General. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General”.

Atkinson reported to Congress last September about the complaint he had received from an anonymous intelligence official, who expressed concerns that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine amounted to soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 US presidential election and undermined American national security.

The complaint triggered the impeachment investigation into Trump led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.

The President was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House on December 19, 2019 accusing him of “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress”.

He was acquitted on February 5 as the Senate, where the Republicans hold the majority, concluded its impeachment trial.

“Trump’s dead of night decision to fire ICIG Michael Atkinson is another blatant attempt to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing,” Schiff, a California Democrat, tweeted on Friday in response to the firing.

“It puts our country and national security at even greater risk,” he added.

Atkinson was nominated by Trump in November 2017 after serving 16 years at the Department of Justice.

The ICIG conducts investigations and reviews of activities within the purview of the Director of National Intelligence, while handling whistleblower complaints from within the intelligence community.

India

Akbaruddin isolated Pakistan at UN, engineered India’s ICJ win over UK

The Fund also distinguishes itself from China’s controversial aid programmes by providing assistance multilaterally through the UN.

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Syed Akbaruddin United Nations

United Nations, May 29 : Having deft diplomacy to successfully isolate Pakistan on the Kashmir issue at the UN and engineered India’s unprecedented victory for the judgeship of the World Court over a Security Council permanent member, Syed Akbaruddin has wound up his term as India’s Permanent Representative to the world body.

Akbaruddin, who retired after a 35-year career in the Indian Foreign Service this month, helped create history when the members of the UN overwhelmingly voted for the re-election of Dalveer Bhandari in 2017 rebelling against the hegemony of the permanent members and forced Britain to withdraw its candidate Christoper Greenwood, who had the majority support in the Security Council.

It marked a clear shift in the balance of power at the UN, from old colonial powers of the last century to the emerging nations of this.

“I was lucky to represent India when our global image was on the rise,” Akbaruddin told IANS, attributing the nation’s successes during his tenure to that and an appreciation of how New Delhi engaged with countries around the world.

Pakistan’s persistent, intensive diplomacy to internationalise the Kashmir issue was checkmated with 189 of the 193 members repudiating it.

Besides Pakistan, only Malaysia and Turkey have raised it in the General Assembly, and even that only once and giving up after being isolated.

China tried twice to bring it up in the Security Council but couldn’t even get a statement acknowledging that it had been discussed in closed-door consultations.

He helped rip China’s protective mantle over Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar and have him listed as a global terrorist by the UN Security Council.

Of his diplomacy, Akbaruddin said: “The only way to succeed here is through partnerships.”

And partnerships he had built aplenty winning the regard of fellow-diplomats and UN leaders.

General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande described him as a “great diplomat”.

He told IANS: “Syed Akbaruddin was one of the very best. I can tell you, I cannot imagine anyone of us who has worked with Syed who will say anything differently. He is a very wise man, very, very sincere, very knowledgeable.”

Muhammad-Bande added that he would congratulate India for producing diplomats like him.

Akbaruddin projected India’s soft-power at the UN, organising grand concerts by maestros A.R. Rahman and Amjad Ali Khan at the General Assembly chamber.

The UN issued a stamp honouring the classical Carnatic singer MS Subbulakshmi in 2016, commemorating her UN concert 50 years earlier that year in 1966.

And during the International Yoga Days he literally had ‘asanas’ projected on the UN headquarters building and for Diwali a greeting, the image of which became the backdrop for a Diwali stamp set issued by the UN postal system.

Quick to seize opportunities for India’s image-building, he promoted the construction of the 50-kilowatt Gandhi Solar Park on a UN building to provide clean electricity to the UN complex as Secretary-General Antonio Guterres prioritised a global move away from fossil fuel-generated power.

Akbaruddin’s tenure also saw the launch of the UN-India Partnership Fund that provides aid to small developing countries. Starting in 2017 with a project to provide a climate early warning system for seven island nations in the Pacific region, the programme has grown into a 10-year programme with a goal of $150 million.

Currently there are 40 projects covering 39 countries.

The Fund also distinguishes itself from China’s controversial aid programmes by providing assistance multilaterally through the UN.

An avid user of social media, who pushed its multimedia use by the mission, Akbaruddin was ranked the diplomat at the UN with the second-highest number of Twitter followers after then-US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley.

A second generation diplomat – his father Syed Bashiruddin was India’s Ambassador to Qatar – Akbaruddin joined the foreign service in 1985. Among his many diplomatic assignments was that of the spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry and acting as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s spokesperson on his travels abroad.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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Middle East

Nationwide lockdown eased in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has had more cases of coronavirus than any other place in the Arab world, with 78,541 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 425 deaths.

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Saudi Arabia Lockdown

Riyadh, May 28 : Saudi Arabia on Thursday started easing a five-day nationwide lockdown imposed during the festival of Eid amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A round-the-clock curfew has been partially relaxed except in the holy city of Mecca, which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, reports the BBC.

Anyone wishing to leave home though is required to obtain a permit through a government app.

Measures will be further eased in phases over the next few weeks until the lockdown is fully lifted.

It is still unclear whether the major annual Haj pilgrimage will go ahead at the end of July.

Saudi Arabia has had more cases of coronavirus than any other place in the Arab world, with 78,541 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 425 deaths.

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World

Russian President Putin calls for maximizing efforts to fight unemployment

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Russian President Vladimir Putin

Moscow, May 28 : Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on the government and regional authorities to maximize efforts to solve the problem of unemployment, which has risen drastically due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The preservation of jobs and incomes of Russian families from the very beginning of the fight against the consequences of the epidemic has become the most important priority in our work,” Xinhua news agency quoted Putin as saying at a meeting on Wednesday.

The authorities need to offer accelerated courses, training and retraining programs for those who have lost their jobs, he said.

The situation on the labour market in Russia is better than that in a number of developed countries, Labour Minister Anton Kotyakov said at the meeting.

He said that thanks to measures adopted to support businesses and the population, Russia has managed to avoid a significant increase in the number of the unemployed.

Earlier this month, Putin said that the number of officially registered unemployed people in Russia reached 1.4 million, twice as many as in early April.

Russians who have officially registered as having lost their jobs after March 1 are entitled to a monthly unemployment benefit of 12,130 rubles ($170).

Putin, at the meeting, agreed to extend such benefits to those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic to October 1.

According to Kotyakov, the situation on the labour market may remain difficult in the second and third quarters, but it is expected to stabilize in the fourth quarter and show positive dynamics in the first or second quarter of 2021.

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