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Trump signs executive order to undermine Obamacare

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Washington, Oct 13, 2017: US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that clears the way for sweeping changes to the country’s health insurance system, including sales of cheaper policies with fewer benefits and protections for consumers than those mandated under the Affordable Care Act.

The US President’s plan, an 1,100-word directive to federal agencies, laid the groundwork for an expanding array of health insurance products, mainly less comprehensive plans offered through associations of small employers and greater use of short-term medical coverage, New York Times reported on Thursday.

With these actions we are moving toward lower costs and more options in the health care market, and taking crucial steps toward saving the American people from the nightmare of Obamacare,” Trump said at a White House ceremony.

“This is going to be something that millions and millions of people will be signing up for,” he predicted.

It was the first time since efforts to repeal the landmark health law collapsed in Congress that Trump has set forth his vision of how to remake the nation’s health care system using the powers of the executive branch. It immediately touched off a furious debate over whether the move would fatally destabilize the Affordable Care Act, marketplaces or add welcome options to consumers complaining of high premiums and not enough choice.

In Congress, the move seemed to intensify the polarisation over health care. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said the President was offering “more affordable health insurance options” desperately needed by the consumers.

But the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said Trump was “using a wrecking ball to single-handedly rip apart our health care system”.

Most of the changes will not occur until the federal agencies write and adopt regulations implementing them. The process, which includes a period for public comments, could take months. That means the order will probably not affect insurance coverage next year but could lead to major changes in 2019.

But many patients, doctors, hospital executives and state insurance regulators were not so happy. They said the changes envisioned by Trump could raise costs for sick people, increase sales of bare-bones insurance and add uncertainty to wobbly health insurance markets.

While many health insurers remained silent about the executive order, some voiced concern that it could destabilize the market.

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Pakistan enhances security ahead of general elections

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Pakistan PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi

Islamabad, July 20 :The Pakistani government has enhanced security across the country, especially of the politicians and for public rallies ahead of the July 25 general elections, an official said on Friday.

The government held several high-level meetings last week over the security issues in which police, the Counter Terrorism Department and intelligence agencies were directed to step up security for prominent political figures under threat and sensitive installations in all provinces to thwart possible terrorist attacks.

Rallies, processions, demonstrations and public meetings have been banned except those which are allowed by the authorities and held in the secured premises, the government official told Xinhua news agency.

Vigilance has been increased at important places including airports, railway stations, bus terminals, markets, hospitals, schools, religious places and recreational sites.

Police have been asked to conduct surveys of residential areas, hostels, guest houses and hotels to ensure that no miscreant is hiding.

Pakistan is going to hold general elections for the National Assembly — the Lower House of the country’s Parliament — and four provincial Assemblies. Following the elections, the National Assembly will elect the country’s new Prime Minister.

Tensions have risen in the country since the jailing of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges last week. He was jailed for 10 years while his daughter and presumed political heir Maryam Nawaz received a seven-year sentence.

The three-time Premier claims that the military is aiding a “judicial witch-hunt” to prevent the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) from winning a second term in power.

Following a pro-Sharif rally in the city last week, Pakistani authorities launched an anti-terrorism investigation against PML-N leaders and opened criminal cases against nearly 17,000 party members.

Opinion polls indicate a close race between the PML-N and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the son of assassinated former Premier Benazir Bhutto, is expected to finish in third place, surveys say.

Security measures have been taken after a series of terrorist attacks at political rallies in Pakistan earlier this month, which have killed at least 180 people and injured over 200.

On July 13, at least 150 people lost their lives in a suicide blast targeting a convoy of a political candidate in Mastung area of the country’s Balochistan province. A strike on another politician the same day in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province killed four people.

Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) warned that the country’s key political leaders were facing security threats from extremists during the election period.

The Pakistani Army has announced that it would play its due role to support the Election Commission to conduct the polls in a peaceful atmosphere by deploying 371,388 security personnel at the 85,300 polling stations across the country to ensure security.

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South Korean ex-President Park sentenced to 8 more years in jail

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ousted south korea president

Seoul, July 20 : A court here on Friday sentenced former President Park Geun-hye to eight more years in prison for illegally taking off-book funds from the state spy agency and interfering in elections during her term in office.

Televised live, the Seoul Central District Court meted out the guilty verdict to the 66-year-old, who’s already serving a 24-year jail term on a string of corruption charges in a nation-rocking scandal that led to her ousting in 2017, Yonhap news reported.

The court also ordered her to forfeit 3.3 billion won ($2.91 million). Prosecutors demanded a 15-year imprisonment for Park.

She was not present at Friday’s trial as she has been boycotting all her trials, which she said “were politically motivated”. She accused the judiciary and prosecution of being unfair.

In early January, prosecutors indicted Park on additional charges that include bribery, embezzlement and loss of state funds for illegally accepting 3.5 billion won from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) between May 2013 and September 2016.

She’s also been indicted for interfering in the then-ruling Saenuri Party’s candidate nominations for the 2016 general elections.

But the court acquitted her of the bribery charges, ruling that the NIS provisions of its funds to Park’s office were not paid in return for any favours.

The court acknowledged that it has been customary for the spy agency to provide funds to the presidential office from its own state coffers, known as the untraceable special activities fund.

The fact that the then spy chiefs had delivered the funds to Park’s presidential office in a fixed amount and on a regular basis, is far from the conventional way of paying someone a bribe, which usually comes in a lump sum payment at one time, the report said.

Park is accused of spending some of the money for private use, such as on bills for secret phones she used to contact Choi, maintenance costs for her private residence in southern Seoul and medical treatment. The funds were also used for incentives and bonuses for Park’s close aides.

The court ruling is in line with last week’s verdict in a separate trial on her three former aides, who were indicted alongside her for their involvement in the NIS bribery case.

The court cleared them of bribery charges, ruling the NIS provisions to Park’s office were not bribes.

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Trump invites Putin to US amid criticism over Helsinki meet

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Washington, July 20 (IANS): The White House has announced that the Russian President has been invited to Washington later this year, despite mounting criticism over US President Donald Trump’s failure to take Vladimir Putin to task over Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential polls.

The White House’s announcement came on Thursday even as leaders in Washington were still struggling to understand what happened when Trump and Putin met earlier this week in Helsinki, Finland.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a tweet said that National Security Adviser John Bolton extended the invitation and that “discussions are already underway”.

“That’s gonna be special!” said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, when he was told about the invitation during a live interview.

The White House was finding it hard to explain statements made by Trump after the Helsinki meeting as uncertainty spread throughout the government about whether he had reached agreements with Putin on Syria and Ukraine, leaving his military and diplomatic corps in the dark, the New York Times reported.

Coats said he would have advised against Trump and Putin’s private meeting in Helsinki, which worried US security officials because no notes were taken and only two interpreters were present, but that he had not been consulted.

Underscoring how little is known about the meeting, Coats said that he was not told what happened in the room. Asked whether it was possible Putin had secretly recorded the more-than two-hour meeting, Coats answered: “That risk is always there.”

Thursday’s announcement was the latest unexpected turn in a week in which Trump faced a torrent of bipartisan criticism over his cozy approach to Putin and his conflicting statements about Moscow’s election interference, all while brushing aside warnings that Putin should be viewed as an adversary.

“The summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed.”

Several lawmakers urged the interpreter of Trump in his meeting with Putin to testify before Congress for what exactly the two leaders had said in the meeting.

Also, the two sides of the aisle on Capital Hill have been increasingly enraged over the White House’ ambiguity regarding Putin’s request to interrogate several former US diplomats, including former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and his several colleagues, over their behaviours in Russia.

Earlier this week, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office reportedly requested the questioning of several of these individuals. The initiative was first voiced by Putin during his meeting with Trump. The White House was reported to be reviewing the demand.

Sanders said that “the President was going to meet with his team” over the issue and “there was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the US” during the Trump-Putin meeting.

The possible decision to allow Russian investigators to question US former diplomats sparked further fury on Capitol Hill. Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell said that if Trump allowed Russians to question McFaul, “you can count on me and millions of others to swiftly make you an ex-President.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio also urged the White House to “publicly and unequivocally rule it out”. For his part, McFaul tweeted earlier that he expects the U.S. government to defend him and his colleagues “in public and private.”

Under mounting pressure, the White House later rejected Putin’s request.

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