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White House spokesman Spicer out in shake-up

Sunday, 23 July 2017 00:00 Published in Headlines


WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sean Spicer yesterday abruptly resigned in protest at a major shake-up of Donald Trump’s scandal-tainted administration, as pressure mounted from a broadening investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Spicer quit after Trump named Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier and one-time critic, as the new White House communications director — a role Spicer had hoped to play.
“It’s been an honor & a privilege to serve @POTUS @realDonaldTrump & this amazing country. I will continue my service through August,” Spicer tweeted.
In a written statement, Trump said he was “grateful” for Spicer’s work and praised his “great television ratings” — a reference to Spicer’s keenly watched, combative and often-satirized news briefings.
“Spicer is a wonderful person who took tremendous abuse from the Fake News Media - but his future is bright!” Trump tweeted.
Spicer was replaced by deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
In an interview with Fox News, Spicer said he stepped aside to “not have too manycooks in the kitchen” to convey Trump’s message.

Spicer’s resignation marked an escalation of tensions within an administration that has seen its legislative agenda falter at the same time it has been buffeted by an investigation into alleged collusion with Russia.
The Washington Post reported late Friday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, contrary to his prior testimony, discussed campaign-related and policy matters with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, citing intelligence intercepts.
The report will heap pressure on Sessions, who already was on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing by Trump over the Russia probe. The president suggested Sessions had betrayed him in stepping away from the investigation.
And in another blow, Mark Corallo — who was coordinating the Trump legal team’s public response to the Russia crisis — told AFP that he, too, had stepped down.
After months of denials, the White House was recently rocked by emails showing Donald Trump’s eldest son and two top aides met with a Russian lawyer in the belief they would get dirt on the Republican billionaire’s 2016 election rival, Hillary Clinton.
In response, Trump aides have floated the idea of preemptive presidential pardons and Trump himself has warned investigators not to look into his family finances.
Spicer’s decision appears to have happened quickly, with neither he nor Sanders giving any indication of changes afoot when they had drinks with a group of journalists on Thursday evening.
Spicer had “no regrets” on his way out the door, he said on Fox late Friday.
Yet he angrily lashed out at US media, claiming they were “obsessed” with Russia after US intelligence agencies said that Moscow was involved in meddling with the US presidential election Trump won.
“I was increasingly disappointed in how so many members of the members here in the media do their job, or rather, don’t do their job. The bias which they come from it at,” Spicer said.
And it is no exception, he stressed.
‘On track’
“The majority of folks that are now in this — in the briefing room, that are going into journalism. They’re not there for the facts and the pursuit of the truth. Rather, they’re trying to figure out, how do I get on TV, how do I become a YouTube star. And that’s disappointing.”
In addition, in terms of staffing, Spicer explained: “I thought it would be a bit confusing having additional people at the top. And so I wanted to move on to give both Anthony and Sarah that clear lane in each of their respective areas.”
Scaramucci dismissed reports of infighting when he took questions from the press for the first time. “I think the White House is on track,” he told reporters.
Spicer had been a close ally of chief of staff Reince Priebus, and his departure will likely weaken both Priebus and the bridge between the White House and the Republican Party establishment.
In an expansive interview with The New York Times earlier this week, Trump plunged his White House into fresh crisis when he attacked special counsel Robert Mueller, and warned him against looking at Trump family finances.
Mueller is examining whether Trump or his aides colluded with Russia’s apparent efforts to help tilt the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.
With the probe apparently extending to financial transactions, US media reported that Trump allies were looking for ways to discredit Mueller’s investigation.
Trump himself has suggested that Mueller — a widely respected former FBI director — may have a conflict of interest.
The White House has pointedly refused to rule out the possibility that Trump would fire Mueller — an act that would prompt a political firestorm and perhaps a constitutional crisis.
‘Crossing a line’
Republican House Homeland Security Committee chairman Michael McCaul warned Trump would face a “tremendous backlash response from both Democrats but also House Republicans” if he were to sack Mueller.
“Trump cannot define or constrain Mueller investigation. If he tries to do so this creates issues of constitutional and criminal dimension,” said former attorney general Eric Holder.               


WASHINGTON — The crew of a Navy destroyer that collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship will “certainly” be held accountable for the crash that killed seven American sailors, a US defense official yesterday said.
“The way it looks now, it seems that the crew on the (USS) Fitzgerald is going to be at fault,” the official told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity.
“They are certainly going to be held accountable in some way for their actions,” the official added.
“This is something we take very seriously. There are seven sailors that lost their lives.”
Senior spokesman Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler stressed the investigation was still in its “early stages” and said it was too soon to release any definitive information.
“It is premature to speculate on causation or any other issues,” Cutler said in a statement.
The defense official said the probe would likely be released in about a month.
The sailors were killed in a June 17 predawn collision between the USS Fitzgerald and the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal in a busy shipping channel off Japan’s coast.
Aged 19 to 37, the seamen were found by divers in flooded sleeping berths a day after the collision tore a huge gash in the side of the USS Fitzgerald.
There have been around 30 ship collisions over the past decade in the busy shipping area, including a 2013 incident in which six Japanese crew members died, according to the Japan Coast Guard.                              

Eritreans pursue two-wheeled dreams in exile

Sunday, 23 July 2017 00:00 Published in Commentary

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — After representing Eritrea in cycling tournaments across Africa, Daniel Teklay took a journey of a different sort last year when he escaped across his country’s militarized border to a new life as a refugee.
A year later Teklay is back on his bike, only now he competes in Eritrea’s neighbor and bitter rival Ethiopia, where he is the top performer on a team of Eritrean refugees who have posted impressive results at events, but are struggling to find the money and permission to compete.
“I decided to leave Eritrea and I don’t want to go back because I have a dream to pursue,” Teklay told Agence France-Presse (AFP) as the team paused during a morning ride on the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.
With a cycling tradition inherited from its decades as an Italian colony, Eritrea on Africa’s horn has produced talents such as Tour de France riders Daniel Teklehaimanot and Natnael Berhane.
But hundreds of thousands of other Eritreans — including many aspiring athletes — have chosen to abandon the country for lives as refugees because of what they say are the country’s repressive policies.
The 10 men of the Eritrean Refugee Cycling Team are among a lucky few that are able to pursue their passion even from exile.
“With my skills, I can do the best I can here in Ethiopia,” Teklay said.
Ethiopia is one of Africa’s main hosts of refugees, the majority of whom are running from wars and droughts in countries such as Somalia and South Sudan.
Eritrea is more than just another one of Ethiopia’s troubled neighbors: it’s a former territory that voted to leave in 1993, then became Addis Ababa’s arch-nemesis after the two countries went to war between 1998 and 2000.
Since then, the feuding countries have taken starkly different paths.
Ethiopia’s economy has grown in recent years along with its regional clout, while Eritrea has periodically skirmished with its neighbors and been sanctioned by the United Nations (UN) Security Council for supporting Islamic extremists.
Many of the more than 160,000 Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia, including some of the refugee cyclists, are young people who escaped the country’s national service scheme.
While the government says the program is a way for Eritrean youth to serve their country, the national service has been likened to slavery by the UN because people end up trapped for years in jobs with terrible pay and no way to leave.
After watching other racers abandon their bicycles when they entered national service, Filimon Gebrezabihr left for Ethiopia, convinced that fleeing was the only way he could pursue a cycling career.
“From that, I learned it was impossible to achieve their dream,” Gebrezabihr, who races for the refugee team, said of the cyclists he once competed against in Eritrean events. “So, I left.”
Back on the bike
The cyclists, some of whom knew each other from the cycling scene in Eritrea, regrouped in 2015 in Addis Ababa after a coach based in the capital heard they were living in camps in Ethiopia’s north.
Using bikes provided by relatives in Europe or by their team manager, they’re now one of the top-ranked teams in the capital’s cycling scene, with Teklay, a former member of Eritrea’s national team, winning several races outright.
Their success has caused other Addis Ababa-based cycling teams to step up their game, said Makonnen Gebretinsae, a long-time Ethiopian race organiser and referee.
“The Eritrean team started to perform very well, which motivated the other Addis Ababa teams,” he said.
The Eritreans have pulled this off despite numerous roadblocks that have come between them and competing.
No matter how good they are, as Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia, they can’t race for either country’s national squads, and when an invitation to compete in Israel came recently, they had to skip it because they lacked travel documents, team manager Ben Jemaneh said.
Uncertain future
The racers scrape by on support from family members in the diaspora and the assistance of Ben, a businessman in the capital who has spent tens of thousands of dollars of his own money importing bikes and spare parts that aren’t available in Ethiopia.
“When I see them, they’re refugees, there’s no one to help them,” said Ben, who drives the athletes to races in an old Nissan outfitted with homemade bike racks.
“Since that day, I’m always at their backs.”
On the horizon for the team is August’s Tour Meles Zenawi for Green Development, the only race in Ethiopia sanctioned by the International Cycling Union.
But Ben says they’re not sure they have the money to travel to the northern city of Mekele to compete, and even if they did, they still don’t know if Ethiopia’s cycling federation will allow them to enter.
Though their future is uncertain, the team says cycling is a welcome distraction from a life of displacement.
“As a refugee, sometimes there is nothing to do but think,” rider Michael Nuguse said.
“My aim is to achieve at the high level.”






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