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August 19, 2018

Trump salutes widow of slain SEAL in emotional moment

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WASHINGTON:  The widow of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in Yemen stood in the balcony of the House chamber, tears streaming down her face as she looked upward and appeared to whisper to her husband.

Democrats and Republicans alike stood for minutes to applaud Carryn Owens, giving her the loudest cheers of the night in a rare moment of unity during President Donald Trump’s first speech to a joint session of Congress. Her husband, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, was killed in January in a raid approved by Trump, a decision that has been sharply criticized by some — including the slain SEAL’s father — and which Trump continued to defend Tuesday night.

Trump, near the end of his hour-long speech, paid tribute to Carryn Owens, a surprise guest whose presence in the first lady’s box was not announced in advance by the White House.

“The challenges we face as a nation are great. But our people are even greater. And none are greater or braver than those who fight for America in uniform,” said Trump, who said they were “blessed” to be joined by Owens.

The president then turned to the balcony where Owens sat next to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and said “Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero — battling against terrorism and securing our nation.”

The chamber roared with cheers as Owens stood and cried, creating what would become the signature moment of Trump’s address.

But Owens’ death, as well as the killing of several civilians, has raised questions about the effectiveness of the raid, and Trump took a moment to again litigate the decision. He quoted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defending the action, saying “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.”

“Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity,” Trump said. “For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom — we will never forget him.”

He also struck an awkward note, saying that the prolonged ovation would have made Carryn’s slain husband “very happy, because I think he just broke a record” for applause.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday that Trump invited Owens to attend the speech when he called her to offer his condolences on Jan. 30. Spicer said Trump met Owens and her three children before the speech — the kids had a meal at the building’s Navy-run cafeteria — and the widow agreed to be mentioned by the president.

Spicer also brushed aside criticism that Trump used Carryn Owens as a prop, saying she accepted the invitation and has the right to honor her husband’s legacy.

Owens’ father, Bill, has denounced the raid that took his son’s life and refused to meet with Trump when the president greeted the Navy SEAL’s remains when they were returned to the United States. He told the Miami Herald last weekend that the raid was a “stupid mission” and called for an investigation.

“Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” the elder Owens warned Trump. He did not attend the speech.

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Syria army enters IS-held Palmyra: Monitor

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BEIRUT:  Syria’s army entered the ancient city of Palmyra late Wednesday after fierce battles against the Islamic State jihadist group, a monitor said.

“The army has entered a western neighbourhood of Palmyra and has seized control of part of it,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP. 

“There are clashes and heavy shelling” across the historic city, said the monitoring group’s chief.

Abdel Rahman said earlier that Syrian forces, backed by Russian soldiers, had captured a string of hilltops overlooking Palmyra, bringing them within firing range of its western half.

“They are close to capturing the citadel. IS withdrew from it, but they may have left suicide bombers inside,” he said.

Supported by Russian air strikes and ground troops, government forces have been battling for weeks through the desert in the central province of Homs to reach Palmyra. 

IS jihadists first seized Palmyra in May 2015 and began to systematically destroy the city’s monuments and temples, while also looting its many archeological treasures.

They were driven out in March 2016 but recaptured the town last December.

Syrian state media confirmed Wednesday that government forces were now in control of key territory around Palmyra. 

“Seizing control of Mount Hilal and other hilltops overlooking Palmyra is an important step towards the collapse of the terrorist groups in the city,” state news agency SANA said.

And a senior military source in Damascus told AFP earlier on Wednesday that the army had also reached a strategic crossroads leading into Palmyra.

“This crossroads is the key to entering the city,” the source told AFP.

IS has ravaged the city’s celebrated heritage, blowing up funerary towers and carrying out mass executions in the city’s Roman theatre. 

Last month, IS destroyed Palmyra’s tetrapylon monument, while satellite images showed damage to the theatre’s facade. 

The new destruction was condemned by the United Nations as a “war crime.” 

On Wednesday, two funeral busts damaged by IS after it first captured Palmyra were brought back to Syria after being restored in Italy.

The two busts, recovered by Syrian troops, had been badly disfigured with what appeared to be hammer blows.

Modern technology — including a 3-D printer — was used in the restoration of the busts which date to the second and third centuries and had been transferred to Rome via Lebanon.

UK government facing defeat on EU citizens' Brexit rights

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A Pro-Europe demonstrator waves a flag during a ‘March for Europe’ protest against the Brexit vote result earlier in the year, in London | Reuters

LONDON: The British government was expected to suffer a parliamentary defeat Wednesday over the right of European Union citizens to stay in the U.K. after Brexit.

The House of Lords was due to vote on an amendment that inserts a promise to protect EU nationals’ status into a bill authorizing the government to begin exit talks with the bloc.

The promise may not prove binding on the government. If the Lords amends the bill, it will have to go back to the House of Commons, where there is a good chance the amendment would be overturned.

By leaving the EU, Britain will be withdrawing from the bloc’s policy of free movement, which allows citizens of the bloc’s 28 member states to live and work in any of the others. That leaves 3 million EU nationals in Britain, and 1 million Britons in other member countries, uncertain whether they will be able to stay in their jobs and homes once Britain reasserts control over EU immigration.

The government has said repeatedly that it plans to guarantee the right of EU citizens to remain in Britain, as long as U.K. nationals living elsewhere in the bloc get the same right. Critics accuse the government of treating people as bargaining chips in the divorce negotiations.

The amendment commits the government to guaranteeing that EU citizens living legally in Britain when the bill is passed “continue to be treated in the same way with regards to their EU-derived rights.”

The Labour Party’s Brexit spokeswoman in the Lords, Dianne Hayter, moved the amendment, saying “you can’t do negotiations with people’s futures.”

“They’re too precious to be used as bargaining chips,” she said.

The Conservative government does not have a majority in the House of Lords, and the amendment is backed by the main opposition parties, all but guaranteeing it will pass.

Prime Minister Theresa May plans to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s key treaty, starting two years of exit negotiations, by March 31. But she can’t do that until Parliament passes legislation sanctioning the move.

If the Lords send the bill back to the Commons, the back-and-forth could delay passage of the legislation and potentially threaten May’s timetable for starting EU exit talks.

Simultaneous Taliban attacks kill at least 16 in Kabul

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Simultaneous Taliban attacks kill at least 16 in Kabul

  • 1 March 2017
  • From the section Asia

An Afghan man looks on at the site of a suicide car bombing in Kabul on March 1, 2017Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Two attacks struck the Afghan capital at almost the same time on Wednesday

Almost simultaneous attacks in Kabul have left at least 16 people dead and 44 injured, the health ministry says.

The two suicide attacks took place at about midday local time (07:30 GMT) on Wednesday, targeting a police station and intelligence agency offices.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attacks.

It is the latest in a string of attacks to challenge the Afghan authorities after the resurgent militant group started its spring offensive early.

Condemning the bombings, President Ashraf Ghani said: “After the killing of [prominent commander] Mullah Salam and the Taliban’s defeat on many other fronts, the terrorists are launching such attacks to raise the moral of their fighters.”

Salam was killed in a US air strike on Sunday.

The first of Wednesday’s attacks began when a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives outside a police station – which is next door to a military training facility – in the west of the city. This was followed by a five-hour gun battle between officers and another attacker.

Most of the fatalities reportedly occurred in this attack.

Soon afterwards a suicide bomber blew himself up outside Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, in eastern Kabul.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Sixteen people have been confirmed dead after the midday attacks

Officials originally said just three people had died in the attack, but revised the number up later in the day.

The attacks came a day after the Taliban killed 12 policemen in an “insider attack” in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

Sri Lanka turns 82 British-era 'traitors' national heroes

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Maithripala Sirisena

COLOMBO Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena today declared as national heroes 82 people who had been described as “traitors” nearly 200 years ago for rebelling against the British rule. Sirisena signed a gazette notification to rescind their names from the list of “traitors” at Kandy, the erstwhile British capital of the country.

Keppetipola Disawe, a local leader, and his men were declared “traitors” over the 1818 rebellion against the colonial rule. Keppetipola was captured by the British and he and his associates were charged with treason and sentenced to death. “This is a moment that we all could be proud of,” Sirisena said. Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, won freedom in 1948, a year after British quit India.

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