Freak accident at Ghana waterfall kills at least 18

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Freak accident at Ghana waterfall kills at least 18

Rescuers search for survivors trapped underwater after a tree fell at Kintampo waterfall in Ghana on March 19, 2017.

(CNN)A freak accident at a popular waterfall in Ghana has killed at least 18 people, according to local authorities.

A huge tree appears to have fallen amid a brutal storm trapping swimmers at the base of Kintampo waterfalls in the country’s Brong Ahafo region on Sunday afternoon, Kintampo District Police commander chief Desmond Owusu Boampong told CNN.
14 students from Wenchi Methodist Senior High School in Ghana are among the 18 people killed, Boampong added. The students were on an excursion to the popular spot at the time of the incident, another police spokesperson said.
Authorities said a further 22 individuals are currently being treated at a local hospital for injuries sustained in the accident.
Emergency teams — comprised of both local Ghana police and the Ghana National Fire Service — responded to the scene shortly after to rescue the trapped victims and aid the injured.
Eyewitnesses told local police that the incident happened around 4 p.m. (12 p.m. ET) during a severe rainstorm which caused three large trees to fall to the ground.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has offered his condolences on Twitter.
“I have learned with great sadness, the unfortunate incident that occurred at Kintampo Waterfalls yesterday. (1/2)”
Following up with a second post, he added: “My deepest condolences to the families of all those affected by this unfortunate and tragic incident. (2/2)”
Kintampo waterfalls — one of the highest in the country — is located in Ghana’s Brong Ahafo region, around 400 kilometers (almost 250 miles) north of the capital, Accra. Situated on the Pumpum River, it is one of the most visited tourist sites in the country.

WHAT IS LEFT OF MOSUL IRAQ FOR CITIZENS TO COME BACK TO, TO TRY TO REBUILD?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

WHAT IS LEFT OF MOSUL IRAQ FOR CITIZENS TO COME BACK TO, TO TRY TO REBUILD?

Sufian stood in the gateway of the bullet-pocked villa, sheltering from the rain. Around him were other men and teenage boys waiting to be cleared by Iraqi intelligence officers who were on the lookout for ISIS sympathizers and suspects.

Sufian was in his late teens, perhaps early twenties. When I shook his hand, it was warm and soft. The skin under his scruffy, juvenile beard had the same pallor of many people fleeing Mosul, who had spent weeks huddled indoors, often in dark basements, as the battle raged outside.
I greeted him in Arabic. He responded in English.
“Hello, how are you?” he said, smiling nervously, eying the intelligence officers nearby.
“You speak English?” I asked.
“I am capable of expressing myself adequately,” he said.
Attack helicopters clattered overhead, occasionally firing missiles and heavy machine guns into the old city. Gunfire, mortar and artillery fire boomed a few blocks away.
We were trying to convince the Iraqi soldiers to let us go forward, so I left Sufian and went back to the group of intelligence officers nearby.
Our producer, Kareem Khadder, was trying to charm them. They were a tough crowd, suspicious by profession. Kareem handed out another round of cigarettes, making jokes in the hopes they would warm to us.
I knew this would take a while, so I walked down the muddy road with camerawoman Mary Rogers to have a look around Tayaran, the battered neighborhood just north of Mosul’s equally battered airport.

Smoke rises over west Mosul's old city. Iraqi forces are fighting street-by-street, house-by-house. The Iraqi government doesn't publish casualty figures but the CNN crew saw many ambulances rushing toward the battle zone.

I turned around and saw Sufian again, struggling to push his mother in a wheelchair through the muck.
“A real disaster,” Sufian told me, breathless. “We lost everything: our hearts, our beliefs, our belongings. We don’t belong here any more. We want peace.”
“Will you come back?” I asked.
“No, I can’t,” he said. “No more. I can’t. I’m so scared. They will kill us.”
I stopped to let them go, saying in Arabic “khair, in sha Allah,” which roughly translates as “God willing, all will be well.”
“We have Jesus,” responded Sufian. “We are going to Jesus.”
“What did Sufian say?” interjected his grandfather in Arabic, hobbling on a cane over to me.
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t fathom why someone with the very Sunni Muslim name of Sufian would say that.
Is this what he meant when he had said we lost our beliefs?

People fleeing west Mosul.

In the meantime, Kareem’s charm bore fruit. The intelligence officers were laughing, asking us to pose for group pictures. They were ready to take us deeper into the city. This would be our second try that day.
Earlier, we had driven with members of the Rapid Response Unit of the Iraqi Federal Police to a park next to the Mosul museum. But as we were driving up, our car shook with a massive blast. The shock wave rattled the shutters on the shops lining the road.
When we exited our car, we saw a cloud of black smoke rising about 150 meters (492 feet) away.
One by one, ambulances were going forward. The soldiers were on edge. A pickup truck rushed by in the opposite direction, several wounded soldiers in the back.
We later learned an armored ISIS suicide earthmover had exploded, killing and wounding many of the soldiers.

With the little they could carry west Mosul residents are streaming out of the city. "It's a catastrophe," one young man told the CNN crew.

Our escort, a man named Captain Firas, decided we had seen enough. He barked for us and the other journalists to get back in our cars. Protests fell on deaf ears.
We drove back to the ruins of Mosul airport, losing Captain Firas along the way.
There we saw hundreds of Mosul residents walking out of the city. Leading the group was Saleh Jassim, a man in his early thirties, a white calf draped over his shoulders, other cows following him.

Saleh Jassim, seen above, braved ISIS snipers and mortar fire to get his family and his herd, his only livelihood, out of harms way in western Mosul.

While others appeared exhausted and disoriented, Saleh was smiling broadly, waving, giving a V-for-victory sign with his fingers.
“Thank God for your safety,” I told him in Arabic. In response, he kissed my cheeks.
Saleh and his family had walked for two hours from their home in the Bab Al-Baidh district of Mosul’s old city.
“The shelling was violent,” he told me. “I haven’t slept in two days.”
The cows, he added, belonged to a neighbor.

Families fleeing the fighting in western mosul carrying the few belongings and their herds as it is their only livelihood. Many residents of Mosul flee the violence under mortar and sniper fire.

While Mary and I were talking to Saleh, Kareem had stopped a Federal Police pick up truck and convinced the men inside to take us back into the city. That’s where we met Sufian.
If this story is starting to sound disjointed, that’s how our days in Mosul usually are. Plan A quickly becomes Plan B, then Plan C, until we get half-way through the alphabet.
After speaking with Sufian and his family, we followed our new-found friends, the intelligence officers, deeper into the city by car where they promised to take us to their commander. He wasn’t there. As we waited, seven soldiers came down the street. There were pulling two men with their shirts pulled over their faces.
“They’re da’eshis,” a soldier next to us said. ISIS.
“How do you know they’re ISIS suspects?” I asked one of the intelligence officers.
“They’re not suspects. They are ISIS,” he shot back.
“How do you know?”
“We have informers,” he said.
“I hope you let them have it,” shouted a soldier by the side of the road.
As the group ran past, I saw red marks, and two black boot marks on one of the captive’s exposed back. They had already “let them have it.” Or to be more precise, had started to let them have it.

Rasoul, a year and a month old, hid out with his family and other relatives -- 23 people in all -- for 12 days in their basement, while the battle raged around them in the Jawsaq neighborhood of west Mosul. As they were in the basement, the house caught on fire after being hit by mortar rounds, says his grandmother, Khadija.

The commander we had come to meet never showed up. Instead, we followed another group of federal policemen into a half-finished building where they said we could see Al-Hadba, the leaning minaret of Mosul next to the Great Mosque of al-Nuri.
It was there that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi made his first and only confirmed public appearance on July 4, 2014, days after the announcement of the establishment of his so-called caliphate.
From the third floor of the building, we had a panoramic view of the old city.
“Be careful,” a policeman warned us. “There are snipers.”
Al-Hadba was just about two kilometers, just over a mile away. To its left, a large column of black smoke rose to the heavens. More gunfire, more blasts.
On the broad boulevard below, a family of eight — two boys, four men and two women — scurried by. One of the women, in a green headscarf, clutched a stick with a piece of white cloth to signal they were not combatants.
“Come,” offered one of the soldiers, “I’ll show you a dead da’eshi.”
We followed him down the stairs, though a courtyard, over an earth rampart to the side of a street.
“We have to run across this street, one by one,” he said. “There’s a sniper.”
Once we gathered on the other side of the street, we heard the whoosh of an incoming mortar round.
Everyone hit the dirt.
It landed with a crash somewhere nearby.
“Quickly, we need to go,” said the soldier. “There might be another mortar.”
Before us was a charred, mangled Federal Police Humvee. Next to it, the burned, twisted wreckage of a car. Probably a car bomb. To its right lay a corpse in combat fatigues and boots, leg splayed. By the stench, it had been there for days.
A black rooster strutted by the body, crowing triumphantly.
All around, there is destruction.
Masonry, glass shards, twisted metal, scraps of clothing, and bullet casings litter the ground.
Machine gun fire rattles down the street.
Another boom.
This is what is left of the great city of Mosul.

Israeli Jets Strike Inside Syria; Military Site Near Palmyra Reportedly Targeted

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Israeli jets strike inside Syria; military site near Palmyra reportedly targeted

An Israeli fighter jet takes off from the Ramat David ar base, southeast of Haifa, in June.

Story highlights

  • Syria says strikes targeted military site near Palmyra
  • Israeli jets make incursions inside Syria, but IDF rarely confirms it

Jerusalem (CNN) In the most serious clash between Israeli and Syrian forces since the start of the Syrian conflict six-years ago, Israeli aircraft struck several targets in Syria overnight, the Israeli military said Friday.

Israel targeted a military site near the ancient city of Palmyra, the Syrian military said, in what would be one of its deepest airstrikes inside Syrian territory since the civil war began there.
Palmyra, once held by ISIS and retaken by the Syrian government, is strategically important to both the regime and its opponents.
Most of Israel’s reported strikes have been around the capital of Damascus, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
In response, Syrian forces fired anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli jets, saying they downed one aircraft and hit another. Israeli vehemently denied the assertions, calling them “absolutely not true.”
“At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF aircraft compromised,” a statement from the Israel Defense Forces said. The statement is unusual in that Israel rarely comments on airstrikes in Syria.
The intercept triggered alarm sirens in the Jordan Valley. Shrapnel from the explosion, which was heard as far south as Jerusalem, landed in western Jordan, the Jordanian military said.

Israel denies Syrian claim it downed Israeli plane

Israel denies Syrian claim it downed an Israeli plane
Syria’s latest claims are reminiscent of its statement in September about downing an Israeli aircraft near Quneitra, close to the Golan Heights. Israel seized parts of that region from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.
The Israeli military said then that Syria fired two anti-aircraft missiles at its jets targeting artillery positions, but both missiles missed. They were fired long after Israeli jets left the area, the military added.

Arrow missile defense

One of the missiles overnight was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system, marking its first operational use. Arrow, Israel’s ballistic missile defense system and the long-range version of its Iron Dome, is designed to intercept missiles outside the atmosphere.
The use came more than a year after the first successful Arrow-3 intercept test was carried out in December 2015. At that time, Israeli officials would not say when the missile would become operational.
The Israeli military would not explain why Arrow was used against an anti-aircraft missile, fueling speculation that Israel was either testing the Arrow missile or that its Iron Dome missile defense system wasn’t within range of downing the anti-aircraft missile.

Taking aim at weapons smuggling

Israel has long focused on stopping the transfer of weapons from Syria to terror groups.
In December, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told a delegation of European Union envoys that Israel will “prevent the smuggling of sophisticated weapons, military equipment and weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Hezbollah.”
It was another acknowledgement of Israel’s ongoing operations in Syria. Last April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that Israel has struck Syria “dozens of times,” breaking with the policy of remaining quiet about involvement in its war-torn northern neighbor.
Netanyahu returned last week from Moscow, where he reaffirmed Israel’s military coordination with Russia in the skies over Syria. The two countries established the coordination last year to avoid conflicts in Syrian airspace, ostensibly to allow both countries to operate freely. Netanyahu also expressed his concerns about a growing Iranian presence in Syria.

Repeated incursions

Israel has attempted to stay out of Syria’s civil war but has reportedly struck the country multiple times in the past, often taking aim at weapons shipments intended for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
As recently as late February, Syrian media reported that Israeli jets hit military positions and weapons convoys near Damascus.
In November 2012, Israel fired warning shots toward Syria after a mortar shell hit an Israeli military post, the first time Israel had fired on Syria across the Golan Heights since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Israeli jets have been hitting targets in Syria since at least 2013, when US officials told CNN they believed IDF jets had struck nside Syrian territory.
In 2014, the Syrian government and an opposition group both said an IDF strike had hit Damascus’ suburbs and airport.

Israel wary of Russian military buildup in Syria

 Israel wary of Russian military buildup in Syria
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency characterized those strikes as “a flagrant attack on Syria, targeting two safe areas in (the) Damascus countryside in Dimas and near Damascus International Airport.”
Israeli strikes have also gone after ISIS fighters inside Syria. Late last year, IDF troops operating in the disputed Golan region came under fire from militants of the ISIS affiliate Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.
The soldiers fired back, triggering an exchange of gunfire. A subsequent Israeli airstrike destroyed a vehicle carrying four militants, Lerner said.

President Trump Lied About Wire Taps: He Needs To Quickly And Publicly Apologize To Mr. Obama

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Washington (CNN) House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that “no such wiretap existed,” citing intelligence reports to House leaders after President Donald Trump accused then-President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower last year.

“The intelligence committees, in their continuing, widening, ongoing investigations of all things Russia, got to the bottom — at least so far with respect to our intelligence community — that no such wiretap existed,” Ryan said in response to a question from CNN at a news conference.
Ryan’s comment comes as Trump and the White House have retreated from the President’s stunning accusation in a tweet two weeks ago.
“When I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes. That really covers — because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff — but that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that’s a very important thing,” Trump told Fox News Wednesday.
The four lawmakers leading the House and Senate intelligence committees looking into Russia’s interference in the US elections have all said they have not seen any evidence to back up Trump’s claims. The House Intelligence Committee has requested any evidence of a wiretap from the Justice Department by Monday.

Federal Judge In Hawaii Rules That President Trump’s New Travel Ban Is Illegal, Freezing Implementation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) A federal judge in Hawaii blocked President Donald Trump’s new travel ban on Wednesday afternoon, hours before the ban was set to go into effect.

In a 43-page ruling, US District Court Judge Derrick Watson concluded in no uncertain terms that the new executive order failed to pass legal muster at this stage and the state had established “a strong likelihood of success” on their claims of religious discrimination.
Trump decried the ruling during a rally Wednesday night in Nashville, introducing his statement as “the bad, the sad news.”
“The order he blocked was a watered-down version of the first one,” Trump said, as the crowd booed the news.
“This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach,” he added, before pledging to take the issue to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The practical effect of the ruling — which applies nationwide — is that travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees will be able to travel to the US.
Unlike the previous executive order, the new one removed Iraq from the list of banned countries, exempted those with green cards and visas and removed a provision that arguably prioritizes certain religious minorities.
The new ban was announced earlier this month and was set to take effect Thursday. It would have banned people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days.
“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed,” Watson wrote.
“Equally flawed is the notion that the Executive Order cannot be found to have targeted Islam because it applies to all individuals in the six referenced countries,” Watson added. “It is undisputed, using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7% to 99.8%.”
“It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam,” Watson added. “Certainly, it would be inappropriate to conclude, as the Government does, that it does not.”
“When considered alongside the constitutional injuries and harms … and the questionable evidence supporting the Government’s national security motivations, the balance of equities and public interests justify granting the Plaintiffs’ (request to block the new order),” Watson wrote.
The Justice Department said it will defend the new travel ban.
“The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the federal district court’s ruling, which is flawed both in reasoning and in scope. The President’s Executive Order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our Nation’s security, and the Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts,” DOJ said in a statement Wednesday night.

Judge points to cable news comments

After Trump initially blasted a federal judge in Seattle on Twitter for blocking the original travel ban, and several other federal courts halted its implementation last month, the White House went back to the drawing board for over a month and rewrote the ban — hoping this one would survive legal scrutiny.
Yet certain statements made by Trump’s senior advisers have come back to bite the administration in court.
In the ruling, Watson brought up specific statements made by the President and Stephen Miller, one of his top policy advisers and a reported architect of the original order, in cable news interviews.
Trump made plain his opposition to Islam in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper last year, asserting: “I think Islam hates us.”
Cooper asked then-candidate Trump in the interview to clarify if he meant Islam as a whole or just “radical Islam,” to which Trump replied, “It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.”
The judge cited this interview as an example of the “religious animus” behind the executive order and quoted Trump telling Cooper: “We can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States.”
Likewise, the decision cited an interview Miller had on Fox News following the legal struggles of the first executive order last month, which the legal opponents of the ban have emphasized repeatedly.
In a February interview, Miller downplayed any major differences the new executive order would have from the first and said it would be “responsive to the judicial ruling” holding it up and have “mostly minor technical differences.”
“Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country,” Miller added.
“These plainly worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose,” Watson wrote.
“Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, ‘secondary to a religious objective’ of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims,” he added.

Changes not enough, judge says

While Watson signaled that this temporary freeze of the travel ban may not last forever, he nevertheless concluded that the changes made between the first and second versions of the travel ban weren’t enough.
“Here, it is not the case that the Administration’s past conduct must forever taint any effort by it to address the security concerns of the nation,” he wrote. “Based upon the current record available, however, the Court cannot find the actions taken during the interval between revoked Executive Order No. 13,769 and the new Executive Order to be ‘genuine changes in constitutionally significant conditions.'”
Immigration advocates applauded the ruling immediately.
“The Constitution has once again put the brakes on President Trump’s disgraceful and discriminatory ban. We are pleased but not surprised by this latest development and will continue working to ensure the Muslim ban never takes effect,” said ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat, who argued for the case for the challengers in Maryland federal court earlier on Wednesday.
The Justice Department has yet to indicate its next legal steps, but Trump administration has argued the ban is necessary to protect the nation’s security.
“We cannot compromise our nation’s security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, or when those governments actively support terrorism,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said March 6.
Federal judges in several states, including Maryland and Washington state, are also in the process of evaluating challenges to the new travel ban, but may defer ruling in light of the nationwide ruling in Hawaii.
This story is breaking and will be updated.

Turk President Er- Dog’ The Dictator Dares To Threaten EU Countries About Democratic Values?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Ercan Gurses and Humeyra Pamuk | ANKARA/ISTANBUL

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned the Netherlands that he could take further steps in a deepening diplomatic row, while a government spokesman in Ankara said economic sanctions could be coming.

Incensed by Dutch and German government bans on his ministers from speaking to rallies of overseas Turks, Erdogan also accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of siding with the Netherlands in the fight between the NATO allies.

Turkey suspended high-level diplomatic relations with the Netherlands on Monday, banning the Dutch ambassador from the country and preventing diplomatic flights from landing in Turkey or using its airspace.

Those steps were taken after Erdogan branded the Netherlands “Nazi remnants” at the weekend for muzzling his ministers.

“The cabinet took action yesterday but there are many other things that could be done against the Netherlands,” Erdogan said in a speech broadcast live on television.

“We will show those who think they can get away with an apology that they are making a mistake,” said Erdogan, who is campaigning for an April 16 referendum on boosting his powers and has been looking to the large number of Turks living in Europe to help secure victory.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus later told broadcaster CNN Turk that economic sanctions could be in the works.

“Pressure will continue against the Netherlands until they make up for what they did. We’ve started with the political, diplomatic sanctions, and economic sanctions may follow,” he said.

Erdogan has threatened to take the Netherlands to the European Court of Human Rights over the ban on his ministers, which both the Dutch and Germans have imposed citing fears of unrest.

Dutch police used dogs and water cannon on Sunday to disperse hundreds of protesters waving Turkish flags outside the consulate in Rotterdam. Some protesters threw bottles and stones and several demonstrators were beaten by police with batons, a Reuters witness said. Mounted police officers charged the crowd.

SAARLAND, BELGIAN BANS

The small western German state of Saarland said on Tuesday it would ban political campaigning by foreign politicians.

“Internal Turkish conflicts have no place in Germany. Election appearances which put at risk domestic peace in our country must be banned,” State Premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a statement.

“The atmosphere that has been created by Nazi comparisons and insults must not be allowed to escalate,” she said.

The Belgian city of Antwerp said it would not allow a politician from the nationalist MHP party to speak at an event, although Ali Guler was still set to appear on Sunday at a Turkish restaurant in Genk, in the east of the country.

While Turkish law forbids election campaigning abroad and in diplomatic missions, ministers are circumventing the ban by holding what they say are cultural events with Turkish citizens.

Erdogan has said that those who oppose the referendum, are aligning themselves with terrorists. He has also accused European states, including Germany, of harboring terrorism, an allegation they deny.

SHARP WORDS FOR MERKEL

EU states are also unhappy with what they see as an increasingly authoritarian tone from Turkey and the spat is likely to further dim Ankara’s prospects of EU membership.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn called on Turkey to moderate its language and avoid further escalating the dispute.

Erdogan renewed his attack on Merkel after she criticized his “Nazi remnants” jibe against the Dutch.

“The countries that have embraced this thuggery have lost all their credibility. The Chancellor of Germany has come out and said she supported the Netherlands. We know that you are no different from them,” Erdogan said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Turkish sanctions, while “not too bad”, were inappropriate as the Dutch had more to be angry about.

Ankara’s foreign ministry said the European Union was exercising democratic values selectively.

“It is very grave for the EU to hide behind member country solidarity and stand by the Netherlands, which has clearly violated human rights and European values,” it said.

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Daren Butler in Istanbul; Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Madeline Chambers in Berlin and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Jon Boyle and Toby Davis)

Syria’s President Assad Calls American Troops In His Country ‘Invaders’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad scoffed and questioned US actions in Syria, calling American troops deploying to the country “invaders” because he hadn’t given permission for them to enter the country and saying there’s been no “concrete action” from the Trump administration toward ISIS.

“Any foreign troops coming to Syria without our invitation or consultation or permission, they are invaders, whether they are American, Turkish, or any other one,” Assad said.
“And we don’t think this is going to help. What are they going to do? To fight ISIS? The Americans lost nearly every war. They lost in Iraq, they had to withdraw at the end. Even in Somalia, let alone Vietnam in the past and Afghanistan, your neighboring country. They didn’t succeed anywhere they sent troops, they only create a mess; they are very good in creating problems and destroying, but they are very bad in finding solutions.”
The Syrian leader made the comments in an interview with Chinese media outlet Phoenix TV. It was published on Syria’s state-news agency SANA on Saturday.
US Marines have arrived in northern Syria with artillery to support US-backed local forces fighting there, US officials said. The US-backed fighters are preparing to move in the coming weeks to assault the city of Raqqa, ISIS’ self-declared capital, according to the officials.
The Pentagon and the Marine Corps have declined to confirm the deployment because of security concerns in the region. They have also declined to specify the exact location of the forces or how many are there.
The US has also deployed approximately 100 Army Rangers in and around Manbij, Syria.
US officials have taken the unusual step of publicly talking about the Ranger deployment and where they are located to protect against them inadvertently coming under fire from forces fighting in the region or Turkish, Russian or Syrian forces.
The US troops in Manbij are trying to deter hostilities due to their visible presence, rather than the typical mission of training, advising and assisting local forces.

Room for cooperation?

In the interview, Assad was asked whether there can be room for cooperation between the United States and Syria.
In theory, Assad said, there could be cooperation between Syria and a Trump-led United States, but that there was no formal ties or outreach so far.
He said the Trump administration’s rhetoric during and after the presidential campaign focused on defeating ISIS and he called that “a promising approach to what’s happening in Syria and in Iraq, because we live in the same area and we face the same enemy.”
But he also said, “we haven’t seen anything concrete yet regarding this rhetoric, because we’ve been seeing now certain is a local kind of raids.”
Assad said the approach toward terrorism needs to be “comprehensive” and not “local.”
“It cannot be from the air, it should be in cooperation with the troops on the ground, that’s why the Russians succeeded, since they supported the Syrian Army in pushing ISIS to shrink, not to expand as it used to be before that. So, we have hopes that this taking into consideration that talking about ISIS doesn’t mean talking about the whole terrorism; ISIS is one of the products, al-Nusra is another product, you have so many groups in Syria, they are not ISIS, but they are al Qaeda, they have the same background of the Wahabi extremist ideology,” he said.
Regarding advances made by Assad’s regime forces, he says they are closing in on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.
“We are very close to Raqqa now. Yesterday, our troops reached the Euphrates River, which is very close to Raqqa city, and Raqqa is the stronghold of ISIS today, so it’s going to be a priority for us,” said Assad said.
He also said his military’s recent recapture of the ancient city of Palmyra blocked ISIS’s supply route between Iraq and Syria, and touted that whether he attacked Raqqa or just blocked the supply routes, “it has the same result”.

Damascus bombings

Twin blasts in Damascus on Saturday killed at least 40 Iraqi pilgrims and wounding 120 more, according to Iraq’s Foreign Ministry.
The twin blasts were caused by IEDs that targeted buses carrying Iraqi pilgrims visiting the Bab al-Saghir Cemetery in Damascus, according to Iraq’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Jamal in a statement.

Why These Indian State Elections Matter To The Whole World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Why these Indian state elections matter to the whole world

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a roadshow in support of state assembly election party candidates in Varanasi on March 4.

New Delhi (CNN) India’s ruling political party has won a crucial state election, strengthening its ability to push through a development agenda in the world’s fastest growing major economy.

As vote counts trickled in from five state elections on Saturday, one result loomed large: that of central India’s Uttar Pradesh, home to more than 200 million people. The staggered five-week vote in that state alone marks the biggest election in the world in 2017.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP, looks poised to take about 75% of the 403 seats on offer in Uttar Pradesh.
The clear majority means the BJP will be able to form a state government without the help of other parties. In the previous Uttar Pradesh election, in 2012, the BJP won only 47 seats. 2017’s vote marks a significant endorsement for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the BJP, and the face of its campaign across state elections.
Four other, smaller states declared results on Saturday: Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Manipur. In Punjab, India’s storied but declining Congress Party emerged victorious. The BJP took Uttarakhand and was vying for dominance in close races in Goa and Manipur as results continued to be firmed up.
The state elections are crucial at national level because each state nominates a proportional number of representatives to India’s upper house of parliament.
While the BJP has a clear majority in the lower house — won in 2014’s national vote — it is underrepresented in the upper house, which has stymied some of its reform proposals.

A referendum on Modi

According to Shailesh Kumar of the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, the Uttar Pradesh result was a referendum on Modi.
“Voters largely support his policies. The win indicates that Modi’s efforts to tackle corruption were a far bigger draw than any negative consequence attributed to demonetization.”
“Demonetization” refers to a shock move in November when Modi recalled all 500 and 1,000 rupee currency notes.
The two high-value notes represented 86% of all cash in circulation in India. The surprise recall, and the subsequent release of new 500 and 2000 rupee notes, led to weeks of long queues at banks and ATMs across the country.
At the time, Modi said the recall was aimed at cracking down on corrupt hoarders of untaxed cash. A number of reputed global economists, included Harvard’s Lawrence Summers and Ken Rogoff criticized Modi’s move as excessive.
On the campaign in Uttar Pradesh last month, Modi refuted their criticisms by saying “hard work beats Harvard.”

Economy and tackling corruption still the focus for now

The results themselves are not a great surprise, but the margin of the BJPs win in Uttar Pradesh is greater than predicted.
However, even with the landslide win in Uttar Pradesh, Modi will still fall short of enough support in the parliament’s upper house, says Eurasia’s Kumar.
“Modi’s national focus will still be economic development with an added focus on corruption. Changes to economic policies will be through executive action and tweaks to regulations that do not require legislative approval.”
Modi is also expected to double down on his plans to improve infrastructure.
“He is now well positioned for 2019,” Kumar said, referring to the next national elections.

India shows faith in Modi — can he now deliver?

At a time of global anger against elected leaders, India’s state elections represent a vote of confidence for the country’s Prime Minister, as well as a much-needed boost of morale.
Modi had previously lost an important election in Bihar, a state which shares a similar voter base to Uttar Pradesh. Modi also suffered in recent months with the chaos and fallout from his demonetization move.
With a cutback in consumer spending and economic activity, economists had predicted a fall of as much as one percentage point in India’s growth rate.
However, in India’s most recent GDP figures released last month, quarterly growth had slowed only slightly to 7%, which meant India once again edged ahead of China as the world’s fastest growing economy.
While India is still seen as a developing nation, its size and speed of expansion underscore its massive importance to the global economy. According to the consulting group PwC, India accounts for about one-sixth of the world’s GDP growth.
With Modi now firmly ensconced in power until at least 2019, and perhaps further ahead, the focus will now shift to whether Modi can deliver on his promises of rapid development.

Man With Backpack Breaches White House Security Near Residence Entrance: Was Arrested

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) A man carrying a backpack was arrested Friday night after breaching security at the White House complex and was discovered by a Secret Service officer by the south entrance to the executive residence, officials said.

The incident happened just before midnight while President Donald Trump was at the White House.
A Secret Service source said the intruder might have entered the White House grounds on the east side before making his way near the residence’s south portico entrance.
The White House was placed under security condition “orange,” one of the highest levels of security for the Secret Service.
The suspect was arrested by the Secret Service and taken into custody.
The President was spending the weekend in Washington and was alerted to the incident late Friday night, an administration official said.
There have been numerous instances of people trespassing on the White House grounds over the last several years.
In one notable instance in 2014, 42-year-old Omar Gonzales, of Copperas Cove, Texas, made it through the north portico doors with a three-and-a-half-inch folding knife in his pants pocket, according to the Secret Service. Gonzalez was apprehended just after making it inside the doors, the Secret Service said. The first family was not at the White House at the time.
In another, the Secret Service apprehended Joseph Caputo, of Stamford, Connecticut, on the North Lawn after he scaled the fence wearing an American flag-like cape while the first family was inside the residence celebrating Thanksgiving.

Netherlands Bars Turkish Foreign Minister’s Plane From Landing

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

The Netherlands bars Turkish foreign minister’s plane from landing

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compares the Dutch to Nazis in a rally Saturday in Istanbul.

Story highlights

  • Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was set to address political rally in Rotterdam
  • Turkish President has provoked controversy with his comparisons of allies to Nazis.

(CNN) The Netherlands barred a plane carrying Turkey’s foreign minister from landing to stop him from addressing a political rally Saturday in Rotterdam.

The Dutch government announced that Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s flight permit was revoked amid concerns over public order at the expected large gathering of Turkish expatriates.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted angrily to the news, comparing the Dutch government to Nazis.
Addressing crowds at an opening ceremony in Istanbul, Erdogan said: “They are timid and coward. They are Nazi remnants and fascists.”
Earlier this week Erdogan had angered German Chancellor Angela Merkel by making similar remarks about Nazism in her country.

Turkish referendum

Cavusoglu was due to address Turkish expatriates in Rotterdam to win support for an April 16 referendum vote on the Turkish Constitution.
Pushed by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, these sweeping constitutional changes would grant new powers to Turkey’s President and transform the way the country is governed.

Erdogan: Germany using 'Nazi practices'

Erdogan: Germany using ‘Nazi practices’
Turkish politicians have sought to address rallies in European cities and towns with large populations of Turkish expatriates, but the authorities in several countries have blocked their plans.
Around 1.5 million Turkish nationals living in Germany are eligible to vote in the referendum, according to Turkish news agency Anadolu.

Increased tensions

In the latest twist in the row, Cavusoglu angered the Dutch by threatening “severe sanctions” if he were banned from traveling to the Rotterdam rally.
“If the Netherlands cancels my flight, we will impose severe sanctions on them that will affect it economically and politically,” the foreign minister said in remarks in a TV interview on CNN Turk.
He added, “If tension will increase (between the two countries) because of my visit, then let it increase.”
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “Many Dutch people with Turkish heritage are voting in the referendum on the Turkish constitution. The Dutch government has no objection to meetings in our country in order to inform them about that.
“But these meetings cannot contribute to tensions in our society and everyone who wants to contribute to an event must comply with instructions from the authorities so that public order and security can be guaranteed. It should be noted that, in this respect, the Turkish government does not want to respect those rules.”

Negotiations failed

Rutte said there had been discussions with the Turkish authorities to try to find a way to hold a smaller-scale meeting in a Turkish Consulate or Embassy.
However, he said, a public threat of sanctions made by the Turks before the negotiations were complete made it impossible to find a “reasonable solution” — so the Netherlands banned the foreign minister’s flight.
The Dutch will vote Wednesday in national elections in a campaign that has focused heavily on the issue of immigration from Muslim countries.
Far-right presidential candidate Geert Wilders praised the decision to bar the Turkish minister from speaking in Rotterdam, taking credit due to the influence of his party, the Party For Freedom, or PVV.
“Great! Thanks to heavy PVV- pressure a few days before the Dutch elections our government did NOT allow the Turkish minister to land here,” Wilders wrote.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the Dutch charge d’affaires Saturday following the decision to bar Cavusoglu’s flight.