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Virginia gun rally: anti-fascist activists will not mount counter-protest

Virginia gun rally: anti-fascist activists will not mount counter-protest* Local leftist groups cite serious safety concerns * Far-right groups expected to attend Richmond eventAnti-fascist activists will not mount a counter-protest at a gun rights rally at Virginia’s state capitol on Monday that is expected to attract thousands, including white supremacists and anti-government militia groups.Anti-fascists from Richmond and Charlottesville publicly advised supporters to avoid the rally altogether, citing serious safety concerns. Molly Conger, a journalist and activist, told the Guardian activists in Charlottesville had agreed to encourage supporters to stay away.“There is no counter-demonstration planned for the 20 January convergence of armed militias on Virginia’s capitol,” Conger wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “Conditions [on] Monday will not be safe. This is not an outcome we can affect.”Anti-fascist groups cited several reasons for their decision, including serious threats of violence, their own opposition to some gun control measures proposed by the Virginia government and concern for ordinary gun owners planning to attend the rally.A number of arrests have highlighted the risk of white supremacist violence at the event. Among those arrested are alleged members of a neo-Nazi group, including men who reportedly discussed opening fire at the Richmond rally, and men who were charged with plotting to murder an antifascist couple in Georgia.As white supremacists, militia groups and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones announced plans to attend, the event has drawn comparisons to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, which produced extensive violence and the murder of counter-protester Heather Heyer. Some local activists who monitor the far right, however, said there were clear differences this time.“The Charlottesville event was, from the beginning, an event by neo-Nazis and for neo-Nazis,” a Twitter account run anonymously by a longtime Richmond anti-fascist activist said on Saturday.“There were no other players. Everyone going into that event knew exactly who would be participating and there wasn’t the risk of 5,000 unknowing subjects caught in the middle.”In contrast, Monday is Lobby Day, an annual event organized by a gun rights group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, that attracts a range of local residents.“I expect a lot of the participants to be older, working class Virginians that are not far-right and do not fit into the category of any hate group,” the anonymous anti-fascist activist who runs the Richmond Twitter account told the Guardian. “Part of the concern is their safety.”The activist said many locals showing up to the rally will likely have had no experience with volatile protest environments.As conspiracy theories about what “antifa” activists might do at Lobby Day continue to circulate on the right, one Richmond-based anti-fascist group has publicly pushed back against such rumors.“Hey! Antifascists are NOT bussing [people] in,” Antifa Seven Hills wrote on Twitter. “In fact we are encouraging folks to stay away from the capitol and downtown [Richmond] because of far-right escalations like this.”In a direct message, the group told the Guardian: “We are against the [gun control] legislation and the racists attempting to take advantage of this typically calm and multi-issue lobby day.”Skepticism about government gun control is a point of agreement between rightwing activists and some US leftists, who argue that marginalized Americans should have the right to defend themselves with firearms.Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said last week his supporters had been told antifa “is actually on our side of the fence, because they don’t like these gun laws either”.“If they show, it’s not going to be to protest us,” Van Cleave told the Guardian on Wednesday.



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Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he will send troops to Libya as proxy war fears mount

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he will send troops to Libya as proxy war fears mountTurkey could send troops to support Libya's embattled UN-backed government as early as next month, President Tayyip Erdogan declared on Thursday, in a move that will fuel fears that the country's civil conflict is turning into a proxy war between regional powers.  Libya's internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, has been fending off a months-long offensive against the capital by General Khalifa Haftar, a renegade field marshal whose forces have received support from Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey has emerged as a key backer the GNA since the battle began in April, and is already believed to have supplied weapons to the GNA.  Last month, Ankara signed two separate accords with the GNA, led by Fayez al-Serraj, one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean. The maritime deal ends Turkey's isolation in the East Mediterranean and paves the way for an offshore energy exploration program that has alarmed neighbours including Greece. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would ask parliament to approve sending troops to Libya in January Credit: MURAT KULA/AFP The military deal is designed to shore up Turkey's lone ally in the region, Tripoli, which is surrounded by Gen Haftar's forces. "Since there is an invitation (from Libya) right now, we will accept it," Mr Erdogan told members of his AK (Justice and Development) Party in a speech. "We will put the bill on sending troops to Libya on the agenda as soon as parliament opens." The legislation would pass around January 8-9, he said, opening the door to deployment. However, it was unclear what specific invitation Mr Erdogan was referring to, as the interior minister in the Tripoli-based government, Fathi Bashagha, suggested in comments to reporters in Tunis that no such official request had yet been made. "If the situation escalates and then we have the right to defend Tripoli and its residents… we will submit an official request to the Turkish government to support us militarily so we expel the ghost of mercenary forces," Mr Bashagha said on Thursday. Gen Haftar's forces were not immediately available for reaction to Mr Erdogan's comments. Ankara has flagged the possibility of a military mission in Libya for several weeks. Such a deployment would further stretch its armed forces less than three months after it launched an incursion into northeastern Syria against a Kurdish militia. Turkey has already sent military supplies to the GNA despite a United Nations arms embargo, according to a U.N. report seen by Reuters last month. The same report said a foreign air force, thought to be that of the UAE or Egypt, had been carrying out airstrikes in support for Gen Haftar's forces. Mr Erdogan visited Tunisia on Wednesday to discuss support for a possible ceasefire in Libya. On Thursday, he said Turkey and Tunisia had agreed to support the GNA.



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Malta PM to Quit as Questions Mount Over Reporter Murder

Malta PM to Quit as Questions Mount Over Reporter Murder(Bloomberg) — Malta’s Joseph Muscat pledged to resign as leader after his closest aides were linked to a car bomb that killed an investigative journalist.Muscat, 45, said that public anger over the murder, two years ago, was justified. His closest adviser and economy minister have both been questioned by police in recent days as the inquiry into the killing gathered pace. “We are starting the process for a new prime minister who will continue carrying out the work for this legislature,” Muscat said in a broadcast on Sunday.The scandal shines an uncomfortable light on the European Union’s smallest member, one whose central banker nevertheless shares a seat at the table with the likes of Germany and France setting the euro-area’s monetary policy.At a time when further expansion is being questioned, the slow drip of negative headlines has refused to go away for a nation that is also on the front lines of migration and further complicates the job of the EU’s newly-appointed executive arm. The long-festering scandal raises deeper questions about accountability and governance in the island nation, and beyond.The journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was investigating suspicious payments by a local power company at the time she was killed and the European Central Bank has raised broader concerns about money laundering in Malta.“I kept my word — not only do we have three persons accused of this murder but, also now, someone accused of being the principal person behind this killing,” said Muscat. He was first elected prime minister in 2013 and said he will stay in office until his Labour Party has chosen a successor in a process starting Jan. 12.Pressure on Muscat to step aside has grown since businessman Yorgen Fenech was arrested last month in connection with the Caruana Galizia’s murder in 2017. Fenech was suspected of trying to flee the country when he was apprehended on his yacht. He has denied involvement in the murder.Protesters in the capital Valletta threw eggs and coins at lawmakers from the ruling party, the Times of Malta said. Demonstrations intensified on Monday, with hundreds gathered around the parliament to ask for Muscat’s immediate resignation, Ansa reported.Three men have been arrested for the assassination, but they have yet to identify the person who allegedly hired them. Police gained evidence against Fenech after the recent arrest of a man for an unrelated crime who offered evidence in return for leniency.The government earlier rejected Fenech’s request for immunity from prosecution in return for revealing information about the murder plot and about alleged corruption involving Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri, among others, court filings showed, according to Reuters. Schembri has denied any wrongdoing, the agency said.Malta isn’t the only weak link in Europe’s financial and legal controls.Danske Bank A/S, Denmark’s biggest lender, saw suspicious funds funneled through its branch in Tallinn, Estonia, from 2007 to 2015. Allegations have also emerged against Swedbank AB, Sweden’s oldest bank and Helsinki-based Nordea Bank Abp.(Adds anti-government protests in seventh paragraph. A previous version of this story corrected the second paragraph to say that economy minister, not finance minister, was questioned)To contact the reporters on this story: Mathew Carr in London at m.carr@bloomberg.net;Alessandro Speciale in Rome at aspeciale@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net, Flavia Krause-Jackson, Ben SillsFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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'Disorder and chaos': Trump and Republicans mount furious impeachment fight

'Disorder and chaos': Trump and Republicans mount furious impeachment fightA hearing room is invaded, the president’s enemies are ‘scum’. A bare-knuckle scrap has begun – but will it be enough?Donald Trump arrives for a rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, earlier this month. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty ImagesDonald Trump has shown little taste for military adventure. He avoided the draft in Vietnam. He fell out with his once-beloved generals. He stunned the world by pulling troops out of Syria and abandoning America’s Kurdish allies.But on the political battlefield, the president has shown how he and his allies intend to fight impeachment: with a blitzkrieg aimed at deflecting, distracting and discrediting. What he lacks in coherent strategy, he makes up for in shock and awe. Trump will send in the tanks and take no prisoners.It appears that most Republicans are still willing to march behind him, not by defending what many see as indefensible – the president’s offer of a quid pro quo to Ukraine – but by throwing sand into the gears of the impeachment process. With the help of Fox News, they are set to intensify attacks on the legitimacy of the inquiry itself, demonising its leaders and sowing doubt wherever possible.The great unknown is whether the approach will prove as effective as their efforts to undermine the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, potentially boosting Trump in the 2020 election, or the case against him will be so compelling that he will be removed from office or defeated at the polls.“Trump is using the same approach he did to subvert the Mueller report: undermining the legitimacy of the messenger, assigning political motives to those who testify and relying on the Fox News firewall to serve up propaganda to his base,” said Kurt Bardella, a former spokesperson and senior adviser for Republicans on the House oversight committee.> No matter who’s working in the White House, we already know it will be blown to hell by Trump’s tweets on any given day> > Kurt Bardella“The difference is that with Mueller we had a lot of time where we didn’t know anything. In the impeachment inquiry we are getting a steady stream of new information that is providing context.”House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is a month old. Unlike Mueller it has moved at warp speed, subpoenaing witnesses, gathering testimony and building evidence against the president some say makes it inevitable he will be impeached by the House and put on trial by the Republican-controlled Senate.This week Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, made the most damning allegations yet about a quid pro quo in which Trump threatened to suspend military aid and the offer of a White House meeting unless Ukraine agreed to announce investigations into political rivals including the former vice-president Joe Biden, a potential opponent in next year’s presidential election.Taylor, a respected Vietnam war veteran with half a century of public service, also described an “irregular, informal policy channel” by which the Trump administration was pursuing objectives in Ukraine “running contrary to the goals of longstanding US policy”. His evidence reportedly prompted “a lot of sighs and gasps” in the hearing room.The backlash from Trump was as swift as it was expected. Since the shadow of impeachment fell, the president has put down a daily barrage of tweets. Responding to Taylor and other members of his own party he sees as disloyal, he described “Never Trumper Republicans” as “human scum”.Steve Scalise speaks after he and two dozen other Republicans stormed the room used by the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPAOn the same day, about 30 House Republicans barged into the secure facility where the impeachment depositions are being taken and ordered pizza. The testimony of a Pentagon official was postponed by more than five hours. The members complained about lack of transparency as evidence is being given behind closed doors.It was not their only gambit. Earlier in the week Republicans attempted to censure Adam Schiff, the chair of the House intelligence committee, for his handling of the impeachment inquiry, only for the Democratic majority to set the resolution aside. On Thursday Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate judiciary committee and a Trump loyalist, introduced a resolution condemning the inquiry as an unfair, secretive and designed to embarrass the president.In an ominous development, the justice department stepped up its review of the origins of Mueller’s Russia investigation, giving prosecutors the ability to issue subpoenas, potentially form a grand jury and compel witnesses to give testimony and bring federal criminal charges. The move raised fears of a politically motivated ploy to burnish the overall narrative that Trump is a victim of the deep state, casting impeachment as Mueller 2.0.But there was still little sign of a war bunker where a strategy is being coordinated. Instead it appears to be a case of a scattergun and “fire at will”, a measure of how ill-equipped the White House is for the battle to come. More than 1,000 days into Trump’s presidency, its ranks are severely depleted.The chief strategist Steve Bannon is long gone. Stephanie Grisham, the press secretary, has never given a formal briefing to reporters in the west wing. Trump does not have a permanent chief of staff, only Mick Mulvaney in an acting capacity. Earlier this month Mulvaney held a disastrous briefing in which he blurted out a confession of a quid pro quo with Ukraine, only to issue a retraction later.It means there are fewer guardrails on a president who would be capricious, impulsive and mendacious even if surrounded by the best and the brightest.Bardella added: “No matter who’s working in the White House, we already know it will be blown to hell by Trump’s tweets on any given day. You can have the best organisation in the world but it’s useless if the principal is so undisciplined.” ‘Clinton had a pretty good approach’The lack of structure could not be more different from the last president to be impeached, Bill Clinton, who set up a dedicated “war room” while getting on with the business of governing.Graham, now working with the White House on a better coordinated strategy but then an impeachment manager in the House, told reporters this week the Clinton example should be followed because he “had a team that was organised, that had legal minds that could understand what was being said versus the legal proceedings in question, and they were on message every day”.The senator from South Carolina added: “President Clinton defended himself but he never stopped being president. And I think one of the reasons that he survived is that the public may not have liked what the president had done but believed that he was still able to do his job … I’m hoping that will become the model here.”The sentiment was echoed by Chris Ruddy, a conservative media executive and friend of Trump. He told the Guardian: “Bill Clinton had a pretty good approach – better than Richard Nixon. It should be ‘business as usual’ where they’re pushing legislation on healthcare, immigration, infrastructure.”Public opinion does not favour removing Trump from office, Ruddy argued, so the White House should avoid a politically costly battle.“We’re in a political payback system where everyone is trying to out up each other. If you look at the poll numbers, he’s actually holding up, although there’s a hardening of people who favour impeachment and removal. He’s not actually in a bad situation.”Lindsey Graham talks about the Clinton impeachment while introducing a resolution condemning the House impeachment inquiry. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesOn Friday the Axios website reported “a de facto impeachment war room” had sprung up at the White House with the primary objective of ensuring that should the House impeach Trump, there will not be the 20 or more Republican defections required in the Senate to convict him.“Almost every morning around 10am, there’s an impeachment ‘messaging coordination’ meeting in either the Situation Room or the Roosevelt Room” involving senior officials, the report said.But critics argue that “messaging” is doomed from the start in this case because the facts are so devastating. Trump has openly encouraged Ukraine – and China – to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter. With Taylor’s compelling evidence, it appears to be case closed. Some problems are unspinnable.Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist and Trump critic, said the president’s exertion of pressure on the leader of Ukraine had been tantamount to blackmail and extortion.“It was such an abuse of power. I can’t think of a president who’s done anything more impeachable or worse than that. It’s indefensible and anyone who defends it is going to face some liabilities because it’s so egregious.”He described the Republican fightback as “lawlessness, disorder and chaos. Undermining the process and smearing the witnesses and engaging in ‘whataboutism’ is the main strategy. The question is whether they will be successful, as they were with Mueller, at discrediting the process. Democrats have to step up their game and be more transparent about what they’re doing.” ‘An exercise in table-pounding’For all the noisy grandstanding this week, Republicans said little about the substance of the allegations. Their extraordinary invasion of the Scif [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility] on Capitol Hill was fodder for TV networks and briefly stole the limelight from the damaging evidence being presented. It seemed a classic Trumpian ploy of shifting attention with a showy spectacle and earned thanks from the president for being “tough, smart, and understanding in detail the greatest Witch Hunt in American History”.> The Scif incident was an exercise in table-pounding by Republicans … a very poor substitute for a strategy> > Bill GalstonBut whether it can be sustained is questionable. Democrats are gearing up for televised hearings that could begin next month and feature dramatic and damaging testimony from the likes of the former national security adviser John Bolton. Republicans are hamstrung by a torrent of revelations that makes today’s deniable rumour tomorrow’s smoking gun.Bill Galston, a former policy adviser in the Clinton administration, said: “If there is a White House strategy, I haven’t discerned it up to now. It’s very difficult to form a strategy that others are prepared to rely on and execute if you have reason to believe that that what is held to be true today might not be true tomorrow.“The White House has a credibility problem and members of the president’s party don’t know what they don’t know.“There’s a saying, ‘If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.’ The Scif incident we saw this week was an exercise in table-pounding by Republicans. What they’re doing now is a very poor substitute for a strategy.”Trump retains two not so secret weapons to amplify his message: fiery rallies, which he is holding with greater frequency, and conservative media.A survey published this week by the Public Religion Research Institute showed the group most loyal to the president is Republicans who watch Fox News. More than half of Republicans whose primary news source is Fox said almost nothing could change their approval of Trump. For Republicans who get their news elsewhere, the figure is considerably lower.Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, added: “If I was in the White House now, I would send a delegation to [Fox News host] Sean Hannity and say, ‘Sir, you have more credibility with the president than anyone else. If you believe, as we do, that he needs a coherent strategy, can you make that case for us? We officially work for the president but you unofficially work for him.’“It seems like a joke but, as I sit here and think about it, I’m falling in love with the idea.”



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Event cancellations mount in protest-wracked Hong Kong

Event cancellations mount in protest-wracked Hong KongOne of Hong Kong’s most prestigious sporting tournaments on Friday became the latest victim of the huge protests convulsing the city as a growing roster of events and entertainment acts pull out of the financial hub. Organisers of the WTA Hong Kong Open women’s tennis tournament said they were postponing next month’s competition because of the “present situation” after months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests. “After extensive discussions with our key stakeholders, we conclude that a smooth running of the tournament can be better assured at a later time,” the Hong Kong Tennis Association said in a statement.



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Flynn due in court as lawyers mount attack on Mueller probe

Flynn due in court as lawyers mount attack on Mueller probeFormer Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn is due back in court for the first time in weeks as his lawyers mount an aggressive attack on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has scheduled a conference for Tuesday morning to discuss Flynn’s cooperation with prosecutors and whether the two sides are ready to set a sentencing date. Since then, he has changed lawyers and hired a new legal team led by Sidney Powell, a conservative commentator and former federal prosecutor who has been an outspoken critic of Mueller’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.



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Tensions mount between Trump, Pence camps heading into 2020 election

Tensions mount between Trump, Pence camps heading into 2020 electionTensions mount between President Trump's and Vice President Mike Pence's camps as the 2020 election draws closer, amid discussion of their personal relationship and the recent rumors that Pence may be replaced by Nikki Haley.



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Nepali officials reportedly may require climbers hoping to scale Mount Everest to prove their physical fitness, following a year that saw at least 11 people die on the mountain

Nepali officials reportedly may require climbers hoping to scale Mount Everest to prove their physical fitness, following a year that saw at least 11 people die on the mountainThe proposal would reportedly hike the climbing fee from $ 11,000 to $ 35,000 and require applicants to submit a certificate of physical fitness.



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Nepali officials reportedly may require climbers hoping to scale Mount Everest to prove their physical fitness, following a year that saw at least 11 people die on the mountain

Nepali officials reportedly may require climbers hoping to scale Mount Everest to prove their physical fitness, following a year that saw at least 11 people die on the mountainThe proposal would reportedly hike the climbing fee from $ 11,000 to $ 35,000 and require applicants to submit a certificate of physical fitness.



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Some 2.5 million Muslim hajj pilgrims scale Mount Arafat

Some 2.5 million Muslim hajj pilgrims scale Mount ArafatNearly 2.5 million Muslim hajj pilgrims converged on Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia Saturday marshalled by tens of thousands of stewards in a bid to prevent any repetition of previous years’ deadly stampedes. Raising their palms skywards, the pilgrims set off on the climb to the summit where they held prayers to atone for their sins in a ritual that is regarded as the high point of the annual hajj.



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