Donald Trump slams Britain’s health service; UK hits back

London: US President Donald Trump has attacked Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), claiming it is “going broke and not working.” The US President hit out on Twitter on Monday, minutes after a segment aired on Fox News that highlighted winter strains on the UK health care system, CNN reported. Trump accused the Democrats of pushing a similar universal health care system for the US.

“The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working. Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks,” Trump wrote. Trump drew swift condemnation from Britain’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has been under fire for the government’s handling of a winter health crisis that prompted a protest march in London at the weekend.

Tweeting back at the President, Hunt said he was “proud” of Britain’s universal coverage, which allows patients free health care at the point of access. “I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover,” he tweeted, referring to the 28 million people in the US who lack health insurance.

“NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage — where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.” Asked about Trump’s comments, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “proud” of Britain’s health care system.

“The prime minister is proud of having an NHS that is free at the point of delivery,” the spokesperson said, adding that NHS funding is “at a record high” and was prioritized in the fall budget with an extra 2.8 billion pounds (about $3.9 billion). Trump, whose relationship with Britain and May has been punctuated by Twitter tussles, was also criticised by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“People were marching because we love our NHS and hate what the Tories are doing to it,” Corbyn said, using a colloquialism for the Conservative Party. “Health care is a human right.” NHS funding is one of the most hotly contested topics in British politics and Trump’s comments highlight a sensitive subject in the UK — how to maintain universal access to health care at a time of rising costs and demand.

Maldives’ top judge arrested as state of emergency declared

Male: The Maldives’ top judge was arrested today as security forces stormed the Supreme Court at dawn, in a deepening confrontation with President Abdulla Yameen who has declared a state of emergency in the troubled honeymoon islands.

The detention of Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another Supreme Court judge raised the stakes in a dramatic clash after Yameen refused to comply with an order to release nine political dissidents. Police said both men were under investigation for corruption and that the court’s top administrator had also been detained.

Yameen has presided over an escalating crackdown on dissent that has battered the image of the upmarket holiday paradise, and left almost all the political opposition jailed since he came to power in 2013. Yesterday he even ordered the arrest of his estranged half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had sided with the main opposition.

Maldives President declares state of emergency
The 80-year-old — president for 30 years until the country’s first democratic elections in 2008 — was taken from his home in the capital Male around midnight on Monday, according to a tweet from his daughter Yumna Maumoon. “I have not done anything to be arrested,” Gayoom said in a video message to supporters posted on Twitter.

“I urge you to remain steadfast in your resolve too. We will not give up on the reform work we are doing.” Heavily armed troops and police special operations units stormed the Supreme Court in the early hours, the court said on Twitter, as police used pepper spray to disperse hundreds of people gathered outside.

The court’s shock move in support of the political dissidents on Thursday also included an order for the government to restore the seats of 12 legislators sacked for defecting from Yameen’s party. The opposition now has the majority in the assembly — meaning they could potentially impeach the president. But the government, which has ordered police and troops to resist any attempt to arrest or impeach Yameen, said the court was not above the law.

“The Supreme Court ruling stands in defiance of the highest authority in the country: the constitution,” spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab said in a statement. “The Supreme Court must remember that it too is bound by law.” He said the government would “facilitate calm” and ensure the safety of all citizens and tourists “throughout this unusual period”.

The court’s decision also paved the way for exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed — the nation’s first democratically elected leader who was controversially convicted of terrorism in 2015 — to run for president this year. Yameen, who has faced several unsuccessful opposition attempts to impeach him for alleged corruption, responded by shuttering parliament and on Monday his administration announced a 15-day state of emergency.

“The reason for the declaration is that the Supreme Court’s ruling was obstructing the functioning of the government,” presidential aide Azima Shukoor said on national television. The declaration gives sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain individuals, curtails the powers of the judiciary and bars parliament from impeaching Yameen.   But it must be officially conveyed to parliament within two days, according to officials.

Nasheed, who has expressed fears of unrest, said the declaration amounted to martial law, while an opposition legislator called it a “desperate move”. “(This) is tantamount to a declaration of martial law in the Maldives,” Nasheed said, urging regional super power India to intervene. Opposition legislators have also called on the international community to pressure Yameen.

Supreme Court over-stepped its power, says Maldives President

Male  : The political crisis in the Maldives deepened on Monday, as the president of the island nation said the Supreme Court had overstepped its authority in ordering the release of a group of imprisoned opposition leaders.

The surprise judicial ruling last week has led to an increasingly tense standoff between President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and the Supreme Court, with protests spilling into the streets of the capital, Male, and soldiers in riot gear deployed to the parliament building to stop lawmakers from meeting. Yameen, in a letter to the court released by his office, said the order had encroached on the powers of the state and was an “infringement of national security and public interest.” He urged the court to “review the concerns” of the government. Earlier, Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor said that “the government does not believe that the Supreme Court ruling to release the political prisoners can be enforced.”

Officials say the court has not properly responded to a series of letters citing problems with implementing the order, including that the cases against the political prisoners are at different legal stages. A Supreme Court statement on Sunday said “there are no obstacles in implementing the ruling … and that this has been informed to the Prosecutor General’s office.” There was no immediate comment from Yameen’s main rival, exiled former President Mohammed Nasheed, who is among the prisoners ordered freed, report AP. The Supreme Court ruled that the political leaders’ guilty verdicts had been politically influenced.

The ruling has led to protests by opposition supporters urging the government to obey the order. Clashes erupted between police and the political opponents on Thursday and Friday.

Soldiers surrounded the parliament building over the weekend to stop lawmakers from entering. The United Nations and several foreign governments, including the United States, have urged the Maldives to respect the court order. Nasheed has been living in exile in Britain since 2016 after being given asylum when he traveled there on medical leave from prison.

China asks its citizens not to travel to Maldives

Beijing :  China on Monday warned its citizens not to tavel to the Maldives for holidays due to the political turmoil there, in a setback to beleaguered President Abdulla Yameen whose country’s economy relies heavily on Chinese tourists.

The Maldives has plunged into political crisis as the Supreme Court on Sunday asked Yameen to comply with its order to release political prisoners and reinstate dissident lawmakers.

This led to a tense standoff as Yameen, reports PTI.

“China is closely following the developments in the Maldives,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told media here asking the Maldivian government and the political parties to resolve differences through dialogue while maintaining national stability and social order. He, however, declined to join the calls by the United Nations, the US and India asking Yameen who is widely regarded as pro-China to implement the Supreme Court order. “What happened in the Maldives is Maldives’ internal affair. China supports the relevant parties in the Maldives to properly resolve their differences through dialogue and consultation and maintain national stability and social order,” he said.

Turkish military kills over 550 militants in Syria in 8 days

Ankara [Turkey]: Turkish military has said that it has killed over 550 militants in the past eight days in the northwestern Afrin region of Syria, Anadolu news agency reported on Sunday.
The country’s military has killed a total of 557 Kurdish militants and IS terrorists since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch on January 20, according to the news agency, which sourced the figure from a statement issued by Turkish General Staff yesterday.
Thirteen Turkish jets were deployed in the operation yesterday and they destroyed 20 targets in the region.
Operation Olive Branch is “successfully continuing as planned”, the agency reported quoting the statement.

The operation was launched to establish security and stability along Turkish borders, the region and to protect the Syrian people from the terrorists and Afrin was chosen as the target, as it has been a major hideout for the Kurdish militants since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria allegedly abandoned the city to the mercy of militants. (ANI)

Senate votes Jerome Powell as next US Federal Reserve Bank Chairman

Washington DC: The United States Senate voted to confirm Jerome Powell as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. The lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in Powell’s favour, who will replace Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve Bank Janet Yellen on February 3. The final vote count stood at 85-12.

Mostly all Republican leaders voted in favour of Powell, while only a handful of Republican leaders voted against him, The Hill reported. Democratic leaders like- Ted Cruz, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders to name a few, were those who voted against Powell.

US President Donald Trump nominated Powell in November last year. The Senate Banking Committee approved Powell’s nomination by a near-unanimous vote in December last year. Powell had served on the Federal Board and as the Governor since his appointment by former President Barack Obama in 2012. He is known to have immense experience in dealing with regulation and the various clauses of the US’ monetary policy.

Tammy Duckworth set to be first Senator to have baby while in office

Washington: Good news from Washington. US Senator Tammy Duckworth, a decorated Asian American army veteran and double amputee, announced Tuesday she was pregnant with her second child. The 49-year-old Democrat from Illinois stands to be the first senator to give birth during her term.

“Wanted to share some exciting personal news…” she tweeted, alongside a picture of two grownup ducks and a young duck joined by a plus sign to a baby duck, and a caption that read: “Duck, duck, duck…duckling!” Duckworth told the Chicago Sun-Times she was expecting her second child, another girl, in April — a few weeks after she turns 50.

“Bryan and I are thrilled that our family is getting a little bit bigger, and Abigail is ecstatic to welcome her baby sister home this spring,” she added in a statement, referring to her husband and three-year-old daughter. Ten members of Congress have given birth in office – but they all belonged to the chamber’s House of Representatives. “As tough as it’s been to juggle motherhood and the demands of being in the House and now the Senate, it’s made me more committed to doing this job,” the Sun-Times quoted her as saying.

An Iraq war veteran and retired US army lieutenant colonel, Duckworth lost both her legs when the helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down by insurgents in 2004. She entered the House in 2012 and then the Senate in 2016, where she is one of the 100-strong chamber’s 22 women. Born in Thailand to a Thai mother and American father, she is the joint second Asian American woman to serve in the Senate, longside Indian-American Kamala Harris.

Robert Mueller seeks to question Donald Trump on Russia probe

Washington: Special Counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller probing Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election wants to question President Donald Trump on the issue, a media report said today.

The Washington Post, citing two people familiar with Mueller’s plans, said the special counsel was seeking to question Trump about his ousting of FBI director James Comey and national security advisor Michael Flynn. They told the newspaper that Trump’s attorneys have worked out terms for the president’s interview with Mueller’s team which could be presented to the special counsel “as soon as next week”.

“The president’s legal team hopes to provide Trump’s testimony in a hybrid form — answering some questions in a face-to-face interview and others in a written statement,” said the Post. A day earlier, the US Justice Department had confirmed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned by Mueller on his investigation on potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia in the presidential election.

Trump says no plans to fire Spl Counsel Robert Mueller
Mueller has already interviewed several of the close aides and family members of Trump over the issue. Trump, earlier, had hinted that it “seems unlikely” that he would allow Mueller to “interview” him. Meanwhile, the White House today said it supports “full transparency” around a secret memo criticising the FBI but it was for the House Intelligence Committee to decide whether to release it or not.

“We certainly support full transparency, and we believe that’s with the House Intel Committee to make a choice,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at her daily news conference. She reiterated that the White House would be cooperative with Mueller.

“As we’ve said probably just about every day this year, that we’re going to be fully cooperative with the special counsel and we’re going to continue to do that throughout the process,” Sanders said when asked whether the president was open to being interviewed by Mueller. “But we’re also not going to comment on who may or may not, or could be interviewed at any point,” she said.

Sanders said Trump wants the controversy should come to an end. “The President wants to see this end, and he wants to see them finally come to the same conclusion that I think most in America have, that there is nothing to this. “They’ve spent the better part a year looking, digging, obsessing over trying to find something and are yet to find anything,” she said.

US President Donald Trump signs funding bill, ends govt shutdown

Washington: The United States President Donald Trump signed into law the funding bill that officially ended the three-day government shutdown on Monday. The bill now funds the government upto February 8, along with the popular Children’s Health Insurance Programme (CHIP) for at least six years.

However, it does not include the Obama-era (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) DACA programme, which the Democrats had originally demanded for funding. The United States Senate cleared the government funding bill and passed it on to the House, who also supported and passed the bill and sent it for US President Donald Trump’s signature to officially end the three-day government shutdown on Monday.

Lawmakers voted 266-150 to reopen the government and to extend the short-term funding. Earlier, the Senate voted on Monday noon to reopen the Government, ending a three-day standoff that left federal agencies and thousands of people affected. The Democrats and Republicans agreed to pass a short-term spending bill of at least three weeks, to allow the funding of the government until February 8. The final vote stood at 81-18.

The White House announced that the United States Government will be running at its full strength from Tuesday. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to allow a new immigration bill to be passed by next month.

For the unversed, earlier, the Democrats and the Republicans reached on a deal to take up an immigration bill that would protect an estimated 8,00,000 people from deportation. McConnell attempted to schedule the vote late on Sunday night that would end the shutdown, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer objected to it since the Republicans and Democrats were yet to reach an agreement.

Volcano erupts in Japan, triggers avalanche

Tokyo: A volcano northwest of here erupted on Tuesday, the Japanese Met office said, triggering a nearby avalanche. Some 15 persons were injured in the eruption, while four were caught in the avalanche.

Mount Kusatsu-Shirane in Gunma erupted triggering the avalanche in the neighbouring Kusatsu International Ski Resort in Kusatsu-machi, a firefighter involved in rescue operation told Xinhua news agency. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said smoke was initially seen rising from the south side of the volcano and a volcanic tremor with a large amplitude was also observed.

Then rocks were seen falling from the site of the volcano. The JMA raised its warning for Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane to level 3 on its scale.

US workers home without pay as shutdown impasse drags on

Trump had encouraged the Senate’s Republican leaders to invoke the “nuclear option” — a procedural maneuver to change the chamber’s rules to allow passage of a budget by a simple majority of 51 votes to end the shutdown.

Washington : Hundreds of thousands of US federal employees were staying home without pay on Monday after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on ending a government shutdown before the start of the working week.

Although leaders of President Donald Trump’s Republican Party and the opposition Democrats said progress had been made in a weekend of talks, they pushed back a scheduled late-night vote to noon (2230 IST) on Monday.

The impasse, the first of its kind since 2013, had already cast a huge shadow over the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration as president on Saturday, reports AFP. After special weekend sessions of Congress which had seen bitter recriminations traded by both parties, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to address Democrat concerns over key issues, such as immigration reform in a speech to the chamber late on Sunday. The Senate’s top Democrat Chuck Schumer responded by saying he was “happy to continue my discussion with the majority leader about reopening the government” but added that the parties were “yet to reach an agreement on a path forward.”

McConnell then called for Congress to reconvene for another vote on a stop-gap funding measure at noon, a proposal which was nodded through.

Hopes that the shutdown, which began at midnight Friday, could be limited to the weekend were raised Sunday when a bipartisan group huddled for hours trying to end the standoff, but they ultimately failed to resolve all their differences , In remarks early on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders accused the Democrats of “playing games”.

“The president’s focus is making sure we get the government reopened. It’s outrageous that Democrats are holding our national security hostage,” she told television network ABC.       Over the weekend Trump had encouraged the Senate’s Republican leaders to invoke the “nuclear option” — a procedural maneuver to change the chamber’s rules to allow passage of a budget by a simple majority of 51 votes to end the shutdown.

But Senate leaders have been wary of such a move in the past, as it could come back to haunt them the next time the other party holds a majority. At the heart of the dispute is the issue of undocumented immigration.

Democrats have accused Republicans of poisoning chances of a deal and pandering to Trump’s populist base by refusing to back a program that protects an estimated 700,000 “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who arrived as children — from deportation.

US FDA sends 42% of staff on leave

New Delhi : The US federal government’s shutdown from Saturday has forced the US Food and Drug Administration to send 42% of its staff on leave of absence, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Twitter late Sunday. “I recognise the consequences of a government shutdown to FDA employees and their families. To my colleagues: You have my personal commitment that FDA leadership will do our best to mitigate the impacts of the disruptions and any burdens to you and your families,” the commissioner said. The US federal government underwent a partial shutdown midnight Friday after the Republican and Democratic Parties failed to break deadlock on increasing the funding ceiling of the government on Friday. Gottlieb said 52% of the regulator’s staff will continue to work with critical monitoring tasks, such as drug recalls, review of food and drug imports to the US and surveillance of adverse events related to drugs, medical equipment and other medical products functioning as usual.

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