World

The U.S. Capitol is seen after Special Counsel Mueller handed in report on his Trump-Russia investigation in Washington
The U.S. Capitol is seen after Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed in his report to Attorney General William Barr on his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and any potential wrongdoing by U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

March 24, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election did not find that any U.S. or Trump campaign officials knowingly conspired with Russia, according to details released on Sunday.

Attorney General William Barr sent a summary of conclusions from the report to congressional leaders and the media on Sunday afternoon. Mueller concluded his investigation on Friday after nearly two years, turning in a report to the top U.S. law enforcement officer.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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People look out from a building facing the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount
People look out from a building facing the Dome of the Rock (R), located in Jerusalem’s Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

March 24, 2019

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduras on Sunday described Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said it would open an office there for trade to complement its embassy in Tel Aviv, but it was not immediately clear if the news marked a formal change in its policy toward the holy city.

In a statement, the Honduran foreign ministry said that the Central American country would open a “trade office in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, which would be like an extension of the Honduran embassy in the city of Tel Aviv.”

Officials could not immediately be reached to clarify whether Honduras had formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, following in the footsteps of U.S. President Donald Trump, who last May moved the U.S. embassy to the city.

Plans for the “immediate” opening of the trade office were also announced on Twitter by President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has in recent months signaled that his government is mulling moving the Honduran embassy to Jerusalem.

Hernandez, an ally of the United States, is in Washington to participate in a conference on U.S.-Israeli relations.

The Honduran foreign ministry said in a statement that Israel would in a reciprocal gesture open an office for cooperation in Tegucigalpa, giving it diplomatic status.

Honduras’ Central American neighbor Guatemala in May moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem after the United States, fueling expectations that Hernandez might follow suit.

(Reporting by Orfa Mejia; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

March 24, 2019

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will not go back on the purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia no matter what the United States says, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

He made the comment in an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber.

The United States could soon freeze preparations for delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, officials told Reuters, in what would be the strongest signal yet by Washington that Ankara cannot have both the advanced aircraft and Russia’s S-400 air defense system.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen)

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

March 24, 2019

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey will take the issue of the Golan Heights to the United Nations.

In an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber, Erdogan said U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement on Golan Heights was a “gift” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of elections there.

Trump moved on Thursday to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory seized in war, marking a dramatic shift in U.S. policy.

In a speech at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Friday, Erdogan said the legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights cannot be allowed.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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General election in Thailand
Uttama Savanayana, Palang Pracharat Party leader, holds a news conference during the general election in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

March 24, 2019

By Panu Wongcha-um and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A pro-military party was leading in Thailand’s first election since a 2014 coup, with the unofficial result delayed until Monday afternoon likely to indicate whether junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha can gain enough seats to remain prime minister.

The Election Commission had been scheduled to announce the unofficial results Sunday night for the 500-seat lower House of Representatives but later said it was delayed until Monday, without giving a reason.

But with Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat party all but guaranteed the support of the junta-appointed upper house, the Senate, under new electoral rules the junta drafted, it looked in a good position to keep Prayuth in office five years after he overthrew an elected government.

With 93 percent of overall votes counted, the Election Commission reported Palang Pracharat was leading with 7.64 million votes.

Trailing with 7.16 million votes was Pheu Thai, a party linked to the self-exiled ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose loyalists have won every election since 2001.

Palang Pracharat leader Uttama Savanayana cautioned the final results were not yet in but he seemed confident.

“We are pleased,” Uttama said. “As for discussion with other parties about forming the next government, we haven’t got to that stage yet.”

The numbers released were for the popular vote, but these did not reflect parliamentary constituency seats that would ultimately be won. Pheu Thai could still win the lion’s share of these because of its concentrated popularity in the north and northeast of the country.

Pheu Thai was on track to win at least 129 seats and Palang Pracharat at least 102 seats, based on a Reuters tally of the partial results of the 350 constituency seats contested.

Another 150 “party seats” will be allocated under a complex formula that favors smaller parties and is based on the total number of votes cast.

The strong showing by the pro-junta Palang Pracharat prompted dismay among many voters who had hoped that the poll would loosen the grip on power that traditional elites and the military have held in a country that has one of the highest measures of inequality in the world.

The Election Commission chairman said turnout was 66 percent, based on 90 percent of the vote counted.

At Pheu Thai’s headquarters in Bangkok, the mood fluctuated from cheerful to quiet disbelief.

“I didn’t think this is likely. I don’t think this is what the people wanted,” said Pheu Thai supporter Polnotcha Chakphet.

Pheu Thai leader Viroj Pao-in told reporters there had been some reports of vote-buying, though he stopped short of questioning the overall results.

ROYAL ROLE

The royal family, which wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions of Thais, played a part in the election though how far it influenced the outcome was unclear.

On the eve of the vote, King Maha Vajiralongkorn made an unexpected and cryptic statement, urging voters to put “good people” in power and to prevent “bad people from … creating chaos”.

His message was a departure from the approach of his late father, who died in 2016: in his latter years, the former king usually kept a distance between the monarchy and politics.

Although the king did not refer to any of the sides in the election race, there was speculation on social media that it was a coded reference to main political factions – broadly the middle class and urban establishment, who identify with the monarchy and the military, and their pro-Thaksin opponents.

King Vajiralongkorn also weighed in on electoral affairs last month after a startling turn of events when a pro-Thaksin party nominated Princess Ubolratana, the king’s sister, as its prime ministerial candidate.

Within hours, the king issued a statement saying her candidacy was “inappropriate” and she was disqualified.

Still, the connection between the princess and Thaksin persisted in voters’ minds, particularly after they were seen hugging on Friday at the wedding of his daughter in Hong Kong.

“We had a lot of dramas in the last hours before the election,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University told Reuters. “Thaksin overplayed with a royal involvement and that was countered by his opponent.”

DECK STACKED FOR MILITARY

Thailand has been racked for the past 15 years by crippling street protests both by Thaksin’s opponents and supporters that destabilized governments and hamstrung business.

Thaksin was thrown out by the army in 2006 and a government that his sister led by ousted in 2014.

Sunday’s election was to determine the make-up of parliament’s 500-seat House of Representatives. The lower house and the upper house, the junta-appointed Senate, will together select the next prime minister.

Critics have said a new, junta-devised electoral system gives a built-in advantage to pro-military parties and appears designed to prevent Pheu Thai from returning to power.

The provision means Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat and allies have to win only 126 seats in the House, while Pheu Thai and its potential “democratic front” partners would need 376.

The non-aligned Democrat Party, which many had thought could hold the balance of power, appeared to have been deserted by many voters. Its leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, announced his resignation within hours of the polls closing.

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Kay Johnson and Aye Min Thant, Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by John Chalmers)

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A flag of Iran flutters at a tourist park named
FILE PHOTO: A flag of Iran flutters at a tourist park named “Iran Garden” which was funded by Iran, at Maroun Al Ras village in southern Lebanon, near the border between Lebanon and Israel, October 4, 2010. REUTERS/ Ali Hashisho

March 24, 2019

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Sunday it would expand its ties with Lebanon in spite of the “provocative and interventionist” call by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for Beirut to choose sides, Iranian state television reported.

On a regional tour to drum up support for Washington’s harder line against Tehran, Pompeo said on Friday that Lebanon faced a choice – “Bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation, or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future”.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi dismissed Pompeo’s remarks.

“Because of the failure of its policies in the Middle East, America has turned to the outdated and disgraced weapon of threats and intimidation to impose its imperious policies on other countries,” Qasemi said, state television reported.

“While respecting the independence of Lebanon and the free will of its government and nation, Iran will use all its capacities to strengthen unity inside Lebanon and also to expand its ties with Lebanon.”

Hezbollah, whose influence has expanded at home and in the region, controls three of 30 ministries in the government led by Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the largest number in its history.

The dominant Shi’ite Muslim power Iran and Hezbollah, founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, are major players in the war in Syria and the fight against militant groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, which include Islamic State.

Qasemi said that Lebanon’s Hezbollah was a legal and popular party.

“How can Pompeo make such impudent and irrational remarks (about Hezbollah) while visiting Lebanon,” he said.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington has increased since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers last May, and then reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The restoration of sanctions is part of a wider effort by Trump to force Iran to further curb its nuclear program and to end its ballistic missile work as well as its support for proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi)

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Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita attends a news conference after his working lunch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita attends a news conference after his working lunch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany February 8, 2019. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

March 24, 2019

BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita sacked and replaced two generals on Sunday after gunmen killed 134 Fulani herders in a surge of violence the insurgency-plagued country.

The ethnic bloodshed took place just days after a deadly assault by jihadists on an army post killed at least 23 soldiers, both in Mali’s central region.

The army chief of staff General M’Bemba Moussa Keita was removed and replaced by General Abdoulaye Coulibaly, while chief of land forces General Abdrahamane Baby was replaced by Brigadier-General Keba Sangare.

(Reporting by Fadima Kontao; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas
An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, Venezuela March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

March 24, 2019

CARACAS (Reuters) – Two Russian air force planes landed in Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to a local journalist, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.

A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas on Sunday.

The report comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticized as Russian encroachment in the region.

Reporter Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the first plane carried Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, adding that the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of material.

An Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left for Caracas on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping along the way in Syria, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.

The cargo plane left Caracas on Sunday afternoon, according to Adsbexchange, another flight-tracking site.

A Reuters witness saw what appeared to be the passenger jet at the Maiquetia airport on Sunday.

It was not immediately evident why the planes had come to Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Russia’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry did not reply to messages seeking a comment. The Kremlin spokesman also did not reply to a request for comment.

The Trump administration has levied crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry in efforts to push Maduro from power and has called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him. Maduro has denounced the sanctions as U.S. interventionism and has won diplomatic backing from Russia and China.

In December, two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro’s socialist government that infuriated Washington.

Maduro on Wednesday said Russia would send medicine “next week” to Venezuela, without describing how it would arrive, adding that Moscow in February had sent some 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

Venezuela in February had blocked a convoy carrying humanitarian aid for the crisis-stricken country that was coordinated with the team of opposition leader Juan Guaido, including supplies provided by the United States, from entering via the border with Colombia.

(Reporting by Carlos Garcia, Carlos Jasso, Diego Ore and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas, and Maria Tsvetkova and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand on tanks near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand on tanks near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

March 24, 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will on Monday sign a decree recognizing Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights while hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Israel’s acting foreign minister said.

A senior U.S. official said last week that the Trump administration was preparing an official document to codify support for Israel’s annexation of the strategic plateau that it seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

“Tomorrow, President Trump, in the presence of PM Netanyahu, will sign a decree recognizing Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan. Israel-U.S. ties are closer than ever,” Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweeted on Sunday.

The United Nations considers the Israeli-held Golan to be occupied territory.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

March 24, 2019

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday those in the finance sector who buy foreign currencies on the expectation that the lira will fall will pay “a very heavy price”, adding the Finance Ministry is carrying out work on this.

Speaking at an election rally in Istanbul, he said “some people” had begun provoking Turkey and that they are attempting to make the lira decline against foreign currencies with their cooperators in Turkey.

The Turkish lira tumbled more than 4 percent against the U.S. dollar on Friday, its biggest one-day fall since a currency crisis took hold in August, raising concerns that Turks are buying more foreign cash as ties with Washington deteriorate.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen)

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