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FILE PHOTO: People commute on a smoggy morning in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO: People commute on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Saumya Khandelwal/File Photo

May 22, 2019

By Aditi Shah

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Indian government’s leading think-tank has proposed electrifying most motorbikes and scooters within the next six to eight years to curb pollution and reduce dependency on fossil fuels, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The draft proposal from Niti Aayog, which is chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and plays a critical role in policymaking, also recommends electrifying the country’s popular three-wheeled autorickshaws, said the source, who declined to be identified as the proposal is not public and still needs the go ahead from the government.

India sold more than 21 million motorbikes and scooters in the year to March 31, making it one of the world’s biggest two-wheeler markets. In the same period, it sold just 3.3 million cars and utility vehicles.

Electric scooters accounted for just a fraction of the total but sales more than doubled to 126,000 in the 12 months, from 54,800 a year earlier, according to the data from the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles.

“We have lagged in electrifying the car segment … India has decided to take the lead in two-wheelers and three-wheelers,” said the source.

Although exit polls suggest the political alliance led by Modi will win a clear majority in the country’s recent election, final results will only be announced on Thursday. It was not immediately clear whether the new administration would adopt the electrification proposal.

If the proposal, which is being worked on with the Ministries of Heavy Industries, Road Transport and Power, is approved, it would open up a new market for global companies like Japan’s Yamaha Motor and Suzuki Motor, which are drawing up plans to launch electric two-wheelers in India.

Modi’s government set an ambitious target in 2017 to electrify all new cars and utility vehicles by 2030 but resistance from the auto industry forced it to scale back the plan.

The government now expects electric vehicles to make up 15 percent of all new sales in five years from less than 1 percent currently.

Efforts to convince car makers to produce electric vehicles have flopped mainly because there is no clear policy to incentivize local manufacturing and sales, a lack of public charging infrastructure and the high cost of batteries.

The draft proposal goes someway toward rectifying that, offering incentives for the manufacture and sale of electric motorbikes and scooters while penalizing gasoline models, said the source, adding that the plan will be finalised after input from industry players.

Hero Electric as well as start-ups Ather Energy, Twenty Two Motors and Okinawa currently sell electric scooters in the country.

India’s cabinet in February approved a scheme to spend $1.4 billion over three years to subsidize sales of electric and hybrid vehicles.

(Reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is “caught in a box” when it comes for impeachment because she knows beginning proceedings would create a backlash that would eventually benefit President Donald Trump, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wednesday after she accused the president of being engaged in a cover-up.

“While many of her members are calling for impeachment, she is trying to keep that talk squelched,” Sen. Cornyn told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.” “But really, what they’re doing is squandering what they got in the last election, a working majority in the House of Representatives to work with us and work together to try to pass legislation that would benefit the American people.”

Trump, during a series of early morning tweets, said Democrats are on a fishing expedition against him, and Cornyn agreed.

“It is important to remember Congress has a very different role from the Department of Justice and the special counsel,” Cornyn said. “Ours is to do oversight of the laws that we pass to see if new changes need to be made or reforms need to be considered.”

Cornyn added it is not a “legitimate scope of oversight” for Congress to get hold of Trump’s tax returns, and to call former White House lawyer Don McGahn in for a hearing was not right, as confidential communications between a White House counsel and the president have always been protected.

Source: NewsMax Politics

Venezuelan Health minister Alvarado holds briefing on the country's health situation in Geneva
Venezuelan Health minister, Carlos Alvarado, holds briefing on the country’s health situation in Geneva, Switzerland May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

May 22, 2019

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is increasingly turning to allies Cuba, China and Russia to offset a health crisis caused by U.S. sanctions, a minister said on Wednesday.

Venezuelans have been suffering dire shortages of medicines and health equipment for several years as it has spiraled into economic chaos and political conflict.

The opposition blames that on economic incompetence and corruption by the leftist movement in power for two decades, but Maduro says U.S. economic sanctions are the cause.

In Geneva for a World Health Organization (WHO) assembly, Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said Western sanctions had led to the freezing of 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion)in assets, including gold in the Bank of England and funds in major institutions like Citibank.

That would cover Venezuela’s medical needs for six years, he told a news briefing.

“Today we can certainly say that the main health problem is the criminal blockade that we are victims of by the United States,” Alvarado said.

“What are we doing in Venezuela to overcome this situation? We do not stay with our hands crossed. We are strengthening our alliances with countries such as Cuba, China, Russia, Turkey, Palestine, and Iran.”

Sanctions were hurting the whole population due to insufficient foreign currency for medicine imports, and some diseases including measles had re-emerged, the minister said.

“The greatest threat that we have is the threat of war that the U.S. government imposes on the Venezuelan people,” he said.

President Donald Trump’s administration has not ruled out military action to remove what it and dozens of other nations consider an illegitimate government that rigged a 2018 election.

The United States, and many European and Latin American countries, have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido, who invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

But Maduro retains control of state functions and the support of the military’s top brass.

The crisis has driven 3.7 million Venezuelans abroad, most since 2015, the United Nations says.

All 300 Venezuelan hospitals were functioning, but some lack medicines or spares for equipment, Alvarado said.

Aid agencies including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are bringing help, he added, and Russia provided 26,000 tonnes of aid including medication in March.

“We are strengthening our bond with Russia regarding the purchase of medication, they even want to invest in Venezuela for further production of medication,” he said, declining to give details.

($1 = 0.8963 euros)

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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President Donald Trump lashed out on Twitter on Wednesday at critics who say he is making paltry progress at building a wall along the southern border even as he admitted much of the work is actually renovation of already existing barriers.

“Much of the Wall being built at the Southern Border is a complete demolition and rebuilding of old and worthless barriers with a brand new Wall and footings,” the president wrote in a tweet. “Problem is, the Haters say that is not a new Wall, but rather a renovation. Wrong, and we must build where most needed.”

Trump added that “tremendous work is being done on pure renovation – fixing existing Walls that are in bad condition and ineffective, and bringing them to a very high standard!”

Trump’s tweets appear to have been in response to a segment on “Fox & Friends,” as they were sent about an hour after the issue was discussed based on a Bloomberg report that only 1.7 miles of fencing has been put up with the $1.57 billion that Congress appropriated last year.

According to Bloomberg, the federal judge was told the information by a House of Representatives as he weighs requests to block Trump from using funds not authorized by Congress to build the wall.

Earlier this week Trump promised supporters that 500 miles of wall would be completed by the 2020 election, an increase from his previous pledge to have at least 400 miles finished, according to Politico.

Politico pointed out that Trump has been under pressure to show progress, even going to California earlier this year to unveil the first new segment of replacement border wall completed during his administration, even though that project had been in the works since the Obama era.

Source: NewsMax Politics

President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, communicated more than 1,000 times by text and telephone over eight months with the chief executive of a U.S. money-management firm with ties to a Russian oligarch, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office determined in the summer of 2017.

Five search warrants filed by Mueller’s office starting that July were unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., detailing some of the early suspicions of Mueller’s investigators. Exchanges between Cohen and Andrew Intrater, the chief executive officer of Columbus Nova LLC, began on the day of Donald Trump’s election, according to a warrant filed in Washington on Aug. 7, 2017.

The government was looking into whether payments from Columbus Nova to Cohen were connected to a plan to give then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn a proposal to lift sanctions on Russia, according to the filing. Mueller did not bring any charges related to that inquiry.

“Telephone records related to Cohen’s cellular telephone show that on or about Nov. 8, 2016, the day of the presidential election, a telephone registered to Cohen exchanged the first in a series of text messages with the CEO of Columbus Nova,” according to one warrant seeking Cohen’s electronic communications. The two exchanged 230 phone calls and 950 text messages, it said.

Citing public records and news reports, the government said Columbus Nova is an investment management firm controlled by Renova Group, which is itself controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a wealthy Russian citizen. Intrater, an American, is a cousin of Vekselberg.

Columbus Nova has denied it is an arm of Renova Group. Columbus Nova, in a statement sent by a spokesman, played down the significance of the filing.

“OMG breaking news: two people who were working together talked on the phone and texted each other. Scroll down to the next story where Bloomberg reports on water being wet!” it said.

The special counsel was also looking into payments from Trump to Cohen as well as money Cohen received from a Kazakh bank and his links to a company doing business in Ukraine. Mueller’s office later referred its investigation into Cohen to federal prosecutors in New York.

The relationship between Cohen and Columbus Nova surfaced last May, with reports the U.S. firm paid Cohen more than $500,000 after the election. The full extent of the contacts between Cohen and Intrater has not been reported.

The documents unsealed Wednesday show federal prosecutors had gathered detailed online message traffic by Cohen well before agents raided his office and residences in New York in April 2018. Warrants filed in New York ahead of that raid were unsealed in federal court in Manhattan in March.

Read More: Mueller’s Early Scrutiny of Trump Lawyer Rooted in Foreign Ties

Cohen pleaded guilty last year to tax evasion, making false statements to a bank, lying to Congress and violating campaign-finance law. He is serving a three-year sentence in a federal prison in Otisville, New York.

The filings also detail Cohen’s extensive overseas contacts. He exchanged more than 80 emails over a five-month period in 2017 with employees of Kazakshstan’s BTA Bank JSC, which claims it was defrauded of more than $4 billion by a former chairman.

Cohen’s contact for the deal was Kenges Rakishev, the majority shareholder of Kazkommertsbank, another Kazakh financial firm that controls BTA Bank. According to the government’s filing, Rakishev is also the son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Russia. Cohen was paid $300,000 on a $1.8 million contract to help BTA, a person familiar with the matter said in February.

The search warrant applications show federal authorities were investigating Cohen for matters including money laundering and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Cohen was not charged with either.

Some of the Cohen-related investigations continue. Parts of the newly unsealed warrant applications were redacted at the request of federal prosecutors, who told a judge that certain information had to be kept secret to protect ongoing investigations, according to court filings. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan continue to investigate matters “pertaining to or arising from Cohen’s campaign finance crimes,” a federal judge wrote in a separate filing on Tuesday.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

Source: NewsMax Politics

FILE PHOTO: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam
FILE PHOTO: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela Northam, announces he will not resign during a news conference Richmond, Virginia, U.S. February 2, 2019. REUTERS/ Jay Paul/File Photo

May 22, 2019

By Gary Robertson

NORFOLK, Va. (Reuters) – Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s former medical school was unable to determine his role in a racist photograph that appeared on his 1984 yearbook page, according to a report released on Wednesday following a three-month inquiry.

The photo sparked weeks of political chaos in the state after it was published by a conservative website in February, setting off scandals that embroiled Virginia’s three top Democrats. It shows one person in blackface makeup and another in the robes of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan.

Northam initially admitted to having appeared in the photo and apologized. He later changed his story, saying he did not believe he was pictured, but had performed in blackface to impersonate the singer Michael Jackson at about that time.

That led his alma mater, the Eastern Virginia Medical School, to hire the law firm McGuireWoods to investigate how the photo appeared on Northam’s yearbook page.

“No one we interviewed told us the governor was in the photograph, and no one could positively state who was in the photograph,” the report said. “We found no information that the Photograph was placed in error, though we acknowledge there is scant information on this subject thirty-five years after the fact.”

The McGuireWoods report concluded that the yearbook’s production was overseen by students with little or no faculty input up to 2013.

Northam, a white 59-year-old former U.S. Army doctor, resisted February calls to step down from within his own party in Virginia – seen as a key swing state for the 2020 presidential election – as well as from at least five Democratic presidential candidates.

Two other Virginia officials were wrapped up in scandal shortly thereafter, with women accusing Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, and Attorney General Mark Herring saying he wore blackface in college to depict a black rapper.

Polls showed Northam keeping strong support among the state’s black residents. In a Washington Post poll, 58 percent of black residents said Northam should remain in office versus 37 percent who said he should leave.

Northam was interviewed twice as part of the inquiry, and said he was “positive” he was not in the photograph and did not know who was.

“Governor Northam noted that he was very slender in college and medical school, and that the legs on that person are much thicker than his,” the report said, referring to the person in the photograph wearing blackface.

A former school roommate, now a dentist, told Northam and the lawyers that Northam’s teeth “had never looked as good” as the person in blackface.

The lawyers also interviewed five members of the 1984 yearbook staff, among others.

One witness recalled reviewing Northam’s page with him in 1984, indicating Northam was aware of the photo at the time. Northam denied this encounter happened, the report said.

Northam told the lawyers that he did submit the other pictures that appear on his page along with the printed quotation.

Northam’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the inquiry’s findings.

OFFENSIVE CONTENT COMMON

The photograph showing people in blackface was not isolated to the one that appeared on Northam’s page, the report said. There were at least ten such photographs in yearbooks from 1976 to 2013, when the school ended their production.

The blackface content peaked in 1984 and 1985 before becoming gradually less common, with two examples of blackface in the 1984 edition besides the one on Northam’s page.

“The yearbooks repeatedly contained other content that could be offensive to women, minorities, certain ethnic groups, and others,” the report said.

Blackface has roots in 19th century “minstrel” shows in which white performers painted their faces black to caricature slaves. It is widely seen as racist today, but remained a common theme in U.S. television and movies in the 1980s and beyond.

(Reporting By Gary Robertson in Norfolk, Virginia, additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Berkrot and Meredith Mazzilli)

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U.S. House Speaker Pelosi delivers remarks at a reception honoring the 100th anniversary of House passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) delivers remarks at a reception honoring the 100th anniversary of House passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

May 22, 2019

By Susan Heavey and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As Democrats in the U.S. Congress debated possibly impeaching Republican President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday, about an hour before a White House meeting with him, that Trump is engaged in a “cover-up.”

The president is stonewalling multiple congressional investigations by ignoring subpoenas, refusing to allow current and former advisers to testify, and not handing over documents, steps that have aggravated a confrontation with Congress.

“No one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,” Pelosi told reporters after a morning meeting of House of Representatives Democrats.

She and other congressional leaders were scheduled to meet midmorning at the White House with Trump to talk about a potential bipartisan infrastructure development plan, although a firm proposal for funding any such effort has yet to emerge.

It was unclear if the meeting would occur after Trump wrote on Twitter about the time it was to begin: “As I have long been saying, and has now been proven out, this is a Witch Hunt against the Republican Party and myself, and it was the other side that caused the problem, not us!”

Trump and Democrats who control the House are engaged in a high-stakes power struggle over their ability to investigate him, with the president increasingly asserting that his advisers need not respond to lawmakers’ inquiries.

Their probes range from whether Trump obstructed justice during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in Trump’s favor in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to his personal finances and businesses.

As the confrontation has escalated, Pelosi and other senior House leaders have been trying to tamp down demands from more junior Democratic lawmakers to kick off impeachment proceedings, urging them to give court enforcement actions time to progress.

The Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said on Wednesday he would hold off enforcing a subpoena against Attorney General William Barr after the Justice Department agreed to turn over materials relating to an investigation into Russian election interference.

The decision ended a standoff between the committee and the Justice Department for access to counterintelligence reports generated by Mueller during his probe.

“The Department of Justice has accepted our offer of a first step towards compliance with our subpoena, and this week will begin turning over to the committee twelve categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials as part of an initial rolling production,” Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement on Wednesday.

Several House Democrats left Wednesday morning’s meeting telling reporters that Schiff’s deal might cool some of the passion for immediately moving toward impeachment

But impeachment demands have mounted since former White House Counsel Don McGahn ignored a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to appear before it and testify.

“For many of us, we think at least an impeachment inquiry would give us more ability to get witnesses to come to Congress. We’re just trying to figure out how to get the truth,” Democratic Representative Mark Pocan told MSNBC.

Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly told reporters that Pelosi was working to balance the demands of Democrats in the House. But he added, “I am increasingly concerned that this president has committed impeachable offenses.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)

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There is a “great drum beat” in the United States for House Democrats to hold President Donald Trump accountable for his actions, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, R-Ky., said Wednesday, adding that far more Democrats support his impeachment than has been reported.

“I think the number is higher of those who would support impeachment but haven’t decided to go public yet,” Rep. Yarmuth told CNN’s “New Day. “I think a growing majority of our caucus believes that impeachment is going to be inevitable, but they also believe that we need to pursue the investigations that are going on.”

Yarmuth has called for impeachment and said Wednesday that if Congress waits until fall to begin its investigations aimed at an inquiry, that will be late, as it would put the actual proceedings into an election year.

He also disagreed Americans are more interested in Congress focusing on issues such as healthcare, saying that in his district, “all I hear is people saying to me, ‘we need to get rid of Donald Trump,’ And I don’t live in an ultraliberal district.”

But with Trump, there is an “existential threat” to the nation’s Democracy, Yarmuth said.

“We have, in my opinion, an existential threat to our democratic system, and he sits in the White House,” Yarmuth said.

He added he does not think he and others wanting impeachment are “that far off” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the matter.

“I think she fully understands that her caucus understands that impeachment is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Yarmuth said.

Source: NewsMax America

The Nevada Senate passed a bill that would give the state’s Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide, CNN reported on Wednesday.

The bill passed 12-8, and if Gov. Steve Sisolak signs the measure into law, Nevada would become the latest state to join the National Popular Vote interstate compact, a deal among participating states to give their Electoral College votes to whoever won the popular vote nationwide, as opposed to the winner of the popular vote in their state.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have so far passed legislation to join the compact, which will only go into effect if the cumulative total of the states’ electoral votes reaches the 270 needed for a majority.

The total is currently at 189, and Nevada’s six electoral votes would boost the number to 195.

There have only been five times where a presidential candidate has been elected without winning the popular vote since the Electoral College was created in 1787, including in the last election, when Donald Trump captured the Electoral College despite receiving nearly three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, according to The Hill.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has brought the issue into the spotlight, saying during a CNN town hall in March that she backs abolishing the Electoral College.

“My view is that every vote matters, and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College – and every vote counts,” she said.

Other Democratic candidates also have stated their opposition to the Electoral College.

Source: NewsMax Politics

FILE PHOTO: Students and police confront each other during an anti-government protest in Algiers
FILE PHOTO: Students and police confront each other during an anti-government protest in Algiers, Algeria, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina/File Photo

May 22, 2019

By Lamine Chikhi

ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s army chief of staff said on Wednesday he had no political ambitions in response to democracy activists who say that he intends to copy the authoritarian model of Egypt.

The armed forces have been a pivotal power center in Algeria for decades and have been managing a transition after mass protests forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign last month after 20 years in office.

Street demonstrations have continued to press demands for a dismantling of the elite of independence veterans, security commanders and business tycoons that have run the major oil and natural gas producer since independence from France in 1962.

“Everybody should know that we have no political ambitions,” Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah told state television.

A presidential election has been scheduled for July 4 but an informed source said on Friday it might be postponed.

Algerian activists say they are concerned the army-steered transition toward democracy will prove illusory as in Egypt.

As Egypt’s army chief in 2013, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled freely elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, won election himself in 2014 and then suppressed Mursi’s supporters as well as the liberal opposition in a pervasive crackdown on dissent.

In Algeria, analysts the army fears the crisis will continue at a time of worsening disorder in neighboring Libya, where there is factional fighting for control of the capital Tripoli.

Salah also said a fight against corruption and cronyism, among protesters’ main grievances, would continue and that he disagreed with some officials who said this was not a priority.

Earlier this month a military judge placed Bouteflika’s youngest brother and two ex-intelligence chiefs in custody. They joined a string of businessmen and officials under investigation over corruption ahead of the presidential election.

Said Bouteflika, who served as a top adviser to the presidency, acted as Algeria’s de facto ruler after his brother suffered a stroke in 2013 that left him in a wheelchair.

Several businessmen, including Algeria’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, have also been placed in custody pending completion of investigations into corruption allegations.

(Reporting by Lamine Chikkhi; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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