Briefing :- 12/06/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 12th of June, 2017 :-

1. Blasts rock besieged city as Philippines marks independence day :-

Bomb blasts rocked Marawi City in the southern Philippines on Monday as the national flag was raised to mark independence day, almost three weeks after hundreds of Islamist militants overran the town and hunkered down with civilians as human shields.

Rescue workers, soldiers and firemen sang the national anthem and listened to speeches as three OV-10 attack aircraft darted through the cloudy sky, taking it in turns to drop bombs on areas where fighters are still holed up.

“To our Muslim brothers there, we want to tell them to stop their meaningless fight because we are all Muslims,” Vice Provincial Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. told the gathering.

Flag ceremonies are normally performed twice a week, but this was the first in the mainly Muslim town since May 23, the first day of the siege, when the militants killed and abducted Christians, and torched a cathedral.

Almost the entire population of about 200,000 fled from the lakeside town on the Philipppines’ southernmost island of Mindanao, but beyond the checkpoints fencing it off there are still some 500-1,000 civilians trapped or being held hostage.

As of Saturday the number of security forces killed in the battle for Marawi stood at 58. The death toll for civilians was 20 and more than 100 had been killed overall.

The seizure of Marawi by fighters allied to Islamic State, including some from the Middle East, has alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear the ultra-radical group – on a backfoot in Iraq and Syria – is trying to set up a stronghold on Mindanao that could threaten their region.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday he had not expected the battle for Marawi to be as serious as it has turned out, adding it had now emerged “that Baghdadi himself, the leader of the ISIS, has specifically ordered terroristic activities here in the Philippines”.

Duterte did not say how he knew that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose movement is commonly referred to as ISIS, had given instructions for the attack on Marawi.

Foreign Affairs Minister Allan Peter Cayetano said in an independence day speech in Manila that the militants’ had planned to take over at least two or three cities in Mindanao.

Their plot was foiled because troops made a preemptive raid on Marawi to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf group and Islamic State’s “emir” of Southeast Asia.

“We want to coordinate very well with Indonesia and Malaysia so they won’t also suffer in the hands of extremists,” he said.

“But the president knew at the start of his term that, as the allies become more successful in Syria and Iraq, they (Islamic State) will be looking for a land base, and Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will be a potential target to them.”

Washington said at the weekend it was providing support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to clear the militants from pockets of Marawi. Manila said this was technical assistance and there were no U.S. “boots on the ground”.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said support included aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance and training. A U.S. P-3 Orion surveillance plane was seen over the town on Friday.

The cooperation between the longtime allies in the battle is significant because Duterte, who came to power a year ago, has taken a hostile stance towards Washington and has vowed to eject U.S. military trainers and advisers from his country.

The Pentagon has no permanent presence in the Philippines but for years has kept 50 to 100 special forces troops in the south of the country on rotational exercises.

Duterte said on Sunday he had not sought support from Washington to end the siege and had not been aware that U.S. special forces were assisting.

Cayetano said the government did not need to be involved in decisions on U.S. participation because of a bilateral visiting forces agreement and, with “events happening real time”, such matters are left to the armed forces and defence department.

2. PM Modi to hold first talks with Trump on June 26 in Washington :-

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold talks with US President Donald Trump in Washington on June 26, the Indian foreign ministry said on Monday, the first meeting between the leaders.

Ties between the two big democracies grew rapidly under the Obama administration which saw India as a partner to balance China’s growing weight in Asia.

But Trump has focused on building ties with China, seeing it as key to tackling regional problems such as North Korea’s nuclear programme.

The Indian ministry said Modi’s talks with Trump would lay the ground for a further expansion in ties, allaying some of the anxiety that had crept in about a drift in relations.

“Their discussions will provide a new direction for deeper bilateral engagement on issues of mutual interest and consolidation of multi-dimensional strategic partnership between India and the US,” the ministry said in a statement.

The United States has emerged as a top arms supplier to India and the two sides will be looking to move forward with deals such as unarmed drones that India wants for its navy, sources said.

One issue that the two leaders face is resolving conflict arising out of the push they are both making at home to boost industry and create jobs.

Modi has been driving a Make-in-India campaign to press foreign arms suppliers to set up factories in India and transfer technology instead of selling off-the-shelf, which has made India one of the world`s biggest arms importers without any domestic production base.

Trump, on the other hand, has railed against firms moving factories outside the United States and has demanded US companies invest at home as part of his “America First” campaign.

Trump’s review of a visa programme under which thousands of skilled Indian workers go to the United States is also a top concern for India.

3. India releases 11 Pakistani prisoners :-

Amid ongoing tensions between the two nations, India on Monday (June 12) released 11 Pakistani prisoners in a goodwill gesture.

The move came days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at the Shenghai Corporation Organization Summit in Kazakhstan capital, Astana.

The released prisoners, who had completed their sentence in Indian jails, were repatriated through the Attari-Wagah border in northern Punjab state.

The prisoners said they were relieved and happy to go back to their native country.

A released prisoner, Mohammad Ismail said the two nations should reach a compromise and release each other’s nationals languishing in their respective jails.

Another, Mohammed Javed said: “The two countries have fought for long. They should stop fighting and free (Indian and Pakistani) prisoners (in each other’s jails). Both nations should live peacefully as both have to live together.”

Tensions have been running high between the two neighbours amid a spree of ceasefire violations and cross-border infiltrations.

Relations between India and Pakistan worsened after a raid in September on an Indian military base in Uri by Kashmiri fighters where at least 18 soldiers were killed.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence in 1947.

Ties have been particularly tense since the 2008 attacks on Mumbai blamed by India on Pakistan-based militants.

4. Trump blasts Comey on Twitter, accuses him of cowardice over ‘leaks’ :-

US President Donald Trump on Sunday intensified his effort to discredit ousted FBI director James Comey, accusing him of cowardice in leaking an eye-popping account of their private meetings.

In an angry early-morning tweet from his New Jersey golf club, the embattled president questioned Comey’s character and whether he had broken the law in revealing their conversations.

Comey had been leading an FBI investigation into several Trump aides and their contacts with the Russian government — which US intelligence agencies say tried to tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor — before being fired.

After his dismissal, Comey leaked shocking details of a series of meetings with Trump, in which the president allegedly asked for Comey’s “loyalty” and suggested that he shelve an FBI investigation into Trump’s national security adviser.

Trump critics said that was evidence that the president may have obstructed justice, possible grounds for impeachment.

The president has suggested several times, but not confirmed, that tapes of his private talks with Comey exist — a prospect the ex-FBI chief has emphatically welcomed.

A member of Trump’s legal team, Jay Sekulow, told ABC on Sunday that Trump would “address the issue of the tapes, whether the tapes exist or not, next week.”

The White House has repeatedly tried to shift the focus away from the content of Comey’s allegations and onto the manner of their release. It was not clear exactly what Trump meant by “prevalent” — a point made in a flurry of Twitter postings by critics of the president. And legal experts have questioned whether Comey’s leak broke any law.

Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz has indicated he will file a complaint about Comey to the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI.

In sworn testimony to the Senate on Thursday, Comey painted Trump as untrustworthy and admitted he asked a “friend,” identified as a Columbia University law professor, to release a memo of his conversations with the president to the press.

Comey said he had hoped releasing the information via the media would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to handle the Russia probe, a ploy that ultimately proved successful.

He also branded the president a liar and said Trump urged him to abandon the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

On Friday, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski criticized Comey as not “man enough” for having leaked the memo via his friend rather than doing it himself.

“He gave his notes to a Columbia law professor because he wasn’t man enough to give the notes directly to the media,” Lewandowski told NBC’s morning show “Today.”

Though Trump has lambasted Comey as a “leaker,” he also claimed “total and complete vindication” following the ex-FBI chief’s testimony, focusing on Comey’s confirmation that Trump was not personally being probed.

Comey “leaking his own memos to manipulate the system is exactly why people dislike the swamp,” said Trump ally Newt Gingrich. During his campaign, Trump often said it was time to “drain the swamp” in Washington of corrupt and self-dealing insiders.

But Trump’s denunciations of Comey have only fueled demands that the president — who has denied asking for loyalty or urging that the investigation be shelved — give his account under oath.

On Friday, Trump indicated that he was willing to do that, a highly unusual step for a sitting president and one fraught with legal hazard.

Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating suspected Russian election meddling, have written White House counsel Don McGahn asking whether tapes exist and, if so, that they be produced to the committee by June 23.

Republican Senator Susan Collins called on Sunday for Trump to “voluntarily turn them over” to the Senate Intelligence Committee and to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, investigating possible collusion between Trump aides and Russia.

“I would be fine with issuing a subpoena, but that most likely would come from the special counsel’s office,” Collins told CNN.

Another Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told CBS he thought it would be “inappropriate for the president to testify publicly.”

He said he tended to believe Trump’s denial of having done “anything wrong with the Russians,” wryly adding: “He can’t collude with his own government. Why do you think he’s colluding with the Russians?”

More seriously, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer voiced the growing concern among Trump allies that the president is digging himself into a legal hole, offering this advice to the president:

“You have not been vindicated. U won’t be unless Bob Mueller says so. Stop talking. You’re heading into a giant perjury trap.”

5. Panama papers case: Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to appear before anti-graft probe team :-

Pakistan’s prime minister will appear before an anti-corruption investigation commission over allegations against his family, a government minister said Sunday.

Nawaz Sharif and his children are accused of graft in an ongoing case which has gripped Pakistan and threatened to topple the prime minister after the Panama Papers leak last year linked the family to offshore businesses.

“Yes, the government has received a letter by the Joint Investigation Team in which he has been directed to appear before this committee and he will appear in front of them,” information and broadcast minister Marriyum Aurangzeb told Geo television network.

The letter, circulated on social media, is signed by the head of the JIT and asks Sharif to “appear and associate with the JIT on Thursday, June 15”.

It also asks the prime minister to “bring all relevant record”.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court in April ordered a joint investigation team of anti-corruption officials, along with the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence, to probe the claims and issue a report within 60 days.

Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party has spearheaded the push against Sharif, has called on the prime minister to resign until the investigation is completed.

The controversy erupted with the publication of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca last year documenting the offshore dealings of many of the world’s rich and powerful.

Three of Sharif’s four children — his daughter and presumptive political heir Maryam, and his sons Hasan and Hussein — were implicated.

At the heart of the case is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies.

The ruling PML-N party insists the wealth was acquired legally, through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.

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