Malaysia carries out cloud seeding to tame haze in administrative capital Putrajaya

Robie de Guzman   •   September 17, 2019   •   133

Malaysia carried out cloud seeding on Monday (September 16) to tame haze and control air pollution in its administrative capital Putrajaya.

Parts of Malaysia, including Putrajaya, have been reeling under an impact of heavy haze with air quality dropping to a “very unhealthy” 203 benchmark, on the Air Pollutant Index the country uses to calculate, as forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia continue to affect the air.

Malaysia carried out cloud seeding in the hope of inducing rain and also closed hundreds of schools and sent half a million face masks to Sarawak, on Borneo island, this week, as fires in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces continued to burn.

Indonesia’s neighbours have regularly complained about smog caused by its forest blazes – often started by farmers trying to clear land for palm oil and pulp plantations – though Jakarta has denied the accusation, saying forest fires had also started in other countries across the region. (Reuters)

(Production: Ebrahim Harris, Sunil Kataria)

U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo in Ankara for talks on Turkey’s Syria offensive

Robie de Guzman   •   October 17, 2019

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens to US President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks during a meeting with President of Italy Sergio Mattarella in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 16 October 2019. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS / POOL

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Ankara on Thursday (October 17) as part of Washington’s efforts to convince Turkey to halt its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.

Turkey’s week-long assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 160,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump.

Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish fighters, who were Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Turkey launched its offensive on Oct. 9.

Following a phone call with Erdogan, who has rejected calls for ceasefire or mediation, Trump dispatched top aides including Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara for emergency talks to try to persuade Turkey to halt the offensive. (Reuters)

Britain clinches Brexit deal, Johnson now faces parliament challenge

Robie de Guzman   •   October 17, 2019

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (not pictured) at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 15 October 2019. EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN / POOL

Britain clinched a last-minute Brexit deal with the European Union on Thursday (October 17), but still faced a challenge in getting it approved by parliament.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Britain and the European Union had agreed a “great” new Brexit deal and urged lawmakers to approve it at the weekend.

“We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control,” Johnson said in a tweet.

Johnson is hoping to get approval for the agreement in a vote at an extraordinary session of the British parliament on Saturday, to pave the way for an orderly departure on October 31.

However, the Northern Irish party that Johnson needs to help ratify any agreement has refused to support the deal that was hammered out over weeks of negotiations.

The head of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said in Brussels he was “unhappy” with the deal and would vote against it. Lawmakers in his party said they had been told to vote for another referendum on Saturday.

Johnson has no majority in the 650-seat parliament, and in practice needs 320 votes to get a deal ratified this Saturday – in what will be the first Saturday session since the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982. The DUP have 10 votes.

The British parliament defeated similar deals struck by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, three times.

Johnson won the top job by pledging to renegotiate May’s agreement, though he is reviving the bulk of it now, with changes to the protocol on how to treat the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

The uncertainty over parliament’s approval means that, two weeks before the latest date for the United Kingdom’s departure from the world’s largest trading bloc, the possible outcomes still range from an orderly departure to a chaotic exit or even another referendum that could reverse the entire endeavour.

It is unclear what Brexit will ultimately mean for the United Kingdom and the European project – built on the ruins of World War Two as a way to integrate economic power and thus end centuries of European bloodshed.

Johnson, who was the face of the campaign to leave the EU in Britain’s 2016 referendum, has repeatedly said he will not ask for a delay – even though parliament has passed a law to oblige him to do just that if it has not agreed and ratified a deal by Saturday. (Reuters)

Pelosi, Trump exchange ‘meltdown’ barbs over meeting on U.S. policy in Syria

Robie de Guzman   •   October 17, 2019

US Speaker of the House Democrat Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks to members of the news media outside the West Wing of the White House following a meeting between US President Donald J. Trump and Congressional leaders, in Washington, DC, USA, 16 October 2019. Trump met with Congressional leaders to discuss the US withdrawal from Syria. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democratic leaders on Wednesday (October 16) cut short a meeting with Republican President Donald Trump after he had a “meltdown” over a House of Representatives vote condemning his Syria withdrawal and showed no signs of having a plan to deal with a crisis there.

Trump called Pelosi a “third-rate politician” and the meeting in the White House deteriorated into a diatribe, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters.

Later, in remarks to reporters on Capitol Hill, Pelosi said that Trump actually called her a “third-grade” politician.

“What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown. Sad to say,” Pelosi had said upon leaving.

Trump posted on Twitter on Wednesday night – “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!” with a photo of Pelosi standing up and pointing at him during the meeting.

The Democrats exited the meeting complaining that they were expecting to hear Trump provide details on a plan for dealing with an unfolding “crisis” in Syria but instead were subjected to “derogatory” language from him about congressional Democrats and Democratic former President Barack Obama.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, in a statement, called Pelosi’s decision to walk out “baffling but not surprising.”

She added that after Democratic leaders “chose to storm out,” remaining Republican leaders held a productive meeting.

Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces ahead of a Turkish offensive last week into northern Syria against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters, removing their protection, has been roundly criticized, even by fellow Republicans. The Americans and the Kurds had fought alongside each other against Islamic State militants, some of whom were captured and jailed under Kurdish control in Syria.

Pelosi said Trump was upset at the start of the closed meeting because so many Republicans joined Democrats to vote for a resolution condemning his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.

The vote was 354 to 60, with dozens of Trump’s fellow Republicans joining the majority Democrats. The split underscored deep unhappiness in Congress over Trump’s action, which many lawmakers view as abandoning loyal Kurdish fighters.

“I think that vote – the size of the vote, more than 2-1 of the Republicans voted to oppose what the president did – probably got to the president. Because he was shaken up by it,” Pelosi said after emerging from the White House.

“And that’s why we couldn’t continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it.” (Reuters)

(Production: Kristin Neubauer)

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