Israel ex-minister admits spying for Iran

Former Israeli cabinet minister Gonen Segev is to be jailed for 11 years after he admitted spying for Iran, Israel’s justice ministry says.

Segev, who served as energy minister in the 1990s, was allegedly recruited while working as a doctor in Nigeria.

He was accused of leaking details about Israeli officials and security sites.

Segev was detained in Equatorial Guinea in May and extradited to Israel. He pleaded guilty to serious espionage as part of a deal with prosecutors.

The 63-year-old will be formally sentenced at a hearing on 11 February.

There was no immediate comment from the Iranian authorities.

Ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when religious hardliners came to power, Iran’s leaders have called for Israel’s elimination. Iran rejects Israel’s right to exist, considering it an illegitimate occupier of Muslim land.

In 2005, Segev was given a five-year prison sentence after being convicted of trying to smuggle 30,000 ecstasy pills from the Netherlands to Israel using a diplomatic passport with a falsified expiry date.

He also had his licence to practice medicine revoked, but he was allowed to work as a doctor in Nigeria when he moved there after his release from jail in 2007.

Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, said in June that Segev had confessed to making contact with Iranian embassy officials in Nigeria in 2012 and visiting Iran twice to meet his handlers.

He was allegedly given a classified communications system to send coded messages and passed on “information related to the energy sector, security sites in Israel and officials in political and security institutions”.

While Segev admitted to the charge of espionage, he reportedly told investigators that he had been trying to “fool the Iranians and come back to Israel a hero”.

An initial charge of “assisting an enemy during a time of war” was removed from his indictment as part of his plea bargain.

Further details of the case remain under a gag order.

“The district attorney’s office wants to reveal more details about the affair, and once it’s out, it will be clear that Segev indeed had contacts with Iranians, but not to aid them,” Segev’s legal team told the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

“That is why the treason charge was removed from the amended indictment.”

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As Brexit debate begins, PM fails to win over Northern Irish kingmakers

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May failed to win over the Northern Irish party which props up her government to her Brexit deal on Wednesday, just hours before members of parliament were due to resume a debate on the divorce accord.

The future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain – with options ranging from a disorderly exit from the European Union to another membership referendum – because British lawmakers are expected on Jan. 15 to vote down the deal May struck with the EU in November.

May pulled a vote on the deal last month, admitting it would be defeated, and promised to seek “legal and political assurances” from the EU.

But the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said it would not support the deal unless May dropped a part known as the backstop which is aimed at preventing a hard border between the British province and EU-member Ireland if both sides fail to clinch a future trade deal.

“The only thing which could swing the DUP round is if the backstop as it applies to the United Kingdom as a whole or to Northern Ireland specifically were removed from this agreement,” said Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman.

Wilson, who is among 10 DUP MPs propping up May’s minority government, cast as “window dressing” her proposals to give the Northern Irish assembly the power to vote against new EU rules if the border backstop comes into force after Brexit.

Her deal, he said, was “ruinous”. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 at 2300 GMT.

May has repeatedly ruled out delaying Brexit, though she has also warned British lawmakers that if they reject her deal then Brexit could be derailed or the United Kingdom could leave without a deal.

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The government needs 318 votes to get a deal through parliament as seven Sinn Fein MPs do not sit, four speakers and deputy speaker do not vote and the four tellers are not counted.


May’s de-facto deputy cautioned MPs that it was a delusion to think the government would be able to negotiate a new divorce deal with the EU if parliament voted down her deal.

“I don’t think the British public are served by fantasies about magical, alternative deals that are somehow going to spring out of a cupboard in Brussels,” Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said in an interview with BBC radio.

May’s government suffered a defeat in parliament on Tuesday when MPs who oppose leaving without a deal won a vote on creating a new obstacle to a no-deal Brexit.

The 303 to 296 defeat means the government needs explicit parliamentary approval to leave the EU without a deal before it can use certain powers relating to taxation law. May’s office had earlier played down the technical impact of defeat.

The defeat highlights May’s weak position as leader of a minority government, a split party and a deeply divided country as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the club it joined in 1973.

Lidington said the vote showed that many MPs do not want a no deal but he cautioned that it was not enough to show simply what MPs did not want. Without an alternative, he said, the default position would be leaving without a deal.

Some investors and major banks believe May’s deal will be defeated on Tuesday but that eventually it will be approved.

The ultimate Brexit outcome will shape Britain’s $2.8 trillion economy, have far-reaching consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centres.

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Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, China: Your Wednesday Briefing

(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)

Good morning,

We start today with President Trump’s address to the nation, a revelation about Paul Manafort and our Travel section’s list of 52 Places to Go this year.

President Trump escalates the fight over a border wall

In his first prime-time address from the Oval Office, Mr. Trump sought on Tuesday to cast the situation at the Mexican border as a “humanitarian crisis,” raising the stakes in a dispute that has led to a partial government shutdown.

The president’s direct appeal to the American people, and his planned trip to the border on Thursday, are meant to pressure Congress to approve $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall. Yet Mr. Trump privately acknowledged earlier Tuesday that the speech would change little.

Democratic leaders then gave their own televised address, criticizing the president for asking taxpayers to pay for a wall he had long said Mexico would fund.

Watch: The president’s speech and the Democratic response by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer. (Or read the full transcripts.)

Fact check: We verified claims by Mr. Trump and the Democrats.

The Daily: On today’s episode, two Times reporters discuss the president’s address.

How regular Americans see the shutdown

President Trump’s speech on Tuesday painted a bleak picture of life along the border, an area prowled by “vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs.”

Before the address, The Times sent correspondents to the Mexican side of the border and to the four states on the U.S. side — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — and found few who shared the president’s sense of alarm.

Another angle: There won’t be paychecks this week for many of the 800,000 government employees caught up in the shutdown. Here’s how the effects are piling up.

Paul Manafort is accused of giving data to a Russian

President Trump’s former campaign manager shared polling data during the 2016 presidential campaign with an associate tied to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday.

It’s the clearest evidence to date that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russians.

The details: Mr. Manafort’s lawyers apparently made the disclosure by accident while responding to charges that he had lied to prosecutors working for the special counsel. The document also revealed that Mr. Manafort “may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan” with the associate “on more than one occasion.”

Another angle: Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower in 2016, was charged in New York in a separate case that showed her deep ties to the Kremlin.

China budges on tariffs. Will the U.S. budge back?

Beijing has made a number of trade concessions in the hopes that President Trump will end the trade war.

Last month, China dropped retaliatory measures on American-made cars and started buying U.S. soybeans again. It has also vowed to end corporate espionage and to allow foreign investors into more industries.

But the Trump administration is worried that China won’t follow through on its promises.

What’s next: Three days of trade talks ended today in Beijing. The two sides hope to finish a deal before March 2, when higher American tariffs are set to kick in.

If you have 7 minutes, this is worth it

Older women grow in numbers and clout

There are more women over 50 in the U.S. than ever before, according to Census Bureau data. And they are healthier, working longer and have more income.

Our gender editor, Jessica Bennett, looks at the power those women wield. To name names (and ages): In Congress, Donna Shalala, above, 77; Maxine Waters, 80; Nancy Pelosi, 78. Elsewhere, Susan Zirinsky, 66, will take over CBS News in March, and Glenn Close, 71, just won a Golden Globe for best actress.

Here’s what else is happening

Turkey snubs John Bolton: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to meet the U.S. national security adviser on Tuesday, saying he had made a “grave mistake” in demanding that Turkey protect America’s Kurdish allies in Syria.

Free to vote again: As many as 1.5 million former felons in Florida have had their voting rights restored, as a ballot measure approved in November went into effect.

Jazmine Barnes killing: The main suspect in the fatal shooting of a 7-year-old girl from the Houston area has been charged with capital murder. Another man has been charged in the case.

Mario Batali accusations: Three sexual assault investigations against the celebrity chef have been closed because of a lack of evidence.

Refugee status granted: An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and flew to Thailand was granted refugee status today, clearing the way for an asylum request. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun said she feared her family would kill her if she were forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Snapshot: Above, a competitor on Tuesday in the second stage of the Dakar Rally in Peru, from Pisco to San Juan de Marcona. The annual race started in 1979 and initially went from Paris to Dakar, Senegal, but it was moved to South America in 2009 because of security concerns.

In memoriam: Bernice Sandler, known as “the godmother of Title IX,” was the driving force behind the creation of the civil rights law of 1972 that barred sex discrimination by educational institutions that received federal funding. She died on Saturday at 90.

52 Places to Go: Our Travel section has released its annual list of destinations to try in 2019. At No. 1: Puerto Rico, which is bouncing back from Hurricane Maria with the help of performances of “Hamilton,” with Lin-Manuel Miranda reprising his lead role. Also, meet the person who will visit all 52 places for The Times this year.

Late-night comedy: Trevor Noah joked about the possibility that President Trump could declare a national emergency over border security. “If I’m the Democrats, I would just give Trump the wall before he finds out what he can really do.”

What we’re reading: This meme roundup from Townhall. “The internet exploded with posts last night about the response Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer made to President Trump’s speech,” writes our briefings editor, Andrea Kannapell. “Curated collections followed rapidly. This struck me as one of the most discriminating.”

Now, a break from the news

Cook: Smoky bacon, red cabbage and a bit of cream make for a delicious pasta dinner.

Watch: The final season of “You’re the Worst,” which starts tonight on FXX. Will the terrible twosome find anything resembling happiness together?

Go: The Public Theater’s annual Under the Radar festival features experimental theater pieces. If you’re in New York, here are our critics’ suggestions for what’s worth your time.

Listen: D’Angelo’s latest track, “Unshaken,” is “lonely cowboy-western soul,” writes Jon Caramanica, “an incantation for those with bleary eyes.”

Smarter Living: 5G is short for “fifth-generation wireless technology.” The essentials: It will make smartphones faster, most likely bringing big changes to video games, sports and shopping. But all kinds of devices that share data — like robots, security cameras, drones and cars — will be affected.

We also have tips on maintaining a stock portfolio in retirement when markets face volatility.

And now for the Back Story on …

The Times and leaks

How does The Times decide when to publish leaked information?

First, sharing government secrets is generally legal. One exception, per the Espionage Act, is information related to national defense that could be used to harm the U.S. And some things, like nuclear secrets, are separately protected.

The Supreme Court has upheld the news media’s right to publish government secrets, citing the First Amendment. The landmark 1971 Pentagon Papers ruling struck down an attempt by the Nixon administration to keep The Times from publishing classified information about the Vietnam War.

Still, as our Washington correspondent Charlie Savage notes in our series Understanding The Times, we don’t always exercise that right. Sometimes officials ask us to “consider voluntarily not publishing.”

Because “suppressing information is not something The Times takes lightly,” Mr. Savage explains, those decisions are handled by our most senior editorial leadership.

“It is extremely rare,” he adds, “for The Times to hold or kill such a story.”

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Chris

Thank you
To Eleanor Stanford for returning to the culture beat and to James K. Williamson for taking up the Smarter Living beat. Jennifer Krauss and Blake Wilson helped with today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at [email protected]

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Today’s episode is on President Trump’s speech.
• Here’s today’s mini crossword puzzle, and a clue: Savory taste imparted by MSG (5 letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The Times Washington bureau chief is Elisabeth Bumiller, who previously covered the Pentagon and City Hall in New York, among many other things.

Chris Stanford is based in London and writes the U.S. version of the Morning Briefing. He also compiles a weekly news quiz. He was previously a producer for the desktop home page and mobile site, helping to present The New York Times’s news report to readers. Before joining The Times in 2013, he was an editor and designer at The Washington Post and other news organizations. @stanfordc

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South African court finds Mozambican ex-finance minister's detention legal

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A South African judge ruled on Wednesday that the detention of Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang over $2 billion of fraudulent loans was legal.

Lawyers for Chang, who was arrested in South Africa on Dec. 29 and denies wrongdoing, argued in court on Tuesday that his detention on U.S. charges was illegal because a request for extradition had not yet been received.

Chang was in charge of Mozambique’s finances when it failed to disclose government guarantees for $2 billion in international borrowing by state-owned firms.

Judge Sagra Subrayen said in a Johannesburg court on Wednesday that Chang’s detention had followed the procedure set out in the extradition treaty between South Africa and the United States, and that she was not persuaded by the defense’s argument.

“The application is therefore dismissed,” she said.

If Chang is extradited to the United States, analysts say the case against him could unearth details about Mozambique’s debt scandal, with potential implications for senior members of the ruling party ahead of elections in October.

Mozambique’s acknowledgement in 2016 of the undisclosed borrowing prompted the International Monetary Fund and foreign donors to cut off support, triggering a currency collapse and a debt crisis that Mozambique is still struggling to recover from.

The United States is also seeking the extradition of three former Credit Suisse bankers and the lead salesman of Abu Dhabi-based holding company Privinvest, who it says are implicated in the fraud.

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Parents in Essex removing pupils from RE lessons about Islam, report finds

The paper makes recommendations on how religious education in Thurrock could be revitalised to improve “community integration, locally, regionally and nationally”.

The report, written by a body that advises on RE in schools, reveals that parents “have objected to the teaching of Islam and withdrawn children from lessons and visits to places of worship.”

It adds: “The outcome for those children, who arguably are those that most need to be taught about Islam, are no longer being taught about it.”

The Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) report for Thurrock, a former Ukip stronghold, added: “It is not clear whether or not this is a widespread issue in Thurrock, but it is clear that SACRE needs to investigate.”

A separate report, the Thurrock community safety partnership strategic assessment, found the highest number of hate crime offences in the area have been against Muslim victims.

The national census of 2011 reported Muslims make up only 2.01% of the population of the local authority area.

Thurrock also registered the fourth-highest Leave vote in the EU referendum, with 72.3% voting to exit the bloc.

In January last year, all 17 Ukip councillors in Thurrock resigned from the party and formed a new group, Thurrock Independents. Ten of this group remain sitting councillors.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned last year that parents were abusing the right to withdraw their children from religious education lessons due to their prejudices and urged the government to step in.

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Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash faces several sentencing possibilities

After pleading guilty to 29 counts of dangerous driving, all eyes will be on the sentencing of Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the driver charged in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

On Tuesday in a Melfort courtroom, Sidhu pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.


Jaskirat Sidhu: What we know about the driver charged in the Humboldt Broncos crash

Tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash chosen as Canadian Press’ news story of the year

Case of truck company charged in Humboldt Broncos crash adjourned til new year

Simply put, said one legal expert, there hasn’t been a case like it in the country because of the sheer number of victims involved and the enormous loss caused by the collision.

On April 6, 2018, while en route to a game, the team’s bus collided at an intersection with the semi-truck that Sidhu was driving. Sixteen people, including 10 Bronco players, were killed, and 13 others were injured.

His sentence is now set to commence on Jan. 28, with three to five days set aside for the vast number of victim impact statements that will be presented in court.

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu leaves provincial court in Melfort, Sask., Tuesday, January, 8, 2019. Sidhu, the driver of a transport truck involved in a deadly crash with the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team’s bus, has pleaded guilty to all charges against him. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

It will be a precedent-setting case for all the wrong reasons, and incredibly difficult for the judge, said criminal defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle.

“This is a very difficult task, because what the public expects and the justice system is capable of doing are really two different, distinct things,” said Pfefferle, who is not involved in the case. 

According to Sidhu’s lawyer, his client pleaded voluntarily, and while Sidhu can’t make things better for the families, he didn’t want to make them any worse by heading to trial.

“Sentencing is often said to be an individualized process, but judges use other cases to formulate their positions and this is a case that is going to be, in many respects, unlike any other,” Pfefferle added.

The wreckage of a fatal bus crash carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team outside of Tisdale, Sask., is seen on April, 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

There are no cases of this magnitude in the country that counsel could draw from in terms of sentencing ranges or recommendations, he said.

In 2017, semi-truck driver Normand Lavoie was sentenced to three years after killing three teens from Carrot River, who were stopped at a construction zone.

The professional truck driver was said to be on “autopilot” when he rear-ended them, and it was later revealed in court that he suffered from sleep apnea.

According to Pfefferle, the number of deaths associated with this crash could result in a higher sentence, but we have yet to hear the mitigating factors in this case.

“There’s a very wide range here that the court would be considering,” Pfefferle said. “Likely anywhere as low as 18 months all the way up to significant penitentiary sentences.”

Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert.

The maximum sentence for a single count of dangerous driving causing death is 14 years, and the maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing bodily harm is 10 years.

Generally speaking, saidPfefferle, he’s seen offenders in Saskatchewan sentenced to up to four years in the penitentiary for a single count of dangerous driving causing death, and 90 days incarceration for bodily harm.

Sidhu remains out on bail until his sentencing, and for some of the 29 families directly touched by this tragedy, no sentence will be long enough to be satisfactory.

“The court is really not equipped to address the tragedy and the loss here,” Pfefferle explained.

“It’s not the court’s ability to really address that. It’s to assess the situation and come down with an even-handed, fair resolution that speaks to the moral culpability and moral blameworthiness of the particular offender.”

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Trump speech and Democrats’ response in full

President Trump gave his first TV address to the nation explaining why he wants Congress to fund a wall on the US-Mexico border.

It was swiftly followed by a response from the Democrats’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, who oppose his plan. The stand-off has partially shut down government.

Here is a transcript of what they said:

President Donald Trump

My fellow Americans, tonight I’m speaking to you because there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.

Every day, Customs and Border Protection agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country. We are out of space to hold them, and we have no way to promptly return them back home to their country.

America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation, but all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages. Among those hardest hit are African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.

Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90% of which floods across from our southern border. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.

In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes and 4,000 violent killings. Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.

This is a humanitarian crisis. A crisis of the heart, and a crisis of the soul. Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States, a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs. One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims, by far, of our broken system.

This is the tragic reality of illegal immigration on our southern border. This is the cycle of human suffering that I am determined to end. My administration has presented Congress with a detailed proposal to secure the border and stop the criminal gangs, drug smugglers and human traffickers. It’s a tremendous problem.

Our proposal was developed by law enforcement professionals and border agents at the Department of Homeland Security. These are the resources they have requested to properly perform their mission and keep America safe. In fact, safer than ever before.

The proposal from homeland security includes cutting edge technology for detecting drugs, weapons, illegal contraband and many other things. We have requested more agents, immigration judges to process the sharp rise of unlawful migration fuelled by our very strong economy.

Our plan also contains an urgent request for humanitarian assistance and medical support. Furthermore, we have asked Congress to close border security loopholes so that illegal immigrant children can be safely and humanely returned back home.

Finally, as part of an overall approach to border security, law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7bn (£4.5bn) for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense.

The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500bn a year. Vastly more than the $5.7bn we have requested from Congress. The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.

Senator Chuck Schumer, who you will be hearing from later tonight, has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past along with many other Democrats. They changed their mind only after I was elected president.

Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis and they have refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation.

A spotlight on the people reshaping our politics. A conversation with voters across the country. And a guiding hand through the endless news cycle, telling you what you really need to know.

The federal government remains shut down for one reason, and one reason only, because Democrats will not fund border security. My administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation, but the only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government.

This situation could be solved in a 45-minute meeting. I have invited congressional leadership to the White House tomorrow (Wednesday) to get this done. Hopefully we can rise above partisan politics in order to support national security.

Some have suggested a barrier is immoral. Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences, and gates around their homes? They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside but because they love the people on the inside. The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimised.

America’s heart broke the day after Christmas when a young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien, [who] just came across the border. The life of an American hero was stolen by someone who had no right to be in our country. Day after day, precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders.

In California, an air force veteran was raped, murdered and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history. In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading and dismembering his neighbour. In Maryland, MS-13 gang members who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl.

Over the last several years I have met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I have held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief stricken fathers. So sad, so terrible. I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices and the sadness gripping their souls. How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?

To those who refuse to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask, imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken. To every member of Congress: pass a bill that ends this crisis. To every citizen, call Congress and tell them to finally, after all of these decades, secure our border.

This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about whether we fulfil our sacred duty to the American citizens we serve. When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect our country and that is what I will always do so help me God.

Thank you and good night.

Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Good evening.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak directly to the American people tonight about how we can end this shutdown and meet the needs of the American people. Sadly much of what we heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice. The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts.

The fact is on the very first day of this Congress, House Democrats passed Senate Republican legislation to reopen government and fund smart, effective border security solutions. But the president is rejecting these bipartisan bills which would reopen government over his obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall, a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for.

The fact is, President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety and wellbeing of the American people, and withhold the pay cheques of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation, many of them veterans.

He promised to keep the government shutdown for months or years, no matter whom it hurts. That’s just plain wrong. The fact is, we all agree we need to secure our borders while honouring our values. We can build the infrastructure and roads at our ports of entry. We can install new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation. We can hire the personnel we need to facilitate trade and immigration at the border. We can fund more innovation to detect unauthorised crossings.

The fact is, the women and children at the border are not a security threat. They are a humanitarian challenge, a challenge that President Trump’s own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened. And the fact is, President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage and stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.

Thank you. Leader Schumer.

Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer

Thank you, Speaker Pelosi.

My fellow Americans, we address you tonight for one reason only. The president of the United States, having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall, and unable to convince the Congress or the American people to foot the bill, has shut down the government.

American democracy doesn’t work that way. We don’t govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down. Hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage.

Tonight, and throughout this debate and throughout his presidency, President Trump has appealed to fear, not facts. Division, not unity. Make no mistake, Democrats and the president both want stronger border security. However, we sharply disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it.

So, how do we untangle this mess? Well, there’s an obvious solution. Separate the shutdown from arguments over border security. There is bipartisan legislation supported by Democrats and Republicans to reopen government while allowing debate over border security to continue.

There is no excuse for hurting millions of Americans over a policy difference. Federal workers are about to miss a pay cheque. Some families can’t get a mortgage to buy a new home. Farmers and small businesses won’t get loans they desperately need.

Most presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purposes. This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.

My fellow Americans, there is no challenge so great that our nation cannot rise to meet it. We can reopen the government and continue to work through disagreements over policy. We can secure our border without an ineffective, expensive wall. And we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security.

The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30ft wall. So our suggestion is a simple one. Mr President, reopen the government, and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now.

Thank you.

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Hong Kong unveils proposed law banning insults to Chinese national anthem

HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong unveiled a proposed law on Wednesday (Jan 9) to punish anyone who disrespects the Chinese national anthem with up to three years in jail, as Beijing ramps up pressure on the semi-autonomous city to fall into line.

The Bill, which will have its first reading in the city’s Parliament on Jan 23, sets up a fresh battle between the authorities and democracy activists who say the financial hub’s freedoms are being steadily dismantled.

Hong Kong has mulled over the law ever since China fine-tuned legislation on the proper way and place to sing the anthem, tightening rules that already bar people from performing it at parties, weddings and funerals.

A draft Bill made public on Wednesday showed that the city planned to copy the mainland by bringing in a maximum three-year prison sentence for “serious” cases of disrespect towards the national anthem.

The draft outlaws playing the anthem “in a distorted or disrespectful way, with intent to insult”.

It also forbids altering the anthem’s lyrics and its score. As well as possible jail time, offenders will also face fines of up to HK$50,000 (S$8,650).

Mr Patrick Nip, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, told reporters the law would “preserve the dignity of the national anthem and promote respect”.

Defiant Hong Kong football fans have booed the anthem at matches for years.

Fans have also previously turned their backs and displayed Hong Kong independence banners during matches as some activists call for the city to split with the mainland, a notion that infuriates Beijing.

The draft Bill cited the difficulty of identifying culprits in a crowd of football supporters as one of the reasons police will be given double the amount of time – one year – to investigate a non-indictable offence.

The Bill also ramps up how often China’s national anthem will be played at official events, including at the inauguration of new judges.

That may raise eyebrows given Hong Kong’s legal system is separate from the mainland under the 1997 handover agreement with Britain designed to guarantee the city’s liberties for 50 years.

Critics, including a growing number of British lawmakers, accuse China of reneging on that agreement.

They cite a variety of moves targeting the city’s freedom of expression, including a raft of jailings of democracy activists, the disqualification of rebel lawmakers and an unprecedented move last year to outlaw a small political party that advocated independence on national security grounds.

The authorities also refused to renew the visa of a Financial Times journalist after he chaired a talk at a press club with the leader of that party before the ban.

The law is expected to pass with few changes, as it only needs a simple majority in the city’s legislature, which is heavily weighted towards the pro-Beijing establishment.

Hong Kong authorities deny freedoms are stuttering in the city. Instead, they say their moves targeting independence activists are allowed under the provisions in the handover agreement covering national security.

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Furious Calais port boss savages ‘disrespectful’ Tory Chris Grayling over Brexit

The boss of the Port of Calais has launched a blistering attack on top Tory Chris Grayling, saying his "disrespectful" behaviour left him "shocked".

Jean-Marc Puissesseau savaged the Transport Secretary for spending £100million on ferries to prepare for no deal Brexit – including on a firm that doesn’t yet own any ferries.

Seaborne Freight was handed a contract worth almost £14million to set up a route from Ramsgate, Kent, to Ostend in Belgium to boost capacity if there is no deal.

Meanwhile the M20 motorway and disused Manston airfield are being lined up as lorry parks if extra checks spark delays at the Port of Dover.

But despite previously warning of 30-mile tailbacks, port President Mr Puissesseau claimed his port was perfectly able to handle the freight and implied the no deal spending was insulting.

"We have been preparing for no deal for one year in Calais and on 29 March we will be ready", he claimed.

And he angrily hit out at the government for allegedly trying to take business from his port by setting up a new service to Ostend in Belgium.

He told the BBC Calais will not impose extra delays, other than the migrant checks running now.

His officials will only ask for customs declarations, he claimed.

"We will not stop and ask more than we are doing today," he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

"I am very shocked.

"I consider it disrespectful to Calais and to Dover what has been decided by the Mr Grayling of the British government."

Mr Puissesseau made his bold claim of no delays despite research for the government warning it would take just 70 seconds of checks per truck to cause six-day tailbacks in Kent.

He said the money was helping "three ferry companies, among them one company which has no ferry, which is not working today, helping from Ostend to Ramsgate.

"It is a complete shock for us."

He claimed the "only positive point" is "the migrants will leave Calais I hope to go to Oostend."

The row illustrates the delicate negotiations over Brexit between the UK, EU and private firms.

The UK government has insisted it is sensible to prepare for every eventuality, including ferry capacity.

A Department for Transport spokesman said of Seaborne: "This contract was awarded in the full knowledge that Seaborne Freight is a new shipping provider, and that the extra capacity and vessels would be provided as part of its first services.

"As with all contracts, we carefully vetted the company’s commercial, technical and financial position in detail before making the award."

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Christmas decorations kill NZ birds

Dozens of birds have been found dead or injured in New Zealand with Christmas decorations tied around their necks and wings.

Sparrows and pigeons have been reported with “decorative trinkets” tied to them in Wellington.

Some of them died of starvation as they are unable to fly and find food, according to the SPCA.

Although there have been similar incidents since 2015, there has been a spike in sightings in recent weeks.

Authorities believe the birds are being deliberately “decorated” as the tinsel and bows are tightly and carefully attached, the New Zealand Herald reported.

“Many try to pry the foreign objects off their bodies with their beaks and feet, becoming further entangled and preventing them from eating, drinking and flying. With others, the decorations are wrapped so tightly it completely cuts off their blood circulation.

“Those that do survive and arrive at our centre are always in a very bad state, and are so malnourished and distressed that we have had to humanely euthanise them,” SPCA spokesperson Paige Janssen said in an email to the BBC.

According to Ms Janssen, there have been several reported cases of “decorated” birds since 2015. However the number of sightings has increased over the Christmas and New Year period.

“We received around 30 calls alone just over this period. They were multiple sightings of a dozen birds that are still mobile and flying around the Kilbirnie area that we are unable to reach,” she said.

SPCA Wellington is looking for the suspect behind this “case of cruelty” and last week put out a plea to the public to come forward with any information.

In a breakthrough on Tuesday, the group rescued seven “decorated” pigeons from a property in the eastern suburb of Kilbirnie in Wellington. But SPCA is continuing their investigation and is still encouraging members of the public to come forward with any information.

The pigeons were found to have been in a “distressed but healthy condition”.

Some of the rescued pigeons were also painted the same colour as the tinsel tied around them.

“One pigeon had quite bright red Christmas tinsel wrapped around its wings and then the top of its head had been painted with red paint as well as its wings had been tipped with red paint,” the New Zealand Herald quoted SPCA regional manager for the central region Ros Alsford as saying.

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