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Key Impeachment Witnesses Fired From White House Job

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On Friday US President Donald Trump fired two key witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Gordon Sondland from the White House. Vindman was the top Ukraine expert at National Security while Sondland was the US Ambassador to the European Union.

One of President Trump’s advisors said to CNN that firing of the witnesses was a necessary method to flush out the pipes showing that anyone who tries to side against the President would not be tolerated.

According to the statement of Vindman’s attorney, Vindman was pushed out of his role months earlier than expected. He was not supposed to leave until July but he was mentioning to his colleagues that he might end up leaving soon. On the other hand, Sondland said that he was recalled from his post which was effective immediately. Sondland said that he was grateful for the opportunity to work under President Trump, and he was proud of his accomplishments.

These dismissals appear to be some sort of payback to Vindman and Sondland’s most damning testimonies given to the House impeachment probe last year which was both under subpoena. Their explosive testimonies during last year’s fall’s public hearing made them a target for Trump supporters both inside and outside the government. The firings followed two days after the Senate votes to acquit Trump on two articles of impeachment which largely sides with party lines.

Vindman was not alone as his twin brother who was a National Security Attorney Lt. Col Yevgeny Vindman, was also fired without any explanation. He was not involved and did not even testify. Yevgeny regrets not being able to serve the White House after his loyal service for over two decades.

Sondland’s dismissal comes after three months from when he connected Trump directly to the quid pro quo trading Ukrainian investigations into Trump’s political opponents for official actions. He claimed to be working on Ukraine under the express direction of the President along with Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani. Sondland even said that Trump withheld a White House invitation from the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky until the investigations were announced by Zelensky. Other witnesses also claim US military assistance p[art of quid pro quo but according to Sondland Trump never mentioned foreign component.

Trump fumed privately about both Vindman and Sondland’s testimonies. He was not happy with either of them and denied all along that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Europe

Portugal Parliament Vote to Allow Euthanasia

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On Thursday, 230-member Republic Assembly of Portugal parliament votes to legalise euthanasia and medically-assisted suicide for terminally sick people. This vote has made Portugal one of the few countries in the world that have permitted the procedures, however, the country’s president might try to block the legislation.

The Portugal parliament approved five such right-to-die bills each with comfortable margin while several people gathered outside parliament building protesting the measure chanting “Sim a Vida” as in their opinion Euthanasia does not end suffering it ends life.

On the other hand, things were tensed inside the parliament considering the historical weight of the situation. Each member was called in alphabetical order to state their vote on each of the five bills instead of electronic voting. Usually, such lengthy method is followed only for landmark decisions such as a declaration of war or impeachment.

After these bills were passed few lawmakers decided to take photographs of the electronic screen on the wall announcing the results using their smartphones. The bills got approved by margins between 28 and 41 votes.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa who was known to be critical about euthanasia could try and veto the law but parliament can overturn the veto with a second vote for approval as the Portuguese president doesn’t have many executive powers the law could still remain but he may ask the Constitutional Court to review the legislation.

Euthanasia is a process where the doctor directly gives fatal drugs to a patient which is legal in countries like Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Medically assisted suicide is a process where the patients take the lethal drug under medical supervision which is permitted in few states in the USA. Similar motion is also set in the socialist-led coalition government in Spain where they plan to take all legislative steps required to legalise euthanasia.

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Europe

Scotland Is Walking Small Steps Towards Independence

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Scotland’s First Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday that Scotland is taking steps towards holding a referendum on independence stating that it is a matter of time more than whether the country is separating from rest of Britain or not. During a news conference in Brussels, she said that that they need to confirm on the process with the UK government for the referendum which would be given a clear mandate by the Scottish people.

She even adds that Scotland is taking all necessary steps to make sure that a legal and legitimate referendum could be held which would be accepted and agreed both internally and internationally. One such step would be testing the potential question to ask the voters.

Sturgeon also mentions the fact that during the British election in December, where her party the Scottish National Party won 80 per cent of seats in Scotland. They fought the whole election on a stance that was anti-Brexit and pro-independence which means that the Scottish people did not see a future as part of Britain. and if they see an increase in support for independence rise or demand of choice grow, at the end no one can stop a clear democratic decision.

But she clearly mentions that Scotland first needs a referendum before they declare independence. Even the latest opinion poll supported independence just over 50 per cent mark. In 2014 a similar referendum saw 55 per cent Scots voting to stay a part of the United Kingdom. But many supporters of independence believe that Britain leaving the EU has changed the situation as the Scots voted against the 2016 Brexit referendum.

But the First Prime Minister did not seem sure if Scotland would be allowed to hold this referendum without the British government acceptance who currently refuse another independence vote. UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson pre-Brexit promises included that Britain could control their waters and still have access to the EU market. But this is one of the thorny issues faced by British EU negotiators. But, according to Sturgeon, Scottish salmon fishers would face a burden of 8.7 million pounds($11.3 million) providing export certificated for sales to the EU.

Scotland is not the only region asking freedom fro a larger country. In October 2017, the Catalonian region in Spain declared themselves independent based on a referendum. But later this referendum was found to be illegal by courts which further led to Spain’s biggest political crisis in several years.

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Europe

Two Women Ties The Knot Of The First Same-Sex Marriage In Northern Ireland

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On Tuesday, the first same-sex wedding happens in Nothern Ireland after two women tie a knot making this region of the United Kingdom’s last region to legalize gay marriages. Robyn Peoples, 26 who is a care worker and Sharni Edwards 27, who is a waitress got married in a ceremony in Carrickfergus which is near Belfast.

The couple said that they did not plan to marry each other but they seized the opportunity to make their love become the symbol of change in Northern Ireland. Robyn mentions in her statement that they fought for this opportunity for so long and now that they are here it is amazing. The negotiation signified that they were equal to a man and a woman and that their love is just the same not different. Both of them took their married name to be Edwards-Peoples.

The Northern Ireland legislature decided not to allow same-sex marriage passed by the British and Scottish parliaments in 2014. This legislation faced the most opposition from the conservative Democratic Unionist Party which is the biggest group in the Northern Ireland Assembly. But after several campaigns by groups that support equal rights, British Parliament planned to step in and make the legislation the same for the whole country.

This magnificent change took effect on 13th January and the weddings were allowed to begin four weeks later. Lawmakers from the UK took the opportunity and acted quickly when Northern Ireland’s regional assembly got suspended because of the problems between main Irish nationalist and British unionist power-sharing parties. This power-sharing administration finally got restored last month after a three-year-long break.

Even if Northern Ireland wants, they cannot just change the law that was made by the London parliament. Not only same-sex marriages, but British lawmakers also voted for access to abortion in Northern Ireland as it is highly restricted.

Among the few people who campaigned for the cause was Sara Canning who partnered with Lyra McKee, a journalist who got killed during gunfire by Irish Republican Army dissidents as she was reporting anti-police riots in April 2019. No one has been charged with the killing but according to the police statement, four men were arrested from Derry. Canning believes that the first same-sex marriage is indeed a wonderful moment in Irish history.

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Americas

Leaked Report Reveals France As Brazil’s Biggest Threat

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According to a secret report published in a Brazilian media on Friday, in the next 20 years, Brazil’s biggest military threat is expected to be France who could invade Amazon in 2035. The French embassy jokingly put down the words saying that they salute the limitless imagination of the report. Experts believe that this report could add another chapter to the troubled relations of Brazil and France which might redefine the foreign policy strategy.

Brazil’s military elite have their minds preoccupied with France after the last August diplomatic spat between French President Emmanuel Macron and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. According to a premier daily Folha de São Paulo sourced a leaked highest rank and file a military document that said that France would be the country’s biggest threat in 20 years due to the possible dispute over the Amazon.

The 45-page long document named “Defence scenarios 2040” was drafted based on interviews with 500 high ranked army officials who explained their biggest concerns and predictions during individual interviews. But the Embassy of France in Brasilia reacts immediately moments later on twitter saying that they salute the unlimited imaginations of the authors of the document.

According to the article published by Folha de São Paulo, the individual interviews were conducted during the meeting at the Defence Ministry’s Superior School of War which were then compiled to form a 20-year long foreign policy strategy which outlined few possible scenarios. It includes few other delirious hypotheses like organised coronavirus attack in 2039 Rock in Rio music festival by Southeast Asian ultranationalists.

Although the document mentioned four strategic scenarios France was a common threat to all after the Amazon fires hit headlines shocked the world. But the document omits the fact that France is Brazil’s main military partner. Bolsonaro was criticised by Macron for his environmental policies in August. But somehow the scenarios for the next 20 years seem to align with President Bolsonaro’s current agenda which increased international ties between the US and Israel.

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Europe

Switzerland Votes In Favor Of New Anti-Homophobia Law

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According to a projection published by GFS Bern polling and research group, Switzerland votes to back new law against homophobia in a referendum even though there was opposition from popular right-wing party Swiss People’s Party (SVP). Around 62 per cent voted in favour of the reform with only a margin of error of three per cent.

This new law would widen existing legislation against discrimination or incitement to hatred on grounds of not only sexual orientation but also ethnic and religious grounds. Under the law, homophobic comments made in a family setting or among friends would not be criminalised though. But the law bans public denigration and discrimination against someone or inciting hatred against that person for being gay in form of speech, text, gestures or images. Opinionated debates relating to the issues like same-sex marriage is still on but inciting hatred under the name of artistic production or jokes if proven would face consequences.

Mathia Reynard who is a lawmaker from the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland told channel RTS 1 that this was a historic day. He was the one who initiated the reform and he believes that this result gives a signal which is magnificent for everyone and for anyone who has been a victim of discrimination.

This change was passed long back in 2018 by the Swiss parliament but it was believed that it would end up censoring free speech hence critics forced a referendum on the issue. According to Eric Betinat who is an SVP local lawmaker in Geneva, said before the vote that this law was a part of an LGBT plan to slowly move towards same-sex marriage and medically assisted reproduction for the benefit of gay couples.

All of Switzerland’s major parties supported the law except for SVP which is the biggest political force in parliament. According to Jean-Pierre Sigrist, 71, who is the founder of an association of gay teachers said that maybe this law would have stopped him from getting beaten up outside a bar in Geneva four decades ago. He went to the police to complain only to get laughed at. He says that he supports freedom of expression but not the freedom to say anything at all.

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Europe

Anti-Putin Blogger Murdered With Russian Hit Squad Signature In France

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The murder of Imran Aliev who was an anti-Putin blogger from the disputed region of Chechnya in a French Hotel room last week has led to making French police believe that the murder could be politically motivated.

According to a French police official who briefed on the case, the police is now trying to track down the victim’s travel companion who seems to have disappeared after the murder. Investigators say that they want to speak with the Chenchen man who accompanied Aliev from his home in Belgium to North France by train last Wednesday evening. He was found dead the next morning and his throat was slit.

Imran Aliev was a 44-year-old blogger who was very vocal and opposed Chenchen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov as well as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He was from Chechnya which is a southeastern region in Russia that have fought two brutal wars to free itself from Russia in the last few decades. With approval from Moscow Kadyrov currently controls the region.

According to a French investigator who refused to be identified in the media talking about an open case, Aliev left Belgium on Wednesday where he was kept under police protection as there were threats because of his blogging opinions. Based on the travel documents another Chechen was identified who accompanied Aliev. But this identification could not be verified as it could be mistaken or illegal and the police will not be able to confirm anything until they speak to this man whom they believe could be an important witness.

On the other hand, European intelligence and law enforcement are extremely concerned as there are similar assassinations of people who are anti-Putin and Kadyrov in the European Union and the UK. Few such killings include the 15 people who were killed by Russian hit squads in the UK. These concerns increased as there was an attempted assassination of Sergei and Yulia Skripal using a nerve agent. One more such assassination of a Chenchen dissident took place in Berlin’s crowded park in broad daylight.

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Economy

To Protest Macron’s Economic Policies French Firefighters Light Themselves Up On Fire

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On Tuesday, thousands of firefighters marched through the streets of Paris to protest against the government’s recently announced pension reforms. Some were even bold enough and set themselves on fire to display of anger. These firefighters rejected President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed government pension system. Their demands include maintenance of staff levels, receive a premium that would reflect the risks they take at work and keep the old pension system.

Frederic Perrin the head of the union SPASDIS-CFTC, said that they are the final link in the chain of emergency aid in France and they are usually overwhelmed by callouts which refers to the fact that in France firefighters usually respond to general emergency calls. He even says that they require staffing and means to respond with a guarantee that they can just concentrate on their core missions and not serve to fill in the gaps left by absent health services.

According to Reuters’ reports, the workers were in their uniform some even clashed with the riot police who even fired tear gas at crowds. Several accounts also claimed that security forces hit few protestors with batons. A video of a firefighter under flames that have charred their uniforms goes viral on Twitter. They were under flames for around 15 seconds before one of the other firefighters sprayed themselves with a fire extinguisher.

Macron’s overhaul of the government pension system would bring in 42 currently existing pensions schemes and bring it under one single system. According to a Paris-based Journalist Cole Stangler, this would be the deepest overhaul of the country’s pension system since its birth after the second world war. Though it could save money, critics say it would hurt France’s retirement system which currently is the best in the world (93 per cent of old people in France are secure from poverty which is the highest in the European Union). the reforms would also increase the minimum age from 62 to 64.

Over the last several years France has witnessed strikes and protests along with the popular yellow vest movement. In December 2019, the strikes even added workforce from students and teachers to truckers, judges and nurses. Macron has been criticised severely as he cut unemployment benefits in 2017 and replaced it with wealth tax along with a property holdings tax that would benefit the super-rich. Just before the new year, he vowed to drop this proposal but later he said that it would be carried out asking people to cooperate.

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Europe

“CAA Is Entirely Internal,” Says Indian Government To EU

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The European Union(EU) parliament has moved resolutions on the Citizenship Amendment Act and the clampdown on Jammu and Kashmir. India is hence facing a major diplomatic backlash ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Brussels for the India-EU summit in March.

Six resolutions on both issues have been moved by 626 out of 751 members of the European Union Parliament. This included six groups of parliamentarians, European People’s Party(Christian Democrats) with 182 members, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats with 154 members, the Renew Europe Group with 108 members, Greens/European Free Alliance with 75 members, Conservatives and reformists with 66 members and European United Left and Nordic Green Left with 41 members.

Their greatest concern is that of a formation of a controversial citizenship law which might create the largest statelessness crisis in the world. More than 150 lawmakers had previously demanded that during any trade agreement with India, the EU insist on a strong human rights clause with effective implementation and suspension mechanism.

The resolution passed made reference to the Charter of the United Nations, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the India-EU Strategic Partnership Joint Action Plan signed in November 2005 along with the EU-India Thematic Dialogue on Human Rights. Many critics considered PM Modi’s visit as just a PR stunt. The EU was invited earlier last month for a visit to Jammu and Kashmir that was organised for foreign diplomats. Bur the EU skipped it as they did not want a guided tour of the region.

The government responded to this saying that the CAA was not discriminating against any religion stating that the European societies have also done the same before. It was further said that the matter of the CAA is a completely internal matter to India and has been adopted by following the necessary process and democratic means after a well-known parliamentarian debate in both houses which was publicly broadcasted.

In addition to that the government expressed that being fellow democracies, the EU parliament would not take such an action that would question the rights of democratically elected legislatures.

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Europe

“Get Rid of Her!” Audio Of Trump Calling For Ukraine’s Ambassador Firing Released

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Lev Parnas’s lawyer has released audio which he claims to be captured at April 2018 fundraising dinner that Parnas and Igor Fruman attended with President Donald Trump along with others. In the audio, Parnas indicated the campaign finance violations criticizing Marie Yovanovitch, the USA’s the ambassador to Ukraine after which Trump calls her to be fired.

The recording is conflicting with Trump’s statements given to the media and supports the narrative that was offered by Parnas during interviews in the last couple of days. Sources who were aware of the recording said that the audio was recorded during a closed dinner at Trump International Hotel in Washington D. in 30th April of 2018.

Marie Yovanovitch

Trump in different repeated statements claims that he does not know who Parnas is as Parnas turns out to be Soviet origin American who is now the wild card in Trump’s impeachment trial. “Get rid of her!” was the exact quote said by a voice that appears to be of Trump where he further says ” I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Taker her out. OK? Do it.”

The audio recorded that two associates of Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman tells Trump how the U.S. ambassador had been bad-mouthing Trump which makes Trump make the remarks above. According to sources, the audio was recorded by Fruman. Stephanie Grisham, the White House’s press secretary, says that every president has the right to place people who support his agenda and policies within his Administration.

During the recorded conversation, several participants are heard laughing along with Trump. At one point, Trump is even heard to be praising the new secretary of state Mike Pompeo calling him the best. But the discussion with Parna about ambassador to Ukraine is the most striking moment.

Yovanovitch has been working in the State Department since Reagan’s administration. But it was not until April 2019 that she was removed from her position as she was claimed to be disloyal to Trump. The investigators are even looking for text messages which have a document the year-long effort of Parnas and Giuliani to remove Yovanovitch.

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Europe

Turkey Parliament To Introduce ” Marry Your Rapist Bill”

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Turkish lawmakers are set to introduce a law which would allow men accused of rape or having sex with girls who are under 18 years of age to avoid punishment if they choose to marry their victims. This controversial “marry your rapist bill” has sparked fury among women’s rights activists and advocates in the country. This bill is going to be released by the end of January.

Critics and opposition People’s Democratic Party argue legislation asking the government to axe as it not only legitimises child marriage and statutory rape but it creates a way for child abuse and sexual exploitation. On 2016, a similar bill was declared but after national and global protests the legislation on pardoned men if the sex they had was without force or threat.

Agencies in the United Nations also mentioned that the bill could generate a landscape of impunity for child abuse which might further make victims vulnerable to experiencing more mistreatment and distress from their assailants. Such ” Marry your rapist” bills have been popping out under different legislatures in different countries in the name of protecting family honour.

A campaigner for Equality Now, Suad Abu-Dayyeh said that it was shocking that politicians are trying to pass a bill that could exempt child sexual exploitation from getting punished. She specialises in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan and said after years of campaigning, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Palestine were able to remove such loopholes. She says that rather than introducing such legislations Turkish lawmakers should look for ways to repeal gender discriminatory laws.

Though the legal age of consent in Turkey is 18 according to the government reports from the Health Ministry on child marriages in 2018, around 482,908 girls were married in the last decade. Even United Nations reports suggest that around 38 per cent of Turkish women have suffered physical or sexual violence. In another campaign, by We, Will Stop Femicide estimates that in 2017 approximately 409 women were murdered either by a partner or a family member.

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