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US withdraws from human rights council

WASHINGTON, July 19: The United States withdrew from a “hypocritical and self-serving” United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform, a move activists warned would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult.

Standing with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley slammed Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt for thwarting US efforts to reform the council. She also criticised countries which shared US values and encouraged Washington to remain, but “were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo.”

Washington’s withdrawal is the latest US rejection of multilateral engagement after it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

It also comes as the United States faces intense criticism for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the US-Mexico border. UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Monday called on Washington to halt its “unconscionable” policy.

“Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights,” said Haley, citing Venezuela, China, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo. She did not mention Saudi Arabia, which rights groups pushed to be suspended in 2016 over killings of civilians in the Yemen war.

Among reforms the United States had pushed for was to make it easier to kick out member states with egregious rights records. Currently a two-thirds majority vote by the 193-member UN General Assembly is needed to suspend a member state.

Haley also said the “disproportionate focus and unending hostility towards Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the U.S. decision.

The United States has long shielded its ally Israel at the United Nations. In citing what it says is bias against Israel, the administration of President Donald Trump could further fuel Palestinian arguments that Washington cannot be a neutral mediator as it prepares to roll out a Middle East peace plan. Washington also relocated its embassy to Jerusalem after recognising it as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of US policy.

The United States is half-way through a three-year term on the 47-member Geneva-based body and the Trump administration had long threatened to quit if it was not overhauled.

Rights groups have criticised the Trump administration for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.

“Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back,” Zeid said after Haley announced the US withdrawal.

“The Human Rights Council enables abuses by absolving wrongdoers through silence and falsely condemning those that committed no offence,” Pompeo said.

Diplomats have said the US withdrawal could bolster countries such as Cuba, Russia, Egypt and Pakistan, which resist what they see as UN interference in sovereign issues.

Haley said the withdrawal “is not a retreat from our human rights commitments”.

Twelve rights and aid groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, warned Pompeo the US withdrawal would “make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world”.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said Trump’s “misguided policy of isolationism only harms American interests”.

The EU said Washington’s decision “risks undermining the role of the US as a champion and supporter of democracy on the world stage.” British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said it was regrettable and that the council was the “best tool the international community has to address impunity”.

The Human Rights Council meets three times a year to examine human rights violations worldwide. It has mandated independent investigators to look at situations including Syria, North Korea, Myanmar and South Sudan. Its resolutions are not legally binding but carry moral authority.

When the Council was created in 2006, US President George W Bush’s administration shunned the body.

Under President Barack Obama the United States was elected for a maximum two consecutive terms on the council by the UN General Assembly. After a year off, Washington was re-elected in 2016 for its current third term.

UN officials said the United States would be the first member to withdraw from the council.

Haley said a year ago that Washington was reviewing its membership. The body has a permanent standing agenda item on suspected violations committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories that Washington wanted removed.

The council last month voted to probe killings in Gaza and accused Israel of using excessive force. The United States and Australia cast the only “no” votes.

“The UN Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel,” said Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth.

Trump, Kim to establish new US-DPRK relations

SINGAPORE, June 12: US President Donald Trump put his extraordinary gamble with North Korea's Kim Jong Un to the test on Tuesday, sitting for unprecedented and surreal talks with the rogue kingdom's despotic leader in what he hopes will amount to a historic breakthrough.

Photographs of a document signed by Trump and Kim indicate the leaders agreed to "work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

In exchange, Trump agreed to "provide security guarantees" to North Korea.

The document also indicates the leaders will endeavor to establish "new US-DPRK relations."

"I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean peninsula is going to be a very different situation than it has in the past," Trump said at the conclusion of the landmark summit, which culminated in formal signing ceremony.

"Today, we had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind," Kim said through a translator. "The world will see a major change."

What precisely was agreed upon during the nearly five-hour summit was not initially clear as the two leaders sat next to each other and autographed documents in leather binders.

Trump said it was a "pretty comprehensive document," but offered no other details on what it contained. When asked about the prospects of denuclearizing North Korea -- the administration's longstanding objective -- Trump said the process would begin "very quickly."

He was more forthcoming about his negotiating partner, with whom he said he developed a "special bond."

"We learned a lot about each other and our countries," Trump said before bidding Kim farewell. "I learned he's a very talented man."

He said he would "absolutely" invite Kim to the White House.

The two men -- both intent on making history -- greeted each other earlier in the day with extended hands in front of a row of US and North Korean flags, a previously unthinkable sight that reflects a new chapter in the two countries' acrimonious relationship.

"We had a really fantastic meeting. A lot of progress," Trump told reporters three hours later after sitting for a series of talks and a working lunch. "Really very positive. I think better than anybody could have expected."

"Top of the line," Trump said. "Really good."

Trump's threats to politely walk out of the meeting if his expectations were unmet did not materialize. Instead he predicted he could "solve a big problem, a big dilemma" alongside his new partner.

"Working together, we'll get it taken care of," Trump said.

The remarks came amid an improbable series of events that few could have anticipated even three months ago. The unlikely images of US and North Korean counterparts engaging in friendly dialogue lent the day an air of unreality. In a detailed menu, the White House said the men were served Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Other developments also fueled that impression. Minutes before the historic handshake, Trump tweeted that his top economic adviser Larry Kudlow had suffered a heart attack. Immediately after the encounter, Dennis Rodman -- one of the only Americans to have met Kim -- was openly weeping while being interviewed by CNN's Chris Cuomo.

Even Kim seemed to acknowledge the surreality of the day.

"Many people in the world will think of this as a (inaudible) form of fantasy ... from a science fiction movie," his translator was overheard saying as the two leaders walked down a white-columned colonnade.

The day began with Trump patting Kim on the back and placing his hand on the North Korean's shoulder as they walked into their first meeting. Their body language was openly friendly, a striking warmth given Kim's iron grip on power and dismal record on human rights. Trump's move to meet him attracted fierce criticism for normalizing a regime routinely called out for its human rights abuses, that over years has built an image of fearsome renegade regime, throwing around threats of nuclear war.

It was not clear whether Trump raised those issues during the meetings. When asked if he confronted Kim over the death of Otto Warmbier -- the American who died days after his release from North Korean captivity -- Trump did not respond.

Speaking through an interpreter, Kim alluded to the longstanding enmity between his country and the United States.

"It has not been easy to come to this point," Kim said, according to a CNN translation of his remarks. "For us, the past has been holding us back and old practices and prejudices have been covering our eyes and ears, but we have been able to overcome everything to arrive here today."

Trump nodded in agreement.

The meeting comes only months after the two men traded nuclear taunts, ratcheting up tensions and leading to fears of war.

Whether nuclear disarmament is indeed the outcome of Tuesday's summit won't be known for years, if not decades. But the dramatic act of extending his hand to one of America's longtime adversaries will forever illustrate Trump's gut-driven, norm-shattering tenure.
After the men shook hands, they repaired inside for one-on-one talks. In that first meeting they were joined only by translators, a break from standard practice of having at least one aide present for high-stakes huddles.

Later in the day, advisers joined the talks for a larger bilateral session and a working lunch. Trump was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, chief of staff John Kelly, national security adviser John Bolton and the US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, who has lent his Korea expertise to the talks.

In the lead-up to the summit, US and North Korean officials were convening contentious final-hour negotiations in a Ritz Carlton hotel here in a bid to narrow gaps on key aspects of the meeting.

It's not clear what the US side has been able to extract from the North Koreans in terms of their willingness to get rid of their nuclear weapons or allow inspectors into the country to catalog the scale of their program.

Trump took keen interest in the pageantry of the day, insisting the pictures beamed around the world reflect a commanding leader making a decisive, world-altering move. At the same time, he'd admitted he doesn't believe he requires extensive preparation to take stock of Kim.

Instead, he told reporters last weekend he would rely on "my touch, my feel" to assess the young and mercurial leader.

On Monday, the White House announced that Trump would depart earlier than expected for Washington. But before he leaves, he'll sit for an interview with his friend, the Fox host Sean Hannity, and convene a media availability for other reporters.

A US official confirmed to CNN Trump's departure was moved up by more than 12 hours because Kim set his own departure for shortly after the summit.

Tuesday's meeting, convened at a luxury hotel on the island of Sentosa, comes just three months after Trump accepted North Korea's invitation for talks on the spot. It was an extraordinarily compressed timeline for the landmark summit, one that left aides scrambling to initiate communication with the hermit nation.

The sides first spoke through intelligence channels, with US analysts working to determine Kim's true willingness to abandon a nuclear program started by his grandfather and viewed by Pyongyang as a security blanket from outside aggressors.

Pompeo, who led the outreach as CIA director, traveled twice to North Korea for preliminary talks. His sessions with Kim amounted to the most robust contact ever between the United States and the North Korean leader, providing critical information about a man about whom little is known.

But a major advancement came in late April when South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Kim at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a diplomatic opening that laid the basis for the future engagement with Trump. Moon has pressed for a diplomatic path to east tensions on the peninsula, fearing a more violent alternative.

Talks proceeded at multiple levels, including logistical discussions to allay Kim's fears of being deposed while traveling further afield than he ever has before as the country's leader. The site of the historic talks was a matter of intense speculation before the US President announced on Twitter it would occur here in Singapore, the flashy Southeast Asian city-state that has eagerly accommodated the spectacle.

More than 2,500 journalists have convened here, with each leader's every movement tracked carefully. A day before the summit, Trump mostly remained inside his Shangri-la hotel, emerging only to meet with his Singaporean counterpart at the presidential palace. Later in the day, he met with senior advisers and phoned the leaders of Japan and South Korea.

Kim, meanwhile, was spotted taking a moonlit stroll around the high-end Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino, which is owned by GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Kim was cheered by onlookers who caught sight of the dictator, who until earlier this spring was not believed to have ever left North Korea as supreme leader.

Full text of the Trump and Kim joint statement on denuclearisation of North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula under an agreement signed with US President Donald Trump at the end of a summit aimed at easing tensions between the two long-time adversaries.

Here is the full text of the statement:

Joint Statement of President Donald J Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit.

President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Convinced that the establishment of new US-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:

1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.

2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

Having acknowledged that the US-DPRK summit – the first in history – was an epochal event of great significance and overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in this joint statement fully and expeditiously. The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations led by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the US-DPRK summit.

President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have committed to cooperate for the development of new US-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.

Kim says it seems like sci-fi movie scene after 13-second Trump handshake

Donald Trump approached from the right, striding down the long portico at the colonial-era Singapore resort. Kim Jong Un, dressed in his familiar Mao suit, emerged from the left. They met in the middle, on a red carpet, dozens of cameras recording their every move as the world watched.

And counted.

Thirteen seconds. That’s how long the American and North Korean leaders shook hands at the start of their summit Tuesday. The length of the contact, their facial expressions and body language, the stunning backdrop of interlocked national flags — all of it was instantly analysed, criticised and marvelled at in tweets and commentary in South Korea, the United States and beyond.

Kim may have best summed up the surreal quality of what was happening when he said that many of those watching will think it’s a scene from a “science fiction movie”.

South Koreans applauded in a train station as they watched; the South Korean president grinned broadly; one official compared the summit, favourably, to the birth of his daughter. On the flipside, critics said the welcome Trump was giving Kim in Singapore would legitimise one of the world’s worst human rights offenders.

It was a single, quintessentially human moment — a greeting, a welcome, a start of a relationship — but the reaction to the handshake was as complicated as the standoff that the two countries these men represent have been locked in for seven decades now.

From exchange of insults to nuclear tests, the events that led to historic US-North Korea summit

Who has Kim Jong Un’s ‘nuclear button’ in Pyongyang while he’s in Singapore?
There was shock, relief, worry, sometimes simultaneously, as the world watched Trump and Kim — who were insulting each other’s mental and physical prowess and threatening nuclear war just a few months ago — shaking hands and smiling.

Trump put his hand out first, followed by Kim as they strode toward each other. Trump grasped Kim’s right arm as they shook, and then, later, took ahold of Kim’s left arm as they turned to face the cameras and the world, both their expressions momentarily deadening before they turned to face each other again, and smiled.

The backdrop was almost as shocking as the warmth of the handshake — a row of the two nations’ flags displayed side-by-side at the entrance to the Singapore resort that’s hosting their summit.

Both Koreas have long demonised the other’s national flag. It’s illegal to show the North Korean flag in the South. North Korea’s anti-US propaganda dates to the war and regularly shows North Korean soldiers bayonetting the US flag.

However, many South Koreans rushed to express their awe of Tuesday’s events.

The liberal Hankook Ilbo newspaper marvelled that the US president didn’t shake hands in the usual “Trump way” of domineering his counterpart. It also noted that Trump softly tapped Kim on the shoulder and seemed to engage in small talk with him.

Jung Chung-rae, a former lawmaker of the liberal Minjoo Party, tweeted that the handshake “shined with courtesy and respect” and that history will remember their “handshakes and smiles”. Media photos showed South Korean President Moon Jae-in smiling broadly during a Cabinet meeting at the Blue House while watching a television screen that showed Trump and Kim shaking hands in front of American and North Korean flags. “All the attention of our people is on Singapore,” Moon said. “I, too, could hardly sleep last night.”

Shortly before the leaders met, Moon’s chief of staff wrote on Facebook that the summit reminded him of his child’s birth.

“I remember hovering around the delivery room the day my daughter was born. I didn’t care whether you were a boy or a girl. Just come out to the world healthy with a big cry,” Im Jong-seok wrote, apparently wishing for a successful outcome from the meeting between Trump and Kim.

Critics, however, saw the handshake and Kim’s earlier moonlight stroll as evidence Trump was helping to legitimise Kim as his equal on the world stage even though the North Korean regime has been accused of horrific rights abuses. During his stroll Monday along the glittering Singapore waterfront, crowds yelled Kim’s name and jostled to take pictures, and the North Korean leader posed for a selfie with Singapore officials.

Last year Kim was “Little Rocket Man,” according to Trump, and US officials regularly mentioned his likely role in the assassination of his half-brother with nerve agent in a Malaysian airport, as well as his uncle’s execution. Kim’s image would now be bolstered, critics said.

Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst, told MSNBC, “Kim Jong Un is prepared. He knows what he wants, which is to gain an ... international acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear weapons power. He thinks he’s coming into this meeting from a position of strength because he has reached certain capability in his nuclear missile program. And he thinks he’s going to now see what he can get out of the United States.”

Adam Mount, a US defence analyst, expressed anger about seeing the US and North Korean flags side by side.

“We should be working diligently to transform North Korea and our relationship with it,” he tweeted. “But until that day, it’s abhorrent to see a flag that stands for so much suffering and cruelty standing with ours.”

November ballot to decide on three Californias

SACRAMENTO, June 13: A proposal to split California has qualified for the ballot in November, according to California Secretary of State's office. it said the straightforwardly named measure Division Of California Into Three States has reached enough signatures.

When a person or group backing a measure says it has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, those signatures are turned over for verification. From there, county elections officials randomly sample verify a random sample of signatures.

The measure backed by Tim Draper has hit nearly 420,000 valid or projected to be valid signatures in the random sample, topping the 365,000 needed to qualify for the November ballot.

Draper was behind a previous move to split the state into six parts, but he cut his ambition in half in August, opting just for three this time.

Northern Californians looking to run away from Sacramento and San Francisco to join the state of Jefferson will be severely disappointed as the proposal draws the line for Northern California all the way past the current state capital.

The new California would consist of coastal regions including Monterey County and Los Angeles.

Southern California, which you might expect would include Los Angeles, instead covers counties ranging from Fresno to San Diego.

The fate of Tulare County was up in the air when Draper's original proposal left the county out, presumably to be annexed to Nevada, and instead opted to pick Imperial County twice. He's since updated it to include Tulare County as part of Southern California.

Here's a list of the counties in each region:

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Alameda
Alpine
Amador
Butte
Calaveras
Colusa,
Contra Costa
Del Norte
El Dorado
Glenn
Humboldt
Lake
Lassen
Marin
Mariposa
Mendocino
Merced
Modoc
Napa
Nevada
Placer
Plumas
Sacramento
San Francisco
San Joaquin
San Mateo
Santa Clara
Santa Cruz
Sierra
Siskiyou
Shasta
Solano
Sonoma
Stanislaus
Sutter
Tehama
Trinity
Tuolumne
Yolo
Yuba
CALIFORNIA

Los Angeles
Monterey
San Benito
San Luis Obispo
Santa Barbara
Ventura
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Fresno
Imperial (twice)
Inyo
Kern
Kings
Madera
Mono
Orange
Riverside
San Bernardino
San Diego
Tulare County

Donald Trump again accuses India of charging 100% tariff on imports

June 10: US president Donald Trump once again accused India of charging 100% tariff on some imports, speaking after leaving the G-7 Summit in Canada where he upset America’s closest allies with his threat of trade war.

“I mean, we have India, where some of the tariffs are 100 percent. A hundred percent. And we charge nothing. We can’t do that,” said Trump at a news conference on Saturday, citing high taxes around the world on American goods as he re-litigated his differences with G-7 countries.

“And so we are talking to many countries,” he said. Talks with India, at least, have not gone well so far.

Failing to get an exemption from the Trump administration new and controversial 25% and 10% tariff on steel and aluminum imports, India went to the World Trade Organization (WTO) late May and sought “consultation” with the United States, a necessary first step in any dispute settlement process at the global body.

India has also sought retaliation claim to recover $31 million as the hit taken by it due to US levy on aluminum exports and $134 million on steel. It has also it could target US exports in its retaliation such as soya oil, palmolein and cashew nuts.

The United States accounts for 2% Indian steel exports.

According to sources, India also plans to restore duty cuts it had announced earlier this year on the import of high-end motorcycles. The duty was brought down to a common and unified rate of 50% from 75% for vehicles above 800cc and 60% on those below. Harley-Davidson of America and Triumph of Britain were the major beneficiaries of India’s duty cuts.

Trump had been pushing for the cuts and had several times warned India of “reciprocal taxes”, arguing US tariff on Indian motorcycles was zero, much as his remarks in Canada.

Trump began by railing against Indian tariff on Harley-Davidson from his first few weeks in office. And continued even after India dropped the rates to 50%. “Now, the Prime Minister, who I think is a fantastic man, called me the other day.,” Trump said at a White House meeting with state governors in March, referring to a phone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He recounted, relaying the conversation: “‘He said, ‘We are lowering it (tariff on Harley-Davidson) to 50 percent’. I said, ‘Okay, but so far we’re getting nothing.’ So we get nothing, he gets 50 (percent), and they think we’re doing--like they’re doing us a favor. That’s not a favor. And you know what I’m talking about.”

Trump used Harley-Davidson to highlight his case against countries that had a trade surplus on America, with China leading the table.

In March, he announced 25% and 10% tariff on all steel and aluminum entering the United States. Some countries were granted exemptions such as Canada and Mexico as they negotiated a larger trade deal with the US. And some others were exempted for other reasons.

India wasn’t. It went to WTO, seeking consultation. It has seen been joined by the European Union, Russia and China targeting the United States in separate filings. Thailand became the newest member of the group on June 5.

NYC pizza delivery man given emergency stay after immigration detention

NEW YORK, June 10; A federal court temporarily blocked a pizza delivery man's deportation one week after he was turned over to immigration officials while trying to drop off food at a military base in New York.

Pablo Villavicencio, 35, remains in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody but will be kept from deportation until July 20. Villavicencio, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, was detained June 1 at the Fort Hamilton base in Brooklyn while delivering an order from the brick-oven pizza restaurant in Queens where he worked.

The Legal Aid Society, an organization that provides legal help to those in poverty, said in a statement Saturday that their attorneys discovered Villavicencio's deportation was imminent so they worked through the night to prepare the emergency stay request.

"This stay will allow him to pursue a meritorious form of relief from removal -- adjustment of status for permanent residency -- to remain with his family," the legal provider's statement said.

Gregory Copeland, supervising attorney of the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said the stay is a victory for Villavicencio, his family and for "due process and the fair administration of justice."

"This decision is also a reminder that the judiciary can still serve as a powerful check when other branches of government make hasty, cruel and reckless decisions," he said.
He had been to the base 'many times,' attorney says

Villavicencio's potential deportation triggered a national response and fear in immigrant communities.

Villavicencio filed for his green card in February and was waiting for a response when he was detained, his wife, Sandra Chica, said.

Chica is a US citizen and they have two young daughters who were born in the United States.

"He's got the wheels in motion in terms of pursuing a legal path to normalizing his status in the country," said Copeland.

The day he was detained, Villavicencio was trying to deliver an order to the Fort Hamilton Army base in Brooklyn. He showed his New York City identification card to the guard as he had done several times before, but the base said in a statement that he didn't have the proper identification, so he had to get a daily visitor pass.

Villavicencio ended up "signing a waiver permitting a background check," which revealed there was an active warrant for his deportation and prompted military police to call immigration agents.

In an interview Sunday, Copeland said that Villavicencio had been to the military base "many times" in the past to make similar deliveries. He'd been there enough, Copeland said, that he was familiar with the facility's personnel.

In fact, Copeland claims that in the midst of being detained on June 1, Villavicencio called a high-ranking sergeant at the base for help. According to Copeland, the sergeant, who was not named, unsuccessfully tried to intervene.

There were also "conflicting reports," Copeland said, about whether Villavicencio had actually formally consented to a background check. Copeland called for an investigation into the incident, and reiterated that Villavicencio does not have a criminal record.
'Our immigrant communities are threatened'

In response to Villavicencio's arrest, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote two letters to high-ranking officials calling for an investigation into ICE and for Villavicencio's release.

In a Friday letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General John Kelly, Cuomo said immigrant communities are being vilified and profiled as a result of ICE tactics.

"New York will not sit on the sidelines as our immigrant communities are threatened," Cuomo wrote. "The pattern of conduct demonstrated by ICE agents shows reckless contempt for the Constitution and runs counter to the agency's stated mission as well as federal and state law. I call on your office to immediately investigate ICE tactics and ensure the rights of New Yorkers are being protected."

Cuomo wrote a letter Saturday to Thomas Decker, field office director of the Department of Homeland Security and Customs Enforcement, explaining that Villavicencio has been a resident of New York for more than 10 years and is a working father, taxpayer and the primary provider for his wife and children, one of whom has a serious medical condition.

Cuomo also said speed with which ICE is moving to deport Villavicencio threatens to violate his rights, his family's due process rights and creates "an unnecessary humanitarian crisis in New York State."

"There is absolutely no legitimate reason to proceed with an expedited removal and to do so would be inhumane," Cuomo wrote. "The proper course of action here is to stay Mr. Villavicencio's removal and release him from detention so that he may reunite with his family and participate in the proper adjudication of his case. The Constitutional guarantee of due process affords him that basic right."

Americans evacuated from China after mystery illness strikes diplomats

NEW YORK, June 7: A US medical team was screening more Americans who work in a southern Chinese city as the State Department confirmed evacuating a number of government workers who experienced unexplained health issues like those that have hurt US personnel in Cuba and China.

The evacuations of the workers in Guangzhou followed medical testing that revealed they might have been affected. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said “a number of individuals” have been brought to the US but didn’t say how many were affected or evacuated. One case in Guangzhou had been disclosed last month.

She said tests are being offered to “any personnel who have noted concerning symptoms or wanted baseline screening.”

Security guards outside the consulate checked reporter’s IDs on Thursday and told them to leave the area and not attempt to talk to consulate staff.

Asked about the latest incidents, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the US had not formally raised the matter with Beijing.

“If the US makes formal contact with us, China will continue necessary investigations in an earnest and responsible manner and maintain close communication and cooperation with the US,” Hua said at a regularly scheduled news conference.

China had earlier said it had no information about the cause of the symptoms.

The New York Times identified the latest American employee evacuated as Mark A Lenzi, a security engineering officer who left Wednesday night with his wife and two children.

Lenzi told the Times he resided in the same apartment tower as the officer evacuated in April and suffered in recent months from what he called “neurological symptoms.”

Lenzi’s apartment was in one of several high-rise buildings in The Canton Place featuring restaurants and galleries spaced around a central plaza. Another diplomat who reported symptoms was at a different upscale building near the consulate.

A US official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the situation publicly and requested anonymity, said the evacuated Americans are being brought for testing to the University of Pennsylvania. That’s where doctors have been treating and studying patients evacuated from the US Embassy in Havana.

The China incidents have raised fears the unexplained issues that started in Cuba in 2016 have expanded. The US government has deemed those incidents “specific attacks” on American workers but hasn’t publicly identified a cause or culprit. Most of the incidents were accompanied by bizarre, unexplained sounds that initially led US investigators to suspect a sonic attack.

The preliminary findings of the medical reports on the 24 US Embassy personnel affected in Cuba showed they had sensory and memory problems similar to the brain dysfunction seen with concussions.

The Penn team said the patients experienced persistent disability though rehabilitation therapy customized for them seemed to help.

Canada in April also ordered families of diplomatic staff in Cuba to return home after mysterious health symptoms were detected in 10 Canadians stationed on the island.

Canada said the 10 continued to show unexplained brain symptoms and that “medical information raised concerns for a new type of a possible acquired brain injury.”

Symptoms included dizziness, headaches and an inability to concentrate.

The American government worker who was removed from China earlier reported “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure.”

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China had “said all the right things and have demonstrated their willingness to help us identify the vector which led to this medical incident.”

The China incidents affect one of the most important of the seven US diplomatic outposts in the country. The Guangzhou consulate opened months after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington in 1979 and moved to its new purpose-built facility in 2013.

It serves four southern provinces with a combined population of more than 204 million and processes more than 1 million visa applications of all types annually. It is also the only US diplomatic installation in China authorized to process immigrant visas and handle adoptions.

Trump made major foreign policy achievements in first 500 days: White House

WASHINGTON, June 4: President Donald Trump has strengthened the US’ ties with a number of foreign leaders, the White House has said, describing the first 500 days of his presidency as a period of “unprecedented success”.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that since taking office, the US president has strengthened American leadership, security, prosperity and accountability.

“There have been a number of major foreign policy achievements. Certainly, I think the strengthening of relationships with a number of foreign leaders,” Sanders told reporters at her daily news conference.

In an apparent reference to the upcoming summit between Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12, Sanders said, “I think that the conversation that we’re looking forward to having here in the next couple of weeks is certainly a step in the right direction.”

“Moving the embassy in Israel would certainly be on that list. Being tough on Russia. Being tough on trade and making sure that countries that have engaged in unfair trade practices are held accountable. Those are just a few,” Sanders said in response to a question.

Sanders described the first 500 days as a period of “unprecedented success” on behalf of all Americans at home and abroad.

“Since taking office, the President has strengthened American leadership, security, prosperity, and accountability. And as we saw from Friday’s jobs report, our economy is stronger, Americans are optimistic, and business is booming,” she said.

“When the president predicted 3 per cent economic growth, a number of economists didn’t take him seriously, including President Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council and Moody’s chief economist. The economy has now grown by 2.8 per cent during the first four full quarters of this administration. And we believe we are well on our way to reaching the level of growth the President has predicted,” Sanders said.

“The American people do not believe this strong economy is fantasy or unrealistic. Just as he promised, President Trump believes in the American people and is putting them first in every decision,” she added.

The White House in a fact sheet said that Trump has re-asserted American leadership on the world stage and is achieving results for the American people.

It said Trump followed through on his promise to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“Trump ordered an end to United States participation in the horrible Iran deal and immediately began the process of re-imposing sanctions that had been lifted or waived,” it said, adding that he has taken action to confront aggression by Iran and its proxies.

The Department of the Treasury has issued a range of sanctions targeting Iranian activities and entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force.

It said, under Trump the US has led an unprecedented global campaign to achieve the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

The White House said Trump’s leadership has contributed to the return of 17 Americans held overseas. In May 2018 alone, Venezuela released one American and North Korea released three Americans who came home to the United States.

“Trump has secured historic increases in defence funding in order to rebuild our Nation’s military with the resources they need, after years of harmful sequester,” it said.

“Trump signed legislation to provide USD 700 billion in defence spending for fiscal year (FY) 2018 and USD 716 billion for FY 2019. The US has worked with international allies to decimate ISIS. Trump ordered strikes against Syria in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons in April 2017 and April 2018,” the White House said.

President Trump had on Monday touted his first 500 days in the White House, saying many believe he has achieved more than any of his predecessors in that same time frame.

Trump plays down chances of quick North Korea breakthrough, talks conclude

NEW YORK/ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE: President Donald Trump on Thursday played down the chances of a quick breakthrough in talks with North Korea about its nuclear arsenal, as the top US diplomat and a senior official from Pyongyang wrapped up two days of negotiations.

Trump, in a brief interview aboard Air Force One on the way to Texas, said he was still hoping to hold an unprecedented summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore.

"I'd like to see it done in one meeting," he said. "But often times that's not the way deals work. There's a very good chance that it won't be done in one meeting or two meetings or three meetings. But it'll get done at some point."

It was not clear if Trump meant he would need a second summit with Kim to reach the US goal of persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms or if he believed more lower-level talks were needed.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and high-ranking North Korean official Kim Yong Chol concluded two days of meetings in New York on Thursday aimed at clearing the way for the summit.

"Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship in which it could be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste," Pompeo said after the talks.

North Korea, whose nuclear ambitions have been a source of world tension for decades, has made advances in missile technology in recent years but Trump has sworn not to allow it to develop nuclear missiles that could hit the United States.

He wants North Korea to "denuclearize," meaning to get rid of its nuclear arms, in return for relief from economic sanctions, but the leadership in Pyongyang is believed to regard nuclear weapons as crucial to its survival and has rejected unilaterally disarming.

Trump said the North Korean envoy would most likely visit the White House on Friday to present him with a letter from Kim Jong Un.

A letter from Kim might be in response to a comment from Trump last Thursday when he canceled the summit, accusing Pyongyang of hostility, but urged the North Korean leader to "call me or write" if he had a change of heart.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic efforts in the past week to get the summit back on track.

If the North Korean delegation goes to the White House, it would be the first visit there by high-level Pyongyang officials since 2000 when senior figure Jo Myong Rok met President Bill Clinton.

Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol met for a second day in New York on Thursday. They shook hands at the start of their latest meeting at a condominium overlooking the East River.

Four officials from both sides sat across each other around a table in a room with a bay window that gave spectacular views of Manhattan, including the UN headquarters.

Kim Yong Chol is a close aide of leader Kim Jong Un and he is vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee.

 

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