Trump national security aide Flynn resigns over Russian contacts

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned late on Monday after coming under fire over whether he discussed the possibility of lifting US sanctions on Russia before Trump took office.

Retired General Keith Kellogg, who has been chief of staff of the White House National Security Council, was named the acting national security adviser while Trump determines who should fill the position.

Kellogg, retired General David Petraeus, a former CIA director, and Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of US Central Command, are under consideration for the position, a White House official said.

Flynn submitted his resignation hours after Trump said through a spokesman that he was reviewing the situation and talking to Vice President Mike Pence.

Flynn had promised Pence he had not discussed US sanctions with the Russians, but transcripts of intercepted communications, described by US officials, showed that the subject had come up in conversations between him and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

Such contacts could potentially be in violation of a law banning private citizens from engaging in foreign policy, known as the Logan Act.

Flynn’s departure was the most dramatic moment yet of Trump’s young presidency, a 24-day period during which his White House has been repeatedly distracted by miscues and internal dramas.

“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.

I have sincerely apologised to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology,” Flynn said in his resignation letter.

Flynn’s resignation came after it was reported that the Justice Department warned the White House weeks ago that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for contacts with Russian officials before Trump took power on Jan 20.

A US official confirmed a Washington Post report that Sally Yates, the then-acting US attorney general, told the White House late last month that she believed Flynn had misled them about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

She said Flynn might have put himself in a compromising position, possibly leaving himself vulnerable to blackmail, the official said. Yates was later fired for opposing Trump’s temporary entry ban for people from seven mostly Muslim nations.

A US official, describing the intercepted communications, said Flynn did not make any promises about lifting the sanctions.

But he did indicate that sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama on Russia for its Ukraine incursion “would not necessarily carry over to an administration seeking to improve relations between the US and Russia,” the official said.

Flynn, a retired US Army lieutenant general, was an early supporter of Trump and shares his interest in shaking up the establishment in Washington. He frequently raised eyebrows among Washington’s foreign policy establishment for trying to persuade Trump to warm up US relations with Russia.

A US official said Flynn’s departure, coupled with Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and Syria and Republican congressional opposition to removing sanctions on Russia, removes Trump’s most ardent advocate of taking a softer line toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His leaving “may make a significant course change less likely, at least any time soon,” the official said.

Another official said Flynn’s departure may strengthen the hands of some cabinet secretaries, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

However, the second official said, Flynn’s departure could also reinforce the power of presidential aides Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, whom he described as already having the president’s ear.

Congressional Democrats expressed alarm at the developments surrounding Flynn and called for a classified briefing by administration officials to explain what had happened.

“We are communicating this request to the Department of Justice and FBI this evening,” said Democratic representatives John Conyers of Michigan and Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

US Representative Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Flynn’s departure does not end the questions over his contacts with the Russians.

“The Trump administration has yet to be forthcoming about who was aware of Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials, or with their knowledge.”

South Korea prosecution to decide on Samsung chief arrest warrant by Wednesday

South Korean special prosecutor’s office said it will decide by no later than Wednesday on whether to request an arrest warrant for Samsung Group [SAGR.UL] chief Jay Y. Lee.

Lee, third-generation leader of the country’s top conglomerate, was questioned for more than 15 hours after being summoned as a suspect by the special prosecution on Monday.

He is accused of pledging payments to a company and organisations backed by President Park Geun-hye’s confidant, Choi Soon-sil, to win support for a 2015 merger of two affiliates.

Last month, a court rejected the special prosecution’s first request for an arrest warrant for Lee.

Concerned US and Canadian Muslims weigh in on rising Islamophobia

Last month, North America witnessed instances of blatant Islamophobia and religious and racial hatred.

Not long after the new American president Donald Trump announced a visa ban on seven Muslim-majority countries and a hold on the intake of Syrian refugees, a mosque in Quebec City, Canada, was attacked by a shooter that killed half a dozen worshippers.

Trump’s ban has since been made non-functional by a courtand the Quebec shooter apprehended, but the shock doesn’t subside so easily.

The following is a selection of reactions by’s readers in Canada and the United States after what happened in their respective countries.

“Inshallah this madness will be stopped”
Maggy Antebi-Wilson, psychotherapist, Ottawa, Canada.

“I am Canadian, Jewish, born in Egypt, raised in Montreal and married to a Protestant from Scotland. Our children are proud to be enriched by so many different cultures.

I, like many Jews, decry the horrible terrorist attack on the mosque in Quebec City which claimed the lives and well being of so many, including the sense of security and peace of mind of the community.

Like many of my generation, my parents fled persecution in Nasser’s Egypt, a country which my parents loved and where they had felt welcome. The Cairo synagogue where my parents were to be married was burned to the ground. Fortunately, it was empty at the time. By comparison to the annihilation of our European brethren at the hands of Hitler and his Nazi murderers, our journey was relatively easy.

Once in Quebec, suspicion and intolerance of the ‘other’ amongst a small group of racist pure laine [those of ‘pure’ ancestry] was present. In those days, when the Catholic church still held sway, we were not allowed to attend French schools although we were French speaking. Sal Juif (dirty jew) and swastikas were part of our experience. On the whole, however, Canada was and is a great and welcoming country.

Sadly, the former government of Quebec, Marine Le Pen in France, Trump in the US and others have fanned the flames of hatred against Muslims. Terrorism perpetrated by Al Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, Assad and others towards fellow Muslims primarily, but also towards others, has contributed to the creation of a very hostile environment for law-abiding Muslims in our country and elsewhere.

Inshallah, this madness will be stopped.

“These policies and speech do not represent us”
Hasanat Kazmi, software engineer, California.

“I live in California and the current political climate has made things very uncertain for Muslims and Pakistanis. I follow Pakistani media and although the media in Pakistan portrays as if everything is going south, I would like to share what my neighbours just sent me:”

“I worry about tomorrow”
Mahnoor Maqbool, MA Psychology in Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.

“Last semester, my biggest worry was what grade I would get in my next assignment. This time around, I worry about whether I am even going to be here tomorrow. It scares and saddens me to know that so many others just like me have been denied the opportunity to live the dreams they worked so hard to achieve.”

“I am angry!”
Minahil Asim, PhD candidate Education Policy, UC Davis.

“I am angry! My husband and I discussed moving back to Pakistan and we are both grateful to have that option. This entire thing just shows how ridiculous people were who said not to take Trump seriously.”

“I feel really unsafe”
Natasha Barlas, Masters/CAGS Applied Educational Psychology, Northeastern University.

“I am terrified because despite hearing about Islamophobia, this is the first time I feel that I am personally targeted. There are people who have worked really hard to build their lives here and they are not allowed to come home. For the first time since moving to the US, I feel really unsafe and it feels as if I can’t plan my future.”

“These policies have heightened my concerns about my future”
Tehreem Arif, M.S. Enterprise Risk Management, Columbia University.

“As a Muslim student studying in the United States, I believe Trump’s discriminatory policies regarding the Muslim community are very disturbing. These policies have heightened my concerns about my safety and future in the country.”

“It makes no sense”
Arman Ashraf, M.S. Development Psychology, Columbia University.

“It makes no sense. The choice of countries for this ban, the time duration – nothing makes sense. But I don’t feel any less unsafe than I did when I first moved here. I never expected a warm welcome being Pakistani and Muslim. I would just like to see how Trump’s foreign policy shapes up now. I feel horrible for the people who have been detained at airports and who find themselves suddenly belonging nowhere.”

“I am inspired by how people have responded”
Abbas Shahid, Integrated Marketing, New York University.

“I am frustrated by how the ideals an entire country claims to embody can be forgotten, and such blatant discrimination can be made lawful overnight. However, I am also very inspired by how the people of New York have responded. They stood up even though they were not directly affected by this policy. I am frustrated, but at the same time I want to express my gratitude for getting to live in a city with a strong sense of community and responsibility.”

“I am stunned”
Asif A. Hasan, M.S. Mental Health Counseling, City College of New York.

“I am not concerned or scared for myself, but I am stunned by the way people are being treated across the country – people who had proper visas. I am also concerned for those Pakistanis who are looking for jobs here.”

“We are living in a different America now”
Abdullah Bajwa, PhD Candidate Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University.

“Seeing the collapse of liberal America right in front of my eyes has been heart-wrenching. President Trump was sworn into office on a Friday and I saw a police officer stationed outside the local mosque during the Friday prayers. This was only the second time during my stay that there had to be an officer present during the prayers. The first time was in late 2016 when the mosque was shot at in the middle of the night. The ensuing outpouring of love from the local community didn’t let the incident get to us. We shrugged it off as an act of a deranged individual. But seeing the officer outside the mosque on inauguration day for no apparent threat gave me a much-needed dose of reality. It was then that I realised that things aren’t going to be the same anymore. We were living in a different America now.”

“The Executive Order meant to create division but it created unity”
Mohsin Fareed, Philadelphia.

“It is true that every action has a reaction, but sometimes, actions bear unwanted reactions. Trump’s Executive Order meant to create division but it created unity. The long-term consequences of this order are yet to be established, but it is clear that currently it has created harmony and support in favour of Muslims. American people are seeing the tolerant aspect of Muslims. This is in direct contradiction of what the media has been portraying about Islam and Muslims.”

Lahore High Court allows Indian films to air on TV

The Lahore High Court chief justice has allowed private television channels, having valid licences, to show Indian movies as per terms of their agreements with Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).

Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah granted the permission in the light of Pemra’s report that states that television channels were allowed to air Indian films as per clause 7.2 (ii) of Licence to Establish and Operate Satellite TV Broadcast Channel Station.

The chief justice issued a written order of a last week hearing on a petition of M/s Leo Communication and others challenging the ban on the broadcast of Indian content on the televisions.

The authority’s counsel had contended that the permission would be subject to terms and conditions of the licence under the Pemra Ordinance, 2002.

The counsel for the petitioners had argued the channels should also be allowed to broadcast Indian plays as they also fell within the definition of “entertainment” under the licence agreement.

However, the Pemra’s counsel contested the argument and sought time to establish that the “entertainment” did not include Indian plays. He said the channels were allowed to run Indian films as per terms of their licence agreements.

The chief justice would resume further hearing on March 2.

M/S Leo Communication had filed the petition assailing a circular issued by Pemra on Oct 19, 2016, for being ultra vires of the authority’s rules and the Constitution.

The petitioner-company in 2010 was granted a 15-year licence by Pemra to operate a cable channel, “Filmazia”.

It said the government was indulging in “selective patriotism” as Indian movies had been allowed to be screened all over the country but not on television.

ECC approves another Rs30bn loan for power sector

ISLAMABAD: The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on Monday approved another Rs30 billion loan for the power sector and ordered a special audit of subsidy claims by the Utility Stores Corporation.

The meeting presided over by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar did not clear waiver of withholding tax on dividend for 870-kilometre Matiari–Lahore transmission line to be built by a Chinese company under a negotiated cost and tariff for want of in-house discussions.

Sources in the Ministry of Water and Power said the Power Holding Company (Pvt) Ltd (PHPL) would be responsible for arranging a syndicated term finance certificate issue worth Rs30bn from a consortium of commercial banks to service repayment obligations, including interest payment, of distribution companies.

The Ministry of Finance would provide sovereign guarantee for the repayment of principal loan along with interest payment.

The water and power ministry has been repeatedly agitating at the highest level against the non-payment of subsidy claims of around Rs100bn that was causing serious disturbance to the financial flows of the independent power producers and fuel suppliers, particularly Pakistan State Oil whose receivables are now touching Rs280bn.

The ministry has not only raised the issue at the level of cabinet committee on energy led by the prime minister but also recently wrote an urgent letter to the prime minister that the power sector would face disruption because of fiscal difficulties.

PHPL’s liabilities are estimated to be touching Rs360bn, in addition to fresh accumulation of circular debt worth around Rs330bn. According to power ministry sources, the subsidy estimates for the power sector had been pitched at the lower side despite repeated request for taking into account the impact of new projects brought into the system during the tenure of the current government.

In case of financial issues, the power generation plan for the coming summer could be significantly impacted because fuel suppliers and power producers have to make advance arrangements which could not be made in the presence of outstanding liabilities. The power ministry has been requesting provision of additional funds through supplementary grants in the budget.

UTILITY STORES: The meeting also took up a request of the USC for payment of its Rs1.35bn subsidy claims on account of providing subsidised supplies of 11 essential commodities to the people.

Mr Dar deferred the matter of release of funds and directed that a special audit be conducted on the sale and purchase prices of all these items within 15 days to determine and double-check if the need for release of the amount of subsidy was genuine.

An official statement said the secretary water and power Younas Dagha gave a short presentation on the power sector and informed the ECC that all possible efforts had been made for developing and strengthening the power sector to fulfil prime minister’s commitment with the nation to end load-shedding. “With concerted efforts, there has been considerable decrease in load-shedding in the country,” Mr Dagha was quoted as saying.

He reported that load-shedding had decreased from almost 12 to 14 hours in 2013 to four hours in December 2016 for urban areas, whereas it was brought down to zero for industrial consumers. During the last two years, the power sector improvements were estimated to have saved a total of Rs116bn in the shape of aggregate transmission and distribution losses.

This included a high recovery percentage of 93 per cent which had benefited the national exchequer by Rs93bn. Transmission and distribution losses had been brought down to lowest ever, ie 17.8pc by 2016, benefiting the exchequer by another Rs23bn. “Efforts are afoot towards achieving zero per cent load-shedding,” the secretary said.