Uganda’s Museveni Criticized for Leading March Against Corruption

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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday led hundreds of people in a march against corruption, calling corrupt people parasites who steal public wealth.

Museveni said to end corruption, leaders must develop the economy.

“Commercial agriculture, industry services and ICT, because that’s how we can create jobs and wealth and income so that our people do not have a material basis for acute need, which forces them to be corrupt,” Museveni said.

President Yoweri Museveni addresses a gathering that had participated in the anti-corruption walk in Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 4, 20
President Yoweri Museveni addresses a gathering that had participated in the anti-corruption walk in Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 4, 2019. (Halima Athumani/VOA News)

Critics note that last year, Transparency International ranked Uganda as one of the most corrupt countries in Africa, below Kenya, Mauritania and Nigeria.

Action Aid International-Uganda says Museveni marching against corruption is ironic, because his government is to blame for much of it.

Nickson Ogwal is the director of programs and policy at Action Aid International-Uganda.

“He is the chief law enforcement officer of Uganda,” Ogwal said. “He’s therefore the one [to] whom the citizens are supposed to walk and show and demonstrate that they are angry about corruption. Now, to whom is he angry? So, we really think that he is playing politics.”

Critics accuse Uganda’s inspector general of holding only lower level officials or private citizens to account for corruption.

The inspector, Irene Mulyagonja, acknowledges that some top government officials hide behind Museveni but argues the president is sincere in tackling corruption.

“You see when he says, ‘I am ready to fight,’ it means he’s ready to give them up. So that if you start looking for them, and to be true to him, if you are investigating a person who is near him, he doesn’t say stop investigating. He says, ‘bring me the evidence,’” Mulyagonja said.

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But, Uganda’s deputy speaker of parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, says he is not convinced that corruption is now at the top of Museveni’s agenda.

“Unless we take this from our own frontline and extend the frontier to cover other areas, it’s a waste of time,” Oulanyah said. “It’s a public show for nothing. I come because it’s a public show, but deep down I know. We are going right back to practice the same damn corruption that we claim to fight.”

Nonetheless, Uganda’s lawmakers and judges Wednesday renewed public vows to be honest and not accept bribes.

The anti-corruption events blocked all roads leading to central Kampala, forcing many skeptical passers-by to walk for more than 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) to get to work.

‘It’s Bittersweet’: Leia has Key Role As ‘Star Wars’ Wraps Skywalker Saga

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The highly anticipated final chapter in the Skywalker film saga will feature a significant role for Princess Leia, the beloved “Star Wars” character played by late actress Carrie Fisher.

Writer and director J.J. Abrams said he had enough unused footage of Fisher from the filming of 2015 movie “The Force Awakens” to make Leia a key player in “The Rise of Skywalker,” the “Star Wars” film that debuts in theaters on Dec. 20.

Fisher died in 2016 at age 60.

“We couldn’t tell the story without Leia,” Abrams said in an interview on Wednesday. “She’s the mother of the villain of the piece. She’s in a sense the mother of the resistance, the rebellion, the leader, the general.”

“Her role is, I would say, integral,” he added. “This is not just a cosmetic thing where we’re sort of inserting Leia.”

“The Rise of Skywalker” is the ninth movie in the celebrated space franchise that debuted in 1977 and is now owned by Walt Disney Co.

In recent films, Leia had risen to general leading the fight against the evil First Order in the galaxy far, far away. Her son is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the warrior who took over as ruler of the First Order at the end of 2017 film “The Last Jedi.”

If Fisher had been alive, “there is no question we would have done, I’m sure, additional and other things,” Abrams said. “But the fact we had the material to do what we did is incredibly gratifying.”

Daisy Ridley, who portrays resistance fighter Rey, recorded scenes for “Rise of Skywalker” in which her character interacted with the previously recorded images of Fisher.

“I was basically reacting to footage I had seen of her, so it was quite emotional, very strange,” Ridley said. “But I do think you feel a real sense of love between Leia and Rey in this one, and Leia is a big part of the story.”

Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) also have scenes that include dialogue with Leia, cast members said.

Abrams said Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, who will appear for the third time as a lieutenant in the resistance forces, also will be seen on screen with her mother.

Anthony Daniels, who plays the droid C-3PO, said the scenes with Fisher looked “totally believable, quite wonderful, quite respectful” in the final cut of the film, which was shown to some cast members this week.

Isaac said he felt “a real melancholy” when he watched Fisher on screen in “Rise of Skywalker.”

“You see her right there, and she’s so vital and alive, and to think she’s not there anymore, and she won’t get to see how we say goodbye to Princess Leia,” he said. “It’s bittersweet.”

Iran President Calls For Release Of ‘Innocent’ Unarmed Protesters

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Iran’s President Hassan Rohani has called for the release of protesters who were arrested in recent demonstrations against a sharp hike in gas prices if they were unarmed and simply voicing their opinion.

“Religious and Islamic clemency should be shown and those innocent people who protested against petrol price hikes and were not armed…should be released,” Rohani said in a televised speech on December 4.

Protests erupted on November 15 after the government announced a fuel price hike of up to 200 % but were quickly stifled by security forces who also imposed a week-long near-total Internet blackout.

Earlier this week rights group Amnesty International said at least 208 people were killed in the crackdown, a number that is “evidence that Iran’s security forces went on a horrific killing spree.”

Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili rejected the high death toll estimates on December 3, calling them “utter lies.”

On December 3, Rohani ordered a panel to investigate possible compensation for civilians who suffered personal or property damages during the protests.

NATO Leaders Present United Front Amid Bitter Differences

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NATO leaders are gathering at a golf resort outside of London Wednesday to present a united front amid bitter differences over terrorism, Turkey and increased burden sharing with the United States.

The 29 leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, posed for a traditional “family” photograph before retreating for the planned three-hour meeting.  The leaders are expected to release a statement afterwards promising to focus more attention on the challenges posed by Russia and rising superpower China.  

On the sidelines of the meeting Wednesday, Trump met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  The White House said “the  two Presidents discussed the importance of Turkey fulfilling its alliance commitments, further strengthening commerce through boosting bilateral trade by $100 billion, regional security challenges, and energy security.”

A day earlier, leaders had gathered for informal meetings to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance’s founding, but the day was overshadowed when tensions between President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron broke out in full public display.

Macron vs Trump

In an almost 40-minute session with journalists the two leaders clashed on a number of issues including burden sharing within NATO, terrorism, Turkey’s invasion in northern Syria, and the U.S. withdrawal from an arms treaty with Russia.

The two leaders met hours after Trump criticized Macron for his recent statement describing NATO as experiencing a “brain death,” due to diminished U.S. leadership.  Trump called it a “nasty statement.”  

President Donald Trump, right, listens as French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at their meeting at Winfield House during the NATO summit, in London, Dec. 3, 2019.
President Donald Trump, right, listens as French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at their meeting at Winfield House during the NATO summit, in London, Dec. 3, 2019.

As the two sat down for talks, Trump warned NATO member countries who do not meet NATO’s guideline of spending 2% of GDP on collective defense could be dealt with “from a trade standpoint” referring to tariffs on products, including French wine.

This prompted Macron, who is currently contributing 1.9% of France’s GDB towards NATO’s defense, to push back.

“It’s not just about money,” Macron said. “What about peace in Europe?” he asked Trump.

“It’s impossible just to say we have to put money, we have to put soldiers, without being clear on the fundamentals of what NATO should be,” Macron said.

Macron said he supports a stronger European component in NATO but points out that after the end of the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, European countries are faced with the new threat of Russian missiles.

The Trump administration withdrew from the 1987 arms control treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union in August after what it says were Moscow’s repeated violations of the agreement.

Trump and Macron argued about how to deal with Islamic State after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting the alliance. The withdrawal paved the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against the U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in northern Syria and triggered fear among allies of a potential IS resurgence.

In response to a question on whether France should do more to take Islamic State fighters captured in the Middle East, Trump asked Macron if he would like “some nice ISIS fighters”.

Macron countered that the main problem is IS fighters in the region. Referring to the abrupt U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria, Macron said “you have more and more of these fighters due to the situation today”.

Macron is “more on the side of those who wants to actually face up to the crisis and talk about it,” said Hans Kundnani of Chatham House. He is the sort of “disruptive factor” compared to other leaders who may choose to paper over disagreements, Kundnani said.

U.S. President Donald Trump, center left, speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center right, during a ceremony event.
U.S. President Donald Trump, center left, speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center right, during a ceremony event at a NATO leaders meeting at The Grove hotel and resort in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Dec. 4, 2019.

NATO chief meeting

Earlier Tuesday, as Trump met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the U.S. president said Macron’s “brain death” comments regarding NATO were “insulting” to other members.

In the past Trump has repeatedly criticized the alliance as “obsolete” and expressed his desire to leave it. But the president seemed to have changed his tune, saying that NATO “serves a great purpose”.

The French leader warned in a recent interview with The Economist that European countries can no longer rely on the United States to defend NATO allies and need to start taking care of their own security.

“As Emmanuel Macron considers complacency as the most pressing danger facing Europe and European security, he is likely to reaffirm his comments and continue to push for all allies to clarify their position in this debate,” said Martin Quencez, Deputy Director of the Paris Office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“It is also France’s role to show that the president’s disruptive method can foster constructive reforms, and that his harsh criticisms can be followed by a more positive agenda for the transatlantic partnership,” said Quencez.

Burden sharing

The dispute between two leaders was precisely the kind of flare-up that summit organizers have desperately tried to avoid, as it overshadowed discussions of substance in the summit, including the idea of a more equitable burden-sharing touted by Trump.

Stoltenberg praised Trump on Tuesday, saying his leadership on the issue is “having a real impact.”  He cited a $130 billion increase in defense budgets among the non-U.S. NATO members and said that would go to $400 billion by 2024.

Only 9 out of 29 member countries currently meet NATO’s guideline of spending 2% of GDP on collective defense.

What NATO countries spend on defense (nato.org)
Source – nato.org

In addition to budget discussions, NATO’s secretary general said leaders would be talking about counterterrorism efforts, arms control, relations with Russia and the rise of China.

Stoltenberg also rejected the suggestion that NATO is “brain-dead” saying that the alliance is active, agile and adapting. “We have just implemented the largest reinforcements of collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” he added.

The issue of member countries being delinquent was brought up again in Trump’s meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

When asked about whether he would defend a country that does not meet its defense spending target, Trump appeared non-committal.

“I would look at it as a group, but I think it’s very unfair when a country doesn’t pay,” Trump said.

The principle of collective defense is enshrined in NATO’s Article 5, that an attack on one member is an attack on all of its members. The alliance has only invoked the article once in its history—in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the U.S.

Cloud of impeachment

The summit comes as Trump faces an impeachment investigation back home.  He repeated his criticism Tuesday of Democrats who control the House of Representatives, saying it is unfair to hold hearings while he is attending the summit.

Trump is not the first U.S. president to attend a NATO summit under the cloud of impeachment. In 1974 Richard Nixon went to NATO’s 25th anniversary meeting in Brussels while the U.S. House of Representatives was concluding its impeachment inquiry. Nixon stepped down a few weeks later.

 

US House Approves Bill Denouncing China’s Crackdown of Uighur Muslims

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China has expressed anger over passage of a bill by the U.S. House of Representatives that calls for official actions against Beijing over its crackdown on millions of ethnic Muslims.  

By a vote of 407-to-1, the Democratic-led chamber approved the Uighur Act of 2019 Tuesday which condemns the detention of an estimated one million Uighurs, Kazahks and other ethnic Muslims in so-called “re-education camps” in the remote western province of Xinjiang.  The bill directs various U.S. government agencies to prepare reports on China’s treatment of the Muslim minorities, and calls on President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for the mass detentions, specifically Chen Quanguo, the ruling Communist Party’s chief in Xinjiang.

Beijing has denied that it is detaining the Uighurs against their will, maintaining that the camps are “vocational training centers” designed to combat terrorism and extremism and to teach new skills.  

The Republican-controlled Senate passed a similar bill back in September.  The two measures will have to be reconciled and approved by both the House and Senate before they go to Trump for his signature.  

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that any nation that seeks to interfere in China’s internal affairs will pay a price.

The U.S., the United Nations and various human rights groups have accused China of detaining ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang in an attempt to force them to renounce their religion and heritage. The State Department has imposed visa restrictions against Chinese government and Communist Party officials it believes are behind the detentions, while the Trump administration has created of list of nearly 30 Chinese organization that are barred from doing business with U.S. companies.  

China is already seething over a bill signed last week by President Trump that expresses support for pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.  The government retaliated by slapping sanctions on U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and suspended future visits to the semi-autonomous city by U.S. warships.  

Powerful Union to Host Biden, Warren, Sanders in Nevada

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Nevada’s powerful casino workers’ Culinary Union will hold a series of town halls next week with Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the group said Tuesday.

The town halls in Las Vegas on Dec. 9-11 are designed to give the White House hopefuls a chance to pitch themselves to the bartenders, housekeepers and other workers in the city’s famed casinos.

Their Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is considered one of the most influential endorsements in Nevada, the third state to weigh in on the Democratic presidential race.

The union’s secretary-treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline said the group has not yet decided if it will endorse anyone in the primary but is listening to candidates and telling them what workers want.

The union’s 60,000 members are mostly women and immigrants and cite health care, immigration reform and workers’ issues among their top priorities.

Health care

Health care, a hot topic of debate in the Democratic primary, is expected to be a main focus of the town halls. Many of the union’s members and leaders have said they have concerns about Medicare for All plans backed by Sanders and Warren that eliminate private insurance.

Culinary’s workers have fought and bargained hard over the years for comprehensive health plans that boast no monthly premiums and no deductibles, and members don’t want to give up that coverage.

The union’s leaders have had private meetings with most of the presidential candidates, but their town hall forums with the members offer 2020 contenders a platform to speak to the group’s rank-and-file.

The union says only top Democratic candidates have received an invite. Several other candidates were invited to participate but unable to make the scheduling work.

Warren’s town hall is scheduled for the evening of Dec. 9, followed by Sanders the next morning and Biden midmorning on Dec. 11.
 

Trump Says World ‘Has to Be Watching’ Violence in Iran

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President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he supports the demonstrations in Iran and urged the world to watch the Iranian government’s violent effort to quash protests that he says have killed “thousands of people.”

Speaking in London, where he is attending the NATO leaders summit, Trump said, “Iran is killing thousands and thousands of people right now as we speak.”

He added they were killed “for the mere fact that they’re protesting,” and he called it a “terrible thing.”

Trump was mum on what, if anything, the U.S. could do in response to the violence, but he said, “I think the world has to be watching.”

Later, during a meeting, Trump misheard a question when he said he did not support the protesters. The president also sent out a tweet that said: “The United States of America supports the brave people of Iran who are protesting for their FREEDOM. We have under the Trump Administration and always will!”

Amnesty International said on Monday it believes at least 208 people were killed in the protests and the crackdown that followed. Iranian state television on Tuesday acknowledged for the first time that security forces shot and killed what it described as “rioters” in multiple cities amid recent protests over the spike in government-set gasoline prices.

The protests are viewed as a reflection of widespread economic discontent gripping the country since Trump reimposed nuclear sanctions on Iran last year.

Trump encouraged reporters “to get in there and see what’s going on,” noting that the Iranian government has curtailed internet access to limit the spread of information about the violence.

Malaysian Ex-Leader Najib Takes Stand in 1MDB Trial

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Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was a “victim” of the multimillion-dollar 1MDB scandal that saw state coffers drained on his watch, his lawyer said Tuesday, as the ex-premier gave evidence in his own fraud trial.

Huge sums were stolen from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, allegedly by the ex-prime minister and his cronies, and spent on everything from high-end real estate to artwork.

Najib’s coalition was ousted at the polls last year after six decades in power, largely due to public anger over the scandal.

He has since been arrested and hit with dozens of charges linked to the looting of the investment vehicle.

“Najib is not part of the conspiracy. He is a victim as much as others in the 1MDB scandal,” his lawyer Muhammad Shafee Adbullah told reporters.

“The leader of the pack is Jho Low,” he said, referring to fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, a member of Najib’s inner circle who allegedly masterminded the elaborate fraud that spanned from the United States to Switzerland, Dubai and Singapore.

“The crux of my defense is the entire scheme is designed by Jho Low,” Shafee added.

Low “portrayed himself as someone influential in the Middle East countries,” Najib told the packed courtroom, speaking calmly during five hours of testimony.

“I thought his influence and connections will help 1MDB achieve its goals and attract investments.”

243-page statement

Najib, 66, went on trial in April over the controversy, in a case centered on the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from former 1MDB unit SRC International into his bank accounts.

The former leader arrived at the court wearing a blue suit and held a brief Muslim prayer with supporters at the building’s steps.

Defense proceedings began with Najib giving testimony under oath. He will be cross-examined by prosecutors and is expected to be on the witness stand for around four days.

He began his testimony reading from a 243-page statement, recalling his long career in politics and ministerial posts he held since 1978, including the post of finance minister, and giving lengthy background on the setting up of 1MDB and SRC.

Defense lawyers had earlier said it would take two days for him to read the entire statement, but as his testimony went on, it appeared it would take longer.

He was able to read only 70 pages in his statement by the end of the day. The trial will resume Wednesday.

Najib is facing four charges of corruption and three counts of money-laundering in the trial. Each charge of corruption carries a maximum jail term of 20 years, and each money-laundering count is punishable by a term of up to 15 years.

Prosecutors have argued that Najib wielded huge influence over the unit and knew that stolen money was being funneled from it into his accounts.

Multiple cases

But Najib told the court: “I, in an absolute and unequivocal manner, like to state that I do not have any personal interest in SRC, except in a professional manner as the prime minister and minister of finance and in the interest of the public.”

Lawyer Shafee said they will prove that Najib “did not misappropriate funds … either directly or indirectly” and “did not act dishonestly.”

The amount transferred to his account “was done without his knowledge or involvement” as the transactions “were being manipulated by third parties without his knowledge and approval,” Shafee said.

The case is one of several 1MDB-linked trials investigating Najib’s conduct. The biggest opened in August, centering on allegations he illicitly obtained over $500 million from the fund.

U.S. authorities who are also investigating the fraud, as money was allegedly laundered through the American financial system, believe $4.5 billion was looted from the fund.

Twitter Makes Global Changes to Comply with Privacy Laws

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Twitter is updating its global privacy policy to give users more information about what data advertisers might receive and is launching a site to provide clarity on its data protection efforts, the company said on Monday.

The changes, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, will comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

The California law requires large businesses to give consumers more transparency and control over their personal information, such as allowing them to request that their data be deleted and to opt out of having their data sold to third parties.

Social media companies including Facebook and Alphabet’s Google have come under scrutiny on data privacy issues, fueled by Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal in which personal data were harvested from millions of users without their consent.

Twitter also announced on Monday that it is moving the accounts of users outside of the United States and European Union which were previously contracted by Twitter International Company in Dublin, Ireland, to the San Francisco-based Twitter.

The company said this move would allow it the flexibility to test different settings and controls with these users, such as additional opt-in or opt-out privacy preferences, that would likely be restricted by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Europe’s landmark digital privacy law.

“We want to be able to experiment without immediately running afoul of the GDPR provisions,” Twitter’s data protection officer Damien Kieran told Reuters in a phone interview.

“The goal is to learn from those experiments and then to provide those same experiences to people all around the world,” he said.

The company, which said it has upped its communications about data and security-related disclosures over the last two years, emphasized in a Monday blog post that it was working to upgrade systems and build privacy into new products.

In October, Twitter announced it had found that phone numbers and email addresses used for two-factor authentication may inadvertently have been used for advertising purposes.

Twitter’s new privacy site, dubbed the ‘Twitter Privacy Center’ is part of the company’s efforts to showcase its work on data protection and will also give users another route to access and download their data.

Twitter joins other internet companies who have recently staked out their positions ahead of CCPA coming into effect.

Last month, Microsoft said it would honor the law throughout the United States and Google told clients that it would let sites and apps using its advertising tools block personalized ads as part of its efforts to comply with CCPA.