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Ukraine President Zelenskyy rejects PM’s resignation

Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukraine’s embattled Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk tendered his resignation following a scandal over what appeared to be leaked tapes of him lambasting the president’s “primitive” views on the economy. But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refused to accept Honcharuk’s offer to quit. A man whose voice resembles that of Honcharuk is heard in three audio files…

Ukraine President Zelenskyy rejects PM’s resignation

Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukraine’s embattled Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk tendered his resignation following a scandal over what appeared to be leaked tapes of him lambasting the president’s “primitive” views on the economy.
But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refused to accept Honcharuk’s offer to quit.
A man whose voice resembles that of Honcharuk is heard in three audio files posted on YouTube this week, which claim to be the recording of conversations between the prime minister and finance officials, including the finance minister.
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Honcharuk, a 35-year-old lawyer who became Ukraine’s prime minister in August, is alleged to have said: “Zelenskyy has a very primitive understanding of the economy”, and is also heard describing himself a “layman” in economic matters.
Zelenskyy earlier said he would “consider” the resignation.
The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s lower house of parliament – dominated by Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party – convened on Friday to discuss the resignation.
After the meeting, Zelenskyy refused the resignation bid.
“I decided to give you and your government a chance if you resolve some issues that are very important today and are of concern to our society,” the president told Honcharuk in a video released by his press service late Friday.
“Now is not the time to shake the country economically and politically.”
He instructed security officials to find the source of the leak.
“I demand that within two weeks, as soon as possible, we should get the information on who was recording,” he was quoted by his press service as saying.
Law enforcement agencies should “find who did it and work it all out,” he said.
Honcharuk blames ‘groups of influence’
Addressing the parliament earlier on Friday, Honcharuk said there had been attempts to sow distrust, but called for unity to prevail.
“Ukraine’s government keeps working as usual until the moment the president makes a decision,” he said.
“This is a political decision we are expecting from our political power.”
Some of the legislators shouted, “Get away!” after his speech.
Honcharuk also suggested unnamed powerful figures stood to benefit from his government being brought down.
“Many groups of influence, which are trying to gain access to financial flows, benefit from such presentation, but this is not true,” Honcharuk wrote on Facebook on Friday morning.
“I came to this post to execute the president’s programme. He is for me a model of openness and honesty. However, I wrote the resignation letter to the president with the right to submit it to Parliament to cast away any doubts of our respect and trust to the president.”
According to Ukraine’s constitution, only a parliamentary vote can dismiss a prime minister.
Honcharuk said on Friday the recording had been “doctored”, cobbled together from fragments of recorded government meetings.
“Its contents artificially create the impression that my team and I do not respect the president, who is our political leader,” Honcharuk said on social media.
He did not comment on whether it was his voice heard in the recording, but on Thursday said the furore would not “scare” him, as his government would be “even more stubborn in uprooting corruption and blocking the streams” of illegal financial operations.

His government, which largely consists of political first-timers and formerly junior officials, has been criticised for an inconsistent approach to reforms and a failure to live up to Zelenskyy’s populist election promises to upend the power of regional oligarchs, crack down on corruption and reform an economy hobbled by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and an armed conflict in two separatist provinces.
“His government could start the process of replacing elites, changing the system of decision-making that went against the wishes of several oligarchic groups in Ukraine, but on the other hand, they could not make this work systemic, they did not start the reforms [the public] expected from them,” Igar Tyshkevich of Kyiv-based think-tank The Future Institute, told Al Jazeera.
Other experts are even more dismissive of Honcharuk’s performance.
“On a scale of one to 10, it’s definitely a zero,” Kyiv-based analyst Alexey Kushch told Al Jazeera. Explaining his low rating, Kushch cited an industrial recession, a drop in gross domestic product growth and deflation stifling income growth, budget and trade deficits and shrinking foreign investment.
Ukraine is one of Europe’s poorest nations, suffering after a severe disruption of economic ties with Moscow. Millions of migrant workers work in the European Union or Russia, while Kyiv’s cash-strapped government is struggling to maintain its military fighting pro-Russia separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Honcharuk’s government has also faced two political crises not of his making.
The first is the ongoing scandal surrounding US President Donald Trump’s alleged attempts to pressure Zelenskyy into investigating Hunter Biden, the son of Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, the former vice president of the United States. The White House briefly froze almost $400m in military aid in a move that could have reignited the separatist war, Europe’s most active armed conflict, in which more than 13,000 lives have been lost.
The second is the January 8 downing of a Ukrainian commercial airliner by an Iranian missile, which resulted in the death of all 176 passengers and crew on board.
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President Trump Announces Nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

President Trump Announces Nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States – YouTube

President Trump Announces Nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

President Trump Announces Nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States – YouTube

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Belarus president closes western borders, puts army on high alert |NationalTribune.com

Belarus’s president, beleaguered by six weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation, has announced he is putting troops on high alert and closing the country’s borders with Poland and Lithuania. President Alexander Lukashenko’s decision on Thursday underlined his repeated claim that the wave of protests is driven by the West. He faces increasing criticism from…

Belarus president closes western borders, puts army on high alert |NationalTribune.com

Belarus’s president, beleaguered by six weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation, has announced he is putting troops on high alert and closing the country’s borders with Poland and Lithuania.
President Alexander Lukashenko’s decision on Thursday underlined his repeated claim that the wave of protests is driven by the West. He faces increasing criticism from the United States and the European Union.
Protests began after the disputed August 9 presidential election. Official results gave the authoritarian leader a sixth term in office but opponents say the results were manipulated.
“We are forced to withdraw troops from the streets, put the army on high alert and close the state border on the west, primarily with Lithuania and Poland,” Lukashenko said at a women’s forum.
Lukashenko also said Belarus’s border with Ukraine would be strengthened.
“I don’t want my country to be at war. Moreover, I don’t want Belarus and Poland, Lithuania to turn into a theatre of military operations where our issues will not be resolved,” he said.
“Therefore, today in front of this hall of the most beautiful, advanced, patriotic people I want to appeal to the peoples of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine – stop your crazy politicians, don’t let war break out!”
He did not mention neighbouring Latvia, which like Poland and Lithuania is a NATO member.

Identifying officers allegedly involved in violence
Earlier on Thursday, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the main opposition candidate in the disputed presidential election, said activists are compiling a list of law enforcement officers who were allegedly involved in violence against protesters denouncing the results of the vote.
Nearly 7,000 people were detained and hundreds were brutally beaten by police during the first several days of post-election protests.
Human rights groups are working with opposition activists to identify the officers and officials, Tikhanovskaya said, adding the list will be shared with the US, the EU and Russia.
Tikhanovskaya, who left for Lithuania in the wake of the election under pressure from Belarusian authorities, said the opposition will name the list in honour of Alexander Taraikovsky, a protester who died in Minsk the day after the election as police dispersed peaceful demonstrators.
Authorities initially said an explosive device Taraikovsky intended to throw at police blew up in his hands and killed him. However, a video by The Associated Press news agency showed he was not holding any explosives when he fell to the ground, his shirt bloodied.

‘A hostage to conventional cliches’
The US and the EU have criticised the presidential election as neither free nor fair, and urged Lukashenko to start talks with the opposition – a call he has rejected.
Washington and Brussels have been pondering sanctions against Belarusian officials for alleged vote-rigging and the violent response to protests.
On Thursday, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution rejecting the official election results and saying it would not recognise Lukashenko as the legitimate president once his current term expires on November 5.
Belarus’s foreign ministry responded strongly, saying: “We are disappointed that the European Parliament, positioning itself as a serious, objective and democratic structure, could not find the political will to look beyond its nose, overcome one-sidedness and not become a hostage to conventional cliches.”
Russia, Lukashenko’s main ally and sponsor, has maintained staunch support for the Belarusian leader.
Moscow announced this week it would offer a new $1.5bn loan to his government.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday during a trip to Lithuania the two countries – both Belarus’s neighbours – will continue to offer medical and material assistance to Belarusians who were hurt and persecuted during the protests.
He argued the EU and international lenders should offer at least one billion euros ($1.18bn) in economic support for Belarus and its businesses.
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Lebanon president accepts gov’t resignation after Beirut blast |NationalTribune.com

Lebanon’s government has stepped down as Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed endemic corruption for a devastating explosion last week that tore through the capital. President Michel Aoun accepted Diab’s resignation on Monday and asked the government to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet was formed. Tensions have been boiling over in the…

Lebanon president accepts gov’t resignation after Beirut blast |NationalTribune.com

Lebanon’s government has stepped down as Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed endemic corruption for a devastating explosion last week that tore through the capital.
President Michel Aoun accepted Diab’s resignation on Monday and asked the government to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet was formed.
Tensions have been boiling over in the country following the massive explosion at Beirut’s port that killed some 200 people and wounded 6,000 others, according to the latest tally. 
“This crime” was a result of corruption that is “bigger than the state”, Diab said in a televised statement, adding that he was taking “a step back” so he could stand with the people “and fight the battle for change alongside them”.

“I declare today the resignation of this government. May God protect Lebanon,” Diab said, repeating the last phrase three times.
The developments follow a weekend of angry, violent anti-establishment protests in which 728 people were wounded and one police officer killed amid a heavy crackdown by security forces.
Through analysis of videos and images of the security response by the army and men in plain-clothes on the day, and examination of medical documents and interviews with doctors who treated the wounded, Al Jazeera established that security forces violated international standards on the use of force.
Political and economic reforms
The August 4 disaster, which was caused by highly explosive ammonium nitrate that was stored at Beirut’s port for more than six years, has fuelled popular anger and upended politics in a country already struggling with a major economic crisis.
Most Lebanese blame their leadership’s corruption and neglect for the explosion, which has caused damage to the extent of an estimated $15bn and left nearly 300,000 people homeless.
Since October, there have been mass demonstrations demanding the departure of the entire sectarian-based leadership over entrenched corruption, incompetence and mismanagement.
But the ruling oligarchy has held onto power for so long – since the end of the civil war in 1990 – that it is difficult to find a credible political figure not tainted by connections to them.
Although Diab’s resignation had appeared inevitable after the catastrophe, he seemed unwilling to leave and only two days ago made a televised speech in which he offered to stay on for two months to allow for various factions to agree on a road map for reforms. But the pressure from within his cabinet proved to be too much.
‘Historic turning point’

Diab’s government was formed after his predecessor, Saad Hariri, stepped down under pressure from the protest movement. It took months of bickering among the leadership factions before they settled on Diab. 
His government, which was supported by Hezbollah and its allies and seen as one-sided, failed to implement the sweeping political and economic reforms that it had promised. 
Now the process must start again, with Diab’s government in a caretaker role as the same factions debate a new one. 
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Beirut, said the change is going to be challenging because Lebanon’s electoral system is set up “to protect the political elite in the country”.
“To change that system, those political elites have to agree to it,” Smith said.
“Even an explosion as catastrophic as Tuesday’s might not be enough to get those elites easily give up their grip on power … That’s why international pressure, people believe, is necessary.”
On Sunday, world leaders and international organisations pledged nearly $300m in emergency humanitarian aid to Beirut, but warned no funds would be made available until Lebanese authorities committed themselves to the political and economic reforms demanded by the people.
Rami Khouri, a professor at the American University of Beirut, described the developments of the past week as “a historic turning point in the modern political governance of Lebanon” that is “just at the beginning”.
Khouri said there were essentially two main forces currently in Lebanon: “One is Hezbollah and its close allies, and the other one is the protest movement, or the revolution as they call themselves – these are all kinds of people but they do represent the majority of the population.”
“The question is, will there be a serious negotiation now,” he said, noting that the formation of “a hybrid government” tasked to address Lebanon’s critical issues was likely.
“They will have to agree on whether the transitional government that comes in is a serious reformist government, with ‘clean’ and efficient people that can get the support of the international community and do a quick deal with the IMF.”
Meanwhile, Habib Battah, a Lebanon-based journalist, questioned how long the caretaker government would remain in place since it is “very difficult” to form a government in Lebanon.
“The Diab government was many months in the making,” Battah said.
He said while the resignation could be seen as a victory for the protesters who view the government as a “corrupt system”, it is important to note that others benefit from it. 
Political parties control schools and hospitals, among other things across the country.
“These parties are really tough to compete against in elections,” Battah said, adding that it was up to the international community to stop supporting these parties if it were serious about helping Lebanon.
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