Trump and Xi hail ‘$250 billion’ trade deals

All looked rosy on Thursday as the US and Chinese Presidents trumpeted trade deals countries supposedly worth over $250 billion between their countries. But is the striking figure quite what it seems?

China Donald Trump & Xi Jinping (Reuters/D. Sagolj)

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping celebrated trade deals between their countries supposedly worth over $250 billion (€223 billion) on Thursday, during day two of Trump’s visit to the country.

Several major deals were announced. Aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing agreed to sell 300 planes worth $37 billion to the state-controlled China National Aviation Holding while US telecommunications company Qualcomm agreed deals worth $12 billion with three Chinese phone makers.

The biggest and arguably most significant deal of all sees an $83.7 billion investment by the China Energy Investment Corp, to take place over a 20-year period, in chemical manufacturing projects and shale gas developments in West Virginia, a state that recorded a huge Trump vote in last year’s US Presidential election.

Several other smaller agreements, many involving energy companies, were also announced.

However, while Trump will likely return to the United States hailing the agreements as further evidence of his self-proclaimed reputation as a master deal-maker, there are more than a few caveats attached to the “$250 billion” figure, primarily the fact that many of the agreements are nonbinding memorandums of understanding rather than legal contracts. In other words, they can very easily be reneged on.

Watch video01:45

Xi Jinping hosts President Trump in Beijing

Also, many of the biggest deals are centeredon US companies that already do major business in China — such as Boeing and Qualcomm — so to what extent the deals are actually new, or in any meaningful sense connected to Trump’s dealmaking skills, is unclear.

Trump, who has long railed against China for the country’s trade policies, was in a far more conciliatory mood when speaking alongside Xi in Beijing. He blamed his US predecessors for an “out of kilter” trading relationship with China and repeatedly praised the Chinese leader as “a very special man”.

The art of the deals?

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — who earlier this week was named in the Paradise Papers for investments he made in a company linked to Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law — boasted on Wednesday of “$250 billion” worth of deals between China and the US but the full details were only revealed on Thursday.

With a raft of high-ranking US CEOs accompanying Trump on his trip, several deals were expected and Ross announced agreements on Wednesday worth $9 billion, featuring around 20 US companies including General Electric, DowDuPont and Bell Helicopter, many of which already have extensive Chinese partnerships.

The Qualcomm deal saw $12 billion worth of nonbinding agreements signed with phone makers Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo, a continuation of the San Diego-based firm’s longstanding investment in China, where it already does most of its business.

The deal between Boeing and China National Aviation Holding certainly sounds major although among those to proclaim skepticism at the significance of the deal was former Mexican ambassador to China Jorge Guajardo, who, amid a series of comments on Trump’s trip, wrote on Twitter: “Interesting to see how many of those are past agreements/purchase orders repackaged. Beijing is a master of selling the same agreement 10 times.”

Interesting to see how many of those are past agreements/purchase orders repackaged. Beijing is a master of selling the same agreement 10 times. https://twitter.com/bpolitics/status/928254975368663040 

The West Virginia investment is the first major overseas investment by the newly formed China Energy group and will be very well received by those US voters whose faith in Trump was based on his supposed ability to bring about such deals.

China’s Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said the deals were “truly a miracle” but there was much more caution from market analysts.

“I suspect they might be primarily MOUs (memorandum of understandings) instead of actual contracts and the actual contract amount may be substantially less,” Alex Wolf, an economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments, told Reuters.

Tremendous for both of us”

Other criticism focused on the fact that the deals would not grapple with more structural concerns regarding the bilateral trading relationship with China, such as the various restrictions the Chinese government places on the operations of several US firms operating in the country, ranging from the blocking of internet giants such as Facebook and Google to the protectionist measures used against car makers.

Read more: EU firms want better access to Chinese market

Nonetheless, the generally positive tones were welcomed by US and Chinese commentators. Xi heralded the dawn of a more transparent and open Chinese economic age in relation to how it deals with foreign firms while Trump, although regularly referring to the “shockingly high” trade deficit between the countries, was also effusive.

“We will make it fair and it will be tremendous for both of us,” Trump said, drawing a wide smile from Xi when he insisted that it was previous US Presidents, rather than China, who were to blame for the deficit.

Yet while the rhetoric was soaring and will no doubt continue to be, many of Thursday’s deal announcements have a way to go to prove they are worth the paper they are written on, if they are on paper at all.

Watch video01:46

Trump on Asia visit lauds China as problem-solver

aos/mm (Reuters, dpa)

Courtesy: DW

New beginning for failed state Somalia?

Under the Trump administration, the US has significantly amped up military engagement in Somalia. Special forces are fighting alongside Somali soldiers to defeat terror organization al-Shabab. Sandra Petersmann reports.

Destroyed house in Mogadishu (photo: DW/S. Petersmann)

Foreign soldiers, gunshots, explosions, air strikes – when refugees from Bariire talk about what they’ve experienced, they are unable to name exact dates. Days and events blur together as emotions run high.

They are afraid – of both sides, they say. Marian is now a widow and mother to seven children who have lost their father. When fighting in Bariire stopped, Marian found her husband’s body – bloody and riddled with bullets – dumped on a field. She can’t say who shot him or when he was killed.

Marian and others who fled the fighting are now sitting on the dusty streets of a refugee camp in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. The farmers fled their homes in Bariire, a town in the embattled region of Lower Shabelle in Somalia’s south, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Mogadishu.

Read more: What makes young African Muslims join jihadi groups?

Not long ago, Bariire was considered a stronghold of the Islamist al-Shabab militia that’s joined al-Qaeda in the fight for a caliphate.

Marian in Mogadishu's refugee camp (DW/S. Petersmann)Marian’s husband died and she now has to take care of her seven children on her own

But on August 20, African Union (AU) troops and Somali soldiers managed to retake Bariire’s city center. The AU has deployed some 22,000 soldiers in Somalia to fight against al-Shabab. Unconfirmed eyewitness reports say US soldiers also helped recapture the city.

What happened in Bariire?

A few days later, on August 25, there was another military operation – a raid on a farm in the early morning hours. Ten civilians lost their lives – among them were three boys aged eight to ten years.

The Somalian government initially denied civilians had been killed, but later corrected this statement. Relatives took the dead bodies all the way to Mogadishu in protest. Army chief General Ahmed Mohamed Jimale Irfid said they initially mistook the killed farmers for al-Shabab fighters due to it being dark in the early morning hours.

The US Africa Command based in Stuttgart, Germany, immediately issued a response on August 25.

“We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Bariire, Somalia. We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground,” the statement read.

“We can confirm that the Somali National Army was conducting an operation in the area with US forces in a supporting role.”

Since then, no other details have been shared with the public. According to Somalian media reports, the clan of the killed farmers has received compensation payments.

Rebuilding a failed state

Somalia has been driven by war since 1991. The state disintegrated, with the country’s most powerful clans filling the void.

Watch video03:30

The battle for survival in Somalia

The country on the Horn of Africa now wants to build new federal structures with international help.

Since December of last year, there is a new parliament; since February of this year the country has a new president.

In both rounds of voting, the big Somalian clans were also vying for power – a lot of cash was handed out.

Still, the result can be considered a massive improvement, according to Michael Keating, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Somalia.

Marred by corruption and intimidation, but still legitimate

“It was an electoral process which was also marked by corrupt practices and intimidation. But the amazing thing is that the result was received as legitimate both by both the Somali population as well as the international community”, Keating told DW.

Especially President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who holds both Somalian and US citizenship, enjoys people’s trust. He is a refugee himself who returned to the country and now lobbies for additional military support, investment and direct financial aid for his government. Right off the Somalian coast are oil reserves waiting to be tapped.

“The peace and stability in Mogadishu and Somalia is the peace and stability for the whole world. Somalia is a test case where we can show to the world that you can defeat terrorism,” Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman told DW. He moved back to Somalia from London.

These days, many people from the Somalian diaspora are daring to return to their home country.

Children on a ride in Mogadishu's peace park (photo: DW/S. Petersmann)Optimism is palpable in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu – children are enjoying a ride in the city’s peace park

This spirit of optimism is palpable in the Somalian capital – countless construction sites and new streets, cafés and shops attest to that. Foreign diplomats, advisers and volunteers are pouring into the country. New embassies are being built.

But most foreigners still barricade themselves behind high protective walls that have been put up around the airport. Car bombs, suicide attackers and abductions are still part of Somalian daily life.

“The challenge is: how do we work together to help the Somalis sort out their own problems on their own terms and not try and impose our own solutions because we are in a hurry, or because we need certain things done,” said Keating. “You have to be very respectful of Somali culture and politics.”

Lessons learnt from Bariire?

But the unresolved case of the ten civilians who were killed in Bariire shows just how complicated the process of building a nation truly is. The region of Lower Shabelle isn’t just a stronghold of al-Shabab, but also home to rival clans with access to weapons. The drought at the Horn of Africa has exacerbated conflicts over water and land. It’s hard to distinguish between civilians and extremists.

Who was the source of information that led to military operations in the early morning hours in Bariire on August 25? Who checked the information? The US has only “a few dozen soldiers” in the country, according to their own account – that means they rely on Somalian sources for military reconnaissance.

Security sources say it’s possible that one clan accused the other of fighting for al-Shabab. Chances are US forces, alongside Somali soldiers, have been dragged into a local conflict in Bariire.

Al-Shabab exploits fears

Somalia Al-Shabaab Kämpfer (picture alliance/AP Photo/M. Sheikh Nor)Al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu (file photo, October 2009)

In March, US President Donald Trump gave the US military more power to carry out anti-terror operations in Somalia. Since then, there have been at least 13 missions with US participation – three ground strikes and 10 airstrikes.

According to Keating, military pressure needs to be exerted. But “global experience suggests you can’t defeat an insurgency purely by military means,” he said, adding that justice and creating opportunities were just as important. Somalia, he said, was full of unresolved conflicts.

A former al-Shabab member from Lower Shabelle, who has since left the group, told DW the extremists were exploiting local conflicts to attack the state. “The people here don’t trust the government,” he said. “In the areas controlled by al-Shabab, people fear the military will loot and rape – and al-Shabab has become skilled at tapping into those fears.”

Military operations such as the one in Bariire could help drive new recruits into the arms of al-Shabab.

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Puerto Rico governor calls for urgent US aid after ‘unprecedented’ Hurricane Maria

The US territory’s Governor Ricardo Rossello called for “swift action” to help with the recovery from devastating Hurricane Maria. Many of the US citizens on the island are without adequate food, water or fuel.

National Guard Soldiers distribute water and food

US federal aid is only arriving slowly and there are long lines at supermarkets and gas stations on the island.

“We need to prevent a humanitarian crisis occurring in America. Puerto Rico is part of the United States. We need to take swift action,” Governor Rossello said at a press conference in the capital San Juan on Monday. Hurricanes Maria and Irma killed 16 people on the island and many of its 3.5 million US citizens are still without adquate supplies of water, food or fuel.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello is greeted by a resident in Barrio ObreroPuerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello is greeted by a resident in Barrio Obrero

“The magnitude of this hurricane and the two we passed is unprecedented,” Rossello said, adding that Puerto Rico was already in a dire economic situation, with government debt of more than $70 billion (59 billion euros).

In a tweet, US President Donald Trump made reference to the debt, as he admitted that Puerto Rico was in “deep trouble.”

Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..

“It’s [sic] old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well. #FEMA,” he concluded, referring to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Puerto Rico government applied on Monday for a four-week extension to meet key deadlines in its bankruptcy case, after the hurricane wrecked the island’s already fragile infrastructure. Almost all the telecommunication networks were destroyed in the hurricane.

Hurricane destruction

When Hurricane Maria made landfall last Wednesday it wiped out most of the island’s agricultural crops; plantain, banana and coffee crops were the hardest hit. Landslides in the mountainous interior took out many roads. Power outages and disruption to the supply chain have badly affected the farms which did survive.

FEMA chief Brock Long appeared alongside Rossello and said the agency was “working around the clock” to repair crucial infrastructure and save lives. “We got a lot of work to do, we realize that,” he said. FEMA said it had more than 700 staff on the ground in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

‘Inadequate’ response

The leading Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Adam Smith, denounced the Trump administration’s response to the situation as “wholly inadequate.”

“A territory of 3.5 million American citizens is almost completely without power, water, food and telephone service, and we have a handful of helicopters involved in DOD’s response. It’s a disgrace,” Smith said.

One of the houses damaged by Hurricane MariaOne of the houses damaged by Hurricane Maria

Florida Senator Marco Rubio reported after his visit to the island: “Tremendous damage. Potential for serious crisis in areas outside of #SanJuan MUST get power crews in ASAP.”

While Trump spoke to Rossello by phone over the weekend, no date has yet been set for him to visit either Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands, which were also hard hit by hurricanes. Trump did visit Texas and Florida after the two states were hit by devastating storms.

Watch video01:49

Puerto Rico struggles in Hurricane Maria’s wake

jm/se (AP, AFP)

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Donald Trump and the Iran nuclear deal – a crisis in the making

As the world grapples with a nuclear-armed North Korea, the Trump administration is working to terminate the Iran nuclear deal. The catch is, it works and prevents a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

The roadmap for Iran is exchanged

US President Donald Trump has exactly one month, namely until October 15, to confirm to Congress that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement. He has to do so every 90 days, as stipulated by the so-called Corker-Cardin law. It was passed by a largely Iran-critical Congress in 2015 to ensure lawmakers had a permanent say in US dealings with Iran. If the president fails to certify that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear agreement, Congress has 60 days to reinstitute sanctions against the country. This would equate to the US de facto leaving the nuclear treaty, which could possibly spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Thus far, Trump has certified twice that Iran is adhering to the nuclear deal, albeit reluctantly. Now, growing evidence suggests he does not intend to recertify the deal in mid-October. Not only did he tell the Wall Street Journal on July 25 that he would be “surprised if they were in compliance.” Trump also added that he would, if necessary, ignore his aides’ recommendations and even those expressed by the State Department. Trump has meanwhile tasked his own White House working group with producing arguments that Iran is not complying with deal.

Watch video02:05

In 2016 US and EU lifted sanctions on Iran (17.01.2016)

Opposition to nuclear deal

That the Trump administration is intent on canceling the Iran nuclear deal also became evident recently at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) think tank, which played an important role in drumming up support in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War. On September 5, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, held a speech at the AEI on Iran and the nuclear deal, dismissing the nuclear treaty and Iran as an untrustworthy partner. Haley erroneously claimed that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

Indeed, Iran did slightly exceed the agreed limits for heavy water, twice. Heavy water is used to moderate certain types of nuclear reactors. After talks with its treaty partners, Iran agreed to immediately export excess heavy water. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is tasked with monitoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has consequently certified again and again that Iran is adhering to the conditions of the nuclear deal. The IAEA last did so on August 31, just five days prior to Haley’s speech. Haley herself had visited the IAEA in Vienna in late August, insisting on tougher inspections that include military facilities.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's nuclear authority, visits a nuclear power academyAli Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s nuclear authority, visits a nuclear power academy

Most closely monitored non-nuclear state

The JCPOA does not, however, allow for inspections “everywhere and at all times,” as Haley demands. The IAEA may inspect previously agreed sites and can undertake inspections “where and when” evidence points to a treaty breach. So far, Iran has rejected not a single inspection request. In a study published in July, the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) thus declared Iran the world’s “most closely monitored non-nuclear state.” And IAEA director Yukiya Amano recently attested that “Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime. Our inspectors are on the ground 24/7. We monitor nuclear facilities, using permanently installed cameras and other equipment.”

Haley’s talk at the AEI deliberately mixed up JCPOA stipulations with Iranian rocket tests, regional conflicts and human rights issues. Yet the Iran nuclear deal was never intended to pertain to anything other than Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It was solely designed to compel Iran to abandon its nuclear arms program, which it has succeeded in doing. Furthermore, the deal could allow Iran to return to the international community. This has only been a partial success. And so Iran has been able to improve its strategic position markedly in the previous two years, to the frustration of the US and some of its allies.

But a paper published on September 6 by the Soufan Group, a private strategic security intelligence consultant, draws a surprising conclusion: Easing JCPOA sanctions is not to blame. Instead, Iran’s regional clout can be mainly explained by the strategic mistakes of its enemies. Chiefly, Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and its conflict with Qatar.

Watch video00:36

Trump: Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon

Misinterpreted German intelligence

This does not hinder Iran’s enemies from also utilizing reports by Germany’s domestic intelligence service to attack the nuclear deal. In early July, the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) referred to Hamburg’s domestic intelligence service to claim that Iran was planning to purchase nuclear material in Germany. The claim was soon cited in other US media. These Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear material, however, dated back to 2009 – long before the nuclear deal was agreed.

German authorities had tried to clarify the timing of these Iranian plans, according to Mark Fitzpatrick. The director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) urged the German authorities to “further clarify this context.” Fitzpatrick is optimistic that the JCPOA will endure, despite the Trump administration’s stance and a largely critical Congress. That, he told DW, is because Iran has declared it will honor the nuclear agreement even if the US leaves, provided the other treaty partners – the European Union, Great Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia – don’t abandon the treaty. This affords the EU a significant role, says Fitzpatrick.

Europeans have reiterated their support for the Iranian nuclear deal. One day after Haley’s talk, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le-Drian expressed concern that the Trump administration was putting the nuclear deal in question. And EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has stressed that “the nuclear deal doesn’t belong to one country; it belongs to the international community.”

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Trump’s Afghanistan plan: Can it actually work?

Trump acknowledges flip-flop on Afghanistan
Trump acknowledges flip-flop on Afghanistan 00:45

(CNN)On Monday night, President Donald Trump unveiled his new strategy for American involvement in Afghanistan — a country that has been the stage for a seemingly unwinnable war for 16 years.

There was not much in terms of specifics, though Trump did reveal that more US troops would be deployed and the military would have more freedom to fight America’s opponents as it sees fit. He also singled out Pakistan as part of the problem — implying that unless the Pakistanis stopped providing safety for terrorists, they might lose financial aid from the United States.
Perhaps the most significant revelation was Trump’s desire to find a political solution to end the war — one that includes bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

What’s new in Trump’s plan?

Trump’s Afghanistan plan
  • Five key pillars of Trump’s plan
  • OPINION: The view from Islamabad
The new plan for American engagement in Afghanistan that Trump announced is — until he puts more meat on the bones — the same old plan, only with less accountability to Washington.
Yes, Trump more publicly called out Pakistan as being part of the problem. But he failed to lay out any serious detail, making it hard to see exactly now this plan differs from existing US policy and how it will succeed where the old one failed.
On the other hand, the lack of clarity may keep the enemy guessing: no drawdown dates, no troop numbers, only the threat that the enemy cannot win on the battlefield.

How realistic is it?

Trump said: “Someday after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
A political solution to the fight with the Taliban is the only realistic way for US forces to leave Afghanistan and not give a free hand to al Qaeda and ISIS. In acknowledging this, it is clear that Trump is now listening to the advice of his generals.
If you listened carefully, you’ll have noticed that Trump differentiated between his enemies. This is key to leaving the door open for a political deal with the Taliban. He said that his objectives are to “obliterate ISIS,” “crush al Qaeda” and “prevent the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan.”
The Taliban have responded by seemingly leaving the door open for talks. They couched their threat to keep fighting the United States by saying, “If the US keeps following a war strategy, we will keep fighting them.” That careful use of the word “if” may come to be incredibly important.

Will the tough talk on Pakistan work?

Pakistan fears that India would like Afghanistan to become a client state on the Pakistani border.
Pakistan has long supported the Afghan Taliban to prevent this from happening and as a result has a controlling influence in the Afghan government.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban have complained that Pakistan has prevented their efforts at negotiating peace on their own terms.
Trump’s demand that Pakistan stop offering a haven to criminals, terrorists and other groups is not new.
Trump: US in Afghanistan to kill terrorists
Trump: US in Afghanistan to kill terrorists 00:54
But when the United States has previously blamed Pakistan for supporting the Taliban — and in particular the Haqqani network — it has not worked out so well: Vital US troop resupply routes that run through Pakistan have been shut down, local tribes have protested and the government has closed the border.
In such situations, the United States has turned to Russia for help. Russia has allowed resupply trains to run across its territory to Afghanistan. But the Russia route is not ideal because it takes much longer — supplies can take more than a month to arrive, as opposed to days from Pakistani ports.
And the political situation today means that Russia is far less likely to allow United States the luxury of a backup path for supplies, should Pakistan close its borders again.

What does success look like?

Success for the United States in Afghanistan would be a negotiated political solution that sees the Taliban as a political entity in the Afghan government.
It is something the Taliban have demanded in the past. The group is seeking ministerial places as well as senior positions in the army.
The Taliban are a national force that has a nationalist agenda, unlike al Qaeda and ISIS, which both have international ambitions.
Recognizing that — as Trump appears to have — is key. Certainly, it wouldn’t guarantee success, but it would help create conditions where success may be possible.
Haley: Trump listened to his generals
Haley: Trump listened to his generals 01:32
It would certainly require more diplomatic heavy lifting than the United States has managed in the past. The Taliban have a vested interest in seeing ISIS defeated and al Qaeda diminished — both are threats.
Both groups share a broadly common conservative Islamic philosophy and, to a significant degree, their fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan are drawn from the same Pashtun ethnic group, with similarly strong cultural beliefs. This makes it even more important for the Taliban to gain recognition as a political force to represent their community and shut down sympathy for ISIS and al Qaeda.
And that’s the Taliban’s value to the Afghan government and to Trump: to co-opt them into denying territory to terrorists.

What will it take to achieve the plan?

Trust between all parties is central to this plan working.
Pakistan will have to feel that it can trust the United States to act in Pakistan’s interest as well as its own — something that will be complicated because of Trump’s huge appeal in India.
First, the United States cannot afford to make any mistakes — by this we mean civilian casualties that further damage its reputation. Second, it needs to practice quiet diplomacy and try to build a working relationship with the Taliban — which has suffered the most from American intervention.
India has to hold its venom on Pakistan, which it came close to doing in its statement Tuesday responding to Trump’s address.
And the Afghan government needs to win the confidence of its own people through curbing corruption and cronyism.
This is the only way it can build an army that thinks it has a country worth fighting for.
The fate of Afghanistan has always been in the hands of the generals who are invading it.
Trump’s announcement Monday night has done nothing to change this.
Courtesy, CNN

What are Venezuela’s proposed constitutional changes?

Venezuela has been in the grip of mass protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to create a “constituent assembly.” Ahead of the Sunday vote, DW looks at the beleaguered president’s constitutional proposals.

Watch video00:39

Venezuela moves ahead with election despite violence

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s push for a special assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution has provoked international criticism and anger from the South American nation’s opposition groups. More than 100 people have died in anti-government protests since Maduro announced his plans in May.

Maduro, however, is bent on going ahead with creating a “constituent assembly” to “achieve the peace needed by the republic, defeat the fascist coup and let the sovereign people impose peace, harmony and true national dialogue.”

The Sunday vote will determine whether Maduro succeeds in his plans. The country’s electoral council, which is dominated by Maduro’s supporters, has created a voting system that critics say heavily favors the ruling party.

Watch video01:41

Deadly clashes in Venezuela as crisis deepens

Venezuelan opposition says Maduro could use the new assembly to install an autocratic regime.

Read: Pope Francis calls for ‘diplomatic solution’ to end violence in Venezuela

Proposed constitutional changes

What remains unclear is what constitutional changes the president is seeking. Maduro has only spoken about it in vague terms. But this is what could be in the offing:

– The new assembly is likely to create a peace and justice commission that would ensure those responsible for ongoing protests and political upheaval be dealt with effectively.

– Legislators in the National Assembly, controlled by opposition members, could be stripped of their immunity from prosecution.

– Not only will the National Constituent Assembly rewrite Venezuela’s constitution; it will also have more powers than the National Assembly.

– The next presidential vote is set for next year, but the constituent assembly could postpone it.

– The assembly is certain to continue the socialist policies first installed by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Read: Venezuela police beat journalists, anti-Maduro protesters

Unpopular vote

Only 23 percent of Venezuelans favor the new assembly plans, according to a June survey by polling firm Datanalisis. Nineteen percent said a new constitution would “guarantee peace and stability” in the country.

Earlier this month, more than 7.5 million people had rejected Maduro’s proposals in an unofficial referendum organized by opposition parties.

The United States and the European Union have slammed Maduro’s proposed measures and have threatened to further isolate the socialist regime.

shs/  (AP, Reuters)

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San Francisco federal appeals court upholds block on Trump’s travel ban

A federal court has upheld a lower court ruling that bars US President Trump’s revised travel ban on six countries. The judges did not address whether the ban violated the constitution by discriminating against Muslims.

Watch video00:44

Court upholds freeze on travel ban

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The US president has blasted the Justice Department for submitting a ‘watered-down’ version of his proposed travel order to the Supreme Court. He called it a ‘travel ban,’ even though that may well hurt his legal case. (05.06.2017)

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday against reviving US President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority nations.

The San Francisco-based federal court rejected Washington’s attempt to undo a Hawaii federal judge’s decision to block Trump’s executive order, saying that the president violated US immigration law by discriminating against people based on their nationality.

The three judge panel acknowledged the president’s ability to oversee immigration policy, but noted in their opinion that “immigration, even for the president, is not a one-person show.”

They said that Trump had “exceeded the scope of the authority delegated to him by Congress” under immigration law.

Burden of proof

Furthermore, the three-judge panel said that Trump failed to prove that travelers entering the US from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen would hurt American interests.

The judges, however, did not rule on whether the president’s order was an unconstitutional discrimination against Muslims.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer asserted on Monday that the order was “fully lawful” and said the administration was reviewing the court’s decision.

“We can all attest these are very dangerous times and we need every available tool at our disposal to prevent terrorists from entering the United States and conducting acts of bloodshed and violence,” Spicer said.

Watch video01:02

Merkel’s statement on Trump’s travel ban (10.03.2017)

Supreme Court decision pending

The ruling was another legal setback for the Trump administration as the Supreme Court considers a separate case on the issue.

On May 25, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Maryland judge’s ruling that also blocked Trump’s 90-day ban, saying that the order “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination” against Muslims.

Even prior to Monday’s ruling, the 4th Circuit decision was on the fast track to the Supreme Court after the Trump administration appealed the ruling in an emergency request on June 1.

Trump’s revised ban in March was his second attempt to impose restrictions on people traveling from Muslim-majority countries. The first executive order, issued on January 27 led to chaos and protests at several airports before being blocked by the courts.

Trump’s second order sought to resolve the legal issues present in the original ban, but was blocked before it could go into effect on March 16.

rs/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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