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Khashoggi’s Children Given Houses, Paid Monthy as “Compensation” for Fathers Killing

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  • The children of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi have each received $4 million houses, and are receiving over $10,000 every month from the Saudi government as “compensation” for their father’s murder.
  • The Saudi government has sentenced five people to death for their involvement in the killing, and if they are convicted, Khashoggi’s family can agree to forego the sentences in favor of receiving tens of millions of dollars apiece in “blood money” under Saudi law.
  • U.S. intelligence agencies, the U.S. Senate, and an independent investigation by the U.N. have all concluded that Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman orchestrated the killing, but the Trump administration has repeatedly denied his involvement.

Khashoggi Family “Compensated”

The children of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi have received million-dollar houses in Saudi Arabia and five-figure monthly payments as compensation from the Saudi government, Saudi officials and individuals close to the Khashoggi family told reporters on Monday.

Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist who left the country over fear for his safety and lived a resident in the U.S. On Oct. 2, Khashoggi entered a Saudi consulate in Turkey where he was later killed.

Since October, the Saudi’s have continually shifted their story about what happened to Khashoggi. They have repeatedly denied that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, or the Saudi government ordered the killing or had any knowledge of it beforehand.

According to the officials and other sources, the houses given to Khashoggi’s children are worth $4 million apiece, and individual payments of $10,000 or more are made to every one of the siblings each month.

One official told the Washington Post that this agreement was approved last year by King Salman himself. The official also described the payments as an acknowledgment that “a big injustice has been done” and an attempt “to make a wrong right.”

“Blood Money”

In addition to the houses and monthly payments, all of Khashoggi’s four children could also receive tens of millions of dollars each in separate payouts from negotiations when the trials of Khashoggi’s accused killers end.

Back in November, Saudi officials indicted 11 people involved in Khashoggi’s killing and announced that they were seeking the death penalty for five of those people. Those trials began in January, and are expected to conclude in the next few months.

Unlike damages paid to victims in the American justice system, these payments to the siblings are viewed by many as “blood money.”

Accepting blood money is not uncommon in Saudi Arabia, it is a normal and legal practice in the Saudi legal system.

Five of the suspects in the Khashoggi case could face the death penalty, and if those suspects are convicted, there are two options. Either the suspects are sentenced to death, or the Khashoggi family could request financial compensation as an alternate punishment.

It is not clear whether the family would have to pardon the killers in order to get the money.

However, this kind of agreement could close the case under Saudi law. Which would mean that MBS or his senior aides that are believed to be involved in the murder would never have to face any kind of trial.

Khashoggi’s children have been extremely quiet about the whole ordeal. Back in November, his two daughters published an op-ed in the Washington Post about remembering their father.

In the op-ed, they wrote their father was not a dissident, but did not place any blame on MBS or the Saudi government. Since the story of “blood money” payments has come out, some have criticized the Saudi government of silencing Khashoggi’s children.

One Saudi official pushed back against this, saying that these kind of payments are part of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing practice of providing financial support to victims of violent crime.

“Such support is part of our custom and culture,” said the official, “It is not attached to anything else.”

Donald Trump Denies Saudi Involvement

It has been almost exactly six months since Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate.

Much has changed and developed over the last half a year, but one thing that remains constant is Donald Trump’s continued refusal to place any blame on MBS or the Saudi government.

In November, the CIA finished an investigation into the murder that concluded that MBS had ordered Khashoggi’s killing. The CIA came to this conclusion based on intercepted communications, but had no direct evidence implicating MBS.

The report has remained sealed from the public, but the president, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and other top officials have been briefed on the matter.

Trump responded to the investigation by outright denying the CIA’s findings, and saying he believed MBS. In an interview with Fox News in November, Trump said, “He [MBS] told me had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say, maybe 5 times, at different points.”

“But at the same time, we do have an ally, and I wanna stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good,” the president said.

Source: Fox News

Then, in December, CIA director Gina Haspel briefed senators on the Foreign Relations Committee on the CIA’s report in a closed-door meeting. The senators came out of that meeting convinced that MBS had ordered the killing.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a strong supporter of Trump told reporters, “You can be assured it was thorough and the evidence is overwhelming.”

“It is zero chance, zero, that this happened in such an organized fashion without the crown prince,” said Sen. Graham, “The reason they don’t draw the conclusion that he’s complicit is because the administration doesn’t want to go down that road — not because there’s not evidence to suggest it.”

Following the briefing with Haspel, the lawmakers unanimously approved a measure that stated the U.S. Senate believed MBS was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, in a massive rebuke of Trump.

The Senate also voted in favor of ending U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen in yet another rebuke of Trump.

The U.S. is not alone in its findings. In February, Agnes Callamard, the U.N. human rights expert leading an independent inquiry into the murder released her preliminary observations from her visit to Turkey.

Among other things, Callamard stated in her findings that the evidence presented to her team demonstrated that: “Mr. Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia and others acting under the direction of these State agents.”

The day after Callamard released her findings, the Trump administration refused to submit a report to Congress drawing a conclusion about whether or not MBS was responsible for killing Khashoggi.

Trump was required to submit the report under the rules of the Magnitsky Act, which requires the White House to carry out an investigation into any foreign human rights abuses and issue some kind of judgment.

Congress triggered the Magnitsky Act back in October, which gave Trump 120 days to make a determination about the royal family’s responsibility for the murder and then to take some kind of action, usual sanctions in the form of sanctions. Again, Trump refused to comply.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Washington Post) (CBS)

International

Protests Erupt in India Over Proposed Citizenship Bill

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  • Protests broke out all over India after the lower house of Parliament passed a bill that would give citizenship to religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
  • Muslims are not included on that list, prompting many to worry that the bill would make it easier to jail and deport Muslims residents in India—including those whose families have lived in India for generations.
  • Critics say the bill violates India’s secular constitution, which protects all religions, and that it is a targeted attack on Muslims by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party.

Protests in India

Protests erupted in India on Monday as the country’s lower house of Parliament debated and passed a controversial piece of legislation called the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

If implemented, the bill would grant citizenship to religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. In order to become a citizen, those individuals would have to live in India for six years and take a test to prove that they belong to one of six religions. 

The religions that would be eligible for citizenship in India are Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Parsis. Notably, not included on that list are Muslims.

The bill would represent a huge shift for India, which is a secular country and has a constitution that mandates that all religions be treated equally.

As a result, many have described the bill as the most significant move to change the secular nature of the country since it gained independence in 1947.

The bill would also make it easier to jail and deport Muslims residents in India, including those whose families have lived there for generations, but who do not have proof of citizenship. That could leave millions of Muslims in India stateless.

The bill was first introduced back in 2016 and passed the lower house, but it was dropped by the upper chamber after massive protests against the bill.

Following the re-introduction of the bill, protestors have come out to oppose it, with reports of demonstrations and marches in multiple cities all over India.

In the state of Assam—where people strongly opposed the bill the first time it was proposed—protesters have reportedly blocked roads, burnt tires, and painted walls with slogans against the bill. Shops, businesses, and schools to close as a result.

Opponents of the Bill 

The protesters are not alone in their opposition to the citizenship bill.

Opponents and many legal experts say the legislation would violate India’s secular constitution. Opposition parties have also argued that it discriminates against Muslims, which make up nearly 15% of India’s population.

Many Muslims in India say this discrimination is a very intentional plan on the part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to make Muslims second-class citizens in India.

Modi is a staunch Hindu nationalist, meaning that he believes India is and should be a Hindu nation.

Ever since he and the BJP were re-elected earlier this year, he has significantly ramped up his efforts to advance his Hindu-nationalist agenda.

One of the most prominent examples of this is the situation in Kashmir. Back in August, Modi stripped Kashmir of its statehood and autonomy.

The move very significantly gave India’s central government much more power over Kashmir, which had been one of the only Muslim-majority territories in India. Modi also sent tens of thousands of troops to the region, basically putting the territory on total lockdown.

That lockdown has largely remained in place since August, with widespread internet and phone restrictions remain in place to clamp down on protests. Shops, businesses, and schools in Kashmir have largely stayed closed.

Additionally, over the summer, Modi’s government started a program in Assam that was very similar to the one proposed in the Citizenship Amendment Bill. 

Under that program, all 33 million residents of the state had to provide documents to the government that proved their ancestors were Indian citizens.

The program ultimately resulted in nearly two million people—many of whom Muslims and lifelong residents of India—being left off the state’s citizenship rolls.

As a result, critics say the citizenship bill is just part of Modi’s efforts to identify and deport or even intern Muslims who have lived in India for years or generations.

Critics and opposition leaders have also tried to paint the bill as endangering democracy in India.

“We are heading toward totalitarianism, a fascist state,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim Member of Parliament. “We are making India a theocratic country.”

Supporters of the Bill

Modi and his party have defended the citizenship bill, arguing that it is simply an attempt to protect persecuted religious minorities who migrate from predominantly Muslim countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The bill’s supporters also argue that Muslims are not persecuted in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan.

While that is true, critics argue that it is a justification that ignores Muslim prosecution in other countries that neighbor India.

“If [the] Indian government, through this bill, wants to give citizenship to persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries, how can it exclude the Rohingya of Myanmar who are far more persecuted than any other group in the neighbourhood,” Faizan Mustafa, an expert on constitutional law told Al Jazeera.

Now, the legislation will head to Parliament’s upper chamber where, according to reports, Modi seems to have enough allies that most analysts and experts say the citizenship bill will soon become law.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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New Zealand Volcano Eruption Leaves At Least Five Dead

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  • At least five people were killed and eight more are reported missing after a volcano erupted in New Zealand on Monday. 
  • It is believed 47 people were on White Island at the time of the eruption, including New Zealand natives and foreign tourists. Thirty-four people were rescued.
  • Further rescue operations are on hold because the physical environment has been deemed unsafe, but police have reported that there are “no signs of life” on the island. 
  • Alerts that detailed increased activity of the volcano were issued in the weeks prior to the eruption.

Deadly Eruption

Authorities have confirmed at least five people are dead and eight more are reported missing after a volcano erupted in New Zealand on Monday.

New Zealand police believe that 47 people were on White Island, also known as Whakaari, when it erupted just after 2 p.m. local time. Thirty-four people were rescued and taken to hospitals to have their injuries treated, including both tourists and New Zealand natives. 

Videos posted to social media show enormous plumes of smoke.

John Tims, the deputy police commissioner, announced that rescue operations are currently on hold because of the unsafe physical environment of the island and the risk of another eruption.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that official aircraft have flown over the island since the eruption and that “no signs of life have been seen at any point.” 

“Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island,” New Zealand police said in a statement.

Cruise Ship Identified

Royal Caribbean cruise line confirmed that some of the people on the island at the time the volcano erupted were passengers from one of their ships. 

A spokesperson from Royal Caribbean told the New York Times that the company is “working together with local authorities and providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counseling.”

Previous Volcanic Activity Warning

GeoNet, an agency that monitors geological hazard information for New Zealand, has been reporting noticeable levels of volcanic activity on White Island since late September. They issued an alert as recently as Dec. 3. 

“Observations and data to date suggest that the volcano may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal,” they said in the bulletin last week. “These eruptions can occur with little or no warning.”

GeoNet also wrote in last week’s alert that “the current level of activity does not pose a direct hazard to visitors.”

When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked if people shouldn’t have been allowed on the island because of the heightened volcanic activity, she declined to give a concrete answer. 

“In this moment in time, the absolute focus needs to be the search and rescue operation…” she said. “…There will be a time and a place to undertake further assessments. Now we have to focus on allowing the police to do their job and focus on those who were in the vicinity of the island at the time.” 

New Zealand police have set up both local and international phone numbers that concerned friends and families can call. Red Cross has also set up a Family Links website to update loved ones of those affected by the eruption.  

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Telegraph) (Guardian)


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Thousands Paralyze France in Pension Reform Protests

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  • Massive worker strikes and protests have shut down schools, transportation services, and museums in France.
  • Though largely peaceful, there have been reports of protesters throwing projectiles at police, smashing windows, and setting fires.
  • The strike, which is expected to last into the weekend, is in protest of planned pension reforms proposed by President Emmanuel Macron. 
  • Under Macron’s policy, many workers fear they would need to work longer before accessing a pension that would ultimately give them less money.

Strikes Shut Down Trains, Flights, and Schools

Hundreds of thousands of French workers went on strike across the country on Thursday in protest of a proposed new pension reform system.

Under the new system, many unions worry people will need to work longer to see less money than they would under the current system. 

As of midday, French officials are reporting that more than 280,000 people have joined protests across the country; however, that figure doesn’t include counts from major cities like Paris and Lyon.

The protests, which are expected to continue Friday and likely to extend into the weekend, have shut down train lines and canceled flights.  

According to reports, 90% of high-speed and inter-city trains have been canceled. In Paris, only five of 16 of the city’s metro lines ran Thursday. Further, the international train company Eurostar said it will be operating with a reduced timetable until Tuesday.

Air France has also canceled 30% of domestic flights and 10% of short-haul international flights, that coming amid mass walkouts by air traffic controllers.

If all of that wasn’t enough to cripple transportation, one group is reportedly drawing over the QR codes on e-scooters like Bird so that people can’t use them. 

Additionally, according to the education ministry, half of primary school teachers and 42% of secondary school teachers are on strike today. The end result led to some school closing for the day. 

Tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower and museums were also closed, but more notably, many feared hospital staffing shortages as many medical workers walked out to demonstrate. 

For their part, several trade union leaders have promised to continue to strike until Macron abandons his planned pension overhaul.

Reports of Violence

In Paris alone, 6,000 police have been deployed. Reports indicate that 71 people have been arrested in Paris by 3:30 p.m. local time.

With those arrests, there have also been several reports of clashing between police and protesters, with protesters hurling projectiles at police. Police in several cities have since responded with tear gas. 

Videos of protesters setting fires to object in the streets have also surfaced. 

Because the protest in Paris is so huge, the city’s police chief told all businesses and restaurants along the major march routes to close. Later within the day, new reports surfaced that some protesters had smashed in the windows of some businesses.

French President Emmanuel Macron, however, was described by one senior official as “calm and determined” in the face of the strikes —

Macron is “watchful that public order be respected, watchful as to the difficulties for French people, and watchful also that the right to strike is respected,” the aide said.

Why is France Considering Pension Reform?

Currently, France has 42 different pension systems across both the private and public sectors. That means that people retire at different times and will see different benefits. 

Under different forms of the system, for example, aircrews and rail workers get to retire earlier, but people like lawyers and doctors pay a lower tax.

The official age of retirement in France is 62, which is one of the earliest retirement ages in wealthy countries, but that hurdle has already been raised from 60 within the last decade. 

Macron, who campaigned on the promise of pension reform, now says he wants to introduce a universal, points-based pension system. While Macron says such a pension system would help the country compete globally in the 21st century, such a system would mean that some of the most advantageous pension plans would be scrapped. 

Secondly, if a person were to retire before 64, they would end up seeing a lower pension. For example, if they retire at 63, they would see about 5% less.

French people, however, have generally supported pension reform, with one poll showing 75% of people saying they believed pension reform was necessary. Of those polled, only one-third of people said they thought the government could pull off reform.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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