Trump denies speaking with Sondland, knowing him ‘well’



U.S. President Donald Trump says he does not know Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU at the centre of the impeachment inquiry, well.

“I have not spoken to him much,” Trump tells reporters outside the White House. “This is not a man I know well.”

Trump spoke as Sondland testified before House impeachment investigators.

The ambassador has told Congress his dealings with Ukraine were under Trump’s direct orders and that there was a quid pro quo for the president’s benefit.

Sondland told Congress on Wednesday that his dealings with Ukraine were under the direct orders of Trump, in the fourth day of public hearings in an impeachment inquiry that has consumed Washington.

There was a “quid pro quo” in which a White House meeting for the Ukrainians was on the line in exchange for a probe linked to Trump’s rival Joe Biden, Sondland said.

Sondland told lawmakers that he came to understand that military assistance to Ukraine was being made contingent on Kiev publicly announcing a corruption probe linked to Biden, a leading Democratic contender to challenge Trump in presidential elections in 2020.

Sondland, while conducting a balancing act that seemed to be an attempt to vindicate his own behaviour, insisted that top officials above him, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, were “in the loop,” about his actions in Ukraine.

Sondland told the House committee carrying out the impeachment inquiry that he and others “played the hand we were dealt” while denying he was engaged in “rogue diplomacy.”

This included having to work through Rudy Giuliani, the president’s private lawyer.

“We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the U.S. and Ukraine.

“So, we followed the president’s orders,” said Sondland, a Republican donor who was appointed as EU ambassador by Trump.

“I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukraine matters,” said Sondland.

A former hotelier, Sondland has found himself at the centre of the impeachment inquiry.

Sondland said that while he never heard directly from the president that aid was conditioned on any specific investigation, he came to believe this and maintained this conviction even after speaking directly with Trump.

“ of the August, my belief was that if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention to fight corruption, specifically addressing Burisma and 2016 server, then the hold on military aid would be lifted,” Sondland says.

Burisma is a Ukrainian energy company where Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, sat on the board.

The server refers to a conspiracy theory, apparently believed by Trump, about the 2016 election.

There is no evidence either Biden did anything illegal, though the Republicans have raised questions about the son’s role while his father was vice president and running U.S. policy on Ukraine, during the Obama administration.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes,” Sondland said.

The testimony is the latest to indicate that Trump primarily was concerned with Burisma, and Biden, and not with corruption in general in Ukraine, as Republicans have tried to present as a line in the president’s defence.

Democrats in the House of Representative have set up an exhausting pace for the inquiry, amid hopes they can wrap up their side before the end of the year.

Trump insists there was nothing wrong with his interactions with Ukraine.

The inquiry in the House is the first step and could lead to impeachment.

A trial, which could lead to the president’s removal, would take place in the Senate, where Trump’s Republicans have a majority.

Edited by Fatima Sule/Felix Ajide (NAN)



More than 200 firearms surrendered after amnesty launched in S. Africa



More than 200 firearms and 2,000 rounds of ammunition have been surrendered since the South African government announced amnesty at the beginning of this month, the police on Friday said.

The Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, disclosed this in Pretoria.

The firearms amnesty was commenced on Dec. 1 and it will end on May 31, 2020.

“I encourage all South Africans, who are in possession of illegal or unwanted firearms to surrender them to their nearest police stations during this amnesty period knowing they will not be prosecuted,” the minister said.

He said they have established 46 stations where gun owners can surrender their firearms from 7:00 until 17:00 each day.

The police said they believe the amnesty period would result in the reduction of illegally possessed firearms.

The last time South Africa had firearms amnesty was in 2010 when more than 42,000 guns and 450,000 rounds of ammunition were recovered.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim


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S. African mining sector calls for urgent action on electricity shortage



The Minerals Council South Africa on Friday called on the government to fix the electricity crisis as the sector “is losing production hours and it will affect the country’s economy”.

The council was responding to over week-long load shedding by the power utility Eskom which forced them to suspend some operations.

Eskom wrote to the mining sector this week asking them to shed off 20 per cent of their electricity use.

“Eskom is essentially making an industrial policy decision to downscale the mining sector when they make these stages 4 and stage 6 calls,” said Minerals Council South Africa CEO Roger Baxter.

Eskom blamed the load shedding on unplanned breakdowns, sabotage and the rainy season.

Stage 6 load shedding means that the grid will need to shed 6,000mw of power to keep the national power grid from collapsing.

Stage 4 allows for up to 4,000 MW of the national load to be shed.

Baxter said the government should speedily allow establishment of self-generation facilities to supplement Eskom’s constrained capacity.

They also called for the government to open the way for further generation by independent power producers.

“We need concrete action plans and accountability for delivery and we are asking the government to unleash the energy of the private sector to help resolve this national electricity crisis,” he added.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim


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Standard Bank launches UnionPay card to provide convenience for travellers



The Standard Bank of South Africa on Friday launched the UnionPay card, both virtual and physical form on the bank’s Shyft app, to local account holders.

The Shyft app allows for pre-loaded South African rands to be exchanged into multiple currencies and then loaded onto either a physical UnionPay card.

Transactions can be made virtually or physically either at South African merchants or in China.

The General Manager, UnionPay International Africa branch, Zhang Luping, said the payments company was excited to work with Standard Bank, which is the first African bank to receive the license to issue UnionPay card in the country.

The Head of card issuing at Standard Bank, Ethel Nyembe, said the UnionPay card transacting in China becomes both easier and safer for South African tourists and visitors on business.

“They can go about their activities and purchase goods from suppliers, for example, in a cashless manner, reducing some of the previous risks involved,” she said.

According to her, the UnionPay card is accepted through most mobile payment apps, which are hugely popular in China.

Nyembe said Standard Bank values South Africa’s relationship with China as a trade partner and believed that the agreement with UnionPay would allow further expansion of the Africa-China capabilities corridor.

The UnionPay global acceptance network had so far expanded to 177 countries and regions, covering over 56 million merchants and over 4.6 million Automated Teller Machines (ATMs).

However, outside the Chinese Mainland, UnionPay is accepted at over 28 million merchants and more than 1.7 million ATMs.

Meanwhile, about eight billion UnionPay cards were issued in 58 countries and regions, among which over 130 million were issued outside mainland China.

Edited by: Yahaya Isah/Donald Ugwu


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British election, U.S.-China trade hopes drive markets higher



World markets rose sharply and the British pound jumped on Friday after the nation’s voters moved to end the country’s Brexit crisis and hopes grew of a breakthrough in the protracted U.S.-China trade war.

Sterling gained against the euro and dollar by about two per cent, while global share markets celebrated the British Conservative Party’s thumping win in Thursday’s election.

This is amid optimism that U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat of imposing fresh tariffs on a slew of Chinese goods would be abandoned.

The Euro-Stoxx 600, which is based on 600 companies from 17 European countries, was up 1.57 per cent at 414.07 points in mid-morning trading on Friday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s benchmark election result has now raised the prospects of the country leaving the EU by the end of January, with the nation’s FTSE 100 share index climbing 1.68 per cent to 7,396.36 points in Friday trading.

Adding to market optimism were growing investor hopes of an end to the Washington-Beijing trade war following a Bloomberg News report that Trump has agreed to sign off on a deal between the two countries.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim


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Indian president assents to controversial citizenship law



 Indian President Ram Nath Kovind has signed into law legislation that grants citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring countries amid protests in north-east India over the contentious move.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which proposes to grant sanctuary to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities fleeing religious persecution in the Muslim-majority countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, was cleared by parliament on Wednesday.

The bill was approved by Kovind and the new law comes into effect with its publication in the government gazette late Thursday night, a Home Ministry official said.

The bill triggered protests in India’s north-eastern states of Assam and Tripura, where curfews were imposed across major cities and towns.

Protesters feel the legislation would lead to an influx of illegal immigrants and hurt indigenous communities.

There are already a large number of Bangladeshi immigrants living in the region.

Critics of the bill introduced by Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government have said it goes against values upheld by India’s secular constitution by making religion a basis for citizenship.

Indian opposition parties said the bigger problem with the new law is because it undermines India’s secular constitution by not offering protection to Muslims and have already challenged it in Supreme Court.

Two protesters died in firing by police during clashes in Assam’s main city of Guwahati on Thursday, police said.

Local media also reported a third death in firing, that the police have not yet confirmed that.

There was no overnight violence and some shops opened in Guwahati on Friday.

Some sporadic protests were reported from various areas but the situation had “by and large improved,” police chief Bhaskar Mahanta said.


Edited by: Emmanuel Yashim


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