Donald Trump and his lawyers refuse to attend ‘unfair’ impeachment hearing

The White House told Democratic lawmakers on Sunday that Donald Trump, the US president, and his lawyers would not participate in a congressional impeachment hearing this week, citing a lack of "fundamental fairness."

Mr Trump’s aides responded defiantly to the first of two crucial deadlines he faces in Congress this week as Democrats prepare to shift the focus of their impeachment inquiry from fact-finding to the consideration of possible charges of misconduct over his dealings with Ukraine.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, tasked with considering charges known as articles of impeachment, had given Mr Trump until 6pm on Sunday to say whether he would dispatch a lawyer to take part in the judiciary panel’s proceedings on Wednesday.

"We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the President a fair process through additional hearings," White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, according to a copy of a letter seen by Reuters.

Mr Cipollone – while citing a "complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness afforded the president" in the impeachment process – did not rule out participation in further proceedings. But he signaled that Democrats would first have to make major procedural concessions.

Mr Nadler has given the White House a Friday deadline to say whether Mr Trump will mount a defense in broader impeachment proceedings.

The Judiciary Committee’s Democratic staff did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the White House’s refusal to participate in the hearing, which would have been the first direct involvement by the Trump camp in a process he has condemned as a partisan "witch hunt."

Democratic US Representative Don Beyer said on Twitter in response to the White House letter: "Not one process complaint made by the President and his Republican allies in Congress so far has turned out to be genuine."

Congressional investigators have been looking into whether Mr Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations of former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, who is running to unseat him in the 2020 presidential election, and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

The first in a series of expected Judiciary proceedings will hear testimony on the impeachment process established under the US Constitution from a panel of legal experts that has yet to be named.

Hearings before the committee, which has responsibility for crafting any formal charges against Mr Trump, are a major step toward possible charges.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will make the final decision, has not yet said whether the Republican president should be impeached. But in a letter to supporters last week, she called for him to be held accountable for his actions.

Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing, calling the impeachment inquiry a sham.

‘I went from chilled out Hong Kong student to battle-hardened protester contemplating suicide’

A year ago, I was just a normal, chilled out student, focused on my university grades and hoping for a lucrative career ahead. I considered myself as typical of my generation, idealistic, with peace-loving values that would never have let me contemplate using violence to achieve a political goal.  

I’m only 21, but I’m now unfazed when dodging rubber bullets and choking on tear gas on the streets of Hong Kong. Instead of writing my overdue thesis, I’ve faced stun grenades and seen horrific injuries on the front lines of terrifying clashes with the police that will haunt me for years to come.

China calls us “thugs” and “rioters” and the police taunt us as “cockroaches,” so I want to tell my story of how a studious Masters undergraduate like me, who barely had the nerve to speak to strangers, is now bold and infuriated enough to engage in street battles with heavily armoured riot cops.

The past few weeks have been particularly traumatic and have taken their toll, after two university campuses where I’ve studied and used to laugh, carefree, with friends, have been turned into war zones, literally burning land.

My sleep is now broken by fragmented nightmares about the bloodied faces and gruesome wounds of young people fighting with the police at the gates of Chinese University in mid-November. Some could no longer see and had to be guided back from the front lines.

A journalist works on his laptop amid items left behind by protestors in Hong Kong Polytechnic University Credit: REUTERS/ADNAN ABIDI

There were so many of them that the scene imprinted on my mind, where it constantly replays and torments me.

A week later, I was one of hundreds of protesters trapped by the police when they besieged the Polytechnic University and I called my worried parents to prepare them for my possible arrest. If I had not escaped, I would have faced ten years in jail.

I never would have thought I was that guy. But my story is now one of fighting to regain a future that seems lost – not only my personal aspirations for my own family and career, but for the freedom of the city I love and grew up in, which is slowly suffocating under the tyranny of Chinese rule.

The protest movement has been condemned for throwing bricks and Molotovs, for trashing metro stations and torching Chinese banks. People have wrongly accused us of getting financial, or even sexual, benefits.

So I want the outside world to know the truth, that we’re not pursuing wanton destruction, that we’re struggling, in the best way we know how, and against an enemy that has the power to crush us, for democracy and the freedoms that the West takes for granted.

We’re fighting fear and depression as an oppressive darkness slowly engulfs our city, and it has involved much personal risk and sacrifice.

If you were denied the right to elect your own leader, or suffered police brutality but had no recourse to justice. If you faced jail or sanction for publicly expressing your beliefs and a future of escalating, forceful state control of your most fundamental freedoms. Ask yourself, what would you do?

Items left behind by protesters are seen at the Hong Kong Polytechnic Universit Credit: ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

I’ve been involved in the protests since June, operating alone, sometimes in the background simply handing out water, and other times at the burning barricades.

If I’m honest, I’m still really afraid of the riot police, but I think that standing up to them is the right thing to do. The first philosophy my parents ever taught me was to consider what is right and what is wrong.

I did not tolerate violence at the start of the movement, but I sadly realised early on that the use of force may be necessary to bring about change. I don’t believe it’s the only way, but I’m now convinced that peaceful sit-downs are not going pressure the government to respond to democratic demands that we’ve been making now for six months.

My own turning point was on July 21 when local gangsters attacked innocent members of the public in Yuen Long metro station, and the police were so slow to react. Many were badly hurt and it left us powerless and aggrieved, with nowhere to turn for justice. I don’t believe there is any debate that the police were not in collusion with the gang, and public trust was broken from that moment.

That’s when I knew that it was a movement that was much bigger than my own personal needs.

I believe that violent protests would fizzle if they did not have the support of the majority, but not everyone agrees that it can be justified. I’ve lost several friends, including someone I was very close to, as well as 6kg in weight due to stress.

My mental health hit rock bottom a few weeks ago when a young man, the same age as me, fell from a height in a car park during a protest and died. When I found out he didn’t make it, I was deeply upset.

At my lowest point I considered talking to a doctor as I was having suicidal thoughts and couldn’t focus on anything. There were clear symptoms that I needed help, but eventually I was able to pull myself out of it and heal.

I’ve somehow been driven to take more risks, stretching the limits of my courage.

When I saw the tense standoff developing at the Polytechnic University last week, I felt I needed to be there to support the other protesters. It was a complex situation, very emotional. People were angry, some afraid, but we were all very determined to on fight off the police water cannons.

The situation rapidly deteriorated by Sunday night and we underestimated the police force. By the time they had surrounded us, we were trapped and many people just want to leave. 

Riot police arrive to disperse people gathering in support of pro-democracy protesters during a lunch break rally in the Kowloon Bay are Credit: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP

There was a lot of confusion and arguments about whether to stay or whether to leave by an exit that the police had indicated would be a safe passage. One group left and we believe they were immediately arrested.  

I was in the second group and was forced to run back inside. We tried to work out a solution with the police but about five to ten minutes later they threw a stun grenade at the entrance. The explosion hurt my eardrums and I was terrified, realising that the danger had dramatically escalated and expecting officers to storm inside.

I found a couple of companions and we ran to hide. I managed to call my parents and told them I might get arrested. I could hear the fear in their voices but I told them to remain calm as I needed their help.

We were in a secure hiding place but I didn’t sleep much that night. We were checking our phones and knew that there were huge crowds fighting from the outside to try to rescue us.  We were thankful but we knew deep inside that it might not work.

The police had so much more power than us, better weaponry, if they didn’t want us to leave we wouldn’t be able to. It was very depressing to realise that we were waiting to get arrested, like a long painful process.

But early on Monday morning we were presented with a chance to make a run for it and we took a leap of faith. I still have scratches on my arm where I clambered over a barbed wire fence, and my foot was badly injured although I didn’t realise it when I was making an adrenaline-fuelled dash to safety.

The police spotted us towards the end of our flight, and I think they shot something at us – my companion had holes in his backpack. But I didn’t look back. I got courage from members of the public who were waving their arms, encouraging us to keep sprinting, and I kept my focus on the finishing line. When we reached safety, I burst into tears.

After what I’ve experienced, I know my own life will never be the same. I’ve changed my ambitions, and now I want to pursue a career that will help others. As for the movement, I don’t know if it can keep up the current momentum, but the aftermath will last for decades.

The possibility of the government meeting our demands is very low. But I don’t believe we are protesting because we already have hope, we are protesting because we want to generate hope.

We can never surrender, even if we do not achieve all of our goals. There’s no going back now, it’s just too late.

Taiwan accuses China of intimidation ahead of January poll 

Taiwan has accused China of attempting to intimidate voters ahead of its 2020 presidential election after Beijing sailed an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday.

The still unnamed aircraft carrier – the first entirely domestically built by China – and accompanying vessels were spotted sailing southbound through the strait, a heavily trafficked strategic waterway separating China from the island of 23 million, said Taiwan’s defence ministry.

The ministry said ships and jets scrambled to monitor the fleet, which stayed on the Chinese side of the waterway. It asked its citizens not to worry and revealed that US and Japanese ships were also following the Chinese ships.

The voyage coincided with an announcement by Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president, naming her running mate, William Lai for the January poll, prompting Taipei to immediately hit back at Beijing’s perceived motivations.

“Just as @iingwen names her running mate & the campaign shifts into high gear, #PLA sends its new 002 aircraft carrier battle group into the #TaiwanStrait. #PRC intends to intervene in #Taiwan’s elections. Voters won’t be intimidated! They’ll say NO to #Chinaat the ballot box,” said Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister on Twitter.

China has ambitions to annex Taiwan, which functions like any other nation with its own currency, military, government and democratic elections.

Beijing has taken a hostile stance towards President Tsai since she came to power in 2016 for her refusal to agree that Taiwan and China are part of the same country, and is suspicious of her close relations with the US.  

Taipei has accused Beijing multiple times in the past few months of trying to sway the election – by poaching from its small group of remaining formal diplomatic allies and by switching off lucrative income from Chinese tourists.

China’s display came just a few days after the USS Chancellorsville, a guided missile cruiser, made a similar transit, in a move that likely irked Beijing, which views such voyages as meddling in its affairs with Taiwan.

Five die as Bolivia security forces open fire on supporters of former president Evo Morales

Bolivia’s political crisis turned deadly after security forces opened fire on supporters of Evo Morales in a central town, killing at least five people, injuring dozens and threatening the interim government’s efforts to restore stability following the resignation of the former president in an election dispute.

Most of the dead and injured Friday in Sacaba near the city of Cochabamba suffered bullet wounds, Guadalberto Lara, director of the town’s Mexico Hospital, told The Associated Press. He called it the worst violence he’s seen in his 30-year career.

Angry demonstrators and relatives of the victims gathered at the site of the shootings, chanting: "Civil war, now!"

Morales, who was granted asylum in Mexico after his resignation Sunday, said on Twitter that a "massacre" had occurred and he described Bolivia’s government led by interim President Jeanine Anez as a dictatorship.

"Now they are killing our brothers in Sacaba, Cochabamba," he said in another tweet.

A supporter of former Bolivian President Evo Morales gestures during a protest, in La Paz, Bolivia  Credit: Reuters

Protesters said police fired when demonstrators, including many coca leaf growers who backed Bolivia’s first indigenous president, tried to cross a military checkpoint. Emeterio Colque Sanchez, a 23-year-old university student, said he saw the dead bodies of several protesters and about two-dozen people rushed to hospitals, many covered in blood.

Earlier in the day, Anez said Morales would face possible legal charges for election fraud if he returns home from Mexico City, even as the ousted leader contended he is still president since the country’s legislature has not yet approved his resignation. Bolivia’s interim leader also said Morales would not be allowed to participate in new presidential elections meant to heal the Andean nation’s political standoff.

Morales stepped down on Sunday following nationwide protests over suspected vote-rigging in an Oct. 20 election in which he claimed to have won a fourth term in office. An Organization of American States audit of the vote found widespread irregularities. Morales has denied there was fraud.

A supporter of Bolivian ex-president Evo Morales, returns tear gas to riot police during a protest against the interim government in La Paz on November 15, 2019 Credit: AFP

Families of the victims held a candlelight vigil late Friday in Sacaba. A tearful woman put her hand on a wooden casket surrounded by flowers and asked: "Is this what you call democracy? Killing us like nothing?" Another woman cried and prayed in Quechua over the coffin of Omar Calle, which was draped in the Bolivian national flag and the multicolor "Wiphala" flag that represents indigenous peoples.

Bolivia’s Ombudsman’s Office said it regretted the deaths during the joint police-military operation and called on the interim govern ment to investigate if the security forces had acted within the constitution and international protocols on human rights.

"We express our alarm and concern over the result of an attempt to stop a demonstration by coca leaf growers from entering the city of Cochabamba," it said.

Presidency Minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters in La Paz that five people had been killed and an estimated 22 were injured. Lara, the hospital director, said that 75 people were injured.

Justiniano called for a dialogue with all parties involved in the conflict.

"What we’ve been able to determine through preliminary information is that they used military weapons," he said.

On Thursday, Morales told The AP in Mexico that while he had submitted his resignation, it was never accepted by Congress.

"I can say that I’m still president," he said.

Tear gas shells fired by security forces are placed with candles around coffins of backers of former President Evo Morales killed during clashes with security forces in Sacaba, Bolivia, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.  Credit: AP

Morales said he left because of military pressure _ the army chief had "suggested" he leave _ and threats of violence against his close collaborators.

Anez dismissed the explanation.

"Evo Morales went on his own; nobody kicked him out," she said at a news conference.

"He knows he has accounts pending with justice. He can return but he has to answer to justice for electoral fraud," she added.

Supporters of Morales, who had been Bolivia’s president for almost 14 years and was the last survivor from the "pink tide" of leftist leaders who come to power in South America, have been staging disruptive protests since his ouster, setting up blockades that forced closure of schools and caused shortages of gasoline in the capital.

In the capital, riot police fired tear gas at rock-throwing demonstrators. Elderly people and children were caught in the violence and tried to seek shelter in businesses that had been shut behind metal sheets to protect against looters. Long lines formed outside some gas stations in La Paz after blockades in the nearby city of El Alto, a major distribution point for fuel.

"There’s no gas," said Efrain Mendoza, a taxi driver from El Alto, who was forced to buy gasoline on the black market at twice the regular price.

Security forces clash with supporters of former President Evo Morales in Sacaba, Bolivia, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. A least five people died and dozens were injured during the clashes. 

"Products are scarce. There’s no meat, no chicken, people are making long lines. It’s all because of the blockades," he said. "There’s division in Bolivia. It’s exasperating."

Anez, the highest-ranking opposition official in the Senate, proclaimed herself president, saying every person in the line of succession ahead of her _all of them Morales backers _ had resigned. The Constitutional Court issued a statement backing her claim that she didn’t need to be confirmed by Congress, a body controlled by Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party.

Much of the opposition to Morales sprang from his refusal to accept a referendum that would have forbidden him from running for a new term.

Morales had upended politics in this nation long ruled by light-skinned descendants of Europeans by reversing deep-rooted inequality. The economy benefited from a boom in prices of commodities and he ushered through a new constitution that created a new Congress with seats reserved for Bolivia’s smaller indigenous groups while also allowing self-rule for all indigenous communities.

But many people became disenchanted by his insistence on holding on to power.

Hong Kong protesters launch fire-dipped arrows at police in latest university clashes

Protesters in Hong Kong have added to their arsenal javelins and bows and arrows, in addition to bricks and petrol bombs as they clash with police armed with tear gas, water cannon, and live bullets, in violent standoffs now spilling into university campuses.

Some of the sharpest clashes have taken place at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where police say protesters shot arrows dipped in gasoline and lit on fire, even using electric saws to target officers. 

Marine police used a boat Wednesday to evacuate dozens of mainland Chinese students at their request from the CUHK campus, which remains barricaded by protesters preparing for more skirmishes.

Protests – now in their sixth month – have plunged Hong Kong into its worst political crisis ever, in a direct challenge to the authority of Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Christmas tree burns after protesters set fire to it at Festival Walk shopping mall in Kowloon Tong Credit: MIGUEL CANDELA/EPA

What started as opposition against an extradition proposal, which many worried would expose suspects to unfair trial in mainland China, has since morphed into a broader anti-China movement. 

A radical faction of protesters have begun harassing people and vandalising businesses perceived as pro-Beijing and thus against the overall political movement. A man who argued with protesters on Monday was set on fire by a masked man, suffering burns to 40 per cent of his body; he remains in critical condition.

Mainland students have posted online about being targeted by protesters breaking into their dormitories and spray-painting expletives, Chinese media reported. Some organisations in neighbouring city Shenzhen are now offering free accommodation for students who want to leave Hong Kong as the protests continue.

A train car burns at a MTR station during a demonstration at Chinese University of Hong Kong Credit: Anthony Kwan/Getty

The campus clashes this week have drawn outcry, but police have defended their actions especially at CUHK, given a “strong suspicion that the school was used as a weapon factory,” as hundreds of petrol bombs were thrown at the institution, said chief superintendent John Tse Chun-chung.

“A university is supposed to be a breeding ground for future leaders, but it became a battlefield for criminals and rioters,” said Mr Tse.

The president of CUHK’s student union, Jacky So, has applied for an interim injunction to ban police from entering the campus without a warrant, and from using crowd-control weapons on-site without school approval.

A protester releases a fire arrow with his bow to light a barricade at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Credit: ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP

On Wednesday, protesters – many of whom are students – again built barricades on busy roads, blocked commuters and vandalised trains, causing much of the public transport system to shut down. Protesters also set fire to buses and petrol stations, police said. Riot police were deployed throughout the city to disperse demonstrators, making hundreds of arrests in recent days.

 

The Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong has warned this week that the city is “slipping into the abyss of terrorism.” 

Protests escalated after student Chow Tsz-lok, 22, died last week from injuries sustained from a fall under unclear circumstances while police were clearing protesters. Many have been outraged by the death, swearing revenge for the “blood debt.” 

Pro-democracy protesters prepare for a possible clash with the police at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Credit: JEROME FAVRE/EPA

With chaos set to stay, the city’s education bureau ordered all schools to close Thursday, urging students not to take part in the demonstrations.

Protesters continue to call for democratic election reforms, the resignation of the city’s leader, and an independent probe into the police, thrust on the frontlines and the target of growing resentment from a deeply divided population. 

What broadly underpins the movement is widespread concern that the city’s longstanding freedoms are eroding – and will eventually be snuffed out – under Communist Party rule, even though those rights are guaranteed under an agreement that kicked in when the former British colony as returned to Beijing. 

Turkey refuses to take back American jihadi who was turned away from Greek border

An alleged American jihadist spent a second day stranded in no man’s land between Turkey and Greece on Tuesday as the Turkish president said he was not Ankara’s responsibility. 

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, washed his hands of the situation in a televised press conference. “Stuck at the border or not; it is not our problem. They take him or not; not our business,” he said.

The US citizen, named by Turkish media as Muhammed Darwis and believed to be of Jordanian descent, has spent two days in the middle of a battle of wills between the countries who are both refusing to allow him entry. 

Turkey began deporting foreign Islamic State (Isil) suspects on Monday. It is unclear why Greece would take responsibility for the US citizen.

While the man stood in the buffer zone, Mr Erdoğan took the opportunity to warn that he would continue to release the estimated 1,200 suspected foreign jihadists they are holding in their custody. 

The threat was aimed at European nations who have proposed plans to sanction Turkey over unauthorised drilling off the coast of Cyprus. 

A Turkish security car stationed at the Turkey-Greece border gate near Pazarkule, Edirne, Turkey Credit: AP Photo/Emrah Gurel

Mr Erdogan slammed the EU’s decision and said Turkey was acting in line with its rights based on international law. "Hey EU, know this: Turkey is not one of those countries you have come to know until now. We are a country that sits at the negotiating table with you…" Mr Erdogan told reporters. "These negotiations may suddenly end."

Analysts have long warned that European nations stripping the citizenship of foreign jihadists and refusing to repatriate them for trial at home is not sustainable.

“The only way that victims [of Isil] will get justice is if governments bring back their nationals, investigate them at home and prosecute them if there’s evidence they’ve committed a crime,” said Belkis Wille, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. 

"Of course there are national security risks… but the risk of leaving all these people in northeast Syria and Iraq is far too high. If individual countries take home their nationals, then we’re talking about small and frankly manageable numbers,” she said. 

A US State Department official said they were "aware of reports of the detainment of a US citizen by Turkish authorities" but could not comment further due to privacy rules.

A Turkish official told AFP that the man had refused to be returned to the United States and had asked to go to Greece. It was thought yesterday that he had been returned to Turkey after Greece refused his entry.

However, on Tuesday night the man was believed to be going into his second evening stranded in the buffer zone.

He is thought to be one of the 287 foreign Isil fighters that Turkey captured in northeast Syria when it started its incursion last month.