Iran’s proxies: where will Tehran take its revenge for Qassim Soleimani’s assassination and who will help it?

Iran has warned the United States to prepare for a “dark day” of revenge for the killing of General Qassim Soleimani – but it remains unclear how and when the regime will retaliate. 

Experts say one thing is likely, which is that any response to the US airstrike will be carried out by Iran’s large network of proxies in the Middle East, rather than its own soldiers or spies. 

This is because the Iranian regime is reluctant to trigger direct confrontation with the US, even though the assassination of Soleimani marks the biggest escalation between the two countries in decades. 

Here we look at where Iran-sympathising militias, political parties and insurgents have footholds in the Middle East, and…

Donald Trump accuses Democrats of ‘declaring war on democracy’ ahead of historic impeachment vote

Donald Trump on Tuesday accused the Democrats of “declaring an open war on American democracy” in a furious six-page letter published ahead of his expected impeachment in a historic vote on Wednesday.

The US president accused Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker pushing the impeachment drive, and her party colleagues of “violating” their oath of office and “breaking” their allegiance to the US Constitution.

Mr Trump said the claim he had abused his power over the Ukraine scandal was a “disingenuous, meritless, and baseless invention of your imagination”.

The president said that the drive to kick him from office had inflicted “great damage and hurt” on his family and involved less due process than the Salem Witch Trials.

“It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you will have to live with it, not I!", wrote Mr Trump, who predicted 100 years from now people will look back unkindly on the push.

The remarkable letter, released by the White House on Tuesday afternoon, laid bare the president’s fury at the Democratic Party’s attempt to pass two articles of impeachment against him.

The impeachment vote will be held on Wednesday. Given the Democrats hold the majority in the House of Representatives it is all but certain he will become the third US president in history to be impeached.

If the impeachment vote passes, as expected, it will move over to the Senate, who will hold a trial in January about whether to remove Mr Trump from office. That looks unlikely to happen given the Republicans hold the majority there.

Mr Trump has refused to engage in the impeachment inquiry into his push to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, the Democrat he could face at the 2020 election, ordering US government officials not to testify. 

But on Tuesday, apparently seething at the historic black mark that will be put against his legacy from the impeachment vote, Mr Trump released a signed letter marked for Ms Pelosi which took aim at his political opponents.

“I write to express my strongest and most powerful protest against the partisan impeachment crusade being pursued by the Democrats in the House of Representatives”, Mr Trump began.

“This impeachment represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power by Democrat lawmakers, unequaled in nearly two and a half centuries of American legislative history.”

The letter – which amounts to the most complete defence Mr Trump has mounted against impeachment in his own name – went on to make substantive points dismissing the case against him.

The House will vote on two articles of impeachment – one for abuse of power in holding back almost $400m in military aid to Ukraine while he sought the probe, the other for obstruction of Congress as it tried to investigate the scandal.

Mr Trump accused the Democrats of using impeachment because they cannot defeat him in the 2020 election, telling Ms Pelosi that “you and your party are desperate to distract from America’s extraordinary economy, incredible jobs boom, record stock market, soaring confidence, and flourishing citizens.”

He added: “Your party simply cannot compete with our record.”

The president accused Ms Pelosi of ignoring the democratic vote Credit: Rex

Mr Trump was handed a boost on the eve of the impeachment vote when it was widely reported that Jeff Van Drew, the Democrat congressman, would switch parties and vote against impeachment.

“Congressman Jeff Van Drew is very popular in our great and very united Republican Party,” Mr Trump tweeted, previewing a defection not yet formalised.

Only two other presidents have been impeached. Andrew Johnson, who took over the presidency after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, was impeached in 1868 after being seen as too sympathetic to the defeated Confederacy.

Bill Clinton was impeached after lying under oath about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in 1998.

Richard Nixon, who faced an impeachment push, resigned before a vote was held.

The abuse of power article accuses Mr Trump of harming the country’s interests for his own political benefit by holding back almost $400 million in military aid from Ukraine and the prospect of a White House meeting with Mr Zelenskiy to secure the investigations.

The obstruction of Congress article alleges Mr Trump ordered “without lawful cause or excuse” his government’s officials not to give testimony to the impeachment inquiry or hand over vital documents, undercutting the probe into his own conduct.

Mr Trump and his allies have vehemently denied both claims. 

Will North Korea spark a Christmas missile crisis?

There is little good will from North Korea this Christmas. An escalation in weapons tests and bitter rhetoric against the US has heightened fears that nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington are past the point of no return. On the Korean peninsula, 2020 could literally start with a bang. 

The most recent tests, at its long-range launch site – of a suspected rocket engine – suggest that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, may be ready to break his self-imposed moratorium on testing intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the continental US. 

After an historic summit between Kim and Donald Trump, the US president, and the promise of progress in 2018, talks this…

Supreme Court will rule on release of Donald Trump’s tax records 

The US Supreme Court will hear three cases next year over the release of President Trump’s tax records, meaning the court will be making high-profile decisions on some of Mr Trump’s closely-held secrets in the middle of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Mr Trump has been seeking to block access to his tax returns and other financial records in lawsuits involving New York prosecutors and the House of Representatives.

US courts have ruled that Mr Trump must turn over the records but lawyers for the president have appealed to the nation’s highest court, arguing that as president he has blanket immunity.

The Supreme Court – where conservative judges are in the majority – said it will hear arguments during the March session with a ruling to be issued before the session closes at the end of June.

Mr Trump is the first American president since Richard Nixon not to make his tax returns public, claiming that they are under audit by the Internal Revenue Service.

Democrats in the House of Representatives have turned to the courts to force the release of the tax returns and other records in two cases that are considered a crucial test of the separation of powers. They will have to consider Trump’s arguments that the subpoenas are a threat to the presidency, on the one hand, and the need for lawmakers or prosecutors for information to pursue legislation or criminal investigations on the other.

Democratic leaders in the House expressed disappointment that the justices’ decision to hear the cases will result in further delay.

"Unfortunately, the American people will now have to wait several more months for final rulings," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "We are confident that the Supreme Court … will uphold the Constitution, the rulings of the lower courts and ensure that Congressional oversight can proceed."

Cyrus Vance Jr, the Manhattan District Attorney, has demanded to see Trump’s tax returns dating back to 2011 as part of an investigation into payments made by Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney, to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress who claimed to have had a sexual liaison with Mr Trump before he ran for president in 2016.

A federal appeals court ruled that Mr Trump must hand over the documents but the president’s attorneys appealed, arguing that he enjoys immunity from both prosecution and investigation.

Australia names first female intelligence chief 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday appointed a woman to head a major Australian spy agency for the first time.

Rachel Noble will become next director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), which intercepts electronic communications from foreign countries.

"Her appointment to this leadership role is a significant step forward for women in the national security sector and we congratulate her," Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said in a statement.

Noble, who will begin her new role in February 2020, will lead the ASD at a time when Australia is increasingly concerned about cyber-attacks.

In March, the ASD concluded China’s Ministry of State Security was responsible for a cyber-attack on its parliament and three major political parties, Reuters reported.

Australia decided not to go public with its findings for fear of risking its trade ties with China, two sources said.

China denies it was responsible for the hack.

European Commission launches ‘man on the moon’ plan to cut emissions to zero by 2050

The European Commission on Wednesday  launched its plan to cut EU carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, in what the executive’s president described as Europe’s “man on the moon moment”.

The Green New Deal offers 100 billion euros to EU member states to help curb their global warming pollution but fossil-fuel reliant Eastern European countries are primed to fight the move. 

EU leaders will meet in the Belgian capital tomorrow and were asked by Charles Michel, the new European Council president, to back the plan, which aims to regear the economy away from fossil fuel and polluting industries and towards new technologies and behaviours. 

All members of the EU except Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have signed up to the target and EU officials predicted that summit talks would prove difficult. 

The pressure is on Mr Michel and new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to get backing at their first summit for the flagship policy initiative.

Brussels wants a legally binding cut of 50 to 55% in EU emissions by 2030, in comparison to 1990 levels, an increase on the current 40 percent target, as it fired the starting gun on what promise to be tough negotiations over a wide-ranging raft of measures to fight climate change. 

“This is Europe’s man on the moon moment,” said Mrs von der Leyen who argued that lost jobs would be replaced in innovative green industries. 

“I am convinced that the old growth model that is based on fossil fuels and pollution is out of date,” she said.

“This transition will either be working for all and be just or it will not work at all,” she said, “The cost of the transition will be big, but the cost of non-action will be much bigger.”

The commission communication called for an overhaul of state aid rules and a programme of investment to drive the move to green and curb the pain of inevitable job losses.

Mrs von der Leyen said the Commission wants to mobilise 100 billion euros worth of investment to help the bloc’s economies pay for transition away from fossil fuels. There would be a carbon border tax, essentially tariffs on imported polluting goods.

One major component is a so-called Just Transition Fund, a mechanism of at least 35 billion euros that would support “regions most exposed to decarbonisation challenge”. In total, Mrs Von der Leyen has pledged 1 trillion euros of investment over the next decade.

The plan, which also intends to promote biodiversity, building renovation and sustainable mobility across the bloc, also call for respecting the Paris climate accord to be an essential condition of all future trade agreements concluded by the EU.

World leaders agreed four years ago in Paris to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally no more than 1.5 C by the end of the century. The EU will want to triumph its new commitment at a UN Climate conference in Madrid this week, if leaders back the plan.

EU states, including Britain, on Wednesday rejected a deal on new rules governing which financial products can be classified as “green” and “sustainable”. The UK wants the rules to be technologically neutral so as not to harm European investment in British nuclear power. 

Finland’s new 34-year-old prime minister is the world’s youngest

Finland’s leading party has nominated a 34-year-old prime minister, making her the world’s youngest premier in a  women-led coalition cabinet after a political shake-up.

Sanna Marin, 34 from the dominant Social Democrats, who was nominated on Sunday, will have a finance minister two years her junior. Centre Party chief Katri Kulmuni, 32, will get the finance post when the full new cabinet is announced this week, party members said.

Katri Kulmuni, 32, will take over the post of finance minister Credit: Reuters

Finland’s government resigned last week after the Centre Party said it had lost confidence in Social Democrat Prime Minister Antti Rinne over his handling of a postal strike.

The five parties in power – four of them led by women – decided to stay in coalition and continue with the same programmes, but said there would be a reshuffle.

Green Party leader Maria Ohisalo, 34, will continue as interior minister, the Left Alliance’s chairwoman Li Andersson, 32, as education minister and the Swedish People’s Party’s Anna-Maja Henriksson, 55, as justice minister.

The political shake-up has seen the emergence of a female-led cabinet. Clockwise from top left: Sanna Maris, Li Andersson, Katri Kulmuni, Anna-Maja Kristina Henriksson and Maria Ohisalo

"We want to make the axis between the prime minister and the finance minister work," Kulmuni said. "That is the foundation for this new generation of collaboration (between the Social Democrats and the Centre Party)," she added.

There was no immediate comment from Marin, the former transport minister.

She has had a swift rise in Finnish politics since becoming head of the city council of her industrial hometown of Tampere at the age of 27.

She will take over in the middle of a wave of strikes, which will halt production at some of Finland’s largest companies from Monday. The Confederation of Finnish Industries estimates the strikes will cost the companies a combined 500 million euros ($550 million) in lost revenue.

Kulmuni, who previously held the more junior position of Minister of Economic Affairs, replaces Mika Lintila. She took over as the head of the Centre Party from ex-prime minister Juha Sipila in September.

Rinne will remain the Social Democrats leader at least until he chairs the party’s conference in June.

Modi criticised after excluding Muslims from religious persecution citizenship offer 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing renewed criticism after tabling legislation today which will exclude Muslims from an offer of citizenship rights to religious refugees.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill will see nationality defined by religion for the first time in India’s history but only to followers of six faiths – including Christians, Sikhs and Hindus – from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

It will allow them to acquire Indian citizenship if they live or work in the country for six years and are fleeing religious persecution. However, critics argue it is the latest move to discriminate against Muslims.

“[The Bill is] couched in the language of refuge and seemingly directed at foreigners but its main purpose is the de-legitimisation of Muslim citizenship,” said historian Mukul Kesavan.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Assam, Gujarat and West Bengal today  in protest.

“We will fight and oppose the bill till the last drop of our blood,” vowed All Assam Students’ Union adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya.

A group of 1,000 academics released a statement arguing the Bill undermines the pluralistic and secular history of India.

Home Minister Amit Shah dismissed their concerns and said the proposed legislation is backed by India’s 1.3 billion population.

Hundreds of people took to the street in Assam to protest the Bill, which comes after the National Register of Citizens stripped 1.9 million people of their citizenship there Credit: Anupam Nath/AP

The BJP first proposed the Bill as an electoral promise in 2014 but it was abandoned in 2016 after protests.

This time, MPs in the lower house of parliament voted unanimously in favour of passing the Bill – 293 to 82 – and it will now be voted on in the upper house.

The date for this has not yet been disclosed but it needs approval from both houses for it to become law.

Since his landslide re-election in May, Modi and the BJP have faced repeated claims of anti-Muslim discrimination.

In August, he revoked Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir’s autonomous status and the region remains under curfew and an internet blackout.

Later that month he announced 1.9 million people in Assam will face detainment and deportation to Bangladesh.

While Modi claimed it was part of a wider crackdown on illegal immigrants, campaigners say it is an attempt to render Indian Muslims stateless.

Europe facing extreme heat every two years as watchdog warns EU will miss 2030 targets

Europe faces extreme heat waves every two years over the coming decades as the effects of climate change drive up global temperatures, the EU’s environmental watchdog has warned.

In a report published on Wednesday, the European Environment Agency said that Europe would face heat waves that are more severe than recent record-breaking events every two years from 2050 onwards.

Hans Bruynincx, the agency’s director, said: “Europe’s environment is at a tipping point. We have a narrow window of opportunity in the next decade to scale up measures to protect nature, lessen the impacts of climate change and radically reduce our consumption of natural resources.”

The report makes sobering reading for the EU which prides itself on being a global leader in tackling climate change and meeting high environmental standards.

It warns that the EU’s progress towards cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and boosting the share of renewables in the energy mix has dropped off and that the bloc will miss its goals.

“Recent trends highlight a slowing down of progress in areas such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, industrial emissions, waste generation, improving energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy. Looking ahead, the current rate of progress will not be enough to meet 2030 and 2050 climate and energy targets.”

The EU has set a target to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 but the environment agency says that without further action, emissions will only be cut by 30 per cent by the target date.

The report also says that the EU is failing to meet its goals for protecting soil, air and water quality.

“If current trends continue, they will result in further deterioration of nature and continued pollution of air, water and soil,” it said. 

It points out that the failure to reduce air pollution is causing 400,000 premature deaths in Europe every year.

The European Commission will use the report in its arguments for an ambitious new European Green Deal, which is due to be unveiled on December 11.

The Green Deal, which will be the first major policy presented by the commission under newly elected President Ursula von der Leyen, is a plan to make the EU net carbon neutral by 2050. It is expected to include plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 55 per cent by 2030 and includes a trillion euro sustainable investment plan.

Addressing a United Nations climate change meeting in Madrid on Monday, President von der Leyen said: “Our goal is to be the first climate neutral continent by 2050.”

Making the transition to a carbon-neutral economy would require a “generational change,” she said, while the Green Deal would “generate new jobs” and improve people’s quality of life .

The plan is expected to run into stiff opposition from Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary, all of which use a lot of coal for energy production.

Robert Mugabe died with $10m in cash and several houses, but left no will

The wealth of Zimbabwe’s former longtime president Robert Mugabe was long a mystery. Now the first official list of assets to be made public says he left behind $10 million and several houses when he died in September.

Some in Zimbabwe view that estate as far too modest for Mugabe, who ruled for 37 years and was accused by critics of accumulating vast riches and presiding over grand corruption.

The report by the state-run Herald newspaper on Tuesday does not mention any overseas assets, though it is thought that Mugabe had properties in neighboring South Africa and in Asia.

The report says there appears to be no will, though lawyers are still looking for one. The report cites the lawyers as saying the law stipulates that Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and children will inherit the property in that case.

Mugabe also left behind a farm, 10 cars and 11 hectares (27 acres) of land that included an orchard at his rural home where he was buried. His daughter, Bona, registered the estate on behalf of the family, the report said.

Mugabe's wife Grace will inherit his assets if no will is found Credit: REUTERS/Howard Burditt

More than a dozen farms are publicly known to have been seized from both black and white farmers by the late strongman’s family.

Mugabe died of cancer in a Singapore hospital at age 95 nearly two years after he was forced by Zimbabwe’s military and ruling party to resign.

Many in the southern African nation say the country he left behind has fallen deeper into economic and political crisis, with a growing hunger problem that a United Nations expert last month called "shocking" for a state not at war.

Half of Zimbabwe’s population, or more than 7 million people, is experiencing severe hunger, the UN World Food Program said Tuesday.

Critics blame the administration of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the president, who has struggled to fulfil promises of prosperity since taking power in 2017.