More US Companies End Marketing Programs With National Rifle Association

Three more companies say they have ended marketing programs with the National Rifle Association (NRA), as gun control advocates stepped up pressure on firms to cut ties to the gun industry following last week’s school shooting in Florida.

Activists have posted petitions online, identifying businesses that offer discounts to NRA members, in a push to pressure the companies to cut ties to the gun rights organization.

Corporations that ended their discount programs with NRA members on Friday included insurance company MetLife, car rental company Hertz, and Symantec Corp., the software company that makes Norton Antivirus technology.

The move comes after several other companies cut their ties to the NRA earlier this week, including car rental company Enterprise, First National Bank of Omaha, Wyndham Hotels and Best Western hotels.

The NRA is one of the country’s most powerful lobbying groups for gun rights and claims 5 million members.

Florida shooting renews debate

Last week’s shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead has renewed the national debate about gun control.

Gun control activists have been mounting a campaign on Twitter, including using the hashtag #BoycottNRA as well as using social media to pressure streaming platforms, including Amazon, to drop the online video channel NRATV, which features gun-friendly programming produced by the NRA.

On Thursday, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that those advocating for stricter gun control are exploiting the Florida shooting.

Receiving a rousing reception, LaPierre said, “There is no greater personal individual freedom than the right to keep and bear arms, the right to protect yourself and the right to survive.”

Arming teachers

On Friday, President Donald Trump reiterated to CPAC for the third time this week the need to arm teachers with concealed weapons to prevent more shootings in U.S. schools.

“It’s time to make our schools a much harder target for attackers. We don’t want them in our schools,” Trump said.

Trump has also proposed raising the age to buy assault-style rifles from 18 to 21, which is opposed by the NRA.

In his speech to CPAC, Trump indicated he does not intend to battle the powerful organization.

“They’re friends of mine,” Trump said of the NRA, which gave more than $11 million to his presidential campaign in 2016 and spent nearly $20 million attacking his Democratic Party general election challenger, Hillary Clinton.

The mass shooting in Florida on Feb. 14 has sparked a wave of rallies in Florida, Washington and in other areas of the United States in an attempt to force local and national leaders to take action to prevent such attacks.

 

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Trump Pushes to Arm Some Teachers in Wake of Florida School Shooting

U.S. President Donald Trump repeated his call to arm some teachers in the wake of the high school shooting in Florida. Trump spoke before a conservative group near Washington. He is the latest in a series of U.S. presidents forced to deal with the impact of a mass school shooting and with the question of what can be done to prevent them. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports that presidents have often been frustrated when trying to bridge the great divide over guns in the United States.

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Florida Governor Proposes Tighter Gun Restrictions in Wake of School Shooting

Florida Governor Rick Scott announced a proposal on Friday to increase restrictions on buying guns and to strengthen school safety measures after a

gunman killed 17 people at a high school in the state last week.

Scott said he would work with state lawmakers during the next two weeks to raise the minimum age for buying any kind of gun in Florida to 21 years old, with some exceptions for younger military members and law enforcement officers. Long guns, including the assault rifle used in the Feb. 14 attack, can currently be bought by people as young as 18.

The Republican governor also said he would change laws to make it “virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a gun.” He wants to ban the sale of bump stocks, an accessory that transforms a semiautomatic rifle into a weapon able to fire hundreds of rounds a minute.

Scott, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and has received its highest rating for supporting gun rights, called for a mandatory law enforcement officer in every public school and for mandatory “active shooter training” for students and faculty.

Scott spoke as staff members were returning for the first time to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 14 students and three faculty members were killed in one of the deadliest school attacks in U.S. history.

“They’re looking to get back to be with their kids,” Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters. “They’re consoling each other.”

Some teachers slowly walked around looking at the piles of flowers and makeshift memorials to the victims. One woman who brought balloons to add  to the memorials fell to her knees in tears.

Maintenance staff have used power washers to clean up the scene of the attack and have fixed broken windows, but the building where the shooting occurred will remain closed, Runcie said. He has proposed tearing the building down and creating a memorial.

Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student at the school, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Authorities have said that Cruz was expelled last year for unspecified disciplinary problems.

The attack has inflamed the national debate about gun rights. Many of the student survivors of the massacre have since advocated for tougher gun-control laws, traveling to meet politicians in Tallahassee, the state capital, and U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House.

In remarks to reporters on Friday, Trump criticized the armed sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school. The deputy, Scot Peterson, resigned after an internal investigation found he failed to go inside and confront the shooter, the Broward County sheriff said on Thursday.

“When it came time to get in there and do something, he didn’t have the courage or something happened,” Trump said. “But he certainly did a poor job. There’s no question about that.”

Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said Scott’s plan to have at least one law enforcement officer for every 1,000 students did not go far enough.

Some parents also felt the proposal fell short.

“There should be armed guards at every door,” said Jeannette Formica, 50, who has a teenage son who attends a middle school near Stoneman.

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Trump Junior Address on Indo-Pacific Ties Renamed Following Criticism

A business conference in India has renamed an address by Donald Trump Jr. after criticism that the original title of the talk suggested he was speaking on foreign policy issues that should be left to diplomats and government officials.

The talk was initially titled “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation,” before it was rebranded as a “Fireside Chat.”

The conference, which Trump, Jr., executive vice president of the Trump Organization, attended Friday was organized by the prestigious The Economic Times newspaper in New Delhi and attended by the Indian business and political elite.

In speaking with an Indian journalist, the younger Trump steered clear of all policy issues and tried to rest criticism that has dogged his trip. “I am here as a businessman. I am not representing anyone. I have been coming to India for over a decade,” he said at one point.

Deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Asia program Michael Kugelman told VOA the “damage control” done by changing the speech to something innocuous” was a wise move, though given the backlash and outcry that had already ensued, that change may have come too late.”

In a letter sent to the American ambassador in India earlier this week, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern that the speech could “send the mistaken message” that Trump Jr. is speaking on behalf of the U.S. government.

Trump Jr., who spoke about his experiences as the son of the U.S. president, told the audience that he rarely talked politics with his father any more. “We see him so little that when we are together, it’s really about being a family.” He accused American journalists of unfair criticism and praised the Indian media, saying they “are so mild and nice.”

Conflicts on interest

Controversy about Trump Jr.’s visit erupted before he landed in India on Monday after newspaper advertisements offered buyers properties licensed by the Trump Organization “dinner and conversation” with the president’s son, sparking concerns of ethics and conflict of interest.

The Trump Organization has licensed its name to five projects being built by local developers in India, the company’s largest market outside the United States. One luxury apartment complex is complete in Pune, while four others, are in varying stages of construction in Mumbai, Kolkata and Gurugram.

In Delhi and Kolkata, customers who paid the booking fee of $ 38,000 were invited to dine with Trump Jr.

Kugelman said there certainly is “something questionable about the president’s son inviting buyers of his father’s properties to meet with him.”

The head of one of the companies building the Trump Towers in India, Kalpesh Mehta, told reporters $15 million was put down by buyers on Monday. He said over $100 million worth of real estate has been sold in the towers coming up in Gurugram, near New Delhi.

Trump Jr. has dismissed claims that his family business is benefiting from his father’s presidency and told an Indian television channel that his family had gotten no credit for business it has lost because of self-imposed restrictions President Trump has applied to stay away from any new foreign business deals during his term in office.

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Фракції Держдуми Росії: закон про реінтеграцію Донбасу «веде до війни, а не миру»

Закон про реінтеграцію Донбасу «веде до війни, а не миру», йдеться в заяві фракцій Державної думи Росії.

Політики зазначають, що документ спрямований проти Росії та росіян в Україні і свідчить про «бажання обезлюдити землі, на яких проживає кілька мільйонів людей, дати новий імпульс полюванню на відьом на Україні».

«Депутати Державної думи, незмінно виступаючи за пошук мирних шляхів врегулювання конфлікту на основі Мінських угод, закликають владу України задуматися про свою відповідальність і відмовитися від нових планів розправи над власними громадянами», – заявили в нижній палаті російського парламенту.

Верховна Рада України ухвалила закон «Про особливості державної політики щодо забезпечення державного суверенітету України на тимчасово окупованих територіях у Донецькій та Луганській областях» 18 січня.

8 лютого голова парламенту Андрій Парубій підписав проект закону. 20 лютого свій підпис на документі поставив президент України Петро Порошенко. 23 лютого закон опублікований у парламентській газеті «Голос України».

Документ, як передбачає Конституція, набуває чинності через десять днів із дня офіційного оприлюднення. Крім того, документ передбачає, що Кабінет міністрів має привести свої акти у відповідність із законом протягом місяця з дня набуття чинності. До ухвалення змінених актів продовжують діяти старі норми.

Закон називає Росію агресором і надає нові повноваження військовим.

Після набуття ним чинності воєнна операція України на сході, яка чотири роки іменувалась «антитерористичною», матиме назву «заходів із забезпечення національної безпеки й оборони, стримування і відсічі російській збройній агресії».

У законі закріплено, що на Україну напала Росія, яка є агресором і окупантом, а частина території Донбасу нею окупована.

Незаконні збройні формування «ЛНР» і «ДНР», які фактично керують окупованими територіями, згідно з законом, є «представниками окупаційних адміністрацій Росії».

Командування операцією на сході переходить від Антитерористичного центру СБУ до Об’єднаного оперативного штабу Збройних сил – тобто від спецслужб до військових. Керівника штабу невдовзі призначить президент. Закон посилається на Статут ООН, що визначає право держав на самооборону.

Кінцевою метою військової операції на сході в законі визначено «звільнення цих територій та відновлення конституційного ладу на них, захист прав, свобод і законних інтересів громадян України, які постраждали внаслідок російської агресії, зміцнення незалежності, державності, забезпечення єдності й територіальної цілісності Української держави».

Міністерство закордонних справ Росії заявляє, що документ суперечить Мінським угодам і загрожує ескалацією на сході України. Українська влада це заперечує.

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Reports: Former Trump Campaign Associate to Plead Guilty in Russia Probe

Rick Gates, a former associate of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, is expected to plead guilty and agree to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election, several U.S. media outlets reported on Friday.

 

The guilty plea could come as early as Friday afternoon, ABC News reported, citing a letter Gates sent his friends and family earlier in the day.

 

Gates’ lawyer, Thomas Green, didn’t immediately respond to a question about whether his client planned to plead guilty.

 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office declined to comment.

 

Gates is expected to become the third former Trump campaign associate to plead guilty to criminal charges and agree to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation into whether there was collusion between the Trump team and Russia during the 2016 election.

 

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos last year pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their interactions with Russian officials.

 

It was not immediately clear what charges Gates will plead guilty to.  He faced decades in prison over a raft of charges brought by Mueller.  A guilty plea to a lesser charge and cooperation with prosecutors could help him reduce jail time.

 

The expected plea comes a day after Mueller’s office announced a new indictment against Gates and his former business partner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

The new indictment accuses Gates and Manafort of bank fraud and tax evasion among other charges, alleging the two men avoided taxes by hiding millions of dollars in consulting fees from Ukrainian politicians as bank loans from offshore entities.

 

Manafort and Gates were initially charged in a 12-count indictment in October in connection with a multi-million dollar money laundering conspiracy tied to their political work in Ukraine. They were also accused of failing to register as agents of a foreign government.

 

Manafort headed the Trump campaign from June to August 2016. Gates was brought into the campaign by Manafort and stayed on even after Manafort was fired a few months later following revelations about his Russian connections.

 

The charges against Gates and Manafort are not related to a key question Mueller has been investigating since his appointment last May – whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

 

Last week, Muller’s office announced charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for conspiring to disrupt the U.S. elections and tilt it in favor of the real estate tycoon. The indictment, however, did not allege collusion on the part of the Trump campaign.

 

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Вибухи і стрілянина у Сомалі: поліція повідомила про щонайменше трьох загиблих

Поліція Сомалі повідомила, що 23 лютого у столиці Могадішо пролунало два вибухи і сталася стрілянина, в результаті чого загинули щонайменше троє людей.

За даними правоохоронців, перший вибух бойовик-смертник у автомобілі здійснив неподалік президентського палацу, пізніше стався ще один і були чутні постріли. Свідки також повідомили, що другий вибух був здійснений через підрив авто, припаркованого поруч з готелем. Про жертв у тому місці не повідомляється.

Наразі інших деталей поліція не вказує, відповідальності за вибухи ніхто на себе не взяв.

Торік у жовтні в Могадішо через атаку бойовиків загинуло 512 людей, що назвали найкривавішим нападом в історії країни.

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США можуть відкрити посольство в Єрусалимі у травні – ЗМІ

Відкриття нового посольства США в Єрусалимі очікується в травні 2018 року, повідомили 23 лютого західні ЗМІ. Як передають агенції Reuters і Associated Press з посиланням на невказані джерела серед посадовців у США, відкриття посольства може збігтися у часі зі святкуванням 70-річчя проголошення незалежності Ізраїлю.

«Хотів би привітати президента США Дональда Трампа щодо його рішення перевести посольство США в нашу столицю у день 70-річчя незалежності Ізраїлю. Немає більшого подарунку! Найсправедливіший і правильний крок. Дякую, друже», – написав у Twitter міністр розвідки Ізраїлю Ісраель Кац.

Офіційного повідомлення від адміністрації президента США з цього приводу немає.

Торішнє оголошення Дональдом Трампом наміру Вашингтона перенести своє посольство з Тель-Авіва до Єрусалима, розгнівало палестинців та їхніх арабських союзників. Палестинці хочуть, щоб Східний Єрусалим був столицею їхньої майбутньої держави. Ізраїль приєднав Східний Єрусалим і оголосив все місто своєю столицею, що не визнана міжнародним співтовариством.

Віце-президент США Майк Пенс заявив минулого місяця, що це питання буде вирішене до кінця 2019 року.

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Protesters Ousted From Sacred Hawaiian Site Where Elvis Filmed Movie

State sheriffs on Thursday removed protesters from the ruins of a Hawaii hotel where they have been squatting since last year in an attempt to block redevelopment of land where Hawaiian chiefs once lived and where Elvis Presley’s character got married in the movie Blue Hawaii. 

The Hawaii Department of Public Safety said in a statement Thursday that state sheriffs arrested Mahealani Hanie-Grace, 23, for trespassing at Coco Palms on Kauai.

The protest began when two men arrived claiming they owned the property because they descend from King Kaumualii, the last ruler of Kauai. Dozens of other protesters have come and gone.

Police have cited protesters for trespassing. A judge last month issued an order to evict them.

The public safety department said 25 deputy sheriffs participated in the raid.

Coco Palms has been shut since 1992, when Hurricane Iniki heavily damaged the property.

Demolition began in 2016, with the goal of reopening in mid-2018. The clash has caused delays, so the developers hope to start construction soon after the protesters leave.

The renovated hotel will have 350 rooms, including 22 master suites and about 50 junior suites. Hyatt will manage the hotel once it’s reopened.

The protest is the latest example of Native Hawaiian activists taking a stand on cultural issues and sacred places. Protesters in recent years blocked a road leading to the summit of Mauna Kea, the Big Island’s highest peak, to stop the construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes. That case is currently before the courts.

Hawaiian chiefs were born and lived on the property hundreds of years ago. Royalty favored the area for its plentiful water, which made it ideal for irrigating fields for the starchy vegetable taro, a staple crop.

Coco Palms opened as a resort in 1953. Eight years later, it served as the backdrop for scenes in a Hollywood romantic comedy featuring Presley. 

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Russian Indicted by US Seen as Doing Favors for Putin

Thirty years ago, he was in prison. A decade ago, he was serving fancy meals to President Vladimir Putin. A week ago, he was among 13 Russians indicted in Washington on charges of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The journey of Yevgeny Prigozhin from troubled youth to ex-con entrepreneur with companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars reflects what one expert says is a typical pathway to riches in post-Soviet Russia: the willingness to do favors and “dirty tasks” for Putin that others would find too risky.

On Feb. 16, Prigozhin was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 election. The indictment said he funded the Internet Research Agency, a “troll factory” that used social media accounts to “sow discord in the U.S. political system.” It said workers at the firm used YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to conduct “information warfare” against the U.S. to promote or disparage political candidates.

After his indictment, Prigozhin was quoted by the state news agency RIA Novosti as saying: “Americans are very impressionable people; they see what they want to see. … I’m not at all upset that I’m on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see him.”

Alexandra Garmazhapova, a reporter who briefly worked undercover at the agency in 2013 to write about it for her newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said workers at the building in suburban St. Petersburg at that time were focused on domestic politics, targeting the opposition inside Russia.

The factory was just starting out, Garmazhapova said, adding that she saw signs of an expansion. The firm went from several dozen employees to at least 300 full-time workers.

“They were actively hiring, had several meetings a day, the work was ongoing. The feeling was that (Prigozhin) wanted to do Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) a favor — but didn’t harbor plans to conquer the world.”

Prigozhin, a restaurateur who ran a catering company and was dubbed “Putin’s chef,” had other projects on his plate. He has been linked to a shadowy military firm that has sent private Russian contractors to fight in Ukraine and Syria on the side of Moscow’s allies.

The 56-year-old Prigozhin is an “ideal villain who gets asked to handle various delicate and dirty tasks,” said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Actually, it is typical of authoritarian regimes to outsource violence.”

A graduate of a boarding school for promising athletes, Prigozhin ran into problems with the law at age 18, when he was convicted of robbery and running a prostitution ring. He served nine years in prison.

After prison, Prigozhin and his stepfather took advantage of Russia’s nascent market economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union and opened hot dog stands. By the late 1990s, Prigozhin was operating swanky restaurants that were frequented by Putin and visiting foreign dignitaries, earning his nickname from the Russian media.

His proximity to Putin really started to pay off in the 2010s, when companies associated with Prigozhin began getting lucrative Defense Ministry contracts ranging from catering to cleaning services.

The Foundation for Fighting Corruption, run by opposition politician Alexei Navalny, published an investigation last year detailing how eight firms controlled by Prigozhin broke antitrust laws by bidding for the Defense Ministry’s contracts.

His companies won 23 contracts worth a total of 23 billion rubles ($387 million). The Federal Antitrust Agency found the firms guilty of breaking the law, but in November, it suddenly closed the case and refused to impose hefty fines against Prigozhin’s firms after they pleaded guilty to the charges

Lyubov Sobol, who led an investigation for the Foundation for Fighting Corruption, told The Associated Press that the ease with which Prigozhin has avoided investigations shows his special relationship with the Kremlin.

He is under Vladimir Putin’s protection and is beyond reach for police and courts in Russia,” Sobol said.

Navalny’s foundation has received communications from Prigozhin’s former employees who complained of threats and violence.

Sobol, whose husband was attacked last year in what she suspects was retaliation for her investigation, said Prigozhin keeps a low profile.

“He has never sought publicity. All he wanted was to make money and do favors for Vladimir Putin,” Sobol said.

When fighting broke out in 2014 in eastern Ukraine between the pro-Moscow separatists and Ukrainian government forces, Russia limited its presence there to clandestine troop deployments and funding and training for the rebels.

Former Russian soldiers were recruited to join the separatists by a shadowy company called the Wagner group, whose founder, Lt. Col. Dmitry Utkin, came under U.S. Treasury Department sanctions for the firm’s actions in Ukraine. Prigozhin was sanctioned in 2016 by the U.S., which cited his companies’ Defense Ministry contracts related to the conflict in Ukraine.

Russian media has reported that thousands of Russians under contract to the Wagner group also have fought in Syria since 2015, helping turn the tide of battle there in favor of President Bashar Assad, Moscow’s longtime ally. 

Putin wanted Russia’s involvement in Syria to be different from its intervention in Afghanistan and Chechnya, which claimed many lives and were widely unpopular. The secret deployment of private contractors in Syria has helped keep the official Russian death toll low as Putin seeks re-election.

When Russians were killed earlier this month in a U.S. attack in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province, the Russian government insisted that Moscow did not send them there. Hiring mercenaries or working as one is against Russian law.

The Wagner group “is not a classic private contractor; it is … an unofficial arm of the Defense Ministry,” said Ruslan Leviev, whose Conflict Intelligence Team has studied the clandestine Russian deployment in Syria.

He said Prigozhin was the right person to take up the task,” compared to any other oligarch of Putin’s.”

Evro Polis, a company linked to Prigozhin, has signed an agreement with Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp., which gives the Russian company 25 percent of the proceeds from oil and gas production at fields its contractors capture and secure.

Prigozhin is hardly the only Russian oligarch to do favors for Putin.

Russia’s richest men spent billions of dollars to help construct hotels and sports venues for one of Putin’s pet projects, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which went over budget and was rife with corruption. They were later rewarded with bailouts from state-owned banks.

“In some areas (of the economy) in Russia, you don’t know where the government ends and private business begins,” said Moscow-based political analyst Alexei Makarkin.

Unlike some Russian oligarchs, Prigozhin might not mind doing the riskier favors because his interests are more local.

“Prigozhin is no longer the man who just serves food — he has more important projects now,” Makarkin said, but adds that he “doesn’t have the ambitions of entering the global elite or finding international partners.”

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