Trump Invites Rodrigo Duterte to the White House

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Saturday invited the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House, embracing an authoritarian leader who is accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects and who crudely disparaged Mr. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump had a “very friendly conversation with Mr. Duterte,” according to a statement issued by the White House late Saturday. It said that the two leaders “discussed the fact that the Philippines is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs.”

In fact, Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in the deaths of several thousand people suspected of using or selling narcotics, as well as others who may have had no involvement with drugs. Human rights groups and many Western governments have condemned Mr. Duterte for the bloody campaign.

A spokesman for Mr. Duterte, Ernesto Abella, confirmed the White House invitation, saying that Mr. Trump had expressed “his understanding and appreciation of the challenges facing the Philippine president, especially on the matter” of drugs.

Mr. Trump’s embrace of the Philippine leader comes a week after Mr. Trump called to congratulate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for his victory in a disputed referendum that cemented his autocratic rule. He has also lavishly praised President Xi Jinping of China in recent days for his cooperation in pressuring North Korea, overlooking the fact that Mr. Xi, too, has shown an increasingly repressive streak in his country.

Mr. Trump has spoken warmly of the Egyptian leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who seized power in a military coup. And he vowed during the presidential campaign to reset relations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

An outspoken populist with a shoot-from-the-hip style, Mr. Duterte shares some characteristics with Mr. Trump. That was not the case with Mr. Obama, whom Mr. Duterte called a “son of a whore” when he was asked how he would react if Mr. Obama raised human rights issues with him. He later apologized, and his aides said his comment was an expression of frustration rather than a personal attack against the American president.

In its statement, the White House suggested that Mr. Trump was eager to mend relations. The president’s invitation, it said, was aimed at discussing “the importance of the United States-Philippine alliance, which is now headed in a very positive direction.”

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Tornadoes, flooding kill 6 in parts of South, Midwest

CANTON, Texas — Severe storms including tornadoes swept through several small towns in East Texas, killing at least four people and injuring dozens more, and leaving a trail of overturned vehicles, mangled trees and damaged homes, authorities said Sunday.

The storms in Texas were among several in parts of the South and Midwest that brought strong winds, thunderstorms and torrential rain, killing a total of at least six people in three states. In Arkansas, a 65-year-old woman was killed when a tree was blown into her home Saturday. In Missouri, a 72-year-old woman drowned despite her husband’s efforts to save her as their vehicle was swept away by rushing waters after heavy rains caused flooding. The storms headed east into Mississippi and Alabama on Sunday.

In Texas, search teams were going door to door Sunday, a day after storms cut a path of destruction 35 miles long (56 kilometers) and 15 miles (24 kilometers) wide in Van Zandt County, Canton Mayor Lou Ann Everett said. The largely rural area is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Dallas.

“It is heartbreaking and upsetting to say the least,” Everett told reporters at a news conference Sunday morning.

Video from local television stations showed uprooted trees and overturned cars along rural, wet roadways, along with flattened homes. The storms flipped pickup trucks at a Dodge dealership in Canton and tore through the business.

Everett said authorities had confirmed four deaths in the area, down from the five deaths reported earlier, but cautioned that “it is a very fluid situation and that could change.” Searchers were using dogs to determine whether “anyone is trapped and needs help, or worse,” she said.

Fifty-six people were treated at three hospitals and six remained hospitalized Sunday morning, two of them in critical condition, ETMC Regional Health Care Systems spokeswoman Rebecca Berkley said.

Officials urged people to stay away from the area. Rescue workers were dealing with gas leaks and downed power lines and trees, said Judge Don Kirkpatrick, the county’s chief executive. Fences also had been blown over, meaning livestock in the farming and ranching area were roaming free.

“It’s a very dangerous situation out there,” Kirkpatrick said.

The National Weather Service confirmed at least three tornadoes swept through parts of three counties, with two of the twisters tracking nearly the entire south-to-north length of Van Zandt County.

The first reports of tornadoes came about 4:45 p.m. Saturday, but emergency crews were hampered by continuing severe weather, Kirkpatrick said.

“We’d be out there working and get a report of another tornado on the ground,” he said.

One resident, Ernestine Cook, told Dallas television station WFAA she rushed to a storm center just in time.

“It hit so hard, so fast. It just kept moving,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it after 22 years of living here.”

Oncor, the electric utility that serves the area, reported more than 4,500 customers were without power late Sunday morning. Everett said about 30 crews from around Texas were arriving to restore electricity. Five major transmission towers were toppled and some were difficult to reach. Cellphone service was described as “spotty.”

Canton is known throughout Texas and neighboring states for its First Monday Trading Days, a monthly flea market that draws thousands of people and goes back 150 years. Everett said the grounds of the market were spared from serious damage, although power lines and trees were down.

In Missouri and Arkansas, some roads remained closed Sunday because of flooding. Missouri reported nearly 100 evacuations and three dozen rescues Saturday. In Arkansas, utilities said tens of thousands of customers were without power.

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Pope calls for end to violence, respect for human rights, in Venezuela

Pope Francis called on Sunday for the respect of human rights and an end to violence in Venezuela, where nearly 30 people were killed in unrest this month.

Francis, speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, decried a “grave humanitarian, social , political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population”.

Venezuela’s opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 activists jailed by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, respect human rights and seek a negotiated solution …,” he said.

Supporters say Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed head of the hardline opposition Popular Will party, and others are political prisoners whose arrests symbolize Maduro’s lurch into dictatorship.

Maduro says all are behind bars for legitimate crimes, and calls Lopez, 45, a violent hothead intent on promoting a coup.

Vatican-led talks between the government and the opposition have broken down.

Francis told reporters on the plane returning from Cairo on Saturday that “very clear conditions” were necessary for the talks to resume.

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ِIraqi army says new front opened in western Mosul eyeing 4 districts

Mosul – Iraqi government forces are opening new front in their battles against Islamic State militants in western Mosul, targeting the recapture of four last districts, according to an Iraqi army officer.

Asharq al-Awsat quoted an army colonel saying the new front opens from the recaptured region of Badush, with the aim of charging at the districts of 17 Tamuz (July 17th), Harmat, Mesherfa and Hawi al-Kanisa in order to accelerate the liberation of the city.

Badush region, northwest of Mosul

Iraqi army forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition and paramilitary troops, recaptured eastern Mosul from Islamic State members in January after three months of fighting. A complementary offensive launched in February to retake the western region.

Iraqi generals say they control 70 percent of the western side of Mosul, and that the total of territory held by IS in Iraq is less than seven percent.

The government troops are still struggling to purge the Old City, home of the Grand Nuri Mosque where Islamic State supreme leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of the group in 2014.

Coalition commanders estimate the number of remaining IS fighters in Mosul by less than 1000. While those are facing at least 100.000 government and paramilitary soldiers, it is their deployment within civilian communities that has delayed the elimination of the group.

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ISIS executed 64 in Syria throughout April for adultery, espionage: monitor

Damascus – Islamic State militants executed 64 persons in Syria throughout April over charges ranging from adultery to collaboration with rival parties to the conflict, according to a Syrian war monitor.

The killings occurred from March 29th and until April 29th, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said the victims included 51 Syrians, including one woman, five of the group’s own fighters, six government forces personnel and allied fighters and two members of rival militias.

Those executed were accused of adultery, smuggling civilians outside IS domains and collaboration with the U.S.-led international military coalition and Kurdish forces, SOHR reported. The killings were carried out at Raqqa, Hassakah, Deir Azzour, Homs, Aleppo and al-Badia provinces.

The recent executions raise the total of those executed by IS since 2014 to 4694 civilians, regime soldiers, fellow and rival combatants, according to the U.K-based organization. Those include 87 children and 134 women, according to the organization, which said the methods of executions varied from gunfire to decapitation, burning, stoning and throwing from a high point.

The United Nations said last week a total of 400.000 people died since a popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 turned into a regional conflict pitting government troops, dissident forces, regional and Western powers in a bloody war.

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Death row inmate eats Bible as his last meal

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Atmore, Alabama | When the prison staff asked 33-year Jeremy Morris if he wanted anything special for his last meal, he answered “I just want a Bible”.

The prison guards of the William C. Holman Correctional Facility thought he wanted to pray and repent, so they gave him an old copy of the King James Bible.

Against all expectations, the condemned murderer began tearing up the holy book and eating it.

It took hours of chewing and swallowing small pieces of paper, but Mr Morris ate the totality of the 1200-page book, including the cover.

Walter Henri, the prison guard who handed him the old and worn out Bible, says the inmate seemed to “savor every bite”.

“He kept tearing pieces from his Bible and eating them like they were potato chips!” 

Holman Prison director, Frank Davis, says the staff decided to let the prisoner eat the Bible because it didn’t violate the establishment’s “last meal policy”.

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In most states and various countries where the death penalty is legal, it’s customary to give sentenced prisoners a special last meal at their request.

Restrictions do apply, concerning mostly the legality, the accessibility and value of the meal.

Despite its unusual nature, Mr Morris’ choice of meal was “locally accessible and worth less than 40$”, making it conform to the rules of Alabama correctional  facilities.

Jeremy Morris is expected to be executed tomorrow for the killing of two Catholic nuns in 2007.

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