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White House prepares for border wall as Donald Trump threatens national emergency

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Japan PM Shinzo Abe speaks in support of Theresa May and Mike Pompeo speaks in Cairo about Trump’s vision for Middle East.

Trump administration eyes Army Corps of Engineers’ budget for border wall

The White House has begun the groundwork for building President Donald Trump’s border wall as he reiterated warnings of declaring a national emergency if the impasse over the plan continues.
The Washington Post reported that though the move could invite strong opposition in Congress, it could possibly end the ongoing partial government shutdown which is now just one day short of being the longest ever in US history.
The report said the government has its eyes on the unutilised money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, a disaster-funding bill that Congress passed last year and which includes $13.9 billion allocated but not yet used for civil work projects.

Citing an anonymous source, the Washington Post report also said that Trump has requested the Army Corps to find out how early contracts could be signed for the construction and if this could be initiated within the next 45 days.

The administration’s moves come as Trump told media reporters Thursday, ‘I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,’ before leaving for the southern border in Texas.

Meanwhile, USA Today in a report said that according to a Pentagon spokesman, ‘The Department of Defense is reviewing available authorities and funding mechanisms to identify options to enable border barrier construction.’

Shinzo Abe speaks in support of Theresa May, says world wants UK to avoid no-deal Brexit

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his speech at Downing Street Thursday spoke in support of United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal and urged UK to not leave the European Union without securing an agreement.

Speaking about Japanese companies that employ 150,000 people in the UK, Abe said Japan would value the stability.

A Guardian report quoted him saying, ‘It is the strong will of Japan to further develop this strong partnership with the UK, to invest more into your country and to enjoy further economic growth with the UK.’

‘That is why we truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided, and in fact that is the wish of the whole world,’ he said.

Abe’s speech came after two cabinet ministers traded blows over the viability of a no-deal.

News daily Japan Today reported that ‘Abe has been one of the strongest international supporters of May’s Brexit deal since it was struck in November. When the two met at a G20 meeting in Buenos Aires in December, he asked for May’s support to avoid a ‘no deal’.’

Japanese firms have spent more than 46 billion pounds ($59 billion) in Britain, said the Japan Today report.

Mike Pompeo lays out Trump’s vision for Middle East in Cairo speech

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Thursday launched a scathing attack against Iran as he laid out the Trump administration’s vision for the Middle East in a speech at the American University in Cairo.

During his ongoing Middle East tour in a bid to reassure allies of US’ withdrawal plan from Syria, Pompeo said, ‘It’s time for old rivalries to end, for the sake of the greater good of the region (Middle East).’

He asserted that the US ‘will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot’ from Syria, Al Jazeera reported.

The report quoted him saying that the US will step up efforts ‘to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people.’

Pompeo didn’t restrict his speech to outlining the US government’s vision but also came down heavily on former President Barack Obama’s policy in the region during his tenure, without directly mentioning his name.

He blamed the Obama administration for the rise of ISIS and the increasing assertiveness of Iran.

Incidentally, this is the same place where Obama delivered a speech in 2009 outlining his vision for US’ relations with Middle Eastern countries.

China escalates Twitter crackdown, users face detention and threats

China is detaining, interrogating and threatening its citizens for using Twitter in a sharp escalation of the country’s online censorship, a New York Times report said.

The Chinese government’s new crackdown to suppress internet activity, particularly Twitter, comes despite the fact that the platform is blocked in China and most of the people can’t view any ‘offensive’ tweets, said the report.

Despite the ban on Twitter in China, a small community in the country uses it with the help of software. The platform is an important tool for expression and debate for activists and the working class.

The NYT report said, ‘According to an estimate based on a survey of 1,627 Chinese internet users last year by Daniela Stockmann, a professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Germany, only 0.4 percent of China’s internet users, roughly 3.2 million people, use Twitter.’

In another report, Washington Post too confirmed that authorities are sharply escalating the Twitter crackdown in Beijing and other cities.

Wang Aizhong, a human-rights activist, told the NYT, ‘If we give up Twitter, we are losing one of our last places to speak.’

He was asked to delete his tweets criticising the Chinese government.

Sarah Cook, a senior analyst for East Asia at Freedom House, told the NYT , ‘On the one hand, state media takes advantage of the full features of these platforms to reach millions of people. On the other hand, ordinary Chinese are risking interrogation and jail for using these same platforms to communicate with each other and the outside world.’

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