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Canada calls for ‘restraint’ in Iran following death of military chief Soleimani

Foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne is calling on all sides to exercise restraint after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad killed Qassem Soleimani, a high-ranking Iranian general.

“Canada is in contact with our international partners. The safety and well-being of Canadians in Iraq and the region, including our troops and diplomats, is our paramount concern,” he said. “We call on all sides to exercise restraint and pursue de-escalation. Our goal is and remains a united and stable Iraq.

Canada has committed 850 military members to the region, including pilots and special forces troops who are training local soldiers engaged in the fight against ISIS, through training missions and other support roles.

“Canada has long been concerned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force, led by Qasem Soleimani, whose aggressive actions have had a destabilizing effect in the region and beyond,” said Champagne.

Shuvaloy Majumdar, former director of policy for foreign affairs under the Harper government, said it was right for Champagne to call for de-escalation, but said Ottawa’s response lacked a “full-throated” support for the U.S. that could be viewed as downplaying Iranian aggressions.

“I think de-escalation is certainly an appropriate call, but to somehow insinuate that American foreign policy has unnecessarily escalated the situation is not the best way to frame it.”

He said Ottawa needs to try to bring players together and firmly establish its posture toward the region.

“Broadly, it’s about building a consensus toward what the end game for this is. It’s good that Soleimani has been taken off the map, but it gets a bit more thorny where the long-term stability of the region is concerned.”

 


Foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne said the government was keeping a close eye on the situation.

John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

He said he believes Canadian troops won’t be at a major risk of retaliation.

“I have a feeling it will be largely against American personnel and American assets—perhaps Israel.”

The U.S. government issued a travel advisory encouraging all U.S. citizens to leave Iraq as soon as possible. They also advised residents not to approach the embassy in Baghdad, which has endured days of riots and attempts to break into the building. The country has long warned its residents against travelling to Iran.

A similar advisory for Iraq has been in place for Canadians for months and Canadians have also been advised to avoid areas of Iran near the Iraq border.

Soleimani was commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force and was considered to be the second most important man in the country, behind only Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

• Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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‘What kind of bulls—t is this?’ Trump freaked out when Putin’s phone call didn’t get through to him

Just a few weeks after taking office in 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump flipped out on White House staffers for blocking a call from Russia’s Vladimir Putin, a new book reveals.

In journalist Peter Bergen’s ‘Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos,’ he outlines the spat that occurred in front of then-U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, during a lunch on January 27 of that year.

May asked if the newly elected president had talked to Putin.

“No, I haven’t,” Trump replied, and at that moment, former national security adviser Michael Flynn leaned in to the president to explain something.

“Sir, we’re arranging that call now. President Putin called several days ago, but we haven’t been able to get it on your calendar yet.”

It was there, right in front of May, that Trump lost it, according to Bergen. “Are you kidding me? Vladimir Putin tried to call me, and you didn’t put him through? What the hell were you thinking?”


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

“Well, sir, you know, you have a lot of calls coming in, and we’re trying to manage who you talk to,” Flynn, a former three-star Army general, is said to have replied.

The president, wildly unimpressed, described Putin as “the only man on earth who can destroy us.”

In a private meeting later, he continued to berate his staff. “What kind of bulls—t is this? How is it possible that Putin calls me and you don’t put the call through? I don’t know what you guys are doing,” Trump said.

A day after the outburst, the president held an hour-long phone call with Putin, one that the White House briefing described as positive and congratulatory. The two talked about cooperating to defeat ISIS, and bringing “peace throughout the world including Syria.”

Trump has been criticized throughout his presidency for his perceived relationship with Putin — indeed Trump’s alleged Russian ties even prompted an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Recently, the two presidents spoke just before the New Year, BBC reported, with Putin thanking Trump for America’s help in foiling a planned terror attack in St. Petersburg.

On Twitter Tuesday, Trump tweeted:

“President Putin of Russia called to thank me and the U.S. for informing them of a planned terrorist attack in the very beautiful city of Saint Petersburg. They were able to quickly apprehend the suspects, with many lives being saved. Great & important coordination!”

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Liberals set table for school-food program, warned to avoid top-down approach

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are being told to avoid creating a one-size-fits-all national school-food program to replace the patchwork of efforts to feed hungry children that exist now.

The Liberals promised in their 2019 budget to work towards creating a such a program and have reached out to provinces, territories and key stakeholders over the past months.

Groups the Liberals are leaning on for advice say questions include how soon the program kicks off, how big it is at the start, which children will qualify and what meals they’ll receive.

Joanne Bays, co-founder of Farm to Cafeteria Canada, says federal officials have been told to provide provinces, territories and even schools themselves with the latitude needed to deliver programs that meet local needs.

There are thousands of food programs for the roughly five million children enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, programs often run by community groups with financial help from governments and charities.

Debbie Field, co-ordinator of the Coalition for Health School Food, says she isn’t concerned about the politics of a minority Parliament getting in the way of funding and creating a national program because of cross-party support for the idea at the federal and provincial levels.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2020.

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No, Marvel Studios Won’t Debut Its First Trans Character ‘Very Soon’

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Despite recent reports, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige did not intend to confirm that a transgender character will appear in an upcoming film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, two sources tell Variety.

While participating in a guest lecture series for the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles in December, Feige was asked if the studio has any plans “on bringing more LGBT+ characters into the MCU, specifically the T, trans characters.”

“Yes — absolutely, yes,” Feige said. “And very soon. In a movie that we’re shooting right now.”

While Feige’s answer appeared to respond to the specific question about a trans character, two sources close to the studio tell Variety that Feige only intended to respond to the first part about LGBT+ characters, and he did not mean to imply that a trans character will be coming to the MCU “very soon.”

At the time of his appearance, the only MCU movie in production was “Eternals,” from director Chloe Zhao. In August, Feige confirmed that film — which stars Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Kit Harington, Barry Keoghan, and Brian Tyree Henry — will have the MCU’s first major gay character, though Feige declined to specify who it would be.

“He’s married, he’s got a family, and that is just part of who he is,” Feige told “Good Morning America” while at the D23 Expo in Anaheim.

An openly gay superhero would be a major milestone for Hollywood, which has to date avoided putting any LGBT character front and center in a major comic book movie. Recently, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” won both praise and recrimination for featuring the first same-sex kiss in a “Star Wars” movie, but between two minor characters in a throwaway moment.

Feige — who recently ascended to become chief creative officer for all of Marvel Entertainment — has indicated that the gay character in “Eternals” will play a much more meaningful role in the film. And actor Zach Barack, who had a small role in Marvel Studios’ “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” was the company’s first openly trans actor.

But for now, it appears significant trans representation in the MCU will have to wait — again.

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Israel braces for reprisals at home and abroad from those ‘indebted to Soleimani’

Israelis reacted with muted satisfaction Friday to the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a man they considered the mastermind behind decades of terrorism directed against their country, even as they braced for potentially deadly retaliation by Iran and its proxies at a time of pitched tension in the region.

Israel’s embassies around the world were put on heightened alert and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Greece to monitor the situation from Jerusalem. Businesses bustled as usual on the morning before the beginning of the sabbath, but officials closed the Hermon ski area, a resort in the Golan Heights that has been targeted in the past by missiles fired from Syria.

Israel’s official reaction to Soleimani’s killing by a U.S. drone strike was restrained so as not to further inflame the moment or imply any Israeli involvement. Netanyahu instructed government officials not to comment but hailed the attack in remarks to reporters while traveling.

“Qasem Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks,” Netanyahu said. “President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively.”


A mural of US President Donald Trumpwas vandalized on Israel’s controversial separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on January 3, 2020.

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

Analysts said Israel was preparing for possible reprisals from any direction, from Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon in the north to the Gaza strip in the south, where the ruling Hamas faction and Islamic Jihad cells had long-standing ties to Soleimani.

“Israel has to be on high alert,” said Yossi Kupperwasser, a former head of intelligence research for the Israeli army. “These groups are all indebted to Soleimani. They might have to do something to show sympathy for him.”

The scope of the threat highlighted the central role Soleimani, commander of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, has played in Iran’s efforts to extend its influence and spread Islamic revolution around the region. Israelis have long viewed him as the ruthless and capable architect of terrorist infrastructure that surrounds the country, including Iran’s swelling presence in Syria and Iraq.

Hamas released a statement praising Soleimani’s “major and critical role in supporting Palestinian resistance at all levels.”

“On this sad occasion, Hamas condemns the US bullying that creates disputes and upheavals in the regions, just to serve the interests of the Israeli occupation,” the statement said.


Armoured vehicles with the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol near the southern Lebanese town of Kfar Kila on the border with Israel on January 3, 2020.

ALI DIA/AFP via Getty Images

But many Israelis hailed his end.

“He was busy, day in and day out, in promoting terrorist attacks again Israelis and training, arming and financing other groups to do the same,” said Kupperwasser. “Obviously we have no sorrow for him.”

Still, the likely broader impact of the killing was far from clear. Israel had been calling for world leaders to take a tougher stand against Iran’s expansionist activities, particularly its nuclear ambitions and efforts to upgrade Hezbollah’s arsenal with guided missiles. Many here had grown frustrated with President Trump’s idle response to previous Iranian attacks, including strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

While many hailed Friday’s bold hit in Iraq, they noted that it came in response to Iran’s killing of a U.S. military contractor on Dec. 27 and the storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad over the weekend, not to Iran’s regional provocations. Whether the moment marked a bigger shift in Trump’s cautious stance was unclear.

“He seems willing to respond to attacks on U.S. forces; that seems to be the red line he’s drawn,” said Dan Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “On other issues, he has left it to regional partners to respond. And he has made it clear that he does not want a sustained U.S. presence in the Middle East.”


A young Palestinian joins a Hamas rally in Gaza January 3, 2020.

One consequence that Israelis feared was that the escalation marked by Soleimani’s killing – and the feared reaction – could lead to a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, opening the way for even great Iranian influence there. That could mark a repeat of Trump’s drawdown in Syria last year, which was widely criticized here.

“On Iran, Trump has left Israel out on its own, said Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser. “It’s too early to see if this a one off or a real change in the American approach. Is he going to get serious now?”

Freilich noted that a previous strike ordered by Trump — airstrikes against the Syrian military in response to chemical gas attacks in 2018 — did not portend a sustained effort to keep up the pressure. “There have been chemical attacks since then and nothing was done,” he said.

Israeli officials were mum on Friday’s strike and declined to address questions on whether Israel had advance knowledge of the plan or provided any intelligence or support. Israel has launched its own targeted strikes on Iranian-backed positions in Iraq region, including an attack last year near the Baghdad airport where Soleimani was killed.

– – –

The Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash contributed to this story

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Trump: Soleimani was plotting to kill ‘many more’ Americans

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said that the top Iranian commander killed in a U.S. air strike, Qassem Soleimani, was planning to kill Americans.

“General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more,” Trump wrote in a tweet. (Reporting by Lisa Lambert Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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France opens rape investigation after book accuses famed writer of child abuse

PARIS — The French public prosecutor’s office said on Friday it was opening a probe into allegations of rape of a child after a woman published a book saying that she had been sexually abused by a prominent author when she was 14.

Vanessa Springora, 47, head of the Julliard publishing house, made the allegation in her book Le Consentement (Consent).

“After having analyzed the work ‘Consent’, published on Jan. 2, the Paris prosecutor has today opened a probe for rape committed against a minor aged under 15, in connection, notably, to Vanessa Springora,” the statement said.

The investigation will focus on the facts described by Vanessa Springora in her book but also seek to identify other potential victims subject to the same crimes in France or abroad, the statement added.

Springora’s book follows a stream of allegations of sexual violence in France triggered by the #MeToo movement in the wake of the scandal surrounding Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein has been accused of sexual misconduct dating back decades by more than 70 women. He has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters were consensual.

Springora’s book has sent shockwaves through the French literary world and revived a longstanding debate over permissive attitudes of the intelligentsia towards sexual abuse.

Ahead of the book’s publication, French culture Minister Franck Riester had said in a tweet: “A literary aura does not guarantee impunity.” He also wrote: “I lend my full support to all the victims that find the courage to break the silence.” (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; editing by Christian Lowe and Giles Elgood)

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France, Netherlands issue warnings to citizens in Middle East

PARIS — France urged its citizens in Iran on Friday to stay away from public gatherings and the Netherlands told Dutch nationals to leave Baghdad after the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.

Washington had earlier told U.S. citizens to leave Iraq, after Tehran threatened retaliation for the U.S. strike that killed Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force and architect of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East.

“Three days of mourning have been declared after the death of General Soleimani. In this context, we recommend French citizens to stay away from any gatherings and to behave with prudence and discretion and abstain from taking pictures in public spaces,” France’s embassy in Tehran said on Twitter.

A U.S. air strike killed Soleimani and an Iraqi militia commander at Baghdad airport.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry told Dutch citizens to leave Baghdad “if that is possible in a safe manner.”

“Unrest and violence have increased in Baghdad, and around the airport. The situation is unpredictable,” the Dutch ministry said in a statement. (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Toby Sterling and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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Australian sport rallies behind bushfire relief

SYDNEY — Australian sports stars, sparked in part by a call to action from tennis player Nick Kyrgios, have rallied to raise funds in support of relief and recovery efforts for victims of the country’s bushfire catastrophe.

Hundreds of wildfires have scorched more than 5.25 million hectares (13 million acres) of bushland and destroyed over 1,000 homes over the last few months.

Kyrgios, the country’s best known current tennis player, called on Thursday for the organization of a fundraising exhibition event ahead of the Australia Open, the year’s first Grand Slam which kicks off in Melbourne on Jan. 20.

Australian cricketers Glenn Maxwell and Chris Lynn pledged A$250 for every six they hit during the Big Bash League Twenty20 tournament.

There have also been pledges of help from A-League soccer clubs in the state of Victoria and American basketballer LaMelo Ball – a top-five NBA draft prospect – who has offered to donate one month’s salary from the Illawarra Hawks.

Tennis Australia said on Friday it would hold a “Rally for Relief” exhibition match at the Rod Laver Arena on Jan. 15 to help raise funds, while proceeds from a Jessica Mauboy concert on the eve of the Open will also be donated to the Red Cross appeal.

Kyrgios said he would be at the exhibition and while no other names have been confirmed, most of the best tennis players in the world are already in Australia for the inaugural edition of the ATP Cup and other warm-up tournaments.

Kyrgios has also put his hand up individually by promising a A$200 ($140) donation for every ace he serves during Australia’s summer of tennis and has been joined by a number of fellow players in the drive, including former U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

Hazardous smoke from the fires forced the abandonment of a Big Bash match in the nation’s capital on Dec. 21 and organizers, anticipating similar disruption, decided on Friday to move the Canberra International tennis tournament.

The ATP Challenger/ITF Futures tournament, scheduled to take place in Canberra next week, has been moved to the city of Bendigo.

Sporting events went ahead under sunny skies in Sydney on Friday with no sign of the thick layer of smoke that has shrouded the city on several occasions over the last few months.

The third cricket test between Australia and New Zealand at the Sydney Cricket Ground got underway in front of a big crowd under sunny skies after a minute of applause for the emergency services fighting the fires.

Organizers have prepared for smoke delays during the match with all eyes on Saturday when temperatures are set to soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

($1 = 1.4384 Australian dollars) (Additional reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai, Editing by Sam Holmes and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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French embassy in Iran tells citizens to avoid public gatherings after Soleimani killing

PARIS — France’s embassy in Tehran on Friday urged its citizens in Iran to stay away from public gatherings after the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

“Three days of mourning have been declared after the death of General Soleimani. In this context, we recommend French citizens to stay away from any gatherings and to behave with prudence and discretion and abstain from taking pictures in public spaces,” it said in a statement on Twitter.

The United States killed Soleimani, head of the Quds Force and architect of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East, in an air strike at Baghdad airport. (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Sudip Kar-Gupta)