Trump Jr, Manafort want private testimony

President Donald Trump’s eldest son and his former campaign chairman won’t testify publicly next week, and are instead discussing being privately interviewed by a Senate committee investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

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The committee initially called for Donald Trump Jr and Paul Manafort to appear publicly Wednesday.

But the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee now say the men are negotiating the terms of their appearances, and lawmakers don’t currently plan to issue subpoenas to force them to appear.

Both men face questions about attending a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016, that was described to Trump Jr in emails as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

Trump Jr was told the lawyer had damaging information that could be used against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top White House aide, also attended the meeting.

He is scheduled to speak behind closed doors with the Senate intelligence committee Monday, and with the House intelligence committee Tuesday.

The revelation of the Trump Tower meeting renewed questions about the campaign’s possible connections with Russia, and put some of Trump’s inner circle at the forefront of ongoing federal and congressional probes.

Word of the negotiations with Trump Jr and Manafort comes as the president’s legal team evaluates potential conflicts of interest among members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election meddling also appears likely to include some of the Trump family’s business ties.

Attorney Jay Sekulow, a member of the president’s external legal team, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the lawyers “will consistently evaluate the issue of conflicts and raise them in the appropriate venue”.

Two of the people with knowledge of that process say those efforts include probing the political affiliations of Mueller’s investigators and their past work history.

Trump himself has publicly challenged Mueller, declaring this week that the former FBI director would be crossing a line if he investigated the president’s personal business ties.

Daw cops a spray from Kangaroos’ AFL coach

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott gave Majak Daw an almighty mid-match bake on Saturday after the muscle-bound ruckman came up short in several contests with Essendon’s Tom Bellchambers.

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The 26-year-old Daw – playing only his 31st match since making his AFL debut back in 2013 – was given a rare shot at the No.1 ruck role against the Bombers after 2015 All-Australian Todd Goldstein was omitted.

The stats suggested he pretty much broke even in his personal battle with Bellchambers in the match at Etihad Stadium which the Bombers won by 27 points.

But Scott still felt the need to forcibly deliver some home truths to Daw when the Sudanese-born ruckman was on the interchange bench during the third quarter.

“I was disappointed with a few of Majak’s efforts but he’s still learning the game,” said Scott in his post-match media conference.

“The challenge for him is still the technical nature of the game, because it’s a bit incongruous that the strongest man ever to play the game at AFL level is getting pushed out of the way.

“That is a technical thing – not a physical strength thing.

“Maj and I had a bit of a laugh about it after the game in terms of just the ability to utilise his strength and we’ve got to keep working on that.”

Goldstein will play this weekend in the VFL.

The Kangaroos’ other ruck option, promising 22-year-old Braydon Preuss, is battling a back complaint.

It leaves the Kangaroos’ selectors with plenty to think about ahead of next Saturday’s clash with Melbourne and their giant ruckman Max Gawn.

“I thought (Daw) showed glimpses without grabbing that mantle and saying ‘you have to play me – irrespective of who is available next week, you have to play me first ruck’,” said Scott.

“So we’re still going to have a decision to make next week.”

Chinese police guard late dissident’s Liu Xiaobo home, empty or not

More than a week after the Nobel Peace Prize winner succumbed to liver cancer in custody, four agents stood watch on the stoop of the apartment where his widow, the poet Liu Xia, has largely been kept under house arrest since 2010.

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Their presence contradicts official claims last weekend that Liu Xia, 56, is “free”.

She appeared in a government-released video on July 15 showing her husband’s sea burial in the coastal city of Dalian, but close friends have been unable to reach her and believe that she is under police control in southern Yunnan province.

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But the medley of uniformed and plainclothes officers outside her home on Friday were undeterred in their surveillance — even if they may have been guarding an empty apartment.

“Where are you going?” a man wearing a “special duty” uniform asked two middle-aged women who approached.

“We live here,” one of them retorted, as if accustomed to the question.

On the other side of the gate, a uniformed officer sat in a chair parked outside the entrance to Liu Xia’s apartment.

Three other men sat inside the dark entranceway, including one eating a bowl of noodles.

They all stood up when an AFP reporter approached.

“What are you doing here? You don’t live in this neighbourhood,” said the uniformed officer, gesturing for the reporter to leave.

Outside the gate, security agents talked among themselves as they waited for their lunch break.

“Yesterday there were five to six reporters who came,” a middle-aged man said to the group. He wore a black T-shirt, the preferred attire of plainclothes agents.

“Those foreigners just come here to make trouble. They want to take photos of everything. Lunch time is rush hour for them, then things die down after 7 p.m.”

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Earlier that day, a four-person foreign television crew had come through one of the complex’s main gates.

They were soon surrounded by officers in both black and green uniforms.

“Do you know who Liu Xia is?” one of the journalists asked a guard, who barked back: “Never have I met anyone as rude as you!”

At around the same time, an AFP photographer was held by police who asked him to delete three photos he had taken of the apartment exterior.

He did not comply, and was shortly released.

Business as usual 

All was calm on the riverfront boardwalk that Liu Xia’s apartment overlooked, as joggers, bikers and fishermen alike appeared to be unaware of the commotion on the other side of the gate.

The Chinese government has erased virtually all mentions of Liu Xiaobo, a 1989 Tiananmen Square protest veteran, from the internet and domestic media.

Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “subversion” after co-writing Charter 08, a petition calling for democratic reforms in the Communist Party-ruled country.

The following year, he became the first Chinese person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but was not allowed to attend the ceremony in Oslo.

“I don’t know who (Liu Xia or Liu Xiaobo) is,” said a young woman who lived in the apartment complex.

“Many government employees live in this compound. The guards are here for their safety,” she said.

An elderly man collecting trash on the boardwalk said he believed it was the building’s proximity to Beijing’s main thoroughfare that brought increased security.

“And I think (Chinese President) Xi Jinping was here?”

Hooker kicks five for Bombers in AFL win

Essendon’s Cale Hooker was a long way from the best forward on the ground for most of Saturday’s AFL shootout against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium.

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But Hooker was the central figure when the game was in the balance, booting four of his equal career-best five goals in a purple patch in the final quarter opposed to third-gamer Dan Nielson.

The Bombers quelled a brave challenge from the under-manned Kangaroos to win by 27 points. The 20.12 (132) to 16.9 (105) victory lifted Essendon back into the eight, while condemning 17th-placed North Melbourne to a seventh-straight loss.

There were still plenty of positives for the Kangaroos, whose personnel woes went from very bad to worse when star defender Robbie Tarrant hurt his back in the warm-up, gifting a shock debut to Josh Williams.

With skipper Jack Ziebell and Marley Williams also among the absentees and Todd Goldstein and Lindsay Thomas dropped to the VFL, the Kangaroos – including seven players with less than 10 games’ senior experience – looked ripe for the picking.

For three quarters at least, they took it right up to the Bombers.

Coleman Medal contender Ben Brown continued his career-best season, kicking six goals, taking five contested marks and seeing off the challenges of Michael Hartley and Essendon’s most-accomplished defender Michael Hurley.

Veteran duo Jarrad Waite (four goals) and fullback Scott Thompson were also very good, as was Taylor Garner.

But Essendon – and Hooker – were better when it mattered most in the final quarter, as the home side won three games on the trot for the first time in three years.

Small forwards Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti combined for seven goals, with the Bombers spreading the attacking load on a rare quiet day for Joe Daniher.

“It was obviously a very tight game for a fair part of the game, a bit of a contested game, a one-on-one game that North brought,” said Essendon coach John Worsfold.

“I thought they handled it better than us early in terms of getting outside that contest.

“But what I was rapt with was that we stayed in that contest the whole time.”

Essendon’s Tom Bellchambers had the better of an intriguing duel with Majak Daw, who copped a huge spray from coach Brad Scott during the third quarter after coming up second-best in several physical exchanges.

“I was disappointed with a few of Majak’s efforts but he’s still learning the game,” said Scott.

“The challenge for him is still the technical nature of the game, because it’s a bit incongruous that the strongest man ever to play the game at AFL level is getting pushed out of the way.”

The Bombers improved their win-loss record to 9-8 ahead of next Sunday’s clash with the Western Bulldogs back at Etihad Stadium.

Philippines to extend martial law in south to year end

The legislators backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for an extension in the Mindanao region to deal with Islamist gunmen who have occupied parts of a southern city for two months.

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Duterte had previously imposed a 60-day martial law over Mindanao when fighting broke out in Marawi on May 23, but it was set to expire Saturday.

The Philippine Congress opened a special session Saturday to vote on President Rodrigo Duterte’s bid for an extension of martial law in the south to defeat Islamist gunmen.

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A slide presentation accompanying Duterte’s request, seen by AFP, compared the Marawi crisis to the Islamic State takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Marawi itself could now become a magnet for foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, it said.

Most of the militants’ leaders remain at large, the presentation added, while about 90 of the gunmen have slipped past security cordons and can link up with other armed groups in the region to mount similar widescale attacks.

At the hearing, defence and security officials justified the need for martial law, saying that aside from Marawi, Islamist militants were planning attacks in other parts of the southern Philippines.

They said almost a thousand pro-IS militants, holding 23 hostages, were still active elsewhere in the south.

In Marawi, the military said only about 60 gunmen were left in a 49-hectare (121-acre) area of Marawi, but Duterte said he needed martial law powers to rebuild the city and ensure the war did not spread elsewhere.

“I cannot afford to be complacent,” Duterte told reporters Friday, adding the military would be conducting further “mopping up operations” even after they recapture Marawi.

“If there is a spillage it will not be as bad if you have this stopgap,” he added.

Duterte imposed 60-day martial rule — the maximum period allowed by the constitution — over the Mindanao region on May 23 within hours of the gunmen beginning their rampage.

On Monday he asked Congress to extend it until the end of the year, along with the continued suspension of a constitutional safeguard against warrantless arrests.

In an unprecedented move, both the House and the Senate met jointly on a weekend to vote on Duterte’s request.

Recommended ‘Nationwide martial law’ 

Martial law allows the military to establish control with measures such as curfews, checkpoints and gun controls in a country where civilians are authorised to keep licensed firearms in their homes.

However, any martial law extension must be approved by Congress.

The subject remains sensitive in the Philippines, decades after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos put the country under military rule for part of his 20-year term.

Thousands of critics, political opponents as well as communist guerrillas were killed, detained or arrested during the period, according to historians.

About a dozen protesters in the gallery interrupted Saturday’s hearing, chanting “never again, never again to martial law” before being escorted out.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has said previously he sees no roadblock to the swift approval of the extension by both chambers of Congress.

Duterte had already beaten back a Supreme Court petition to declare martial law in Mindanao illegal.

But opposition politicians have criticised Duterte’s proposal for an extension, with some alleging it is part of a Duterte plot to eventually bring the country under a military-backed dictatorship.

“Once he feels that there is not enough opposition to a nationwide martial law declaration, he will go for it,” Senator Antonio Trillanes told AFP on Tuesday.

After this he could declare a revolutionary government to allow him to stay in office beyond his six-year electoral term in mid-2022, Trillanes says.

Duterte, 72, insists he has no plan to stay in office beyond his term.