Top News Stories for Today – December 19, 2016
German school in Istanbul bans Christmas
Media reports that a German school in Turkey has banned Christmas celebrations are causing political furore in Germany, despite a partial denial from the school administration. According to reports, staff at the bilingual Istanbul Lisesi were told Christmas traditions and carol-singing would no longer be allowed.
Diplomats called the decision “surprising” and “regrettable”. But the school said the reports were “not a reflection of the reality”. Istanbul Lisesi, a high school that has existed for more than a century, has 35 German teachers, funded by the German government. Politicians in Germany reacted with shock and anger. BBC
Electoral College votes for president Monday
The 538 members of the Electoral College will convene in their respective states Monday to vote for the United States’ next president, a process that is usually little more than a legal formality following the popular vote tally on Election Day.
This year, however, last-ditch efforts are ongoing to convince at least 37 Republicans to become “faithless electors” who vote for someone other than President-elect Donald Trump, who lost the popular contest to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. Attempts to oust Trump in this manner are not expected to succeed. The Electoral College votes will not be counted until Jan. 6 in a joint congressional session, at which point members of Congress may choose to challenge individual electors or state-wide results. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Week
Evacuations resume in Aleppo ahead of U.N. vote
Evacuations resumed in Aleppo early Monday, with at least 65 buses carrying 3,500 people out of the last rebel-held enclave in the war-ravaged Syrian city, according to a monitoring group. The United Nations Security Council plans to vote Monday on a draft resolution calling for neutral monitors to oversee the departure of rebels and civilians.
Russia had threatened to veto the resolution, but promised to join a unanimous vote after last-minute negotiations, said Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the U.N. The evacuation process in Aleppo was temporarily held up on Sunday, a day after being renegotiated, when five evacuation buses were burned trying to enter government-held villages near Idlib Province. CNN, Reuters, The Week
Rex Tillerson was a director of US-Russian oil company
Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was a director of Exxon’s Russian subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas, from its founding in 1998 until 2006, The Guardian reported Sunday, citing documents leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The company is one of 67 registered by ExxonMobil in the Bahamas, a country with laws that favor corporate secrecy and a corporate tax rate of zero.
Tillerson’s name, RW Tillerson, is listed next to other officers from Houston, Moscow, and the far-eastern Russian island of Sakhalin. Tillerson’s role in the Russian-US oil company doesn’t break any laws, but it highlights his close ties to Russia’s power elite, including President Vladimir Putin — who awarded him the Order of Friendship — and especially Igor Sechin, the former KGB agent who heads Russian state oil company Rosneft. The Guardian, The Week
NATO seeks to allay concerns with Russia
The United States is deploying troops to Poland, the Baltic states and Romania next month as part of raising the security of the region, Polish and US defense officials said Wednesday.Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz made the announcement following talks with the commander of US land troops in Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, in Zagan, western Poland.
NATO will seek to reassure Russia on Monday that its troop deployments to the Baltics and Poland next year are purely defensive, in a rare meeting of the alliance’s envoys with those of the Kremlin that is unlikely to resolve long-standing grievances.
The NATO-Russia Council, the forum bringing together North Atlantic Treaty Organization ambassadors and Russia’s top diplomat dealing with the US-led alliance, will convene for only the third time this year with the crisis in Ukraine still the top concern for Brussels and Washington. VOA
Hacking investigation battle heats up
Republicans outraged at Russia’s alleged meddling in the US election — and frustrated at some in their own party for not taking on the issue more aggressively — are turning to an unlikely new source of pressure for action: Democrats.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Sunday, four senior GOP and Democratic senators appealed for a select committee to investigate CIA findings that Russia hacked the elections to help Donald Trump. The idea has so far been rejected by McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who instead want to see current committees look into the matter.
One of the signatories of the letter, Arizona Republican John McCain, also appeared on Sunday news shows to press his case with dire warnings, while Democratic victims of the hacks gave some of the first personal descriptions of their experience. McCain put the blame on Moscow for damage to the integrity of the vote, saying that Russian election-related hacks threaten to “destroy democracy” and faulted the American response as “totally paralyzed.”CNN
Russian plane crashes in Siberia
An IL-18 plane belonging to the Russian defence ministry has crash-landed in Siberia, injuring 38 people. Weather conditions were poor and reports said the plane may have been hit by a strong crosswind. The plane was carrying 39 people from the town of Kansk in the Krasnoyarsk Krai region when it went down north-west of Tiksi in the Sakha region.
The defence ministry corrected earlier reports that many were killed and said everyone on board had survived.The plane went down in an unpopulated area 29km (19 miles) from Tiksi. Although a strong crosswind was cited as a possible cause of the crash, pilot error was not being ruled out. BBC
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