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Donald Trump visit to London called off amid fears of mass protests

President will not now open new US embassy next month, with secretary of state Rex Tillerson likely to take his place

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Donald Trump cancels London visit amid protest fears” was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, and David Smith in Washington, for The Guardian on Friday 12th January 2018 09.49 UTC

Donald Trump has cancelled a visit to Britain next month to open the new US embassy in London, amid fears of mass protests.

The president claimed on Twitter that the reason for calling off the trip was his displeasure at Barack Obama having sold the current embassy for “peanuts” and built a replacement for bn (£750m). “Bad deal,” he wrote.

But the embassy’s plan to move from Mayfair to Nine Elms in London was first reported in October 2008, when George W Bush was still president.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, said Trump had “got the message” that many Londoners staunchly opposed his policies and actions.

“It appears that President Trump got the message from the many Londoners who love and admire America and Americans but find his policies and actions the polar opposite of our city’s values of inclusion, diversity and tolerance,” Khan said on Friday.

“His visit next month would without doubt have been met by mass peaceful protests. This just reinforces what a mistake it was for Theresa May to rush and extend an invitation of a state visit in the first place.”

The prime minister invited Trump for a state visit when she became the first world leader to visit the president in the White House a year ago. Activists immediately pledged to stage protests and MPs have said they would not give the president the opportunity to address parliament.

Asked about Trump’s cancellation, a Downing Street spokesman repeated the government’s longstanding position that “an invitation has been extended and accepted, but no date has been set”.

The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: “The invitation was made and has been accepted we are still working to finalise a date.”

Instead of a state visit, it had been expected that Trump would make a brief, less formal “working visit” in February to cut the ribbon on the embassy in south-west London, and hold meetings with May. Officials had also been examining plans for the president to meet the Queen without the pomp of a full-blown state banquet.

Government sources suggested Washington had signalled that the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, would instead open the embassy.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson.
Rex Tillerson.

Trump confirmed on Twitter late on Thursday night that the trip was off. “Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars,” he wrote just before midnight local time. “Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”

Citing security and environmental reasons, the US state department agreed to sell the current embassy building in Grosvenor Square to the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co, which plans to turn it into a luxury hotel. Estimates put the site’s value at £500m before it was made a listed building, which would have diminished the value because of restrictions on development.

Embassy locations

British relations with the president hit a low late last year when May criticised his decision to retweet videos posted by the far-right extremist group Britain First.

Trump responded by tweeting directly to the prime minister that she should focus on tackling domestic terrorism.

The government was so concerned about his decision to share the videos that Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, took the rare step of raising the issue directly with the White House.

Trump’s ambassador to London, Woody Johnson, subsequently insisted: “The president and the prime minister have a very, very good relationship. I know the president admires and respects the prime minister greatly.”

May’s government has been keen to strike up a close relationship with the Trump administration despite his erratic behaviour, because of Britain’s desire to strike a swift trade deal with the world’s largest economy when it leaves the European Union.

Trump has sparked alarm among diplomats by repeatedly entering into Twitter spats with key public figures, including the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to whom he recently boasted about the size of the US nuclear arsenal.

The White House has been rocked in recent days by the revelations in an explosive book, Fire and Fury, by the US journalist Michael Wolff, who suggested senior figures in the administration questioned the president’s fitness for office.

Asked about the revelations last weekend, May said she believed they were not serious, and Trump was a man making decisions “in the interests of the United States”.

Trump faced fresh criticism on Thursday night after the Washington Post reported that he had questioned planned changes to immigration rules, asking colleagues why the US had to welcome arrivals from “shithole countries”.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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4 U.S. soldiers have been killed and three others wounded in attacks on Kabul airport.

A U.S. official says several Marines were killed and a number of other American military were wounded Thursday in an attack on Kabul’s airport.

U.S. officials have said that information is still coming in and they are trying to determine exact numbers of casualties.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations.

The Pentagon would not say what troops were involved but acknowledged that “a number of U.S. service members were killed.”

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Three U.S. senators, including Democrat Amy Klobuchar who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, wrote a letter to Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) to express concern about its palm print recognition system, Klobuchar’s office said Friday.

Amazon began rolling out biometric technology at its Whole Foods stores around Seattle in April, letting shoppers pay for items with a scan of their palm. The system, called Amazon One, lets customers link a credit card to their palm print.  read more 

Klobuchar, who was joined by Senators Bill Cassidy, a Republican, and Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, expressed concern in the letter dated Thursday about both privacy and competition related to Amazon One.

“Our concerns about user privacy are heightened by evidence that Amazon shared voice data with third-party contractors and allegations that Amazon has violated biometric privacy laws,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

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WHO seeks to take political heat out of virus origins debate

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The World Health Organization said on Friday it was setting up a new group to trace the origins of the coronavirus, seeking to end what it called “political point scoring” that had hampered investigations.

The inability of the WHO to say where and how the virus began spreading has fuelled tensions among its members, particularly between China, where COVID-19 cases were first identified in Wuhan in late 2019, and the United States.

The WHO called for all governments to cooperate to accelerate studies into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and “to depoliticise the situation”.

It specified that a new advisory group called the International Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens would support “the rapid undertaking” of further studies.

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