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Path cleared for Congress to consider US arms sale to Riyadh: State Department

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has authorized the State Department to notify Congress of the Trump administration’s sale of precision-guided munitions for Saudi Arabia to use in its Yemen campaign, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Tuesday.

The notification is one of the last steps in the arms sale process and triggers a formal 30-day review to allow members of Congress to attempt to pass legislation to stop any sale.

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U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation last week seeking to block about $500 million of a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, including the portion on precision-guided missiles and other offensive weapons.

An announcement of the sale had been expected in March but objections from mostly Democratic lawmakers and human rights groups led to Washington to ask Riyadh for commitments to improve targeting procedures that would minimize civilian casualties.

Asked on Tuesday whether the Saudis had taken specific measures to improve targeting capabilities, the senior U.S. diplomat, acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones, did not answer directly.

“That’s a continuing source of conversation between us,” Jones told reporters. “We’re constantly trying to improve that process.”

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The Yemen civil war pits Iran-allied Houthi rebels against the government backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition. Nearly 4,800 civilians have been killed since March 2015, the United Nations said in March.

Jones said Tillerson’s authorization, which was expected, occurred just before President Donald Trump’s May 20-21 visit to Saudi Arabia.

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, in December limited military support to Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen because of concerns over civilian casualties, and halted the sale of the precision-guided munitions.

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On his trip to Saudi Arabia, Trump received a warm welcome from Gulf Arab leaders, who want to crack down on Iran’s influence in the region, a commitment they found lacking in Obama.

Trump also did not make overt mentions of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia in his speech there, a move criticized by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

“The fact that it wasn’t featured in the speech doesn’t mean that it’s not part of the bilateral dialogue,” Jones said. “By taking it out of the public debate and having those conversations directly and quietly, we’ll be more effective.”

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Tillerson last week told reporters that human rights issues were not the “central part” of Trump’s private meetings with Saudi officials, which instead focused on the fight against terrorism.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Grant McCool)


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UK travel giant Thomas Cook set to collapse: report

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Thomas Cook's 178-year existence was reported to be coming to an end on Monday after the British travel firm struggled to find private investment to keep it afloat, potentially affecting thousands of holidaymakers.

The operator has said it needs £200 million ($250 million) or else it will face administration, which could affect 600,000 holidaymakers and require Britain's largest peacetime repatriation.

A source close to the negotiations told AFP that the company had failed to find the cash from private investors and would collapse unless the government intervened.

But ministers are unlikely to step in due to worries about the pioneering operator's longer-term viability, the Times reported, leaving it on the brink.

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‘We are the people’: Watch Billy Porter get a standing ovation for his passionate speech at the Emmys

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In a powerful and passionate speech accepting his Emmy, "Pose" actor Billy Porter showered the audience with love and proudly reminded all of their right to belong and be loved.

"Oh, my God. God bless you all! The category is love, y'all, love!" Porter exclaimed.

The epic FX show "Pose" depicts Black and Latinos in the LGBTQ ballroom culture of New York City in the 1980s in the first season and the early 1990s in the second season.

"I am so overwhelmed and so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day," he said. "James Baldwin wrote, 'It took many years of vomiting up the filth I was taught about myself and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.' I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right."

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Paris show of King Tutankhamun artifacts set new record with 1.42 million visitors

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A blockbuster Tutankhamun show set a new all-time French record Sunday, with 1.42 million visitors flocking to see the exhibition in Paris, the organisers said.

The turnout beat the previous record set by another Tutankhamun show billed as the "exhibition of the century" in 1967, when 1.24 million queued to see "Tutankhamun and His Times" at the Petit Palais.

"Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" -- which has been described as a "once in a generation" show -- will open in London in November.

The last time a show of comparable size about the boy king opened there in 1972 it sparked "Tutmania", with 1.6 million people thronging the British Museum.

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