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Citing corruption, US slashes Afghan aid days before election

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The United States on Thursday accused Afghanistan’s government of failing to fight corruption and cut more than $160 million in direct funding, little over a week before the country’s elections.

While Washington has long complained of graft by its ally, the harsh measure comes after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani clashed with President Donald Trump over the US leader’s deal with the Taliban.

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“We stand against those who exploit their positions of power and influence to deprive the Afghan people of the benefits of foreign assistance and a more prosperous future,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Pompeo said that the United States was suspending work with the Afghan body in charge of monitoring corruption as it is “incapable of being a partner.”

“We expect the Afghan government to demonstrate a clear commitment to fight corruption, to serve the Afghan people and to maintain their trust,” he said.

“Afghan leaders who fail to meet this standard should be held accountable.”

Pompeo said the United States was taking back $100 million committed for a major energy project, saying that Washington would fund it directly rather than sending the money through Afghan authorities.

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He also said the United States would withhold $60 million in planned assistance to Afghanistan’s procurement authority.

– Urging ‘free and fair’ elections –

Ghani stands for re-election on September 28 in the campaign already marred by Taliban violence, with dozens killed this week including in an attack on a Ghani rally.

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The last election, in 2014, ended in allegations of rigging and a political stalemate between Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who is again running.

They eventually reached a power-sharing arrangement after brokering by then US secretary of state John Kerry.

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Pompeo, speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, said that the United States wanted “free and fair elections,” adding: “We’re going to do everything we can to support them.”

Trump had sought to seal a deal with the Taliban before the Afghan election as part of his goal of ending America’s longest war, launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Ghani had voiced strong concern over a draft deal, under which the United States would have withdrawn thousands of troops despite the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with the internationally recognized government.

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Trump, who had controversially invited both the Taliban and Ghani to the United States, eventually declared the talks dead, citing an attack by the insurgents that killed a US soldier.

Alice Wells, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, told Congress in a hearing Thursday that the negotiations were “suspended.”

Representative Eliot Engel, the Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, worried that the Trump administration had no clear policy going forward.

“With the president declaring the deal dead, it’s not clear where we go from here,” he said.

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Engel had summoned the US negotiator with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, to testify at the hearing but withdrew his subpoena after the veteran diplomat agreed to speak to lawmakers behind closed doors.

Former president Barack Obama also clashed with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, with his administration saying Kabul had not curbed corruption and became too reliant on the US military.

Under Ghani, a longtime US resident and professor of anthropology of Johns Hopkins University, US officials have credited Afghan troops with taking the lead in fighting the Taliban.

Wells said that the United States still had myriad concerns with the direction of Afghanistan along with corruption, including opium production and “criminalization of the economy.”

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Protesters give Donald Trump a one-finger salute as Marine One flies over DC protests

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President Donald Trump returned to Washington, DC on Saturday as large crowds of protesters fill the city's streets.

Trump had flown to Florida to see the launch of the SpaceX Starship and returned as the sun was going down.

BuzzFeed News reporter Ellie Hall captured a picture of Marine One approaching the White House -- and being welcomed back to town with raised middle fingers.

Trump, in Marine One, just did a flyover of the protest area outside the White House.

Protesters flipped off the president’s helicopter.#dcprotest #MAGANIGHT #GeorgeFloydProtests pic.twitter.com/EMgCaOof1J

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Trump announces he has unilaterally decided to let Putin back into the G7 Summit: report

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President Donald Trump announced on Saturday that he intends to let Russia attend the next Group of Seven summit.

Since 2014, Russia's membership in the organization has been suspending in response to Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea. That changed the name from the G8 Summit to the G7 Summit.

The announcement came from pool reporter Gabby Orr of Politico, who said Trump will also invite South Korea, Australia and India to the next summit, which he is postponing until September.

More via pooler: “‘I don’t feel that as a G7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world. It’s a very outdated group of countries,’ he said. Alyssa Farah said this is bringing together our traditional allies to talk about how to deal with the future of China.”

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Seattle mayor imposes emergency curfew — set to begin only 14 minutes after her announcement

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The mayor of Seattle announced on Twitter that she would be signing an executive order imposing a curfew.

"I will soon be signing an emergency order and the city of Seattle will be imposing a 5 pm curfew soon," Durkin tweeted at 4:46 p.m. -- only 14 minutes before the order was set to go into effect.

"Crowds need to disburse from downtown immediately," she ordered.

"While many individuals gathered peaceful, some individuals have started fires and are destroying buildings. There are multiple fires downtown and it is an extremely dangerous situation. @Seattelfire (sic) does not have access to buildings," she continued.

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