Iran says U.S. should avoid ‘warmongers’ after Bolton departure

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, September 11, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Wednesday Washington should distance itself from “warmongers” after the resignation of hawkish White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Tehran stood by its demand that sanctions be lifted before any talks.

The departure of Bolton removes one of the strongest advocates of a hard line towards Iran from President Donald Trump’s White House and raises the prospect of steps to open up negotiations after more than a year of escalating tension.

“America should understand that … it should distance itself from warmongers,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying on Wednesday, without mentioning Bolton.

“Iran’s policy of resistance will not change as long as our enemy (the United States) continues to put pressure on Iran,” said Rouhani, a pragmatist who won two landslide elections in Iran on promises to open it up to the world.

Last year, the United States pulled out of an international accord between Iran and world powers under which Tehran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in return for access to world trade.

Washington says the agreement reached by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was too weak because many of its terms expire in a decade and it does not cover non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s missile program and regional behavior.

The White House has followed what the administration calls a policy of “maximum pressure”, including sanctions aimed at halting all Iranian oil exports, saying its ultimate aim is to push Tehran to the table for talks on a new, tougher deal.

Immediately after Bolton’s departure, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that Trump could meet with Rouhani at an upcoming U.N, meeting with “no preconditions”.

“SIGH OF RELIEF”

Iran has rejected talks unless sanctions are lifted first. It said on Wednesday that Bolton’s exit had not changed that position.

“The departure of … Bolton from President Donald Trump’s administration will not push Iran to reconsider talking with the U.S.,” Iran’s U.N. envoy, Majid Takhteravanchi, was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif slammed the United States for ordering new sanctions on Iran despite Bolton’s departure.

“As the world … was breathing a sigh of relief over the ouster of #B_Team’s henchman in the White House, (Washington) declared further escalation of #EconomicTerrorism (sanctions) against Iran,” Zarif tweeted. “Thirst for war —maximum pressure— should go with the warmonger-in-chief (Bolton).”

Zarif has often said that a so-called “B-team” including Bolton could goad Trump into conflict with Tehran.

The United States on Tuesday announced sanctions on a “wide range of terrorists and their supporters”, including Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Iran says it hopes to save the deal but cannot do so indefinitely if it gets none of its economic benefits. It has responded to U.S. sanctions with steps to reduce its compliance with the accord and has said it could eventually leave it unless other parties shield its economy from penalties.

“Iran’s commitments to the nuclear deal are proportional to other parties and we will take further steps if necessary,” Rouhani said.

Iran started using advanced centrifuges last week to ramp up output of enriched uranium and reduced its commitments to the nuclear deal, but said it was giving European countries another two months to come up with a plan to protect its economy.

France has proposed giving Iran a multi-billion dollar credit line which would shield it from some impact of U.S. sanctions, although any such deal would require the Trump administration’s tacit approval.

(This story was refiled to correct spelling of ‘weak’ in paragraph 6)

(Additional Reporting by Tuqa Khalid; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Graff/William Maclean)

Puerto Rico governor weighs future after protests -spokesman

A woman shouts during ongoing protests calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello in San Juan, Puerto Rico July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Nick Brown

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello was weighing his political future on Wednesday after almost two weeks of protests demanding his resignation over the publication of offensive chat messages and a corruption scandal, his spokesman said.

Rossello, a first-term governor in his first elected office, has resisted calls to step down over a scandal local media have dubbed “Rickyleaks.” Media, including El Nuevo Dacuta newspaper, cited unnamed sources as saying his resignation was imminent.

“He stated yesterday he is in a process of reflection, and listening to the people,” the governor’s spokesman Anthony Maceira said in a text message to Reuters. “Whichever decision he makes will, as always, be communicated officially.”

Protesters had cheered the reports of a possible resignation late on Tuesday but warned that Rossello’s departure would not end the demonstrations that were now entering their 12th day.

The island of 3.2 million people has been rocked by multiple crises in recent years, including a bankruptcy filing and a devastating hurricane in 2017 that killed about 3,000 people.

If Rossello steps down, his replacement as the U.S. territory’s leader would likely be Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez, whom many protesters reject because of her ties to the 40-year-old governor.

A string of Rossello’s closest aides have stepped down as prosecutors investigated the scandal. The governor’s chief of staff Ricardo Llerandi resigned on Tuesday, citing concerns for the safety of his family.

The scandal erupted at about the same time as federal investigators charged two former high-ranking Puerto Rico government officials with conspiracy.

The protests in the capital San Juan were spurred by the publication on July 13 of chat messages on the messaging app Telegram, in which Rossello and aides used profane language to describe female politicians and gay Puerto Rican celebrities, including Ricky Martin.

FINANCES UNCERTAIN

The uncertainty over Rossello’s future has also complicated Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy process. The U.S. territory filed in 2017 to attempt to restructure about $120 billion of debt and pension obligations.

An attorney for the federally-created oversight board currently responsible for Puerto Rico’s finances told a court hearing on Wednesday that “current events” had played a role in delaying the filing of a plan to restructure the bulk of the territory’s debt.

The attorney, Martin Bienenstock, said at the hearing in San Juan that the board was also seeking more data and creditor support and expected to file the plan in the next few weeks.

The “Rickyleaks” scandal also has led to the resignation of the head of Puerto Rico’s fiscal agency, Christian Sobrino. His interim replacement, Jose Santiago Ramos, has also said he plans to step down next month, citing the current political environment.

Puerto Rican officials on Tuesday executed search warrants for the mobile phones of Rossello’s and 11 top officials involved in the leaked message group chats.

Only Llerandi has so far said publicly he has handed in his phone.

Rossello has apologized several times for the chats and asked Puerto Ricans to give him another chance. He also has vowed not to seek re-election in 2020.

“The people are talking and I have to listen,” Rossello said in a statement on Tuesday.

But the island’s leading newspaper, as well as prominent U.S. Democratic officials and Republican President Donald Trump, have called on him to step down.

U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva, the chairman of the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, which plays a role in overseeing U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, said a Rossello resignation would be a step forward for the island.

“The people of Puerto Rico have shown the world what can happen when a united public demands justice and accountability with a clear voice,” Grijalva said in a statement. “Now they must choose what comes next, and Congress must listen.”

(Reporting by Nick Brown; additional reporting by Marco Bello and Luis Valentin Ortiz in San Juan, Karen Pierog in Chicago and Rich McKay in Atlanta; writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Paul Simao)

San Juan braces for an 11th day of protests, amid calls for Puerto Rico’s governor to resign

Police clash with demonstrators during a protest calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello in San Juan, Puerto Rico July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Marco Bello

San Juan (Reuters) – San Juan braced on Tuesday for an 11th day of protests calling for the resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor over offensive chat messages that have drawn hundreds of thousands of people.

Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds late Monday and early Tuesday while protesters threw bottles and other objects at police, multiple media reports said.

Governor Ricardo Rossell has insisted he will not step down as leader of the U.S. Territory over misogynistic and homophobic messages exchanged between him and top aides, but said on Sunday that he would not seek re-election next year.

Rossell also said he would step down as head of the New Progressive Party and asked Puerto Ricans to give him another chance.

“I used words that I apologized for but I’ve also taken significant actions in the direction of helping vulnerable sectors,” Rossell told Fox News, explaining he had made policy changes significant to women and the LGBTQ community.

Those two groups were frequent targets of messages exchanged between Rossell and his aides in 889 pages of online group chats published July 13 by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism.

The crass messages showed a political elite intent on maintaining power on the bankrupt island where people still live under blue tarpaulins two years after hurricanes ripped roofs off their homes and killed over 3,000 people.

But his concessions failed to appease demonstrators on Monday, who called for him to immediately surrender the governorship in the latest scandal to hit Puerto Rico.

The island’s largest newspaper also called on the first-term governor to leave office and reported more than 500,000 protesters took to the streets of San Juan on Monday.

Then, demonstrators dressed in black T-shirts filled the city’s largest highway and marched in the pouring rain with local celebrities including Ricky Martin and Reggaeton star Daddy Yankee.

“In Puerto Rico, we don’t follow dictators. It’s time for you to go,” a drenched Martin, 47, the target of homophobic messages in Rossello’s chats, told cheering crowds.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, an opposition politician running for governor in 2020, said Rosselló had run out of time.

U.S. President Donald Trump also blasted the “terrible” 40-year-old governor, who is affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party and with whom Trump feuded in 2017 over the adequacy of the federal response to Hurricane Maria.

The protests have brought together Puerto Ricans from different political parties and none to vent anger at alleged corruption in the administration and its handling of hurricane recovery efforts.

Anti-Rossell demonstrations were also held in cities across the United States such as Los Angeles, New York and Boston which have large Puerto Rican communities.

(Reporting by Marco Bello; Writing by Rich McKay; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Mueller says charging Trump was never an option for Russia probe

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes a statement on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller said on Wednesday his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was never going to end with criminal charges against President Donald Trump and indicated it was up to Congress to decide if impeachment proceedings are justified.

In his first public comments since starting the investigation in May 2017, Mueller said Justice Department policy prevented him from bringing charges against a sitting president, telling reporters it was “not an option we would consider.”

But he also said his two-year investigation did not clear Trump of improper behavior and pointed out there were other ways to hold presidents accountable.

“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing,” Mueller said as he announced his resignation from the Justice Department.

Democrats in Congress are debating whether to try to move ahead with impeachment, an effort that is almost certain to fall short in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The White House and several top Republicans said it was time to move on to other matters, while several Democratic presidential candidates called for impeachment.

“What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral,” Senator Kamala Harris said on Twitter.

“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump – and we will do so,” said Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

A redacted version of Mueller’s report was published in April, concluding that Russia repeatedly interfered in the 2016 election and that Trump’s election campaign had multiple contacts with Russian officials, but did not establish a criminal conspiracy with Moscow to win the White House.

Mueller’s report also declined to make a judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice, although the report outlined 10 instances in which Trump tried to impede the investigation, including seeking to have Mueller fired.

“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

TRUMP DECLARES ‘CASE CLOSED’

Trump, who has repeatedly denounced Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and “hoax” meant to hobble his presidency, said the matter was settled.

“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report,” he said on Twitter. “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”

Mueller, who headed the FBI from 2001 to 2013, said he would not elaborate beyond what was contained in his 448-page report, signaling to Democrats that he was unlikely to provide them more ammunition for impeachment if he were to testify on Capitol Hill.

“Beyond what I’ve said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further,” he said.

He did not take questions after making his statement.

The House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Representative Doug Collins, said relitigating Mueller’s findings would only divide the country. “It is time to move on from the investigation and start focusing on real solutions for the American people,” he said.

Only one Republican so far, Representative Justin Amash, has said Trump has committed impeachable offenses. “The ball is in our court, Congress,” he said on Twitter.

Mueller’s investigation ensnared dozens of people, including several top Trump advisers and a series of Russian nationals and companies.

Among them are his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is serving 7 1/2 years in prison for financial crimes and lobbying violations, and his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who recently began a three-year sentence for campaign-finance violations and lying to Congress.

Since the report’s release, Democratic lawmakers have tried without success to get the unredacted report and underlying evidence.

Barr now is leading a review of the origins of the Russia investigation in what is the third known inquiry into the FBI’s handling of the matter. Trump harbors suspicions that the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama started the investigation in 2016 to undermine his presidency.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Bill Trott)

Tearful Theresa May resigns, paving way for Brexit confrontation with EU

British Prime Minister Theresa May reacts as she delivers a statement in London, Britain, May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Elizabeth Piper, William James and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – Fighting back tears, Theresa May said on Friday she would quit, setting up a contest that will install a new British prime minister who could pursue a cleaner break with the European Union.

May’s departure deepens the Brexit crisis as a new leader, who should be in place by the end of July, is likely to want a more decisive split, raising the chances of a confrontation with the EU and potentially a snap parliamentary election.

Her voice cracking with emotion, May, who endured crises and humiliation in her failed effort to find a compromise Brexit deal that parliament could ratify, said she would resign on Friday, June 7 with a leadership contest beginning the following week.

“I will shortly leave the job that has been the honor of my life to hold,” May said outside her Downing Street official residence with her husband, Philip, looking on. “The second female prime minister, but certainly not the last.

“I do so with no ill will but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love,” said the usually reserved May as she fought back tears.

May, once a reluctant supporter of EU membership who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit referendum, steps down with her central pledge – to lead the United Kingdom out of the bloc and heal its divisions – unfulfilled.

“It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit,” May said, adding that her successor would have to find a consensus to honor the 2016 referendum result.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said the new prime minister must hold an election to “let the people decide our country’s future”.

PM BORIS JOHNSON?

May bequeaths a deeply divided country and a political elite that is deadlocked over how, when or whether to leave the EU. The latest deadline for Britain’s departure is Oct. 31.

Most of the leading contenders to succeed May want a tougher divorce deal, although the EU has said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement it sealed with Britain in November.

Spain said it now seemed almost impossible to avoid a so-called hard Brexit, or clean break from the EU, and the bloc signaled there would be no change on the agreement despite European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker learning of May’s resignation “without personal joy”.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney underlined the bloc’s stance that there would be no better Brexit deal.

“This idea that a new prime minister will be a tougher negotiator and will put it up to the EU and get a much better deal for Britain? That’s not how the EU works,” Coveney told Ireland’s Newstalk radio station.

Sterling swung back and forth on May’s resignation, trading slightly higher on the day, and British government bond yields edged off near-two-year lows struck first thing on Friday. Boris Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in 2016, is the favorite to succeed May and he thanked her for her “stoical service”. Betting markets put a 40% implied probability on Johnson winning the top job.

Others tipped are Dominic Raab, a Brexit supporter and former Brexit secretary, with a 14% implied probability on his chances. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt each have a 7% probability, according to betting markets.

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart each have a 4% chance of the top job while Home Secretary Sajid Javid has a 3% chance.

For many Conservative lawmakers, speed is of the essence to install a new leader to try to break the Brexit impasse.

The governing party said it would move quickly to try to end the leadership contest before parliament breaks for a summer holiday, a so-called recess which usually falls in late July.

“The fight for the heart and soul of the Conservative Party officially starts now,” said Andrew Bridgen, a pro-Brexit lawmaker. “We need a new PM as soon as possible and who that is will decide the future of our democracy, our country and the Conservative Party.”

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Los Angeles bishop resigns over sex abuse as crisis spreads

FILE PHOTO: Protesters hold signs outside the venue of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) general assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a bishop in Los Angeles accused of sexually abusing a minor, the Vatican said on Wednesday, in the latest case of clergy misconduct to shake the U.S. Catholic Church.

A brief Vatican statement said Alexander Salazar, 69, an assistant bishop in Los Angeles, was stepping down. It also distributed a letter on the Salazar case written by the current Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez.

The U.S. Catholic Church is still reeling from a U.S. grand jury report that found that 301 priests in the state of Pennsylvania had sexually abused minors over a 70-year period.

There will be a major meeting at the Vatican in February on the global sex abuse crisis.

Gomez’s letter to the faithful said that in 2005, a year after Salazar became bishop, the archdiocese had become aware of an accusation that Salazar had engaged in “misconduct with a minor” when he was a priest in a parish in the 1990s.

Police investigated but the Los Angeles district attorney did not prosecute, Gomez’s letter said, adding that Salazar, a native of Costa Rica, “has consistently denied any wrongdoing”.

The archdiocese’s independent Clergy Misconduct Review Board found the allegation “credible” and informed the Vatican.

The archbishop’s letter did not explain why the process between the initial accusation and Wednesday’s resignation took 13 years.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Salazar’s name resurfaced after Gomez became archbishop in 2011, and ordered a review of past allegations of abuse.

The archdiocese’s statement disclosed that Gomez’s predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, sent the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which investigates abuse cases.

The CDF “permitted Bishop Salazar to remain in ministry subject to certain precautionary conditions, which he has respected”. The statement did not elaborate on what the conditions were or why he was allowed to return to ministry.

Benedict XVI was pope between 2005 and his resignation in 2013.

Pope Francis has summoned the heads of some 110 national Catholic bishops’ conferences and dozens of experts and leaders of religious orders to the Vatican on Feb. 21-24 for an extraordinary gathering dedicated to the sexual abuse crisis.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse are hoping that the meeting will finally come up with a clear policy to make bishops themselves accountable for the mishandling of abuse cases.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Netanyahu faces snap election calls after defense minister quits

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends an annual state memorial ceremony for Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, at his gravesite in Sde Boker, Israel November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced calls on Thursday from his coalition partners to hold an early election, a day after the defense minister’s resignation left the government with a razor-thin majority.

Avigdor Lieberman quit on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on cross-border violence with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

The loss of the five seats of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament, raising the prospect that a scheduled November 2019 election would be brought forward.

Lieberman’s resignation takes effect 48 hours after being handed in, which he did early on Thursday. Each coalition partner will then have the power to bring down the government.

To avert a crisis, Netanyahu has been holding talks with ministers in an effort to stabilize the government.

Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads the centrist Kulanu party, said he told Netanyahu in their meeting that the responsible step to take would be to establish a new and stable government.

“The best thing for Israel’s citizens and economy is to hold an election as soon as possible,” Kahlon said in a statement. His call was echoed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas faction.

Adding to the pressure, Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party, has demanded the defense brief by given to him.

Both Lieberman and Bennett, who compete with Netanyahu’s Likud for right-wing voters, have spoken in favor of harsh Israeli military action against Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.

Israel has fought three wars in Gaza since Hamas took over the enclave in 2007.

“I asked the prime minister yesterday to appoint me defense minister to fulfill one goal only – that Israel start winning again,” Bennett said at a conference near Tel Aviv.

Jewish Home said on Wednesday that without the defense brief, there would be no point in keeping the government together.

However Bennett did not repeat this in his remarks on Thursday nor did he render an explicit ultimatum to Netanyahu, with whom he is due to meet on Friday.

It was unclear whether Netanyahu would opt for an early election.

Netanyahu is under investigation for corruption, and speculation has been rife that he may bring the ballot forward in order to win a renewed mandate before Israel’s attorney-general decides whether to indict him.

A poll published on Wednesday by Israel’s Hadashot television news showed Likud falling by one seat from 30 to 29 after months of surveys that have shown it gaining power. Only 17 percent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu’s Gaza policy.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Editing by William Maclean)

Israeli defense minister quits over Gaza truce in blow to Netanyahu

Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman delivers a statement to the media following his party, Yisrael Beitenu, faction meting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday in protest at a Gaza ceasefire that he called a “capitulation to terror”, weakening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition government.

“Were I to stay in office, I would not be able to look southern residents in the eye,” Lieberman told reporters, referring to Israelis subjected to a surge in Palestinian rocket attacks before Tuesday’s truce took hold.

Lieberman said his resignation, which will go into effect 48 hours after he submits a formal letter to Netanyahu, also withdraws his far-right Israel Beitenu party from the coalition.

Netanyahu will take over the defense portfolio himself, his party said. The loss of Israel Beitenu’s five seats will leave him with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament, a year before Israel’s next election.

Political commentators had speculated that Netanyahu, who has high approval ratings despite being dogged by multiple corruption investigations, might bring forward the ballot.

They also saw in Lieberman’s decision to quit a bid to poach votes from Netanyahu and far-right cabinet rival Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, ahead of an election.

Netanyahu’s Likud played down the option of an early poll.

“There is no need to go to an election during what is a sensitive period for national security. This government can see out its days,” party spokesman Jonatan Urich said on Twitter.

A Palestinian gestures as he holds sweets during a rally celebrating the resignation of Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in Gaza City November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

A Palestinian gestures as he holds sweets during a rally celebrating the resignation of Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in Gaza City November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

CRACKS IN COALITION

The cracks in the coalition could soon widen, however.

In Jewish Home, which has eight lawmakers, there were calls for Bennett, now education minister, to succeed Lieberman as defense chief.

Bennett did not immediately comment. Were he to withdraw from the ruling coalition, a snap election would be inevitable. But as defense minister, he could be no less a thorn in Netanyahu’s side than Lieberman.

Lieberman and Bennett have spoken in favor of harsh Israeli military action against Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists, even as the government authorized a Qatari cash infusion to the impoverished enclave last week and limited itself to air strikes rather than a wider campaign during this week’s fighting.

Israel has fought three wars in Gaza since Hamas took over the enclave in 2007.

Violence persisted on lower scale on Wednesday, with Palestinians saying a Gaza fisherman was shot dead by Israeli forces. An Israeli military spokeswoman said the troops across the border identified a suspect approaching the Gaza fence and opened fire at him.

In a separate incident, the military said troops captured a Palestinian who tried to cut through the fence and threw grenades at them.

Netanyahu cast Israel’s handling of Gaza as prudence.

“Leadership also means standing up to criticism when you know things that are classified and which you cannot share with the public that you love,” he said in a speech. “Our enemies begged for a ceasefire, and they know well why.”

Hamas saw victory in the Lieberman’s departure. On Gaza City streets, Palestinian burned Lieberman’s photo and some motorists handed out candies to passersby in celebration.

“Lieberman’s resignation is a recognition of the defeat before the growing force of the Palestinian resistance,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. “It also showed a state of weakness that has overcome the Israelis.”

Born in the former Soviet Union, Lieberman established an electoral base among fellow Russian-speaking immigrants. He also counts among his supporters other Israeli Jews who share his suspicions of Israel’s Arab minority or oppose the religious authority and political clout of ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Peter Graff, Richard Balmforth)

Trump’s U.N. envoy Nikki Haley quits, denies 2020 ambitions

U.S. President Donald Trump talks with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in the Oval Office of the White House after it was reported the president had accepted the Haley's resignation. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, announced on Tuesday she is resigning, and immediately denied she was preparing to challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Sitting beside Trump in the Oval Office, Haley said her 18-month stint at the United Nations had been “an honor of a lifetime” and said she would stay on until the end of the year.

Haley, 46, is the latest in a long line of high-profile departures from the administration, such as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired in March, and Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, who left in August 2017.

Describing her time at the United Nations as “fantastic” and “incredible,” Trump said he had accepted Haley’s resignation and would name her successor within two or three weeks.

A former governor of South Carolina who is the daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley is a rising star in the Republican Party and is often mentioned as a possible candidate for the 2020 presidential elections.

But she said on Tuesday she would not be running and would campaign for Trump. “No, I am not running for 2020.” she said.

Echoing previous statements from Trump, Haley said the United States under his presidency is now respected around the world.

“Now the United States is respected. Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do. They know that if we say we’re going to do something, we follow it through,” she said.

Haley has been the face of Trump’s “America First” policy at the United Nations, steering the U.S. withdrawal from several U.N. programs and ardently defending his hard-line policies against Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.

“She has done an incredible job. She is a fantastic person, very importantly, but she also is somebody that gets it,” Trump said on Tuesday. She told Trump around six months ago that she was thinking of quitting by the end this year “to take a little time off,” he said.

“She’s done a fantastic job and we’ve done a fantastic job together. We’ve solved a lot of problems and we’re in the process of solving a lot of problems,” he said.

Haley discussed her resignation with Trump last week when she visited him at the White House, Axios news site reported.

Her U.N. counterparts described her as charming and yet very tough. She saw herself as a fighter.

“I don’t see (my role) as pushing an ‘America First’ policy, I see it as defending America because every day I feel like I put body armor on. I just don’t know who I’m fighting that day,” Haley told Reuters earlier this year.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland; Additional reportng by Doina Chiacu, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Can the pope’s accusers force him to resign?

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis speaks with the media onboard a plane during his flight back from a trip in Dublin, Ireland August 26, 2018. Gregorio Borgia/Pool/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Calls by a Roman Catholic archbishop and his conservative backers for Pope Francis to resign could make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to do so, Church experts say.

Canon (Church) Law says a pope can resign but the decision must be taken freely. In 2013, Francis’s predecessor, Benedict, became the first pontiff in six centuries to resign.

Benedict, then 85, abdicated because he said he no longer had the strength to run the Church. Unlike now, no-one had publicly demanded his resignation, which was a surprise even to top Vatican officials.

HOW DID THE VATICAN AND THE POPE GET TO THIS POINT?

In an 11-page statement published on Aug. 26, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, launched an unprecedented broadside by a Church insider against the pope and a long list of Vatican and U.S. Church officials.

He said that soon after the pontiff’s election in 2013, he told Francis that Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., had engaged in sexual misconduct.

He said the pope did nothing and even lifted sanctions that had been imposed on McCarrick by Benedict, the former pope.

Critics of Vigano say his statement has holes and contradictions. They say McCarrick disregarded any sanctions, appearing in public often, even alongside Benedict, in the years after Vigano says the former pope sanctioned McCarrick. Vigano stands by his accusations.

Vigano, who is in hiding and communicating exclusively through reporters for conservative media outlets who helped him prepare, edit and distribute the statement, says there is a “homosexual network” in the Vatican that promotes the advancement of gays in the Church.

His statement included no supporting documents.

In July, after U.S. Church officials said there was evidence that McCarrick, 88, had sexually abused a minor more than 50 years ago, Francis sacked him as cardinal and ordered him to live the rest of his life in seclusion, prayer and penitence. Francis’ defenders say he took strict action against McCarrick while Benedict had not.

Francis told reporters on his plane returning from Ireland that he would “not say one word” about Vigano’s accusations. “Read the document carefully and judge it for yourselves. It speaks for itself,” he said.

WHAT IS THE GENESIS OF THE CURRENT CONSERVATIVE ESCALATION?

Since his election in 2013, conservatives have sharply criticized Francis, saying he has left many faithful confused by pronouncements that the Church should be more welcoming to homosexuals and divorced Catholics and not be obsessed by “culture war” issues such as abortion.

Their attacks on the pope hit a new level with Vigano’s broadside. Much of the drama has been played out in newspapers and social media, part of what has become an often shrill proxy war between Francis’ defenders and Vigano’s allies, who back his call for the pope to step down.

WHAT DOES CANON LAW SAY ABOUT PAPAL RESIGNATIONS?

Canon 332, paragraph two, states:

“If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested but not that it be accepted by anyone.”

Canon lawyers say much hinges on the interpretation of the word “freely” and whether the demands being made by the pope’s fiercest critics has constituted enough of a climate of duress to put its validity into doubt.

WHAT DO CANON LAW EXPERTS SAY?

“The pope has the right to freely resign. That’s what the canon says. The doubt is whether the situation Francis is in now really allows for a free choice because there is a political faction in the Church trying to force it,” said Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of Duquesne University School of Law.

“I don’t see how (the pope can resign freely) when you have people campaigning for it,” said Cafardi, who is also a former member of the Board of Governors of the Canon Law Society of America.

Kurt Martens, professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., agreed.

“I think were are getting to the point of it becoming impossible because the pressure on him is so intense psychologically that it would be impossible to withstand and therefore it would be invalid,” Martens said.

A Rome-based canon lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his position in the Church, said he believed a resignation could be possible but that “it would be very complicated and hairy” and its validity hotly contested because some would see it as a result of duress.

Edward Peters, a conservative canon lawyer based in Detroit, has said on his blog that Francis should not be considered any different to other bishops who canon law says should resign for just or grave causes. The pope is also bishop of Rome.

But some experts also say two former popes (Benedict and Francis) would be just too much for Catholics to digest and would confuse the faithful.

Father Raymond de Souza, a widely read conservative commentator based in Canada, said it would be wrong to treat “the papal office as something worldly than can be relinquished under adverse circumstances”.

WHAT DOES CANON LAW SAY ABOUT PAPAL CONTESTERS?

Canon 1373 says one “who publicly either stirs up hostilities or hatred among subjects against (a pope) … is to be punished by an interdict or by other just penalties”.

Cafardi said: “I think they (the harshest papal critics) are violating it (canon 1373) or are very close to violating it because of the hate they are trying to stir up against Francis”.

CAN A POPE BE DEPOSED?

Not these days. He can die in office or resign of his own free will. There is no impeachment procedure for a pope.

But Church history is nothing if not colorful. At the start of the 15th century there were three men claiming to be the true pope, each backed by political powers in Europe and Church factions. The Council of Constance, which ran from 1414 to 1418, deposed two of them and the third abdicated.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)