News in brief

Egypt sentences ex-Prez to 3 yrs in jail CAIRO, December 30 (Reuters): A Cairo criminal court sentenced former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and 19 others to three years in prison on Saturday, and fined him 2 million Egyptian pounds ($112,700) on charges of insulting the judiciary. Others tried by the court in the same case including leading Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and lawmaker and television presenter Tawfik Okasha were instead given fines ranging from 30,000 to 1 million Egyptian pounds. The verdicts can still be appealed. Mursi, democratically elected after Egypt’s 2011 revolution, was overthrown in mid-2013 by then-general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, now the president, following mass protests against his rule. He was immediately arrested and is now serving a 20-year sentence after being convicted of inciting the killing of protesters during demonstrations in 2012 and a 25-year sentence for spying for Qatar.  

China jails 36 for gang crimes BEIJING, december 30 (Reuters): A court in southern China has sentenced 36 people to prison terms of up to 25 years for gang crimes including homicide, assault and setting up illegal casinos, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday. Hainan gang leader Huang Tuwang was sentenced to 25 years for gang activity dating back to 2005, while other members were sentenced to terms between 12 months and 23 years for a range of crimes, Xinhua said. Chinese courts have sentenced several large mafia-style criminal gangs this year, often for offences involving gambling which is illegal in China. Huang Tuwang oversaw a range of illegal businesses including massage parlors, unlicensed lending outfits and casinos, forming “unlawful control” over certain regions and industries, said the report. The gang, which went by the name “Moon Help”, was made up of more than 40 members and frequently recruited students and school drop outs, it said. Last month 27 gang members were jailed for up to 25 years for assault, robbery and extortion in northwest Shaanxi province. In January a court in Anhui province sentenced 67 people in a similar case for offences including gambling and extortion.  

US military to accept transgender recruits WASHINGTON, December 30 (Reuters): Transgender people will be allowed for the first time to enlist in the U.S. military starting on Monday as ordered by federal courts, the Pentagon said on Friday, after President Donald Trump’s administration decided not to appeal rulings that blocked his transgender ban. Two federal appeals courts, one in Washington and one in Virginia, last week rejected the administration’s request to put on hold orders by lower court judges requiring the military to begin accepting transgender recruits on Jan. 1. A Justice Department official said the administration will not challenge those rulings. “The Department of Defense has announced that it will be releasing an independent study of these issues in the coming weeks. So rather than litigate this interim appeal before that occurs, the administration has decided to wait for DOD’s study and will continue to defend the president’s lawful authority in District Court in the meantime,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. In September, the Pentagon said it had created a panel of senior officials to study how to implement a directive by Trump to prohibit transgender individuals from serving.  

Morocco, Sierra Leone to cement ties Rabat, December 30 (IANS/MAP): Morocco and Sierra Leone have expressed strong willingness to strengthen bilateral cooperation.The statement was made on Friday during talks between Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and a high-level delegation from Sierra Leone led by Samura Kamara, envoy of Sierra Leone President, and the country’s Finance Minister Kaifala Marah. The talks focused on ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation, notably in the economic field. “We are at a point where we need to broaden the scope of cooperation between our two countries at the national, regional and international levels to strengthen our diplomatic relations and especially to develop investments,” Marah said. He said the two countries share the same goal of raising the level of bilateral ties, underlining the promising opportunities, especially in the areas of agriculture and trade.  

Russian SC approves ban against opposition leader MOSCOW, December 30 (Reuters): Russia’s Supreme Court on Saturday dismissed an appeal by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny against a decision by the country’s central election commission to bar him from taking part in next year’s presidential election. The commission this week barred Navalny from taking part in the March 18 vote because of a suspended prison sentence he says was trumped up.  

US weighs withholding aid to Pak Washington, December 30 (IANS): The Trump administration may withhold $225 million in government aid to Pakistan over frustration with the country’s handling of terror groups within its borders. Administration officials met this month to decide whether to cancel the aid, officials told The New York Times in a report published on Friday. The aid package was already delayed in August. A final decision is expected to come in the next few weeks, officials said. They did not detail what conditions Pakistan would have to meet to receive the aid. US officials have long expressed frustration with Pakistan, accusing the government of being slow to stamp out terrorist networks.  

White House - Liberia transfer of power a ‘major milestone’ WASHINGTON, December 30 (Reuters): The White House on Friday congratulated Liberia on its recent presidential run-off election, calling the nation’s first democratic transition in more than 70 years “a major milestone.” “This is Liberia’s first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected head of state to another in decades, and represents a major milestone for Liberia’s democracy,” the White House said in a statement, referring to President-elect George Weah’s victory.