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Trump Demands Release of US Pastor Imprisoned in Turkey

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U.S. President Donald Trump is calling on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release an American pastor who has been in prison for two years awaiting trial on terrorism charges.

A Turkish court Wednesday ordered Andrew Brunson to remain in jail until his next hearing on October 12. Brunson was arrested in 2016 and charged with supporting followers of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been blamed by Ankara for the failed 2016 coup against President Erdogan. Brunson is also accused of assisting the outlawed Kurdish insurgent group PKK.

Trump called Brunson’s continued detention “a total disgrace” in a post on Twitter hours after the court hearing. “He has been held hostage far too long,” the president tweeted. “@RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”

Trump reportedly raised the pastor’s case in a telephone call Monday with his Turkish counterpart.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Philip Kosnett, U.S. charge d’affaires in Turkey, expressed disappointment with the decision.

“I’ve read the indictment; I’ve attended three hearings. I don’t believe that there is any indication that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any sort of criminal or terrorist activity,” Kosnett said. “Our government remains deeply concerned about his status, as well as the status of other American citizens and local Turkish employees of the U.S. diplomatic mission who have been detained under the state of emergency rules.”

Kosnett, speaking before the court decision, had warned of the damaging effect of the case on U.S.-Turkish relations.

In Washington, a State Department official said the United States has been closely engaged with the Turkish government on Brunson’s case and repeated calls for his release.

“We have seen no credible evidence that Mr. Brunson is guilty of these crimes. The case against him is built on anonymous accusations and speculation,” the official told VOA in a statement. “We strongly believe that he is innocent, and we call on the Turkish government to resolve his case in a timely, transparent, and fair manner.”

Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who is chairman of the Helsinki Commission, an independent U.S. government agency that monitors democracy and human rights in Europe, said, “The cruelty of today’s decision is astonishing.

“By extending Pastor Brunson’s indefinite detention and setting his next trial date for mid-October, the Turkish government has declared its intention to keep this innocent man in jail past the two-year anniversary of his arrest without conviction or any credible evidence against him. There is no room in NATO for hostage-taking. Pastor Brunson should be freed immediately,” Wicker added.

The 50-year-old Brunson has lived in Turkey for more than two decades. The North Carolina native worked as a pastor serving a small Protestant congregation in the western Turkish City of Izmir, close to the town of Aliaga, where he is now on trial. Brunson has spent much of his incarceration in solitary confinement. Brunson describes the charges against him as “shameful and disgusting.”

Last month, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen also pressed for Brunson’s release in a meeting with Erdogan in Ankara.

The U.S. Congress is threatening to introduce sanctions on Turkey if the pastor is not released.

Several members of Congress have accused Turkey of hostage taking by seeking to use Brunson as diplomatic leverage. Adding to Congress’anger, three local employees of U.S. diplomatic missions in Turkey are also being held on terrorism charges. Ankara strongly denies allegations of hostage taking, maintaining that the cases are a matter for the courts.

Observers warn the continued detention of Brunson now increases the likelihood of Washington imposing measures against Ankara.

“It’s (the Brunson case) very important because it’s already an obstacle and sticking point between the countries, having prompted the discussion about sanctions against Turkey,” political columnist Semih Idiz of Al-Monitor said. “Senators are coming to Turkey and Trump referring to Brunson as a hostage. Tensions will increase, calls for sanctions against Turkey will increase, and the downward spiral in relations will continue (if the trial continues).”

The blocking of the U.S. sale to Turkey of a new F-35 fighter is a move that has been threatened by Congress.

Turkish financial markets fell heavily on the news of Brunson’s ongoing detention. The falls reversed earlier gains stoked by the expectation of the pastor’s release and the hope of improved U.S.-Turkish relations.

Erdogan and his advisers have linked the Brunson case to calls to extradite Gulen in connection with the 2016 coup attempt. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Sunday U.S. authorities were cooperating in investigating Gulen and his followers. Observers, however, say the detention of Brunson suggests Ankara could be looking for more concessions from Washington.

Erdogan could release Brunson under the presidential power to free jailed foreign citizens if it is deemed to be in the country’s national interest.

The ongoing jailing of Brunson comes as analysts point out the two countries were making tentative progress on a number of disputes. In the past few months, there have been intense diplomatic efforts to resolve differences over Syria and Ankara’s controversial purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system. Observers warn if Congress carries out its threat to sanction Turkey over Brunson’s jailing, it will likely add to broader diplomatic tensions.

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Legendary singer Aretha Franklin dies at age 76

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Legendary singer Aretha Franklin has died.

The 76-year-old Queen of Soul was said to be “surrounded” by her closest friends and family in recent days, after battling extensive health problems in recent years.

The legendary singer was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and delivered her most recent performance at the Elton John AIDS Foundation party in New York last November.

This is a Breaking News Story.

Timeline:
1954 – Sings her first solo at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

1956 – Along with her two sisters, performs backup on her father’s gospel recording for Gotham Records.

1960 – Leaves Detroit for New York, signs with Columbia Records and releases first album, “The Great Aretha Franklin.”

1967 – Leaves Columbia Records after an unsuccessful attempt at developing a jazz style; signs with Atlantic Records; wins Grammy Award Best R&B Recording for “Respect.”

1967-1974 – Wins a total of ten Grammy Awards.

April 9, 1968 – Sings “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 20, 1977 – Performs “God Bless America” at the inauguration gala of President Jimmy Carter.

1980 – Appears in the movie “The Blues Brothers” and performs the song “Think”; leaves Atlantic Records for Arista Records.

1981 – Wins Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Hold On I’m Comin’.”

1985 – Wins Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Freeway Of Love.”

January 3, 1987 – Is the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1987 – Wins two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Aretha” and Best R&B Performance by a Duo, with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).”

1988 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance, Female for “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.”

1991 – Receives the Grammy Legend Award.

January 20, 1993 – Performs “I Dreamed a Dream” at the inauguration ball of President Bill Clinton.

1994 – Receives the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the youngest recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor at that time.

1997 – Performs an aria from Puccini’s La Boheme at the wedding of Vice-President Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna.

February 6, 1998 – Reprises her roll of Mrs. Murphy from “The Blues Brothers” in the sequel “The Blues Brothers 2000.”

February 25, 1998 – Substitutes for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti at the Grammy Awards performing “Nessun Dorma” by Puccini, unrehearsed.

September 1, 1999 – Publishes an autobiography “Aretha: From These Roots,” where she discusses her private and personal life for the first time.

September 22, 1999 – Is named a winner of the National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment for the Arts.

2003 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “Wonderful.”

March 2004 – Is hospitalized and released for allergic reaction to antibiotics.

2004 – Starts her own record label, Aretha’s Records.

2005 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “A House Is Not A Home.”

November 5, 2005 – Is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

2006 – After Franklin points out that no Motown talent was appearing in the Detroit Super Bowl halftime show, the NFL asks her to sing the national anthem along with Aaron Neville prior to the game.

2007 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance for “Never Gonna Break My Faith,” shared with Mary J. Blige.

February 10, 2008 – Is Grammy’s 2008 MusiCares Person of the Year.

February 14, 2008 – Receives the NAACP Vanguard Award at the annual Image Awards ceremony.

January 20, 2009 – Performs “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

February 2010 – A Snickers commercial starring Franklin and Liza Minnelli airs for the first time.

July 27, 2010 – Appears on stage with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on piano, in Philadelphia, to raise money for charity. Rice is a classical pianist. They perform individually and together, classical, pop and patriotic selections.

August 1, 2010 – Falls in her home, breaking two ribs. The incident forces her to cancel concert appearances for August.

February 25, 2011 – During an interview with Wendy Williams, Franklin reveals a loss of 85 lbs. The ailment that resulted in surgery in December remains undisclosed and a topic of conversation she dismisses with the comment, “I’ve left that behind, I’m feeling wonderful.”

May 3, 2011 – Releases new album, “Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love.”

October 8, 2014  Achieves a milestone in music history by becoming the first female to earn her 100th hit on Billboard’s Hot R&B song chart with “Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version).”

October 21, 2014 – Releases a new album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.”

March 5, 2015 – Performs live on the Motown themed episode of American Idol in Detroit.

September 26, 2015 – Franklin sings “Amazing Grace” at the Festival of Families, one of the events sponsored by the Vatican for Pope Francis‘ visit to Philadelphia.

February 7, 2017 – Franklin announces she will retire from performing in concert after the release of one more album. “I am retiring this year, she told a local television station in Detroit. “I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert.”

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Car crashes into security barriers outside Houses Of Parliament

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 Armed police surround driver after car smashes into Parliament security barriers

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Kremlin “pleased” with Helsinki summit, US and Western intelligence assesses

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CNN Reports:

Russian officials were “pleased” with the Helsinki summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, US and Western intelligence agencies have found, according to two intelligence sources with knowledge of the assessments.

The assessments, based on a broad range of intelligence, indicate that the Kremlin believes the July 16 summit delivered a better outcome than it had expected, but that Moscow is perplexed that Trump is not delivering more Russia-friendly policies in its aftermath.

The intelligence sources say the Russians were particularly satisfied with the press conference the two leaders gave in Helsinki after Trump and Putin met for about two hours without staff and accompanied only by translators. In the 45-minute press conference, Trump discredited US intelligence and American policies more broadly, saying “the United States has been foolish” about ties with Russia, a country that has engaged in ongoing attacks on US democracy.

A spokesperson for the Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to request for comment.

The administration’s decision last week to impose sanctions on Russia for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter left Russian officials puzzled that the President is not delivering more favorable policies.

Trump has repeatedly called for warmer relations with Moscow, but the Kremlin is neglecting to factor in the considerable role that Congress and others play in US policy-making, a Western intelligence official said.

Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov’s comments last week reflected the deflated Russian hopes for improved ties with Washington or at least less punitive US policies.

“President Putin said in Helsinki that Russia still has hopes for the creation of a constructive relationship with Washington…We are sorry that often we are not met with cooperation on this account,” Peskov said Aug. 9 in a regular press call with reporters.

Peskov’s comments contrasted sharply with the evaluation Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered immediately after the summit, when he said that the talks had been “better than super.”

Trump’s performance in Helsinki sparked unusually public criticism, even from within his own party.

The administration’s decision to impose the sanctions followed a July 26 letter from GOP Congressman Ed Royce, the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging the White House to comply with a law requiring the US to levy sanctions against countries that violate the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act.

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