Taxpayers forked out more than $7000 on alcohol for guests at a glitzy party in Washington celebrating US President Donald Trump’s inauguration. According to official documents, the total bill topped $80,000 ($US58,247). New Zealand spent $750 on customised napkins for the Inauguration Gala on 17 January in Washington. Among the costs were $690 ($US478) on VIP pins, $750 ($US520) on customised napkins and $1780 ($US1235) to hire foliage. More than 320 people attended the four-hour gala on 17 January, including actors, business people and government figures, hosted by New Zealand ambassador Tim Groser. Alcohol cost less than 10 percent of the total budget at slightly more than $7000 ($US4890). The food bill topped $8240 ($US5720) and about $1800 ($US1250) was spent on valet parking. The largest cost by far was $23,670 ($US16,445) to hire furniture, followed by $8520 ($US5917) for the marquee. The total bill was covered by the New Zealand Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s public diplomacy fund. Funding came from within MFAT’s baseline budget and met standard approval criteria, the ministry said. “The event was considered as a constituency building activity to position New Zealand’s interests effectively with the new US administration and Congress.” The embassy noted it had received “positive feedback” from guests. It also touted the “key US influencers” in attendance, including Mr Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and New Zealand-born assistant Chris Liddell. More than 320 people attended the gala in Washington, hosted by NZ ambassador Tim Groser.
US people in Thailand are treated much better by the Thai government than Thai people are treated by the US Embassy. I have never had a problem with getting a visa to visit or work in Thailand, but my Thai friends tell me the same isn’t true of them getting visas for the US. The guidance given on the Internet to apply for a US visa is not only unhelpful, but is outright misleading as it gives the impression that, to receive a visa, all a person needs is a current passport, a government form, some photos and money. If you read the instructions carefully, you see that unlike the US legal system, there is NO appeal if you are refused a visa and they keep your money. There seems to be a culture within the US Embassy, especially those who deal with visa interviews, that Thai people are dishonest and only trying to get tourist or business visas so they can stay in the US illegally and not return to Thailand. I’ve been told the interviewers are arrogant and unfriendly, and often refuse to give any reason if a visa isn’t given.
The ShareAmerica blog post touting Mar-a-Lago has been taken down from the State Department-run website. “The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders,” a short statement on the original page now reads. “We regret any misperception and have removed the post.” As spotted Monday by journalist Amy Westervelt, the Department-run news site ShareAmerica ran a story earlier this month that read an awful lot like a press release for the Trump-owned club. A snippet, which ran under the subhead “A dream deferred.” The post was also reblogged on the website of the U.S. embassy in the United Kingdom and shared on the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Albania. The fact that government-funded websites are promoting the president’s for-profit venture drew an immediate complaint from Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics czar under Obama and a frequent critic of the current president, as well as Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat. ShareAmerica is run by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, and describes itself as a “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.” A request for comment from the bureau concerning the Mar-a-Lago story and the decision to publish it was not immediately returned.
The fake twitter account of the Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN Vladimir Safronkov was suspended at the request of the Russian Mission, according to the representative. “We pointed out the account is fake and took measures. The account was closed,” the representative said. @SafronkovRu was set up on Twitter alleging to belong to the Deputy Ambassador, but was denounced by the Russian mission as a fake. Twitter said in a report that it suspended more than 630,000 user accounts from August 1, 2015 through December 31, 2016. The tech giant also has a longstanding policy of prohibiting the promotion of terrorism and violent extremism.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has appointed his son, Prince Khaled bin Salman, as the country’s ambassador to the US, in a move said to point to strengthening ties to President Donald Trump. Prince Khaled is an Air Force pilot who has taken part in operations in Yemen and against ISIS, AP reports. The prince, who studied military aviation in the US and briefly attended both Harvard University and Georgetown, has been working as an adviser at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington since last year. Khaled’s position will allow Trump a direct line to the Saudi monarchy, further signalling warmer relations between the two powers after a cooling following the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with regional rival Iran.
Algerian Foreign Ministry summoned Morocco’s ambassador here on Sunday in protest of Morocco’s accusations that Algeria expelled Syrian refugees into Morocco. “Following serious accusations by Moroccan authorities that blame Algeria for forcing Syrian refugees to illegally enter Moroccan territories from the two countries’ shared border, Algeria has expressed to the Ambassador of Morocco its categorical rejection for these false allegations,” a ministry statement said. Earlier on Sunday, Moroccan media reported that 55 Syrian refugees from Algeria were left helpless near the country’s borders with Algeria, noting that Moroccan authorities prevented them from entering the country and accused its western neighbor of forcing them into Morocco.
North Korea has detained another US citizen, bringing to 3 the number of Americans held in the country amid increasing tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang Sunday confirmed the detainment of the US citizen but did not elaborate on the matter. However, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, citing unnamed sources, reported on the same day that a Korean-American man was arrested Friday at Pyongyang’s international airport. According to the agency, the man in his fifties identified only by his surname Kim was trying to leave the country when North Korean police arrested him. Kim has been involved in aid and relief programs to North Korea and formerly worked as professor at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China which has a sister university in Pyongyang. North Korea has at least two other Americans in its prisons. Last year in January, Otto Warmbier, who was 21 at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in prison after he confessed to trying to steal a propaganda banner.