Stockholm attack: Suspect had residence permit application rejected

The suspected Stockholm truck attacker had shown interest in extremist groups and had his permanent residency application rejected in June 2016, Swedish police said.

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“We know that he showed interest for extremist organisations like IS. He was applying for a residence permit that was rejected in 2016,” police chief Jonas Hysing told reporters.

Hysing added that two Swedes, one Briton and a Belgian were killed in the attack.

Stockholm district court judge Helga Hullman also told AFP that a second suspect has been formally placed under arrest in connection with the attack.

“I can confirm that a second person has been arrested,” Hullman said.

It comes as thousands of people gathered in central Stockholm for a vigil against terrorism.

Shocked by Friday’s attack that left four dead and 15 injured, Stockholmers mobilised on Facebook to organise a vigil at the Sergels Torg plaza near where the truck rammed into shoppers.

The main suspect, a 39-year-old Uzbek man, is in custody following the attack.

Sweden has been trying to get back on its feet after what authorities termed a terror attack, the motive for which was still unknown.

The method however was similar to previous attacks using vehicles in Nice, Berlin and London, all of them claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

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There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the Stockholm attack – the third in Europe in two weeks, coming on the heels of the car and knife assault outside London’s parliament and the Saint Petersburg metro bombing.

Police have not named the suspected driver of the truck, whom they arrested on Friday evening, but authorities said he was known to Sweden’s intelligence service for undisclosed reasons.

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The man is suspected of speeding a stolen beer truck several hundred metres down the bustling pedestrian street Drottninggatan in the heart of Stockholm.

The vehicle mowed down shoppers before slamming into the facade of the busy Ahlens department store.

“There is nothing to indicate that we’ve got the wrong man. On the contrary, the suspicions have strengthened,” Swedish police chief Dan Eliasson said Saturday.

He said police found a suspect device in the cab of the truck.

“A technical examination is ongoing, we can’t go into what it is right now… whether it’s a bomb or a flammable device.” 

Six people were taken into custody for interrogation on between Saturday and Sunday in several areas across Stockholm, police said, without adding further details. 

Become ‘even more open’

Ten people, including one child, are still in hospital. Four of them are in “serious condition”, health authorities told AFP. 

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In neighbouring Norway on Sunday, police said they had destroyed a suspect “bomb-like” device in the capital Oslo and made one arrest. 

Friday’s attack in Stockholm deeply shocked the usually tranquil Scandinavian nation, which prides itself on its openness and tolerance.

All day Saturday, crowds milled behind the security fences blocking off the scene of the attack, laying flowers on the ground or poking them into the fence.

Several police cars parked near the scene were also covered in flowers by Swedes, who widely praised the emergency crews’ speedy response to the attack.

“Maybe something good will come of this,” Inger Morstedt, 75, told AFP, expressing hope that her fellow Swedes would become “even more open and welcoming”.

“In some ways it’s unreal,” said 40-year-old Johan.

“I’ve come here to honour the victims and the society in which we live.”

Flags flew at half-mast at public buildings across Stockholm on Saturday.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who beefed up border controls on Friday after the attack, announced a national minute of silence to be held in honour of the victims on Monday at noon (1000 GMT).

“Today, all of Sweden is in mourning, but we’re going to get through this together,” he told reporters on Saturday after laying a bouquet outside the Ahlens department store.

King Carl XVI Gustaf, who returned to Stockholm on Saturday after cutting short a visit to Brazil, also addressed the nation outside the palace. 

“The consideration people are showing each other shows the strength of our society,” he said.

“There are so many of us who want to help, many more than those who want to hurt us.”

Friday’s attack was the second terror attack in Stockholm. 

In December 2010, a suicide bomber blew himself up, also on the Drottninggatan street, lightly injuring several passersby.

Read: Full statement by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven

US warships diverted from Australia to Korean Peninsula

US warships, including the supercarrier USS Carl Vinson and several guided-missile destroyers, have been diverted from a planned visit to Australia to Korean waters to safeguard American interests from a “reckless, irresponsible and destabilising” North Korea.

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The Third Fleet’s forward-deployed strike group was in Singapore and scheduled to sail to Australia for training and port calls.

The move comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un aggressively ramps up his ballistic missile test program.

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It also follows US President Donald Trump’s decision on Thursday to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles into a Syrian airfield to “send a message” to Syria President Bashar Al-Assad after chemical weapons were used on citizens in Idlib province.

“Third Fleet ships operate forward with a purpose: to safeguard US interests in the Western Pacific,” said Commander Dave Benham, spokesman for the US Pacific Command.

“The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible, and destabilising program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”

North Korea launched a ballistic missile on Wednesday into the East Sea just ahead of Mr Trump’s meeting in Florida with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Watch: Japan and South Korea condemn North Korean aggression

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North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs were one of the top issues on the agenda, with China and its economic influence considered key to taming the North Korean dictator.

US Secretary Rex Tillerson said America’s “policy of strategic patience has ended” with North Korea and “all options are on the table” while Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has condemned North Korea for its “total disregard” of global security.

The USS Carl Vinson-led strike group’s presence in the region will likely escalate tensions.

A supercarrier is the largest type of aircraft carrier.

“US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson strike group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific,” Commander Benham said.

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Stockholm suspect an IS sympathiser who ‘partied and drank’: media

Media quoted his colleagues as saying he was not “particularly religious” and that he “partied and drank”.

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Swedish dailies Expressen and Aftonbladet meanwhile named the man as Rakhmat Akilov and published his picture on Sunday.

Swedish police have only identified the suspect as a 39-year-old Uzbek national. He is accused of barrelling a stolen beer truck down a busy pedestrian street on Friday afternoon, mowing down shoppers before smashing into the facade of the Ahlens department store.

Four people were killed — two Swedes including an 11-year-old girl, a British man and a Belgian woman — and 15 others were injured.

The suspect was arrested Friday evening in Marsta, a suburb around 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Stockholm.

According to sources close to the investigation cited by various media, the suspect, bloodied from the crash and with shattered glass on his clothes, fled the scene and ran into the nearby T-centralen subway station, taking advantage of the panic to blend into the crowd.

At 2:55 pm (1255 GMT), video surveillance cameras caught him in the subway system.

He took an express train to Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, leaving a bloody trail all the way from central Stockholm, reports said.

He then picked up a bus from the airport to Marsta. His odd behaviour at a petrol station convenience store raised sales clerks’ attention, who alerted police.

Police arrested the man at the wheel of a white van, various media reported, and placed him under arrest on suspicion of a “terrorist crime (by committing) murder”.

Expressen reported Sunday he had allegedly confessed to the crime, telling investigators he was “pleased with what he had done” and had “accomplished what he set out to do”.

Gone underground

Investigators have meanwhile remained relatively tight-lipped about the suspect.

According to police, he applied for a permanent residency permit in 2014 but was rejected in 2016.

“In December 2016, he was informed by the Migration Agency that he had four weeks to leave the country. In February 2017, the case was handed over to the police to carry out the order, since the person had gone underground,” a senior police official, Jonas Hysing, said.

The suspect had been wanted by police since February 27 after not responding to a deportation order.

Police said Sunday he was known to have “shown sympathies for extremist organisations” such as the Islamic State (IS) group.

According to Aftonbladet, Akilov had posted IS propaganda films on his Facebook account and “liked” an image of people covered in blood taken seconds after the Boston marathon bombings on April 15, 2013.

Expressen said several of his Facebook contacts were linked to the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

On Sunday police said they had found components in a bag in the truck that could be used to make a “dangerous device”.

‘Partied and drank’

According to press reports, police at the weekend raided an apartment Akilov had been renting for a couple of months in Varberg, a working-class suburb of Stockholm.

A father-of-four, he lived alone in Sweden, while his family remained in Uzbekistan, and worked in  construction.

“He came (to Sweden) to work so he could send money to his family,” a female acquaintance, whose name was not disclosed, told Aftonbladet.

Another woman who lived at an address where Akilov was also registered told Aftonbladet that he didn’t come across as radicalised.

“He never talked about politics or religion,” she said. “He didn’t pray five times a day from what I know.”

Pierre Svensson, who said he employed the suspect through a contractor for several weeks on an asbestos removal project in Stockholm late last year, described him as a “reserved person”.

“He didn’t stick out. He did his job. You can’t say he was very sociable, we just told him what to do and he did it. He didn’t speak much Swedish,” he told AFP.

After losing his job at the beginning of the year, he had spent his days “smoking and sleeping”, according to a former colleague.

Ablett inspired as Suns shock Hawks in AFL

For the first time in AFL history Gold Coast have defeated Hawthorn, the Suns stunning the Hawks by 86 points at Metricon Stadium.

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Both teams entered round three without a win for the season but superstar onballer Gary Ablett inspired his side to a 21.13 (139) 7.11 (53) victory – their largest-ever winning margin.

Suns coach Rodney Eade called for effort from his charges this week and it was delivered in this record-breaking performance.

Gold Coast flew out of the blocks with Ablett delivering to the attacking third and Jack Martin who got the Suns’ first goal in 60 seconds.

Ablett, who was criticised for appearing disinterested in last week’s thumping by Greater Western Sydney, kicked his first goal for the game in the third minute and claimed 36 touches for the match.

The two-time Brownlow Medallist was tagged by Will Langford and received plenty of attention from the rest of the Hawks throughout.

“I thought his performance was quite good, not to his normal excellent standard. I didn’t think he kicked the ball exceptionally well,” Eade said.

“But I thought he got his hands on the ball and worked harder around the contest – that’s his bread and butter. I thought he led the way – his leadership was very good.”

The Suns had three goals in the first five minutes.

David Swallow played dual roles: one part Ablett’s bodyguard, one part midfielder.

The 2014 club champion offered fire and physicality at the contests too – something the Suns had been missing at the start of the 2017 season.

Brandon Matera made sure of the Suns’ win in the second half, setting a new club record against the Hawks with six goals.

Former Sun Jaeger O’Meara had a chance to score against his former club early in the second quarter, triggering the unfamiliar sounds of boos from the 14,728 fans.

O’Meara, who has the record of most consecutive games for the Suns (44), was kept quiet by Jarrod Harbrow who returned from an ankle injury to give the Suns a calm head in defence.

The Suns’ tall forwards struggled to make an impact on Hawthorn early on but hard running from Adam Saad out of defence and Aaron Hall in attack left the Hawks in the dust.

Co-captain Tom Lynch broke through in the third quarter kicking two goals and taking his overall tally as the club’s highest goal scorer to 195.

“I think they won centre bounces 22-6 or something along those lines and clearances by about 22,” Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson said.

“When you get smashed up around the ball like that it’s hard to get control of it. They ended up having nearly 500 disposals – it’s going to be pretty hard to win a game of footy.”

The last time Hawthorn had a 0-3 start to the season was 2005.

Top Spotify executive among four dead in Stockholm terror attack

The Foreign Office in London confirmed that a British man, 41-year-old Chris Bevington who was a top executive at Sweden-based music streaming company Spotify, was among the dead in a Swedish terror attack on Friday.

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Mr Bevington was a father who was described as “talented, compassionate and caring”. 

It is with shock and a heavy heart that I can confirm that Chris Bevington from our Spotify team lost his life in… 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/HXPkWZVWzT

— Daniel Ek (@eldsjal) April 9, 2017

The Belgian foreign ministry also confirmed that a Belgian woman had been killed.

The other two victims were Swedish, one of whom was an 11-year-old girl who was on her way home when the attack happened, her relatives said. 

The fourth victim was a Swedish woman, according to local media.

Nine people remain in hospital, four of them seriously injured, according to health authorities. 

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The attack occurred at 1pm on Friday when a stolen beer truck barrelled for several hundred metres down Drottninggatan, Stockholm’s biggest pedestrian street, before slamming into the front of the Ahlens department store.

Witnesses described scenes of panic and horror as authorities quickly sealed off the area.

The attacker fled the scene, with police arresting a suspect later Friday night.

Candles and flowers placed at the Sergels Torg to commemorate the victims of last Friday’s terror attack in Stockholm, Sweden, Sunday, April 9, 2017. AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Authorities have yet to name the man suspected of carrying out the attack, but police said Sunday that he was known to have “shown interest for extremist organisations” such as the Islamic State group.

Swedish media on Sunday named the suspect as Rakhmat Akilov, an Uzbek construction worker and father-of-four who went underground to avoid being deported from Sweden.

He had also been refused residency in Sweden, having been warned in December 2016 that he had a month to leave the country.

By February this year, his case was handed over to police, police chief Jonas Hysing told reporters in Stockholm on Sunday. 

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A second suspect, whose identity was not disclosed, was arrested on Sunday. That person can be detained until Wednesday, at which point prosecutors would have to ask a court for permission to extend their detention.

The Stockholm attack followed a string of similar assaults in Europe using vehicles.

The deadliest came in France on the Bastille Day national holiday in July 2016 when a man rammed a truck into a crowd in the Mediterranean resort of Nice, killing 86 people.

Last month, Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old convert to Islam known to British security services, drove a car at high speed into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge before launching a knife attack on a policeman guarding the parliament building.

Five people were killed in the attack, while Masood was shot dead by police.

In 2010, another section of Drottninggatan was the scene of Sweden’s only other terror attack, when a suicide bomber blew himself up, slightly injuring several others.

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Palm Sunday bombings kill at least 22 in Cairo and Alexandria

A bomb blast at a church north of Cairo killed at least 22 people and wounded dozens who had gathered for Palm Sunday mass, officials said.

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Some 71 people were wounded in the blast, which struck at a Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometres north of Cairo, according to a health ministry toll.

Hours later there was another explosion near a church in Alexandria, according to Egyptian state media.

State television reported that there were “injuries” caused by the Alexandria explosion, which took place near Saint Mark’s Church in the coastal city.

Egypt’s Coptic church said Pope Tawadros II had attended Palm Sunday mass there.

Images broadcast of the Tanta explosion showed bloodstains smearing the whitewashed walls of the Coptic Church next to shredded wooden benches.

Palm Sunday is one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, marking the triumphant entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem.

“The [Tanta] explosion took place in the front rows, near the altar, during the mass,” General Tarek Atiya, the deputy to Egypt’s interior minister in charge of relations with the media, told AFP.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either blast. 

Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt’s population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, have been targeted by several attacks in recent months.

Pope Francis is due to visit Cairo on April 28-29 to show solidarity with Egypt’s Christian community.

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Jihadists and Islamists accuse Copts of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.

In December, a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group killed 29 worshippers during Sunday mass in Cairo. 

The bombing of the church within a compound that also holds the seat of the Coptic papacy was the deadliest attack against the minority in recent memory.

A spate of jihadist-linked attacks in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish whose house was also burned, have led some Coptic families to flee their homes.

About 250 Christians took refuge in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya after IS released a video in February calling for attacks on the religious minority.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid called Sunday’s bombing “a failed attempt against our unity”.

“Terrorism hits Egypt again, this time on Palm Sunday,” he tweeted.

String of attacks

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also condemned Sunday’s apparent attack, stressing Egypt’s determination to “eliminate terrorism”.

The Cairo-based Al-Azhar, an influential Sunni Muslim authority, said Sunday’s bombing aimed to “destabilise security and… the unity of Egyptians”.

Egypt’s Copts have endured successive attacks since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.

More than 40 churches were attacked nationwide in the two weeks after the deadly dispersal by security forces of two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo on August 14, 2013, Human Rights Watch said.

Amnesty International later said more than 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches seriously damaged, adding that at least four people were killed.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as then army chief helped remove Morsi, has defended his security forces and accused jihadists of attacking Copts in order to divide the country.

In October 2011, almost 30 people – mostly Coptic Christians – were killed after the army charged at a protest outside the state television building in Cairo to denounce the torching of a church in southern Egypt.

In May that year, clashes between Muslims and Copts left 15 dead in the working-class Cairo neighbourhood of Imbaba where two churches were attacked.

A few months earlier, the unclaimed bombing of a Coptic church killed more than 20 people in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria on New Year’s Day.

Pope Francis will visit the site of the December church attack next to Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral – the seat of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II.

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Swedish attack suspect sympathised with IS

An Uzbek man suspected of ramming a truck into a crowd in Stockholm, killing four people, had expressed sympathy for Islamic State and was wanted for failing to comply with a deportation order, Swedish police say.

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Another 15 people were injured on Friday when a hijacked beer delivery truck barrelled down a busy shopping street before crashing into a department store and catching fire. The Uzbek was arrested several hours later.

“We know that the suspect had expressed sympathy for extremist organisations, among them IS,” Jonas Hysing, chief of national police operations, told a news conference on Sunday.

In Europe, vehicles have also been used as deadly weapons in attacks in Nice, Berlin and London over the past year and were claimed by Islamic State. There has been as yet no claim of responsibility for the Stockholm assault.

The Stockholm suspect, aged 39 and from the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, applied for permanent residence in Sweden in 2014. But his bid was rejected and he was wanted for disregarding an order for his deportation, Hysing said.

Police had been looking for him since the Nordic country’s Migration Agency in December gave him four weeks to leave the country. He had not been known as a militant threat by the security services before Friday’s attack.

Two of the dead were Swedes, one was a British citizen and the other from Belgium, Hysing said.

Judicial officials said a second person had been arrested in relation to the investigation into the attack. But police said they were ever more convinced that the Uzbek man was the driver of the commandeered truck and may have acted alone.

Another five people were being held for questioning after raids during the weekend and police said that they had conducted about 500 interviews as part of the inquiry.

Of the injured, 10 remained in hospital, two of them in intensive care.

In neighbouring Norway early on Sunday, police set off a controlled explosion of a “bomb-like device” in central Oslo and took a suspect into custody. Police across the Nordic region went on heightened alert after the Stockholm attack.

Stockholm was returning to normality on Sunday with police barricades taken down along the Drottninggatan street where the attack took place.

Hundreds of flower bouquets covered steps leading down to the square next to where the truck ploughed into the Ahlens department store, with more piled up under boarded-up windows.

A memorial service was planned in Sergelstorg, the central square next to Drottninggatan, later on Sunday.

Sweden has long taken pride in its tolerant liberal democracy and been among the world’s most welcoming nations to immigrants.

But some Swedes are having second thoughts after more than 160,000 people, many from Syria, applied for asylum in 2015 in a nation of just 10 million.

The Ahlens store cancelled a planned half-price sale of smoke-damaged goods on Sunday and apologised to customers after a storm of protest on social media that such a step would be disrespectful to the attack victims.

Motorcycling – Vinales wins in Argentina after Marquez crashes out

Italian Valentino Rossi celebrated becoming the first rider to make 350 grand prix starts across all categories by finishing second behind his team mate, 2.

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915 seconds behind, at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit.

Britain’s Cal Crutchlow had to save fuel towards the end but was third on a non-works LCR Honda.

Vinales, who won in Qatar last month, started sixth on the grid but was third by the end of the first lap. He passed Crutchlow for second on lap three and took the lead a lap later when Marquez fell at turn two.

Vinales has 50 points with Rossi second on 36.

“It was a difficult race because I started quite good but already Marc was pushing so hard,” said Vinales.

“So I was trying from the first lap to make my own pace, then I saw that he crashed and I was just thinking to bring all the points I can home because it was very important to achieve the maximum points today.”

Marquez, on pole in Argentina for the fourth year in a row, had a lead of more than two seconds over the opening laps before the bike went from under him and dumped him in the gravel.

The Spaniard is now eighth in the championship with 13 points.

“I was feeling amazing with the bike, I was riding really good and I don’t know why… sure I did some mistake but this kind of mistakes make me quite disappointed,” he said with some understatement.

His team mate Dani Pedrosa later crashed out at the same place while Ducati riders Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso fell after tangles with other riders.

Nine-times world champion Rossi made a strong start from seventh place and shadowed Crutchlow before passing the Briton six laps from the end and then pulling away.

“On the grid my mechanic said to me: ‘This is the 350, make a good race,” grinned the 38-year-old.

Argentina was the 888th grand prix since the championship started in 1949, and the Italian has ridden in 39.4 percent of them. Of Rossi’s total, 289 starts have been in the top category.

(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Clare Fallon)

‘Veep’ and the art of nailing Washington politics, Trump or not

Sounds familiar?

Satirizing Washington politics is getting harder for the award-winning TV comedy but the new season, starting April 16, has an uncanny knack for nailing current U.

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S. politics – and it does not even have a Trump-like figure.

Executive producer David Mandel says writing on the sixth season of “Veep” started in June 2016, well before Democrat Hillary Clinton lost her bid in November to become the first woman in the White House.

Any comparison to Clinton’s stunning change in circumstances is an “accidental coincidence,” he says.

“The overall plan to have (“Veep” character) Selina Meyer lose the tied election and have her become a former president who is desperately trying to remake her reputation in the world all goes back two years. It has nothing to do with Hillary losing,” said Mandel.

Nevertheless said Mandel “it’s getting sort of frightening” how closely the series about a political system where idealism is trumped by compromise tends to echo real Washington politics.

“Sometimes when we sit around to come up with a storyline, we think ‘What’s the stupidest thing a president could do? What’s the worst thing a president’s press secretary could say?’ and right now some of those things seem to be happening on a daily basis,” said Mandel.

Presidential memoirs, corruption in the former Soviet state of Georgia, sperm donation, the U.S. debt ceiling, payments for speeches and cheating spouses are just some of the topics this season as the vainglorious Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) tries to worm her way back into public life.

The arrival of Republican businessman Donald Trump in the actual White House has not changed the underlying premise of the series, which launched in 2012 before President Barack Obama won his second term.

“We’re not changing the show and trying to figure out how to do Trump. We’re doing a show about power in Washington D.C., the people that crave it and how frighteningly sometimes stupid and incompetent they can be. Right now that is lining up very well,” said Mandel.

When it came to losing power, “Veep” had plenty of advice. Writers spoke with Republican Mitt Romney, who lost out in two presidential elections, and to a former aide of President George H.W. Bush, who was defeated in 1992 by Bill Clinton after one term.

Authenticity is key to the success of “Veep,” which has won two best comedy series Emmy awards and five Emmys for Louis- Dreyfus, whose character started out as a vice-president who the president never calls.

The show’s characters never reveal their party affiliations, so despite the barbed jokes, it has a thriving audience in Washington D.C., said Mandel.

“Whenever we meet people from whichever party, they think ‘Veep’ is about the other guys.”

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Trump aides differ over Assad’s future

Top aides to President Donald Trump appear at odds over where US policy on Syria is headed after last week’s retaliatory missile strike, leaving open questions about whether removing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad from power is now one of Trump’s goals.

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After the US launched missiles on a Syrian air base where a deadly poison gas attack on Syrian civilians was allegedly launched from, Trump administration officials said they would take further action if necessary.

Trump’s United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, says the US has “multiple priorities” in Syria and that stability is impossible with Assad as president.

“In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government,” Haley told NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

“And we have to make sure that we’re pushing that process. The political solution has to come together for the good of the people of Syria.

Her comments appeared at odds with those of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the US missile strike was aimed solely at deterring the use of chemical weapons by Assad.

“There is no change to our military posture” in Syria, Tillerson told the ABC’s ‘This Week’ program.

Tillerson said the US priority in Syria was defeating Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS. Once ISIS is defeated, the United States could turn its attention to trying to help bring about a “political process” that could bring about stability in Syria, he said.

“It is through that political process that we believe the Syrian people will … be able to decide the fate of Bashar al-Assad,” Tillerson said.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said any difference in nuance was inadvertent and unintentional, and declined to comment further.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said defeating Islamic State was a higher priority than persuading Assad to step down. The Republican criticised calls by his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for the establishment of a no-fly zone and “safe zones” to protect noncombatants.

“What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria,” Trump told Reuters in an interview last October.

On Sunday Tillerson blamed Russia for enabling the poison gas attack by failing to follow through on a 2013 agreement to secure and destroy chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.

“The failure related to the recent strike and the recent terrible chemical weapons attack in large measure is a failure on Russia’s part to achieve its commitment to the international community,” he added.

Russia swiftly condemned last week’s attack. On Sunday, a joint command centre comprised of Russian, Iranian and militia forces supporting Assad said it would respond to any new aggression and increase its support for its ally.