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Trump to nominate Nielsen as Homeland Security secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump was expected to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen, who as the top aide to his White House chief of staff has sought to instil order in Trump s team, to lead the U.S . Department of Homeland Security, a White House official said on Wednesday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Nielsen would take the reins at a sprawling department with more than 240,000 employees that is responsible for U.S . border and airport security, immigration policy, disaster response, refugee admissions and other matters.

Nielsen, 45, is a cybersecurity expert with a considerable resume in homeland security that includes work at the department s Transportation Security Administration and on Republican former President George W .

Bush s White House Homeland Security Council.

Nielsen was retired Marine Corps General John Kelly s chief of staff when he was secretary of Homeland Security during the opening months of Trump s presidency . Kelly brought her to the White House as his deputy when Trump named him chief of staff in July to replace Reince Priebus after only six months on the job.

The official announcement of her nomination could come as early as later on Wednesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity . The nomination requires Senate confirmation.

Nielsen s departure from the White House would mark the latest upheaval in Trump s White House team . She was responsible for carrying out some of Kelly s orders on who gets access to the president . As a result, she has irritated some White House officials who now have limited contact with Trump.

Kelly has sought to bring more order to the chaotic West Wing since replacing Priebus . Trump has welcomed the changes to some extent, although he has privately confided to friends that the limitations on access to the Oval Office sometimes go too far.

Putting Nielsen into the Homeland Security post will allow Trump and Kelly to keep a close eye on the department, but getting her out of the White House could permit some relaxing of Kelly s strictness.

Cyber security is one of the primary issues under the Homeland Security Department s sprawling portfolio . Nielsen previously worked at a cyber think tank at George Washington University, blocks from the White House, and is considered well-versed in some of the more technical missions at the department, such as sharing cyber threat information with the private sector.

The department was created after the Sept .

11, 2001, attacks on the United States exposed cracks in the country s homeland security apparatus.

The appointment comes at a busy time for the department, with one of its agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, overseeing disaster relief in hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida as well as wildfire-ravaged areas of California . The department also is responsible for U.S . border security.

The department is a major player in implementing Trump s aggressive stance toward deporting illegal immigrants, as well as vetting the lower number of refugees Trump has decided to allow into the United States.

It seems like a low-drama pick .

It s a little concerning that she seems to have little background in immigration security and policy, but those individual agencies are in good hands already, and there is a strong core of career managers, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favours more limits on immigration.

Politico first reported the appointment.

Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati, Dustin Volz and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by James Dalgleish

Fatah, Hamas to discuss security in Gaza under unity deal

GAZA/RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Negotiators from rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Islamist group Hamas will discuss security in the Gaza Strip at unity talks in Cairo on Tuesday, including a proposal that would see Fatah security personnel deployed to Hamas-dominated territory.

The plan for 3,000 Fatah security officers to join a Gaza police force over the course of a year, part of a unity deal mediated by Egypt in 2011, would restore much of the influence of Fatah leader President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza and further loosen Hamas grip.

The deal was never implemented.

The Western-backed mainstream Fatah party lost control of the enclave to Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the West and Israel, in fighting in 2007 .

The loss damaged Abbas credibility in the eyes of the West and Israel, after years of being their main Palestinian diplomatic counterpart.

But under Egypt s mediation, major steps have been made towards narrowing rifts since Hamas handed administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government last month.

The move was a major reversal for Hamas and was partially prompted by the group s fears of potential financial and political isolation after its main donor Qatar suffered a major diplomatic crisis with key allies.

The sides will discuss the security issue, especially in Gaza, in the way that serves the home front, enforces the rule of law in a professional and national way and is not factional, said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

The deal would see Hamas, which has the most powerful armed Palestinian faction with an estimated 25,000 well-equipped fighters who have fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

The issue of arms of resistance is not up for discussion, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters .

Israel s enmity with Hamas means greater unity with Fatah is unlikely to help any future efforts for a peace deal with Israel.

But both sides hope that the deal s proposed deployment of security personnel from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to Gaza s borders will encourage Egypt and Israel to ease their tight restrictions at border crossings, a badly needed step to help Gaza revive its economy and improve the living standards of its two million residents.

Officials said that apart from the implementation of the 2011 agreement and security, the Cairo talks would also cover issues such as setting a date for presidential and legislative elections and reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is in charge of long-stalled peace efforts with Israel.

What happened in the past days is something like a declaration of principles while the two sides have postponed final status issues to the talks in Cairo, said Gaza political analyst Akram Attallah.

Abbas has pledged there would be one authority, one law, one administration, one weapon in the Gaza Strip, a statement seeming to challenge Hamas continued security dominance.

But Tayseer Nasrallah, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Reuters: There are difficult challenges and it will take time to overcome them.

Outstanding issues include the fate of 40,000 to 50,000 employees hired by Hamas over the past 10 years and its demand Abbas lift economic sanctions he imposed in recent months to try to pressure the group to compromise.

Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky

Rape trial of Indian ‘godman’ triggers security lockdown

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The trial of a self-styled Indian “godman” accused of rape has triggered a security lockdown, with police closing schools and converting a cricket stadium into a jail in case his followers erupt into violence if he is found guilty.

Thousands of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s supporters have begun assembling close to the court in the state of Punjab, where he is on trial for raping two women in cases that date back to 2002 . A verdict is expected on Friday.

“The verdict could lead to potential large-scale unrest and violence,” Ajay Kumar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Law and Order, in Panchkula city, told Reuters.

Singh, a burly, bearded man who has scripted and starred in his own films, commands a near-devotional following – he claims in the millions – in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, where his Dera Sacha Sauda group is based.

He denies all the charges against him, and has called on his followers to remain peaceful.

“We will block mobile internet services if needed as concerns spread over the stockpiling of weapons including lathis (wooden sticks) at the different prayer centers,” Kumar said.

Police patrol next to concertina wire barricade outside a court in Panchkula in the northern state of Haryana, India, August 24, 2017.Ajay Verma

Trains would also be suspended for several hours, while a cricket stadium in state capital Chandigarh had been commandeered as a temporary detention centre.

In 2014, the attempted arrest of another guru on murder charges ended with his followers attacking police with clubs and stones.

Indian godmen can summon thousands of supporters onto the streets at the drop of a hat . Their systems of patronage and quasi-religious sermons are hugely popular with people who consider the government to have failed them.

But few are as controversial as Singh.

The top domestic security agency is investigating whether Singh convinced 400 of his male followers to undergo castration, allegations he denies .

A variety of reasons have been given for why the men agreed to castration, including promises of becoming closer to god.

He has also irritated the Sikh religious community by dressing like one of their gurus.

Singh’s two films, “Messenger of God” and its sequel, include sequences in which he fights off villains and tosses burning motorbikes into the air.

Reporting by Rupam Jain and Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nick Macfie