Tag Archives: United States

Texas power board resigns after mass protest over blackouts.

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A notice from the Public Utility Commission of Texas said that Craig Ivey, who also lives out of state, had withdrawn his application to fill a vacant board seat.

Four board members of Texas’ power grid operator announced their resignation Tuesday after millions of state residents were left without power during days of unprecedentedly frigid temperatures.

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The board chair of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Sally Talberg, vice-chairman Peter Cramton, finance and audit committee chair Terry Bulger and human resources and governance committee chief Raymond Hepper, all of whom live out of state, will resign effective Wednesday.

“We have noted recent concerns about out-of-state board leadership at ERCOT. To allow state leaders a free hand with the future direction and to eliminate distractions, we are resigning from the board effective after our urgent board teleconference meeting adjourns on Wednesday, February 24, 2021,” they said in a letter to the board.

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A notice from the Public Utility Commission of Texas said that Craig Ivey, who also lives out of state, had withdrawn his application to fill a vacant board seat.

Texas was particularly hard hit as a frigid air mass paralyzed parts of the southern and central United States early last week, claiming more than 70 lives. Millions were left temporarily without power and water lines were frozen.

ERCOT, which operates much of the state’s power grid, underestimated the surge in demand caused by the unusually cold weather and used planned outages to avert an uncontrolled blackout.

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The state’s governor Greg Abbott issued a damning statement acknowledging the resignations and saying the group had “failed to do its job.”

“ERCOT leadership made assurances that Texas’ power infrastructure was prepared for the winter storm, but those assurances proved to be devastatingly false,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter.

“The lack of preparedness and transparency at ERCOT is unacceptable, and I welcome these resignations.”

Abbott has ordered an investigation into the grid operator, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also said it will probe the factors behind the power outages.

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ERCOT reported Friday that utility operations had returned to normal, but tens of thousands were still without power into the weekend as crews struggled to repair downed lines.

President Joe Biden issued a major-disaster declaration on Saturday for much of Texas, providing badly needed financial and administrative aid, and he plans to visit the state on Friday.

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#Newsworthy

Hazardous winter storm causes snow, hit US East.

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Biden ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma and Louisiana after local officials declared emergencies.

A deadly winter weather system that brought record-busting cold to the southern and central United States, knocking out power for millions in oil-rich Texas, blanketed the East Coast in snow Thursday, disrupting coronavirus vaccinations.

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The historic frigid blast has over the past week seen Arctic cold envelope much of the US sun belt unfamiliar with such extremes, leaving dozens of dead in its wake and several million Texans told to boil water before consuming it.

On Thursday, a major winter storm impacted an area stretching from Virginia up to the Northeast, bringing icy buildups and treacherous travel conditions, according to the National Weather Service.

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Snow fell steadily across New York City throughout the day, forcing the cancellation of about 200 flights and delaying the opening of two Covid-19 vaccination sites after the storm disrupted dosage delivery.

By 4:50 pm (2150 GMT), meteorologists had recorded more than four inches (ten centimeters) of snow in lower Manhattan.

The Big Apple has already been blanketed by the white stuff twice this winter during two separate storms.

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“The occasional snowstorm is always good but as we’re getting closer to March it gets a little tiring. I’m ready for it to start being warm again,” said 18-year-old student Kara Dickson.

A weather warning was in effect in New Jersey, where Governor Phil Murphy announced the temporary closure of several vaccination sites.

Across Texas, which has been hardest hit by the cold snap, utility companies were gradually restoring power though more than 250,000 homes and businesses remained without electricity late Thursday, according to PowerOutage.us.

Even as the lights came back on, some Texas residents were dealing with the misery of water pipes that had burst in the frigid temperatures.

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“It was like a waterfall was coming down and it was starting to come out of the bathroom and to the other rooms,” said Birgit Kamps of Houston.

“We grabbed buckets and towels, tried to mop it up before it started flooding the house,” she said, adding that a neighbour helped switch off the water at the break, leaving her without running water.

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Water pressure problems meant nearly seven million Texans were being advised to boil their water before drinking it or using for cooking, said Toby Baker, who heads the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, adding that nearly 264,000 people were impacted by non-operational water systems.

‘Failed state’
Texas power companies implemented rolling blackouts to avoid grids being overloaded as residents cranked up the heat. The surge in demand came as generating capacity dropped thanks to power stations and wind turbines freezing.

David Hernandez, 38, spent the night at a Houston church with other people who had fled their homes.

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“My car got stranded and I was trying to sleep in the car but it was just too cold,” he said.

Texas authorities opened about 300 emergency “warming centers” across the state.

President Joe Biden spoke Thursday evening with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, pledging that the federal government would work “hand-in-hand” with state authorities to offer relief, the White House said.

Texas’s woes have sparked outrage in the Lone Star State, the only one of the US’s 48 continental states to have its own independent power grid.

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Anger soared Thursday after it was revealed Texas Senator Ted Cruz had flown to the Mexican holiday resort of Cancun during the crisis.

As political rivals called for his resignation, Cruz justified the flight by saying his one-night stay was to drop his children off before he flew home.

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He later called the trip “obviously a mistake.”

Even though the Arctic air mass was beginning to loosen its grip on Texas and the south, frigid temperatures were expected to continue.

Biden ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma and Louisiana after local officials declared emergencies.

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Biden was forced to postpone until Friday a visit to the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing site in Kalamazoo, Michigan while federal government offices in Washington were closed Thursday.

More than 30 storm-related deaths have been reported by US media since the cold weather arrived last week, many in traffic accidents.

Animal deaths
Houston police said a woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after sitting in a car in a garage with the engine running to keep warm.

Emergency medical authorities around Texas said dozens of others have been treated for suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

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A dozen animals — including one 58-year-old female chimpanzee — died during the freeze at rescue sanctuary Primarily Primates near San Antonio, the organization said on its website.

The winter storm has spawned at least four tornadoes, according to Atlanta-based weather.com, including one in North Carolina on Monday that killed at least three people and injured 10.

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#Newsworthy

United States meets Japan, South Korea on North Korea review.

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The United States consulted jointly Thursday with South Korea and Japan, allies often at odds with each other, as President Joe Biden reviews how to move forward on North Korea.

Senior US diplomat Sung Kim and his counterparts promised “close cooperation” in a videoconference and “expressed their continued commitment to denuclearization and the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” the State Department said.

The Biden administration says it is reviewing how to move forward with North Korea after former president Donald Trump held three splashy meetings with leader Kim Jong Un but failed to reach a lasting deal.

The Trump administration argued that it ended a diplomatic logjam and effectively stopped North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, although critics say that Pyongyang nonetheless advanced on the programs.

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Biden is expected to take a more low-key approach and his administration has pledged also to raise concerns over cybersecurity, with the Justice Department on Wednesday charging three North Korean intelligence officials over massive hacks.

Trump had strong relationships with both the Japanese and South Korean leaders, but relations between the two neighbours hit new lows during his presidency in disputes linked to the legacy of Japanese colonial rule.

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#Newsworthy

Texas scares over power outages, shortage of water.

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Power companies in Texas have implemented rolling blackouts to avoid grids being overloaded as residents crank up the heat.

Power was gradually being restored but hundreds of thousands of households remained without electricity early Thursday across Texas, the oil and gas capital of the United States, with some facing water shortages as a deadly winter cold spell that pummeled the southeastern part of the country headed east.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a winter storm warning for a swathe of the country ranging from east Texas to the East Coast state of Maryland.

The NWS said the storm would bring ice, sleet and heavy snow to parts of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi as it tracks to the northeast, causing power outages, tree damage and making driving hazardous.

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Even though the Arctic air mass was beginning to lose its grip on an area of the country not used to such extreme cold, the frigid temperatures would continue, the NWS said.

“Record cold daily maximum and minimum temperatures are likely to transpire in the South Central US through Saturday morning,” it said early Thursday.

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“The Plains and Mississippi Valley can expect daily temperature anomalies ranging between 20 and 30 degrees below normal.”

President Joe Biden was forced to postpone until Friday a visit to the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing site in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while federal government offices in Washington were to be closed Thursday.

More than 30 storm-related deaths have been reported by media in the United States since the cold weather arrived last week, many in traffic accidents.

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Hundreds of thousands of residents of the Texas metropolis of Houston were suffering from both power outages and a loss of water pressure.

“Water pressure is very low,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted. “Please do not run water to keep pipes from bursting.”

Nearly seven million Texans were being advised to boil their water before drinking it or using it for cooking, Toby Baker, who heads the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said Wednesday, adding that nearly 264,000 people were impacted by non-operational water systems.

David Hernandez, 38, spent the night at a Houston church with other people who have fled their homes.

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“My car got stranded and I was trying to sleep in the car but it was just too cold,” Hernandez said. “Liquids in my car were actually turning to ice so it was like sleeping in an ice box.

“I had to come here,” he said. “There’s no choice.”

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Power companies in Texas have implemented rolling blackouts to avoid grids being overloaded as residents crank up the heat.

ERCOT, which manages the state grid, said on Wednesday it had restored power to around 1.6 million households. “We are working around the clock to restore power to Texans,” ERCOT president Bill Magness said in a statement.

According to PowerOutage.US, 674,000 customers in Texas were still without power by Thursday morning, the only one of the US’s 48 continental states to have its own independent power grid.

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– ‘Nearly a failed state’ –
Beto O’Rourke, a former Democratic presidential candidate from Texas, told MSNBC television the situation in the Lone Star State was “worse than you are hearing.”

“Folks have gone days now without electricity. They’re suffering,” he said.

“So much of this was avoidable,” O’Rourke added.

“The energy capital of North America cannot provide the energy needed to warm and power people’s homes in this great state. We are nearing a failed state in Texas.”

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Austin Energy, the local power company in the capital city of 950,000, said tens of thousands of area customers were without electricity, and that whilst they were able to start restoring power in some spots, it was not expected to stay on indefinitely.

The energy company published the locations of “warming centers” set up in local schools.

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As electricity companies struggle to get power restored, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport resumed flights on Wednesday after a two-day hiatus caused by heavy snowfall.

Jeff Zients, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said the cold weather was impacting delivery and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

“There’s certain parts of the country, Texas being one of them, where vaccination sites are understandably closed,” Zients said.

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“What we’re encouraging governors and other partners to do is to extend hours once they’re able to reopen.”

Many weather-related deaths so far have resulted from traffic accidents, but Houston police said a woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after sitting in a car in a garage with the engine running to keep warm.

And emergency medical authorities around the state said dozens of others have been treated for suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, while 77 were treated for hypothermia in northern Texas Tuesday.

A dozen animals — including one 58-year-old female chimpanzee — died during the freeze at rescue sanctuary Primarily Primates near San Antonio, the organization said on its website.

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The winter storm spawned at least four tornadoes, according to Atlanta-based weather.com, including one in North Carolina on Monday that killed at least three people and injured 10.

Across the southern border, Mexican officials said six people died after temperatures plunged.

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#Newsworthy

Top diplomats from Europe, US ‘talks on reviving’ 2015 Iran deal.

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Khamenei emphasised Wednesday that Iran wanted to see action from the US administration that would help its economy.

Top diplomats from European powers and the United States will hold talks to see how to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, days ahead of a deadline set by Tehran that could hinder these efforts.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will host his German and British counterparts in Paris on Thursday, with new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken joining via videoconference, the French foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Iran plans to restrict some UN nuclear agency inspections if the US does not lift its sanctions – imposed since 2018 by former President Donald Trump – by February 21, under the terms of a bill adopted by its parliament in December.

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Highlighting the tough path ahead, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced “concern” that Iran was failing to meet its obligations in telephone talks with President Hassan Rouhani, her spokesman said in a statement.

Analysts have said only a small window of opportunity remains to save the landmark deal, which received a near-fatal blow when Trump walked out in 2018.

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The administration of current US President Joe Biden has said it is prepared to rejoin the deal and start lifting sanctions if Iran returns to full compliance, a precondition disputed by Tehran.

Iran mulls more non-compliance
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi will travel to Tehran on Saturday for talks with the Iranian authorities to find a solution for continuing inspections in the country, the agency said.

It warned that the step threatened by Tehran would have “a serious impact on the IAEA’s verification and monitoring activities in the country.”

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In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Iran should provide “full and timely cooperation” with the IAEA.

“Iran should reverse the steps and refrain from taking others that would impact the IAEA assurances on which not only the United States, not only our allies and partners in the region, but the entire world relies,” he said, adding that Blinken saw an “important role” for the European Union, of which France and Germany are members.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has demanded ‘action, not words’ from the US if it wants to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers [Khamenei.IR/AFP]

Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said it was “unlikely” the meeting on Thursday would produce a significant political or economic gesture to prevent Iran from going ahead with the restrictions.

“This deadline has been on the cards for months, and in absence of economic relief Iran’s leaders feel compelled to move ahead,” she told the AFP news agency.

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The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed in Vienna in 2015, saw Iran curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for a gradual easing of international sanctions.

But Iran has stepped up its nuclear work in violation of the accord after US sanctions were reimposed as part of Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy to weaken the Iranian government.

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The UN nuclear watchdog said last week that Iran had started producing uranium metal in a new violation of the accord, prompting European powers to warn that Tehran was “undermining the opportunity for renewed diplomacy.”

In her talks with Rouhani, Merkel said that “now was the time for positive signals that create trust and increase the chances of a diplomatic solution”.

However, the Iranian presidency said Rouhani in the call “criticised Europe’s performance” on its JCPOA commitments after the US withdrawal.

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‘Only action’
While Iran’s policy is ultimately determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian presidential elections in June add another time pressure factor.

Rouhani – a key advocate of nuclear diplomacy with global powers – is set to step down after serving the maximum two consecutive terms, and a more hardline figure may replace him.

“There is a short window of time to limit the damage that could ensue from Iran’s next steps, for example by reducing the impact of such moves on the quality of inspections by international monitors,” Geranmayeh said.

She said Washington should move in political and practical terms to show Iran that the Biden administration “is distancing itself from Trump-era maximum pressure.”

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Khamenei emphasised Wednesday that Iran wanted to see action from the US administration that would help its economy.

“This time only action, action. If we see action from the opposite side, we will act too,” he said.

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#Newsworthy

US justice dept charges North Korea of $1.3bn theft.

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The Justice Department did not specify exactly how much it believed the defendants have stolen altogether.

The US Justice Department charged three North Korean military intelligence officials Wednesday in a campaign of cyberattacks to steal $1.3 billion in crypto and traditional currencies from banks and other targets.

The first action against Pyongyang by President Joe Biden’s administration took aim at what the department called “a global campaign of criminality” being waged by North Korea.

The department accused the three of a wide-ranging hacking and malware operation to obtain funds for their government while avoiding punishing UN sanctions that have cinched off its sources of income.

Over at least seven years, the officials created malicious cryptocurrency applications that opened back doors into targets’ computers; hacked into companies marketing and trading digital currencies like bitcoin; and developed a blockchain platform to evade sanctions and secretly raise funds, the department said.

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The case filed in federal court in Los Angeles builds on 2018 charges against one of the three, identified as Park Jin Hyok.

He was charged with the 2014 hack of Sony pictures, the creation of the notorious WannaCry ransomware, and the 2016 theft of $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh.

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The new charges added two defendants, Jon Chang Hyok and Kim Il.

The allegations said the three worked together in the North Korean military intelligence’s hacking-focused Reconnaissance General Bureau, better known within the cybersecurity community as the Lazarus Group, or APT 38.

In addition to the earlier charges, the three allegedly operated out of North Korea, Russia and China to hack computers using spearfishing techniques, and to promote cryptocurrency applications loaded with malicious software that allowed them to empty victims’ crypto wallets.

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They allegedly robbed digital currency exchanges in Slovenia and Indonesia and extorted a New York exchange of $11.8 million.

In a 2018 scheme, they robbed $6.1 million from ATM machines from Pakistan’s BankIslami after gaining access to its computer network.

The Justice Department did not specify exactly how much it believed the defendants have stolen altogether.

‘Keyboards instead of guns’
In addition, the charges said, Kim Il developed the blockchain-based digital currency-like “Marine Chain Token” which ostensibly was an instrument for investors to buy shares of shipping vessels.

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He marketed opportunities to invest in the scheme in Singapore, without telling potential investors that it was mainly designed to hide ship ownership identities to help North Korea avoid sanctions, the charges said.

All of the actions, the Justice Department said, were to “further the strategic and financial interests of the (North Korean) government and its leader, Kim Jong Un.”

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“North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading bank robbers,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers in a statement.

“Nation-state indictments like this are an important step in identifying the problem, calling it out in a legally rigorous format, and building international consensus,” Demers said.

In parallel, the department announced that Ghaleb Alaumary of Mississauga, Canada, had pleaded guilty to one charge of acting as a money launderer for the North Koreans.

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Alaumary helped arrange for money to be removed from ATMs hacked by the North Korean operation.

He was also, the department said, a “prolific” money launderer for other hackers engaged in ATM cash-out schemes, cyber-enabled bank theft, and fraud schemes based on hijacking companies’ email.

The case announced Wednesday was the first open action taken against North Korea by the Biden administration, amid ongoing tensions over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that threaten the United States and allies.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the administration is reviewing policy toward the country.

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The review “will take into account the totality of the malign activity and the threats that are emanating from North Korea,” Price said.

“Most frequently we speak of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, but of course, its malicious cyber activity is something we are carefully evaluating and looking at as well,” he said.

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#Newsworthy

Trump urges Republicans to dump Mitch McConnell.

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Trump further blamed McConnell for the party’s loss of two Senate seats in a Georgia runoff election on January 5, handing control of the Senate to Democrats.

Donald Trump urged Republican senators Tuesday to dump Mitch McConnell as their leader in the Senate following his withering criticism of the former US president after his impeachment trial.

In his most extensive comments yet on politics since stepping down from power on January 20, Trump also claimed credit for some Republican gains in the November 3 election and threatened to use his influence against party candidates who don’t align with him.

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“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” Trump said in a statement.

“Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again.”

Trump regrets support
The attack came after McConnell said on Saturday that even though he had voted to acquit Trump at his impeachment trial, the former president was nevertheless “practically and morally responsible” for the January 6 storming of the US Capitol.

After 50 Democratic senators and seven Republicans voted that Trump was guilty — a majority in the 100-seat Senate, but not the two-thirds needed for a conviction — McConnell let loose, excoriating Trump for the attack that saw five people die and the halls of the US legislature ransacked by his supporters.

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He called Trump’s actions leading up to the siege, including a White House rally where the then-president urged followers to descend on Congress, “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

“These criminals were carrying his banners. Hanging his flags. And screaming their loyalty to him,” McConnell said.

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But Trump blamed the wily veteran lawmaker, who for four years as majority leader kept the Senate aligned with the Republican president, for losing party control of the body.

He claimed credit for McConnell’s own win of another six-year term representing Kentucky in the Senate, where the 78-year-old has served since 1984.

“My only regret is that McConnell ‘begged’ for my strong support and endorsement before the great people of Kentucky in the 2020 election, and I gave it to him,” Trump said.

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“Without my endorsement, McConnell would have lost, and lost badly.”

Trump further blamed McConnell for the party’s loss of two Senate seats in a Georgia runoff election on January 5, handing control of the Senate to Democrats.

Many analysts, however, blame that loss on Trump himself, for his unsettling refusal to accept President Joe Biden’s strong November 3 election victory, based on groundless claims of fraud.

It was that claim, both McConnell and Democrats say, which incited the unprecedented attack on Congress on January 6.

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In another line of personal attack, Trump took aim at McConnell’s wife, Taiwan-born Chinese-American Elaine Chow, who was transportation secretary in Trump’s cabinet but resigned in protest after the January 6 Capitol assault.

“McConnell has no credibility on China because of his family’s substantial Chinese business holdings,” Trump wrote.

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Breaking silence
With his impeachment trial looming, the ex-president had been almost completely silent on politics since moving into his Mar-a-Lago country club in Palm Beach, Florida nearly one month ago.

But he used the blast against McConnell to assert his continuing claim to leadership of the Republican party.

He threatened to use his continuing popularity among the Republican base to support any Republican candidates — the next national election is in November 2022 — who support his agenda.

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“If Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” he said.

“Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First.”

“This is a big moment for our country, and we cannot let it pass by using third rate ‘leaders’ to dictate our future!” he added.

Meanwhile, McConnell came under criticism from Biden for his position on the new administration’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 economic relief bill.

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McConnell and other Republicans have declined to endorse the Biden package of stimulus measures, calling it too expensive.

Asked about McConnell’s reported comments that he could unite his party around opposition to the bill, Biden said: “It may unify Republicans but it will hurt America badly.”

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#Newsworthy

Turkey’s Erdogan accuses US of being supportive of terrorism in Iraq.

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The US State Department on Sunday it “deplores the death of Turkish citizens” but was waiting for further confirmation that Ankara’s account of the 13 men’s death was true.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday accused the United States of siding with “terrorists” after blaming outlawed Kurdish militants of executing 13 Turks in northern Iraq.

Erdogan’s comments came a day after Ankara said Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels had killed 13 captives — most of them Turkish soldiers and police officers — they had allegedly abducted in southeast Turkey and kept in an Iraqi cave.

The PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 that is believed to have left tens of thousands dead.

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The United States and Turkey’s other Western allies recognise the PKK as a terror group.

But Washington has supported another Kurdish militia in Syria that Turkey sees as an offshoot of the PKK.

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Turkey this month launched a military operation against rear PKK bases in northern Iraq that Erdogan said on Monday was designed in part to free the 13 hostages.

“The statement made by the United States is a farce,” Erdogan said in his first public comments on the incident.

“You said you did not support terrorists, when in fact you are on their side and behind them,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.

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The US State Department on Sunday it “deplores the death of Turkish citizens” but was waiting for further confirmation that Ankara’s account of the 13 men’s death was true.

The PKK said the 13 died when Turkish forces bombed the cave where the men were being kept.

“If reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the PKK, a designated terrorist organisation, are confirmed, we condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” the State Department said in a statement.

Erdogan said Turkey’s NATO allies had to pick sides.

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“After this, there are two options. Either act with Turkey with no ifs or buts, without questioning, or they will be a partner to every murder and bloodshed,” he said.

“The terrorist organisation on our doorstep, on our borders, is killing innocents.”

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#Newsworthy

Impeachment trial: Donald Trump acquitted.

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Former US president Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate on Saturday of inciting the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

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A two-thirds majority of the 100 senators was needed at Trump’s impeachment trial for conviction, but it fell short in a 57-43 vote.

Seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to convict.

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#Newsworthy

Senate votes to prolong Trump’s impeachment trial.

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The move sparked confusion on the Senate floor and it was not immediately clear how many — if any — witnesses would eventually be called to testify.

The US Senate voted Saturday to allow witnesses at the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, a surprise move likely to extend the proceedings, even as the top Republican senator said he would vote to acquit the former president of inciting the deadly January 6 assault on the Capitol.

Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to acquit means Trump is unlikely to be convicted by the Senate of inciting an insurrection by his supporters.

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The second impeachment trial of the 74-year-old former Republican president had been expected to conclude with final arguments and a verdict on Saturday.

But in a surprise move that could potentially prolong the trial for an undetermined time, the lead House impeachment manager, Jamie Raskin, said he wanted to call a Republican lawmaker as a witness.

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“We believe we’ve proven our case,” Raskin said, but he wanted Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler to testify because she can provide an “additional critical piece of corroborating evidence.”

Raskin’s demand prompted a threat by Trump’s defense lawyers to call witnesses of their own, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, and others.

The Senate voted 55-45 to allow witnesses, with five Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues.

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The move sparked confusion on the Senate floor and it was not immediately clear how many — if any — witnesses would eventually be called to testify.

Raskin said he wanted to call Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington state, to testify after she released a statement about the events of January 6.

Herrera Beutler was one of 10 Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump in the House of Representatives.

In her statement, she said Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had called Trump while the attack was ongoing and implored him to call off the rioters.

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“When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was Antifa that had breached the Capitol,” Herrera Beutler said.

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 13: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) wears a protective mask while arriving to the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate approved 55-45 a request to consider calling witnesses in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, a move that may extend the trial. Stefani Reynolds – Pool/Getty Images/AFP

“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters,” the congresswoman said.

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“That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,’” she said.

– ‘A close call‘ –
Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House on January 13 for inciting the attack on the US Capitol by his supporters, who were seeking to block congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s November 3 election victory.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Trump ally, told reporters he did not think witnesses were necessary.

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“My view remains we don’t need witnesses,” Cruz told reporters. “This is a political theatre.”

He said Democrats did not have the 17 Republican votes needed to convict Trump.

The other Republican senator from Texas, John Cornyn, said calling witnesses could cause the trial to “drag on indefinitely.”

“Kangaroo court anyone?” Cornyn tweeted. “No end in sight.”

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A conviction in the 100-member Senate — which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans — would require a two-thirds majority and appears unlikely in any case after McConnell said he would vote to acquit.

“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and therefore we lack jurisdiction,” McConnell said in an email to his Republican colleagues.

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“The Constitution makes perfectly clear that Presidential criminal misconduct while in the office can be prosecuted after the President has left office,” he said. “Given these conclusions, I will vote to acquit.”

Trump’s defense lawyers argued on Friday that the former president bears no responsibility for the attack on Congress and wrapped up their presentation in just three hours.

This followed two days of evidence from Democratic impeachment managers centered around harrowing video footage of the mob assault on the Capitol.

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Trump’s defense lawyers called the impeachment unconstitutional and an “act of political vengeance.”

They argued that Trump’s rally speech near the White House that preceded the January 6 attack, when he told supporters to “fight,” was merely rhetorical.

Seeking to turn the table on the Democrats’ powerful use of video evidence, defense lawyers played their own compilations showing Democratic lawmakers at different times using the word “fight.”

House impeachment managers charge that after losing to Biden, Trump deliberately stoked the tension with a campaign of lies claiming there had been mass voter fraud.

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On January 6 he staged a fiery rally near the White House, calling on the crowd to march on Congress, which was in the process of certifying Biden’s victory.

The mob then stormed the Capitol, disrupting the certification. Five people, including a police officer and a woman, shot during the unrest, died in the mayhem.

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#Newsworthy

As Trump’s impeachment trial draws near… | Verdict expected!

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There was little sign of an impending breakdown in the Trump firewall, but the verdict will make many in the party uncomfortable whichever way it goes.

The US Senate was expected to deliver a verdict in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial this weekend after his lawyers argued Friday that the former president bears no responsibility for an attack by supporters on Congress after he failed to win reelection.

Defense lawyers wrapped up their presentation in just three hours, accusing Democrats of persecuting Trump.

This followed two days of evidence from Democratic impeachment managers, centered around harrowing video footage of the mob assault against the Capitol on January 6.

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The Senate was due to reconvene Saturday at 10:00 am (1500 GMT) for debate on whether to allow witness testimony, then closing arguments.

Expectations were that a verdict could be voted the same day, with indications so far that Democrats will not get enough Republican support for a conviction.

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In their arguments Friday, defense lawyer Michael van der Veen called the impeachment unconstitutional and an “act of political vengeance.”

“The Senate should promptly and decisively vote to reject it,” he said.

But Democratic impeachment managers charge that Trump deliberately stoked national tension after losing to Joe Biden on November 3 with a campaign of lies claiming there had been mass voter fraud.

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On January 6 he staged a fiery rally near the White House, calling on the crowd to march on Congress, which was in the process of certifying Biden’s victory.

The mob then charged the Capitol building, disrupting the certification. Five people, including a police officer and a woman shot during the unrest, died as a result of the mayhem.

Impeachment managers say Trump, who has never expressed remorse for his encouragement of the violent crowd, is so dangerous that he should be barred from holding office again.

It would take a two-thirds majority to convict, meaning 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate’s 50 Democrats.

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Although Trump looks set for acquittal, even a few Republican votes against him would leave a historic mark on his presidency, fueling civil war within his party over whether to pursue his populist, divisive vision or return to more moderate values.

‘Hypocrisy’ from Trump’s accusers
The former president’s lawyers argued that his rally speech on January 6, when he told supporters to “fight,” was merely rhetorical.

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They also argue that the Democrats’ true aim is to remove him from the political scene.

“Let us be clear: this trial is about far more than president Trump,” defense lawyer Bruce Castor said.

“It is about canceling 75 million Trump voters, and criminalizing political viewpoints. That is what this trial is really about.”

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Seeking to turn the table on the Democrats’ powerful use of video evidence, defense lawyers played their own compilations showing Democratic lawmakers at different times using the word “fight.”

Democratic senators, along with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were among those shown using the word in past speeches and on television.

“Please, stop the hypocrisy,” Trump’s lawyer David Schoen said.

Trump ‘inflamed’ and ‘incited’
The video footage at the heart of the impeachment managers’ case showed the crowd in the Capitol on January 6 hunting down opponents of Trump as senior figures, including then vice president Mike Pence, fled for safety.

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Schoen mocked the video as “an entertainment package” and said Trump could not possibly be held responsible for the actions of the demonstrators.

But lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin pointed out that the Republican leader had been encouraging extremism even in the lead-up to Election Day by constantly undermining public faith in the election process.

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“This pro-Trump insurrection did not spring out of thin air,” Raskin said. “This was not the first time Donald Trump had inflamed and incited a mob.”

He said it was imperative the Senate convict Trump and bar him from running for the White House again in 2024 or face the risk of the same kind of behavior being repeated.

“Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?”

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Biden ‘anxious’
Earlier, Biden told reporters at the White House that he was “anxious to see what my Republican friends do, if they stand up,” when it comes to the verdict.

There was little sign of an impending breakdown in the Trump firewall, but the verdict will make many in the party uncomfortable whichever way it goes.

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said evidence shown by House managers was “powerful,” but reporters spotted a draft statement from him on Friday that indicated he would be voting for acquittal.

Other Republican senators have clearly already made up their minds and do not intend to break with Trump, who has threatened to derail their careers should they back impeachment.

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“The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing,” tweeted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri told NoRM‘s known Media the trial was “totally illegitimate.”

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#Newsworthy

Saudi Arabia to set new Huthis strike as US set to lift embargo.

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The State Department condemned Wednesday’s strike on the airport but Blinken said the terror designation of the Huthi movement would still be lifted as planned next Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia said it foiled a Huthi drone attack on a southern airport Saturday just days before the new US administration is to stop designating the Yemeni rebels as a “terror” group.

Saudi air defences “intercepted and destroyed a drone rigged with explosives which had been launched by the Huthis against Abha airport,” the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels said in a statement quoted by state television.

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Abha airport was already targeted by the rebels on Wednesday when a drone strike left a civilian aircraft ablaze.

Forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government get into position during clashes with Huthi rebel fighters in al-Jadaan area about 50 kilometres northwest of Marib in central Yemen on February 11, 2021. – Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthis rebels have resumed an offensive to seize strategic oil-rich Marib, the government’s last northern stronghold, the loss of which would be disastrous for the beleaguered leadership. (Photo by – / AFP)

The Huthis say that the airport, little more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the border, is a legitimate target as it has been used as a base for the coalition’s widely condemned bombing campaign in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and its allies say that Huthi attacks on the airport amount to “war crimes” as the airport is heavily used by Saudis enjoying the milder climate of the mountains around Abha.

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Wednesday’s drone attack came hot on the heels of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s announcement that he would lift the terror designation of the Huthis imposed by his predecessor Mike Pompeo.

The designation had been widely criticised by aid organisations, who warned it would hamper their efforts to alleviate what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Despite nearly six years of Saudi-led military intervention, the Huthis remain in control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and much of the north, and aid groups say they have little choice but to work with them.

The State Department condemned Wednesday’s strike on the airport but Blinken said the terror designation of the Huthi movement would still be lifted as planned next Tuesday.

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He said sanctions on individual Huthi leaders would remain in place.

“The United States remains clear-eyed about Ansarullah’s malign actions and aggression,” Blinken said, referring to the Huthi movement by its formal name.

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#Newsworthy

US leader, Biden set to lift Yemen’s Houthi movement blacklist.

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The war pits the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement against Yemen’s internationally recognised government, which has been backed since 2015 by a Saudi-led military coalition.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said he will revoke terrorist designations of Yemen’s Houthi movement from February 16, even as he warned that members of the group could be hit with more sanctions.

Houthi supporters hold up their weapons during a demonstration against the US decision to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation, in Sanaa, Yemen, on January 20, 2021 [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

The Trump administration imposed the specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) and foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) designations on its last full day in office despite warnings by other governments, aid groups and the United Nations that the sanctions they carried could push Yemen into a major famine.

US President Joe Biden has quickly moved to reverse US policy, aiming to ease the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and intensify diplomacy to end Yemen’s gruelling civil war.

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“This decision is a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” Blinken said in a statement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said three of the movement’s leaders will remain subject to US sanctions [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

Blinken, however, appeared to signal limits to US tolerance of the Houthi movement. He said three of its leaders – Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim – will remain subject to US sanctions “related to acts that threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen”.

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He also warned that Washington is monitoring the movement’s activities and identifying new targets to be hit with sanctions, especially those responsible for attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia.

“We will continue to closely monitor the activities of Ansar Allah and its leaders and are actively identifying additional targets for designation,” Blinken said, using a term by which the Houthi movement also is known.

The war pits the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement against Yemen’s internationally recognised government, which has been backed since 2015 by a Saudi-led military coalition.

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The Biden administration, other governments, the United Nations and aid organisations shared fears that the sanctions imposed on the Houthis under the US terrorism designations could strangle food deliveries just as the threat of major famine is rising.

“The United States remains clear-eyed about Ansar Allah’s malign actions,” Blinken said. “Ansar Allah’s actions and intransigence prolong this conflict and exact serious humanitarian costs.”

As part of his policy shift on Yemen, President Joe Biden last week announced an end to US support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led coalition [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

As part of his policy shift on Yemen, Biden last week announced an end to US support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led coalition.

He also named veteran US diplomat Timothy Lenderking as a special envoy for Yemen with a US goal of bolstering UN-led diplomatic efforts to negotiate an end to the war.

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Lenderking on Thursday met Yemen’s internationally recognised president and his foreign minister in Riyadh.

The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of its people in need.

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#Newsworthy

House weighs Guantanamo prison shutdown.

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The Biden administration has not made Guantanamo one of its top early priorities as it grapples with the pandemic and its economic fallout at home and other global challenges.

The Biden administration has launched a formal review of the future of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, reviving the Obama-era goal of closing the notorious facility, a White House official said on Friday.

Aides involved in internal discussions are considering an executive action to be signed by President Joe Biden in coming weeks or months, two people familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency, signalling a new effort to remove what human rights advocates have called a stain on America’s global image.

Such an initiative, however, is unlikely to bring down the curtain anytime soon on the high-security prison located at the Guantanamo Naval Station, due largely to the steep political and legal obstacles that the new administration will face.

Set up to hold suspects following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the offshore jail came to symbolise the excesses of the US “war on terror” because of harsh interrogation methods that critics say amounted to torture.

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“We are undertaking an NSC process to assess the current state of play that the Biden administration has inherited from the previous administration, in line with our broader goal of closing Guantanamo,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne told Reuters.

“The NSC will work closely with the departments of defence, state and justice to make progress toward closing the GTMO facility, and also in close consultation with Congress,” she added.

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The immediate impact of a new approach could be to reinstate, in some form, the Guantanamo closure policy of Biden’s old boss, former President Barack Obama, which was reversed by Donald Trump as soon as he took office in 2017.

Trump kept the prison open during his four years in the White House – though he never loaded it up with “bad dudes,” as he once vowed. Now, 40 prisoners remain, most held for nearly two decades without being charged or tried.

The Biden administration has not made Guantanamo one of its top early priorities as it grapples with the pandemic and its economic fallout at home and other global challenges.

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In contrast, Obama made the closing of Guantanamo one of his first executive orders in 2009 but failed to achieve that goal by the end of his second term.

The Biden administration has launched a formal review of the future of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, reviving the Obama-era goal of closing the controversial facility, a White House official said on Friday [File: Mike Theiler/Reuters]

Shutting the facility has been a longtime demand of progressive Democrats, whose support helped Biden win the White House in November.

The prison’s continued existence, critics say, is a reminder to the world of harsh detention practices that opened the United States to accusations of torture.

It is also a stark example of how racist-fuelled suspicion of Black and brown men is causing the disproportionate monitoring and suspicion of acts of terrorism.

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More than a hundred human rights organisations signed a February 2 letter to Biden calling on him to close the prison and end the indefinite detention of suspects held there, saying it was long past time for “a meaningful reckoning with the full scope of damage that the post-9/11 approach has caused”.

“Guantanamo continues to cause escalating and profound damage to the men who still languish there, and the approach it exemplifies continues to fuel and justify bigotry, stereotyping and stigma,” according to the letter. “Guantanamo entrenches racial divisions and racism more broadly, and risks facilitating additional rights violations.”

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#Newsworthy

Breaking: UN demand Aung San Suu Kyi release.

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UN officials and diplomats alike voiced alarm at the assault on democracy in the country and violence against protesters.

The top United Nations human rights body has called on Myanmar to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials and to refrain from using violence on people protesting against the military coup.

The 47-member Geneva forum adopted a resolution brought by Britain and the European Union (EU) unanimously without a vote, although Russia and China said afterwards that they “disassociated” themselves from the consensus.

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Myanmar’s envoy said before the vote that the resolution was “not acceptable”.

The resolution was adopted after the UN human rights investigator for Myanmar urged the UN Security Council to consider imposing punitive sanctions, arms embargoes and travel bans in response to the coup.

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The United States, which imposed its own sanctions on Thursday, urged other UN member states to follow suit, in its first remarks to the Human Rights Council since returning to the forum this week.

Special rapporteur Thomas Andrews said there were “growing reports and photographic evidence” that Myanmar security forces had used live ammunition against protesters since seizing power almost two weeks ago.

“Security Council resolutions dealing with similar situations have mandated sanctions, arms embargoes, and travel bans, and calling for judicial action at the International Criminal Court or ad hoc tribunals,” he told the council.

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“All of these options should be on the table.”

The 47-member forum met at the request of Britain and the European Union to consider a resolution calling for the release of ousted Myanmar leader Suu Kyi, and for UN monitors to be allowed to visit. It was adopted unanimously, although Myanmar, Russia and China envoys said they “disassociated” themselves from the resolution.

Demonstrators protest in front of the Russian embassy against the military coup and demand for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar [Reuters]

“With this resolution we would like to send a strong signal to the people of Myanmar: the protection of their human rights matters to us,” said Austrian Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger on behalf of the EU.

However, the resolution’s language had been watered down somewhat in an apparent bid to get detractors on board.

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In a letter read out to the Council earlier on Friday, some 300 elected parliamentarians called for UN investigations into the “gross human rights violations” that they said the military had committed since its coup, including arrests.

‘Draconian orders’
Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi clashed with police on Friday as hundreds of thousands joined pro-democracy demonstrations across Myanmar in defiance of the military’s call to halt mass gatherings.

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The UN’s deputy rights chief Nada al-Nashif decried the detention of the country’s elected civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and of more than 350 others, including officials, activists, journalists, monks and students.

UN officials and diplomats alike voiced alarm at the assault on democracy in the country and violence against protesters.

“The world is watching,” al-Nashif said. “Let us be clear: the indiscriminate use of lethal or less-than-lethal weapons against peaceful protesters is unacceptable.”

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In addition, she lamented, “draconian orders have been issued this week to prevent peaceful assembly and free expression”.

Min Aung Hlaing, the head of Myanmar’s army, known as Tatmadaw, has justified his coup by alleging widespread voter fraud during November’s election.

Myanmar ambassador to the UN in Geneva Myint Thu said Myanmar would continue to cooperate with the United Nations and uphold international human rights treaties, adding: “We do not want to stall the nascent democratic transition in the country.”

The United States, which only re-engaged with the council this week after former president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, also harshly condemned the coup.

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US diplomat Mark Cassayre said all those “unjustly detained” should be released, and called for “accountability for those responsible for the coup, including through targeted sanctions”.

US President Joe Biden announced this week that his administration was cutting off the military’s access to $1bn in funds, with sanctions targeting Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals.

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#Newsworthy

Biden begins destroying Trump’s asylum policy ‘remains in Mexico’

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The program was part of Trump’s hardline plan to fight illegal immigration, one of the hallmarks of his administration and which included efforts to build a border wall and the policy which separated children from thousands of migrant families.

Asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico while their cases are being resolved in the United States will begin to be admitted into the US as of next week, President Joe Biden’s administration announced Friday.

Biden instructed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier this month to take action to end the controversial “Remain in Mexico” program put in place by his predecessor Donald Trump.

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It saw tens of thousands of non-Mexican asylum seekers — mostly from Central America — sent back over the border pending the outcome of their asylum applications, creating a humanitarian crisis in the area, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Beginning on February 19, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will begin phase one of a program to restore safe and orderly processing at the southwest border,” the agency announced in a statement.

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It said there are approximately 25,000 active cases still. Candidates will be tested first for the coronavirus, a senior DHS official who asked not to be identified told reporters.

At least 70,000 people were returned to Mexico under the agreement from January 2019, when the program began to be implemented, through December 2020, according to the NGO American Immigration Council.

US authorities emphasized that they are working closely with the Mexican government and with international organizations and NGOs at the border.

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DHS chief Alejandro Mayorkas, who is the first Latino and the first immigrant to head the department, stressed that Washington is committed to “rebuilding a safe, orderly and humane immigration system.”

“This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values,” Mayorkas said in a statement.

The program was part of Trump’s hardline plan to fight illegal immigration, one of the hallmarks of his administration and which included efforts to build a border wall and the policy which separated children from thousands of migrant families.

After Biden took office on January 20, his administration announced that it would reverse the most controversial measures and created a task force to reunite families that remain separated, a policy his administration has termed a “national shame.”

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On the day Biden was inaugurated, the DHS announced the suspension of new registrations in the “Remain in Mexico” program and asked all those enrolled to stay where they are while waiting to be informed about their cases.

Washington said Friday that those waiting “should not approach the border until instructed to do so.”

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#Newsworthy

N.Y Police remove barriers from Trump’s Tower.

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Since leaving the White House, Trump has moved to his resort at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, which he made his official residence at the end of 2019.

New Yorkers walking down Fifth Avenue in recent years have become used to navigating security barriers outside Trump Tower. Now, there’s more space on the sidewalk.

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The barricades that went up after Donald Trump won the presidential election in November 2016 have been removed, New York police confirmed on Thursday.

Police had already reduced their presence around Trump’s New York home, located between 56th and 57th street, following President Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

Last Friday, “In partnership with the US Secret Service, the decision was made to remove the barriers around Trump Tower,” an NYPD spokesman told AFP.

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Since leaving the White House, Trump has moved to his resort at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, which he made his official residence at the end of 2019.

But his company the Trump Organization, which is headed by his two sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, remains based in the 58-story skyscraper near Central Park.

The spokesman would not say what security has been left in place to protect the Tower or when members of the Trump family visit.

“The NYPD does not discuss security measures,” he said.

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Trump Tower has been the site of many anti-Trump protests over the past four years.

Last summer, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, took great joy in joining with activists to paint a giant Black Lives Matter slogan outside the tower.

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#Newsworthy

Angola approves same sex marriage upon US pressure.

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The decriminalization of LGBTQ+ in Angola came a week after United States President Joe Biden began a global push for legislation of LGBTQ+ rights.

Angola has legalised same-sex marriage 133 years after the proscription of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community in the country.

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The country’s parliamentarians who voted to overhaul Angola’s criminal statute books did not just remove the passage. They also banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The reform has been hailed by human rights activists who have been pushing for equal rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community in Angola and other African countries.

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“The law decriminalising homosexuality adopted in Angola in 2019 took effect today,” LGBTQ+ rights advocate Jean-Luc Romero-Michel tweeted. “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is now reprehensible and even punishable by prison.”

He said it was “a great step forward” in the fight against state-sponsored discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

Proscription of the LGBTQ+ community was included in the country’s penal code in 1888 when the southwest African nation was still a Portuguese colony. The government said homosexuality was one of many “vices against nature”.

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There was a provision in its law that could send same-sex couples to prison for at least 14 years.

The decriminalization of LGBTQ+ in Angola came a week after United States President Joe Biden began a global push for legislation of LGBTQ+ rights.

Biden in a statement on Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World directed American Embassy in Nigeria and other countries to push for the legalisation of homosexuality in their respective countries of residence.

The US president said the memorandum reaffirms and supplements the principles established in the Presidential Memorandum of December 6, 2011 (International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons).

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“All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love,” Biden said.

“Through this memorandum, I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

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#Newsworthy

TikTok ban in US paused after Biden’s order.

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The Trump administration move to ban downloads of TikTok and its presence on online networks had been stalled amid legal challenges.

President Joe Biden’s administration has askeyd a US federal court to pause proceedings aimed at banning TikTok to allow for a fresh review of the national security threat from the popular Chinese-owned video app.

The filing in a federal appeals court said the new administration had begun a review and would not for the moment press for a ban of the mobile app as sought by former president Donald Trump.

The filing said the Commerce Department “plans to conduct an evaluation of the underlying record justifying those prohibitions” sought by the previous administration of Donald Trump, which claimed TikTok posed a national security threat because of its links to the Chinese government.

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After the new review, the administration “will then be better positioned to determine whether the national security threat” from TikTok.

“The Department of Commerce remains committed to a robust defense of national security as well as ensuring the viability of our economy and preserving individual rights and data privacy,” the filing said.

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The Trump administration move to ban downloads of TikTok and its presence on online networks had been stalled amid legal challenges.

In a related development, the Wall Street Journal reported the Biden administration has also put on hold a plan to force the sale of TikTok to American investors.

This file photo illustration taken on April 13, 2020 shows the social media application logo for TikTok on a phone screen in Arlington, Virginia. – China accused the United States on August 4, 2020 of “bullying” over popular video app TikTok, after President Donald Trump ramped up pressure for its US operations to be sold to a US company. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)

The Journal, citing unnamed sources, said the Biden White House had indefinitely shelved the plan to require the sale of TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, to US tech giant Oracle with Walmart as a partner.

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The Journal said the new administration is in the midst of a review of data security and ways to prevent the information TikTok collects on American users from being accessed by the Chinese government, but that there would be no imminent move to force the sale.

The White House did not directly address the report, but spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “It’s not accurate to suggest that there is a new proactive step by the Biden White House.”

Psaki added that there is a “rigorous” review of data security of TikTok by an interagency government panel, with no timetable set.

“I will note broadly speaking that we are comprehensively evaluating the risks… to US data including from TikTok and will address them in a decisive and effective fashion,” she said.

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TikTok, the wildly popular app with an estimated 100 million US users, has repeatedly defended itself against allegations of data transfers to the Chinese government, saying it stores user information on servers in the United States and Singapore.

A tentative deal unveiled by the Trump administration would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the technology partner for TikTok and a stakeholder in a new entity to be known as TikTok Global.

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#Newsworthy

Impeachment trial: Prosecutors set to wrap up case against Trump.

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The impeachment managers laid out their case over several hours arguing that the links are clear between Trump, his lies about election fraud, the violence, and the then president’s inaction as the riot unfolded.

Impeachment prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case against ex-president Donald Trump in the US Senate Thursday, backed by chilling footage that showed senior politicians fleeing for their lives during last month’s assault on Congress.

The Democratic impeachment managers will argue for a second day that the riot was deliberately incited by the former president, with an aim of reminding senators, and watching Americans, just how bad things got on January 6.

On Wednesday they walked senators — many of them clearly shaken — through hours of graphic presentations and video, some of which came from security cameras and police bodycams and was being aired for the first time.

The ensuing mayhem left five people dead, including one woman shot after she invaded the Capitol and one policeman killed by the crowd.

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The episode occurred after Trump told a rally near the White House that his failure to win reelection was due to vote rigging, but Trump’s defense lawyers, who will present their arguments later this week, say Trump cannot be personally blamed for the riot and that the entire trial is unconstitutional because he has already left office.

Video played on the Senate floor Wednesday showed then vice president Mike Pence — who was in the Capitol to preside over certification of Joe Biden’s defeat of Trump — being hurried down back stairs to safety by security officers, along with his family.

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Top Democratic senator Chuck Schumer is seen narrowly dodging a rampaging throng of pro-Trump rioters. And Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican who often opposed Trump and was turned into a hate figure by the president, is seen being steered away by an officer at the last moment as an angry crowd approaches.

US President Donald Trump arrives to board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on October 14, 2020. – Trumps travels to Des Moines, Iowa, for a Make America Great” rally. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP)

In another segment, the mob can be seen smashing into the offices of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives and another frequent target of Trump’s most violent rhetoric.

“Nancy, where are you Nancy?” protesters call out as they search, not knowing that eight of her staff were barricaded behind a door in the same corridor. Pelosi herself had already been urgently whisked away.

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“We know from the rioters themselves that if they had found Speaker Pelosi, they would have killed her,” said impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett, a House delegate from the US Virgin Islands.

The impeachment managers laid out their case over several hours arguing that the links are clear between Trump, his lies about election fraud, the violence, and the then president’s inaction as the riot unfolded.

Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said Trump “completely abdicated” his duty.

“Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander-in-chief and became the inciter-in-chief of a dangerous insurrection,” Raskin said.

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Republicans loyal so far
Holed up in his luxury Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has been gone from power for three weeks.

But the trial has put the flamboyant and deeply polarizing Republican once more at the center of the national conversation — and underlined his still-powerful hold over the base of the Republican electorate.

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Some Republican senators have expressed disgust with the pro-Trump riot, openly blasted Trump’s refusal to accept defeat to Biden, and acknowledged the compelling case made by the Democrats with the aid of extensive video — an unprecedented development on the Senate floor.

“The evidence that has been presented thus far is pretty damning,” Republican senator Lisa Murkowski said.

“Of course it’s powerful,” Senator Bill Cassidy, who with Murkowski was among six Republicans in supporting the trial’s constitutionality, said of the chilling footage. But “how that influences final decisions remains to be seen.”

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It is highly unlikely that enough Republicans will join the Democrats to secure conviction in the impeachment trial.

This requires a two-thirds majority, meaning 17 Republicans would need to go along with the 50 Democrats.

Forced off Twitter and other social media platforms following his unprecedented attempt to foment a conspiracy theory about his election defeat, Trump has fewer outlets where he can vent.

But it is also believed that advisors are pressing him to keep back, fearing his reappearance could turn Republican senators against him.

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According to US media reports, Trump was privately furious on the trial’s opening day Tuesday at what he saw as his own lawyers’ lackluster performance.

Unlike Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, which took three weeks, this one is expected to be over within days.

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#Newsworthy

Twitter boils hot at Trump again.

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Trump was a prolific user of Twitter during his campaign and in his four years at the White House, using the platform for policy announcements

Twitter will not allow former president Donald Trump back on the platform even if he runs for office again, the company’s chief financial officer said Wednesday.

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“The way our policies work, when you’re removed from the platform, you’re removed from the platform, whether you’re a commentator, a CFO or a current or former public official,” Ned Segal said in an interview with television network CNBC.

Trump’s “de-platforming” by Twitter came after a violent uprising by his supporters leading to a deadly siege at the US Capitol on January 6. Facebook and other social networks also banned Trump after the incident.

“Our policies are designed to ensure that people are not inciting violence,” Segal said.

“And if anybody does that we would have to remove them from the service and our policies don’t allow people to come back.”

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Trump was a prolific user of Twitter during his campaign and in his four years at the White House, using the platform for policy announcements, to settle scores and for his political campaign.

He had more than 80 million followers when his account was suspended.

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#Newsworthy

Democrats open cases in Trump’s impeachment trial.

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The Trump team will get the same amount of time as the impeachment managers — up to 16 hours divided over two days — to present their defense later.

Democrats present the case against Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial Wednesday, arguing that he directed an enraged crowd to storm Congress in the dying days of his presidency — even if Republicans look unlikely to convict.

Unlike Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, which took three weeks, this one is expected to last just days, with lawmakers on both sides keen to move on.

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After a large majority of Republicans voted Tuesday that they consider putting a former president on trial to be unconstitutional, it would take a major surprise for Democrats to obtain the two-thirds majority in the Senate requires for conviction.

But even if Trump looks set for acquittal in the 50-50 Senate, as he was last year, Democrats are presenting a searing case against the populist real estate tycoon, who is holed up in his luxury Florida club.

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Impeachment managers, the equivalent of prosecutors in a regular trial, are expected to take no more than two days to lay out their contention that Trump incited an insurrection when he tried to overturn his November election loss to Joe Biden with a sustained campaign of lies about voter fraud.

On Tuesday they gave a preview, playing a 13-minute compilation of video clips showing Trump stirring up a crowd of supporters on January 6 before a mob rampaged through the halls of Congress, seeking to stop certification of Biden’s victory.

“If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said in a speech that riveted watching senators.

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Raskin fought tears as he described going to Congress with his family on January 6, having just buried his 25-year-old son the day before, only to have to flee to safety when the angry pro-Trump crowd burst into the Capitol.

“There was a sound I will never forget: the sound of pounding on the door like a battering ram — the most haunting sound I ever heard,” Raskin said, choking up.

Trump lawyers drop ball
Trump is remaining largely and uncharacteristically silent in his Mar-a-Lago retreat. Forced off Twitter and other social media platforms in the wake of his unprecedented attempt to foment a conspiracy theory about his election defeat, Trump has fewer outlets where he can vent.

But it is also believed that advisors are pressing him to keep back, fearing his reappearance would only anger Republican senators.

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According to US media reports, Trump was privately furious on Tuesday at his own lawyers’ performance.

One of the attorneys, Bruce Castor, delivered a rambling, often baffling speech of about 40 minutes that even Trump allies said made no sense.

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The other lawyer, David Schoen, did not defend Trump’s behavior during the post-election period but angrily denounced Democrats and the impeachment process in the kind of high-energy style the former president famously appreciates.

A November 24, 2020 photo shows US President Donald Trump speaking at the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. – Trump’s unprecedented attempt to defy the results of the US election were thrown into fresh disarray November 25, 2020 when he abruptly canceled a trip reportedly meant to showcase his grievances with an appearance at the epic Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

The impeachment trial threatens to “tear this country apart,” Schoen said.

The Trump team will get the same amount of time as the impeachment managers — up to 16 hours divided over two days — to present their defense later.

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Despite leaving office in disgrace — the first president in history to be twice impeached — Trump is still hugely popular among Republican voters, who see him as a champion against Washington elites and a bulwark against rapidly deepening liberal social values.

Because of this, Trump retains considerable power over the party, explaining why so few Republican senators — despite often being openly angry at his behaviour — are willing to convict him.

On Tuesday, just six out of 50 Republican senators voted with the 50 Democrats to confirm that the trial was constitutional and could go ahead.

One of them, Bill Cassidy, said he had previously opposed the trial but changed his mind after hearing the opening presentations.

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He called Trump’s lawyers “disorganized, random. They talked about many things, but they didn’t talk about the issue at hand.”

While the end result seems certain, some doubt remains because the wily Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly told members to vote with their conscience — not along party lines.

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#Newsworthy

Joe Biden pushes to legalise Homosexuals rights in Nigeria..

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One of the countries with a restriction against the legalisation Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons globally is Nigeria – with a law prohibiting their acts.

United States President Joe Biden has directed American Embassy in Nigeria and other countries to push for the legalisation of homosexuality in their respective countries of residence.

Biden gave the directive in a White House statement on Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World.

The United States president said the memorandum reaffirms and supplements the principles established in the Presidential Memorandum of December 6, 2011 (International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons).

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“It shall be the policy of the United States to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” Biden said in the memorandum.

“Through this memorandum, I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons”

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Biden said the memorandum calls for “Swift and Meaningful United States Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBTQI+ Persons Abroad.

“The Department of State shall lead a standing group, with appropriate interagency representation, to help ensure the Federal Government’s swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons abroad.”

Biden noted that “When foreign governments move to restrict the rights of LGBTQI+ persons or fail to enforce legal protections in place, thereby contributing to a climate of intolerance, agencies engaged abroad shall consider appropriate responses, including using the full range of diplomatic and assistance tools and, as appropriate, financial sanctions, visa restrictions, and other actions.”

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One of the countries with a restriction against the legalisation Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons globally is Nigeria – with a law prohibiting their acts.

The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), signed into law in 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, was enacted on the premise that the Nigerian culture is antithetical to homosexuality.

With the population of the country largely divided between Christians and Muslims, there was also a religious urgency to the prohibition. Persons of the LGBTQ+ community risk up to 20 years jail term in Nigeria.

However, Amnesty International said the prohibition by the government exposes persons of the LGBTQ+ in the country to harm and called for a reversal of the law. US President Biden shared the same sentiment in the memorandum.

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“All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love,” Biden said.

He said the United States belongs at the forefront of this struggle — speaking out and standing strong for members of the LGBTQ+ and holds the values of treating people with dignity regardless of race, colour or sexuality.

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#Newsworthy