Guterres Says Unable to Take Action on UN Iran Sanctions Due to ‘Uncertainty’: Report

(September 21, 2020)

UNITED NATIONS: (APP):United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed his inability to take any action on a US declaration that all UN sanctions have been reinstated against Iran because of an apparent “uncertainty” on the issue, according to a media report.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that all UN sanctions against Iran were “back in effect” under a “snapback” mechanism featured in the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

“There would appear to be uncertainty whether or not the process … was indeed initiated and concomitantly whether or not the (sanctions) terminations continue in effect,” Guterres wrote in a letter to the UN Security Council, according to Reuters news agency.
In his statement, Pompeo also warned UN member states with “consequences” if they refused to implement the sanctions.

“If UN member states fail to fulfill their obligations to implement these sanctions, the United States is prepared to use our domestic authorities to impose consequences for those failures and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity,” he said.
The top US diplomat “notified” the UN Secretariat last month that Washington was triggering the mechanism.
However, other signatories to the nuclear accord assert that the American procedure lacks legal effect because Washington left the deal, officially

known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018. “It is not for the Secretary-General to proceed as if no such uncertainty exists,” the UN chief added to his remarks that coincided with the deadline set by Washington. Thirteen of the 15 Security Council members say Washington’s move is void because Pompeo used a mechanism agreed under a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which the United States quit in 2018. U.N. officials provide administrative and technical support to the Security Council to implement its sanctions regimes and Guterres appoints independent experts to monitor implementation.

Guterres said that “pending clarification” of the status of the Iran sanctions, he would not take any action to provide that support.
Meanwhile, Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi tweeted, “US illegal and false ‘deadline’ has come and gone. Swimming against international currents will only bring it more isolation.” Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said on Twitter, “We all clearly said in August that US claims to trigger snapback are illegitimate. Is Washington deaf?”

In August, the Security Council rejected a US-drafted resolution seeking to prevent an arms embargo on the Islamic Republic from expiring in October under the JCPOA. China and Russia strongly opposed the resolution and eleven countries withheld their votes on the draft that was only backed by the Dominican Republic.

OIC Contact Group on Kashmir Calls for Ending India’s Rights Abuses, Self-Determination for Kashmiris

(September 21, 2020)

NEW YORK: (APP): The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir, which met in New York on Sunday, voiced “deep concern” over the continued human rights violations by India in occupied Kashmir, and called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council to take steps to end those abuses. The meeting, which was requested by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was held on the eve of the UN General Assembly’s high-level debate opening on Tuesday.

Attending the meeting were permanent representatives of Saudi Arabia, Niger, Azerbaijan and Pakistan. The OIC Secretary General was represented by the Permanent Representative of the OIC Observer Mission to the UN, Ambassador Agshin Mehdiyev. The OIC group discussed the worsening human rights situation in Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), according to a press release issued by Pakistani Mission to the UN. Reaffirming its stand on the Kashmir dispute, the Contact Group also urged the UN chief to press India to rescind the unilateral and illegal measures taken on and after 5 August 2019 and to implement the Security Council resolutions calling for a plebiscite to enable the Kashmiri people to exercise their right to self-determination.

Conveying a special message of the Foreign Minister Qureshi to the meeting, Ambassador Munir Akram stated that the RSS-BJP regime in India was implementing what its rulers had themselves called a “Final Solution”. The regime was engaged in systematically engineering a demographic change in IIOJK through new domicile rules, he said. The issuance of 1.6 million domicile certificates (since March) was meant to change the demography of IIOJK from a Muslim majority into Hindu majority territory. In another attempt to obliterate the Muslim identity of occupied Jammu and Kashmir the status of Urdu language was being changed under a new legislation, the foreign minister said.

Indian claims of “normalcy” in IIOJK were fallacious, he said, adding that the joint communication by eighteen Special Mandate Holders of the Human Rights Council issued last month had termed the human rights situation in IIOJK was in a “free fall”. Hundreds of young Kashmiris were extra judicially killed in “fake encounters” and “cordon and search” operations while the Indian security forces continued to enjoy complete impunity under black laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (APSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA). The Foreign Minister, in his special message, also sensitized the Contact Group about India having intensified its belligerent rhetoric against Pakistan, including threats of military aggression. In 2020 alone, India had so far committed over 2200 ceasefire violations.

There was a tangible threat of further escalation as India might conduct another “false flag” operation to justify renewed aggression against Pakistan, posing a serious threat to regional peace and security, FM Qureshi said. To this end, the Foreign Minister emphasized that it was imperative for India to:immediately lift its inhumane military siege and rescind illegal actions taken since 05 August; remove restrictions on communications, movement and peaceful assembly; release incarcerated political leaders; free arbitrarily detained Kashmiris; reverse new domicile rules; remove draconian security laws; prosecute military and civilian personnel involved in massive human rights violations; and allow unhindered access to the OIC, the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) and UN Fact Finding Missions and the international media to investigate the human rights violations in IIOJK.

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dies At 87

(September 19, 2020)

WASHINGTON: US Supreme Court Justice and liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, opening a crucial vacancy on the high court expected to set off a pitched political battle at the peak of the presidential campaign. Affectionately known as the 'Notorious RBG,' the 87-year-old Ginsburg was the oldest of nine Supreme Court justices. She died after a fight with pancreatic cancer, the court announced, saying she passed away “surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, DC”.

Coming just 46 days before an election in which President Donald Trump lags his Democratic rival Joe Biden in the polls, the vacancy offers the Republican a chance to lock in a conservative majority at the court for decades to come. Trump issued a statement praising Ginsburg as a “titan of the law,” but gave no indication whether he intended to press ahead with a nomination. Accolades flowed in for the pioneering Jewish justice. “Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” said Chief Justice John Roberts.

Trump's predecessor Barack Obama said in a tweet that Ginsburg “fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals”. Biden said she was “an American hero, a giant of legal doctrine, and a relentless voice in the pursuit of that highest American ideal: equal justice under law”. In Washington, hundreds of tearful mourners laid flowers in front of the Supreme Court, where the diminutive Ginsburg sat for 27 years even taking arguments and issuing opinions from her hospital bed after repeated bouts of illness over the past two years.

US flags flew at half-mast on each side of the court building. People lit candles on the steps of the court while others held rainbow flags. Among the notably young crowd was Erin Drumm, a student at the Catholic University of America. “I came here because I think RBG represents everything that America should stand for,” the 19-year-old said. “She represents the freedom to choose and respect for science and other people regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity or religion.” Taylor Gutierrez, 26, said he wanted to celebrate Ginsburg's achievements, “especially as a gay man knowing that she helped create a more equitable society for us."

“But I think at the same time there's just a certain trepidation since we don't really know what's going to come next,” he added. “There's a very real fear that those things could be rolled back.” One placard on the court steps read: “We love you Ruthie Bear”. Ginsburg anchored the court's liberal faction, whittled to four by two Trump appointments since 2017. The appointment of a sixth conservative justice could lead to a court that would potentially remove abortion rights, strengthen the powers of business, and water down rights provided to minorities and the LGBTQ community over the past three decades.

Within minutes of the news of her death, the enormous political battle had begun — with Biden warning Trump had no right to name a successor so close to the November 3 election. Democrats are expected to fight tough to force a delay — an uphill battle given the control Republicans have on the Senate, which must approve any nominee.

Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ginsburg was a law school star when women didn't study law, and a law professor with a powerful impact on the establishment of rights for women and minorities. She died on the evening that marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, those who die during the holiday are revered as a “Tzaddik,” or a person of great righteousness. Ginsburg's death gives Trump the opportunity to tilt the court to the right, potentially for decades, with media reporting that a new nomination could be quick.

But it also has the potential to mobilise voters on the Democratic side. Trump said in August he would have no qualms about naming a new justice so close to the election, and last week unveiled 20 names of possible choices, all deeply conservative. Drawing a line in the sand on Friday, Biden warned: “The voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.” “This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when they were almost 10 months to go before the election. That's the position the United States Senate must take today.”

Biden was referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's decision in 2016, in Obama's last year in office, to block the president's court nominee so that Trump could name his own the following year. But in a statement on Friday, McConnell rejected the notion he had set a precedent. “President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” McConnell said. The stakes are extremely high, according to Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

“The political fight will be huge because appointing a very conservative person will make this the most conservative court in a century,” he said. According to NPR radio, Ginsburg raised the issue this week with her granddaughter Clara Spera. “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she said.

UNGA's Landmark 75th Session Opens in NYC Sans World Leaders

(September 15, 2020)

UNITED NATIONS: The 75th UN General Assembly session, which began Tuesday, will be unlike any other in the organization's three quarters of a century of existence -- world leaders will not be physically present in the iconic hall for their annual gathering because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The centerpiece of any General Assembly session is undoubtedly the General Debate, which starts on Sept. 22, a week after the official opening, in which usually over 100 hundred heads of state/government participated in the past years to discuss key global issues.

This year, because of the pandemic, world leaders will be staying away from New York and instead sending in pre-recorded videos of their speeches which will be broadcast "as live". Their absence is because US Government has notified that foreign leaders, without exception, will be quarantined for 14 days on arrival in New York. Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan will address the 193-member Assembly via video-link on September 25.

According to the preliminary list of speakers, he is the 6th speaker in Friday's afternoon session. "He (Imran Khan) is expected once again to project the just cause of the Kashmiri people and call for action by the international community to halt India's massive violations of human rights, rescind the unilateral measures imposed in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir since 5 August 2019 and promote a solution in accordance with the Security Council resolutions and the will of the Kashmiri people," Pakistan's UN Ambassador Munir Khan told APP special correspondent.

"He is also likely to speak about Islamophobia, including the BJP-RSS campaign against Indian Muslims; as well as on illicit financial flows and the reform and revival of the United Nations," Ambassador Akram added. The Prime Minister is also likely to address from Islamabad the Summit meeting on Financing for Development on Sept. 29 and the Bio-Diversity Summit on Sept. 30. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is scheduled to speak in the UN's 75th Anniversary Session on Sept. 2, and at a High-Level Meeting of the UN Alliance of Civilizations on Sept.

28. He will also address the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women on Oct.1. In the hybrid format adopted for this year, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister's video statements will be introduced by Ambassador Akram, who will be physically present in the General Assembly Hall. Each member state will send one diplomat to the hall in order to maintain social distancing. The landmark session will be presided over Volkan Bozkir, a veteran Turkish diplomat, who will assume the office as UNGA President on September 15.

Because of the strict restrictions, this time around there will be no bumping into presidents or the occasional global celebrity in hectic and sometimes crushed corridors at UN Headquarters in New York. There will be no marvelling at seemingly endless presidential motorcades on the streets around the UN complex and no "standing-room only" moments in the gilded General Assembly Hall, as the Organization's busiest time of the year is reimagined in the time of COVID-19.

The United Nations was established in 1945 and has been marking its 75th anniversary with what the UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres has called an extended "people's debate" which "promises to be the largest and furthest-reaching global conversation ever on building the future we want." The event at UN headquarters on 21 September to celebrate the milestone (which will also take place online and remotely) will aim to "generate renewed support for multilateralism"; an issue many believe has become ever more urgent as the world faces up to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's expected that the Secretary-General will address, in person, the High-Level event to mark the 75th anniversary in the GA Hall. The Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs - the 17 internationally agreed targets to reduce poverty and maintain peace, whilst protecting the planet - have remained at the top of the UN's agenda during 2020, with many arguing, including the UN Deputy Secretary-General A mina Muhammed, that the pandemic has only underlined more forcefully why they are so important.

At the 75th GA session, the SDGs will be put under the spotlight in what is being described as a "first of its kind 30-minute global broadcast", created by writer and director, and SDG advocate, Richard Curtis, which will take audiences across the world "on a dynamic exploration of the times we live in, the multiple tipping points our planet faces, and the interventions that could transform our world" up to 2030, when, it's hoped, the SDG targets will be met.

Meanwhile, the SDG Action Zone, which, in past years, has provided a focal point and meeting place at UN Headquarters to promote the global sustainable development agenda, is moving online with appearances from "inspirational leaders" promised on the bill. And the UN will also be partnering with the Al Jazeera English flagship social media show, The Stream, in a series of discussions around the SDGs.

Earth's biodiversity, its rich variety of life, is declining at what the UN has warned "an unprecedented rate." Over one million species are at risk of extinction, two billion hectares of land are currently degraded and 66 per cent of oceans, 50 per cent of coral reefs and 85 per cent of wetlands have been significantly and negatively altered by human activity. A major international summit to discuss how to reverse the accelerating deterioration of the natural environment and how it is harmfully impacting people's lives was due to be held this year in Kunming, China, but it has now been postponed until May 2021.

In the meantime, a day of virtual meetings will be taking place under the auspices of the General Assembly on September 30. Progress on gender equality and women's rights has been severely impacted by COVID-19, as women and girls suffer a disproportionate social and economic fallout according to the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. On 1 October, this and other issues relating to gender equality and empowerment are due to be discussed at the UN in the context of the 25th anniversary of the internationally agreed Beijing Platform for Action which is widely acknowledged as the most comprehensive and forward-looking plan for advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sept. 18 will mark the first ever International Equal Pay Day, which focuses on aligning pay between men and women. Not strictly part of the General Assembly, but inextricably linked; many New Yorkers dread the opening of the new GA session every September which brings the closing of streets, presidential-motorcade-induced traffic jams on the city's First Avenue and the surrounding Midtown area, and enervating disruptions to general life.

This year, while world leaders stay away, New Yorkers, despite the severe, ongoing challenges of the pandemic, which include billions of Dollars in lost revenue from visitors and tourists, will no doubt enjoy a respite from the week or ten days when a small part of their global city is given over to presidents and heads of State.

China, India Agree to Ease Tension Along LAC

(September 6, 2020)

NEW DELHI: The chief of Indian army has admitted that the situation along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh is “delicate and serious”. At the end of his two-day visit to Ladakh, he said the situation along the Line of Actual Control is tense.

Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh V. Shringla, while addressing the Indian Council of World Affairs said that the ongoing tension between India and China at the LAC in Ladakh is the “most serious challenge” for India like 1962.

In the highest level face-to-face political contact between India and China since tensions first flared along the border in May, defence ministers Rajnath Singh of India and General Wei Fenghe of China met late on Friday on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation of Organisation meeting in Moscow.

Reuters reported that both sides agreed to work towards reducing tensions along their contested border running through the western Himalayas after a clash in June, during which 20 Indian soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand fighting.

Both countries agreed that "neither side should take any further action

that could either complicate the situation or escalate matters in the border areas," Indian defence ministry said in a statement.

Wei said the two sides should promote peace and stability and work to cool current tensions, China's ministry of defence said in a news report about the meeting posted on its website.

He said, however, that blame for the recent tensions lay "entirely with India", adding that China was determined to safeguard its national sovereignty and territory.

China urges India to withdraw troops illegally trespassing LAC to de-escalate situation

(September 3, 2020)

NEW DELHI: China has urged India to immediately withdraw its troops illegally trespassing the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India Counselor Ji Rong, responding to a query on the China-India border situation said that China has urged the Indian side to restrain its frontline troops and immediately end all provocative actions that would escalate tensions.

He said India's move has grossly violated China's territorial sovereignty, seriously violated relevant agreements, protocols and important consensus reached between the two countries.

The spokesperson added that Indian steps have severely damaged peace and tranquility along the China-India border areas at LAC.

France: Charlie Hebdo Reprints Offensive Prophet Caricatures

(September 1, 2020)

PARIS: Move comes a day before 13 men and one woman - accused of assisting the 2015 attackers of the newspaper - go on trial.The French satirical newspaper whose Paris offices were attacked in 2015 is reprinting the controversial caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad that the gunmen who opened fire on its editorial staff cited as their motivation.

The move was announced on Tuesday, a day before 13 men and a woman accused of providing the attackers with weapons and logistics go on trial on charges of terrorism on Wednesday.

In an editorial this week accompanying the offensive caricatures, the paper said the drawings "belong to history, and history cannot be rewritten nor erased".

The January 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo and, two days later, a kosher supermarket, touched off a wave of killings claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group across Europe. Seventeen people died in the attacks - 12 of them at the editorial offices - along with all three attackers.

The attackers, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, claimed their attack on the newspaper in the name of al-Qaeda. As they left the scene at Charlie Hebdo, they killed a wounded policeman and drove away.

Two days later, a prison acquaintance of theirs stormed a kosher supermarket on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, claiming allegiance to ISIL. Four hostages were killed during the attack.

The Kouachi brothers had by then holed up in a printing office with another hostage. All three attackers died in near-simultaneous police raids. The supermarket attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, also killed a young policewoman.

The decision to republish the cartoons will be seen by some as a defiant gesture in defence of free expression. But others may see it as a renewed provocation by a publication that has long courted controversy with its satirical attacks on religion.

The caricatures re-published this week were first printed in 2006 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, setting off sometimes violent protests by some Muslims who found the depictions offensive. The Prophet Muhammad is deeply revered by Muslims and any kind of visual depiction is forbidden. The caricatures were perceived as linking him with terrorism. 

Charlie Hebdo, infamous for its irreverence and accused by critics of racism, regularly caricatures religious leaders from various faiths and republished them soon afterwards. The paper's Paris offices were firebombed in 2011 and its editorial leadership placed under police protection, which remains in place to this day.

Laurent Sourisseau, the newspaper's director and one of the few staff to have survived the attack, named each of the victims in a foreword to this week's edition. Manhunt for Charlie Hebdo suspects as France mourns victims

"Rare are those who, five years later, dare oppose the demands that are still so pressing from religions in general, and some in particular," wrote Sourisseau, also known as Riss.

The president of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), Mohammed Moussaoui, urged people to "ignore" the cartoons, while condemning violence. The suspects, who go on trial from 08:00 GMT on Wednesday, are accused of providing various degrees of logistical support to the killers.

The trial had been delayed several months with most French courtrooms closed over the coronavirus epidemic. The court in Paris will sit until November 10 and, in a first for a terrorism trial, proceedings will be filmed for archival purposes given public interest.

National anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard dismissed the idea that it was just "little helpers" going on trial since the three gunmen were now dead.

 

Christchurch Mosque Shooter Sentenced to Life Without Parole

(August 28, 2020)

CHRISTCHURCH: The Christchurch shooter who in 2019 killed 51 people in deadliest attacks on two New Zealand mosques, Brenton Tarrant, has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, the New Zealand Herald newspaper reported citing a court ruling. 

It is the first time such a sentence has been handed down in New Zealand, the newspaper said. On March 15, 2019, New Zealand was rocked by two mass shootings at Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center in the central city of Christchurch.

The tragedy left 51 people dead and 50 others wounded. The attacker, then a 28-year-old Australia native, live-streamed the massacre on Facebook, and the video later appeared on other online platforms.

Brenton Tarrant, admitted to 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of

attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act during the 2019 shooting rampage at twine mosques.

China, India Agree to Ease Border Tensions

(August 28, 2020)

BEIJING: A Chinese Defense Ministry’s Spokesperson Thursday said that China and India had agreed to further ease border tension following the clashes between the two militaries in Galwan Valley in June this year.

“Since the Galwan Valley clash, China and India have held several rounds of talks through military and diplomatic channels, and progress has been made in disengaging the frontline troops of both sides,” Chinese Defense Ministry’s Spokesperson, Senior Colonel Wu Qian said during a regular press conference.

Wu said that China and India have agreed to follow the important consensus reached by the leaders of both countries and other relevant agreements, continue to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels, further ease and cool down the China-India border situation, properly handle the remaining issues, and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area.

Terming China and India as important neighbors, he said maintaining peace and stability in the border area is not only conducive to both sides’ respective development, but also to regional and world peace and stability.

Wu hoped that India could work with China towards the same goal, bearing in mind the big picture of bilateral ties and putting the border issue in an appropriate position in this big picture, avoid misjudgment, keep divergences from escalating into disputes, and take concrete steps to bring the bilateral relations back to the right track of normal development.

On June 15, the Chinese and Indian soldiers engaged in a nightly medieval clash in Galwan Valley, where India was trying to build a

strategic road, connecting the region to an airstrip, close to China. As many as 20 Indian soldiers were killed during the fight.

Since then the two countries have held several rounds of commanders’ level talks to ease the situation on the border in Galwan Valley.

The disputed border covers nearly 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) of frontier that the two countries call the Line of Actual Control and that stretches from Ladakh in the north to the Indian state of Sikkim in the northeast.

The two countries have been trying to settle their border dispute since the early 1990s without success. Since then, soldiers from the two sides have frequently faced off along the contested frontier.

India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory while separating it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019. China is among the countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

India Orders Issuance of IIOJK Domicile to Non-Kashmiris in 5 days

(August 26, 2020)

SRINAGAR: The Modi-led fascist Indian government has directed the authorities to issue domicile certificates to the applicants in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, within five working days.

APHC leader and Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Social Peace Forum, Advocate Devinder Singh Behl has strongly condemned the issuance of domicile certificates to non-Kashmiris on fast-track basis saying that India under a well-thought-out plan is engaged in changing the demography in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

He urged the international community to prevent India from using nefarious tactics to upset the existing demographic composition in the territory.

On the other hand, India is expediting work on a strategic 290-km-long road linking Darcha in Himachal Pradesh with Ladakh amid the border row with China. 

It will be the second road link to Ladakh after Srinagar-Leh highway.

Earlier, at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed and 76 others injured in a fierce clash between the Chinese and Indian army personnel in a disputed Himalayan border area in June 2020.

China Warns US of Getting 'Burned' Over Taiwan Visit

(August 12, 2020)

TAIPEI: China warned Washington not to "play with fire" on Wednesday as a US delegation wrapped up a historic trip to the self-ruled island of Taiwan. Beijing has been infuriated by the highest-profile visit in decades to Taiwan, which it sees as part of its territory, as US-China relations plunge to a record low over a range of issues from trade to military and the coronavirus pandemic.

Health chief Alex Azar finished a three-day visit to Taiwan, during which he criticised China's handling of the pandemic and visited the shrine of a former Taiwan president hated by the Communist Party leadership. Beijing slammed the visit Wednesday and said it "firmly opposes official exchanges between the US and Taiwan under any pretext".

"On issues involving China's core interests, some people in the US must not harbour illusions, those who play with fire will get burned," said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a regular press briefing. "I would also like to remind the Taiwan authorities not to be, subservient to others, to rely on the support of foreigners, and to be bent on pursuing independence, which is a dead end," Zhao said.

Beijing insists that Taiwan, which has been self-ruled since 1949, is part of "one China" and has vowed to react with force if it ever formally declares independence. On the last day of the trip, Azar visited a shrine to Taiwan's late president Lee Teng-hui Wednesday, praising his role in steering the island's transition to democracy. The US cabinet member wrote a message of condolence for Lee, who died last month aged 97.

"President Lee's democratic legacy will forever propel the U.S. Taiwan relationship forward," Azar wrote. Lee was a towering figure in Taiwan's recent history. He defied China by pushing for the island to be recognised as a sovereign nation and earned the nickname "Mr Democracy" for the part he played in its transition from authoritarian rule.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, loathed Lee. When news emerged of his death, Chinese state media called him "the godfather of Taiwan secessionism". Both Washington and Taipei portrayed Azar's trip as an opportunity to learn from the success of Taiwan's battle against the coronavirus.

The island has fewer than 500 infections and just seven deaths, compared with more than 160,000 fatalities in the United States. But the visit has also been an opportunity to ruffle Beijing's feathers at a time when US President Donald Trump is taking an increasingly hard line against China as he seeks re-election in November.

"We will continue to support Taiwan as our friend and our partner across security, economic and healthcare issues," Azar told reporters after a visit to a mask factory on Wednesday, shortly before flying back the the States. China takes umbrage at any formal recognition of Taiwan.

It called for Azar's trip to be cancelled and Taiwan accused Beijing of sending fighter jets over a de facto border on Monday, the day the US health chief met President Tsai Ing-wen. During his visit Azar has repeatedly contrasted Taiwan's open, democratic system with China's authoritarian leadership. In a speech on Tuesday he suggested the coronavirus might have been stopped sooner had it emerged in a more transparent and democratic place, such as Taiwan, rather than China.

He also hit out at Beijing for keeping Taiwan locked out of the World Health Organization. China has taken an increasingly hostile approach towards Taiwan since Tsai took office in 2016. Despite the pressure campaign she won a second term earlier this year with a landslide.

Malaysia's Mahathir Vows to Speak on Atrocities in Occupied Kashmir

(August 9, 2020)

KUALALUMPUR: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad said Saturday he would highlight Indian atrocities and injustices in occupied Kashmir now "without restraint" as his country would not have to pay the price as he was not in an official position anymore.

Mohamad said he would not apologise for his speech at the United Nations on occupied Kashmir last year and will continue to "speak without restraint" on the issue. In a series of tweets following an event held in Kuala Lumpur in support of Kashmir, Mohamad said he had chosen to speak out last year despite being aware of the potential backlash.

“Standing up for humanity I had chosen to speak out despite being aware of the potential backlash. To my mind, keeping quiet is not an option when all the tell-tale signs were pointing towards another situation whereby a big and powerful country imposed its will with impunity on a small and defenceless nation,” he said.

He added, “What transpired since my contentious speech at the UN General Assembly in September last year only served to prove that what I had said was mild and to a certain degree, restrained.” The two-time former prime minister added that he will offer no apology as to what he said. “I offer no apology for what I had said though I am sorry that it had affected our palm oil export to India. I don’t know if that is a high price to pay for speaking out against such injustices,” Mohamad remarked.

In September 2019, Mohamad, then prime minister of Malaysia, had raised the Kashmir issue while speaking at the UN General Assembly, drawing a strong reaction from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which said New Delhi “completely rejects the references made in respect of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral and inalienable part of India.” He added that since he was no longer the prime minister, he could now speak about the Kashmir issue without restrain and threats of boycott.

respect of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral and inalienable part of India.”

Acknowledging the veteran statesman, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was thankful to Mohamad for speaking in support of Kashmiris and against Indian repression in the occupied valley. “I want to thank Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad for speaking in support of Kashmiris and against Indian repression in IIOJK - this time at a function on Aug 8 to mark a year of the illegal Indian actions in IIOJK,” he tweeted.

PM Imran, in his speech at the UNGA, had heavily criticised Indian PM Narendra Modi and his party’s ultra-nationalist hardline style of governance. He had also said that India ended the special status of occupied Kashmir by flouting 11 resolutions of the UN Security Council. "There is no other narrative left for India,” PM Imran had said, adding that there is another chance of a Pulwama-like incident to blame and ‘bomb’ Pakistan.

“India must lift this inhuman curfew,” the prime minister had said, adding that if the lockdown was not lifted, the eight million people under lockdown in the valley were likely to get radicalized.

World's Senior Most Leader Mahathir to Set Up New Political Party in Malaysia

(August 8, 2020)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's former prime minister and political leader Mahathir Mohamad, 95, said here on Friday that he was setting up a new political party as he seeks to take on the government, months after he quit as premier and his administration collapsed.

Mahathir, the world's oldest leader until his resignation in February, first entered parliament as an MP in 1964 and had two stints as prime minister, totaling a quarter of a century. But far from quietly retiring, the spry nonagenarian has continued to challenge the legitimacy of the leader who replaced him, and on Friday announced the new party.

Mahathir said the group, still unnamed, would be independent, champion the rights of the country's Muslim majority and battle corruption. "We will fight the parties involved in bribery and the stealing of money," he told reporters at a press conference. Mahathir said he will be chairman and the party would not be part of the current government or the opposition alliance of which he used to be a member.

Several other MPs also appeared with Mahathir at the announcement. The ex-premier used to be a member of a party called Bersatu, which he set up to contest the 2018 election, but it split when Mahathir´s shaky coalition government collapsed. The veteran politician was first premier from 1981 to 2003 but then launched a comeback ahead of the polls two years ago, to take on the corruption-mired regime of Najib Razak.

He led an opposition alliance to a shock victory and returned as prime minister. He led an opposition alliance to a shock victory and returned as prime minister. But the government collapsed this year amid intense infighting over whether Anwar Ibrahim should become the next premier, and Mahathir resigned. He sought to come back as prime minister but lost out to Muhyiddin Yassin, who now leads a coalition that includes Najib's scandal-plagued party.

Analysts said Mahathir's party would need the support of other parties to stand a chance of success. "Standing alone, he would be lucky to win back his own seat," Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow, from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Aljabri claims a former colleague, Bijad Alharbi, showed up at his Toronto telecommunications company office posing as an investor and tried to persuade him to go to Turkey to visit family. Although he refused, Alharbi had succeeded in pinpointing Aljabri's location so the Tiger Squad could find him, the suit states. "Bin Salman now plans to send agents directly through the United States to enter Canada by land and, once and for all, eliminate Dr. Saad," he says. 

As a pressure tactic, the claim asserts bin Salman has ordered the detention and kidnapping of Aljabri's family members. Two of his children "disappeared" in mid-March and other relatives have been arrested, detained and tortured. He also says Saudi agents hacked his smartphones and froze his bank accounts. Bin Salman took power in Saudi Arabia after then-crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef was ousted in 2017. Human rights groups accuse him of bloody ruthlessness, including the killing of Khashoggi, whose body has never been found.

The lawsuit also names Bader Alasaker, the head of bin Salman's private office. It accuses him of recruiting, training and bribing U.S.-based employees of Twitter to obtain confidential information about critics of bin Salman in the United States, now subject of criminal proceedings in the U.S. Aljabri's American lawyers would not discuss the case, saying they would make arguments in court.

Saudi Crown Prince Sent Hit Squad to Canada to Kill Former Spy, Lawsuit Claims

(August 7, 2020)

TORONTO: The crown prince of Saudi Arabia sent a hit squad to Canada in an effort to hunt down and kill a former top intelligence official who knows too much, a civil suit filed Thursday in court in the United States asserts. The 106-page unproven complaint, which reads like a spy thriller, accuses Mohammed bin Salman of orchestrating attempts to silence Saad Aljabri, a permanent resident of Canada.

The document describes Aljabri as a 39-year veteran of the government of Saudi Arabia with expertise in national security and counterterrorism. As such, it says, few people know more about bin Salman than he does, including his allegedly corrupt business dealings and creation of a team of personal mercenaries called the Tiger Squad. Those mercenaries, the suit states, were behind the killing and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018.

In addition, Aljabri says he had a close working relationship with American intelligence over the decades. He is, he claims, uniquely positioned to threaten bin Salman's standing in Washington. "Few places hold more sensitive, humiliating and damning information about defendant bin Salman than the mind and memory of Dr. Saad — except perhaps the recordings Dr. Saad made in anticipation of his killing," Aljabri asserts. "That is why defendant bin Salman wants him dead, and why defendant bin Salman has worked to achieve that objective over the last three years."

None of the allegations in Aljabri's claim for damages in United States District Court for the District of Columbia has been tested. Officials with the Saudi embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair would not comment on the specific allegations in the lawsuit but said the government was aware of incidents in which foreign actors have tried to monitor, intimidate or threaten Canadians and people in Canada.

"It is completely unacceptable and we will never tolerate foreign actors threatening Canada's national security or the safety of our citizens and residents," Blair said in a statement. "We invite people to report any such threats to law enforcement authorities." Blair repeated Canada's condemnation of Khashoggi's murder and its support for a proper international investigation, saying that's why Ottawa imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi nationals linked to the killing.

Aljabri, a dual citizen of Malta and Saudi Arabia, fled the kingdom in 2017, first to Turkey and then secretly to Toronto, where he now lives. Bin Salman repeatedly ordered him to return home and threatened via instant messaging to "use all available means" and to "take measures that would be harmful to you," the complaint states. "We shall certainly reach you," bin Salman allegedly insisted.

According to the suit, which also names several top Saudi officials, Tiger Squad members arrived at Toronto Pearson Airport on tourist visas in mid-October 2018, less than two weeks after Khashoggi was murdered. "Bin Salman in fact dispatched a hit squad to North America to kill Dr. Saad," the claim asserts. To cover themselves, they entered through separate kiosks but aroused suspicion after claiming they did not know each other, the suit states. Agents with the Canada Border Services Agency denied all but one of them entry, a squad member travelling on a diplomatic passport, it says.

US to Introduce Iran Arms Embargo Extension Soon

(August 7, 2020)

The US will introduce a Security Council resolution next week to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday. The top diplomat told reporters at the State Department that the measure is "eminently reasonable," vowing "one way or another we will do the right thing." "We will ensure the arms embargo is extended," he said amid opposition from China and Russia, two of the other veto-wielding permanent council members.

The embargo is set to expire Oct. 18 under the nuclear deal with Iran that Washington exited under US President Donald Trump-Pompeo said there are "nations lining up" to sell Iran weapons that will "destabilize the Middle East, put Israel at risk, put Europe at risk, risk American lives as well. We're not going to let it happen."

“The Security Council’s mission is to ensure international peace and security," said Pompeo. "The council would make an absolute mockery of that mission if it allowed the number state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell weapons freely.”

One option the US could pursue in the event that either the measure fails to receive necessary support in the 15-member council, or if Russia or China exercise vetoes, is what is called "snapback." That would entail triggering all sanctions lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear accord, an option Pompeo said the US is considering. 

"We're deeply aware that snapback is an option that's available to the United States, and we're going to do everything within America's power to ensure that that arms embargo is extended," he said. "I am confident that we will be successful."

Trump unilaterally pulled the US out the nuclear deal in 2018 above objections of all participants, and has gone on to reimpose sanctions the US lifted under the agreement, angering Iran, which retaliated by reneging on some of its commitments. It is unclear if the US has standing to invoke snapback since it is no longer a party to the accord.

Life running inHiroshima city just before US nuclear bomb attack

USNuclear Bomb

Hiroshima city scenario USafter nuclear bombing 

Hiroshima after deadly US nuclear bomb attck

Japan Remembers Hiroshima Atomic Bombing on 75th Anniversary(August 6, 2020)

HIROSHIMA:  Japan mourned the 75th anniversary of the horrifying Hiroshima nuclear attack during World War II on Thursday, observing the event with toned down ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Survivors, relatives and a handful of foreign dignitaries attended this year's main event in Hiroshima to pray for those killed or wounded in the bombing and call for world peace.

But the general public was kept away, with the ceremony instead broadcast online. Participants, many of them dressed in black and wearing face masks, offered a silent prayer at exactly 8:15 am (2315 GMT Wednesday), the time the first nuclear weapon used in wartime was dropped over the city. Speaking afterwards, Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui warned against the nationalism that led to World War II and urged the world to come together to face global threats, like the coronavirus pandemic.

"We must never allow this painful past to repeat itself. Civil society must reject self-centred nationalism and unite against all threats," he said. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been criticised by some for his attempts to revise a key pacifist clause of the country's constitution, pledged in his address to "do my best for the realisation of a world without nuclear weapons and peace for all time".

And UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who addressed the gathering by video message because of the pandemic, warned that "the only way to totally eliminate nuclear risk is to totally eliminate nuclear weapons". The bomb attack on Hiroshima killed around 140,000 people, many of them instantly, with others perishing in the weeks and months that followed, suffering radiation sickness, devastating burns and other injuries.

Three days later, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, where 74,000 people were killed.

'No one can escape'

Many of the traditionally sombre events to mark the anniversary have been cancelled because of the pandemic, a global threat that carries an all-too-familiar fear for some survivors, including 83-year-old Keiko Ogura, who lived through the Hiroshima bombing.

With the outbreak of the virus, "I recall the fear I felt right after the bombing... no one can escape", she told journalists last month. She too urged people around the world to recognise the need to fight common challenges as one. "Whether it's the coronavirus or nuclear weapons, the way to overcome it is through solidarity among mankind," she said.

The landmark anniversary this year underscores the dwindling number of bomb survivors, known in Japan as "hibakusha", many of whom suffered physically and psychologically after the attack. Those who remain were mostly infants or young children at the time, and their work to keep the memory of the bombings alive and call for a ban on nuclear weapons has taken on increasing urgency as they age.

Activists and survivors have created archives of everything from the recorded testimony of hibakusha to their poems and drawings. But many fear interest in the bombings is fading as they recede beyond the horizon of lived experience and into history.

'Unspeakable horror'

"Just storing a pile of records... is meaningless," said Kazuhisa Ito, the secretary general of No More Hibakusha Project, an NGO that compiles documents and testimonial accounts from survivors. "What we want is to engage young people with this issue and exchange views with them, globally," he told AFP. The historical assessment of the bombings remains the subject of some controversy. The United States has never apologised for the bombings, which many see as having brought an end to the war.

Japan announced its surrender just days later on August 15, 1945, and some historians argue the bombings ultimately saved lives by avoiding a land invasion that might have been significantly more deadly.But in Japan, the attacks are widely regarded as war crimes because they targeted civilians indiscriminately and caused unprecedented destruction.

In 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima, where he offered no apology but embraced survivors and called for a world free of nuclear weapons. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were key stops on Pope Francis's first trip to Japan last year, where he denounced the "unspeakable horror" of the attacks.

 

Massive Explosion Sends Shockwaves Across Beirut, At Least 10 Killed, Hundreds Injured (August 4, 2020)

LEBANON: A huge explosion near the centre of Beirut killed at least 10 people and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital, shattering glass in people's homes and causing apartment balconies to collapse, witnesses and security sources said.

The blast occurred in the city's port area, where there were warehouses housing explosives, Lebanon's state news agency NNA and two security sources said. A third security source said there were chemicals stored in the area. A man reacts at the scene of an explosion at the port in Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020.

Footage of the blast shared around by residents on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast. Those who filming what initially appeared to be a big blaze were thrown backwards by the shock. At least 10 bodies were taken to hospitals, a security source and a medical source told. Hundreds of injured were taken to hospitals but many remain trapped in homes damaged by the explosion, the head of the Lebanese Red Cross said.

George Kettaneh told local media there was no exact figure of how many were injured as many were still trapped in homes and within the area of the blast. Others were being rescued by boat. Lebanese broadcaster LBCI quoted Hotel Dieu Hospital in Beirut as saying that it was treating more than 500 injured and was not able to receive more. Tens of injured needed operations, the hospital said, appealing for blood donations.

No Cause Known

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze that set off the blast or what kind of explosives were in the warehouses. The governor of Beirut port told Sky News that a team of firefighters at the scene had “disappeared” after the explosion.

Meanwhile, Lebanon's internal security chief Abbas Ibrahim said the blast occurred in a section housing highly-explosive materials, and not explosives as had been reported earlier by the official state news agency, NNA. Speaking to reporters in televised remarks, he declined to speculate about the cause of the explosion in Lebanon's capital, saying “we cannot preempt investigations”.

“I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street”. The health minister told there was a “very high number” of injured.

Another witness said she saw heavy grey smoke near the port area and then heard an explosion and saw flames of fire and black smoke: “All the downtown area windows are smashed and there are wounded people walking around. It is total chaos.” UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters it was not immediately clear what the cause was, and that there was no indication of any injuries to any UN personnel.

"We do not have information about what has happened precisely, what has caused this, whether its accidental or manmade act," he said. The US Pentagon said: “We are aware of the explosion and are concerned for the potential loss of life due to such a massive explosion.” In Cyprus, an island lying west of Lebanon, residents reported two large bangs in quick succession. One resident of the capital Nicosia said his house shook, rattling shutters.

PM Imran Unveils New Political Map of Pakistan (August 4, 2020)

ISLAMABAD: The Prime Minister of Pakistan's announcement came a day ahead of the first anniversary of India’s controversial unilateral decision to revoke the area's semi-autonomy. The new political map of Pakistan.

Addressing the nation alongside Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the premier said that it would now be the "official map" after being approved by the federal cabinet, which had met earlier today, and would be the one used in schools and colleges.

The map clearly identifies occupied Kashmir as a "disputed territory" and states that the final status will be decided in line with the relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. The map rejects the illegal steps taken by India on August 5 last year, he said, adding that the federal cabinet and the country's political leadership had supported it.

The premier maintained that the Kashmir issue could only be solved by following the UNSC resolutions which give the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination."Their right to self-determination, given to them by the world community, has still not been given. And we clearly want to say to the world that it is the only solution," he said, adding that the government will keep making efforts in this regard.

"We will do political struggle; we don't believe in military solutions. We will remind the UN again and again that you had made a promise to the people of Kashmir which you did not fulfill." Presenting the changes made in the map, the foreign minister said that administrative maps have been introduced before, but this was the first time that a map reflected the aspirations of the people.

He added that the map clearly showed occupied Kashmir as a disputed territory and the only solution to the issue would be through the UNSC resolutions and as per the aspirations of the people. The foreign minister added that it had also been made clear that Siachen is a part of Pakistan. "Through the map we are challenging their illegal occupation and claiming our right to the area," he said.

He maintained that Pakistan had also rejected India's claims about Sir Creek in the map. "We have said that our border is towards the eastern bank; India had claimed that it goes towards the west," he said, adding that by doing so, India was trying to capture several acres of the country's "exclusive economic zone".

Further, erstwhile FATA has been shown as part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, he said. Qureshi said that the entire nation was united on the country's new political map. The federal cabinet, the Kashmiri leadership and Pakistan's political leadership has endorsed the government's move, he said.

"This gives a clear message to the people of Kashmir, that the government of Pakistan was with them in the past and will stand with them in the future." "Our destination is Srinagar," he said, adding that this was a "historic day". In the map, Jammu and Kashmir in its entirety, including Gilgit-Baltistan, has been shown in one distinct colour, the Foreign Office said.

Further, the Line of Control (LOC) has been marked with red dotted line. "The red dotted line represents approximately the LOC in Jammu and Kashmir. The state of Jammu and Kashmir and its accession is yet to be decided through plebiscite under the relevant UNSC resolutions," the map reads.

The map also contains an annotation for the area on the map marked "frontier undefined". "Actual boundary in the area would ultimately be decided by the sovereign authorities concerned after the settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute."

Arab World's First Nuclear Power Plants Start Work (August 2, 2020)

Abu Dhabi: The first nuclear power plant in the Arab world started work in the United Arab Emirates yesterday. Hamad al-Qabi, permanent representative of the United Arab Emirates at the World Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also announced this in a tweet.

The full name of this nuclear power plant consisting of four units‎ is 'Mhat-E-Brakah-Ul-Nuvi', which has a total production capacity of 5600  mw, while each unit can produce 1400 MW of electricity individually. Currently the first unit has started to power up, while the remaining three units are also nearing completion.

After fully operational, it will be able to meet 25% of the power requirement in the nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates. The Barakh nuclear power station is built near the coastal strip in the "West" area of Abu Dhabi, with an estimated cost of around $25 billion. The nuclear power station was built by a consortium of Korean companies led by The Korean Electric Power Company.

Although construction of the power plant began in 2011 and its first unit was to start work in 2017, it was constantly in turmoil due to the political situation in the region and finally, last day, after nearly three years of delay, the first unit of the Barak atomic power plant started working.

The remaining three units of the Berk-e-Nuclear Power Plant are almost complete, but it is time to say anything about how long they will be active and start production, according to reports.It was clear that the United Arab Emirates was the first country in the Arab world to build nuclear power plants, but the karachi nuclear power plant (KUP) was the first nuclear power plant in the world to be built in 1972, near the paradize point on the coast of Karachi.

7 People Including MP Killed in US Planes Crash (August 2, 2020)

ALASKA: In America, two planes crashed during the flight, killing 7 people including the Alaskan MP. According to the World News Agency, two small aircraft carrying passengers crashed into the air in the Canary Islands area of the U.S. state of Alaska, the collision was so terrible that the planes flew and the plane crashed in the area.

During the air operation, the plane was found in a tree-filled area, the bodies of 7 people have been recovered from the debris, including 67-year-old Member of the Alaska Legislative Assembly, Gary Canoup. They belonged to the Republican Party. They were flying their own private plane which crashed into another plane, carrying 6 passengers.

The Federal Aviation Administration has set up an inquiry committee to investigate the incident of the mp's plane crash, which will be subject to 15 days of reporting. America's leading political and social figures have expressed regret over the death of the MP.

Afghan President Refuses to Release Remaining Taliban Prisoners (August 1, 2020)

Kabul- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that the last 400 taliban prisoners are facing serious crimes charges, so their early release is not possible. Afghan media reported that the Kabul government has released another 500 Taliban prisoners on Eid al-Adha, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the remaining 400 prisoners are facing serious criminal charges, so their immediate release is not possible.

The Kabul government was to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners who have been released by the government in the wake of the February 29 agreement between the US and the Afghan Taliban, but President Ashraf Ghani's refusal to release the remaining 400 prisoners threatened to lead peace talks.

On the other hand, the first day of Eid al-Adha was peaceful today, with the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government announcing a three-day ceasefire, and the country continues to have a traditional Eid celebration.

Corona virus: Euro Area Economy Shrinks By 12.1% , Biggest Drop on Record         (July 31, 2020)

The eurozone economy shrank by 12.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the previous one, the biggest drop on record, Eurostat announced on Friday. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the whole European Union is meanwhile projected to have fallen by 11.9 per cent, according to preliminary estimates by the bloc's official statistics agency.

"These were by far the sharpest declines observed since time series started in 1995," Eurostat indicated in a statement, flagging that the April-June period was "still marked by COVID-19 containment measures in most member states." No country was spared the economic impact of the global pandemic but the Spanish economy was hit the hardest, contracting by 18.5 per cent.

Portugal, which closed its border with Spain very early in the pandemic and imposed strict measures to halt the spread of the virus, registered the second-biggest contraction in the bloc at 14.1 per cent. The Iberian Peninsula is followed by France and Italy, two countries hit hard by COVID-19, which registered drops of 13.8 per cent and 12.4 per cent respectively.

Among the Member States for which data was available, Lithuania appears to have fared the best, with its GDP falling by 5.1 per cent. Germany, seen as a model for the containment of the virus, shrank by 10.1 per cent. By Alice Tidey

HK LEgco Election Postponed a Year, Gets Central Govt Support (July 31, 2020)

HONG KONG:Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Friday that due to the current severe COVID-19 situation in the city, the Legislative Council (LegCo) election scheduled for September has been postponed to September 5 next year. Experts and local lawmakers said the decision prioritizes public health and aims to ensure fairness in the election. Lam announced the decision at a press conference on Friday, saying that it was not made for political reasons, but for public health.

Before the announcement, many residents, politicians and organizations had urged the government to consider postponing the election as the latest wave of COVID-19 has been seriously impacting the city since July. According to the latest data from the HKSAR public health authority, Hong Kong reported 121 new cases on Friday. That marked the 10th consecutive daily increase of more than 100 cases, bringing the total number of cases confirmed in the city to 3,273.

Lam said that from July 8 to July 30, Hong Kong reported 1,852 new confirmed cases, a 140 percent increase from the total of the previous six months. The city is in the most severe epidemic situation since January, with the risk of a huge outbreak increasing. Lam also listed several reasons to postpone the election for a year, including that this wave may last weeks or longer; society needs more time to recover; and at least 3 to 4 months are needed to prepare for a new election for fairness.

Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times on Friday that Hong Kong is at a very critical point in curbing the further spread of the virus, and it would see its number of cases reach tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands if it fails to control the situation in the near future. If Hong Kong had pushed for the election and let candidates’ campaign in crowded places, it would have been risky, experts said.

"Hong Kong should prioritize COVID-19 prevention and people's health. Postponing the LegCo election to contain the virus was a wise decision," Wang said. Top Chinese respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan told media on July 29 that community transmission has emerged in Hong Kong, and prevention is a priority. He suggested Hong Kong restrict group activities and ban illegal assemblies. He also called for large-scale nucleic acid testing in Hong Kong.

The COVID-19 situation has complicated the city's election, seriously impacting people's right to participate in the process, observers said. HKSAR LegCo Finance Committee Chairman Chan Kin-por told the Global Times that given the worsening coronavirus situation in Hong Kong, whether or not hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents working or living in the Chinese mainland and overseas will be able to return in time and cast their vote must be taken into account. Chan said it would be hard to ensure a fair and just vote if the government pushes the elections forward regardless of the coronavirus situation. 

Ip Kwok-him, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress and an executive councilor, told the Global Times that elections and campaigns can no longer be carried out normally and that the political views of candidates cannot be fully promoted, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city has been increasing by over 100 a day for the last few days. Some residents may be reluctant to go out to vote. Ip said postponing the election is not what they want to do, but has to be made under the current situation. 

It was reported that from February to July, at least 67 countries and regions have postponed national or regional elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a BBC report in March, local and mayoral elections in England were postponed for a year until May 2021 due to the pandemic. 

Victor Chan Chi-ho, a candidate for the LegCo election who has prepared for the election campaign since submitting his application, told the Global Times on Friday that he supports the postponement, as he and his campaign team were concerned that the campaign and voting may further spread the virus. 

Lawrence Tang Fei, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and also a candidate for this year's election, told the Global Times that he also supports the postponement, as daily infections have surpassed 100. "Hong Kong is a populous city. More than 3 million people swarming to more than 600 polling stations as well as other procedures during the election will increase the risk of community transmission." "More than 60 countries and regions have postponed their elections. Why can't Hong Kong do the same?" he asked.  

"The LegCo election should be held amid an atmosphere of peace and stability, so it can better fulfill its responsibilities under the Basic Law," Tian Feilong, a legal expert on Hong Kong affairs at Beihang University in Beijing, told the Global Times. He also noted that the decision was legitimate and reasonable.

Legal basis 

Lam also said that given the severe epidemic situation, the only practicable plan for the HKSAR government is to cite the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, considering infection numbers and the death toll are increasing, and election activities may worsen the epidemic situation. 

According to the Legislative Council Ordinance, the chief executive "may, by order, direct the postponement of a general election if, before the holding of the election, the chief executive is of the opinion that the election is likely to be obstructed, disrupted, undermined or seriously affected by riot or open violence or any danger to public health or safety." 

The chief executive must specify a date for an election and that date must not be later than 14 days after the date on which the election would have taken place, according to the Legislative Council Ordinance. Tian said that if the election needs to be postponed for a longer period, the chief executive may also use the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to make regulations for the postponement. The Emergency Regulations Ordinance states that when the chief executive considers a situation an emergency or public danger, they may make regulations they consider desirable for the interest of the public. 

In responding to how to deal with "one-year vacuum period" as the four-year term of the current LegCo is about to end, Lam told the conference that she has sought help from the central government. Tian said that Hong Kong's chief executive can also use Article 11 of the Legislative Council Ordinance to call emergency meetings to deal with important agendas, including policy addresses or financial budgets. But this is a remedy plan and is troublesome. 

A more practicable way is that the HKSAR government could submit a plan to the National People's Congress Standing Committee, Tian said. Some experts suggested to extend the terms of the current LegCo to avoid a "one-year vacuum period." According to a release from the NPC, the 21-plenary meeting of the 13th NPC Standing Committee is scheduled to be held on August 8. Relevant issues of Hong Kong may be solved during the meetings, observers said. 

Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times that although the HKSAR government has the legal basis to postpone the election, its decision will lead to a series of questions that need to be answered. Against the backdrop of Hong Kong's current political and social situation, support from the central government and a judicial interpretation of the decision would help the HKSAR government's work. 

China's State Council supports the HKSAR government's decision to postpone the election for a year, noting that the central government will propose that the National People's Congress Standing Committee make a decision on the "one year vacuum period." The central government said in a release on Friday that it will offer the necessary support for HKSAR in dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic to ensure residents' health and safety. 

The Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong expressed understanding and support for the HKSAR government's decision on Friday. "This is a responsible move to protect the citizens' health and safety… it also fits the Constitution, Basic Law, and local laws and regulations." 

The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council said on Friday that the central government has decided to send Chinese mainland testing personnel to Hong Kong to help expand nucleic acid tests and to build a temporary quarantine and treatment center to contain the virus. 

Dismissing misinterpretations 

However, the decision to postpone the election has been misinterpreted by the opposition and foreign media, which claimed the government was using COVID-19 "as an excuse to interfere in the democratic process," according to Hong Kong media reports. Experts noted that these forces - and the foreign forces behind them - want to use the momentum of 2019's unrest and the illegal "primaries" organized by the opposition earlier in July to force the election as soon as possible, so that they can seize power in the city and paralyze the HKSAR government. 

Ip said people's lives should be prioritized over elections, and that certain opposition forces only care about political gains, which is extremely irresponsible. Regarding the claim that "postponing the election was a trick played by the government and pro-establishment camp as they don't believe they can win," Ip said such speculation was nonsense. 

Who residents choose to support in the election may not make a difference in a year, and candidates can use this time to consolidate public support, Ip said. The negative reactions from certain opposition forces are no surprise, as they know that hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people in the Chinese mainland and abroad, most of whom support the pro-establishment camp, may not be able to return to vote in time, Chan said. 

But the fact that opposition forces disregarding the need for a fair vote reflects their eagerness to seize power and their selfishness in ignoring the risks of COVID-19, Chan said.

Japan to Lift Virus Ban on Re-Entry of Foreign Residents (July 31, 2020)

TOKYO: Japan will from next week lift a ban on the re-entry of some foreign residents, imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus, the foreign ministry has announced. Up to 90,000 foreign nationals with residence permits, including students, business people and trainees, are currently stuck outside Japan after authorities banned re-entry from over 100 countries in response to the global pandemic.

From August 5, those who left Japan before their destination countries were added to the ban list will be able to apply to return, the foreign ministry said in a statement late Wednesday. Those eligible will have to obtain a “re-entry confirmation letter” from the nearest Japanese diplomatic mission and submit evidence of a negative virus test conducted within 72 hours of their flight.

From September 1, those conditions will also apply to foreign nationals in other categories, including permanent or long-term residents and spouses and children of Japanese nationals or permanent residents. Japan has imposed an entry ban on visitors from more than 140 countries and regions, but the government has said it will ease them gradually.

Japanese citizens are able to re-enter the country from places on the ban list, and foreigners resident in Japan can apply for humanitarian exemptions to visit countries on the list and be allowed to return.

In Pulling Troops, Trump Doesn’t Hide Spite for Merkel (July 31, 2020)

MUNICH:In pulling 12,000 US troops from Germany, President Donald Trump is laying bare what has long been clear, there is no love lost between him and Chancellor Angela Merkel. Trump has clashed with plenty of US allies but he has appeared to have special enmity for Merkel, whose liberal, technocratic approach on issues from the coronavirus to immigration is at stark odds with the New York mogul’s in-your-face populism.

After the Pentagon made the cuts official, Trump said he was acting because Germany had failed to meet the NATO goal of spending two percent of GDP on defense although Italy and Belgium, which will take some of the US troops, spend even less. “Germany is delinquent. They haven’t paid their fees,” Trump told reporters.

“The United States has been taken advantage of on trade and on military and on everything else for many years, and I’m here and I’ve been straightening it out.” Trump, himself of German ancestry, has long accused NATO’s second largest economy of unfairly enjoying US protection while promoting cars and other exports.

Snub on summit

Trump first spoke of removing troops in June after Merkel, a scientist by training who has acted aggressively to stop COVID-19, rejected on health grounds Trump’s plan to convene the Group of Seven leaders in Washington. Trump had hoped to showcase a return to normal life ahead of November 3 elections,in which he faces a tough challenge from Democrat Joe Biden. Trump instead has mulled a wider summit that includes Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was kicked out over the takeover of Crimea.

Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the troop withdrawal “an affront to one of our closest allies” that would benefit Russia, which according to US intelligence intervened in the 2016 election to favor Trump. “Champagne must be flowing freely this evening at the Kremlin,” Menendez said. But the Trump administration has also targeted Germany over its own relationship with Russia, earlier this month opening the way for sanctions over their Nord Stream 2 gas project.

No patience for Trump

Trump’s 2016 election shocked US allies but most tried to deal with him. Japanese, British and French leaders all flattered Trump with invitations, even if French President Emmanuel Macron was also vocal on disagreements over issues ranging from climate change to Iran. Merkel from the start did little to hide her disdain for Trump. Several months after Trump took office, Merkel made waves when she said that the United States under Trump along with Britain, which voted to leave the EU, were no longer reliable partners and that Europe should “take its fate into its own hands.”

Trump in turn shattered norms of polite behavior between allies. In 2018, he wrote on Twitter that Germans were “turning against their leadership” over the “big mistake” on welcoming millions of migrants. Trump has frequently clashed with powerful women, taking sharply personal tones with domestic rivals including Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Sudha David-Wilp, a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said that while gender could be a factor, Merkel had also been “joined at the hip” with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama toward the end of his presidency.

For Obama, “Germany was seen as the indispensable partner, especially in light of Brexit,” David-Wilp said. “So I also think President Trump of course was probably wary of Angela Merkel and the other way around,” she added. And in personality, “President Trump and Chancellor Merkel are diametrically opposite,” she said. A recently published Gallup survey found that only 12 percent of Germans approved of how the United States exercises leadership.

Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, a research group based in Bulgaria, told a June conference at the Brookings Institution that he felt a shift in Germany which was “once the most pro-Atlantic country.” But Obama, while personally popular, also had disagreements with Germany, which he had pressed to show more magnanimity toward the rest of Europe including debt-ravaged Greece. “I do believe people are going to make a mistake if they believe that simply because Biden is back, Europe is back in its relations with the United States,” Krastev said.

Russia Jails US Ex-Marine For 9 Years Over Police Assault (July 31, 2020)

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Thursday sentenced former US marine Trevor Reed to nine years in prison for assaulting two police officers while drunk last year. Reed, a 29-year-old student and former marine from Texas, allegedly attacked police after attending a party in Moscow. He appeared wearing a facemask in a cage for defendants in a courtroom in the Russian capital as the judge read out the guilty verdict, saying the police officers had suffered “mental and physical harm”.

Reed was handed nine years in a penal colony, according to an AFP reporter in the courtroom. “This is completely a political case,” Reed told journalists after the verdict. “I will be asking my government for political support”. The case has caught the attention of US diplomats in Russia and US Ambassador John Sullivan said he was following proceedings along with the trials of other Americans detained in Russia. Reed has been held in a Moscow prison in pre-trial detention since August 2019. He pleaded not guilty to the charge, saying he remembers nothing of the incident.

His family has raised the alarm over what they say are irregularities in the proceedings and said the prosecution’s request for a nearly 10-year sentence was unfair. Reed’s father Joey told reporters after the verdict was read out that he was planning to appeal directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the trial which he said was “completely corrupt”. “We are not arguing about Russian law, we are arguing about how Russian law is applied,” he told reporters.

Reed’s case has attracted attention owing to the lengthy sentence faced by a US citizen and speculation in Russian and US media that Reed could become part of a prisoner swap. In June, Russia convicted US citizen Paul Whelan, also an ex-marine, to 16 years in a penal colony for espionage, prompting speculation he could participate in a prisoner swap. Whelan’s brother David said in a statement on Wednesday that “our family is not privy to government discussions, if there are any, about Paul’s case”. Sullivan has also raised concerns over the case against Michael Calvey, a high-profile American investor who was arrested last year for allegedly defrauding a Russian bank.

UK Had Europe’s Highest Rate of Excess Deaths During COVID-19 Pandemic: Official (July 31, 2020)

LONDON: The United Kingdom suffered the highest rate of excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic in a comparison of 21 European countries, an analysis from Britain’s statistics office showed on Thursday. Epidemiologists say excess mortality – deaths from all causes that exceed the five-year average for the time of year – is the best way of gauging deaths from a disease outbreak because it is internationally comparable. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis confirmed Britain’s place as one of the countries worst hit by a pandemic that has killed more than 666,000 people worldwide. Around 65,000 more people than usual have died from all causes across the United Kingdom so far this year, the highest total in Europe. Thursday’s figures showed the United Kingdom also had Europe’s highest excess death rate when adjusted for the size and age of its population. The ONS said the excess deaths were spread throughout the United Kingdom, in contrast to many European countries where they were concentrated in particular regions.

Trump Floats Delaying Presidential Election(July 31, 2020)

WASHINGTON: The idea was immediately rejected by both Democrats and his fellow Republicans in Congress, the sole branch of government with the authority to make such a change. Both critics and allies dismissed the notion as an unserious attempt to distract from devastating economic news. Legal experts warned that his repeated attacks could undermine his supporters’ faith in the election process.

Trump’s statement on Twitter comes as the United States is enduring a multi-pronged crisis – a coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 150,000 lives, a crippling recession sparked by the outbreak, and nationwide protests against police violence and racism. Republicans and Democrats criticized a proposed delay, while election experts noted a president does not have the legal power to change the date of an election.

Others suggested Trump is seeking to sow doubt about the election results or distract from a new government report that found a historic contraction in the nation’s economy.

Israel Turning Mosques into Synagogues, Bars: Khatib                  (July 29, 2020)

JERUSALEM: In 1743, the Ottoman-era ruler of Palestine, Zahir al-Umar al-Zaydani, built a mosque in his name in the northern city of Tiberias. The Umari Mosque remained a magnet point for worshippers until 1948 when it was abandoned following the Nakba, a term used by the Palestinians to describe the creation of the state of Israel on the rubble of Palestine.

One of the landmarks of Tiberias, the mosque, also known as the Zaydani mosque, was built on the Mameluke architecture, with a big dome and a minaret. “Like most Palestinians, the Tiberias residents have fled to Syria and Lebanon following the Nakba,” Kamal Khatib of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, told Anadolu Agency.“The Zaydani family, however, moved to the adjacent city of Nazareth,” he said.

Khatib said the Zaydani family had asked the Israeli authorities to give them permission to renovate the Umari mosque. “The Tiberias Municipality, however, refused, arguing that it would renovate it, but nothing happened,” he said. “Even since, the mosque has been closed with Israeli authorities banning worshippers and visitors from entering it,” he said. According to Israeli figures, there are around 1.5 million Palestinians living in Israel.

Mosques turned into bars

A study prepared by Khatib revealed that Israeli authorities have turned 15 mosques into Jewish synagogues.The study also showed that 40 mosques were either destroyed, closed, or abandoned, while 17 others were turned into barns, bars, restaurants or museums. For example, the Al-Ahmar Mosque in the northern town of Safed was turned into a concert hall, while Al-Jadid Mosque in the city of Caesarea was changed into a bar, according to the study.

The Ayn Hawd Mosque in Haifa and the upper floor of Al-Siksik Mosque in Jaffa suffered a similar fate. “After the Nakba, around 539 Palestinian villages were destroyed,” Khatib said. “All Palestinian structures, including mosques, have become an easy prey to the Israeli authorities.” Khatib recalled that mosques in the pre-Nakba era were teeming with worshippers. “After the Nakba, however, mosques were destroyed, particularly those in villages. Other mosques were either turned into synagogues, bars, museums, cafes or restaurants.”

Khatib lamented that the Israeli policy “disregards the sentiments of Muslims”, citing the al-Isaaf cemetery in Jaffa, where tombs were razed despite protests from local residents. Khatib said Israeli authorities have enacted legislation to confiscate property of Palestinians, who fled their homes. “The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the law of absentees, under which Israel confiscated buildings and property of Arab citizens [who left their homes to other areas],” he said.

“The same policy was applied by Israel to numerous mosques and prayer places.” Khatib said Palestinians have made repeated attempts to “regain, renovate and stop assaults on mosques”. “However, all these attempts were rejected by Israel,” he said.

Denial: Israel denies the accusations of using mosques for other purposes than worshipping. In October 2015, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said there were around 400 mosques in Israel and that the number of worshippers doubled five times over the past 25 years. The ministry said that Israeli authorities allocate millions of shekels to construct worship places for Muslims living in Israel.

It cited that the government funds more than 100 mosques and pays the salaries of their imams. Khatib, however, dismisses the Israeli claim, saying “The Israeli government has never built a mosque in the country’s history”. “All the mosques have been built by our people, who collect donations to construct their worship places,” he said. Khatib continued that not all mosques are registered with the Israeli religious authorities. “The imams of these mosques get their pay from the mosque committees, which collect donations to pay for the requirements of the mosques.”

China Slams EU Export Curbs on Hong Kong over Security Law: Wang Wenbin (July 29, 2020)

BEIJING: China on Wednesday slammed a decision by the European Union to limit exports of surveillance equipment to Hong Kong over concerns about a controversial new security law in the city. The law, which was fast-tracked onto the statute books in June after months of pro-democracy protests in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, threatens life sentences for vaguely worded offences including secession and subversion of state power.

Critics say it violates the "One Country, Two Systems" arrangement that has governed Hong Kong since Britain returned the former colony to China in 1997, allowing the city freedoms unseen on the Chinese mainland. The EU limit on exports "violates the basic international relations norm of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs", Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday.

"China firmly opposes this and has made stern representations with the EU," he said at a regular press briefing. The EU has struggled to agree on a united response to China's growing clout. Member states are divided over whether to stand up to Beijing -- a hugely important trading partner -- or try to cooperate. But the 27 nations on Tuesday came together around a proposal from France and Germany to limit exports to Hong Kong of technology that could be used for "internal repression, the interception of internal communications or cyber-surveillance".

The bloc will also launch schemes to support the population of the former British colony, granting visas, scholarships and academic exchanges to allow for easier travel to Europe, diplomats said. Wang on Wednesday told the EU to "stop any interference in Hong Kong matters and China's internal affairs".

The United States has responded to the security law with sanctions against Chinese officials, while countries including Canada, Australia and Britain have suspended extradition agreements with Hong Kong. Beijing insists the law is needed to restore stability in the financial hub after prolonged political unrest. 

Muslims Begin Downsized Hajj: Khalid bin Qarar Al-Harbi                                 (July 29, 2020)

MAKKAH, SAUDI ARABIA: Muslim pilgrims on July 29 begin the annual Hajj, dramatically downsized this year as the Saudi hosts strive to prevent a coronavirus outbreak during the five-day pilgrimage. The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world's largest religious gatherings.

But this year only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will participate in the ritual, a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world that attended last year. "There are no security-related concerns in this pilgrimage, but (downsizing) is to protect pilgrims from the danger of the pandemic," said Khalid bin Qarar Al-Harbi, Saudi Arabia's director of public security. Pilgrims will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing during a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in the holy city of Mecca and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.

Those selected to take part in the Hajj were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began trickling into Mecca at the weekend. State media showed health workers sanitising their luggage, and some pilgrims reported being given electronic wristbands to allow authorities to monitor their whereabouts.

Workers, clutching brooms and disinfectant, were seen cleaning the area around the Kaaba, the structure at the centre of the Grand Mosque draped in gold-embroidered cloth towards which Muslims around the world pray. Hajj authorities have cordoned off the Kaaba this year, saying pilgrims will not be allowed to touch it, to limit the chances of infection.

They also reported setting up multiple health facilities, mobile clinics and ambulances to cater to the pilgrims. The foreign press are barred from this year's Hajj, usually a huge global media event, as the government tightens access to Mecca. Saudi authorities initially said only around 1,000 pilgrims residing in the kingdom would be permitted for the Hajj, but local media reports say as many as 10,000 will be allowed to take part.

Some 70 percent of the pilgrims are foreigners residing in the kingdom, while the rest will be Saudi citizens, authorities said. All worshippers were required to be tested for coronavirus before arriving in Mecca and will also have to quarantine after the pilgrimage as the number of cases in the kingdom nears 270,000 - one of the largest outbreaks in the Middle East.

They were given elaborate amenity kits that include sterilised pebbles for a stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks, a prayer rug and the ihram, a seamless white garment worn by pilgrims, according to a Hajj ministry programme document. "I did not expect, among millions of Muslims, to be blessed with approval," Emirati pilgrim Abdullah al-Kathiri said in a video released by the Saudi media ministry.

"It is an indescribable feeling, especially since it is my first pilgrimage." The Hajj ministry said non-Saudi residents of the kingdom from around 160 countries competed in the online selection process but it did not say how many people applied. Some disappointed applicants have complained that the government-run lottery was not clearly outlined and that no reason was given for their rejection.

The Hajj ministry has fielded a deluge of anguished queries on Twitter from rejected applicants. But Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten insisted the process was transparent, telling the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television that "health determinants" formed the basis of selection. Despite the pandemic, many pilgrims consider it safer to participate in this year's ritual without the usual colossal crowds cramming into tiny religious sites, which make it a logistical nightmare and a health hazard.

Even in a regular year, the Hajj leaves pilgrims exposed to a host of illnesses. The government scaled back the pilgrimage as it could be a major source of contagion, but the move will deepen the kingdom's economic slump, analysts say. Saudi Arabia is already facing a sharp downturn in oil prices due to a collapse in global demand driven by national lockdowns, which triggered austerity measures, including the tripling of a value added tax and cuts to civil servants' allowances.

The virus has also battered pilgrimage-reliant businesses that support hundreds of thousands of jobs in Mecca, from travel agents to street barbers and souvenir shops. The Hajj and the year-round umrah pilgrimages together rake in some $12 billion annually.

LONDON (Layalpur Post):Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom honored those who sacrificed their lives in World War II on May 8, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, and used the occasion to say she was proud of how people had responded to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

WASHINGTON: US President declares violent criminal violence during Black Lives Matter protests. The death of George Floyd, a black American citizen, was followed by protests all over the world, including America.

The protest later became a black lives matter. During this period, there were violent incidents in the United States, where protesters and Police Officers were killed, while the protesters also damaged valuable property.

US President Donald Trump has been opposed to these protests from the beginning, while the Black Lives Matter protests have now been declared criminal violence.

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order protecting monuments installed in the United States. "The great country will punish such unjust acts against America," he said.

LYALLPUR CITY: (Layalpur Post).The worldwide corona virus has consistently caused the disease, which is increasing in patients, but also in the daily number of deaths. The number of people affected by the corona virus has gone up to 99,33,964 worldwide, while the number of deaths has gone up to 4,97,530. Around the world, 4,54,153 patients are in hospital, quarantine centers and in isolation, of which 57,689 are in critical condition, while 53,82,281 have been cured.

America is still the most affected country with the corona virus, where only the most deaths are in the country. In the United States, 1,27,640 people have died from the Corona virus, while the total number of people who have been indeed has gone up to 25,53,68. In hospitals and quarantine centers in the United States, 13,56,660 corona patients are under-treated, of which 15,765 are in critical condition, while 10,68,768 corona patients have been cured so far.

Brazil is second in the list of countries with the number of patients with the Corona virus, with the number of people in The Corona reaching 12,80,54, while the virus has taken 56,109 lives. The total number of deaths in Russia from the Corona virus has gone up to 8,969, while its patients have reached 6,27,646.

India is fourth in the list with a rapid increase in the number of patients with the corona virus, with 15,731 deaths from the corona, while the number of patients affected by it has gone up to 5,11,478. In Britain, the death toll from corona rose to 43,414, while the number of cases of corona has gone up to 3,9,360.

In Spain, 2,94,985 victims of The corona have been affected, while the death toll has risen to 28,338. In Peru, 8,939 deaths have been reported due to the corona virus, while there are 2,72,364 reported in the Country. The total death toll from the Corona virus has gone up to 34,708 in Italy, with 2,39,961 cases reported so far.

In Iran, the total number of deaths from the corona virus rose to 10,364, while total case of the corona rose to 2,20,180. In Turkey, the number of deaths from the corona virus rose to 5,65, while total case of the corona rose to 1,94,511. Alsoread:  Corona is not being taken seriously in Pakistan

In Germany, the total number of deaths from corona rose to 9,26, while in the case of corona, 1,94,399. In Saudi Arabia, the total number of deaths from the corona virus has gone up to 1,474, while the number of patients in the country has gone up to 1,74,577. In France, the total deaths due to the Corona virus were 29,778, while in the Corona case, 1,62,936.

China, where the first case of the corona was found, has been largely controlled by the corona virus and only a few new corona patients are exposed daily, while the death toll has not been known for a long time. In China, the number of corona patients has gone up to 83,483 and the death toll has been reduced to 4,634.

The corona virus is spreading so fast in Pakistan that it has also come out of China, France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Germany in the list of countries with a high number of patients. In the past 24 hours, new 3,138 cases of the corona virus have been reported in the country, while another 74 have been reported in the country.

In Pakistan, the number of case of the corona virus has gone up to 1,98,883, while the total number of deaths from this virus has gone up to 4,35. In the country of the Corona virus, 1,7,942 patients are still in isolation in hospitals, quarantine centers and homes, while 86,906 have been cured of the disease.

LAHORE (Layalpur Post): Muslim League (N) President Maryam Nawaz has said that a glimpse of Nawaz Sharif leaves his opponents in a state of shock.

Reacting to Nawaz Sharif's criticism of the photo that went viral in a London hotel, Muslim League (N) President Maryam Nawaz said that every move by Nawaz Sharif's opponents was reversed as usual.

Maryam Nawaz said that a glimpse of Nawaz Sharif would upset his opponents, while the image has pleased and encouraged the former Prime Minister's supporters. They are punished.

"They tried their best to kill Mian, but Allah saved him, they could force me into ICU and try to make pictures of my unconscious mother, so what is it difficult for them to photograph Nawaz Sharif in his house with women and girls?" If it was such a good thing, why did you hide like cowards?

                  Munir Ahmed Dar,                               Publisher & Chief Editor                               Daily "Layalpur Post"

Prof. Dato Dr. Nik Muhammad Nik Majid, my Ph.D. Agroforestry Studies, Supervisor, at the Faculty of Forestry, Univeriti Putra Malaysia delivering a Graduate seminar on "How to Write a Research project proposal for Ph. D. Forestry and M. Sc. Forestry degrees.       

Majid, Nik Muhamad, et al. “REHABILITATION OF EX-TIN MINING LAND BY AGROFORESTRY PRACTICE.” Journal of Tropical Forest Science, vol. 7, no. 1, 1994, pp. 113–127. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43581796. Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.

Majid, N., Hashim, A., & Abdol, I. (1994). REHABILITATION OF EX-TIN MINING LAND BY AGROFORESTRY PRACTICE. Journal of Tropical Forest Science, 7(1), 113-127. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/43581796

Majid, Nik Muhamad, Azizah Hashim, and Idris Abdol. "REHABILITATION OF EX-TIN MINING LAND BY AGROFORESTRY PRACTICE." Journal of Tropical Forest Science 7, no. 1 (1994): 113-27. Accessed April 21, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/43581796.

Children in some Australian states began returning to school on Monday after an extended break due to the new coronavirus, as the country's rate of new infections continued to slow.

Students of New South Wales, the most populous state, and the northern state of Queensland began going back to school on a limited basis to lessen the risk of spreading the illness, state leaders said.

The NSW government said it has delivered thousands of litres of soap and hand sanitiser to schools, as well as personal protective equipment and temperature monitors. Class sizes will be reduced and activities will involve minimal physical contact between the students, many of whom have not attended school since mid-March.

"I know this is a huge relief for families," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney. "It is a huge relief for the state government because we know how important it is for students to receive that face to face teaching," she added.

Final year students, whose exams were interrupted by the virus response, would attend at least three days per week in class, Berejiklian said, with the plan to return to full-time class attendance for all students by the end of May.

NSW has suffered about 45% of the country's 6,941 confirmed cases and 97 deaths. But it has said it will begin easing some restrictions on personal movement later this week as the rate of new infections remains low.

The state recorded just one new case in the 24 hours to Monday morning, out of 13 new cases nationally.

Australia's second most populous state, Victoria, has asked parents to keep their children home if possible until the middle of the year and plans to give an update on its social distancing measures on Monday.

After giving a three-stage plan on Friday to ease restrictions on Australian domestic movement by July, state and federal officials will meet on Monday to discuss ways of dealing with the risks of crowds on public transport as businesses start to reopen, the country's chief medical officer said on the weekend.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said Australians would have to take responsibility for enforcing their own social distancing measures, as well as businesses and venue operators, to prevent a second wave of infections.

"A (second) wave across the country is unlikely but it's possible if we get out there and mingle too much," Coatsworth told Channel Nine Television. "We want people to get out, the shops to reopen, but they have to do it in a responsible way."

Australia has largely avoided the high COVID-19 casualty numbers of other countries after swiftly introducing nationwide stay-home orders and border closures, including closing the borders between states.

TOKYO: Japan has lifted a state of emergency imposed due to the coronavirus in 39 out of 47 prefectures, after a sharp fall in new infections.

The order still applies in Tokyo, Osaka and on the northern island of Hokkaido, where new cases are emerging daily. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan's rate of infection had reduced to one seventh of the country's peak.

He urged the public to be vigilant, wear masks, and keep following distancing guidance. "If possible, before 31 May, we would like to lift the state of emergency for the other regions as well," Mr Abe said.

Japan faced early criticism for its handling of a mass outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked off the city of Yokohama, but appears to have avoided an epidemic on the scale of those seen in the US or Russia.

There have been 16,049 confirmed infections in the country and 678 people have died with the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Doctors' warnings in mid-April that Japan's medical system could collapse under a wave of new Covid-19 cases have not come to pass.

CANTERBURRY:Thousands of businesses in New Zealand have reopened on Thursday as the country relaxes its coronavirus curbs, with some hairdressers seeing overnight queues round the block.

Shops, cafes, and public parks are all open as the country moves into Level 2 of its restrictions, described as a "safer new normal". New Zealand has reported no new cases of the virus in the past three days.

Authorities say the chance of community transmission is now very low. People are allowed to start seeing their friends and families again, with a limit of 10 people.

Professional sport is back on the menu - albeit with safety measures in place. And for those keen to let off steam after a long lockdown, gyms have reopened too.

There have been reports of crowds at shopping centres in some parts of the country, but for some a quiet catch-up on the waterfront was the first thing on their minds.

SRINAGAR (Layalpur Post): Today (Sunday) As the entire Umt Muslim Eid al-Fitr is celebrating, the Muslims of Kashmir have celebrated the religious festival in a strict military siege imposed by India.

The Occupation administration has imposed strict restrictions on Kashmir's in the vicinity of the occupied Jammu & Kashmir state area to prevent anti-India demonstrations, the Kashmir Media Service Research Section said in an analysis report released today on Eid al-Fitr.

"During Ramadan, Indian state terrorism was seen to be at a rapid pace, and during this month, Indian troops killed 25Heavily Kashmirs during 472 sieges and search operations," the report said.

At least 249 people were injured when soldiers used force during operations and peaceful anti-India demonstrations, the report said. Indian police and para-military personnel raided homes during the month of Ramadan, the report said.

People have staged anti-India demonstrations in Srinagar, Pulwama, Islamabad, Shopian, Badgam and other areas. They chanted Flick against India and in favour of independence. Indian soldiers and policemen used force against protesters at various places, resulting in clashes between forces and protesters and injuring several people.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the party's Hurriyat Conference said in a statement issued from Srinagar today that the Kashmirs right will continue to struggle to achieve its own will. Before that, the people of occupied Kashmir watched Pakistani channels to learn about the moon's appearance last night.

It was announced that Eid al-fitr would be celebrated in Pakistan today. Similar announcements were made in Srinagar and other towns and villages.

KABAL:Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issues orders to release 2,000 Taliban prisoners. President Ashraf Ghani ordered the release of 2,000 Taliban prisoners after the Afghan government and the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr.

Afghan government's decision to release prisoners in response to the Taliban's 3-dayceasefire is a step toward Kharsgali, says afghan president’s spokesman.

On Saturday, the Taliban government in Afghanistan announced a three-day ceasefire with the Afghan government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also welcomed the announcement, saying the Afghan army will respect the ceasefire.

Montreal: CanadianPrime Minister Justin Trudeau called Saturday for caution and expressed concern about loosening lockdown measures in Montreal, the epicenter of Canada's coronavirus outbreak. "We need to make sure that we go progressively, and slowly and gradually on any reopening," Trudeau said, reminding reporters that he is himself a Quebecer.

"Of course, I'm worried," Trudeau said. While several Canadian provinces, including Quebec, are preparing reopening measures and a gradual revival of their economies, Trudeau stressed prudence and said that the country is not yet out of danger.

"Our focus right now is on recognizing that we are not in the recovery phase yet. We are not even fully into the restarting phase yet. We are still in the emergency phase," Trudeau said. "Being very careful, step by step, is going to be so important," he said. Quebec is the worst-hit province in Canada, with more than half of both the country's 67,000 cases of coronavirus and 4,700 deaths.

Montreal and its surroundings have suffered an elevated number of cases, especially at care homes for the elderly. Authorities in Quebec on Thursday delayed the reopening of Montreal's schools and shops for a second time, pushing the date to May 25. Canada's elderly have paid a particularly heavy price for the disease, the country's chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, said Saturday, calling the scale and impact "nothing short of a national tragedy."

She said that 20 percent of coronavirus cases in Canada were linked to long-term care homes and that 80 percent of deaths are "in seniors in these settings." "We've got to do better as a nation," she said, reiterating that issues with retirement homes should be addressed following the pandemic.

A truck packed with explosives blew up near a court in the eastern Afghan city of Gardez on Thursday, killing at least five people in an attack claimed by Taliban insurgents.

The explosion comes two days after at least 56 people were killed in attacks elsewhere in the country, including women and newborn babies, dealing a setback to peace plans in the war-ravaged nation.

“A car bomb explosion took place near a military court in Gardez city, which is a populated area. Dozens of civilians are feared to be dead and wounded,” said Tariq Arian, an interior ministry spokesman.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement said the rebel group was responsible for the attack.

Emal Khan Momand, a military spokesman in Paktia province where Gardez is located, said the attack was carried out by a truck packed with explosives. Five people were killed and 14 were wounded, he said.

Arian blamed the militant Haqqani network, which has ties to Taliban rebels and the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba. These groups rarely publicly claim responsibility for attacks.

The blast comes after gunmen attacked a maternity hospital in Kabul, killing 24 people, including new mothers and newborn babies, on Tuesday. A suicide blast claimed by the Islamic State at a funeral in eastern Nangahar on the same day killed 32.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attacks and said he had ordered the military to switch to offensive mode rather than the defensive stance it had adopted as the United States withdraws troops and tries to broker talks with the Taliban.

The Taliban denied any involvement in those attacks, but the government accused the group of fostering an environment in which terrorism thrives or of working with other militant groups who could have been involved, straining efforts by the United States to bring the insurgents and the Afghan government together.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Saudi Arabia announced Monday it was tripling taxes on basic goods, raising them to 15%, and cutting spending on major projects by around $26 billion as it grapples with blows from the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices on its economy.

Saudi citizens will also lose a bonus cost-of-living allowance that had been in place since 2018, according to the country’s finance minister.

Despite efforts to diversify the economy, the kingdom continues to rely heavily on oil for revenue. Brent crude now hovers around $30 a barrel, far below the range Saudi Arabia needs to balance its budget. The kingdom has also lost revenue from the suspension of Muslim pilgrimages to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which were closed to visitors due to the virus.

The new measures are the most drastic yet by a major Gulf Arab oil producer since oil prices plunged by more than half in March, signalling that neighboring countries may also seek to impose higher taxes on residents this year. The United Arab Emirates said Monday it currently had no similar plans to raise taxes.

The International Monetary Fund projects that all six energy producing Gulf Arab states will be in economic recession this year.

“We are facing a crisis the world has never seen the likes of in modern history, a crisis marked by uncertainty,” Saudi finance minister and acting minister of economy and planning, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, said.

“These measures that have been undertaken today, as tough as they are, are necessary and beneficial to maintain comprehensive financial and economic stability," he said in a statement published on the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

In the first quarter of 2020, state revenues were down 22% from the same time last year, with the deficit reaching $9 billion, or 34 billion riyals. Oil revenues specifically were down 24%, compared to the same quarter last year.

On Sunday, the Saudi Energy Ministry directed Aramco to deepen production cuts and limit output to 7.5 million barrels per day in June. This comes as storage for crude nears max capacity due to lower demand for oil globally.

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WASHINGTON: The US president said the government's top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, would not testify in the House of Representatives but only before the Senate.

He argued this was because 'the House is a set-up. The House is a bunch of Trump haters.'

He later, said the US 'wants' and 'needs' to reopen amid the coronavirus outbreak.

WASHINGTON: The Former President Barack Obama called the United States' response to the coronavirus pandemic an "absolute chaotic disaster" and promised to campaign "as hard as I can" for former Vice President Joe Biden in a Friday call with 3,000 people who served in his administration.

A recording of the call was obtained by Yahoo News. Katie Hill,  Obama's communications director, confirmed the call to CBS News. In addressing the Trump administration's response to the global coronavirus pandemic, Obama cited concerns about division and tribalism in the country and internationally. That has contributed to an "anemic and spotty" response to the health crisis, Obama said.

While the challenge would be difficult for any government to address, it has been an "absolute chaotic disaster" in the U.S., he said. Obama blamed a "mindset of 'what's in it for me' and 'to heck with everyone else'" in President Donald Trump's administration.

Social distancing regulations in the U.S. have largely been determined by local authorities rather than the federal government. States have rolled out a patchwork of constantly changing rules that vary down to the county or city level at times.

U.S. coronavirus cases have reached about 1.3 million and deaths have topped 77,000. During the call, Obama also reacted to the Justice Department dropping its criminal case against Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying he worried that the “basic understanding of rule of law is at risk.”

Obama has infrequently criticized Trump in the past. In late March, Obama appeared to take a swipe at Trump's initial skepticism of the coronavirus pandemic. "We've seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic," Obama tweeted March 31, without directly naming the president.

Obama weighed in on the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak in the context of warning about the impact of Trump's decision to ease up on fuel-efficiency standards the Democratic president had put in place to combat climate change.

Trump has claimed his administration's response to the pandemic saved "millions of lives," often citing moves to restrict China and Europe as successes. In the White House's response to Obama's latest remarks, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not mention Obama directly.

“President Trump’s coronavirus response has been unprecedented and saved American lives,” she said. “While Democrats were pursuing a sham witch hunt against President Trump, President Trump was shutting down travel from China. “While Democrats encouraged mass gatherings, President Trump was deploying PPE, ventilators, and testing across the country,” she said.

Last weekend, former President George W. Bush released a video encouraging Americans to stand up to the coronavirus pandemic that did not mention Trump, an omission that led to harsh criticism from Trump.

BEIJING: China on Monday threatened to retaliate against a US rule that tightening visa restrictions on Chinese journalists, in an escalating row after Beijing expelled more than a dozen American reporters.

Citing China's treatment of the reporters, the US Homeland Security Department issued new regulations on Friday limiting visas for Chinese journalists to a maximum 90-day stay, with the possibility to request an extension. Until now visas for Chinese journalists lasted for the duration of their employment in the United States.

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to this wrong action by the US side, which is an escalation of the political crackdown on Chinese media," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily press briefing.

"We ask the US to correct its mistake immediately, otherwise China will have no other option but to take countermeasures," Zhao said, without providing more details about the possible retaliation.

The tit-for-tat actions against journalists have added to searing diplomatic tensions, with the two countries trading barbs over the coronavirus pandemic and US President Donald Trump threatening to impose fresh trade tariffs on Beijing. In February, China kicked out three journalists from The Wall Street Journal after the newspaper ran an opinion piece on the coronavirus crisis with a headline that Beijing called racist.

Weeks later, Washington curbed the number of Chinese nationals from state-run news outlets in the United States. Beijing responded in March by expelling more than a dozen American journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Foreign journalists working in China receive one-year visas that must be renewed every year.

But in an annual report, the Foreign Correspondents´ Club of China (FCCC) said at least a dozen correspondents were issued press credentials valid for half a year or less. The report said Chinese authorities were "using visas as weapons against the foreign press like never before."

NEWYORK: Nearly eight years after he was last on the ballot, Barack Obama is emerging as a central figure in the 2020 presidential election.

Democrats are eagerly embracing Obama as a political wingman for Joe Biden, who spent two terms by his side as vice president. Obama remains the party’s most popular figure, particularly with black voters and younger Democrats, and Biden’s presidential campaign is planning for him to have a highly visible role in the months to come.

For President Donald Trump, that means an opportunity to focus the spotlight on one of his favourite political foils. In recent days, Trump and his allies have aggressively pushed conspiracy theories about Obama designed to fire up the president’s conservative base, taint Biden by association and distract from the glut of grim health and economic news from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Partisans on both sides want to make this about Obama,” said Ned Price, who served as spokesperson for Obama’s White House National Security Council.

The renewed political focus on Obama sets the stage for an election about the nation’s future that will also be about its past. As Biden looks to Obama for personal validation, he’s also running to restore some of the former president’s legacy, which has been systematically dismantled by Trump. The current president is running in part to finish that job.

Yet Trump’s anti-Obama push also frequently takes on a darker, more conspiratorial tone that goes far beyond differences in health care policy and America’s role in the world. His current focus is on the actions Obama, Biden and their national security advisers took in the closing days of their administration, as they viewed intelligence reports about Michael Flynn. Flynn had a short-lived stint as Trump’s national security adviser before being fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the US.

Trump’s own administration acknowledged on Wednesday that Obama advisers followed proper procedures in privately “unmasking” Flynn’s name, which was redacted in the intelligence reports for privacy reasons. Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, though Trump’s Justice Department moved last week to drop the case against him.

Despite there being no evidence of wrongdoing by Obama, Biden or other administration officials, Trump is eagerly pushing the notion of an unspecified crime against the former president, branding it “Obamagate.” He’s being backed up by Republican allies, including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley who took to the Senate floor this week to ask of the Flynn matter: “What did Obama and Biden know, and when did they know it?”

Trump’s zeal has sparked fears among some former Obama and Biden advisers about how far he may be willing to go in using the levers of government to push his case against them in an election year. The Justice Department is conducting an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe that ensnared Flynn and other Trump associates.

Trump’s renewed focus on Obama comes as Republicans grow increasingly anxious that the rising coronavirus death toll and cratering economy will damage the president’s reelection prospects in November. More than 84,000 Americans have died from the virus, and more than 30 million have claimed unemployment.

Biden’s campaign drew a direct connection between the president’s attacks on Obama and the twin crises battering his administration.

“It’s no surprise that the president is erratically lashing out at President Obama, desperate to distract from his own failures as commander in chief that have cost thousands of Americans their lives during this crisis,” said TJ Ducklo, a Biden campaign spokesman.

Trump’s emphasis on Obama also comes as the former president begins to emerge from a three-year period of political restraint as he prepares to embrace his role as leading surrogate for Biden. Last week, Obama told a large gathering of alumni from his administration that DOJ’s decision to drop the Flynn case put the “rule of law at risk.” He also criticised the Trump White House’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden’s campaign has been eager to get Obama involved in the election, though his exact role is still forming, particularly given that the pandemic has upended the campaign’s plans for rallies and other in-person events in battleground states. The former president is also expected to campaign for Democratic House and Senate candidates across the country.

Though Obama campaigned for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms, he has mostly tried to avoid overt politics since leaving the White House. He’s spoken out publicly against Trump on rare occasions, frustrating many Democrats who have wanted him to be more aggressive in calling out his successor.

But the 2020 election has always loomed as the moment when Obama would step off the sidelines, and he’s told advisers he’s eager to do so. Despite his strident public neutrality during the Democratic primary, he spoke to Biden regularly and has continued to do so as the campaign moves into the general election, according to aides.

Biden’s campaign sees Obama as a clear asset as they seek to not only energise Democrats,but to also appeal to independents and more moderate Republicans who may be wary of four more years of Trump in the White House. A recent Monmouth University poll found 57 per cent of Americans say they have a favourable opinion of Obama. That includes 92pc of Democrats and 19pc of Republicans.

Obama’s favourable ratings are higher than either of the men who will be on the ballot in November. The same poll showed 41pc of Americans had a favourable opinion of Biden, and 40pc viewed Trump in a favourable light.

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