Britain at COVID-19 'tipping point,' health minister says

Britain is at a tipping point on COVID-19, Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Sunday, warning that a second national lockdown could be imposed if people don't follow government rules designed to stop the spread of the virus. COVID-19 cases have risen sharply in recent weeks to more than 4,000 per day. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called it a second wave and stricter lockdown measures have been introduced in areas across the country — with London possibly next in line. "The nation faces a tipping point and we have a choice," Hancock told Sky News. "The choice is either that everybody follows the rules ... or we will have to take more measures." Hancock later told the BBC that a second national lockdown was a possible option. "I don't rule it out, I don't want to see it," he said. Protesters clash with police officers during an anti-mask rally at Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images) Johnson announced fines of up to 10,000 pounds ($17,000 Cdn) on Saturday for people in England who break new rules requiring them to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19. In addition to tighter rules on social gatherings across the country, several cities and regions in Britain have had "local lockdowns" imposed, limiting even more strictly when, where and how many people can meet up socially. Many in the crowd of protesters held signs with the words 'plandemic' and 'hoax.' (Hollie Adams/Getty Images) Asked about comments from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who said on Friday new restrictions were increasingly likely in the capital, Hancock said: "I've had discussions this week with the mayor of London, and the teams are meeting today to discuss further what might be needed." Hancock was also asked on Times Radio about the possibility of Londoners being told to work from home later this week, and said: "Well, I wouldn't rule it out." The opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer said he would support whatever measures the government brings forward, but criticized the government's testing system for not having the capacity to deal with increased demand as schools returned.

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U.S. judge approves injunction to delay WeChat restrictions

WeChat users had argued that strict limits on the Chinese-owned payment and messaging app would violate free-speech rights of Chinese-speaking Americans. (Petar Kujundzic/Reuters) A U.S. federal judge has approved a request from a group of WeChat users to delay looming U.S. government restrictions that could effectively make the popular app nearly impossible to use. In a ruling dated Saturday, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in California said the government's actions would affect users' First Amendment rights as an effective ban on the app removes their platform for communication. WeChat is a messaging-focused app popular with many Chinese-speaking Americans that serves as a lifeline to friends, family, customers and business contacts in China. It's owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent. A group of WeChat users had made the request after the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday it would bar WeChat from U.S. app stores and keep it from accessing essential internet services in the country, beginning Sunday night at 11:59 p.m. The government cited national security and data-privacy concerns in taking action against WeChat and imposing similar restrictions on TikTok, another popular Chinese-owned app. The restrictions on TikTok were pushed back by a week Saturday after President Donald Trump said he supported a proposed deal that would make TikTok a U.S. company. WeChat users had argued the moves targeting the all-in-one app with instant-messaging, social media and other communication tools would restrict free speech. In the ruling, the court said that a WeChat ban "eliminates all meaningful access to communication in the plaintiffs' community," and that an injunction would be in the public interest. The U.S. government had earlier argued that it is not restricting free speech because WeChat users still "are free to speak on alternative platforms that do not pose a national security threat." Specific evidence about WeChat posing a national security threat was also "modest," according to Judge Beeler. The dispute over the two apps is the latest flashpoint in the rising tensions between the world's two largest economies, as the Trump administration attempts to counter the influence of China. Since taking office in 2017, Trump has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and stifled the business of Chinese firms like Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment.

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Thai protesters reinstall plaque symbolizing democracy

A pro-democracy supporter fixes a plaque that declares, 'This country belongs to the people,' during a protest in Bangkok on Sunday. (Wason Wanichakorn/The Associated Press) Anti-government demonstrators occupying a historic field in the Thai capital on Sunday installed a plaque symbolizing the country's transition to democracy to replace the original one that was mysteriously ripped out and stolen three years ago, as they vowed to press on with calls for new elections and reform of the monarchy. The mass student-led rally that began Saturday was the largest in a series of protests this year, with thousands camping overnight at Sanam Luang field near the Grand Palace in Bangkok. A group of activists drilled a hole in front of a makeshift stage and, after Buddhist rituals, laid down a round brass plaque in cement to commemorate the 1932 revolution that changed Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. "At the dawn of Sept. 20, here is where the people proclaim that this country belongs to the people," reads part of the inscription on the plaque. In April 2017, the original plaque vanished from Bangkok's Royal Plaza and was replaced by one praising the monarchy. "The nation does not belong to only one person, but belongs to us all," student leader Parit "Penguin" Chirawak told the crowd. "Therefore, I would like to ask holy spirits to stay with us and bless the people's victory." Pro-democracy protesters sit on the road during a march near Sanam Luang in Bangkok on Sunday. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/The Associated Press) Another activist, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, said their demands do not propose getting rid of the monarchy. "They are proposals with good intentions to make the institution of the monarchy remain graciously above the people under democratic rule," Panusaya said. Still, such calls took the nation by surprise. Protesters' demands seek to limit the king's powers, establish tighter controls on palace finances and allow open discussion of the monarchy. Their boldness was unprecedented, as the monarchy is considered sacrosanct in Thailand, with a harsh law that mandates a three- to 15-year prison term for defaming it. The protesters later attempted to march toward the Grand Palace to hand over a petition seeking royal reforms to the head of the Privy Council, the king's advisers, but were blocked by police barricades. One of them, Panusaya, was allowed to deliver the petition, which was addressed to the king. It was received by a police official, who promised to forward it to the council. Just before the rally ended, Parit called for a general strike on Oct. 14, the anniversary of a popular student uprising in 1973 that ended a military dictatorship after dozens were killed by police. He also called for another protest Thursday outside parliament to follow up on their demands. 'Calling for democracy' Organizers had predicted that as many as 50,000 people would take part in the weekend's protest, but Associated Press reporters estimated that around 20,000 were present by Saturday evening. "By holding their protest on Sanam Luang — a long-time site of recreation and protest for the people, taken over in recent years by the monarchy — the protestors have won a significant victory," said Tyrell Haberkorn, a Thai studies scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Their resounding message is that Sanam Luang, and the country, belong to the people." The crowd were a disparate batch. They included an LGBTQ contingent waving iconic rainbow banners while red flags sprouted across the area, representing Thailand's Red Shirt political movement, which battled the country's military in Bangkok's streets 10 years ago. There were skits and music, and speakers gave fiery speeches late Saturday accusing the government of incompetence, corruption in the military and failing to protect women's rights. At least 8,000 police officers were reportedly deployed for the event. "The people who came here today came here peacefully and are really calling for democracy," said Panupong Jadnok, one of the protest leaders. Police officers guard the area surrounding the Grand Palace during a protest in Bangkok on Sunday. The student-led rallies that began Saturday are the largest in a series of protests this year to back demands for new elections and reform of the monarchy. (Wason Wanichakorn/The Associated Press) Their core demands were the dissolution of parliament with fresh elections, a new constitution and an end to intimidation of political activists. They believe that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander led a 2014 coup toppling an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year's general election because the laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party. Protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule is undemocratic. Red Shirts link movement to rural Thais The students are too young to have been caught up in the sometimes violent partisan battles that roiled Thailand a decade ago, said Kevin Hewison, a University of North Carolina professor emeritus and a veteran Thai studies scholar. "What the regime and its supporters see is relatively well-off kids turned against them and this confounds them," he said. The crowd in front of the Grand Palace. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images) The appearance of the Red Shirts, while boosting the protest numbers, links the new movement to mostly poor rural Thais, supporters of former populist billionaire Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. Thaksin was opposed by the country's traditional royalist establishment. The sometimes violent struggle between Thaksin's supporters and the conservative foes left Thai society polarized. Thaksin, who now lives in exile, noted on Twitter on Saturday that it was the anniversary of his fall from power and posed the rhetorical question of how the nation had fared since then. "If we had a good government, a democratic government, our politics, our education and our health-care system would be better than this," said protester Amorn Panurang. "This is our dream. And we hope that our dream will come true." Arrests for earlier actions on charges including sedition have failed to faze the young activists. They had been denied permission to enter the Thammasat University campus and Sanam Luang on Saturday, but when they pushed, the authorities retreated, even though police warned them that they were breaking the law.

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Storm causes deadly flooding in central Greece

·PhotosTwo people have died and one is reported missing in central Greece region of Thessaly after a storm pounded parts of the country overnight and caused flooding. Social Sharing Country's firefighting service said it fielded almost 2,500 calls from trapped residents Posted: Sep 19, 2020 7:05 PM ET | Last Updated: September 19 Previous Next Report Typo or Error

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Thai protesters hold massive rally to push demands for democratic reforms

Pro-democracy protester Panupong Jadnok prepares to open an entrance gate of Thammasat University during Saturday's protest in Bangkok. (Sakchai Lalit/The Associated Press) Thousands of demonstrators defied police warnings and occupied a historic field in Thailand's capital on Saturday to support the demands of a student-led protest movement for new elections and reform of the monarchy. Organizers predicted that as many as 50,000 people would take part in the two-day protest in an area of Bangkok historically associated with political protests. A march is planned for Sunday. The early arrivals at Sanam Luang, a large field that has hosted major political demonstrations for decades, were a disparate batch, several with their own flags. An LGBTQ contingent waved their iconic rainbow banners, while red flags sprouted across the area, representing Thailand's Red Shirt political movement, which battled the country's military in Bangkok's streets 10 years ago. By the time the main speakers took the stage in the evening, Associated Press reporters estimated that about 20,000 people were present. People were still arriving as the nighttime program continued. As the evening progressed, there were skits, music and speakers on the stage. They touched on such issues as the alleged incompetence of the government, corruption in the military and women's rights. An estimated 20,000 people protested in Thailand's capital on Saturday against the government of former coup leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, with many demonstrators also calling for reforms to the monarchy. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images) The Grand Palace complex, a famous tourist destination whose golden highlights are dramatically lit at night, could be seen behind the side of the field opposite from the stage. At least 8,000 police officers reportedly were deployed for the event, which attracted the usual scores of food and souvenir vendors. "The people who came here today came here peacefully and are really calling for democracy," said Panupong Jadnok, one of the protest leaders. "The police have called in several companies of officers. I believe they can make sure the people are safe." Thailand continues to make history. The largest protest since 2014 in Sanam Luang, in front of the Grand Palace, a place where it was unthinkable to do something like that#19กันยาทวงอํานาจคืนราษฏร pic.twitter.com/8VbSop5VSU —@Laura_chiclana Demonstrators wore face masks but ignored a Thursday night plea from Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to cancel the event, which he said risked spreading the coronavirus and derailing the recovery of Thailand's battered economy. The core demands declared by the protesters in July were the dissolution of parliament with fresh elections, a new constitution and an end to intimidation of political activists. They have held a series of rallies since then. Claims pro-military party favoured They believe that Prayuth, who as then-army commander led a 2014 coup toppling an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year's general election because the laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party. A constitution promulgated under military rule is likewise undemocratic, they charge. The activists raised the stakes dramatically at an Aug. 10 rally by issuing a 10-point manifesto calling for reforming the monarchy. Their demands seek to limit the king's powers, establish tighter controls on palace finances and allow open discussion of the monarchy. Their boldness was virtually unprecedented, as the monarchy is considered sacrosanct in Thailand. A lèse-majesté (do wrong to majesty) law calls for a prison sentence of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of defaming the royal institution. The students are too young to have been caught up in the sometimes violent partisan political battles that roiled Thailand a decade ago, Kevin Hewison, a University of North Carolina professor emeritus and a veteran Thai studies scholar, said in an email interview. "This is why they look and act differently and why they are so confounding for the regime," Hewison said. "What the regime and its supporters see is relatively well-off kids turned against them, and this confounds them." The appearance of the Red Shirts, besides boosting the protesters' numbers, links the new movement to the political battling that Thailand endured for a large part of the last two decades. The Red Shirts were a movement of mostly poor rural Thais who supported populist billionaire prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra after the army ousted him in a 2006 coup. Thaksin was opposed by the country's traditional royalist establishment. The sometimes violent subsequent struggle between Thaksin's supporters and foes left Thai society polarized. Thaksin, who now lives in exile overseas, noted on Twitter on Saturday that it was the anniversary of his fall from power and posed the rhetorical question of how the nation had fared since then. "If we had a good government, a democratic government, our politics, our education and our health-care system would be better than this," said protester Amorn Panurang. "This is our dream. And we hope that our dream would come true." Anti-government protesters storm through a police barricade during Saturday's rally at Sanam Luang, a large field that has hosted major political demonstrations for decades. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images) Arrests for earlier actions on charges including sedition have failed to faze the young activists. They had been denied permission to enter the Thammasat University campus and Sanam Luang on Saturday, but when they pushed, the authorities retreated, even though police warned them that they were breaking the law. Students launched the protest movement in February with rallies at universities around the country in reaction to a court ruling that dissolved the popular Future Forward Party and banned its leaders from political activity for 10 years. The party won the third-most seats in last year's general election with an anti-establishment stance that attracted younger voters, and it is widely seen as being targeted for its popularity and for being critical of the government and the military. Public protests were suspended in March when Thailand had its first major outbreak of the coronavirus and the government declared a state of emergency to cope with the crisis. The emergency decree is still in effect, but critics allege that it is used to curb dissent. Royalists have expressed shock at the students' talk about the monarchy, but actual blowback so far has been minor, with only halfhearted organizing efforts by mostly older royalists.

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Tropical storm Beta spurs hurricane fears in Texas

Here are the 10 AM CDT Key Messages for #Beta. pic.twitter.com/TPHxdsqPHH —@NHC_Atlantic An exceptionally busy Atlantic hurricane season was churning along Saturday as the Texas coast prepared for a tropical storm that's forecast to strengthen into a hurricane before breaching its shores in the week ahead. Both the city of Galveston and Galveston County on Saturday issued voluntary evacuation orders ahead of tropical storm Beta. Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown said in a statement that high tides and up to 25 centimetres of expected rainfall would leave roads impassable, especially along the city's west end and low-lying areas. County Judge Mark Henry said during a Saturday news conference that his concern is also based on rising waters creating a storm surge and that a mandatory evacuation is not expected. "If you can survive in your home for three or four days without power and electricity, which we're not even sure that's going to happen, you're OK," Henry said. "If it's uncomfortable or you need life support equipment, maybe go somewhere else." Major Hurricane Teddy and Tropical Storm Beta will produce swells, rough surf and rip currents along portions of the East and Gulf Coasts and during the next few days. https://t.co/meemB5d6ch pic.twitter.com/T6YChp1fT6 —@NWS Tropical storm Beta was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, 495 kilometres east-southeast of Corpus Christi, Texas, and 395 kilometres south of Lake Charles, La., the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. The system was forecast to become a hurricane on Sunday and triggered a tropical storm warning from Port Aransas, Texas, to Intracoastal City, La. In Lake Charles, La., where thousands of people remain without power more than three weeks after Hurricane Laura slammed into the coast, there are concerns that Beta could super-soak the region once again. Up to 15 centimetres is possible in some parts of the area, Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Lake Charles, said in a Saturday briefing. "A lot of people have been saying, `Is this going to be like Harvey? Is this going to be like Imelda?'" Jones said. "We're not talking about rainfall totals yet that are on the orders of magnitude that we saw with that." Imelda, which struck southeast Texas in 2019, was one of the wettest cyclones on record. Harvey dumped more than 127 cm of rain on Houston in 2017. However, if the storm ends up moving a bit slower than what's being forecast now, rainfall totals could be even higher than 50 cm, Jones said. "Harvey was a very specific and unique event, but we are talking about the same idea in terms of very heavy, heavy rainfall," he said. ⚠️ TROPICAL STORM WARNING⚠️ HURRICANE WATCH⚠️ STORM SURGE WATCHFor coastal portions of Harris County. .Forecasts for #BETA continues to change but the time to #prepare is NOW. 👉 Fill gas tanks 👉 Review plans👉 Stock kitsText BETA to 888777 for emergency alerts.#HouWX pic.twitter.com/sHjVSPk4BI —@ReadyHarris Beta had maximum sustained winds at 95 km/h and was moving northwest at three km/h. Forecasters were predicting up to 1.2 metres of storm surge along parts of the Texas coast that included Baffin Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, Galveston Bay and others. Wind, heavy rainfall and life-threatening surf and rip current conditions were also expected with the storm. Forecasters ran out of traditional storm names on Friday, forcing the use of the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s. Hurricane Teddy could reach Nova Scotia Meanwhile, Hurricane Teddy remained a powerful hurricane on Saturday, with maximum sustained winds at 195 km/h and moving northwest at 22 km/h. Teddy was centred 825 kilometres southeast of Bermuda less than a week after Hurricane Paulette made landfall in the wealthy British territory. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Bermuda. Large swells from Teddy were forecast to impact the Lesser Antilles, the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, Bermuda and the U.S. East Coast. According to Environment Canada, Teddy is currently a Category 3 and is expected to slowly advance north over the next two days, passing east of Bermuda on Monday. That is when it will begin to accelerate toward Nova Scotia. It could reach the waters south of Nova Scotia on Tuesday as a Category 2 hurricane. WATCH | How Nova Scotia is preparing for Hurricane Teddy: Nova Scotia Power describes their plans for the upcoming hurricane set to hit N.S. on Tuesday 2:25 Parts of the Alabama coast and Florida Panhandle were still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sally, which roared ashore on Wednesday. At least two deaths were blamed on the system, and hundreds of thousands of people were still without power late Friday. Misty Rae and Drew Ruthrauff were celebrating their sixth wedding anniversary as they cleaned up the damage at their Navarre, Fla., home. Everything in the couple's garage was destroyed, including their jeep and boxes of childhood memorabilia. "It's not really how we thought we were going to spend [our anniversary], but we're together and we're happy still," Drew Ruthrauff told the Pensacola News-Journal. "We're gonna get through this together and be better for it."

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Ethiopia charges prominent critic with terrorism-related offences

Opposition figure Jawar Mohammed is seen during an interview with The Associated Press at his house in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in October 2019. (Mulugeta Ayene/The Associated Press) Ethiopia has charged its most prominent opposition figure, Jawar Mohammed, and 23 others with terrorism-related offences, telecom fraud and other crimes, the attorney general's office announced Saturday. They could face life in prison if convicted. They are scheduled to appear in court on Monday. The charges relate to deadly violence that erupted in July in parts of the capital, Addis Ababa, and the Oromia region after the killing of singer Hachalu Hundessa, a prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coming to power in 2018. Authorities said more than 180 people were killed in July's unrest. Jawar, a media mogul-turned-politician, has huge support among youth in the Oromia region and returned to Ethiopia after Abiy took office and urged exiles to come home amid sweeping political reforms that led to him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize last year. The Oromo make up Ethiopia's largest ethnic group but had never held the country's top post until they helped bring Abiy to power. Now ethnic tensions and intercommunal violence are posing a growing challenge to his reforms. Jawar has become fiercely critical of the Ethiopian leader, most recently over the postponement of the general election once planned for August because of the coronavirus pandemic. The government's mandate expires late next month, and a new election date has not been set. Jawar has been detained since he and several thousand people were arrested during the July violence. His lawyers have repeatedly asserted he was locked up because of his political views and have called for his release. His lawyer, Tuli Bayissa, told The Associated Press that the charges astonished the legal team, and he couldn't comment on them because he found out only by reading the official announcement on social media. "This is unethical. I haven't heard anything like this," he said. He expects to receive details at Monday's court appearance. The coffin of Ethiopian singer Hachalu Hundessa is carried during his funeral in Ambo, Ethiopia, on July 2. (OBN via The Associated Press) Human rights groups have warned that such arrests show that Abiy's political reforms are slipping. Youth in Oromia have staged a number of recent protests calling for the release of political prisoners, including one in late August that left "scores" of people dead, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and witnesses who spoke to the AP. Abiy, in an opinion piece published this week in The Economist, wrote that "individuals and groups, disaffected by the transformations taking place, are using everything at their disposal to derail them. They are harvesting the seeds of inter-ethnic and inter-religious division and hatred." He rejected "dangerous demagogues." The prime minister also acknowledged alleged abuses by security forces during the bouts of unrest, saying that "given the institutions we have inherited, we realize that law-enforcement activities entail a risk of human-rights violations and abuse." Security reforms take time, he said.

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Trump urges Senate to vote 'without delay' on his U.S. Supreme Court pick, 6 weeks before election

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday, attends Georgetown Law's second annual Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture on Oct. 30, 2019, in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press) U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday urged the Republican-run Senate to consider "without delay" his upcoming nomination to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just six weeks before the election. The White House was making preparations to select a nominee for the seat held by Ginsburg, who spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court's liberal wing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, vowed on Friday night, hours after Ginsburg's death, to call a vote for whomever Trump nominated. Democrats said Republicans should follow the precedent they set in 2016 by not considering a Supreme Court choice in the run-up to an election. Trump made his view clear in a tweet Saturday: "We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!" .@GOP We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay! —@realDonaldTrump Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said any vote should come after the Nov. 3 election. "Voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice to consider," he said. The impending clash over the vacant seat — when to fill it and with whom — is sure to significantly affect the stretch run of the presidential race, further stirring passions in a nation already reeling from the pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 people, left millions unemployed and heightened partisan tensions and anger. McConnell, who sets the calendar in the Senate and has made judicial appointments his priority, declared unequivocally in a statement that Trump's nominee would receive a confirmation vote in the chamber. In 2016, McConnell refused to consider then-president Barack Obama's choice for the high court months ahead of the election, eventually preventing a vote. As the nation learned of Ginsburg's death on Friday at the age of 87, Trump was unaware, speaking for more than an hour and a half at a Minnesota rally without mentioning it. He huddled with aides after stepping off stage but acted surprised when he spoke with reporters moments later, saying he did not know she had died. The president told reporters that Ginsburg was "an amazing woman who led an amazing life." Aides had worried how the Minnesota crowd would react if Trump mentioned her death from the stage, according to a White House official not authorized to publicly discuss private deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity. President Donald Trump speaks about the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Bemidji Regional Airport in Minnesota after a campaign rally on Friday. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press) But Trump had noted in his rally speech that the next presidential term could offer him as many as four appointments to the nine-member court, whose members are confirmed for life. "This is going to be the most important election in the history of our country, and we have to get it right," he added. A confirmation vote in the Senate is not guaranteed, even with a Republican majority. McConnell has not indicated if he will bring a vote before the election. Photos Life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Typically it takes several months to vet and hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, and time is short ahead of the election. Key senators may be reluctant to cast votes so close to the election. With a slim Republican majority, 53 seats in the 100-member chamber, Trump's choice could afford to lose only a few. McConnell did not specify the timing, but trying for confirmation in a post-election lame-duck session if Trump had lost to Biden or Republicans had lost the Senate would carry further political complications. Democrats immediately denounced McConnell's move as hypocritical, pointing out that he refused to call hearings for Merrick Garland, Obama's pick, 237 days before the 2016 election. The 2020 election is 46 days away. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, in a tweet, echoed word for word what McConnell said in 2016 about the Garland nomination: "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president. —@SenSchumer Trump said last month that he would "absolutely" try to fill a vacancy if one came up before the end of his first term. "I would move quickly, " Trump said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. "Why not? I mean, they would. The Democrats would if they were in this position." Unveiled list of possible nominees Trump last week added 20 names to his list of candidates he's pledged to choose from if he has future vacancies to fill. He contrasted his list with unnamed "radical justices" he claimed Biden would nominate who would "fundamentally transform America without a single vote of Congress." Trump released a similar list in 2016 in a bid to win over conservative and evangelical voters who had doubts about his conservative credentials. Among those on his current list: senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, former solicitor general Noel Francisco and Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, long a favourite of conservatives. The average number of days to confirm a justice, according to the Congressional Research Service, is 69, which would be after the election. But some Republicans quickly noted that Ginsburg was confirmed in just 42 days. Four Republican defections could defeat a nomination, while a tie vote could be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence. Romney could join defectors' vote Among the senators to watch are Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and others. Collins is in a tight race for her own re-election, as are several other Republican senators, including Cory Gardner in Colorado. Murkowski and Romney have been critical of Trump and protective of the institution of the Senate. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is in a tight race for her own re-election, as are several other Republican senators. She's among some Republicans who have suggested that hearings for a Supreme Court justice should wait if a seat were to open. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press) Some Republicans, including Collins and Murkowski, have suggested previously that hearings should wait if a seat were to open. And because the Arizona Senate race is a special election, that seat could be filled as early as Nov. 30 — which would narrow the window for McConnell if the Democratic candidate, Mark Kelly, hangs onto his lead. In a note to his Republican colleagues Friday night, McConnell urged them to "keep their powder dry" and not rush to declare a position on whether a Trump nominee should get a vote this year. "For those of you who are unsure how to answer, or for those inclined to oppose giving a nominee a vote, I urge you all to keep your powder dry," McConnell wrote. "This is not the time to prematurely lock yourselves into a position you may later regret." McConnell argued that there would be enough time to fill the vacancy and he restated his argument that the 2016 Senate precedent — in which a Republican-held Senate blocked Obama's election-year nomination — did not establish a rule that applies to the Ginsburg case. Under McConnell, the Senate changed the confirmation rules to allow for a simple majority. Obama weighs in Obama called for Republicans to wait, saying "a basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency and not based on what's convenient or advantageous in the moment." One difference from 2016 is that, despite the vacancy resulting from Ginsburg's death, conservatives have a working majority of five justices on a range of issues. When Antonin Scalia died four years ago, the court was divided between four liberals and four conservatives. The next pick could shape important decisions, including on abortion rights, as well as any legal challenges that may stem from the 2020 election. The 2018 hearings on Trump's second pick, now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, turned into a bitter partisan battle after sexual assault allegations were made. Biden has promised to nominate a Black woman to the high court if given the chance. He has said he's also working on a list of potential nominees, but the campaign has given no indication that it will release names before the election.

Continue Reading Trump urges Senate to vote 'without delay' on his U.S. Supreme Court pick, 6 weeks before election

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says he's now more than 'technically alive'

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny walks down a staircase at Charité hospital in Berlin in this undated image obtained from social media on Saturday. (@NAVALNY/Instagram via Reuters) Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he is recovering his verbal and physical abilities at the German hospital where he is being treated for suspected nerve agent poisoning but that he at first felt despair over his condition. Navalny, the most visible opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell ill on a domestic flight to Moscow on Aug. 20 and was transferred to Germany for treatment two days later. A German military lab later determined that the Russian politician was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that Britain said was used on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England, in 2018. Navalny was kept in an induced coma for more than a week while being treated with an antidote. He said in a Saturday post on Instagram that once he was brought out of the coma, he was confused and couldn't find the words to respond to a doctor's questions. "Although I understood in general what the doctor wanted, I did not understand where to get the words. In what part of the head do they appear in?" Navalny wrote in the post, which accompanied a photo of him on a staircase. "I also did not know how to express my despair and, therefore, simply kept silent. "Now I'm a guy whose legs are shaking when he walks up the stairs, but he thinks: 'Oh, this is a staircase! They go up it. Perhaps we should look for an elevator,"' Navalny said. "And before, I would have just stood there and stared." Using social media account  The doctors treating him at Berlin's Charité hospital "turned me from a 'technically alive person' into someone who has every chance to become the Highest Form of Being in Modern Society again — a person who can quickly scroll through Instagram and without hesitation understands where to put likes," he wrote. The Kremlin has repeatedly said that before Navalny's transfer to Berlin, Russian labs and a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk found no sign of a poisoning. Moscow has called for Germany to provide its evidence and bristled at the urging of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western leaders to answer questions about what happened to the politician. "There is too much absurdity in this case to take anyone at their word," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday. Peskov also accused Navalny's colleagues of hampering a Russian investigation by taking items from his hotel room out of the country, including a water bottle they claimed had traces of the nerve agent. Navalny's colleagues said that they removed the bottle and other items from the hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk and brought them to Germany as potential evidence. because they didn't trust Russian authorities to conduct a proper probe.

Continue Reading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says he's now more than 'technically alive'

Taiwan scrambles fighters as Chinese jets again fly near island

In this file photo, Taiwanese domestically built Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) take part in the live-fire, anti-landing Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates an enemy invasion, in Taichung, Taiwan, on July 16. (Ann Wang/File Photo/Reuters) Taiwan's air force scrambled jets for a second consecutive day on Saturday as multiple Chinese aircraft approached the island and crossed the sensitive midline of the Taiwan Strait, with the island's government urging Beijing to "pull back from the edge." Taiwan's defence ministry said 19 Chinese aircraft were involved, one more than in the previous day, with some crossing the Taiwan Strait midline and others flying into Taiwan's air defence identification zone off its southwest coast. It said China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, sent 12 J-16 fighters, two J-10 fighters, two J-11 fighters, two H-6 bombers and one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft. According to a map the ministry provided, none got close to mainland Taiwan itself or flew over it. "ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defence missile system to monitor the activities," the ministry said in a tweet, referring to the Republic of China Air Force, the formal name of Taiwan's air force. Taiwan has complained of repeated incidents of Chinese aircraft near the island this year, and has regularly had to scramble its F-16s and other jets to intercept them. China had on Friday announced at a news conference in Beijing about China's UN peacekeeping efforts, combat drills near the Taiwan Strait and denounced what it called collusion between the island and the United States. U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades, angering China. He left Saturday afternoon, according to Taiwan's foreign ministry. 'Pull back from the edge' Taiwan's defence ministry, in a separate statement, said China was carrying out provocative activities, seriously damaging peace and stability. "The defence ministry sternly condemns this, and calls on the mainland authorities to control themselves and pull back from the edge." Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen bows during a funeral ceremony of former president Lee Teng-Hui at the Aletheia University in Nee Taipei City on Saturday. (Chang Hsin-Wei/AFP via Getty Images) China's widely read state-backed tabloid the Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in a Saturday editorial that Friday's drills were a rehearsal to take over Taiwan. "The U.S. and Taiwan must not misjudge the situation, or believe the exercise is a bluff. Should they continue to make provocations, a war will inevitably break out," it said. Both sides need to resume dialogue to reduce the risk of war, Johnny Chiang, leader of Taiwan's main opposition party the Kuomintang, wrote on his Facebook page. "People who are willing to play a communication role are stigmatized and people who clamour for war are regarded as heroes. Such an atmosphere is definitely not conducive to the peaceful and stable development of the Taiwan Strait," said Chiang, whose party traditional favours close ties with China. Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, centre is seated next to U.S. Under Secretary of State Keith Krach, at a memorial service for the late former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui in Taipei on Saturday. (The Associated Press) Life has continued as normal in Taiwan with no sign of panic. The island has long been accustomed to living with Chinese threats. Taiwan's people have shown no interest in being ruled by autocratic China, re-electing President Tsai Ing-wen in a landslide last year on what was largely a platform of standing up to Beijing. The latest Chinese flights came the same day Taiwan held a memorial service for former president Lee Teng-hui, dubbed "Mr. Democracy" for ending autocratic rule in favour of free elections and championing Taiwan's separate identity from China. Analysis Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has China to thank for landslide re-election win Lee, who died in July, became Taiwan's first democratically elected president in March 1996 after eight months of intimidating war games and missile tests by China in waters around the island. Those events brought China and Taiwan to the verge of conflict, prompting the United States to send an aircraft carrier task force to the area in a warning to Beijing's government.

Continue Reading Taiwan scrambles fighters as Chinese jets again fly near island

McConnell vows Senate vote on Trump's pick to fill Supreme Court seat after Ginsburg's death

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to bring to a vote whoever U.S. President Donald Trump nominates to fill the Supreme Court seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press) The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just over six weeks before the election cast an immediate spotlight on the high court vacancy, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly vowing to bring to a vote whoever President Donald Trump nominates. Democratic nominee Joe Biden vigorously disagreed, declaring that "voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice to consider." McConnell, in a statement just over an hour after Ginsburg's death was announced, declared unequivocally that Trump's nominee would receive a vote, even though he had stalled President Barack Obama's choice for months ahead of the 2016 election, eventually preventing a vote. Trump, in brief remarks to reporters after learning of her death, called Ginsburg "an amazing woman," adding that "she led an amazing life." He had continued with a campaign speech for about an hour after the nation learned of her death, and said later he had been unaware. He had boasted in the speech that the next presidential term could offer him as many as four appointments to the nine-member court, whose members are confirmed for life. WATCH | Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy and the impact of her death: CBC Washington correspondent Keith Boag and lawyer Marie Henein talk about the mark Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left on the world and what could happen with her vacancy in the United States Supreme Court. 6:28 Ginsburg's death could significantly affect the presidential race, further stirring passions in the deeply divided nation as the campaign pushes into its stretch run. Trump took the stage for a Minnesota rally not long before Ginsburg's death was announced. He spoke for more than 90 minutes, never mentioning it, apparently not alerted to the development. He spoke to reporters about her passing as he boarded Air Force One to return to Washington. Photos Life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg But he did say in his speech that whoever is elected in November will have the ability to potentially fill several Supreme vacancies, declaring, "This is going to be the most important election in the history of our country and we have to get it right." Biden, returning to Delaware from his own campaign stop in Minnesota, praised Ginsburg upon his arrival. Ginsburg was "not only a giant of the legal profession but a beloved figure," he said. She "stood for all of us." Democratic presidential candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden speaks about Ginsburg's death in New Castle, Del., on Friday. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press) A confirmation vote in the Senate is not guaranteed, even with a Republican majority. Typically it takes several months to vet and hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, and time is short ahead of the election. Key senators may be reluctant to cast votes so close to the election. With a slim Republican majority, 53 seats in the 100-member chamber, Trump's choice could afford to lose only a few. McConnell did not specify the timing, but pushing a confirmation off to the post-election lame-duck session would carry other complications, including the political tangle of trying to push it through in the final weeks of the year after voters have decided control of the White House and control of the Senate. List of candidates Trump has made appointments to the federal judiciary, including two Supreme Court justices, part of his legacy and said last month that he would "absolutely" try to fill a vacancy on the high court if one came up before the end of his first term. "Absolutely, I'd do it," Trump said in an Aug. 11 interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. "I would move quickly. Why not? I mean, they would. The Democrats would if they were in this position." Trump last week added 20 names to his list of candidates he's pledged to choose from if he had future vacancies to fill. Trump speaks about Ginsburg's death in Bemidji, Minn., on Friday. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press) Trump tried to cast the list in contrast with judges who could be nominated if Biden wins in November, warning Biden would select "radical justices" who would "fundamentally transform America without a single vote of Congress," even though Biden has never outlined his list of potential picks and the Senate must confirm any nominee. Naming his possible choices, less than two months before the election, is aimed at repeating the strategy that Trump employed during his 2016 campaign, when he released a similar list of could-be judges in a bid to win over conservative and evangelical voters who had doubts about his conservative bonafides. The average number of days to confirm a justice, according to the Congressional Research Service, is 69 days, which would be after the election. The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a formal group portrait in Washington in November 2018. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press) Biden has promised to nominate a Black woman to the high court if given the chance. He has said he's also working on a list of potential nominees, but the campaign has given no indication that it will release names before the election. Democrats believe doing so would unnecessarily distract from Biden's focus on Trump's handling of the pandemic and the economy, while also giving the president and his allies fresh targets to attack. Trump, however, insisted that presidential candidates "owe the American people" a list of whom they'd consider because, aside from "matters of war and peace, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice is the most important decision an American president can make."

Continue Reading McConnell vows Senate vote on Trump's pick to fill Supreme Court seat after Ginsburg's death

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies of pancreatic cancer at 87

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen in Long Beach, Calif., in October 2010. Ginsburg died Friday due to complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was 87. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters) U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday at her home in Washington, D.C., the court says. She was 87. Ginsburg died of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, the court said. In July, she announced that she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for lesions on her liver, the latest of several battles with cancer. Ginsburg spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court's liberal wing and became something of a rock star to her admirers. Young women especially seemed to embrace the court's Jewish grandmother, affectionately calling her the Notorious RBG, for her defence of the rights of women and minorities and the strength and resilience she displayed in the face of personal loss and health crises. WATCH | Notorious RBG, a woman's rights champion: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been turned into a feminist icon, thanks to an online blog 2:38 Those health issues included five bouts with cancer beginning in 1999, falls that resulted in broken ribs, insertion of a stent to clear a blocked artery and assorted other hospitalizations after she turned 75. Ginsburg resisted calls by liberals to retire during Barack Obama's presidency at a time when Democrats held the Senate and a replacement with similar views could have been confirmed. Instead, President Donald Trump will almost certainly try to push her successor through the Republican-controlled Senate — and move the conservative court even more to the right.

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies of pancreatic cancer at 87

Amid Hurricane Sally recovery, forecasters say 3 storms form in Gulf of Mexico

Hundreds of thousands of people were still without power Friday along the Alabama coast and the Florida Panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally as officials assessed millions of dollars in damage that included a broken bridge in Pensacola and ships thrown onto dry land. While the cleanup pressed on, the record-shattering hurricane season notched another milestone: Forecasters ran out of traditional names for storms after three new systems formed in about six hours. That forced them to begin using the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s. In Loxley, Ala., Catherine Williams lost power and some of her roof to Sally. The storm also destroyed three pecan trees in her yard that she used to try to make ends meet. "There's no food, no money. I took my last heart pill today," said Williams, who has been laid off twice from her job as a cook because of the economic problems caused by COVID-19. She hoped that the Red Cross would soon show up at her home. Two people in Alabama were reported killed — a drowning and a death during the cleanup in Baldwin County. In Florida, authorities were looking for a missing kayaker who was feared dead in Escambia County. While cleanup from Hurricane Sally pressed on, the record-shattering hurricane season notched another milestone: Forecasters ran out of traditional names for storms after three new systems formed in about six hours. (National Hurricane Center) The supercharged Atlantic hurricane season has produced so many named storms that scientists ran out of traditional names as tropical storm Wilfred developed in the eastern Atlantic. It was only the second time that has happened since forecasters standardized the naming system in 1953. Wilfred was weak and far from land. Two hours after Wilfred took shape, the U.S. National Hurricane Center moved to the Greek alphabet when subtropical storm Alpha formed just off the coast of Portugal. It was followed later in the day by tropical storm Beta, which formed in the western Gulf of Mexico. The same practice will govern storm names for the rest of hurricane season, which lasts until the end of November. Here are the Greek names for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season for reference. pic.twitter.com/YsrpliN9fF —@NHC_Atlantic The only other time the hurricane centre dipped into the Greek alphabet was the deadly 2005 hurricane season, which included Hurricane Katrina's strike on New Orleans. The onslaught of hurricanes has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing wetter, stronger and more destructive storms. 'This could happen again' In Pensacola, Mamie Patterson was cleaning the yard of her cousin who was recovering from heart surgery after they lost power in a low-income neighborhood in Pensacola. Patterson's mother uses an oxygen machine that they took to an uncle's home to charge because he had power. She saw utility trucks all over the city and wondered when power would be restored in her neighbourhood, where several inches of water was standing in streets more than 48 hours after the storm. "We feel a lot forgotten back here," she said. "I hate to say it, but it's the ghetto neighbourhoods. We don't have lights." Mamie Patterson, left, helps her cousin clean up after Hurricane Sally in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press) Elsewhere in the city, Karen Robinson sat on the steps of her first-floor apartment and rattled off a list of belongings ruined by 1.2 metres of water from Sally — clothes, shoes, furniture and food. It took months to recover from a 2015 flood after a heavy rainstorm sent nearly the same amount of water from a creek into the 200-unit complex. She was concerned because more than two months are left in hurricane season. "This could happen again. That's the problem," Robinson said as men tossed soggy items out of an apartment window nearby. In Louisiana, about 41,000 people remain without power around Lake Charles, where Hurricane Laura made landfall on Aug. 27. On Oak Island, N.C., which was ground zero for Hurricane Isaias on Aug. 3, some rental homes finally reopened by Labour Day. "It wasn't pretty. We had piles of sand everywhere, plies of debris everywhere, but the roads were open," Mayor Ken Thomas said. With the dunes that provide some protection to the island gone, Thomas said people will be nervous for the rest of the storm season. Karen Robinson takes a break after cleaning out her apartment in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally flooding in Pensacola on Friday. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press) "There's a hurricane for everyone out there," he said. Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, estimated that Sally caused at least $21 million US in damage to public infrastructure such as roads and drainage. It will likely cost an additional $8 million US to restore the sand washed away at Pensacola Beach, officials said. The year-old Three Mile Bridge that connects Pensacola to the beaches was heavily damaged in at least two places, and authorities do not know how much money or time it will take to fix. In several places along the Gulf Coast, ships washed up on shore. They included pleasure boats and even a replica of Christopher Columbus' ship the Nina, which docked in Pensacola to ride out the storm and came loose from its mooring. The vessel came to rest in mud and grass at a nearby marina. Back in the Atlantic, Hurricane Teddy was a powerful Category 4 storm about 1,370 kilometers southeast of Bermuda. The island was hit directly by Hurricane Paulette on Monday, and forecasters said a hurricane watch for Teddy may be issued soon. WATCH | CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon tracking Hurricane Teddy: Growing consensus says storm will reach the region on Tuesday into Wednesday, Snoddon says. 2:26

Continue Reading Amid Hurricane Sally recovery, forecasters say 3 storms form in Gulf of Mexico

White House announces $13B for Puerto Rico for recovery from 2017's Hurricane Maria

U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, are shown on Oct. 3, 2017 in Carolina, Puerto Rico, a visit that took place two weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. (Hector Retamal/Getty Images) The U.S. emergency agency is sending almost $13 billion US to Puerto Rico, directed at the territory's energy and education systems, to help it recover from 2017's devastating Hurricane Maria, the White House said on Friday. The "federal share" of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's grants to the territory totals $11.6 billion, with most money — $9.6 billion — going to the battered power authority, according to a White House announcement, which did not provide details on the remaining funds or explain why they were not part of the federal share. Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced said in a statement that the full FEMA package is $12.8 billion, with $10.5 billion for power. The White House said $9.6 billion would go to help the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to repair and replace thousands of kilometres of transmission and distribution lines, electrical substations, power generation systems and office buildings, as well as to make other grid improvements. It also released $2 billion for the Puerto Rico Department of Education to repair schools across the island. "I have to say, in a very nice way, a very respectful way — I'm the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico," U.S. President Donald Trump said at a White House briefing on Friday afternoon. Puerto Rico was already struggling financially before the deadly hurricane struck three years ago, and it filed a form of municipal bankruptcy for the commonwealth in 2017 to restructure about $120 billion of debt and obligations. Since then, the U.S. commonwealth has been hit by more hurricanes, earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic and political upheaval, and it has been the target of increased federal scrutiny into its use of U.S. aid. A large portion of its financial distress was linked to the territory's power utility. Analysis For Trump White House, belittling Puerto Rico might be more than a 'slip of the tongue' Trump is working to woo Hispanic voters in the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election, where he faces Democratic candidate Joe Biden. In a speech on Tuesday in Kissimmee, Fla., where many people settled after fleeing Maria's devastation, Biden said Trump "has done nothing but assault the dignity of Hispanic families." In addition to Florida, other states with significant Puerto Rican populations whose outcomes are considered up in the air for presidential electoral college votes are Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, though it's no guarantee they would vote solely based on aid for the island. In a series of tweets, Vázquez Garced, Puerto Rico's governor, thanked the White House for the aid. Trump dismissed critics of response to Maria But Nydia Velázquez, a congresswoman from New York born in Puerto Rico, accused the Trump administration of having "delayed, dragged its feet and resisted allocating these badly needed funds." "Now, 46 days before the election, the administration has finally seen fit to release these funds," she said in a statement. My statement on FEMA's Puerto Rico announcement today: pic.twitter.com/vFU3oa2V3w —@NydiaVelazquez Florida Democrat Darren Soto, whose father was born in Puerto Rico, was even more pointed. "This latest political tactic is an insult to the Island and everyone who died as a result of President Trump's failure," the congressman tweeted. "We see right through him." A worker from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority works to restore power in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, in July 2018. The island's electrical grid has often been battered by Atlantic hurricanes. (Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/The Associated Press) Some Democrats criticized the administration for what they characterized as a lacklustre relief effort compared with hurricanes and storms that hit mainland U.S. earlier in Trump's presidency. The mayor of San Juan called the president "abominable" for lobbing paper towels into a crowd when he visited Puerto Rico after the hurricane. The White House also fended off criticism over a rebuilding contract won by a Montana firm that had ties to Trump's interior secretary at the time. LISTEN l As It Happens interview with Puerto Rican lawmaker in 2019: Florida Democratic Congressman Darren Soto argues that the way President Trump is treating Puerto Rico is more evidence that the island territory should become a state. 6:34 Trump nevertheless said he graded his administration's response to Maria a "10." While Puerto Rican officials lost track of deaths caused by Maria shortly after the storm's arrival, reaching a total in the 60s, a much-publicized study by researchers at George Washington University several months later that examined excess mortality rates estimated that deaths attributable to the hurricane were closer to 3,000. Trump took great issue with the estimate from the Washington-based school, asserting without evidence that it was politically biased against him.

Continue Reading White House announces $13B for Puerto Rico for recovery from 2017's Hurricane Maria

Former model accuses Donald Trump of sexual assault in 1990s incident

President Donald Trump's re-election campaign issued a denial after The Guardian published an account from Amy Dorris alleging sexual assault in the 1990s. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press) U.S. President Donald Trump's re-election campaign on Thursday denied a Guardian newspaper report in which a former model accused the New York real estate developer of sexually assaulting and groping her at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in 1997. The Guardian reported that Amy Dorris told the paper in an interview that Trump assaulted her outside a bathroom in his VIP box at the tournament that year. She was 24 at the time, the newspaper said. "He just shoved his tongue down my throat and I was pushing him off. And then that's when his grip became tighter and his hands were very gropey and all over my butt, my breasts, my back, everything," the newspaper quoted Dorris as saying. The president's re-election campaign on Thursday said the allegations were not true. "The allegations are totally false. We will consider every legal means available to hold The Guardian accountable for its malicious publication of this unsubstantiated story," said Jenna Ellis, a legal advisor to Trump's campaign. Efforts by Reuters to reach Dorris by phone for comment were unsuccessful. The Guardian said in an email it stood by its reporting. The newspaper published photos that it said were provided by Dorris, a former model, showing her with Trump and said that it interviewed several people who Dorris confided in at the time of the incident. It said that in total she provided six photos showing the two together, as well as her ticket to the tournament on the day she said the incident occurred. Trump has faced a number of allegations of sexual misconduct prior to his time in office. Shortly before the November 2016 election, an Access Hollywood recording from 2005 revealed him boasting about groping women. Trump dismissed the comments as "locker room banter" and apologized. Dorris, a mother of twins, told the newspaper she considered coming forward in 2016 but decided against doing so, partly out of fears for her family. "Now I feel like my girls are about to turn 13 years old and I want them to know that you don't let anybody do anything to you that you don't want," she said. Faces 2 defamation cases Trump was not harmed politically by the more than a dozen accusations of past sexual misconduct levelled at him during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump has denied all the allegations. While those cases generally involved groping and kissing without consent, in 2019, E. Jean Carroll alleged forced penetration in an incident in the 1990s. Trump denied the allegation, saying Carroll "isn't my type." Carroll has launched a defamation suit based on Trump's comments about her allegation, with the Justice Department recently taking the unprecedented step of wanting to take over his defence in the case. Trump also faces a defamation suit still working its way through the courts from Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice who accuses him of unwanted kissing and groping. New York State prosecutors are also wanting access to Trump Organization financial records, a process currently tied up in the courts. The investigation is believed to have been spurred by claims by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen as well as porn actress Stormy Daniels that Trump paid hush money payments to her and another woman to buy their silence over alleged extramarital affairs.

Continue Reading Former model accuses Donald Trump of sexual assault in 1990s incident

Belarus candidate who fled to Lithuania urges continued pressure on Lukashenko

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is seen on a screen speaking via video message before a meeting in Geneva on Friday of the United Nations Human Rights Council, on allegations of torture and other serious violations in her country. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images) Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya demanded on Friday an international mission to document what she called "atrocities" during crackdowns on anti-government protests but said she was ready to talk to end weeks of violence. She addressed a highly charged debate on the Belarus crisis at the United Nations Human Rights Council, where envoys from Minsk and its backer Moscow faced off against EU delegations who are pushing for sanctions and investigations. UN rights investigator Anais Marin told the session that member states needed to act to prevent a major geopolitical rift. "Let's not allow another Iron Curtain to descend on the European continent," she said. Marin said more than 10,000 people have been "abusively arrested," with more than 500 reports of torture and thousands "savagely beaten," since President Alexander Lukashenko retained power after a disputed presidential election on Aug. 9. Protesters say the vote was fraudulent. Lukashenko says he won the vote fairly by a landslide and dismisses accusations of abuses, which he says are part of a Western smear campaign. Interruptions by Russia, Belarus reps Marin's speech was interrupted several times by objections from other UN members including Russian, Belarusian and other delegations who called a halt to her participation. The UN Human Rights Council session will consider an EU draft resolution for UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to monitor the crisis and report back by year-end. A law enforcement officer detains a woman with a huge former white-red-white flag of Belarus during a rally to protest against the presidential election results in Minsk on Sept. 13. Many protesters who have been released from jail have recounted allegations of being abused while locked up. (TUT.BY/AFP/Getty Images) Tikhanovskaya, in a video message to the 47-member state forum, called for the monitoring mission and said the government should hold another election. "I once again emphasize our willingness to talk with the authorities and look for peaceful solution to the crisis that has affected our nation," added Tikhanovskaya. "We demand to immediately cease violence against peaceful citizens. We demand immediate release of all political prisoners," she said. Lukashenko won a sixth term with 80 per cent of the vote in an election without international monitors. The result has been seen as implausible given the crowds Tikhanovskaya was drawing during the campaign. Jailed opposition member on hunger strike Tikhanovskaya, 37, fled to Lithuania after the election. A political novice, she emerged as the consensus opposition candidate after better-known figures were barred from standing, including her jailed activist husband. Tikhanovskaya is a leader of the opposition Coordination Council. In Belarus, another member of the group, politician Maxim Znak, declared a hunger strike in jail on Friday after being charged with calling for actions that could harm Belarusian national interests, the council said. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko's main ally, agreed to loan Belarus $1.5 billion US at a summit on Monday, and the two countries are conducting joint military training exercises in Belarus. Russia's defence ministry said on Friday that special forces from Russia and Belarus had rehearsed a counterterrorism scenario involving freeing hostages from a building in their "Slavic Brotherhood 2020" drills. It said more than 800 military personnel from the two countries were taking part in the training near the Belarusian city of Brest. Lawyer and representative of the Coordination Council for members of the Belarusian opposition, Maxim Znak, shown on Aug. 18 in Minsk, is reportedly on a hunger strike. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters) During the UN debate, Ukraine's foreign minister warned Russia against taking steps that may undermine the sovereignty of Belarus and destabilize the region. "It is heartbreaking to watch the footage of our close neighbours viciously beaten down and arbitrarily detained on the streets of their native cities," Dmytro Kuleba told the debate. On Thursday, the European Parliament voted in a non-binding measure to not recognize the election or Lukashenko's legitimacy as president when his term expires on Nov. 5. The European Union could follow with formal sanctions. As well on Thursday, 17 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including Canada, appointed an independent team of experts to investigate the alleged human rights abuse and elections fraud in Belarus. Back in Belarus, a man set himself on fire on Friday outside a police station in the town of Smolevichi and is in a serious condition in hospital, the Interior Ministry said. A police officer ran out of the station to douse the man with a fire extinguisher after he burst into flames and was writhing around in pain on the pavement, footage of the incident released by the ministry showed. The reason for the act was unclear, but the man had a history of mental illness, the ministry said in a statement.

Continue Reading Belarus candidate who fled to Lithuania urges continued pressure on Lukashenko

U.S. banning use of WeChat, TikTok, citing national security reasons

U.S. business transactions with the Chinese-owned social apps WeChat and TikTok are to be banned, starting Sunday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) The U.S. Commerce Department has issued an order that will bar people in the United States from downloading Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok, starting Sunday. Commerce officials said the ban on new U.S. downloads of TikTok could be still rescinded by President Donald Trump before it takes effect late Sunday as TikTok owner ByteDance races to clinch an agreement over the fate of its U.S. operations. ByteDance has been talks with Oracle Corp and others to create a new company, TikTok Global, which aims to address U.S. concerns about the security of its users' data. ByteDance still needs Trump's approval to stave off a U.S. ban. Commerce officials said they will not bar additional technical transactions for TikTok until Nov. 12, which gives the company additional time to see if ByteDance can reach a deal for its U.S. operations. "The basic TikTok will stay intact until Nov. 12," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network. The department said the actions will "protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality." U.S. Commerce Department officials said they were taking the extraordinary step because of the risks the apps' data collection poses. China and the companies have denied U.S. user data is collected for spying. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the ban on Tik Tok and WeChat will combat China's 'malicious collection of American citizens' personal data.' (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images) Ross said in a written statement "we have taken significant action to combat China's malicious collection of American citizens' personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations." Oracle shares fell 1.6 per cent after the news in pre-market trading The Commerce Department order will "de-platform" the two apps in the U.S. and bar Apple Inc's app store, Alphabet Inc's Google Play and others from offering the apps on any platform "that can be reached from within the United States," a senior Commerce official told Reuters. The order will not ban U.S. companies from doing business on WeChat outside the United States, which will be welcome news to U.S. firms like Walmart and Starbucks that use WeChat's embedded "mini-app" programs to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China, officials said. The order will not bar transactions with WeChat-owner Tencent Holdings' other businesses, including its online gaming operations, and will not prohibit Apple, Google or others from offering TikTok or WeChat apps anywhere outside the United States. The bans are in response to a pair of executive orders issued by Trump on Aug. 6 that gave the Commerce Department 45 days to determine what transactions to block from the apps he deemed pose a national security threat. That deadline expires on Sunday. 'Untrusted' Chinese apps The Trump administration has ramped up efforts to purge "untrusted" Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks and has called TikTok and WeChat "significant threats." TikTok has 100 million users in the United States and is especially popular among younger Americans. WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firm Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, ex-pats and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China. People walk past the headquarters of ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, in Beijing. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images) WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users. The Commerce Department will not seek to compel people in the United States to remove the apps or stop using them but will not allow updates or new downloads. "We are aiming at a top corporate level. We're not going to go out after the individual users," one Commerce official said. Over time, officials said, the lack of updates will degrade the apps' usability. "The expectation is that people will find alternative ways to do these actions," a senior official said. "We expect the market to act and there will be more secure apps that will fill in these gaps that Americans can trust and that the United States government won't have to take similar actions against." The Commerce Department is also barring additional technical transactions with WeChat starting Sunday that will significantly reduce the usability and functionality of the app in the United States. The order bars data hosting within the United States for WeChat, content delivery services and networks that can increase functionality and internet transit or peering services. "What immediately is going to happen is users are going to experience a lag or lack of functionality," a senior Commerce official said of WeChat users. "It may still be usable but it is not going to be as functional as it was." There may be sporadic outages as well, the official said. Commerce will bar the same set of technical transactions for TikTok, but that will not take effect until Nov. 12 to give the company additional time to see if ByteDance can reach a deal for its U.S. operations. The official said TikTok U.S. users would not see "a major difference" in the app's performance until Nov. 12. U.S. President Donald Trump could still rescind the download ban before it comes into effect Sunday. (Scott Olson/Getty Images) Commerce will not penalize people who use TikTok or WeChat in the United States. The order does not bar data storage within the United States for WeChat or TikTok. Some Americans may find workarounds. There is nothing that would bar an American from travelling to a foreign country and downloading either app, or potentially using a virtual private network and a desktop client, officials conceded.

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California firefighter dies battling massive El Dorado blaze

A firefighter puts out a hot spot along Highway 38 northwest of Forrest Falls, Calif., part of the El Dorado Fire, on Sept. 10. (Will Lester/Orange County Register/AP) A firefighter died on Thursday in the San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado Fire, the U.S. Forest Service said in a news release. The El Dorado Fire erupted earlier this month after a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was used by a couple to reveal their baby's gender, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said. The name of the firefighter was being withheld until family members are notified. The cause of the death was under investigation. "Our deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and fellow firefighters during this time," spokesperson Zach Behrens said in the release. Firefighters have also died battling the so-called Stagecoach and August Complex fires in the state this summer.  Q&A Former California governor Jerry Brown talks to CBC News about the worsening wildfire problem The El Dorado Fire has burned more than 19,000 acres (7,700 hectares) and was about 66 per cent contained, according to Cal Fire. Wildfires have burned more than three million acres in California this year and are blamed for at least 25 deaths. "I've been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I've seen," said Justin Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire, on Thursday. Thousands of buildings destroyed Cal Fire's roughly 8,000 personnel have been fighting blazes from the Oregon border to the Mexico border, bouncing from fire to fire, said Tim Edwards, president of the union for Cal Fire, the nation's second-largest firefighting agency. California alone has spent $529 million US since July 1 on wildfires, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire. By comparison, the state spent $691 million the entire fiscal year that ended June 30. The August Complex Fire burns near Lake Pillsbury in the Mendocino National Forest in central California. It is among about two dozen fires not fully under control in the state. (Noah Berger/The Associated Press) California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that more than 17,000 firefighters were battling some 25 major fires in the state that had ignited in the past month, after an unprecedented lightning siege in mid-August. That total includes firefighters from agencies other than Cal Fire and from outside the state helping to battle blazes. In addition to the death toll, some 4,200 structures have been destroyed statewide and more than 38,000 people under evacuation. The wildfires racing across tinder-dry landscape in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington have sent traces of smoke as far as Mexico, Canada and even Europe, according to satellite images.

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Taiwan scrambles air force as multiple Chinese jets buzz island

In this file photo, Taiwanese domestically built Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) take part in the live-fire, anti-landing Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates an enemy invasion, in Taichung, Taiwan July 16, 2020. (Ann Wang/File Photo/Reuters) Taiwan scrambled fighter jets on Friday as multiple Chinese aircraft buzzed the island, including crossing the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, in an escalation of tensions the same day a senior U.S. official began meetings in Taipei. Earlier on Friday, China's Defence Ministry announced the start of combat drills near the Taiwan Strait, denouncing what it called collusion between the Chinese-claimed island and the United States. U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades. Beijing has watched with growing alarm the ever-closer relationship between Taipei and Washington, and has stepped up military exercises near the island, including two days of mass air and sea drills last week. Analysis Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has China to thank for landslide re-election win Taiwan's defence ministry said 18 Chinese aircraft were involved on Friday, a far larger number than Taiwan has previously announced for such encounters. "Sep. 18, two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters and four J-11 fighters crossed the midline of the TaiwanStrait and entered Taiwan's southwest ADIZ," the ministry said in an English-language statement on Twitter. U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrives at an airport in Taipei, Taiwan on Thursday. (Central News Agency/Pool/Reuters) "ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defence missile system to monitor the activities," it added, referring to Taiwan's air force. The ministry showed a map of the flight paths of the Chinese jets and their crossing of the Taiwan Strait mid-line, which normally combat aircraft from both sides avoid passing through. Taiwan's Liberty Times newspaper said Taiwan air force jets scrambled 17 times on Friday morning over four hours, warning China's air force to stay away. It also showed a picture of missiles being loaded onto an F-16 at the Hualien air base on Taiwan's east coast. In Beijing, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Friday's drills, about which he gave no details, involved the People's Liberation Army's eastern theatre command. Taiwan 'internal' affair, says Chinese defence official "They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Ren said. Taiwan is a purely internal Chinese affair that brooks no foreign interference, he added. "Recently the United States and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities have stepped up their collusion, frequently creating disturbances," Ren said, referring to Taiwan's ruling party. Trying to "use Taiwan to control China" or "rely on foreigners to build oneself up" is wishful thinking and doomed to be a dead end, he added. "Those who play with fire will get burnt," he said. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (right) and Vice President-elect William Lai at a rally on Jan. 11 after their election victory. Tsai won January's election by a landslide, vowing to stand up to China. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters) Hu Xijin, editor of China's widely read state-backed Global Times tabloid, wrote on his Weibo microblog that the drills were preparation for an attack on Taiwan should the need arise, and that they were valuable experience, enabling gathering of intelligence about Taiwan's defensive systems. "If the U.S. secretary of state or defence secretary visits Taiwan, People's Liberation Army fighters should fly over Taiwan island, and directly exercise in the skies above it," he added. China had threatened to make a "necessary response" to Krach's trip, straining already poor ties between Beijing and both Taipei and Washington. Sino-U.S. relations have plummeted ahead of November's U.S. presidential election. Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait last month as the U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar was in Taipei, and last week China carried out two days of large-scale drills off Taiwan's southwestern coast. The United States, like most countries, only has official ties with China, not Taiwan, though Washington is the island's main arms supplier and most important international backer. This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had lunch with Taiwan's top envoy in New York. China's U.N. mission said it had lodged "stern representations" over the meeting.

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Wetlands are burning: Worst fire season in a decade threatens Brazil's Pantanal

Firefighters work to put out a wildfire in the Porto Jofre region in the Pantanal wetlands in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, on Monday. Out-of-control fires are destroying vast areas of vegetation and killing wildlife, putting one of the world's most diverse ecosystems in jeopardy. (Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images) The world's largest tropical wetland is not supposed to burn.  And yet, Brazil's Pantanal is on fire. Thick smoke rises all around the village of Poconé as the wind whips it into little tornadoes. Fire crackles and races through the brush, jumping from forest to pasture to swamp. The flames have destroyed some 25,000 square kilometres— roughly four times the area that has burned in California in 2020 so far. A UNESCO heritage site and one of the world's most diverse ecosystems — home to dozens of endangered species and the densest concentration of jaguars anywhere — is in jeopardy. Charred jaguar carcasses now litter the ground, along with burned alligator-like caimans and fallen birds.   A dead caiman is pictured in an area that was burnt in a fire in the Pantanal, the world's largest wetland, in Poconé, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, on Aug. 31. (Amanda Perobelli/Reuters) Local ranchers struggle to survive. Traditionally, they use fire to revitalize and clear the land, but not on this scale or under such dry conditions. "It hasn't rained in three months, and we don't know if it will rain in September. I hope so," said Dorvalino Camargo, fanning himself with a straw hat after helping to beat back the flames. "Cattle are suffering. We are all suffering." 'I feel defeated' Preservationists who have worked most of their lives to protect the area from loggers and poachers now face a new, much deadlier threat. "We've never dealt with fire conditions so big, so severe," said Angelo Rabelo from his home in the Pantanal. "We're just not prepared to confront it." WATCH | Fires rage through Brazil's Pantanal wetlands  The world's largest tropical wetland is in jeopardy as fires destroy some 25,000 sq. km, with no signs of slowing 0:51 Rabelo is a former police colonel who came to the region 37 years ago to stop illegal hunting, and stayed to start the environmental organization Instituto Homem Pantaneiro. "I feel impotent and defeated," he said. "It's a deep pain." Normally the Pantanal gets abundant moisture from the Amazon rainforest, showers spawned in the vast jungle to the north which feed wetlands throughout the heart of South America, not only in Brazil but also in Bolivia and Paraguay. But the Amazon itself is struggling with drought along with fire that experts have repeatedly linked to deforestation and human activity. More and more of the Amazon's wilderness has been taken over by land developers, illegal logging and expanded agriculture. 'Going to get worse' "These fires, we have no idea where it's going to go, when it's going to stop, and as the dry season intensifies, it's just going to get worse," said Matt Finer from Amazon Conservation, a U.S.-based non-profit group that tracks fires in the rainforest through satellite images. (Saša Petricic/CBC) Preliminary satellite images from Brazil's national space research agency INPE and from NASA suggest fires in this region hit a 10-year high in August. Amazon Conservation counted an average of 53 major blazes per day in the first week of September, up from 18 per day in August. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed the problem. North of the Pantanal wetlands, fires burn in the Amazon rainforest near Novo Progresso, Brazil, in this photo taken Wednesday. (Maria Ferreira) "This story that the Amazon is going up in flames is a lie," he said last month. The president, who was elected on a promise to expedite development of the Amazon, last year fired the head of the INPE after the agency released data showing a significant rise in deforestation since Bolsonaro took office. He has blamed NGOs for stirring up trouble, and denounced foreign governments who have criticized Brazil for its handling of the emergency. In a speech to other South American leaders in August, Bolsonaro challenged foreign representatives to fly over the Amazon, saying that travelling by air from the far-flung cities of Boa Vista to Manaus, one would not see a single flame. This despite the fact that his own government agencies — including INPE — have confirmed the widespread fires. Effects will last 'for decades' And things are only going to get worse, predicts biologist Philip Fearnside, because of continuing deforestation. He's lived in the Amazon for more than four decades, working at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia in Manaus. He said he's seen an area "larger than France" deforested since he's been studying the implications. "A lot of what the government is doing is encouraging [deforestation]," he said. "You have highways that are being built, roads that open up these new areas. And then people move in. You have this process of land being invaded. The damage is likely to far outlast Bolsonaro's presidency. "It's something that lasts for decades, not a problem that ends at the end of one presidential administration," Fearnside said. In the wildlife-rich areas of the Pantanal, that will continue to make survival precarious. A ranch worker looks out at smoke from a fire, rising into the air, in the Pantanal, on Aug. 29. (Amanda Perobelli/Reuters) Eduarda Fernandes is a nature guide who had been working with veterinarians trying to rescue injured animals from the wetlands, including jaguars with paws "burnt to the bone." She says there isn't much visible life in the area, no "ants or crabs" — which serve as food for different types of animals. "Animals will die not only due to the fires but also due to dehydration and hunger," she said. "It's very sad to see what is happening here."

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Alexei Navalny aides cite water bottles in Siberia hotel as possible contamination source

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is shown in a 2018 court appearance in Moscow, one of several times he has been arrested in the past in connection with his activism and criticism of President Vladimir Putin. Navalny is currently recovering from a poisoning in a Berlin hospital. (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images) Colleagues of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Thursday that a bottle of water with a trace of the Novichok nerve agent was found in his hotel room after his poisoning. Navalny fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20 and was flown to Germany, where he was kept in an induced coma for more than two weeks as he was treated with an antidote. Members of his team accused the Kremlin of involvement in the poisoning, charges that Russian officials have vehemently denied. The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to answer questions about the poisoning, urging Germany to provide evidence of his poisoning. On Tuesday, Navalny posted a picture of himself from his bed in Berlin's Charite Hospital, hugged by his wife and children. "I still can't do almost anything on my own, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day," he added in the post. A video posted on Navalny's Instagram account on Thursday showed his team working around his hotel room in Tomsk before he left the city and collapsed on the flight back to Moscow. Navalny's Instagram said they returned to the room an hour after learning that he had become ill, accompanied by a lawyer, and packed the bottles and other items for further inspection. "Two weeks later, a German laboratory found a trace of Novichok on a bottle from the Tomsk hotel room," they said. "And then another three labs that took Alexei's samples proved that he was poisoned with it. Now we understand: It was done before he left his room to go to the airport." Tensions rise between Germany, Russia A German military lab has determined that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that Britain said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018. On Monday, the German government said independent tests by labs in France and Sweden backed up its findings. The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is also taking steps to have samples from Navalny tested at its designated labs. The Kremlin has said that Russian doctors who treated him in the Siberian city of Omsk, where he was brought after the plane's emergency landing, found no sign that Navalny was poisoned. Russia has repeatedly prodded Germany to share Navalny's analyses and other medical data and compare notes with the Russian doctors. German officials have responded to Moscow's request for evidence by saying that Russian authorities must have the samples already, since Navalny spent two days in the Omsk hospital. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who cancelled a scheduled trip Tuesday to Berlin, said in a TV interview earlier this week that Russian authorities have conducted a preliminary inquiry and documented the meetings Navalny had before falling ill, but he emphasized that investigators need to see the evidence of his poisoning to launch a full criminal probe. Lavrov accused the West of trying to smear Russia and use the incident as a pretext for new sanctions against Moscow. He argued that Navalny's life was saved by the pilots of the plane who quickly landed in Omsk after he collapsed on board and by the rapid action of doctors there – something he said Western officials have failed to recognize.

Continue Reading Alexei Navalny aides cite water bottles in Siberia hotel as possible contamination source

U.S. judge blocks Postal Service changes that slowed mail, calling them 'politically motivated'

A person deposits letters into a U.S. Postal Service mailbox in Philadelphia. A U.S. judge has blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide. (Rachel Wisniewski/Reuters) A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, calling them "a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service" before the November election. Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Wash., said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service. The states challenged the Postal Service's so-called "leave behind" policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load. They also sought to force the USPS to treat election mail as First Class mail. The judge noted after a hearing that Trump had repeatedly attacked voting by mail by making unfounded claims that it is rife with fraud. Many more voters are expected to vote by mail this November because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the states have expressed concern that delays might result in voters not receiving ballots or registration forms in time. "The states have demonstrated the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service," Bastian said. The judge ruled that the changes at USPS created "a substantial possibility many voters will be disenfranchised." (Rebecca Cook/Reuters) He also said the changes created "a substantial possibility many voters will be disenfranchised." Bastian, an appointee of former U.S. president Barack Obama, said he planned to issue a written order later in the day, but that it would be substantially the same as that sought by the states. Following a national uproar, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to U.S. President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, announced he was suspending some changes — including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the decommissioning of mail processing machines. States asked court to block USPS changes But other changes remained in place, and the states — including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada — asked the court to block them. The states sought to have the "leave behind" policy revoked; election mail treated as First Class mail rather than as slower-moving categories; the reinstallation of any mail processing machines needed to ensure the prompt handling of election mail; and asked that the court hold DeJoy to his promise to suspend other changes. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a House committee hearing Aug. 24 in Washington. Dejoy suspended some of the changes he made to the USPS following a national outcry. (Tom Williams/The Associated Press) Led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the states said the Postal Service made the changes without first bringing them to the Postal Regulatory Commission for public comment and an advisory opinion, as required by federal law. They also said the changes interfered with their constitutional authority to administer their elections. At the hearing, Justice Department attorney Joseph Borson sought to assure the judge that the USPS would handle election mail promptly, noting that a surge of ballots in the mail would pale in comparison to increases from, say, holiday cards. He also said slow downs caused by the "leave behind" policy had gotten better since it was first implemented, and that the Postal Service in reality had made no changes with regard to how it classifies and processes election mail. DeJoy has repeatedly insisted that processing election mail remains the organization's top priority. "There's been a lot of confusion in the briefing and in the press about what the Postal Service has done," Borson said. "The states are accusing us of making changes we have not in fact made." Voters who are worried about their ballots being counted "can simply promptly drop their ballots in the mail," he said, and states can help by mailing registration form or absentee ballots early. Borson also insisted that the states were also required to bring their challenge not in court, but before the Postal Regulatory Commission itself — even though by law the commission has 90 days to respond. Bastian rejected that notion, saying there was no time for that with the election just seven weeks away. The states conceded that mail delays have eased since the service cuts first created a national uproar in July, but they said on-time deliveries remain well below their prior levels, meaning millions of pieces of mail that would otherwise arrive on-time no longer are. They also noted some of the effects the changes had already wrought: Michigan spent $2 million US earlier this year on envelopes that met election mail standards — only to learn that the Postal Service wouldn't treat them as first class mail. In Madison, Wisconsin, the number of ballots that weren't counted because they arrived late for the August primary doubled from the August 2018 primary. The other states suing include Washington, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — all led by Democratic attorneys general. Pennsylvania is leading a separate multistate lawsuit over the changes, and New York and Montana have filed their own challenges.

Continue Reading U.S. judge blocks Postal Service changes that slowed mail, calling them 'politically motivated'

Sally weakens to tropical depression, brings heavy rains and flooding in southeastern U.S.

Members of a citizen response team from Indiana assist in high-water rescue of residents in Pensacola, Fla., on Thursday. (Tony Giberson/Pensacola News Journal/The Associated Press) The remnants of Hurricane Sally on Thursday dumped more than 30 centimetres of rain on parts of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, washed out bridges and roads and left hundreds of thousands without power. The storm is also being blamed for the death of at least one person.  Sally brought torrential rains and flash flooding to Georgia as it slogged to the Carolinas. As of 11 a.m. CT, it was about 185 kilometres southwest of Athens, Ga., moving northeast at 33 km/h, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It struck Gulf Shores, Ala., a day earlier with winds clocked at 168 km/h and is believed to have killed one person in coastal Alabama, with another reported missing. "We had a body wash up. We believe it was hurricane-related, but we have no definitive proof of that right now," said Trent Johnson, a police lieutenant in Orange Beach, Ala. Some parts of the coast were inundated with more than 60 centimetres of rain, as the slow-moving storm flooded communities. The coastal city of Pensacola, Fla., experienced up to 1.5 metres of flooding, and travel was cut by damaged roads and bridges. More than 465,000 homes and businesses across the area remain without power. WATCH | Hurricane Sally brings large-scale flooding, major power outages: 'We started hearing all of our windows start to pop,' said Logan Estill of Mobile, Ala., as he rode out the Category 2 storm in the U.S. Gulf Coast. 0:47 Several residents along the Alabama and Florida coasts said damage from the storm caught them off guard. By late Wednesday, the floodwaters had started to recede in some areas, though the National Weather Service warned that extensive river flooding would be a concern through the weekend. Bill Moore, 47, hiked about three kilometres from his home in Gulf Shores, Ala., hoping to retrieve his car stashed inland, away from the coast. Winds tore through a hurricane shutter of his home, smashed one window and collapsed a rooftop skylight. "It has been a long two days," he said. "We were trying to evacuate on Tuesday, but it was too late." A man, standing outside his home, watches a street flooded by Sally in Pensacola, Fla. The storm barrelled into the U.S. Gulf Coast early Wednesday, causing widespread destruction. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images) "It was just constant rain and wind," said Preity Patel, 41, a resident of Pensacola for two years. "The water drained pretty quickly, thankfully. It's just cleanup now." Pensacola International Airport, which closed Monday as Sally bore down, remains closed. Officials say they need to assess the safety of the runway and its facility before it reopens but gave no timeline for that in a statement Wednesday evening. The predicted path of former-hurricane Sally. (CBC News) Another storm brewing  Sally was the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States. A tropical disturbance was brewing in the southern Gulf of Mexico on Thursday that has a 90 per cent chance of becoming a cyclone in the next 48 hours. Two other named storms were in the Atlantic, making this one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record. Hurricanes have increased in intensity and destructiveness since the 1980s as the climate has warmed, according to researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This year we've just got hurricane after hurricane," said Matt Lane, 23, a member of a crew from New Hampshire Electric Co-op, who arrived in the region late on Tuesday directly from Hurricane Laura recovery efforts in Texas. Oil production shut down Sally also shut down 508,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil production and 805 million cubic feet of natural gas, more than a quarter of U.S. Gulf of Mexico output, and halted petrochemical exports all along the Gulf Coast. Bristow Group, which transports oil workers from a Galliano, La., heliport, resumed crew-change flights to facilities in the west and central Gulf of Mexico. "We are making flights offshore and experiencing a slight increase in outbound passengers," said heliport manager Lani Moneyhon. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, a deepwater oil port that handles supertankers, reopened its marine terminal after suspending operations over the weekend. About 1.1 million bpd of U.S. refining capacity were offline on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Energy Department, including two plants under repair since Hurricane Laura and another halted by weak demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A construction site is seen on the coast hours before Sally made landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast in Pascagoula, Miss. (Chandan Shanna/AFP/Getty Images) Fuel prices rose again on Thursday as six refineries were offline, and OPEC promised to crack down on members not keeping to production cuts. Gasoline futures rose two per cent to near the high for the month. Phillips 66, which shut its 255,600-bpd Alliance, La., oil refinery ahead of the storm, said it was advancing planned maintenance at the facility and would keep processing halted. Royal Dutch Shell's Mobile, Ala., chemical plant and refinery reported no serious damage from an initial survey, the company said. Chevron said its Pascagoula, Miss., oil refinery operated normally through the storm. Shell will also keep the crude distillation unit, alkylation unit and reformer shut for at least a week at its 227,400-bpd Norco, La., refinery for short-term maintenance work, sources told Reuters. The units were shut due to the threat from Sally. WATCH | Florida, Alabama face heavy flooding, wind damage from Hurricane Sally: Up to a metre of water was recorded in Pensacola, Fla., as the lumbering storm kept pounding the area with heavy rain. 1:03

Continue Reading Sally weakens to tropical depression, brings heavy rains and flooding in southeastern U.S.

European Parliament votes to reject Belarus election, paving way for possible sanctions

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has fiercely resisted calls to step down in the wake of the August election, with government security forces criticized by other European nations and rights organizations for crackdowns on protests of the election. (Maxim Guchek/BeltA/The Associated Press) Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko should no longer be recognized as president after November, when his term expires, the European Parliament said on Thursday, calling for European Union economic sanctions to be imposed on him. In an overwhelming show of support for pro-democracy protesters in Belarus, the EU assembly voted 574 to 37, with 82 abstentions, to reject the official results of an Aug. 9 presidential election that the West says was rigged. "The EU needs a new approach towards Belarus, which includes the termination of any co-operation with Lukashenko's regime," said Petras Austrevicius, a Lithuanian centrist EU lawmaker heading parliament's efforts to pressure Belarus's top officials. While the European Parliament's vote is not legally binding, it carries political weight and can influence how the EU invests in Belarus or grants financial support. "Once the term of office for the incumbent authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko expires on 5 November, parliament will no longer recognize him as the president of the country," the parliament said in a statement. Poland urges financial support Mass protests since the August election have posed the biggest threat yet to Lukashenko and his attempts to extend his 26-year rule, although EU governments have yet to respond with sanctions. Moscow's backing has become crucial for Lukashenko's survival as president, and the Kremlin has accused the West of seeking a revolution in the country. Poland said Thursday it wants the European Union to offer Belarus financial assistance of at least 1 billion euros ($1.87 billion Cdn) as part of a Marshall Plan-type effort to rebuild Belarus. Polish Prime Minster Mateusz Morawiecki said the financial assistance would form part of a support package for Belarus, which he will propose at the next EU summit on Sept. 24-25. Belarusian opposition politician Maria Kolesnikova is shown Aug. 30 in Minsk during a protest. Kolesnikova, who resisted exile to Ukraine, was charged with national security offences this week. (Tut.By/Reuters) Meanwhile, 17 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have appointed an independent expert mission to investigate alleged human rights violations in Belarus, Denmark's foreign ministry said on Thursday. The expert mission, charged with looking into numerous reports of human rights violations before, during and after the Aug. 9 election, is expected to publish a report within six to eight weeks, the ministry said. The OSCE members behind the mission are Denmark, Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Great Britain, the Czech Republic and the United States. In the Belarus protests, several opposition leaders have been exiled or arrested. On Wednesday, investigators officially charged Maria Kolesnikova, a protest leader, with incitement to undermine national security. Kolesnikova was charged with calling for "actions aimed at undermining Belarusian national security" using the media and the internet, the committee said. Kolesnikova, 38, is currently in jail in Minsk after ripping up her own passport last week to thwart an attempt to expel her to Ukraine. Meanwhile, some Belarusian citizens who have been detained in protests have reported to human rights organizations allegations of torture and abuse while imprisoned.

Continue Reading European Parliament votes to reject Belarus election, paving way for possible sanctions

U.S attorney general Barr likens stay-at-home orders to slavery

U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks at a news conference on Sept. 10 in Phoenix. Barr is being criticized by Democrats for comments this week encouraging the harshest penalties against some Americans arrested in protests, as well as those characterizing lockdowns as a grave threat to civil liberties. (Bob Christie/The Associated Press) Attorney General William Barr drew sharp condemnation Thursday for comparing lockdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic to slavery. In remarks Wednesday night at Hillsdale College in Michigan, Barr called the lockdown orders the "greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history" since slavery. "greatest intrusion on civil liberties" in history "other than slavery." Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democratic leader, told CNN that Barr's remarks were "the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I've ever heard" because they wrongly equated human bondage with a measure aimed at saving lives. "Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives," said Clyburn, who is Black. "This pandemic is a threat to human life." This is not the first occasion that Barr has condemned stay-at-home orders. He has previously said that some orders were "disturbingly close to house arrest," and the Justice Department sent letters to several states warning that some of their virus-related restrictions might be unlawful. Prosecutors also filed statements of interest in several civil cases challenging some of the restrictions. New Jersey congressman Bill Pascrell Jr., reacting to the comments Wednesday, tweeted: "Bill Barr is drunk with power, an out-of-control fanatic, a frothing enemy of democracy. Barr should be impeached then stripped of his law licences for life." Barr was confirmed as attorney general in February 2019, even capturing three Democratic votes in the process. Some Democrats who voted against him had expressed hopes based on his record as attorney general in the early 1990s under George H.W. Bush that he would be a moderate voice in Donald Trump's administration. But many have questioned his objectivity since due to the Justice Department's intervention in the cases of Trump associates Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, and more recently, Trump accuser E. Jean Carroll. Sedition charges could be considered: Barr Democrats are also expressing concern about Barr's increasingly aggressive stance toward protests against police violence and for racial justice that have sometimes spilled into violence. In a private call with federal prosecutors across the country this week, Barr pushed his U.S. attorneys to bring federal charges whenever they could, keeping a grip on cases even if a defendant could be tried instead in state court, according to officials with knowledge of last week's call who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. Federal convictions often result in longer prison sentences. A protester gets arrested as police attempt to take control of the streets during Portland protests on Sept. 5. A considerable number of the federal charges laid in a summer of U.S. protests have occurred in the Oregon city. (Paula Bronstein/The Associated Press) During the call with U.S. attorneys, Barr raised the prospect that prosecutors could bring a number of other potential charges in unrest cases, including the rarely used sedition statute, according to the officials familiar with the call. Legal experts cautioned the use of that statute is unlikely, given its difficulty to prove in court. The Trump administration's crackdown has already led to more than 300 arrests on federal crimes in the protests since the death of George Floyd. An AP analysis of the data shows that while many people are accused of violent crimes such as arson for hurling Molotov cocktails and burning police cars and assault for injuring law enforcement, others are not. That's led to criticism that at least some arrests are a politically motivated effort to stymie demonstrations. Analysis Trump attempts a marketing makeover: Joe Biden as radical Marxist enabler "The speed at which this whole thing was moved from state court to federal court is stunning and unbelievable," said Charles Sunwabe, who represents an Erie, Pa., man accused of lighting a fire at a coffee shop after a May 30 protest. "It's an attempt to intimidate these demonstrators and to silence them," he said. Reaction from a Democratic congresswoman: Each day Bill Barr remains in his position, he does an injustice to justice in this country. He continues to dangerously use the DOJ as a political weapon because he sees himself not as the Attorney General for the American people but as the personal henchman for Donald Trump. https://t.co/ga5GR2GuXj —@RepJayapal Some cases are viewed as trumped up and should not be in federal court, lawyers say, including a teenager accused of civil disorder for claiming online "we are not each other's enemy, only enemy is 12," a reference to law enforcement. While many local prosecutors have dismissed dozens of low-level protest arrests, some are still coming down hard. A Pennsylvania judge set bail at $1 million for about a dozen people in a protest that followed the death of a knife-wielding man by police. The administration has seized on the demonstrations with an aggressive federal response. Trump claims he is countering rising crime in cities run by Democrats and has derided protesters, though the majority of them are peaceful. Pockets of violence have indeed popped up in cities, including Portland, Ore., where protests have devolved into clashes with law enforcement for weeks on end. Nights of looting and other unrest have occurred elsewhere: Rochester, N.Y., Minneapolis, Louisville, Ky., Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Federal officials were called into Kenosha, Wis., after large protests and unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake and the gunning down of two protesters and subsequent arrest of a 17-year-old in their deaths. Notably, that teenager has not been charged with any federal crimes, nor a man accused of shooting and killing a demonstrator in Louisville following the death of Breonna Taylor. Black Lives Matter uses victims as 'props': Barr About one-third of the federal protest-related cases are in Portland, for crimes such as assaulting a deputy U.S. marshal with a baseball bat, setting fires and setting off explosives at the federal courthouse, and throwing rocks at officers. It is not clear whether protest-related arrests will continue apace. Demonstrations have slowed, though not necessarily because of the federal charges. Wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the South have lessened some of the conflict. Analysis Why Trump is betting his political life against Black Lives Matter protests Barr has said he does not believe there is systemic racism in police departments, even though Black people are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police, and public attitudes over police reforms have shifted. At the Hillsdale College event, he said it was a "small number" of cases while taking aim at the Black Lives Matter protest movement. "They're not interested in Black lives," Barr said, according to a report in the Washington Post. "They're interested in props, a small number of Blacks who are killed by police during conflicts with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda." While Barr has gone after protest-related violence targeted at law enforcement, he has argued there is seldom a reason to open sweeping investigations into the practices of police departments. The Justice Department, however, has initiated a number of civil rights investigations into individual cases.

Continue Reading U.S attorney general Barr likens stay-at-home orders to slavery

Trump says CDC director was 'confused' when he said COVID vaccine won't roll out until mid-2021

U.S. President Donald Trump contradicted the director of the Centers for Disease Control Wednesday, saying a COVID-19 vaccine will be rolled out before the end of 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters) U.S. President Donald Trump predicted on Wednesday at least 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine could be distributed by the end of 2020, contradicting a top government health official Trump dismissed as "confused." Hours earlier, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said a COVID-19 vaccine could be broadly rolled out by the middle of next year or a little later. "No, I think he made a mistake when he said that," Trump said, telling reporters he had called Redfield. "That's incorrect information. I believe he was confused. I think he just misunderstood the question, probably." Redfield, head of the federal government's disease control agency, made his comments in testimony before a U.S. Senate panel. He said general availability of a vaccine could come by "late second quarter, third quarter 2021." CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing 'Review of Coronavirus Response Efforts' that a vaccine will not be available until mid-2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters) A vaccine could be ready as soon as this November or December, Redfield said, adding that limited first doses could go to those who were most vulnerable. But he said "in order to have enough of us immunized to have immunity, I think it's going to take six to nine months."  When pressed on the discrepancy, Trump insisted that under no circumstances would vaccine distribution happen as late as Redfield predicted.  U.S. vaccine plan outlined Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. government outlined a sweeping plan to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans, even as polls show a strong undercurrent of skepticism rippling across the land. In a report to Congress and an accompanying "playbook" for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defence Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or possibly later this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon is involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving shots. The U.S. federal government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans. (David Greedy/Getty Images) The campaign is "much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses," said the playbook for states released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the highlights: For most vaccines, people will need two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. Double-dose vaccines will have to come from the same drug maker. There could be several vaccines from different manufacturers approved and available.  Vaccination of the U.S. population won't be a sprint but a marathon. Initially, there may be a limited supply of vaccines available, and the focus will be on protecting health workers, other essential employees and people in vulnerable groups. CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the National Academy of Medicine, and other organizations are working on priorities for the first phase. A second and third phase would expand vaccination to the entire country.  The vaccine itself will be free of charge, and patients won't be charged out of pocket for the administration of shots, thanks to billions of dollars in taxpayer funding approved by Congress and allocated by the Trump administration.  States and local communities will need to devise precise plans for receiving and locally distributing vaccines, some of which will require special handling such as refrigeration or freezing. States and cities have a month to submit plans. Skepticism over rushed vaccine Some of the broad components of the federal plan have already been discussed, but Wednesday's reports attempt to put the key details into a comprehensive framework. Distribution is happening under the umbrella of Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed initiative to have millions of doses ready to ship once a vaccine is given what's expected to be an emergency use approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Several formulations are undergoing final trials. But the whole enterprise is facing public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they'd get vaccinated in an Associated Press poll taken in May. Of those who wouldn't get vaccinated, the overwhelming majority said they were worried about safety. To effectively protect the United States from the coronavirus, experts say upwards of 70 per cent of Americans must either be vaccinated or have their own immunity from fighting off COVID-19. SECOND OPINION What the level of COVID-19 immunity in Canada could mean for the vaccine hunt Since the poll, questions have only mounted about whether the government is trying to rush COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to help Trump's re-election chances. Before the Republican National Convention in August, the FDA granted authorization for treatment of COVID-19 patients with plasma from people who have recovered, even though some government scientists were not convinced the clinical evidence was strong enough.  Researchers look at a sample of a respiratory virus at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Md. There is widespread concern that potential coronavirus vaccines are being rushed. (Abdrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images) As public confidence in core health agencies has taken a beating, Trump administration officials have been forced to play defence. "We are working closely with our state and local public health partners … to ensure that Americans can receive the vaccine as soon as possible and vaccinate with confidence," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Wednesday. "Americans should know that the vaccine development process is being driven completely by science and the data." That could be a tough sell. In the AP poll, one in five Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine; 31 per cent said they were unsure.

Continue Reading Trump says CDC director was 'confused' when he said COVID vaccine won't roll out until mid-2021

Trump health appointee Michael Caputo takes 'leave of absence' following accusations of political meddling

Former Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo, seen here in May 2018, is stepping away from his position following accusations of political meddling. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) The Trump administration health official embroiled in a furor over political meddling with the coronavirus response is taking a leave of absence, the government announced Wednesday. The Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that Michael Caputo was taking the time "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family." Caputo, the department's top spokesman, apologized on Tuesday to his staff for a Facebook video in which he reportedly said scientists battling the coronavirus are conspiring against U.S. President Donald Trump and warned of shooting if Trump were to lose the November election. The Trump appointee also was accused of trying to muzzle a scientific weekly put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The department is so far standing by Caputo's boss, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, in the face of calls by congressional Democrats for his resignation. Caputo was heard on an HHS podcast asserting that Democrats don't want a coronavirus vaccine before the election in order to punish Trump. Although Trump has made the same assertion, with no evidence to support it, such broadsides are not in a department spokesman's normal portfolio. "There are people in the United States government on the Democrats' side ... [who] do not want a vaccine," Caputo said. "They don't want a vaccine until November 4th," he added, citing the day after the presidential election.  This week, Hamilton's McMaster University appeared to be distancing itself from a part-time faculty member who has been working with Caputo.  Caputo was named the top HHS spokesman in April, during a tense period in relations between the White House and Azar. Over the weekend, Caputo made headlines when Politico and the New York Times reported that his office had tried to gain control over a CDC publication known as the MMWR, or Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In previous administrations, political appointees in the HHS secretary's office maintained a hands-off policy. The story took a strange turn Monday, after the Times reported about a live video hosted by Caputo on his personal Facebook page. In it, Caputo reportedly accused government scientists of conspiring against Trump as part of a "resistance." The message turned apocalyptic when Caputo reportedly predicted that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would refuse to concede defeat to Trump in the election, and violence would break out. The Associated Press was unable to independently view the video. There are calls for the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press) HHS initially supported Caputo, with a statement calling him a "critical, integral part of the president's coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic." There was no immediate statement from the White House. Attempts to interview Caputo were unsuccessful. Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency's weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals. MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump's travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported. Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the president's "phony" impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy. His appointment at HHS was seen as an attempt by the White House to exert more control over Azar, whom other administration officials were trying to blame for the government's slow response in the initial weeks of the pandemic. At HHS, he's been closely affiliated with Operation Warp Speed, the government's effort to have millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine ready for distribution as soon as one is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Caputo interviewed Dr. Moncef Slaoui, a top outside adviser to the vaccine effort, on an HHS podcast July 31. Commiserating with Slaoui over Democrats and news articles that were critical of the doctor, Caputo said: "I know that's hard to believe, but the people who are abusing you, and who are beating down Operation Warp Speed, and the incredible historic work that's going on, they don't want a vaccine until November 4th. I don't want to talk about politics here, but November 3rd is an important day. They don't want a vaccine now because of politics, sir."

Continue Reading Trump health appointee Michael Caputo takes 'leave of absence' following accusations of political meddling

Academy of Country Music Awards sober up amid COVID-19

Carrie Underwood performs onstage during the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Festival. Underwood is nominated for entertainer of the year at this year's Academy of Country Music Awards. (Kevin Winter) In a pre-pandemic world, the Academy of Country Music Awards advertised itself as country music's night to party with gambling, after-parties and a Las Vegas-style attitude. This year the red carpet, crowds and gambling are all replaced with COVID-19 tests, temperature checks and face masks. The awards show was delayed five months due to the pandemic and moved to Nashville, and the tone for Wednesday's show airing on CBS will be much more serious than in years past. "We're celebrating but we're not partying," said R.A. Clark, longtime executive producer of the show. The show will feature performances by Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton with Gwen Stefani and many more, but it's being rebranded this year as a "night of heart and hits" that will also reflect how hard the pandemic has hit many people this year, including in the music industry. Mickey Guyton, pictured at last year's Academy Country Music Awards in Las Vegas April 7, 2019, Guyton will perform her song What Are You Gonna Tell Her? at the CMA Awards Wednesday evening. ( Jordan Strauss/Invision/The Associated Press) Trisha Yearwood will perform a memorial tribute performance that will likely include Kenny Rogers, Joe Diffie, Charlie Daniels and John Prine, who all died in 2020. Country singer Mickey Guyton's performance of What Are You Gonna Tell Her? will highlight food insecurity. The ACMs will also showcase their charity contributions to unemployed workers in the music industry. Entertainer of the year Leading nominees include Dan + Shay, Old Dominion and Maren Morris, and all eyes will be on the entertainer of the year category. Carrie Underwood, who won the category in 2008 and 2009, seems a likely frontrunner against Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett after many feel she was overdue for an entertainer of the year win at the other major country awards show, the CMA Awards, last November. Bryan, who has also won entertainer of the year twice, said Underwood has risen to the qualifications. "I certainly believe that she's been an entertainer of all entertainers and brought so much grace and class and elegance to country music," said Bryan. Taylor Swift, seen performing in Carson, Calif, in this June 1, 2019, photo, will perform at the ACMs for the first time in 7 years Wednesday. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press) Swift, who makes her first return to the ACM stage in seven years, was the last female artist to win ACM entertainer of the year in 2011. Combs, who earned his first entertainer of the year nomination this year after winning new male artist of the year last year, could prove to be an upset after amassing incredible streaming numbers with his first two records and hitting the top of Billboard's country radio chart for nine consecutive singles. All five entertainer of the year nominees will open the show with a special medley, which Combs is hoping he doesn't mess up alongside the other seasoned performers. "I don't want to be the guy that shows up and is like, 'Oops! Guess that guy's not the entertainer of the year,"' said Combs with a laugh. Music nominated is from 2019 The eligibility period for this year's show was calendar year 2019 and voting ended before the pandemic hit, so the awards being handed out this late in the year may sound a little older than what is currently trending in country music. Grammy winners Dan + Shay have a chance to bring home an ACM award for pop star Justin Bieber in the song of the year category for 10,000 Hours. (John Rieti/CBC) Miranda Lambert, already the most awarded artist in ACM history with over 30 wins, looks to extend her five-time win streak in the album of the year category with her record Wildcard. But the crossover success of Maren Morris's album GIRL is also likely appeal to voters this year. Grammy winners Dan + Shay have a chance to bring home an ACM award for pop star Justin Bieber in the song of the year category for 10,000 Hours. Reigning entertainer of the year Keith Urban takes over show hosting duties this year and the show will be broadcast from three music venues, including the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe.

Continue Reading Academy of Country Music Awards sober up amid COVID-19

EU needs to come to grips with migration issue, commission president says

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave her first State of the Union speech during a plenary session of European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday. While von der Leyen addressed climate change and technological challenges, migration was a significant component of the speech. (Olivier Hoslet/Reuters) The European Union's chief executive, set to unveil contentious new asylum policies for the bloc next week, described immigration on Wednesday as a normal fact of life and said the continent should learn to manage it. In a major policy speech to the European Parliament that drew applause and the occasional heckle, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said immigration policy must recognize "that each human being has a solemn dignity." Since 2015, when more than a million people reached Europe by sea and thousands died trying, migration policy has been a source of quarrel within the bloc. The numbers of those arriving have fallen sharply since then, but EU members are still divided over how to share the responsibility of hosting them, and far right parties have gained votes across the bloc calling for a harder line. "Migration has always been a fact for Europe — and it will always be," von der Leyen said. "This is normality. We should be and we have to be able to manage that." At one point in her speech she was interrupted by a right-wing German lawmaker, as she accused "the extreme right" of "preaching hate" on the immigration issue. "But hate has never given any good advice," von der Leyen said. Von der Leyen, whose family has helped a Syrian refugee start a new life in Germany, said some two million people come to live in Europe legally each year, while last year just 140,000 people sought asylum. United Nations data shows 124,000 people made it to the bloc across the Mediterranean last year and 1,319 died at sea, numbers that have fallen each year since 2015. Wide range of nation responses Southern EU states where migrants arrive, such as Greece, Italy and Malta, have demanded help. Wealthy northern countries where many head after their arrival, such as Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, want an approach that would see asylum seekers distributed across the bloc. But Eastern states led by Poland and Hungary refuse to host any. Von der Leyen said the new strategy would aim to improve migration management on the bloc's external borders, step up the fight against smugglers and reach more deals with third countries to house migrants in return for EU aid. It would create clear, legal ways to reach Europe, and improve integration programs. WATCH | Greece's long-crowded migrant camp rocked by fires: Among the witnesses of the fire that broke out at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos was Canadian NGO worker Annie Petros. She helped migrants escape the area and get to hospital. 7:30 Sources told Reuters the proposal would still include the most contentious element: obligatory relocation of asylum seekers among all member states at times of immigration spikes. That means the proposal will face an uphill battle, and months are expected to go by before member states, the Commission and European Parliament reach a deal. Germany, which now holds the EU's rotating presidency, hopes to have at least a "political road map" this year for a future agreement on migration. On Tuesday, Germany said it would take more than 1,500 people stranded on Greek islands after a fire destroyed a migrant camp there last week.

Continue Reading EU needs to come to grips with migration issue, commission president says

Boeing, U.S. regulator made series of errors ahead of 737 Max crashes: congressional report

A Boeing 737 MAX jet taxis after landing at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle in June. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press) A House of Representatives committee issued a scathing report Wednesday questioning whether Boeing and government regulators have recognized the problems that caused two deadly 737 Max jet crashes and whether either will be willing to make significant changes to fix them. Staff members from the Democrat-controlled transportation committee blamed the crashes that killed 346 people on the "horrific culmination" of failed government oversight, design flaws and a lack of action at Boeing despite knowing about problems. The committee identified many deficiencies in the Federal Aviation Administration approval process for new jetliners. But both the agency and Boeing have said certification of the Max complied with FAA regulations, the 246-page report said. "The fact that a compliant airplane suffered from two deadly crashes in less than five months is clear evidence that the current regulatory system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be repaired," the staff wrote in the report released early Wednesday. The report highlights the need for legislation to fix the approval process and deal with the FAA's delegation of some oversight tasks to aircraft manufacturer employees, said committee chairman Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon. "Obviously the system is inadequate," DeFazio said. "We will be adopting significant reforms." Several Canadians are shown in Addis Ababa in March 2019 taking part in a memorial tree planting for victims of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters) He wouldn't give details of possible changes, saying committee leaders are in talks with Republicans about legislation. He said the committee won't scrap the delegation program, and he hopes to reach agreement on reforms before year's end. CBC in Ethopia 'I've been stuck on March 10th': Families of Ethiopian Airline victims return to site a year after crash The House report stems from an 18-month investigation into the October 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia and the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March of 2019. The Max was grounded worldwide shortly after the Ethiopia crash, which killed 18 Canadian citizens. Paul Njoroge, a Toronto resident who lost his wife, three children and mother-in-law in the crash, characterized the report as a "clear dereliction duty by Boeing and the FAA in the design and certification process of the 737 Max," in a statement emailed to CBC News by Pamela Menaker from a law firm representing relatives of crash victims. "It's perplexing that despite the already exposed culture of malpractices by Boeing and the FAA, their principals continue to hubristically purport that 'safety is their No. 1 priority," he said. Regulators are testing planes with revamped flight control software, and Boeing hopes to get the Max flying again later this year or early in 2021, though the pandemic has complicated the outlook for the aviation industry. Statement to CBC News from Clifford Law on behalf of victim families: A U.S.-based lawyer representing families of Boeing crash victims released a statement following the transportation committee's report. The statement includes reaction from Paul Njoroge of Toronto, whose entire family was killed on a trip to Kenya to visit grandparents. pic.twitter.com/tMfG9F4vLL —@CBCAlerts Software flaw inadequately communicated The investigators mainly focused on the reason Boeing was able to get the jet approved with minimal pilot training: It convinced the FAA that the Max was an updated version of previous generation 737s. In fact, Boeing equipped the plane with software called MCAS, an acronym for Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which automatically lowers the plane's nose to prevent an aerodynamic stall. Initially, pilots worldwide weren't told about the system, which Boeing said was needed because the Max had bigger, more powerful engines that were placed further forward on the wings than older 737s. The Fifth Estate Internal Boeing messages detail how pressure to cut costs eroded company's renowned safety culture In both crashes, MCAS repeatedly pointed the nose down, forcing pilots into unsuccessful struggles to keep the planes aloft. Committee investigators said they found several instances in which Boeing concealed information about MCAS from the FAA and airlines. Read the congressional report: Boeing, which is headquartered in Chicago and has its production facilities in Washington state, didn't disclose that MCAS worked off a single sensor called "angle of attack," which measures a plane's pitch. It also didn't disclose that a gauge that would have alerted pilots to a malfunctioning sensor didn't work on the vast majority of the jets. Boeing also concealed that it took a company test pilot more than 10 seconds to determine that MCAS was operating and respond to it, a condition that the pilot found to be "catastrophic," according to the report. Federal guidelines assume pilots will respond to this condition within four seconds. Four Boeing employees working as "authorized representatives" with permission to act on the FAA's behalf to validate aircraft systems knew about the test pilot's slow response. But there was no evidence that they reported this to the FAA, the report said. Another authorized representative raised concerns in 2016 about hazards of MCAS repeatedly pointing the plane's nose down, but the concerns never made it to the FAA. Repeated MCAS activation and faulty sensors "were the core contributing factors that led to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes more than two years later," the report said. Additional training would've lowered plane's cost According to the report, Boeing wanted to keep details about MCAS from the FAA so it wouldn't require additional pilot training. That would ruin Boeing's sales pitch for the Max — that pilots of older 737s wouldn't have to go through extensive simulator training to fly the new planes. Investigators found that Boeing had a financial incentive to avoid more pilot training. Under a 2011 contract with Southwest Airlines, Boeing would have had to knock $1 million US off the price of each Max if simulator training was needed. "That drove a whole lot of really bad decisions internally at Boeing, and also the FAA did not pick up on these things," DeFazio said. He added that Boeing had an internal meeting in 2013 and agreed never to talk about MCAS outside the company. At one point, MCAS was listed in pilot training manuals, but an authorized representative signed off on removing it, he said. In a statement, Boeing said it has worked to strengthen its safety culture and has co-operated with the committee. The company has incorporated many recommendations from committees and experts who have examined Max issues. 'Change is always hard' Boeing said it has learned from mistakes. "Change is always hard and requires a daily commitment, but we as a company are dedicated to doing the work," the statement said. The FAA said in a statement it looks forward to working with the committee to make improvements, and it's already making changes based on internal and independent reviews. "These initiatives are focused on advancing overall aviation safety by improving our organization, processes and culture," the FAA said, adding that it is requiring a number of design changes to the Max before it can fly again. When it came to FAA oversight, investigators said they found multiple examples of agency managers overruling technical and safety experts at the behest of Boeing. In an interview with investigators, Keith Leverkuhn, former Boeing general manager for the Max who was promoted in the company, said he considered development of the Max a success despite the crashes. "I do challenge the suggestion that the development was a failure," the report quotes him as saying. The Senate's commerce committee postponed a planned Wednesday meeting following up on changes to a bipartisan bill introduced in June giving the FAA more control over picking company employees who sign off on safety decisions. One improvement contemplated may be that a plane with significant changes from previous models would need more FAA review.

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U.S. gov't releases 'playbook' for free COVID-19 vaccines for Americans

The U.S. federal government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans. (David Greedy/Getty Images) The U.S. government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans, even as polls show a strong undercurrent of skepticism rippling across the land. In a report to Congress and an accompanying "playbook" for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defence Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or possibly later this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon is involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving shots. The campaign is "much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses," said the playbook for states released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the highlights: For most vaccines, people will need two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. Double-dose vaccines will have to come from the same drug maker. There could be several vaccines from different manufacturers approved and available.  Vaccination of the U.S. population won't be a sprint but a marathon. Initially, there may be a limited supply of vaccines available, and the focus will be on protecting health workers, other essential employees, and people in vulnerable groups. CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the National Academy of Medicine, and other organizations are working on priorities for the first phase. A second and third phase would expand vaccination to the entire country.  The vaccine itself will be free of charge, and patients won't be charged out of pocket for the administration of shots, thanks to billions of dollars in taxpayer funding approved by Congress and allocated by the Trump administration.  States and local communities will need to devise precise plans for receiving and locally distributing vaccines, some of which will require special handling such as refrigeration or freezing. States and cities have a month to submit plans. Researchers look at a sample of a respiratory virus at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Md. There is widespread concern that potential coronavirus vaccines are being rushed. (Abdrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images) Skepticism over rushed vaccine Some of the broad components of the federal plan have already been discussed, but Wednesday's reports attempt to put the key details into a comprehensive framework. Distribution is happening under the umbrella of Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed initiative to have millions of doses ready to ship once a vaccine is given what's expected to be an emergency use approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Several formulations are undergoing final trials. But the whole enterprise is facing public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they'd get vaccinated in an Associated Press poll taken in May. Of those who wouldn't get vaccinated, the overwhelming majority said they were worried about safety. To effectively protect the United States from the coronavirus, experts say upwards of 70 per cent of Americans must either be vaccinated or have their own immunity from fighting off COVID-19. SECOND OPINION What the level of COVID-19 immunity in Canada could mean for the vaccine hunt Since the poll, questions have only mounted about whether the government is trying to rush COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to help U.S. President Donald Trump's re-election chances. Before the Republican National Convention in August, the FDA granted authorization for treatment of COVID-19 patients with plasma from people who have recovered, even though some government scientists were not convinced the clinical evidence was strong enough. And last week it was reported that Michael Caputo, a Health and Human Services Department political appointee, tried to gain editorial control over a weekly scientific publication from the CDC. U.S. President Donald Trump is hoping a COVID-19 vaccine will increase his re-election chances in the upcoming presidential race. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images) As public confidence in core health agencies has taken a beating, Trump administration officials have been forced to play defence. "We are working closely with our state and local public health partners … to ensure that Americans can receive the vaccine as soon as possible and vaccinate with confidence," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Wednesday. "Americans should know that the vaccine development process is being driven completely by science and the data." That could be a tough sell. In the AP poll, one in five Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine; 31 per cent said they were unsure.

Continue Reading U.S. gov't releases 'playbook' for free COVID-19 vaccines for Americans

4 Afghans charged with arson for fire at Lesbos refugee camp

A woman carries a child past flames after a major fire broke out in the Moria migrants camp on the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos, on Sept. 9. (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images) Four Afghan migrants have been charged with arson for alleged involvement in fires that destroyed most of a large refugee camp on the eastern island of Lesbos, Greek authorities said. The men, who have not been named, were led to a court on the island on Wednesday to be formally charged. They were later returned to police detention after being given three days to prepare their testimony. Migrants sit inside the burnt Moria Camp. Thousands of asylum seekers fled for their lives as the huge fires ripped through the camp . (Anthi Pazianou/AFP/Getty Images) The fires swept through the overcrowded camp at Moria last week, prompting more than 12,000 migrants and refugees to flee. Nobody was hurt. Most of them remain without shelter, camped on a roadside near the gutted camp. Two other migrants allegedly involved in setting the fires are underage, and are being held by police on the Greek mainland. They have not been formally charged. The government maintains that the fires at Moria were set deliberately by migrants protesting confinement after the site was locked down due to an outbreak of COVID-19. Athens on Tuesday urged the European Union to jointly run new refugee camps on Greece's eastern islands as part of an overhaul of the EU's migration policies. An asylum-seeker retrieves his belongings from his burnt down tent as fires continue to rage for a second night in the Moria migrant camp. (Byron Smith/Getty Images)

Continue Reading 4 Afghans charged with arson for fire at Lesbos refugee camp

Hurricane Sally makes landfall in Alabama with punishing rain

This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET., and provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows the spread of Hurricane Sally as it moved slowly toward the coast from the Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA/The Associated Press) Hurricane Sally made landfall Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Ala., as a Category 2 storm, pushing a surge of ocean water onto the coast and dumping torrential rain that forecasters said would cause dangerous flooding from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi and well inland in the days ahead. Moving agonizingly slow at just under five kilometres per hour, Sally finally came ashore at 4:45 a.m. local time with top winds of 165 km/h, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Sally's northern eyewall had raked the Gulf Coast with hurricane-force winds and rain from Pensacola Beach, Fla., westward to Dauphin Island, Ala., for hours before its centre finally hit land. Some 150,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity by early Wednesday, according to the poweroutage.us site. A curfew was called in the coastal Alabama city of Gulf Shores due to life-threatening conditions. In the Panhandle's Escambia County, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Chip Simmons vowed to keep deputies out with residents as long as physically possible. The county includes Pensacola, one of the largest cities on the Gulf Coast. "The sheriff's office will be there until we can no longer safely be out there, and then and only then will we pull our deputies in," Simmons said at a storm briefing late Tuesday. This for a storm that, during the weekend, appeared to be headed for New Orleans. "Obviously this shows what we've known for a long time with storms — they are unpredictable," Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson IV said. A man walks though a flooded parking lot as the outer bands of Hurricane Sally come ashore Wednesday in Gulf Shores, Ala. The storm, which has now made landfall, is bringing heavy rain, high winds and a dangerous storm surge from eastern Louisiana to western Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the hurricane centre, told The Associated Press said the rainfall will be "catastrophic and life threatening" over portions of the Gulf Coast, Florida panhandle and southeastern Alabama, and will continue well after landfall, with the storm producing heavy rainfall Wednesday night and Thursday over portions of central and southern Georgia. Sally was a rare storm that could make history, said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the hurricane centre. "Sally has a characteristic that isn't often seen and that's a slow forward speed and that's going to exacerbate the flooding," Rappaport told the AP. He likened the storm's slow progression to that of Hurricane Harvey, which swamped Houston in 2017. Up to 76 centimetres of rain could fall in some spots, and "that would be record-setting in some locations," Rappaport said in an interview Tuesday night. Flash flooding warning for Mississippi Although the hurricane had the Alabama and Florida coasts in its sights Wednesday, its effects were felt all along the northern Gulf Coast. Low-lying properties in southeast Louisiana were swamped by the surge. Water covered Mississippi beaches and parts of the highway that runs parallel to them. Two large casino boats broke loose from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Alabama. In Orange Beach, Ala., Chris Parks, a tourist from Nashua, N.H., spent the night monitoring the storm and taking care of his infant child as strong winds battered his family's hotel room. Their return flight home was cancelled "I'm just glad we are together," Parks said. "The wind is crazy. You can hear solid heavy objects blowing through the air and hitting the building." Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves urged people in the southern part of his state to prepare for the potential for flash flooding. As Sally's outer bands reached the Gulf Coast, the manager of an alligator ranch in Moss Point, Miss., was hoping he wouldn't see a repeat of what happened at the gator farm in 2005, when about 250 alligators escaped their enclosures during Hurricane Katrina's storm surge. Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Tours Manager Tim Parker said Sally has been a stressful storm because forecasters were predicting a storm surge of as much as 2.75 metres in his area. He felt some relief after surge predictions shifted. Here is the 6 AM CDT 9/16 update for #Sally: Hurricane-force winds spreading inland over southeastern Alabama and the western portion of the Florida Panhandle. Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding likely along portions of the north-central Gulf Coast. pic.twitter.com/AqSlKJ1Zmx —@NHC_Atlantic After dumping rain on the coast Wednesday, Sally was forecast to bring heavy downpours to parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas later in the week. Sally's power was an irresistible draw for some in its path. With heavy rains pelting Navarre Beach, Fla., and the wind-whipped surf pounding, a steady stream of people walked down the wooden boardwalk at a park for a look at the scene Tuesday afternoon. Rebecca Studstill, who lives inland, was wary of staying too long, noting that police close bridges once the wind and water get too high. With Hurricane Sally expected to dump rain for days, the problem could be worse than normal, she said. "Just hunkering down would probably be the best thing for folks out here," she said.

Continue Reading Hurricane Sally makes landfall in Alabama with punishing rain

Yoshihide Suga named Japan's prime minister, succeeding Abe

Yoshihide Suga stands up after being elected as Japan's new prime minister at parliament's lower house in Tokyo on Wednesday. (Koji Sasahara/The Associated Press) Japan's Parliament elected Yoshihide Suga as prime minister Wednesday, replacing long-serving leader Shinzo Abe with his right-hand man. Suga had been chosen as leader of the ruling party on Monday, virtually assuring he would succeed Abe, who resigned earlier in the day because of ill health. Suga, who was chief Cabinet secretary in Abe's government, is to launch his own Cabinet later Wednesday. Suga has stressed his background as a farmer's son and a self-made politician in promising to serve the interests of ordinary people and rural communities. He has said he will pursue Abe's unfinished policies, and that his top priorities will be fighting the coronavirus and turning around an economy battered by the pandemic. Abe said before the change was official that as a lawmaker, he will support Suga's government and he thanked the people for their understanding and strong support for the upcoming leadership under Suga. "I devoted my body and soul for the economic recovery and diplomacy to protect Japan's national interest every single day since we returned to power," Abe told reporters at the prime minister's office before heading into his final Cabinet meeting. "During this time, I was able to tackle various challenges together with the people, and I'm proud of myself." Suga gained the support of party heavyweights and their followers early in the campaign on expectations he would continue Abe's line. Japan's outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves as he leaves the prime minister's office Wednesday. Abe and his Cabinet resigned Wednesday, clearing the way for his successor Yoshihide Suga to take over after parliamentary confirmation later in the day. (Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press) Suga has been a loyal supporter of Abe since Abe's first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007. Abe's tenure ended abruptly because of illness, and Suga helped him return as prime minister in 2012. Abe, 65, has ulcerative colitis and his current treatment requires IV injections. He said last month his condition has improved but, facing ongoing treatment and physical weakness, he decided to resign. Suga has praised Abe's diplomacy and economic policies when asked about what he would like to accomplish as prime minister. Suga, who does not belong to any wing within the party and opposes factionalism, says he is a reformer who will break down vested interests and rules that hamper reforms. He says he will set up a new government agency to speed up Japan's lagging digital transformation. In a reshuffle of the ruling party key posts, however, Suga evenly allocated top posts to key factions, a balancing act seen as a return of favour for their support in the leadership race. Diplomatic skills unknown Suga said he will appoint "reform-minded, hard-working people" to the new Cabinet. About half of the members in the Abe Cabinet are expected to be retained or shifted to different ministerial posts. Media reports say some key ministers, including Finance Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, will stay. Abe's younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, is reportedly tapped as defense minister, replacing Taro Kono who is expected be shifted to administrative reforms minister. Compared to his political prowess at home, Suga has hardly travelled overseas and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Abe's priorities. The new prime minister will inherit a range of challenges, including relations with China, which continues its assertive actions in the contested East China Sea, and what to do with the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed to next summer due to the coronavirus. And he will have to establish a good relationship with whomever wins the U.S. presidential race.

Continue Reading Yoshihide Suga named Japan's prime minister, succeeding Abe

Gaza rockets, Israeli air strikes accompany Israel-Gulf pacts

Smoke and flame are seen following an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters) Militants in Gaza fired rockets at Israel and Israeli aircraft hit targets in the Palestinian enclave in an explosive backdrop to the signing of pacts for formal ties between Israel and two Gulf Arab countries. The Israeli military said it launched about 10 air strikes in Hamas Islamist-run Gaza early on Wednesday and that 15 rockets had been fired from the territory at Israeli communities near the border, where sirens sounded before dawn. On Tuesday, a rocket from Gaza struck the coastal Israeli city of Ashdod, wounding two people, at the same time as Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements at the White House to establish diplomatic relations. Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, view the U.S.-brokered deals as a betrayal of their cause. No casualties were reported on either side of the Israel-Gaza frontier. The military said eight of the rockets launched on Wednesday were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system. In a statement, the military said targets in Gaza included a weapons and explosives manufacturing factory and a compound used by Hamas for training and rocket experiments. Without naming specific factions, the Islamic Jihad group in Gaza said that in response to the air strikes, the "resistance" fired rocket salvoes at Israel.

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Backup driver charged in fatal autonomous Uber vehicle crash

An Uber self-driving car drives down 5th Street on March 28, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. A back-up driver has been charged with negligent homicide in the fatal 2018 crash involving one of Uber's autonomous vehicles. ( Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) The backup Uber driver involved in the first self-driving vehicle fatality has been charged with negligent homicide for being distracted in the moments before fatally striking a woman in suburban Phoenix. Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel's office said on Tuesday that Rafaela Vasquez was charged on Aug. 27 in the 2018 crash in Tempe that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. She pleaded not guilty during a hearing on Tuesday. Her attorney did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Associated Press. Prosecutors declined in March 2019 to file criminal charges against Uber, as a corporation, in Herzberg's death. Vasquez, 46, told investigators that she didn't use her cellphones before the crash. But the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Vasquez's failure to monitor the road as she watched the television show The Voice on her phone was the main cause of the crash. The contributing factors cited by the board included Uber's inadequate safety procedures and ineffective oversight of its drivers, Herzberg's decision to cross the street outside of a crosswalk, and the Arizona Department of Transportation's insufficient oversight of autonomous vehicle testing. The board also concluded Uber's de-activation of its automatic emergency braking system increased the risks associated with testing automated vehicles on public roads. Instead of the system, Uber relied on the human backup driver to intervene. The Uber system detected Herzberg 5.6 seconds before the crash. But it but failed to determine whether she was a bicyclist, pedestrian or unknown object, or that she was headed into the vehicle's path, the board said. Cars pulled following crash The death reverberated throughout the auto industry and Silicon Valley and forced other companies to slow what had been a fast march toward autonomous ride-hailing services on public roads. Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona the day before the NTSB issued a preliminary report on the crash, eliminating the jobs of about 300 people who served as backup drivers and performed other jobs connected to the vehicles. Gov. Doug Ducey prohibited Uber from continuing its tests of self-driving cars after Herzberg was run over. WATCH | Future of self-driving cars called into question following 2018 crash: Jesse Hirsh, president, Metaviews, on whether Uber's quest for a self-driving future may have sustained damage after collision 6:55 A toxicology report showed that Herzberg tested positive for methamphetamine. Vasquez had previously spent more than four years in prison for two felony convictions — making false statements when obtaining unemployment benefits and attempted armed robbery — before starting work as an Uber driver, according to court records. Vasquez's first name was listed on a driver's licence as Rafael, but police say Vasquez identifies as a woman and goes by the first name of Rafaela. The decision not to criminally charge Uber in Herzberg's death was made by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, whose officer handled the case after the prosecutor's office in metro Phoenix cited a potential conflict of interest for having previously participated in a public-safety campaign with Uber. The case was returned to prosecutors in metro Phoenix after the decision not to charge Uber had eliminated the conflict of interest. A trial for Vasquez is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2021.

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Maine officials connect 5 coronavirus deaths to a wedding reception

The Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake in Millinocket, Maine is seen in this Aug. 18, 2020 file photo. A COVID-19 outbreak connected to a wedding reception held at the inn in early August has led to more than 175 cases of the virus and at least five deaths, state officials say. (Linda Coan O'Kresik/The Bangor Daily News/The Associated Press) At least five people have died in connection to a coronavirus outbreak that continues to sicken people in Maine following a wedding reception held over the summer that violated state virus guidelines, public health authorities said. The August wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket is linked to more than 175 confirmed cases of the virus, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. Maine authorities have identified overlaps between the wedding reception and outbreaks elsewhere in the state. An employee of the York County Jail attended the wedding, Maine CDC officials have said. Maine health officials have also said a staff member from a Madison long-term care facility, which is the site of four of the five deaths, attended the event. The virus cases stemming from the wedding have spanned hundreds of kilometres in a state that had largely controlled the spread of the coronavirus through the summer. Maine has reported fewer than 5,000 cases of the virus in total since March. But the growing number of cases related to the wedding, which exceeded the state's guidelines of 50 people or fewer at indoor gatherings, could undo some of that progress if it continues to swell. Authorities have said more than 65 people attended the wedding. THE LATEST Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Tuesday The wedding was also officiated by pastor Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford. The Maine CDC is currently investigating to determine if an outbreak at the church is connected to the wedding outbreak. Calvary Baptist Church issued a statement on Tuesday that said "a number of Calvary Baptist Church members attended" the wedding reception. The statement said the church is taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus, and it will defend its right to continue holding services. "The Calvary Baptist Church has a legal right to meet. The authority of a local Christian church, a Jewish synagogue, or a Muslim mosque to gather for their respective religious services is a time-honoured part of our nation's history since its inception," the statement said. "These religious activities are also fully protected under the First Amendment to our United States Constitution." Bell has been critical of government attempts to control coronavirus, and videos show he has held services without the use of physical distancing. He hired a lawyer known nationally for defending the religious rights of churches. Bell did not respond to a request Tuesday for comment.

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Louisville to pay family of police shooting victim Breonna Taylor $12M, bring in police reforms

The shooting death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Louisville, Ky., sparked months of protests and calls nationwide for the officers to be criminally charged. (Sam Aguiar/The Associated Press) The city of Louisville will pay $12 million US to the family of Breonna Taylor and reform police practices as part of a lawsuit settlement months after Taylor's slaying by police thrust the Black woman's name to the forefront of a national reckoning on race, Mayor Greg Fischer announced Tuesday. Taylor's death sparked months of protests in Louisville and calls nationwide for the officers to be criminally charged. The state's attorney general, Daniel Cameron, is investigating police actions in the March 13 fatal shooting. "I cannot begin to imagine Ms. Palmer's pain, and I am deeply, deeply sorry for Breonna's death," Fischer said, referring to Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer. At Tuesday's news conference Palmer said "we must not lose focus on what the real job is, and with that being said, it's time to move forward with the criminal charges, because she deserves that and much more." The lawsuit, filed in April, alleged the police used flawed information when they obtained a "no-knock" warrant to enter Taylor's apartment in March. Taylor, 26, was shot several times, and police found no drugs at her home. "We won't let Breonna Taylor's life be swept under the rug," said Ben Crump, an attorney for Taylor's family, on Tuesday. Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, speaks on Aug. 28 at a march in Washington. Her daughter was shot to death by police in March in a so-called no-knock raid. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press) Crump said the $12 million settlement is the largest such settlement given out for a Black woman killed by police. He also called for charges against the officers and urged people to "say her name," a phrase that has become a refrain for those outraged by the shooting. Fischer said the civil settlement has nothing do with the criminal investigation. Settlement details broadcast over loudspeaker The news conference was broadcast over a loudspeaker in downtown Louisville and protesters listened as they sat around a memorial to Taylor. In the time since Taylor's shooting, her death — along with that of George Floyd and others — has become a rallying cry for protesters seeking a reckoning on racial justice and police reform. High-profile celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and LeBron James have called for the officers to be charged in Taylor's death. Palmer's lawsuit accused three Louisville police officers of blindly firing into Taylor's apartment the night of the March raid, striking Taylor several times. Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was in the apartment with her and fired a single shot that struck an officer in the leg. Walker said he didn't hear police announce themselves and said he thought he was guarding against an intruder. The warrant was one of five issued in a wide-ranging investigation of a drug trafficking suspect who was a former boyfriend of Taylor's. That man, Jamarcus Glover, was arrested at a different location about 16 kilometres away from Taylor's apartment on the same evening. Louisville has banned no-knock warrants The city has already taken some reform measures, including passing a law named after Taylor that bans the use of the no-knock warrants. No-knock search warrants allow police to enter without first announcing their presence. Police typically use them in drug cases over concern that evidence could be destroyed if they announce their arrival. Mayor Fischer fired former police chief Steve Conrad in June and last week named Yvette Gentry, a former deputy chief, as the new interim police chief. Gentry would be the first Black woman to lead the force of about 1,200 sworn officers. The department has also fired Brett Hankison, one of the three officers who fired shots at Taylor's apartment that night. Hankison is appealing the dismissal. The largest settlement previously paid in a misconduct case was $8.5 million in 2012, to a man who spent nine years in prison for a crime he did not commit, according to news reports.

Continue Reading Louisville to pay family of police shooting victim Breonna Taylor $12M, bring in police reforms