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« Reply #30 on: Jan 13, 2021, 05:06 AM »

Estonian government collapses over corruption investigation

Prime minister resigns after party named as suspect in inquiry into property project

Jon Henley Europe correspondent
Wed 13 Jan 2021 10.47 GMT

Estonia’s prime minister has resigned after police and prosecutors launched an investigation into an alleged corruption scandal involving his left-leaning Centre party related to a property development.

Jüri Ratas, the prime minister since 2016, handed his resignation letter to the president on Wednesday, local media reported, bringing down the centre-right coalition government he heads that also includes a far-right party.

“The suspicion expressed by the public prosecutor’s office … does not mean that someone is definitely guilty, but it will inevitably cast a serious shadow over all those involved,” Ratas said on his Facebook page.

“In such a situation it seems only right that by resigning myself I will give the opportunity to shed light on all the facts and come to clarity.” The prime minister added that he had “not made any malicious or knowingly wrong decisions”.

He took the decision after meeting party officials on Tuesday night, hours after the Centre party was declared a suspect in a criminal investigation over the financing of a property development project in the capital, Tallinn.

Ratas lost the 2019 general election to the centre-right Reform party but prevented the victors from taking power by forming a coalition with the conservative Fatherland party and the far-right, anti-EU EKRE.

Estonia’s president, Kersti Kaljulaid, now has 14 days to name a new prime minister, who will have to be approved by parliament. There will be elections if no candidate for premier can command a majority among MPs.

The investigation centres on a property company called Porto Franco, which received a €39m state loan and struck a lucrative deal with authorities in Tallinn – whose mayor is a member of the Centre party – for a development in the old city harbour.

The party is accused of accepting donations from a businessman linked to Porto Franco, Hillar Teder. Among other suspects in the investigation is Kersti Kracht, an adviser to the finance minister, Martin Helme, from EKRE.

Ratas said: “As head of government, I … did not feel in the Porto Franco case that any minister or party had tried to influence the decisions taken by the government in an illegal way.”

The resignation comes a day before the coalition government was due to vote on an EKRE proposal for a national referendum on the definition of marriage, to be held this spring.

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« Reply #31 on: Jan 13, 2021, 05:08 AM »

German CDU on verge of electing divisive figure to replace Angela Merkel

Millionaire lawyer Friedrich Merz is favourite to take centre-right into federal elections

Philip Oltermann in Berlin
Wed 13 Jan 2021 06.00 GMT

When Angela Merkel steps down as chancellor this September, she will leave behind a conservative party that has been a practically unchallenged political force in Germany for 16 years and currently leads political polls by a towering 15 percentage points.

And yet the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) may thank her this Saturday by electing as its new leader one of her longest-standing political rivals, a man who represents a return to the pre-Merkel past not just in terms of ideological values but also style of leadership.

Millionaire lawyer Friedrich Merz, who was sacked by Merkel as the leader of the CDU’s parliamentary group in 2002, is the favourite among party supporters to take the centre-right into the federal elections on 28 September 2021 that will decide who succeeds Merkel as Germany’s chancellor.

The SPD have nominated finance minister Olaf Scholz as their candidate; the Greens are expected to put forward one of co-leaders Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock.

Among the wider population, Merz is seen as a divisive figure harking back to the Christian Democrats’ neoliberal era, someone more likely to drive centrist voters loyal to Merkel into the arms of the Greens or centre-left SPD than his CDU rivals Armin Laschet and Norbert Röttgen.

At this Friday and Saturday’s digital party congress, the future leadership of the CDU will be decided by 1,001 delegates from the party’s local, regional, and state associations who have to square ideological nostalgia with realpolitik.

But Merz remains the candidate to beat. “A CDU led by Friedrich Merz will mean a CDU in opposition”, said one member of parliament and Röttgen supporter. “But that is the price a lot of delegates seem willing to pay to get back to the unfiltered CDU of old.”

Laschet, the folksy state premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, appeared the obvious continuity candidate after Merkel’s protege Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her resignation as CDU chair in February 2020 after struggling to assert her authority over a party rebellion in the east. But while Laschet enjoys high approval ratings in Germany’s most populous state and the tacit support of the party headquarters, he has struggled to dismiss doubts about his readiness for the national, not alone international stage.

Alarm bells went off for some at last year’s Munich security conference, when Laschet insisted on speaking in German on an English language panel debate on the future of the EU, cutting a timid figure.

The 59-year-old candidate’s management of the pandemic in North-Rhine Westphalia has exacerbated such concerns, with “lassez-faire Laschet” attracting more criticism for his leadership than have the leaders of states with more severe outbreaks of the disease. “If he can’t assert himself against 15 other German states, how is he going to cope against 26 other countries in the EU?” asked one former supporter.

Röttgen, the other leading candidate, a former environment minister and current chair of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, started out as the outsider in the three-horse race but managed to manoeuvre himself into second place in the polls with a digitally savvy campaign that tries to balance Merkel’s consensual domestic stance with a more proactive foreign policy agenda.

If Röttgen can gain more than a third of votes in the first round of voting on Saturday, his supporters are hopeful he could rally enough support to clinch the leadership in a run-off.

While Laschet gave press conference after press conference on lockdown restrictions last year, and Röttgen raced from chat show to chat show, Merz’s campaign appeared to have run out of steam. Occasional interventions – an interview in which he appeared to associate homosexuality with paedophilia, an attack on his own party leadership that reminded some of Donald Trump – alienated not just some voters but also members of his own party.

Yet he spent much of 2020 behind the scenes, calling up delegates for informal chats and even ringing his rivals on their birthdays.

To many German conservatives, Merz holds the promise of a clearly identifiable political stance, after two decades under a leader whose pragmatism has seen her cross her party’s old red lines on nuclear power, immigration and Europe-wide debt-sharing. In two TV debates, Merz was often the quickest to respond with a short yes or no answer. He has famously argued that tax returns should be so simple as to fit on a beer mat.

His old-fashioned brand of conservatism has won him admirers not just among seasoned delegates but also younger CDU politicians, such as the party’s 35-year-old chairman in the cosmopolitan city of Hamburg: “In recent years we have seen a political polarisation on the fringes of the political spectrum”, Christoph Ploß told the Guardian. “Under Merz, that polarisation would be relocated to the centre”.

Critics say Merz’s straight-talking image is a mirage. The 65-year-old has campaigned on the promise to make Germany’s economic model more environmentally sustainable and described climate change as a “mega subject” in a recent op-ed for Der Spiegel, but has been more specific on the bans he would avoid than the policies he would introduce.

On Europe, Merz’s position has been “consistently and tactically ambiguous”, said Lucas Guttenberg, deputy director of the Jacques Delors Centre thinktank. “He will rarely take an unequivocal stance on European initiatives like the pandemic recovery fund, but only say that the EU walks a ‘very fine line’ with financial rescue packages.”

“Such comments are designed as a nod to the considerable number of Christian Democrats who have grown distrustful of other member states during the Merkel era”, said Guttenberg. “And as long as the CDU maintains its fear of Germany being cheated by the rest of Europe, any steps towards further integration are only going to take place under extreme pressure”.

Merz’s backers concede that their candidate’s divisive views could drive liberal CDU voters into the arms of a buoyant and centrist German Green party. In turn, they hope, his views on immigration and market liberalisation could win back voters who have drifted off to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland – a presumption that pollsters question.

“There isn’t much the CDU can win back from the fringes of the right”, said Manfred Güllner, director of the forsa Institute for Social Research. “The AfD has risen mainly on the back of votes previously allocated to other small far-right parties and anti-democratic non-voters, who are unlikely to suddenly turn into Christian Democrats. If anything, Merz as CDU leader will increase the chances of Germany being run by a leftwing coalition.”

If Merz was to emerge triumphant in Saturday’s vote, he is likely to also go on to anoint himself as his party’s official candidate for the September federal elections. With Laschet and Röttgen, the situation could be less clear-cut.

There is no constitutional limit on how long a German chancellor can stay in office, but Merkel has repeatedly said she does not want to serve a fifth term, a message she reiterated in her televised New Year’s speech two weeks ago.

State elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate on 14 March will serve as an early indicator of whether one of the three candidate can fill the vacuum of authority created by her looming departure.

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« Reply #32 on: Jan 13, 2021, 05:10 AM »

Italy's largest mafia trial in three decades to begin against 'Ndrangheta

High-security 1,000-capacity courtroom has been built in Calabria, with cages to hold the defendants

Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo
Wed 13 Jan 2021 05.00 GMT

Italy’s largest mafia trial in three decades will begin on Wednesday, with 900 witnesses testifying against more than 350 people, including politicians and officials charged with being members of the powerful ’Ndrangheta.

A high-security 1,000-capacity courtroom with cages to hold the defendants has been built by Italian authorities in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme.

Because of coronavirus-related restrictions, however, many of the defendants will attend via videolink from prison during the first hearings. Those in court will wear masks and will be spread across cages, sitting at least 2 metres away from each other.

Almost all of the defendants were arrested in December 2019 after a lengthy investigation that began in 2016 and covered at least 11 Italian regions. About 2,500 officers participated in raids focused on suspects in Vibo Valentia, Calabria, the heart of an area controlled mainly by the ’Ndrangheta’s Mancuso clan.

An elite Carabinieri unit known as the Cacciatori, literally “the hunters”, arrested several suspects hiding in self-constructed bunkers located behind sliding staircases, hidden trapdoors and manholes.

A former senator, a police chief, local councillors and businessmen accused of aiding the mafia, were also arrested in Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria.

Nicola Gratteri, an anti-mafia prosecutor who led the investigation, told the Guardian at the time of the raids that it was the biggest operation against the crime syndicates since the 1986-92 Palermo maxi trials, when Sicilian prosecutors put 475 people in the dock.

For the forthcoming trial, Gratteri’s team has collected 24,000 wiretaps and intercepted conversations to back up their charges.

Antonio Nicaso, ’Ndrangheta expert and member of the advisory board of the Nathanson Centre on Crime and Security at York University in Toronto, stressed the importance of the upcoming trial. “Expectations are high, and it’s obvious that the Italian authorities hope it will be a milestone in the struggle against the ’Ndrangheta,” he said.

“What is certain is that this trial will be one for the history books on organised crime … With these proceedings, Italy will finally have the opportunity to reveal to the world the secrets of the ’Ndrangheta, which over the years has grown silently and in the shadows.”

At one time derided by the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and Campanian Camorra mafias, today the ’Ndrangheta is by far the most powerful criminal group in Italy and one of the richest in the world. A study by the Demoskopita Research Institute in 2013 estimated that it was more financially powerful than Deutsche Bank and McDonald’s combined, with an annual turnover of €53bn (£44bn).

According to investigators, the secret of its success lies in its deep embeddedness in Calabria. Bosses rarely abandon their remote villages, despite global operations worth millions.

To protect themselves, they build escape tunnels under their houses, sophisticated bunkers in mountains that are reachable only on foot, and hideouts in the woods for when they are on the run. In the course of the investigation, police discovered a pizzino, a small slip of paper used by the mafia for top-level communications, containing a quote from three 17th-century knights who, according to legend, founded the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Campania and the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria.

But if on one hand ’Ndrangheta bosses live like hermits hidden among the Calabrian mountains, on the other hand they are capable of laundering millions of euro from the drugs trade through shell companies.

“Their strength lies in the ability to connect the underworld with the upperworld”, said Nicaso. “’Ndrangheta clans are characterised by deep blood relations, a characteristic that, until recently, has made this organisation virtually impenetrable. Today, at last, many of these brothers, nephews and even children have decided to appear as witnesses against their own relatives.”

At the upcoming trial, codenamed Rinascita “Rebirth”, all eyes will be on Emanuele Mancuso, son of boss Luni Mancuso, who has been revealing the clan’s secrets after accepting police protection. He is set to testify against his uncle, Luigi Mancuso.

“This is the trial of all honest businesspeople and citizens, who for years have endured attacks and harassment from the bosses who intimidated them into paying the protection money,” said Gratteri. ‘‘It is my hope that these proceedings can signal a true rebirth for the people of Calabria who are tired of living with the ’Ndrangheta.”

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« Reply #33 on: Jan 13, 2021, 05:26 AM »

World warily watches America's postelection aftershocks

PARIS (AP) — For America's allies and rivals alike, the chaos unfolding during Donald Trump's final days as president is the logical result of four years of global instability brought on by the man who promised to change the way the world viewed the United States.

From the outside, the United States has never looked so vulnerable — or unpredictable. Alliances that had held for generations frayed to a breaking point under Trump — from his decision to back out of the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, to quitting the World Health Organization amid a pandemic.

And then, by seeking to overturn his loss to Joe Biden, Trump upended the bedrock principle of democratic elections that the United States has tried — and sometimes even succeeded — in exporting around the world. How long those aftershocks could endure is unclear.

“It is one of the biggest tasks of the future for America and Europe — to fight the polarization of society at its roots,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “We will only be able to preserve the belief in togetherness, in democracy as the most humane form of statehood, and the conviction in science and reason if we do it together.”

But in many ways Europe has already moved on, forging ahead on the deal with Iran, negotiating a trade agreement with China spearheaded by Germany, and organizing global actions to protect the environment.

On the same day an angry mob stormed the Capitol to try to overturn the presidential election won by Biden, a record number of Americans died of coronavirus. One other recent event also showed U.S. vulnerability: the cyberespionage operation still working its way through an untold number of government computers and blamed on elite Russian hackers.

World leaders who saw the deadly violence in Washington “will need to consider whether these events are an outlier event — a ‘black swan’ — or whether these extremist white supremacist groups will continue to be a significant influence on the direction of U.S. foreign and domestic policy, instead of receding with the end of the Trump administration," the Soufan Group, a global intelligence and security firm, wrote Tuesday.

People tend to think of fragile countries “in terms of war as the biggest problem, rather than violence, and thinking in terms of state collapse as the biggest problem rather than states that internally disintegrate,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, a scholar of democracy and violence at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Kleinfeld, like many others, said the assault on the U.S. Capitol may have come to a head in a matter of weeks but was years in the making.

And the U.S. capacity to fight for democracy was already tarnished before the mob egged on by Trump sought to overturn his election loss. For many, those events were merely confirmation. Adversaries including Russia, China and Iran used the violence to question U.S. democracy more generally.

In an internal note on the State Department's “dissent channel” obtained by The Associated Press, American diplomats said Trump’s actions had made their job harder. “It is critical that we communicate to the world that in our system, no one — not even the president — is above the law or immune from public criticism,” the note said. “This would be a first step towards repairing the damage to our international credibility.”

Trump showed no contrition, however, saying Tuesday his fiery rally remarks to supporters were “totally appropriate.” In Iraq, a country that still struggles with the controversial legacy of a U.S.-led invasion in the name of democracy, many people followed the Washington events with a mixture of shock and fascination.

Then-U.S. President George W. Bush boasted that Iraq would become a model of democracy in a region ruled by dictators. Instead, the country fell into protracted war between Sunnis and Shiites in which tens of thousands of people died. Although it has an active parliament and regular elections, it is a dysfunctional democracy based on a sectarian power sharing agreement, with corrupt parties haggling over ministries and posts so they can give jobs to supporters while lining their own pockets.

Ahmad al-Helfi, a 39-year-old Iraqi political cartoonist, said what happened at the U.S. Capitol is a blow to the democracy it tried to bring to Iraq and other countries. “By mobilizing his followers in an effort to overturn the results of the election, Trump confirmed that instead of exporting democracy to Iraq, America imported the chaos, non-peaceful transition of power, and failure to accept election results,” al-Helfi said.

Anahita Thoms, a German lawyer and trade expert who spent years living and working in the United States, said last week's events would indelibly mark America’s image abroad. Thoms is a board member of the Atlantic Bridge, a think tank promoting cooperation between Europe and the U.S. — the kind of organization founded in the aftermath of World War II when the U.S. helped to rebuild the economies of many countries in western Europe that had been destroyed by the war.

Germany was one country that benefited the most from those U.S. financial and democracy-building efforts. Looking ahead, she said American officials may have a tougher time promoting democracy abroad.

“The U.S. remains a country that lives its democratic values. But this aspiration, which is presented very strongly to the outside world, mustn’t get too many cracks," Thoms said. "I think a lot of diplomatic skill is going to be necessary to counter those pictures.”

The International Crisis Group, which normally focuses on global war zones, wrote its first assessment ever about the risk of election-related violence in the United States in October. Stephen Pomper, who helped lead the work on the report and lives in the D.C. area, said in the best of circumstances, the United States could eventually point to the decision of Congress to resume certification of Biden's election after the breach as a first step in successfully protecting its democracy.

“Look, we created these institutions. They did become a source of resiliency for us. They helped us get through this very difficult period. Let us help you develop the same kind of resiliency,” he said, describing a hypothetical future conversation between the U.S. and a struggling government. “That would be a positive story to be able to tell at some point, but I don’t think the pieces are quite there yet.”

Pope Francis was more optimistic, telling Italian broadcaster Mediaset: "Thank God this exploded” into the open because “we have been able to see why this is, and how it can be remedied.”


Stage set for impeachment after Pence dismisses House call to invoke 25th amendment

Vice-president’s refusal paves the way for the House to move forward with impeachment

Lauren Gambino in Washington
Wed 13 Jan 2021 02.44 GMT

The US House of Representatives has voted to formally call on the vice-president, Mike Pence, to invoke the 25th amendment and strip Donald Trump of his presidential authority after Trump incited a mob that led a deadly assault on the US Capitol last week.

Before the largely symbolic vote, Pence rejected the call to wrest Trump from power, effectively paving the way for the House to move forward with impeachment.

Nevertheless, shortly before midnight, the House voted largely along party lines to adopt the non-binding resolution that asked Pence to declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office and to immediately exercise powers as acting president”. The final vote was 223 to 205, with one Republican backing the measure.

In a letter to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, released as the House debated the resolution, Pence said he did not believe “such a course of action is in the best interest of our nation or consistent with our constitution” and warned that efforts to remove Trump from office risked “further divide and inflame the passions of the moment”.

The letter came after Pelosi gave the vice-president what amounted to an ultimatum, with a 24-hour window to respond: either strip Trump of his power or allow him to become the first president in American history to be impeached a second time.

“Who knows what he might do next?” she said in a floor speech, imploring Pence to remove a president capable of “unhinged, unstable, deranged acts of sedition”.

Moments later, Pelosi announced the team of House impeachment managers who would prosecute the case against Trump in the Senate. The team would be led by the Maryland congressman Jamie Raskin, a former constitutional law professor who authored the resolution and helped draft the article of impeachment against him.

During a committee hearing earlier on Tuesday, Raskin sought to persuade Pence to act. “The time of a 25th amendment emergency has arrived,” he said. “It has come to our doorstep. It has invaded our chamber.”

Before the vote on Tuesday, several Republican members came out in support of impeachment, including Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, who said there had “never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States” than Trump’s encouragement of an insurrection on the seat of American government.

“The president of the United States summoned his mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” she said in a scathing statement. “Everything that followed was his doing.”

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has reportedly told associates that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses, though he has not voiced public support for removing the president from office.

In the days since a mob laid claim to the Capitol, which sent lawmakers scrambling under desks for safety, fear has turned to fury as details have emerged about the security failure that left them vulnerable, and the role of Trump and his allies in stoking the mayhem. Exacerbating the anger was Trump’s utter lack of remorse.

Earlier on Tuesday, the president lashed out at Democrats for leading the effort to remove him before his term ends next week, and took no responsibility for the violent uprising that left five people dead and threatened the lives of members of Congress, congressional staff, law enforcement, journalists and his own vice-president.

Instead, he claimed his inflammatory comments to loyalists at a rally in Washington before the Capitol attack, where he urged them to march to the Capitol in last-gasp attempt to overturn the results of an election he lost, were “totally appropriate” and blamed Democrats for further dividing the nation.

“The 25th amendment is of zero risk to me but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration,” Trump said in remarks from Alamo, Texas, after he visited the barrier on the US-Mexico border.

Tuesday night’s resolution called on Pence and members of the cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to the constitution, and remove Trump from power. It asked Pence to immediately assume “the powers and duties of the office as acting president”.

Such an act, the resolution stated, would “declare what is obvious to a horrified nation: that the president is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office.”

The 25th amendment allows for the vice-president, with the support of a majority of the cabinet, to remove a president deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”.

Trump and Pence met on Monday night for the first time since the assault, during which some rioters chanted “hang Mike Pence” because he refused Trump’s public demands to block congressional certification of Biden’s electoral victory – a power he did not have.

The two men pledged to continue working together for the remainder of their time in office, according to a senior administration official.

Three cabinet officials have resigned in the wake of Capitol invasion but none have called for Trump’s removal.

The House is expected to swiftly move forward with impeachment, beginning the debate over whether Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” on Wednesday, just one week before Biden will be sworn in.

A single article of impeachment charges Trump with “incitement of insurrection” and directly quotes the president’s speech to supporters at the rally near the White House on 6 January. “If you don’t fight like hell,” Trump implored, “you’re not going to have a country any more.”

Members of Congress gathered before the vote on Tuesday for the first time since the attack, amid heightened security both inside and outside the building. Cracked glass and newly installed metal detectors were reminders of the breach – and of the continued threat of violence ahead of Biden’s inauguration. Before the vote, lawmakers observed a moment of silence for the two Capitol police officers who died after defending the building during the bloody siege.


Riots, effigies and a guillotine: Capitol attack could be a glimpse of violence to come

Fresh calls for extreme action circulate on social media forums as the FBI warns of planned protests leading up to the inauguration

Wed 13 Jan 2021 11.00 GMT

A guillotine outside the state capitol in Arizona. A Democratic governor burned in effigy in Oregon. Lawmakers evacuated as pro-Trump crowds gathered at state capitols in Georgia and New Mexico. Cheers in Idaho as a crowd was told fellow citizens were “taking the capitol” and “taking out” Vice-president Mike Pence.

As a mob of thousands invaded the US capitol on 6 January, Trump supporters threatened lawmakers and fellow citizens in cities across the country. Compared with the violent mob in Washington, the pro-Trump crowds elsewhere in the country were much smaller, attracting dozens to hundreds of people. But they used the same extreme rhetoric, labeling both Democratic politicians and Republicans perceived as disloyal to Trump as “traitors”.

As the FBI warns of plans for new armed protests in Washington and all 50 state capitols in the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration, and fresh calls for extreme violence circulate on social media forums, the intensity of the nationwide pro-Trump demonstrations and attacks last week offer evidence of what might be coming next.

    Not everyday you see a guillotine at the Arizona State Capitol. pic.twitter.com/tYjGjou04Y
    — Jerod MacDonald-Evoy (@JerodMacEvoy) January 6, 2021

Some of the pro-Trump demonstrations on Wednesday did not turn violent. The dozens of Trump supporters who entered the Kansas state capitol remained peaceful, according to multiple news reports. In Carson City, Nevada, hundreds of Trump supporters drank beer and listened to rock music while denouncing the election results, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

But in Los Angeles, white Trump supporters assaulted and ripped the wig off the head of a young black woman who happened to pass their 6 January protest, the Los Angeles Times reported. A white woman was captured on video holding the wig and shouting, “Fuck BLM!” and, “I did the first scalping of the new civil war.”

In Ohio and Oregon, fights broke out between counter-protesters and members of the Proud Boys, the neo-fascist group Trump directed in September to “stand back and stand by”. Proud Boys also reportedly demonstrated in Utah, California, Florida, and South Carolina.

And in Washington state, Trump supporters, some armed, pushed through the gate of the governor’s mansion and stormed onto the lawn of Democrat Jay Inslee’s house. In Georgia, where lawmakers were evacuated from the state capitol, members of the III% Security Force militia, a group known for its anti-Muslim activism, had gathered outside.

    An effigy of Gov. Kate Brown is tarred and feathered by pro-Trump Supporters and anti-lockdown protesters at the Oregon State Capitol. pic.twitter.com/XSmHI82cXD
    — Brian Hayes (@_Brian_ICT) January 6, 2021

Militia members, neo-Nazis, and other rightwing extremists have discussed multiple potential dates for armed protests in the coming days, researchers who monitor extremist groups say, with proposals ranging from rallies or attacks on state capitols to a “million militia march” in Washington.

The FBI’s intelligence bulletin has warned of potential armed protests from 16 January “at least” through inauguration day on 20 January, but researchers say that energy had not yet coalesced around a single event. Public social media forums where Trump supporters have gathered to discuss plans are full of dramatic, contradictory rumors, but experts say that more concrete plans are likely being made in private and in smaller forums that are more difficult to infiltrate.

The United States has no shortage of heavily armed extremists who have been openly calling for a new civil war, from members of the Boogaloo Bois – a nascent domestic terrorism group that has been linked to the murders of two law enforcement officers – to militia leaders such as Stewart Rhodes, the Yale-educated founder of an anti-government group that recruits policy and military officers, who was photographed outside the capitol during the mob invasion last week.

Accusations at public protests that Democratic politicians are dictators, tyrants and “traitors” and suggestions that white Americans need to seize power back from their elected officials, have been intensifying for more than a year, fueled in part by furious demonstrations against public health measures that forced businesses to close to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has disproportionately killed Black and Latino residents.

Before they stormed the US Capitol last week, angry crowds of white Americans, some armed with rifles, had staged chaotic demonstrations at state capitols in Michigan, Idaho, California and elsewhere, often calling law enforcement officers “traitors” when they would not let them pass.

On 6 January, the news that Trump supporters were forcing their way into the capitol was greeted with cheers at pro-Trump protests in other states. “Patriots have stormed the Capitol,” a protest organizer in Arizona announced, prompting chants of “USA!” according to the Arizona Republic.

“Supposedly, they’re taking the Capitol and taking out Pence,” the organizer of an Idaho protest told a crowd of about 300 people, according to the Spokesman-Review. The crowd cheered.

In Washington DC, part of the mob at the capitol had been captured on video shouting “Hang Mike Pence!” after the vice-president refused to give in to Trump’s repeated demands to deny the results of the election and name him the winner.

Signs and rhetoric linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that Trump is fighting a secret war against a powerful network of elite pedophiles, were present at multiple state events last week.

In Salem, Oregon, where an effigy of Democratic governor Kate Brown was tarred and feathered before being burned, the protest outside the statehouse turned violent, as Proud Boys clashed with counter-protesters. In Colorado, an estimated 700 people gathered at the state capitol to protest, many of them not wearing masks, and Denver’s mayor announced he was closing municipal buildings early as a precaution.

In Arizona, where 1,000 Trump supporters gathered to protest the certification of Biden’s victory, the guillotine outside the state capitol had a Trump flag on it, and the Trump supporters who had brought it gave an Arizona Republic reporter a written statement, which included a list of baseless allegations of election fraud, and demands for new fraud audits and investigations.

“Why do we have a guillotine with us? The answer is simple,” the statement read. “For six weeks Americans have written emails, gathered peacefully, made phone calls and begged their elected officials to listen to their concerns. We have been ignored, ridiculed, scorned, dismissed, lied to, laughed at and essentially told, no one cares.

“We pray for peace,” the statement concluded, “but we do not fear war.”


 There are enough votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office -- but only if McConnell agrees

Raw Story

There are enough votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office -- but only if McConnell agrees

The story from CNN's Jim Acosta on Tuesday was that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is "furious" with President Donald Trump and actually "hates" him. It's a similar tale New York Times reporter Maggie Habermann reported, noting that McConnell is secretly grateful that Donald Trump is being impeached again.

But the full CNN report revealed something even more significant. There are 67 votes to remove Trump from office among the Democratic and Republican Senators.

"Several GOP sources said on Tuesday that if McConnell supports conviction, Trump almost certainly will be convicted by 67 senators in the impeachment trial," said CNN.
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"If Mitch is a yes, he's done," CNN cited one Senate GOP source who didn't want to be named.

That leaves one man between Trump being removed from office and Trump holding power and possibly running again in 2024.

If Trump is convicted and removed from office, even mere days ahead of being ousted from office, it isn't entirely toothless. Trump loses the presidential salary he gets for life, funds for his post-presidential office, and a slew of other presidential perks that total up to $1 million annually for security and travel.

Members could also decide whether Trump can run again in 2024. Even if those like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) who want to run for president, vote against removing Trump from office, getting him out of the way would certainly increase their chances of winning. It certainly would position other Senators to run without having to deal with their pro-Trump impeachment vote in 2020.

It all comes down to whether Sen. Mitch McConnell will tell Senators to come back to vote and allow them to vote their conscience over the party.


 Trump didn't suffer from 'paralysis' -- he failed to stop the Capitol siege because he loved the show

January 13, 2021
Amanda Marcotte, Salon

After four years of nonstop abuse from Donald Trump, it should be beyond a shadow of a doubt that, while Trump is indeed an ignoramus, his ugly behavior is largely motivated by malice, not stupidity. Yet, as we've seen through the years of Trump's presidency, mainstream media outlets have continued to cast his actions as the choices of a man too numpty-headed to know right from wrong, instead of the behavior of a shameless villain who does vicious and cruel things out of a deeply felt sadism. Since Trump sent an unruly mob to ransack the Capitol, however, mainstream journalists have woken up, describing Trump's actions accurately as incitement, instead of using euphemisms or casting around for an "innocent" explanation.

They are now showing signs of slippage back to old habits.

On Monday night, the Washington Post published a report detailing Trump's refusal to do anything to discourage the insurrectionist mob after they penetrated the Capitol. The headline: "Six hours of paralysis: Inside Trump's failure to act after a mob stormed the Capitol."
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This headline is wildly misleading. Trump did not suffer from "paralysis," nor was his inaction due to "failure." Both words imply that there was a desire to act, but that Trump was somehow incapable. The reality: Trump refused to act.

He had incited the mob and delighted in their actions. He may very well have believed it was going to work to keep Congress from certifying Joe Biden's win, especially if the insurrectionists had successfully captured or killed members of Congress or Vice President Mike Pence. But one thing that should be beyond all shadow of a doubt is that Trump refused to do anything to stop the riot because he was loving every minute of it.

This framing is all the more aggravating because the details provided by Washington Post reporters Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Philip Rucker make the ill will behind Trump's behavior crystal clear. They report that Trump refused to take calls from the various congressional members who called for help. They describe a situation where aides and family members pleaded with Trump for hours, yet he refused to listen, and instead was glued to his TV and soaking in every delicious moment of the chaos he caused. When he finally caved and released a message telling his followers to "go home in peace," he only did so "begrudgingly," the Post reporters write.

"Trump watched with interest, buoyed to see that his supporters were fighting so hard on his behalf, one close adviser said," they write.

The reporters describe a situation where aides are begging Trump to tell the insurrectionists to stand down, but he would only agree to ask for vague "support" for law enforcement, writing, "They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!"

But Trump "had not wanted to include the final instruction to 'stay peaceful,'" they report. Hours later, Trump reluctantly agreed to release a video telling rioters to go home, but only on the condition that he continue to tell lies about the election, resulting in a video that was less a call for peace and more further incitement. Even Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a reliable Trump sycophant, admitted, "The president saw these people as allies in his journey and sympathetic to the idea that the election was stolen."

These details matter because Trump's behavior is not ambiguous. He incited an insurrection, and once it was underway, he reacted with excitement and delight. His actions were purposeful and malevolent. He wanted all this to happen and got grumpy at anyone who wanted it to stop.

This has been backed up by other reporting showing that Trump's inner circle is quite clear that he was over the moon about the insurrection. Nebraska's Republican Sen. Ben Sasse reported that he called the White House during the siege and not only was Trump "delighted" about the melee, but he was also "confused about why other people on his team weren't as excited as he was."

Last week, the New York Times reported that Trump only taped a video reluctantly conceding defeat after "he appeared to suddenly realize he could face legal risk for prodding the mob." This was after counsel from his lawyer, Pat Cipollone, and a statement from the D.C. federal prosecutor indicating that charging Trump was a possibility. He obviously didn't mean a word of it and was only trying to save himself from prison.

Trump's support for the insurrection and hatred of anyone who fought back continues to manifest in actions such as refusing to lower the flags for the Capitol police officer who was beaten to death by the mob and only giving in reluctantly after being badgered about it by his aides for days

And yet, the latest Washington Post story, while bristling with examples of how Trump acts out of malice and not ignorance, keeps framing his actions in a more innocent light, describing Trump as "a president paralyzed" and "more passive viewer than resolute leader".

This is flatly false. Trump was not being passive at all. He actively incited the mob and he willfully refused to do anything to call them off. He did this deliberately, having exhausted every other avenue he pursued to steal the election. These were not the actions of a man too stupid to act. These were the actions of a man knowingly trying to overthrow a legal election.

On the opinion page of the Washington Post, Greg Sargent describes the events recounted more accurately, describing it as "President Trump's depraved and malevolent response to the violent siege of the Capitol" and noting Trump's "solipsistic, even sadistic pleasure in watching a mob lay siege to our seat of government in his name."

On Wednesday, House Democratic leadership will almost certainly impeach Trump for "incitement of insurrection." Trump's state of mind and intentionality is crucial to making the case for impeachment and removal. In addition, if Trump is to be prosecuted when he leaves office — and he absolutely should be — it's important that the strong evidence he acted intentionally not be muddied by cowardly reporting.

The good news is that there's no real confusion about Trump's state of mind. He wanted this riot, he wallowed in it, and he lashed out like a whiny child to anyone who suggested that armed insurrection is a bad look.

The bad news is that there's a massive campaign, from right-wing pundits and Republican politicians, to muddy the waters and downplay the seriousness of what happened. And that campaign is directly aimed at the mainstream media, to discourage honesty about last week's events and bully journalists into using minimizing or excusing language. Language like "paralysis" and "failure," instead of more accurate descriptions capturing the intentionality of Trump's actions.

It is critical that outlets like the Washington Post not go further down this path of placating right-wing radicals — even if that term describes most Republicans these days — by swaddling the insurrection in euphemism and falsely ascribing innocent motives to Trump when his enmity is as obvious as his combover.

Holding firm to the truth is crucial if we want to save our democracy. Yes, even if that truth involves hurting the snowflake-delicate feelings of the American right.


 Capitol insurrectionists probably had inside help from GOP staff: MSNBC analyst

Raw Story

On Tuesday's edition of MSNBC's "Deadline: White House," analyst Jason Johnson speculated that the perpetrators of the Capitol invasion could have had inside help from Republican legislative staff.

"Every single local judiciary that can find cases or crimes committed by Trump or any member of his family needs to sue them and make this country so unpleasant that they want to leave," said Johnson. "And then with Congress, this Parler cache, that's going to be the liberal's version of WikiLeaks, because I promise we're going to end up finding out that some low-level staffer or member of Congress was probably giving this kind of inside information and anyone, anyone who has been connected to this kind of work should be purged."

"I also want to say this, because I think there's a difference in responsibility here," said Johnson. "If you're some guy who flew out from Lorraine, Ohio, a public schoolteacher from Cleveland that I just read about, fine. Local, you know, cops and FBI can deal with you. But if you were a former member of the military, if you were a retired lieutenant colonel, if you were someone who took an oath to protect this country, and you showed up and brought arms against the Capitol, jail forever. And I'm not in favor of the death penalty, but this is getting pretty close."

Watch: https://youtu.be/zTH359Bq7no


'Terrorists' Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley should be on no-fly list: House homeland security chair

January 13, 2021
Igor Derysh, Salon

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-MS, suggested that, if found liable for inciting the violent unrest at the Capitol last week, Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Josh Hawley, R-MO, could be put on a no-fly list.

Cruz and Hawley, who were arguably the most vocal congressional opponents of Biden's electoral victory, have faced a tidal wave of condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans following last week's chaos on Capitol Hill. Calls for Hawley and Cruz to be censured and even expelled have surfaced in the House, placing the two Senators on thin ice with their Congressional foes and allies alike.

Rep. Bennie Thompson –– the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee –– joined the chorus of condemnation on Monday in a SiriusXM interview, pointing out that, if found guilty of encouraging last week's uprising, Hawley and Cruz should be formally ousted from government.
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"Even a member of Congress that commits a crime…they expel from the body," the Congressman explained, "There are ethics charges that can be brought against those individuals. And people are looking at all this. What Hawley did and what Cruz did was horrible."

Regarding the rioters, Thompson thought there was "no question" about whether they should be labeled as terrorists. "These folks, in my opinion, can be classified as domestic terrorists," he said, "A terrorist is a terrorist, no matter who you are."

Thompson also outlined the "protocols" in place to work jointly with the TSA and the FBI –– whom he urged into action last Thursday –– on identifying high-risk individuals and barring them from air travel. Several airlines have already begun imposing lifetime travel bans on participants of the violent mob. According to ABC News, United Airlines banned sixty participants last week, while Alaska Airlines has banned fourteen.

The Congressman also revealed that the Congressional Black Caucus –– of which he is a key member –– is set to hold its own investigation of the weak police presence and response at the Capitol.

"Somebody's going to have to tell us why it occurred," he demanded, "Other than the fact that there white people involved and you treat white protesters with kid gloves, and black and white protesters you threw the full faith and power of the government on them to suppress them. It ought to be one policy."

"There's suspicion that some of the sympathizers were also employees of the Capitol Police," the Congressman added, alluding to the officers seen letting rioters simply waltz into the Capitol and even taking selfies with them. In a separate probe from the CBC's, two Capitol Police officers have already been suspended, and over ten officers, according to CNN, are currently being investigated.

Thompson has been steadfast in his commitment to punish everyone responsible for the insurrection, making no exception for elected officials. One Twitter user criticized him for publicly indicting Cruz and Hawley, saying he should be "ashamed." Thompson rebutted, "I am not ashamed. However, they should be."

Expelling Senators Cruz and Hawley would require a two-thirds vote in the upper chamber of Congress, and is therefore unlikely, given the GOP's penchant for unconditional tribalism, even in the face of complete moral bankruptcy. However, a censure –– which necessitates just a majority vote in the Senate –– is much more likely since the Democrats managed to eke out a newly won Senate majority following the Georgia State runoffs.

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« Reply #34 on: Jan 13, 2021, 05:31 AM »

WATCH: Lincoln Project rips Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley in hard-hitting new 'coup' video

Raw Story

Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) continue to receive harsh criticism for pushing the conspiracy theory of election fraud that has been blamed for the fatal insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

On Tuesday, the Lincoln Project released a new video blasting the two senators, along with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

"This is your coup. This is our siege. This is your insurrection," the ad begins.

"With your support for Donald Trump, you have brought this shame to America," the narrator continues.

"This disgrace is all yours," the ad concludes, after calling out the three Republicans by name.

Watch: https://twitter.com/ProjectLincoln/status/1349056046086590464

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« Reply #35 on: Jan 13, 2021, 04:06 PM »

 Trump impeached in bipartisan vote -- first president in history to be impeached twice

January 13, 2021
Raw Story

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to impeach President Donald Trump on a single count of "incitement of insurrection" only eight days after the fatal riot by supporters of the president seeking to reject the outcome of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Ten Republicans joined a united Democratic Party caucus in voting for impeachment, setting a record for the most bipartisan impeachment vote in history. The impeachment of former President Bill Clinton had just 5 members of his own party willing to cross the aisle and support impeachment.

The 10 Republican members are John Katko (NY), Liz Cheney (WY), Adam Kinzinger (IL), Fred Upton (MI), Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA), Dan Newhouse (WA), Peter Meijer (MI), Tom Rice (SC), Anthony Gonzalez (OH) and David Valadao (CA).

The bipartisan vote made Trump the only president to be impeached twice.

The U.S. Senate is currently on vacation, but a Senate impeachment trial could begin as early as Tuesday.

The vote came after roughly three and a half hours of debate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is reportedly leading Trump's impeachment defense, but so far only nine Republican senators have publicly come out against impeachment.

The total vote was 231 yays to 197 nays.

See the moment below:

    "The resolution is adopted." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces H.R. 24 passes with a 232-197 vote to impeach Pr… https://t.co/VYcVBpKlXn
    — ABC News (@ABC News)1610573989.0

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« Reply #36 on: Jan 14, 2021, 03:27 AM »

Here’s why you can still catch COVID-19 after getting a coronavirus vaccine

By Yoni Heisler

    According to the CDC, it takes the body a few weeks to build up immunity to the coronavirus after receiving the vaccine.
    Upon getting vaccinated, people should still make a point to follow coronavirus safety guidelines like social distancing and mask-wearing.
    More than 10 million Americans have already been vaccinated.

Thanks to the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, we finally have a reason to believe that the pandemic will be nothing more than a distant memory by the end of the year. Impressively, both of the aforementioned vaccines were found to be 95% effective at preventing a COVID-19 infection during clinical trials. As it stands now, the only question is how quickly the U.S. can vaccinate a majority of the population and, in turn, achieve herd immunity.

With the vaccine rollout in the U.S. slowly but surely picking up steam, it’s important that people who receive the vaccine be cognizant of the fact that it’s still possible to catch COVID-19 after the fact. Aside from the fact that both vaccines aren’t 100% effective, the CDC notes that immunity to COVID post-vaccination can sometimes take weeks to develop.

“It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity (protection against the virus that causes COVID-19) after vaccination,” the CDC notes. “That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and still get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.”

The larger takeaway from this is that getting vaccinated doesn’t mean that people should be free to completely disregard basic safety guidelines. On the contrary, people who received the vaccine should still adhere to social distancing, limit indoor gatherings whenever possible, and wear masks when out in public.

Incidentally, the CDC is also urging people who already came down with COVID to get vaccinated.

“At this time,” the CDC adds, “experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person. Some early evidence suggests natural immunity may not last very long.”

On a related note, Dr. Fauci has expressed frustration with the current vaccine rollout, calling some of the frameworks “too rigid.”

Specifically, Fauci believes the U.S. should vaccinate individuals outside of those in prioritized groups when there happen to be leftover vials that will expire if not used promptly.

“If you can’t get to the people in the first group go to the people in the second group and start doing them,” Fauci said a few days ago. “I think if we do that, we’ll start getting more vaccine into the arms of people.”

“Not to mention,” Fauci added, “we have people who are in the last group, who we have seen are out and about and not taking all the precautions. So if we could get them vaccinated wouldn’t it help all of us?”

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« Reply #37 on: Jan 14, 2021, 03:30 AM »

Trump deadenders rush to give Apache sacred land to a mining company

Sarah Okeson,
DCReport @ RawStory
January 14, 2021

This article was paid for by Raw Story subscribers. Not a subscriber? Try us and go ad-free for $1. Prefer to give a one-time tip? Click here.

Team Trump is racing to transfer federal land in Arizona that is sacred to the Apache to a mining company just days before the end of his term.

President-elect Joe Biden has not spoken publicly about the project, but he plans to nominate a Native American who participated in a hearing critical of the proposed mine, U.S. Rep.Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to lead the Interior Department.

"This place is going to be murdered," said Wendsler Nosie Sr., the former chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe.

The environmental study needed to initiate the 2,422-acre transfer is expected to be released Friday. Apache Stronghold, a nonprofit, has sued in federal court to try to block the land swap to Resolution Copper LLC.

Chi'ChilBildagoteel, often called Oak Flat, in the Tonto National Forest about 40 miles east of Phoenix is a sacred site for the San Carlos Apache tribe and other tribal nations. Native Americans hold religious and cultural ceremonies and gather food and medicine. President Dwight Eisenhower protected the area from mining in 1955.

Consultant Steve Emerman told the House subcommittee in March that the proposed copper mine "is the worst mining project I have ever encountered."

Plans by Resolution Copper, a partnership of Rio Tinto and BHP, call for building a dam to contain mine waste. A similar dam, the Brumadinho Dam, which contained 1% of the waste that the Arizona dam would hold failed in Brazil in 2019, killing 270 people. Florence, Ariz., a town with more than 26,000 people, is about 10 miles away from one of the sites proposed for a dam.

"We are seriously discussing a mining project in Arizona that would be illegal even in China," Emerman said.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon put a loophole in the mining ban, allowing the land to be swapped to a private owner who wouldn't be subject to the ban. Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, a former lobbyist for a subsidiary of mining behemoth Rio Tino, snuck in a provision in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that authorized the swap.

"I am sorry I wasn't here when this bill was finagled into the NDAA," Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, said during a hearing in March. "I am sorry that I didn't have a voice in Congress when it was important."

Resolution Copper plans to mine 1.4 billion tons of ore, creating a crater twice as deep as the Washington Monument.

The Rio Tinto Group spent $690,000 on federal lobbying in 2020. BHP spent $170,000.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross visited Phoenix in October and praised the proposed mine.

"The U.S. has a special appreciation for global enterprises like Rio Tinto that choose to engage in projects like this one on our shores," Ross said.

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« Reply #38 on: Jan 14, 2021, 03:32 AM »

Corals are being cooked': A third of Taiwan's reefs are dying

January 14, 2021
Agence France-Presse

Nearly a third of Taiwan's corals are dying from bleaching caused by warming oceans in an alarming phenomenon that poses a severe threat to the island's delicate underwater ecosystem, conservationists warned Wednesday.

An investigation conducted last year in 62 locations around the island by the Taiwan Coral Bleaching Observation Network (TCBON) showed bleaching had reached its worst recorded levels.

Half of Taiwan's reefs have been hit by bleaching with 31 percent so badly impacted that they are dying and probably beyond saving.
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"It's like the corals are being cooked," said Kuo Chao-yang, a postdoctoral scholar at the Biodiversity Research Center at Taiwan's leading research institute, Academia Sinica.

Coral reefs cover less than one percent of the ocean floor but support a quarter of all marine species, providing them with food and shelter.

Warming waters due to climate change cause corals to expel the food-producing algae living in their tissues, breaking down their symbiotic relationship and leading to loss of colour and life in a process known as bleaching.

The lack of typhoons last summer -- which could have stirred up cooler waters from the deep -- aggravated the bleaching, Kuo, a member of TCBON, told AFP.

Much of the ocean they surveyed last summer was above 30 degrees Celsius for three months. The worst area was in Little Liuqiu, a coral island off the southwest coast in the Taiwan Strait where 55 percent of corals have now been seriously bleached.

Another alarming sign was bleaching in Yehliu, off the colder northeast coast, for the first time since 1998.

"Coral reefs are the rainforest in the ocean. A coral reef without corals is just like a forest without trees and the reef-associated creatures will have to leave because there is no shelter or food," Kuo said.

"If corals are dead, the coral reef ecosystem will start to collapse as its root is cut."

Mingo Lee, a diver who helps document coral health in Taiwan, described the level of bleaching as like "snow in the ocean".

"It was white everywhere... I have never seen anything like that in my 20 years as a diver," he told reporters.

© 2021 AFP

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« Reply #39 on: Jan 14, 2021, 03:35 AM »

Climate crisis: record ocean heat in 2020 supercharged extreme weather

Scientists say temperatures likely to be increasing faster than at any time in past 2,000 years   

Damian Carrington Environment editor
14 Jan 2021 09.00 GMT

The world’s oceans reached their hottest level in recorded history in 2020, supercharging the extreme weather impacts of the climate emergency, scientists have reported.

More than 90% of the heat trapped by carbon emissions is absorbed by the oceans, making their warmth an undeniable signal of the accelerating crisis. The researchers found the five hottest years in the oceans had occurred since 2015, and that the rate of heating since 1986 was eight times higher than that from 1960-85.

Reliable instrumental measurements stretch back to 1940 but it is likely the oceans are now at their hottest for 1,000 years and heating faster than any time in the last 2,000 years. Warmer seas provide more energy to storms, making them more severe, and there were a record 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic in 2020.

Hotter oceans also disrupt rainfall patterns, which lead to floods, droughts and wildfires. Heat also causes seawater to expand and drive up sea levels. Scientists expect about 1 metre of sea level rise by the end of the century, endangering 150 million people worldwide.

Furthermore, warmer water is less able to dissolve carbon dioxide. Currently, 30% of carbon emissions are absorbed by the oceans, limiting the heating effect of humanity’s burning of fossil fuels.

“Ocean warming is the key metric and 2020 continued a long series of record-breaking years, showing the unabated continuation of global warming,” said Prof John Abraham, at the University of St Thomas in Minnesota, US, and one of the team behind the new analysis.

“Warmer oceans supercharge the weather, impacting the biological systems of the planet as well as human society. Climate change is literally killing people and we are not doing enough to stop it.”

Recent research has shown higher temperatures in the seas are also harming marine life, with the number of ocean heatwaves increasing sharply.

The oceans cover 71% of the planet and water can absorb thousands of times more heat than air, which is why 93% of global heating is taken up by the seas. But surface air temperatures, which affect people most directly, also rose in 2020 to the joint highest on record.

The average global air temperature in 2020 was 1.25C higher than the pre-industrial period, dangerously close to the 1.5C target set by the world’s nations to avoid the worst impacts.

The latest research, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, showed the oceans absorbed 20 zettajoules more heat than in 2019. This is equivalent to every person on Earth running 80 hairdryers all day, every day, or the detonation of about four atomic bombs a second.

The analysis assessed the heat absorbed in the top 2,000 metres of the ocean. This is where most of the data is collected and where the vast majority of the heat accumulates. Most data is from 3,800 free-drifting Argo floats dispersed across the oceans, but some comes from torpedo-like bathythermographs dropped from ships in the past.

The study also reported that the sinking of surface ocean waters and upwelling of deeper water is reducing as the seas heat up. This means the surface layers heat up even further and fewer nutrients for marine life are brought up from the depths.

The worldwide lockdowns resulting from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 cut carbon emissions by about 7%. While this was a record drop, it was “not even a blip” in terms of the total CO2 in the atmosphere and had no measurable effect on ocean heating.

“The fact the oceans reached yet another new record level of warmth in 2020, despite a record drop in global carbon emissions, drives home the fact that the planet will continue to warm up as long as we emit carbon into the atmosphere.” said Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University in the US, and one of the study team. “It is a reminder of the urgency of bringing carbon emissions down rapidly over the next several years.”

Prof Laure Zanna, of New York University, said: “Continuous ocean temperature measurements, as presented in this study, are crucial to quantify the warming of the planet.”

Rising sea level driven by heating, as well as the melting of glaciers and ice caps was important, she said. “That directly impacts a significant fraction of the world’s population.”

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« Reply #40 on: Jan 14, 2021, 03:42 AM »

Interview: Adut Akech: ‘I was just this shy kid’

Sirin Kale

Adut Akech’s rise from Kenyan refugee camp to the international catwalk has been remarkable. She talks about her ‘fashion dad’ Edward Enninful and why she wants to see proper diversity in the fashion industry

All the best supermodels have fairytale origin stories. They are bullied at school: too tall, too flat-chested, too strange-looking. Boys prefer their more comely peers. They grow up believing themselves to be unlovable, even social outcasts. And then an outsider swoops in – perhaps at an airport (Kate Moss), in Primark (Jourdan Dunn), or McDonald’s (Gisele Bündchen). The scout plucks them from obscurity and drops them into a life of international travel, money and acclaim. Their self-doubt is sloughed away like dead skin. Bullies stand chastened. The supermodel triumphs.

Moss and co don’t have anything on Adut Akech’s origin story. Their childhoods are the Pixar remakes of her Grimms’ fairytale. Akech was born as her mother fled civil war in South Sudan and raised in a refugee camp in Kenya. At seven, she moved with her family to Australia. When she arrived, she didn’t speak any English, “I was this tall, super-shy, awkward kid,” she says. “I had a weird name, and a gap tooth.”

She began modelling in 2016, while still at school. Now 20, she has already bagged 16 Vogue covers internationally, including five September issues; fronted advertising campaigns for Marc Jacobs and Moschino; been named Model of the Year by the British Fashion Council; and closed shows for Saint Laurent and Valentino (in a glorious purple gown that resembled almost exactly an enormous Quality Street). Hers is the classic supermodel origin story, on steroids: a tale of war, displacement, emigration and triumph against the odds. But Akech herself downplays her remarkable journey. “I’m very proud of myself,” she says, modestly. “And my mum is happy, which is the main thing.”

Akech is swaddled in a thick blanket that protects her against the cold of an unheated studio. We are here to discuss, among other things, a recent comedy sketch she made for Mercedes-Benz, a social media spot whose underlining message is to “spark positive reflection at the end of a challenging year”. In it, Adut is a beacon of hope. When we talk she is poised and positive. And, as befits a woman born and raised in three countries, who began travelling the world in her teens, her accent wanders across different continents. “I’m a citizen of the world,” she says, with a faintly Australian accent, “but my identity is South Sudanese before anything.”

Of her early years in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, Akech recalls an ordinary childhood interspersed with occasional moments of terror. “I remember just being a kid,” she says, “trying to make the most of life. We didn’t have much. But I knew something was off; that even though we were at home, we weren’t at home. There would be nights where there were people coming who wanted to take us from our parents, or kill all of us. The whole camp would be so fearful. Everyone would pack their things, and wait for the heads-up to leave.”

She doesn’t remember life before the camp. She was born on Christmas Day 1999, as her mother made the perilous journey out of South Sudan. “I was born on the way to Kenya,” she says, “and I haven’t been to Sudan since.” (She hopes to return one day, to set up a social enterprise and reconnect with her extended family.) When all you’ve known is a refugee camp, life in corrugated-iron shelters feels normal. “I didn’t know I was in a refugee camp,” she says. “It was just a community of South Sudanese people – one big family.” Eventually, Akech’s mother was able to secure asylum in Australia, where she had relatives. They moved to Adelaide when Akech was seven.

The early years in Australia were not always easy. Anxious to fit in, she let her classmates call her by her Christian name, Mary, rather than Adut, her legal name, by which she was known among her family. “For some reason,” she says, drily, “it was so hard to say my name, or they would say it in funny ways, and it just made me feel insecure I suppose, or bad.” She decided to go back to her own name as her modelling career took off. “I decided if I was going to do this modelling thing I was going to go with my own name,” she says. “Adut. I wasn’t insecure about it any more. Since then, I’ve always been Adut. No one calls me Mary.” After a pause, she adds: “Also, my name is actually very, very sick! There’s no other Adut in this industry that I have met yet. It’s unique. It’s a beautiful name, and it’s the name my family gave me, and people are going to have to learn how to say it properly.”

When Akech moved to Australia, she made her mother a promise: that she’d finish school and buy her a car and a house. Fitting schooling around the demands of modelling was exhausting. “I’d do my homework on flights and not sleep,” she says. At her debut fashion week, in Melbourne in 2016, she walked in 16 shows. Within a month she was being flown to Paris by Saint Laurent. It was a stratospheric rise, and yet Akech had promised her mother she’d keep up with her schoolwork.

“Dropping out of school for modelling was not an option,” she says, shaking her head. The next year was a blur of exhaustion. “On shoots, I’d be doing my homework during breaks. I’d stay up late to make sure I was getting good grades, even though I would be jet lagged.” She finished school in 2017 and flew to Paris to close the Saint Laurent spring/summer 2018 show almost immediately.

Akech credits her indefatigable work ethic to her mother. After arriving in Australia as a refugee, Akech’s mother worked in a laundry, as a supervisor. “She’d wake up at 4am and come home at 10pm.” Last November, after years of nagging, Akech finally persuaded her mother to take some time off. “It’s weird for her,” she says, “because she’s always worked. But I said, ‘No, Mum! You need to give yourself a break.’” She talks about her mother often; her face lights up as she does. “I’m like a mini version of my mum,” she explains. “Everything I am is exactly who she is.”

Akech’s modelling career almost ended in her teens, after her mother came under sustained pressure from their extended family in 2016. “They’d say, ‘She’s going to fail at it like all the other girls, and if she drops out of school, it’s your fault.’ Uncles and aunties and cousins and everyone were telling me not to do it.” The perception, says Akech, “was that all models do is walk around in front of people naked – that it was not an actual career.” Eventually, to save her mother from the criticism, Akech offered to quit. “I could see how it was affecting her,” she explains, “and I wanted them to shut up and leave her alone.” But her mum said no. “She told me, ‘I know you’ll regret it later,’” Akech remembers, “‘and what kind of mother would I be if I let you give up on something I know you can do, and you love doing?’”

2020 was a comparatively quiet year for her – Covid-19 put the fashion industry on hiatus, and it is only recently that she has returned to full-time work. After a relentless three years, the enforced calm of the pandemic was an opportunity to spend four months in Australia. As Akech is close to her large family – she has five siblings; her father died – it was a silver lining. “It was so nice,” Akech exclaims. “I missed my mum’s home cooking so bad. I really feel like I made up for so much lost time with my family in those four months.”

Last year, Akech completed the trio of promises she made her mother as a child, buying her a new house in an Adelaide suburb. (Akech bought her mother her dream car, a Nissan, in 2018.) “It’s one of my proudest achievements,” she says. “For the longest time, my mum worked nonstop for us, so being able to buy her the dream house meant everything to me.” During lockdown, Akech turned her skills to DIY. “My other siblings would go to school during the day,” she says, “so my mum, my sister and I would go to her new house and spend most of our day there, renovating it, before picking up my other brothers and sisters from school. My siblings are going to grow up in that house, so I wanted to make it amazing.”

During the summer, Akech travelled to the UK and spent two months staying at the home of her friend, mentor, and so-called “fashion dad”, British Vogue editor Edward Enninful. “I don’t know many people in London,” she explains, “but he’s my family here.” Akech would walk Enniful’s Boston terrier, Ru, near his London home. “Ru!” Akech exclaims. “I spent so much time with Ru. We were always in the house. I’d go on walks with him sometimes, when the weather was nice.”

If Enninful is her fashion father, Naomi Campbell is her fashion mother. “She’s like a second mum to me,” Akech says. The two women first met on the set of a Pirelli calendar in April 2017 – afterwards, Campbell made it her business to look out for Akech, often seeking her out backstage. She goes on, with a trace of incredulity in her voice: “I used to idolise these people. Then I met Edward and Naomi, and not only were they nice, but they became my family.” Campbell doesn’t give Akech modelling advice – they talk about normal stuff. “We don’t even talk about fashion much,” she says. “We just talk about life.”

When Akech is on the catwalk, she blocks out everyone, apart from Enninful. “I get stage fright when I see people,” she explains. “The only person I notice on the runway is Edward. If I look around and get nervous it’s going to show. So I just think about what I’m going to eat after the show, when I’m going to go to bed, to distract my mind from freaking out that I’m going to fall over.” She references Campbell’s 1993 fall on the Vivienne Westwood catwalk. “Although, of course, if I fall, I want it to be as iconic as Naomi’s.”

In 2019, Akech was included on the cover of British Vogue’s “Forces for Change” issue, guest-edited by the Duchess of Sussex. Megan called Akech at her home in Australia. “She was so sweet,” Akech says. “I remember her saying that I was inspirational… I was like, ‘Wow, OK, I’m doing good. If people like her find me inspirational, I’m doing something correct.’”

Akech is a longtime diversity campaigner. She’s spoken about her experience as a refugee for the United Nations and championed the representation of darker-skinned models in the industry. Her impassioned speech at the Fashion Awards 2019, as Enninful and Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli beamed on from the wings, brought the house down. “Never doubt yourself or let the world convince you that things are not possible,” she told the assembled audience of industry professionals, voice cracking, resplendent in a bottle-green Valentino gown. “If a little dark-skinned South Sudanese refugee who comes from absolutely nothing can do it, so can you.”

When Who magazine used an image of another model to illustrate an interview with Akech in 2019, she criticised the magazine on Instagram. “Not only do I personally feel insulted and disrespected, but I feel like my entire race has been disrespected, too,” she wrote, to her 1.1 million followers. When asked about it, she credits social media for giving people the platform to chastise brands and publishers for racially insensitive missteps. “People are afraid of being called out,” she tells me, “and thank God to social media, for that.”

She credits her strong sense of self-belief to the experience of growing up around people who looked just like her. “Where I’m from,” she says, of her early years in Kenya, “no one said, ‘You’re too black.’ We were all black there.” But I get the impression that fighting for industry-wide representation – Akech has spoken repeatedly of how dispiriting it is when stylists don’t know how to deal with Afro hair, makeup artists don’t have the right shades for her skin, or backstage dressers confuse her with other dark-skinned models – can be tiring. “Now I don’t like to talk about diversity any more,” she says, of her hopes for the fashion industry. “I feel like I’ve said it over and over. I just want to see real change.”

Mercedes-Benz teamed up with Adut Akech on a high-fashion gameshow parody in December 2020. Watch it on Instagram

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« Reply #41 on: Jan 14, 2021, 04:06 AM »

Coronavirus variant from UK 'must not get out of hand' warns EU

EU health commissioner says bloc will assist with genomic sequencing to curb mutation

Jon Henley, Daniel Boffey and Sam Jones
14 Jan 2021 18.02 GMT

The EU has warned that the highly contagious coronavirus variant first found in Britain is now having “a significant impact” in other European countries, and said its spread “must be stopped at all costs”.

“We cannot be complacent,” Stella Kyriakides, the bloc’s health commissioner, said on Wednesday. “We cannot let it get out of hand. So we are ready to help member states in the area of genomic sequencing of samples. There is no way around this.”

Concerns were also shared during the virtual meeting of EU health ministers of a “significant under-reporting” of the new variant by member states, with the commission urging health ministries to make detection of the mutation a priority.

Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, cited the UK-detected variant as he stressed the need for people to further reduce their contact with others, saying the country would not be able to lift all measures aimed at curbing the pandemic by the end of the month.

“One thing is already evident – it will not be possible to loosen all restrictions on 1 February,” Spahn said, adding that it would take another two or three months for the effects of the vaccination campaign to kick in.

Berlin was set to approve stricter controls on people entering the country after the chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Tuesday reportedly told a working group of her Christian Democratic Union that the lockdown could last until early April.

In Denmark, the prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said an extension of existing lockdown measures, due to end on 17 January, was “clearly necessary … not least to ensure that the British mutation does not spread”.

The Danish parliament is halting some of its activities, including debates on several new bills, for a month. Last week it announced it would only allow flights into the country on which every passenger had tested negative for Covid-19.

In Spain the regions of Galicia, La Rioja and Cantabria have become the country’s latest to tighten restrictions amid a spiralling national infection rate that officials have blamed on lax adherence to the rules over Christmas.

The country recorded a record 38,869 new Covid cases over the previous 24 hours, the government said on Wednesday night, marking the highest single-day spike in infections since the pandemic began.

Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, described the rise as “very worrying” and warned that the pressure on hospitals and their ICUs was building. “I ask people to scrupulously respect the measures adopted by each autonomous region,” he said. “It’s the only way we have of controlling the virus.”

Unlike other EU countries that have extended, or are preparing to extend, nationwide lockdowns, Spanish authorities have repeatedly rejected a new national confinement, instead delegating regional authorities for the imposition of curfews, limits on gatherings and restrictions on business opening hours.

Galicia on Wednesday banned all nonessential travel in the seven largest cities, ordered bars and restaurants to close at 4pm, and brought forward a curfew to 10pm, while La Rioja closed non-essential businesses at 5pm and limited group meetings to four people. Shops in Cantabria were banned from opening at weekends.

Meanwhile, a judge in Santiago de Compostela, in the north-west, ruled that a woman in a care home in the city should be vaccinated despite her daughter’s opposition.

The judge accepted the woman had “very limited” cognitive capacity to decide for herself but said that, despite the daughter’s fears of possible secondary effects, vaccination would incur less risk for the 84-year-old than holding back.

“While the act of vaccination itself carries a risk,” said the judge, “so does not getting vaccinated.” He referred in his ruling to WHO advice, saying the longer vaccination was delayed and the more the number of cases grew “the higher the risk”.

The top scientific adviser to the French government, Jean-François Delfraissy, said there was no need to close schools in France yet but new restrictive measures had to be taken to slow further coronavirus infections, in particular the spread of the new variant.

“We think English data on the variant is not definitive enough to lead us to recommend the closing of schools in France,” Delfraissy said, adding that the challenge with the variant, which now accounts for about 1% of new Covid-19 infections in France, was “not to eliminate it but to slow its progression”.

Italy’s health minister warned against “unforgivable” distractions as the ruling coalition looked close to collapse. The minister, Roberto Speranza , urged colleagues to stay focused on the health crisis, which has killed almost 80,000 people in Italy.

“Let’s keep political infighting, real or presumed electoral tensions, far and separate from the health of Italians,” Speranza told parliament. “It would really be an unforgivable mistake to get distracted or to slow down near the finish line.”

The government, led by Guiseppe Conte, the prime minister, is on the verge of imploding following weeks of internal criticism from the former premier Matteo Renzi, leader of the Italia Viva party.

In Russia, the president, Vladimir Putin, ordered officials to begin mass vaccinations from next week, touting Russia’s homemade shot, Sputnik V, which was registered before the start of large-scale clinical trials, as the world’s best.

“I ask you to begin the mass vaccination of the entire population next week,” Putin told officials at a televised government meeting. “The Russian vaccine is the best in the world.”

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« Reply #42 on: Jan 14, 2021, 04:08 AM »

Poland plans to make censoring of social media accounts illegal

Following Trump’s Twitter ban, Polish government wants to protect posts that do not break nation’s laws

Shaun Walker Central and eastern Europe correspondent
Thu 14 Jan 2021 05.00 GMT

Polish government officials have denounced the deactivation of Donald Trump’s social media accounts, and said a draft law being readied in Poland will make it illegal for tech companies to take similar actions there.

“Algorithms or the owners of corporate giants should not decide which views are right and which are not,” wrote the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, on Facebook earlier this week, without directly mentioning Trump. “There can be no consent to censorship.”

Morawiecki indirectly compared social media companies taking decisions to remove accounts with Poland’s experience during the communist era.

“Censorship of free speech, which is the domain of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, is now returning in the form of a new, commercial mechanism to combat those who think differently,” he wrote.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is ideologically aligned with Trump on many issues, has itself been accused of trying to limit freedom of speech in recent years.

Some of its members have made a habit of posting anti-LGBT or anti-refugee rhetoric. However, government officials have long claimed that people with rightwing views in Poland and abroad have been the victims of biased decisions by international tech companies.

Sebastian Kaleta, secretary of state at Poland’s Ministry of Justice, said Facebook’s decision to remove Trump’s account was hypocritical, politically motivated and “amounts to censorship”.

He said the draft law prepared by the justice ministry would make it illegal for social media companies to remove posts that did not break Polish law.

“Removing lawful content would directly violate the law, and this will have to be respected by the platforms that operate in Poland,” Kaleta told Rzeczpospolita newspaper.

In recent years, Facebook has moved to block content from far-right Polish organisations and politicians on numerous occasions. The MP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, aligned with the Konfederacja party, was in November shut out of his account, which had 780,000 followers, for what Facebook called repeated violations of community standards. Korwin-Mikke accused Facebook of being run by “fascists and Bolsheviks”.

Under the provisions of the Polish draft law, users would be able to file a court petition to force social media companies to remove restored content if they believed it did not violate Polish law. The court would rule within seven days and the process would be fully electronic.

Morawiecki called on the EU to introduce similar regulations. Other European politicians, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, have also expressed unease at the ban on Trump by various social media outlets, and a new EU proposal, the Digital Services Act, envisions tougher regulations on tech companies, including tough fines for failure to block illegal content.

Katarzyna Szymielewicz, president of the NGO Panoptykon, said the proposed Polish law, on paper, was “quite in line with what civil society has been fighting for, against arbitrary censorship online”, noting that national laws are a better benchmark for what content should be allowed online than arbitrary decisions taken by tech companies.

However, there is a clear political context behind the Polish law, even if on paper it aligns with the thrust of the EU-wide proposals, which could take two or three years to become law.

“It would be much wiser to focus on co-creating a mature, sound EU-wide regulation,” said Szymielewicz.

PiS officials have made it clear that they believe their fight against tech companies is part of an ideological battle to defend rightwing and far-right political positions.

“Every day there is more news from the US about the mass removal of accounts criticising the left … defending the freedom of speech is again the biggest challenge of conservatives globally,” the PiS MEP Patryk Jaki wrote on his Facebook account.

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« Reply #43 on: Jan 14, 2021, 04:10 AM »

Merkel's party chooses new leader ahead of German election


BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right party is choosing a new leader this weekend, a decision that will help shape German voters' choice of a successor to Merkel at the helm of the European Union's biggest economy after her 16-year reign.

Merkel, now 66, has steered Germany, and Europe, through a series of crises since she took office in 2005. But she said over two years ago that she won't seek a fifth term as chancellor. Now her Christian Democratic Union party is seeking its second new leader since she quit that role in 2018. That person will either run for chancellor in Germany's Sept. 26 election or have a big say in who does run.

Current leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her resignation last February after failing to impose her authority on the party. A decision on her successor was delayed repeatedly by the coronavirus pandemic. Eventually, the CDU decided to hold an online convention this weekend.

Delegates from Germany's strongest party can choose Saturday between three main candidates who differ markedly, at least in style. There's no clear favorite. Friedrich Merz, 65, would mark a break from the Merkel era. The party has dominated the center ground, ending military conscription, enabling if not embracing same-sex marriage, and allowing in large numbers of migrants, among other things.

He has a more traditionally conservative and pro-business image, and recently wrote in Der Spiegel magazine that “the CDU must, whether it wants to or not, step out from the shadow of Angela Merkel.” Merz has said he wants to give a “political home” to disillusioned conservatives, but won't move “one millimeter” toward the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

This is Merz's second bid for the party leadership after he lost narrowly last time to Kramp-Karrenbauer, considered Merkel's preferred candidate. He led the center-right group in parliament from 2000 to 2002, when Merkel pushed him out of that job, and left parliament in 2009 — later practicing as a lawyer and heading the supervisory board of investment manager BlackRock's German branch.

Merz has sought to portray his decade out of politics as a strength but lacks government experience. Armin Laschet, the governor of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, offers that. Laschet, 59, is a more liberal figure, elected as governor in 2017 in a traditionally center-left stronghold, and viewed as likely to continue Merkel's centrist approach. In a debate among the candidates last week, he said: “What I bring is government experience, the leadership of a big state, balancing different interests and — this perhaps doesn't hurt for a CDU leader — having won an election.”

The third contender, Norbert Roettgen, lost the 2012 state election in North Rhine-Westphalia. Merkel subsequently fired him as Germany's environment minister. Roettgen, 55, says he has learned from that experience. He has proclaims himself a candidate for the “modern center” who emphasizes issues such as fighting climate change.

Roettgen, now chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, was long considered the outsider but surveys have showed him gaining ground among CDU supporters. He suggested last week he would be a palatable alternative to backers of both Merz and Laschet.

“I am not in one camp,” he said. “I stand for everyone, and I think those who don't vote for me will be able to live with me and will accept me if I am elected.” Laschet is the only candidate who had to make big decisions in the coronavirus pandemic. That's both a strength and a weakness: it has raised his profile, but he has garnered mixed reviews, notably as a vocal advocate of loosening restrictions after the pandemic's first phase.

The CDU as a whole has benefited from the coronavirus crisis, taking a strong poll lead into an unusually uncertain election year thanks to good reviews for Merkel's pandemic leadership. Whether any of these candidates could take those ratings through to the election is uncertain. Saturday's decision won't be the final word on the center-right candidate for chancellor.

That's partly because the CDU is part of the Union bloc, which also includes its sister party, the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union. The two parties will decide together who runs for Merkel's job, though no timetable has been set.

CSU leader Markus Soeder is himself considered a potential candidate. The Bavarian governor has gained in stature during the pandemic as a strong advocate of tough restrictions to curb the coronavirus, and his poll ratings outstrip those of the CDU candidates.

And some consider Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is running to become the CDU's deputy leader under Laschet, a possible contender. Whoever runs will face Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the candidate of the struggling center-left Social Democrats, currently Merkel's junior coalition partner as well as a candidate from the environmentalist Greens, who plan to make their first run for the chancellery.

The CDU leader will be chosen by 1,001 delegates. If no candidate wins a majority, there will be a runoff. Under German law, the online result has to be confirmed by a postal ballot, whose results are expected Jan. 22.

The plan is that only Saturday's winning candidate will be on that ballot. Unity “is the top priority for everyone,” outgoing leader Kramp-Karrenbauer told the dpa news agency. “And it is also my big request to the party.”

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« Reply #44 on: Jan 14, 2021, 04:14 AM »

Ugandans go to polls in election pitting Museveni against pop star MP

Bobi Wine’s challenge to Yoweri Museveni seen as emblem of Africa-wide generation gap
Ugandan presidential candidate and singer Bobi Wine gestures after casting his ballot in the presidential

Emmanuel Akinwotu in Lagos and Samuel Okiror in Kampala
Thu 14 Jan 2021 10.06 GMT

Ugandans are going to the polls on Thursday after one of the most keenly-watched and violent election campaigns in a generation, as the pop star politician Bobi Wine tries to unseat Yoweri Museveni from his 34-year rule.

Delays were seen in the delivery of polling materials in some places, including where Wine voted. After he arrived to the cheers of a crowd and cast his ballot, he made the sign of the cross, then raised his fist and smiled. He said he was “confident” of victory.

Wine, one of nine opposition challengers, has the backing of many young people in Uganda – where the median age is 15.7 – who are drawn to his charismatic, anti-corruption message.

Results are expected within 48 hours of polls closing at 4pm. More than 17 million people are registered voters out of a population of 45 million. A candidate must win more than 50% to avoid a runoff vote.

Many observers see the challenge to Museveni, who at 76 is twice as old as his challenger, as emblematic of a continent-wide generational struggle between ageing leaders who refuse to relinquish power and younger voters mobilising against them.

On Wednesday night the internet was cut, heightening fears of state-backed moves to compromise the election’s integrity, though some Ugandans are using VPNs to communicate online.

Wine’s supporters were violently suppressed during the campaign by security forces loyal to Museveni, whose bid for a sixth term in power was only made possible when MPs changed the constitution to remove age limits. He has repeatedly accused Wine of being a “traitor” planning a foreign-backed insurrection.
From naked protests to challenging Museveni: Uganda’s 'rudest feminist' on the campaign trail

09:52..From naked protests to challenging Museveni: Uganda’s 'rudest feminist' on the campaign trail: https://youtu.be/OrqJTEGHm5c

Helicopters and military tanks have patrolled the skies and empty streets of the capital, Kampala, and other cities in recent days.

More than 55 people died in November after Wine was officially confirmed as a candidate, and he has been detained and prevented from campaigning on multiple occasions. Members of his opposition National Unity Platform party and other opposition figures have been attacked and repeatedly arrested, purportedly because Wine’s rallies are held in breach of Covid-19 restrictions.

On Wednesday, Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, said members of his security detail around his home were ordered to leave. In recent weeks, security forces have aggressively shut down his campaign activities, including dragging him from his car during a press conference last week. In December Wine said his bodyguard had been killed by soldiers. In an interview with the Guardian at the turn of the year he described the campaign as “a war and a battlefield”.

Violence against opposition figures and their supporters is not new, but the extent of the crackdown has been shocking. “The brazenness of the violence is new,” said Lydia Namubiru, a journalist and the Africa editor at Open Democracy. “It’s both because he [Wine] is seen as a threat in the election but also because of what he symbolises.”

On Tuesday, Uganda’s communications regulator ordered internet providers to block all social media platforms and messaging applications until further notice, one day after Facebook announced that it had taken down a network of fake and duplicate accounts linked to the information ministry.

On Wednesday, the US and EU said they would not observe the elections, after several officials were denied accreditation.

Museveni, who took power in 1986, enjoys widespread support, particularly among more conservative, rural and older voters who credit him with economic and healthcare gains and rural development.

“I expect my candidate to win massively,” said Prima Mbazi, wearing the yellow cap of the ruling National Resistance Movement party in Kampala, on the eve of the vote. “Our future is secure in his hands.”

“He has offered free primary and secondary education for all children from families to study; we access health services in hospitals and at least every village has access to electricity. He needs to continue to secure our future,” she said.

On the campaign trail, the memory of mass suffering in the past underscored Museveni’s message of stability and continuity.

“When Museveni speaks, it’s all about how he rescued the country when basic services were non-existent,” said Namubiru. “But people under the age of 35 have only a vague recollection of how things were then, and don’t feel they were liberated. They are growing to become a significant percentage of voters.”

Moreover, Museveni’s message of economic progress jars with a harsh reality, particularly for younger people, more than 80% of whom work in the informal labour market.

Criticisms of political patronage under Museveni’s government have likewise grown in recent years. Elective positions have more than doubled since 2006 to almost 3 million officials – one for every 16 people, according to civil society groups.

In Wakiso in central Kampala earlier this week, 21-year-old Aggrey Mark Tabuswa and a group of Wine supporters rallied passersby on megaphones. “Bobi Wine knows our suffering,” Tabuswa said. “He has passed through difficulties and seen it all in life. He grew up in a slum. He will give us jobs.”

The difficulty of unseating powerful long-term rulers was on sharp display in Uganda’s 2016 election, and expectations of a fair and transparent vote this time around are low.

Gerald Walulya, a lecturer at Makerere University, in Kampala, said the election had been significantly compromised even before polling day. “The candidates have lacked the freedom they require to freely canvas for votes and this has undermined the entire exercise,” he said. “Blocking opposition candidates, harassing them, arresting them and killing their supporters … are likely to discourage some citizens from voting.”

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