Combative Trump insists pandemic almost over, Biden says he did ‘nothing’

1 / 3
The dual town halls of US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are seen on television monitors at Luv Child restaurant ahead of the election in Tampa, Florida, on October 15, 2020. (REUTERS/Octavio Jones)
2 / 3
Police arrests a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden prior of US President Donald Trump NBC News town hall event at the Perez Art Museum in Miami on Oct. 15, 2020. (AFP / CHANDAN KHANNA)
3 / 3
Supporters of Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden gather outside Perez Art Museum before the arrival of President Donald Trump for a town hall in Miami, Florida, on October 15, 2020. (REUTERS/Marco Bello)
Short Url
Updated 19 October 2020

Combative Trump insists pandemic almost over, Biden says he did ‘nothing’

  • Biden denounced Trump’s handling ofCOVID-19, which has claimed more than 215,000 American lives
  • Angry and combative, Trump refused to denounce the QAnon conspiracy group — and only testily did so on white supremacists

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump delivered a combative defense on Thursday of his Covid-19 response while election challenger Joe Biden — offering a glaring contrast in style in a rival town hall — accused him of doing “nothing” to end the pandemic.
The dueling appearances, scheduled at the same time on rival television networks, showed Biden giving unflashy, empathetic, often in-depth answers to voters in the audience, while Trump delivered a fiery, sometimes agitated defense of his presidency.
Trump, who trails in the polls ahead of the November 3 election, was especially under pressure about the coronavirus that has killed over 217,000 Americans and inflicted deep economic damage.
“We’re rounding the corner,” Trump insisted with his usual optimism, even as swaths of the United States see sharply rising caseloads.
But pressed by the host of the NBC town hall in Miami, he became quickly frustrated, especially when asked about his previous lukewarm denunciations of extremist rightwing groups in the country.
He notably refused to denounce QAnon, a conspiracy theory movement that claims Trump is waging a secret war against a global liberal cult of Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
“I know nothing about QAnon,” Trump said, and then continued to praise the shadowy group’s position being “very much against pedophilia.”
The president entered calmer waters when fielding a series of more comfortable questions from members of the audience, one of whom sparked applause by telling Trump: “You have a great smile.”

'Bipartisan healing'

By contrast, Biden’s appearance on rival network ABC mirrored his steady and generally low-key campaign, with promises of bipartisan healing in divided Washington and aiming steady fire on Trump’s coronavirus record.
“We’re in a situation where we have 210,000 plus people dead and what’s he doing? Nothing. He’s still not wearing masks,” Biden said of Trump at the event in Philadelphia.
His standout comments at a time of profound political conflict in the country were when he vowed to improve the atmosphere, saying “grudges don’t work.”
“We’ve got to change the nature of the way we deal with one another,” Biden said.
“If I’m elected president, the first thing — and not a joke... I’m going to pick up the phone and call them and say, ‘Let’s get together.’“
Biden repeatedly came back to the theme of unity, saying he would be president to all Americans including those who voted against him.
“We’ve got to heal this nation,” he said. “If I’m elected president you’ll not hear me race baiting, you’ll not hear me dividing, I’ll be trying to unify.”
In a gesture to those in the audience, Biden stayed on stage for some 30 minutes after the town hall ended so he could answer more questions.

Running out of time
Originally, both candidates were meant to meet Thursday for what would have been their second of three presidential debates.
The first was a brutal affair in which Trump repeatedly talked over Biden and the Democrat told him to “shut up.”
The follow-up was scrapped after organizers switched to a virtual format, citing Trump’s coronavirus infection, and the president refused to accept the arrangement.
Trump, who says he is clear of Covid-19 and returned to the campaign trail Monday, has rallies booked in battleground states every night this week.
He predicted to supporters in North Carolina earlier Thursday that Biden would be given an easier time on ABC.
“I’m being set up tonight,” he said.
The decision by NBC to accept a Trump appearance at the same time as Biden’s town hall likely meant that few Americans would get to see and contrast both men.
With only 19 days until the election, Trump is now running out of time to overtake Biden.
Even a close ally to Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham, said Thursday Biden may be on his way to victory.
“You all have a good chance of winning the White House,” he told Democratic colleagues at a hearing on Trump’s conservative Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Trump and Biden hold their final debate October 22, and Biden said that out of “decency” he expects both men will get coronavirus tests beforehand.

Kamala Harris
Despite Trump’s insistence that the pandemic is in the rear view mirror, it continues to disrupt the election.
Following Trump’s temporary time out recovering, Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris has put her own travel on hold after her communications director and a flight crew member tested positive.
Harris did not need to quarantine, the campaign said, but “out of an abundance of caution” would suspend in-person campaigning until October 19.
Biden has reported multiple negative coronavirus tests since Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis on October 1, the latest on Thursday.
The campaign said that yet another person who tested positive had traveled on Biden’s plane this week but had been so far away that the candidate was in no danger and doctors said “there is no need” for him to quarantine.
 


Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

Updated 53 min 50 sec ago

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

  • In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements

BRUSSELS: An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.
The case shines another uncomfortable light on Iran’s international activities just as it hopes to ease tensions with the United States after President Donald Trump tore up the 2015 nuclear deal signed by both countries and other world powers.
It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.
In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements.
Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organized a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.
Several well-known international figures — including former US and British officials and Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.
On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.
The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.
All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.
Assadi was arrested while he was traveling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.
Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.


Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.
The two men deny any connection.
“We are looking at a clear case of state terrorism,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.
Dimitri de Beco, defense counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.
According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.
“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.
At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration.
When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.
That idea was dismissed by observers like Nicoullaud as a smokescreen. “It’s not serious,” he said.
The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.