FBI probing Trump caravan confrontation with Biden campaign bus in Texas

Supporters President Donald Trump come face-to-face with Biden-Harris campaigners during a Democratic ticket stop at Vera Minter Park in Abilene, Texas, on Oct. 28, 2020.(Ronald W. Erdrich/The Abilene Reporter-News via AP)
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Updated 02 November 2020

FBI probing Trump caravan confrontation with Biden campaign bus in Texas

  • Trump explicitly embraced the action and denounced the FBI for investigating
  • Says the Texas protesters were trying to “protect” the Biden bus

WASHINGTON: The FBI said on Sunday it was investigating an incident in which a convoy of vehicles flying flags in support of President Donald Trump’s re-election bid surrounded a bus carrying campaign staff for Democratic challenger Joe Biden on a Texas highway.
Friday’s incident — captured on video that was retweeted by Trump on Saturday with the message, “I LOVE TEXAS!” — prompted the Biden campaign to cancel at least two of its Texas events as Democrats accused the president of encouraging supporters to engage in acts of intimidation.
Video footage showed a swarm of pickup trucks and SUVs bearing pro-Trump flags surrounding the Biden campaign bus as it traveled north along Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin.
The Biden campaign said the Trump caravan tried to force the bus to slow down and to run it off the road.
One video clip aired on CNN showed a Trump-flagged pickup swerve into the side of another vehicle traveling just behind the bus. The Texas Tribune newspaper reported that the sideswiped vehicle was being driven by a Biden campaign staffer.
During a rally in Michigan, Trump explicitly embraced the action, saying that the Texas protesters were trying to “protect” the Biden bus.

Trump himself tweeted a video of the incident late Saturday, saying, “I LOVE TEXAS.”

And he later slammed the investigation on Twitter, insisting “these patriots did nothing wrong.
“Instead, the FBI & Justice should be investigating the terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA, who run around burning down our Democrat run cities and hurting our people!” he said.
Democratic officials said the bus, carrying state congressional candidate Wendy Davis, stopped its journey and canceled two planned events and a news conference, citing “safety concerns.”
“We’ve never had anything like this — at least we’ve never had a president who thinks it’s a good thing,” Biden told supporters in Philadelphia Sunday.
He added that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, made a video urging backers to “keep it up,” and find where Biden running mate Kamala Harris is and greet her the same way.
“Folks, that’s not who we are. We are so much better than this,” Biden said.
According to the Biden campaign, staff aboard the bus called emergency-911 to report the incident, and local law enforcement responded to the calls and assisted the bus in reaching its destination.
Neither Biden nor his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, was aboard the bus. The Texas Tribune reported that its passengers included Democratic US House of Representatives candidate and former Texas state Senator Wendy Davis.
“FBI San Antonio is aware of the incident and investigating,” special agent Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in San Antonio, told Reuters in an email. “No further information is available at this time.”

Close race in Texas
The highway confrontation came as polls showed an unexpectedly tight race between Biden and Trump in Texas, which has long been a Republican stronghold.
“Rather than engage in productive conversation about the drastically different visions that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have for our country, Trump supporters in Texas instead decided to put our staff, surrogates, supporters and others in harm’s way,” Biden’s Texas campaign spokesman, Tariq Thowfeek, said in a statement. “We’ll see you on November 3rd.”
Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West, in a statement, dismissed media reports of the incident as “more fake news and propaganda,” adding: “Prepare to lose ... stop bothering me.”
Speaking about the Texas bus incident on the campaign trail on Sunday in Philadelphia, Biden called Trump’s endorsement of such actions abnormal and divisive, saying: “We’ve never had anything like this. At least we’ve never had a president who thinks it’s a good thing.”
Commenting during a campaign stop of his own in Michigan on Sunday, Trump said: “Did you see our people yesterday? They were protecting his bus.”
Texas was not the only place where “Trump trains” of supporters forming vehicle convoys have caused consternation. Video footage on social media on Sunday showed vehicles flying pro-Trump flags blocking traffic on the Whitestone Bridge over the East River in New York City’s Bronx borough. 

Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

Updated 16 April 2021

Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

  • Former Officer Derek Chauvin fate will be in a jury’s hands by early next week
  • Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS: Former Officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in George Floyd’s death will be in a jury’s hands by early next week, after his brief defense wrapped up with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand and tell the public for the first time what he was thinking when he pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
Closing arguments are set to begin Monday, after which a racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at a barbed-wire-ringed courthouse in a city on edge – not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb last weekend.
Before the jury was brought in Thursday, Chauvin, his COVID-19 mask removed in a rare courtroom moment, ended weeks of speculation by informing the judge he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Shortly afterward, the defense rested its case, after a total of two days of testimony, compared with two weeks for the prosecution.
Judge Peter Cahill reminded the jurors they will be sequestered starting Monday and said: “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after the 46-year-old Black man was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Bystander video of Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe as bystanders yelled at Chauvin to get off him triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the US
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer, second-degree murder, carries up to 40 years in prison, though state guidelines call for about 12.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because the officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or close to it for 9 1/2 minutes as he lay on the pavement on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
The only time Chauvin has been heard defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ‘cause he’s a sizable guy... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The decision of whether Chauvin should testify carried risks either way.
Taking the stand could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But testifying could have also given the jury the opportunity to look at his unmasked face and see or hear any remorse or sympathy he might feel.
Also, what was going through Chauvin’s mind could be crucial: Legal experts say that an officer who believes his or her life was at risk can be found to have acted legally even if, in hindsight, it turns out there was no such danger.
In one final bit of testimony on Thursday, the prosecution briefly recalled a lung and critical care expert to knock down a defense witness’ theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. Dr. Martin Tobin noted hospital tests that showed Floyd’s level was at most 2 percent, within the normal range.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
The case has unfolded amid days of protests in the adjoining suburb of Brooklyn Center, after Officer Kim Potter, who is white, apparently mistook her gun for a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright. She resigned and was charged with manslaughter.
contributed from Atlanta.

India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

Updated 16 April 2021

India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

  • Total coronavirus cases in India nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States

BENGALURU: India reported a record daily increase of 217,353 COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday.
It was the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days. Total cases reached nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States which has reported more than 31 million infections.
India’s deaths from COVID-19 rose by 1,185 to reach a total of 174,308, the data showed.

Afghan government denies preventing Pakistani delegation from landing in Kabul

Updated 16 April 2021

Afghan government denies preventing Pakistani delegation from landing in Kabul

  • Pakistani lawmakers’ plane turned back after ‘old explosive’ found at airport: Interior ministry
  • Furious Afghan MPs slam government for lost opportunity to open new chapter in Pakistani-Afghan relations

KABUL: The Afghan government has shot down claims that authorities deliberately prevented an aircraft carrying a Pakistani parliamentary delegation from landing in Kabul.

Pakistan National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on April 8 left for the Afghan capital with a nine-member delegation on the invitation of the chairman of Afghanistan’s lower house, Mir Rahman Rahmani, with a view to holding wide-ranging discussions, including on Afghan peace and cross-border trade.

However, his plane was turned back as it was about to descend to Kabul airport, over what was reported to be a security threat.

Tariq Aryan, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, said on Wednesday that at least four other flights were also prevented from landing at the airport that day as officials had to shut the facility to disarm an “an old explosive.”

He told Arab News: “The airport was shut because an explosive was found. There was no other thing.”

The incident led to outrage among Afghan members of parliament, who summoned the chiefs of the country’s security establishment, including the interior minister, for a briefing on the matter.

Sadiq Ahmad Osmani, a lawmaker from Parwan province, told Arab News: “Their reasoning and explanations were not compelling to the lawmakers because they (Pakistani lawmakers) could have been informed about this (security threat) way ahead of the departure of his (Qaiser’s) flight.

“We had full preparations, high protocol for his trip here, but unfortunately the news of the security threat there totally damaged our national hospitality. There are some at the top who had created the problem. It was an improper move,” he said.

Allah Gul Mujahid, a lawmaker from Kabul, said no trips by visiting officials had been canceled in the past 20 years over minor security threats.

Herat lawmaker, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, openly blamed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the cancellation of Qaiser’s visit. Ghani’s office was unavailable for comment.

“He (Ghani) wants to damage further relations between the two countries,” Hanafi said, adding that the visit could have opened a new chapter in Pakistani-Afghan relations.

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

Updated 15 April 2021

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

  • PM Scott Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in line with the US decision to end its military operations there
  • Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Scott Morrison choked back tears as he read the names Thursday of 41 Australians killed in Afghanistan to mark the end of his country’s involvement in the 20-year war.
Speaking at a televised news conference, Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in September in line with the US decision to end its military operations there.
Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, but has only 80 support personnel there today.
Morrison called the decision to leave Afghanistan “a significant milestone in Australia’s military history” that marked the end of a costly chapter for the country’s defense force.
He then read out the names of the 41 Australian soldiers killed in the conflict, halting several times as he choked back sobs, especially when mentioning Brett Till, a 31-year-old sergeant from his own Sydney constituency.
“The loss is great. The sacrifice immense,” he said.
“These brave Australians are among our greatest ever, who have served in the name of freedom.”
While Australia has not had a significant troop presence in Afghanistan in recent years after withdrawing its combat troops in late 2013, the war continues to take a toll and fuel controversy at home.
Veterans groups have pressured the government into launching a formal inquiry into a high number of suicides among Afghan veterans and other ex-servicemen and women.
The military and police are both actively investigating numerous war crimes alleged to have been committed by members of elite Special Air Services soldiers in Afghanistan.

India faces grim battle as daily virus cases top 200,000

Updated 15 April 2021

India faces grim battle as daily virus cases top 200,000

  • New Delhi imposes lockdown after caseload soars from 1,000 to 17,000 in two weeks
  • Hospitals run out of beds, oxygen amid surging infection rates around the country

NEW DELHI: Indian health officials admitted on Thursday that the coronavirus outbreak had taken an unexpected turn with new infections doubling since last week, surging to a daily record of more than 200,000 and overwhelming medical facilities.

Official reports showed 200,739 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday with 1,038 coronavirus-related deaths. Over 14.1 million Indians have contracted the virus since the beginning of the outbreak last year and 173,123 have died as a result.

“We can’t predict what’s going to happen and how the situation will unfold,” Dr. Rajni Kant, of the Indian Council of Medical Research, the government’s apex medical body, told Arab News.

“We don’t know what is the peak and when is the peak,” Kant said, adding that crowding has played a “significant role in spreading the virus.”

A surge in COVID-19 cases in New Delhi from 1,000 in early April to over 17,000 has prompted authorities to impose a weekend lockdown in the capital, with only essential services allowed.

“These restrictions are for your sake. It will be inconvenient, but it is necessary to break the chain of transmission,” New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told a press conference on Thursday.

As medical facilities are overwhelmed by the rapid rise in infections, the capital city’s administration has converted 23 hotels and banquet halls into temporary hospitals.

Crematoriums in the city are also struggling with a sharp rise in coronavirus deaths.

“We are now receiving more COVID-19-affected bodies than before and in the last week the sudden surge has burdened us,” Ram Pal Mishra, of Dayanand Muktidham Cremation Ground and Electric Crematorium in New Delhi, told Arab News.

The situation in neighboring Uttar Pradesh is also grim, with India’s largest state on Thursday becoming the second worst performer in the country with over 20,000 cases, after the state of Maharashtra, which makes up a quarter of India’s coronavirus tally.

The Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday announced an 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. night curfew.

“The situation in the state is critical, but we are trying to manage,” Communicable Disease Department Director Dr. Ashok Kumar Paliwal said.

“We are trying to boost the infrastructure and boost medical facilities,” he told Arab News. “People need to cooperate in containing the virus.”

Business communities in the state capital of Lucknow decided on Thursday to voluntarily shut down the city’s markets for three days.

“We have already lost more than 50 businessmen since February in the absence of proper medical and testing facilities. We can’t afford to lose more,” Amarnath Mishra, of the Lucknow Business Association, told Arab News.

“It’s a very grim situation and we cannot continue like this,” he said.

The western Indian state of Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, is also in badly affected.

Hospitals in Ahmedabad, the main city, are running out of beds and patients have to wait hours in ambulances outside medical facilities to be admitted.

“In Gujarat the situation is bad, especially in Ahmedabad,” Ahmedabad Medical Association President Dr. Mona Desai said. “Infections are spreading very fast, hardly any beds are available, there is waiting in ICUs and a shortage of oxygen.”

She added: “We are in a hopeless state. The situation is getting worse.”

Leading Indian epidemiologist Dr. T. Jacob John blames the Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela for the surge in coronavirus cases.

Several million Hindus have gathered to take a ritual dip in the Ganges River in Haridwar city in the northern state of Uttarakhand since April 1, as officials struggle to impose safety measures.

The month-long festival takes place every 12 years and its venue is chosen among four cities: Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain.

According to social activist Anoop Nautiyal, of the Development for Communities Foundation, most of the COVID-19 cases in the state are emerging near the Kumbh Mela venue in Haridwar.

“Ground reports and pictures show widespread violation of COVID-19 protocols, raising speculation that it might become a super spreader,” he said.