Trump tries to leverage power of office to subvert Biden win

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Michigan State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey adjusts his protective face mask as he arrives to meet with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on Nov. 20, 2020. (EUTERS/Leah Millis)
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Recount observers listen to Election Commissioner Tim Posnanski speech during a Milwaukee hand recount of Presidential votes at the Wisconsin Center on Nov. 20, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Recount observers listen to Election Commissioner Tim Posnanski speech during a Milwaukee hand recount of Presidential votes at the Wisconsin Center on Nov. 20, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Updated 21 November 2020

Trump tries to leverage power of office to subvert Biden win

  • Michigan state's Republican leaders unmoved by Trump’s claims of election fraud
  • Former Bush administration official calls Trump’s efforts “the actions of a third-world dictator"

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump sought to leverage the power of the Oval Office on Friday in an extraordinary attempt to block President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, but his pleas to Michigan lawmakers to overturn the will of their constituents appeared to have left them unswayed.
Trump summoned a delegation of the battleground state’s Republican leadership, including the Senate majority leader and House speaker, in an apparent extension of his efforts to persuade judges and election officials to set aside Biden’s 154,000-vote margin of victory and grant Trump the state’s electors. It came amid mounting criticism that Trump’s futile efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election could do long-lasting damage to democratic traditions.
Trump’s efforts extended to other states that Biden carried as well, amounting to an unprecedented attempt by a sitting president to maintain his grasp on power, or in failure, to delegitimize his opponent’s victory in the eyes of his army of supporters.
Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor who has been meticulously chronicling the 2020 race, wrote that there would be “rioting” in the streets if an effort was made to set aside the vote in Michigan, calling it tantamount to an attempted coup.
“We should worry because this is profoundly antidemocratic and is delegitimizing the victory of Joe Biden in a free and fair election,” Hasen wrote on his blog. “It is profoundly depressing we still have to discuss this. But it is extremely unlikely to lead to any different result for president.”

Michigan legislators 'unmoved'
In a joint statement after the White House meeting, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield said allegations of fraud should be investigated but indicated they were unmoved by Trump’s claims thus far.
“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election,” they said.
“The candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes,” they added, saying they used the meeting with Trump to press him for more pandemic aid money for their state.
The president on Friday again falsely claimed victory, declaring as an aside during a White House announcement on drug pricing, “I won, by the way, but you know, we’ll find that out.”
Trump’s roughly hourlong meeting with the Michigan legislators came days after he personally called two local canvassing board officials who had refused to certify the results in Wayne County, Michigan’s most populous county and one that overwhelmingly favored Biden. The two GOP officials eventually agreed to certify the results. But following Trump’s call, they said they had second thoughts.
The Board of State Canvassers is to meet Monday to certify the statewide outcome and it was unclear whether Republican members of that panel would similarly balk.
 

‘Republicans must resist'
Some Trump allies have expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors, as the president and his attorneys have pushed baseless allegations of fraud that have been repeatedly rejected in courtrooms across the country. It was with that in mind that Trump invited the Michigan legislators. He was also said to be considering extending a similar invitation to lawmakers from Pennsylvania.
“The president could be calling Republican legislators and others to the White House to try and squeeze them,” tweeted former Trump national security adviser John Bolton. “Republicans at all levels — state, county, election boards, legislatures — must resist this political pressure.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that the meeting with Michigan officials was “not an advocacy meeting” and insisted Trump “routinely meets with lawmakers from across the country.” But such meetings are in fact rare, particularly as Trump has maintained a low profile since the election.
As he departed Detroit for Washington on Friday morning, Shirkey was swarmed by activists bearing signs that read “Respect the Vote” and “Protect Democracy.”
Chatfield tweeted before the meeting with Trump: “No matter the party, when you have an opportunity to meet with the President of the United States, of course you take it. I won’t apologize for that.”
 

Bound to fail
Trump’s effort to set aside the Michigan vote was sure to fail. Experts on Michigan election law said the Board of State Canvassers’ authority was limited in scope.
“Their duties are to receive the canvass and certify the canvass, that’s it,” said John Pirich, a former assistant attorney general who teaches at Michigan State University College of Law. “They have absolutely no power to investigate allegations, theories or any half-brained kind of arguments that are being thrown around.”
The Michigan Legislature would be called on to select electors if Trump succeeded in persuading the board not to certify the results.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could seek a court order forcing board members to certify the election and could remove those who refused, said Steve Liedel, another election attorney.
Trump’s play for Michigan was among a series of last-ditch tactics in battleground states that his team is using to challenge his defeat. They also have suggested in a legal challenge that Pennsylvania set aside the popular vote there and pressured county officials in Arizona to delay certifying vote tallies. There have been multiple lawsuits in battleground states that have failed so far to reverse any votes.
In two Democratic-leaning counties in Wisconsin that are recounting votes, Trump’s campaign sought to discard tens of thousands of absentee ballots that it alleged should not have been counted.
The objections were twice denied by the three-member Dane County Board of Canvassers on bipartisan votes. Trump was expected to make the same objections in Milwaukee County ahead of a court challenge once the recount concludes.

Likened to a third-world dictator

Former Bush administration official Christine Todd Whitman called Trump’s efforts “the actions of a third-world dictator. It is not who we are as Americans, and we do not want the public coming away from this thinking this is the norm. There is no basis for trying to overturn this.”
The increasingly desperate and erratic moves by Trump and his allies have no reasonable chance of changing the outcome of the 2020 election, in which Biden has now received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history and has clinched the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.
Some Republicans have embraced Trump’s faulty narrative and are helping him spread it. In Georgia, where a hand audit found Biden had still won, Gov. Brian Kemp said a court order made it so he had to certify the results. But he suggested Trump demand a recount and wanted answers to the alleged “irregularities.”
In Minnesota, a state Biden won handily, some GOP officials are now raising concerns over “data abnormalities.”
Biden legal adviser Bob Bauer said Trump’s efforts were harmful to democracy.
“It’s an abuse of office,” he said. “It’s an open attempt to intimidate election officials, it’s absolutely appalling. ... It’s also pathetic.”


India’s vaccine giant Serum Institute warns of supply hit from US raw materials export ban

Updated 22 min 11 sec ago

India’s vaccine giant Serum Institute warns of supply hit from US raw materials export ban

  • Recent invocation of the US Defense Production Act to preserve vaccine raw materials goes against the global goal of sharing vaccines equitably

NEW DELHI: A temporary US ban on exports of critical raw materials could limit the production of coronavirus vaccines by companies such as the Serum Institute of India (SII), its chief executive said in a World Bank panel discussion on Thursday.
SII, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has licensed the AstraZeneca/Oxford University product and will soon start bulk-manufacturing the Novavax shot.
“There are a lot of bags, filters and critical items that manufacturers need,” Adar Poonawalla said. “The Novavax vaccine, which we are a major manufacturer of, needs these items from the US.”
He said the recent invocation of the US Defense Production Act to preserve vaccine raw materials for its own companies went against the global goal of sharing vaccines equitably.
The White House said this week it had used the act to help drugmaker Merck & Co. produce Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“This really needs to be looked at because if they are talking about building capacity all over the world, the sharing of these critical raw materials, which just can’t be replaced in a matter of six months or a year, is going to become a critical limiting factor,” Poonawalla said.
India’s Biological E has tied up with J&J to potentially contract manufacture up to 600 million doses of its vaccine per year. They have signed an initial deal but production volumes have not been agreed upon.


Swiss mull ‘burqa ban’ in vote centering on security, rights

Updated 22 min 8 sec ago

Swiss mull ‘burqa ban’ in vote centering on security, rights

  • The face-covering measure has come to be known colloquially as the “burqa ban.” It would put Switzerland in line with countries like Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures
  • The issue strikes at the intersection of religious freedom, security, the economy and women’s rights

GENEVA: At a time when seemingly everyone in Europe is wearing masks to battle COVID-19, the Swiss go to the polls Sunday to vote on a long-laid proposal to ban face-coverings, both the niqabs and burqas worn by a few Muslim women in the country and the ski masks and bandannas used by protesters.
The issue strikes at the intersection of religious freedom, security, the economy and women’s rights.
Critics say the proposal “Yes to a ban on covering the face” is an ironic throwback to a time not long ago when violent extremism was a greater concern than global pandemic, and say it would unfairly stigmatize Muslims who wear full face-covering burqas or niqabs, which have open slits for the eyes, in Switzerland.
Proponents, including populist, right-wing movements behind the idea, say it’s needed to combat what they consider a sign of the oppression of women and to uphold a basic principle that faces should be shown in a free society like that of the rich Alpine democracy.
The issue is one of three measures on national ballots in the vote culminating Sunday — most voters in Switzerland cast ballots by mail – as part of the latest installment of regular Swiss referendums that give voters a direct say in policymaking.
Other proposals would create an “e-ID” to improve security of online transactions — an idea that has run afoul of privacy advocates — and a free-trade deal with Indonesia, which is opposed by environmentalists who have concerns about palm oil plantations on the archipelago in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The face-covering measure has come to be known colloquially as the “burqa ban.” It would put Switzerland in line with countries like Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures. Two Swiss regions also already have such bans.
One campaign poster presented by the Swiss People’s Party — a populist, right-wing party that is the leading faction in parliament and has strongly backed the measure — features a caricatured image of the scowling eyes of a woman in a burqa above the words: “Stop Islamic Radicalism.”
A coalition of left-leaning parties have put up signs that read: “Absurd. Useless. Islamophobic.”
Support appears to have been eroding, but the vote is expected to be tight. An initial poll for public broadcaster SSR by the gfs.bern agency in January found more than half of voters backed the proposal, but a second poll published on Feb. 24 showed the figures had dipped to under half. Some remain undecided.
The Swiss government opposes the measure, arguing that it could crimp economic development: Most Muslim women who wear such veils in Switzerland are visitors from well-heeled Arabian Gulf states, who are often drawn to bucolic Swiss lakeside cities. The justice minister insists existing laws work just fine.
The measure would make it punishable by fines to cover the face in public in places like restaurants, sports stadiums, public transport or simply walking in the street — though exceptions are made for religious, security and health reasons, as well as for the Swiss traditional Carnival celebrations.
A counter-proposal would require people to show their faces if requested to do so by authorities.
It’s another indication how Switzerland is grappling with security issues and cultures and people from abroad. In the past, Swiss voters have approved a ban on the construction of minarets in the Alpine country whose flag carries the cross.
Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, a researcher who heads the Center for Religious Studies at the University of Lucerne, estimates at most a few dozen Muslim women wear full-face coverings in the country of 8.5 million people, and says the issue is really about Switzerland’s take on religion and ability to “cope with diversity.”


Afghan suspected of stabbing 7 held in custody in Sweden

Updated 05 March 2021

Afghan suspected of stabbing 7 held in custody in Sweden

  • Suspect an asylum-seeker whose residence permit had expired last year

STOCKHOLM: A 22-year-old Afghan man who is suspected of having stabbed seven men in a town in southern Sweden, leaving three of them in critical condition, was remanded in pretrial custody for at least two weeks on Friday.
The Eksjo District Court added that there was a flight risk, Swedish broadcaster SVT said. The suspect, who was not identified under Swedish rules and who faces seven counts of attempted murder, denied any wrongdoing.
“I have done nothing. I was at home,” the suspected shouted at the beginning of the custody hearing and banged his fist on the table, Swedish media reported.
The man, who has Afghan citizenship, was described by Swedish media as an asylum-seeker whose residence permit had expired last year. Local news reports also have said the man had a history of mental health issues. He is known to police for petty crimes.
On Friday, he entered the court room limping after having being shot in the leg by police Wednesday, some 20 minutes after the first calls of an ongoing incident in the small town of Vetlanda, 190 kilometers southeast of Goteborg, Sweden’s second-largest city. Officers who arrested him found a knife in his possession.
Police say there are five crime scenes in the town of 13,000. It appeared that the seven male victims were picked at random. All are stable, according to hospital officials.
At first, police floated the idea that the preliminary investigation could be considered terror-related, but later changed it to attempted murder.


Indian farmers plan major road blockade outside Delhi to mark 100th day of protests

Updated 05 March 2021

Indian farmers plan major road blockade outside Delhi to mark 100th day of protests

  • Tens of thousands have been camped outside New Delhi since December

NEW DELHI: Indian farmers who have been protesting for months against deregulation of produce markets plan to block a major expressway outside New Delhi on Saturday, the 100th day of their campaign, they said.
Tens of thousands have been camped outside Delhi since December, demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeal three farm laws that open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies, which the farmers say will make them vulnerable.
Farmers from the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh plan to stop all traffic on the six-lane Western Peripheral Expressway that forms a ring outside New Delhi for up to five hours, union leaders said on Friday.
“We believe that after these 100 days, our movement will put a moral pressure on the government to accede to our demands, because the weather will also worsen,” said Darshan Pal, spokesperson for the farmer unions’ coalition Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), or United Farmers’ Front. “It will weaken the government, which will have to sit down with us to talk again.”
The government says the reforms will bring investment to the antiquated agriculture markets, and that new entrants would operate alongside government-regulated market yards, where farmers are assured of a minimum price for their produce.
Several rounds of talks between the government and farm leaders have failed and the movement has gained widespread support, including from international celebrities, posing one of the biggest challenges to Modi since he took power in 2014.
As the harvesting season begins this month, Pal said neighbors and friends back in the villages would help tend to farms while he and other farmers carry on the protests.
The capital typically has harsh summers with temperatures rising up to 45 degree Celsius, but Pal said that won’t hinder the movement.
“The laws are like a death warrant to us,” he said. “We are prepared for the long haul.”


One killed as Myanmar police open fire on protesters

Updated 05 March 2021

One killed as Myanmar police open fire on protesters

  • Earlier in the day, a big crowd had marched peacefully through the city

Police opened fire on Friday in the Myanmar city of Mandalay on protesting opponents of a Feb. 1 military coup, killing one person, witnesses and media said.
The young man was shot in the neck and died, media said.
Earlier in the day, a big crowd had marched peacefully through the city chanting: “The stone age is over, we’re not scared because you threaten us.”