US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats

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The USNS Big Horn American supply ship docks near a shipyard in what used to be America's largest overseas naval base at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in the Philippines on Feb. 6, 2023. (AP)
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Vehicles pass by one of the gates of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, which used to be America's largest overseas naval base in the Philippines on Feb. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
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Filipino leftist activists rally outside Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military headquarters, on Feb. 2, 2023 in protests against the visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. (AP)
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A view of abandoned concrete structures called "Quonset huts" formerly used as barracks for US Marines in what used to be America's largest overseas naval base at the Subic Bay, Philippines. (AP)
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Updated 09 February 2023
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US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats

  • The Philippine Constitution prohibits permanent basing of foreign troops in the country but allows temporary visits by foreign troops under security pacts

SUBIC BAY, Philippines: Once-secret ammunition bunkers and barracks lay abandoned, empty and overrun by weeds — vestiges of American firepower in what used to be the United States’ largest overseas naval base at Subic Bay in the northern Philippines.
But that may change in the near future.
The US has been taking steps to rebuild its military might in the Philippines more than 30 years after the closure of its large bases in the country and reinforcing an arc of military alliances in Asia in a starkly different post-Cold War era when the perceived new regional threat is an increasingly belligerent China.
On Feb. 2, the longtime allies announced that rotating batches of American forces would be granted access to four more Philippine military camps aside from five other local bases, where US-funded constructions have picked up pace to build barracks, warehouses and other buildings to accommodate a yet-unspecified but expectedly considerable number of visiting troops under a 2014 defense pact.
Manila-based political scientist Andrea Chloe Wong said the location of the Philippine camps would give the US military the presence it would need to be a “strong deterrent against Chinese aggression” in the South China Sea, where China, the Philippines and four other governments have had increasingly tense territorial rifts — as well as a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which Beijing views as its own territory to be brought under Chinese control, by force if necessary.
Around the former US Navy base in Subic, now a bustling commercial freeport and tourism destination northwest of Manila, news of the Philippine government’s decision to allow an expanded American military presence rekindled memories of an era when thousands of US sailors pumped money, life and hope into the neighboring city of Olongapo.

“Olongapo was like Las Vegas then,” Filipino businessman AJ Saliba told The Associated Press in an interview in his foreign currency exchange and music shop along what used to be Olongapo’s garish red-light strip.
“Noisy as early as noon with neon lights turned on and the Americans roaming around. Women were everywhere. Jeepney drivers, tricycles, restaurants, bars, hotels — everybody was making money — so if they will return, my God, you know, that’ll be the best news,” he said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during his visit in Manila last week that Washington was not trying to reestablish permanent bases, but that the agreement to broaden its military presence under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was “a big deal.”
Visiting American military personnel could engage the Philippine military in larger joint combat-readiness trainings, provide help in responding rapidly to disasters and press efforts to help modernize Manila’s armed forces, Austin and his Philippine counterpart Carlito Galvez Jr. said.
“This is part of our effort to modernize our alliance, and these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Austin said at a news conference in Manila.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said the US military’s strengthening in the region was escalating tensions and risking peace and stability.
“Regional countries need to remain vigilant and avoid being coerced or used by the US,” Mao told reporters Feb. 2 at a briefing in Beijing.
Austin and Galvez did not reveal the four new locations where the Americans would be granted access and allowed to preposition weapons and other equipment. The Philippine defense chief said local officials, where the Americans would stay, had to be consulted.
In November, then-Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro disclosed that the sites included the strategic Subic Bay, where the Navy base was once a boon to the local economy. But two senior Philippine officials told the AP that Subic, where a Philippine navy camp is located, was not among the current list of sites where Washington has sought access for its forces, although they suggested that could change as talks were continuing. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Subic freeport administrator Rolen Paulino said he has not been notified by the government that the former American naval base has been designated as a potential site for visiting US forces.
A renewed US military presence at Subic, however, would generate more jobs and raise additional freeport revenues at a crucial time when many Filipinos and businesses are still struggling to recover from two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and an economic recession wrought by coronavirus outbreaks, Paulino said.
“I see them as tourists,” he said of the US forces whose presence could boost economic recovery.
About the size of Singapore, the former American Navy base at Subic with its deep harbors, a ship repair yard and huge warehouses had been used to support the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and ′70s. It was shut down and transformed into a commercial freeport and recreational complex in 1992 after the Philippine Senate rejected an extension of US lease.
A year earlier, the US Air Force withdrew from Clark Air Base near Subic after nearby Mount Pinatubo roared back to life in the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century and belched ash on the air base and outlying regions.

The American flag was lowered for the final time and the last batch of American sailors left Subic in November 1992, ending nearly a century of American military presence in the Philippines that began in 1898 when the US seized the archipelago in a new colonial era after Spain held the Southeast Asian nation as a colony for more than three centuries. Washington granted independence on July 4, 1946, but maintained military bases and facilities, including Subic.
China’s seizure in the mid-1990s of Mischief Reef, a coral outcrop within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines that extends into the South China Sea, “provided the first hint that the allies may have been too quick to downgrade their relationship,” said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Philippine Constitution prohibits permanent basing of foreign troops in the country and their involvement in local combat but allows temporary visits by foreign troops under security pacts such as the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and a 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement.
The 1998 agreement allowed a large number of American forces to be deployed in the southern Philippines to help provide combat training and intelligence to Filipino forces battling the then-Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, which was blamed for deadly bombings and mass kidnappings for ransom, including three Americans — one of whom was beheaded and another shot and killed in a Philippine army rescue. The third survived.
There is still, however, domestic opposition to a US presence in the Philippines, which left-wing groups have criticized as neo-colonialism, reinforced by the 2014 killing of a Filipino transgender woman by a US Marine, Wong said.
Governor Manuel Mamba of northern Cagayan province, where Bacarro said the US has reportedly sought access for its forces in two local military encampments, vowed to oppose such an American military presence. Cagayan, located on the northern tip of the main Luzon island, lies across a narrow sea border from Taiwan, the Taiwan Strait and southern China.
“It’ll be very dangerous for us. If they stay here, whoever is their enemy will become our enemy,” Mamba told the AP by telephone, adding the Philippines could be targeted by nuclear weapons if the conflict over Taiwan boils over.
“You cannot really remove any presumption by anyone that the Philippines has a nuclear capability through the Americans, who will be here,” Mamba said.


Shehbaz Sharif becomes prime minister of Pakistan, nation politically divided and in economic crisis

Updated 12 min 34 sec ago
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Shehbaz Sharif becomes prime minister of Pakistan, nation politically divided and in economic crisis

  • New PM will have to tackle tough opposition, maintain relations with army and fix security and financial problems
  • Lowering political temperatures will be key challenge for Sharif as ex-PM Khan maintains mass support in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s newly elected lower house of parliament on Sunday elected Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister for a second time, putting him back in a role he had stepped down from ahead of general elections on Feb. 8. 

Sharif, the candidate for his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and coalition allies, secured a comfortable win over Omar Ayub Khan of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) backed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of jailed former PM Imran Khan. 

Elections last month threw up a hung National Assembly and have been followed by weeks of protests by opposition parties over allegations of rigging and vote count fraud. 

In his first speech as PM, Sharif, 72, spoke of Pakistan’s burgeoning debt, saying it would be his government’s top priority to solve the economic struggles of the nation of 241 million people. 

“The parliament that we are sitting in, even the expenses of its proceedings are being paid through loans … Your salary and the salaries of all these people are being paid through loans,” the new PM said, as PML-N lawmekers cheered and opposition members chanted slogans against the leader of the house. 

“We will make Pakistan great and raise our heads high and move forward.”

Sharif, the younger brother of former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, played a key role in keeping together a coalition of disparate parties for 16 months after parliament voted Imran Khan out of office in April 2022, and in securing a last gasp International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout deal in 2023. 

 

“CHALLENGES” 

Independent candidates backed by Khan gained the most seats, 93, after the elections, but the PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of the Bhutto dynasty agreed to an alliance to form a coalition government on Feb. 20. No single party won a majority.

The Sunni Ittehad Council backed by Khan alleges that the election was rigged against it and has called for an audit of the polls. Lowering political temperatures will thus be a key challenge for Sharif as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy.

Sharif’s main role will also be to maintain ties with the military, which has directly or indirectly dominated Pakistan since independence. Unlike his elder brother, who has had a rocky relationship with the military in all his three terms, the younger Sharif is considered more acceptable and compliant by the generals, most independent analysts say.

For several years, the military has denied it interferes in politics. But it has in the past directly intervened to topple civilian governments three times, and no prime minister has finished a full five-year term since independence in 1947.

Sharif also takes over a time when the new government will need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the IMF. The current IMF program expires this month. A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth. 

Inflation touched a high of 38 percent with record depreciation of the rupee currency under Sharif’s last government, mainly due to structural reforms necessitated by the IMF program. Pakistan continues to be enmeshed in economic crisis with inflation remaining high, hovering around 30 percent, and economic growth slowing to around 2 percent.

Other big moves by Sharif will include the privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The Sharifs have close ties with rulers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which could help in securing investments in several projects Pakistan has lately showcased for sale.

Although defense and key foreign policy decisions are largely influenced by the military, Sharif will have to juggle relations with the US and China, both major allies. He is also faced with dealing with fraying ties with three of Pakistan’s four neighbors, India, Iran and Afghanistan.

Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which Sharif’s government will have to immediately tackle. 

“There are certainly difficulties but nothing is impossible if there is a will to do,” Sharif said in his maiden speech. 

“It is a long journey, thorny journey, full of hurdles but those nations who surmounted these huge obstacles, they became again, one of the most growing nations around the world.”

“CAN DO ADMINISTRATOR” 

Sharif, born in the eastern city of Lahore, belongs to a wealthy Kashmiri-origin family that was in the steel business. He started his political career as the chief minister of Punjab in 1997 with a signature “can-do” administrative style. Cabinet members and bureaucrats who have worked closely with him call him a workaholic.

As chief minister, the younger Sharif planned and executed a number of ambitious infrastructure mega-projects, including Pakistan’s first modern mass transport system in Lahore.

He was caught up in the national political upheaval when his brother was ousted from the premiership by a military coup in 1999 and he went into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Sharif entered the national political scene again when he became the chief of the PML-N after the elder Sharif was found guilty in 2017 on charges of concealing assets related to the Panama Papers revelations. The Sharifs have been emboriled in multiple corruption cases over the decades, which they say are politically motivated. 

Married twice, Shehbaz Sharif has two sons and two daughters from his first marriage. Only one of his sons, Hamza, is in politics and was briefly CM of Punjab in 2023.

With inputs from Reuters


A party like no other? Asia’s richest man celebrates son’s prenuptials with a star-studded bash

Updated 03 March 2024
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A party like no other? Asia’s richest man celebrates son’s prenuptials with a star-studded bash

  • Tycoons from around the world, heads of state and celebrities arrived in Jamnagar for Anant Ambani’s big fat wedding
  • Ambani family has a tradition of throwing lavish and over-the-top parties while displaying family’s political and economic clout

NEW DELHI: What happens when the son of Asia’s richest man is about to get married?
His father throws a three-day prenuptial bash four months before the actual ceremony.
Tycoons from around the world, heads of state, as well as Hollywood and Bollywood stars descended on the small western Indian city of Jamnagar on Friday where billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani is kickstarting a big fat wedding celebration for his youngest son.

This handout photograph taken and released by Reliance on March 1, 2024, shows Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg (L) with his wife Priscilla Chan attending a three-day pre-wedding celebration hosted by billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani, for his son Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant in Jamnagar. (AFP)


The nearly 1,200-person guest list includes pop superstar Rihanna, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sunder Picha, Ivanka Trump and Bollywood celebrity Shah Rukh Khan.
All eyes are on Anant Ambani, 28, and his long-time girlfriend Radhika Merchant, 29, who will tie the knot in July. Radhika is the daughter of Viren Merchant, CEO of Encore Healthcare Pvt. Ltd., and entrepreneur Shaila Merchant.
Such festivities keep up with the Ambani family’s tradition of lavish and over-the-top parties while displaying the Indian billionaire’s economic and political clout.

This handout photograph taken and released by Reliance on March 1, 2024, shows Ivanka Trump (2R), daughter of US' former president Donald Trump with husband Jared Kushner (L), a White House adviser under Trump attending a three-day pre-wedding celebration hosted by billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani (R), for his son Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant in Jamnagar. (AFP)


Here is everything you need to know about the family and the prenuptial bash that captivated the country.
WHO IS MUKESH AMBANI?
Mukesh Ambani, 66, is currently the world’s 10th richest man with a net worth of $115bn, according to Forbes. He is also the richest person in Asia.
His Reliance Industries is a massive conglomerate, reporting over $100 billion in annual revenue, with interests ranging from petrochemicals, and oil and gas to telecoms and retail.

This handout photograph taken and released by Reliance on March 1, 2024, shows director at Reliance's new energy business and Reliance Foundation Anant Ambani (R), son of billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani, with his fiancée Radhika Merchant addressing guests during their three-day pre-wedding celebration in Jamnagar. (AFP)


Under Ambani’s leadership, Reliance — founded by his father in 1966 — sparked a telecom price war with the launch of the 4G phone and broadband service Jio in 2016. Today, it has more than 420 million subscribers and offers 5G services. Earlier this week, Disney struck an $8.5bn deal to merge its India business with Ambani’s Reliance Industries, forming a new media giant.
The Ambani family owns, among other assets, a 27-story private apartment building, named Antila, worth $1 billion in Mumbai. It has three helipads, a 160-car garage, a private movie theater, a swimming pool, and a fitness center.
Ambani’s critics say his company has flourished mainly because of political connections during the Congress governments in the 1970s and 80s and subsequently under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule after 2014. They say “crony capitalism” in India has helped certain corporations, such as Ambani’s, thrive.
Mukesh Ambani, 66, has started passing the torch to his two sons and daughter. The oldest son, Akash Ambani, is now chairperson of Reliance Jio; his daughter, Isha, oversees retail; and the youngest, Anant — who will wed in July— has been inducted into the new energy business.
DO YOU WANT A PARTY LIKE NO OTHER? THE AMBANIS HAVE YOUR BACK
Extravagant parties are the Ambanis’ specialty.
In 2018, when his daughter married, Ambani made the headlines because of the grand celebrations, with pop sensation Beyoncé performing at the pre-wedding festivities. At the time, Former US Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were among those who rubbed shoulders with Indian celebrities and Bollywood stars in the western Indian city of Udaipur.

Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani (R) with wife Nita Ambani attends the wedding reception his daughter Isha Ambani (2nd R) who wedded Anand Piramal (R), son of Indian billionaire industrialist Ajay Piramal, in Mumbai on December 14, 2018. (AFP)


Later that year, the happy couple, Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal, officially celebrated their engagement overlooking the picturesque Lake Como in Italy. In December 2018, they got married at the Ambani residence in Mumbai.
WHAT IS SO FASCINATING ABOUT THE PRE-WEDDING SHINDIG?
The three-day pre-wedding bash offers a glimpse of the opulence expected at the July wedding.
The Ambanis are celebrating it at the family’s hometown of Jamnagar — a city of around 600,000 in a near-desert part of Gujarat state — where they also have the business’ main oil refinery.
Guests will don jungle-themed outfits to visit an animal rescue center run by the groom-to-be, Anant. Known as “Vantara,” or “Star Of The Forest,” the 3,000-acre (about 1,200-hectare) center houses abused, injured and endangered animals, particularly elephants.

This handout photograph taken and released by Reliance on March 1, 2024, shows Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan (C) with his wife and actress Kareena Kapoor Khan (2L) upon their arrival at Jamnagar Airport in Jamnagar, to attend a three-day pre-wedding celebration hosted by billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani, for his son Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant. (AFP)


The invitation also says guests will start each day with a new dress code, with mood boards and an army of hair stylists, makeup artists and Indian wear designers at their hotel to help them prepare.
There will also be traditional Hindu ceremonies in a temple complex.
The guests, many arriving by chartered planes, will be served 500 dishes created by around 100 chefs.
The guest list also includes Mohammed Bin Jassim al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar; Stephen Harper, former Canadian prime minister; and Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema.
On Wednesday, the Ambani family organized a community food service for 51,000 people living in nearby villages. 


Trump wins caucuses in Missouri and Idaho and sweeps Michigan GOP convention

Updated 03 March 2024
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Trump wins caucuses in Missouri and Idaho and sweeps Michigan GOP convention

  • Trump earned every delegate at stake on Saturday, bringing his count to 244 compared to 24 for former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
  • March 5 is Super Tuesday, when 16 states will hold primaries, the largest day of voting of the year outside of the November election

COLUMBIA, Missouri: Former President Donald Trump continued his march toward the GOP nomination on Saturday, winning caucuses in Idaho and Missouri and sweeping the delegate haul at a party convention in Michigan.

Trump earned every delegate at stake on Saturday, bringing his count to 244 compared to 24 for former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. A candidate needs to secure 1,215 delegates to clinch the Republican nomination.
The next event on the Republican calendar is Sunday in the District of Columbia. Two days later is Super Tuesday, when 16 states will hold primaries on what will be the largest day of voting of the year outside of the November election. Trump is on track to lock up the nomination days later.
The steep odds facing Haley were on display in Columbia, Missouri, where Republicans gathered at a church to caucus.
Seth Christensen stood on stage and called on them to vote for Haley. He wasn’t well received.
Another caucusgoer shouted out from the audience: “Are you a Republican?”
An organizer quieted the crowd and Christensen finished his speech. Haley went on to win just 37 of the 263 Republicans in attendance in Boone County.
Here’s a look at Saturday’s contests:
MICHIGAN

Michigan Republicans at their convention in Grand Rapids began allocating 39 of the state’s 55 GOP presidential delegates. Trump won all 39 delegates allocated.
But a significant portion of the party’s grassroots force was skipping the gathering because of the lingering effects of a monthslong dispute over the party’s leadership.
Trump handily won Michigan’s primary this past Tuesday with 68 percent of the vote compared with Haley’s 27 percent.
Michigan Republicans were forced to split their delegate allocation into two parts after Democrats, who control the state government, moved Michigan into the early primary states, violating the national Republican Party’s rules.
MISSOURI
Voters lined up outside a church in Columbia, home to the University of Missouri, before the doors opened for the caucuses. Once they got inside, they heard appeals from supporters of the candidates.
“Every 100 days, we’re spending $1 trillion, with money going all over the world. Illegals are running across the border,” Tom Mendenall, an elector for Trump in 2016 and 2020, said to the crowd. He later added: “You know where Donald Trump stands on a lot of these issues.”
Christensen, a 31-year-old from Columbia who came to the caucus with his wife and three children age 7, 5, and 2, then urged Republicans to go in a new direction.
“I don’t need to hear about Mr. Trump’s dalliances with people of unsavory character, nor do my children,” Christensen said to the room. “And if we put that man in the office, that’s what we’re going to hear about all the time. And I’m through with it.”
Supporters quickly moved to one side of the room or the other, depending on whether they favored Trump or Haley. There was little discussion between caucusgoers after they chose a side.
This year was the first test of the new system, which is almost entirely run by volunteers on the Republican side.
The caucuses were organized after GOP Gov. Mike Parson signed a 2022 law that, among other things, canceled the planned March 12 presidential primary.
Lawmakers failed to reinstate the primary despite calls to do so by both state Republican and Democratic party leaders. Democrats will hold a party-run primary on March 23.
Trump prevailed twice under Missouri’s old presidential primary system.
IDAHO
Last year, Idaho lawmakers passed cost-cutting legislation that was intended to move all the state’s primaries to the same date in May. But the bill inadvertently eliminated the presidential primaries entirely.
The Republican-led Legislature considered holding a special session to reinstate the presidential primaries but failed to agree on a proposal in time, leaving both parties with presidential caucuses as the only option.
“I think there’s been a lot of confusion because most people don’t realize that our Legislature actually voted in a flawed bill,” said Jessie Bryant, who volunteered at a caucus site near downtown Boise. “So the caucus is really just the best-case scenario to actually get an opportunity to vote for a presidential candidate and nominate them for the GOP.”
One of those voters was John Graves, a fire protection engineer from Boise. He said the caucus was fast and easy, not much different from Idaho’s usual Republican primary. He anticipated the win would go to Trump.
“It’s a very conservative state, so I would think that Trump will probably carry it quite easily,” Graves said. “And I like that.”
The Democratic caucuses aren’t until May 23.
The last GOP caucuses in Idaho were in 2012, when about 40,000 of the state’s nearly 200,000 registered Republican voters showed up to select their preferred


Trump escalates his immigration rhetoric with baseless claim about Biden trying to overthrow the US

Updated 03 March 2024
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Trump escalates his immigration rhetoric with baseless claim about Biden trying to overthrow the US

  • “Biden’s conduct on our border is by any definition a conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America,” Trump said in a campaign rally
  • Trump conjured images of Biden turning “public schools into migrant camps” and “the USA into a crime-ridden, disease-ridden dumping ground, which is what they’re doing."

GREENSBORO, North Carolina: Former President Donald Trump on Saturday further escalated his immigration rhetoric and baselessly accused President Joe Biden of waging a “conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America” as he campaigned ahead of Super Tuesday’s primaries.

Trump has a long history of trying to turn attack lines back on his rivals in an attempt to diminish their impact. Biden has cast Trump as a threat to democracy, pointing to the former president’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Those efforts culminated in the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as his supporters tried to halt the peaceful transition of power.
Trump, who has responded by calling Biden “the real threat to democracy” and alleged without proof that Biden is responsible for the indictments he faces, turned to Biden’s border policies on Saturday, charging that “every day Joe Biden is giving aid and comfort to foreign enemies of the United States.”
“Biden’s conduct on our border is by any definition a conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America,” he went on to say in Greensboro, North Carolina. “Biden and his accomplices want to collapse the American system, nullify the will of the actual American voters and establish a new base of power that gives them control for generations.”
Similar arguments have long been made by people who allege Democrats are promoting illegal immigration to weaken the power of white voters — part of a racist conspiracy, once confined to the far right, claiming there is an intentional push by the US liberal establishment to systematically diminish the influence of white people.
Trump leaned into the theory again at his rally later in Virginia, saying of the migrants: “They’re trying to sign them up to get them to vote in the next election.”
“Once again Trump is projecting in an attempt to distract the American people from the fact he killed the fairest and toughest border security bill in decades because he believed it would help his campaign. Sad,” Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said in a statement.
Trump’s rally came three days before Super Tuesday, with elections in 16 states, including North Carolina and Virginia, where Trump held a rally Saturday evening. The primaries will be the largest day of voting of the year ahead of November’s general election, which is shaping up as a likely rematch of 2020 between Trump and Biden.
Nikki Haley, Trump’s last major rival, also campaigned in North Carolina. Speaking to reporters after her event in Raleigh, about 80 miles away, the former UN ambassador demurred on her plans after Super Tuesday.
“We’re going to keep going and we’re going to keep pushing,” she said, arguing a majority of Americans don’t want either Biden or Trump as the nation’s leader.
Much of Trump’s speech in North Carolina focused on the slew of criminal charges he faces. While the former president has successfully harnessed his legal woes into a powerful rallying cry in the primaries, it is unclear how his message of grievance will resonate with the more moderate voters who will likely decide the general election.
“I stand before you today not only as your past and hopefully future president, but as a proud political dissident and a public enemy of a rogue regime,” Trump said, railing against what he called an “anti-Democratic machine.”
At both rallies, Trump played a recording of “Justice for All,” the version of the Star-Spangled Banner that he collaborated on with a group of defendants jailed over their alleged roles in the January 2021 insurrection, whom he refers to as “hostages.”
As he focuses on the general election, Trump has painted an apocalyptic vision of the country under Biden, particularly on the topic of immigration, which was the animating issue of his 2016 campaign and which he has once again seized on as the US has experienced a record influx of migrants at the border.
Trump and Biden both visited the US-Mexico border on Thursday to highlight their contrasting approaches to the issue.
On Saturday, Trump conjured images of Biden turning “public schools into migrant camps” and “the USA into a crime-ridden, disease-ridden dumping ground, which is what they’re doing.” He also spoke at length about the murder of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student whose alleged killer is a Venezuelan man who entered the US illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case.
Studies have found native-born US residents are more likely to have been arrested for violent crimes than people in the country illegally, but Trump has seized on several high-profile incidents, including a recent video of a group of migrants brawling with police in Times Square.
“Not one more innocent American life should be lost to migrant crime,” Trump said.
Beyond their importance on Super Tuesday, North Carolina and Virginia are both states the Trump campaign is focused on for November.
Trump won North Carolina twice but watched his margin of victory shrink. Biden’s reelection campaign already has staff on the ground hoping to flip the state for the first time since 2008.
Virginia, meanwhile, had once been a swing state but for years has trended blue and Trump lost there twice. But a Trump campaign senior adviser told reporters Saturday that he believes “we could make Virginia competitive.”
In North Carolina, a festive atmosphere surrounded the Greensboro Coliseum Complex ahead of Trump’s rally. Supporters stood in a line that snaked through a web of metal barricades and extended hundreds of yards from the arena. License plates from North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee filled the parking lot, where Trump flags flew alongside US and Confederate flags on many vehicles.
“We just love Trump,” said, Mary Welborn, who lives in nearby Thomasville and expressed that she was frustrated by the criminal prosecutions and civil judgments against the former president. “The way he’s being treated is insane. No other president has been treated this way,” she said.
After the rally, several attendees praised Trump’s hard line on immigration.
“We look like fools around the world with the border just wide open,” said Samuel Welborn of Thomasville.
“My biggest concern is that my kids are not going to have the same country that I grew up in,” added his wife, Mary. “It’s just a different time.”
In Richmond, supporters started lining up Saturday morning for an evening rally at a downtown convention center. The entry lines stretched several blocks by mid-afternoon, and supporters booed as a vehicle with a Haley campaign ad circled the building.
David McDaniel of nearby Chester said the country had gone downhill since Trump left office and that he’d personally struggled.
McDaniel, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, said he had to shut down a construction business he owned due to rising costs for materials and gas.
“The fuel prices just ran us out,” said McDaniel, 32. “So we need Trump to get back in so we can open it back up.”


Zelensky calls for more Western air defense systems to ‘save lives’

Rescuers work at a site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a drone strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa.
Updated 02 March 2024
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Zelensky calls for more Western air defense systems to ‘save lives’

  • Kyiv has admitted it is heavily outgunned and outnumbered, facing ammunition shortages

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday urged the West to deliver more air defense systems after at least six people were killed in the latest Russian strikes.

Overnight aerial attacks claimed four lives in the southern port city of Odesa, including a three-year-old child, while shelling killed one person in the Kharkiv region near the Russian border and another in the southern frontline Kherson region, Ukrainian officials said.
“Russia continues to hit civilians,” Zelensky said in a post on social media.
“We need more air defenses from our partners. We need to strengthen the Ukrainian air shield to add more protection for our people from Russian terror. More air defence systems and more missiles for air defense systems saves lives,” he said.

FASTFACTS

● Overnight aerial attacks claimed four lives in the southern port city of Odesa, including a three-year-old child, while shelling killed one person in the Kharkiv region near the Russian border and another in the southern frontline Kherson region.

● Kyiv also appeared to have had launched its own overnight drone attack that damaged a residential building in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city.

Ukraine is currently on the back foot in the two-year war as a crucial $60-billion aid package is held up in the United States Congress.
In Odesa, “a nine-story building was destroyed as a result of an attack by Russian terrorists,” Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said Saturday in a post on Telegram.
Footage shared from the scene showed several floors of a residential building collapsed and its facade ripped off.
In Kharkiv, a 76-year-old man was killed in a shelling attack shortly after midnight, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said.
And shelling in the frontline Kherson region on Saturday morning killed one more person, the provincial head said.
Ukraine’s air force said Russia had launched 17 Iranian “Shahed” drones overnight and fired three missiles.
It said it downed 14 of the drones, but falling debris caused damage to residential buildings in Odesa and Kharkiv.
Kyiv also appeared to have had launched its own overnight drone attack that damaged a residential building in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city.
Videos on Russian social media showed what appeared to be a drone spiraling downwards into the building, triggering an explosion, blowing out windows and causing small fires.
The city’s National Guard division said its preliminary assumption was the damage was caused by a “falling drone.”
Ukrainian media reported the drone was shot down by Russia’s air defenses while targeting an oil depot less than a kilometer from the crash site.
Kyiv has hit several Russian oil facilities in recent months in what it has called fair retribution for Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine’s power grid.
The attacks come with Russia seeking to press its advantage on the battlefield.
Kyiv has admitted it is heavily outgunned and outnumbered, facing ammunition shortages amid aid delays.
Half of all promised Western ammunition arrives in the country late, the defense minister has said — in what he called critical delays that cost lives and territory.
Russian forces have pressed westwards following last month’s capture of Avdiivka, and have seized several small villages in recent days.
Visiting frontline military posts on Saturday, Ukraine’s new Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrsky said “the situation at the front remains difficult, but controlled.”