With Donald Trump absent, Republican rivals trade attacks at first 2024 debate

Republican candidates: top row, Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, bottom row, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, Gov. Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson. (AP Photo)
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Updated 24 August 2023

With Donald Trump absent, Republican rivals trade attacks at first 2024 debate

  • Raucous two-hour debate offered a view of the deep challenges the contenders face in seeking to dislodge former president from his perch at the top of the field

MILWAUKEE: Eight Republican presidential candidates traded barbs on Wednesday at their first debate of the 2024 election as they jockeyed for position behind the absent front-runner, Donald Trump, who derided the event in a pre-taped interview aimed at siphoning away viewers.

The raucous two-hour debate offered a view of the deep challenges the contenders face in seeking to dislodge Trump from his perch at the top of the field.

While the former president took the extraordinary step of skipping the debate entirely, his rivals were left taking shots at one another to try to emerge as the most viable alternative, five months before the first Republican presidential nominating contest in Iowa and more than 14 months before the election.

While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has consistently stood in second place in polls, albeit well behind Trump, it was Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old tech entrepreneur and political neophyte, who was at the center of many of the Fox News debate’s most dramatic moments.

Ramaswamy, a fierce Trump defender who is rising in national polls, faced plenty of incoming fire from his more experienced rivals, who appeared to view him as more of a threat than DeSantis.

“We don’t need to bring in a rookie,” former Vice President Mike Pence said, while former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accused Ramaswamy of sounding “like ChatGPT,” a reference to artificial intelligence.

Ramaswamy fired back by emphasizing his status as an outsider, calling everyone else on stage “bought and paid for” and accusing DeSantis of being a “super PAC puppet,” a reference to independent political action committees that typically raise unlimited sums of money from corporations and individuals.

He also took the most isolationist position on the Ukraine-Russia war, arguing that it was not a priority for the US and saying he would end military aid to Ukraine. That drew a sharp rebuke from Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations.

The debate had been seen as a potentially pivotal moment for DeSantis, whose campaign has been riven by staff turmoil amid a slow but steady decline in the polls.

Trump, who remains the clear-cut favorite among Republican voters despite his four criminal indictments, chose to skip the event in favor of a friendly interview with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson that began streaming online minutes before the debate began. The interview had about 74 million views on X, formerly known as Twitter, during its 46 minutes.

Trump declined to directly answer provocative questions posed by Carlson, such as whether a civil war was coming in the United States. Instead, he stuck to well-worn themes: false claims that he won the 2020 election, a promise to tighten immigration controls and insults of President Joe Biden and some of his Republican rivals.

“Do I sit there for an hour, or two hours, whatever it’s going to be, and get harassed by people that shouldn’t even be running for president and a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me?” he asked Carlson.

The debate took place a day before Trump planned to surrender in Atlanta to face charges he sought to overturn his election loss in the state.

Six of the eight debaters on Wednesday raised their hands when asked whether they would support Trump as the nominee even if he had been convicted of a crime – North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, DeSantis, Haley, Pence, Ramaswamy and US Senator Tim Scott.

Christie, who appeared to start raising his hand before wagging his finger, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson declined. Both have been vocal critics of Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

“Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States,” Christie said to boos from a rowdy and partisan crowd.

That led to a sharp back-and-forth between Christie, Trump’s biggest critic among Republican candidates, and Ramaswamy, Trump’s most ardent defender.

“Honest to God, your claim that Donald Trump is motivated by vengeance and grievance would be a lot more credible if your entire campaign were not based on vengeance and grievance against one man,” Ramaswamy said, prompting Christie to retort, “You make me laugh.”

Polls show that most Republicans view the criminal charges against Trump, 77, as politically motivated, making the topic a tricky one to navigate for his rivals.

In the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll released this month, Trump held 47 percent of the Republican vote nationally, with DeSantis dropping six percentage points from July to 13 percent. None of the other candidates has broken out of single digits.

The candidates also went after Biden, a Democrat, from the outset. Moderators Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, both Fox News hosts, started the debate by asking about the US economy.

“Our country is in decline,” DeSantis said. “We must reverse Bidenomics so that middle-class families have a chance to succeed again.”

While the economy has shown surprising resilience, defying recession predictions with a robust labor market, polls show many voters – including a plurality of those who supported Biden in 2020 – feel the economy has worsened during his first three years in office amid persistent inflation.

The candidates were also asked about abortion, an issue that has bedeviled Republicans ever since the US Supreme Court last year eliminated a nationwide right to abortion.

Pence, the staunchest anti-abortion opponent in the field, criticized Haley for saying that a bipartisan consensus must be reached on a federal approach.

Haley, who would be the first woman to win the Republican presidential nomination, responded that it was impractical to back nationwide limits given Democratic opposition.

DeSantis, who signed a six-week ban into law in Florida, did not specify whether he would back a similar national ban, saying he understood that different states would take different stances.

“Look, I understand, Wisconsin is going to do it different than Texas,” he said. “But I will support the cause of life as governor and as president.”

Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, three killed, regional government says

Screen capture of a video allegedly taken at a shooting at a synagogue in Derbent, in Russia’s Dagestan region, June 23, 2024.
Updated 24 min 58 sec ago

Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, three killed, regional government says

  • Thirteen people were wounded in the attacks, the interior ministry was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies

MOSCOW: Gunmen opened fire at a synagogue, an Orthodox church and a police post in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan on Sunday and at least three people, including two police officers were killed, the region’s interior ministry said.
Thirteen people were wounded in the attacks, the interior ministry was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
The reports said one officer and a priest were killed when shots were fired at a synagogue and a church in Derbent, home to an ancient Jewish community in the South Caucasus and a UNESCO world heritage site.
“Unidentified people fired at a synagogue and a church with automatic weapons,” the interior ministry said. “One police officer was killed and one injured.”
The synagogue was on fire after the attack, Russian news agencies said.
The attackers then fled in a car.
Another police officer was killed in an exchange of shots at a police post in Makhachkala, about 125 km (75 miles) to the north along the Caspian Sea coast and the main city in Dagestan, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia.
Fighting was later reported in the streets of Makhachkala. 

UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

Updated 23 June 2024

UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

  • The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds

LONDON: The chief data officer of Britain’s Conservative Party has taken a leave of absence, British media reported Sunday, following growing allegations that the governing party’s members used inside information to bet on the date of Britain’s July 4 national election before it was announced.
The Sunday Times and others reported that Nick Mason is the fourth Conservative official to be investigated by the UK’s Gambling Commission for allegedly betting on the timing of the election.
The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.
The reports came after revelations in recent days that two Conservative election candidates, Laura Saunders and Craig Williams, are under investigation by the gambling watchdog. Saunders’ husband Tony Lee, the Conservative director of campaigning, has also taken a leave of absence following allegations he was also investigated over alleged betting.
Police said one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s police bodyguards was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office. The arrest came after the gambling regulator confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election.”
The growing scandal, just two weeks ahead of the national election, has dealt a fresh blow to Sunak’s Conservative Party, which is widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Sunak said this week that he was “incredibly angry” to learn of the allegations and said that anyone found to have broken the law should be expelled from his party.
Sunak announced on May 22 that parliamentary elections would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and many were taken by surprise because a vote had been expected in the fall.
Saunders, a candidate standing in Bristol, southwest England, has said she will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Williams was Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary as well as a member of Parliament running for reelection on July 4. He has acknowledged that he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100-pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.
Senior Conservative minister Michael Gove condemned the alleged betting and likened it to ” Partygate,” the ethics scandal that contributed to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ouster in 2022.
That controversy saw public trust in the Conservatives plummet after revelations that politicians and officials held lockdown-flouting parties and gatherings in government buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us,” Gove told the Sunday Times. “That’s the most potentially damaging thing.”
Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “people are sick and tired of this sleaze” and that Sunak must intervene and order an official inquiry.
The Conservative Party said it cannot comment because investigations are ongoing.

Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

Updated 23 June 2024

Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

  • Chetan Singh Solanki wants to inspire energy independence across the world
  • He takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement

NEW DELHI: Four years ago, at the height of his restlessness over the growing threat of climate change on the planet, Chetan Singh Solanki decided to embark on a journey to spark a change for the environment.

Solanki launched the energy swaraj journey in 2020 to inspire energy independence across the world, campaigning with the motto “Energy by Locals for Locals.”

He told Arab News: “I want to restore the environmental balance that we are already losing, and I want to do it at a global level because it is not a problem of one state or one country — it is a problem of the entire world.”

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay’s department of energy science and engineering, Solanki takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement who used nonviolent resistance as a tool for mass action.

Solanki believes in replicating a similar strategy to boost energy literacy among the people and inspire them to use cleaner energy as an alternative power source.

“It is the wrong energy that has created the problem (and) it is the right energy that will solve the problem. Clean energy and solar energy and to bring everybody on board is why I started this journey,” Solanki said. “My vision is aligned with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of gram swaraj (village self-rule). I emphasize responsible energy consumption and localized production.”

The campaign was designed to be impactful and adopted by the masses.

“This is designed to trigger the mind that we all can be part of the climate solution. It is not rocket science — rich and poor, young and old, everybody can be part of it,” he added.

Chetan Singh Solanki talks to students as part of his nationwide journey to spur climate movement in this photo shared on June 8, 2024. (Energy Swaraj)

Through his journey, Solanki has earned the nickname “Solar Gandhi,” having covered 56,000 km on his solar-powered bus, which is equipped with essential amenities including an air-conditioned bedroom, office space, refrigerator and a working kitchen.

The vehicle is an “innovative mobile abode” that symbolizes his aspiration “for a forthcoming world driven by sustainable energy sources,” he said, adding that he plans to continue the nationwide journey until December 2030.

To him, it was clear that world governments “have not done enough,” despite annual climate conferences that are purported to address critical environmental issues.

“The business-as-usual approaches are not working nationally and internationally, and therefore the solution lies in becoming sensitive to planet Earth and its capacity to generate or regenerate,” he said.

Since his journey started in late 2020, Solanki said the campaign has been well received.

“I think there are good things happening and response has been good,” he said. “Energy literacy is the first step towards climate correction.”

Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

Updated 23 June 2024

Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

LONDON: The UK interior minister has defended a parliamentary aide who called the government plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda “crap,” in a leaked audio revealed by the BBC Sunday.
A controversial law by the Conservative government allowing irregular migrants arriving in the UK to be deported to Rwanda was finally passed in April, after months of parliamentary wrangling.
But in the recording James Sunderland, a parliamentary aide and Conservative party candidate, was heard saying: “the policy is crap, ok? It’s crap.”
“But it’s not about the policy. It’s about the effect of the policy,” he went on to say, speaking at a Youth Conservatives conference in April.
“There is no doubt at all that when those first flights take off it will send such a shockwave across the Channel,” Sunderland clarified.
Home Secretary James Cleverly said he was “surprised,” when asked about the audio, before saying Sunderland was making a “counterintuitive statement to grab the attention.”
Cleverly told Sky News on Sunday that his aide Sunderland “is completely supportive of the deterrent effect.”
Sunderland told the BBC he was “disappointed” to have been recorded at a private event, and said although the policy is “not the be all and end all,” it is “part of a wider response.”
No flights deporting asylum seekers have actually taken off yet for the African country, due to lengthy legal challenges and with parliament dissolved ahead of a looming general election on July 4.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the policy would only come into effect after the election, if he was re-elected.
The opposition Labour party — which looks poised to replace the Conservatives — has promised to scrap the Rwanda plan.
The government cleared a law allowing some asylum seekers to be deported in April, circumventing a Supreme Court ruling that said sending migrants to Rwanda in this way would be illegal because it “would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment.”
Supporters of the Rwanda policy say it will deter tens of thousands of annual cross-Channel arrivals by small boats, and insist the policy is already having an impact.
More than 12,000 irregular migrants have crossed the Channel to Britain on small boats this year, according to government data.

Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

Updated 23 June 2024

Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

  • Sevastopol regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian missile attack Sunday on Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula killed two people including a two-year-old child and wounded 22, the city’s Moscow-appointed governor said.
Sevastopol, a Black Sea port city and naval base on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high.
“According to provisional information, today’s attack by Ukraine’s armed forces on Sevastopol killed 2 peaceful residents, one of them a 2-year-old child,” Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on Telegram.
The governor said Ukraine had launched five missiles which Russian air defenses intercepted over the sea but fragments fell onto the shore area and pieces of shrapnel wounded people.
Razvozhayev said the missile fragments hit shore areas in the north of the city and set fire to a house and woodland.
Earlier Sunday, a drone launched by Ukraine on Russia’s southern Belgorod region killed a man, the governor said.
Three Ukrainian attack drones struck the town of Graivoron a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, said Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, with one hitting a car park near a multi-story block of flats.
“A peaceful civilian was killed. The man died from his wounds at the spot,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram, while three were wounded.