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Trump questions India’s credibility on Covid tally, climate change during Presidential debate

CLEVELAND, Sept 30: US President Donald Trump has raised questions over the credibility of India’s Covid-19 tally, claiming that it was among the countries that do not accurately disclose the number of deaths due to the pandemic.

The remarks by Trump came during his first presidential debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who attacked the US president over the handling of the coronavirus crisis and said the president lied to Americans on the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people and infected over seven million others in the country.

The president also brought up the three countries in an exchange with Biden over climate change, saying India, Russia and China “send up real dirt into the air”.

Defending his handling of the Covid crisis, Trump said that “millions” could have died in America without his actions.

“When you talk about due the numbers, you don’t know how many people died in China. You don’t know how many people died in Russia. You don’t know how many people died in India. They don’t exactly give you a right number. Just so you understand,” Trump said.

Trump has repeatedly blamed China, where the coronavirus first emerged in December last year and spread around the world, killing over one million and infecting more than 30 million people.

Attacking Trump over the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden said the president has “no plan” to fight the deadly disease and he lied to Americans.

“He still hasn’t even acknowledged that he knew this was happening, knew how dangerous it was going to be back in February, and he didn’t even tell you. He is on record as saying it. He panicked or he just looked at the stock market, one of the two, because guess what, a lot of people die and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker,” he said.

Trump has attacked India and China before in the context of climate change. In fact, he pulled the United States out of the Paris Accord falsely claiming it gave India and China a sweeter deal. He has repeated that claim several times since, always without any proof or truth.

“China sends up real dirt into the air, Russia does, India does, they all do,” Trump said, adding, “Were supposed to be good.”

During the first of the three presidential debates in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday night which was marked by angry interruptions and bitter accusations, the two candidates fiercely clashed over a number of issues, including racism, economy and climate.

Biden seen as winner of chaotic presidential debate as Trump comes out ‘too hot’

CLEVELAND, Sept 30: President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden clashed bitterly in a chaotic presidential debate on Tuesday with sharp, testy exchanges and name-calling as they sought to sway undecided voters just five weeks from the close of polling on November 3.

The acrimonious showdown exasperated several analysts, with several media outlets calling Biden the winner of the duel.

Trump was expected to try and dominate the first face-to-face meeting of the two nominees in Cleveland, Ohio and turn the race, but he may have ended up overplaying his hand, by repeatedly interrupting and talking over Biden, flouting debate rules agreed upon by both campaigns and arguing with the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News.

They debated issues such as the president’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the way to deal with it going forward and on who to trust on vaccines when they become available, as well as taxes, economy, healthcare and climate change. But the 90-minute debate was overshadowed by President Trump’s unbridled aggression.

“Did you use the word smart?” Trump asked Biden at one point. “You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word smart with me, Joe.”

“Will you shut up, man?” an exasperated Biden said to Trump at another stage. He went on to call the president a “clown” and the “worst president America has had”. But he also took the opportunity to turn away from these exchanges to address voters by looking directly at the cameras.

Many experts and longtime observers came away frustrated at the debate, which was soon awash in descriptions such as “messy” . Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, wrote on twitter, “Democracy was trashed tonight by a President who ran roughshod over the rules.”

Trump’s own allies seemed disturbed. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who helped the president prepare for the debate, conceded on ABC News Trump had come out “too hot”. Former Republican senator Rick Santorum said on CNN, “Donald Trump’s personality ran wild tonight.”

In one of the exchanges in the segment on racism, President Trump ended up with the night’s most controversial remarks. “Proud Boys — Stand back, stand by,” he said, referring to a right-wing extremist group, when repeatedly pressed by the moderator if he will condemn white supremacists. President Trump has been accused of dog-whistling support for white supremacists by refusing to condemn then.

Trump claimed he had paid millions in taxes when asked if he had parted with only $750 for each of his first two years in office, as reported by The New York Times. But he refused to go into specifics.

As expected, the president levelled unfounded corruption allegations against Hunter Biden, the former vice-president’s younger son, and repeated them when Biden was talking about his elder son, Beau Biden, a veteran who died of brain cancer.

In one of the most poignant moments of the debate, Biden said his younger son was a recovering drug addict and he was proud of him.

Though most experts shook their heads and declared American people the loser in the tumultuous debate, some polls done immediately after it had a clear winner and a loser. Biden beat Trump 60%-28% in CNN’s poll of those who watched the debate, and by 48%-41% in a CBS News poll.

The 90-minute debate was held at Cleveland Clinic under strict social distancing guidelines. Only about 80 people were allowed in the audience, mostly family members of the two nominees, campaign staff, hosts, health and security officials and journalists.

The former vice-president leads the president in all major polls, just five weeks from the end of polling on November 3 (early polling in person and by mail is under way in many states) Biden is ahead of Trump by 7.1 points in the FiveThirtyEight weighted average of national polls — 50.2% to 43.1%; and by 6.1% in the RealClearPolitics national average of polls — 49.3% to 43.2%.

Trump needed to do something dramatic to turn the race around, start rolling back Biden’s lead which has held steadfastly for weeks defying the president’s attempts to weaken the former vice-president by questioning his mental acuity, age and qualification for the job using a range of nicknames.

The two candidates will meet next in two weeks, on October 15, for the second debate in Salt Lake City, Utah. There was some talk of canceling the next two after the chaotic debate in Cleveland, but the Biden campaign said they were on.

How Trump, Biden are preparing for first presidential debate

WASHINGTON, Sept 26: Ahead of the first debate-stage matchup between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, each campaign is promising a stark contrast in policy, personality and preparation.

Trump has decided to skip any formal preparation. And while Biden’s team believes the significance of the debate may be exaggerated, the Democratic nominee has been aggressively preparing to take on the president.

Biden’s campaign has been holding mock debate sessions featuring Bob Bauer, a senior Biden adviser and former White House general counsel, playing the role of Trump, according to a person with direct knowledge of the preparations granted anonymity to discuss internal strategy. Bauer has not actually donned a Trump costume in line with Trump stand-ins from previous years, but he is representing his style and expected strategy.

“I’m sure the president will throw everything he can at (Biden). My guess is that they’re preparing for that -- bombarding him with insults and weird digressions,” said Jay Carney, a former aide to Biden and President Barack Obama.

“I think it’s an important moment — I think it’s really important for President Trump, because the direction of this election has been pretty stable for a long time now, and he needs to shake it up as any candidate would who’s behind,” Carney added. “The question is, can that work?”

Trump and Biden are scheduled to meet on the debate stage for the first time Tuesday night at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The 90-minute event moderated by Fox News host Chris Wallace is the first of three scheduled presidential debates. Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, will also debate in October.

For some, the debates represent the most important moments in the 2020 campaign’s closing days, a rare opportunity for millions of voters to compare the candidates’ policies and personalities side-by-side on prime-time television. Trump has been trailing Biden in the polls for the entire year, a reality that gives the president an urgent incentive to change the direction of the contest on national television if he can.

Others, including those close to Biden’s campaign, do not expect the debates to fundamentally change the race no matter what happens, given voters’ daily struggles with the pandemic and the economy. They also point to high-profile debates in past elections thought to be game-changing moments at the time but that ultimately had little lasting effect.

Those with knowledge of Biden’s preparations suggest he will not take the fight to Trump if he can avoid it. But on Saturday, at least, he was on the attack when he discussed his strategy on MSNBC.

“I’m prepared to go out and make my case as to why I think he’s failed and why I think the answers I have to proceed will help the American people, the American economy and make us safer internationally,” Biden said, arguing that Trump won’t persuade voters with broadsides because “the people know the president is a liar.”

He said he doesn’t expect Trump to articulate a detailed vision for a second term.

“He doesn’t know how to debate the facts, because he’s not that smart,” Biden continued. “He doesn’t know that many facts. He doesn’t know much about foreign policy. He doesn’t know much about domestic policy. He doesn’t know much about the detail.”

While Biden has said he will try to be a fact checker of sorts on stage, the Democrat is being advised to avoid direct confrontations and instead redirect the conversation to more familiar campaign themes of unity and issues that matter most to voters: the economy, health care and the pandemic.

“Arguing over facts, litigating whether what he’s saying is accurate, that is not winning to Biden,” said Jen Psaki, a former Obama aide who is close to Biden’s team. “This is an opportunity to speak directly to the American people. His objective should be to speak directly to them, but not be pulled in by Trump. That is hard.”

Trump has not been doing any formal preparation, according to aides and allies who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

No set has been constructed and aides refused to say whether anyone is playing Biden. Trump, instead, has maintained that the best preparation is doing his day job — particularly his frequent and often contentious interactions with reporters. White House aides also scheduled an ABC town hall earlier this month to expose Trump to real voter questions for the first time in months in preparation for the second debate.

Privately some aides and allies are worried that Trump’s lack of formal preparation will lead him to fall into the same hubris trap as other incumbents in their first general election debate. Obama, for example, famously struggled in his first matchup against Mitt Romney in 2012.

But other Trump backers are confident that the president is ready to handle any tough questions or pushback from Biden.

“The debates matter,” said Lara Trump, a senior adviser to the campaign and the president’s daughter-in-law. “Donald Trump certainly did a great job on the debates (in 2016) and I think this will be no different.”

Lara Trump also seemed to simultaneously raise and lower expectations for Biden.

“Joe Biden spent a lot of time in his basement to study up. He’s been in this game for 47 years. I assume he’ll do okay,” she said. “Quite frankly, the bar has been lowered so much for Joe Biden that if he stays awake for the whole thing it’s like maybe he won.”

The mixed messages were in line with those of Trump’s allies who spent much of the year raising questions about Biden’s physical and mental strength, while in recent days trying to cast him as a strong and experienced debater facing a relative neophyte in Trump.

A former reality show star, the president is keenly aware of the power and pitfalls of live television. Aides say he is acutely mindful of the power of “moments” to define how a debate is perceived and that he intends to make his share of them happen.

It remains to be seen how aggressively Trump attacks Biden. He has warned apocalyptically about the consequences of a Biden victory and is never one to shy away from a fight. He is also an avowed “counterpuncher” and will surely respond to any attacks by Biden in kind.

Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor and onetime national Democratic chairman, said Biden must fashion a succinct, debate-stage version of his message since the spring: draw a straight line from Trump’s personal deficiencies to his handling of the pandemic, its economic fallout, the national reckoning on race and then explain why a Biden presidency would be different.

“Trump’s just looking for a Hail Mary here,” McAuliffe said. “He knows he’s in trouble.”

Biden steady in national polls; Trump's 'summer swoon over', say pundits

Biden, 78, who would be the oldest sitting president if elected, has leads ranging from five to eight points in battleground states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan

WASHINGTON, Sept 25: With little over a month to go for the US presidential election, the pundits seem to be in agreement: While nationwide polls indicate a comfortable lead for Joe Biden over Donald Trump the battleground states are pointing to the Democratic challenger handing the US president a defeat.

This is no surprise. Over the past few months, Biden has been hovering around the 50 percent mark and the president has been perennially trapped in the low-to-mid 40s (not being able to clear the 50 percent mark has, historically, been considered a danger sign for an incumbent).

As per the CNN poll of polls, Biden currently leads Trump 51 percent to 44 percent.

This year has been quite the decade. A pandemic, protests, floods and fires.

But throughout the year, with all its ups and downs, Trump and Biden's positions in national polling have remained unchanged.

In 2016, we saw the advent of Teflon Don. In 2020, we're seeing the wonders of sleepy steady Joe.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds Biden holding an eight point lead over Trump among registered voters (51 to 43 percent) as more than a plurality give the president a thumbs-down on his job performance.

“So far, despite major upheavals in the country, little has changed,” Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, told NBC News.

“In 2020, the fundamentals of our country have been shaken to our core, while the fundamentals of the election have not,” Horwitt added.

Trump continues to hold an edge when it comes to the economy, while Biden is overwhelmingly favoured when it comes to dealing with COVID.

“Trump’s summer swoon is over,” added McInturff, the GOP pollster.

While the challenger's national lead has been both comfortable and consistent throughout the year, one must remember that an edge in national polling, as Hillary Clinton discovered to her chagrin in 2016, does not translate to victory on election night.

Clinton, though she maintained a lead over Trump for the entirety of the 2016 campaign, and received nearly three million more votes in the general election, found her presidential bid undone thanks to the electoral college.

Remember, the United States picks its president via the electoral college system, where each state is allotted a number of electors. While there are 538 electoral votes up for grabs, the magic number is 270.

Trump, who ran up victories in the so-called Rust Belt states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, ultimately received 304 votes and Clinton, with 227, fell way short of the mark.

The difference between Trump and Clinton ultimately came down to just 78,000 votes in the three aforementioned Rust Belt States.

But 2020 is not 2016. And with Trump as the incumbent and America gripped by the coronavirus (200,000 dead and counting) and witnessing inflamed racial tensions in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, things are playing out a little differently on the ground, particularly where it matters the most.

Biden, who would be the oldest sitting president if elected, has leads ranging from five to eight points in battleground states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, as per CNN Politics analyst Harry Enten.

Those are the very states that carried Trump to victory in 2016. Add those to the states Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 totalling 227 electoral votes and Biden's tally touches 290, Enten points out. (remember, the magic number is 270).

And if Biden picks up Florida and North Carolina (both states in which he is leading that are usually solidly Republican) that brings his electoral college figure to 330 votes.

"The thing to keep in mind is that it is possible one candidate runs the board because polling errors are correlated across states. That's exactly what happened in 2016, when Trump won most of the close states," Enten writes.

"This year we just don't know how it's going to play out. Just keep in mind that the potential change in this race could go to Biden's benefit as well as Trump's."

Trump rode to victory in 2016 on the backs of White voters, particularly the wealthy and voters without college degrees.

And while Trump is, relatively speaking, doing well with Latino voters and garnering a bit more Black support than he did last time, he is doing nowhere near as well with noncollege educated White voters as he did in 2016.

While there's little chance that Biden will actually win the non-college White vote, which usually goes Republican by a healthy margin, all he has to do is keep things as close as he can.

In 2016, exit polls showed Trump with a 37 point edge over Clinton in that demographic, while in 2020 that lead is down to 23 points over Biden. While that number may look comforting to the president, it might prove to be nowhere near enough to keep him in office.

Let's take a closer look at the states that matter.

In Wisconsin, Trump stomped Clinton when it came to non-college educated White women in 2016, but is now trailing Biden by nine points as per an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

That's a whopping swing of 25 points!

And worse news is still to come for the president. Pennsylvania, which is Biden country (the former US vice-president was born in Scranton) where Trump won non college-educated white women by 16 percent four years ago but is now losing them by nine percentage points, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Biden, a favoured son of Pennsylvania, has pulled even with Trump among White voters overall, according to an NBC News/Marist Poll.

“It’s a big, big swing,” said Lee Miringoff, director of theMarist College Institute for Public Opinion, toldPolitico. “What [Biden’s] doing among Whites is more than offsetting the slippage among non-Whites … The recipe is very different this time, right now anyway, in terms of White voters.”

That's quite the understatement. If Trump can't get his numbers back to the 2016 levels among White voters, his goose is cooked.

Perhaps that's why hehasn't yet committed to peacefully transferring power were he to lose the 3 November election

In what is sure to come as a surprise to Trump, a majority of Americans (including Republicans!) want the winner of the 2020 election to pick Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement on the US Supreme Court.

As per a Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Sunday, in the aftermath of Ginsburg's death, 62 percent of Americans surveyed stated that the winner of the 3 November polls ought to pick her replacement. Only 23 percent disagreed with that notion, and the rest were unsure.

And then there was this eye popping number: Eight in 10 Democrats surveyed and 5 in 10 Republicans agreed that the nomination should wait after the election!

While Trump is eager to plough ahead, and has already dismissed Ginsburg's dying wish that he not pick her replacement as a 'liberal concoction', pundits warn that he should be worried.

Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney and currently a contributor for The Daily Beast, writes for CNN, "If you don't think these events have the potential to energise Democrats to possibly record election turnouts in November, you probably haven't seen what's going in the Democratic base."

Obeidallah in his piece, points to the record-breaking haul achieved by the Democrats in donations after RBG's demise.

"The polls between Trump and Joe Biden might not move right away to reflect Trump and the Senate GOP's hypocritical push to fill RBG's seat before a possible Biden administration takes office next year. But the impact will likely be felt in terms of the intensity of the supporters on each side. So far, the evidence shows that voters want to honor RBG's legacy by supporting Democrats to defeat Trump and his GOP enablers," Obeidallah writes.

That sudden influx of cash for Democrats, combined with reports that the Trump campaign has blown through a billion dollar war chest, could lead to an extremely long night on 3 November for the incumbent.

US proposes rule to cut stay for foreign students, journalists

WASHINGTON, Sept 25: The Trump administration has proposed a new rule to limit to four years the period of stay for non-immigrant international students and foreign media representatives.

It plans to cut the duration further to two years for those from certain countries under the F, J and I category visas, used for students, exchange visitors and media representatives, respectively.

Foreigners on these visas can currently stay for “duration of status”, or the period of course in case of students, and employment in case of media representatives. This applies also to the dependents of principal visa holders.

The proposed rule, published by the department of homeland security, will be open for comments for 30 days. But it was not clear when it will go into effect. President Donald Trump has only a few months to finalise the rule by January 2021, and longer if he is re-elected.

If he loses the November 3 election to Joe Biden, the Democrat will be under no obligation to implement it.

The duration of stay can be extended either by filing for extension with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or by going back to their countries of origin for fresh visas.

The two-year rule will apply to people from countries that are either on state department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism or who have an overstay rate of over 10%.

“The significant increase in the volume of F academic students, J exchange visitors, and I foreign information media representatives poses a challenge to the Department’s ability to monitor and oversee these categories of non-immigrants while they are in the United States,” the notice said.

The department added it is “concerned about the integrity of the programmes and a potential for increased risk to national security” from people on these visas.

There are an estimated 200,000 Indian students in the US, which has admitted an estimated 1 million international students every year. Together, they have generated around $41 billion’s worth of economic activity and supported 450,000 jobs, according to the American Council on Education, which represents US colleges and universities. Incomes generated from foreign students are critical to the financial health of many US colleges.

US Reimposes UN Sanctions On Iran: Mike Pompeo

WASHINGTON, Sept 20: The United States unilaterally proclaimed on Saturday that UN sanctions against Iran are back in force and promised to punish those who violate them, in a move that risks increasing Washington's isolation but also international tensions.

"Today, the United States welcomes the return of virtually all previously terminated UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

According to him, the measures were "back in effect" from 8:00 pm Washington time (0000 GMT Sunday).

The government of US President Donald Trump also promised to "impose consequences" on any UN member state which does not comply with the sanctions, even though it is one of the only countries in the world which believes they are in force.

The threat is formidable: those deemed to be in defiance by Washington will be denied access to the US financial system and markets.

"If UN member states fail to fulfill their obligations to implement these sanctions, the United States is prepared to use our domestic authorities to impose consequences for those failures and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity," Pompeo stated.

He promised that measures would be announced in coming days against "violators."

With 45 days to go until the November 2 election, Trump could unveil those measures during his speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

However Washington is almost alone on the issue: all the other great powers -- China, Russia and also the US' own European allies -- have challenged the claim.

"Any decision or action taken with a view to re-installing (the sanctions) would be incapable of legal effect," France, Britain and Germany said in a joint letter sent Friday to the Security Council.

The Americans themselves realize the statement is a "false claim," Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said Saturday.

How did the UN arrive at this spectacular stand-off between the leading superpower and the rest of the planet? To answer that, one has to go back at least one month.

In mid-August, Trump's administration suffered a resounding defeat at the UN Security Council when it tried to extend the embargo on conventional weapons being sent to Tehran, which was due to expire in October.

Pompeo made an unusually vehement attack on France, Britain and Germany, accusing them of "siding with Iran's ayatollahs," and on August 20 announced a controversial move known as the "snapback," which aimed to re-establish all sanctions against Tehran a month later.

The sanctions were lifted in 2015 when Iran signed on to an international agreement not to seek to build nuclear weapons.

But Trump said that the landmark accord, negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, was insufficient and withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018, then renewed and even strengthened Washington's bilateral sanctions.

At the moment, the US is insisting it is still a participant in the agreement that it stormed out of, but only so that it can activate the "snapback" option.

Virtually every other member of the Security Council disputes Washington's ability to execute this legal pirouette, and the council has not taken the measure any further.

Mike Pompeo insists United States to enforce ‘UN’ sanctions on Iran

WASHINGTON, Sept 16: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Wednesday the United States will enforce new ‘UN’ sanctions on Iran starting next week, despite overwhelming consensus that Washington is out of bounds.

“The United States will do what it always does. It will do its share as part of its responsibilities to enable peace, this time in the Middle East,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

“We’ll do all the things we need to do to make sure that those sanctions are enforced,” he said.

Pompeo last month headed to the United Nations to announce the “snapback” of sanctions under a 2015 Security Council resolution after failing to extend an embargo on conventional arms sales to Iran.

The resolution allows any participant in a nuclear accord with Iran negotiated under former president Barack Obama to reimpose sanctions, which would take effect one month afterward.

President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord, which he has repeatedly denounced, but Pompeo argues that the United States remains a “participant” as it was listed in the 2015 resolution.

The sanctions are authorized by a “valid UN Security Council resolution,” Pompeo said.

Trump has already enforced sweeping unilateral US sanctions on Iran, inflicting a heavy toll in a bid to curb the clerical state’s regional influence.

The United Nations has clearly said that it cannot proceed with the reimposition of UN sanctions, with 13 of the Security Council’s 15 nations objecting to the US move.

European allies of the United States say that they support extending the arms embargo but want to preserve a diplomatic solution on the nuclear issue, which they see as more important.

Playing down differences, Raab said of the nuclear accord: “We have always welcomed US and indeed any other efforts to broaden it.”

“The means by which we get there, there may be shades of difference but we have handled them... constructively,” he said.

The issue has come to a head less than two months before Trump seeks another term against Democrat Joe Biden, a supporter of the accord that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

Anthony Fauci disagrees with Trump on coronavirus, cites disturbing US statistics

WASHINGTON, Sept 12: Top government infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Friday he disagreed with President Donald Trump’s assessment the United States has “rounded the corner” on the coronavirus pandemic, saying the statistics are disturbing.

Fauci, the outspoken director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the United States was starting the flu season with a high baseline of around 40,000 new cases a day and deaths are averaging around 1,000 daily.

Trump, who has admitted playing down the severity of the virus since it emerged early this presidential election year, said on Thursday he believed the United States was “rounding the corner” on the crisis.

“I have to disagree with that, because, if you look at the thing that you just mentioned, the statistics ... they are disturbing,” Fauci said on MSNBC.

Fauci said he hoped the country did not see a spike in cases after the Labor Day weekend as it did after other long holiday weekends since May.

It was important to get those infection rates down before the autumn and winter seasons when people will be spending more time indoors. “You don’t want to start off already with a baseline that’s so high,” Fauci said.

Asked about the outdoor campaign rallies Trump has resumed before his Nov. 3 matchup against Democrat Joe Biden, Fauci said they are “absolutely” risky.

“Just because you’re outdoors does not mean that you’re protected, particularly if you’re in a crowd and you’re not wearing masks,” he said.

Fauci, who has contradicted Trump’s statements about the virus, denies the administration is pressuring him to keep quiet.

“Anybody that tries to tell me what to say publicly, if they know anything about me, realizes that’s a fool’s errand,” Fauci said. “No one is ever going to pressure me or muzzle me to say anything publicly.”

India, US ask Pakistan to take action against perpetrators of Mumbai, Pathankot terror attacks

NEW DELHI, Sept 11: India and United States have asked Pakistan to act on the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot terror attacks and make sure its soil is not used by terror groups.

The joint statement released after the third US-India Counter-Terrorism Joint Working Group and Designations Dialogue said, "Two sides underlined the urgent need for Pakistan to take immediate, sustained, and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorist attacks" and to "expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of such attacks, including 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot."

More than 170 people died in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based United-listed terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba.

During the talks, US reiterated its support for the people and government of India in the fight against terrorism. The talks were led by Joint Secretary for Counter-Terrorism in the Ministry of External Affairs of India Mahaveer Singhvi and US State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Nathan A. Sales.

During the talks, both sides denounced the use of terrorist proxies and strongly condemned cross-border terrorism in all its forms and emphasized the need for concerted action against all terrorist networks including Al Qaeda-, ISIS/Daesh and Pakistan-based terror groups Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen.

The focus of the two sides was also on procedures for pursuing sanctions and designations against terrorist groups and individuals.

US played a key role in listing of Masood Azhar as a designated terrorist by the UN Security Council 1267 Committee in the aftermath of Pulwama attack of 2019.

US marks 9/11 anniversary at tributes shadowed by virus

NEW YORK, Sept 11: Americans commemorated 9/11 Friday as another national crisis reconfigured memorial ceremonies, dividing some victims’ families over coronavirus safety precautions, and a presidential campaign carved a path through the observances.

In New York, victims’ relatives gathered Friday morning for split-screen remembrances at the World Trade Center’s Sept. 11 memorial plaza and on a nearby corner, set up by separate organizations.

Standing on the plaza, with its serene waterfall pools and groves of trees, Jin Hee Cho said she couldn’t erase the memory of the death of her younger sister, Kyung, in the collapse of the trade center’s north tower.

“It’s just hard to delete that in my mind. I understand there’s all this, and I understand now that we have even COVID," said Cho, 55. "But I only feel the loss, the devastating loss of my flesh-and-blood sister.”

Around the country, some communities canceled 9/11 ceremonies, while others went ahead, sometimes with modifications. The Pentagon’s observance was so restricted that not even victims’ families could attend, though small groups could visit its memorial later in the day.

On an anniversary that fell less than two months before the presidential election, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden both headed for the Flight 93 National Memorial in the election battleground state of Pennsylvania — at different times of day. Biden also attended the ceremony at ground zero in New York, exchanging an elbow bump with Vice President Mike Pence before the observance began.

In short, the 19th anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil was a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a pandemic, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.

Still, families say it’s important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the trade center, at the Pentagon outside Washington and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001 — shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

“People could say, ‘Oh, 19 years.’ But I’ll always be doing something this day. It’s history,” said Annemarie D’Emic, who lost her brother Charles Heeran, a stock trader. She went to the alternative ceremony in New York, which kept up the longstanding tradition of in-person readers.

Speaking at the Pennsylvania memorial, Trump recalled how the plane’s crew and passengers tried to storm the cockpit as the hijackers as headed for Washington.

“The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall, and fight back,” the Republican president said.

Biden visited the memorial later Friday, laid a wreath and greeted relatives of one of the slain crew members, First Officer LeRoy Homer.

At the Sept. 11 memorial in New York hours earlier, Biden offered condolences to victims’ relatives including Amanda Barreto, 27, who lost her aunt and godmother in the attacks. She said Biden “wanted to let me know to keep the faith” and told her he understood what it meant to lose a loved one. His first wife and their daughter died in a car crash, and his son Beau died of brain cancer.

Biden didn’t speak at the ceremony, which has a longstanding custom of not allowing politicians to make remarks.

Pence went on to the separate ceremony, organized by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, where he read the Bible’s 23rd Psalm. His wife, Karen, read a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

“For the families of the lost and friends they left behind, I pray these ancient words will comfort your heart and others,” said the vice president, drawing applause from the audience of roughly 200.

Formed in honor of a firefighter killed on 9/11, the foundation felt in-person readers were crucial to the ceremony’s emotional impact and could recite names while keeping a safe distance. By contrast, recorded names emanated from speakers placed around the memorial plaza. Leaders said they wanted to keep readers and listeners from clustering at a stage.

As in past years on the plaza, many readers at the alternative ceremony added poignant tributes to their loved ones’ character and heroism, urged the nation not to forget the attacks and recounted missed family milestones: “How I wish you could walk me down the aisle in just three weeks,” Kaitlyn Strada said of her father, Thomas, a bond broker.

One reader thanked essential workers for helping New York City endure the pandemic, which has killed at least 24,000 people in the city and over 190,000 nationwide. Another reader, Catherine Hernandez, said she became a police officer to honor her family’s loss.

Other victims’ relatives, however, weren’t bothered by the switch to a recording at the ground zero ceremony.

“I think it should evolve. It can’t just stay the same forever,” said Frank Dominguez, who lost his brother, Police Officer Jerome Dominguez.

The Sept. 11 memorial and the Tunnel to Towers foundation also tussled over the Tribute in Light, a pair of powerful beams that shine into the night sky near the trade center, evoking its fallen twin towers. The 9/11 memorial initially canceled the display, citing virus safety concerns for the installation crew. After the foundation vowed to put up the lights instead, the memorial changed course with help from its chair, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Tunnel to Towers, meanwhile, arranged to display single beams for the first time at the Shanksville memorial and the Pentagon.

Over the years, the anniversary also has become a day for volunteering. Because of the pandemic, the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance organization is encouraging people this year to make donations or take other actions from home.

United States keeps India on ‘do not travel’ advisory list

WASHINGTON, Sept 9: The United States on Wednesday took Pakistan and Bangladesh off its list of countries under “do not travel” advisories due to Covid-19, but kept India on it.

The United States removed a Covid-19-related global “do not travel” advisory for Americans in August and switched to a country-specific system, working with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It had then kept most countries at “Level 4: Do Not Travel”.

On Wednesday, Pakistan and Bangladesh were among the six countries that had been moved to the category of less prohibitive “Level 3: Reconsider travel”. The other four were Benin, Kuwait, Mexico and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

“We continue to monitor health and safety conditions around the world, working with the CDC and other agencies, as conditions evolve,” the state department said in a statement. India stayed at “Level 4: Do Not Travel”.

“Do not travel to India due to Covid-19,” the state department’s travel advisory page said. “Exercise increased caution in India due to crime and terrorism.”

The CDC has advised American travellers that “Covid-19 risk in India is high. If you get sick in India and need medical care, resources may be limited.”

Covid-19 vaccine may be ready by October: Trump

WASHINGTON, Sept 8: The prospect of a vaccine to shield Americans from coronavirus infection emerged Monday as a point of contention in the White House race as president Donald Trump accused Democrats of “disparaging” for political gain a vaccine he repeatedly has said could be available before the election.

“It’s so dangerous for our country, what they say, but the vaccine will be very safe and very effective,” the president pledged at a White House news conference.

Trump leveled the accusation a day after Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate, said she “would not trust his word” on getting the vaccine. “I would trust the word of public health experts and scientists, but not Donald Trump,” Harris said.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden amplified Harris’ comments Monday after he was asked if he would get a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Biden said he’d take a vaccine “tomorrow”want to see what the scientists have to say, too.

Biden said Trump has said “so many things that aren’t true, I’m worried if we do have a really good vaccine, people are going to be reluctant to take it. So he’s undermining public confidence.”

Still, the former vice president said, “If I could get a vaccine tomorrow I’d do it, if it would cost me the election I’d do it. We need a vaccine and we need it now.”

The back-and-forth over a coronavirus vaccine played out as three of the candidates fanned out across the country on Labor Day, the traditional start of the two-month sprint to the election. Harris and Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Wisconsin and Biden went to Pennsylvania. Trump added the news conference to a schedule that originally was blank.

Harris, a California Democrat, said in a CNN interview broadcast Sunday that she would not trust a coronavirus vaccine if one were ready at the end of the year because “there’s very little that we can trust that ... comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth.” She argued that scientists would be “muzzled” because Trump is focused on getting reelected.

Trump dismissed her comments as “reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric” designed to detract from the effort to quickly ready a vaccine for a disease that has killed nearly 190,000 Americans and infected more than 6 million others, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.

“She’s talking about disparaging a vaccine so that people don’t think the achievement was a great achievement,” Trump said, answering reporters’ questions as he stood at a lectern placed at the front door of the White House on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the mansion.

"They’ll say anything,” he said.

Trump insisted he hasn’t said a vaccine could be ready before November, although he said so repeatedly and as recently as Friday.

The president then proceeded to say what he had just denied ever saying.

“What I said is by the end of the year, but I think it could even be sooner that that,” he said about a vaccine. “It could be during the month of October, actually could be before November.”

Under a program Trump calls “Operation Warp Speed,” the goal is to have 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine in stock by January. He has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on what amounts to a huge gamble since vaccine development usually takes years.

Concerns exist about political influence over development of a vaccine, and whether one produced under this process will be safe and effective.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told CNN last week that it is unlikely but “not impossible” that a vaccine could win approval in October, instead of November or December.

Fauci added that he’s “pretty sure” a vaccine would not be approved for Americans unless it was both safe and effective.

Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, has said the agency would not cut corners as it evaluates vaccines, but would aim to expedite its work. He told the Financial Times last week that it might be “appropriate” to approve a vaccine before clinical trials were complete if the benefits outweighed the risks.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, meanwhile, has given assurances that Trump “will not in any way sacrifice safety” when it comes to a vaccine. And executives of five top pharmaceutical companies pledged that no COVID-19 vaccines or treatments will be approved, even for emergency use, without proof they are safe and effective.

Some concerns were sparked by a letter dated Aug. 27 in which Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asked governors to help government contractor McKesson Corp. make sure vaccine distribution facilities are up and running by Nov. 1.

Redfield did not say a vaccine would be ready by then.

Three COVID-19 vaccines are undergoing final-stage, or Phase 3, clinical trials in the U.S. Each study is enrolling about 30,000 people who will get two shots, three weeks apart, and then will be monitored for coronavirus infections and side effects for anywhere from a week to two years.

Biden says he will meet Dalai Lama, sanction China over Tibet

WASHINGTON, Sept 4: Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has said that as president he will meet the Dalai Lama, continuing a decades-old practice followed by American presidents with the exception of President Donald Trump, and press China to resume talks with Tibetans for “meaningful autonomy”.

The nominee also vowed to impose sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in Tibet and “step up” support for Tibetans.

Biden accused Trump of maintaining a “deafening silence” on Chinese actions in Tibet and focussing instead on an “empty trade deal” and nurturing his “very good friendship” with China’s President Xi Jinping.

“As President, I’ll put values back at the center of American foreign policy,” Biden said in a statement Thursday. “I’ll meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama; appoint a new Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues.”

The nominee called out Trump for not meeting the Tibetan leader yet, saying “It’s disgraceful, though not surprising, that Trump is the first American president in three decades who has not met or spoken with His Holiness the Dalai Lama”.

The appointment of a special coordinator is mandated by the US Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 — “to promote substantive dialogue between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama or his representative”. The position has been vacant since January 2017, when President Trump took office.

Biden went on to say: “I’ll work with our allies in pressing Beijing to return to direct dialogue with the representatives of the Tibetan people to achieve meaningful autonomy, respect for human rights, and the preservation of Tibet’s environment as well as its unique cultural, linguistic and religious traditions.”

He will also “step up” support for the Tibetan people, he said, by, among things, expanding Tibetan language services at Radio Free Asia and Voice of America to get information from the outside world into Tibet.

But the Trump administration has not been soft exactly on China over Tibet, as charged by Biden. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced visa restrictions in July on some Chinese officials because of Beijing’s restrictions on US diplomats, journalists and tourists from travelling to Tibet and for “human rights abuses” there.

Pompeo hopes for peaceful resolution of India-China border dispute

WASHINGTON, Sept 2: The United States hopes for a peaceful resolution to the border dispute between India and China, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.

“More missile tests were done in China last year than all western nations combined. If you’re going to be serious, you’ve to use those in a way that is consistent with how nations undertake obligation under nuclear proliferation treaties,” Pompeo said while addressing a press conference at the State Department.

The US Secretary of State further said that China had a patter of ‘bullying’ its neighbours and this pattern was evident in the developments happening in the South China Sea.

“From the Taiwan Strait to the Himalayas and beyond, the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in a clear and intensifying pattern of bullying its neighbours. It is also evident in the South China Sea,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo also said that Washington was calling on China to engage in talks with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibethan Buddhism.

US President Trump defends police, slams protests as ‘domestic terror’

KENOSHA, Sept 2: President Donald Trump on Tuesday offered a stout defence of law enforcement officers during a controversial tour of Kenosha in Wisconsin, the newest flashpoint in anti-racism unrest, and further sharpened his attack on violence accompanying protests calling them acts of “domestic terror”.

“These are not acts of peaceful protest, but really domestic terror,” President Trump said at a roundtable with officials and lawmakers after a tour of areas damaged in the violence that erupted a week ago after Jacob Blake, a black man, was shot repeatedly in the back by a white police officer. Two protestors were killed days later allegedly by a 17-year-old man.

The President was accompanied by top federal law enforcement officials such as Attorney General William Barr and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, and local sheriff and officials. But not by the state governor and mayor, who had urged Trump to stay away.

“We cherish our law enforcement,” the US president said, offering his administration’s full backing to police officers and federal agents, who have come under criticism for using excessive force. He acknowledged there were some “bad apples” among them, who, he said, seemingly downplaying their actions, have erred under pressure.

The President has used the word “choke” for them. “You have people that choke,” he said, adding, “They’re under tremendous pressure.” They will be “taken care of” but the rest of them had his support. And he will never allow them to be de-funded as anti-racism activists have demanded.

Trump has shaped his re-election plank around law-and-order, and has tried to tie the violence accompanying anti-racism protests to Democrats and their presidential nominee Joe Biden. He has used phrases like “left wing politicians” and “radical left Democrats” for the protestors and their supporters to argue there will be more of this lawlessness and chaos if Biden was elected president.

Biden has countered by holding Trump responsible for the unrest, as a “toxic presence”. But the Democrat has also sought to distance himself from the violence by condemning it in clear terms to blunt Trump’s attacks, and his campaign has planned a major ad blitz to further amplify that message.

In a potentially damaging development for the Trump re-election campaign, first lady, Melania Trump, is reported to have used private email accounts and messaging services for official communication. Winston Wolkoff, a former close friend and senior adviser, told The Washington Post, “Melania and I both didn’t use White House emails”.

While the use of private email accounts is allowed under presidential records laws, Trump and Republicans had attacked Hillary Clinton in 2016 for using a private email account as secretary of state.

And, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker and the top Democrat in the country, came under fire for allegedly violating social distancing norms in place for the Covid-19 epidemic, during a visit to a salon. She had her mask around the neck, in a surveillance footage that aired on some channels.

“Speaker Pelosi has pushed policies that would keep our economy closed and our small businesses shut down. But for herself?” Senate Republicans, the twitter handle of the senate Republicans caucus, wrote in a post. “A salon visit whenever she pleases.”

Nikki Haley says China took ‘naive’ US for a ride, calls India real friend

WASHINGTON, Sept 2: China has taken a “naive” US and its leaders for a ride over the past several decades, according to former top Indian-American diplomat Nikki Haley, who said the Trump administration through its robust Indo-Pacific strategy is now learning who its real friends are.

Speaking at the third India-US Leadership Summit organised virtually by the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF), former US ambassador to the UN Haley on Tuesday said Americans know that Indians are not a threat to them and as such, it is time for Indians to share their success story.

The US has been pushing for a greater role for India in the strategic Indo-Pacific which is seen by many countries as an effort to contain China’s growing clout in the region.

“Let’s acknowledge how China did it. China was very strategic. This was very planned out and America was very naive. The thought leaders in America thought that if we were nice to China, if we open doors to China, it would become more like the West, that China would become more democratic,” Haley said.

Responding to a question from Mastercard CEO and president Ajay Banga, she said this was from both sides of the aisle -- Republican and Democrat leaders, all of whom thought that if the US was nice to China, there would be an alliance.

What the United States has to understand that the Chinese want to be communist and that they are not going to change, the 48-year-old former diplomat said.

“Through this Indo-Pacific strategy, going forward America is learning who its real friends are. When you learn that, yes, it’s India. But now Indians need to go and show more of who they are,” she said.

Explaining, she said that when people come across Indian businesses or an Indian professor or a doctor, they see the warmth, intelligence and genuine side of them, and they want to know more. “What we have to do is not be shy. But really get out there and brag about ourselves. Now is the time for Indians to be proud, be okay talking about those accomplishments and be okay talking about their successes and let children talk about their accomplishments. That’s really important going forward because...we have to make sure that we take to the next level,” said Haley, whose parents emigrated from Amritsar in Punjab. “Americans are not threatened by Indians and realise that Indians make our country better,” she said.

Haley is considered a top contender for the Republican ticket to the US presidential race in 2024. Responding to a question, Haley asserted that the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the Trump administration has been a real game changer for India-US relationship. “When this administration took on the Indo-Pacific strategy, it was a real game changer for a lot of reasons. I had often thought that the US seemed to ally a little bit more with Pakistan and a little bit less with India,” she said.

“It just makes sense that the US and India are natural allies. We have the same values...,” she said, adding that President Donald Trump very much saw that as well.

“The Indo-Pacific strategy was one acknowledging something that should have been there all along, which is that the US and India should be natural allies,” Haley said.

The Indo Pacific strategy, the former diplomat said, also acknowledged that the US and India face the same threat from China. “So it was a way of saying we’re going to start looking at things differently. We’ve seen that play out with the alliance that we see with the United States, India, Australia and Japan (a reference to the Quad group of countries). We are continuing to see that strengthen,” she said.

From the military standpoint, the US and India have done well, Haley said, noting that the two countries still have some work to do on trade. “I’m hoping that we can break down some of those barriers that India has with tariffs on the United States. We will get there as well too,” she said optimistically.

“This has been groundbreaking for a number of reasons. We have to continue to build on that because as we look at mutual threats that we have, whether it’s with China or what India has seen with Pakistan and going forward, I think it’s all the more reason why we should find other ways to be strengthened and work together,” Haley said.

US strategy is to push back against China in every domain: Top official

WASHINGTON, Sept 1: Asserting that Beijing has been picking up fights right now virtually on every front of its interest, a top American diplomat on Monday said the United States’ strategy to counter it is to push back against China in every domain.

“Our strategy is to push back against China in virtually every domain. We’re doing it in the security area. We’re doing it in terms of outsized demands to claim sovereign territory, whether it’s in the Galwan Valley of India on the India-Chinese border, or in the South Pacific,” Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said during third India US Leadership Summit.

The summit was organised by US India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF).

The Trump Administration is also doing it economically, he said.

“The president has led the charge against the predatory practices from the Chinese economy and the Phase One trade deal is just a first step in that (direction), to be followed by many others in the years ahead to equalize and balance the US-China economic relationship,” he said, during a conversation with Richard Verma, former US Ambassador to India.

Underpinning all of that is a demand for basic reciprocity, he said.

“For a very long time, there had been a desire to extend to China special privileges and benefits, and even the benefit of the doubt among them, to bring China into a more modern and prosperous future,” he noted.

“Twenty years ago when that initiative was launched in earnest with China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, the bet by most policymakers was that eventually, the weight of the institutions that China was joining would slowly redirect the Chinese political system and Chinese interests to a point where China would become much more invested in a rules-based order...,” Biegun said.

He added that these rule based-orders would at least moderate the tendencies of the Chinese government to make it a better partner for many around the world, even if they do not make China a true democracy.

“Unfortunately, this (US) administration has reached the conclusion that the experiment has failed across all the domains that I mentioned and we’re pushing back against China,” Biegun said. Instead of finding some reasonable balance and shared interests, the US has found that the Chinese have exploited every opportunity that they can -- from technology theft to assertion of national sovereignty over the territory and territorial waters of other countries, he said.

“The United States is in a concerted effort to push back on all fronts,” he added. “But perhaps the biggest failed assumption was that the institutions that China joined would ultimately change China. What the US has found that China grew so quickly at the beginning of this century that its outsized influence in those institutions is seeking instead to transform those institutions to China’s interests,” said Biegun.

“That’s unacceptable from our point of view and we are pushing back in the institutions like the World Health Organization or like the World Intellectual Property Organization. “We are pushing back hard to ensure that organizations either adhere to their core principles or we make clear we are not going to be a party to those efforts. There is a lot of concern about China, but there is an all-of-government effort here to turn it back,” the diplomat said.

According to Biegun, there is real concern inside Beijing as to what they are confronting.

“Internally, China is simultaneously trying to erase Tibetan cultural identity; they are repressing hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million, Uyghur Muslims and trying to separate these people from their faith and their historical tradition,” he said.

The Chinese government has breached the UK-China agreement on the transition of Hong Kong and asserted direct state control from Beijing that has completely abolished the “one China, two systems” commitment that Beijing made to the UK and to the Hong Kong people to uphold through 2049, he alleged.

But beyond the internal challenges, China is also facing deep strategic and economic tensions with the United States of America, as the US seeks to push back against these various areas of concern, Biegun said.

Pointing out Beijing’s attitude of multilateral confrontation with various countries across the globe at the same time, Biegun said it is in “near hostilities with” India, in a “state of hostility” with Taiwan, “in competition and less than cooperative relationship with Japan” with a “deep, steep deterioration of their relationship with Australia and to some extent with New Zealand”.

“They have been in a contentious battle of words and more with many of US partners in Europe over Covid-19 disinformation and several other Chinese behaviours are deeply disturbing to our European partners. “From China’s perspective, whatever they’re doing can’t possibly be seen as working as they’re picking a fight right now on virtually every front and on every area of interest that the People’s Republic of China has,” Biegun said.

 

 

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