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Biden scores legislative win as House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan

WASHINGTON, Feb 27: President Joe Biden scored his first legislative win as the House of Representatives passed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package early Saturday, though Democrats face challenges to their hopes of using the bill to raise the minimum wage.

Democrats who control the chamber passed the sweeping measure by a mostly party-line vote of 219 to 212 and sent it on to the Senate, where Democrats planned a legislative maneuver to allow them to pass it without the support of Republicans.

The American Rescue Plan would pay for vaccines and medical supplies and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments. The bill's big-ticket items include $1,400 direct payments to individuals, a $400-per-week federal unemployment benefit through Aug. 29, and help for those in difficulty paying rents and home mortgages during the pandemic.

Democrats said the package was needed to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

"The American people need to know that their government is there for them," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a debate on the House floor.

Republicans, who have broadly backed previous COVID-19 spending, said much of the current package was not necessary, highlighting elements such as a subway near Pelosi's San Francisco district. Only 9% of the total would go directly toward fighting the virus, they said.

"It just throws out money without accountability," House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

Democrats pointed to a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing 68% of Americans supported the package, including 47% of Republicans, with just 37% of Republicans opposing it.

"This critical legislation has support from Americans across the country and the political spectrum, and yet Republicans in Congress are trying to stand in the way," said Jamie Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The House vote amounted to a successful first test for Democrats, who hold a narrow 221-211 majority in the chamber. Progressives and moderates in the party who are often at odds will face tougher battles ahead on immigration and climate change initiatives that Biden wants to push.

The president has focused his first weeks in office on tackling the greatest U.S. public health crisis in a century, which has upended most aspects of American life.

Democrats aim to get the bill to him to sign into law before mid-March, when enhanced unemployment benefits and some other types of aid are due to expire.

The action now moves to the Senate, where Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris may have to cast a tie-breaking vote in a chamber where Republicans control 50 seats and Democrats and their allies control the other 50.

Democrats will have to sort out how to handle a proposed minimum-wage increase, which may have to be stripped from the bill due to the complicated rules that govern the Senate.

The House-passed bill would raise the national hourly minimum wage for the first time since 2009, to $15 from $7.25. The increase is a top priority for progressive Democrats.

However, the Senate's rules expert said on Thursday that the wage hike did not qualify for special treatment that allows the rest of the bill to be passed with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed to advance most legislation in the 100-seat chamber.

Pelosi predicted the relief bill will pass Congress with or without the increase, and said Democrats would not give up on the matter.

It is not clear whether the minimum-wage hike would have survived the Senate even if it were to be kept in the bill. At least two Senate Democrats oppose it, along with most Republicans.

Some senators are floating a smaller increase, to the range of $10 to $12 per hour, while Democrats are considering a penalty for large corporations that do not voluntarily pay a $15 wage, according to a Democratic aide.

Efforts to craft a bipartisan coronavirus aid bill fizzled early on, shortly after Biden was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, following a series of bipartisan bills enacted in 2020.

US finds Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi murder but does not sanction him

WASHINGTON, Feb 27: US intelligence agencies have concluded in a newly declassified intelligence report that Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, approved the 2018 murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi – but Washington stopped short of targeting the future Saudi king with financial or other sanctions.

The four-page report released on Friday confirmed the long-suspected view that the 35-year-old future king had a personal hand in the violent murder of one of his most prominent critics, a columnist and former Saudi insider who was living in exile in the US and used his platform to decry the prince’s crackdown on dissent.

The assessment’s release was accompanied by further actions from the Biden administration, including the unveiling of a new “Khashoggi policy” which is set to impose visa sanctions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, engage in “counter-dissident” activities, including harassment, surveillance, and threats against journalists, activists, and dissidents.

The US treasury also issued new sanctions against Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, the former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency, who it said was “assigned” to murder Khashoggi and was the ringleader of the operation, as well as several members of the hit squad that killed the journalist.

Asked whether Joe Biden had concerns about Prince Mohammed’s position in Saudi succession, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said it was for Saudi Arabia to “determine the path forward on their future leadership”.

“I will say that the president has been clear, and we’ve been clear by our actions that we’re going to recalibrate the relationship,” Psaki said.

Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, told NPR that the report could complicate relations in the future. “I am sure it is not going to make things easier,” she said.

But even as the Biden administration was praised for releasing the partially redacted assessment, there were hints of frustration in Washington that Prince Mohammed would not face personal accountability for the grisly murder.

In Saudi Arabia, the mood was said to be one of relief. In a statement, the Saudi foreign ministry said the kingdom’s government “categorically rejects what is stated in the report provided to Congress”.

Senator Ron Wyden, who wrote the law that ultimately forced the report to be published, said there was “no question” in his mind that more should be declassified.

He added that more needed to be understood about the Saudi royal’s relationship with Donald Trump, whom he accused of covering up the murder as part of his “transactional” relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Wyden’s call for personal sanctions against Prince Mohammed were echoed by Agnès Callamard, the special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings who investigated the murder.

“The United States government should impose sanctions against the Crown Prince, as it has done for the other perpetrators – targeting his personal assets but also his international engagements,” Callamard said.

The partially redacted assessment, which was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and relied heavily on information gathered by the CIA, said the agencies assessed that “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.

It based the assessment on the prince’s “control of decision-making in the kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of [the prince’s] protective detail in the operation, and [his] support for the using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi”.

The US intelligence agencies’ assessment – which was released at about 9pm Saudi time – also found that the prince’s “absolute control” of the kingdom’s security and intelligence organisations made it “highly unlikely” that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation like Khashoggi’s murder without the prince’s approval.

Included in the assessment were several bullet points that contributed to the agencies’ findings, including that Prince Mohammed had “probably” fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that they might be fired or arrested if they failed to complete assigned tasks, suggesting they were “unlikely to question” the prince’s orders or undertake sensitive tasks without his approval.

The US government should impose sanctions against the Crown Prince, as it has done for the other perpetrators.

US, UN Chief welcome India-Pakistan joint statement on ceasefire

By Deepak Arora

WASHINGTON/ UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25: The United States has welcomed the joint statement of India and Pakistan to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the Line of Control and other sectors.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “The United States welcomes the joint statement between India and Pakistan that the two countries have agreed to maintain strict observance of a ceasefire along the Line of Control starting on February 25th. This is a positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia which is in our shared interest and we encourage both countries to keep building upon this progress.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was encouraged by the joint statement issued by the militaries of India and Pakistan on their agreement to observing the ceasefire at the Line of Control in Kashmir and engaging through established mechanisms, according to the spokesperson.

The Secretary General hopes that this positive step will provide an opportunity for further dialogue, added the spokesperson.

Anjali Bharadwaj among 12 people named by Biden admin for newly-instituted anti-corruption award

WASHINGTON, Feb 24: Anjali Bharadwaj, an Indian social activist working on issues of transparency and accountability, is one of the 12 'courageous' individuals named by the Biden administration for the newly-instituted International Anti-Corruption Champions Award.

According to the State Department, Bhardwaj, 48, has served as an active member of the Right to Information Movement in India for over two decades.

'The Biden administration recognises that we will only be successful in combating these issues by working in concert with committed partners, including courageous individuals who champion anti-corruption efforts and countries working to fulfil their commitments to international anti-corruption standards,' US Secretary of State Tony Blinken said on Tuesday.

“For that reason, I am announcing a new International Anti-Corruption Champions Award, recognising individuals who have worked tirelessly, often in the face of adversity, to defend transparency, combat corruption, and ensure accountability in their own countries,” he said.

Bharadwaj is the founder of the Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS), a citizens' group with a mandate to promote transparency and accountability in government and encourage active participation of citizens.

She is also a convener of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information, which successfully advocated for the creation of an anti-corruption ombudsman and the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Act, offering protection to those who expose corruption and abuse of power.

Bharadwaj in a tweet said the honour is a 'recognition of the collective effort of people and groups across the country who hold power to account”.

In addition to Bharadwaj, the other honourees are: Ardian Dvorani of Albania, Diana Salazar of Ecuador, Sophia Pretrick of Micronesia, Juan Francisco Sandoval Alfaro of Guatemala, Ibrahima Kalil Gueye of Guinea, Dhuha A Mohammed of Iraq, Bolot Temirov of Kyrgyz Republic, Mustafa Abdullah Sanalla of Libya, Victor Sotto of The Philippines, Francis Ben Kaifala of Sierra Leone, and Ruslan Ryaboshapka of Ukraine.

'They inspire us and so many of their counterparts pursuing these ideals around the world. The United States enforces one of the most robust anti-corruption frameworks in the world,” Blinken said.

The US, he said, was the first to criminalise foreign bribery and, in partnership with foreign counterparts, has recovered and returned more than USD 1 billion in stolen public assets in the past two years alone.

“We use a range of tools to promote accountability for corrupt individuals, combat impunity globally, and engage in multilateral fora to fight corruption and strengthen citizen engagement,” Blinken said.

 

World’s biggest emitters like China, India, Russia, need to step up and lower emissions: Kerry

WASHINGTON, Feb 20: The world’s big emitting countries, including China, India, Russia and Japan need to really step up and begin to lower greenhouse gas emissions, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry has said as he called on all nations to raise their ambition to fight against climate change.

Kerry on Friday joined UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a special virtual event to mark the United States rejoining the Paris Agreement.

“We need the United States and every country to determine they will get on a path toward net-zero emissions by 2050. That is not something we will do by countries just stepping up and saying, Hey! We commit, here we are. Yeah, we’ll do it by 2050′. That doesn’t work. That doesn’t cut it. That is not the way that we get to go to Glasgow,” Kerry said.

The United Kingdom will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November this year.

The COP26 summit will bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Kerry said as nations go to Glasgow, they have to be real about exactly “what we need to do starting now. What steps will we take in the next 10 years? And the truth is that everybody has to do that. China, which is the largest emitter in the world, needs to be part of the 2020 to 2030 effort”.

“India needs to be part of it. Russia needs to be part of it. Japan, all the big emitting countries of the world, the major emitters, 17 nations need to really step up and begin to lower those emissions,” Kerry said.

“This challenge means that all countries, setting bold and achievable targets, have to do so here at home, and in the course of their Declaration of their National Determined Contributions,” he said.

Under the Paris climate change agreement signed in 2015, India has committed to cut GHG (Green House Gas) emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35 per cent, increase non-fossil fuel power capacity to 40 per cent from 28 per cent in 2015, add carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonne of CO2 per annum by increasing the forest cover, all by 2030.

The US formally re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement under the Biden administration after former president Donald Trump had withdrawn the country from the global deal which aims to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels by curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The United States is, once again, a party to the Paris Agreement. And I’m proud and pleased with that fact but it also places on us a special responsibility, Kerry said adding that Washington rejoins the international climate effort with humility and with ambition.

Humility knowing that we lost four years during which America was absent from the table. And humility in knowing that today no country and no continent is getting the job done. But also with ambition, knowing that Paris alone will not do what science tells us we must do together. At the COP in November, this November, when we go to Glasgow, all nations must raise our sights, must raise ambition together, or we will all fail together,” he said.

The former Secretary of State, who was accompanied by his granddaughter when he had signed the Paris Agreement in 2016 in the United Nations headquarters, warned that failure is not an option for the world.

And that’s why raising the ambition is so vitally important, he said.
Kerry noted that the year 2020 may have seen a drop in global emissions due to Covid, but they are already again on the rise.

So to be on track, to keep even a 66 per cent probability of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees, to do that we need to cut global emissions in half by 2030, he said, adding this means nations need to phase out coal five times faster than they have been and need to increase tree cover five times faster.

“We need to ramp up renewable energy six times faster. We need to transition to electric vehicles at a rate 22 times faster. You get the drift?” he said.

Kerry underlined that everything has to be done with a greater sense of urgency, with the determination that we have to win this fight. Kerry stressed that nations have to drive investment toward climate solutions and innovations, in resilience.

“We need to get the entire world on a path towards net-zero emissions, and we need to absolutely make certain that happens no later than 2050 and sooner, if possible. Ultimately, keeping alive the possibility of limiting the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees celsius is critical because we now know that anything more than that will have catastrophic implications around the globe,” Kerry said.

US expresses concern over China's recently enacted Coast Guard law

WASHINGTON, Feb 20: The US has voiced concern over China’s recently enacted Coast Guard law, which it said may escalate the ongoing territorial and maritime disputes in the region and can be invoked to assert unlawful claims.

China passed a law last month which for the first time explicitly allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.

“The United States joins the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan and other countries in expressing concern with China’s recently enacted Coast Guard law, which may escalate the ongoing territorial and maritime disputes,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters during a conference call.

China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region.

Both areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are vital to global trade.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims over the area.

The new law could make the contested waters around China more choppy.

“We are specifically concerned by language in the law that expressly ties the potential use of force, including armed force by the China Coast Guard, to the enforcement of China’s claims in ongoing territorial and maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas,” he said.

Language in that law, including text allowing the coast guard to destroy other countries’ economic structures and to use force in defending China’s maritime claims in disputed areas, strongly implies this law could be used to intimidate the maritime neighbours of China, Price said.

“We are further concerned that China may invoke this new law to assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea,” he said.

The United States reminds China of its obligations under the United Nations Charter to refrain from the threat or use of force and to conform its maritime claims to the International Law of the Sea, as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.

“We stand firm in our respective alliance commitments to Japan and the Philippines,” Price said.

Responding to a question, Price said that America’s position on the Chinese maritime claims remains aligned with the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal’s finding that China has no lawful claim in areas it found to be in the Philippines exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.

The United States also rejects any Chinese claim to waters beyond the 12 nautical mile territorial sea from islands it claims in the Spratlys, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea.

'China’s harassment in these areas of other claimants, state hydrocarbon exploration or fishing activity, or unilateral exploitation of those maritime resources is unlawful,' he said.

Meanwhile, Congressman Chris Jacobs has re-introduced the No Small Business Aid for China Act.

“China’s growing malign activities – including intellectual property theft, corporate espionage, and cyber-warfare – directly threatens Americans and our small businesses," he said.

The legislation would bar any company that is headquartered in the People’s Republic of China, has more than 25 per cent of voting stock controlled by Chinese citizens or is affiliated with human rights abuses in Xinjiang Province from accessing aid from the US Small Business Administration.

US Lawyers Write to Biden, Seek Intervention Over Farmers’ Protest

WASHINGTON, Feb 17: Over 40 civil and human rights lawyers of South Asian descent have penned a letter to US President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other prominent US leaders, addressing the ongoing farmers’ protests in India. They have expressed grave concerns highlighting that the Narendra Modi-led government has been repressing peaceful dissent by the use of “violence, unlawful detention and censorship”.

The letter called upon US intervention to condemn these actions, asking India to “respect the constitutional rights of protesters”, and to provide “messages and actions of solidarity aligned with the demands of the farmers”.

The letter stated that the farm laws were “rushed through a pandemic without adequate debate or any consultation with key stakeholders, including the farmers, to the benefit of a few corporate interests”, and the “undemocratic process led to a nationwide mobilisation”, which has become India’s largest protest in recent history.

The letter highlighted instances of human rights infringement such as internet shutdowns and suspension of Twitter accounts of those who spoke against the farm laws, arrests of journalists who documented police violence, arrests of activists such as Nodeep Kaur, as well as mass arrests of protesters under the draconian UAPA.

“Police, military, and paramilitary forces have since amassed around the protest sites and erected fortifications with large metal spikes, capable of inflicting grievous bodily harm. These security forces are emboldened by an entrenched culture of impunity,” stated the letter.

The letter expressed that this was a pattern with the current government and cited the treatment by the Centre against CAA NRC protesters. It further said that “the minority communities across India are in peril”.

"The Indian government has pursued a policy of mass deprivation in Jammu and Kashmir, stripping the people of their right to autonomy under the Indian constitution,” the letter added.

“These laws, policies, and practices are rooted in a long history of impunity, failed democratic institutions, and a supremacist ideology – Hindutva nationalism. The BJP and Prime Minister Modi want to create a Hindu state, where Hindus enjoy a privileged status, and minorities, especially Muslims and Dalits, are second-class citizens,” stated the letter.

Asking for Biden’s intervention to denounce the Centre’s actions, the letter urged to form an international body to follow the protests and raise the issue at the United Nations. It stated: “India’s actions violate not only the rights enshrined in its Constitution, but also fundamental international human rights norms, including the rights to life, liberty, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, peaceful assembly and association, and expression and opinion.”

Blinken to hold virtual 'Quad' meeting with Australia, India, Japan

WASHINGTON, Feb 18: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet virtually on Thursday with his counterparts from Japan, Australia and India in the "Quad" framework, a grouping seen as part of efforts to balance China's growing military and economic power.

The meeting, announced by State Department spokesman Ned Price at a regular briefing on Wednesday, will be the first of the informal group under the Biden administration that took office on Jan. 20, although it has discussed its future role in bilateral calls with members since then.

"This discussion with the Quad foreign ministers is critical to advancing our shared goals in the free and open Indo-Pacific and rising to the defining challenges of our time, including coordinating our efforts and COVID-19 response, as well as climate change," Price said.

Blinken will also discuss shared global challenges with counterparts from France, Germany and the UK in a separate call on Thursday, Price said.

President Joe Biden has said working closely with allies will be key to his strategy toward China, in which he has said the United States will aim to "out-compete" Beijing.

Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed in a telephone call last week to strengthen Indo-Pacific security through the Quad.

Japan hosted an in-person meeting of Quad foreign ministers in October and the four countries the following month held their largest joint naval exercises in over a decade.

U.S. ship sails in South China Sea by China-claimed islands

WASHINGTON, Feb 17: A U.S. Navy warship sailed by islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Wednesday in a freedom of navigation operation, marking the latest move by Washington to challenge Beijing's territorial claims in the contested waters.

The U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet said destroyer USS Russell "asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law."

China claims sovereignty over the entire archipeligo, but Brunei, Malaysia, The Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have lodged competing claims for some or all of the islands.

China's extensive territorial claims in the resource-rich waters have become a hot button issue in an increasingly testy Sino-U.S. relationship. The two countries are at odds over trade, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong, Taiwan and accusations of human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.

Washington has denounced what it called Beijing's attempts to bully neighbours with competing interests. China has repeatedly denounced what it called U.S. efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in what it regards as its internal affairs.

The U.S. ship's pass by the Spratly Islands follows a joint exercise by two U.S. carrier groups in South China Sea and another warship sailing near Chinese-controlled Paracel islands earlier this month. Those actions had suggested that the Biden administration was not about to scale back operations challenging Beijing's claims after the ramp-up seen during the Trump administration.

21 killed as deadly winter storm sweeps Texas and US southern states

WASHINGTON, Feb 17: A winter storm in the US has brought deadly freezing winds, ice and snow to many regions that rarely see such frigid conditions.

In Texas, a surge in demand for electricity has led to widespread power cuts. The state is bracing for another icy storm later on Tuesday.

The National Weather Service (NWS) said more than 150 million Americans were now under winter storm warnings.

At least 21 deaths have been blamed on the widespread storm.

Deaths have been reported in Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky and Louisiana.

In North Carolina, a tornado spawned by the same storm left three dead and 10 injured early on Tuesday morning. Officials there say rescues are ongoing.

On Tuesday, the National Weather Service reported that over 73% of the US is currently covered by snow.

The freezing storm has even reached northern and central parts of Mexico where millions of people have experienced a second day of intermittent power cuts.

Mexico's electricity operator has introduced rotating blackouts in at least 12 states, including around the capital, Mexico City. Frozen pipelines have also disrupted the supply of natural gas from the US.

US President Joe Biden has approved a state of emergency in Texas, which has seen some of its coldest temperatures in more than 30 years - some areas hit 0F (-18C) on Sunday.

The high demand for electricity in the state has caused the power grid to fail. Rolling blackouts have been imposed in some areas to conserve power for hospitals, police and fire stations, leaving over 4.3 million people without electricity.

The crisis was worsened when nearly half the state's wind power generation was knocked out by the storm on Sunday. Wind power is the state's second-largest source of electricity.

Icy roads have also led to a spate of traffic accidents and people have been advised to avoid travel where possible.

In Houston, nearly 120 road crashes were reported on Sunday alone. A pile-up on a major highway near Oklahoma City during a snowstorm on Sunday left several lorries on fire.

The George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and the city's Hobby Airport were both closed until at least Tuesday afternoon.

The Texas state legislature closed down on Tuesday due to the storm. House Speaker Dade Phelan told lawmakers to stay away from the Austin statehouse because the "extreme winter weather Texans experienced this week caused the lights to go off across the Lone Star State".

Texas Governor Gregg Abbott has urged "all Texans to remain vigilant against the extremely harsh weather".

Trump acquitted by US Senate in second impeachment trial

WASHINGTON, Feb 14: Donald Trump was acquitted Saturday of inciting the horrific attack on the U.S. Capitol, concluding a historic impeachment trial that spared him the first-ever conviction of a current or former U.S. president but exposed the fragility of America’s democratic traditions and left a divided nation to come to terms with the violence sparked by his defeated presidency.

Barely a month since the deadly Jan. 6 riot that stunned the world, the Senate convened for a rare weekend session to deliver its verdict, voting while armed National Guard troops continued to stand their posts outside the iconic building.

The quick trial, the nation’s first of a former president, showed in raw and emotional detail how perilously close the invaders had come to destroy the nation's deep tradition of a peaceful transfer of presidential power after Trump had refused to concede the election.

Rallying outside the White House, he unleashed a mob of supporters to “fight like hell" for him at the Capitol just as Congress was certified Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. As hundreds stormed the building, some in tactical gear engaging in bloody combat with police, lawmakers fled for their lives. Five people died.

The verdict, on a vote of 57-43, is all but certain to influence not only the former president's political future but that of the senators sworn to deliver impartial justice as jurors. Seven Republicans joined all Democrats to convict, but it was far from the two-thirds threshold required.

The outcome after the uprising leaves unresolved the nation’s wrenching divisions over Trump's brand of politics that led to the most violent domestic attack on one of America's three branches of government.

“Senators, we are in a dialogue with history, a conversation with our past, with a hope for our future," said Rep. Madeleine Dean, one of the House prosecutors in closing arguments.

“What we do here, what is being asked of each of us here in this moment will be remembered."

Trump, unrepentant, welcomed his second impeachment acquittal and said his movement “has only just begun." He slammed the trial as “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country."

Though he was acquitted of the sole charge of incitement of insurrection, it was easily the largest number of senators to ever vote to find a president of their own party guilty of an impeachment count of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Voting to find Trump guilty were GOP Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Even after voting to acquit, the Republican leader Mitch McConnell condemned the former president as “practically and morally responsible" for the insurrection. McConnell contended Trump could not be convicted because he was gone from the White House.

The trial had been momentarily thrown into confusion when senators Saturday suddenly wanted to consider potential witnesses, particularly concerning Trump's actions as the mob rioted. Prolonged proceedings could have been especially damaging for Biden's new presidency, significantly delaying his emerging legislative agenda. Coming amid the searing COVID-19 crisis, the Biden White House is trying to rush pandemic relief through Congress.

Biden has hardly weighed in on the proceedings and was spending the weekend with family at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland.

The nearly weeklong trial has delivered a grim and graphic narrative of the riot and its consequences in ways that senators, most of whom fled for their own safety that day, acknowledge they are still coming to grips with.

House prosecutors have argued that Trump’s was the "inciter in chief" stoking a months-long campaign with an orchestrated pattern of violent rhetoric and false claims they called the “big lie" that unleashed the mob. Five people died, including a rioter who was shot and a police officer.

Trump’s lawyers countered that Trump’s words were not intended to incite the violence and that impeachment is nothing but a “witch hunt" designed to prevent him from serving in office again.

The senators, announcing their votes from their desks in the very chamber the mob had ransacked, were not only jurors but also witnesses. Only by watching the graphic videos — rioters calling out menacingly for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the January certification tally — did senators say they began to understand just how perilously close the country came to chaos.

Many senators kept their votes closely held until the final moments on Saturday, particularly the Republicans representing states where the former president remains popular. Most of them ultimately voted to acquit, doubting whether Trump was fully responsible or if impeachment is the appropriate response.

“Just look at what Republicans have been forced to defend," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Look at what Republicans have chosen to forgive."

The second-ranking Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, acknowledged, “It’s an uncomfortable vote," adding, "I don’t think there was a good outcome there for anybody."

In closing arguments, lead defender Michael van der Veen emphasized an argument that Republican senators also embraced: that it was all a “phony impeachment show trial."

“Mr. Trump is innocent of the charges against him," said van der Veen. “The act of incitement never happened."

The House impeached Trump on the sole charge of incitement of insurrection one week after the riot, but the Senate was not in full session and McConnell refused requests from Democrats to convene quickly for the trial. Within a week Biden was inaugurated, Trump was gone and Pelosi sent the article of impeachment to the Senate days later, launching the proceedings.

The turmoil on Saturday came as senators wanted to hear evidence about Trump's actions during the riot, after prosecutors said he did nothing to stop it.

Fresh stories overnight had focused on Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state, who said in a statement that Trump had rebuffed a plea from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to call off the rioters.

Several Republican senators voted to consider witnesses. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina changed his vote to join them on that 55-45 vote.

But with the Senate facing a prolonged trial and the defense poised to call many more witnesses, the situation was resolved when Herrera Beutler’s statement about the call was read aloud into the record for senators to consider as evidence. As part of the deal, Democrats dropped their planned deposition of the congresswoman and Republicans abandoned their threat to call their own witnesses. They also agreed to include GOP Sen. Mike Lee's time stamp of a call from Trump around the time Pence was evacuated, minutes after Trump sent a tweet critical of his vice president.

Impeachment trials are rare, senators meeting as the court of impeachment over a president only four times in the nation's history, for Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and now twice for Trump, the only one to be twice impeached. There have been no convictions.

Unlike last year’s impeachment trial of Trump in the Ukraine affair, a complicated charge of corruption and obstruction over his attempts to have the foreign ally dig up dirt on then-campaign rival Biden, this one brought an emotional punch displayed in graphic videos of the siege that laid bare the unexpected vulnerability of the democratic system.

At the same time, this year's trial carried similar warnings from the prosecutors that Trump must be held accountable because he has shown repeatedly he has no bounds. Left unchecked, he will further test the norms of civic behavior, even now that he is out of office still commanding loyal supporters, they said.

Democracy is fragile: Biden on Senate acquittal of Trump

WASHINGTON, Feb 14: US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that the Senate's acquittal of former President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection was a reminder that democracy was fragile, and every American had a duty to defend the truth.

"This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile," Biden said in a statement hours after the Senate failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump.

‘Movement Has Only Just Begun’: Trump After Impeachment Acquittal

WASHINGTON, Feb 14: “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump said in a statement, hours after the Senate vote.

"In the months ahead, I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future," he added.

In first call, Biden presses Xi on 'abuses in Xinjiang', HK, Taiwan

WASHINGTON, Feb 11: US President Joe Biden clashed with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, over the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, in their first phone call since Biden came to power.

Biden on Thursday said he spoke to his Chinese counterpart for two hours on Wednesday night. "If we don't get moving, they are going to eat our lunch," Biden told reporters.

Wednesday’s call was also the first between Xi and a US president since the Chinese leader spoke with former President Donald Trump in March last year. Since then, relations between the two countries have become the worst they have been for decades.

Biden told Xi it was a US priority to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific region and "underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including towards Taiwan," the White House said in a statement.

President Xi pushed back, warning that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang - home to China's persecuted Uighur Muslims - were “China’s internal affairs and concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the US side should respect China’s core interests and act prudently,” the foreign ministry said.

Xi emphasised that China and the US can accomplish much for their mutual benefit when they work together, while confrontation “will definitely be disastrous for both countries and the world,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday.

Despite the disagreements, the Chinese leader sounded a positive tone, expressing hope for better relations between the two sides.

“You have said that America can be defined in one word: Possibilities. We hope the possibilities will now point toward an improvement of China-US relations,” the foreign ministry statement quoted Xi as saying.

He also said that China and the US could have in-depth communications on matters concerning their relationship and major international and regional issues, and that their military, economic, financial and law enforcement authorities “may also have more contacts”.

The White House said that Biden and Xi also exchanged views on countering the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as on the shared challenges of climate change and preventing weapons proliferation - a reference to the US desire to cooperate with Beijing in persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters ahead of the call Biden would be "practical, hard-headed, clear-eyed" in dealings with Xi, but wanted to ensure the two leaders had the opportunity to have an open line of communication, despite US concerns about Chinese behaviour.

The official said the call came at a time when the United States believed it was in a position of strength, after consultations with allies and partners, to lay out core concerns about China's "aggressive activities and abuses."

However, he said Biden's agenda for the call did not include US participation in Beijing's 2022 Winter Olympics, despite mounting demands for the Games to be moved over China's human rights record and Washington's determination it has committed genocide against minority Muslims in its Xinjiang region.

The Biden administration will look in coming months at adding "new targeted restrictions" on certain sensitive technology exports to China in cooperation with allies and partners, the official said.

He also said there would be no quick moves to lift the former Trump administration's trade tariffs on China, but more consultations with allies on how to deal with the issue of trade imbalances with Beijing.

The call came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone to top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi on Friday. That was the first announced high-level exchange between top diplomats from the two countries since former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Yang in Hawaii last June.

In his call, Blinken said Washington would stand up for human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong - all issues Yang had days earlier said the United States should stay out of.

Xi congratulated Biden on his election in a message in November, even though Biden had called him a "thug" during the campaign and vowed to lead an international effort to "pressure, isolate and punish China."

Biden has called Beijing Washington's "most serious competitor", and his administration has indicated it will broadly continue the tough approach taken by Trump.

Biden said in a CBS interview broadcast at the weekend the relationship would be characterised by "extreme competition," and had shown little sign he was in a hurry to engage. His call with Xi came after those with allies and partners he has vowed to work with to stand up to Beijing.

Biden has said his administration has expressed hopes to cooperate with China on policy priorities like climate change.

"I told him I will work with China when it benefits the American people," Biden said on Twitter after the call.

In his CBS interview, Biden stressed the relationship he established with Xi when he was vice president under Barack Obama.

Biden said he had had 24-25 hours of private meetings with Xi while vice president and travelled 17,000 miles with him.

Biden described Xi as both "very bright" and "very tough." He added: "He doesn't have - and I don't mean this is a criticism, just the reality, he doesn't have a democratic, small D, bone in his body."

Biden announces new sanctions against Myanmar generals after coup

WASHINGTON, Feb 10: US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he had approved an executive order paving the way for new U.S. sanctions on Myanmar generals after the military detained elected leaders and seized power on Feb. 1.

Biden said the executive order would enable his administration "to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests as well as close family members."

While neither Biden nor the Treasury Department specified who would be hit by the sanctions or how, the president promised controls on exports and to prevent the generals from accessing $1 billion of Burmese government funds held in the United States.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday the specifics of the new sanctions would be spelled out this week.

"We will identify a first round of targets this week, and we're also going to impose strong exports controls," Biden said.

"We're freezing U.S. assets that benefit the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for healthcare, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly."

Myanmar's military arrested civilian leaders, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and announced a year-long state of emergency, citing allegations a November election was beset by fraud. The electoral commission dismissed the army's complaints.

Protesters took to the streets of Myanmar for a fifth day on Wednesday, vowing to keep up demonstrations against the coup even after a woman was shot and critically wounded during clashes the previous day.

The United States would be ready to impose additional measures and would work with other countries to join in pressuring the coup-makers, Biden said.

The United States is likely to target the commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup. Min Aung Hlaing and other generals are already under U.S. sanctions imposed in 2019 over abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.

They could also target the military’s two major conglomerates. Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corp are sprawling holding companies with investments spanning various sectors including banking, gems, copper, telecoms and clothing.

The Biden administration has been working to form an international response to the crisis, including by working with allies in Asia who have closer ties to Myanmar and its military.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi agreed to urge Myanmar authorities to immediately stop their violence against protesters, according to a readout from Japan's foreign ministry on Wednesday U.S. time.

The Biden administration also was working on its Myanmar policy with both fellow Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke on Wednesday with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has a longstanding interest in the country and a close relationship with Suu Kyi, a McConnell aide said.

Modi, Biden Desire To Work for Free Indo-Pacific

NEW DELHI, Feb 9: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden have committed to working together to achieve their two nations' common goals on the global arena.

In a telephonic call yesterday, the first since the new administration was inaugurated at the US Capitol last month, the two leaders agreed to continue close cooperation on a number of fields, including climate change, terrorism, and freedom of navigation.

"..the United States and India will work closely together to win the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, renew their partnership on climate change, rebuild the global economy in a way that benefits the people of both countries, and stand together against the scourge of global terrorism," a statement issued by The White House has said.

The two leaders will continue to cooperate and promote a "free and open Indo-Pacific", support freedom of navigation and territorial integrity. They also committed to strengthen regional architecture through the Quad, the statement said. The Quad or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal strategic forum of the US, Japan, Australia, and India.

"The President underscored his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world and noted that a shared commitment to democratic values is the bedrock for the US-India relationship," the statement said.

Earlier, on Monday, PM Modi had tweeted saying he and President Biden discussed "our shared priorities" and expressed commitment to a "rule-based international order".

The two leaders have agreed to stay in close touch on a range of global challenges, The White House statement said, adding that they looked forward to what can be achieved "together for their people and for their nations".

Xi Jinping doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body: Biden

WASHINGTON, Feb 7: President Joe Biden anticipates the US rivalry with China will take the form of “extreme competition” rather than conflict between the two world powers.

Biden said in an excerpt of a CBS interview aired on Sunday that he has not spoken with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping since he became US President.

“He’s very tough. He doesn’t have — and I don’t mean it as a criticism, just the reality — he doesn’t have a democratic, small D, bone in his body,” Biden said.

Biden also said in the interview that the United States will not lift its economic sanctions on Iran in order to get Tehran back to the negotiating table to discuss how to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

Biden sends first US warship through Taiwan Strait

WASHINGTON, Feb 4: A US warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, the American navy said, in the first such voyage since the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer conducted a routine transit through the waterway separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, the US Seventh Fleet said in a statement.

US warships periodically conduct navigation exercises in the strait, often triggering angry responses from China which claims self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as part of its territory.

Beijing views any ships passing through the strait as essentially a breach of its sovereignty - while the US and many other nations view the route as international waters open to all.

The voyage by the USS John S. McCain “demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”, the Seventh Fleet statement said.

“The United States military will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Taiwan's defence ministry confirmed the journey without identifying the vessel.

Beijing on Thursday said it was “closely monitoring” the situation.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China would “continue to be on high alert at all times, respond to all threats and provocations at any moment, and will resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

The transit comes after two US reconnaissance planes and one jet tanker flew near Taiwan's airspace on Monday, according to the island's defence ministry, which did not disclose their routes.

Beijing has stepped up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, as she refuses to acknowledge Beijing's stance that the island is part of “one China”.

Last year Chinese military jets made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan's defence zone, with some analysts warning that tensions between the two sides were at their highest since the mid-1990s.

US in touch with India, Japan on Myanmar coup

WASHINGTON, Feb 2: The United States said on Tuesday it is having “daily ongoing conversations” with India, Japan and other countries that have better relations with the military in Myanmar, in the wake of the army seizing power in the country.

The US also said it has made the determination that deposing of a duly elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi constituted a military coup and the determination will trigger related restrictions and sanctions.

“We have certainly been in frequent contact with our like-minded allies and partners in the region; you mentioned Japan and India,” a state department official said to reporters on background Myanmar. The official was responding to a question if the US was in touch with countries that have good relations with the Myanmar military, such as India and Japan.

“We’re having daily ongoing conversations with them and we certainly appreciate that some other countries have better contact with Burmese military than we do, so we’re continuing those conversations,” the official added.

The coup-related US restrictions were still being worked out, but the official said they will not impact humanitarian non-governmental assistance such as those meant for Rohingya refugees.

President Joe Biden had on Monday warned of “appropriate action” against the Myanmar government that could include the possible reimposition of sanctions.

“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

The United States had removed economic sanctions on Myanmar in 2016. But many of the key figures in the Myanmar military are under restrictions for human rights violations, including those related to the Rohingya people.

Biden’s pick for Pentagon deputy Kathleen Hicks vows to defend nuclear triad

WASHINGTON, Feb 2: President Joe Biden’s nominee for deputy defense secretary told senators she backs plans to modernize the air-land-sea triad of nuclear weapons in the face of threats from China and Russia, an effort where she’d play a leading role.

“I am worried about the state of the readiness of the nuclear triad, and if confirmed that is an area I would want to get my team in place and start to look at right away,” Kathleen Hicks said at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

She said “Nuclear deterrence is the cornerstone of American national security as long as there are nuclear threats out there.”

Hicks would be the first woman confirmed as deputy defense secretary, an opportunity she called “another crack in the glass ceiling.” She would report to new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the retired four-star Army general who is the first Black leader of the Defense Department.

Hicks will assume primary responsibility for procurement decisions about modernizing the nuclear triad -- which may be a trillion-dollar effort over coming years -- because Austin has recused himself from matters involved Raytheon Technologies Corp., where he previously served as a director.

Raytheon’s Collins Aerospace unit is a subcontractor on a planned new intercontinental ballistic missile effort led by Northrop Grumman Corp., and Raytheon is the top contractor on the missile known as the Long-Range Standoff weapon.

In written questions to Hicks, the Armed Services Committee said Austin’s “broadly scoped recusal will almost certainly prohibit” his participation in those major decisions.

Hicks also would be responsible for directing day-to-day management of the vast Pentagon bureaucracy as it grapples with restoring frayed trust with American allies and helping in the nationwide roll-out of coronavirus vaccines.

Hicks, 50, headed Biden’s Pentagon transition team and is an expert on national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She also has been serving on the board of closely held Aerospace Corp. She was deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and forces from 2009 to 2012 and principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy from 2012 to 2013.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who introduced Hicks, said she has “deep knowledge” of the Defense Department and its “bureaucratic black arts” and helped shape strategic policies in times of constrained budgets.

Hicks also commented on the challenges presented by China’s rise, echoing Austin in describing the Asian power as “the pacing challenge of our time.” She said that “armed conflict between the United States and China is not desirable and it is not inevitable,” but acknowledged that it’s possible.

Biden threatens to review sanctions on Myanmar following coup

WASHINGTON, Feb 1: President Biden threatened to review sanctions on Myanmar after the military seized power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the weekend.

“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action,” Biden said in a statement Monday.

He called the situation a “direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law,” and called on the international community to “press the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they seized.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was pressed on a section of the statement that says, "The United States is taking note of those who stand with the people of Burma in this difficult hour," and asked whether the suggestion was a warning to China specifically.

Psaki wouldn’t directly address the question, but rather, said it was “a message to all countries in the region and countries who will be asked to respond or to consider what the appropriate response will be in reaction to the events.”

 

 

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