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US House votes to suspend debt ceiling

WASHINGTON, June 1: US lawmakers voted Wednesday to raise the national borrowing limit as a crucial first step to averting a catastrophic default, greenlighting a pact struck between Washington's warring parties after weeks of brinkmanship and fraught backroom deal-making.

Hammered out between Democratic President Joe Biden and the Republicans in the House of Representatives, the measure suspends the debt ceiling through 2024, slightly cutting government spending next year.

"Passing the Fiscal Responsibility Act is a crucial first step for putting America back on track," said Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in Congress.

"It does what is responsible for our children, what is possible in divided government, and what is required by our principles and promises."

Biden hailed the 314-117 vote as a "critical step" to protecting the country's post-pandemic economic recovery that had been achieved through "bipartisan compromise."

The drama capped a tense few days on Capitol Hill, with the Treasury expecting to run out of the money as soon as Monday.

The Republican majority in the House needed help from dozens of Democrats to fend off a right-wing rebellion -- 71 conservatives voted no -- and advance the deal to the Senate, which is expected to follow suit by the end of the week.

McCarthy's lieutenants had spent the final hours frantically whipping votes, as senior Democrats vowed that their members would put the nation's finances above the temptation to give the opposition a bloody nose.

"The consequences of slipping past the deadline would reverberate across the world and take years to recover from," Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democratic-led Senate, warned ahead of the lower chamber's vote.

"Remember, a default would almost certainly trigger another recession, send costs soaring, kill millions of jobs -- hardworking people thrown out of work through no fault of their own."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the proposed spending limits for 2024 and 2025 would trim nearly $1.5 trillion from projected federal budget deficits over the next decade. The total debt is more than $31 trillion.

The vote was the result of weeks of on-off talks between the McCarthy and Biden teams, with Democrats accusing Republicans of holding the economy "hostage" by insisting on spending cuts to accompany the hike in the borrowing cap.

Fiscal hawks on the right of Congress have accused the White House of pushing unsustainable spending programs and say negotiating the future budget must be a condition of hiking the limit, which covers debts already incurred.

The high drama seen in recent debt ceiling and budget fights was absent however as House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries had been open that his members would provide enough votes to ensure the bill was never in danger.

But it was a high wire act for McCarthy, whose job would have been on the line had the majority of his members rejected the pact, only to see it pushed through anyway.

Securing 149 Republican votes -- roughly two-thirds of his caucus -- allows McCarthy to project strength in his bid to face down criticism from the Republican right, which has accused him of capitulating to the White House by not demanding steeper cuts.

Some hardliners have openly mused about using a new power granted by McCarthy as part of his pitch for the speakership in January to call for snap vote to oust him.

Biden Congratulates Turkey's Erdogan On His Win, Talks About Sweden's NATO Bid

WWASHINGTON, May 30: US President Joe Biden said that in a call on Monday Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan repeated Ankara's desire to buy F-16 fighter jets from the United States, while Biden responded that Washington was keen to see Ankara drop its objection to Sweden's joining NATO.

The exchange took place when Biden called Erdogan to congratulate him on his victory in Turkey's presidential election on Sunday.

"I spoke to Erdogan. I congratulated Erdogan. He still wants to work out something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted to deal with Sweden, so let's get that done. And so we'll be back in touch with one another," Biden told reporters before departing the White House for Delaware.

"We're going to talk more about it next week," he added.

Bids for NATO membership must be approved by all NATO members. Both Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve Sweden's bid.

Turkey has sought to buy $20 billion worth of F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits from the United States, but the sale has been stalled due to objections from the U.S. Congress over Ankara's problematic human rights record and Syria policy, even though the Biden administration has repeatedly said it supports the sale.

A much smaller $259 million package including avionics software upgrades for Turkey's current fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft was cleared by U.S. Congress earlier this year, days after Turkey ratified Finland's NATO accession.

The Biden administration has repeatedly rejected any assertion of any "quid pro quo" between the sale and the NATO enlargement, although Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in January said the U.S. side made it clear that an approval of NATO bids would be viewed positively by the Congress.

A bipartisan group of senators in a February letter to Biden said Turkey's failure to ratify the accession protocols for Sweden and Finland, which was still waiting at the time, would "call into question this pending sale", referring to the F-16s.

A source familiar with the discussions said the United States had previously told Turkey that it would be hard to get Congress to approve the F-16 deal if Ankara doesn't green light Sweden.

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year, ditching long-held policies of military non-alignment following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey ratified Finland's NATO accession in late March, but has continued to object to Sweden, saying Stockholm harbors members of militant groups it considers to be terrorists. Hungary has also not yet approved Sweden's bid.

Seeing Sweden join NATO by mid-July when the alliance is due to hold a leaders summit in Lithuania is among the top priorities for Washington

The Turkish Presidency in a brief statement on the call between Biden and Erdogan said the two leaders agreed to deepen cooperation on all aspects of their bilateral ties, whose importance they said has grown even more in the face of regional and global challenges.

Biden, McCarthy strike deal to avert US debt default

WASHINGTON, May 28: Averting a possible global economic crisis, US President Joe Biden and House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy have struck a deal on suspending America’s debt ceiling for two years along side spending cuts in the federal budget, the White House announced on Saturday.

The House and the Senate will need to pass the agreed-upon legislation to ensure that the US doesn’t default on its obligations. While the legislation is expected to pass, it will encounter challenges from the Republican extreme-Right, which had demanded greater spending cuts, and Democratic progressives, who had warned against spending cuts.

Both the President and Speaker, however, projected the deal as a win to convince their constituents that it meets the priorities of their respective parties.

In a statement, Biden said that McCarthy and he had reached an agreement in principle. “This agreement is good news for the American people, because it prevents what could have been a catastrophic default and would have led to an economic recession, retirement accounts devastated, and millions of jobs lost.”

The president also said that the deal reduced spending while protecting critical programmes for working people, growing the economy for everyone, and key priorities and legislative accomplishments pushed by Democrats.

McCarthy said that the deal, without increasing taxes, would result in “historic reductions in spending, consequential reforms that will lift people out of poverty into the work force, rein in government overreach”.

Biden spoke to McCarthy for 90 minutes on the phone on Saturday to finalise the deal and smoothen over the differences. While the text of the deal isn’t public yet, and the legislation is still being finalised, American media outlets reported the broad contours of the agreement.

Non-defence spending would be maintained at the 2023 levels till next year and would increase by 1% in 2025. The White House has agreed to cut $10 billion in funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) it had secured to go after tax cheats, give up the unspent funding meant for Covid-19 pandemic relief package, impose work requirements for certain segments of the population on government assistance, and maintain the same level of taxes on the wealthy and tax corporations.

Republicans have agreed on maintaining proposed spending for Medicare, social security, clean energy, student loan debt waivers, education funding for low income students, care for military veterans, child care grants, cancer research, among other Democratic priorities. The two sides also agreed to streamline permission for energy programmes, both in the case of fossil fuel and renewable infrastructure including transmission lines.

The House is expected to vote on the deal on Wednesday, after which it will go to the Senate. The Congress will have to expedite its approval to be able to meet the June 5 deadline.

The debt ceiling is a rather unique feature of the American political economy. Besides authorising spending, the US Congress also authorises the extent to which the executive can borrow to spend. This limit has increased over the years, but was currently pegged at $31.4 trillion.

The US hit its debt limit on January 19 this year, and the Treasury Department since then has been relying on extraordinary measures. Treasury secretary Janet Yellen had warned that the US was likely to default on its obligations if a deal wasn’t struck by June 5.

Republicans, who have a majority in the House, had insisted on major spending cuts, including in welfare programmes and Biden’s signature legislations. The White House had initially insisted that the US Congress had a duty to raise the debt ceiling unconditionally but eventually agreed to negotiate on spending cuts in the budget, in return for a suspension of the ceiling.

In the past few weeks, both sides had stepped up negotiations as the deadline loomed, with Biden postponing his trip to Australia and Papua New Guinea to return home from Japan to be available for negotiations.

Teen Arrested For Trying To Kill Joe Biden Had Nazi Flag In Crashed Truck

WASHINGTON, May 23: A man who crashed a U-Haul truck containing a Nazi flag near the White House has been arrested and charged with trying to kill or harm the president, police said Tuesday.

The driver apparently drove deliberately into bollards outside Lafayette Park just before 10:00 pm (0200 GMT) on Monday, the US Park Police said, adding that no one was injured.

TV images showed a red and black swastika banner that had been found during a police search of the truck.

The driver of the vehicle was identified as Sai Varshith Kandula, 19, of Chesterfield, Missouri, the Park Police said in a statement Tuesday.

It said he was charged with "assault with a dangerous weapon, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, threatening to kill/kidnap/ inflict harm on a president, vice president, or family member, destruction of federal property, and trespassing."

A local Fox affiliate reported that some guests in a nearby hotel said they were told to evacuate after the crash.

A journalist with the station posted video from the scene showing a robot searching the cargo area of the truck.

Govt Rejects US Report Criticising India On Religious Freedom

NEW DELHI, May 16: India on Tuesday trashed as "motivated" and "biased" a report by the US State Department on religious freedom that criticised the country for alleged attacks on minorities.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said such reports continue to be based on "misinformation and flawed understanding".

The annual report listed alleged attacks on religious minorities in India and expressed concerns over such incidents.

"We are aware of the release of the US State Department 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom. Regrettably, such reports continue to be based on misinformation and flawed understanding," Bagchi said.

"Motivated and biased commentary by some US officials only serves to undermine further the credibility of these reports," he said.

Bagchi was responding to media queries on the report.

"We value our partnership with the US and will continue to have frank exchanges on issues of concern to us," he said.

The report that documents the status of religious freedom in countries across the world was released on Monday.

A senior US official said far too many governments, including Russia, India, China and Saudi Arabia, continue to freely target faith community members.

"Far too many governments continue to freely target faith community members within their borders," Rashad Hussain, Ambassador at Large, Office of International Religious Freedom, told reporters at a news conference in Washington soon after the report was released by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

The report provides a fact-based, comprehensive view of the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories around the world, Blinken said.

Fixing Visas Is Top Priority: New US Envoy to India Eric Garcetti

NEW DELHI, May 11: Reducing the wait time for US visas for Indians is not the "10th or 11th priority" but the "number one priority", said the new US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti.

Garcetti takes charges at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started preparations to fly to the US on a state visit on June 22. US President Joe Biden is also expected to visit India later this year to attend the G20 summit in Delhi.

"I am very excited to be the ambassador here not only when Prime Minister Modi will come to the US but President Biden will be able to come here as well. That's historic. I am not sure if this has happened before, both leaders visiting each other's country in a gap of just months," Garcetti said.

On a question whether he would be looking into the issue of long wait time for US visa, Garcetti said, "Absolutely, and the President said, 'Eric, go fix this'. It's not just a 10th or 11th priority. It's the number one priority for me."

"I think visas touch Indians more directly than anything else that America does. And it's a good problem to have. More and more Indians want to come to the United States, to study, as tourists... We are committed to solving this problem," the US Ambassador said.

"Already, wait times (for visa) are down 60 per cent since the beginning of the year. In January, February and March, we processed a record number of visas. Last year the largest source of student visas came from India than any other country. Hold on, in the next few weeks, when our leaders meet, you will get many announcements. And even before that we are prepared for the student visa season and already the wait time is getting shorter and shorter. We want more Indians to continue to come to America," Garcetti said.

The US is on track to issue more than a million visas to Indians this year, a top official had said in April. The US is also prioritising H-1B and L visas, the most sought-after by information technology professionals from India, Donald Lu, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, had said in April.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.

Garcetti, while talking about India's G20 presidency amid the war in Ukraine, said that India's G20 presidency is "impressive" as "India is a bridge between the past and the future, between east, west, north, south".

"We stand with India on those aspirations to make sure G20 is not just about the war in Ukraine. We won't stop speaking out strongly about an unprovoked invasion by Russia. I am sure Indians understand how important borders and sovereignty are. At the same time we know there are relationships that have been there for decades," he said.

The US Ambassador denied India and the America are coming closer due to the China factor.

"I think we really like each other. India and the US are natural friends. It's not transactional; it's relational. It's not just an affinity for each other; we do have mutual interests. It's not going to be defined by other factors, whether China or anything else," he said.

Modi To Visit US On June 22, Biden To Host State Dinner: White House

NEW DELHI, May 10: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will go to the US on a state visit on June 22 following an invitation from President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, the government said in a statement today. The US President and the First Lady will also host Modi to a state dinner.

"The visit will underscore the growing importance of the strategic partnership between India and the United States as the two nations collaborate across numerous sectors. The leaders will have the opportunity to review strong bilateral cooperation in various areas of mutual interest, including technology, trade, industry... and deepening people-to-people connections," the government said.

Modi's state visit is a sign of the deepening US-India relationship as the Biden administration advances policies and initiatives for a free and open Indo-Pacific to counter what it sees as a growing threat posed by China.

Both India and the US are working to shore up support against China's growing assertiveness.

Modi visited Biden at the White House in 2021, but as part of the Quad summit bringing together the US, Australia, Japan and India, and not a full state visit.

The US and India last month announced an Initiative on critical and emerging technology, a plan to share advanced defence and computing technology, including the joint production of General Electric jet engines.

The two leaders will "explore ways to strengthen India-US collaboration in pluri-lateral and multilateral fora, including in the G20. They would reflect on their shared vision for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific and discuss opportunities to expand and consolidate the Quad engagement," the government said today.

In a statement, the White House said the upcoming visit "will affirm the deep and close partnership between the United States and India and the warm bonds of family and friendship that link Americans and Indians together."

"The visit will strengthen our two countries' shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific and our shared resolve to elevate our strategic technology partnership, including in defence, clean energy, and space," the White House said.

First-Graders Allegedly Force Girl To Perform Sex Act In US School

NEW YORK, May 10: Parents are protesting against a school in the US after first-graders allegedly coerced their 6-year-old classmate into performing a sex act as they recorded it, even though a teacher was there, according to Fox News.

The news outlet further stated that parents and community members are angered by the situation at the school, and the number of people gathered to protest against the school is growing.

Family members of the girl involved are also planning another protest in the evening, as this unexpected news has shocked the locals.

"A 6-year-old was exposed to things that even adults would have a hard time overcoming. This is trauma at its worst, and it has a trickle-down effect because it affects everyone around them," one of the protesting parents said.

The alleged incident happened at Plainview South Elementary on April 19, and it only came to light when a parent spread the word on social media, the Plainview Herald reported.

The authorities first acknowledged the assault a week later, following a public outcry.

An older cousin of the 6-year-old girl who was assaulted said she noticed a shift in the young girl's behaviour after the traumatic event.

"She's in distress; she's like, 'My stomach hurts. I just want to lay down,'" the cousin told KCBD. "You can tell something's wrong with her. So they said, 'What's going on? What happened?'

According to The New York Post, the young girl told her family that a boy had exposed himself to her while in the lunch line at school. She later mentioned that a week before that incident, she was pulled under a desk and forced to perform a sex act on a male student.

US Announces $1.2 Billion Aid To Ukraine For Air Defence, Ammunition

WASHINGTON, May 9: The United States on Tuesday announced a new $1.2 billion security assistance package for Ukraine to boost the country's air defences and provide it with additional artillery ammunition.

Ukraine is readying for a highly anticipated spring offensive against invading Russian troops, but the latest assistance will not immediately arrive on the battlefield as it must still be procured from the defence industry or partners.

This avoids depleting US stocks but means the assistance will take longer to reach Kyiv than equipment drawn directly from existing American military inventories.

The package underscores the continued US commitment to Ukraine "by committing critical near-term capabilities, such as air defence systems and munitions, while also building the capacity of Ukraine's armed forces to defend its territory and deter Russian aggression over the long term," the Defense Department said in a statement.

It features unspecified air defence systems and munitions as well as equipment to integrate Western systems with Ukraine's existing gear, which is mainly of Soviet vintage.

Ukraine's air defences have played a key role in countering Russia's invasion, preventing Moscow's forces from gaining control of the skies and helping shield the country against missile and drone attacks.

Secret US documents from late February that were allegedly leaked online by a junior member of the Air National Guard detailed looming munitions shortages for Soviet systems that make up a significant chunk of Ukrainian medium and high-range protection.

Kyiv's international supporters have worked to bolster its existing defences with a mix of cutting-edge systems such as Patriot and NASAMS, as well as older equipment.

The package also includes ammunition for counter-drone systems meant to counter the threat of Iranian-made uncrewed aircraft that Russia has used for strikes in Ukraine, as well as 155 mm rounds -- a key type of artillery ammunition for Ukraine's forces.

It will also provide commercial satellite imagery services as well as support for training and maintenance.

The latest assistance brings total US military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February 2022 to more than $36 billion.

The United States has spearheaded the push for international support for Ukraine, quickly forging an international coalition to back Kyiv after Russia invaded in February 2022 and coordinating aid from dozens of countries.

Kyiv has pushed for some items that its international supporters have been reluctant to provide, including Patriot air defence systems and advanced heavy tanks -- which were eventually delivered -- and others such as Western fighter aircraft, which have not been pledged so far.

27-Year-Old Indian Woman Among 9 Killed In Mass Shooting At US Mall

HOUSTON, May 8: A 27-year-old Indian woman, who was working in the US as a project engineer, was among nine people killed when a gunman opened fire at a crowded mall in Dallas in Texas, authorities said on Monday.

Aishwarya Thatikonda, of McKinney, was shopping with a friend when they were shot by gunman Mauricio Garcia at the Allen Premium Outlets in Dallas, the New York Post newspaper reported.

The shooting started around 3:30 pm on Saturday as throngs of shoppers filled the outdoor mall. The shooting killed at least eight people before Mauricio Garcia, a 33-year-old gunman, was shot dead by a police officer.

Aishwarya, daughter of a district judge in Ranga Reddy district court in India, worked as a project engineer at Perfect General Contractors LLC.

A family representative confirmed to the WFAA television station that Thatikonda was also among the dead from the senseless gun violence.

Aishwarya had spoken to her family members before the incident on Saturday, and when they called her back after learning about the shooting they did not get any response, according to the judge's friend.

"The family got the information about (her death) on Sunday. They are in shock. They have been told that efforts were being made to send her body by Wednesday," the judge's friend said.

She was an engineer living and working in Texas while her family was in India. Her friend, who was not identified, was injured but is currently in stable condition at the hospital, the paper said.

Thatikonda's family is planning to bring her body back to India, it added.

She did her civil engineering from a college in Hyderabad in India and completed her masters in the US after which she had been working there for more than two years.

A Dallas home linked to Garcia's parents was searched by police Saturday night after the massacre, and officials also scoured a motel where the shooter had booked an extended stay, law-enforcement sources told local outlet WFAA-TV.

In a statement about the shooting, the mall said, "We are horrified by the senseless tragedy at Allen Premium Outlets and are outraged by the violence that continues to plague our country.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and others affected by this heinous act. We are thankful for the Allen Police Officer's heroic actions and for the support of all the first responders." So far there have been at least 198 mass shootings in the United States in 2023, according to the gun violence archive.

Saturday's tragedy occurred just a couple of weeks before the first anniversary of the Uvalle, Texas School massacre when 19 children and two adults were killed by a gunman at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022.

It comes just days after a gunman became enraged during a visit to an Atlanta medical facility, allegedly shooting dead at least one person with a handgun and injuring four others before he was caught hours later.

Saturday's incident is the second-deadliest shooting of the year in the country, after the Monterey Park, California, massacre in which a gunman killed 11 people in a ballroom on January 21.

US Asks China To Stop 'Provocative And Unsafe' Acts In South China Sea

WASHINGTON, April 30: The United States called on China Saturday to stop "provocative and unsafe conduct" in the disputed South China Sea after a recent near-collision with a Philippines coast guard boat there, ramping up rhetoric ahead of a visit by the Filipino president to the White House.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, in a statement two days before President Joe Biden is to host his Philippine counterpart Ferdinand Marcos Jr., said the incident was a reminder of China's "harassment and intimidation" of Philippine vessels in the contested waterway.

"We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct," he said, adding that any attack on Philippine armed forces would trigger a US response.

Joe Biden has been working to bolster relations with Asian allies as the US-Chinese relationship remains in a historically deep chill, and the Philippines' proximity to key sea lanes and Taiwan gives it particular strategic importance.

The near-miss Sunday off the Spratly Islands was the latest in a long string of maritime incidents between China and the Philippines.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring an international ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.

A news agency was one of several media outlets that witnessed the incident after journalists were invited to join two Philippine Coast Guard boats on a six-day patrol of the waters, visiting a dozen islands and reefs.

The Philippine vessels approached Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as Ren'ai Jiao, in the Spratly archipelago.

As one boat, the BRP Malapascua, which was carrying Filipino journalists, neared the shoal, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel more than twice its size sailed into its path.

Foregin journalists watched the incident from the other Philippine Coast Guard boat, which was less than a kilometer (0.6 miles) away.

The Malapascua's commanding officer said the Chinese ship came within 45 meters (50 yards) of his boat and only his quick actions avoided the steel-hulled vessels crashing into each other.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Friday that the Philippine boats had "intruded" without China's permission and called it a "premeditated and provocative action."

But Manila hit back, saying that "routine patrols in our own waters can be neither premeditated or provocative" and insisting they will continue to conduct the patrols.

The near-miss came just a day after Marcos hosted Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang for talks in Manila aimed at defusing tensions in the waterway.

Marcos has insisted he will not let China trample on the Philippines' rights in the sea, and has gravitated toward the United States as he seeks to strengthen defense ties.

Early this month, the Philippines identified four additional military bases -- in addition to five existing sites -- to which US forces will have access, including one near the Spratly Islands.

The two countries also carried out their biggest ever military maneuvers in recent weeks.

This shift has alarmed China, which has accused Washington of trying to drive a wedge between Beijing and Manila.

US-Philippine ties were badly frayed under Marcos's predecessor, the authoritarian Rodrigo Duterte.

Marcos has sought to allay public fears that the reviving alliance with the US could bring the Philippines into the conflict if China were to invade Taiwan.

He has said that with Biden he will discuss the "need to tone down the rhetoric" over the South China Sea, Taiwan and North Korea.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said earlier in the month that Biden intended, in the meeting with Marcos, to "reaffirm the United States' ironclad commitment to the defense of the Philippines."

Biden Says Nuclear Attack By North Korea Would Result In 'End Of Regime'

WASHINGTON, April 27: President Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk Yeol warned North Korea it would face a nuclear response and the "end" of the leadership there if Pyongyang uses its own arsenal.

Speaking at the White House after Oval Office talks during only the second state visit so far in the Biden presidency, the two leaders said the US security shield for South Korea was being strengthened in the face of the nuclear-armed North's aggressive missile tests.

And they made clear that if the isolated, communist dictatorship in North Korea attacks the South or the United States, the response will be devastating.

"A nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies... will result in the end of whatever regime were to take such an action," Biden told reporters at a joint press conference with Yoon.

Yoon said his priority was to secure peace through "superiority of overwhelming forces and not a false peace based on the goodwill of the other side."

"In the event of a North Korean nuclear attack," he said, Washington and Seoul have agreed to "respond swiftly, overwhelmingly and decisively using the full force of the alliance including US nuclear weapons."

A military honor guard and hundreds of guests massed outside the White House where Yoon and his wife, Kim Keon Hee, arrived for a day of pomp and ceremony. They were due to wind up proceedings with a lavish state dinner in the historic East Room.

Yoon and Biden issued what was titled the Washington Declaration, bolstering the US nuclear umbrella over South Korea, which is increasingly nervous about the saber-rattling in the north.

"President Biden has reaffirmed his ironclad commitment to extended deterrence towards the Republic of Korea," Yoon said.

This will include a mechanism for the two countries to share information and consult in event of a North Korean attack, even if US commanders will still retain full control on the nuclear weapons. It will also see more integration of South Korea's conventional military with US nuclear forces.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the new arrangement as an echo of moves last seen when Washington oversaw the defense of Europe against the Soviet Union.

"The United States has not taken these steps, really, since the height of the Cold War with our very closest handful of allies in Europe. And we are seeking to ensure that by undertaking these new procedures, these new steps, that our commitment to extended deterrence is unquestionable," the official said.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that there are no plans to station nuclear weapons in South Korea -- a difference from the Cold War, when US strategic weapons were deployed to Europe.

In addition, Seoul reiterated its pledge in the declaration not to seek its own nuclear arsenal.

The US official said initial steps would include "regular deployment of strategic assets, including a US nuclear ballistic submarine visit to South Korea, which has not happened since the early 1980s."

In addition to submarines, there will be a "regular cadence" of other major platforms, "including bombers or aircraft carriers," the official said, emphasizing however that there will be "no basing of those assets and certainly not nuclear weapons."

A US official said that steps are being taken in advance to defuse potential tensions with Beijing over the tougher military posture.

"We are briefing the Chinese in advance and laying out very clearly our rationale for why we are taking these steps," the official said, adding that the Biden administration is "disappointed that China has been unprepared to use its influence" on North Korea.

Yoon will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday and have lunch with US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. On Friday, he will visit MIT and Harvard University in Boston, before returning home on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Yoon and Biden visited the Korean War Memorial, which features life-sized steel statues of US soldiers marching during the 1950-53 war against the communist north.

Yoon also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and joined Harris for a tour of a NASA facility near Washington.

'I Am Here Because Donald Trump Raped Me': US Writer Testifies Before Jury

NEW YORK, April 26: The New York author who claims Donald Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the 1990s testified in graphic detail about the alleged assault on the second day of the trial over her lawsuit.

E. Jean Carroll, a journalist and former Elle magazine advice columnist, says she kept silent about the alleged attack for decades out of fear that Trump would destroy her if she went public. On Wednesday in Manhattan federal court, she testified that she filed the suit to set the record straight.

"I am here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it he said it didn't happen," Carroll, 79, said under questioning by her lawyer. She added: "He shattered my reputation and I'm trying to get my life back."

The jury of six men and three women will decide if Trump, 76, is liable for sexually assaulting Carroll more than two decades ago and defaming her last year by claiming on social media that she fabricated the attack to sell a book. He has denied wrongdoing and argues the case is part of a broader politically motivated "witch hunt."

His lawyer, Joe Tacopina, signaled during his opening argument on Tuesday that he'll seek to undermine Carroll's story by presenting evidence that she is motivated by an animus toward Trump and that she waited too long to come forward with her claim if it were true.

The jury of six men and three women will decide if Trump, 76, is liable for sexually assaulting Carroll more than two decades ago.

Carroll, asked to describe how the alleged assault unfolded, testified that she and Trump ran into each other at the luxury department store while shopping. She told the jury she agreed to help him pick out a gift for a woman.

Carroll said Trump asked her to go to the sixth-floor lingerie department, where they eventually found a lacy bodysuit that he jokingly suggested she try on. She said she told him he should try it on instead, thinking he would put the bodysuit on over his pants.

Carroll told the jurors she agreed to go into a dressing room with him, thinking it was an amusing moment, "sort of like a Saturday Night Live sketch."

She said Trump then "shut the door and shoved me against the wall. He shoved me so hard my head banged. I was extremely confused and suddenly realized that what I thought was happening was not happening."

She testified that she didn't scream but instead fought to get away, even though Trump is much larger than she is.

"My whole reason for being alive in that moment was to get out of that room," she said. She said she was "trying to wriggle out from under him, but he had pulled down my tights" and assaulted her with his fingers, "which was extremely painful. He put his hand inside of me and curved his finger. As I'm sitting here today I can still feel it."

"I'm proud to say I did get out," Carroll told the court. "I got my knee up and pushed him back."

She fought back tears as she described the guilt she felt over why she went into the dressing room with Trump.

"I was ashamed," she said. "I thought it was my fault. Because I was flirting with him."

Trump on Wednesday morning blasted Carroll's lawsuit in a post on social media, calling the case a "SCAM" and deriding his accuser as "Ms. Bergdorf Goodman."

The case is Carroll v. Trump, 22-cv-10016, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

US To Send Nuclear Submarine To S Korea Amid Rising Threat From N Korea

WASHINGTON, April 26: A US nuclear missile submarine will visit South Korea for the first time in decades as part of a reinforced nuclear shield set to be announced at the White House by presidents Joe Biden and Yoon Suk Yeol, an official said.

The senior US official said measures being announced Wednesday have not been seen since the height of the Cold War and are meant to boost deterrence in the face of North Korea's aggressive nuclear activities.

Biden and Yoon, at the White House for a state visit, will issue a document called the Washington Declaration outlining how in addition to a beefed-up US military umbrella, the United States will increase information sharing with Seoul.

The arrangement -- responding to ever growing tension over communist North Korea's missiles tests and nuclear arsenal -- echoes moves last seen when the Washington oversaw the strategic defense of Europe against the Soviet Union.

"The United States has not taken these steps, really, since the height of the Cold War with our very closest handful of allies in Europe. And we are seeking to ensure that by undertaking these new procedures, these new steps, that our commitment to extended deterrence is unquestionable," a senior official said ahead of the Biden-Yoon meeting.

Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that there are no plans to station US nuclear weapons in South Korea -- a difference from the Cold War, when US strategic weapons were deployed to Europe. In addition, Seoul will reiterate its pledge in the declaration not to seek its own nuclear arsenal.

"We'll announce that we intend to take steps to make our deterrence more visible through the regular deployment of strategic assets, including a US nuclear ballistic submarine visit to South Korea, which has not happened since the early 1980s," a senior official said.

"We'll strengthen our training, our exercises and simulation activities to improve the US-ROK alliances approach to deterring and defending against DPRK threats, including by better integrating ROK conventional assets into our strategic planning," the official said, referring to South and North Korea by their official acronyms.

In addition to submarines, there will be a "regular cadence" of other major platforms, "including bombers or aircraft carriers," the official said. But there will be "no basing of those assets and certainly not nuclear weapons."

Despite more shared information and planning, a US official stressed that use of American nuclear weapons remains under sole authority of the US president.

An official said that steps are being taken in advance to defuse any potential tensions with Beijing over the tougher military posture.

"We are briefing the Chinese in advance and laying out very clearly our rationale for why we are taking these steps," the official, adding that the Biden administration is "disappointed that China has been unprepared to use its influence" on North Korea.

Yoon is only the second foreign leader invited for a state visit by Biden and he and his wife were set to be greeted with full military honors at the White House. The two presidents were holding talks in the Oval Office before giving a press conference in the Rose Garden.

The day will round off with a lavish state dinner.

On Tuesday, Yoon and Biden visited the Korean War Memorial, depicting life-sized steel statues of US soldiers marching during the 1950-53 war against the communist north.

Yoon also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and joined US Vice President Kamala Harris for a tour of a NASA space facility near Washington.

Washington and Seoul are also highlighting the strong cultural links, something emphasized by Netflix's announcement of a $2.5 billion investment in South Korean content. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos met with Yoon in Washington on Monday.

Joe Biden Announces Re-Election Bid

WASHINGTON, April 25: US President Joe Biden announced today he will seek a second term in 2024, plunging at the record age of 80 into a campaign that could set up a rematch against Donald Trump.

He launched his pitch in a video released by his new campaign team, in which he declares it is his job to defend American democracy. Biden said he was still fighting to save American democracy from Republican "extremists."

"When I ran for president four years ago, I said we're in a battle for the soul of America, and we still are," Biden said. "Let's finish this job. I know we can," he added.

Biden's age makes his re-election bid a historic and risky gamble for the Democratic Party, which faces a tough election map to hold the Senate in 2024 and is the minority in the House of Representatives now.

Biden is the oldest person to have occupied the White House and would be 86 at the end of a second four-year term. Sixty-one per cent of registered Democrats in a poll said he was too old to work in government.

Doctors declared Biden, who does not drink alcohol and exercises five times a week, "fit for duty" after an examination in February. The White House says his record shows that he is mentally sharp enough for the rigors of the job.

Even though Biden oversaw the lowest levels of unemployment since 1969, a 40-year high in inflation has marred his economic record.

Data showed inflation slowed for a ninth straight month in March to 5.0 percent, income was rising and demand for workers remains strong, with unemployment at just 3.5 percent.

The White House says massive federal investments on infrastructure, climate change and high-tech sectors like semiconductor manufacturing has already ignited an economic rebirth.

But the recession and renewed inflation remain real threats.

US Evacuates Personnel From Sudan's Capital Amid 'Unconscionable' Fighting

WASHINGTON, April 23: The US military evacuated American embassy staff from Khartoum, President Joe Biden said late Saturday, calling for an end to the "unconscionable" fighting in Sudan's capital between the army and a paramilitary group.

"Today, on my orders, the United States military conducted an operation to extract US Government personnel from Khartoum," Biden said in a statement, adding that the embassy was "temporarily suspending operations."

As the violence entered its second week, Biden pushed for an "immediate and unconditional ceasefire," "unhindered humanitarian access" and respect for "the will of the people of Sudan."

"I am proud of the extraordinary commitment of our Embassy staff, who performed their duties with courage and professionalism and embodied America's friendship and connection with the people of Sudan," Biden said.

In a separate statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he ordered the evacuation of staff and their families due to the "serious and growing security risks" amid fighting that has already left hundreds dead and thousands wounded.

"We remind both belligerents of their obligations under international humanitarian law, including obligations related to the protection of civilians," Blinken said, reiterating earlier calls to "extend and expand" a ceasefire agreement over the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The fighting between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan's forces and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo's Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began April 15 over a dispute on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.

The move was a key condition for a deal aimed at restoring Sudan's democratic transition after the military toppled former leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests.

The two men had joined forces to oust a civilian government installed after Bashir's downfall, before turning on each other.

US 'To Issue More Than A Million Visas' To Indians In 2023: Top Official

WASHINGTON, April 22: The US is on track to issue more than a million visas to Indians this year, a top official has said, assuring that the Biden administration is committed this summer to make sure it processes all of the student visas for Indians whose school starts this fall.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu also said that they are also prioritising work visas: H-1B's and L visas, the most sought-after by IT professionals from India.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.

Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

"We are on track to issue more than a million visas this year. This is a record for us along with a record number of student visas and immigrant visas," Lu said.

Lu said the US is committed this summer to make sure it processes all of the student visas for Indians whose school starts this fall.

There have been growing concerns in India over the long waiting period for first-time visa applicants, especially for those applying under B1 (business) and B2 (tourist) categories.

India is now number two in the world in terms of international students coming to the United States.

"We've also been prioritising work visas: H-1B's and L visas. Wait times at some of our consular sections in India, for these visas are now below 60 days. We will continue to make sure that we prioritise visas for workers, as this is vital for both the American and the Indian economy," Lu said.

"For certain petition-based nonimmigrant work of visa categories, we plan to restart domestic visa renewal for applicants who meet certain requirements, including being physically present in the United States. We plan to have a pilot up and running later this year. This would eliminate the need for these applicants to travel abroad to renew their visas," he said.

Responding to a question on those Indian IT professionals who are on H-1B visas and have lost their jobs, Lu noted that the Department of Homeland Security recently put out some new information specifically on the point of what these workers ought to do who want to readjust their status.

India-US relationship enjoys bipartisan support in the US, he said.

"I think part of the answer you can find in a really strong diaspora community in the US. For 30 years or more, our relationship is in part driven by Indian Americans who have lived here for decades, but still keep a very strong tie with India," he said.

Over a million people fly back and forth between the two countries.

"That's an amazing number given that we're not close at all. It's very expensive to fly back and forth. But those ties of people who moved here or maybe their parents come from India, those ties remain. They haven't been cut by immigration," he said.

"In fact, we now know that over 100,000 Americans are living in India as well. This relationship is very much to weigh and benefits both of us. Yeah. So, I think that's true for political parties as it is for families in the US. Growing up I had many Indian American friends. I think that's just part of the fabric of the United States," Lu said.

Elon Musk Hails SpaceX On Starship Launch, Says Next Test In Few Months

STARBASE, April 20: SpaceX chief Elon Musk on Thursday hailed the launch of the company's Starship rocket after it successfully blasted off before exploding during its first test flight.

"Congrats @SpaceX team on an exciting test launch of Starship! Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months," Musk tweeted

4 Dead, 20 People Shot At US Teen Birthday Party Shooting

WASHINGTON, April 16: At least four people were killed and several injured in a Saturday night shooting at a teen birthday party in Alabama, in the latest deadly spasm of American gun violence.

Local news reports said the shooting occurred at a Sweet 16 party at a dance studio in Dadeville, a small town northeast of the state capital Montgomery, with at least 20 people shot.

"There were four lives tragically lost in this incident, and there's been a multitude of injuries," Sergeant Jeremy Burkett, a spokesman for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), told reporters Sunday.

Annette Allen told the Montgomery Advertiser that her grandson Phil Dowdell was among those who died: he had been celebrating his sister Alexis's 16th birthday when gunfire ripped through the party.

"He was a very, very humble child. Never messed with anybody. Always had a smile on his face," Allen said of her grandson, a high school senior due to graduate within weeks. She said Dowdell's mother was also shot and wounded.

"Everybody's grieving," Allen said of the small community of some 3,000 residents.

More than 12 hours after the tragedy, neither Burkett nor other law enforcement officials provided any details on who may have perpetrated the shooting and why, whether a suspect has been detained or identified, or specifically how many people were injured and what their ages are.

"We can't share anything further at this time," the sergeant said, adding only that "it was tied to a birthday party."

Local media and witnesses have said several wounded people, many of them teens, were transported to local hospitals for medical attention.

Dadeville Chief of Police Jonathan Floyd called the town "a tight-knit community full of wonderful people."

ALEA said its State Bureau of Investigations has launched a probe together with Dadeville police and federal agencies including the FBI.

Television station WRBL of nearby Columbus, Georgia reported heavy police activity overnight and crime scene tape around a building in Dadeville, where it said white sheets could be seen covering parts of the floor.

State leaders took to Twitter Sunday offering prayers and decrying violence but they did not provide details on what happened.

"This morning, I grieve with the people of Dadeville and my fellow Alabamians," state Governor Kay Ivey posted. "Violent crime has NO place in our state, and we are staying closely updated by law enforcement as details emerge."

US Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, called the shooting "heartbreaking."

The United States, a country of around 330 million people, is awash with some 400 million guns, and deadly mass shootings are a regular occurrence.

The latest deaths came on the 16th anniversary of the deadliest school shooting on record in the United States, in which 32 people were killed at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Separately, police confirmed two people were killed and four others wounded in a shooting late Saturday at a crowded park in Louisville, Kentucky, the same city where a bank employee slaughtered five people at his workplace last Monday.

There have been 163 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The non-profit group defines a mass shooting as having a minimum of four victims shot, either injured or killed, excluding any shooter.

Efforts to tighten gun controls have for years run up against opposition from Republicans, staunch defenders of the constitutional right to bear arms.

The political paralysis endures despite widespread outrage over recurring shootings.


After More Than 3 Years, Joe Biden Ends US Covid Emergency Status

WASHINGTON, April 11: President Joe Biden on Monday officially ended the Covid national health emergency that for more than three years underpinned extraordinary efforts to provide care for a country where more than a million people died from the disease.

The White House said Biden signed a law passed earlier by Congress "which terminates the national emergency related to the Covid-19 pandemic."

This closes lavish funding streams for Covid tests, free vaccines and other emergency measures thrown together -- starting in January 2020 -- to try and free the world's biggest economy from the grip of the global pandemic.

Less clear is the impact the end of the emergency will have on the already tense southern border with Mexico, where US authorities have long struggled to manage the flow of undocumented immigrants and large numbers of asylum seekers.

A rule known as Title 42 was used during the official health emergency to impose stringent restrictions on acceptance of undocumented arrivals. That is set to end, forcing the administration to adopt a different legal mechanism if it wants to avoid the politically damaging potential of new influxes.

A senior official in the White House said that the use of Title 42 "is expected to expire on May 11th."

Although the US is now formally turning its back on the worldwide pandemic, the Biden administration is already working on a next generation vaccine and other measures to combat any future variant of the virus, the White House said.

"Project NextGen will accelerate and streamline the rapid development of next generation of vaccines and treatments through public-private collaborations," a senior administration official said.

A fund of at least $5 billion is available to "help catalyze scientific advancement" and "stay ahead of the rapidly evolving virus that causes Covid-19."

US Admits Massive Intelligence Failure In Traumatic Afghan Exit

WASHINGTON, April 6: The White House on Thursday released a long-awaited review of the traumatic US exit from Afghanistan, admitting there had been a massive intelligence failure in not predicting rapid Taliban victory, but defending overall US conduct.

"Clearly we didn't get things right" on intelligence, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters after the still classified report was sent to Congress.

But "ending a war, any war, is not an easy endeavor, certainly not after 20 years," he said. "It doesn't mean it wasn't worth doing -- ending that war in Afghanistan."

In a declassified summary of the review, the White House blamed conditions created by President Joe Biden's predecessor Donald Trump for the way the planned 2021 withdrawal turned into a rout, culminating in a desperate evacuation from Kabul airport.

But it also acknowledged that the US intelligence services had failed to understand the strength of the Taliban and the weakness of the Afghan government's forces that Western countries had spent years propping up.

In the end, nothing "would have changed the trajectory" of the exit and "ultimately, President Biden refused to send another generation of Americans to fight a war that should have ended for the United States long ago," the report said.

The pullout, ending on August 30, 2021, shocked Americans and US allies as the Taliban swept aside Western-trained Afghan forces within weeks.

Thirteen US troops and 170 Afghans were killed in an August 26 suicide bomb attack at the crowded perimeter to the airport, where an unprecedented military airlift operation managed to get more than 120,000 people out of the country in a matter of days.

In the summary, the White House blamed a deal struck previously between Trump's administration and the Taliban for putting the incoming Biden government in an impossible position.

"The departing Trump administration had left the Biden administration with a date for withdrawal, but no plan for executing it. And after four years of neglect -- and in some cases deliberate degradation -- crucial systems, offices, and agency functions that would be necessary for a safe and orderly departure were in disrepair," the document said.

"After more than 20 years, more than $2 trillion dollars, and standing up an Afghan army of 300,000 soldiers, the speed and ease with which the Taliban took control of Afghanistan suggests that there was no scenario -- except a permanent and significantly expanded US military presence -- that would have changed the trajectory," it added.

Kirby acknowledged that the US government did not manage to predict "how fast the Taliban were moving across the country" or "the degree to which they were constructing these deals in the hinterlands that kind of fell like dominos."

"We didn't anticipate how fast the Afghan national security forces were going to fold," he said. "I don't think we fully appreciated the degree of corruption that was in the officer ranks in the military."

"Intelligence is a hard business and they get it right a lot too," Kirby said.

Trump's Arrest Plunges White House Race Into Uncharted Territory

WASHINGTON, April 5: US voters woke Wednesday after Donald Trump's arraignment in New York to a uniquely uncertain 2024 presidential election landscape, where the leading Republican candidate faces trial and the incumbent, Joe Biden, has not even confirmed he's running.

Trump pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 34 felony charges linked to alleged attempts to silence damaging personal information during his triumphant 2016 race for the White House.

The man who went from 1980s playboy real estate magnate, to TV reality show star in the 2000s, then far-right populist president, has now made history as the first serving or former commander in chief under criminal indictment.

But what some might have seen as a moment of supreme shame, the Trump team immediately turned into a battle cry.

While he had to go through the humiliating process of arrest for Tuesday's hearing, polls still show Trump is by far the strongest Republican candidate. In fact, his numbers have only improved as his legal scandals grow.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche said his client is "upset."

But "I'll tell you what: he's motivated and it's not going to stop him and it's not going to slow him down."

Trump flew back home to Florida and delivered a rambling, conspiracy theory laden tirade to gathered supporters, painting himself as the victim of a "Trump-hating judge" and "massive election interference."

His election campaign did not wait for the Manhattan court hearing to be over before merchandising a T-shirt with a fake mug shot of the former president over the words 'NOT GUILTY' in exchange for $47 donations.

Representative Elise Stefanik, a Trump loyalist in Congress, predicted boldly: "President Trump will defeat this latest witch-hunt, defeat Joe Biden, and will be sworn in as president of the United States of America in January 2025."

For all the bravado, 76-year-old Trump is in serious trouble.

During his decades in the public eye, he has shown astonishing ability to wriggle out of legal corners, whether during his many business disputes or even as president when Republicans acquitted him in an unprecedented two impeachment trials.

But Trump is now in the hands of the New York state court system, where Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is mounting an aggressive prosecution.

"We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct," Bragg said of the felony charges alleging that Trump falsified business records to "conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election."

Even if some analysts have questioned the strength of the New York case, Trump's real problems may lie elsewhere.

Reports indicate that a high-level probe into his hoarding of top secret White House documents at his private Florida Mar-a-Lago residence is gathering pace. Another criminal probe is underway in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden but refused to concede.

Time, however, may be on Trump's side.

Any trial may not start until well into the 2024 election season and there is nothing to stop someone under indictment from seeking office. Back in 1920, Eugene V. Debs even famously ran for president -- entirely legally -- as a Socialist from a jail cell.

Biden appears content to sit back and watch the fall of a man he has branded a "toxic presence."

Last week, Biden went out of his way to take questions about Trump from reporters -- only to stress to every single question that he was not going to comment. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also made a point of rising above the fray.

Asked if Biden, like millions across the country, was watching live coverage, she insisted the president was instead working for Americans. He might "catch part of the news when he has a moment," she said, but "this is not something that's a focus for him."

While Trump has injected a giant note of uncertainty into the 2024 race, Biden brings question marks of his own.

His age is a constant source of concern, even to allies. Now 80, he would be 86 by the time he left office after a second term.

And he has yet to confirm he is running at all.

Last year, word was that Biden was looking at a family Christmas holiday in the Caribbean as the moment to take a final decision. But the weeks and months passed, with no word, even if Biden has said on several occasions that he intends to run.

According to a report from Axios, the announcement may now only land in July or even later.

Donald Trump Defiant In New York Court After Historic Arrest

NEW YORK, April 5: Donald Trump, the former president and front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records after an investigation into hush money paid to a porn star.

Wearing a dark blue suit and red tie, Trump, 76, exhibited little emotion on his face when he waved to a crowd assembled outside the courthouse after he was driven in a motorcade from his New York residence at Trump Tower.

Trump, who has called the charges politically motivated, held his fist in the air in a gesture to reporters as he departed Trump Tower.

Looking somber, Trump said nothing as he walked past police and through a hallway in the courthouse before entering the courtroom for the arraignment proceeding.

The first sitting or former U.S. president to face criminal charges, Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury last week in a case stemming from a 2016 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, though the specific charges had yet to be disclosed.

From his motorcade, Trump posted on social media: "Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse. Seems so SURREAL - WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can't believe this is happening in America."

Trump was due to surrender to the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg before an arraignment proceeding before Justice Juan Merchan. At an arraignment, a defendant hears charges and can enter a plea. Trump was fingerprinted but no mugshot photo was taken, according to a Twitter post by a New York Times reporter.

In other social media posts ahead of the arraignment, Trump renewed his attacks on Merchan, who last year presided over a trial in which Trump's real estate company was convicted of tax fraud.

Trump, who served as president from 2017 to 2021, in November announced a bid to regain the presidency in 2024 in a bid to deny Democratic President Joe Biden, who beat him in 2020, a second term in the White House.

A photo taken by a photographer in the courtroom showed Trump sitting at the defense table, flanked by lawyers.

Five photographers were to be admitted to the courtroom before the arraignment to take pictures for several minutes. Trump's lawyers had urged the judge to block any videography, photography and radio coverage, arguing it would worsen "an already almost circus-like atmosphere."

The businessman-turned-politician has been a familiar figure for decades in New York, the city where he was raised, built his real estate business and became a celebrity.

On a cool and sunny early spring day in the most-populous U.S. city, Trump supporters and detractors were separated by barricades set up by police to try to keep order, though there were some confrontations.

"Let's keep it civil, folks," a police officer told them.

Hundreds of Trump supporters, at a park across from the Manhattan courthouse, cheered and blew whistles, outnumbering his detractors. The Trump critics held signs including one of Trump dressed in a striped jail uniform behind bars and another that read, "Lock Him Up."

The White House remained mum on the drama in New York.

"I think the American people should feel reassured that when there is an ongoing case like this one that we're just not commenting," White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Any trial is at least more than a year away, legal experts said. Being indicted or even convicted does not legally prevent Trump from running for president.

Not Very Far From An All-Out Nuclear World War III, Warns Trump

WASHINGTON, April 5: The world is likely to face an all-out nuclear World War III under the Biden administration, former president Donald Trump has warned, and accused the current US government of destroying the country.

The comments by 76-year-old Donald Trump came during his first public address since being arraigned on Tuesday.

Donald Trump, the first former US President to be criminally charged, has pleaded 'not guilty' to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records at his arraignment in a Manhattan court on charges relating to hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The former president said that there are open threats by various countries of the use of nuclear weapons, something which was never mentioned or discussed by other nations during his administration.

"This could very well lead under the Biden administration's leadership to an all-out nuclear World War III can happen. We're not very far away from it, believe it or not," Donald Trump said during the address at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, soon after he flew back from New York.

Donald Trump, a Republican, said the US is now in a mess under President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

"Our economy is crashing. Inflation is out of control. Russia has joined with China. Can you believe that? Saudi Arabia has joined with Iran," he said.

Donald Trump said China, Russia, Iran and North Korea have formed together as a "menacing and destructive coalition" and could have never happened under his leadership.

"If I were your president it would never have happened. Nor would Russia attack Ukraine. All of those lives will be saved. All of those beautiful cities would be standing," he said, referring to the destruction caused in Ukraine.

"Our currency is crashing and will soon no longer be the world standard, which will be our greatest defeat frankly, in 200 years. There will be no defeat like that will take us away from being even a great power," Donald Trump said.

He also accused his successor Biden of destroying the country.

"If you took the five worst presidents in the history of the United States and added them up they would not have done near the destruction to our country as Joe Biden and the Biden administration have done," Donald Trump said.

Chinese Spy Balloon Gathered Intelligence From US Military Sites: Report

WASHINGTON, April 3: A Chinese balloon that flew across the United States was able to gather intelligence from several US military sites and transmit it back to Beijing in real time, despite the Biden administration's efforts to prevent it from doing so, NBC News reported on Monday.

The high-altitude balloon, controlled by Beijing, was able to make multiple passes over some of the sites before it was shot down on February 4, at times flying in a figure-eight formation, NBC said, citing two current senior US officials and one former senior administration official.

The three officials said it could transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time, NBC reported.

"The intelligence China collected was mostly from electronic signals, which can be picked up from weapons systems or include communications from base personnel, rather than images," NBC cited the officials as saying.

US officials were not immediately available for comment. The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for comment.

At the time, US officials played down the balloon's impact on national security.

The balloon, which Beijing denies was a government spy vessel, spent a week flying over the United States and Canada early in February before the US military shot it down off the Atlantic Coast on President Joe Biden's orders.

The Chinese balloon incident prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing and further strained relations between Washington and Beijing.

The episode caused an uproar in Washington and led the US military to search the skies for other objects that were not being captured on radar.

The United States said on February 17 it had successfully concluded recovery efforts off South Carolina to collect sensors and other debris from the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon and that investigators would analyze its "guts."

White House 'closely' watching security concerns related to Trump indictment

WASHINGTON, April 3: The White House said it was 'closely' watching security concerns related to Trump indictment, an official statement said Monday.
The White House is watching for security concerns related to former President Donald Trump's indictment on Thursday, a White House official said on Monday, and prepared for any violence.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to fly from Florida to New York City on Monday to face charges stemming from a probe into hush money paid to a porn star before the 2016 election, as security tightened in Manhattan.

Trump was due to surrender at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office on Tuesday and likely will be fingerprinted and photographed prior to his appearance before a judge at an arraignment proceeding where he will plead not guilty.

Trump, a Republican who is seeking to regain the presidency in 2024, is the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges.

The specific charges included in the grand jury indictment have not been disclosed. Trump has said he is innocent, and he and his allies have portrayed the charges as politically motivated.

In a social media post late on Sunday, Trump said he planned to leave his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach at noon for the Trump Tower in Manhattan before heading to the courthouse on Tuesday morning.

Trump's plane - with his name in big letters on the side and an image of the American flag on the tail - was parked at the West Palm Beach airport near Mar-a-Lago.

Small groups of Trump fans waited to show their support at the airport and on the route he was expected to take to get there.

"Our country needs him," said Cindy Falco, 65, of Boynton Beach, Florida. "He's pro-God, pro-family and pro-country."

Falco predicted exoneration, saying: "Nothing is going to stick to him."

A court official said the arraignment was planned for 2:15 p.m. (1815 GMT) on Tuesday. Trump then will return to Florida and deliver remarks from Mar-a-Lago at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday (0015 GMT on Wednesday), his office said.

Trump is expected to appear before Justice Juan Merchan, the judge who presided over a criminal trial last year in which Trump's real estate company was convicted of tax fraud. Trump himself was not charged in that case.

Trump wrote on social media on Friday that Merchan "HATES ME" and also has assailed the prosecutor on the case, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat.

A court official said the judge will decide on Monday whether to allow cameras and video in the courtroom.

New York police over the weekend began erecting barricades along the edge of the sidewalks around Trump Tower and the Manhattan Criminal Court building downtown. Media crews set up close to Trump Tower and some spectators lined up nearby.

Demonstrations are expected at those sites and police said they were prepared.

Other courtrooms on the courthouse's higher floors will be shut down before the arraignment as part of the security precautions, a court official said.

Before the indictment, the grand jury heard evidence about a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump at a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006. Trump denies having had any such relationship with her.

Trump, 76, served as president from 2017 to 2021 and in November launched a bid to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, aiming to deny Democratic President Joe Biden a second term in office.

The indictment may have boosted his candidacy, at least in the short term.

"Now I am absolutely voting for Trump," said Larry White, 75, a Nevada musician who had previously considered backing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential rival for the Republican presidential nomination. "The indictment was the last straw for me, because Trump has suffered so much political abuse."

The New York case is one of several probes Trump faces.

A local prosecutor in Georgia is investigating whether Trump unlawfully sought to overturn his 2020 election defeat in that state. A special counsel named by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland separately is pursing two criminal investigations, one involving efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and the other relating to classified documents he retained after departing the White House in 2021.

Indian-Origin Data Analyst Hit By Bus While Waiting At US Airport, Dies

New York: A 47-year-old Indian-American data analyst was killed on the spot after being struck by a bus at Boston's international airport where he had gone to pick up a friend, according to a media report.

Vishwachand Kolla, originally from Andhra Pradesh, was an employee of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company.

He was at the Logan International Airport, Boston to pick up a visiting musician from the airport travelling to Boston when the incident took place on March 28, US media report said.

Massachusetts State Police said Kolla was at the lower level of Terminal B to pick up a friend around 5 p.m. when he was struck by a bus.

"Kolla was standing on the driver's side of his Acura SUV while, simultaneously, the Dartmouth Transportation motor coach was travelling on the roadway. The investigation indicates that the middle of the bus made contact with Kolla and dragged him along the driver's side of his SUV," State Police spokesman Dave Procopio said in a statement.

An off-duty nurse rushed to help Kolla but he died at the scene, the report added.

Troopers interviewed the bus driver, a 54-year-old woman, and inspected the bus. She has not been charged at this point in the investigation, the report said.

The passengers were quickly rushed off the bus and their luggage was moved to another part of the airport.

In a statement, Dartmouth Coach said, "Our deepest sympathies are with everyone impacted by this evening's incident at Logan Airport. We're working in conjunction with the Massachusetts State Police and Massport to gather further information." Kolla worked at Takeda in the company's Global Oncology division.

Takeda industries told Boston.com in an email that they are “deeply saddened to learn of his unexpected passing.” “We send our heartfelt condolences to Vishwachand's family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time and will be looking at how we can help offer any support as we respect the family's privacy during this time,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, Kolla's relatives have set up a gofundme page USD 406,151 raised of USD 750,000 goal.

Kolla is survived by his wife, and two sons, according to the page.




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