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Republicans fear that Trump’s denials of his own defeat could threaten the party’s ability to win a Senate majority

ATLANTA (AP) — Some establishment Republicans are sounding alarms that President Donald Trump’s conspiratorial denials of his own defeat could threaten the party’s ability to win a Senate majority and counter President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

The concerns come ahead of Trump’s planned Saturday visit to Georgia to campaign alongside Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face strong Democratic challengers in Jan. 5 runoffs that will determine which party controls the Senate at the outset of Biden’s presidency.

Republicans acknowledge Trump as the GOP’s biggest turnout driver, including in Georgia, where Biden won by fewer than 13,000 votes out of about 5 million cast. That means every bit of enthusiasm from one of Trump’s signature rallies could matter. But some Republicans worry Trump will use the platform to amplify his baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud — arguments roundly rejected in state and federal courts across the country. That could make it harder for Perdue and Loeffler to keep a clear focus on the stakes in January and could even discourage Republicans from voting.

“The president has basically taken hostage this race,” said Brendan Buck, once a top adviser to former House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Especially fraught are Trump’s continued attacks on Georgia’s Republican state officials and the state’s election system, potentially taking away from his public praise of Loeffler and Perdue.

“Trump’s comments are damaging the Republican brand,” argued Republican donor Dan Eberhart, who added that the president is “acting in bad sportsmanship and bad faith” instead of emphasizing Republicans’ need to maintain Senate control.

The GOP needs one more seat for a majority. Democrats need Jon Ossoff to defeat Perdue and Raphael Warnock to defeat Loeffler to force a 50-50 Senate, positioning Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking majority vote.

Trump on Monday blasted Gov. Brian Kemp as “hapless” for not intervening to “overrule” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s certification of Biden’s win. A day earlier, Trump told Fox News he was “ashamed” he’d endorsed Kemp in his 2018 GOP primary for governor. Kemp’s office noted in response that state law gives Kemp no authority to overturn election results, despite Trump’s contention that Kemp could “easily” invoke “emergency powers.” Meanwhile, Raffensperger, a Trump supporter like Kemp, has accused the president of throwing him “under the bus” for doing his job.

Perdue and Loeffler have attempted to stay above the fray.

They’ve long aligned themselves with Trump and even echoed some of his general criticisms of the fall elections, jointly demanding Raffensperger’s resignation. But the crux of their runoff argument — that Republicans must prevent Democrats from controlling Capitol Hill and the White House — is itself a tacit admission that Biden, not Trump, will be inaugurated Jan. 20. And at one recent campaign stop, Perdue heard from vocal Trump supporters who demanded that he do more to help Trump somehow claim Georgia’s 16 electoral votes.

Republicans see three potential negative outcomes to Trump fanning the flames.

Some GOP voters could be dissuaded from voting again if they accept Trump’s claims that the system is hopelessly corrupted. Among Republicans more loyal to Trump than to the party, some could skip the runoff altogether out of anger at a party establishment the president continues to assail. Lastly, at the other end of the GOP spectrum are the moderate Republicans who already crossed over to help Biden win Georgia and could be further alienated if the runoff becomes another referendum on Trump.

Josh Holmes, a top adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Republicans “haven’t seen any evidence of lack of enthusiasm in the Senate races.”

But none of those potential bad effects would have to be sweeping to tilt the runoffs if they end up as close as the presidential contest in Georgia.

“We’ll see how it plays out. It changes day by day and week by week. But so far, so good,” Holmes said.

In Georgia, any Republican concerns are more circumspect.

Brian Robinson, a former adviser to Kemp’s Republican predecessor as governor, said Trump should “drive a strong, forward-looking message” about what’s at stake for a Republican base that “is fervently devoted to him.”

“The best thing he can do for the party,” Robinson said, “is to talk about the importance of having a Republican Senate majority to project his policy legacy and to make sure the Democrats can’t reverse a lot of what he has put in place that Republicans support.”

Asked what Trump should avoid, Robinson circled back to what he believes the president should say.

Former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, a Trump ally, downplayed the potential for GOP splintering, framing an “inner-family squabble” as a sideshow to the “incredible” consequences that define the runoffs.

“Followers of Trump will follow Trump, but they’re not blind to the huge stakes. And neither is he,” Kingston said. “He knows to keep his legacy. He’s got to get these people reelected.” Trump, Kingston argued, is “keeping the base interested,” a necessary component of any successful runoff campaign since second rounds of elections often see a drop-off in voter participation.

Robinson added that Democrats face their own challenge in replicating record turnout for Biden.

“What’s the best motivator? Fear,” he said. Before November, Democrats dreaded a second Trump term more than Republicans feared Trump losing, Robinson reasoned. “Republicans have reason to be scared now,” he said, because of the prospect that Democrats could control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

“That could make a difference in turnout” beyond anything Trump says, Robinson concluded.

For their parts, the senators continue their public embrace of all things Trump ahead of the visit.

“I couldn’t be more excited to welcome” the president “back to Georgia,” Loeffler wrote on Twitter after Trump confirmed his plans. Perdue’s campaign quickly retweeted the comment, which Loeffler punctuated with a reminder that the runoffs are “an all-hands-on-deck moment.”

It’s not clear, though, if all Republicans will be on hand at all.

Kemp, the governor who appointed Loeffler upon Sen. Johnny Isakson’s retirement last year, has on previous Trump visits greeted the president as he disembarks from Air Force One. Asked Monday whether Georgians will see a similar scene Saturday, Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said he could not comment “yet.”

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Sources say, Biden gets access to President’s Daily Brief

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Joe Biden has had his first look as president-elect at the President’s Daily Brief, a top secret summary of U.S. intelligence and world events — a document former first lady Michelle Obama has called “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book.”

Biden has already had eyes on different iterations of the so-called PDB, which is tailored to the way each president likes to absorb information.

More than a decade ago, Biden read President George W. Bush’s PDB during Biden’s transition into the vice presidency. After that, he read President Barack Obama’s PDB for eight years. Beginning Monday, after a four-year break, he’s reading President Donald Trump’s PDB.

“The briefers almost certainly will be asking Biden what he prefers in terms of format and style,” said David Priess, author of “The President’s Book of Secrets,” a history of the PDB. “At a minimum, they’re seeing what seems to resonate most with him so that when they make the book his book, they can tailor it to him.”

Obama’s PDB was a 10- to 15-page document tucked in a leather binder, which he found waiting for him on the breakfast table. Later in his presidency, he liked reading the ultra-secret intelligence brief on a secured iPad.

“Michelle called it “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book,” Obama wrote in his recently released book, ”A Promised Land.”

“On a given day, I might read about terrorist cells in Somalia or unrest in Iraq or the fact that the Chinese or Russians were developing new weapons systems,” Obama wrote. “Nearly always, there was mention of potential terrorist plots, no matter how vague, thinly sourced, or unactionable — a form of due diligence on the part of the intelligence community, meant to avoid the kind of second-guessing that had transpired after 9/11.”

From now until Inauguration Day, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be reading the PDB crafted for Trump, who had delayed giving Biden and Harris access to it as he contests the outcome of the election.

Trump, who prefers absorbing information in visual ways, likes short texts and graphics.

“Trump himself said during his campaign and during the transition in 2016 that he did not like reading long documents — that he preferred bullet points,” said Priess, who has not seen any of Trump’s PDBs. “It probably has charts, tables, graphs — things like that. Not the parody that people make that it’s like a cartoon book … but something that is more visual. But we don’t know for sure.”

The written brief, which Trump doesn’t always read, often is followed by a verbal briefing with an intelligence official, although those oral briefings stopped at least for a time in October. Priess said he didn’t know why they stopped or if they had resumed, but that they stopped at a time when Trump was spending much of his time on the campaign trail.

Before Trump authorized Biden to get the PDB as president-elect, Biden was given some intelligence background briefings as a candidate. But they were more general and did not include the nation’s top secrets.

The other thing that a president-elect gets is a briefing “on CIA’s covert actions,” former acting CIA director Mike Morell said at an event hosted by the Center for Presidential Transition based in Washington. “It’s important for the president-elect to get this briefing … because on Inauguration Day, these covert actions will become the new president’s.”

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy read his first brief while sitting on the diving board of a swimming pool at his retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. President Lyndon Johnson liked to read his brief in the afternoon. President Richard Nixon relied on his national security adviser Henry Kissinger to peruse the briefs and tell him what he thought the president should know.

As the laborious recount of ballots dragged on in 2000, President Bill Clinton decided that then-Gov. George W. Bush should get access to his PDB just in case he was the winner. Bush became was the first incoming president to read it before he was president-elect.

Biden is getting the PDB later than usual because of Trump’s ongoing protest of the election results. Trump approved the briefings for Biden last Tuesday, a day after his administration approved the formal transition process to his successor.

When Biden walks into the Oval Office, he’ll be inheriting nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, changing political dynamics in the Middle East, the winding down of America’s presence in Afghanistan and rising competition from China.

Biden had access to the PDB in Wilmington, Delaware. Harris received it in a secure room at the Commerce Department, where the presidential transition offices are located.

Even Biden, who has decades of experience in foreign policy, could be the victim of an old political adage that no matter how informed he thinks he is, he could learn otherwise from the PDB.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden wrote in his book that revelations and new insight found in the PDB are known as “aw s—” moments. As in: “Aw s—,” he wrote, “wish we hadn’t said that during that campaign stop in Buffalo.”

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US justice department moves to drop Flynn charges

Monitoring Desk

The DOJ has said all legal action involving former Trump adviser Michael Flynn should cease in light of a full presidential pardon last week from “any and all” offenses connected to the Mueller investigation.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss charges against President Trump’s former security adviser Michael Flynn, arguing the charges are moot following Trump’s presidential pardon of Flynn last week.

The motion, filed by the US attorney for the District of Colombia, included a release of Trump’s official pardon document.

It grants Flynn a “full and unconditional pardon … from any and all possible offenses arising from the facts set forth … or that or that might arise, or be charged, claimed or asserted” in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference

Mueller’s team had questioned Flynn about interactions he had with Russia’s US ambassador in late 2016 leading up to Trump’s inauguration.

Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 of making false statements to US federal investigators. He was the most high-profile Trump official to be targeted by Mueller. He was forced to leave his post as national security adviser just three weeks after taking office. 

‘Dismiss with prejudice’

Flynn has tried to withdraw the plea, arguing that prosecutors violated his rights and tricked him into a plea agreement. Flynn’s back and forth led to an investigation into perjury.

In May, the DOJ moved to dismiss the case. That attempt was resisted by US District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who appointed a former judge to argue against the federal government and evaluate whether Flynn should be charged with criminal contempt of court. 

However, the DOJ now argues that Trump’s pardon has granted Flynn immunity from any prosecution, and that all legal action against the former general should be ended once and for all.

“The government’s prior motion to dismiss, as well as all other pending motions in this case, are moot in light of the president’s full and unconditional pardon to General Flynn,” the motion said.

“No further proceedings are necessary or appropriate, as the Court must immediately dismiss the case with prejudice,” it continued, adding that Flynn’s counsel and the US government have agreed on the conditions set forth in the filing. 

Here’s a timeline of the Russia Investigation on Flynn

Donald Trump talks with a beauty contestant in Moscow.

2013: Mr. Trump goes to Russia

June 18, 2013. Donald Trump tweeted: “The Miss Universe Pageant will be broadcast live from MOSCOW, RUSSIA on November 9. A big deal that will bring our countries together!” He later added: “Do you think Putin will be going – if so, will he become my new best friend?” October 17, 2013 Trump tells chat show host David Letterman he has conducted “a lot of business with the Russians.”

Cyberattacks are a key factor in the Russia allegations.

September 2015: Hacking allegations raised

An FBI agent tells a tech-support contractor at the Democratic National Committee it may have been hacked. On May 18, 2016, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, says there were “some indications” of cyberattacks aimed at the presidential campaigns. On June 14, 2016 the DNC announces it had been the victim of an attack by Russian hackers.

Russian ambassador to the US Sergei Kisljak in Washington

July 20, 2016: Kislyak enters the picture

Senator Jeff Sessions — an early Trump endorser who led his national security advisory committee — meets Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and a group of other ambassadors at a Republican National Convention event.

Wikileaks chief Julian Assange

July 22, 2016: Assange thickens the plot

Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks publishes 20,000 emails stolen from the DNC, appearing to show a preference for Hillary Clinton over Senator Bernie Sanders.

USA FBI chief James Comey

July 25, 2016: Cometh the hour, Comey the man

The FBI announces it is investigating the DNC hack saying “a compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously.”

USA President Donald Trump

November 8, 2016: Trump elected

Donald Trump is elected president of the United States. On November 9, the Russian parliament burst into applause at the news.

Russian politician Sergej Rybakow

November 10, 2016: Team Trump denies Russia link

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov says there “were contacts” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign during the election campaign. The Trump campaign issues a firm denial.

General Michael Flynn, US National Security Adviser.

November 18, 2016: Flynn appointed

Trump names General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. The former Defense Intelligence Agency chief was a top foreign policy adviser in Trump’s campaign. Flynn resigned in February after failing to disclose full details of his communication with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Ex-acting attorney general Sally Yates

January 26, 2017: Yates – ‘The center cannot hold’

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates tells White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn made false statements regarding his calls with Kislyak. On January 30, Trump fires Yates for refusing to enforce his travel ban, which was later blocked by federal courts.

US attorney general, Jeff Sessions

March 2, 2017: Sessions recuses himself

Trump says he has “total confidence” in Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions announces he will recuse himself from any investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

ex-head of the FBI James Comey

March 20, 2017: FBI examines Trump-Kremlin links

FBI Director James Comey confirms before the House Select Committee on Intelligence that the FBI was investigating possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Donald Trump and James Comey

May 9, 2017: Trump sacks Comey

In a letter announcing the termination, Trump writes: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller

May 17, 2017: Mueller appointed special counsel

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints former FBI Director Robert Mueller to look into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Paul Manafort (Imago)

August 2017: FBI seizes documents from Manafort

Shortly after Mueller convenes a grand jury for the investigation, the FBI seizes documents from one of Paul Manafort’s properties as part of a raid for Mueller’s probe. The former Trump campaigner manager stepped down in August 2016 after allegations surfaced that he had received large payments linked to Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government.

Donald Trump Jr. (picture alliance/AP Photo/K. Willens)

September 2017: Trump Jr.’s talks to Senate committee

Donald Trump Jr. tells the Senate Judiciary Committee he has not colluded with a foreign government. The closed-door interview relates to his June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which was also attended by his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort. Trump Jr.’s emails, however, suggest the meeting was supposed to produce dirt on Clinton.

Facebook and Twitter logos on a screen (picture-alliance/dpa/Lei)

October 2017: Internet giants allege Russian interference

Facebook, Twitter and Google reportedly tell US media they have evidence that Russian operatives exploited platforms to spread disinformation during the 2016 US presidential election. The three companies are appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee in November 2017.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (picture alliance/UPI Photo/newscom/D. Silpa)

July 2018: Trump and Putin meet in Helsinki

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki for their first-ever summit. During the trip, Trump publically contradicts the findings of US intelligence agencies who concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions (picture-alliance/AP/A. Brandon)

November 8, 2018: Sessions resigns as attorney general

Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigns from his post, under reported pressure from Trump. The president then appoints a critic of the Mueller probe as his successor, but later nominates William Barr to be the next attorney general in December 2018.

Michael Cohen (Reuters/J. Ernst)

November 29, 2018: Former Trump lawyer pleads guilty

Trump’s former long-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleads guilty to lying to Congress about discussions in 2016 on plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The FBI raided his home earlier that year in April. He would later be sentenced to three years in prison. In 2019, he tells Congress that Trump is a “racist” and a “con man.”

Roger Stone (picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/L. Sladky)

January 2019: Trump associate Roger Stone arrested

Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate and Republican operative, is arrested at his home in Florida for lying to Congress about having advance knowledge of plans by WikiLeaks to release emails from the Democratic Party that US officials say were stolen by Russia.

Paul Manafort sits in court in Alexandria, Virginia (picture-alliance/AP/D. Verkouteren)

March 13, 2019: Manafort sentenced to prison

Manafort is found guilty of conspiracy charges and handed an additional sentence, bringing his total prison sentence to 7.5 years. In August 2018, a court in Virginia found him guilty of eight charges, including tax and bank fraud. He also pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (picture-alliance/AP/C. Dharapak)

March 22, 2019: Mueller ends Russia probe

Special counsel Robert Mueller submits a confidential 448-page report on the findings of his investigation to the US Justice Department. The main conclusions of the report are made public when they are given to Congress. A redacted version of the report is released to the public on April 18, though Democrats call for the full report to be released.

Donald Trump in front of Air Force One

March 24, 2019: Trump declares ‘exoneration’

The final report concluded that no one involved in Trump’s 2016 election campaign colluded with Russia. Attorney General William Barr said the report provided no evidence that Trump obstructed justice, but stopped short of fully exonerating the president. Reacting to the findings, Trump described the probe as an “illegal take-down that failed,” and said there was “complete and total exoneration.”

US Attorney General William Barr appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee (Getty Images/A. Wong)

May 1, 2019: Barr testifies

In late March, Mueller writes a letter expressing concerns over the way Barr portrayed his report. The attorney general says the special counsel’s letter was “a bit snitty” while testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. Barr then cancels a subsequent appearance before the House Judicial Committee, citing “unprecedented and unnecessary” hearing conditions.

Robert Mueller testifies to a House Judiciary Committee

July 24, 2019: Mueller light

Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony on the Russia probe was again inconclusive. He sometimes struggled with his answers or avoided queries. To the Democrats frustration he appeared to do little to give any encouragement to the notion that President Trump could be impeached, though he did suggest he might be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves the White House.

Courtesy: DW

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‘Fake news’ can create second pandemic, warns Red Cross

Monitoring Desk

The head of the Red Cross has said vaccine misinformation could create a “second pandemic.” Elsewhere, US President Donald Trump’s coronavirus adviser has resigned. DW rounds up the latest developments.

Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told a virtual briefing that beating coronavirus means defeating a “parallel pandemic of distrust.”

Rocca urged governments and institutions to actively combat “fake news” about a COVID-19 vaccine, pointing to a “growing hesitancy” about vaccines in general around the world. 

He cited a Johns Hopkins University study in 67 countries that found acceptance of a vaccine in many countries, including France and Japan, was declining. In a quarter of the countries, acceptance was below 50%. 

“We believe that the massive, coordinated efforts that will be needed to roll out the COVID vaccine in an equitable manner need to be paralleled by equally massive efforts to proactively build and maintain trust,” Rocca said.

COVID-19 vaccine production

Here’s a roundup of the latest developments around the world.

Europe

The Robert Koch Institute has reported more than 13,600 new coronavirus cases in Germany from Monday to Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to over 1,067,000 since the pandemic began. Out of that, 758,800 people have recovered. The death toll over the past 24 hours rose by 388 to a total of 16,636.

The German government has agreed to set up 19 locations for medical gear storage in order to avoid the lack of masks and other protective equipment faced by most of the world at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The head of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Andrea Ammon, said the latest surge of coronavirus infections across Europe is flattening or going down in some but not all countries. However, she added it was too early to relax current virus restrictions.

Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has tested positive for the coronavirus, a government spokesperson said. Plenkovic is reportedly feeling fine and will continue to perform his duties from home.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the most widespread lockdown so far as infections continued to rise. The new measures will kick in from Tuesday and will include extending curfews to weeknights, and full lockdowns on weekends.

Americas

Canada’s budget deficit is projected to balloon to a record Can$382 billion ($284 billion, €246 billion) in the 2020-21 fiscal year as government spending skyrockets to combat the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When the virus is under control and our economy is ready for new growth, we will deploy an ambitious stimulus package to jump-start our recovery,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told the House of Commons.

Scott Atlas, a coronavirus adviser of US President Donald Trump, announced his resignation from the White House post on Monday evening. Atlas, who lacked relevant experience or qualifications in public health or infectious disease, had sparked controversy over his remarks against mask-wearing and other measures to control the coronavirus outbreak.

US biotech firm Moderna said it was applying for emergency authorization from US and European regulators to allow the use of its COVID-19 vaccine as the final trial data showed its vaccine to be 94.1% effective.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called on Congress to use the untapped $455 billion to provide economic assistance to American households and businesses.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said he may impose tougher coronavirus restrictions over the next two days, including a possible stay-at-home order as the state was at a “tipping point” in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In contrast, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that schools will be required to remain open despite the spike in cases and hospitalizations.

The WHO chief has said that Mexico was in “bad shape” regarding the coronavirus as infections and fatalities surged across the country. “The number of increase in cases and deaths in Mexico is very worrisome,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Asia-Pacific 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and his family, have reportedly been given an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed in China, according to an American North Korea analyst, Harry Kazianis, who citied two unnamed Japanese intelligence sources.

“Kim Jong Un and multiple other high-ranking officials within the Kim family and leadership network have been vaccinated for coronavirus within the last two to three weeks,” Kazianis wrote in an article published on the national security news website 19fortyfive.

It was unclear which company had supplied its vaccine candidate and whether it had proven to be safe, he added.

North Korea has never confirmed having any coronavirus infections, but South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), has said the reclusive country had many exchanges with China before shutting the border in January.

The NIS has also said it has stopped North Korean hackers from attempting to hack into South Korean vaccine makers.

In Australia, residents from the two most populated states, New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, can now freely travel to Queensland for the first time in more than eight months.

Road checks between Queensland and NSW were removed early Tuesday, as the first flights landed at Brisbane airport from the two states. As international travel to Australia is still banned, Queensland, a popular vacation destination, is hoping for a boost from domestic travel.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has urged people to stay at home and avoid unnecessary gatherings, a day after the government announced tighter restrictions, including bans on groups of more than two people.

Although Hong Kong has only reported around 6,300 COVID-19 cases, city officials respond quickly to any sign that case numbers are rising in the densely populated city of 7.4 million. Hong Kong has seen a rise in cases after weeks of single-digit or low double digit numbers, with 74 cases reported Monday.

Courtesy: DW

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Macron under fire for introducing a law to restrict protest

Monitoring Desk

President Macron is aiming to pass laws that would restrict protests, protect police and fight radical Islam. But facing increased public pressure, politicians have said they plan to revise a controversial security bill.

Public demonstrations have been a rare sight in protest-prone France since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

But over the weekend, many felt it was time to make their voices heard again. Between 133,000 and 500,000 people — according to the police and organizers, respectively — demonstrated in more than 70 cities across France against a proposed security law, even though the country is still under partial lockdown.

The new law is meant to increase police protections, particularly through article 24, which would make it a criminal offense to publish images of on-duty officers with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity.” On Monday, however, a parliamentary majority appeared to bow to public pressure, saying it now planned a “complete rewrite” of the controversial section.

“The bill will be completely rewritten and a new version will be submitted,” said Christophe Castaner, head of the LREM party of President Emmanual Macron, which has a majority in the National Assembly.

Many French citizens fear increased police protections would leave them vulnerable to police violence — a fear made even more pressing by the recent forced evacuation of a migrant camp in central Paris and the violent arrest of a Black music producer. Officers taking part in both operations are now under investigation, in part because footage of both events was made public.

New law would ‘lead to even more police brutality’

The videos were a profound shock for Santiago Kadeyan, a 19-year-old medical student who was among the protesters at Paris’ Place de la Republique on Saturday.

Santiago Kadeyan holds his sign: 'Those who have nothing to be ashamed of have nothing to hide'

“The new law would also give the police more powers, allow them to use drones during demonstrations, [give them] more money — while restricting our right to defend ourselves,” Kadeyan told DW. “That will certainly lead to even more police brutality.”

The demonstrators in Paris, numbering at least 45,000, were from various ethnic and professional backgrounds and included teachers, psychologists and journalists. Those in the last group believe the draft law would curtail press freedom, and they’re not entirely reassured by the news that the government plans to rework the bill.

“I really fear this will have a huge impact on our work,” Adeline Queraux, a Paris-based journalist at a national daily, told DW. Queraux has been a regular at protests since she was little, but Saturday was the first time she felt afraid while demonstrating.

“I am scared of the violence — the atmosphere is really aggressive now, with no restraint, and the government is lurching ever more to the right,” she said.

It’s not just the proposed security law that has people concerned about the government’s rightward shift. A new policing scheme could mean that journalists will need accreditation to cover demonstrations, even those taking place in public. The government will soon table legislation to fight radical Islam, strengthening control of Muslim groups and limiting home schooling — but there are no plans to prevent discrimination against Muslims. And a provision in a new law on university research funding has effectively banned demonstrations on campus — this in a country where students have historically played an important role in protest movements.

‘We are now at a watershed’ in Macron presidency

Sebastian Roche, a senior researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, called the draft laws an acceleration of a trend he has been observing since President Emmanuel Macron came to power in 2017.

“Macron was elected as being left- and right-wing, and he offered a well-balanced program,” he told DW. “But he has almost exclusively implemented right-wing policies, and opinion polls show we are now at a watershed: Macron has lost the support of almost all his left-wing voters. And so he’s engaging in Thatcherite politics — a law-and-order approach with tougher sanctions, more police, more prison spaces.”

That law-and-order approach won’t be enough to convince voters ahead of the next presidential election in April 2022, thinks Bruno Cautres of the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po). “The French need security — but also in a social way. They are worried about their public services and unemployment,” he said. “Macron also has to satisfy those needs or he hardly stands a chance in the next presidential election.”

But Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a lawmaker and spokesperson for Macron’s party LREM, denies that the government is swinging to the right.

“Law and order is not a right-wing approach — it’s also left-wing. There’s no freedom without security,” he told DW. “Also, we can’t leave this topic to the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) — we need to come up with our own, less radical solutions.”

‘There is a red line’: LREM lawmakers

But discontent with the new approach is increasing, also within government ranks.

Cecile Rilhac is one of 10 LREM lawmakers who voted against the draft law when it passed the National Assembly last week. An additional 30 LREM members abstained from the vote. The law is still expected to head to the Senate for approval in January — though the government could decide to withdraw the controversial article completely by then, a move Rilhac would support.

“We are at a turning point and need to show the government that there is a red line — it should not lean further to the right or we won’t be much different from the RN,” she told DW.

Cécile Rilhac speaks in the National Assembly

 

Along with a few other LREM lawmakers, Rilhac is working to set up another, more left-wing political party ahead of the 2022 election — although that party would still be part of Macron’s parliamentary block.

Other lawmakers have already left LREM, including Aurelien Tache, who joined a Green parliamentary group in May.

“I had to leave — I felt like I was betraying my voters. Macron has almost only put in place right-wing measures limiting civil liberties and supporting big companies. He has done nothing to fight discrimination and poverty,” he said. “And with this new security law, he has reached a whole new level — he really wants to become the champion of the right,” he added.

But researcher Roche thinks Macron’s strategy could work, under one condition.

“He has a good chance to be reelected in 2022, as long as he’s facing RN leader Marine Le Pen in the second round runoff,” he said. “If, however, left-wing parties and the Greens presented a common candidate, Macron could have to run against their candidate. Then, the outcome of the election could no longer be taken for granted, precisely because Macron hasn’t done much to appeal to left-wing voters.”

In any case, Macron seems unlikely to win Kadeyan’s vote in 2022. “Macron has two years to prove that he’s capable of basic human empathy and decency,” said the protester. “If he doesn’t, I’d just vote blank in case of a Le Pen-Macron duel.”

Courtesy: DW

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Grossi says Iran has nothing to gain from halting inspections

(AFP) — Iran has nothing to gain from ending inspections of its nuclear facilities, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog warned as tensions rise after a top Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated.

In an interview with AFP after a year in office, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi issued the appeal in response to calls by Iranian MPs to end inspections following the killing.

“We understand the distress but at the same time it is clear that no-one, starting with Iran, would have anything to win from a decrease, limitation or interruption of the work we do together with them,” Grossi said.

Grossi, 59, confirmed that so far the IAEA had not yet received any signal from Iranian authorities that anything would change regarding inspections in the wake of the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iran’s parliament on Sunday demanded a halt to those inspections, signalling another potential retreat from a key commitment in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“This is not the first time that parliamentarians have expressed themselves in this way or in very similar ways,” Grossi pointed out.

“We haven’t received any indication of restriction or limitation of their cooperation with us,” he said. “I do not see any reason to believe that this would be the case now.”

Grossi emphasised that the IAEA’s extensive inspections regime was “essential” if the outside world was to have assurances about the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.

Fakhrizadeh was laid to rest on Monday, three days after he was assassinated on a major road outside Tehran.  

“Let me say that we abhor violence of any type, we are an international organisation for peace and security,” Grossi said.

The killing could put yet more strain on diplomatic efforts to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which has been disintegrating ever since the Trump administration withdrew from it two years ago.

– High-stakes gamble –

Iran has been one of the thorniest issues Grossi has had to tackle over an eventful year since taking office in early December 2019.

“They have a very large nuclear programme that requires as you know one of the biggest, if not the biggest efforts in terms of inspection. Without that… the instability in the region would be far higher,” Grossi said.

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Biden’s Victories Confirmed in Arizona and Wisconsin

Monitoring Desk

(Bloomberg) — Arizona and Wisconsin confirmed that Democrat Joe Biden won in their states on Monday, dealing the latest blow to President Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn his defeat.

Biden defeated Trump by 10,457 votes in Arizona, according to the official results certified by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in Phoenix. The process was overseen by Governor Doug Ducey, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel.

The certification confirms that Biden won the state and triggers the appointment of electors who will cast Arizona’s 11 Electoral College votes for Biden when they meet on Dec. 14, unless a court intervenes.

Wisconsin Elections Commission Chairwoman Ann Jacobs also officially confirmed the result on Monday, and Democratic Governor Tony Evers announced he has signed the document appointing Biden electors for the state’s 10 electoral votes. Jacobs’s action also starts a five-day period for Trump to appeal the outcome of a recount.

The Trump campaign requested and paid $3 million for a recount of two heavily Democratic counties that confirmed Biden’s win in the state and even increased his more than 20,000-vote margin of victory over Trump.

The Trump campaign attacked practices around absentee ballots when it requested the recount in the two counties, but election officials in the state have repeatedly defended the integrity of the election.Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: Bloomberg Best of the Year 2020: Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, gestures while arriving during an election night party in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.© Bloomberg Bloomberg Best of the Year 2020: Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, gestures while arriving during an election night party in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.

Arizona and Wisconsin are the last contested battleground states to make their presidential election results official. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada certified Biden’s victories last week, and Georgia made his win there official on Nov. 20.

It’s yet another loss in efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn his defeat by challenging the election results in court and seeking to halt the certification in some states, despite failing to produce evidence. Those tactics have met with numerous court defeats.

“This election was conducted with transparency, accuracy and fairness in accordance with Arizona’s laws and elections procedures, despite numerous unfounded claims to the contrary,” Hobbs said before certifying the results there.

The state also certified the victory of Democrat Mark Kelly over Republican U.S. Senator Martha McSally. Kelly will be sworn in on Wednesday at noon, according to a senior Democratic aide.

At the same time the Arizona results were being made official, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was participating in a meeting on Monday at a Phoenix hotel with Republican legislators to discuss “election irregularities and fraud.” Giuliani was part of a similar meeting last week in Pennsylvania that featured Trump calling in to complain without evidence that the election was fraudulent.

Biden’s victory in Arizona doesn’t qualify for an automatic recount because the winning margin is greater than the lesser of 200 votes or 1/10 of 1% of the difference between the two candidates. There’s no provision for a losing candidate to request a recount, according to the secretary of state’s office. Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward has said the party intends to file a challenge to the results of the election after the canvass is complete.

The certification proceeded after a Maricopa County judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Arizona Republican Party on Nov. 19 that sought to force the state’s most-populous county to complete a hand-recount of some ballots, despite having no evidence of voter fraud or software errors. Democrats had accused the state GOP of trying to make the county miss the state’s certification deadline.

”President-elect Biden’s clear win in every state that Donald Trump’s campaign has contested has now been certified by a bipartisan array of election officials,” Michael Gwin, a spokesman for the Biden campaign said in a statement on Monday evening. “As has been clear for weeks, Joe Biden will be sworn in as president come January 20, 2021.”

Trump has so far refused to concede, but he acknowledged during an interview Sunday on Fox News that the fight to overturn his re-election defeat “probably” won’t reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which had been the goal of his legal team.

The president and his lawyers have also been calling for Republican-controlled legislatures in swing states to ignore Biden’s popular vote victories and name competing slates of Trump electors. But several legislative leaders have said that won’t happen, and legal experts say state legislatures can’t override the appointment of Biden electors after vote certifications.

“The certification of Arizona’s FALSE results is unethical and knowingly participating in the corruption that has disenfranchised AZ voters,” Trump attorney Jenna Ellis, who participated in the meeting in Phoenix with Giuliani, said on Twitter.

The U.S. General Services Administration has acknowledged Biden as the apparent winner and the president called on his agencies to cooperate. That designation triggered a formal transition process, giving the president-elect and his team access to agency officials, briefing books and other government resources, including some $6 million in funding.

Courtesy: Bloomberg

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China lauds Pakistan Army’s efforts for regional peace

F.P. Report

RAWALPINDI: Chinese Minister for National Defence General Wei Fenghe on Monday acknowledged and appreciated Pakistan Army’s sincere efforts for regional peace and provision of secure environment for China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.

Minister of National Defence, China General Wei Fenghe met Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa here at General Headquarters (GHQ), said Director General Inter Services Public Relations Major General Babar Iftikhar in a tweet.

The COAS, he said thanked the dignitary for China’s unwavering support to Pakistan on all key issues at regional and international forums.

COAS said: “Pakistan Army greatly values our time-tested and brotherly relations with China. We have been standing together all along , and our relations will be no different in wake of future challenges.”

During the meeting, matters of mutual interest, regional security and enhanced bilateral defence collaboration were discussed, he added.

Later on, the ISPR DG said a memorandum of understanding was also signed for enhancement of defence cooperation between both the Armies.

Earlier on arrival at GHQ, Minister of National Defence, laid a wreath at Yadgar-e-Shuhada.

A smartly turned out contingent of Pakistan Army presented the Guard of Honour to visiting dignitary, he added.

Also, Chinese Minister of National Defence General Wei Fenghe called on Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Nadeem Raza here at Joint Staff Headquarters.

Both the dignitaries discussed matters related to changing geostrategic environment and further strengthening of security and defence cooperation between the two countries, said an ISPR press release.

Both the sides reaffirmed their commitment to ‘Iron Brotherhood’ and ‘All-Weather’ friendship with continued efforts to forge deeper strategic ties for a shared future and security vision.

Earlier, upon arrival at Joint Staff Headquarters, a smartly turned out tri-services contingent presented ‘Guard of Honour’ to the visiting dignitary.

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‘Many leads found on assassination of Iran nuclear scientist’

TEHRAN (Agencies): Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi says the country’s security forces have found a lot of new leads on the recent assassination of senior Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Fakhrizadeh, the head of the Iranian Defense Ministry’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, was targeted in a multi-pronged terrorist at-tack by a number of assailants in Absard city of Tehran Province’s Dama-vand County on Friday.

Iranian government officials and military commanders have hinted that the Israeli regime could have been behind the terror attack, vowing harsh revenge against all the criminals involved.

Speaking during the funeral procession of Fakhrizadeh in northern Tehran on Monday, Alavi said Iranian security forces started their all-out efforts since the physicist’s assassination and succeeded in finding many clues by fully investigating all aspects of the terror attack.

The minister added that it was early to announce the details as the investigation was still ongoing, emphasizing, however, that the Iranian nation will be informed of the definitive conclusions in due time.

Iran’s Intelligence Mini-stry on Sunday released a s-hort statement, announcing that its agents have come across clues with regard to the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist.

“While expressing condolences on the martyrdom of Dr. Fakhrizadeh … hereby it is announced that … certain clues on the protagonists of this terrorist attack have been found through intelligence work … whose details will be made public later,” the ministry said.

An informed source told Press TV on Monday that the remains of the weapon used in the Friday assassination show that it was made in Israel, adding that the weapon collected from the site of the terrorist act bears the logo and specifications of the Israeli military industry.

Head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Rela-tions Kharrazi said on Sunday that the Islamic Republic will give a calculated response to Fakhri-zadeh’s assassination.

“There is no doubt that Iran will give a calculated and categorical response to those criminals who took Fakhrizadeh from the Iranian nation,” Kharrazi said in a message.

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PM directs for special division on border management

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Monday directed for creation of a special division on border management system under the supervision of an additional secretary of the Ministry of Interior.

The prime minister was chairing a high level meeting on further improving and making the border ma-nagement system more efficient, the PM Office said in a press release.

The meeting was attended by Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz, Minister of Interior Brig (retd) Ijaz Ahmad Shah, Minister for Maritime Affairs Syed Ali Haider Zaidi, PM’s Special Assistant Moeed Yousaf, and military and civilian authorities.

It was apprised that about 10 different federal ministries and provincial governments were linked with the border management; however, no central department at the federal level existed to look after these issues. It was further stressed that there was need for collection of information/data at one place of all those people entering Pakistan through land, air and sea routes.

The meeting was also briefed about the system installed at different border crossings and progress on the border fencing.

It was informed that the closure of illegal routes and control over smuggling had resulted in billions of rupees profit to the country’s economy during a period of one year.

The prime minister directed all the relevant departments for timely information/data sharing.

During the meeting, the prime minister observed that the government believed in secure borders.

Besides securing the borders, he also directed for taking practical steps for promotion of trade activities especially with regard to trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan.