Social media heroes: Afghan teen, her brother fought Taliban

Social media heroes: Afghan teen, her brother fought Taliban

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Qamar Gul, 16, right, and her brother Habibullah, 12, pose for photograph in the governor’s office in Feroz Koh, the provincial capital of Ghor province, in western Afghanistan, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The Afghan teenager and her younger brother are … more >

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By RAHIM FAIEZ

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – An Afghan teenager and her younger brother are being hailed as heroes on social media after reportedly fighting off Taliban militants who killed their parents during a firefight last week in central Afghanistan.

Following the attack and the social media attention the incident triggered, the children were being brought to the capital, Kabul, to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, possibly later on Wednesday.

The Associated Press could not confirm the reports and the children and the officials accompanying them on the trip to Kabul could not be immediately reached for comment.

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Arif Aber, spokesman for the governor of Ghor province where the incident took place, said 16-year-old Qamar Gul and her younger brother, 12-year-old Habibullah, are modern-day champions in the fight against the Taliban.

According to reports, dozens of Taliban fighters stormed the village of Geriveh in the Taywara district where Gul and her brother were living with their parents. It wasn’t clear what the reason for the raid was; some reports said the Taliban came to extort “taxes” from the villagers.

During the raid, three of the insurgents burst into the family’s home, grabbed and pulled Gul’s parents outside.

The Taliban “took both my father and mother out and shot them in front of my eyes,” Gul told reporters on Tuesday at the governor’s office in Feroz Koh, the provincial capital.

The teen recounted how she and her brother, who had been asleep when the attack started, each grabbed a gun their father had kept in the house and started shooting.

“I had no choice but to take my father’s gun and fire on them,” she said. “Two were killed and another of them was wounded.”

She said she kept shooting until the other villagers came, at which point the Taliban fled.

Why Gul’s parents were targeted remains unclear, said Aber, who described the children’s father as a government supporter who had in the past stood up to Taliban tax collectors who plundered the villages.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, denied the report. He said the Taliban last week attacked a checkpoint belonging to the pro-government militias in Taywara. Two of their fighters were wounded in the gunbattle with local forces, he said. No one was killed.

Taywara is under government control but has not been immune to Taliban incursions in the past, Aber said. Fearing another attack that would go after the children, the authorities moved them to Feroz Koh.

Meanwhile, a photograph of Gul holding an AK-47 – presumably her father’s – has gone viral, triggering a flurry of praise and admiration for the teenager. “Hats off to her courage,” said one post.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks across Afghanistan despite signing a peace deal with the United States in February. That agreement was intended to pave the way for talks between the insurgents and the government in Kabul, leading to an end to decades of war. Those talks were supposed to begin this month, but the process has stalled over the implementation of a prisoner release detailed in the U.S.-Taliban deal.

The peace deal called for the Afghan government to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the Taliban releasing 1,000 captive government personnel. So far, the government has freed more than 4,200 and the Taliban have freed around 800.

On Tuesday night, a Taliban suicide bomber targeted Afghan troops in southern Helmand province’s Gareshk district, killing two soldiers and wounding six, the defense ministry said.

Taiwan says China sending planes near island almost daily

Taiwan says China sending planes near island almost daily

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In this photo taken Feb. 10, 2020, and released by the Republic of China (ROC) Ministry of National Defense, a Taiwanese Air Force F-16 in foreground flies on the flank of a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) H-6 … more >

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Associated Press

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – China is sending military planes near Taiwan with increasing frequency in what appears to be a stepping up of its threat to use force to take control of the island, Taiwan’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

Such flights are more frequent than reported in the media and have become “virtually a daily occurrence,” Joseph Wu told reporters.

Along with Chinese military exercises simulating an attack on Taiwan, the flights by China are causing major concern for Taiwan’s government, Wu said.

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“What it is doing now is unceasingly preparing to use force to resolve the Taiwan problem,” Wu said.

China claims the self-ruling island democracy as its own territory and threatens to use the People’s Liberation Army to bring it under its control. The sides split in a civil war in 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the former Japanese colony as the Communist Party took control in mainland China.

Beijing has cut ties with the island’s government since Taiwan elected independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016 and has sought to isolate it diplomatically while raising the military threat. Despite that, Tsai was reelected this year by a wide margin.

Wu said China appeared to have grown in confidence following its crackdown on opposition voices in the former British colony of Hong Kong, facilitated by the national legislature’s passage of a sweeping security law.

“If international society does not give China a sufficiently clear signal, I believe China will take it that international society will not impede it in doing other things,” Wu said. “This is what we are extremely worried about.”

Wu stressed the need for coordination with allies such as Japan and the U.S., neither of which has official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but which maintain close relations. U.S. law mandates that Washington ensure the island can maintain a credible defense and treat all threats against the island as matters of grave concern.

Support among Taiwanese for political unification with China has long been weak and has fallen further following the crackdown in Hong Kong. That comes as Chinese Communist Party leader and President Xi Jinping pursues an increasingly assertive foreign policy, leading to speculation he may attempt a military confrontation in the region.

China says US orders it to close its consulate in Houston

U.S. orders China to close its consulate in Houston amid rising tension

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A firetruck is positioned outside the Chinese Consulate Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Houston. Authorities responded to reports of a fire at the consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, according to … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The U.S. on Wednesday ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, citing efforts to protect American intellectual property.

The move marks the latest in a series of increasing escalation between Washington and Beijing over trade, human rights, technology and national security.

While the Trump administration did not provide details behind the reason it is closing the Chinese consulate in Houston, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed to action being taken by the White House to end alleged intellectual property theft.

SEE ALSO: Rubio: Chinese Consulate in Houston is a ‘front’ for ‘massive spy operation’

“The United States will not tolerate [China‘s] violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated [its] unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

One day prior, the Justice Department accused the Chinese government of running an elaborate cyberhacking operation aimed at stealing secrets from Western companies, including U.S. businesses racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that began in China six months ago.

Federal prosecutors claimed that two Chinese hackers were working with the government in Beijing to steal hundreds of millions of dollars and secrets through a yearslong operation that has recently targeted biotechnology companies, including one in Maryland and another in Massachusetts.

“President Trump has said, ‘Enough, we’re not going to allow this to continue to happen,’ ” Mr. Pompeo said while on an official visit to Copenhagen.

Back in Houston, firefighters responded to calls of papers being set ablaze on the consulate’s property but were denied entry to the grounds, local news reported.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, on Wednesday said the Chinese consulate in Houston is basically a front for a massive spy operation after the State Department ordered the consulate to close.

“So this consulate is basically a front. … It’s kind of [the] central node of a massive spy operation — commercial espionage, defense espionage — also influence agents to try to influence Congress,” Mr. Rubio, the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Fox Business Network.

Mr. Rubio said the closure was “long overdue” and predicted that China would close one of the United States’ facilities in China as a response.

China has condemned the U.S.’ move to shut down the consulate.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a news conference Wednesday that “the unilateral closure of China’s consulate general in Houston within a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China.”

He warned of firm countermeasures if the U.S. does not reverse itself. Besides its embassy in Beijing, the U.S. has five consulates in mainland China, according to its website. They are in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.

At the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, the U.S. in January closed its consulate in Wuhan and has since decided to not reopen the facility.

• David Sherfinski contributed to this story, which is also based on wire reports.

China says US has ordered it to close Houston consulate in what it calls a provocation that violates

China says US has ordered it to close Houston consulate in what it calls a provocation that violates

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Associated Press

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China says US has ordered it to close Houston consulate in what it calls a provocation that violates international law.

Turkey rejects Greece accusation of Mediterranean violation

Turkey rejects Greece accusation of Mediterranean violation

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during an event in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool) more >

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Associated Press

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey on Wednesday rejected claims by Greece that its oil-and-gas research vessels were encroaching on Greek waters in the eastern Mediterranean and said it would continue to defend its legitimate rights and interests in the region.

A Foreign Ministry statement, however, also renewed a call by Ankara for dialogue to resolve the dispute between the two NATO allies.

Turkey announced plans Tuesday to dispatch search vessels into disputed waters in the Mediterranean, raising tensions between the neighbors and ignoring calls from European nations to avoid the action. Turkish authorities said the research vessel Oruc Reis and two support vessels would carry out operations through Aug. 2 in waters south of the Greek islands of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kastelorizo.

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State-run television in Greece said the country’s armed forces had been placed on a state of readiness.

An overnight statement by the Greek foreign ministry called the Turkish notification “illegal,” while authorities there issued a counter-notification declaring the Turkish navy’s notice for seismic survey in the area as “invalid.”

NATO allies Greece and Turkey are at odds over drilling rights in the region, with the European Union and the United States increasingly critical of Ankara’s plans to expand exploration and drilling operations in the coming weeks into areas Athens claims as its own.

Turkey has accused Greece of trying to exclude it from the benefits of oil and gas finds in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, arguing that sea boundaries for commercial exploitation should be divided between the Greek and Turkish mainland and not include the Greek islands on an equal basis.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry denounced what it called a “maximalist continental shelf claim,” insisting that they were “against international law, legal precedent and court decisions.”

The ministry statement added that the maritime area where Oruc Reis would conduct research was “within the limits of the continental shelf that our country has notified to the United Nations.” It said an exploration license was given to the Turkish state-run oil company, TPAO, in 2012.

Greece is pressing other EU member states to prepare “crippling sanctions″ against Turkey if it proceeds with the oil-and-gas exploration plans.

Mike Pompeo China speech defends Trump hawkish position

Mike Pompeo defends Trump’s hawkish line against China

Secretary of State set to give major policy speech

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the National Constitution Center about the Commission on Unalienable Rights, Thursday, July 16, 2020, in Philadelphia. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool via AP) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week will deliver a major speech on the shortcomings of American foreign policy toward China, arguing that the record clearly supports President Trump’s new and tougher approach to Beijing.

The policy speech, set for Thursday at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum near Los Angeles, will be the fourth in a series of addresses by the most senior national security officials of the Trump administration. Taken together, the speeches mark the most systematic and comprehensive response by a U.S. administration to address the challenges posed by China’s rise as a global economic and military power.

“We put together a series of remarks aimed at making sure the American people understood the ongoing, serious threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party to our fundamental way of life here in the United States of America,” Mr. Pompeo told The Washington Times in an interview.

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The speech will explain that the basis for U.S.-China relations since the 1970s —unfettered engagement and large-scale business ties with China — is obsolete. Mr. Pompeo will explain that the administration is fashioning new U.S. policies based on a relationship more in line with American values and principles.

The secretary of state also is expected to meet with a group of Chinese dissidents and pro-democracy advocates during his one-day visit to California.

In the interview, Mr. Pompeo said he plans to explain in detail how Mr. Trump has recognized the threat from China and the decades of harm it has caused to U.S. and other Western economies.

In response, the administration has begun to take “true concrete responses that can begin to reshape the relationship in a way that is fundamentally more fair and reciprocal for the American people, middle-class workers in America,” he said.

Past engagement policies, he said, failed to produce a moderate, pro-Western China. Mr. Trump is pursuing polices aimed at making sure China treats Americans “in a way that’s consistent with how we ask every country to behave,” Mr. Pompeo said.

The Pompeo speech will be the culmination of a series of high-level efforts to highlight the threat posed by China. White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Attorney General William P. Barr also have weighed in on various aspects of U.S.-Chinese policy, each time drawing a sharp rebuke from Beijing.

Taking on the deep state

In the wide-ranging interview, Mr. Pompeo discussed the problem of bureaucratic resistance in the State Department and in the CIA, which he used to run, to Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda. He said the administration is well-positioned to protect the security of the upcoming presidential election from foreign threats.

Mr. Pompeo also warned China not to arm Iran with advanced weapons when the arms embargo on Tehran ends in October. Beijing and Tehran are reportedly discussing a major economic and security pact in defiance of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

On the “deep state” opposition within the U.S. government, Mr. Pompeo said he has dealt with the resistance at the State Department, with its 75,000 employees, and during his role as CIA director.

“As for my experience now, 3½ years in, having first run the CIA and now as America’s chief diplomat, these are indeed big bureaucracies,” Mr. Pompeo said. “There are big bureaucracies in the private sector too, but inside government it takes a special capacity to get them all moving in the right direction.”

Policy opposition comes from “those who sit inside these bureaucracies and have policy differences.”

“I’m fine with people having different judgments, different views,” he said. “Even the senior leadership team at the State Department has different views. Air and vet them, make the case, build data sets around your argument, present them in a way that is rational and convincing.”

Disagreements also arise at the Cabinet level, but they are sorted out.

“When we’re done with [debate] and all that’s been sorted through, and the president has given guidance and I’ve issued implementation directions, the entire team has to work together to do that,” he said.

“There have been those who have decided they didn’t want be part of that,” he said. “So be it. They should leave. But everyone who remains, everybody who’s got their oar in the water still trying to pull America in the right direction has the true responsibility to execute in a way that’s consistent with President Trump’s foreign policy objective. And my mission is to make sure this organization, the State Department, and the CIA before that, did precisely that.”

Mr. Trump in May fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. Mr. Pompeo said Mr. Linick was dismissed for “undermining” the State Department. He did not elaborate. Congressional Democrats have said Mr. Linick was dismissed for investigating policy and personal matters related directly to Mr. Pompeo.

Ties with Iran

On Iran, recent news reports said Beijing is in the final stages of concluding an economic and military deal with Iran worth $400 billion for infrastructure, and closer defense and intelligence cooperation. China, which supports the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that the Trump administration repudiated in 2018, in the past has provided missiles and other military hardware to Iran despite nuclear sanctions.

“We’re watching the reporting … about the relationship between Iran and China,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We will hold every nation accountable that violates U.S. sanctions.

“I hope that the Chinese Communist Party sees that it is not in their best interest to support and provide weapons systems to the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”

Mr. Pompeo said he hopes Beijing will support U.S. efforts at the United Nations to block the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran. China, Russia and even some European allies have sent strong signals that they will oppose Washington’s efforts to preserve the embargo, a provision of the 2015 nuclear deal.

“It should not be the case that the world is going to stand by and allow an Iranian regime that continues to sponsor terror all around the world to allow them to be an arms merchant, allow them to purchase air defense systems and other capabilities that will protect them so that they are more capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We’re not going to allow that to happen. I hope that the Chinese Communist Party will join alongside of us.”

Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration is seeking to overhaul and improve U.S. radio broadcasting and information programs now that the first chief executive, Michael Pack, is now in place at the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

Mr. Pack dismissed all the directors of several government-funded radios, and the director of the flagship Voice of America, Amanda Bennett, stepped down before she could be fired. Mr. Trump has criticized VOA broadcasts, leading some critics to accuse the administration of threatening the service’s journalistic independence.

The message to be beamed abroad will be that “America is a force for good and that the threats that emanate from regimes like the Chinese Communist Party need not be tolerated and that America will be there to support those freedom-loving nations,” Mr. Pompeo said.

China and its neighbors

On recent tensions between Taiwan and mainland China, Mr. Pompeo said Mr. Trump is following the path forged by President Reagan in supporting Taipei’s defenses.

For the first time in decades, the administration agreed to sell new F-16 jets to Taiwan and has supplied other important weaponry in a bid to bolster the island’s defenses against China’s growing encroachment in waters along its periphery, Mr. Pompeo said.

Mr. Pompeo also said that what he called China’s failure to abide by its commitments in Hong Kong — Beijing recently approved a tough security law for the enclave that critics say violates a 1997 handover agreement to respect self-rule and autonomy in the former British colony — is raising worries about China’s threats to use force against Taiwan.

China has “a series of commitments they’ve made to the people who live in Taiwan and to the world, the fact that they will not use military force,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We set out in every conversation we have with our Chinese counterparts our expectation that they will live up to those commitments.”

China’s neighbors in the region, he added, increasingly appreciate the American security commitments in the face of Beijing’s aggressiveness.

Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration is actively supporting Hong Kong activists in their challenge to Chinese rule. Asked whether the curbs on freedom can be rolled back and democracy restored, Mr. Pompeo said, “The people of Hong Kong are going to demand it.”

An election is set for September, and Hong Kong voters will have a chance to “raise their voices” against Beijing in “demanding the freedom that the Communist Party promised them.”

China ignored the appeals. As a result, the administration has rescinded Hong Kong’s special economic status, Mr. Pompeo said.

On Chinese expansive maritime claims to own most of the South China Sea, Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. conducted a careful legal review before the State Department declared last week that those claims are illegal under international law.

“The Obama-Biden administration turned the other cheek when China violated basic promises” on not building military bases on disputed islands in the sea, he said. Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Obama in 2015 that China had no plans to deploy military forces on disputed islands.

Mr. Xi “then did, and the previous administration did nothing,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Beginning in April 2018, the Pentagon detected the deployment of Chinese anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles on several South China Sea islands. Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. is preparing a series of actions in response to Chinese militarization in the sea.

The Trump administration has begun providing assistance to nations China has challenged in the South China Sea. After last week’s statement from Washington, Mr. Pompeo said, China seems to have backed off the legal claim and is now negotiating agreements with individual states in the region in a bid to “pick them off one by one.”

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that [the Chinese] are not successful at that,” he said. “We cannot let China claim all of that sea as their maritime empire. This is a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

AP Exclusive: Aid from top donors drops even as need soars

AP Exclusive: Aid from top donors drops even as need soars

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FILE – In this March 30, 2020, file photo, Venezuelan workers wearing protective face masks and suits as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus unload boxes of humanitarian aid as medical supplies and specialists from China arrive … more >

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By CARA ANNA

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – A new snapshot of the frantic global response to the coronavirus pandemic shows some of the world’s largest government donors of humanitarian aid are buckling under the strain: Funding commitments, for the virus and otherwise, have dropped by a third from the same period last year.

The analysis by the U.K.-based Development Initiatives, obtained in advance by The Associated Press, offers a rare real-time look at the notoriously difficult to track world of aid.

At a time when billions of people are struggling with the pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse – on top of long-running disasters like famine, drought or unrest – more, not less, money is urgently needed. New virus protection equipment must be bought for almost everything, from maternity wards in African villages to women’s shelters in Syrian refugee camps.

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“We have not seen substantial funding for COVID, yet the situation is going to get worse,” Rosalind Crowther, South Sudan country director for the aid group CARE, told the AP in May, saying “some donors have backtracked on earlier commitments.” The group runs two dozen health centers, more than 40 feeding centers and a safe house in one of the world’s most fragile countries following civil war.

In Somalia, a mother of twin baby boys told Amnesty International she had to give birth in her makeshift home in a camp for displaced people because no local health clinic was open. Aid workers told Amnesty researcher Abdullahi Hassan the newly reduced services were due to lack of funding.

“You can imagine how risky this is,” he told the AP.

During the first five months of this year, overall aid commitments from the largest government donors were $16.9 billion, down from $23.9 billion in the same period last year, according to the new analysis, which drew on data from the United States, the United Kingdom, European Union institutions, Germany, France, Canada and others.

Many of these donors – notably the U.K., whose aid commitments have dropped by nearly 50% from last year, according to the analysis – are struggling as their economies contract. The sheer magnitude of the crisis is another challenge as every part of the world needs help – and now.

The U.K. on Wednesday signaled more trouble, announcing it had identified $3.6 billion in cuts to planned overseas aid spending “so that we can react to the potential shrinkage in our economy.”

The reality on the ground could be even worse than the new analysis indicates: Crucially, it only shows promises of aid. Just how much of the billions of dollars pledged have reached those in need is not yet clear.

In some cases, the response to the pandemic has been alarmingly slow. In June, more than two dozen international aid groups wrote to the U.S. about its pledged coronavirus aid, saying that “little to no U.S. humanitarian assistance has reached those on the front lines” and calling the uncharacteristic delays “devastating.”

Their letter came as the U.S. promoted global leadership on the COVID-19 response with more than $1 billion committed. Aid groups are now waiting to see whether the U.S. will deliver millions of dollars this month as indicated.

This new analysis, like any measure of aid, is imperfect – it looks at data published to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, which is voluntary but widely used. It is also more current than other measures: The data was downloaded on July 10.

The drop in funding is keenly felt by aid groups on the ground.

A survey in May of 92 members of Bond, the U.K. network for nongovernmental organizations working in international development, found just 16% had received any new funding from the U.K.’s Department for International Development while fighting the pandemic in developing countries, and 41% were responding without any extra funding at all.

Some aid groups are warning the window to prevent the pandemic’s worst effects is narrowing while the global humanitarian response “remains woefully underfunded,” as Refugees International said last week.

Meanwhile, “we are concerned that we are seeing a repurposing of existing funds … rather than a release of new funding,” Selena Victor, Mercy Corps’ senior director for policy and advocacy, has said of the EU’s response.

An U.N.-run emergency delivery service that has kept tons of humanitarian aid flowing to scores of countries hurt by travel restrictions could shut down in the coming weeks because “there has been no significant funding” from donor countries, the World Food Program said. Just 19% of the $965 million request has come in.

While individual governments struggle, the largest so-called multilateral organizations including the World Bank and the Global Fund have stepped up, perhaps not yet affected by budget constraints.

Their commitments this year are $48.8 billion, or 70% greater than the same period last year, according to the analysis. That’s a positive sign but “must be sustainable to tackle the whole crisis,” according to the analysis.

The challenges remain vast as various streams of assistance, including remittances, falter. “All resources … are set to fall,” according to a separate new Development Initiatives report.

That drop could continue for months. Official development assistance – government aid for developing countries’ economic development and welfare – could shrink by almost $20 billion worldwide between last year and 2021 under a worst-case scenario that envisages an extended pandemic. The cuts could continue “as government assess domestic priorities,” that report says.

COVID-19 arrived in a world already facing a growing number of humanitarian crises, from Yemen to Myanmar to West Africa’s Sahel. Now the pandemic “threatens to create a funding vacuum,” the report says.

As of the end of June, it says, U.N.-coordinated calls for aid for this year were up 25% from last year because of additional needs created by the pandemic, reaching more than $37 billion.

Last week, the United Nations again increased its request for the pandemic response alone to $10.3 billion – the largest appeal in its history.

Only $1.7 billion has been received. Up to $40 billion might be needed.

“The response of wealthy nations so far has been grossly inadequate and dangerously short-sighted,” U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said. “Failure to act now will leave the virus free to circle ‘round the globe.”

___

Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Confederate military base name change prompts sharp Trump veto threat

Confederate military base name change prompts sharp Trump veto threat

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In this Jan. 4, 2020, file photo a sign for at Fort Bragg, N.C., is shown. A warrant officer stationed at Ft. Bragg was convicted in a civilian court of sexual abuse of a minor, but must be additionally convicted … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday issued a blistering threat to veto the House’s version of the massive 2021 defense policy bill if it contains language that would rename military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

The veto threat, which also attacked provisions to curb the president’s plans to reduce troops in Afghanistan and Germany, came as lawmakers in both the House and Senate moved toward approving their separate versions of the $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and spending standards for the coming year.

On a 295-125 vote, the Democratic-controlled House on Tuesday evening approved its version of the NDAA, which includes a provision that would mandate the names of 12 military bases that are named for Confederate leaders within one year. The bill, which includes a 3% pay raise for military personnel, attracted enough support to theoretically override a presidential veto, including more than 100 House Republicans.

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The Senate’s version of the bill, which is expected to be voted on this week, includes similar language but would mandate the change over the period of three years.

The name change attracted some Republican support in both chambers.

“If [the House NDAA] were presented to the president in its current form, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it,” said the 13-page memo addressed to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the must-pass legislation if it contains provisions to rename the military bases. His latest veto threat applies heightened pressure to congressional Republicans, many of whom have already backed amendments to implement the changes.

The White House has not yet issued a formal threat to veto the Republican-led Senate’s version of the NDAA.

“President Trump has been clear in his opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to rewrite history and to displace the enduring legacy of the American Revolution with a new left-wing cultural revolution,” the memo said.

Calls for the military to confront racism within its ranks were sparked following George Floyd’s death, a Black man who died in police custody. Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week announced an effective ban on the display of Confederate flags at military facilities, but did so without mentioning the symbol by name.

Despite the political firestorm, Mr. Trump could point to a nationwide poll released Tuesday found that half of Americans do not support renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

Fifty percent of U.S. adults said they are against renaming military bases named after Confederate generals, and 42% said they support it, according to ABC News/Washington Post polling. By a 52% to 43% margin, Americans also said they are against removing statues honoring Confederate generals from public places.

Mr. Trump argues that casting Confederate figures and symbols as racist is absurd, given that the sites have served as key training grounds for soldiers who went on to fight in World War II and other conflicts.

But lawmakers of both parties have backed efforts to rename North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, Virginia’s Fort Lee and the other 10 Army installations that bear the names of Confederate figures. Republican members have introduced legislation to block the move, but the efforts have failed in both chambers.

Several prominent retired generals have also supported the move to rename bases, arguing that the Confederate figures not only supported the slave states, but that they had tried to destroy the United States.

In the veto threat, the Trump administration also cited bipartisan policy issues included in the House’s bill that seek to curtail Mr. Trump’s hopes of reducing the number of American troops in Afghanistan and Germany, as well as limiting the amount of military funds that can be used for construction of a border wall with Mexico.

“[The White House] also has serious concerns about provisions of the bill that seek to micromanage aspects of the executive branch’s authority, impose highly prescriptive limitations on the use of funds for Afghanistan, and otherwise constrain the President’s authority to protect national security interests,” the Office of Management and Budget argued in the veto message.

“Many of these provisions would pose significant challenges to continued execution of the [National Defense Strategy].”

Conservatives lash out at Liz Cheney over Trump criticism

Conservatives lash out at Liz Cheney over Trump criticism

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In this Dec. 17, 2019, file photo, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) more >

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By MARY CLARE JALONICK and ALAN FRAM

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans facing electoral uncertainty in November turned on one another in a private meeting on Tuesday, as a small group of conservative lawmakers confronted House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney over what they said was disloyalty to President Donald Trump.

The lawmakers called out Cheney for her support of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, and for supporting a primary challenger to Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., according to people familiar with the closed-door meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss it. Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio noted Cheney’s criticism of Trump on defense and foreign policy and accused her of not supporting the president on his coronavirus response.

Leading the criticism was Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who recounted the confrontation on his podcast, “Hot Takes with Matt Gaetz,” shortly after it happened. He also tweeted about Cheney, who is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and said she should step down from her post as head of the GOP conference.

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Liz Cheney has worked behind the scenes (and now in public) against @realDonaldTrump and his agenda,” Gaetz tweeted. “House Republicans deserve better as our Conference Chair. Liz Cheney should step down or be removed. #MAGA.”

Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. retweeted Gaetz’s message and wrote, “We already have one Mitt Romney, we don’t need another… we also don’t need the endless wars she advocates for.” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney has been one of the only Senate Republicans to regularly separate himself from Trump and voted to convict him on one article of impeachment earlier this year.

The confrontation comes as the president has struggled with a response to the coronavirus pandemic and Republicans in Congress have been somewhat split on his handling of the crisis. As Trump has pushed to quickly reopen the economy and played down the importance of coronavirus testing, some have indicated they disagree with him on those points. Others such as Gaetz and Jordan have rushed to defend him.

Cheney, R-Wyo., didn’t back down in the meeting and did not apologize for breaking with Trump, according to one of the people familiar with the exchange. At a GOP news conference later in the day, she told reporters that she “absolutely” still supports Fauci, who she said she has known for many years. She also noted that Trump Jr. is “not a member of the Republican conference.”

She said she takes her position seriously and had a “great conversation” with Massie after the conference meeting.

“I think the beauty of our system, and frankly the magnificence of this country and one of the things that the founders fought for, and that so many throughout history have died for, is our freedom of speech and the right for all of us to have this kind of healthy exchange and debate,” Cheney said.

Cheney has shot up to the No. 3 GOP leadership spot since she was elected in 2016. While she has voted mostly in step with the president, she has sometimes differed with him on foreign policy as he and his allies have argued against “endless wars.” She has rarely criticized Trump by name but has separated from him on that issue and others, including the pandemic.

In a June tweet, for example, Cheney alluded to Trump’s frequent refusal to wear a mask by featuring a photo of her masked father. “Dick Cheney says WEAR A MASK. #realmenwearmasks,” she wrote.

Republican leader Kevin McCarthy stood alongside Cheney at the afternoon news conference and said he was honored to have her as conference chair. “She does an amazing job,” he said.

In addition to Gaetz and Jordan, Cheney’s critics at the meeting included Texas Reps. Chip Roy and Louie Gohmert, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs and Massie himself. Cheney had donated money to Massie’s primary opponent, Todd McMurtry. Massie won that primary in June.

Roy specifically criticized Cheney for her support of Fauci and asked her “to consider the full breadth of research out there on the coronavirus,” according to a person close to Roy. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

All the members who criticized Cheney are members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus that often clashed with leadership when Republicans were in the majority.

US offers $5M bounty for top Venezuela judge, Maduro ally

US offers $5M bounty for top Venezuela judge, Maduro ally

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FILE – In this Jan. 31, 2020 file photo, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, right, speaks with Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno at the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela. Maduro is at the court to give his annual presidential address. On … more >

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By

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – The Trump administration offered a $5 million reward Tuesday for information leading to the arrest of the head of Venezuela’s high court, accusing the judge of taking bribes.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Supreme Tribunal of Justice President Maikel Moreno, a close political ally of socialist President Nicolás Maduro, actively participated in transnational organized crime.

Moreno has allegedly received bribes in over 20 criminal and civil court cases, Pompeo said.

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Moreno quickly rejected the reward, saying it was based on lies aimed at undermining him and will only strengthen his “autonomy and independence” as the head of Venezuela’s high court.

“This is not the first time a mouthpiece of the U.S. empire has tried to attack me,” Moreno said in a statement posted on Facebook. “They will never succeed because the independence and sovereignty of our homeland is not up for discussion.”

The Trump administration this year launched a “maximum pressure” campaign to oust Maduro as Venezuela’s economic and social crisis deepens in the once-wealthy oil nation. U.S. officials earlier this year charged Maduro as a narcoterrorist, offering $15 million for his arrest.

Maduro has rejected the U.S. charges against him, saying the are politically motivated.

The White House recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. U.S. federal prosecutors earlier this year charged Moreno with money laundering offenses associated with the bribery.

“The United States continues to stand with the people of Venezuela in their fight against corruption and for the peaceful restoration of democracy,” Pompeo said in a statement.

US virus aid far off as EU digs deep to aid ailing economies

U.S. virus aid far off as EU digs deep to aid ailing economies

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By Elaine Kurtenbach

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

MITO, Japan (AP) — U.S. lawmakers remained far apart Tuesday on a deal to provide more financial relief for Americans as European leaders thrashed out a plan for their pandemic-ravaged economies.

Meanwhile, testing of an experimental vaccine showed it may produce an immune response against the coronavirus. The urgency of such research is rising with the pandemic still gaining momentum in parts of the U.S., India and elsewhere in the developing world.

India added more than 37,000 new cases for a national total that now exceeds 1,155,000, the third most behind the U.S., with more than 3.8 million, and Brazil, with 2.1 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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India’s new cases have hovered around 40,000 a day in recent days, with experts warning a series of peaks lie ahead as the virus spreads in rural areas where the healthcare system is weak. The Indian Council for Medical Research, the top medical research body, was urging state governments to add more labs and improve testing capacity for the country of 1.4 billion people.

Lebanon’s health minister said the financially troubled country, which had previously managed to contain the coronavirus, was sliding toward a critical stage with a new surge in infections, more than a fifth of them untraceable, after lockdown restrictions were lifted and the airport reopened.

“The danger of community spread is still possible because the country has opened up,” the minister of health, Hamad Hassan, said in an interview with The Associated Press late Monday.

As coronavirus outbreaks wax and wane, much hinges on the effectiveness of contact tracing of newly discovered cases. In Spain’s Catalonia and other regions an early detection system meant to snuff out outbreaks and prevent cascades of cases appears to be inadequate, doctors and patients said.

Spain imposed a three-month lockdown earlier this year to rein in a devastating first wave of infections that left at least 28,000 dead. Now, Barcelona and an agricultural area in the same Catalonia region have become the two areas hit hardest by a resurgence of the virus.

“We are seeing a rise in cases and community contagion that worries us,” Dr. Jacobo Mendioroz, the epidemiologist in charge of Catalonia’s virus response, told Catalonia Radio on Sunday. “The system of contact tracers can still be improved. Now we have 300 tracers and we are going to add another 600 shortly.”

Worldwide, almost 610,000 people have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins, with more than 14.7 million people infected. Both numbers are widely acknowledged to be lower than the true toll of the disease.

Weary after four days and nights of haggling, European Union leaders clinched an unprecedented 1.8 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) budget and coronavirus recovery fund to confront the biggest recession in the history of the region, which faces an estimated economic contraction of 8.3%.

A 750 billion euro ($858 billion) coronavirus fund will finance loans and grants for countries hit hardest by the virus. That comes on top of the seven-year, 1 trillion euro EU budget.

“We have laid the financial foundations for the EU for the next seven years and came up with a response to this arguably biggest crisis of the European Union,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The pandemic has killed around 135,000 people in EU countries. The U.S. has surpassed that, with nearly 141,000 dead, according to the Johns Hopkins data.

As the first round of U.S. federal relieve expires, the political stakes of providing more support to the American economy are high and rising ahead of the November election. Unemployment claims have topped 1 million for 17 straight weeks, leaving many households in a cash crunch and at risk of losing employer-backed health insurance coverage.

Congressional Republicans remained at odds with Democrats over how much money is enough to ease the financial burden as businesses endure repeated closures to contain the spread of the virus.

Democrats have passed a $3 trillion package in the House. The Republican plan totals about $1 trillion.

State governments strapped for medical resources have been forced to borrow billions of dollars and slash costs by furloughing workers, delaying construction projects, cutting school aid and even closing highway rest areas.

Businesses also are being squeezed. Potions in Motions, a catering company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, would ordinarily be in high gear for summer weddings, graduations and corporate events, but is down to “micro-events” of eight to 15 people and has had to cut most of its staff.

“We’re trying to just stay alive,” said company founder Jason Savino. “There’s no support coming from any government or anywhere that are accommodating these businesses that are being ordered to dial their business back.”

Financial markets pushed higher on Tuesday, tracking overnight gains on Wall Street after scientists at Oxford University said their experimental vaccine had prompted a protective immune response in hundreds of people in an early trial.

The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization hailed the results as “good news” but warned “there’s a long way to go.”

“We now need to move into larger scale real-world trials,” Dr. Michael Ryan told reporters in Geneva.

In Asia, the latest virus flare-ups in Australia, South Korea and China’s far west appeared to be coming under control.

Australian military personnel were helping health authorities in Victoria state, where the country’s second largest city, Melbourne, has shut down to combat a rebound in infections.

“We’re still very much in the hard part of this fight, as you can see from the daily case numbers, and I’m not expecting that to change a lot in the short term,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “And we just need to keep working the problem.”

South Korea reported 45 new virus cases, 25 of them among quarantined people arriving from abroad. In many Asian countries, most newly reported infections are among those new arrivals, raising hopes that local outbreaks may be under control.

But Japan has been reporting hundreds of new cases daily, especially in Tokyo, and its death toll has risen above 1,000, with nearly 26,000 total infections.

___

AP journalists around the globe contributed to this report.

US sanctions Chinese companies over Muslim abuse complaints

US sanctions Chinese companies over Muslim abuse complaints

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FILE – In this Nov. 3, 2017, file photo, residents line up at a security checkpoint into the Hotan Bazaar where a screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hotan in western China’s Xinjiang region. The U.S. government has imposed … more >

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By JOE McDONALD

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China said Tuesday it would take unspecified “necessary measures” after the U.S. government imposed trade sanctions on 11 companies it says are implicated in human rights abuses in China’s Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.

The sanctions add to U.S. pressure on Beijing over Xinjiang, where the ruling Communist Party is accused of mass detentions, forced labor, forced birth control and other abuses against Muslim minorities. Xinjiang is among a series of conflicts including human rights, trade and technology that have caused U.S.-Chinese relations to plunge to their lowest level in decades.

The Trump administration also has imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials over the accusations. Beijing responded by announcing unspecified penalties on four U.S. senators who are critics of its human rights record.

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Three of the companies cited Monday were identified by investigations by The Associated Press in 2018 and 2020 as being implicated in forced labor. One company, Nanchang O-Film Tech, supplies screens and lenses to Apple, Samsung and other technology companies. AP reporters found employees from Xinjiang at its factory in the southern city of Nanchang weren’t allowed out unaccompanied and were required to attend political classes.

U.S. customs authorities seized a shipment from the second company, Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories, on suspicion it was made by forced labor. People who worked for the third, Hetian Taida, which produces sportswear sold to U.S. universities and sports teams, told AP detainees were compelled to work there.

The Department of Commerce said the addition of the 11 companies to its Entity List will limit their access to U.S. goods and technology. It gave no details of what goods might be affected.

“This action will ensure that our goods and technologies are not used in the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against defenseless Muslim minority populations,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement.

The Chinese foreign ministry rejected the sanctions as interference in its affairs and an attempt by Washington to hurt Chinese companies.

“What the United States is concerned about is not the human rights issues at all, but to suppress Chinese companies, undermine the stability of Xinjiang, and smear China’s Xinjiang policies,” said spokesperson Wang Wenbin. “We urge the United States to correct its mistakes, revoke relevant decisions and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.”

Wang said Beijing will “take all necessary measures” to protect Chinese businesses, but gave no indication of possible retaliation.

China has detained an estimated 1 million or more members of the Uighur and other Muslim ethnic minority groups in internment camps.

The government describes them as vocational training facilities aimed at countering Muslim radicalism and separatist tendencies. It says those facilities have since been closed, a claim that is impossible to confirm given the restrictions on visits and reporting about the region.

Veterans of the camps and family members say those held are forced, often with the threat of violence, to denounce their religion, culture and language and swear loyalty to Communist Party leader and head of state Xi Jinping.

The companies cited Monday include clothing manufacturers and technology suppliers.

Two companies cited, Xinjiang Silk Road BGI and Beijing Liuhe BGI, are subsidiaries of BGI Group, one of the world’s biggest gene-sequencing companies. The Commerce Department said they were “conducting genetic analyses used to further the repression” of Muslim minorities.

Human rights groups say security forces in Xinjiang appear to be creating a genetic database with samples from millions of people including through using blood and other samples subjects are compelled to provide. Nationwide, authorities have gathered genetic information from the Chinese public for almost two decades that the government says is for use in law enforcement.

Phone calls Tuesday to BGI’s public relations and investor relations departments weren’t answered.

The Commerce Department imposed similar restrictions last October and in June on a total of 37 companies it said were “engaged in or enabling” abuses in Xinjiang.

The department issued a warning on July 1 that companies that handle goods made by forced labor or that supply technology that might be used in labor camps or for surveillance might face unspecified “reputational, economic and legal risks.”

The Chinese foreign ministry criticized the warning, saying Beijing would take “necessary measures” to protect Chinese companies but giving no details.

EU agrees on $2.1 trillion deal after marathon summit

EU agrees on $2.1 trillion deal after marathon summit

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French President Emmanuel Macron, second left, speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Monday, July 20, 2020. Weary European Union leaders are expressing cautious optimism that a deal is in … more >

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By Raf Casert and Samuel Petrequin

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — After four days and nights of wrangling, exhausted European Union leaders finally clinched a deal on an unprecedented 1.8 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) budget and coronavirus recovery fund early Tuesday, after one of their longest summits ever.

The 27 leaders grudgingly committed to a costly, massive aid package for those hit hardest by COVID-19, which has already killed 135,000 people within the bloc alone.

With masks and hygienic gel everywhere at the summit, the leaders were constantly reminded of the potent medical and economic threat the virus poses.

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“Extraordinary events, and this is the pandemic that has reached us all, also require extraordinary new methods,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

To confront the biggest recession in its history, the EU will establish a 750 billion-euro coronavirus fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the hardest-hit countries. That is in addition to the agreement on the seven-year, 1 trillion-euro EU budget that leaders had been haggling over for months even before the pandemic.

“The consequences will be historic,” French President Emmanuel Macron said. “We have created a possibility of taking up loans together, of setting up a recovery fund in the spirit of solidarity,” a sense of sharing debt that would have been unthinkable not so long ago.

Merkel added: “We have laid the financial foundations for the EU for the next seven years and came up with a response to this arguably biggest crisis of the European Union.”

Despite Macron and Merkel negotiating as the closest of partners, the traditionally powerful Franco-German alliance struggled for days to get the quarreling nations in line. But, even walking out of a negotiating session in protest together over the weekend, the two leaders bided their time and played their cards right in the end.

“When Germany and France stand together, they can’t do everything. But if they don’t stand together, nothing is possible,” said Macron, challenging anyone in the world who criticized the days of infighting to think of a comparable joint endeavor.

“There are 27 of us around the table and we managed to come up with a joint budget. What other political area in the world is capable of that? None other,” Macron said.

At first, Merkel and Macron wanted the grants to total 500 billion euros, but the so-called “frugals” – five wealthy northern nations led by the Netherlands – wanted a cut in such spending and strict economic reform conditions imposed. The figure was brought down to 390 billion euros, while the five nations also got guarantees on reforms.

“There is no such thing as perfection, but we have managed to make progress,” Macron said.

The summit, at the urn-shaped Europa center, laid bare how nations’ narrow self-interests trumped the obvious common good for all to stand together and face a common adversary.

Rarely had a summit been as ill-tempered as this one, and it was the longest since a five-day summit in Nice, France, in 2000, when safeguarding national interests in institutional reforms was a stumbling block.

“There were extremely tense moments,” Macron said.

Still, considering every EU leader had the right of veto on the whole package, the joint commitment to invest and spend such funds was hailed as a success.

Adriaan Schout, an EU expert and Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael think tank in the Netherlands, said that the unusually acrimonious and drawn-out talks ultimately produced a typical Brussels deal.

“The EU hasn’t changed. This is always what it’s about – finding compromises – and the EU always finds compromises,” he said. “And the compromise has been hard fought. There are checks and balances in it. We don’t know how they will work.”

The days and nights of brutal summiteering will surely have left many wounds between member states, but as history has proven, the EU has an uncanny gift to quickly produce scar tissue and move on.

“We all can take a hit,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. “After all, there are presidents among us.”

Despite bruising confrontations with Merkel, Macron and his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Conte, Rutte maintained that “we have very good, warm relations.”

Conte also didn’t have time to dwell on grudges. With 35,000 Italians dead from COVID-19 and facing EU estimates his economy will plunge 11.2% this year, he had to think ahead, of things big and small – from getting cash to businesses still trying to get a foothold after the lockdown to getting school desks.

In order to open in September, his country needs up to 3 million new desks, to replace old-fashioned double and triple desks so students can keep a proper distance.

”We will have a great responsibility. With 209 billion euros, we have the possibility to relaunch Italy with strength, to change the face of the country. Now we must hurry. We must use this money for investments, for structural reforms,” Conte said.

Even if Tuesday’s agreement was a giant leap forward, the European Parliament, which has called the moves of the member states too timid considering the challenge, still has to approve the deal.

Rutte and others also wanted a link to be made between the handout of EU funds and the rule of law – a connection aimed at Poland and Hungary, countries with right-wing populist governments that many in the EU think are sliding away from democratic rule.

In its conclusion, the European Council underlined the “importance of the respect of the rule of law” and said it will create a system of conditionality aimed at preventing member states from getting subsidies from the budget and recovery fund if they don’t abide by its principles.

But Tuesday was a moment to revel in the achievement itself. What was planned as a two-day summit scheduled to end Saturday was forced into two extra days by deep ideological differences among the 27 leaders.

The compromise deal they finally hammered out was one that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed as a victory.

“We not just managed to get a good package of money, but we defended the pride of our nations and made clear that it is not acceptable that anybody, especially those who inherited … the rule of law criticize us, the freedom fighters that did a lot against the communist regime in favor of rule of law,” he said.

___

Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands; Colleen Barry in Soave, Italy; and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, contributed.

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

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German governors sent a letter to Congress to convince President Trump to back down from his plan to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from their country. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 2020

German politicians representing areas where large numbers of American military personnel are based want Congress to force President Trump to back down on his plans to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany.

The troops represent the “backbone of the U.S. military presence in Europe and NATO’s ability to act,” the governors of Bavaria, Hesse, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate wrote in a letter sent recently to more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers.

Among those who received it were several influential Republicans, including Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, who is both a strong ally of President Trump and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

SEE ALSO: Sen. Mitt Romney slams Germany troop withdrawal as ‘slap in the face’ to ally

While there was no immediate comment on the letter from Capitol Hill on Monday, several members of Congress have previously spoken out against Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan, including some prominent Republicans.

In June, Mr. Trump ordered the American troop presence in Germany to be reduced from about 34,500 to 25,00. The president has said he wanted the numbers reduced because Germany takes advantage of the U.S. in trade policy and won’t sufficiently invest in its own defense.

Luke Coffey, a foreign policy expert with the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Trump has a point about Germany’s lack of defense spending. But, in an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Coffey said such factors shouldn’t warrant a U.S. pullout.

“I think there are plenty of good reasons to keep U.S. forces in Europe. I would like to see them increased,” he said, asserting the U.S. military presence in Germany protects Americans interests in Europe by strengthening allies and deterring adversaries.

The letter from the German governors draws attention to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the Grafenwoehr training area as constituting essential to the U.S. presence in Europe, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press. Americans and Germans have worked together for decades to develop those structures, along with the headquarters for the U.S. European Command, the governors wrote.

“They provide the necessary foundation for a partnership-based contribution to peace in Europe and the world, to which we all share a common commitment,” they wrote. “We therefore ask you to support us as we strive not to sever the bond of friendship but to strengthen it and to secure the U.S. presence in Germany and Europe in the future.”

Domestic political considerations and the need to placate constituents is more likely at the center of the letter from the German chief ministers than geopolitical strategic concerns, said Mr. Coffey, who noted the loss of 10,000 well-paid American military personnel would be a major hit to the economies of the four German regions represented in the letter.

At the same time, Mr. Coffey argued such considerations also should not be a factor in weighing the strategic value of U.S. troops in Germany.

Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican and one of Mr. Trump’s most ardent political foes, was one of the recipients of the letter. He was already firmly opposed to the president’s order — having called it a “gift to Russia” — and last month introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act aimed at blocking any serious withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Germany.

“In addition to undermining our NATO alliance, a withdrawal would present serious logistical challenges and prevent our military from performing routine military readiness exercises,” Mr. Romney said on introducing the measure.

Final details around Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan remain murky.

Pentagon officials have not indicated which troops would be moved and what their next location would be. Some are expected to be transferred east, possibly to Poland which has been constructing facilities in hope of an influx of American military personnel. Most are expected to move back to the U.S.

There is precedent, meanwhile, for foreign politicians to try and play the U.S. legislative and executive branches off each other on sensitive national security matters. In March 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to speak before a joint meeting of Congress in opposition to the Obama era Iranian nuclear negotiations. Some saw it as a breach of diplomatic and political protocol.

While the German politicians may be attempting a similar end run around the White House with their letter to U.S. lawmakers, Mr. Coffey said Mr. Trump may not even have been made aware of the attempt.

“I’m not even sure this will be raised to his level in terms of briefings,” Mr. Coffey said. “But if [German chancellor Angela Merkel] starts firing off letters to various senators and congressmen, that would change.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Qassem Soleimani deaths absent from Donald Trump campaign pitch

Trump’s top counterterrorism triumphs missing from campaign pitch

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President Donald Trump salutes as he arrives on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, as he returns from Springfield, Mo. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 2020

President Trump’s two highest-profile counterterrorism victories have been largely absent from his reelection pitch, a departure from recent elections in which the winning candidate made a prominent case for fortitude in battling jihadis.

Unlike President George W. Bush, who ran for reelection during his war on terror, or President Obama, who made the raid that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden a cornerstone of his 2012 campaign, Mr. Trump and his team have yet to fully capitalize on the president’s successes against terrorism.

Neither the mission in October that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi nor the January strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani has been given significant attention in Mr. Trump’s battle with presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden.

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The successful operations, which eliminated two of the world’s most powerful and dangerous terrorist leaders and seemingly offer powerful ammunition for a commander in chief who prides himself on strength, have been mostly missing from Mr. Trump’s recent speeches. His campaign also hasn’t made them the focus of a major concerted advertising blitz in the way political observers might expect.

Analysts say there are several reasons why. The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic free fall, as well as recent racial justice protests, have consumed so much political space that there is little room for foreign policy on the campaign trail let alone a serious appetite among voters to hear about it.

But political insiders say other factors are also at play. They say a more aggressive pitch on the president’s counterterrorism successes could backfire.

One concern is that the deaths of al-Baghdadi and Soleimani, while important victories in the fight against extremism, wouldn’t have the same emotional impact among voters as bin Laden’s demise.

“President Trump has had many foreign policy successes to advertise, though admittedly it’s hard to compare killing terrorist leaders who aren’t household names with the man responsible for 9/11 attacks,” said J.D. Gordon, a former Trump campaign national security adviser and Pentagon spokesman.

“Another complicating factor in getting that positive message out is that since many of our 2016 campaign advisers were framed as Russian agents by the #Resistance, including Democrats in Congress and legacy media, it could be safer for the current campaign to avoid foreign policy altogether,” he said.

Foreign policy record

The Biden campaign and its liberal allies have been taking the foreign policy fight to Mr. Trump. They say the president has been soft on Russia, bungled relations with China, unnecessarily stoked tensions with Iran, abandoned American allies in Syria and made a host of other serious missteps.

The backdrop of the political attacks is broader turmoil inside the Trump campaign.

Last week, Bill Stepien was tapped as Mr. Trump’s new campaign manager in a seeming demotion for Brad Parscale.

Although campaign officials denied that Mr. Parscale had been punished or demoted, the development added to an appearance of internal upheaval at a moment of questionable polling numbers for the president.

Recent polls have shown Mr. Biden with a commanding lead over Mr. Trump nationally and in key battleground states.

One of the big questions heading into the campaign’s final three months centers on the extent to which Mr. Trump may or may not try to steer public attention toward his foreign policy record.

As it tries to regain its footing, the Trump campaign seems willing to fight over foreign policy when attacked. Top campaign officials are quick to contrast the president’s record with that of Mr. Biden, who served as vice president while the Islamic State rose to power in Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama also oversaw the Iran nuclear deal, which lifted some economic sanctions on Tehran but, as critics assert, allowed millions of dollars to flow to Soleimani’s Quds Force and the various terrorist outfits it backs across the Middle East.

A matter of messaging

Trump campaign officials say they are aware of the president’s wins on counterterrorism and are prepared to tout them publicly within a wider narrative of national security success over the past four years.

“President Trump kept his promise to rebuild the American military after it was severely depleted under the Obama/Biden administration,” Ken Farnaso, the campaign’s deputy national press secretary, told The Washington Times. “And his ‘America First’ agenda has secured the elimination of two most-wanted terrorists, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Qassem Soleimani, the destruction of the ISIS caliphate, and sustained strong political and economic pressure on adversaries like Iran, Venezuela and Russia.”

The president and his surrogates have made those arguments, but there are key differences between the way the Trump campaign is handling the issue this year and how the Obama camp approached it in 2012.

Mr. Obama was reelected in the year after the raid that killed bin Laden, capping nearly a decade of searching for the man behind the 9/11 attacks. The Obama campaign team used the event as a sharp political weapon and suggested that Republican nominee Mitt Romney might not have ordered the mission as commander in chief.

The narrative proved effective in portraying Mr. Obama as a strong, decisive leader and blunting Republican efforts to once again cast a Democrat as weak on international affairs.

One of the more memorable campaign advertisements of 2012 featured former President Bill Clinton saying it was a momentous decision for Mr. Obama to order the assault on bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

“Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in there and it hadn’t been bin Laden. Suppose they’d been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him,” Mr. Clinton said in the commercial. “He took the harder and the more honorable path, and the one that produced, in my opinion, the best result.”

The ad then asked, “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken,” before highlighting the Republican’s questioning about whether the U.S. should launch counterterrorism strikes in Pakistan or spend time and resources searching for a single terrorist leader.

Successes overshadowed

Mr. Trump has aired some memorable campaign commercials, but some political analysts say none has brought his counterterrorism achievements to the forefront the way the Bill Clinton ad did for Mr. Obama.

Some specialists also argue that there may be little the Trump campaign can do at this point to effectively capitalize on the al-Baghdadi and Soleimani operations.

Talking about the strikes or crafting multimillion-dollar ad campaigns to highlight foreign policy achievements of the past, they said, likely would turn off voters who are rightfully consumed with domestic crises playing out at the moment.

“When you have people dying at the numbers they’re dying at in the United States right now, the threat from international terrorism seems to pale by comparison,” said Stephen Zunes, a professor at the University of San Francisco who studies the intersection of politics and foreign policy.

“If Trump embraced that,” Mr. Zunes said, “it could even backfire.”

Christopher Steele Trump dossier relied on mystery man, hearsay

‘Rumor at best’: Dossier that rocked D.C. relied on mystery man, hearsay

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This Tuesday, March 7, 2017, file photo shows Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who set up Orbis Business Intelligence and compiled a dossier on Donald Trump, in London. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Rowan Scarborough

The Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 2020

A man of mystery in Moscow who fed a cache of anti-Trump hearsay to Christopher Steele in London for his notorious dossier relied on six sources: five friends and a 30-minute call from an anonymous person he never could identify, a newly declassified FBI document shows.

The dossier rocked Washington, empowered the liberal media, captivated the FBI and emboldened Democrats to try to oust President Trump. Yet Mr. Steele’s work was based on the words of a smattering of Moscow inhabitants with no firsthand knowledge of any supposed event, the FBI paper shows.

The alleged trip to Prague by Trump attorney Michael Cohen, for example, came from the Moscow source’s longtime childhood friend, who repeated gossip to him and later repudiated what she had said to the FBI.

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The FBI notes show the dossier’s go-to source told agents “his social network is vast and he has other, random associates.”

The U.S. government officially calls the mystery man Mr. Steele’s “primary sub source” — in other words, the main dossier architect. He is a Russian-speaking foreigner who circulates in Moscow’s academic and consulting worlds and does his research from home.

After feeding Mr. Steele stunning allegations — plot lines about The Ritz-Carlton hotel, Prague, Trump-is-a-Russian-spy — the primary source conceded to the FBI that he took what his friends told him with “a grain of salt.”

The source’s profile, but not his name, is contained in a highly censored FBI report summarizing three interviews agents conducted with him in the Washington field office in January 2017. It is the first look at any detail of the group of people, or subsources, who provided now-discredited allegations against the president and his aides. Mr. Trump recently said Mr. Steele belongs in jail.

Together with the December report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the two narratives show a dossier compiled from raw second- and thirdhand gossip that was texted or phoned in, once while the primary source lounged by a pool. At some point in his collecting, the source and Mr. Steele, whom he first met in 2009 and went on his payroll, celebrated with a glass of champagne.

The debunked dossier was funded by the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Notable congressional Democrats freely quoted it in 2017 as a way to dislodge the president.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the debriefing shows that the FBI at that point should have stopped seeking dossier-based wiretap warrants on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.

Instead, the FBI sought two more warrants, vouching for the dossier’s accuracy, and used it to fuel the 22-month probe of special counsel Robert Mueller. The special counsel found no Trump-Russia election conspiracy.

Said Mr. Graham: “The document reveals that the primary ‘source’ of Steele’s election reporting was not some well-connected current or former Russian official, but a non-Russian-based contract employee of Christopher Steele’s firm. Moreover, it demonstrates that the information that Steele’s primary source provided him was second- and thirdhand information and rumor at best.”

Then there is the question of Kremlin disinformation. The profiles of the six sources show that some of them claimed to be conduits for Russian intelligence. The Horowitz report said intelligence agencies warned the FBI that Russian spies knew what Mr. Steele was up to and had infiltrated the primary source’s network.

Here is the cast of six dossier contributors as described in the FBI’s 60-page debrief. The FBI gave each a number:

Source 1: A Russian with contacts in the intelligence service and FSB, or Federal Security Service. The primary source met this person at a cafe in June 2016. The person was a source for the first dossier memo, No. 80.

This person apparently spoke with or heard secondhand information from “a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure and a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin.”

The memo claims that the Kremlin “had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents.” (This assertion, like so many others in the dossier, proved untrue.)

Source 2. This Russian supplied the rumor, also in memo No. 80, about Mr. Trump and prostitutes in The Ritz-Carlton Moscow hotel in 2013, when the Trump Organization staged the Miss Universe pageant.

The primary source had asked this person for any “compromising materials on Trump,” the FBI document says. Source 2 repeated a “well known story.” “Source 2 said the hotel is bugged and ‘heaven only knows’ who or what has been filmed by the FSB.”

The primary source interviewed hotel management and said he did not get a denial. He said he reported to Mr. Steele “Trump’s unorthodox sexual activity at the Ritz as ‘rumor and speculation’ and that he had not been able to confirm the story.”

Intelligence agencies warned the FBI that the Ritz story was Russian disinformation.

Source 3. This is perhaps the dossier’s most damaging contributor for Mr. Trump and aides. She is a female friend of the primary source. They have known each other for years. They have borrowed money from each other and gone shopping together.

She said Trump volunteer Carter Page, during a July 2016 trip to Moscow, met secretly with Igor Divyekin, a crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Page has always denied this, and the Mueller report cleared him.

Source 3 also told the other big conspiracy story: that Trump attorney Michael Cohen secretly traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet Putin aides and engineer a cover-up of their shared Democratic Party computer hacking. The FBI later concluded that Cohen never went to Prague.

More information about Source 3 emerged in April, when Republican senators won declassification of footnote No. 347, which had been completely censored in the Horowitz report.

The footnote said Source 3, described as a “sub-source,” had “personal and business ties” with the primary subsource. She also had contacts with Mr. Putin’s staff in June and July 2016, when Mr. Steele was compiling the dossier.

The woman also was “voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections,” the footnote said.

What’s more, other declassified footnotes show that intelligence agencies warned the FBI that the information about Cohen was Kremlin disinformation.

As for Source 3, the Horowitz report said the FBI questioned her in August 2017. She called the information attributed to her “exaggerated,” and she did not recognize anything as coming from her.

Source 4. This person has ties to the FSB. The primary source said they enjoyed each other’s company and “drank heavily together.”

“I just overheard such and such about an issue” is how he would feed information to the primary source.

Source 5: A Russian woman with ties to Kremlin intelligence. She provided the other half of the Carter Page story — that he also met in Moscow with Igor Sechin, a Putin adviser who runs the state oil company.

Mr. Page denies this meeting ever occurred, and Mr. Mueller cleared him.

Source 6: This U.S.-based person telephoned the primary source for 20 minutes. Never providing his name, Source 6 became the basis for Mr. Steele’s writing about an extensive conspiracy between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Source 6’s phone call was used as evidence by the FBI to persuade judges to approve the Carter Page wiretaps.

Mr. Steele designated Source 6 as source E. The Horowitz report called him Person 1. This person has been described in media reports as having left the U.S. and not cooperating with Mr. Mueller.

After the three interviews in January 2017, the FBI talked to the primary source two more times. It was then when he made the “grain of salt” comment — essentially dismissing the entire dossier.

Those interview notes have not been declassified.

He said he never knew Mr. Steele planned to put what he told him into official reports. The Horowitz report said he told the FBI he made it clear to Mr. Steele that he was repeating “just talk” and “word of mouth and hearsay” and “conversations that [he] had with friends over beers.”

That February, agent Peter Strzok, who led the FBI’s Trump probe, made this comment in a declassified document after the primary source had been interviewed three times: “Recent interviews and investigation … reveal Steele may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his sub source network.”

Bolton: Trump lacks strategic vision, historical knowledge

Bolton: Trump lacks strategic vision, historical knowledge

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FILE – In this Sept. 30, 2019, file photo, former National security adviser John Bolton gestures while speakings at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Bolton said Monday, July 20, 2020 he believes President Donald Trump committed … more >

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By TERRY SPENCER

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Former national security adviser John Bolton said Monday he believes President Donald Trump committed several impeachable offenses, but Democratic congressional leaders doomed their effort to remove him from office by rushing the process for partisan purposes.

Bolton told a Florida group in an online presentation that Trump’s business and re-election concerns drive not only his dealings with Ukraine, which led to his impeachment by the House, but also with China, Turkey and other countries.

He said he would have voted to remove the president for his Ukraine dealings, but did not delve into specifics. Bolton, a longtime adviser to Republican presidents, told the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, a nonpartisan organization that meets monthly to hear from prominent newsmakers, that life inside Trump’s White House was like “living in a pinball machine.”

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“You need to have strategic vision. It certainly helps to have philosophical foundations and you have to think through pros and cons of different policies. Almost none of that happened with President Trump,” said Bolton, who was promoting his book, “The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir.”

Trump “does not have a basic philosophy. He is not a conservative Republican. I don’t mean to say he is a liberal Democrat. He is just not anything,” said Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019. The president says he fired Bolton; Bolton says he resigned.

Bolton, who was being interviewed by local TV anchorman Michael Williams, gave his most searing critiques regarding impeachment for congressional Democrats, saying they pushed their effort in a “rushed, inadequate, excessively partisan way.” The Democrats weren’t interested in learning the full truth, Bolton said, they just wanted to harm Trump’s re-election chances, making it impossible to get any significant Republican support.

Bolton said the Democrats’ claim that they plowed ahead knowing their effort was doomed in the Senate because it would curtail Trump’s future actions is wrong. He said Trump’s acquittal will make him less circumspect if he wins in November.

“The whole thing ended up completely backward of where the Democrats said they wanted,” Bolton said,

Bolton, 71, is a longtime foreign policy hardliner who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has called for U.S. military action against Iran, North Korea and other countries over their attempts to build or procure nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. He was President George W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador for 16 months after serving as a State Department arms negotiator and in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Bolton said Trump does not read the national security briefing presidents receive daily and during the two or three weekly in-person briefings he receives from security and military officials, Trump spends most of his time talking rather than listening and asking questions.

Bolton compared that to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he said comes to meetings well-briefed, with a deep knowledge of history and a clear vision of his goals. He said Putin believes he can play Trump, who Bolton said knows little history.

“You put somebody like that on one side of the table and Donald Trump … on the other side of the table and it is not a fair fight,” Bolton said.

Bolton criticized Trump’s dealings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying their face-to-face meetings gave legitimacy to Kim’s rule without the United States getting any concessions on that country’s nuclear weapons program. Instead, it gave Kim two years to make his weapons program stronger, he said.

“This was not a cost-free exercise,” Bolton said of the meetings.

Bolton fired back at Republicans who criticize him for releasing his book just before the election.

“If you can’t talk about the character or incompetence of a president during a presidential election, when can you talk about it?” Bolton said.

When asked about the election, Bolton said no matter who wins, Trump or his presumed Democratic opponent Joe Biden, the U.S. will be less safe for different reasons. He did not elaborate.

He said he plans to cast a write-in vote for an undetermined Republican conservative.

Zimbabwe police detain prominent journalist, protest leader

Zimbabwe police detain prominent journalist, protest leader

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Zimbabwe journalist Hopewell Chino’ono, left, speaks to state media during the launch of his documentary, State of Mind, in Harare, in this Oct. 10, 2018 photo. Zimbabwe police on Monday July 20, 2020, swooped in and detained Hopewell Chino’ono, the … more >

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By FARAI MUTSAKA

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – Zimbabwe police on Monday swooped in and detained a prominent journalist and an opposition leader ahead of anti-government protests planned for the end of this month, their lawyers said.

The journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono, has a huge following on Twitter, where he regularly posts about alleged government corruption. He has also been using his account to encourage Zimbabweans to speak out and act against corruption.

“They are breaking into my home. Alert the world!” Chin’ono tweeted as police raided his home. His lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said he is detained at a police station in the capital, Harare, but is being denied access to lawyers.

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The arrest of Chin’ono, a Harvard University Nieman Fellow, drew sharp criticism in Zimbabwe and abroad.

“Political intimidation of the press has no place in democracies,” tweeted the U.S. embassy in Harare, which in the past has been accused by the ruling party of “sponsoring” Chin’ono. The Dutch embassy described his arrest as “part of a worrying trend against free speech in #Zimbabwe.”

The organizer of the planned July 31 protest, opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume, is also in police custody, said Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which is providing lawyers for him.

Police spokesman Paul Nyathi said Chin’ono and Ngarivhume have been charged with “incitement to participate in public violence” and would appear in court “soon.”

Journalists, lawyers, doctors and nurses are among hundreds of people who have been arrested in recent months in Zimbabwe for protesting, striking for better pay or, in some cases, simply doing their work as tensions rise in the troubled southern African country.

A deteriorating economy and reports of widespread corruption linked to government contracts for the purchase of COVID-19 personal protective gear and drugs amid poor service delivery have further stoked public anger.

In June, Chin’ono said he feared for his life after ruling ZANU-PF party spokesman Patrick Chinamasa accused the journalist of seeking to embarrass President Emmerson Mnangagwa by linking the president’s family to alleged corrupt COVID-19 related contracts.

Deprose Muchena, a regional director with Amnesty International, said the arrests are “designed to intimidate and send a chilling message to journalists, whistleblowers and activists who draw attention to matters of public interest in Zimbabwe.”

“He is being victimized for exposing corruption in government,” said Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general, Foster Dongozi, in a statement.

Separatists protest Spanish royals’ visit to rural Catalonia

Separatists protest Spanish royals’ visit to rural Catalonia

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Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia visit the Royal Monastery of Poblet, northeastern Spain, Monday, July 20, 2020. Hundreds of Catalan independence supporters are protesting Monday the visit of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia to the northeastern region … more >

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By HERNÁN MUÑOZ

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

L’ESPLUGA DE FRANCOLI, Spain (AP) – Hundreds of Catalan independence supporters protested a visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia on Monday to the northeastern region, during a royal tour across Spain meant to boost morale amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The visit came amid mounting media reports accusing the king’s father, former monarch Juan Carlos I, of allegedly hiding millions of untaxed euros in offshore funds.

Prosecutors in the country’s Supreme Court are determining whether Juan Carlos can be investigated for allegedly receiving the funds from Saudi Arabia, possibly as kickbacks for a high-speed railway project. The former king hasn’t publicly addressed the allegations against him.

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The scandal is the latest to rock the Spanish royal family. In mid-March, it prompted Felipe to renounce any inheritance he could receive from his father and stripped him of the annual stipend he received. Juan Carlos abdicated on behalf of his son in 2014.

With that backdrop, the royal couple launched a visit to all of Spain’s 17 regions that was designed as a show of support for the citizens and the economy as it recovers from the first wave of the pandemic.

The Catalan leg of the tour was initially planned for last week, covering several towns and Barcelona, but the palace said it had postponed it and scaled it back to a short visit to a monastery because of the spike in virus cases in and around the regional capital.

Protesters on Monday carried photos of Felipe upside down and letters completing the sentence “Catalonia doesn’t have a king” during a march organized by ANC, the region’s largest pro-independence civil society group.

“Are the king and the queen here to promote tourism? What they promote is repulsiveness,” said protester Marta Martí. “They know we don’t want them. But they come here to test our patience.”

Tensions between separatists in Catalonia, which has a population of 7.5 million, and those in support of Spanish unity came to a head in late 2017. A banned referendum was met with police violence, and prompted the prosecution of top elected officials and activists.

“We want democracy, simply democracy,” said school teacher Marcel Barbosa, adding that the king had shown disrespect for Catalans’ demands for independence. “They know they are going to lose and that they will need to leave, that’s why we are not allowed to vote.”

The march was headed to the Royal Monastery of Poblet, which the king and the queen were visiting, but police blocked access at the main road. Some of the activists tried to reach the monastery by venturing into nearby vineyards.

Separated by a line of riot police, a dozen people expressed support for the Spanish royals. All protesters left after the end of the visit.

High-speed and regular trains in and out of the northern Catalan city of Girona were also delayed or cancelled due to “acts of vandalism,” according to a tweet by Spain’s railway infrastructure operator, ADIF. A photo circulated on messaging apps showed tires burning on railways next to a sign showing a crossed-out, upside-down image of a crown.

Quim Torra, the head of the Catalan government and a fervent separatist, on Sunday said that he’s asked the regional government’s legal services to study how a personal lawsuit can be filed against the former king and anybody who was involved in the alleged corruption.

__

AP reporter Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this story.

Home learning, reopening schools especially hard in Africa during pandemic

Home learning, reopening schools especially hard in Africa during pandemic

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In this April 22, 2020, file photo, children walk past an informational mural depicting the coronavirus and warning people to sanitize to prevent its spread, painted by graffiti artists from the Mathare Roots youth group, in the Mathare informal settlement, … more >

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By Rodney Muhumuza

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Lessons via radio or TV. Math problems in newspapers. Classes on Zoom or WhatsApp.

The options for African students to keep studying while schools remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic seem varied, but the reality for many is that they will fall behind and possibly drop out of school forever — worsening inequality on an already unequal continent.

“I think education now is more of an emergency than the health issue,” said Dr. Mary Goretti Nakabugo, a literacy expert who runs a Uganda-based education nonprofit called Uwezo, noting that there have been no reported virus deaths and just over 1,000 cases in this East African country, though, as elsewhere, limited testing means those figures are likely undercounts. Children “are completely helpless at the moment.”

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Although the pandemic has disrupted education across the globe, the schooling crisis is more acute in Africa, where up to 80% of students don’t have access to the internet and even electricity can be unreliable, making distance learning difficult, if not impossible. Schools also often provide a refuge to vulnerable children, offering services that their families cannot afford.

Sub-Saharan Africa already has the highest rates of children out of school anywhere in the world, with nearly one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and over one-third of youth between 12 and 14 not attending, according to the U.N. culture and education agency.

But getting students back to school also comes with special challenges in Africa, where children in some countries may cram into tiny classrooms by the dozens.

The charity Save the Children called the pandemic the “biggest global education emergency of our time” in a report published this week. It identified 12 countries in which children “are at extremely high risk of dropping out forever.” Nine of them are in sub-Saharan Africa.

With the help of outside groups, some African governments have announced measures to support learning from home. But many have been hindered by a lack of reliable electricity and poor internet connectivity. Even newspapers into which learning materials are inserted are not affordable for many in the region. In Uganda, for instance, annual per capita income was less than $800 in 2019, according to World Bank data.

Uganda’s government has pledged to distribute 10 million radios and over 130,000 solar-powered TV sets, but authorities have failed to honor past promises, including giving a free mask to everyone.

In neighboring Kenya, primary and secondary schools will remain closed through 2020, although colleges and other institutions of higher learning can reopen in September. That means Kenyan pupils will repeat an academic year, a phenomenon commonly described as a “dead year.”

But the effects will not be limited to academic disruption.

“The critical consequences may be related to health, water and nutrition” because schools are often oases of stability, according to a report by the Norway-based Chr. Michelsen Institute.

The development research institute noted that school closures may deny students access to meals and health programs, and sometimes clean water and sanitation.

Schools also provide havens for children from work and exploitation. Girls may especially suffer, according to the literacy expert Nakabugo, who cited anecdotal reports of a growing number of teenage pregnancies — as the Norway-based institute’s report noted happened during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic.

The prolonged shutdown could also mean many schools close for good and many teachers quit, exacerbating what is already the world’s worst teacher shortage.

Media reports in Uganda cite school owners who are looking to sell their properties or have turned dorms into rental units to keep up with loan payments. The local association of Ugandan teachers is urging authorities to employ furloughed teachers as village tutors.

“The teachers are so discouraged at the moment. They feel left out,” said Stella Maris Basemera, a mathematics teacher who heads a Uganda-based group of tutors called Creative Learning Africa. “So some of them are going to run away from the profession.”

In the West African nation of Senegal, education officials tried to keep children learning by broadcasting some classes on television after schools closed in March, a move aimed at reaching students without home internet access. But electricity is often lacking in villages.

“The potential of digital technology is enormous,” said Djibril Tall, a teacher in Senegal’s Louga region. But “in many places people are forced to travel long distances just to have enough to charge their phones.”

Some students in Senegal returned to classrooms in June, but, for many in Africa, returning to school may be tricky.

In Zimbabwe, where in many schools up to 70 students may be crammed into a small room, the government is postponing a phased reopening that had been scheduled to begin this month. Teachers unions had warned that such a plan is dangerous in schools lacking face masks, hand sanitizer, and even running water.

Even in South Africa, the continent’s most prosperous economy, the government has faced criticism from teachers unions for its decision to reopen schools despite a growing number of cases.

Since schools there reopened in June, at least 650 students and teachers have tested positive in the province of Gauteng, the country’s economic hub, forcing 71 schools to close again.

Many private schools across Africa are offering online tutoring. But in poor and rural areas, children are more likely to spend their days playing games or housekeeping.

“It is the poorest schools that will continue to suffer and remain closed, while affluent schools reopen, only deepening inequality in both access to and quality of education,” said Dipolelo Moime, spokesman for One SA Movement, a group of South African activists.

While some parents are paying hundreds of dollars a month for their children to attend online classes, others pay much less to teachers who conduct lessons in backyards. Many others cannot afford any support.

“I can’t even afford to buy bread. Where will I get the money for these private lessons?” said Maud Chirwa, a mother in the Kuwadzana suburb of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. “They are better off at school where there are some controls.”

___

Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal, Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg, South Africa, contributed.

Polish foreign minister expecting to leave job in reshuffle

Polish foreign minister expecting to leave job in reshuffle

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Monday, July 20, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poland’s foreign minister says he is expecting to leave his job in the near future.

Jacek Czaputowicz spoke amid talk of a major reshuffle in the right-wing government following the recent re-election of President Andrzej Duda, the government’s ally.

Czaputowicz told the Rzeczpospolita daily’s online version late Sunday that he had an agreement with the government head that he would serve until the presidential election, the runoff for which took place July 12.

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“A few months ago we agreed with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that my mission will be continued until the presidential election,” Czaputowicz said.

Czaputowicz said he was not under pressure to go, but believes “this is a good moment for a change at the helm of our diplomacy.”

He said Duda’s re-election was a sign of approval for the government’s policies and he does not expect any change of course in foreign relations.

Ruling Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said Sunday a government reshuffle and reorganization should be expected “right after summer vacation,” which could mean in September.

UK suspends extradition arrangements with Hong Kong

UK suspends extradition arrangements with Hong Kong

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FILE – In this Wednesday April 22, 2020 file photo, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab leaves 10 Downing Street, London. Britain’s foreign secretary hinted Sunday, July 19 he may move to suspend the U.K.’s extradition arrangements with Hong Kong, and … more >

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By DANICA KIRKA

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

LONDON (AP) – Britain suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong on Monday and blocked arms sales to the former British territory after China imposed a tough new national security law.

Amid growing tensions with Beijing, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons that he had concerns about the new law and alleged human rights abuses in China, particularly the treatment of the Uighur minority. He described the measures announced Monday as “reasonable and proportionate.″

“We will protect our vital interests,″ Raab said. “We will stand up for our values and we will hold China to its international obligations.″

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Britain followed the example of the United States, Australia and Canada by suspending extradition agreements with Hong Kong, which became a special administrative region of China after the U.K. returned control of the territory to Beijing in 1997.

Events in Hong Kong are particularly sensitive for the British government because China agreed to a “one country, two systems″ policy that was supposed to protect the economic and social traditions of the territory for 50 years after the handover.

Britain and other western nations believe the new security law threatens that agreement because it restricts free speech and erodes the judicial independence of Hong Kong. The law makes crimes such as promoting secession punishable by life in prison and allows some cases to be tried on the mainland.

This means people extradited to Hong Kong could end up being tried in mainland courts, Raab said.

The U.K. previously accused the Beijing government of a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration under which Hong Kong was returned to China and announced it would open a special route to citizenship for up to 3 million eligible residents of the territory.

China’s decision to implement the security law on June 30 triggered widespread protests in Hong Kong. Police responded with water cannon, tear gas and hundreds of arrests.

The ban on arms sales extends an embargo that has been in place for mainland China since 1989. It means the government will not allow British companies to export potentially lethal weapons, their components or ammunition, as well as equipment that might be used for internal repression such as shackles, firearms and smoke grenades.

The measures announced Monday come less than a week after Britain backtracked on plans to give Chinese telecommunications company Huawei a role in the U.K.’s new high-speed mobile phone network.

The U.S. has lobbied its allies to shun Huawei because it says the Chinese government could use the company’s technology to spy on western nations. Huawei denies the allegations.

Beijing objected to the new measures even before they were formally announced by Raab.

China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, on Sunday told the BBC that Britain was “dancing to the tune” of the U.S. and rejected the allegations of human rights abuses against the mainly-Muslim Uighur people.

He accused Western countries of trying to foment trouble with China.

“People say China (is) becoming very aggressive. That’s totally wrong,” he said. “China has not changed. It’s Western countries, headed by United States – they started this so-called new Cold War on China.”

Tech drives indexes higher on Wall Street after choppy start

Tech drives indexes higher on Wall Street after choppy start

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A man wearing a face mask walks past a bank’s electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index at Hong Kong Stock Exchange Monday, July 20, 2020. Asian shares were mostly lower Monday as investors cautiously eyed the summit of … more >

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By ALEX VEIGA and DAMIAN J. TROISE

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

Big technology companies powered stocks higher on Wall Street Monday, adding to the market’s gains after a three-week winning streak.

The S&P; 500 rose 0.8% after being down 0.3% in the early going. Gains by technology and communication stocks and companies that rely on consumer spending outweighed losses elsewhere in the market. The rally, which gained strength in the final hour of trading, nudged the benchmark S&P; 500 index to a slight gain for the year and drove the Nasdaq composite to an all-time high.

Amazon led the way higher in the S&P; 500 with a 7.9% gain. Citrix Systems was close behind finishing 7.6% higher. Microsoft also helped lift the market, rising 4.3%. Noble Energy climbed 5.4% after the company agreed to be acquired by Chevron for $5 billion.

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Technology and communications stocks and big e-commerce retailers like Amazon have benefited this year as the pandemic has forced people to largely stay home and rely increasingly on the internet for shopping, work and entertainment. Among the losers have been banks, airlines and cruise lines.

“Last week, you had the value trade come back for a few days,” said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager with Globalt Investments. “The pattern seems to be that most days lately have been favoring growth over value.”

The S&P; 500 gained 27.11 points to 3,251.84. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which was down for most of the day, added 8.92 points, or less than 0.1%, to 26,680.87.

The Nasdaq had its best day since the end of April. It climbed 263.90 points, or 2.5%, to 10,767.09. The Russell 2000 index of small company stocks gave up 5.36 points, or 0.4%, to 1,467.95.

Treasury yields were mixed, reflecting caution among investors. European markets closed mostly higher and Asian markets ended mixed.

Wall Street is coming off its third straight weekly gain following improvements in hiring, retail sales and other parts of the economy, along with rising hopes for a COVID-19 vaccine. Underlying it all is massive aid for the economy and the promise of nearly zero interest rates from the Federal Reserve. The overall S&P; 500 index has rallied back to within 4% of its record set in February and is back to where it was in early June.

Still, worries remain that the rise of coronavirus counts across much of the country will derail efforts to reopen businesses shut down due to the pandemic.

“Until we have more clarity around all these different issues, it wouldn’t surprise us if the market ended the year right where we are today,” said Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

Investors have an eye on Washington as Congress returns this week to begin work with the White House on another trillion-dollar economic relief package against the backdrop a renewed surge in the outbreak. The U.S. has now registered more coronavirus infections and a higher death count of 140,500 than any other country.

The Fed’s efforts to support markets and expectations that Washington will deliver more financial aid to help Americans weather the economic downturn has been key in keeping markets mostly pushing higher since stocks plunged in March.

“If markets are allowed to trade in a vacuum without policy, you could see much more volatility,” Samana said.

Traders were also looking ahead to a busy week of earnings reports from major U.S. companies, including Coca-Cola and Microsoft.

Expectations are low for companies’ performance in the April-June quarter due to the pandemic, given the economic fallout from the broad business shutdowns and the rapid increase in unemployment as millions of Americans were laid off or furloughed. But investors want to hear what company CEOs have to say about how they expect their businesses to fare in the second half of this year and in 2021.

“The question is what are the early indications of the third quarter shaping up like?” Martin said.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 0.61% from 0.63% late Friday.

In the commodities markets, the price of benchmark U.S oil for August delivery reversed an early slide, gaining 22 cents to settle at $40.81 a barrel. Brent crude oil for September delivery rose 14 cents to $43.28 a barrel.

Insults, slammed fists: EU virus summit goes into 4th day

Insults, slammed fists: EU virus summit goes into 4th day

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French President Emmanuel Macron, center, leaves the European Council building in the early morning during an EU summit in Brussels, Monday, July 20, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations met throughout the night Sunday to assess an overall budget … more >

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By Raf Casert and Mike Corder

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — Weary and bleary, European Union leaders were gearing up Monday for a fourth day of fighting over an unprecedented 1.85 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund, barely recovered from a weekend of walkouts, fists slamming into tables and insults.

With a brilliant sun warming the negotiating sundeck at the Europa summit center early Monday, there finally was a glimmer of hope that the talks to help the continent emerge from the pandemic through an unprecedented economic aid package are not doomed after all.

“It looks more hopeful than when I thought during the night: ‘It’s over,’” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the target of much of the criticism. The meeting — one of the longest-running ever in the bloc’s history — broke up temporarily and is due to resume on Monday afternoon.

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“All want a solution instead of shelving the problem,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. Alluding to the infighting, he added, “It also shows: massive efforts are needed to make Europe strong again together. The corona pandemic shocked all of us.”

It took a heart-tugging dinner speech by EU Council President Charles Michel about leaders not failing their union, French President Emmanuel Macron slamming his fist in anger into the table, and a new set of budgetary numbers to send this epic summit onward.

It was planned as a two-day summit scheduled to have ended Saturday, but there are deep ideological differences between the 27 leaders forced the talks into two extra days.

Rutte, defending the cause of a group of five wealthy northern nations – the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark – sought to limit costs and impose strict reform guarantees. He came under criticism from Macron, Italy and Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked why the Dutchman had such “hate” toward him.

Rutte took it in stride.

“We are not here because we are going to be visitors at each other’s birthday party later. We are here because we do business for our own country. We are all pros,” he said.

On Sunday night, after three days of fruitless talks and with hope dimming, Michel implored leaders to overcome their fundamental divisions and agree on the budget and recovery fund.

“Are the 27 EU leaders capable of building European unity and trust or, because of a deep rift, will we present ourselves as a weak Europe, undermined by distrust,” he asked the leaders. The text of the behind-closed-doors speech was obtained by The Associated Press.

“I wish that we succeed in getting a deal and that the European media can headline tomorrow that the EU succeeded in a Mission Impossible,” Michel said.

The pandemic has sent the EU into a tailspin, killing around 135,000 of its citizens and plunging its economy into an estimated contraction of 8.3% this year.

The bloc’s executive has proposed a 750 billion-euro coronavirus fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the countries hit hardest by the pandemic. That comes on top of the seven-year 1 trillion-euro EU budget that leaders had been haggling over for months even before the pandemic hit.

Even with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel negotiating as the closest of partners, the traditionally powerful Franco-German alliance could not get the quarreling nations in line.

At their dinner table Sunday night, the leaders mulled a proposal from the five wealthy northern nations that suggested a coronavirus recovery fund with 350 billion euros of grants and the same amount again in loans. The five EU nations – nicknamed “the frugals” – had long opposed any grants at all, while the EU executive had proposed 500 billion euros.

“We are ready to take the leap from loans to subsidies,” Rutte said.

All nations agree they need to band together but the five richer countries in the north, led by the Netherlands, want strict controls on spending, while struggling southern nations like Spain and Italy say those conditions should be kept to a minimum.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said negotiations are at a “delicate moment” but that Spain still expects that an agreement that will set new foundations for the bloc will be achieved. Speaking to Cadena SER radio in an interview Monday, she said that Spain is open to a plan that comes with strings attached.

“We do not reject conditionality and we do not reject that there is good governance that offers trust,” she said. “What we do want is for that to have a framework, a framework that offers trust, clarity and transparency, which is the basis of a family’s relationship, same as the relationship within the European Union.”

Rutte has long been known as a European bridge builder, but this weekend his tough negotiating stance was being blamed for holding up a deal. He and his allies have been pushing for labor market and pension reforms to be linked to EU handouts and a “brake” enabling EU nations to monitor and, if necessary, halt projects that are being paid for by the recovery fund.

“He can’t ask us to do specific reforms,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, complaining Rutte may look like a hero in his home nation, but nowhere else.

Rutte also wants a link to be made between the handout of EU funds and the rule of law – a connection aimed at Poland and Hungary, countries with right-wing populist governments that many in the EU think are sliding away from democratic rule.

That drew Orban’s anger.

“I don’t know what is the personal reason for the Dutch prime minister to hate me or Hungary, but he’s attacking so harshly and making very clear that because Hungary, in his opinion, does not respect the rule of law, (it) must be punished financially,” Orban said.

____

Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. Samuel Petrequin and Aritz Parra contributed from Brussels, Madrid.

Families step in at Kabul COVID-19 ward to care for patients

Families step in at Kabul COVID-19 ward to care for patients

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Afghan doctors help a patient to breathe through an oxygen mask in the Intensive Care Unit ward for COVID-19 patients at the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) more >

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By Tameen Akhgar

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The intensive care unit at the Afghan capital’s premier hospital for COVID-19 patients is a medical nightmare — and a stark warning how the country’s war-ravaged health care system risks collapsing.

Family members, without protective equipment and only a few wearing face masks, help care for the patients lying in hospital beds. They say they have no choice because there are not enough nurses and other medical staff.

The next-of-kin often guard their loved one’s oxygen tank, fearing it could be stolen because there is a shortage of just about everything, including oxygen cylinders.

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The 100-bed Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in western Kabul is one of only two facilities for coronavirus testing and treatment in the Afghan capital. Newly graduated Afghan doctors have joined the 370-member staff after many of the hospital’s experienced physicians walked out a few months ago, fearing the virus.

The 92-square-meter (1,000-square-foot) ICU ward has only 13 beds, and COVID-19 patients admitted here are in critical condition; few are hooked up to ventilators, some of the others rely on oxygen tanks.

Assadullah, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, says he struggled to stay awake night after night at the ICU ward, guarding the tank that kept his father alive. In his father’s final days, the relative of another patient came over, threatening to take the tank.

“Your father is dying but mine is alive, he told me … in such a situation, how could I have left my father alone,” said Assadullah, who lost his father to the virus on Tuesday.

Abdul Rahman, 42, feels the same way and rushes to rub his 70-year-old mother’s back every time she coughs.

A few beds away, 64-year-old Mohammad Amin’s left foot has turned black from gangrene that set in after a blood clot due to the virus. His son and wife tend to him as best they can, but they say it’s exhausting.

For the hospital’s director, Hakimullah Saleh, every staffer is a hero, risking their own life to provide critical care. They face so many work challenges, he said, on top of which they sometimes have to deal with “threats” from distraught families who feel the hospital is not doing enough.

One of Saleh’s heroes, Dr. Jawad Norzai, is relentless in his devotion to the patients, he said. Along with his job as chief surgeon, Norzai visits over 60 patients a day and finds the time to train new doctors, Saleh said.

The 32-year-old Norzai got his medical diploma in 2013 and worked first for private hospitals, joining the Afghan-Japan only after hearing how many of the staff had left. Norzai said he, like many medical professionals, contracted the virus but recovered. He said he infected several of his family members but luckily, they also recovered.

Another one of the Afghan-Japan doctors who recovered from the virus is Mozhgan Nazehad, 35. “I spent three nights awake because of severe pain, back pain, and lower limb pain, that pain I will never forget,” said Nazehad, who lives apart from her family to keep them safe.

The other hospital that treats COVID-19 patients is the Ali Jenah, funded by Pakistan, a 200-bed but less-equipped facility, also in western Kabul. There is also an isolation center in the dormitory of the Kabul University, but it does not provide treatment.

According to the Health Ministry, more than 1,700 medical workers — including 40 at the Afghan-Japan hospital — were infected while providing care to COVID-19 patients; 26 have died.

Afghanistan has so far recorded almost 35,000 cases of the virus, including 1,094 deaths, with the number of infections thought to far outnumber the official tally.

The International Rescue Committee warned last month that Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster because the government is unable to test some 80% of possible coronavirus cases.

The Health Ministry said it now has the capacity to test only 2,500 people per day. Last month, 10,000 to 20,000 people were coming daily, asking to be tested, but the government had to turn many down. Afghanistan has one doctor for every 3,500 people, less than a fifth of the global average, according to the World Health Organization.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday that in addition to the COVID-19 health crisis faced in Afghanistan, the socioeconomic impact of the virus could become catastrophic with 12.4 million people — one third of the country’s population — already considered to be living at “emergency” levels of food shortages.

Seemingly indicative of the fractured health care system, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s special envoy for economic development, Yosuf Ghaznafar, went to Turkey when he became ill with COVID-19. He died of the disease there in early July, according to a statement from the presidency – the most senior Afghan official so far to die of the virus.

Asia Today: Outbreak in northwest China spreads to 2nd city

Outbreak in northwest China spreads to 2nd city

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Movie-goers wearing masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus are spaced apart as they watch a movie in a newly reopened cinema in Hangzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province on Monday, July 20, 2020. China is going back to the … more >

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By

Associated Press

Sunday, July 19, 2020

BEIJING (AP) — China’s latest coronavirus outbreak has spread to a second city in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

One of the 17 new cases reported on Monday was in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, the regional government said on its official microblog. The remainder were in the regional capital of Urumqi, where all other cases have been reported since the outbreak that has now infected at least 47 people emerged earlier this month.

Authorities in Urumqi have tried to prevent the spread by closing off communities and imposing travel restrictions.

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Xinjiang is a vast, thinly populated region of mountains and deserts and had seen little impact from the pandemic that emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and was largely contained within China in March.

Another five new cases reported Monday by the National Health Commission were imported.

China also said 5,370 people had been arrested for pandemic-related crimes between January and June. More than 40% were charged with fraud, the state prosecutor’s office announced on its official microblog. Another 15% were charged with obstruction of law enforcement, with others accused of producing and selling fake and shoddy goods, creating public disturbances, and transporting and selling endangered species.

China has strengthened protection for wild animals following the emergence of the virus, which may have originated in bats before jumping to humans via an intermediary species such as the anteater-like pangolin.

No specific figures were given for those accused of violating quarantine rules and travel restrictions, although there have been relatively few such cases reported in official media.

Although faulted for allowing the virus to spread from Wuhan, China’s government has been credited with imposing rigid and sometimes draconian measures to contain the outbreak, and people have overwhelmingly complied with orders to wear masks, display certificates of good health and maintain social distancing.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

– A record surge of 40,425 reported cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours took India’s total to 1,118,043. The Health Ministry on Monday also reported another 681 deaths, taking total fatalities to 27,497. India has the third most cases and eighth most deaths in the world. A country of 1.4 billion people, India has been conducting nearly 10,000 tests per million population. More than 300,000 samples are being tested daily, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research, India’s top medical research body. With India’s national lockdown largely lifted, local governments have been ordering focused lockdowns on high-risk areas where new outbreaks are surging.

– Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state reported 275 more COVID-19 cases on Monday, a third daily figure that was below last Friday’s peak. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the impact of the lockdown on Australia’s second-largest city Melbourne should become apparent Wednesday, which is two weeks after the six-week shutdown began. “It is a wicked enemy, it is unstable and until we bring some stability to this, I don’t think we’ll be able to talk about a trend,” Andrews said. Victoria had conducted more than 1.3 million coronavirus tests among a population of 6.5 million, which represented one of the highest testing rates in the world, he said.

– South Korea has reported its smallest daily jump in local COVID-19 transmissions in two months as health authorities express cautious optimism that the outbreak is being brought under control. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday still reported 26 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 22 that were tied to international arrivals. Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said the four local cases were the first below 10 since May 19. He continued to plead for vigilance, encouraging people to avoid crowded places or even stay at home during the summer holiday period.

– Hong Kong reported 73 new coronavirus infections on Monday, 66 of which were locally transmitted, as the city grapples with a new outbreak. Of the locally transmitted infections, 27 were from unknown sources while the remaining 39 were linked to previously known clusters. Among the new patients was a doctor who visited an elderly care home. Hong Kong’s health officials said tighter anti-virus measures may be required if the trend does not come down over the next few days. Hong Kong has reported a total of 1,958 coronavirus infections, with 12 deaths.

North Korean leader berates officials over hospital project

North Korean leader berates officials over hospital project

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during an enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea Saturday, July 18, 2020. Independent … more >

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By KIM TONG-HYUNG

Associated Press

Sunday, July 19, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un berated construction managers for unspecified problems in building a showpiece hospital in comments reported Monday that may indicate the country is struggling to secure the supplies amid U.S.-led sanctions and a coronavirus lockdown.

During a visit to the construction site in Pyongyang, Kim lamented that his ambitious project of building a new general hospital was being carried out in a “careless manner” and without a proper budget and ordered all officials responsible to be replaced, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

The report said Kim accused construction managers of making a “serious digression” from the ruling party’s policy over the supply of materials and equipment by “burdening the people by encouraging all kinds of ‘assistance,’’’ which apparently indicated rising complaints among people who were mobilized for its construction.

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The KCNA report didn’t say when Kim visited the site and didn’t mention any comments by Kim over stalled nuclear diplomacy with the Trump administration or international sanctions over his nuclear weapons program.

In announcing the plans to build the hospital in March, Kim made a rare acknowledgement that his country lacks modern medical facilities and called for urgent improvements in the country’s health care system.

However, the country hasn’t directly linked the hospital project to the coronavirus pandemic and has steadfastly maintained that no one in its territory has been sickened by COVID-19, a claim many foreign experts doubt.

Experts say the pandemic has hurt the North’s economy, already battered by stringent U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Kim desperately sought sanctions relief during a flurry of diplomacy with the United States in 2018 and 2019. But talks have faltered since his second summit with President Donald Trump in February 2019.

Experts say the COVID-19 crisis likely thwarted some of Kim’s major economic goals by forcing the country into a lockdown that shut the border with China, its major ally and economic lifeline, and potentially hampered his ability to mobilize people for labor.

EU summit drags into 3rd day amid splits on virus fund

EU summit drags into 3rd day amid splits on virus fund

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Sunday, July 19, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations meet face-to-face for a third day to assess an overall budget and recovery package … more >

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By RAF CASERT and MIKE CORDER

Associated Press

Sunday, July 19, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders remained fundamentally divided for a third day Sunday over an unprecedented 1.85 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that they might not reach a deal despite the urgency imposed by the pandemic.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said in his seven years’ experience of European meetings, “I have never seen positions as diametrically opposed as this.”

Even with Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron negotiating as the closest of partners, the traditionally powerful Franco-German alliance could not get the bloc’s 27 quarreling nations in line.

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Often negotiating outdoors on a sundeck in the Europa summit center in Brussels, the blue skies and fresh breeze had no impact on the mood. Undiplomatic terms like “”hate” and “grumpy” have been thrown around between leaders during marathon negotiations that should have drawn everyone closer together to fight a historic recession in the bloc.

“Whether there will be a solution, I still can’t say,” Merkel said as she arrived early for the extra day of talks.

The pandemic has sent the EU into a tailspin, killing around 135,000 of its citizens and sending its economy into an estimated contraction of 8.3% this year.

The bloc’s executive has proposed a 750 billion-euro coronavirus fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the countries hit hardest by the pandemic. That comes on top of the seven-year 1 trillion-euro EU budget that leaders have been haggling over for months even before the pandemic hit.

All nations agree they need to band together but five richer countries in the north, led by the Netherlands, want strict controls on spending, while struggling southern nations like Spain and Italy say those conditions should be kept to a minimum.

The differences were so great that Sunday’s resumption of talks by all 27 leaders together was pushed back several hours as small groups worked on new compromise proposals.

The leaders finally sat down to dinner together in the early evening, and could mull a proposal from the group of five wealthy northern nations that suggested a coronavirus recovery fund with 350 million euros of grants and the same amount again in loans. The five EU nations nicknamed “the frugals” – the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark – had long opposed any grants at all.

Merkel and Macron walked out of heated talks before dawn Sunday with the frugals, bemoaning their lack of commitment to a common cause.

“They ran off in a bad mood,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

Rutte has long been known as a European bridge builder, but this weekend his tough negotiating stance is being blamed for holding up a deal. He and his allies are pushing for labor market and pension reforms to be linked to EU handouts and a “brake” enabling EU nations to monitor and, if necessary, halt projects that are being paid for by the recovery fund.

Rutte and the other frugal leaders held talks with EU summit host Charles Michel early Sunday but Merkel and Macron refused to water down their proposals of aid.

While Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says he has a good personal relationship with Rutte, he said the “clash is very hard” and that Rutte’s demand for a veto ”is an unwarranted request.”

“He can’t ask us to do specific reforms,” Conte said. “Once (the aid) is approved, each country will present its proposals.”

Another member of the frugals, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, said he still believed a deal was possible, but there is a “long way to go,” the Austria Press Agency cited Kurz as saying.

Rutte also wants a link to be made between the handout of EU funds and the rule of law – a connection aimed at Poland and Hungary, countries with right-wing populist governments that many in the EU think are sliding away from democratic rule.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban raised the specter of a second wave of COVID-19 that could hit EU economies hard in the fall or winter.

“I don’t know what is the personal reason for the Dutch prime minister to hate me or Hungary, but he’s attacking so harshly and making very clear that because Hungary, in his opinion, does not respect the rule of law, (it) must be punished financially,” Orban said.

Orban was prepared to stick around for a week if necessary to reach a deal.

“Not even soccer is as important as reaching an agreement. It’s not about Hungary but about Europe now,” said the notoriously soccer-mad prime minister.

Macron said leaders need to compromise but still respect the underlying principles and goals of the EU.

“It is still possible, but these compromises, I say very clearly, will not be made at the cost of European ambition,” he said.

____

Mike Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. Associated Press writer Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin.

___

Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Virus rebounds around the world, deaths top 600,000

Virus rebounds around the world, deaths top 600,000

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A street artist spray paints a protective face mask over an old mural featuring a Venezuelan Indigenous man, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, July 18, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix) more >

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By GEIR MOULSON

Associated Press

Sunday, July 19, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – The coronavirus pandemic has found fresh legs around the world, as confirmed deaths pass 600,000 and countries from the U.S. to South Africa to India struggle to contain a surge of new infections. Hong Kong issued tougher new rules on wearing face masks, Spain closed overcrowded beaches and Germany reported another outbreak at a slaughterhouse.

Pope Francis said “the pandemic is showing no sign of stopping” and urged compassion for those whose suffering during the outbreak has been worsened by conflicts.

The World Health Organization said that 259,848 new infections were reported Saturday, its highest one-day tally yet.

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While the U.S. leads global infections, South Africa now ranks as the fifth worst-hit country in the pandemic with more than 350,000 cases, or around half of all those confirmed on the continent. Its struggles are a sign of trouble to come for nations with even fewer health care resources.

India, which has now confirmed more than 1 million infections, on Sunday reported a 24-hour record of 38,902 new cases.

In Europe, where infections are far below their peak but local outbreaks are causing concern, leaders of the 27-nation European Union haggled for a third day in Brussels over a proposed 1.85 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is “a lot of good will, but there are also a lot of positions” in the talks, which have have laid bare divisions about how the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, such as Italy and Spain, should be helped. She said the talks, which were initially scheduled to end on Saturday, could still end without a deal.

As scientists around the world race to find a vaccine to halt the pandemic, Russia’s ambassador to Britain on Sunday rejected allegations by the United States, Britain and China that his country’s intelligence services have sought to steal information about vaccine efforts.

“I don’t believe in this story at all, there is no sense in it,” Ambassador Andrei Kelin said when asked in a BBC interview about the allegations. “I learned about their (the hackers’) existence from British media. In this world, to attribute any kind of computer hackers to any country, it is impossible.”

Confirmed global virus deaths risen to nearly 603,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins. The United States tops the list with over 140,000, followed by more than 78,000 in Brazil. Europe as a continent has seen about 200,000 deaths.

The number of confirmed infections worldwide has passed 14.2 million, with 3.7 million in the United States and more than 2 million in Brazil. Experts believe the pandemic’s true toll around the world is much higher because of testing shortages and data collection issues.

Infections have been soaring in U.S. states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, with many blaming a haphazard, partisan approach to lifting lockdowns as well as the resistance of some Americans to wearing masks. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday that the situation was so dire in his California city that authorities were considering a new stay-at-home order.

Even where the situation has been largely brought under control, new outbreaks are prompting the return of restrictions.

Following a recent surge in cases, Hong Kong made the wearing of masks mandatory in all public places and told non-essential civil servants to work from home. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the situation in the Asian financial hub is “really critical” and that she sees “no sign” that it’s under control.

Police in Barcelona have limited access to some of the city’s beloved beaches because sunbathers were ignoring social distancing regulations amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections. Authorities in Amsterdam urged people not to visit the city’s famous red light district and have closed off some of the historic district’s narrow streets because they are too busy.

Slaughterhouses also have featured in outbreaks in the U.S., Germany and elsewhere. Authorities in northwestern Germany’s Vechta county said 66 workers at a chicken slaughterhouse tested positive, though most appeared to have been infected in their free time. An earlier outbreak at a slaughterhouse in western Germany infected over 1,400 and prompted a partial lockdown.

Cases in the Australian state of Victoria rose again Sunday, prompting a move to make masks mandatory in metropolitan Melbourne and the nearby district of Mitchell for people who leave their homes for exercise or to purchase essential goods.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said those who fail to wear a mask will be fined 200 Australian dollars ($140).

“There’s no vaccine to this wildly infectious virus and it’s a simple thing, but it’s about changing habits, it’s about becoming a simple part of your routine,” Andrews said.

Speaking on Sunday from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for an immediate worldwide cease-fire that he said “will permit the peace and security indispensable to supplying the necessary humanitarian assistance.”

___

Moulson contributed from Berlin. Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.

___

Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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Associated Press

Saturday, July 18, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – President Donald Trump has nominated South Carolina’s former lieutenant governor to be the next ambassador to Belize.

The White House announced Friday that Andre Bauer’s nomination still needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before it’s official, news outlets reported.

The ambassador’s post has been vacant since the term of the previous ambassador, Carlos Moreno, concluded with the end of President Barack Obama’s administration. Belize, where the official language is English, is highly popular with American tourists for its beaches and Mayan history.

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Bauer, 51, served as former Gov. Mark Sanford’s second-in-command from 2003 to 2011. He also ran unsuccessful bids for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010 and for the state’s 7th Congressional District in 2012.

He gained notice as lieutenant governor after calling for Sanford to resign in the wake of the governor’s disappearance and extramarital affair. In 2010, in the midst of his gubernatorial campaign, Bauer also made national news after comparing those on government assistance to “stray animals.”

Bauer, who’s currently a real estate developer based in Charleston, also served in the South Carolina House and Senate and earned the rank of major in the South Carolina State Guard. He joins a list of South Carolina Republicans with ties to Trump to get ambassadorships, including former Gov. Nikki Haley at the United Nations and Charleston businessman Ed McMullen as ambassador to Switzerland. McMullen was state chairman of Trump’s presidential run in South Carolina.