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‘I feel powerful’: Trump hits campaign trail after COVID recovery

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US President Donald Trump, who was confined in a hospital and the White House for 10 days due to COVID-19 hit the campaign trail on Monday addressing his supporters in the battleground state of Florida nearly three weeks until he faces Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the election.

“I went through it and now they say I’m immune,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Sanford, near Orlando, few of whom wore masks.

“I feel so powerful. I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women, just give you a big fat kiss.”

Trump’s medical team announced he had tested negative and was no longer contagious as he flew to Florida – the first of four battleground states he plans to visit over the next four days. His claim of immunity, however, is unproven.

Trump has faced mounting criticism over his handling of the coronavirus, which has killed 214,000 people in the United States and infected nearly eight million. He has also been faulted for downplaying the threat from the pandemic and failing to encourage supporters at campaign events and even White House staff, to wear protective masks and abide by social-distancing guidelines.

At least 11 close Trump aides have tested positive for the coronavirus, which has become one of the main poll issues in the November 3 elections, along with economy and race.

Trailing his Democratic challenger by double digits in the polls, Trump is seeking to rally his base on a blitz of key swing states.

In rare form just a week after his release from hospital, Trump’s hour-long speech called on all of his campaign classics: vicious attacks against “Crooked Hillary” Clinton and the “corrupt” press, alarmist warnings against the “radical left” and the “socialist nightmare.” Clinton was runner-up in the last presidential election.

Trump also mocked his opponent, whom he has nicknamed “Sleepy Joe,” saying that “practically nobody showed up” to Biden’s campaign event.

Unlike Trump, Biden has been following public health guidelines during the pandemic, hosting socially distanced campaign events that sharply contrast with Trump’s packed, largely maskless extravaganzas – including a recent celebration at the White House described by experts as a “superspreader.”

‘Unconscionable’

“Oh, do I like Florida,” Trump told the crowd. The state could play a crucial role on November 3.

The president brushed aside poll numbers, saying: “Four years ago we had the same thing. We are going to lose Florida, they said four years ago.”

“Twenty-two days from now, we are going to win this state, we are going to win four more years in the White House!” he added.

“These rallies generally are his base,” Aaron Kall, director of debate at the University of Michigan, told Al Jazeera.

“People that are predisposed to vote for him likely voted for him in 2016. But in order to win the re-election he’s going to have to reach out further than that, to moderate independent voters, maybe to people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and were disaffected.”

Trump also lauded his nominee for Supreme Court justice, Amy Coney Barrett.

The Republican-controlled Senate will begin hearings for the 48-year-old judge, whose confirmation – over which there is little doubt – will shift the nation’s highest court firmly to the right, possibly for generations.

“She’s going to be a fantastic US Supreme Court Justice,” Trump said.

Before Trump, 74, left for Florida, his physician Dr Sean Conley said the president was now negative and no longer “infectious to others” – following consecutive rapid tests and taking into account a number of other health metrics.

Patients are normally classed as negative only after taking the more sensitive PCR test – drawing suspicion from experts on social media that Trump’s doctors had administered these but had not received the results they were looking for.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to members of the media before boarding his campaign plane at New Castle Airport, in New Castle, Delaware en route to Ohio [Carolyn Kaster/AP]

 Biden, meanwhile, attacked the president ahead of the rally for playing down the threat of the virus early in the pandemic.

“Trump knew how dangerous the disease was but did nothing,” Biden said ahead of the rally. “Why didn’t he tell us? Why didn’t he warn us?”

“His reckless personal conduct since his diagnosis has been unconscionable,” Biden added. “The longer Donald Trump is president, the more reckless he seems to get.”

Double-digit lead

Biden specifically attacked Trump’s planned Florida visit, saying he was bringing nothing but “divisive rhetoric, and fear-mongering” to the Sunshine State.

“But, equally dangerous is what he fails to bring: no plan to get this virus that has taken the lives of over 15,000 Floridians under control,” Biden said.

The president is also to visit Pennsylvania, Iowa and North Carolina this week as part of a push to make up ground on Biden, who has a double-digit lead in the national polls according to the RealClearPolitics website.

Trump won Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa and North Carolina – the four states he is visiting this week – in 2016 against Clinton but is trailing Biden in all four this time around, according to a RealClearPolitics average of state polls.

Biden has, however, razor-thin leads in Iowa and North Carolina, according to RealClearPolitics, but is leading by more substantial margins in Florida and Pennsylvania – 3.7 points and 7.1 points, respectively.

Early in-person voting began on Monday in another close state, Georgia, although pictures of hours-long lines that went viral on social media led to accusations of “voter suppression.”

More than 10 million Americans have already cast their ballots in the US presidential contest, a tracking group said late Monday, a record pace three weeks before election day.

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US stocks mixed: Investors fret fallout of growing COVID-19 cases

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Wall Street’s main stock indexes were mostly unchanged on Tuesday as surging COVID-19 cases in the United States, intensifying restrictions and Washington’s failure to pass a stimulus bill weighed on investor sentiment with exactly one week until the US elections.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was hovering near the flat line in late morning trading in New York, down over 75 points or 0.27 percent at 27,609.85.

The S&P 500 – a gauge for the health of US retirement and college savings reports – was unchanged, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index was  0.62 to the plus side.

The S&P 500 on Monday had its worst day in a month while the Dow fell by more than 800 points at one juncture in the session as investors faced some tough facts.

For months, Democrats and Republicans have been playing the blame game over stalled talks for a new round of coronavirus relief aid. As the deadlock shows no signs of breaking, millions of out-of-work Americans are facing a tough job market and the possibility of more shutdowns as they struggle to keep food on their tables and roofs over their heads.

Talks are reportedly still ongoing between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. But hopes of a deal being passed before the November 3 election are all but dead.

Meanwhile, the economic recovery could be imperilled by the current spike in COVID-19 infections. Cases in Europe have surged, mounting in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom and ushering in renewed restrictions, curfews and partial lockdowns.

Protests against the lockdowns have turned violent in Italy.

US President Donald Trump continues to insist that the reason for the surge in documented US cases is because the US is conducting millions of tests.

On Twitter on Tuesday morning, Trump suggested the media was overhyping the surge in cases ahead of the election and said the US is “rounding the turn” on the virus.

Some 60 million Americans have already cast their ballots for the man they think is best suited to lead them out of the gravest economic disaster since the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s.

Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden is leading in the national polls, but the race has been tightening in key battleground states which, as was the case in 2016, are likely to determine the election’s outcome.

Growing uncertainty over the election’s outcome continues to fuel volatility on Wall Street – and is likely to increase if there is no clear winner next Tuesday and if determining the results is a process that gets dragged on for weeks or even months.

Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk through the Chinatown neighbourhood of New York City in the United States, where businesses are struggling to stay open [File: Nina Westervelt/Bloomberg]

On the economic front, there is some good news as orders for durable goods – items such as washing machines and aircraft that are meant to last three years or more – jumped 1.9 percent in September after rising only 0.4 percent in August. The increase was driven by a 4.1 percent rebound in orders for transportation equipment. Orders for motor vehicles and parts gained 1.5 percent in September after dipping 4.1 percent in August.

Durable goods are seen on sale in a store in Los Angeles, California, the United States [File: Lucy Nicholson/ Reuters]

Among stocks making headlines on Tuesday:

Shares of semiconductor designer Advanced Micro Devices were down 2.57 percent in late morning trading on news that the company has agreed to buy competitor Xilinx in a $35bn all-stock deal that is sure to intensify its battle with Intel Corp in the data centre chip market.

Xilinx shares were up more than 10 percent in late morning trading.

Shares of Microsoft were up more than one percent. The tech giant is set to report earnings after Tuesday’s closing bell.

Tech titans Apple, Amazon, Google-parent Alphabet and Facebook, whose shares gained handsomely in the spring and early summer, also report their results later this week.

Big pharma is moving on earning results. Shares of Merck & Co were up 0.06 percent after it raised its full-year earnings forecast.

Shares of Pfizer were down 0.94 after the company reported a drop in third-quarter sales. Pfizer also said it is not yet ready to release data from the late-stage trial of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate that it is developing with Germany’s BioNTech SE.

Shares of Eli Lilly and Co were down 5.61 percent after the drug giant reported that its quarterly profit took a hit from the spike in costs to develop a coronavirus treatment.

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Thailand royalists show support for king

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More than 1,000 people have demonstrated in Thailand’s capital in support of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, a day after thousands of people marched to call for reforms of the monarchy.

Youth and student-led protests began in Thailand in July to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha – a former army ruler – and a new constitution, but have increasingly sought curbs on the monarchy’s powers.

Cheering “Long live the king” and hoisting signs with pro-monarchy slogans, the royalists on Tuesday gathered at Lumphini Park in central Bangkok. Almost all of them wore yellow shirts, symbolising devotion to the monarchy, while some held portraits of the king and his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

“We want to show support and encouragement to his majesty,” said Thatchapan Boriphet, 57. “I am neutral politically but I cannot stand it when there is a violation of the monarchy.”

Royalists march during an event to support the monarchy in Bangkok [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

So far, royalist demonstrations have been considerably smaller than the tens of thousands of people who have joined the biggest protests against the government.

The demographics have also been very different. Many of the demonstrators on Tuesday in Lumphini Park were in their 50s or 60s, or older.

The pro-democracy protesters include many university students and young professionals, as well as a large contingent of high school students.

For many older Thais, any criticism of the monarchy is practically sacrilege. It is considered the bedrock of their national identity and is protected by a lese majeste law that calls for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for anyone who defames the monarch or members of his immediate family.

The military also considers defending the monarchy to be one of its main duties.

The pro-democracy protesters have accused the king of involvement in the country’s politics. On Monday, they marched to the German embassy to seek an inquiry into whether he exercised his powers during long stays in Germany, something Berlin has said would be unacceptable.

The palace has a policy of not commenting to the media and has made no comment since the start of the protests.

Prayuth, the prime minister, has ignored the demands to quit and said the crisis should be discussed in parliament, where his supporters are in the majority.

Opposition parties told him he should step down for the good of the country and stop using his proclaimed support for the monarchy as an argument to keep power.

Prayuth’s opponents say he only kept power at elections last year thanks to electoral rules and a constitution drawn up by the military government he headed after a 2014 coup. He says that the ballot was fair.

A royalist holds a picture of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn during an event to support the monarchy in Bangkok [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Royalists played a large part in demonstrations in 2006 and 2014 that helped bring down elected governments by leading to army takeovers.

At Tuesday’s gathering, Tul Sittisomwong, a prominent figure in the 2014 protests, called for unity and loyalty to the monarchy.

Many royalists believe the student protesters are being manipulated by older activists with their own political agendas.

They have blamed an opposition political party that expresses support for the young demonstrators.

“Wherever you are, Move Forward Party, if you don’t stop your manipulation, we will come to you. The group will be chased out if they don’t stop defaming the monarchy,” Tul said.

“Who is really behind this?” said businessman Sathit Segal, who also played a leadership role in 2014.

“Problems in our country are caused by politicians who think only about themselves, attacking the monarchy,” Segal said.

“You can protest and demand anything you want. But do not involve the monarchy. That cannot be accepted.”

A fringe group of royalists professes to believe the United States is behind efforts to attack the monarchy and destabilise Thailand. A handful protested outside the US embassy on Tuesday.

Self-proclaimed “defenders of the monarchy” mobilised last week online and in rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants.

There are concerns that political polarisation could trigger violence. A few attendees at a small royalist rally in Bangkok last week attacked anti-government student activists and had to be restrained by police.

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Turkey’s lira hits another record low as geopolitical risks mount

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Intensifying rancor between Ankara and its western allies – and the Turkish central bank’s decision to not raise interest rates – are souring investor sentiment.

Another day, another inauspicious record for Turkey’s embattled currency. 

Turkey’s lira weakened further against the United States dollar on Tuesday, hitting a new record low as rancor between Ankara and its western allies intensifies and investor sentiment continues to sour after the central bank decided not to raise borrowing costs last week.

The lira stood at 8.1560 against the dollar at 08:42 GMT, its weakest level on record, compared to Monday’s close of 8.0900. The currency has lost some 27 percent of its value so far this year.

Piotr Matys, senior emerging markets forex strategist at Rabobank, said the low lira and the fading prospects of an economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic was a “toxic mixture” that could lead to a full-scale crisis.

“Urgent action is required to stabilise the lira and prevent further damage to inflation, the real economy and to preserve what is still left from Turkey’s image as an attractive country to invest,” he said in a note.

Turkey’s central bank dashed widely held expectations last week that it would hike interest rates to shore up the lira and help tame double-digit inflation – especially in the face of depleted foreign exchange reserves.

Instead, central bank policymakers choose to leave the benchmark interest rate unchanged.

A growing list of geopolitical spats is also unsettling investors, including a deepening rift between Ankara and France that has seen Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan call on Turks to boycott French goods.

Relations between Washington and Ankara fell under further strain after Turkey confirmed earlier this month that it had started testing a Russian-made S-400 air defence system- a move the US Department of Defense warned “risks serious consequences” for the US-Turkish security relationship.

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and Ankara’s dispute with Greece over maritime rights and natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean are also heightening geopolitical tensions. 

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