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Joe Biden Just Tested Negative for COVID-19

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Joe Biden tested negative for the coronavirus.

The former vice president announced his results the day after President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

Earlier in the week, Trump and Biden were in the same room for the first presidential debate, though the debate was conducted with both candidates socially distancing from each other, and they didn’t shake hands. 

“I’m happy to report that Jill and I have tested negative for COVID,” Biden tweeted Friday. “Thank you to everyone for your messages of concern. I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands.”

Trump has repeatedly downplayed the impact of COVID on the U.S. and recently said the virus affects “virtually nobody.” On the debate stage Tuesday night, Biden pushed back. 

“Do you believe for a moment what he’s telling you in light of all the lies he’s told you about the whole issue relating to COVID?” Biden said of Trump at the first presidential debate. “He still hasn’t even acknowledged that he knew this was happening, knew how dangerous it was going to be back in February, and he didn’t even tell you. He’s on record as saying it.”

“A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker,” Biden added. 

Like Trump, Biden’s age—77—puts him at a high risk for developing serious complications as a result of COVID-19. Eight out of every 10 deaths COVID-19-related deaths have occurred among adults who are 65 or older, according to the CDC.

Should Biden become incapacitated and forced to drop out of the race, running mate and California Sen. Kamala Harris would not automatically become the new nominee; the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee would choose a new nominee

Trump was showing mild, cold-like symptoms on Thursday, the New York Times reported. Symptoms of the virus can appear anywhere between two to 14 days after exposure, according to the CDC. More than 7 million people have tested positive COVID-19 in the United States, and more than 207,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

On Friday, Biden tweeted his well wishes toward Trump. 

“Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery,” he said in a tweet. “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.

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US says Taliban fighters killed in central Afghanistan air strike

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US military spokesman says the strike in Wardak province killed five fighters on Sunday.

The United States carried out an air strike against the Taliban in central Afghanistan on Sunday evening in order to defend the Afghan security forces, a US military spokesman said.

The air strike in central Wardak province killed five Taliban fighters, Colonel Sonny Leggett said in a tweet on Monday.

He added that the strike was in line with its February withdrawal deal with the Taliban.

The Taliban earlier this month accused the US of violating the agreement – which Washington denies – when conducting air attacks in southern Helmand province as Taliban fighters launched a major operation in a bid to take the provincial capital.

Thousands of Afghans had to flee Helmand following days of intense fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces earlier this month.

The Taliban agreed to stop their attacks on condition that the US stop its air strikes in the area.

The continuing violence in Afghanistan threatens to derail peace talks between the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government being held in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Negotiators from both sides in Afghanistan’s 19-year-old war have been meeting in Doha since September in an attempt to draw up a blueprint for the country after US and foreign forces leave next year.

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What does the US election mean for Europe?

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London, United Kingdom – British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once described US President Franklin Roosevelt as “the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the new world to the old”.

It is hard to imagine many European leaders saying the same about Donald Trump.

European leaders will find out who their American counterpart will be for the next four years when United States citizens cast their vote in the presidential election on November 3.

While Joe Biden is leading Trump in the national polls, that does not guarantee ​the Democratic candidate victory in the election; Hillary Clinton also had a clear lead over Trump in the polls throughout most of the 2016 campaign.

The Trump administration came as a “shock” to the transatlantic partnership, says Kristine Berzina, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a Washington, DC, based think-tank.

During the past four years, relations between the US and Europe have become frayed due to disagreements over policy, including security and trade.

With Biden as president, there would be a “dramatic turnaround in US policy towards Europe,” said Charles Kupchan, a professor at Georgetown University, who worked on European affairs in the Obama administration and is advising Biden’s campaign.

NATO

A second Trump term would “potentially put NATO unity at risk,” said Heather Williams, a nuclear security fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Trump has threatened to withdraw the US from NATO and to reduce American contributions if other members do not increase their spending.

In July this year, the US announced it was withdrawing about 12,000 troops from Germany, which Trump said was to punish Berlin for low defence spending. While some observers say Trump could attempt to withdraw the US from NATO in his second term, this move is unlikely due to opposition from Congress, said Kupchan.

A bigger concern for Kupchan is what he calls the “metaphorical fracturing of NATO”, in other words, Europeans losing trust in the US as a “durable partner”.

There is already evidence of this. According to Gallup polling, European disapproval of US leadership reached a record high of 61 percent in 2019.

Joe Biden pictured when he was vice president meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) during the 51st Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich on February 7, 2015 [Michaela Rehle/Reuters]

Biden, who has called NATO “the single-most consequential alliance in the history of the United States” would work to reinvest in the alliance, experts say.

Last week, NATO hinted that it was considering a summit in March in Brussels to welcome a new US leader if Biden wins.

According to a top aide, Biden will review Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Germany, if elected. Kupchan predicted that Biden would convene early in his presidency a NATO summit to say, “We’re a team player again.”

But the contention around burden-sharing between the US and its European allies is likely to continue, said Kupchan.

As the US faces economic strain due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, there is likely to be a “continued sensitivity” to what European allies are bringing to the table, he said.

Russia

At stake in the election is the credibility of the US as a reliable ally that can stand against Russian misbehaviour, experts told Al Jazeera.

This issue is acute in Europe, particularly in the east, where governments have accused Russia of cyberattacks and spreading misinformation.

“Russia aims to create cracks in democratic systems, Europe and the transatlantic partnership,” said Berzina. A vacuum of US leadership in Europe presents “an opportunity” for Russia to exert its influence.

A “defining feature” of the Trump administration has been its “inconsistent” policy towards Russia, said Williams.

Although Trump has sent additional troops to Eastern Europe and imposed some of the toughest sanctions in years against the Russian elite, Trump has frequently praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s style of leadership and sided with Putin over the US intelligence community and America’s European allies, appearing to trust Kremlin’s assurances that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.

Trump has not demonstrated “the same level of seriousness” towards alleged Russian misbehaviour that many senior figures in the administration have, which has “seriously damaged” trust in the US across Europe, said Williams, adding there is “no indication” that Trump would change his policy towards Russia in a second term.

Experts say that Biden would take a very strong stance on Russia, particularly in light of this political experience in European security matters.

In the senate, he was “instrumental” in allowing the Baltic states to join NATO in 2004, said Berzina.

“Deterrence against global aggressors, not only Russia but also China, would be a very important principle of Biden’s foreign policy,” she said.

Brexit

Meanwhile, as Britain nears its own historic moment by ending the Brexit transition period on December 31, observers say that a post-Brexit UK will face challenges in proving it is a valuable partner to the US.

The effectiveness of the relationship between London and Washington, says Kupchan, hinges on the UK’s ability to “make itself relevant” and maintain close ties with Europe, not only on trade but also security matters.

Unlike Trump, an ardent supporter of the UK leaving the EU, Biden has made clear his opposition to Brexit and suggested it makes the UK a less meaningful ally.

“US interests are diminished with Great Britain not an integral part of Europe,” he said at Chatham House, a think-tank in London.

Biden would neither “give special status nor punish the UK” when it comes to making a trade deal.

He would also make it hard for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to claim that “Brexit was a “victory in terms of establishing trade deals with the US,” said Cristian Nitoiu, a lecturer in diplomacy and global governance at Loughborough University.

Trump has enthused about a “fantastic and big” trade agreement with the UK – the US’s seventh-largest trading partner – but nothing has materialised yet.

Regardless of the election result, the next president’s main focus in terms for trade will be China, said Kupchan.

“One of the things that Biden would do that Trump did not do is form a united front in negotiating with China”, in which the US works alongside the EU, Britain and other counties to put pressure in China.

Trump’s trade relations with the EU states, however, have deteriorated as he has imposed high tariffs on aircraft and agricultural imports, and continues to threaten new tariffs on car imports.

A Biden administration would seek to end the “trade war” that Trump launched against the EU, a top foreign policy adviser to the democratic candidate said in September.

Biden has also warned that the UK must honour Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement, in which the US is a security guarantor, to reach a US trade deal.

Some diplomats say the Good Friday agreement is imperilled by new legislation put forth by Johnson in September. Trump’s special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mick Mulvaney, said his administration was also aligned in its desire to preserve the peace agreement.

Beyond security and trade, experts say that Europe could see a change in cultural influence from the next president.

As the US continues to reckon with social justice issues at home such as racism and anti-immigration sentiment, a Biden administration would seek to promote resolutions to these problems in Europe, said Nitoiu.

Biden would want to “reaffirm solidarity with the Atlantic community and breathe new life in the [liberal] values that it stands for.”

Experts said they cannot be sure Trump would do the same.

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‘I’m alive but not living’: Survivors of Bangladesh’s rape crisis

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Sharmin*, a 28-year-old housewife, is one of the thousands of traumatised survivors of a rape epidemic blighting Bangladesh.

It has been three months since she says she was raped by a man from the neighbouring village just outside the capital, Dhaka. She describes how he gripped her neck and stomach as he raped her and how she has not been able to eat solid food since it happened.

“If I try to swallow food I can still feel him pressuring my neck and stomach,” she explains.

Sharmin has developed an eating disorder and can only have a few spoons of “panta bhaat”, a soft liquid-like rice, each day.

In 2018, 732 rape cases were reported in the country, according to the Bangladeshi human rights group, Ain o Salish Kendra. The cases almost doubled to 1,413 in 2019. Now with almost 1,000 cases reported so far this year, Bangladesh is seeing more than four rape cases per day on average.

These numbers are thought to be just the tip of the iceberg, according to aid agencies, who report that most women are too afraid to report rape and do not believe they will get justice if they do.

Amnesty International points to the government’s own figures. Over the past 19 years, according to the government’s One Stop Crisis Centre, only 3.5 percent of rape cases went to court under the Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act 2000, and only 0.37 percent of cases resulted in convictions. Overall, according to Human Rights Watch, fewer than 1 percent of reported perpetrators are ever convicted.

‘I have difficulty breathing’

“Having to live with it is more challenging than my inability to eat,” says Sharmin. “When I do my daily chores I get unprovoked flashbacks of my rape. My body starts to tremble uncontrollably and I have difficulty breathing.”

She explains how she tries to divert her thoughts but the flashbacks sometimes freeze her body until the whole rape is played out in her mind. If she goes to a doctor with this issue she says she believes he will say she is possessed by a jinn, or spirit, and that people will find out and gossip about her.

“But I would rather have people think I got possessed by a jinn than raped, it saves me the humiliation,” she says.

Protests against male violence towards women have taken place in cities across Bangladesh [Photo courtesy of Monon Muntaka]

Protests have taken place in several cities across Bangladesh following the surge of violence against women. The protests were initially sparked in late September this year by the news that a woman was gang-raped by a group of seven men while her husband was tied up and beaten in the northeastern district of Sylhet.

Further protests erupted following the emergence of a video showing a woman being stripped and abused by a group of five men in the southeastern district of Noakhali. The video, which had been filmed by the men on their phones, circulated on the internet for weeks before being taken down this month. Protests have since been mobilised to challenge sexual violence and misogyny.

While the country’s information minister blames pornography for rising rape cases, protesters and aid agencies insist rape culture and gender-based violence are deep-rooted issues that go beyond “just pornography”.

Protesters from Feminists Across Generations, an alliance formed to tackle gender-based violence in Bangladesh, argue that society is embedded with strong conservative and patriarchal values. Activist Umama Zillur, 25, says: “These patriarchal values exist on a structural level, producing strong institutional sexism and social hierarchies that fail to prioritise the rights of women. As a result, cultural and social practices that perpetuate violence against women remains pervasive.”

‘My in-laws won’t eat with me’

The physical and emotional trauma from rape is not all that victims must contend with in Bangladesh: the stigma attached to rape, and the fear of humiliation discourage many survivors from seeking medical help or reporting attacks to the authorities.

Naila Hossain, 32, a social activist working with sexual assault victims in Bangladesh, explains that survivors do not find it easy to come forward as they fear being blamed and ostracised by their communities.

“If an unmarried woman is raped, she may be shunned by society altogether and deemed not worthy of being married or, in some cases, married off to her rapist to preserve the family’s ‘dignity’,” Hossain explains. “Raped women often also flee their homes to avoid such rejection and sometimes even commit suicide.”

Women’s lives are dictated by a rape culture which stigmatises and revictimises the victims, further impeding their physical and psychological wellbeing.

“The social stigma from rape produces a strong sense of shame for the victims,” says Hossain. “Alongside shifting the blame onto the victim, it associates a woman’s honour with their bodies. Essentially all honour is lost when a woman is raped and this stigma is translated in societal hostility and rejection.”

Worse still, if a survivor has been abused by a family member, she is at risk of being ostracised by her own family.

This is what has happened to Rahena*, a rape victim whose name we have changed to protect her anonymity.

Rahena, a 26-year-old cleaner from Mymensingh, a city north of the capital, Dhaka, says she was raped by a relative of her husband’s in their village two months ago.

“My husband won’t sleep with me, my in-laws won’t eat with me, my parents won’t have me around, and nobody in the community will acknowledge me,” she tells Al Jazeera. “But everyone knows the truth. How can they pretend to be oblivious to it? Is this a life worth living? What he has done to me is worse than murder because I am still alive but I am not living.”

‘There is never any justice’

Hossain says that a lack of effort by police to apprehend and punish rapists also dissuades women from coming forward. Largely “nonchalant attitudes towards cases”, she says, negligence, a lack of commitment to solving cases, along with social stigma, all trivialise sexual abuse and delegitimise their experience, so victims continue to stay silent.

“They don’t report their rapes or assaults to the authorities because they’re afraid nothing will be done,” says Hossain.

Rani*, 19, another survivor who does not wish to disclose any personal details, echoes these concerns about coming forward. She says she believes reporting rape is ineffective because the police will always choose to believe the perpetrator – who will deny the allegations – and will dismiss the case.

She refuses to “fight a battle she has already lost”. “I already know the outcome,” she says. “There never is any justice for people like us, why would there be? What are we even worth?”

She says coming forward may also put her at risk of being attacked by her perpetrator again, as revenge. “It is impossible to report him, he won’t go anywhere because he is very powerful. But what about me? I have to live in constant fear of being raped again.”

Rani now lives her life in fear, worrying that he might attack her again and describes her situation as “impossible to escape”.

“The coronavirus lockdown situation made it worse because he knew I was always home,” she adds. “He could have come again any moment but thank God he hasn’t.”

‘Do we just continue living in fear?’

Umama Zillur, a 25-year-old social activist from Dhaka, says she has become “deeply enraged at the state and society that has contributed to the continuous violence against women”.

“At the core of it, it shows me I am not seen as human,” she says.

Umama Zillur delivers a speech against rape culture during a protest [Photo courtesy of Umama Zillur]

Another university student who has taken part in the protests, 21-year-old Fariha Rahman, who also lives in Dhaka, says she wants to see change on a “structural and society level”, or else “anyone can be the next victim”.

“Girls in this country live in fear of being attacked. The fact that my evening classes are made up mostly of men and morning classes by girls just illustrates our fear. I once took an evening class. When I was on my way home my heart sank to my stomach and I almost had an anxiety attack because it was dark and I thought someone would attack me. Do we then just continue living in anxiety and fear?”

Kabita*, 24, from the southeastern city of Cumilla who also did not wish to be identified, says being able to go outside is her only form of escape from her family, with whom she has a poor relationship. But the fear of rape and the coronavirus lockdown have put paid to any freedom she might have.

“This lockdown has meant months of verbal and mental abuse for me from my parents. When they read about the rapes they become concerned for my safety and overly paranoid that something might happen to me.

“Now they’re restricting me from going out but they are my real abusers. Not safe to go outside but not safe to stay inside, either. How is this fair for me?”

Kabita adds that although she has not been diagnosed, she feels she has developed symptoms of depression and self-harm tendencies from staying at home.

Death penalty for rapists

On October 12, Bangladesh’s government set measures to allow the death penalty for rapists in an amendment that elevates the maximum punishment from life in prison to death. Bangladesh’s Minister of Law, Anisul Huq, said he believes the law will result in a decrease in the number of rapes.

Demonstrations take place outside Bangladesh’s parliament [Photo courtesy of Mahmud Hossain Opu]

Activists, however, do not see this measure helping. The introduction of the death penalty is a short-term solution – a way to curb the protests and to hamper the movement, they say. And activists are not accepting it, adds Zillur.

“Specific rape law reformation needs to be implemented, followed by larger societal conversations that address root causes,” she says. “The government should consider proposals put forward by The Rape Law Reform Coalition that set forth 10 points for addressing the shortcomings in the legal and institutional framework and offer a set of solutions.”

As for the death penalty acting as a deterrent, Rani says she knows men will never be convicted due to their privilege of “being men” and “staying well-connected in society”.

“I don’t think there will be any use of the death penalty. My fate was already decided when I was raped. Nothing will ever change for people like me.”

*Some names have been changed to protect the anonymity of victims.

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