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Trump’s focus turns to Kamala Harris in last weeks of US campaign

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Grasping for a comeback, President Donald Trump and his Republican allies are intensifying their focus not on Democratic nominee Joe Biden, but on his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris – arguing without evidence that it is Harris, the first Black woman on a major party ticket, who would really be in charge if Democrats win the White House.

The effort is laced with sexist and racist undertones, and is aimed at winning back Republicans and independents who are comfortable with Biden’s more moderate record, but may associate Harris with the Democrats’ left flank, despite her own more centrist positions on some important issues.

During the past week, Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News that Harris would assume the presidency within “three months” of Biden’s inauguration. During a conversation with Rush Limbaugh, he warned that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would “replace” Biden with Harris. And the president called her a “monster” during an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business.

Trump’s focus on Harris is building as he tries to regain an advantage against Biden, who is leading most national and battleground state polls three weeks before the election. Trump has long sown doubt about Biden’s fitness for the job, but is especially eager to shift attention after contracting COVID-19 and confronting his own health scare.

At his first campaign rally since being hospitalised for the virus, Trump told a Florida crowd on Monday that Biden has “a lot of bad days coming”.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, is pushing the president to make Harris a campaign centrepiece.

“If voters understand the totality of her radicalism, they would conclude that she would be a very high-risk person to put in the White House,” Gingrich said.

He went on to call Biden “docile” and Harris “aggressive”.

The sexism and racism associated with such language, including Trump’s reference to Harris as a “monster,” are aimed at Trump’s most loyal supporters.

“It is really an effort to say to their base, ‘Look, we don’t want a Black woman to be president,’” said Representative Marcia Fudge, Democrat, Ohio, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “‘We don’t want this Black person to take over in case something happens to Joe Biden.’”

Fudge said efforts to brand Harris as radical do not align with her record, particularly on law enforcement. Harris and Fudge are both former prosecutors.

Republicans “consistently talk about law and order to the only person in this race that has a law-and-order background,” Fudge said.

Still, there are some signs that Trump’s message is resonating with his base.

“I’m scared that if Harris gets in, it will be a Harris administration ’cause old Joe’s got some issues,” said Bob Stanley, a retired orthopaedic physician assistant who lives in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and said he will be voting again for Trump.

Joshua Dyck, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, said the focus on Harris is a sign that Trump’s attacks on Biden are not working.

“This is a desire not to run against Joe Biden, to run against anybody but Joe Biden,” he said.

There is little evidence that Trump’s strategy will change minds. While vice presidential picks generate buzz, they rarely sway voters, said Dyck, who also runs the UMass-Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion.

One exception may be 2008, when Republican John McCain chose little-known Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. McCain was 72. A New York Times/CBS News poll taken just before the election found 59 percent of voters said Palin was not prepared to be president.

A vice presidential nominee’s ability to step in as commander in chief has long been a prime qualification for a running mate. Either 77-year-old Biden or 74-year-old Trump would become the oldest president ever inaugurated.

Biden last released medical records in December 2019, during the Democratic primary. Biden’s doctor called him “healthy, vigorous” and fit to execute the duties of the presidency. He takes a statin medication for cholesterol and has a “persistent” atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat. He takes a blood thinner to prevent risks like blood clots or stroke.

A Pew Research Center poll released in August found that among Biden supporters, 31 percent called his age or health a concern in an open-ended question. Just one percent of Trump’s supporters said the same about the president, though the survey was taken before Trump contracted the coronavirus.

Harris and Vice President Mike Pence deflected in last week’s debate when asked if they had conversations with Biden and Trump, respectively, about procedures in the event of presidential disability.

Harris did not address the question directly or speak of Biden’s health at all, instead pivoting to their shared values and her own political background, an implicit nod to her fitness for the top job if need be.

“I serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, where I’ve been in regular receipt of classified information about threats to our nation and hotspots around the world. I’ve travelled the world. I’ve met with our soldiers,” she said.

It was a rare moment of Harris talking about herself. As typical for running mates, she regularly pivots to Biden’s record in a clear demonstration that he is the one running to lead the nation.

Biden and Harris can best respond to the attacks by focusing on their agenda and policies, said Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of California. Other allies can denounce Trump’s comments, as the women of the Congressional Black Caucus recently did.

“There are those in the country who need to raise their voices and say this is un-American,” Lee said. “We cannot tolerate this in a multiracial country.”

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Tense calm in Nigeria after days of unrest

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Abuja, Nigeria – Relative calm has returned to Nigerian cities after more than two weeks of deadly protests against police brutality and widespread anger over the shooting of peaceful demonstrators.

In Lagos, the country’s commercial hub and the epicentre of the protests, authorities on Saturday eased a 24-hour curfew, while the streets of the capital, Abuja, gradually returned to normal.

With Lagos’s residents allowed to leave their homes between 8am and 6pm local time, some decided to go out and help government workers clean up the streets and buildings damaged by arsonists.

“The level of destruction is shocking. We can’t leave everything to the government,” said Lagos resident Chinwendu Madubuike.

“Lagos belongs to all of us. We are not happy with the destruction of buildings and burning of shops. The bit we can do is to clean up the mess and begin to rebuild what has been destroyed,” added Madubuike.

But others decided to boycott the clean-up exercise despite online appeals by some volunteers.

“We the youths have been on the streets protesting peacefully for over a week and cleaning up our mess day and night,” said entrepreneur Chelsea Balls.

“As much I would love to clean up my state and have my state back to its normal form, we the youths didn’t make that mess – the hoodlums hired by the government did that,” added the 36-year-old.

People have started cleaning the streets of Lagos as the state eases a round-the-clock curfew imposed in response to protests against alleged police brutality [Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

Demonstrators against police violence have long expressed fears that agitators might be used to disrupt the peaceful character of their movement and create the conditions that would justify a security crackdown against them.

On Tuesday, hours after Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had announced the round-the-clock curfew, citing what he described as the degeneration of demonstrations “into a monster”, peaceful protesters who had gathered at a toll gate in Lagos’s Lekki district in defiance of the measures were shot at.

Witnesses and rights group said soldiers opened fire on the protesters. The military maintains its men were not involved. Amnesty International said at least 12 protesters were killed by the army and police in Lekki and Alausa, another area of Lagos, on Tuesday.

As tensions rose, gangs on Wednesday vandalised public buildings, burned private businesses, police stations, media houses and courthouses.

“Our beautiful city has seen a level of destruction almost akin to a war zone,” Sanwo-Olu tweeted after visiting some of the sites that came under attack.

“It was a shocking and very sad spectacle. Our land took a beating and this hurts. Historical buildings, cultural centres, private malls, government holdings and private businesses were pillaged and burnt,” added Sanwo-Olu, whose government has pledged to support business owners targeted by gangs.

“Lagos will not burn. Not on my watch. Enough is enough. We want peace and we will get peace.”

Demonstrations against police abuses

Peaceful protests against police brutality broke out across Nigeria earlier in October, demanding the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious police unit accused of torture, extortion, harassment and even extrajudicial killings.

Authorities on October 11 announced the dissolution of SARS but protesters remained unconvinced by the announcement, saying they would remain on the streets until their demands were met, including the release of imprisoned protesters and implementation of structural law enforcement reforms.

On Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari said 51 civilians were killed in the unrest and blamed “hooliganism” for the violence while asserting security forces used “extreme restraint”.

Buhari said 11 policemen and seven soldiers had also been killed by “rioters” and another 37 civilians were injured as of Thursday. He did not mention the shooting of peaceful protesters in Lagos that prompted international outrage.

In Abuja, attacks by gangs on Monday and Tuesday left at least eight people dead, according to police. Vehicles were also burned in the unrest, which forced many business owners to close shop.

On Saturday, a growing number of shops opened their doors on Saturday.

Elsewhere, however, pockets of violence and looting were still being reported in parts of Nigeria, including in the states of Plateau, Oyo and Cross River.

Meanwhile, videos of people looting warehouses of COVID-19 palliatives in several cities have been widely shared online in recent days.

The clips show residents scrambling for bags of grain and other food items which were reportedly meant for distribution during the coronavirus lockdown.

Separately, a number of state governments said they have set up judicial panels of inquiry to try policemen accused of abuses.

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Ethiopia slams ‘belligerent threats’ after Trump dam comments

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The US president said Egypt will ‘blow up’ the Ethiopian dam if an agreement is not reached over operation and water flow.

Ethiopia has denounced “belligerent threats” regarding a dispute with Egypt and Sudan over the operation of its massive hydropower dam, hours after US President Donald Trump suggested Cairo would eventually “blow up” the dam if the deadlock was not resolved.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed did not specifically reference Trump in a statement released by his office on Saturday, but said “occasional statements of belligerent threats to have Ethiopia succumb to unfair terms still abound”.

“These threats and affronts to Ethiopian sovereignty are misguided, unproductive, and clear violations of international law,” Abiy said. “Ethiopia will not cave in to aggressions of any kind, nor do we give recognition to a right that is based on colonial treaties.”

On Friday, Trump called for a resolution to the standoff over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam during a phone call with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

He warned: “They [Egypt] will end up blowing up the dam.”

“And I said it and I say it loud and clear … they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something,” he said during the call, which came as both leaders announced that Sudan would begin to normalise relations with Israel.

Trump had told the State Department earlier this year to suspend millions of dollars in aid to Ethiopia because of the dam dispute, angering Ethiopians who had accused Washington of being biased in its earlier efforts to broker a deal on the project with Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia walked away from those talks.

“They will never see that money unless they adhere to that agreement,” Trump said on Friday.

Egypt, for its part, has repeatedly said it wants to settle the dispute through diplomatic means, but has also said it would use “all available means” to defend the interests of its people.

Abiy’s office has said there has been significant progress made in resolving the dispute since the African Union took over negotiations, the most recent round of which broke down in August.

‘Doesn’t have a clue’

In a tweet, former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn said Trump’s comments were reckless and irresponsible.

“The man doesn’t have a clue on what he is talking about,” he wrote.

Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have been deadlocked in the dispute over the filling and operation of the dam for years.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has been a subject of an ongoing dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan [File: Adwa Pictures/AFP]

Adis Ababa hailed the completion of the first phase of the dam in August as a national triumph that will help to lift citizens out of poverty by making it a major power exporter.

Cairo has said it is dependent on the Nile for more than 90 percent of its scarce freshwater supplies, and fears decreases in water flow caused by the dam could have a devastating effect on its economy.

Khartoum, meanwhile, stands to benefit from the project through access to cheap electricity and reduced flooding, but it has also raised fears over the dam’s operation, which could endanger its smaller dams, depending on the amount of water discharged downstream daily.

Cairo and Khartoum are seeking a legally binding deal that would guarantee the appropriate flows of water.

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Trump tries to cast doubt on mail-in ballots after casting his vote in-person in Florida

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President Donald Trump leaves after casting his ballot at the Palm Beach County Public Library in West Palm Beach, Florida, on October 24.
President Donald Trump leaves after casting his ballot at the Palm Beach County Public Library in West Palm Beach, Florida, on October 24. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

After emerging from voting early in-person in Florida, President Trump continued to try to cast doubt on mail-in voting, saying his chosen method was “much more secure.”

“It was a very secure vote, much more secure than when you send in a ballot. I can tell you that. Everything was perfect, very strict, right by the rules. When you send in your ballot, it could never be secure like that,” the President said.

Voting experts have disagreed with Trump’s ongoing assault against mail-in voting and his questioning of its security and reliability.

Trump, who changed his voter registration to Florida in September last year, told reporters it was an “honor” to be voting in the state, where he held rallies on Friday. Florida is a key battleground in this year’s election, and both campaigns have put a lot of resources into the state.

Some data: A CNN poll on Florida this week showed 50% of likely voters say support Joe Biden while 46% said Trump. The difference between the two is right at the poll’s margin of sampling error.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anything like this, this tremendous spirit. I hear we’re doing very well in Florida, and we’re doing very well, I hear, every place else,” Trump said Saturday after voting in West Palm Beach.

When asked who he voted for, the President said he voted for “a guy named Trump.”

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