23 Oct 2020
BIDEN WARNS OF 'DARK WINTER' IN FINAL TRUMP DEBATE
President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden started off their
final presidential debate on Thursday without interrupting each other but
disagreeing on the coronavirus pandemic in a head-to-head match with a
dramatically different tone from their first one.
Biden criticised Trump for having no plan to stop a "dark winter" of
coronavirus deaths as they sparred in their last head-to-head clash 12 days
before the election.
With more people dead in the United States than in any other country, Trump
insisted that Covid-19 would soon go away through medical breakthroughs and
pointed to his own recovery since his first debate.
"220,000 Americans dead. If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this,"
Biden said at the televised debate in Nashville, where the two candidates
avoided shaking hands due to safety risks.
"Anyone who's responsible for that many deaths should not remain as
president of the United States of America," Biden said.
"We're about to go into a dark winter," he said. "And he has no plan."
After a strikingly bitter first debate, the tone initially changed, with the
debate organisers empowered to mute the candidates' microphones.
Trump hit back that there would be no "dark winter" - and defended his push
to reopen the United States as soon as possible.
"We're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corner. It's going away," Trump
"We have a vaccine that's coming, it's ready, it's going to be announced
Trying to hold on to his sizeable lead in the polls, Biden was keen to keep
the debate focused on the Covid-19 pandemic.
Trump's demeanor changed in the first moments of the debate.
As he had signalled he would do before the debate, Trump raised murky
accusations that Biden profited from corrupt business relationships
involving his son Hunter during the years that he served as vice president
under Barack Obama.
"I think you owe an explanation to the American people," Trump charged - to
which Biden responded that he had never received "a penny" from foreign
sources in his life.
Trump described the air in India, China and Russia as "filthy" as he
defended his decision to withdrew from the Paris climate accord, which, he
said, would have made America a non-competitive nation.
"Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia. Look at India. The air is
filthy. I walked out of the Paris Accord as we had to take out trillions of
dollars and we were treated very unfairly," he said during the televised
debate with Democratic White House challenger Joe Biden.
"I will not sacrifice millions of jobs. thousands of companies because of
the Paris Accord. It is very unfair," he added.
Whether the showdown at Belmont University in the country music capital can
really shift the election is itself up for debate.
Some 45 million Americans are estimated to have joined an unprecedented wave
of early voting and polls indicate that almost all voters have already
firmly made up their minds. Biden is steadily ahead, with the Quinnipiac
University national poll putting him up at 51 percent to Trump's 41.
SOUTH KOREA STICKS TO FLU VACCINE PLAN DESPITE SAFETY FEARS AFTER 25 DIE
South Korean officials refused on Thursday to suspend a seasonal influenza
inoculation effort, despite growing calls for a halt, including an appeal
from a key group of doctors, after the deaths of at least 25 of those
Health authorities said they found no direct links between the deaths and
At least 22 of the dead, including a 17-year-old boy, were part of a
campaign to inoculate 19 million teenagers and senior citizens for free, the
Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
"The number of deaths has increased, but our team sees low possibility that
the deaths resulted from the shots," the agency's director, Jeong
Eun-kyeong, told parliament.
South Korea ordered a fifth more flu vaccines this year to ward off what it
calls a "twindemic", or the prospect that people with flu develop
coronavirus complications and overburden hospitals in winter.
"I understand and regret that people are concerned about the vaccine," said
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo, who confirmed the free programme would go
"We're looking into the causes but will again thoroughly examine the entire
process in which various government agencies are involved, from production
It was not immediately clear if any of the vaccines made in South Korea were
exported, or if those supplied by Sanofi were also being used elsewhere.
The Korean Medical Association, an influential grouping of doctors, urged
the government to halt all inoculation programmes for now, to allay public
concerns and ensure the vaccines were safe.
PLOT THICKENS OVER ORIGINS OF POPE'S CIVIL UNION ENDORSEMENT
Questions swirled on Thursday about the origins of Pope Francis' bombshell
comments endorsing same-sex civil unions, with all evidence suggesting he
made them in a 2019 interview that was never broadcast in its entirety.
The Vatican refused to comment on whether it cut the remarks from its own
broadcast or if the Mexican broadcaster that conducted the interview did.
And it did not respond to questions about why it allowed the comments to be
aired now in the documentary Francesco, which premiered on Wednesday.
In the movie, which was shown at the Rome Film Festival, Francis said gay
people have the right to be in a family since they are "children of God".
"You can't kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for
this," the pope said. "What we have to have is a civil union law; that way
they are legally covered."
Those comments caused a firestorm, thrilling progressives and alarming
conservatives, given official Vatican teaching prohibits any such
endorsement of homosexual unions.
While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions
for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had
never come out publicly in favour of legal protections for civil unions as
One of Francis' top communications advisers, the Rev Antonio Spadaro,
insisted the pope's comments were old news, saying they were made during a
May 2019 interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa.
"There's nothing new because it's a part of that interview," the Rev Spadaro
told the Associated Press after the premiere. "It seems strange that you
Televisa has not confirmed that the comments were made during its interview,
but the scene of the documentary is identical to the Televisa interview,
including the yellow background, a chair in the corner and slightly
off-centre placement of the chain of Francis' pectoral cross.
The head of the Vatican communications branch, Paolo Ruffini, refused to
speak to reporters who attended an award ceremony Thursday in the Vatican
gardens for Afineevsky, and the director himself kept his distance.
BILL PASSED, SWEEPING POWERS FOR LANKA PRESIDENT
The controversial 20th Amendment to Sri Lanka's Constitution that envisages
expansive powers and greater immunity for the Executive President was passed
in Parliament with a two-thirds majority, following a two-day debate.
The 20th Amendment was the Rajapaksa administration's first big test in the
legislature, since it triggered concern and resistance from not just the
political opposition, but also the influential Buddhist clergy that Sri
Lanka's southern polity venerates.
As many as 156 MPs in the 225-member House voted for it, while 65
legislators voted against the Bill.
Significantly, eight opposition MPs voted in favour of the legislation that
their parties and leaders not only vehemently opposed, but also challenged
at the Supreme Court. Following as many as 39 petitions filed by opposition
parties and civil society groups, the Supreme Court determined that the
passage of the legislation required only a two-thirds majority, except for
four clauses that needed additional public approval through a referendum,
unless they were amended in line with the determination.
The 20th Amendment rolls back Sri Lanka's 19th Amendment, a 2015 legislation
passed with wide support from the Rajapaksa camp - then in Opposition - that
sought to clip presidential powers, while strengthening Parliament. The new
legislation in turn reduces the Prime Minister's role to a ceremonial one.
US OFFICIALS LINK IRAN TO EMAILS MEANT TO INTIMIDATE VOTERS
U.S. officials say Iran is behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic
voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at
intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
John Ratcliffe, the government's top intelligence official, says, "These
actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries."
Ratcliffe and FBI Director Chris Wray insist the U.S. will impose costs on
any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 U.S. election and say the
integrity of the election is still sound.
The activities attributed to Iran mark a significant escalation at a time
when most public election interference discussion has centered on Russia.
COVID: US GIVES FULL APPROVAL FOR ANTIVIRAL REMDESIVIR DRUG
US regulators have given full approval for the antiviral drug remdesivir to
treat Covid-19 patients in hospitals.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Veklury, the drug's brand
name, cut the recovery time on average by five days during clinical trials.
"Veklury is the first treatment for COVID-19 to receive FDA approval," the
FDA said in a statement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week remdesivir had little to
no effect on patients' survival..
The WHO said this was based on its own study - but the drug's manufacturer
Gilead rejected the findings of the trial.
Remdesivir had been authorised for emergency use only in the US since May.
It was recently given to President Donald Trump after he tested positive for
Covid-19. He has since recovered.
EDWARD SNOWDEN GRANTED PERMANENT RESIDENCY IN RUSSIA
Former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden has been granted permanent
residency in Russia, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Mr. Snowden, a former contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency, has
been living in Russia since 2013 to escape prosecution in the U.S. after
leaking classified documents detailing government surveillance programs.
"Today, Snowden was handed a residency permit for an unlimited period of
time," his Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russia's state Tass news
Mr. Kucherena told the Interfax news agency that the application was
submitted in April, but because of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown
restrictions, it took immigration authorities more time to consider it.
Mr. Snowden was able to obtain permanent residency rights because of the
changes in Russia's immigration laws made in 2019, the lawyer said.
Mr.Kucherena added that Mr. Snowden is not considering applying for Russian
citizenship at the moment.
Mr. Snowden, who has kept a low profile in Russia and occasionally
criticised Russian government policies on social media, said last year that
he was willing to return to the U.S. if he's guaranteed a fair trial.
CHINA SEETHES OVER US-TAIWAN ARMS DEAL
China on Thursday threatened to make a "legitimate and necessary"
retaliation over the US sale of $1.8 billion worth of arms to Taiwan as
Beijing becomes more strident over its claims to the self-ruled island.
The US state department said on Wednesday it has approved the sale of 135
air-to-ground missiles to Taiwan in a move Taipei's defence ministry said
would build its combat capabilities.
"We will not engage in an arms race with the Chinese Communists. We will put
forward requirements and build fully in accordance with the strategic
concept of heavy deterrence, defending our position and defensive needs,"
defence minister Yen De-fa said.
Self-ruled Taiwan lives under constant threat of invasion by China, whose
leaders view the island as part of their territory.
China's foreign ministry on Thursday accused the US of violating agreements
signed by Beijing and Washington in the 1970s establishing diplomatic
relations between the two governments.
The sale is "sending a very wrong signal to separatist forces advocating for
Taiwan independence, and seriously damages China-US relations," ministry
spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
China also promised retaliation after US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said
the previous day the state department was designating the US operations of
six more China-based media companies as foreign missions.
'EGYPT EXECUTED 49 PRISONERS IN 10 DAYS'
Egypt executed 49 prisoners in just 10 days in October, Human Rights Watch
said on Thursday, calling for authorities to "immediately halt" carrying out
"Egypt's mass executions of scores of people in a matter of days is
outrageous," said HRW's Joe Stork. The systematic absence of fair trials in
Egypt, especially in political cases, makes every death sentence a violation
of the right to life," Mr. Stork said in a statement. Of the 49 killed, 15
were men convicted for alleged involvement in political violence.
They were convicted in three separate cases, including 10 prisoners accused
of carrying out attacks in 2014 for the Islamist insurgent group Ajnad Masrm
(Soldiers of Egypt).
Another three were executed for their alleged involvement in a 2013 attack
on a police station in the Kerdassa suburb of Cairo, and two others for a
violent demonstration in Alexandria in 2013.
The executions come after four security officers in Cairo were reported to
have been killed by prisoners on death row, and four prisoners then killed
when they allegedly tried to escape, HRW said.
Other prisoners put to death had been sentenced for crimes, including murder
HRW estimates that since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected in 2014,
Egypt has become one of the top 10 countries carrying out death sentences.
EU GIVES TOP HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD TO BELARUS OPPOSITION
The European Union has awarded its top human rights prize to the Belarus
opposition movement and its leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, for their
challenge to President Alexander Lukashenko's long, hard-line regime.
European Parliament president David Sassoli announced the names of the 2020
Sakharov Prize laureates.
HARIRI NAMED AS LEBANON'S NEW PRIME MINISTER
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun designated Sunni Muslim politician Saad
al-Hariri as Prime Minister on Thursday to form a new government to tackle
the worst crisis since the country's 1975-1990 civil war.
Hariri won the backing of a majority of parliamentarians in consultations
with Aoun. He faces major challenges to navigate Lebanon's power-sharing
politics and agree a cabinet, which must then address a mounting list of
woes: a banking crisis, currency crash, rising poverty and crippling state
A new government will also have to contend with a COVID-19 surge and the
fallout of the huge August explosion at Beirut port that killed nearly 200
people and caused billions of dollars of damage.
Thursday's nomination follows weeks of political wrangling that has delayed
a deal on a new government.
Hariri was backed by his own Future lawmakers, the Shi'ite Amal party, Druze
politician Walid Jumblatt's party and other small blocs.
The Shi'ite group Hezbollah said it was not nominating anyone, but added it
would seek to facilitate the process.
"We will contribute to maintain the positive climate," Mohammed Raad, head
of its parliamentary bloc, told reporters at the presidential palace.