World Newsletter

28 Oct 2020



Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as the 115th Supreme Court justice Monday

evening, elevating a disciple of the late Justice Antonin Scalia to succeed

the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg and establishing a broad

conservative majority for the first time since the 1930s.

In an outdoor ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, just eight days

before the election, the 48-year-old judge took the first of two oaths to be

sworn in to the Supreme Court, with President Trump looking on. Supreme

Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered the oath in front of a few

hundred guests, most of them wearing masks, within hours of the

Republican-led Senate confirming her appointment.

The vote to confirm Justice Barrett was 52-48, with only one GOP senator,

Susan Collins of Maine, joining Democrats in voting against the nominee.

"She will make an outstanding justice on the highest court," Mr. Trump said

at the ceremony. He noted that she would be the first mother of school-aged

children to serve on the Supreme Court.

"I am grateful for the confidence you have expressed in me, and I pledge to

you and to the American people that I will discharge my duties to the very

best of my ability," she said.

A blatant Trump has however said he wanted Barrett to be confirmed before

Election Day so she could cast a decisive vote in any poll-related dispute,

potentially in his favour.

Meanwhile, Trump's exhortation to voters who have already cast their ballots

in early voting to revise their choice - an option some states offer - in

his favour is adding to growing apprehensions of a messy, and possibly

inconclusive and violent finale to the November 3 election.

Over 66 million Americans - about 50% of the 2016 turnout - have already

voted; 44 million through mail-in ballots and 22 million in person. With

surveys indicating a big lead for Democrats in early voting, Trump opened a

can of worms on Tuesday by tweeting: "Strongly Trending (Google) since

immediately after the second debate is CAN I CHANGE MY VOTE? This refers

changing it to me. The answer in most states is YES. Go do it. Most

important Election of your life!"

There are questionable assumptions and assertions in the tweet about a brief

trend from a week ago, including a shift in preference for him. But more

pertinently, only some states - including battlegrounds Wisconsin and

Michigan that Trump won narrowly in 2016 - allow a vote change, while some

others like Florida, Arizona, do not.





On October 16, when an 18-year-old Chechen refugee in France beheaded

schoolteacher Samuel Paty, 47, days after he had shown caricatures of

Prophet Mohammed to his students, President Emmanuel Macron said: "We will

continue. We will defend the freedom that you taught so well and we will

bring secularism." He said France would "not give up cartoons, drawings,

even if others back down".

Days before Paty's killing, Macron had made a controversial speech. He

declared that "Islam is a religion that is in crisis today all over the

world", "plagued by radical temptations and by a yearning for a reinvented

jihad which is the destruction of the other".

He spoke of an "Islamist separatism" within the country, and the need to

counter it through the rules and values of the Republic, to build a French

version of Islam, an "Islam of Enlightenment" that would integrate French

Muslim citizens better with the French way of life.

The speech, and Macron's pronouncements after the killing of Paty, have

infuriated many Islamic countries, with Turkey and Pakistan taking the lead

in denouncing the French President of Islamophobia. Turkish President Recep

Tayyip Erdogan, who has long-standing rows with France and Marcron - over

gas reserves off Cyprus, over Nagarno Karabakh, and over the wars in Libya

and Syria - questioned Macron's mental health after the speech.

French secularism, or laicite, sees no place for religion in the public

sphere. In this way, it is the opposite of how India has practised its


So even though there is a real constitutional basis to Macron's positioning

on Islam - as necessitated by laicite - it is also a political necessity. No

French politician at this point believes s/he can afford to ignore the

impact of these events on French national life.





Melania Trump lined up squarely with her husband Tuesday on her first solo

trip of the 2020 campaign, slamming Joe Biden, Democrats and the media as

she pushed the president's reelection message in the battleground state of


The first lady defended Donald Trump's record on COVID-19 even as he

continues to play down the threat of a virus that has killed more than

226,000 Americans. She sought to shift the blame to Democrats, who she said

tried to "put their own agendas ahead of the American people's well-being"

and focused on a "sham impeachment" instead of the coronavirus.

Mrs. Trump also denounced what she called Biden's "socialist agenda" and

criticized media coverage of "idle gossip and palace intrigue" in the White


Biden's "policies and socialist agenda will only serve to destroy America

and all that has been built in the past four years," she said. "We must keep

Donald in the White House so he can finish what he's started and our country

can continue to flourish."

Mrs. Trump also struck an empathetic tone on the virus, calling herself a

"worried mother and wife" who knows "there are many people who have lost

loved ones or know people who have been forever impacted by this silent


But she defended her husband's handling of the virus and said his

administration "chooses to keep moving forward during this pandemic, not

backward," insisting that schools, restaurants and businesses have learned

to operate safely during the pandemic.

"We don't close down and hide in fear. We get to work to find real and

lasting solutions," she said.





Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said his government has decided to

strengthen relations with Afghanistan "no matter who is in power" in Kabul.

Inaugurating a two-day seminar titled 'Pakistan-Afghanistan Trade and

Investment Forum' here on Monday, Mr. Khan reaffirmed Pakistan's strong

resolve to continue to play its role for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Mr. Khan said his government was making efforts to enhance connections with

the business community of Afghanistan in order to benefit from each other's

experience and give impetus to trade and economic relations.

The Prime Minister said his government has decided to strengthen relations

with Afghanistan "no matter who is in power" in the neighbouring country.

"Future of both countries is dependent upon their unity, mutual trade, and

enhanced economic interlinks," Mr. Khan said while highlighting the need to

support Afghan traders and investors.

He said both the Muslim countries had vast potential for investment and

economic activities, which would bring regional prosperity and development.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan could benefit from the China-Pakistan Economic

Corridor (CPEC) and become hubs of trade and business, he remarked.





Taiwan said Tuesday that the recent proposal of U.S. sale of missiles and

other arms systems will boost the island's ability to credibly defend

itself, amid rising threats from China.

The comments from defense ministry spokesperson Shih Shun-wen came a day

after China said it would exact unspecified retaliation against companies

that make the weapons systems, including Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon

Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co.'s defense division, the lead contractor on

a $2.37 billion sale of Harpoon missile systems to Taiwan.

Facing a potential Chinese foe with overwhelming superiority in missiles,

soldiers, ships and planes, Taiwan has struggled to assure its own people

and key ally the U.S. that it is capable of and willing to see to its own

defense. The sides split amid a civil war in 1949 and China considers Taiwan

its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

"The purchase of these weapons will enhance Taiwan's credible combat

capabilities and asymmetric combat capabilities," Shih told reporters at a

briefing, using a term for countering a much stronger foe with precision

weapons and advanced tactics. "This will also enhance our overall combat

capabilities to contribute to maintaining peace and stability across the

Taiwan Strait."





Britain must spell out how far it wants to diverge from European Union rules

if it wants access to the bloc's financial market from January, a top

European Commission official said on Tuesday.

Britain has left the EU and access under transition arrangements ends on

Dec. 31. Future access for the City of London hinges on U.K. financial rules

staying aligned or "equivalent" to regulation in the bloc.

John Berrigan, head of the European Commission's financial services unit,

said Brussels has asked London for more clarification on Britain's

intentions to work out what is an "acceptable level" of divergence.

"We are almost ready," Mr. Berrigan told the European Parliament.

"There will be divergence... but we have to get some mutual understanding of

how much divergence is likely to happen, and is that going to be sufficient

to allow us to maintain an equivalence arrangement."

Brussels has granted temporary access for U.K. clearing houses, but chunks

of stock and derivatives trading would move from London to the bloc without


Separately, Britain and the EU are discussing a trade deal which would

contain only limited references to financial services to avoid tying the

bloc's hands, Mr. Berrigan said.





Inspectors from the UN's atomic watchdog have confirmed Iran has started

building an underground centrifuge assembly plant after its previous one

exploded in what Tehran called a sabotage attack over the summer, the

agency's head told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Iran also continues to stockpile greater amounts of low-enriched uranium,

but does not appear to possess enough to produce a weapon, Rafael Grossi,

director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the AP in

an interview in Berlin.

Following the July explosion at the Natanz nuclear site, Tehran said it

would build a new, more secure, structure in the mountains around the area.

Satellite pictures of Natanz analysed by experts have yet to show any

obvious signs of construction at the site in Iran's central Isfahan


"They have started, but it's not completed," Grossi said. "It's a long

process." He would not give further details, saying it's "confidential

information". Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately

respond to a request for comment.

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