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BEIRUT BLAST: LEBANON IN MOURNING AFTER MASSIVE EXPLOSION

 

Lebanon is in mourning after a huge explosion in the capital Beirut killed

more than 70 people and injured more than 4,000 others on Tuesday.

The whole city was shaken by the blast, which began with a fire at the port

which exploded into a mushroom cloud.

President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored

unsafely in a warehouse for six years.

He scheduled an urgent cabinet meeting for Wednesday, and said a two-week

state of emergency should be declared.

The country will observe an official period of mourning for three days from

Wednesday.

President Aoun also announced that the government would release 100 billion

lira (£50.5m; $66m) of emergency funds.

"What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe," the head of Lebanon's Red

Cross George Kettani told local media. "There are victims and casualties

everywhere."

Officials said on Tuesday that an investigation was under way to find the

exact trigger for the explosion. Lebanon's Supreme Defence Council said

those responsible would face the "maximum punishment" possible.

The ammonium nitrate had reportedly been unloaded from a ship impounded at

the port in 2013, and then stored in a warehouse there.

“Israel has nothing to do with the incident,” an official said on condition

of anonymity. Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told Israeli N12

television news that the explosion was most likely an accident caused by a

fire.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday offered US assistance to Lebanon

after Beirut was rocked by massive blasts.

“We are monitoring and stand ready to assist the people of Lebanon as they

recover from this horrible tragedy,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

 

 

CHINA BRANDS TRUMP’S DEMANDS ON TIKTOK SALE A ‘SMASH AND GRAB’

 

China’s state-run media has struck back in the war over TikTok, branding

U.S. demands for the sale of the social media app’s American operations to

Microsoft Corp. as “theft” and suggesting Beijing may block the transaction.

The editorial, published late Monday by the China Daily newspaper,

represented Beijing’s strongest defense yet of ByteDance Ltd. and its viral

video app. “China will by no means accept the ‘theft’ of a Chinese

technology company, and it has plenty of ways to respond if the

administration carries out its planned smash and grab,” it said. President

Donald Trump insisted several times on Monday that any sale of TikTok assets

would include some form of payment to the U.S., and demanded that TikTok be

sold to an American company by Sept. 15 or be shut down.

The war of words between Washington and Beijing has also spread into the

boardroom. At the same time as his advisers are racing against the clock to

strike a deal for its U.S. assets, ByteDance’s billionaire founder Zhang

Yiming has penned his second letter to his employees in as many days,

declaring Trump’s real goal is not to save but to kill off TikTok.

‘Mortal Combat’ ByteDance became the world’s largest startup thanks to the

success abroad of TikTok, which American lawmakers accuse of posing a threat

to national security because of its ability to vacuum up data. Trump has the

power to cripple ByteDance’s prized asset by adding TikTok to the U.S.

entity list, which would compel American companies such as Apple Inc. and

Alphabet Inc.’s Google todrop the service from their app stores.

While the China Daily acknowledged that selling the U.S. business “might be

preferable” to ByteDance, the newspaper compared the process to officially

sanctioned theft, a sentiment echoed in other prominent state media

including the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper. “With

competitiveness now dependent on the ability to collect and use data, it

offers an either-or choice of submission or mortal combat in the tech

realm,” the China Daily said.

 

 

SRI LANKA GOES TO THE POLLS AS CORONAVIRUS RISK RECEDES

 

Sri Lankans lined up before polling stations opened on Wednesday (Aug 5),

wearing masks and social distancing, to elect a new parliament that

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa hopes will clear the way for him to boost his

powers.

The tourism-dependent island nation of 21 million people has been struggling

since deadly militant attacks on hotels and churches last year, claimed by

Islamic State, followed painful lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Rajapaksa is seeking a two-thirds majority for his party in the 225-member

parliament to enable constitutional reforms to make the presidency more

powerful so he can implement his economic and national security agenda.

Polls opened at 7am local time.

Election officials wore transparent face shields while medical personnel

were deployed to ensure voters kept strict rules to prevent the spread of

the coronavirus.

"There will be no chance of you getting infected by the coronavirus at

polling stations," said the chairman of the Election Commission, Mahinda

Deshapriya.

"The polling station is safer than the beach, the restaurant and the

marketplace, it's totally corona free.”

Sri Lanka had reported 2,828 cases of the coronavirus and 11 deaths as of

Tuesday, which is small compared with other South Asian countries.

Rajapaksa, who was elected president in November, has claimed credit for

controlling the outbreak with strict lockdowns.

He is hoping to install his older brother and former president, Mahinda

Rajapaksa, as prime minister.

 

 

TRUMP ENCOURAGES MAIL VOTING IN KEY BATTLEGROUND FLORIDA AFTER MONTHS OF

CRITICISING METHOD

 

In an abrupt reversal, President Donald Trump now is encouraging voters in

the critical swing state of Florida to vote by mail after months of

criticising the practice, and only days after threatening to sue Nevada over

a new vote-by-mail law.

His encouragement follows a surge in Democratic requests to vote for mail in

Florida, a state that Trump almost certainly must win to secure a second

term. Democrats currently have about 1.9 million Floridians signed up to

vote by mail this November, almost 600,000 more than the Republicans’ 1.3

million, according to the Florida Secretary of State.

In 2016, both sides had about 1.3 million signed up before the general

election.

“Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the

election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True. Florida’s Voting system

has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in

Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail!,” Trump tweeted

Tuesday.

“They’ve been doing this over many years and they’ve made it really

terrific,” Trump said.

“This took years to do,” he added. “This doesn’t take weeks or months. In

the case of Nevada, they’re going to be voting in a matter of weeks. And you

can’t do that.”

Florida GOP officials welcomed Trump’s tweet.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany rejected the notion that the

president has changed his views. She said he supports absentee voting by

mail for a reason, as opposed to states mailing out ballots to all voters

regardless of whether they requested them. Most election officials say there

is little effective difference between absentee voting and voting by mail.

 

 

TRUMP: US DOING VERY WELL IN COVID FIGHT, INDIA HAS A ‘TREMENDOUS PROBLEM’

 

President Trump has said that as compared to big countries, America is doing

“very well” in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, while India is

having a “tremendous problem” battling the disease and China is witnessing a

“massive flare up” in infections.

“I think we’re doing very well. I think that we have done as well as any

nation. If you really look, if you take a look at what’s going on,

especially now with all these flare ups and nations that they were talking

about,” Trump told reporters on Monday.

“Don’t forget, we’re much bigger than — other than India and China. China is

having a massive flare up right now. India has a tremendous problem. Other

countries have problems,” he said in response to a question.

 

 

MALAYSIA POLICE RAID AL JAZEERA’S OFFICE, SEIZE COMPUTERS

 

Malaysian police raided the office of news broadcaster Al Jazeera and two

local TV stations on Tuesday, seizing computers as part of an investigation

into a documentary on undocumented migrants that enraged the government.

Al Jazeera, a Qatari-state owned broadcaster, said in a statement that

police seized two computers during the raid, which it called a “troubling

escalation” in a government crackdown on media freedom. It urged Malaysian

authorities to cease the criminal investigation.

Police opened an investigation last month into the Al Jazeera documentary on

the treatment of undocumented migrants after officials complained it was

inaccurate and biased. Seven Al Jazeera staff members have been grilled by

police as part of the probe for alleged sedition, defamation and violating

the Communications and Multimedia Act.

Police obtained court warrants to search the offices of Al Jazeera as well

as local broadcasters Astro and Unifitv, criminal investigation chief Huzir

Mohamed said in a statement. The two local TV stations had reportedly aired

the video.

Huzir said the raids were conducted jointly with the Malaysian

Communications and Multimedia Commission, which is also investigating the

stations.

He said police seized computers which will be sent for further analysis and

took statements from witnesses during the raids. “No individual or entity

will be spared from action if they have violated the law,” he said.

Al Jazeera said the raid was “an attack on press freedom as a whole” and

urged Malaysian authorities to cease the criminal investigation.

 

 

AUNG SAN SUU KYI CONFIRMS CONTESTING FOR SECOND TERM

 

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday formally declared her intention

to seek a second term in an election in November that is seen as a test of

the Southeast Asian nation's tentative democratic reforms.

After decades of military rule, Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for

campaigning for democracy, took the reins in 2016 after an electoral

landslide, but has been forced to share power with the generals.

Her international reputation slumped over Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya

Muslims but she remains popular at home, where her image is undented by

accusations of complicity in atrocities against the minority.

On Tuesday, Suu Kyi, 75, waved to a crowd of around 50 supporters on the

outskirts of the former capital Yangon to submit an application to run as a

candidate.

Some of her supporters wore red-coloured face masks denoting their backing

for her National League for Democracy (NLD) party and shouted: "Mother Suu,

be healthy."

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is dominated by the

military and retired civil servants, will be the NLD's main opponent.

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