Tag Archives: Secretary

Vaccine nationalism an issue of ‘enlightened self-interest,’ UN Secretary General warns

Developed countries hoarding COVID-19 vaccines is not only unfair and unjust, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says, it is also “a matter of enlightened self-interest.”

“I’m very concerned with this very unfair distribution of vaccines in the world,” Guterres said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

“It’s in the interest of everybody to make sure that as soon as possible and in a fair way, everybody gets vaccinated everywhere and that vaccines are considered to be a truly global public good.”

Guterres criticized wealthy countries for buying into vaccine nationalism, in which nations secure shots for their own populations, limiting supply elsewhere. 

“We have been appealing to developed countries to share some of the vaccines that they have bought. And in many situations, they have bought more than what they need,” he said. 

The secretary general’s comments come as the European Union took steps this week to tighten export controls on COVID-19 vaccines outside the 27-nation bloc. 

India, meanwhile, put a temporary hold on major exports of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India — from which Canada is expecting to receive 1.5 million doses by the end of May — to meet domestic demand. 

Global vaccine sharing program affected

According to Reuters, India’s move will affect supplies to the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, an initiative that ensures low and middle-income countries have access to coronavirus vaccines 

Under COVAX, wealthier countries pool their funds to buy vaccines for other nations — as well as themselves. 

Boxes of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative, arrive at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, March 15, 2021. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

Canada is set to receive 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine through the program by the end of June. The country has drawn criticism for that decision because it’s already signed deals with vaccine makers for millions of shots of its own. 

“We are having difficulties with COVAX in relation to the supply of vaccines because there has been a lot of hoarding of vaccines, there are limitations to exports,” Guterres said. “We are in a very difficult situation with COVAX itself, [which] is also not yet fully funded.”

The secretary general acknowledged Canada has the right to receive its share of vaccines from the initiative, but said the key problem is ensuring that developing countries also have their quotas respected. 

Vaccine passports could be ‘devastating’

On Monday, Guterres is set to virtually convene with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness to discuss the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While he is focused on global economic recovery from the crisis, the secretary general said he is wary of introducing vaccine passports as a way to re-open international borders.

“It’s a very controversial question,” Guterres said, adding that nations must seriously discuss the international cooperation required to roll out such a strategy in an equitable way. 

Passengers wait to check in their luggage at Montreal–Trudeau International Airport in Montreal on Dec. 19, 2020. Showing proof of immunization against COVID-19 is being touted as one way to reopen cross-border travel. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The World Health Organization says national authorities should not require proof of immunization for travel because it’s still unclear how well vaccines minimize transmission of the virus. 

Trudeau himself has expressed reluctance to introducing such measures because vaccine passports invoke questions of equity, fairness and justice. 

“The worst is for some countries to have it, for other countries not to have it,” Guterres said. “Especially it would be devastating if this would mean that people could move within the developed world, but not within the developing world.”

Crisis could last for years without global plan

Guterres said that as more transmissible variants of the virus take hold, nations around the world must ensure everyone is protected.

“It is not the best strategy to vaccinate everybody in one country before those most vulnerable … are not vaccinated in the global south,” the secretary general said. “It then becomes a danger even for the populations that have been vaccinated.”

To achieve that goal, Guterres said a global inoculation strategy is needed.

“We need a mechanism, an empowered mechanism by the G20, to have a global vaccination plan,” he said.

“It’s very clear that there is a growing consciousness of that need. If we leave…the world without enough vaccines, if we have several new variants coming…and vaccines become not so effective, then I believe we might have a problem for the next few years that would be extremely, extremely difficult to manage.” 

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

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Trump loyalists get top Pentagon jobs after firing of defence secretary

A day after U.S. President Donald Trump fired Defence Secretary Mark Esper, three staunch loyalists to the president were named to top defence jobs. Among them was a former Fox News commentator who failed to get through Senate confirmation because of offensive remarks he made, including about Islam.

The abrupt changes sent reverberations through the Pentagon as nervous civilian and military personnel waited for the next shoe to drop. And they fuelled worries of a wider effort to drum out anyone considered not loyal enough to Trump.

The unease was palpable inside the building throughout the day over concerns about what the Trump administration may do in the months before president-elect Joe Biden takes office and whether there will be a greater effort to politicize the historically apolitical military. While radical policy shifts seem unlikely before the Jan. 20 inauguration, the changes could further damage prospects for a smooth transition already hampered by Trump’s refusal to concede his election loss.

James Anderson, who had been acting undersecretary for policy, resigned Tuesday morning, and he was quickly replaced by Anthony Tata, a retired Army one-star general and commentator on Fox News.

A short time later, Joseph Kernan, a retired Navy vice-admiral, stepped down as undersecretary for intelligence, hastening what had been an already planned post-election departure. Kernan was replaced by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who becomes acting undersecretary for intelligence.

2nd time Trump has tried to get Tata the job

This is Trump’s second attempt to secure the policy job for Tata. Earlier this year, Trump appointed Tata to the post, but the Senate cancelled a hearing on the nomination when it became clear that it would be difficult if not impossible to get him confirmed. Tata withdrew his name from consideration for the job, which is the third-highest position in the department. Trump then appointed Tata to serve in the job of deputy undersecretary.

According to reports, Tata posted tweets in 2018 calling Islam the “most oppressive violent religion I know of,” and he called former president Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” and referred to him as Muslim. The tweets were later taken down.

At the time of Tata’s Senate hearing, Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, and chairman of the House armed services committee, said Trump must not prioritize loyalty over competence and install someone in a job if the “appointee cannot gain the support of the Senate, as is clearly the case with Tata.”

The departures came on Christopher Miller’s second day on the job as defence chief. Miller also brought in his own chief of staff, Kash Patel, to replace Jen Stewart, who had worked in that job for Esper. Patel and Cohen-Watnick are both considered staunchly loyal to Trump and previously worked at the National Security Council.

Christopher Miller, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, became acting secretary of defence after Trump announced he had ‘terminated’ Esper. (Tom Williams/Pool via Reuters)

Patel was among the small group of aides who travelled with Trump extensively during the final stretch of the campaign. He also is a former prosecutor in the national security division of the U.S. Department of Justice and former staff member on the House intelligence committee. In that post, he was a top aide to Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Patel was linked in media accounts to efforts to discredit the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. He moved to the National Security Council in February 2019, and earlier this year, he travelled to Syria for rare high-level talks aimed at securing the release of two Americans who have been missing for years, including journalist Austin Tice.

Cohen-Watnick was a protege of Trump’s initial national security adviser, Michael Flynn, but was replaced in the summer of 2017 by Flynn’s successor, H.R. McMaster, as part of a string of shakeups at the White House and National Security Council.

Esper was fired as defence secretary on Monday. (The Associated Press)

Impact of appointments unclear

While the personnel changes added to the tumult in the wake of Esper’s departure, it’s not clear how much impact they could have on the massive Pentagon bureaucracy. The department is anchored by the tenet of civilian control of the military, and much of the day-to-day activities are conducted by career policy experts and military leaders in the U.S. and around the globe who adhere to a strict chain of command.

Also, many of Trump’s policies and defence priorities have already been put in motion by Esper and his predecessors, guided by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the chairman, army Gen. Mark Milley. All of those military leaders remain in place.

Still, there has been continuing tumult in the Pentagon’s policy shop. John Rood was forced to resign as undersecretary for policy in February after he drew White House ire for warning against the U.S. withholding aid to Ukraine, the issue that led to the president’s impeachment.

Tata will be “performing the duties of” the undersecretary job, rather than holding the “acting” title. Officials who carry the acting title have more authority than those who are “performing the duties of” the job.

Defence officials said Miller, who previously was director of the National Counterterrorism Center, continues meeting with staff and becoming familiar with the Pentagon and its wide range of complex and critical national security issues and mission.

Anderson’s departure was first reported by Politico.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assures smooth transition — to 2nd Trump presidency

Even as world leaders continue to call and offer U.S. president-elect Joe Biden their congratulations on his victory, the U.S. secretary of state said Tuesday that there will be a “smooth transition” to a second term in office for Donald Trump. 

Mike Pompeo told reporters the world should have every confidence that a post-election transition in the United States would be smooth.

“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo told a State Department news conference.

Pompeo ignored results showing that Biden had won the election, and dismissed as “ridiculous” questions about whether the U.S. had lost credibility as a judge of other countries’ election because of Trump’s unproven claims of fraud at the polls.

He then appeared to offer a more nuanced response, saying, “We’re ready. The world is watching what’s taking place here…. We’re going to count all the votes…. The world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is … successful today and successful when the president who’s in office on January 20, a minute after noon, will also be successful.”

Biden responds

Pompeo’s comments came as Trump continued to refuse to concede the election and threaten legal action. 

Raising unsupported claims of voter fraud, Trump has blocked Biden from receiving the intelligence briefings traditionally shared with incoming presidents, according to someone with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to disclose private conversations.

Asked about Trump’s refusal to concede, Biden told reporters Monday afternoon that “it’s an embarrassment, quite frankly,” and he said he didn’t think it would help Trump’s legacy.

But Biden said he does not see a need for any legal action right now, and that while it “would be useful” to get the briefings, it was “not necessary.”

WATCH | Biden unconcerned by Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge his victory:

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden said Monday his transition is ‘well underway’ despite some Republicans’ denial of his victory. 0:50

Trump’s resistance, backed by senior Republicans in Washington and across the country, could also prevent background investigations and security clearances for Biden’s prospective national security team and access to federal agencies to discuss budget and policy issues.

Biden appeared unconcerned, saying, “The fact that [Republicans are] not willing to acknowledge we won at this point is not of much consequence in our planning and what we’re able to do between now and January 20.” 

Trump and his allies seemed determined to make Biden’s transition as difficult as possible.

From his Twitter account Tuesday, Trump again raised unsupported claims of “massive ballot counting abuse” and predicted he would ultimately win the race he has already lost. His allies on Capitol Hill, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have encouraged the president’s baseless accusations.

World leaders congratulate Biden

America’s allies began to acknowledge what Trump would not.

Biden met via video conference with French President Emmanuel Macron and spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said he spoke with Biden “to congratulate him on his election.”

“I look forward to strengthening the partnership between our countries and to working with him on our shared priorities — from tackling climate change, to promoting democracy and building back better from the pandemic,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Build back better” is a slogan that Biden and the British government have in common.

French President Emmanual Macron speaks by phone with U.S. president-elect Joe Biden at the Élysée Palace in Paris Tuesday. (Ian Langsdon/Pool/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Biden Monday. The official readout on the call from the PMO said Trudeau was the first international leader to speak with the president-elect.

“The prime minister and the president-elect agreed on the importance of the unique Canada-U.S. partnership and committed to work together to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic and to support a sustainable economic recovery in both countries and the hemisphere,” said the readout.

WATCH | Trudeau talks about Canada-U.S. relations and a Biden presidency:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters during a media briefing in Ottawa on Monday. 2:02

Biden focuses on health care

Meanwhile, Biden tried to stay focused on health care as he prepares to take office Jan. 20, during the worst health crisis in more than a century. The U.S. surpassed 10 million cases of COVID-19 on Monday and cases are skyrocketing as the nation moves into the cold winter months.

One of Biden’s chief coronavirus advisers, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, planned to brief Senate Democrats on Tuesday by phone at their weekly virtual lunch, according to a senior Democratic aide granted anonymity to discuss the private session.

The closed-door meeting marks the first time a Biden transition official has addressed the full Senate caucus since last week’s election.

There are concerns that the delay by Trump and other Republicans to acknowledge Biden’s victory will have national security implications. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

Before and after Biden’s afternoon speech, he was working alongside vice-president-elect Kamala Harris at a theatre near his home in downtown Wilmington, Del. He is expected to quickly name a chief of staff and start considering cabinet appointments, though those likely won’t be finalized for weeks.

Complicating Biden’s challenge is the Republican Party’s widespread refusal to acknowledge his victory. With scant evidence, Trump and his allies are insisting that the election was stolen.

Attorney General William Barr has authorized the Justice Department to probe unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. And the General Services Administration, led by a Trump-appointed administrator, Emily Murphy, has declined to formally recognize Biden as president-elect.

That designation eases co-operation between the outgoing and incoming administrations, although Murphy has not started the process and has given no guidance on when she will. The GSA inaction could continue to deny Biden security briefings, which he received periodically before the election, as well as delay security clearances and staffing decisions.

Senior officials in the George W. Bush administration warned that a similar delay after the closely contested 2000 presidential election caused many difficulties.

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U.S. defence secretary Mark Esper fired, Trump announces on Twitter

U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Twitter on Monday that Mark Esper, his defence secretary, “has been terminated.”

Trump, who thanked Esper for his service, said Christopher Miller, who has been head of the National Counterterrorism Center, would serve as replacement.

The move adds more uncertainty to the transition period after the Nov. 3 vote. Trump has refused to concede last week’s election to president-elect Joe Biden, who is set to be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Esper, 56, was confirmed in the role in July 2019. Previously the secretary of the U.S. army, he had succeeded interim leader Patrick Shanahan as the Pentagon’s top official.

Presidents who win re-election often replace cabinet members, including the secretary of defence, but losing presidents have kept their Pentagon chiefs in place until the inauguration to preserve stability in the name of national security.

WATCH l Transition figures to be unusual by modern standards:

The transition period between presidential administrations is the most perilous time in U.S. politics, even in less contentious times, says Rebecca Lissner of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. 4:38

Since the creation of the Defence Department and the position of defence secretary in 1947, the only three presidents to lose election for a second term — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — all kept their secretary of defence in place until inauguration day.

Esper seemed prepared for departure

Esper’s departure has appeared inevitable ever since he publicly broke with Trump in June over the president’s push to deploy military troops in the streets of the nation’s capital in response to civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd. Esper publicly opposed Trump’s threats to invoke the two-centuries-old Insurrection Act, which would allow the president to use active-duty troops in a law enforcement role. And Trump was furious when Esper told reporters the Insurrection Act should be invoked “only in the most urgent and dire of situations,” and “we are not in one of those situations now.”

Mark Esper, centre, is seen along with U.S. Attorney General William Barr, U.S. President Donald Trump and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley, right, on the now-controversial photo-op outside a Washington, D.C., church during protests over the police custody death of George Floyd on June 1. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The June civil unrest initially drew Esper into controversy when he joined a Trump entourage that strolled from the White House to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op with Trump holding a Bible. Critics condemned Esper, saying he had allowed himself to be used as a political prop.

Esper said he didn’t know he was heading into a photo-op but thought he was going to view damage at the church and see National Guard troops in the area. He was accompanied by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who later expressed public regret at having been present in uniform.

The defence secretary also encouraged a review of the naming of military installations after Confederate leaders, another action Trump expressed his opposition to.

Trump hinted at Esper’s shaky status in August, making a snide response to a reporter’s question about whether he still had confidence in Esper’s leadership. “Mark ‘Yesper’? Did you call him ‘Yesper?”‘ Trump said, in what appeared to be an allusion to suggestions that Esper was a Yes man for the president. Asked if he was considering firing Esper, Trump said, “At some point, that’s what happens.”

Recently, Esper was widely expected to quit or be ousted if Trump won re-election. That impression was bolstered by the fact Military Times published an interview with Esper minutes after the firing on Monday, in which the ousted defence secretary talked about his tenure and disputed the notion he didn’t push back on Trump when warranted.

Biden reportedly considering Michele Flournoy for post

Before his current role, Miller was a deputy assistant defence secretary and top adviser to Trump on counterterrorism issues. He has a long background with the military, having served as an enlisted infantryman in the Army Reserves and after that as a special forces officer. He also served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After his retirement from the military, Miller worked as a defence contractor.

Christopher Miller, the new man in charge, is shown Sept. 24 testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Tom Williams/Reuters)

Biden has not said who he would appoint as defence chief but is widely rumoured to be considering naming the first woman to the post. Among the candidates is Michele Flournoy, who has served multiple times in the Pentagon, starting in the 1990s and most recently as the undersecretary of defence for policy from 2009 to 2012. She is well known on Capitol Hill as a moderate Democrat and is regarded among U.S. allies and partners as a steady hand who favours strong U.S. military co-operation abroad.

Trump’s first defence secretary, James Mattis, lasted until December 2018 before his departure, which was hastened by disagreements over U.S. policy in Syria. Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops out of Syria was later rescinded. 

Aside from the church controversy, during Trump’s tenure, the Pentagon has also been at the centre of debates over the use of American troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the U.S. border with Mexico border.

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U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo calls Bolton ‘a traitor’ over new book

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday branded as “a traitor” former White House national security adviser John Bolton, who has accused President Donald Trump in a book of sweeping misdeeds and said he is not fit for office.

“It is both sad and dangerous that John Bolton’s final public role is that of a traitor who damaged America by violating his sacred trust with its people,” Pompeo, the latest in a series of Trump allies to condemn Bolton, said in a statement.

The 577-page book titled The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir paints an unvarnished portrait of Trump and his administration, and the sometimes dim view that Trump’s advisers have of him.

In one excerpt, Bolton says he received a note from Pompeo mocking Trump during a 2018 meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“He is so full of sh-t,” Pompeo’s note said, according to a Washington Post report.

A reporter holds a copy of John Bolton’s new book The Room Where It Happened as White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany answers questions from the media at the White House on Thursday. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Bolton also wrote that Trump “pleaded” with China’s President Xi Jinping during a 2019 summit to help his re-election prospects and that political calculations drove Trump’s foreign policy.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in Senate testimony that Bolton’s account was “absolutely untrue.”

“I was at the meeting. Would I recollect something as crazy as that? Of course I would,” Lighthizer said. “This never happened in it for sure. Completely crazy.”

Trump on Thursday called the book a “compilation of lies and made up stories” intended to make him look bad. He tweeted that Bolton was just trying to get even for being fired “like the sick puppy he is!”

Court battle

The U.S. government has asked a federal court for a temporary restraining order to prevent the release of Bolton’s book, claiming it contains classified material.

But the book, to be released Tuesday, is already sitting in warehouses and media outlets have obtained advance copies and published stories on it.

The two sides are set to face off Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington.

WATCH | Bolton’s book claims Trump uninformed, White House in chaos:

According to several U.S. media reports, John Bolton’s new book alleges that U.S. President Donald Trump is uninformed and all his decisions were made with the 2020 presidential election in mind. 2:00

The government says Bolton violated a non-disclosure agreement in which he promised to submit any book he might write to the administration for a prepublication review to ensure government secrets aren’t disclosed.

After working for months with the White House to edit, rewrite or remove sensitive information, Bolton’s lawyer says his client received a verbal clearance from classification expert Ellen Knight at the National Security Council.

But he never got a formal clearance letter, and the Trump administration contends that the book still contains sensitive material.

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Trump’s former defence secretary issues strong rebuke of president, use of military against protests

In an extraordinary rebuke, former U.S. defence secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday denounced President Donald Trump’s heavy-handed use of military force to quell protests near the White House and said his former boss was setting up a “false conflict” between the military and civilian society.

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis wrote.

The criticism was all the more remarkable because Mattis has generally kept a low profile since resigning as defence secretary in December 2018 to protest Trump’s Syria policy. He had declined to speak out against Trump, saying he owed the nation public silence while his former boss remained in office.

But he’s speaking out after this past week’s protests in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Trump responded on Twitter Wednesday evening by calling Mattis “the world’s most overrated General.”

Mattis resigned last year over Trump’s Syria policy. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

“I didn’t like his `leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree,” Trump tweeted. “Glad he is gone!”

Mattis had a scathing description of Trump’s walk to a historic nearby church Monday to pose with a Bible after law enforcement forcibly cleared Lafayette Square of mostly peaceful protesters.

He said he never dreamed troops “would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people —does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us,” Mattis wrote in a statement published by The Atlantic. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

Mattis called on Americans to unite without Trump. “This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children,” he wrote.

Mattis said of the protesters that Americans should not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. He said they are rightly demanding that the country follow the words of “Equal Justice Under Law” that are on display at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values — our values as people and our values as a nation,” Mattis said.

Mattis took particular issue with the use of force to move back protesters so Trump could visit St. John’s Church the day after it was damaged by fire during protests. Several different groups, including the National Guard and the U.S. Park Police, were involved.

“We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution,” Mattis said.

One day after Trump announced he was pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, where they were partnering with local Syrians to fight the Islamic State, Mattis tried but failed to change Trump’s mind. So, he resigned. Trump soon turned on Mattis, calling him a failure. He said falsely that he had fired Mattis.

“What’s he done for me?” Trump said Jan. 2. “How had he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. I’m not happy with what he’s done in Afghanistan, and I shouldn’t be happy.”

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Polarizing ex-defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa wins Sri Lanka presidential vote

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defence official revered by Sri Lanka’s ethnic majority for his role in ending a bloody civil war but feared by minorities for his brutal approach, declared victory Sunday in the nation’s presidential election.

Sri Lanka’s ruling party presidential candidate, Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa, conceded defeat to Rajapaksa, saying he would honour the decision of the people.

Rajapaksa, the campaign front-runner and former defence secretary under his brother, ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, pledged to restore security to the Indian Ocean island nation still recovering from ISIS-inspired attacks last Easter.

Rajapaksa announced his candidacy shortly after the terrorist attack that killed 269 people, faulting the government for intelligence lapses and letting the security sector falter.

His victory in Saturday’s vote marks the return of a family ousted from power in 2015 elections amid constant reports of nepotism, skimming off development deals with China and alleged human rights violations during the end of the decades-long war with the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009. The election also mirrors the global trend of populist strongmen appealing to disgruntled majorities amid rising ethno-nationalism.

“As we usher in a new journey for Sri Lanka, we must remember that all Sri Lankans are part of this journey. Let us rejoice peacefully, with dignity and discipline,” Rajapaksa tweeted.

Supporters outside Rajapaksa’s home on the outskirts of the capital Colombo hugged and cheered, some clutching bouquets of flowers. (Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press)

Supporters outside Rajapaksa’s home on the outskirts of the capital Colombo hugged and cheered, some clutching bouquets of flowers.

About 15 million people were eligible to vote, and Sri Lanka’s Election Commission estimated 80 per cent turnout after polls closed.

Flanked by Buddhist monks at campaign events, Rajapaksa focused his message on Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhala Buddhist population, who comprise about 70 per cent of the island’s citizens. The second-largest group are ethnic Tamil Hindus at 12.6 per cent, while 10 per cent are Muslims and 8 per cent are Christian.

Sri Lankans stand in a queue to cast their votes a polling station in Weerawila, Sri Lanka, on Saturday. Sri Lanka’s Election Commission estimated 80 per cent turnout after polls closed. (Chamila Karunarathne/Associated Press)

He accepted support from Buddhist nationalist clerics who demanded the resignation of Muslim cabinet members and governors they said were interfering with the investigation of the Easter attacks.

The Muslim politicians temporarily stepped aside.

The campaign said Rajapaksa’s swearing-in ceremony would take place at Anuradhapura, a city about 200 kilometres from Colombo and the seat of the first Sinhalese kingdom known for a sacred tree that is said to be the southern branch of the Bodhi tree in India under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment.

‘Badly polarized country’

Though counting continued, the preliminary result reflected voting along ethnic lines, showing “a badly polarized country” that will embolden right-wing Buddhist clerics, said Kusal Perera, a political analyst and independent journalist.

“A Sinhala Buddhist theocratic state has been given a people’s mandate now,” he said.

Premadasa swept the majority Tamil and Muslim districts in the country’s north and east, winning as much as 80 per cent of the vote. In majority ethnic Sinhala areas, Gotabaya secured around 60 per cent.

Presidential candidate of Sri Lanka’s governing party Sajith Premadasa leaves a polling station in Weerawila on Saturday. (Chamila Karunarathne/Associated Press)

Sinhala Buddhists votes usually don’t vote as a bloc, unlike Sri Lankan minorities who have supported whatever party espoused policies comparatively favourable to them.

Rajapaksa’s victory will also be a blow to the post-civil war reconciliation process and truth-seeking on alleged wartime abuses by both government troops and the Tamil Tiger rebels. In the lead up to the election, Rajapaksa said that he would not honour a United Nations human rights resolution to investigate alleged abuses.

“He has won the war, but Sri Lanka is yet to win the peace and 10 years after, this is how the north and east reacts to the war victor,” said M.A Suanthiran, lawmaker and spokesperson for Tamil National Alliance, the country’s main Tamil party.

Premadasa supporters are seen Colombo on Saturday. Premadasa swept the majority Tamil and Muslim districts in the country’s north and east. (Chamila Karunarathne/Associated Press)

Rajapaksa pledged to appoint as prime minister his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was briefly installed as prime minister last year, when outgoing President Maithripala Sirisena fired the sitting prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, over political differences. The Supreme Court ruled Sirisena had acted unconstitutionally, and restored Wickremsinghe to power.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has also promised to release people detained for running an abduction ring for money in the pretext of counterterrorism, leading some to fear that the ethnic tensions that fuelled the Tamil struggle for an independent state will only grow during his administration.

Abuse of power allegations

During the war that ended in 2009, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was accused of persecuting critics and overseeing what were called “white van squads” that whisked away journalists, activists and Tamil civilians suspected of links to the Tamil Tigers. Some were tortured and released, while others simply disappeared.

The Rajapaksa brothers are also accused of condoning rape and extrajudicial killings and deliberately targeting civilians and hospitals during the war. They deny the allegations.

The Rajapaksas did not lift emergency law even after the war ended, curtailing civil and media freedoms. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government accepted Chinese loans for white elephant projects in the family’s home district of Hambantota, including to build a big commercial airport that has never been used.

Battling one of Asia’s highest debt-to-GDP ratios, Wickremesinghe’s government signed in 2017 a 99-year lease of the Chinese-built Hambantota port to a Chinese company, fuelling public consternation over the loss of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The outgoing government also re-established ties with neighbouring India and the United States, both of whom have large stakes in Sri Lanka as a buffer against China.

Rajapaksa will inherit a tourism-dependent economy still recovering from the blasts, the first attack in Sri Lankan history targeting foreigners.

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Hong Kong condemns London attack on justice secretary as protests rumble on

The Chinese and Hong Kong governments condemned on Friday an attack by a “violent mob” on the city’s justice secretary in London, the first direct altercation between demonstrators and a government minister during months of often violent protests.’

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, who was in London to promote Hong Kong as a dispute resolution and deal-making hub, was targeted by a group of protesters who shouted “murderer” and “shameful.”

A statement by the Hong Kong government said Cheng suffered “serious bodily harm” but gave no details. 

The Chinese Embassy in the U.K. said Cheng was pushed to the ground and sustained a hand injury.

Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng, shown here in May, was targeted by a group of protesters who shouted “murderer” and “shameful.” (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

“[Cheng] was besieged and attacked by dozens of anti-China and pro-independence activists,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement. The incident showed that the “violent and lawless perpetrators” were now taking their violence abroad, it said.

China has lodged a formal complaint with Britain and urged British authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Escalating violence

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, also strongly condemned the attack.

The former British colony’s government said in a separate statement: “The secretary denounces all forms of violence and radicalism depriving others’ legitimate rights in the pretext of pursuing their political ideals, which would never be in the interest of Hong Kong and any civilized society.”

The incident came amid escalating violence in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, where a student protester died earlier this month after falling from a parking lot during demonstrations.

A man walks through bricks placed on a barricaded street outside The Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Friday. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images)

A 70-year-old street cleaner, who videos on social media showed had been hit in the head by a brick thrown by “masked rioters,” died on Thursday, authorities said.

Parts of Hong Kong paralyzed

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department expressed profound sadness on Friday at the death of its cleaning worker and said it was providing assistance to his family.

Anti-government protesters paralyzed parts of Hong Kong for a fifth day on Friday, forcing schools to close and blocking some highways as students built barricades in university campuses and authorities struggled to tame the violence.

Protesters used barriers and other debris to block the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that links Hong Kong island to Kowloon district, leading to severe traffic congestion. The government once again urged employers to adopt flexible working arrangements amid the chaos.

The protests escalated in June over a now-scrapped extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial. They have since evolved into calls for greater democracy, among other demands.


‘Revolution of our time’

Flash mobs again protested at lunch time in the heart of the financial hub and also in the eastern district of Tai Koo, where office workers wearing now-banned face masks chanted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”

“Things that happened in these few months have made people heartbroken,” said a 31-year-old office assistant who gave her name as Nicole.

Protesters build a wall to block a road at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong. (Dale De La Rey/AFP/Getty Images)

“The government only came out to condemn rioters…. They have never thought why so many rioters have emerged in our city and why ordinary citizens support them,” she said.

Thousands of students remain hunkered down at several universities, surrounded by piles of food, bricks, petrol bombs, catapults and other homemade weapons.

Around 4,000 arrested

Police said the prestigious Chinese University had “become a manufacturing base for petrol bombs” and the students’ actions were “another step closer to terrorism.”

Around 4,000 people, aged between 12 and 83, have been arrested since the unrest escalated in June.

An anti-government protester holds a bow during a standoff with riot police at Chinese University of Hong Kong on Thursday. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The demonstrations have paralyzed parts of the city and battered the retail and tourism sectors, with widespread disruptions across the financial centre and no end in sight to the violence and vandalism.

Video footage of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army garrison headquarters near Hong Kong’s central business district on Friday showed more than a dozen troops conducting what appeared to be anti-riot drills against fake protesters carrying black umbrellas.

China blames Western countries

The anti-government protests have taken a heavy toll and Hong Kong was expected to confirm on Friday it had fallen into recession for the first time in a decade amid concerns the economy could be in even worse shape than feared.

Alibaba Group chair Daniel Zhang, however, said Hong Kong’s future is “bright” as the e-commerce giant kicked off a retail campaign for its secondary listing in the city.

Many in Hong Kong are angry at what they see as China stifling freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering in Hong Kong and has blamed Western countries, including Britain and the United States, for stirring up trouble.

A congressional advisory body urged the U.S. Congress on Thursday to enact legislation that would suspend the special economic status Hong Kong enjoys under U.S. law if China deploys security forces to crush the protests.

The Hong Kong administration reiterated that foreign governments should not interfere in the city’s internal affairs.

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U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to step down by end of year, Trump says

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will step down by the end of the year, President Donald Trump said on Thursday, a day before a deadline set by congressional Democrats for Perry to turn over documents in the impeachment probe.

Trump told an event in Texas that he had known for months that Perry would resign.

“Rick and I have been talking for six months. In fact, I thought he might go a bit sooner,” Trump said. “But he’s got some very big plans. He’s going to be very successful. We have his successor. We’ll announce it pretty soon.”

Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, who has attended several international energy meetings in recent months, is widely expected to replace Perry.

Perry, 69, who was the longest-serving governor of Texas and faced off against Trump in the 2016 Republican nominating contests, had said earlier this week that he had no plans to step down, denying a media report that he was expected to announce his resignation in November.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve our country in your administration in such a meaningful way,” Perry said in his resignation letter to Trump.

In recent weeks, Perry had found himself engulfed in the largest scandal yet to threaten Trump’s presidency. Three Democratic-led U.S. House committees issued a subpoena on Oct. 10 for Perry to turn over documents on any role he played in Trump’s effort to get Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rival in the 2020 election.

Deputy energy secretary Dan Brouillette, seen here during a Feb. 12 news conference in Berlin, is expected to replace Perry. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump’s Ukraine policy is at the centre of an impeachment inquiry being conducted by the House. It stems from a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Earlier on Thursday, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Trump had directed Perry to work on Ukraine policy with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Critics have accused Giuliani, who was not a U.S. government official, of conducting a shadow Ukraine policy.

In a visit to Ukraine for Zelensky’s inauguration in May, Perry had recommended that Zelensky talk about energy reforms with two Texas businessmen — Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American, and Robert Bensh, a frequent visitor to Ukraine — as well as unnamed Energy Department experts on energy reforms, a department official said earlier this month.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters on Thursday U.S. President Donald Trump had told Perry to work with his personal lawyer on Ukraine policy. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The Associated Press reported at the time that an unnamed source said Perry had pushed for Bleyzer to be put on the board of Naftogaz, the Ukrainian state oil and gas company, after meeting with Ukrainian officials during his visit.

Perry had helped bring together a deal to sell U.S. coal to Ukraine and had worked with Ukraine and other countries to lessen European dependence on Russian gas by, in part, offering imports of U.S. liquefied natural gas, a booming industry.

Perry had been a rare Trump cabinet member, who was virtually free of ethics investigations that weighed on other Trump officials. He has been a cheerleader for U.S. oil, gas production and the nuclear industry, but failed to achieve a goal of subsidizing aging U.S. coal and reactors facing a rash of closures.

Tough on Iran, friend to Saudi Arabia

Perry has tried to persuade Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, to build nuclear power plants using U.S. technology.

He often met Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, a fellow alumnus of Texas A&M University, about the kingdom’s plans to build its first two commercial nuclear power plants. In September, Saudi Arabia’s king replaced Falih with his son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, whom Perry had met before.

The Trump administration kept the civilian nuclear talks quiet, a source of friction with Democrats in Congress who wanted to ensure that the kingdom would agree to strict non-proliferation standards.

The Energy Department issued seven licences to companies to share sensitive information on nuclear power with Riyadh, including two that were issued after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

Riyadh plans to issue a multi-billion-dollar tender for the nuclear plants in 2020.

Perry, who advocated for maximum pressure on Iran over its nuclear and missile programs and influence in Syria and Iraq, also talked with Falih about oil. In 2018, Trump pressed Saudi Arabia to boost oil exports ahead of his administration’s unilateral reimposition of sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

Falih explained to Perry then that global demand was not strong enough to justify a big boost in output and depended on Perry to explain that to Trump to reduce pressure on the kingdom.

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Maduro was prepared to leave Venezuela: U.S. secretary of state

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Nicolas Maduro was prepared to leave Venezuela Tuesday morning in the face of a call for an uprising by opposition leader Juan Guaido, but reversed his plan after Russia intervened.

Pompeo made the statement in an interview on CNN. 

“They had an airplane on the tarmac. He was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it. Russians indicated he should stay.” 

Pompeo said Maduro was planning to go to Havana, but would not say whether he would have been allowed to depart safely. 

There has been no comment from Russia about Pompeo’s statement. 

It followed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s revived movement to seize power. He took to the streets Tuesday to call for a military uprising that drew quick support from the Trump administration but fierce resistance from forces loyal to the embattled Maduro.

Venezuela’s self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido gives a thumbs up amid supporters in Altamira Plaza in Caracas Tuesday. (Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

Violent street battles erupted in parts of Caracas in what was the most serious challenge yet to Maduro’s rule — kicked off with a surprise video shot at dawn of Guaido, flanked by several national guardsmen, urging a final push to topple Maduro.

“The national armed forces have taken the correct decision, and they count on the support of the Venezuelan people,” Guaido said in the video, which was posted on his Twitter account.

In a surprise, Leopoldo Lopez, his political mentor and the nation’s most-prominent opposition activist, stood alongside him. Detained in 2014 for leading a previous round of anti-government unrest, Lopez said he had been released from house arrest by security forces adhering to an order from Guaido.

“I want to tell the Venezuelan people: This is the moment to take to the streets and accompany these patriotic soldiers,” Lopez declared. “Everyone should come to the streets, in peace.”

Watch: Pro-Guaido supporters clash with pro-Maduro forces

Tensions grew through the day as pro-Guaido protesters rallied and pro-Maduro forces struck back with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. 0:58

The surprise rebellion, dubbed “Operation Freedom,” seemed to have garnered only limited military support, however. 

“It’s now or never,” said one young soldier, his face covered in the blue bandanna preferred by the few dozen soldiers who stood alongside Guaido and Lopez. But by day’s end, Maduro remained in power.

He appeared in a state television broadcast on Tuesday night flanked by his defence minister and socialist party vice-president, among others.

“Today the goal was a big show,” Maduro said, referring to the military members who sided with Guaido as a “small group.” “Their plan failed, their call failed, because Venezuela wants peace.”

They … send people into the streets so that there are confrontations and deaths. And then from the blood they try to construct a narrative.– Jorge Arreaza , Maduro’s foreign minister 

The day had begun with the two allies, Guaido and Lopez, co-ordinating actions from vehicles parked on a highway overpass. Troops loyal to Maduro sporadically fired tear gas from inside the adjacent Carlota air base. 

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza alleged that the U.S. likely paid a guard to allow Lopez escape house arrest.

“Since 2002, we’ve seen the same pattern,” Arreaza told The Associated Press, adding that most of Caracas was calm. “They call for violence, a coup, and send people into the streets so that there are confrontations and deaths. And then from the blood they try to construct a narrative.”

A crowd that quickly swelled to a few thousand scurried for cover, reappearing later with Guaido at a nearby plaza away from the disturbances.

A Venezuelan National Guard member gestures after joining anti-government protesters in a march, showing his support for opposition leader Juan Guaido in Caracas on Tuesday. (Manaure Quintero/Reuters)

A smaller group of masked youths stayed behind on the highway, lobbing rocks and Molotov cocktails toward the air base, and setting a government bus on fire.

Amid the mayhem, an armoured utility vehicle drove at full speed into the crowd. Two demonstrators, their heads and legs bloodied, were rushed away on a motorcycle.

The head of a medical centre near the site of the street battles said doctors were treating 50 people, about half of them with injuries suffered from rubber bullets. At least one person had been shot with live ammunition. Venezuelan human rights group Provea said a 24-year-old man was shot and killed during an anti-government protest in the city of La Victoria.

A screengrab taken from video shows a Venezuelan military vehicle heading into protesters in Caracas on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured in the incident. (Reuters)

Maduro took to Twitter to say that the top commanders of the various divisions of the military had assured him of their loyalty. 

“Nerves of steel!” he posted. 

Chile’s foreign minister tweeted later in the day that Lopez and his family had been admitted to a Chilean diplomatic residence in Caracas. He said they moved to Spain’s embassy in Caracas Tuesday evening. 

A Nicolas Maduro supporter holds a sign indicating ‘hands off’ as pro-Guaido supporters, separated by members of the uniformed Secret Service, rally outside of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington Tuesday. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Flanked by top military commanders, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez condemned Guaido’s move as a “terrorist” act and “coup attempt” that was bound to fail like past uprisings.

“Those who try to take Miraflores with violence will be met with violence,” he said on national television, referring to the presidential palace where hundreds of government supporters, some of them brandishing firearms, had gathered in response to a call to defend Maduro.

‘Movement headed by Venezuelans’

Guaido’s ambassador in the U.S., Carlos Vecchio, denied the claim that the U.S. played in role in Tuesday’s development.

A military member throws a tear gas canister near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase in Caracas. Representatives of the Maduro government downplayed any threat early Tuesday. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Vecchio said in a news conference in Washington that the protest “is a movement headed by Venezuelans.”

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said later that what’s happening “is clearly not a coup,” because the U.S. and many other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president. He added that U.S. President Donald Trump was monitoring developments “minute by minute” and wants a peaceful transfer of power.

Trump tweeted his support. 

Guaido, of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was illegitimate.

He has been travelling outside the capital, Caracas, more and more in recent weeks to try to put pressure on Maduro to step down.

Maduro calls Guaido a U.S-backed puppet who seeks to oust him in a coup. The government has arrested his top aide, stripped Guaido of his parliamentary immunity and opened multiple probes. It has also barred him from leaving the country, a ban Guaido openly violated earlier this year.

The developments on Tuesday were being monitored closely by the international community.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted: “The safety and security of [Juan Guaido] and [Leopoldo Lopez] must be guaranteed.” She also called for the safety of Guaido’s supporters. 

Later, she reiterated Canada’s support of Guaido. 

Watch: Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada commends the courage of Venezuelans in the streets:

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland calls on the Maduro regime to step aside now. 0:29

Freeland also said Canada would convene an emergency meeting via conference call of the Lima Group Tuesday afternoon.

The group later issued a statement — signed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru — calling on Venezuela’s military to place its loyalties with Guaido. It urged the armed forces “to cease being instruments of the illegitimate regime for the oppression of the Venezuelan people.”

Mexico, which is part of the Lima Group, did not sign on. It is among a minority of Latin American countries that do not recognize Guaido as interim leader of Venezuela.

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, centre, in grey, stands near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase in Caracas on Tuesday. Lopez has been jailed or put in house detention for much of the past five years. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Brazil’s vice-president said the situation in Venezuela has reached a point of no return.

Former Gen. Hamilton Mourao said Tuesday that either opposition leaders Guaido and Lopez would “be prisoners” or Maduro “would be leaving,” adding, “There is no other way out of this.”

Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN, Samuel Moncada, downplayed the entire incident, saying the country was in “total normality.”

“This new attempt by foreign powers to spark a civil war, open the doors to a military intervention from abroad and impose a puppet government in our country failed,” he said from the UN. 

March planned for Wednesday

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his foreign relations department expressed concern over a possible escalation of violence and bloodshed, with Lopez Obrador repeating in a Tuesday morning news conference that dialogue was the preferred path. 

The Russian government said only that President Vladimir Putin discussed the Venezuelan situation with his top security body.

Venezuelan military deserters of the national guard are seen at the Simon Bolivar International border bridge between Colombia and Venezuela, on the outskirts of Cucuta, Colombia on Monday. (Juan Pablo Bayona/Reuters)

While Russia’s foreign ministry echoed the calls of other countries to “avoid unrest and bloodshed,” its statement also called on “the radical opposition” in Venezuela to stand down. Russia has provided economic and logistical support to Maduro’s regime.

Guaido said soldiers who had taken to the streets were protecting Venezuela’s constitution. He made the comments a day before a planned anti-government rally that he has promoted as “the largest march in Venezuela’s history.”

“The moment is now,” he said.

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