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Russia provides support to US backed Syrian opposition

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Russia has provided air cover to a leading Western-backed opposition group in Syria, President Vladimir Putin said, calling for closer coordination with the US allied coalition comments that may reflect Moscow’s desire to narrow its differences with the West over the Syrian crisis.

At the same time, Putin vowed to further modernize Russia’s military and said its forces in Syria will “immediately destroy” any target threatening them, a strong warning to Turkey following its downing of a Russian warplane at the Syrian border.

Speaking at a meeting yesterday with top Defense Ministry officials, Putin said while supporting the Syrian government forces, Russia has backed some units of the Free Syrian Army, a Western-backed opposition group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army.

“Several (FSA) units totaling more than 5,000 people, along with regular troops, are conducting offensive operations against terrorists in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa,” Putin said.

“We have provided air support for them as well as the Syrian army, helping them with weapons, ammunition and supplies.”

While Putin sounded unequivocal, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a few hours later that the president meant to say that Russia is sending weapons and supplies to Syrian government forces and not the FSA, but provides air cover to both.

Peskov’s statement could be an attempt to assuage Assad, who calls the FSA and other moderate opposition groups “terrorists.”

Putin and his officials said before that Russia had cooperated with the FSA, but the group’s representatives have denied that.

If confirmed, Russian support for the FSA will represent a major policy shift for Moscow, which has been accused by the West of striking moderate rebels to back up Assad instead of its declared goal, the Islamic State group.

Asked to comment on Putin’s claim, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that “it’s unclear to us also, whether these claims of support for the FSA are true.”

He reaffirmed that “the vast majority of airstrikes conducted by Russian military aircraft are against opposition groups to Assad and not aimed at ISIL.”

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Kamala Harris to take oath of office on ‘second mother’s’ Bible

“That’s been her amulet so to speak, her oracle, my aunt’s Bible,” LaBrie told Yahoo News in an interview.

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kamala harris

New York, Jan 20: A Black woman’s Bible has featured in every single big moment of Kamala Harris’ political career up till now. She laid her left hand upon it as she took the oath of office to be Attorney General of California, and it was there when she swore to defend the Constitution of the United States, as a Senator from California. “I carry Mrs. Shelton with me always,” wrote Harris in a 2019 article in Bustle.

Shelton’s Bible will be one of two that will feature at Kamala Harris’ coronation at noon on Wednesday when she becomes America’s first woman Vice President.

“When I raise my right hand and take the oath of office tomorrow, I carry with me two heroes who’d speak up for the voiceless and help those in need: Justice Thurgood Marshall and Mrs Shelton,” Harris posted on Twitter, barely 24 hours before she takes office.

The second Bible belongs to the late civil rights icon and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, in a nod to his role in Harris’ choice of Howard University for her graduation and in shaping her thinking to see law as a tool to bring equity. Marshall also graduated from Howard, a legendary school among historically black universities. Howard is only a short distance away by train from the White House.

The “Mrs Shelton” Harris invokes is Regina Shelton who owned three houses in a single block in Oakland, California, and ran a nursery school in one of them. This was a time when Kamala Harris’ mother, newly separated from husband Donald Harris, was looking for help to care for her girls Kamala and Maya and also needed a place to stay. Gopalan and her daughters moved into an apartment above the nursery. The bonds soon grew so strong that Harris began referring to Shelton as her “second mother.”

In an interview to Yahoo!, Shelton’s nephew Aubrey LaBrie said Shelton used to ferry Kamala and Maya to a Baptist church in West Oakland every Sunday. The Bible on which Harris has taken all her oaths of office is the same Bible that Shelton carried with her to church.

“That’s been her amulet so to speak, her oracle, my aunt’s Bible,” LaBrie told Yahoo News in an interview.

Harris will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday, extending the ‘historic’ tag to yet another first. Harris will be the first Indian and Black American woman Vice President taking her oath of office from the first Latina justice on the US Supreme Court.

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US Covid-19 catastrophe is Biden’s problem now

Biden has vowed to “manage the hell out of this operation”. There’s a ton of managing to be done, starting with the simple act of masking up, which has gone from public health tool to culture war in the Trump era.

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Joe Biden

New York, Jan 19 : At noon on January 20, 2021, almost a full year after the first coronavirus case was reported in the US, Covid-19 will no longer be Donald Trump’s problem to solve. It will be incoming US president Joe Biden’s.

The pandemic’s winter surge is raging, pushing the total death toll towards 400,000 (398,000 lives have already been lost to the virus), deaths are rising in nearly two-thirds of the country’s 50 states even as a strong variant is taking hold. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the new variant is about 50 per cent more contagious than the one that has ravaged the country so far.

California, where it all started, became the first state Monday to cross a grim milestone than 3 million coronavirus infections. The state took 292 days to get to 1 million infections on November 11 and just 44 days to sprint to 2 million. California alone accounts for more than 33,600 Covid-19 deaths.

The first wave never really ebbed, the baseline never came down to levels seen in Europe or Asia, US was struggling to hold down new infections even before the variants appeared, millions of Americans are out of work, the US has topped 24 million infections and counting.

“Almost a year later, we’re still far from back to normal. The honest truth is this: Things will get worse before they get better,” Biden said last week, in a nod to the massive challenge facing his “crisis tested” Covid-19 task force.

Biden has a stated goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days. What we know so far is all the goals that haven’t been reached. The US had a goal of reaching 20 million vaccinations by end December 2020, and less than 11 million have got shots in arms by Inauguration Day out of about 31.2 million doses of vaccine which have been distributed.

Biden wants to use the Defence Production Act to boost vaccine supplies and set up 100 vaccination centers around the country by the end of his first month in office. He plans to pour $50 billion to expand testing which is seen as a key to reopening K-8 classrooms. About $130 billion is the outlay to help schools reopen safely. A much touted predictive model used by the Trump White House projects a cumulative death toll of more than 550,000 deaths within 100 days from January 20.

Biden has vowed to “manage the hell out of this operation”. There’s a ton of managing to be done, starting with the simple act of masking up, which has gone from public health tool to culture war in the Trump era.

After 24 million infections and 398,000 deaths in America’s deadliest year, Biden is pleading with Americans: “For God’s sake, wear a mask for yourself, for your loved ones, for your country.”

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French government urges Russia to immediately release Navalny

He also informed Putin that France’s own analysis had confirmed Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok “in contravention of international norms on using chemical weapons”.

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emmanuel macron

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to urgently shed light on the “attempted murder” of opposition figure Alexei Navalny after French tests confirmed the use of the Novichok nerve agent, the Elysée said.

Macron told Putin in telephone talks that it is “imperative that all light be shed, without delay, on the circumstances of this attempted murder and who is responsible”, the French presidency said in a statement.

Read: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained after landing in Moscow

He also informed Putin that France’s own analysis had confirmed Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok “in contravention of international norms on using chemical weapons”.

Putin, for his part, told Macron that it was “inappropriate” to make groundless accusations against Russia over the suspected poisoning of Navalny, the Kremlin said.

The Russian leader said his country wanted Germany to hand over medical test results taken from Navalny, according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

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