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Senator John McCain, American ‘maverick’ and political giant, dies at 81

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New Delhi, August 25 :John McCain, who endured more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before becoming the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and serving Arizona for more than 30 years on Capitol Hill, has died after a battle with a malignant brain tumour. He was 81.

McCain, died on Saturday at 4.28 p.m. at his ranch near Sedona, Arizona, his office announced in a statement on Sunday. The son and grandson of Navy admirals, he was born on August 29, 1936, in the Panama Canal Zone.

He was diagnosed last year with the tumour, called a glioblastoma, for which he had been treated periodically with radiation and chemotherapy since its discovery in 2017.

His family had announced earlier this week that he was discontinuing medical treatment.

During three decades of representing Arizona in the Senate, he ran twice unsuccessfully for president, reports The Washington Post.

He lost a bitter primary campaign to George W. Bush and the Republican establishment in 2000.

McCain then returned to win the nomination in 2008, only to be defeated in the general election by Barack Obama, a charismatic Illinois Democrat who had served less than one term as a senator.

The Arizonan warrior politician, who survived plane crashes, several bouts of skin cancer and brushes with political oblivion, often seemed to be perpetually waging a race against time and his own mortality while striving to ensure that his five-and-a-half years as a Vietnam prisoner of war did not stand as the defining experience of his life.

McCain had not been in Washington since December 2017, leaving a vacuum in the corridors of the Senate and the television news studios he roamed for decades, CNN said.

In recent months, he was not completely quiet, however, blasting President Donald Trump in tweets and statements that showed while he was ailing he had lost none of his appetite for the political fight.

The Senator repeatedly made clear that he saw Trump and his “America First” ideology as a departure from the values and traditions of global leadership that he saw epitomised in the US.

McCain’s most dramatic break with Trump came nine days after the Senator announced on July 19, 2017, that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. He returned to the Senate chamber, with an incision from surgery still fresh above his left eye, and turned thumbs down on a Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

His no vote, along with those of two other Republicans, sent his party’s signature legislative goal hurtling toward oblivion.

He also questioned why Trump was solicitous of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he regarded as an unreformed KGB apparatchik.

In one of his final public acts, he blasted Trump’s cozy summit with Putin in July, blasting it as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.

McCain had been planning his funeral services over the last year and his family made clear that Trump was not invited, a position that has not changed, family friends said on Saturday.

Obama and Bush were asked to give eulogies.

In a memoir published in May, McCain wrote that he hated to leave the world, but had no complaints.

“It’s been quite a ride. I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make peace,” McCain wrote.

“I’ve lived very well and I’ve been deprived of all comforts. I’ve been as lonely as a person can be and I’ve enjoyed the company of heroes. I’ve suffered the deepest despair and experienced the highest exultation. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times.”

Politics

Critics blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone jail term

The move – sparing Stone from jail but not a pardon – came just after a court denied Stone’s request to delay the start date of his 40-month prison term.

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Roger Stone

Washington, July 12 : Leading Democrats have condemned US President Donald Trump’s decision to commute the prison sentence of his former adviser and friend Roger Stone.

Presidential contender Joe Biden’s spokesman accused Trump of abuse of power and “laying waste” to US values, the BBC reported.

The move – sparing Stone from jail but not a pardon – came just after a court denied Stone’s request to delay the start date of his 40-month prison term.

He was convicted of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.

Stone was the sixth Trump aide found guilty on charges linked to a justice department probe that alleged Russia tried to boost the Trump 2016 campaign.

The 67-year-old had been due to report to a federal prison in Jesup, Georgia, next Tuesday.

The White House said Stone was the victim of an attempt by opponents to undermine the presidency.

The president has been accused by political critics of undermining the justice system by criticising criminal cases against Stone and other former aides.

Trump has also publicly complained about the prosecutions of onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Biden’s spokesman Bill Russo said Trump could not be shamed and could only be stopped at the ballot box.

“President Trump has once again abused his power, releasing this commutation on a Friday night, hoping to yet again avoid scrutiny as he lays waste to the norms and the values that make our country a shining beacon to the rest of the world,” he said.

House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff condemned Trump”s clemency.

“With this commutation,” said the top Democratic lawmaker, “Trump makes clear that there are two systems of justice in America: one for his criminal friends, and one for everyone else.”

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said it showed Donald Trump was the most corrupt president in history.

But the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, welcomed the news, saying Roger Stone’s sentence was draconian.

Stone himself told reporters that under the terms of the commutation he could now appeal against his sentence, and was confident that he could expose “an enormous amount of corruption” at his trial.

The White House said in a statement: “Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency.”

It said that Department of Justice prosecutors under special counsel Robert Mueller only charged Stone out of frustration after failing to prove the “fantasy” that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Kremlin.

The White House also suggested that the FBI had tipped off CNN about their pre-dawn raid on Stone”s house, noting that a camera crew for the cable network was on the scene to record the arrest.

“Roger Stone has already suffered greatly,” the statement said. “He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case. Roger Stone is now a free man!”

Trump had been hinting about a reprieve for Stone for months, including on Thursday night in an interview with a Fox News host.

The president”s commutation does not void a criminal conviction as a pardon does.

Stone was found guilty of lying to the House Intelligence Committee about his attempts to contact Wikileaks, the website that released damaging emails about Trump”s 2016 Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton.

US intelligence officials have concluded the messages were stolen by Russian hackers.

Stone had acknowledged during the 2016 campaign that he was in contact with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

He also intimated that he knew the website would disclose more than 19,000 emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee servers.

Stone”s sentence fell short of an initial seven-to-nine-year recommendation from prosecutors.

In a remarkable move, US Attorney General William Barr had overruled that sentencing guideline following a Trump tweet, and instead recommended a more lenient punishment.

That intervention led to the entire Stone prosecution team resigning from the case.

Stone has worked with Republicans since the 1970s and has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back.

In the 1990s, Stone worked as a lobbyist for Trump’s casino business, and later helped Trump’s unsuccessful White House run in 2000.

According to the Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone, the strategist reportedly encouraged Trump to run for the presidency again.

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Disaster

Russia’s Coronavirus Cases Surpass 720K

Critics have cast doubt on Russia’s low official mortality rate and accused authorities of under-reporting to play down the scale of the crisis.

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Coronavirus Russia

Russia confirmed 6,611 new coronavirus infections Saturday, bringing the country’s official number of cases to 720,547.

Over the past 24 hours 188 people have died, bringing the total toll to 11,205 — a rate considerably lower than in many other countries hit hard by the pandemic.

A total of 8,378 people recovered over the last 24 hours, bringing the overall number of recoveries to 497,446.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Russia as of July 11.

Moscow lifted restrictions including compulsory travel passes on June 8, a move welcomed by residents who rushed out to enjoy the streets and parks.

Many other regions lifted lockdown restrictions ahead of a July 1 national vote despite the pandemic.

Critics have cast doubt on Russia’s low official mortality rate and accused authorities of under-reporting to play down the scale of the crisis.

Russia attributes its lower virus death figures to mass testing which has identified many cases with mild or no coronavirus symptoms.

The Health Ministry is now adjusting how it reports numbers to include all deaths believed to be related to the virus even if the direct cause of death was another condition or the patient tested negative.

Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, a liberal politician known for his outspoken comments, said Russia’s health system requires more funds and modernization in many regions.

“Medicine is significantly underfunded even according to the current norms and also it needs a serious overhaul,” Kudrin, who heads the Audit Chamber that examines government spending, said in an interview with the state-run TASS state news agency.

“We will carry out a check and show these figures,” he added.

Nevertheless the economist said Russia “is not doing a bad job with the pandemic,” crediting the role of the military, which has built emergency facilities.

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India

India assures support for Rohingyas’ repatriation: Bangladesh

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AK Abdul Momen

Dhaka, July 11 : India supports Bangladesh”s stand on repatriation of Myanmar”s forcibly displaced Rohingyas as it seeks a sustainable and lasting solution to the crisis, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr A.K. Abdul Momen said.

In an exclusive interview to IANS, Abdul Momen said that his Indian counterpart, Dr S. Jaishankar, had sent a letter on July 8, saying that India, as a neighbour of both Bangladesh and Myanmar, felt that the welfare of all lies in the speedy, safe, and sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas in Bangladesh to Myanmar.

India again assured that they will strongly support Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue, he said.

“Jaishankar also mentioned that the two countries will continue to work together always for development. So, we are very happy,” said a smiling Momen.

The Indian Minister also reiterated his commitment to stand by the government and the people of Bangladesh in dealing with the corona epidemic, he added.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: You have long sought the cooperation of neighbouring countries and the United Nations in repatriating the Rohingyas. The Indian Foreign Minister has written to you assuring of his cooperation in repatriating the Rohingyas, you said. Has the letter from a neighbouring country made you optimistic about the repatriation of Rohingyas? What did he explain?

A: Dr Jaishankar mentioned that they are on our side on the issue of the repatriation of the Rohingyas. India congratulated Bangladesh for taking the humanitarian initiative by sheltering the Rohingyas. He wrote that they want a sustainable long-term solution to the Rohingya issue. They also said that they are always with Bangladesh on repatriation of the Rohingyas back to Myanmar, or Europe or America – any other country of the developed world, as I appealed before. The Indian FM has reaffirmed his new commitment to work with Bangladesh on the issue.

Q: So, do you have any plans after India”s new strong approach on the Rohingya issue?

A: We have just received the letter. This is a serious issue… New commitment. We will talk together about this. After all, the Indian matter is very important to us.

Q: Less than 3 years since a crackdown against Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine state – a campaign of violence that has since led to a genocide case in the UN”s highest court, the Myanmar military is again accused of war crimes against Rakhine”s Buddhists. Do you feel a threat that the Rakhines will enter Bangladesh like the Rohingya refugees?

A: Yes. The letter comes from India, at a time when not only the Rohingyas but also the Rakhine Buddhists are being deported from Myanmar. Now the Myanmar army is once again accused of committing war crimes against their people. The tactics are familiar, but the primary targets this time are Rakhine Buddhists, as well as Rohingya, Mro, Daignet, and Chin communities. Despite sharing faith with Myanmar”s rulers, Rakhine Buddhists have long complained of persecution, and say the development of their state has been stifled by the central government. Repression has now, they say, escalated into violent atrocities.

Before 2016, Rakhines were forced to leave their lands. After 2016, Rohingyas were forced to leave their homes. Now the Rakhines are being forced to leave their homes again. As seen in the media, the military of Myanmar has told the Rakhines: ”Either you get lost from Myanmar, or you”ll be counted a part of the rebel group Arakan Army -so just leave, here a combat operation is going on!” So it is difficult to survive for the Rakhines. This is a big challenge for the Rakhines now.

Q: For more than a year, a long-simmering conflict has escalated between the military and the Arakan Army, a rebel group drawn from Rakhine state”s Buddhist majority, that says it is fighting for greater autonomy. So, Rakhines are leaving Myanmar, are they a threat for Bangladesh, as well as before?

A: Bangladesh is afraid of whether they will cross the border and come to Bangladesh as new refugees. Let”s see if the Rakhines come via the sea. Because the Rohingyas have come to Bangladesh, crossing the sea for decades. But we are not able to bear any more refugees in our small country!

Q: Do you expect India to respond to your call, as you appeal to the United Nations? Or, will India pressure the UN to force Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingyas?

Answer: Our position is very clear. This is not our problem. It is up to the world to take responsibility for the Rohingyas. The good news of this week is that the British government has imposed sanctions on two Myanmar generals for human rights abuses against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities.

Q: Is this step of the British government enough to pressure the military leaders of Myanmar? And also do you think other countries should also pressure Myanmar as well?

A: No, this step is by no means enough. Myanmar”s trade with the British has multiplied in the last three years compared to 2017. After ethnic cleansing and in the last three years without any pressure on Myanmar, the British government has increased trade with them 11 to 15 times. Myanmar”s exports have increased much.

The development assistance of the British government has increased too. I think, if the British government stops its assistance in Myanmar, the Myanmar army will stop ethnic cleansing. This war of the Myanmar military should be ended.

Q: Have you talked to the British government on this issue?

A. Whenever we talk to the British government, we raise these issues. I have repeatedly appealed in this regard. I used to say it everywhere. I also told the UN even. Multiple countries have given us support. We have many countries with us, including Canada and the Netherlands. They also demanded an end to the war in Myanmar. They have to be humane.

Q: Do you feel hope, Myanmar will implement its commitment to take back the Rohingyas?

A: We are always optimistic. We want to have friendly relations with our neighbors. Hopefully, a solution will come through Myanmar and negotiations. They have repeatedly promised to take their people back, in safety, security, and dignity. They have agreed to build an acceptable environment. But such an environment has not been created yet.

Out of 2.5 lakh Rohingyas who left Myanmar before 1992, Myanmar has taken back 2.3 lakh Rohingyas after 1992. So we do believe Myanmar will keep their words to take their people back soon.

Q: When do you think this repatriation could happen?

A: As soon as possible, better for Bangladesh. Because, if the Rohingyas stay in Bangladesh for a long time, there will be lots of difficulties. Radicalism can develop, there could be more human trafficking.

Different types of crime will increase. The sooner the Rohingyas are repatriated, it is safe for Myanmar, for the whole region… not only for Bangladesh.

Q: In that case, will India put pressure on Myanmar? Or will the Rohingyas be rehabilitated to India?

Answer: India will put pressure on Myanmar. They have come forward to support Bangladesh, to strengthen Bangladesh”s demand, to stand beside Bangladesh. They want a sustainable solution to the Rohingya issue. As India has said, it will continue its efforts to implement the solution for the sake of peace of the region.

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