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US NSA OKs Trump to share info with Russia

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Washington, May 17 : US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said on Tuesday that it was “wholly appropriate” for President Donald Trump to share classified information with Russian officials during their meeting in the Oval Office last week.

Trump decided to mention the information in the “context of the conversation” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, McMaster told reporters in the White House, calling it “wholly appropriate to that conversation” and “consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leader with whom he’s engaged”.

During those conversations, Trump disclosed the city from which the intelligence was derived, McMaster confirmed.

However, McMaster did not make clear if the information was highly classified as the Washington Post reported one day earlier.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he has “the absolute right” to share certain information with Russia.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against the IS & terrorism,” he said in a pair of tweets on Tuesday.

But the president also did not specifically say whether he spilled highly classified information to Russian officials.

Trump reportedly relayed information from a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria when meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The related information-sharing arrangement was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, according to the Post report.

In response, McMaster, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell all issued statements later on Monday, claiming such reports are wrong.

Powell said in a statement: “This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”

“At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly,” said McMaster, who participated in the meeting.

The Post report said Trump appeared to be boasting of the “great intel” he receives when he described a looming terror threat, citing an official with knowledge of the exchange.

The information was provided by a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement. The partner did not give the US permission to share the information with Russia, the Post said.

Following the meeting, the White House contacted the CIA and National Security Agency to contain the damage, according to the Post.

As US President Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that such disclosures broke the law. However, he is facing a deepening trust crisis as a new poll released Tuesday finds nearly half of US voters (48 per cent) said they would support Trump’s impeachment, while only 41 per cent would oppose such charges.

The White House is in a “downward spiral” and needs to do something to get “under control”, Republican Senator Bob Corker said following the Post report.

Trump’s approval ratings have been hovering in the high 30s and 40s. According to Gallup, Trump has the lowest approval of any new president since the surveys began in 1953.

Disaster

Italy Coronavirus: 153,222 Cases and 18,279 Deaths

The death toll on Saturday was 681, bringing the total to 15,362 fatalities since the pandemic first broke out in northern Italy on Feb. 21.

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Rome, April 10 : Italy’s COVID-19 death toll rose by 610 in the last 24 hours to 18,279, the highest in the world, even as pressure on the country’s hospitals continued to ease with a fall in the number of patients in intensive care units, the Civil Protection Agency said.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte held a teleconference with business and labour leaders to discuss when Italy can begin to relax the restrictions imposed to contain the disease, Efe news reported.

The shutdown was initially meant to last until April 13, but chances that any significant easing would take place was deemed as virtually non-existent.

“We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month,” Conte told the BBC.

The final decision on when and how to re-open the economy will be made by the Scientific Technical Council that is advising the government on the crisis.

The number of new confirmed cases grew 1,615 overnight to 96,877. That increase was larger than the previous day’s, 1,195, and nearly double Tuesday’s figure of 880.

The total number of cases in the country now stands at 153,222, the second highest in the world after the US (466,033).

Civil Protection chief Angelo Borrelli said that the number of people hospitalized fell by 86 to 28,339 and 88 coronavirus patients were moved out of ICUs, leaving 3,605, he said.

“The past five days, have ended with fewer patients hospitalized compared to the previous day,” Franco Locatelli, chair of Italy’s Higher Health Council, told reporters on Thursday.

With concern about the economic damage from the shutdown growing more acute, the Senate approved on Thursday a 25 billion euro ($27.3 billion) aid package.

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16.8mn Americans seek unemployment aid amid pandemic

Hicks said job losses will propel the US unemployment rate over 15 per cent by the end of April, and “perhaps higher in later months”.

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Washington, April 10 : Newly released data has revealed that 6.6 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims last week, bringing the three-week total to a staggering 16.8 million and underscoring the mounting economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the week ending April 4, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits slightly decreased by 261,000 to 6,606,000, after setting a second straight record in previous week, the US Bureau of Labour Statistics reported on Thursday.

“The very large spikes in weekly jobless claims, which were over 6 million for two consecutive months, suggests a much broader set of job closures in the short run,” Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in Indiana, told Xinhua news agency email.

“The very rapid adoption of shelter-in-place orders by US Governors is clearly causing a significant reduction in employment across the states implementing it,” Hicks said.

As the pandemic continues to sweep across the country, over 40 states and the District of Columbia have ordered residents to stay at home unless necessary.

Deborah Birx, the COVID-19 response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has recently discouraged Americans from visiting the grocery store and pharmacy.

Hicks, however, noted that it was also possible that some workers will find work in other sectors (grocery and delivery stores) and for some businesses to reopen after acquiring sufficient personal protective equipment, or separating workers in an assembly line or factory.

The newly released number came after the figure spiked by 3 million to reach a record 3.3 million in the week ending March 21, and then surged by 3.34 million to reach 6.65 million in the week ending March 28, which was revised up 6,87 million.

The report also showed that the four-week moving average, a method to iron out data volatility, increased by 1,598,750 to 4,265,500.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 5.1 percent for the week ending March 28, an increase of 3.0 percentage points from the previous week’s unrevised rate, according to the report.

Hicks said job losses will propel the US unemployment rate over 15 per cent by the end of April, and “perhaps higher in later months”.

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb, non-essential businesses, such as theatres, museums, gyms and shopping malls, are largely shut down, and restaurants and bars are asked to avoid in-person dining, effectively paralyzing the consumption-driven US economy.

As of Friday morning, 465,750 confirmed cases have been reported across the US, with 16,684 deaths, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University.

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Health

New Zealand reported decline in new coronavirus cases

New Zealand, a small island country with a population of just under 5 million, is halfway through a month-long lockdown aimed at not only containing the virus, but eliminating it.

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Wellington, April 10 : New Zealand has managed to do something that many countries wish they could achieve: for four straight days, it has reported a decline in new coronavirus cases.

On Thursday, the country reported 29 new confirmed and probable cases, bringing New Zealand’s total to 1,239 — including only one death. Of those cases, only 14 are in hospital — and 317 have recovered, CNN reported.

New Zealand, a small island country with a population of just under 5 million, is halfway through a month-long lockdown aimed at not only containing the virus, but eliminating it.

And so far, the approach appears to be successful.

“We are turning a corner,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a speech Thursday.

“And your commitment means our plan is working.”

For other countries, those positive signs might be a reason to lift restrictions. Denmark, which has at least 5,597 cases and 218 deaths, announced it will begin to lift its lockdown next week if cases remain stable.

Instead, Ardern said Thursday she was tightening border restrictions, meaning all those who arrive in the country will be required to spend two weeks quarantined in an approved facility, rather than self-isolating at home. The rule only applies to New Zealanders — foreign nationals have been banned from entering the country since March 20.

“At the halfway mark, I have no hesitation in saying that what New Zealanders have done over the last two weeks is huge,” Ardern said at a press conference Thursday that many Kiwis listened to live. “You made the decision that together, we could protect one other. And you have. You have saved lives.”

“But as I’ve said, this is going to be a marathon.”

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