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Trump cancels press conference, Biden to address divided nation

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Donald Trump on Tuesday abruptly gave up his plan to steal the limelight on the anniversary of the January 6th assault against Congress, leaving President Joe Biden to address a divided nation.

Trump’s decision to ditch his controversial press conference in Florida means Americans will be spared a bitter split-screen moment on Thursday.

If it had gone ahead, Biden would have marked what he calls “one of the darkest days” in US history, while Trump, just a few hours later, was due to promote his lie about being cheated out of victory in the 2020 presidential election.

No question, though, that Trump will be looming over Biden.

In a statement announcing the demise of his press conference, Trump yet again pushed his conspiracy theory that “fraud” accounted for his defeat to Biden, calling it “the Crime of the Century.”

The statement underlined how one year after a mob of Trump supporters marched on Congress to try and prevent lawmakers from certifying Biden’s victory, political wounds remain far from healed.

‘Unprecedented’ 

On Thursday, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will speak from inside the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, the setting during the unrest of almost unbelievable scenes as Trump supporters fought past police to invade the heart of US democracy.

As a veteran politician who came out of retirement to take on what he saw as Trump’s authoritarian presidency, Biden has often warned during his first year in the White House of an “existential” threat to political freedoms that until now most Americans took for granted.

His speech is set to take that warning to a new level.

“He’ll speak to the historical significance of January 6, what it means for the country one year later,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

Congress will later hold a prayer vigil.

While Trump is retreating on the day itself, he said he would tout some “important topics” at a rally planned in Arizona on January 15th.

Those “topics” are now familiar to all Americans.

Despite losing by more than seven million votes to Biden, and despite losing multiple court challenges around the country, Trump continues to say he was the real winner in 2020.

And the accusations are only the most incendiary element of a broader attack against Biden on everything from immigration to Covid-19, all adding up to what looks very much like an as-yet undeclared bid to take back power in 2024.

It’s a campaign that Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, calls “unprecedented in US history.”

“No former president has attempted to do so much to discredit his successor and the democratic process,” Tobias said.

What Can Biden Do? 

However ludicrous the election conspiracy theory may be — one federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Trump’s case “strained” and “speculative” — it is seen as truth by millions of Americans.

Polls consistently show that around 70 percent of Republicans think Biden was elected illegitimately.

And fighting what Trump, the master brander, popularizes as “the Steal,” has become a political ideology in its own right, with nearly all Republican lawmakers either squirming to avoid criticizing what happened on January 6 — or actively defending the attack.

Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, said the combination of political grifters looking to get into Trump’s good books and the masses of voters deluded into believing what they’re told amounts to a considerable force.

“What is so frightful about where we are right now isn’t just that these are elite attacks, but they are being fueled by a grass roots movement,” she said.

“It wasn’t just far-right win groups who had organized” on January 6, she said. “It was average, everyday Americans who had bought into this whole notion.”

It’s unclear what, if anything, Biden can do to change these dynamics.

Political scientist and Democratic pollster Rachel Bitecofer urged Biden to take on Trump more aggressively, rather than stick to pretending that the man Psaki has referred to as “the former guy” no longer matters.

Biden “is not commemorating an event that ended. He is commemorating the event that is in process and threatens to get worse,” she said.

“There’s a real hesitancy to accept how virulent the right is in coming after democracy here.”

Brown said, however, that Biden has little room for maneuver, because a direct attack on Trump risks looking like a “political witch hunt” — exactly what the former president claims in his conspiracy theories.

AFP

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New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern cancels her wedding amid new Omicron restrictions

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has cancelled her wedding as the nation imposes new restrictions to slow the community spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, she told reporters on Sunday.

New Zealand will impose mask rules and limit gathering from midnight on Sunday after a cluster of nine Covid-19 Omicron cases showed community spread from the North to South islands after a wedding.

A family returned to Nelson in the South Island by plane after attending a wedding and other events in Auckland in the North Island. The family and a flight attendant tested positive.

New Zealand will move to a red setting under its Covid-19 protection framework, with more mask wearing. Indoor hospitality settings such as bars and restaurants and events like weddings will be capped at 100 people. The limit is lowered to 25 people if venues are not using vaccine passes, Arden said.

“My wedding will not be going ahead,” she told reporters, adding she was sorry for anyone caught up in a similar scenario. Ardern had not disclosed her wedding date, but it was rumored to be imminent.

Asked by reporters how she felt about the cancellation of her wedding to longtime partner and fishing-show host Clarke Gayford, Ardern replied: “Such is life.”

She added, “I am no different to, dare I say it, thousands of other New Zealanders who have had much more devastating impacts felt by the pandemic, the most gutting of which is the inability to be with a loved one sometimes when they are gravely ill. That will far, far outstrip any sadness I experience.”

New Zealand’s borders have been shut to foreigners since March 2020. The government pushed back plans for a phased reopening from mid-January to the end of February out of concern about a potential Omicron outbreak as in neighboring Australia.

People able to travel to New Zealand under narrow exceptions must apply to stay at state-managed quarantine facilities. The government last week stopped issuing any new slots amid a surge in the number of people arriving with Omicron.

About 94% of New Zealand’s population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated and about 56% of those eligible have had booster shots.

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SERAP drags Nigerian government to ECOWAS Court over undisclosed loans spending

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has filed a lawsuit against the government of President Muhammadu Buhari before an ECOWAS Court over “secrecy in the spending of loans so far obtained, the unsustainable level of borrowing by the government and the 36 states, and the crippling debt burden”.

Last week, SERAP lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi filed a suit before ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja, in which the organisation sought, “An order directing and compelling the Federal Government to issue an immediate moratorium on borrowing by itself, and the 36 states, in conformity with the country’s international human rights obligations.”

SERAP is also seeking, “An order directing and compelling the Federal Government to publish details of spending of the loans obtained by governments since 1999 including the list of projects and locations of any such projects on which these loans have been spent.”

The organisation maintained that, “Persistent and unsustainable borrowing by the federal and state governments and the crippling debt burden undermine the rights of Nigerians to economic and social development, and are antithetical to the public interest.

“There is lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of the loans so far obtained, and opacity around the terms and conditions in loan agreements, including repayment details for these loans. The details of the projects on which the loans are spent are shrouded in secrecy.

“Without a moratorium on borrowing, the Federal Government and many of the 36 states may be caught in a process driven mostly by creditors’ needs. 

“This will result in an exorbitant social cost for the marginalised and vulnerable sectors of the population.

“The Federal Government and many of the 36 states would seem to be in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress.

“The Senate and House of Representatives recently approved the loans of $5,803,364,553.50 and a grant component of $10million under the 2018-2020 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan of the Federal Government.

“This followed previous approvals by the National Assembly of $16.2 (16,230,077,718) billion loan; €1 (1,020,000,000) million and a grant component of $125 million loan; $36.8 billion, €910 million loans, and a grant component of $10 million; $8.3 billion and €490 million loans; $6.1 billion, $1.5 billion and 995 million loans; and $4(4,054,476,863), €710 million and grant component of $125million.

“Several of the 36 states are also facing a debt crisis, and vicious debt cycles. According to the Debt Management Office, the foreign debt stock of the Federal Government, 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory presently stands at $37.9billion.

“The loans from China alone amount to $3.59billion. According to the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Nigeria faces debt service relative to tax revenues that exceed 20 per cent, with escalating social tensions linked to poverty and inequality.

“According to the World Bank’s IDA FY21 Report, with debt exposure of $11.7billion US Dollars, Nigeria ranked fifth among the top 10 countries with highest debt risk exposure. The top four countries are India with $22billion, Bangladesh ($18.1billion), Pakistan ($16.4billion), and Vietnam ($14.1billion).”

Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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COVID-19: Nigeria records 29 fresh infections, lowest in two months

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has said that 29 people tested positive for Coronavirus on Saturday.

The figure is the country’s lowest single-day count since November 19, 2021 when 23 cases were reported.

In its latest update, NCDC said the positive cases of Coronavirus came from three states.

A breakdown of new cases showed that Lagos — Nigeria’s pandemic epicentre — recorded the highest number of new infections with 27 new positive samples, followed by Kano and Rivers with one each.

According to the agency, 40 persons recovered from the infection while 225,946 people have now been discharged.

No death figure was recorded from COVID-19 complications, leaving the death toll at 3,124.

Since the index case in February 2020, a total of 251,959 Coronavirus infections have been confirmed across Nigeria — out of which 22,889 are active cases. 

On Saturday, the Lagos government said the consistent decrease in COVID-19 cases indicates the end of the pandemic’s fourth wave in the state.

Giving a situation update via Twitter, Akin Abayomi, the state’s Commissioner for Health, said there was a reduction in positivity rates — from 29.3 percent recorded on December 21, 2021, to 1.9 percent as of January 20, 2022.

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