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Headlining U.S. elections, Virginia governor’s race is a dead heat

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Virginians voted on Tuesday in an extremely close race for governor that could signal whether Republicans or Democrats will have an advantage in U.S. congressional elections next year.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a party fixture who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, has seen his lead over Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin in opinion polls evaporate in recent weeks.

A McAuliffe loss in Virginia, which Democratic President Joe Biden won by a double-digit margin over Republican then-President Donald Trump last year, would sound alarm bells for national Democrats.

“We all knew from the beginning it’s gonna be a tight race,” Biden said about the Virginia election on Tuesday, predicting that McAuliffe would win. “The off year is always unpredictable.”

Cultural issues have dominated the gubernatorial race, with Youngkin promising to give parents more control over how public schools handle race, gender and COVID-19 protocols, and McAuliffe vowing to protect abortion access and voting rights.

Polls leading up to Election Day showed that Youngkin closed the gap with McAuliffe by appealing to independent voters – a group that was alienated in 2020 by Trump’s firebrand style of politics but was more drawn to Youngkin’s congenial manner – despite McAuliffe’s attempts to tie Youngkin to the former president.

“Comparing him to President Trump really didn’t resonate with me,” Jacob McMinn, a program manager at a defense contractor, said after casting his vote for the Republican in Fairfax, just outside Washington.

McMinn, 38, said he supported Youngkin’s view that schools should not teach “critical race theory:” a law school concept that maintains racism is ingrained in U.S. law and institutions and that legacies of slavery and segregation have created an uneven playing field for Black Americans.

Schools say they do not include the theory in elementary and high school curriculums, but are trying to respond to the needs of an increasingly diverse U.S. population.

Youngkin’s strategy could offer a road map https://www.reuters.com/world/us/virginia-governors-race-could-show-way-republican-congressional-campaigns-2021-11-01 for Republicans trying to woo back suburban moderates in the 2022 elections, where control of Congress and the fate of Biden’s agenda will be at stake, without alienating the hard-liners who backed Trump.

But Trump’s role in the race still loomed in the minds of many voters after the former president endorsed Youngkin.

“He had Trump supporting him and I’m like out the door,” Alicia Prieto, 57, said after casting her ballot for McAuliffe in Fairfax. The computer programmer said she thought McAuliffe would do a better job funding public education.

The winner will succeed Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, who is barred by Virginia’s term limits law from serving two consecutive terms.

The race is one of numerous contests and issues before American voters on Tuesday as they grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice and rising consumer prices.

In the other governor’s race, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is favored to win a second term against Republican Jack Ciattarelli, a former state lawmaker.

Dozens of major U.S. cities will also choose mayors, including Atlanta, Minneapolis, Boston, Miami, Cincinnati, Detroit and Seattle. In New York, Brooklyn Borough President and former police Captain Eric Adams, a Democrat, is expected to become the city’s second Black mayor, unless Republican Curtis Sliwa, who runs the Guardian Angels civilian street patrol, can pull off a shocking upset.

A year and a half after George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a white policeman, Minneapolis voters will decide whether to approve a measure that would replace the police department https://www.reuters.com/world/us/minneapolis-voters-decide-scrapping-police-department-18-months-after-george-2021-10-31 with a new public safety agency.

TRUMP’S SHADOW

Virginia’s gubernatorial race has long been viewed as a crucial barometer of the president’s national standing – and a preview of the following year’s midterm elections.

Biden’s approval ratings have fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos national poll, conducted last Wednesday and Thursday.

Youngkin, 54, a political newcomer and former private equity executive, campaigned as an advocate for parents who want more say in their children’s education, capitalizing on anger among some conservatives who believe schools are imposing divisive curricula in the name of diversity.

Speaking in Richmond, on Monday, Youngkin promised he would usher in “a Virginia where our government stops telling us what to do all the time.”

McAuliffe, 64, has sought to tie Youngkin to Trump at every turn, attacking the Republican for initially hesitating to say whether Biden won the election legitimately.

While Youngkin has acknowledged Biden’s victory, he called for an audit of Virginia’s voting machines, a move that prompted Democrats to accuse him of validating Trump’s baseless election conspiracy theories.

Trump reiterated his support for Youngkin in a statement on Monday, saying: “He has had my complete and total endorsement for many months!”

McAuliffe responded to Trump’s statement on Twitter.

“He’s pulling out all the stops to win this race because he knows Glenn will advance his MAGA agenda here in VA,” McAuliffe wrote of Trump, referring to his slogan, Make America Great Again.

Youngkin has walked a fine line on Trump, mostly avoiding discussion of the former president while campaigning on issues like public safety and education that appeal both to moderates and Trump supporters.

But without Trump at the top of the ballot, it is unclear whether invoking his name will be as effective for Democrats.

Both Biden and former President Barack Obama hit the campaign trail with McAuliffe.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax, Gabriella Borter and Jason Lange; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

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Don’t exploit migrants for politics, pope says on Lesbos visit – Aljazeera.com

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Pope Francis has denounced Europe’s fear and indifference to migrants on his second visit to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Pope Francis has blasted Europe’s indifference to the plight of migrants as the “shipwreck of civilisation” during a visit to a refugee camp in the Greek island of Lesbos.

On Sunday, the leader of the Catholic Church arrived at the Mavrovouni camp, where nearly 2,200 asylum seekers currently reside. He is on the second day of a five-day-long visit to Greece and Cyprus dominated by the issue of migration.

“I ask every man and woman, all of us, to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes,” he said. “Please, let us stop this shipwreck of civilisation.”

Using latin terms, he called for the Mediterranean Sea to remain a bridge between cultures.

“Let us not let our sea (mare nostrum) be transformed into a desolate sea of death (mare mortuum),” he said.

He also condemned the exploitation of migrants for political purposes, lamenting that Europe had entered “an era of walls and barbed wire”.

Pope Francis has criticised the indifference and self-interest shown by Europe towards migrants [Alessandra Tarantino/AP]

The pope last visited Lesbos in 2016, when more than one million people crossed from Turkey into Greece and the island became one of the busiest crossing points. On that occasion, Francis brought 12 Syrian Muslim refugees home with him aboard the papal plane.

No such transfers were announced this time around, but the visit to the camp nonetheless raised hopes among its residents, some of whom have given birth to children while waiting for their asylum claims to be processed.

Enice Kiaku, from Congo, gave birth to Guiliain two years ago. He was born on the Greek island but has no identity documents.

“The arrival of the pope here makes us feel blessed,” Kiaku told The Associated Press. “We have a lot of problems here as refugees, a lot of suffering.”

Francis was greeted upon arrival by a group of African women who sung for him. He patted the heads of children and babies as he toured the camp and posed for selfies.

Pope Francis greeted children in Mavrovouni camp on the Greek island on Lesbos. [Vatican Media/­Handout via Reuters]

He was accompanied by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas.

Greece has recently built a steel wall along a section of its border with Turkey and is intercepting boats transporting migrants from the Turkish side.

It denies allegations that it is carrying out summary deportations of migrants reaching Greek territory but human rights groups say numerous such pushbacks have occurred.

Francis also listened to the camp’s residents, among whom was Christian Tango Mukaya, a Congolese father of three, who thanked the pope for his show of solidarity and for his appeal to Europe.

The refugee said he lost track of his wife and their third child in their journey and was hoping his visibility with the pope might reunite them.

Mavrovouni is a temporary holding centre pending the construction on the island of a “closed controlled facility”.

These new closed camps, which are funded by the European Union, are already running on three other Greek islands, Samos, Leros and Kos.

Amnesty International has said that new EU-funded detention camps on Greek islands are in violation of Athens’ commitments to provide international protection to those in need.

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Sudan’s al-Burhan says army will exit politics after 2023 vote – Aljazeera.com

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Top general says Sudan’s military will not participate in politics after a civilian government is elected in 2023.

Sudan’s military chief says the army will leave politics after elections that are scheduled for 2023.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan offered the assurance during one of several interviews he gave to international news agencies on Saturday.

The general had led a military takeover in late October, upending Sudan’s transition to civilian-led democracy, but a deal struck on November 21 has reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to lead a technocratic Cabinet until elections in July 2023.

“When a government is elected, I don’t think the army, the armed forces, or any of the security forces will participate in politics. This is what we agreed on and this is the natural situation,” al-Burhan told the Reuters news agency.

The coup, which ended a partnership with civilian political parties after the toppling of long time ruler Omar al-Bashir, drew international condemnation after the detention of dozens of key officials and crackdowns on protesters.

Neighbourhood resistance committees and political parties have called for the military to exit politics immediately and have rejected any compromise, including the deal with Hamdok. At least 44 people have died during demonstrations, many from gunshot wounds from security forces, according to medics.

“Investigations regarding the victims of the protests have begun to identify who has done this … and to punish the criminals,” al-Burhan said, adding that security forces had only dispersed non-peaceful protests.

Al-Bashir has been jailed since his overthrow on corruption and other charges. Along with several other Sudanese suspects, he is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged war crimes in Darfur.

The civilian government dissolved in the coup had approved al-Bashir’s handover, but the military has yet to agree.

“We have understandings with the International Criminal Court for the appearance [of suspects] before the judiciary or before the court,” al-Burhan said. “We have remained in dialogue with the court on how to do right by the victims.”

In the aftermath of the coup, many civilian bureaucrats were dismissed or transferred and replaced with al-Bashir-era veterans in decisions Hamdok has sought to reverse.

Al-Burhan said on Saturday that al-Bashir’s former ruling party would have no role in the transition.

“We will work together so that the National Congress Party will not be a part of the transition in any form,” he said.

Sudan is in a deep economic crisis, though an influx of international economic support had begun to be felt before much of it was suspended after the coup.

Al-Burhan said he expected the backing to return once a civilian government is formed, indicating that the country would not reverse reforms enacted over the past two years by reinstating subsidies or returning to printing money.

“The international community including the African Union is watching what will happen in the coming days,” he told the AFP news agency.

“I believe there are positive indicators that things will return [to how they were] soon. The formation of a civilian government will put things back in order.”

Though Western nations and the African Union have spoken out against the coup, diplomats say Russia, which is seeking to develop a naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast, has been cultivating ties with military leaders.

A deal for the base has yet to be finalised, al-Burhan told Reuters.

“We hope that our relations [with Russia] will become stronger with the signature of this agreement,” he said. “Consultations are continuing and we are working on the agreement until it becomes acceptable and legal.”

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Biden and Putin to hold video call on Tuesday, will discuss Ukraine

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a video call on Tuesday to deal with military tensions over Ukraine other topics.

Biden wants to discuss U.S. concerns about Russia’s military buildup on the Ukraine border, a U.S. source said on Saturday, as well as strategic stability, cyber and regional issues.

“We’re aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and my expectation is we’re going to have a long discussion with Putin,” Biden told reporters on Friday as he departed for a weekend trip to Camp David. “I don’t accept anybody’s red lines,” he said.

The two will also talk about bilateral ties and the implementation of agreements reached at their Geneva summit in June, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

“The conversation will indeed take place on Tuesday,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters. “Bilateral relations, of course Ukraine and the realisation of the agreements reached in Geneva are the main (items) on the agenda,” he said.

More than 94,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine’s borders. Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Friday https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/large-scale-russian-offensive-possible-january-ukraine-says-2021-12-03 that Moscow may be planning a large-scale military offensive for the end of January, citing intelligence reports.

Biden will reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the U.S. source said. The exact timing of the call was not disclosed. The White House declined to comment.

The U.S. president on Friday said he and his advisers are preparing a comprehensive set of initiatives aimed at deterring Putin from an invasion. He did not give further details, but the Biden administration has discussed partnering with European allies to impose more sanctions on Russia.

Moscow accuses Kyiv of pursuing its own military build-up. It has dismissed as inflammatory suggestions that it is preparing for an attack on its southern neighbor and has defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it sees fit.

U.S. officials say they do not know yet what Putin’s intentions are, adding while intelligence points to preparations for a possible invasion of Ukraine, it is unclear whether a final decision to do so has been made.

U.S.-Russia relations have been deteriorating for years, notably with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its 2015 intervention in Syria and U.S. intelligence charges of meddling in the 2016 election won by now-former President Donald Trump.

But they have become more volatile in recent months.

The Biden administration has asked Moscow to crack down on ransomware and cyber crime attacks emanating from Russian soil, and in November charged https://www.reuters.com/technology/us-seizes-6-mln-ransom-payments-charge-ukrainian-over-cyberattack-cnn-2021-11-08 a Ukraine national and a Russian in one of the worst ransomware attacks against American targets.

Russia has repeatedly denied carrying out or tolerating cyber attacks.

The two leaders have had one face-to-face meeting since Biden took office in January, sitting down for talks in Geneva last June. They last talked by phone on July 9. Biden relishes direct talks with world leaders, seeing them as a way to lower tensions.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russian Foreign Minister ” https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/blinken-urges-russias-lavrov-take-diplomatic-exit-ukraine-crisis-2021-12-02 Sergei Lavrov in Stockholm earlier this week that the United States and its European allies would impose “severe costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine.”

(Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in WashingtonEditing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)

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