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Where things stand
Joe Biden on Monday made his first (non-virtual) public appearance since he began sheltering in place in March. Appearing alongside his wife, Jill Biden, in matching black masks, he laid a wreath at a Delaware veterans memorial in commemoration of the holiday. “It feels good to be out of my house,” Biden told reporters. “Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made. Never, ever, forget.” There was no formal ceremony; it was a fittingly understated return to the public eye for a candidate who has been lying low throughout the coronavirus pandemic, reappearing only here and there to give televised interviews. Even still, Biden cut a sharp contrast with President Trump, who appeared mask-less at Memorial Day events at Arlington National Cemetery and Fort McHenry National Monument; the president appeared at Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, in spite of comments from the city’s mayor, Bernard C. Young, urging him to cancel the visit.
If Biden’s holiday weekend closed with solemn observances, it started quite a bit differently: with an unruly interview on Friday with Charlamagne Tha God, the talk-show host and hip-hop radio D.J., in which Biden often shouted down his interviewer and finished the conversation with an unforced gaffe. After parrying a series of frank, often confrontational questions, Biden took exception when Charlamagne said he would look forward to asking “more questions” in later interviews. Biden retorted: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” The comments drew an immediate backlash, and Biden apologized later that day, saying, “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.”
Speaking to MSNBC’s Joy Reid on Sunday, Charlamagne warned that Biden might be taking black voters for granted. “The apology is cool, but the best apology is actually a black agenda,” he said. “On top of possible Russian interference and voter suppression, Dems have to worry about voter depression, and that’s people staying home on Election Day because they just aren’t enthused by the candidate.” But he told my colleague Annie Karni that Trump had no shot at winning over his vote.
Trump urged governors on Friday to exempt churches and other places of worship from stay-at-home orders, saying the pandemic shouldn’t keep people stuck at home any longer. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now,” he said at a quickly arranged news conference. The issue may soon be decided by the Supreme Court: On Sunday, a Southern California church asked the justices to hear its appeal of a lower court’s decision forcing it to abide by the state’s stay-at-home order. The Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, is following a multi-step process to return California to normal activity; churches are currently required to remain closed.
The president is threatening to take the “N.C.” out of “R.N.C.” (Or, technically speaking, vice versa.) In a series of tweets that drove at the partisan divide over reopening, Trump warned on Monday that Republicans might move their national convention, scheduled for August in Charlotte, N.C. Trump said Roy Cooper, the state’s Democratic governor, was in a “Shutdown mood,” and lamented that Cooper was “unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance” at the Spectrum Center. The Democratic National Committee has laid out a series of contingency plans for a scaled-back convention in response to the pandemic, and Republicans are quietly working to do the same, though Trump has not publicly endorsed the idea of a pared-down convention.
Photo of the day
Former Vice President Joe Biden, with his wife, Jill Biden, laid a wreath at Veterans Memorial Park at the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle.
Trump’s new testing strategy isn’t heavy on strategy. Our reporter Apoorva Mandavilli explains.
The document, which the Trump administration was required to submit by a stimulus bill passed last month, puts into writing two things that the administration had long made clear. First, it remains states’ responsibility to figure out how to acquire and administer tests. Second, the president thinks that enough tests are already available, despite many governors’ and health officials’ statements to the contrary.
Democratic leaders responded on Monday, saying the White House’s report was an attempt to “reject responsibility and dump the burden onto the states,” and accusing Trump of trying to “paint a rosy picture about testing while experts continue to warn the country is far short of what we need.”
Our science and global health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli covered the news, and she agreed to answer a few questions for us, explaining what this report will (and won’t) do to help states address testing shortfalls.
Hi, Apoorva. What exactly does this report signify?
The Trump administration said last month that it considered the states responsible for setting and meeting testing goals and for coming up with an overall testing strategy that works for each state. With this report, it’s making that stance official. It’s telling the states: We’ll support and encourage you, and even provide some supplies, but ultimately this is your responsibility. And that sets up an everyone-for-themselves, “Hunger Games”-style competition between states.
Doesn’t it make sense for each state to identify and manage its own public health needs?
To a certain extent, yes. States have always managed their own public health, but they have traditionally received enormous amounts of guidance and support from the federal government. So they have not had to develop a ton of expertise on their own. This move essentially represents the federal government “walking away from that partnership in the middle of a pandemic,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told me. States also can’t negotiate international supply chains on their own.
What about the testing numbers?
The report also said that by focusing only on people likely to be positive, the country should be able to get by with 300,000 tests a day. There are no epidemiologists I know of who would agree with that. Most models suggest at least a million tests per day, ranging up to as many as 100 million, depending on whether you want to just bring down the number of infections a little or suppress the outbreak entirely.
Attend a virtual Times event: Women in the public spotlight
The fighters of the suffrage movement frequently flouted laws and norms about how women were expected to behave in public in order to achieve the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Today’s public spotlight looks very different. How do modern women in the public eye draw on the lessons of the past to make a better present and future? What barriers have they felt, broken, ignored and challenged? Join us on Tuesday as we search for answers.
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Police in Hong Kong made the first arrests under a draconian national-security law imposed from Beijing. Hong Kongers can now be jailed for life for vaguely defined crimes such as “subversion” or “conspiring” with anyone abroad to provoke “hatred” of the communist regime. Mainland secret police can now operate in Hong Kong. America’s House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to put sanctions on banks that do business with Chinese officials who implement the crackdown. See article.
Boris Johnson reiterated his promise that Hong Kongers who were born before 1997, when the territory was handed back to China, could settle in Britain. The handover agreement back then stipulated that the city would retain its basic freedoms until at least 2047. See article.
Following months of talks, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for a 90-day global ceasefire to allow war-torn areas to battle covid-19.
India banned 59 apps developed by China’s tech giants, including TikTok, accusing them of threatening the country’s security. The apps have hundreds of millions of users in India. See article.
A terrorist outfit seeking independence for Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, claimed responsibility for an attack on the stock exchange in Karachi. The assailants killed three people before they were shot dead by police.
Iran issued an arrest warrant for Donald Trump. It asked Interpol for help in detaining him and 35 others it accuses of involvement in the drone strike that killed Qassem Suleimani in January. Suleimani was an Iranian general who oversaw Shia militias that carried out attacks all over the Middle East. Interpol dismissed Iran’s request.
Scores of people were killed during demonstrations in Ethiopia that erupted after the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a prominent Oromo musician. His songs helped inspire a protest movement that led to the appointment of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister in 2018.
The leaders of Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania met to discuss ways of strengthening security to stop a jihadist insurgency in the Sahel. They were joined by Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, and Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister of Spain. France has more than 5,000 troops in the region.
Zimbabwe froze most mobile-money transactions to defend its ailing currency. It also suspended trading on the stock exchange, where traders had been observing share prices to estimate how much the currency is really worth.
Nearly 30 people, thought to be from the New Generation Jalisco drug gang, attacked the armoured car in which Mexico City’s police chief was riding. Two bodyguards and a passerby were killed. In the town of Irapuato, 24 people were slain by gunmen at a drug-rehabilitation centre. One of the government’s central pledges is to reduce gang violence.
Mexican police arrested a new suspect for the murder of 43 students in the southern state of Guerrero in 2014. An earlier report by the government contended that police had handed over the students to a gang, which killed the students and burned their bodies. The report was widely seen as flawed.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), came into force. See article.
Mississippi’s legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state flag, which has flown outside the Capitol building since 1894. It is the last state to unstitch the emblem of the Confederacy from official regalia. See article.
Russians voted in a plebiscite on constitutional reforms. According to the electoral commission, 78% approved a package that includes inflation-proof pensions, a high minimum wage and a ban on gay marriage. It also allows Vladimir Putin to run twice more for president, and to sack judges. Voters had to say yes or no to the whole package. See article.
In France Emmanuel Macron’s party was hammered in the second round of local elections. The Greens won the mayor’s office in a number of big cities; the Socialists handily hung on to Paris. Mr Macron is now under pressure to relaunch his presidency with an extensive reshuffle. See article.
The first round in Poland’s presidential election was inconclusive, a rebuke to the incumbent Andrzej Duda, who is backed by the ruling Law and Justice party. Polls show him running neck and neck with the liberal mayor of Warsaw in the next round.
Ireland got its first-ever coalition government between its two historic main parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. The new prime minister, Micheal Martin, replaced Leo Varadkar, who will return to the office in two years’ time if the coalition lasts that long. See article.
Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, invoked the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt when he announced a “new deal” to rebuild the economy. Many of the “new” projects are already in the pipeline. Mr Johnson has urged his countrymen to go to their local for a pint when pubs reopen on July 4th. See article.
More states in America reimposed lockdowns amid a surge in covid-19. The number of daily cases nationally passed 50,000 for the first time. In California, which had been considered an early success, restaurants and other businesses in 19 counties were ordered to shut. In Arizona, where infections have doubled in the past two weeks, the governor ordered gyms, bars and cinemas to close again for at least a month. See article.
Leicester, a city in Britain, was put back under lockdown as cases there continued to rise, to three times that of the city with the next-highest rate. See article.
The European Union reopened its borders to residents from 14 countries where the virus is under control, such as Canada and New Zealand. The list does not include Brazil, Russia or the United States. China will be added if it reciprocates.
This article appeared in the The world this week section of the print edition under the headline “Politics”
NAIROBI, Kenya — In life, Hachalu Hundessa’s protest songs roused and united Ethiopians yearning for freedom and justice. He is doing the same in death, with thousands flocking on Thursday to bury him in Ambo, the town 60 miles west of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa where he was born and raised.
Mr. Hundessa, 34, was shot on Monday night by unknown assailants in Addis Ababa and later died of his wounds in a hospital. His death has ignited nationwide protests that have killed 81 people, injured dozens of others and caused extensive property damage. The authorities have blocked the internet and arrested 35 people, including a prominent media magnate and government critic, Jawar Mohammed.
The unrest, analysts say, threatens the stability of Africa’s second-most populous country and deepens the political crisis in a nation already undergoing a roller-coaster democratic transition.
“I am in bitter sadness,” said Getu Dandefa, a 29-year-old university student. When he saw Mr. Hundessa’s coffin in Ambo, he said he dropped to the ground and started crying.
“We lost our voice,” he said, “We will keep fighting until Hachalu gets justice. We will never stop protesting.”
Mr. Hundessa’s funeral serves as a moment of national reckoning in a country already facing myriad political, economic and social challenges. The fury aroused by his death poses a challenge to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who rose to power in 2018 following a wave of antigovernment protests that Mr. Hundessa — a member of the country’s largest but historically marginalized ethnic group, the Oromo — helped to galvanize through his music.
Since then, Mr. Abiy, an Oromo himself, has introduced a raft of changes aimed at dismantling Ethiopia’s authoritarian structure, releasing political prisoners, liberalizing the centralized economy, committing to overhaul repressive laws and welcoming back exiled opposition and separatist groups.
In 2019, Mr. Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his initiative to resolve the decades-long conflict with neighboring Eritrea and for spearheading regional peace and cooperation in the Horn of Africa.
A nation of about 109 million people, Ethiopia has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, hosts the headquarters of the African Union, and is a key United States ally in the fight against terrorism.
But while the 43-year-old prime minister has made great strides, the changes have unleashed forces that have produced a sharp increase in lawlessness in many parts of the country, with rising ethnic tensions and violence that have displaced 3 million people.
Yohannes Gedamu, an Ethiopian and lecturer in political science at Georgia Gwinnett College, in Lawrenceville, Ga., said that the ruling coalition had lost its grip on the structures it once used to maintain order in an ethnically and linguistically diverse nation. As a result, he added, as the country moves toward multiparty democracy, rival ethnic and political factions have clashed over resources, power and the country’s direction forward.
The government has come under fire for failing to stop the killing of government critics and prominent figures, like the chief of staff of the Ethiopian Army, and its inability to rescue a dozen or more university students abducted months ago.
In combating the disorder, the authorities have resorted to the tactics of previous, repressive governments, not only blocking the internet, but arresting journalists and enacting laws that human rights advocates say could limit freedom of expression. Ethiopian security forces have been accused of gross human rights violations, including rape, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings.
The coronavirus pandemic has complicated all this, leading the government to postpone August elections that many saw as a critical test of Mr. Abiy’s reform agenda. The move drew condemnation from opposition parties, who fear the government will use the delay to attempt a power grab.
“The last few days demonstrate just how combustible the situation in Ethiopia is,” said Murithi Mutiga, the project director for the Horn of Africa at the International Crisis Group.
He added: “The merest spark can easily unleash all these bottled up, ethnonationalist passions that have become the defining feature of Ethiopian politics, especially as it goes through this very delicate transition.”
While Mr. Abiy has a daunting task at hand, many say the government’s forceful response to discontent could make matters worse. Laetitia Bader, the Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said the group had received reports that security forces had used lethal force on protesters in at least seven towns.
“The initial signs aren’t good,” Ms. Bader said. “The government needs to make clear that it is listening to these grievances, creating the space for them to be heard and adequately responding to them without resorting to repression or violence.”
Given Mr. Hundessa’s stature, and howhis music provided a stirring soundtrack against repression, the authorities should pull back and allow “people to grieve in peace,” said Henok Gabisa, the co-chairperson of the International Oromo Lawyers Association, based in St. Paul, Minn. About 200 of the city’s Oromo community protested on Tuesday.
“The Oromo people are in disbelief, shocked and confused,” said Mr. Gabisa, who knew Mr. Hundessa and met him a few months ago in Ethiopia. But arresting political opposition leaders like Bekele Gerba, of the Oromo Federalist Congress party, and raiding Mr. Mohammed’s Oromia Media Network only risked inflaming long-simmering tensions, he said.
“Abiy fumbled,” Mr. Gabisa said. “He dropped the ball.”
Despite the recent upheaval, however, analysts still give Mr. Abiy high marks for his efforts to put Ethiopia on a new course.
Mr. Gedamu said the prime minister had taken huge strides on multiple fronts, establishing the nationally unifying Prosperity Party, overseeing a record-breaking tree planting project to tackle climate change and expediting efforts to complete the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which would bolster the country’s electricity supply.
“It is my understanding that revolutionary positive changes might actually take some time,” Mr. Gedamu said. “But overall, the gains of the reform outweigh the challenges.”
For now, tensions remain high across Ethiopia as Mr. Hachalu is being laid to rest. The military was deployed to parts of the capital on Wednesday, and witnesses reported hearing gunshots.
Rawera Daniel, 24, an unemployed university graduate in Addis Ababa, said the authorities should not crack down on citizens who want to mourn.
On hearing of Mr. Hundessa’s death, “I cried like I lost my mother,” he said. “He fought for our freedom. His lyrics spoke on our behalf.”
Mr. Mutiga, of the International Crisis Group, said that Mr. Abiy should rise to the occasion not just as a political leader but as Ethiopia’s healer in chief.
“I think where Abiy definitely could do better is to try to fashion consensus,” he said, “persuade his opponents and be more deliberative and consultative and try to carry people along with him.”
Tiksa Negeri contributed reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
HONG KONG (Reuters) – A year ago, growing anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong were a hot topic in conversations among bankers, lawyers and other investment professionals in one of the world’s biggest and freest financial hubs.
On Thursday, two days after China imposed a controversial new security law on the city, you could almost hear a pin drop. Bankers were tight lipped, shunning any mention of the legislation over the phone or messaging apps in a sign of how much disquiet it has triggered.
More than half a dozen people Reuters spoke to said they chose not to talk about the impact of the law on their businesses with their colleagues and external contacts, though there had been no such official instruction from their respective organizations.
The sweeping legislation pushed the semi-autonomous city, which is the regional home for a large number of global financial companies, on to a more authoritarian path.
The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
While it doesn’t directly impact the financial sector, its provisions including giving a special police unit extra powers of search, electronic surveillance and asset seizure that have stoked concerns among some professionals.
‘IT COULD CHANGE THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE’
Both Hong Kong and Chinese government officials have said the law is vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes violent protests against the local government and Beijing over the last year.
But critics fear it will crush freedoms and an independent legal system that are seen as key to Hong Kong’s success as a financial centre and a gateway between China and the world.
“I was on a call with Singapore colleagues this morning when one of them asked me about the law and its impact on Hong Kong,” said an executive at a regional insurance company, who like his peers declined to be identified citing the sensitivity of the matter.
“I had just started when my boss tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to move on to business matters. Later, all our team members in Hong Kong were told to strictly refrain from sharing opinion on this on calls and social media.”
While most financial professionals in Hong Kong have long been aware of being tracked by the world’s most sophisticated electronic surveillance system when they travel to China, they said they have had no such concerns or need for precautions in Hong Kong.
A corporate lawyer with an international law firm said that could change the way in which people in the former British colony “communicate and correspond” from now on.
“I think some people could become very careful in what they write on Whatsapp and Wechat … as a firm we are not writing anything in any correspondence like that (related to the law) but it could become an issue for some.”
Some of the professionals said that they were also reviewing their previous posts on social media related to the pro-democracy protests and the security law, and deleting ones they thought would be viewed as sensitive.
A senior Hong Kong-based wealth manager with an European bank said that he had been advised by his manager to minimize his conversations over messaging apps with his local clients about any political impact on markets and investments.
One financial analyst who was arranging a meeting in a café said it might need to be held somewhere more private if the conversation included the new security law.
“Walls have ears now,” he said.
(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee and Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong; additional reporting by Jennifer Hughes; Editing by Kim Coghill)
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