New Zealand has joined Australia in denouncing a graphic tweet posted by a Chinese official that shows a fake image of a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to a child’s throat.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday that New Zealand has voiced its concerns directly with Chinese authorities.
“This is an image that wasn’t factual. It wasn’t correct. And so in keeping with our principled position where images like that are used, we will raise those concerns and we’ll do it directly,” Ardern told reporters.
China has not backed down from the tweet and said there will be no apology.
Ardern’s criticism was more muted than Australia’s. She faced an awkward choice of how far to get involved in a conflict between New Zealand’s closest ally, Australia, and its biggest trading partner, China.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday called the image “repugnant” and demanded an apology from the Chinese government. The post took aim at alleged abuses by Australian soldiers during the conflict in Afghanistan.
The incident is further souring already tense relations between Australia and China.
The image, which appeared to show the soldier slitting the child’s throat, was posted by Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry. He wrote a caption with his tweet: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”
He was referring to a disturbing report by Australia’s military earlier this month which found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians during the Afghanistan conflict. The report recommended that 19 soldiers be referred to federal police for criminal investigation.
Asked about the issue at a daily briefing, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying cast blame on the Australian side.
“What Australia should do is to reflect deeply, bring the perpetrators to justice, make a formal apology to the Afghan people, and solemnly promise to the international community that they will never commit such terrible crimes again,” Hua said.
Morrison said Zhao’s tweet was “utterly outrageous” and a terrible slur against Australia’s military.
It “is truly repugnant. It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in that uniform,” he told reporters in Canberra. “The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.”
Morrison said his government contacted Twitter asking it to take the post down. The post had a warning tag on it on Tuesday but could still be viewed. Zhao’s account comes with a Twitter label stating that it’s a Chinese government account.
Despite China blocking Twitter and other U.S. social media platforms within the county, Chinese diplomats and state media have established a strong presence on them.
Zhao was criticized by the U.S. in March after tweeting a conspiracy theory that U.S. soldiers may have brought the coronavirus to China. He is considered a leading representative of China’s high-pitched new strain of assertive foreign relations.
Morrison acknowledged there were tensions between China and Australia.
“But this is not how you deal with them,” he said. “Australia has patiently sought to address the tensions that exist in our relationship in a mature way, in a responsible way, by seeking engagement at both leader and ministerial level.”
The rift between the two nations has grown since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. China has since imposed tariffs and other restrictions on a number of Australian exports.
The U.N. humanitarian office says needs for assistance have ballooned to unprecedented levels this year because of COVID-19, projecting that a staggering 235 million people will require help in 2021.
This comes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and global challenges including conflicts, forced migration and the impact of global warming.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, expects a 40% increase in the number of people in need of such assistance in 2021 compared to this year — a sign that pain, suffering and torment brought by the coronavirus outbreak and other problems could get worse even if hopes of a vaccine are rising.
OCHA made the projections in its latest annual Global Humanitarian Overview on Tuesday, saying its hopes to reach 160 million of those people in need will cost $35 billion. That’s more than twice the record $17 billion that donors have provided for the international humanitarian response so far this year — and a target figure that is almost certain to go unmet.
“The picture we’re painting this year is the bleakest and darkest perspective on humanitarian needs we’ve ever set out, and that’s because the pandemic has reaped carnage across the most fragile and vulnerable countries on the planet,” said U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who heads OCHA.
“For the first time since the 1990s, extreme poverty is going to increase, life expectancy will fall, the annual death toll from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is set to double,” he said. “We fear a near doubling in the number of people facing starvation.”
Lowcock told a U.N. briefing in New York on the overview that he thinks the U.N. appeal will probably raise a record $20 billion by the end of the year -- $2 billion more than last year. But he said the gap between needs and funding is growing and the U.N. is looking to “new players” coming on the scene in 2021, including U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s new administration.
The U.N. aims to reach about two-thirds of those in need, with the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations trying to meet the rest, Lowcock explained.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said humanitarian aid budgets are now facing dire shortfalls as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen, and said extreme poverty has risen for the first time in more than a generation.
“The lives of people in every nation and corner of the world have been upended by the impact of the pandemic,” he said. “Those already living on a knife’s edge are being hit disproportionately hard by rising food prices, falling incomes, interrupted vaccination programs and school closures.”
The overview, which is billed as one of the most comprehensive looks of the world’s humanitarian needs, has put together nearly three dozen individual response plans for a total of 56 “vulnerable” countries.
Lowcock said the biggest problem is in Yemen where there is danger of “a large-scale famine” now, saying a prime reason is lack of funding from Gulf countries that were major donors in the past which has led to cuts in aid and the closing of clinics.
He said the biggest financial request is for the Syrian crisis and its spillover to neighboring countries where millions of Syrians have fled to escape the more than nine-year conflict.
OCHA said other countries in need include Afghanistan, Congo, Haiti, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine and Venezuela. Newcomers to this year’s list are Mozambique, where extremist activity has increased in the north, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
Lowcock said it’s not the pandemic, but its economic impact that’s having the greatest effect on humanitarian needs.
“These all hit the poorest people in the poorest countries hardest of all,” he said. “For the poorest, the hangover from the pandemic will be long and hard.”
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Americans returning from Thanksgiving break faced strict new coronavirus measures around the country Monday as health officials brace for a disastrous worsening of the nationwide surge because of holiday gatherings over the long weekend.
Los Angeles County imposed a stay-at-home order for its 10 million residents, and Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, banned high school, college and professional sports and decreed a quarantine for those who have traveled more than 150 miles outside the county.
In Hawaii, the mayor of Hawaii County said trans-Pacific travelers arriving without a negative COVID-19 test must quarantine for 14 days, and even those who have tested virus-free may be randomly selected for another test upon arrival. New Jersey is suspending all youth sports.
“The red flags are flying in terms of the trajectory in our projections of growth,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “If these trends continue, we’re going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic, action.”
Health experts had pleaded with Americans to stay home over Thanksgiving and not gather with anyone who didn’t live with them. Nevertheless, almost 1.2 million people passed through U.S. airports Sunday, the most since the pandemic gripped the country in March, and others took to the highways to be with family and friends.
Now they’re being urged to watch for any signs of illness and get tested right away if they experience symptoms.
Some families are already seeing the fallout from Thanksgiving gatherings.
Jonathan Eshnaur lugged his 32-inch TV to a Thanksgiving Day family gathering at his sister’s home in Olathe, Kansas, so he could watch football outside. He wore a mask and only went into her house for the prayer and to use the bathroom.
His father began feeling terrible that day and tested positive the next. His mother now is showing symptoms, and six others were exposed.
“I think we all have a tendency to think it won’t happen to me,” said Eshnaur, a 34-year-old special education teacher. “But that is kind of the issue with these kinds of viruses is it does happen, especially when we have widespread community spread that is going on.”
Priya Patel, 24, is isolating at her parents’ home in San Antonio after visiting friends over the weekend and coming down with a sore throat.
Patel, who works in public health in New York City, said she had been careful, wearing masks in public and staying out of restaurants and bars. But she spent time at a friend’s home in Texas over Thanksgiving.
“I’m an extremely extroverted person, and there is just so much time I can spend with my parents at home,” said Patel, who will stay away from her parents, both of whom have preexisting medical conditions, and wear a mask inside their home for the next 14 days.
Health officials are urging people to remain vigilant until a vaccine becomes widely available, which is not expected to happen for at least a few months.
On Monday, Moderna Inc. said it will ask U.S. and European regulators to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine as new study results confirm the shots offer strong protection. Pfizer is also seeking approval for its vaccine and hopes to begin administering shots in the U.S. in December.
The virus is blamed for over 267,000 deaths and more than 13.4 million confirmed infections in the U.S. The country on average is seeing more than 160,000 new cases per day and over 1,400 deaths — a toll on par with what the nation witnessed in mid-May, when New York City was the epicenter.
A record 90,000 people were in the hospital with the virus in the U.S. as of Sunday, pushing many medical institutions to the limit.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said hospitals across the state will reduce elective surgeries to ensure there is room for coronavirus patients. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 jumped 29% in the past week. In Kansas City, Kansas, hospital and nursing officials said they fear there will not be enough nurses to staff new hospital beds in the metro area if COVID-19 cases continue unchecked. Health officials on Monday added 4,425 confirmed infections and 87 hospitalizations to the state’s pandemic tally since Friday.
Rhode Island’s hospitals reached their COVID-19 capacity on Monday, the same day the state’s two-week pause took effect. Under restrictions announced by Gov. Gina Raimondo, some businesses will be required to shut down, while others are restricted. Residents are also asked to limit their social circles to people in their household.
“This will not be easy, but I am pleading with you to take it seriously,” Raimondo said in a statement.
In suburban St. Louis, a hospital official warned that hospitalizations could double in two to three weeks if people don’t quarantine after Thanksgiving gatherings. SSM Health DePaul Hospital in Bridgeton, Missouri, last week brought in a morgue trailer to store the dead, canceled elective surgeries and doubled up patients in rooms.
“We will be absolutely overwhelmed,” said Shelly Cordum, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer. “I can’t even imagine what we are going to be facing in three weeks if we stay on this path.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s foremost infectious-disease expert, warned on ABC over the weekend that the country could see a “surge upon surge” of infections tied to Thanksgiving. And White House corononavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told CBS that people who traveled should “assume that you were exposed and you became infected,” and get tested if they experience symptoms.
Two battleground states, Wisconsin and Arizona, certified their presidential election results Monday in favor of Joe Biden, even as President Donald Trump’s legal team continued to dispute the results.
Biden’s victory in Wisconsin was certified following a partial recount that only added to his 20,600-vote margin over Trump, who has promised to file a lawsuit seeking to undo the results.
Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, signed a certificate that completed the process after the canvass report showing Biden as the winner following the recount was approved by the chairwoman of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission. Evers’ signature was required by law and is typically a procedural step that receives little attention.
“Today I carried out my duty to certify the November 3rd election,” Evers said in a statement. “I want to thank our clerks, election administrators, and poll workers across our state for working tirelessly to ensure we had a safe, fair, and efficient election. Thank you for all your good work.”
The action Monday now starts a five-day deadline for Trump to file a lawsuit, which he promised would come no later than Tuesday. Trump is mounting a longshot attempt to overturn the results by disqualifying as many as 238,000 ballots. Trump’s attorneys have alleged without evidence that there was widespread fraud and illegal activity.
Biden’s campaign has said the recount showed that Biden won Wisconsin decisively and there was no fraud. Even if Trump were successful in Wisconsin, the state’s 10 Electoral College votes would not be enough to undo Biden’s overall victory as states around the country certify results.
Earlier Monday, Arizona officials certified Biden’s narrow victory in that state.
Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey both vouched for the integrity of the election before signing off on the results.
“We do elections well here in Arizona. The system is strong,” Ducey said.
He did not directly address Trump’s claims of irregularities but said the state pulled off a successful election with a mix of in-person and mail voting despite the pandemic.
Hobbs said Arizona voters should know that the election “was conducted with transparency, accuracy and fairness in accordance with Arizona’s laws and election procedures, despite numerous unfounded claims to the contrary.”
Biden is only the second Democrat in 70 years to win Arizona. In the final tally, he beat Trump by 10,457 votes, or 0.3% of the nearly 3.4 million ballots cast.
Even as Hobbs, Ducey, the state attorney general and chief justice of the state Supreme Court certified the election results, Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis met in a Phoenix hotel ballroom a few miles away to lay out claims of irregularities in the vote count in Arizona and elsewhere. But they did not provide evidence of widespread fraud.
“The officials certifying have made no effort to find out the truth, which to me, gives the state Legislature the perfect reason to take over the conduct of this election because it’s being conducted irresponsibly and unfairly,” Giuliani said.
Nine Republican state lawmakers attended the meeting. They had requested permission to hold a formal legislative hearing at the Capitol but were denied by the Republican House speaker and Senate president.
Trump berated Ducey on Twitter Monday night, asking, “Why is he rushing to put a Democrat in office, especially when so many horrible things concerning voter fraud are being revealed at the hearing going on right now.”
Elections challenges brought by the Trump campaign or his backers in key battleground states have largely been unsuccessful as Trump continues to allege voter fraud while refusing to concede.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. In fact, election officials from both political parties have stated publicly that the election went well and international observers confirmed there were no serious irregularities.
Joe Biden on Monday got his first look as president-elect at the President’s Daily Brief, a top secret summary of U.S. intelligence and world events — a document former first lady Michelle Obama has called “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book.”
Biden has already had eyes on different iterations of the so-called PDB, which is tailored to the way each president likes to absorb information.
More than a decade ago, Biden read President George W. Bush’s PDB during Biden’s transition into the vice presidency. After that, he read President Barack Obama’s PDB for eight years. Now, after a four-year break, he’s reading President Donald Trump’s PDB.
“The briefers almost certainly will be asking Biden what he prefers in terms of format and style,” said David Priess, author of “The President’s Book of Secrets,” a history of the PDB. “At a minimum, they’re seeing what seems to resonate most with him so that when they make the book his book, they can tailor it to him.”
Obama’s PDB was a 10- to 15-page document tucked in a leather binder, which he found waiting for him on the breakfast table. Later in his presidency, he liked reading the ultra-secret intelligence brief on a secured iPad.
“Michelle called it “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book,” Obama wrote in his recently released book, ”A Promised Land.”
“On a given day, I might read about terrorist cells in Somalia or unrest in Iraq or the fact that the Chinese or Russians were developing new weapons systems,” Obama wrote. “Nearly always, there was mention of potential terrorist plots, no matter how vague, thinly sourced, or unactionable — a form of due diligence on the part of the intelligence community, meant to avoid the kind of second-guessing that had transpired after 9/11.”
From now until Inauguration Day, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be reading the PDB crafted for Trump, who had delayed giving Biden and Harris access to it as he contests the outcome of the election.
Trump, who prefers absorbing information in visual ways, likes short texts and graphics.
“Trump himself said during his campaign and during the transition in 2016 that he did not like reading long documents — that he preferred bullet points,” said Priess, who has not seen any of Trump’s PDBs. “It probably has charts, tables, graphs — things like that. Not the parody that people make that it’s like a cartoon book ... but something that is more visual. But we don’t know for sure.”
The written brief, which Trump doesn’t always read, often is followed by a verbal briefing with an intelligence official, although those oral briefings stopped at least for a time in October. Priess said he didn’t know why they stopped or if they had resumed, but that they stopped at a time when Trump was spending much of his time on the campaign trail.
Before Trump authorized Biden to get the PDB as president-elect, Biden was given some intelligence background briefings as a candidate. But they were more general and did not include the nation’s top secrets.
The other thing that a president-elect gets is a briefing “on CIA’s covert actions,” former acting CIA director Mike Morell said at an event hosted by the Center for Presidential Transition based in Washington. “It’s important for the president-elect to get this briefing ... because on Inauguration Day, these covert actions will become the new president’s.”
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy read his first brief while sitting on the diving board of a swimming pool at his retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. President Lyndon Johnson liked to read his brief in the afternoon. President Richard Nixon relied on his national security adviser Henry Kissinger to peruse the briefs and tell him what he thought the president should know.
As the laborious recount of ballots dragged on in 2000, President Bill Clinton decided that then-Gov. George W. Bush should get access to his PDB just in case he was the winner. Bush became was the first incoming president to read it before he was president-elect.
Biden is getting the PDB later than usual because of Trump’s ongoing protest of the election results. Trump approved the briefings for Biden last Tuesday, a day after his administration approved the formal transition process to his successor.
When Biden walks into the Oval Office, he’ll be inheriting nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, changing political dynamics in the Middle East, the winding down of America’s presence in Afghanistan and rising competition from China.
Biden had access to the PDB in Wilmington, Delaware. Harris received it in a secure room at the Commerce Department, where the presidential transition offices are located.
Even Biden, who has decades of experience in foreign policy, could be the victim of an old political adage that no matter how informed he thinks he is, he could learn otherwise from the PDB.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden wrote in his book that revelations and new insight found in the PDB are known as “aw s---” moments. As in: “Aw s---,” he wrote, “wish we hadn’t said that during that campaign stop in Buffalo.”