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Riot on Capitol Hill direct assault on Constitution: Pentagon

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Riot on Capitol Hill direct assault on Constitution: Pentagon

The Chief deemed the act as an “insurrection” while calling on the military to remain “ready” as Inauguration Day draws near.

The country’s top military leaders issued a letter on Tuesday blasting the violent disturbance that shook the nation’s capital last week, a rare reproach from the Joint Chiefs, who seldom wade into domestic political matters in the public sphere.

“The violent riot in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021, was a direct assault on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process,” the letter reads.

“We witnessed actions inside the Capitol building that was inconsistent with the rule of law. The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition, and insurrection.”

The Joint Chiefs – an advisory body that includes the top uniformed officials in each branch of the military – called on service members deployed overseas and in the country to “stay ready, keep your eyes on the horizon, and remain focused on the mission” as Inauguration Day approaches, insisting that on January 20, “President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Commander in Chief.”

“As Service Members, we must embody the values and ideas of the Nation. We support and defend the Constitution,” they said, adding: “Any act to disrupt the Constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values, and oath; it is against the law,”

The letter also noted those who lost their lives amid the chaos in the Capitol last Wednesday, in which a crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump forced its way into the building as Congress convened to certify the 2020 election results, prompting an evacuation of lawmakers and staff.

“We mourn the deaths of the two Capitol policemen and others connected to these unprecedented events,” the letter continued, referring to an officer who reportedly died after being bashed in the head with a fire extinguisher during the riot, and another who took his own life days after the incident. Another woman was fatally shot by police inside the Capitol, while three others perished due to “medical emergencies,” one of whom suffered a heart attack.

While Trump and his backers have repeatedly alleged endemic fraud in the 2020 race, the president has taken a more conciliatory tone after last Wednesday’s riot, saying his main focus will be to oversee an “orderly” and “seamless” transition to a Biden administration in the final days of his presidency. Nonetheless, Big Tech companies have moved aggressively to expel Trump and his supporters from their platforms since the unrest erupted in DC, while Democratic lawmakers have renewed discussions of impeachment, claiming the president incited an “insurrection.”

MNA/PR

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White House begins talks with senators on Covid relief package

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Senior aides to US President Joe Biden have started talks with Republicans and Democrats over a 1.9 trillion dollar (£1.4 trillion) coronavirus relief package.

It comes as Mr Biden, inaugurated last week, faces increasing problems in his effort to win bipartisan backing for the initial legislative effort of his presidency.

Politicians on the right question the wisdom of racking up bigger deficits while those on the left are urging Mr Biden not to spend too much time on bipartisanship when the pandemic is killing thousands of Americans each day.

At least a dozen senators met virtually for more than an hour with White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese and other senior White House officials on Sunday.

Many hope to approve a relief package before former president Donald Trump’s trial, which is set to begin in two weeks, overtakes Washington’s attention.

Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, called the opening talks a “serious effort”.

“There was not a hint of cynicism or lack of commitment to at least trying to work something out,” he said.

The White House did not seem to budge on breaking up the package or reducing the overall price tag, even as it pushes for bipartisan support.

There was also no discussion of pushing it through with a procedural move that could be done without Republicans, Mr King said.

President Joe Biden has said tackling the pandemic is a priority (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Senators from both parties raised questions about the economic aid provisions, particularly making direct 1,400 dollar (£1,020) payments to Americans more tailored to recipients based on need.

They also wanted more data on how the White House reached the 1.9 trillion dollar figure.

Many of the senators are from a bipartisan group that struck the contours of the last Covid-19 deal approved late last year.

Out of the gate, Mr Biden has made clear that quickly passing another round of coronavirus relief is a top priority as he seeks to get the surging pandemic and the related economic crisis under control, while demonstrating he can break the gridlock that has ailed Congress for much of the last two presidencies.

Mr Biden and his aides have stressed that his plan is a starting point and that finding common ground on relief should be attainable considering the devastating impact the pandemic is exacting on Democratic and Republican states alike.

With more than 412,000 dead and the economy again losing jobs, Mr Biden has argued there is no time to lose.

“We’re going to continue to push because we can’t wait,” said White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“Just because Washington has been gridlocked before doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be gridlocked.”

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Joe Biden to reinstate Covid travel restrictions on travellers from UK

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President Joe Biden is set to reinstate Covid-19 travel restrictions on non-US travellers from Brazil, Ireland, the UK and 26 other European countries that allow travel across open borders.

White House officials said that South Africa would also be added to the restricted list on Monday because of concerns about a variant of the virus that has spread beyond that nation.

Mr Biden is reversing an order from Donald Trump in his final days in office that called for the relaxation of the travel restrictions as of Tuesday.

President Joe Biden is reversing Donald Trump’s order (Evan Vucci/AP)

The decision to reverse the order is not surprising but the addition of South Africa to the restricted travel list highlights the new administration’s concern about mutations in the virus.

The South Africa variant has not been discovered in the United States but another variant — originating in the UK — has been detected in several states.

Last week, Mr Biden issued an executive order directing federal agencies to require international air passengers to quarantine upon arrival in the US.

The order also requires that all US-bound passengers aged 2 and above get negative Covid-19 test results within three days before travelling.

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Portugal’s president wins second term after Covid-hit election

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Portugal’s president has been returned to office for a second term in an election held amid a devastating Covid-19 surge that has made the country the worst in the world for cases and deaths.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa captured around 61.5% of the vote. He had been widely expected to win.

In a stunning development, newly arrived right-wing populist Andre Ventura was in a close race for second place with Socialist candidate Ana Gomes, with both polling around 12%.

Such a showing for Mr Ventura would have been unthinkable until recently and will send a shudder through Portuguese politics.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (Manuel de Almeida/ via AP)

Four other candidates ran for president.

One of the re-elected president’s first tasks will be to decide next month whether to approve a new law allowing euthanasia.

Parliament has passed the Bill but the head of state could try to block it or send it to the Constitutional Court for vetting.

The turnout was less than 40% — significantly lower than in recent elections and apparently confirming concerns that some people would stay away for fear of becoming infected with Covid-19.

Political leaders say that when the pandemic began to worsen there was no longer enough time to change the Portuguese constitution to allow a postponement.

Portugal has the world’s highest rates of new daily infections and deaths per 100,000 population, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, and its public health system is under huge strain.

Mr Rebelo de Sousa, 72, has long been viewed as the clear front-runner in the contest. He is an affable law professor and former television personality who as president has consistently had an approval rating of 60% or more.

To win, a candidate must capture more than 50% of the vote.

Right-wing populist presidential candidate Andre Ventura casts his ballot at a polling station in Lisbon (Armando Franca/AP)

Mr Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, has worked closely with the centre-left minority Socialist government, supporting its pandemic efforts.

He also has endeared himself to the Portuguese with his easy-going style. Photographs taken by passers-by of him in public places, such as one last year of him standing in line at a supermarket wearing trainers and shorts, routinely go viral.

With the country in lockdown, the election campaign featured none of the usual flag-waving rallies but restrictions on movement were lifted for polling day.

Authorities increased the number of polling stations and allowed for early voting to reduce crowding on election day. In other precautions, voters were asked to bring their own pens and disinfectant to polling stations. Everyone voting wore a mask and kept a safe distance from each other.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa urged people to turn out for the ballot, saying that “unprecedented planning” had gone into ensuring that the vote could take place safely.

Portugal has 10.8 million registered voters, around 1.5 million of them living abroad.

Every Portuguese president since 1976, when universal suffrage was introduced following the departure of a dictatorship, has been returned for a second term. No woman or member of an ethnic minority has ever held the post.

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