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Empty UN summit for world in crisis

Americas|: United Nations: The United Nations General Assembly, the annual extravaganza of world leaders’ speeches and round-the-clock diplomacy, opens Tuesday in a quiet hall as a virtual summit addresses the global crisis of COVID-19. For once, Midtown Manhattan will not be bunkered down in a frenzy of motorcades, and there will be no speculation of breakthrough meetings. See more Photos: Donald Trump's India visit moves from pomp to trade, military talks 'New law' in the Philippines is fake: What we found India: Netflix India issues statement after getting dragged into Citizenship Amendment Act debate on Twitter Leaders instead have been invited to send in pre-recorded messages, to be played over the coming week in the vast General Assembly where each delegation can send a single masked diplomat. US President Donald Trump, as leader of the host nation, passed on the chance to come in person to the General Assembly, with a speech before low-profile diplomats unlikely to figure as part of his strategy for re-election in November. The summit in normal years draws about 10,000 people from around the world, a prospect that is unthinkable at a time when nations have imposed strict entrance requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has claimed nearly 950,000 lives. With no chance for in-person meetings and the give-and-take of negotiations, some UN-based diplomats wonder how much can be achieved. Thematic meetings The United Nations is nonetheless moving ahead with thematic meetings - also virtual - on the sidelines of the summit to tackle major issues including the coronavirus pandemic as well as climate change, biodiversity and the political turbulence both in Libya and Lebanon. But there will also be less chance for dramatic exchanges between leaders in their speeches. Keen to prevent any technical snafus, the United Nations has asked world leaders to submit their videos four days in advance, meaning there will be no spontaneity or reaction to last-minute developments. US snub for UN The UN week opened Monday with a celebration of the global body’s 75th birthday in the form of a virtual summit where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pleaded - in person - for more multilateral diplomacy. In a sign of his views on the matter, Trump did not bother to send remarks, and the United States was instead represented by its deputy UN envoy, who said it was “the right time to ask questions about the institution’s strengths and weaknesses.” Even the US ambassador to the United Nations was not present, having travelled instead to Washington for an announcement of “UN sanctions” against Iran that Trump demanded all nations implement. The United States says it is enforcing an expiring UN arms embargo, but virtually no other nation thinks Washington has the authority to impose UN sanctions, with European powers instead focusing on salvaging a nuclear accord with Iran negotiated under former president Barack Obama. The hawkish US stance on the eve of elections comes a year after French President Emmanuel Macron led unsuccessful efforts in New York to arrange a meeting or at least phone call between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in hopes of easing tensions. Macron, speaking by video for the 75th anniversary summit, pleaded for the role of the United Nations in solving global problems. “At a time when the pandemic is feeding fear of decline and a narrative of collective powerlessness, I want to say very clearly: faced with this health emergency, the climate challenge and the retreat on rights, it is here and now that we must act,” Macron said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the United Nations has “too often been forced to lag behind its ideals as the interests of individual members have, time and again, prevented this order from functioning as it was intended. “But those who believe that they can get along better alone are mistaken. Our well-being is something that we share - our suffering, too. We are one world,” she said.

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Who’s a hypocrite? Republicans, Democrats debate past comments on US Supreme Court

Americas|: Washington: The “H” word - hypocrisy - is suddenly in vogue at the Capitol as lawmakers debate how quickly to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed that President Donald Trump’s as-yet unnamed nominee will receive a vote on the Senate floor “this year,” but has been careful not to say exactly when that will happen. See more DNC 2020: Joe Biden accepts Democratic presidential nomination to challenge Trump From the Editors: Can Joe Biden heal America? What's NMC really worth? Plus, proof that UAE is a leader in clean energy Jamaican, Tamil descent: Who is Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s VP candidate Trump relaunches campaign with vaccine promise, vision of 'incredible' future Democrats accuse the Kentucky Republican of blatant hypocrisy after McConnell refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, eight months before the 2016 election. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor Monday to remind McConnell of his own words hours after the February 2016 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. “The American people,” McConnell said then, “should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.” The vacancy created by Scalia’s death should not be filled until the election of a new president, he added. “No amount of sophistry can change what McConnell said then, and it applies even more so now - so much closer we are to an election,” Schumer said Monday. But McConnell said it is Democrats who are being hypocritical. What Republicans did in 2016 - blocking a nominee of the opposing party - was “precisely what Democrats had indicated they would do themselves” when they were in the majority, McConnell said in his own floor speech Monday. He and other Republicans cited a 1992 speech by then-Sen. Joe Biden - now the Democratic nominee for president - indicating that a vacancy occurring in an election year should not be filled. Biden, Schumer and other Democrats flip-flopped in 2016, in McConnell’s telling, because they urged the Senate to act on Obama’s nominee. McConnell in 2016 McConnell stunned the political world in 2016 with his declaration that the Senate would not consider a replacement for Scalia until after the presidential election nearly nine months away. While daring, McConnell said his action was justified by history. “Remember that the Senate has not filled a vacancy arising in an election year when there was divided government since 1888, almost 130 years ago,” he declared again and again that year, frequently citing what Republicans called the “Biden Rule.” That “rule” - never adopted in any formal sense by the Senate - urged the Senate to delay action on a Supreme Court vacancy until after the presidential election. “President Obama was asking Senate Republicans for an unusual favour that had last been granted nearly 130 years prior. But voters had explicitly elected our majority to check and balance the end of his presidency. So we stuck with the historical norm,” McConnell said Monday as he recounted past fights over the Supreme Court. 2019 McConnell statement By 2019, with Trump in office and a continued GOP Senate majority, McConnell said Senate action on a court opening close to the election would not be an issue. “Yes, we would certainly confirm a new justice if we had that opportunity,” he told talk show host Hugh Hewitt in December. “And we’re going to continue, obviously, to fill the circuit and district court vacancies as they occur right up until the end of next year.” The main difference? Unlike 2016, when the White House and Senate were controlled by different parties, both are now under Republican control, McConnell said. “I’d also remind everybody what I just told you, which is the Senate is of the same party as the president of the United States,” McConnell told Fox News in February of this year. “And in that situation we would confirm” a new justice. Schumer wasn’t buying it. He cited a 2016 op-ed co-written by McConnell imploring that the American people be given the opportunity to “weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.” “Now these words don’t apply?” Schumer asked. “It doesn’t pass the smell test in any way. No wonder Leader McConnell was so defensive in his comments.” Schumer and other Democrats urged McConnell to abide by his own standard. “What’s fair is fair. A senator’s word must count for something,” Schumer said. But McConnell, in his speech, said that at a time when “the American people have elected a Senate majority to work closely with the sitting president, the historical record is even more overwhelming _ in favor of confirmation.” Eight times in the nation’s history vacancies have arisen during an election year when the White House and Senate were controlled by the same party. Seven of those times the justice was confirmed. The sole exception was in 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson tried to elevate Justice Abe Fortas to become chief justice. The nomination faced a filibuster due in part to ethics problems that later led Fortas to resign from the court. “Apart from that one strange exception, no Senate has failed to confirm a nominee in the circumstances that face us now,” McConnell said. “The American people reelected our majority in 2016 and strengthened it further in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump on the most critical issues facing our country. The federal judiciary was right at the top of that list,” he said. On that final point- the importance of the judiciary - Schumer agreed. “That’s what this (fight) is all about,” he said. “All the rights enshrined in our Constitution that are supposed to be protected by the Supreme Court of the United States” are at stake. “The right to join a union, marry who you love, freely exercise your right to vote ... (and) proper health care. If you care about these things and the kind of country we live in, this election - and this vacancy - mean everything,” Schumer said.


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Afghan woman prays that peace will save her fourth husband

Asia|: Kabul/Jalalabad: Heavily pregnant Taj Bibi prays for her fourth husband as the Afghan soldier sets off to battle the Taliban, hoping his fate won’t be the same as that of his three brothers, her first three husbands, all killed fighting the militants. Clashes between Afghan government forces and Taliban insurgents have not died down despite peace talks in Qatar that have raised hopes for an end to Afghanistan’s seemingly endless cycle of war. See more Multilingual robot waitress serves up fries in Afghan capital Photos: Afghan women assert themselves with martial arts Rescuers scour mud-clogged debris for Afghan flood victims; 150 dead Ventilator from old car parts? Afghan girls pursue prototype At least 60 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in the past week across the country. Bibi, watching her husband, Aminullah, set off for a three-month stint on the front line, has a simple plea: she hopes the men in power don’t make her a widow for a fourth time. “I can’t afford to see my five children being orphaned again,” said Bibi, 33, who lives in the Sadeqabad area of mountainous Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. Bibi was 18 when she got married for the first time, to Aminullah’s oldest brother, who was a soldier. Life was good, Bibi says, until her husband was killed in a battle with the Taliban. Within months, she married his younger brother, also a soldier. It is common in ethnic Pashtun society for widows to marry their brothers-in-law because of a belief that a widow should not marry outside the family. But even before she came to terms with her new life, a pregnant Bibi had to identify the bloody body of her second husband, who was killed defending a check-point from a Taliban attack. ‘Blame myself’ After 90 days of mourning, she agreed to her father-in-law’s request that she marry his third son, a police officer. He was killed in a clash with the Taliban in 2017. That same year, Bibi married Aminullah, the fourth brother, who accepted his three-time widowed sister-in-law as his wife along with her children. “Sometimes I blame the Taliban, sometimes I blame the Afghan government, sometimes I blame the foreign forces but mostly I blame myself for all this pain,” Bibi said over the telephone. Bibi is a devout Muslim and prays five times a day. “Islam teaches us not to kill anyone, but here in our land we just kill anyone and everyone,” she said. “I don’t know if Allah understands my pain and loss.” She says she begs Aminullah to quit the army but he promises he’ll be back from his tours of duty. She also prays that peace will save him. “My life depends on seeing my husband alive,” she said. Bibi spends much of her time sewing clothes for her children, and cares for them and an extended family of 15 people on Aminullah’s monthly income of $300, and pension allowances for her dead husbands. She said people die once but after losing three husbands, she felt like she’d already died three times. “Maybe I’m just unlucky.”

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India: Death toll in Bhiwandi building collapse rises to 17

India|: Bhiwandi, Maharashtra: The death toll in the Bhiwandi building collapse in Maharastra rose to 17, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said. "Death toll rises to 17 in the Bhiwandi building collapse, which took place in Thane district of Maharashtra on Monday," according to the rescue agency. ALSO SEE India: Here are five upcoming patriotic films to watch out for India illuminates in tricolour on Independence Day eve Indian Independence Day: Preparations in full swing ahead of celebrations Beyond borders: India and Pakistan share a beautiful camaraderie with unique bonds of culture, food and films The NDRF said a total of 20 people have been rescued so far. The incident happened at around 3.40 am on Monday. Soon after the incident, the NDRF, fire brigade and police teams reached the spot and started carrying out the rescue operations. President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the loss of lives in the incident. The President tweeted, "The loss of lives in the building collapse at Bhiwandi, Maharashtra is quite distressing. In this hour of grief, my thoughts and prayers are with the accident victims. I wish speedy recovery of the injured. Local authorities are coordinating rescue and relief efforts." "Saddened by the building collapse in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra. Condolences to the bereaved families. Praying for a quick recovery of those injured. Rescue operations are underway and all possible assistance is being provided to the affected," the Prime Minister said in a tweet.