Trump drops troops abroad as Corona worsens | Daily News

Trump drops troops abroad as Corona worsens

The US has announced plans to reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US has announced plans to reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The USA is in global focus on health, armed forces, and actions of President Donald Trump in his post-election politics, without conceding victory to Democrat Joe Biden.

The US has recorded more than 250,000 deaths from Covid-19 midweek, as cases soar once again across the country. According to Johns Hopkins University, the country has now reported 250,548 deaths and more than 11.5 million cases.

The top US infectious diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country was “going in the wrong direction at a very precarious time”, with people more likely to gather inside as the weather gets colder. He repeated a call for people to “double down” on public health measures, such as wearing face coverings, physical distancing and avoiding crowds, which has not been encouraged by President Trump and his Republican supporters.

At the end of March - when the US had recorded 2,200 deaths – Dr. Fauci predicted the pandemic could kill up to 200,000 Americans and infect millions more.

Thai demonstrators carry inflatable rubber ducks during a pro-democracy protest in Bangkok, Thailand on Thursday.

The US has announced plans to reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying the decision fulfills President Trump’s pledge to bring forces home, in his 2016 election campaign, even as Republicans and US allies warn against such a rash troop withdrawal.

Acting Defence Secretary Christopher Miller said this will accelerate troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan in Trump’s final days in office, despite senior military officials in favour of a slower, more methodical pullout. Trump has refused to concede his election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden, who takes office on January 20, just five days after the troop withdrawals are dilated to finish.

This will cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500 and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500. This move has been criticised by US allies, especially Germany that has troops in Afghanistan and also by NATO, which also provides troops to locations that have US troops.

President Trump this week fired Chris Krebs, head of the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency, who described the recent presidential election as “the most secure in American history”, contradicting Trump’s position that it was an unfair election with much fraud. Krebs said: “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised”.

His firing was the latest - and not necessarily the last - chapter in the long battle between President Trump and his own national security community. At issue from the start has been the legitimacy of the recent election campaign. There are reports of the likely dismissal of the heads of the CIA and FBI too.

Last week President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, upending the military’s leadership at a time when Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede the election has created a rocky and potentially precarious transition. Mr. Esper had earlier opposed Trump’s moves to use the US Forces to control protesters during recent mass protests in many cities.

The US is also in focus for the two Covid-19 vaccines developed by the companies Pfizer and Moderna, with claims to be more than 90% effective on Covid infections.

RCEP - Economic Partnership

Fifteen countries have formed the world’s largest trading bloc, covering nearly a third of the global economy.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is made up of 10 Southeast Asian countries, as well as South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The pact is seen as an extension of China’s influence in the region.

The race is on for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The deal excludes the US, which withdrew from a rival Asia-Pacific trade pact in 2017.

President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) shortly after taking office.

The RCEP spans 15 countries and 2.2 billion people, or nearly 30% of the world’s population. Their combined GDP totals roughly $26 trillion and they account for nearly 28% of global trade based on 2019 data.

The deal includes several of the region’s heaviest economic movers aside from China, including Japan and South Korea. New Zealand and Australia are also partners, as are Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam in Southeast Asia.

The trade agreement was first proposed in 2012 as a way to create one of the world’s largest free-trade zones.

In November last year, India announced its decision to not join RCEP, amid concerns that elimination of tariffs would open India’s markets to imports, which in turn could harm local producers. India’s strategy was to protect its domestic industries from Chinese imports. The current India-China disputes would not lead to India joining the RCEP in the near future.

The members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — a group of 10 countries that signed the agreement — said that it would eliminate tariffs and quotas on 65% of the goods that are traded in the region.

The partner countries also noted the importance of the agreement as the world tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, saying in a joint statement that the deal “will play an important role in building the region’s resilience through an inclusive and sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery process.”

But many analysts think RCEP’s sheer size makes it more significant than the Trans Pacific Partnership. While China already has a number of bilateral trade agreements, this is the first time it has signed up to a regional multilateral trade pact.

The member countries hope that the pact will help to spur recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. “Under the current global circumstances, the fact the RCEP has been signed after eight years of negotiations brings a ray of light and hope amid the clouds,” said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who described the agreement as “a victory of multilateralism and free trade”.

The new free trade bloc will be bigger than both the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the European Union.

The RCEP is expected to eliminate a range of tariffs on imports within 20 years.

It also includes provisions on intellectual property, telecommunications, financial services, e-commerce and professional services.

Under RCEP, parts from any member nation would be treated equally, which might give companies in RCEP countries an incentive to look within the trade region for suppliers.

Economics analysts have noted that the RCEP deal was further evidence of Asia’s growing power. Economists at HSBC have said ‘the agreement signals that Asia keeps pushing ahead with trade liberalization even as other regions have become more skeptical… It may reinforce a trend that’s been already underway for decades: that the global centre of economic gravity keeps pushing relentlessly to the East.”

The United States pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a major trade deal that would have cemented stronger relationships with several countries in Asia Pacific, including Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam — when Trump took office. Since then, the United States has done some bilateral deals, including a 2018 agreement with South Korea and this year’s truce with China. But it hasn’t done a comprehensive regional trade agreement.

EU - Budget veto

The European Union’s landmark stimulus plan to assist member states whose economies have been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic is now in crisis, after Hungary and Poland blocked passage of the 2021 - 2027 EU Budget.

The two Eastern European countries are vetoing the budget and coronavirus recovery plan over moves to dole out EU funds to member states on condition that they uphold the bloc’s rule-of-law standards.

The 1.8 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget must be approved by all 27 member states to be adopted.

The move by Hungary and Poland threatens to undo months of negotiations that culminated in an announcement in late July that the EU was unified in raising hundreds of billions of euros to help each other through an historic pandemic-induced economic recession.

That unity is now in question as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Marawiecki, oppose the EU Budget over issues relating to the EU’s democratic values. Hungary has President Orban’s consolidation of executive power, while the Polish government has a crackdown on the independence of its judges and press.

Hungary and Poland are the only two EU member states in the history of the bloc to have been investigated by the European Commission for violating fundamental EU values of democracy and rule of law.

A delay in the budget negotiations could delay the disbursement of funds into the new year, a situation the hardest-hit member states are hoping to avoid. Europe is home to nearly half of the world’s daily confirmed cases of COVID-19, and nationwide lockdowns have pushed member states deeper into recession.

Hungary and Poland, have sparred with Brussels over the rule of law for many years. The matter is now likely to be escalated to the level of European leaders who are discussing Covid-19 coordination matters at a video conference this week. Diplomats see this veto would mean “we are back in crisis”, forcing German chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU’s leadership to discuss the next steps with member states including Hungary’s premier Viktor Orban.

European governments are anxiously watching the progress of the legislative package accompanying the bloc’s budget and recovery fund as their economies buckle under the pressure from Covid-19 related lockdowns. Until recently many hoped that Poland and Hungary’s long standing opposition to the rule of law mechanism would quickly fade given the cash injection the countries stand to receive from the recovery fund.

The centrepiece of the EU’s recovery proposals — a plan to distribute €390bn of grants to member states hit hard by the pandemic — would provide a net benefit worth 3 percent of 2019 gross domestic product to Poland and Hungary, according to calculations from the European Central Bank in September. Last week Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish Prime Minister, said in a letter dated November 9 that Poland would not accept “any discretionary mechanisms that are based on arbitrary, politically motivated criteria”. He added that without sufficient guarantees that member states’ treaty rights would be respected, “we do not see the possibility of ratifying the budget in the Polish parliament”.

This week’s ambassadors’ meeting was intended to push forward the key legislative elements of the budget and recovery fund package — including the seven-year budget itself, the regulation providing for a new rule of law mechanism, and a decision to boost the bloc’s so-called own resources ceiling. The latter move, which needs to be ratified in all the 27 member-state parliaments, is needed to permit the EU to borrow on capital markets to endow the recovery fund.

Thailand protests

Thailand’s government is facing a sustained protest campaign that has brought thousands of people, mostly young, out on the streets to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prauth Chan-ocha and his Cabinet, constitutional changes drafted by representatives of the people, and reform of the monarchy under the constitution.

Anti-government demonstrators threw paint and daubed graffiti on Thailand’s national police headquarters in Bangkok on Wednesday night, a day after dozens were hurt when police used tear gas and water cannon against them in protests near the Parliament.

The student-led protests, continuing from July this year, are demanding changes to the military-scripted constitution, the resignation of the PM who first took power in a 2014 coup, major reforms to the monarchy - the most serious challenge to the Thai establishment in many years.

Ethiopian troops have launched a military operation against the country’s rebellious northern Tigray region, largely controlled by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Tens of thousands of people on Wednesday packed the Ratchaprasong intersection in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping and commercial district, before they marched on the heavily-defended national police headquarters – led by a clown and a parade of giant inflatable rubber ducks.

Wednesday’s protest came a day after the most violent confrontations since the democracy movement began in July, when police fired tear gas and irritant-laced water cannon on protesters trying to reach parliament, where legislators had begun debating possible changes to the constitution.

In parliament, members voted on seven proposals for ways to change the constitution, where most of the key moves for change were rejected. A proposal that would have opened the way for a discussion of the king’s role was not approved. Two proposals to discuss constitutional change without affecting the monarchy were adopted.

Prime Minister Prayuth’s supporters have a majority in parliament, and the entire upper house was chosen by the military government he led before the 2014 election.

Protests have been largely peaceful, but Bangkok’s Erawan Medical Centre said at least 55 people were hurt on Tuesday, with 32 suffering from tear gas inhalation and six from gunshot wounds. It was not clear who was responsible for the shooting.

There were also scuffles with royalists who turned out in a counter protest.

Before the protesters reached Parliament on Tuesday, several hundred royalists dressed in yellow, the colour representing the monarchy, gathered there to urge legislators not to make changes to the constitution.

This is the first time that pro-monarch activists and student and youth protesters have faced each other. Clashes have taken place between the two groups, and could lead to bigger clashes as the youth protests continue, after four months.

Ethiopia - more fighting

Ethiopia’s leader Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has warned that “the final and crucial” military operation will soon be launched against the country’s rebellious northern Tigray region, largely controlled by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The Prime Minister said a three-day deadline to surrender had expired, paving the way for a final push on Mekelle, the region’s capital.

The UN refugee agency warns of a mounting humanitarian crisis in the region, as Eritrea and Sudan are drawn into the dispute and the fighting.

“The three-day ultimatum given to Tigray Special Forces and the militia to surrender to the national defence...ended today,” Abiy said in a statement on Facebook. “The final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days”.

The TPLF is a formidable foe with a good history; it spearheaded the rebel march to Addis Ababa that overthrew a Marxist dictatorship in 1991, and bore the brunt of the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea that killed many thousands.

The rebel Tigrayan forces fired rockets into Ethiopia’s neighbour last weekend, escalating a conflict in which hundreds of people have been killed on both sides. The fighting threatens to destabilise other parts of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.

The UN refugee agency has said that a ‘full-scale humanitarian crisis’ is unfolding in Ethiopia, with more than 27,000 now having fled heavy fighting to Sudan, Hungry, exhausted and scared refugees from Tigray continue to arrive with terrifying accounts of war.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, continues to reject international calls for dialogue and de-escalation in the two-week conflict. The Nobel Committee, which awarded its prestigious peace prize to Abiy for his efforts to heal divisions with Eritrea, said it was “deeply concerned” over the fighting.

Alarmed African neighbours - including Uganda and Kenya - are calling for a peaceful resolution, but Abiy’s government regards the TPLF government as illegitimate after the region held a local election in September, despite a central government call for a postponement, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans dependent on food aid even before the conflict, suffering is worsening fast even as the UN and aid agency staff scale back for security reasons. Analysts warn the new fighting could jeopardise the recent opening up of Ethiopia’s economy and would stir ethnic bloodshed around the vast nation of 115 million people.

Covid -19 spread

The spread of Covid-19 pandemic is rising globally, with the US and Europe having the largest figures, and the situation expected to get worse with the coming of winter and the rise of influenza. The world’s Covid-19 infections at the time of writing was 59,394,215 with 1,325,188 recorded deaths.

The US stands highest in the world with 11,531, 451 infections and 250, 548 deaths, and major warnings of a steep rise in infections and deaths in the coming weeks. The records of other countries with high infections and rising deaths are: India - 8,958,483 (131,758), Brazil - 5,945,849 (167,455), France - 2,115,717 (46,772), Russia - 1,998,996 (34,525), Spain - 1,525,341 (42, 039), UK 1,434,004 (53,369), and Italy - 1,272,352 (47,217).

Most European countries have moved into large scale lockdowns, which is not so in the US, due to the non-action of the Trump presidency. However, many states within the US are now imposing their own restrictions on social movements and health protection actions.