US president delivers State of Union address

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Donald Trump delivers a speech at Congress. (AP)
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Donald Trump delivers a speech at Congress. (Getty Images/AFP)
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President Donald Trump shakes ands with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Donald Trump delivers a speech at Congress. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 06 February 2019

US president delivers State of Union address

  • Trump is to touch on the impact of immigration on Americans

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump was to appeal for unity among Americans in a State of the Union speech Tuesday where he sought to turn the page on two years of divisive turmoil and recast himself as a bipartisan national leader.
“The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican Agenda or a Democrat Agenda. It is the agenda of the American People,” Trump told Congress and a huge television audience, according to a draft of his speech released by the White House.
In the speech, Trump highlighted “incredible economic success” and said he had been right to embark on a muscular new trading policy that has brought Washington and Beijing to the brink of a trade war.
And he urged his Republican Party and the opposition Democrats to work together “for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure.”
This was the “optimistic” Trump promised by White House aides.
But nothing could have been further from a unified picture in Congress, where Democrats control the House of Representatives, Republicans are in charge of the Senate, and Trump finds himself stymied at every turn.
After two years of a presidency in which Trump has driven an already polarized country into bitter, even violent debate over almost every aspect of politics, his calming words were likely to fall on many deaf ears.
Just a few hours before the speech got underway, the senior Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, gave a blistering preview.
“The state of the Trump economy is failing America’s middle class,” Schumer tweeted. “The state of the Trump health care system is failing American families. The state of the Trump Administration is chaos.”
Trump ripped back at Schumer for “already criticizing my State of the Union speech, even though he hasn’t seen it yet.”
Another tough preview was due a few minutes before the speech when Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, who has announced a challenge to Trump in the 2020 presidential election, planned a so-called “prebuttal.”
Once Trump finishes, the Democrats were to field another woman, Stacey Abrams, who almost upset the odds to win Georgia’s governorship, to deliver the traditional rebuttal.
At the heart of the rancor is Trump’s single-minded drive — and failure — to get congressional funding for walls along the US-Mexican border.
Trump says a wall or fence is needed to prevent an “invasion” of Central American migrants whom he repeatedly casts as a horde of killers and rapists.
Democrats accuse Trump of fearmongering and refuse to give their approval.
The resulting standoff has turned a relatively minor funding debate into an existential test of political strength in the buildup to 2020 presidential elections.
Increasingly frustrated, Trump took revenge on Congress by triggering a crippling five-week partial shutdown of government. Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was to sit behind Trump for the State of the Union, exacted her own reprisal by forcing the speech to be delayed by a week.
Things could soon escalate, with Trump threatening to declare a national emergency so that he can bypass Congress and give himself power to take military funds for his project.
Trump’s claims to foreign policy successes are not necessarily endorsed even in his own party.
He repeated in the speech, according to the prepared text, that he wants US troops to pull out from long-running wars, such as Afghanistan and Syria as soon as possible.
“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said.
But that has been criticized by some in the security services and many Republicans, who fear a loss of American influence on the world stage.
Trump was likewise expected to update Congress on China trade talks and on his intention to hold a second summit with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he is trying to persuade to give up nuclear weapons.
Closer to home, he dialed up the pressure on Venezuela’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, saying “we stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom.”
Opposition leader Juan Guaido’s envoy to Washington was among the top guests invited to attend the speech.


‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

Updated 17 November 2019

‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism
  • His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists

COLOMBO: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who spearheaded the brutal crushing of the Tamil Tigers 10 years ago, stormed to victory Sunday in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections, seven months after Islamist extremist attacks killed 269 people.
Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism in the Buddhist-majority country following the April 21 suicide bomb attacks blamed on a homegrown militant group.
His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists and possibly some in the international community following the 2005-15 presidency of his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mahinda, with Gotabaya effectively running the security forces, ended a 37-year civil war with Tamil separatists. His decade in power was also marked by alleged rights abuses, murky extra-judicial killings and closer ties with China.
Gotabaya, a retired lieutenant-colonel, 70, nicknamed the “Terminator” by his own family, romped to victory with 51.9 percent of the vote, results from the two-thirds of votes counted so far showed.
“I didn’t sleep all night,” said student Devni, 22, one of around 30 people who gathered outside Rajapaksa’s Colombo residence. “I am so excited, he is the president we need.”
Rajapaksa’s main rival, the moderate Sajith Premadasa of the ruling party, trailed on 42.3 percent. The 52-year-old conceded the race and congratulated Rajapaksa.
On Sunday three cabinet members resigned — including Finance Minister Mangalar Samaraweera.
The final result was expected later on Sunday with Rajapaksa due to be sworn in on Monday. Turnout was over 80 percent.
Premadasa had strong support in minority Tamil areas but a poor showing in Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese heartland, a core support base where Rajapaksa won some two-thirds of the vote.
Saturday’s poll was the first popularity test of the United National Party (UNP) government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe’s administration failed to prevent the April attacks despite prior and detailed intelligence warnings from India, according a parliamentary investigation.
Premadasa also offered better security and a pledge to make a former war general, Sarath Fonseka, his national security chief, projecting himself as a victim seeking to crush terrorism.
He is the son of assassinated ex-president Ranasinghe Premadasa who fell victim to a Tamil rebel suicide bomber in May 1993.
But Gotabaya is adored by the Sinhalese majority and the powerful Buddhist clergy for how he and Mahinda ended the war in 2009, when 40,000 Tamil civilians allegedly perished at the hands of the army.
Under his brother, Gotabaya was defense secretary and effectively ran the security forces, allegedly overseeing “death squads” that bumped off rivals, journalists and others. He denies the allegations.
This makes the brothers detested and feared among many Tamils, who make up 15 percent of the population. Some in the Muslim community, who make up 10 percent, are also fearful of Gotabaya, having faced days of mob violence in the wake of the April attacks.
Under Mahinda, Sri Lanka also borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects and even allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo in 2014, alarming Western countries as well as India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday that India looked forward to “deepening the close and fraternal ties... and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region.”
The projects ballooned Sri Lanka’s debts and many turned into white elephants — such as an airport in the south devoid of airlines — mired in corruption allegations.
Unlike in 2015 when there were bomb attacks and shootings, this election was relatively peaceful by the standards of Sri Lanka’s fiery politics.
The only major incident was on Saturday when gunmen fired at two vehicles in a convoy of at least 100 buses taking Muslim voters to cast ballots. Two people were injured.
According to the Election Commission the contest was, however, the worst ever for hate speech and misinformation.