Washington braces as crowds converge for Trump’s July Fourth fireworks, racial protests

Disregarding the Washington mayor’s warnings of the risk of gathering as many US states mark a record number of new COVID-19 cases, crowds began to assemble early. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 July 2020

Washington braces as crowds converge for Trump’s July Fourth fireworks, racial protests

  • Disregarding the Washington mayor’s warnings of the risk of gathering as many US states mark a record number of new COVID-19 cases, crowds began to assemble early
  • Trump’s Fourth of July event follows a Friday night speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota where he accused “angry mobs” of trying to erase history

WASHINGTON: Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to converge on Saturday in the heart of Washington, where US President Donald Trump will host an Independence Day fireworks display and military flyover, while protesters will march for racial equality.
Disregarding the Washington mayor’s warnings of the risk of gathering as many US states mark a record number of new COVID-19 cases, crowds began to assemble early on a hot Saturday morning.
Police officers blocked off streets around the White House, Black Lives Matter Plaza and the Lincoln Memorial, where demonstrators planned to join one of the dozen organized protests in advance of Trump’s nighttime address on the South Lawn.
Activist groups pledged to hold peaceful protests for reforms following the May killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Millions of Americans responded in June by marching against police brutality and racial inequality, leading to widespread removal of Confederate statues and other symbols of America’s legacy of slavery.
Trump’s Fourth of July event follows a Friday night speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota where he accused “angry mobs” of trying to erase history and used the speech to paint himself as a bulwark against left-wing extremism.
Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic rival in the November election, struck a contrasting note with the Republican president and accused him in a Fourth of July op-ed of finding every day “new ways to tarnish and dismantle our democracy.”
“We have a chance now to give the marginalized, the demonized, the isolated, the oppressed, a full share of the American dream,” Biden said in a separate letter to donors.
In his Mount Rushmore speech, Trump made little mention of the pandemic that has hit his re-election hopes, even as COVID-19 moved further into Trump’s inner circle. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior campaign official and the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., tested positive in South Dakota before the event.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser had tried to dissuade the Trump administration from holding the fireworks display over the National Mall and informed the Department of the Interior that it went against health officials’ guidance amid the pandemic.
Apart from fireworks spectators, activists of different stripes also appeared willing to disregard the health warnings.
Roar of the Deplorables, a bikers group, said via social media that they, too, were planning to gather in Washington on Saturday to stand in protest against what they call “the anti-Trump regime” and to celebrate the nation’s birthday.
Freedom Fighters DC, a new activist group which seeks to rally an ethnically diverse generation of supporters behind liberty for all people, especially the Black population of Washington, is one of the anti-racism groups ignoring the mayor’s heed to refrain from gathering.
“Black folks are not free from the chains of oppression, so we don’t get to truly celebrate Independence Day,” said Kerrigan Williams, 22, one of the founders of the group, which will host a march and an arts demonstration on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re marching today to showcase that Black folks are still fighting for the simple liberties that the constitution is said to provide.”


Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

Updated 08 August 2020

Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

  • Remains of four who died in Tuesday’s massive blast in Beirut also to be repatriated

MANILA: The Philippines will soon be sending a chartered flight to Lebanon to bring back Filipinos impacted by a massive explosion at the port of Beirut as early as next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Saturday.

“The DFA is paying P15,000,000 ($305,643) from its funds for a chartered Qatar Air flight to repatriate from Beirut. The Philippine Embassy in Beirut is negotiating it and disbursing the amount. Aug. 16 is [the date set for] arrival,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said, adding that the flight will also bring home the remains of four Filipinos who died in Tuesday’s blast.

Around 400 Filipinos from Lebanon are expected to return following the catastrophic explosion, which decimated the Lebanese capital.

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Sarah Lou Arriola said that President Rodrigo Duterte was responding to the “clamor of Filipinos in Lebanon” and that the “chartered flight is the most concrete, immediate and timely assistance” that the DFA could provide given the current situation there.

Reports state that the deadly explosion was caused by a cargo of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, stored at a warehouse in the port of Beirut for years. 

The odorless chemical is commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer but is also used to make powerful bombs.

“With ground operations clearing more area and embassy personnel receiving additional reports, the department is taking in new inputs with regard to the status of the Filipino community in the country,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Data released by the DFA placed the number of Filipinos impacted at 48, with 42 wounded, four dead, and two missing.

“By day’s end yesterday, the number of injured oversees Filipino workers stands at 42, an increase of 11 from the previous report,” Arriola said.

Two of the wounded remained in critical condition and were being monitored at the Rizk Hospital.

“We were also alerted that another Filipino was reported missing, increasing the number to two. The number of Filipino fatalities, meanwhile, remains at four,” she added.

The DFA said that, earlier, it had expected the number of affected Filipinos to increase considering the magnitude of the Beirut destruction.

Even before the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the DFA had begun its repatriation activities from Lebanon to limit the worsening condition of Filipinos in the country due to economic woes. It has repatriated at least 1,508 Filipinos from Lebanon since December 2019.