Top Democrats call on Cuomo to resign amid harassment allegations

Top Democrats call on Cuomo to resign amid harassment allegations
An increasingly isolated New York Governor Andrew Cuomo walks on the grounds of the Governor's Mansion in Albany, New York, on March 12, 2021 following allegations that he had sexually harassed young women. (REUTERS/Angus Mordant)
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Updated 13 March 2021

Top Democrats call on Cuomo to resign amid harassment allegations

Top Democrats call on Cuomo to resign amid harassment allegations
  • Cuomo on Friday insisted that he never touched anyone inappropriately, and said again that he’s sorry if he ever made anyone uncomfortable

ALBANY, N.Y.: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo confronted a stunning series of defections Friday amid allegations of sexual harassment that left the high-profile Democrat fighting for his political survival, angry and alone.
By day’s end, the three-term governor had lost the support of almost the entire 29-member New York congressional delegation and a majority of Democrats in the state legislature. None of the desertions hurt more than those of New York’s two US senators, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
“Due to the multiple, credible sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, it is clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and the people of New York,” the Democratic senators wrote in a joint statement. “Governor Cuomo should resign.”
The escalating political crisis has spawned an impeachment inquiry in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, and threatens to cast a cloud over President Joe Biden’s early days in office. Republicans have seized on the scandal to try to distract from Biden’s success tackling the coronavirus pandemic and challenge his party’s well-established advantage with female voters.
Biden, a longtime ally of Cuomo and his father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, has avoided directly addressing the controversy, although it’s becoming increasingly difficult.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday declined to say whether Biden believes Cuomo should resign. She said every woman who has come forth “deserves to have her voice heard, should be treated with respect and should be able to tell her story.”
The senators’ statement, which cited the pandemic as a reason for needing “sure and steady leadership,” came shortly after Schumer stood alongside Biden at a Rose Garden ceremony celebrating the passage of the Democrat-backed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.
A defiant Cuomo earlier in the day insisted he would not step down and condemned his Democratic detractors as “reckless and dangerous.”
“I did not do what has been alleged. Period,” he said, before evoking a favorite grievance of former President Donald Trump. “People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture and the truth.”
Never before has the brash, 63-year-old Democratic governor, who had been expected to run for a fourth term in 2022, been more politically isolated.
Some in Cuomo’s party had already turned against him for his administration’s move to keep secret how many nursing home residents died of COVID-19 for months, and the latest wave of defections signaled a possible tipping point.
Cuomo’s coalition of critics has expanded geographically and politically, now covering virtually every region in the state and the political power centers of New York City and Washington. Among them are New York City progressive US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the leader of the House Democratic campaign arm, US Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney; Buffalo-based US Rep. Brian Higgins; and a group of Long Island-based state lawmakers who had been Cuomo loyalists.
“The victims of sexual assault concern me more than politics or other narrow considerations, and I believe Governor Cuomo must step aside,” Maloney said.
Ocasio-Cortez, in a joint statement with US Rep. Jamaal Bowman, said that after a new groping allegation against the governor, she was concerned about the safety and well-being of the governor’s staff.
“We believe these women,” they said.
Cuomo on Friday insisted that he never touched anyone inappropriately, and said again that he’s sorry if he ever made anyone uncomfortable. He declined to answer a direct question about whether he’s had a consensual romantic relationship with any of the accusers.
“I have not had a sexual relationship that was inappropriate, period,” he said.
The state Assembly greenlit an impeachment investigation Thursday as lawmakers investigate whether there are grounds for Cuomo’s forcible removal from office. The state attorney general is also leading a probe into his workplace conduct.
The firestorm around the governor grew after the Times Union of Albany reported Wednesday that an unidentified aide told a supervisor Cuomo reached under her shirt and fondled her at his official residence late last year.
The woman hasn’t filed a criminal complaint, but a lawyer for the governor said Thursday that the state reported the allegation to Albany police after the woman declined to do so herself.
Additionally, Cuomo is facing multiple allegations of sexually suggestive remarks and behavior toward women, including female aides. One aide said he asked her if she would ever have sex with an older man. And another aide said the governor once kissed her without consent, and said governor’s aides publicly smeared her after she accused him of sexual harassment.
Rarely in the modern era has a leading elected official survived such a political backlash from his own party, but there is precedent.
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, refused to resign in 2009 after a scandal involving an extramarital affair. He would go on to serve in Congress. And in 2019, Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam resisted sweeping calls for his resignation after a blackface photo in an old yearbook emerged. Northam is still in office.
Cuomo said Friday he’d still be able to govern despite the growing list of elected officials who have demanded that he quit.
He didn’t address the reality of an increasingly untenable position: Cuomo is still managing the state’s pandemic response and negotiating a state budget with lawmakers who’ve lost confidence in his leadership. More than 120 members of the state legislature called on him to quit earlier this week, a majority of them Democrats.
The defections of virtually the entire congressional delegation raised the prospect of further erosion of support.
Showing no signs of bowing to the pressure, Cuomo raised new questions about the motives of the accusers.
“I won’t speculate about people’s possible motives,” he said Friday. “But I can tell you as a former attorney general who has gone through this situation many times, there are often many motivations for making an allegation. And that is why you need to know the facts before you make a decision.”
“Serious allegations should be weighed seriously, right?” he added. “That’s why they are called serious.”


One of three suspects accused of murdering British imam pleads not guilty

Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
Updated 11 sec ago

One of three suspects accused of murdering British imam pleads not guilty

Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
  • The other two defendants failed to appear for a scheduled hearing at Southwark Crown Court in London on Friday
  • One of them had been moved to another prison and his papers were ‘lost in transition,’ the judge said, while a lawyer for the other said his client was unwell

LONDON: A 22-year-old man accused of killing a British-Bangladeshi imam in East London has pleaded not guilty. Muzahid Ali, one of three men charged with murdering Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, appeared at Southwark Crown Court on Friday and was remanded in custody.

The other defendants, Majid Ahmed, 18, and Abul Kashem, 28, did not appear for their plea hearings. Ahmed had been transferred to the Category-A Belmarsh prison and his “papers had been lost in transition,” said Judge Deborah Taylor.

Prosecutor Gareth Patterson QC said Kashem was listed as “not attending.” His attorney, Gordon Benjamin, said his client was “unwell and complaining of stomach pains.” Judge Taylor said Kashem was “fit to attend court” and there was “no justification” for not doing so.

Ahmed and Kashem were ordered to attend their arraignment, which was set for May 6, days before the time limit on their custody is due to expire. All three of the accused were previously refused bail and have been in custody since they were charged on Nov. 10.

Ali spoke only twice during his court appearance on Friday, once to answer “yes” when asked by the judge whether he had spoken to counsel, and then to plead “not guilty.”

Paramedics found Mahdi, 22, who lived in north London, with stab wounds on Nov. 6, police said. He was unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene.

Mahdi was in his second year at Greenwich University, where he was studying accounting and finance. He also taught the Qur’an in his spare time and had led Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan at various mosques around London for the past nine years.

“He wanted to dedicate his time by making a difference and impacting young children and teenagers’ lives by teaching the Qur’an alongside his studies,” his mother, Shamam Chowdhury, told Arab News.

An online fund has been set up in Mahdi’s memory to raise money for a mosque in Egypt where he studied in 2019 to receive his ijazah, a license for those who want to teach Islam’s holy book.

“Aqil was a very special student of mine whom I had the blessed opportunity to teach and mentor for the past 10 years,” said Ishaaq Abu Rahmiyyah Jasat, Mahdi’s Qur’an teacher. “Words cannot describe how much he meant to me.”

He added that his student always tried hard and excelled in his Islamic journey, and recited the Qur’an in a melodious and soothing tone.

“Despite his hardships, he always had a good heart and cared so much for others,” he said.

 


Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’
Updated 25 min 28 sec ago

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’
  • China downgraded its diplomatic ties with Lithuania after Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last year

WASHINGTON: A senior US official will visit Lithuania next week to discuss enhancing economic cooperation with the small Baltic nation, which has faced pressure from China for boosting ties with Taiwan.
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Jose Fernandez will be in Vilnius from Sunday to Tuesday, and in Brussels from Wednesday to Friday, where he will also discuss efforts to counter economic “coercion” with EU officials, the State Department said in a statement.
In Vilnius, he will discuss bilateral economic cooperation, and US “strong support for Lithuania in the face of political pressure and economic coercion from the People’s Republic of China,” the statement said.
Fernandez will be accompanied by US Export-Import Bank officials to discuss implementation of a $600 million memorandum of understanding to expand opportunities for US exporters and Lithuanian buyers in areas such as high-tech manufacturing, business services and renewable energy, according to the statement.
In Brussels, Fernandez will discuss transatlantic trade and investment through the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, the statement said.
The United States, which is seeking to push back against growing Chinese influence worldwide, has backed Lithuania in its dispute with China over Taiwan, a self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own.
China downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Lithuania and pressed multinationals to sever ties with the country after Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last year called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, rather than using the word Taipei as is more common.
EU authorities launched a challenge at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday, accusing China of discriminatory trade practices against EU member Lithuania that they say threaten the integrity of the bloc’s single market.
Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it hopes its trade dispute with China will be solved with consultations between China and the EU.
Commenting on the WTO case, Taiwan’s Cabinet’s Office of Trade Negotiations said late Friday it “fully supports” the EU and Lithuania and opposes China’s “inappropriate economic coercion.”
“Our country will work with other like-minded partners such as Lithuania and the EU to prevent China from using coercive economic and diplomatic measures, to maintain a rules-based international trading system,” it added in a statement.


Philippines says to use supersonic anti-ship missiles in disputed South China Sea 

Philippines says to use supersonic anti-ship missiles in disputed South China Sea 
Updated 29 January 2022

Philippines says to use supersonic anti-ship missiles in disputed South China Sea 

Philippines says to use supersonic anti-ship missiles in disputed South China Sea 
  • The Philippines' armed forces is one of Asia’s most underfunded

MANILA, Philippines: The Philippine defense chief signed an 18.9 billion peso ($378 million) deal Friday with India to acquire the military’s first shore-based anti-ship missile system that he said would be used to defend the country’s sovereignty especially in the disputed South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana signed the contract with BrahMos Aerospace Director General Atul Dinkar Rane in a ceremony via video and a face-to-face meeting attended by Philippine and Indian government and military officials.
Despite financial constraints and the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippines has managed to proceed with a decades-long program to modernize its military, one of Asia’s most underfunded. It has acquired warships, aircraft and weapons to deal with Muslim and communist insurgencies and China’s increasingly assertive actions in the South China Sea.

A Brahmos anti-ship missile system is on display in this file photo. (Shutterstock)

“As the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missiles, the BrahMos missiles will provide deterrence against any attempt to undermine our sovereignty and sovereign rights, especially in the West Philippines Sea,” Lorenzana said, using the Philippine name for the disputed waters.
The missile firepower “will provide counterattack capabilities within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” he said.
Lorenzana was referring to a 200-nautical-mile (370-kilometer) stretch of sea where coastal states have been granted exclusive rights to explore and tap fish and other sea resources under the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. Many disputes involving Chinese coast guard and fishing ships and Philippine vessels have occurred in the waters off the Philippine archipelago.
The weapons system consists of three batteries of missiles, mobile land-based launchers, training for operators and maintenance units and logistical support, the Department of Defense said. The missiles could travel up to three times the speed of sound, making it hard to interdict, Philippine military officials said, adding the missiles would be employed mainly by the coastal defense units of the Philippine marines.
Security officials from both countries signed a defense cooperation pact in March last year that allowed the Philippines to become the first foreign buyer of the high-tech missiles developed by India and Russia.


Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infrastructure law

Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infrastructure law
Updated 29 January 2022

Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infrastructure law

Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infrastructure law
  • At least four people on board a municipal bus that plummeted along with the span were injured

PITTSBURGH: A 50-year-old bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh early Friday, requiring rescuers to rappel down a ravine and form a human chain to reach a few occupants of a municipal bus that plummeted along with the span. No deaths were reported.
The collapse came hours before President Joe Biden arrived in the city to promote his $1 trillion infrastructure law, which has earmarked about $1.6 billion for Pennsylvania bridge maintenance.
At least four people required hospital treatment. Five other vehicles were also on the bridge at the time. The cause was being investigated, and crews searched under the debris for additional victims.
A large crack showed on the end of the bridge where the segmented bus landed 150 feet (46 meters) down in the ravine, as if hit by an earthquake. A car landed upside down in front of the bus, which was operated by the Pittsburgh area’s transit agency.
The Forbes Avenue bridge over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park came down at 6:39 a.m., city officials said. The loud noise from the collapse was followed by a hissing sound and the smell of natural gas, witnesses said.
“The first sound was much more intense, and kind of a rumbling, which I guess was the structure, the deck hitting the ground,” said Ken Doyno, a resident who lives four houses away. “I mean, the whole house rattled at that point.”
Ruptured gas lines along the bridge produced the leak, and the supply of gas was shut off within a half-hour, city officials said.
As Biden toured the scene, an officer told him a person who was running by helped first responders get people out of cars. He called it a miracle.
“It really is, it’s astounding,” Biden said.
By midafternoon, three adults were being treated, and all were in fair condition, the UPMC hospital system said. A fourth person had received treatment and was released.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate. The agency tweeted a photo late Friday of Chair Jennifer Homendy at the scene.
A search-and-rescue team combed the area, said Sam Wasserman, a spokesperson for Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. Drones were brought in to help.
Most of the 10 people evaluated for injuries were first responders who were checked for exhaustion or because of the cold and snowy weather, Gainey said.
The segmented bus operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County had two passengers in addition to the driver, said Adam Brandolph, spokesperson for the agency.
The bus driver, Daryl Luciani, told WPXI-TV that as soon as he reached the bridge, he believed it was collapsing.
“I could just feel it,” Luciani told the station. “The bus was bouncing and shaking and it seems long, but it was probably less than a minute that the bus finally came to a stop, and I was just thankful that nobody on the bus was hurt.”
The passengers appeared to be OK, he said, so he pulled the air brake and waited for help to arrive. First responders reached them after descending with flashlights in the predawn darkness and used a rope to help him and other occupants get to safety, Luciani said.
About two hours after the collapse, Brandolph said, one of the passengers was on another bus, began complaining of injuries and was taken to a hospital. The driver and other passenger were not hurt, according to Brandolph.
The bus had started its route in downtown Pittsburgh and had been heading to the suburban community of Braddock.
“Judging by the time of day, had this bus been traveling inbound, toward downtown, there likely would have been more people on the bus and obviously could have been a much, much more dire situation,” Brandolph said.
The bus had seven or eight cameras, and any footage they captured of the collapse will be part of the investigation, Brandolph said.
Neighbors said a gas company worker went door to door to get them to evacuate from the immediate vicinity before the gas was successfully shut off.
“Apart from just this abiding noise, we could begin to smell gas and that was the truly frightening thing, then with that smell we both said, let’s get dressed and get out of here,” said Lyn Krynski, whose home is nearest the bridge.
“It sounded like a weather phenomenon more than anything,” said Douglas Gwilym, who was shoveling about an inch of snow when he heard the noise. “It was all I had to compare it to — it was this odd, whooshing sound.”
The bridge is an important artery that leads to the Squirrel Hill and Oakland neighborhoods and is a popular route toward downtown Pittsburgh. Authorities told motorists to avoid the area. Several neighbors said a weather-prompted two-hour school delay may have prevented a far worse human tragedy.
At the site of the collapse, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman called it “just an awful, surreal scene.”
“I hope it’s a wake-up call to the nation that we need to make these infrastructure investments,” Fetterman said.
The steel bridge, which was built in 1970, carries about 14,500 vehicles a day, according to a 2005 estimate.
Wasserman said the most recent inspection occurred in September but the report was not immediately available.
But a September 2019 inspection of the city-owned bridge revealed the deck and superstructure to be in poor condition, according to the US Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory.
A spreadsheet on the state Department of Transportation website listed the bridge’s overall condition as poor, which, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, means “deterioration of primary structural elements has advanced.”
 


UN: ‘Extreme lack of food’ for many in Tigray

A woman queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
A woman queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
Updated 29 January 2022

UN: ‘Extreme lack of food’ for many in Tigray

A woman queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
  • WFP calls for all parties in Ethiopia’s war to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire

NAIROBI: More than a third of the people in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region “are suffering an extreme lack of food,” the UN World Food Programme said in a new assessment of a region under a months-long government blockade.

“Families are exhausting all means to feed themselves, with three quarters of the population using extreme coping strategies to survive,” the WFP said in its report, noting increases in begging and relying on just one meal a day.
It called for all parties in Ethiopia’s war to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire and “formally agreed transport corridors” for aid after 15 months of war.
The UN said no aid convoy has entered the Tigray region of some 6 million people since mid-December. Separately, the UN humanitarian agency said less than 10 percent of the needed supplies, including medicines and fuel, have entered Tigray since mid-July.
All international NGOs operating in Tigray have depleted their fuel, “with their staff delivering the little remaining humanitarian supplies and services on foot, where possible,” the agency said in its Friday update.

BACKGROUND

Ethiopia’s government has been wary of allowing aid to fall into the hands of the Tigray forces who once dominated the national government and have been battling the current government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since November 2020.

Ethiopia’s government has been wary of allowing aid to fall into the hands of the Tigray forces who once dominated the national government and have been battling the current government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since November 2020.
The government in part has blamed problems with aid delivery on insecurity it says is caused by Tigray forces, including new fighting in the neighboring Afar region near the only approved road corridor for aid.
Aid workers, however, also blame bureaucratic obstacles including intrusive personal searches and confiscation of items including personal medications before visits to Tigray.
The new WFP report, based on face-to-face interviews with more than 980 households across accessible parts of Tigray, cited “extraordinary operation challenges.”
The war has shifted in recent weeks, with the Tigray forces retreating into their region after attempting to advance on the capital, Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia’s military saying it would not pursue them further. That opened the way for fresh mediation efforts by the United States and the African Union, with humanitarian access a key goal.
Aid has begun reaching people in the Amhara and Afar regions after Tigray forces’ incursions there displaced hundreds of thousands. But the new WFP report said that some 9 million people need food assistance across the three war-affected regions.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry this week said it was working with aid partners to facilitate daily cargo flights to Tigray “to transport much-needed medicines and supplies.” It is not clear when the daily flights will begin, though the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday announced that it had made its first delivery of medical supplies to Tigray since September, calling it “a huge relief.” A second flight followed on Thursday.
The UN has said time is running out. “Aid organizations have warned that operations could cease completely by the end of February in Tigray,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.
Tigray’s health bureau this week reported that nearly 1,500 people died of malnutrition in just part of the region over a four-month period last year, including more than 350 young children. It cited more than 5,000 blockade-related deaths in all from hunger and disease in the largest official death toll yet associated with the country’s war.
Ethiopia’s government has sought to restrict reporting on the war and detained some journalists under the state of emergency, including a video freelancer accredited to the AP, Amir Aman Kiyaro.
The country’s Council of Ministers this week proposed ending the state of emergency now, citing the changing security situation. That needs lawmakers’ approval.