Joe Biden’s approval rating edges lower amid economic concerns

Joe Biden’s approval rating edges lower amid economic concerns
US President Joe Biden’s popularity declined almost steadily after he took office in January 2021, bottoming out at 36 percent in mid-2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 April 2023
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Joe Biden’s approval rating edges lower amid economic concerns

Joe Biden’s approval rating edges lower amid economic concerns
  • Biden’s popularity declined almost steadily after he took office in January 2021
  • He will run for re-election in 2024 but he has yet to formally launch his campaign

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s public approval fell to 39 percent this month, nearing the lowest level of his presidency, as the US economy showed signs of losing steam, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.
The three-day poll, which ended on Sunday, showed a modest decline from last month, when 42 percent of respondents said they approved of Biden’s performance as president.
Biden’s popularity declined almost steadily after he took office in January 2021, bottoming out at 36 percent in mid-2022. It has remained near that level since then.
Biden declared last Friday he was running for re-election in 2024 but he has yet to formally launch his campaign.
He is not expected to face serious competition for the nomination of his Democratic Party, but his approval levels remain low by historical standards.
Donald Trump, who is also running for president in 2024, spent much of his 2017-2021 presidency with similarly low approval levels, bottoming out at 33 percent in December 2017. Previous presidents only occasionally experienced approval levels that low.
Respondents in the Reuters/Ipsos poll were most likely to cite the economy as the biggest problem facing the country, with one in five pointing to it. Crime and the environment were each picked by about one in 10 respondents as America’s top problem.
One potential bright spot for Biden: 68 percent of respondents said they were opposed to federal courts overturning FDA approval of mifepristone, an abortion drug.
The result was the latest to show a clear majority of Americans siding against efforts to curtail abortion rights.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll gathered responses from 1,029 US adults, using a nationally representative sample. The poll has a margin of error of three percentage points.


Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea
Updated 04 December 2023
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Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides will visit Egypt and Jordan on Tuesday as part of an initiative to establish a humanitarian aid corridor to Israeli-besieged Gaza.

Cyprus, the closest European Union member state to the Middle East, has offered to host and operate facilities for sustained aid directly into the Gaza Strip once hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant Hamas group cease.

Christodoulides planned to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan. There were “technical discussions” on the matter between Cypriot and Israeli officials on Sunday.

The Cypriot plan is aimed at expanding capacity for humanitarian relief directly to the coastal Gaza Strip beyond limited deliveries being made through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Palestinian enclave.

Such an aid corridor faces logistical, political and security challenges — Gaza has no port and its waters are shallow.

Britain, which sent 80 tons of Gaza-destined aid in the form of mostly blankets and tents to Cyprus last week, has offered watercraft able to access the coastline without the need for special infrastructure if the corridor ever materializes, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

As many as 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes in an Israeli bombing campaign that has reduced much of the crowded coastal strip to a desolate wasteland.

Separately, human rights groups sought to block the Dutch government from exporting F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, arguing in court on Monday that the exports could make the Netherlands complicit in possible war crimes.

The Netherlands houses one of several regional warehouses of US-owned F-35 parts, which are then distributed to countries that request them, including Israel.

The rights groups, which included Oxfam Novib, the Dutch affiliate of the international charity, argued Israel was using the planes in attacks in Gaza that were killing civilians. 

Preventing that was more important than the Netherlands fulfilling its commercial or political obligations to allied countries, they argued.

“The (Dutch) state must immediately stop its deliveries of F-35 parts to Israel,” lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said in summary proceeding at the Hague District Court.

“That is its obligation under ... Article 1 of the Geneva conventions, it is its obligation under the Genocide Treaty to prevent genocide, and it is its obligation under export law.”


Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza
Updated 04 December 2023
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Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza
  • If asking nicely worked, we wouldn’t have been in this position today: Sen. Sanders

WASHINGTON: As a ceasefire ticked down last week and Israel prepared to resume its round-the-clock airstrikes, Sen. Bernie Sanders and a robust group of Democratic senators had a message for their president: They were done “asking nicely” for Israel to do more to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza.

Lawmakers warned President Joe Biden’s national security team that planned US aid to Israel must be met with assurances of concrete steps from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government.

“The truth is that if asking nicely worked, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today,” Sanders said in a floor speech. It was time for the US to use its “substantial leverage” with its ally, the Vermont senator said.

“And we all know what that leverage is,” he said, adding, “the blank-check approach must end.”

With Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs hanging in the balance, the senators’ tougher line on Israel has gotten the White House’s attention, and that of Israel.

Lawmakers of both major political parties for decades have embraced the US role as Israel’s top protector, and it’s all but inconceivable that they would vote down the wartime aid. The Democratic lawmakers are adamant that’s not their intent, as strong supporters of Israel’s right of self-defense against Hamas. But just the fact that Democratic lawmakers are making that link signals the fractures in Congress amid the daily scenes of suffering among besieged Palestinian civilians.

Sanders and the Democratic senators involved say they are firm in their stand that Israel’s military must adopt substantive measures to lessen civilian deaths in Gaza as part of receiving the supplemental’s $14.3 billion in US aid for Israel’s war.

The warning from friendly Democrats is a complication for the White House as it faces what had already been a challenging task of getting the supplemental aid bill through Congress. Some Republicans are balking at the part of the bill that provides funding for Ukraine’s war against Russia, and the funding for Israel was supposed to be the easy part.

The demand is a warning of more trouble ahead for an Israeli government that’s often at odds with the US in its treatment of Palestinians.

“There’s a big difference between asking and getting a commitment” from Netanyahu’s government on a plan to reduce civilian casualties and improve living conditions in Gaza, Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen said. Van Hollen has been one of the key senators huddling with administration officials on the demands.

“So our goal is to achieve results,” Van Hollen said. “And not just set expectations.”

Following the senators’ warning, the Biden administration has upped its own demands to Israel since late last week, insisting publicly for the first time that Israeli leaders not just hear out US demands to ease civilian suffering in Gaza, but agree to them.

Over the weekend, as an end to the ceasefire brought the return of Israeli bombardment and Hamas rocket strikes, the Israeli military said it had begun using one measure directed by the Biden administration: an online map of Gaza neighborhoods to tell civilians which crowded streets, neighborhoods and communities to evacuate before an Israeli attack.

Heavy bombardment followed the evacuation orders, and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said they were running out of places to go in the sealed-off territory. Many of its 2.3 million people are crammed into the south after Israel ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the war, which was sparked by the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in Israel that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.


At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 
Updated 04 December 2023
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At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 
  • Their bodies, with multiple bullet wounds, were found in a village in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district 
  • The development comes seven months after ethnic clashes in the border state that killed 180 people 

GUWAHATI: At least 13 people were killed in a gunfight between two unknown militant groups in India’s restive Manipur state on Monday, a police official said, seven months after ethnic clashes in the border state killed at least 180 people. 

Their bodies, with multiple bullet wounds, were found in a village in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district where the official said a “massive” gunfight was reported. 

The state has witnessed sporadic violence since the peak of ethnic clashes that erupted on May 3 between members of the majority Meitei ethnic group and minority Kuki community over sharing government benefits and quotas. 

The clashes have marked a rare security failure for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in a state ruled by his Bharatiya Janata Party. 

No weapons were found near the bodies, the senior police official told Reuters by phone from state capital Imphal, requesting anonymity. 

“It could be possible the weapons were looted after they were killed,” the official said, adding that they could not immediately identify the dead or the militant groups. 


Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 
Updated 04 December 2023
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Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 
  • Powerful explosion in Marawi killed at least 4, injured 50 others  
  • Daesh reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack late on Sunday

MANILA: Philippine police are looking into possible suspects behind the bombing at a Catholic mass in the country’s south, a regional police chief said on Monday after the blast that killed four people was claimed by Daesh militants. 

On Sunday, a powerful explosion ripped through a gymnasium at Mindanao State University in Marawi, a southern Philippine city that was besieged by pro-Daesh militants for five months in 2017. The death toll stood at four as of Monday, while around 50 others were injured from the blast. 

Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack late on Sunday, saying that its members had detonated an explosive device at the gathering, according to reports.  

“Following the explosion, the PNP (Philippine National Police) created a special investigation task group to focus and expedite the investigation relative to this incident … We (now) have persons of interest,” regional police chief Allan Nobleza told reporters, adding that one of the suspects was linked to a local militant group.  

“The investigation is still ongoing. In order not to preempt the investigation, we will not divulge the names.”  

Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., chief of staff of the Philippines’ Armed Forces, said that Sunday’s attack may have been in response to a series of recent military operations that had targeted local militant groups.  

Philippine forces launched an operation targeting the local Dawlah Islamiyah cell in the southern province of Maguindanao on Friday, killing 11 suspected militants including the group’s alleged leader Abdullah Sapal. The militant group, which has been linked to bombings and other deadly attacks in the southern Philippines, pledged allegiance to Daesh in 2015. 

In another operation in Sulu province on Saturday, government forces killed Mudzrimar Sawadjaan, also known as Mundi, a senior leader of another Daesh affiliate, the Abu Sayyaf Group. Brawner said Mundi was the mastermind of two major attacks in the Sulu capital of Jolo, including the 2019 cathedral bombings that killed at least 20 people. 

Both Dawlah Islamiyah —also known as the Maute group — and the ASG were behind the 2017 Marawi siege, a five-month battle that killed more than 1,100 people and forced more than 300,000 others from their homes. 

“Because of the accomplishments … we believe that that could be one of the strong possibilities why this (attack) occurred,” Brawner told reporters in Marawi on Monday.  

“We will go after the perpetrators as soon as possible and use all resources at our disposal in order to make this happen.”  


Saudi minister visits Delhi to streamline Umrah services for Indian pilgrims 

Saudi minister visits Delhi to streamline Umrah services for Indian pilgrims 
Updated 04 December 2023
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Saudi minister visits Delhi to streamline Umrah services for Indian pilgrims 

Saudi minister visits Delhi to streamline Umrah services for Indian pilgrims 
  • India has world’s largest Muslim-minority population, with over 200 million Indian Muslims 
  • Haj Committee of India hopes to discuss increasing nation’s Hajj quota with Al-Rabiah 

NEW DELHI: Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah will begin an official visit to India on Monday on a trip aimed at strengthening collaboration and streamlining the Umrah journey for international pilgrims, the Saudi Embassy in New Delhi said.  

India has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population, with over 200 million Indians professing Islam in the Hindu-majority country.  

Al-Rabiah’s visit to India this week is “an important part” of a series of international tours aimed at showcasing the Kingdom’s commitment to serving Umrah pilgrims from around the world, the Saudi Embassy in India said in a statement.  

“The visit aims to achieve significant advancements in streamlining procedures, enhancing services, and outlining comprehensive plans for hosting pilgrims and Umrah performers, aligning closely with the outlined objectives of ‘Saudi Vision 2030,’” it said.

Al-Rabiah will hold high-level discussions with Indian officials and prominent figures in the Hajj and Umrah services sector to strengthen coordination and collaboration, the embassy added.  

“To further streamline processes for Indian Umrah (pilgrims), an inaugural exhibition for the Nusuk platform and the Tasheer e-visa-issuing center will be organized during the visit,” it said.  

“These international visits reflect the ministry’s and its partners’ continuous efforts in the Hajj ecosystem to establish robust communication channels and foster cooperation with countries worldwide.” 

The Haj Committee of India is hoping to discuss increasing India’s Hajj pilgrimage quota during Al-Rabiah’s visit.  

“This visit is important and he is a very significant person,” Munawari Begum, the vice president of the Haj Committee of India, told Arab News.  

Under the 2023 Hajj quota, around 175,000 Indians traveled to Saudi Arabia for the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam.  

“One of the agendas of the visit is to discuss the enhancement of the Hajj quota from the existing 175,025 to 200,000 at least,” Begum added.