Gaza protest voting in Georgia, Washington threatens Biden’s reelection: Activists

Gaza protest voting in Georgia, Washington threatens Biden’s reelection: Activists
Protesters take part in the “March for Gaza” in Washington, DC, on March 2, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 14 March 2024
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Gaza protest voting in Georgia, Washington threatens Biden’s reelection: Activists

Gaza protest voting in Georgia, Washington threatens Biden’s reelection: Activists
  • #AbandonBiden activists say president likely to lose swing states, hampering November presidential bid
  • Joe Biden, Donald Trump have secured their parties’ nominations after this week’s primaries

CHICAGO: A significant number of Arab and Muslim voters turned their backs on President Joe Biden in Georgia’s and Washington State’s Democratic primary elections on Tuesday — part of a trend likely to threaten his reelection in November’s polls, according to activist organizations.

Voters chose to “not vote” or to vote “uncommitted” to protest Biden’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza, where more than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed, said the #AbandonBiden and ListentoGeorgia campaign bodies.

Voters in Washington State cast “uncommitted” ballots. But Arab and Muslim voters in Georgia could not, and were instead urged by activists to turn in blank ballot papers as a message to Biden that they do not support what they view as genocide and are calling for a ceasefire. They could also vote for other minor candidates rather than Biden.

The Georgia and Washington State protest votes, along with similar voting in Minnesota, Michigan and several other states, pose a serious threat to Biden’s reelection in November, Farah Khan, co-founder of the #AbandonBiden movement, told Arab News. 

Preliminary numbers in Georgia, where Biden won by a razor-thin margin of 11,779 votes to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, show Biden’s reelection is far from certain, she said. 

Biden “can’t redeem himself now. Come November, it’s going to be really hard for him,” Khan added. “We know he’s … feeling the pressure because he keeps making promises on Gaza and making trips to Michigan without telling the public where he plans to be, like he’s dodging the protesters.”

The protest vote was more significant in Washington State where 48,619 voters, nearly 8 percent of the total, cast “uncommitted” votes just in the Democratic primary. In 2020, Biden won Washington State over Trump by a significant 785,000 votes. 

While the #AbandonBiden vote there will not jeopardize his hold on the state, the uncommitted totals were significant and will increase in November, activists said.

If the 8 percent “uncommitted” vote holds in the general election, Biden could face a much closer fight with Trump.

https://www.axios.com/local/seattle/2024/03/13/results-washington-presidential-primary-trump-biden-uncommitted

“Clearly, Georgia had a bit more of an uphill battle than in North Carolina, which had a ‘no preference’ option to affirmatively select,” Pooyan Ordoubadi, co-chair of the North Carolina #AbandonBiden coalition, told Arab News.

“Georgia was decided by less than 12,000 votes in 2020, so even a tiny sliver of disillusioned voters would be extremely problematic for Biden.

“Over three-quarters of Democratic voters are demanding a ceasefire. The large numbers of protest votes show how many voters, across all ages and demographics, are opposed to the US-funded genocide in Gaza. Biden can’t win without us.

“We need to ask why, if the Democrats believe that a Trump presidency would mean the end of democracy, they’re willing to risk it all to support a fascist government in Israel engaged in ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

Khan said: “These numbers are telling you a pretty loud story about the challenges he (Biden) faces. The movement is just getting started.

“Once the primaries wrap up, we’re going to be working very hard to have the momentum picking up. Michigan and Georgia are very tough battlegrounds for him.”

Because there were no “uncommitted” votes to count in Georgia, activists had to calculate the differences between total registered voters versus total votes cast.

Georgia election officials estimated that only slightly more than 11-12 percent of the state’s 7.95 million registered voters requested ballots on Tuesday.

https://sos.ga.gov/election-data-hub

https://www.savannahnow.com/story/news/politics/state/2024/03/12/election-day-georgia-march-12-primary-live-updates/72937683007/

With nearly 98 percent of votes counted in Georgia by Wednesday morning, Biden received 95.19 percent, or 274,820 votes, while two minor challengers won 4.81 percent, or 13,896 votes.

Many Arab and Muslim protesters were encouraged to vote “blank ballots,” although the state election board would not confirm the total number. 

https://results.enr.clarityelections.com/GA/120015/web.317647/#/summary

Activists in the ListentoGeorgia coalition of local faith leaders and political organizations and activists said at least 6,455 Georgia voters submitted blank ballots in response to their protest calls.

Additionally, in Georgia two minor candidate rivals received what appears to be more than 14,000 anti-Biden votes. Georgia election officials did not release numbers for the blank ballots.

The total number of blank ballots returned, combined with the known opposition votes, put the anti-Biden protest at well over the 11,779 votes he received in Georgia in 2020 to defeat Trump.

Biden has not addressed questions or references to the #AbandonBiden campaign over his pro-Israel policies.

But at a rally on Tuesday in Atlanta, a protester in the audience yelled: “What are you going to do, Genocide Joe?  Tens of thousands of Palestinians ...” Supporters drowned out the protester, chanting: “Four more years.”

But Biden responded: “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait ... Look, I don’t resent … his passion.  There’s a lot of Palestinians who are being unfairly victimized.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/03/11/remarks-by-president-biden-at-a-campaign-event-atlanta-ga-march-9-2024/

But Khan said no matter how one analyzes the numbers, Biden’s razor-thin 2020 Georgia victory vanishes and jeopardizes his reelection.

“Even Washington voters are showing their disapproval of Biden. Washington voted 7.6 percent uncommitted, almost 47,000 votes — that’s a pretty clear sign,” she added.

“Based on active engagement we’re witnessing on the ground, we’ll see a lot more Arab and Muslim voters turn out in November’s election.”

 Khan said she expects the trend to continue in upcoming state primaries with large Arab and Muslim voter populations, including in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio on March 19, Wisconsin on April 2, Maryland and West Virginia on May 14, and New Jersey on June 4.

“Muslim and Arab voters are taking their allies, like the Black and Brown and larger progressive community, with them in uniting behind a message to reject genocide,” she added.

To become president, a candidate in the November presidential election must win at least 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes assigned to the 50 states and territories based on voter population. 

In 2020, Biden won 306 electoral votes while Trump received 232. If Biden loses 36 electoral votes by losing at least three states he won four years ago, he cannot win reelection. Michigan, North Carolina and Minnesota represent 41 total electoral votes.

The #AbandonBiden campaign said their protest against Biden is not an expression of support for Trump, although Trump or a third-party candidate such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could benefit.

If no candidate wins the minimum of 270 electoral votes in the Nov. 5 presidential election, the selection of a president could go to the US House of Representatives, according to the country’s constitution.

https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college/faq#no270

Khan said the various #AbandonBiden coalitions are expected to gather after the Democratic and Republican conventions to vet alternative candidates for endorsement, although details have not yet been finalized.

Biden’s deputy campaign manager in Georgia did not respond to an Arab News request for comment.


UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds
Updated 16 sec ago
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UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds
LONDON: Britain’s infected blood scandal that has killed 3,000 people and left thousands more suffering with hepatitis or HIV was no accident, a public inquiry found on Monday, blaming a catalogue of failures by government and doctors.
Inquiry chair Brian Langstaff said more than 30,000 people received infected blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s from Britain’s state-funded National Health Service, destroying lives, dreams and families.
The use of infected blood, despite the known risks, has resulted in thousands of victims in the United States, France, Canada and other countries, in part after US prisoners and other high-risk groups were paid to provide blood.
In Britain around 1,250 people with bleeding disorders were infected with HIV, including about 380 children, the inquiry found.
Three quarters of them died.
“This disaster was not an accident,” Langstaff said. “The infections happened because those in authority — doctors, the blood services and successive governments — did not put patient safety first.”
He said proper compensation must now be paid.
The government, which in 2015 said it was “something that never should have happened”, agreed in 2022 to pay an interim 100,000 pounds ($126,990) to those affected.
The infected blood and blood products, some of which were imported from the United States, were used for transfusions, which were not always clinically needed, and as treatments for bleeding disorders like haemophilia.
Haemophiliacs received Factor 8 concentrates, often imported from the United States or Austria, which carried a higher risk of causing hepatitis.
Some of the concentrates were infected with HIV in the 1980s, the inquiry said, but authorities failed to switch to safer alternatives and they decided in July 1983, a year after risks were apparent, not to suspend their importation.
Systemic failures resulted in between 80 and 100 people becoming infected with HIV by transfusion, it said, and about 26,800 were infected with Hepatitis C, often from receiving blood after childbirth or an operation.
Both groups were failed by doctors’ complacency about Hepatitis C and being slow to respond to the risks of AIDS, it said, compounded by an absence of meaningful apology or redress.
He said patients were exposed to risks despite it being well known that blood could cause severe infection, in the case of hepatitis since the end of World War Two.
Treatment practices that could have reduced the risks were not adopted, he said, noting blood was collected from prisoners, who had a higher prevalence of hepatitis, until 1984.
Some of the victims were further betrayed by being used in medical trials without their knowledge or consent, he said.
“It will be astonishing to anyone who reads this report that these events could have happened in the UK,” Langstaff said.
The British inquiry, which started in 2018, does not have the power to recommend prosecutions. ($1 = 0.7875 pounds)

Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in

Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in
Updated 57 min 37 sec ago
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Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in

Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in
  • Protests erupted last week, sparked by anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment approved in France that would change who is allowed to participate in elections
  • Pro-independence political parties say they want the French government to withdraw the electoral reform before they restart talks

SYDNEY/PARIS: A thousand police arrived in New Caledonia from France and streets were relatively calm after a week of unrest, the French High Commission said on Monday, but roads were blocked by protesters and the airport remained shut, stranding tourists.
Blockades of roads would continue, Field Action Co-ordination Cell (CCAT), the activist group organising the protests in the French-ruled Pacific island, said in a statement, urging protesters to use a peaceful approach.
Road blocks were making it a challenge to get food supplies to stores in several areas or to provide secure travel for medical staff, New Caledonia government officials said, adding, however, that there were no shortages of supplies or staff.
Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said "the situation there is deeply concerning", after a night of fire and looting.
France's top official in the territory, Louis Le Franc, said on Sunday a police operation to regain control of the road from capital Noumea to the international airport would take several days. Gendarmes had dismantled 76 road blocks, the High Commission said on Monday.
Airline Aircalin said the airport would remained closed until Thursday.
Protests erupted last week, sparked by anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment approved in France that would change who is allowed to participate in elections, which local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.
Six people have been killed and the unrest has left a trail of burnt businesses and cars and looted shops, with road barricades restricting access to medicine and food. The business chamber said 150 companies had been looted and burnt.

EVACUATIONS AWAITED
Pro-independence political parties say they want the French government to withdraw the electoral reform before they restart talks.
"We need strong actions [from the government] to calm the situation ... this is a political, not a security issue," said Dominique Fochi, secretary general of the pro-independence Caledonian Union.
Shares of Australian nickel miners were on the rise as underlying prices surged by 7% over the weekend due to unrest in New Caledonia, a key global supplier of the metal.
Australia's Albanese earlier told ABC radio his country was awaiting approval from French authorities to send an evacuation flight to pick up tourists stranded in New Caledonia hotels.
Around 300 Australians have registered with consular officials in the French territory, which lies in the southwest Pacific, some 1,500 km (930 miles) east of Australia.
There were around 3,200 people waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia as commercial flights were cancelled due to the unrest that broke out last week, the local government said.
New Zealand defence aircraft were on standby and also awaiting the French go-ahead to repatriate nationals, its Foreign Minister Winston Peters wrote in a post on X on Sunday.


Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat

Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat
Updated 20 May 2024
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Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat

Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat
  • World’s largest election began on April 19 amid high summer temperatures and more days of heatwaves than usual predicted
  • Two senior citizens collapsed at polling station in Mumbai temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius and humidity of 71 percent 

MUMBAI/BHUBANESWAR: Indians began voting early on Monday in the fifth phase of mammoth general elections, with thousands queuing at polling stations to beat the scorching heat in the financial capital of Mumbai and the sprawling states of Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

The world’s largest election began on April 19, amid high summer temperatures, with the weather office predicting more days of heatwaves than usual through the season.

Votes will be counted on June 4, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to win a rare third consecutive term.

“Given the hot and humid conditions, there could have been fans and better arrangements for the ill and those with disabilities,” said Sangeeta Rege, 46, a director at a health research organization.

She was speaking after two senior citizens collapsed at her polling station in Mumbai temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit) and humidity of 71 percent that made it difficult for many, especially the elderly, to set foot outdoors.

Nearly a billion people are eligible to vote in India’s elections, but after poor initial turnout in early phases, more exercised the franchise to take the average of the first four rounds to 66.95 percent, with 69 percent voting in the May 13 fourth phase.

Monday’s phase has the fewest constituencies going to the polls, with 89.5 million voters set to pick representatives for 49 seats.

High-profile candidates in the fray on Monday include trade minister Piyush Goyal, standing from one of six seats in Mumbai, and defense minister Rajnath Singh from Lucknow, both cities where there has been poor voter turnout in the past.

On Sunday, the Election Commission specifically urged residents of both cities “to erase the stigma” of urban apathy.

“At the core of our vision for Mumbai is – better infrastructure and more ‘ease of living,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while campaigning in the city last week.

GANDHI FAMILY BASTIONS

Two boroughs of the opposition Congress party’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty are also going to the polls in the large politically crucial northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Family scion Rahul Gandhi is contesting the seat of Raebareli, in addition to Wayanad in the south, which has already voted.

Smriti Irani, minister for women and child development, is contesting from Amethi, where she defeated Rahul Gandhi in 2019, to take a seat his family held almost continuously for the last four decades.

Other keenly watched contests in the state include Kaiserganj, where the BJP is fielding the son of a former wrestling federation chief, although the father has been charged with sexually harassing female wrestlers.

Poor voter turnout became a concern for the ruling BJP initially, and analysts believe the low numbers cast doubts on the landslide victory the party and its allies sought.

But long queues snaked out of polling booths in Mumbai and Bolangir in the eastern state of Odisha after the weather department forecast maximum temperatures to rise between 2 degrees and 4 degrees Celsius.

The election aimed “to ensure stability and security ... plus development of my city and country which ... is happening at a rapid rate,” said Mumbai homemaker Jaya Roy Chowdhury, 48.

“The BJP has not fielded the right candidate for the Lok Sabha, but we are voting ... with Modi in mind,” said 55-year-old Odisha farmer Girish Mishra, referring to the lower house of parliament.

Modi, accused by opponents of targeting minority Muslims to please hard-line voters, resolved in a television interview aired after the fourth phase to “not do Hindu-Muslim (in politics).”

He has repeatedly accused the Congress of plans to extend welfare benefits to Muslims at the expense of disadvantaged tribal groups and Hindu castes, a claim the opposition party has denied.


London court set to rule on Julian Assange extradition

London court set to rule on Julian Assange extradition
Updated 20 May 2024
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London court set to rule on Julian Assange extradition

London court set to rule on Julian Assange extradition
  • The 52-year-old Australian is seeking permission to appeal against a ruling allowing him to be sent to face a US trial on espionage charges

London: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could find out on Monday whether he has won a reprieve in his last-ditch legal battle to avoid extradition from Britain to the United States.
The 52-year-old Australian is seeking permission to appeal against a ruling allowing him to be sent to face a US trial on espionage charges, after a long-running court saga.
Two London High Court judges handling Assange’s request adjourned the case in March, asking US government lawyers to give “satisfactory assurances” about free speech protections and that he would not face the death penalty if convicted.
Those submissions are expected to be presented at a hearing on Monday, and the judges could rule immediately afterwards.
If successful, Assange will be able to go back to domestic UK courts.
If he loses, Assange could be swiftly extradited after a five-year legal battle that has pitted the Washington and London governments against free-speech campaigners.
Assange’s only hope would then be to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which could order a stay on the extradition if it decides there are “exceptional circumstances.”
It would also require London to accept the order. This is uncertain because of a separate dispute with the European court which blocked the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Dozens of Assange supporters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London early Monday, many wearing T-shirts bearing Assange’s face.
“This man’s life is at stake,” 83-year-old sculptor Jenny West told AFP.
“He represents all other journalists, it’s a pressing humanitarian situation,” she added.
Assange has been detained in the high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since April 2019.
He was arrested after spending seven years holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault that were eventually dropped.
US authorities want to put the publisher on trial for divulging US military secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange is accused of publishing some 700,000 confidential documents relating to US military and diplomatic activities, starting in 2010.
The United States has accused Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, which his supporters warn mean he could be sentenced to 175 years in prison.
UK courts approved the extradition request after the United States vowed that Assange would not go to its most extreme prison, “ADX Florence,” nor to subject him to the harsh regime known as “Special Administrative Measures.”
His supporters have criticized the legal proceedings he has faced.
“It is abundantly clear of course that the process in the court in the United Kingdom is corrupt. The case is rigged against Julian,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, told reporters last Wednesday.
Stella Assange said she hoped her husband would be present at Monday’s hearing but added that she did not expect the judges to rule in his favor.
“I don’t expect a rational outcome from the courts, I’m afraid to say,” she said.
Assange’s supporters say his health is fragile and the Council of Europe this week voiced concern about his treatment.
The United States indicted Assange multiple times between 2018 and 2020 but President Joe Biden has faced domestic and international pressure to drop the case filed under his predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden indicated recently that the United States was considering an Australian request to drop the charges.
“President Biden has the chance still to be the president who put an end to this, who acted in the interest of press freedom in journalism,” said Rebecca Vincent, of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).


Daesh claims attack in Afghanistan that killed 3 Spanish citizens and 3 Afghans

Daesh claims attack in Afghanistan that killed 3 Spanish citizens and 3 Afghans
Updated 20 May 2024
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Daesh claims attack in Afghanistan that killed 3 Spanish citizens and 3 Afghans

Daesh claims attack in Afghanistan that killed 3 Spanish citizens and 3 Afghans
  • The Daesh group issued statements on its Aamaq news agency late Sunday
  • Seven people were wounded in the attack on Friday in on Bamiyan province, a major tourist area

ISLAMABAD: The Daesh group has claimed responsibility for an attack on foreigners in central Afghanistan last week in which three Spanish citizens and three Afghans were killed.
Seven people were wounded in the attack on Friday in on Bamiyan province, a major tourist area, according to Abdul Mateen Qani, a spokesman for the interior minister. He said seven suspects were arrested at the scene.
The Daesh group issued statements on its Aamaq news agency late Sunday that said its fighters attacked a bus carrying tourists and their guides. “The attack was in response to the IS leaders’ directions to target citizens of the European Union wherever they are found,” it said.
Spain’s Foreign Ministry said three Spaniards died and at least one more had been wounded. A Taliban official in Bamiyan, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the four wounded foreigners were from Spain, Norway, Australia and Latvia.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wrote on social media platform X that he was “overwhelmed” by the news.
Qani said that all those who were wounded have been transferred to capital of Kabul for treatment and they are stable condition.
The Daesh group’s affiliate in Afghanistan is a major Taliban rival and its militants have attacked schools, hospitals, mosques and minority Shiite areas throughout the country.
The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after 20 years of war.
The Taliban is seeking to increase the number of tourists coming to the country. In 2021, there were 691 foreign tourists; in 2022, that figure rose to 2,300; and last year, it topped 7,000.
Bamiyan was the site of two massive Buddha statues carved into a cliff between the 4th and 6th century and which were destroyed by the Taliban at Al-Qaeda’s urging in early 2001.
Separately on Monday, a hand grenade exploded in the southern city of Kandahar, killing at least one civilian and wounding three, the Kandahar police chief’s office said.
Police were investigating the explosion near the road toward Kandahar airport, the statement said. No group has taken responsibility for the blast.