By Matthias Williams and Ilya Zhegulev
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine accused Belarus on Wednesday of trying to escalate a row over 2,000 Hasidic Jewish pilgrims stranded at a border crossing after Ukrainian border guards did not allow them to enter due to coronavirus restrictions.
Relations between Kyiv and Minsk soured after Ukraine joined the European Union in not recognising the result of last month’s election that handed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office.
The crisis unfolding in Minsk has pushed Lukashenko back closer to traditional ally Moscow, which remains at loggerheads with Ukraine over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office accused the Belarusian authorities of “deliberately or unintentionally” spreading rumours that the border between Belarus and Ukraine remained open and encouraging the pilgrims heading to Ukraine to try that route.
Every Jewish New Year, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews make the pilgrimage to the central Ukrainian town of Uman to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810.
This year, Jewish New Year celebrations run from Sept 18-20.
Footage released by the Ukrainian government on Wednesday showed the pilgrims, including children, walking around or standing near a line of helmeted Ukrainian border guards at the Novi Yarylovychi checkpoint. Tents were pitched along the road.
“We call on the Belarusian authorities to stop creating additional tensions on the border with our country and spreading false and encouraging statements to pilgrims, which may give them the feeling that Ukraine’s border may still be open to foreigners,” Zelenskiy’s office said in a statement.
“We are also forced to state that the personal insult of certain persons in the de facto current Belarusian government extends today, unfortunately, to the plane of interstate relations,” it added, without elaborating.
Lukashenko on Tuesday offered to create a “green corridor” for the pilgrims to travel to Uman on buses and then ferry them back to Belarus, the state news agency Belta quoted his spokeswoman Natalya Eismont as saying.
Eismont could not be reached for comment on Ukraine’s statement.
Ukraine has imposed a temporary ban on foreigners entering the country to tackle a spike in coronavirus deaths, which hit a new record on Wednesday.
It said the ban was partly in response to a plea from Israel, where many of the pilgrims come from, to limit the event, for fear it would be a coronavirus hotspot.
(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
White House stimulus proposal goes over $1.5 trillion with $20 billion for airlines
(Reuters) – The Trump administration has proposed including a $20 billion extension in aid for the battered airline industry in a new stimulus proposal to House Democrats worth over $1.5 trillion, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Wednesday.
“There’s $20 billion in the most recent proposal for the airlines that would give them a six month extension,” Meadows told reporters aboard Air Force One, noting that the industry was in urgent need of support.
American Airlines and United Airlines, two of the largest U.S. carriers, said they were beginning furloughs of over 32,000 workers on Thursday as hopes faded for a last-minute bailout from Washington. U.S. airlines have been pleading for another $25 billion in payroll support to protect jobs for a further six months after the current package, which banned furloughs, expired at midnight EDT.
Coronavirus relief talks between the White House and House Democrats had stalled in large part over the price tag, with Democrats seeking $2.2 trillion and the White House staying firm at $1.5 trillion.
Meadows declined to provide the total value of the White House’s latest proposal but said the figure is “certainly above the $1.5 trillion that has been articulated to date.”
“As you get above $1.5 trillion, it gets extremely difficult to justify based on the facts,” he cautioned, explicitly stating that $2 trillion was too much. “If it starts with a 2, it’s going to be a real problem,” he added.
Speaking on a flight to Washington from the swing state of Minnesota where U.S. President Donald Trump had headlined a rally ahead of presidential elections in November, Meadows said he was hopeful talks will continue with Democrats on Thursday.
Meadows also told reporters that a stop-gap spending bill approved by the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratically-led House to fund the government through December 11 had been received by the White House. Trump has signed the bill.
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Washington; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
New poll shows Lindsey Graham, Jaime Harrison tied in South Carolina
A new Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday shows Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jaime Harrison, his Democratic challenger, tied at 48 percent among likely voters.
The survey also found that 48 percent of voters see Harrison in a favorable light compared to 43 percent who have a favorable opinion of Graham, and 51 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Graham, compared to 35 percent who hold an unfavorable view of Harrison. Harrison is outspending Graham on advertisements and also bringing in more money from grassroots supporters, and Graham in turn has been making regular appearances on Fox News, asking viewers for money.
The race is also tight in the state between President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, with Trump leading Biden by 1 percentage point, 48 to 47 percent. Trump won South Carolina by about 14 points in 2016, with 54.9 percent of the vote.
The survey was conducted from Sept. 23 to 27, with 1,123 likely voters polled. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
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Three times Trump was racist during presidential debate
President Donald Trump was called racist by Democratic nominee Joe Biden during the first presidential debate, as the Republican candidate repeatedly used racist tropes to defend his supporters and engage in personal attacks.
During Tuesday’s debate, which was the first of the three scheduled before 3 November’s election, Mr Trump repeatedly interrupted and spoke over Mr Biden, as he launched attacks on the former vice president and other Democratic officials.
During a discussion about racial sensitivity training, Mr Biden called the president racist over his decision to ban the practice for federal contractors earlier in the year.
Mr Biden, who has undertaken the training, claimed: “This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division.”
Mr Biden added later on in the debate, while the candidates clashed over Black Lives Matter protests: “He’s the racist.”
However, there were other moments during the debate where the president used racist tropes – while talking about the coronavirus pandemic, white supremacists and senator Elizabeth Warren.
The president refused to condemn white supremacist groups
On Tuesday, the president refused to condemn the violence of far-right and white supremacist groups during Black Lives Matter protests this summer, when moderator Chris Wallace, of Fox News, repeatedly asked him to.
Mr Trump initially tried to avoid the question by asking Mr Wallace for a specific group that he wanted him to condemn, but eventually chose to address the far-right, white supremacist group, the Proud Boys.
He said: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
In reaction to the president’s comments, a key Proud Boys organiser wrote on the “free speech” social network, Parler: “Standing by sir.”
Following the debate, experts warned that Mr Trump’s comment could encourage violence from extremist groups.
Kathleen Belew, a historian of American white power movements, tweeted: “A green light like ‘stand back and standby’ is catastrophic.”
It’s astonishing that, when asked a simple question, will you condemn white supremacists, @POTUS responded – “The Proud Boys should stand back and stand by.” Trying to determine if this was an answer or an admission. @POTUS owes America an apology or an explanation. Now. https://t.co/9tgufXom9K
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) September 30, 2020
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), also tweeted his concern, and said that the president “owes America an apology or an explanation. Now,” for his comments.
President Trump called senator Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’
During the debate, Mr Trump questioned whether Mr Biden would have won the Democratic nomination if senator Elizabeth Warren had not dropped out of the race, and called her “Pocahontas” while doing so.
He said: “If Pocahontas would have left [the race] two days earlier, you would’ve lost every primary on Super Tuesday,” in reference to the senator’s previous claims that she has Native American heritage.
Pocahontas was a Native American woman, who belonged to the Pamunkey tribe. She was born in 1596 and died in 1617.
In 2018, president Trump claimed that Ms Warren was lying about her Cherokee heritage for political gain, and in response the senator took a DNA test, which showed that she was between 1/64th and 1/1028th Native American. She subsequently apologised for her previous claims.
However, Mr Trump has continued to refer to Ms Warren as Pocahontas, and although it was not commented on during the debate, the president using the term has caused upset to Native American people in the US.
In 2019, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which describes itself as the oldest and largest indigenous rights organisation in the US, said the president’s actions were part of a long tradition of insults endured by Native Americans.
“For centuries Native people have endured such slurs – from ‘R*dskins’ to ‘Injuns’ to ‘savages’ – that the forces of racism and intolerance deploy to dehumanise our people, mock our cultures, and interfere with our inherent right to control our own lands and destinies,” said NCAI CEO Kevin Allis.
He added: “Not only does it disrespect Pocahontas’ legacy and life, it likens her name to a slur.”
The president once again called coronavirus the ‘China plague’
During the debate, the president once again referred to the coronavirus pandemic as the “China plague,” while defending his administration’s response to tackling the virus.
He said: “We built the greatest economy in history, we closed it down because of the China plague.”
According to a tracking project hosted by Johns Hopkins University, in the US as a whole, some 7.1 million people have tested positive for coronavirus, while the death toll has reached at least 206,351.
Mr Trump, alongside other Republicans, has repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the “China virus,” or “Wuhan flu,” and other slurs during the pandemic, which have been criticised for blaming the virus on a single country and group of people.
Additionally, there are concerns that the phrase could lead to a rise of harassment and mistreatment of Asian Americans, according to NBC News.
Speaking at a virtual invitation-only fundraiser for Joe Biden‘s presidential campaign last month, the former US president Barack Obama criticised Mr Trump’s use of the phrase, according to The Hill.
“I don’t want a country in which the president of the United States is actively trying to promote anti-Asian sentiment and thinks it’s funny,” Mr Obama reportedly said.
“I don’t want that. That still shocks and p***es me off,” he added.
Earlier in the year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) director general, Tedros Adhanom, said the name specifically does “not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease,” according to Forbes.
He reasoned that “having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing”.
The second presidential debate is scheduled to take place on 15 October in Miami with C-SPAN’s Steve Scully moderating.
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