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Trump gets warm reception at Republican gathering as rivals lash out

Photo: ALON SKUY / AFP

| By AFP | Paula Ramon |

Donald Trump received a standing ovation at a Republican Party gathering Saturday, even as several possible White House rivals lashed out at his election denialism and insisted it was time to move on from the former US president.

In his first major appearance since announcing his intention to run again in 2024, Trump told the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas that the party had grown under his leadership.

The 76-year-old falsely insisted once again that the 2020 presidential election — which he lost — was rigged, and rejected responsibility for the GOP’s poor performance in the November midterms.

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In 2020 “we had a really disgraceful election, many millions of votes more than we had in 2016… and the result was, in my opinion, an absolute sham,” he told the audience by video link.

“The election was rigged, and it’s too bad it was.”

Asked about how he could improve the party’s appeal to suburban voters, among whom it did badly in this month’s midterms, Trump insisted he had a record of picking winners.

“In the midterms, as you’ve probably heard, I was 222 wins and 16 losses, the press doesn’t want to mention that, and the Republican Party got five million more votes than the Democrats,” he said, despite the final vote tallies not yet being finalized. 

“The Republican Party is a much bigger and more powerful party than it was before I got there,” he said.

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With the midterms in the rear-view mirror, the Las Vegas event served as a catwalk for potential Trump rivals ahead of the Republican Party primaries to decide who will fight for the presidency in 2024. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is emerging as one of Trump’s main rivals, closed the meeting with a speech praising his midterms performance. 

“We dominated with independent voters, we secured record margins with Hispanic voters. We swept the suburbs all across the state of Florida,” said the 44-year-old who was loudly applauded by attendees, several of whom approached the stage to shake his hand.

The crowd also heard from former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who said she will think “in a serious way” about whether to launch a bid for the White House. 

“I’ve been the underdog every single time when people underestimate me, it’s always fun,” she said. “But I’ve never lost an election. And I’m not going to start now.”

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‘Joy and a smile’

Many rivals hit out at Trump’s grievance-laden style of politicking, which Republican Party operatives have said was to blame for their tepid showing on November 8.

New Jersey’s former governor and one-time Trump confidante Chris Christie said candidate quality had been the issue.

“Donald Trump picked candidates with one criteria. Not electability, not experience, not wisdom, not charisma, not the ability to govern, but ‘do you believe the 2020 election was stolen or not?’ If you do I endorse you. If you don’t I reject you,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is the reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everybody else.”

Chris Sununu, governor of New Hampshire, agreed.

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“I got a great policy for the Republican Party. Let’s stop supporting crazy unelectable candidates in our primaries,” he said.

On Friday evening, Trump’s former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who is also understood to be mulling a run at the White House, urged fellow Republicans to be more forward-looking and more positive.

While he did not mention his old boss by name, Pompeo made none-too-subtle digs about the need to be doers, rather than complainers.

“As we present the conservative case, as we make the argument… we do so with joy, and a smile,” he said.

“We don’t simply rail against the machine… we don’t simply go on Fox News or send tweets, we actually do the hard work.”

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Trump did not address the potential rivals in his appearance on Saturday, but has already begun his customary bomb-throwing about potential presidential competitors, dubbing DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious” and saying Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s name “sounds Chinese.”

The gathering, which also featured an address by Israel’s prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, runs until Sunday.

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International

Putin promotes deputy prison chief Amid Navalny’s death, opposition claims

Russian President Vladimir Putin promoted the deputy director of the prison service (FSIN) just three days after the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison, according to his associates’ claims today.

“The deputy director of the FSIN, Valery Boyarinov, was promoted to the rank of colonel general of the Interior Services. The decree (…) was signed three days after the death in prison of politician Alexei Navalny,” his team wrote on Telegram.

Supporters of the deceased opposition figure claim that this decision is “a clear reward from Putin for the torture” of Navalny.

“Boyarinov personally coordinated the torture inflicted on Alexei Navalny in prison. The restrictions imposed on Navalny’s accounts so he could not buy food, along with the rest of the torture, were personally ordered by Boyarinov,” the team added.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin, which has consistently denied responsibility for the death of the Russian opposition leader, today described as “unfounded” and “coarse” the accusations of Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, that Putin murdered her husband.

“These are unfounded and gross accusations against the head of state,” said the spokesman for the Russian Presidency, Dmitry Peskov, in his daily telephone press briefing.

Peskov insisted that the accusations against the Russian leader “are not based on anything.”

At the same time, he stated that he did not want to make any further comments for “ethical reasons,” as Navalnaya “became a widow a few days ago.”

In any case, he assured that Putin has not seen the message released by the politician’s widow.

On the other hand, the Kremlin spokesman asserted that Moscow also completely rejects calls for an international investigation into Navalny’s death, “even more so” if they come from the head of the European Union’s diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

Navalny’s widow, who was in Brussels yesterday, stated that she will continue her husband’s fight against the Kremlin, blaming its occupant for his murder.

In a video posted on the late opposition leader’s YouTube channel, the widow of Russia’s number one political opponent denounced that “Putin not only killed the person, but also wanted to kill our hopes, our freedom, our future.”

In Russia, Navalny’s mother demanded on Tuesday that Putin hand over her son’s body “so that I can bury him properly.”

“I am addressing you, Vladimir Putin. The solution to this issue depends solely on you. Let me see my son once and for all!” said Lyudmila Navalnaya in a video posted by Navalny’s team on YouTube.

“It’s the fifth day that I can’t see him, they don’t give me his body, and they don’t even tell me where he is,” she said.

The video was recorded outside the “Polar Bear” prison in the Arctic town of Yarp, where the opposition figure suddenly died last Friday, according to prison authorities.

Navalny’s team published on Telegram the letter addressed to the Presidential Administration and handwritten by Lyudmila Navalnaya, in which she denounces that the Investigative Committee of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District does not allow her access to her son’s body.

The opposition figure’s mother arrived in that inhospitable area of Russia on Saturday, but both prison officials and morgue employees refused to address her requests.

Navalny’s associates accuse the Russian authorities of refusing to hand over the body to “cover up” the crime.

According to his spokesperson, Kira Yarmish, Russian investigators argue that they need to perform a “chemical examination” on the corpse and require at least another 14 days.

The organization that advocates for the rights of detainees assures that more than 60,000 people have already signed a popular petition for the authorities to hand over the body to the family.

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International

Assange seeks appeal as extradition decision nears

The two hearings to decide whether Julian Assange can appeal his case in the UK or be extradited to the United States began on Tuesday at the High Court in London.

Amid great anticipation from the public and press, Judges Victoria Sharp and Adam Johnson commenced the session, which will conclude on Wednesday, by hearing arguments from the defense of the 52-year-old Australian.

Assange was unable to attend the hearing in person, despite the court authorizing it, as he was not feeling well, according to his lawyer, Ed Fitzgerald.

The British prosecution will represent the US Justice Department, which is seeking the founder of WikiLeaks on 18 charges of espionage and computer intrusion for the disclosures made by his platform, which exposed US human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011.

Fitzgerald began his plea by listing the reasons why his client should be allowed to appeal again, arguing that if extradited to the United States, his rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression, among others, would be violated.

“The prosecution is politically motivated. Assange exposed serious wrongdoing. He is being prosecuted for engaging in ordinary journalistic practice, obtaining and publishing classified information, information that is both true and of obvious and significant public interest,” he argued.

At the request of the defense, the two judges will review, between Tuesday and Wednesday, the decision made on June 6, 2023, by a single magistrate, Jonathan Swift, who denied him permission to continue appealing in this country and upheld the extradition order to the US.

After hearing from the parties, the judges could deliver their ruling immediately or postpone it.

If they ultimately authorize him to appeal the aspects of his case that the defense did not address in previous trials, a new trial would commence before the London Court of Appeal.

If, on the other hand, they agree with Swift in denying him permission, the extradition mechanism to the US, overseen by the British Home Office, would be activated.

In the latter case, his lawyers have already stated that they will immediately request urgent interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) under Article 39 of its regulations to halt the extradition while lodging an appeal with the European court.

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International

U.S. Investigates Alleged Airstrike Killing of Cuban Doctors in Somalia

The United States is investigating whether a US airstrike against Al-Shabab killed two Cuban doctors held by the jihadist group in Somalia last week, as claimed by the terrorist organization.

A spokesperson for the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed to EFE that “an airstrike against the Al-Shabab network was conducted on February 15 near Jilib, Somalia,” where the doctors were allegedly killed.

“We are aware of reports about an attack that allegedly killed two civilians,” the source admitted, emphasizing that AFRICOM “will continue to assess the results of this operation and provide additional information when available.”

“We do not have more information at this time about these reports, but we take all claims of civilian casualties seriously,” the spokesperson added.

Al-Shabab claimed on Saturday that two Cuban doctors kidnapped by the organization in 2019 died last Thursday in a US Army airstrike in Somalia, although this has not yet been officially confirmed by the authorities in the African country.

“The airstrike, which began at around 00:10 local time (21:10 GMT), targeted a house in Jilib and instantly killed Assel Herrera and Landy Rodríguez, captured on April 12, 2019,” in northern Kenya, the jihadist group said in a statement.

Al-Shabab stated that “American crusaders conducted multiple drone strikes in the city of Jilib (…) killing the two Cuban prisoners.”

The statement also included the alleged photograph of one of the deceased Cuban doctors.

Surgeon Landy Rodríguez Hernández and general medicine specialist Assel Herrera Correa were kidnapped on April 12, 2019, in the Kenyan city of Mandera (northeast), bordering Somalia and a target of jihadist attacks in the past.

That day, the two doctors were traveling, as was their custom, in a convoy to the Mandera hospital protected by armed escorts when they were intercepted after a shootout in which one of the policemen guarding them was killed.

In May 2019, traditional leaders from Kenya and Somalia who traveled to the Somali region of Jubaland, controlled by Al-Shabab, to negotiate on behalf of the doctors, confessed to having seen the doctors providing medical assistance to the local population.

According to the mediators, the kidnappers demanded 1.5 million dollars as a condition for their release, the Kenyan press reported at the time.

Herrera and Rodríguez were part of a contingent of a hundred Cuban professionals who arrived in Kenya in 2018 under a bilateral agreement to improve access to specialized healthcare services in the African country.

The United States has been involved in military operations against Al-Shabab, in cooperation with the Somali Army, since at least 2007.

Somalia has seen an intensification of military offensives against the terrorist group since Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud announced a “total war” against the jihadists in August 2022.

Affiliated with Al-Qaeda since 2012, Al-Shabab often carries out attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and other parts of the country to overthrow the central government – backed by the international community – and establish a Wahhabi-style Islamic state (ultra-conservative).

The group controls rural areas of central and southern Somalia and also attacks neighboring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia.

Somalia has been in a state of war and chaos since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown, leaving the country without an effective government and in the hands of Islamist militias and warlords.

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