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Obama rips into Trump’s record in 2020 campaign trail debut
22 October 2020, 3:45 AM

Former President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday, launching a blistering attack on Donald Trump with less than two weeks to go before the Republican president’s Election Day face-off with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Speaking at a drive-in rally in Philadelphia on behalf of Biden, his former vice president, Obama offered his fiercest critique yet of his successor, taking aim at Trump’s divisive rhetoric and his track record in the Oval Office.

“He hasn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself,” Obama said.

Obama, who governed for two terms and remains one of the most popular figures in the Democratic Party, blasted Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the president himself had fallen victim to the virus.

“Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us,” he said. “He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.”

Obama’s appearance filled a gap left by Biden, who has stayed at home in Delaware since Monday for meetings and preparation ahead of his Thursday debate with Trump in Nashville, Tennessee.

The drive-in rally was held in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park, the baseball stadium in Philadelphia, with the city’s skyline visible in the distance. It was the largest event of its kind that the Biden campaign has staged amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The almost 280 vehicles were spread throughout the lot, with big screens placed to allow attendees to see the former president.

With a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showing Biden with just a 4-percentage-point edge in Pennsylvania, Obama warned Democrats against complacency.

“We’ve got to turn out like never before,” he said. “We cannot leave any doubt in this election.”

Four years ago, Obama participated in a rally in Philadelphia with then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the day before the election, only to see Trump narrowly take the state. The Biden campaign considers winning there a top priority.

Americans are voting early at a record pace this year, with 42 million ballots cast both via mail and in person ahead of the Nov. 3 election on concerns about the coronavirus and to make sure their votes are counted.

The record early vote so far represents about 30% of the total ballots cast in 2016, according to the University of Florida’s US Elections Project.

After Obama spoke, Trump held a rally in North Carolina, another battleground state where opinion polls show a tight race.

Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, was also in North Carolina to mobilize voters in Asheville and Charlotte.

Even though Wednesday marked Obama’s 2020 campaign debut, his support has been essential for Biden. He has appeared at joint fundraisers with Biden and Harris, and his network of well-connected former aides has been instrumental in helping the campaign outpace Trump in bringing in donations.

The Biden campaign is hopeful that Obama will commit to more events before the election.

The last days of campaigning are taking place amid a surge in new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations in battleground states, including North Carolina and Pennsylvania but also Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

Pennsylvania has averaged 1 500 new cases a day over the past week, a level it has not seen since April, according to a Reuters analysis.

North Carolina is averaging 2 000 new cases a day over the past week, its highest level ever.

The virus has claimed the lives of more than 221 000 people in the United States.

Polling shows a majority of voters are disappointed in the way Trump has handled the pandemic, which he has repeatedly said would disappear on its own.

Biden and Trump are scheduled to meet in their second and final debate on Thursday night, giving the Republican an opportunity to change the trajectory of a race that Biden is leading in national polls.

More of northern England put into highest COVID-19 lockdown tier
22 October 2020, 3:01 AM

South Yorkshire in northern England will move into the very high lockdown tier on Saturday to tackle rising levels of COVID-19 infections, the mayor of the Sheffield City Region Dan Jarvis said on Wednesday.

The area has agreed a funding package worth 41 million pounds to support businesses that will have to close and for additional public health measures.

Regions in the north of England have been most severely affected by the second wave of COVID-19.

South Yorkshire will join Liverpool and Lancashire in the highest tier. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday he would impose the same measures in Manchester after failing to agree a support package with local leaders.

Spammers and scammers using US election to turn profit online: Facebook
22 October 2020, 1:29 AM

Fraudsters from Albania to Vietnam are posting about US politics and the upcoming presidential election to build fake audiences, maximise clicks and make money online, Facebook Inc said on Wednesday.

In a new report about so-called “inauthentic behaviour” on its platform, Facebook said the November 3 election had become a common lure to trick users into visiting online stores or websites laden with pay-per-view adverts.

“If you are a financially motivated actor who’s trying to make money based on clicks, you are going to use whatever content is going to get you eyeballs,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, told Reuters.

“And obviously, there’s a lot of attention being paid to what’s happening in the United States around the election.”

After weathering fierce criticism over efforts by political and commercial groups to manipulate its users, Facebook now regularly announces takedowns of online influence operations – such as three networks tied to Russia which it said last month could be used to disrupt the US vote.

Gleicher said Wednesday’s report differed from previous takedown announcements because it dealt with less threatening activity, which was usually financially rather than politically motivated but often confused with foreign interference attempts.

In an interview ahead of the report’s release, he said he wanted to make a distinction between the two types of activity ahead of the US vote and next month’s election in Myanmar, a country where the military and other groups have repeatedly been caught using social media to spread hate and disinformation.

“I want people to be aware of the full range of deception that is happening out there,” Gleicher said. “One of the ongoing challenges is people so often and so regularly mistake a financially motivated scheme to sell T-shirts as an influence operation coming from a foreign government.”

There is frequently crossover between the two types of activity, both of which deliberately mislead users with fake accounts and post about “hot-button” issues to build an audience, Facebook said in its report.

But the networks suspended on Wednesday were primarily schemes to amplify content for financial gain, such as by using fake accounts to boost follower numbers or by repeatedly posting spam-like content about popular topics.

Facebook detailed four examples of networks it had suspended between May and September this year, which it said were operated by unconnected groups from countries including Botswana, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Macedonia and the Philippines.

One network operated from Albania and posted about US politics to trick people into following pages that directed them to clickbait websites which generated money through adverts. A page in the network ran under the banner, “We need 1Million Trumpers to Make America Great Again.”

In Myanmar, Facebook said it had suspended 655 pages and 12 groups in August and September that posted about celebrity gossip and local news to attract clicks and views.

“A minority of posts from some of these networks and their ad-heavy websites focused on politics in Myanmar, including support for the military and references to ethnic tensions,” Facebook said. “We did not see evidence of these networks being politically motivated.”

COVID-19 tightens grip on US Midwest; 4 states report record daily deaths
22 October 2020, 12:48 AM

Four US states reported a record one-day increase in COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday including Wisconsin, a hotly contested state in the November 3 election, according to a Reuters analysis, as infections kept rising across the Midwest and beyond.

Coronavirus deaths hit daily records in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters analysis. Wisconsin also reported a record daily increase in new cases together with Illinois and Ohio, the analysis showed.

Sixty-six people succumbed to the coronavirus in Illinois, where Governor JB Pritzker imposed fresh restrictions in some counties this week, the state’s highest single-day increase since mid-June.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 221 000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work.

President Donald Trump has eschewed social distancing policies at his rallies and White House events and shrugged off the need for masks.

Polls show his handling of the pandemic has hurt his re-election prospects.

On Wednesday, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said 48 people had died from the virus as he announced that a week-old field hospital in the Milwaukee suburbs has admitted its first patient.

“Folks, please stay home,” Evers said in a statement on Wednesday. “Help us protect our communities from this highly-contagious virus and avoid further strain on our hospitals.”

Nationally, cases have been trending higher for five weeks, rising to 60 000 on average over the past seven days from a recent low of 35 000 a day in mid-September.

The rise in new inflections partly reflects stepped-up testing in many states, which has provided a more accurate picture of the spread of the virus.

The United States has averaged 734 daily coronavirus deaths over the past seven days, still well below the 2 333 average at the height of the pandemic in April.

The latest outbreak on a per capita-basis is most severe in the Midwest, where daily case counts hit a record on Monday with over 27 000 new infections reported.

Midwest hospitalizations climbed to 10 830 on Tuesday, hitting a record high for a fifth day in a row and raising fears that medical centers could become overwhelmed like in the early months of the pandemic in the US Northeast.

Outside the Midwest, other states worked to stamp out smaller outbreaks of a virus that shows little sign of letting up almost a year into the pandemic.

In Boston, public school students will shift to remote learning beginning Thursday due to a rising infection rate in the city that was hit hard during the spring.

Boston, which serves more than 55 000 pre-K through grade 12 students, allowed some pupils with the highest needs back to the classroom on October 1 after starting remote learning on September 21.

But city officials decided to go back to fully remote education after confirmed positive cases there increased for two weeks.

The new data “shows that we are trending in the wrong direction,” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement.

Massachusetts averaged more than 700 new cases a day over the last seven days, its highest seven-day average since late May, according to a Reuters analysis.

However, only 1% of tests were coming back positive, one of the lowest levels in the country. The disparity suggests that the state is catching new outbreaks quickly, keeping the number of infections under control.

School districts across the United States have been grappling with reopening plans during the coronavirus pandemic.

In New York City, home to the nation’s largest public school system, officials ordered some schools to revert to remote learning earlier this month after infections spiked in a few areas.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo eased restrictions imposed in some cluster zones in the city’s Queens borough, saying the outbreak there had eased. The move allowed schools in those areas to reopen but with rigorous weekly testing.

In Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the country, schools remain closed for in-person education for most students.

Unrest flares again in Lagos after civilians fired on in anti-police demonstrations
21 October 2020, 11:54 PM

Nigeria’s biggest city Lagos and several states were under curfews on Wednesday as unrest rooted in anti-police protests broke out again following a day of violence, including the shooting of civilians by security forces.

Fires burned across Lagos and residents reported hearing gunfire despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s appeal for “understanding and calm”.

Armed police tried to enforce a round-the-clock curfew in the commercial capital, setting up checkpoints. But groups of young men blocked a number of major roads with overturned traffic signs, tree branches and rocks. Smoke billowed from buildings that were ablaze.

Video verified by Reuters showed armed police in the Yaba area of Lagos kicking a man as he lay on the ground. One officer fired into his back and dragged his limp body down the street.

Images taken after the incident showed crowds gathering and burning tyres with thick black smoke, and more police gathering with guns drawn and pointed.

Rights group Amnesty International said the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters at two locations in Lagos – Lekki and Alausa – on Tuesday.

At least 56 people have died across Nigeria since nationwide protests began on October 8, with about 38 killed on Tuesday alone, it said.

A Lagos police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a text message and phone call seeking comment.

Thousands of Nigerians, many driven closer to poverty by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, have joined the protests that initially focused on a police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The unit – which rights groups have long accused of extortion, harassment, torture and murder – was disbanded on October 11 but the protests have persisted with calls for more law enforcement reforms.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu imposed the curfew on Lagos on Tuesday:

But a shooting incident that night at a toll gate in the Lagos district of Lekki, where people had gathered in defiance of the curfew, appeared to mark the worst violence since the protests began and drew international concern over the situation in Africa’s most populous country, a major OPEC producer.

The United Nations secretary-general said there had been “multiple deaths” and urged authorities to de-escalate the situation.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) urged Nigerian security forces to exercise restraint in handling protests and to act professionally.

Sanwo-Olu said 30 people were hurt in the shooting. Four witnesses said soldiers had fired bullets and at least two people had been shot at the toll gate. Three witnesses said the gate’s lights were turned off before the shooting began. One said he saw soldiers remove bodies.

The Nigerian Army said no soldiers were at the scene.

Inyene Akpan, 26, a photographer, said more than 20 soldiers arrived and opened fire as they approached the protesters.

Witness Akinbosola Ogunsanya said the lights suddenly went out around 6:45 P.M. (1745 GMT) and men came beforehand to take down CCTV cameras. Minutes later, soldiers in uniform walked towards the crowd, shooting as they walked, he said. He saw about 10 people being shot and soldiers removing bodies, he said.

Another witness, Chika Dibia, said soldiers hemmed in people as they shot at them.

Henry Kufre, a television producer, said the atmosphere had been peaceful and people were singing the national anthem before the site was plunged into darkness and the shooting began.

Buhari said on Wednesday he was committed to providing justice for victims of brutality, and that the police reforms demanded by the demonstrators were gathering pace. He did not refer to the shooting at the toll gate.

Sanwo-Olu visited hospitalised victims of what he referred to as the “unfortunate shooting incident” in Lekki. He said 25 people were being treated for injuries and two were in intensive care.

“I recognise the buck stops at my table and I will work with the FG (federal government) to get to the root of this unfortunate incident and stabilise all security operations to protect the lives of our residents,” Sanwo-Olu said.

Unrest also gripped other parts of southern Nigeria:

Among states imposing restrictions was the oil production hub of Rivers State, including a curfew in parts of oil city Port Harcourt.

Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike said criminals attacked and destroyed police stations and court buildings in parts of the state.

In South Africa, hundreds of Nigerians carrying placards demanding “a new and better Nigeria” marched to the Nigerian High Commission (embassy) in Pretoria:

Protesters also rallied outside the Nigerian embassy in London.

Nigeria sovereign Eurobonds fell more than 2 cents on the dollar on Wednesday. One analyst said the protests might trigger a resumption of attacks on oil facilities, potentially hitting its main source of foreign earnings.

“The Niger Delta militants … have reportedly shown support for the (protest) movement. Should the protests escalate, we could see attacks resume on the oil and gas facilities,” said Janet Ogunkoya, senior research analyst at Tellimer Research.

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