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USADA accuses WADA chief of smearing US athletes

USADA criticised Banka for distorting facts to deflect from concerns regarding WADA’s handling of the Chinese swimmers’ positive tests….reports Asian Lite News

The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has accused Witold Banka, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), of attempting to divert attention from WADA’s handling of the case involving 23 Chinese swimmers who tested positive before the Tokyo Olympics.

USADA’s statement on Monday came in response to Banka’s comments during an extraordinary virtual meeting of WADA’s Foundation Board on Friday.

USADA criticised Banka for distorting facts to deflect from concerns regarding WADA’s handling of the Chinese swimmers’ positive tests.

The swimmers tested positive for trimetazidine, a performance-enhancing drug, but were not sanctioned after Chinese authorities attributed the results to food contamination at their hotel.

“Clean athletes, especially as we approach the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games, deserve to know how a prescription drug, only available in pill form, found its way into a restaurant kitchen,” USADA said in an official statement.

“Raising even more questions, is the suggestion that the drug managed to remain in that kitchen for months, at a time when strict COVID protocols required the most extensive cleaning regimens of public-facing facilities we have ever experienced.”

“And, of course, even if this ‘immaculate contamination’ did happen, why did WADA allow China to escape its failure to follow the rules in not finding a first violation, no disqualification, or public announcement?” the USADA asked.

USADA Chief Travis Tygart described the situation as a “potential cover-up.” Banka cited three US doping cases resulting from environmental contamination, similar to the Chinese swimmers’ cases.

However, USADA clarified that these cases led to public disclosure, violations, and disqualifications for the athletes involved.

“It is painful to see the credibility of the global anti-doping system diminished by the day due to WADA leadership’s refusal to publish the China file for a fair, transparent, and unbiased review of how 23 Chinese swimmers tested positive for a drug known worldwide for enhancing performance,” USADA said in an official statement.

Banka also mentioned “inconsistent rule implementation in the US” and claimed that 90 percent of American athletes, including those in professional leagues and college sports, do not adhere to the world anti-doping code.

USADA criticized this remark as manipulative and harmful, highlighting that major US sports leagues have robust anti-doping systems.

USADA emphasized that college athletes become subject to WADA rules when competing in events sanctioned by international governing bodies.

The agency accused Banka of resorting to diversion tactics and personal attacks, characterizing his comments as misinformation and half-truths aimed at undermining US athletes.

In conclusion, USADA condemned Banka’s remarks as damaging and insulting to athletes and sports leagues, alleging that they were part of an attempt to deflect attention and discredit US athletes.

ALSO READ: Prosecution rests in Trump hush money trial

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Prosecution rests in Trump hush money trial

Trump’s lawyers have said they do not plan to call any further witnesses after Costello. Closing arguments are expected on May 28….reports Asian Lite News

Prosecutors rested their case on Monday in former US President Donald Trump’s trial for falsifying business records. Defence attorneys have now begun presenting their witnesses, with closing arguments anticipated next week, media reported.

The trial against Trump in connection with hush money payments to an adult film star has seen a chaotic day in which the presiding judge cleared the jury and the press from the courtroom and admonished a witness.

Judge Juan Merchan became visibly angry during the questioning of defence witness Robert Costello because he appeared to question Merchan’s authority.

Costello, who Trump’s defence team brought to the stand to attack the credibility of key prosecution witness Michael Cohen, continued to answer several questions after Merchan had already accepted the prosecution’s objection on Monday.

The judge instructed Costello, a former federal prosecutor, that he was not allowed to continue answering after an objection was sustained. In the case of one objection, that was upheld, Costello then said “Jeesh” and rolled his eyes.

Merchan then ordered the jurors out of the courtroom and asked Trump’s witness, Costello, to maintain proper decorum in his courtroom.

When Costello continued to scowl at the judge, Merchan blurted out audibly angrily: “Are you staring me down?” He then had the courtroom cleared with the help of loud and cutting instructions from the court staff.

Court transcripts reveal that Merchan forbade comments on his decisions and threatened to have Costello removed from the stand if he did not change his behaviour.

Journalists and observers were allowed to re-enter the room after a few minutes, and the questioning continued.

Trump’s lawyers have said they do not plan to call any further witnesses after Costello. Closing arguments are expected on May 28.

The public prosecutor’s office in New York accuses Trump of wanting to improve his chances of success in the 2016 presidential election by paying $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

The payment itself was not illegal. However, Trump is said to have manipulated documents when reimbursing the amount to lawyer Michael Cohen in order to conceal the true reason for the transaction, making the payments illegal campaign financing.

Trump, who is campaigning to win re-election in November as the Republican Party candidate, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. If found guilty, he could face a prison sentence.

ALSO READ: Houthis vow to widen attacks  

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Houthis fired ballistic missile over Gulf of Aden: US

This recent missile launch adds to a series of aggressive maneuvers by the Houthis, including strikes on both commercial and navy ships in international waters …reports Asian Lite News

Yemen’s ongoing conflict took a dangerous turn as Houthi militants launched a ballistic missile over the Gulf of Aden on Sunday, prompting concern from the US military. Despite this escalation, no coalition or commercial vessels reported being struck by the missile.

The Houthi militia, backed by Iran, has been intensifying attacks on Yemeni government forces across the nation. While the Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for fresh assaults on Monday, their pattern suggests acknowledgment of such actions in the days following.

This recent missile launch adds to a series of aggressive maneuvers by the Houthis, including strikes on both commercial and navy ships in international waters near Yemen and the Indian Ocean. These attacks, purportedly in support of Palestine, have seen the deployment of ballistic missiles, drones, and drone boats since November.

In a concerning incident, a Greek-owned oil tanker narrowly avoided being hit by a Houthi ballistic missile in the Red Sea on Saturday. This near-miss underscores the grave threat posed by the ongoing conflict to maritime security in the region.

Meanwhile, the toll on Yemeni government troops continues to rise, with four soldiers killed in clashes with the Houthis in Taiz province on Monday. This brings the total number of government soldiers killed in Houthi attacks to 11 in less than a week, highlighting the intensity of the ongoing fighting.

In Sanaa, the Houthi militia held a military burial procession for two of their fighters killed in clashes with government forces. Such events have become tragically routine since the UN-brokered ceasefire in April 2022.

Despite these grim developments, efforts for peace persist. Yemen’s Defense Minister met with the UN Yemen envoy’s military adviser in Aden to discuss Houthi attacks, peace initiatives, and the smuggling of Iranian weapons to the Houthis through Hodeidah port.

Meanwhile, UN experts called on the Houthis to release five members of the Bahai religious minority and cease persecution of religious minorities under their control. The Houthis have held these individuals captive for a year, despite international pleas for their release.

ALSO READ: Houthis vow to widen attacks 

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Pro-Palestinian protesters at Drexel ignore call to disband

Drexel President John Fry said the encampment had disrupted campus life and “cannot be allowed to remain in place….reports Asian Lite News

Drexel University in Philadelphia threatened to clear an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters on Monday as arrests linked to campus demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war surpassed the 3,000 mark nationwide.

Drexel President John Fry said the encampment had disrupted campus life and “cannot be allowed to remain in place.” Fry called on protesters to leave immediately but said in a statement Monday night that he had authorized “all necessary steps to clear the encampment safely.” He did not say when that might happen.

Classes at Drexel were held virtually on Monday as police kept watch over the demonstration on the school’s Korman Quad. Many Drexel employees were told to work from home.

Students and others have set up tent encampments on campuses around the country to press colleges to cut financial ties with Israel. Tensions over the war have been high on campuses since the fall but demonstrations spread quickly following an April 18 police crackdown on an encampment at Columbia University.

More than 3,000 people have been arrested on U.S. campuses over the past month. Campuses have been calmer recently, with fewer arrests, as students leave for summer break. Still, colleges have been vigilant for disruptions to commencement ceremonies.

At Drexel, which has about 22,000 students, Fry said protesters “have created a hostile, confrontational environment by subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech and by issuing several ‘demands’ that have unacceptably targeted individual members of our faculty and professional staff” as well as Jewish groups on campus. He previously threatened disciplinary action against Drexel students participating in the protest.

The Drexel protesters’ demands ranged from the university administration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and divesting from companies that do business with Israel, to abolition of the Drexel police department and termination of the school’s chapter of Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, and another Jewish campus group, Chabad.

The Drexel Palestine Coalition had no immediate response to Fry’s ultimatum. The protest organizers said on Instagram in response to an earlier statement from Fry that “it is slander to accuse the encampment of ‘hateful’ or ‘intimidating’ actions when we have done neither.” The group accused Drexel and city police of harassment and intimidation. A pro-Palestinian group of faculty and staff also blasted Fry on Monday for shuttering campus facilities and said the encampment was “not disruptive to learning.”

Drexel planned a “phased return” to normal operations on Tuesday, with labs and some other classes to be held in person and lecture classes to stay remote.

Elsewhere, graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, went on strike Monday as part of a rolling, systemwide protest over how administrators have responded to pro-Palestinian encampments, including arrests of protesters at the Los Angeles, San Diego and Irvine campuses.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, meanwhile, declined to charge four University of Pennsylvania protesters who were among 19 arrested Friday night, citing a lack of evidence submitted by campus police. Krasner’s office approved misdemeanor charges against three others. The remaining 12 arrested Friday night were given citations for failing to disperse.

Penn’s main commencement ceremony was held Monday under tightened security and a ban on flags and signs. There were no disruptions.

University of California academic workers strike  

Graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz walked off their jobs and went on strike Monday, the first campus to do so as part of a systemwide protest against a public university they say has violated the speech rights of pro-Palestinian advocates.

United Auto Workers Local 4811 represents 48,000 graduate students who work as teaching assistants, tutors, researchers and other academic employees on the 10-campus UC system. Organizers said the campuses will not strike all at once, opting instead for rolling strikes, to protest the arrests and forcible ejection by police of union members who participated in demonstrations calling for an end to the war in Gaza.

Rebecca Gross, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student in literature and union leader, said at least 1,500 people were on strike Monday and had no plans to return to work until the union reaches a deal with the university. Students and researchers are not teaching, grading or working in their labs, and they are withholding data, she said.

“Police were unleashed and given the go-ahead to arrest protesters,” at the Los Angeles, San Diego and Irvine campuses, she said.

University officials say the strike is unlawful and in violation of the union’s contract, which prohibits work stoppages. Both sides have filed unfair labor practice complaints with the California Public Employment Relations Board.

The union is demanding amnesty for all academic employees, students and faculty who face disciplinary action or arrest due to the protests. It’s also seeking divestment from UC’s investments in weapons makers, contractors and companies aiding Israel in its war against Hamas, among other issues.

Tobias Higbie, a labor historian and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA, said it is not unusual for unions to flex their muscle over broad workplace issues that are not narrowly tied to wages and benefits.

“They’re not everyday events, and maybe not even every year events,” he said. “But they’re not unheard of.”

The union’s action may be surprising to some, but so was what happened at UCLA earlier this month, Higbie said. On May 1, police in riot gear ordered the dispersal of more than a thousand people gathered on campus to support Palestine, and warned that those who refused to leave would face arrest.

The night before, police had waited to intervene as counter-protesters attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, causing injuries. California Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced the delay.

Scott Hernandez-Jason, an assistant vice chancellor with UC Santa Cruz, said afternoon classes are being conducted remotely Monday.

“Our primary goal is to minimize the disruptive impact, especially given the many educational and research challenges that have affected students and researchers in recent years,” he said in an email. “Academic and operational continuity is essential to the University of California’s education and research mission and a core responsibility to our students.”

ALSO READ: No Genocide in Gaza, Repeats Biden

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Biden slams ICC’s request to arrest Netanyahu

US president insists Israel and Hamas cannot be compared after ICC seeks warrants over alleged Israeli war crimes…reports Asian Lite News

President Joe Biden has defended Israel against war crimes charges in the world’s top courts.

Biden’s remarks came after Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), said he was seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant over alleged war crimes committed during the war in Gaza.

“Let me be clear, we reject the ICC’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders,” Biden said at a Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House on Monday, the same day Khan announced he was applying for the arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant, as well as Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

“There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas,” Biden added. Hours earlier, he had issued a strongly-worded statement saying that the ICC warrants were “outrageous”.

Israel is also facing a separate case on alleged genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which was brought by South Africa. Biden said that Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza.

“Contrary to allegations against Israel made by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), what’s happening in Gaza is not genocide. We reject that,” Biden said in his speech.

In January, the ICJ ruled there was a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza, ordering Israel to take a series of provisional measures, including preventing any genocidal acts from taking place.

While Biden’s defence of Israel was met with warm applause at the White House event, his election campaign has been marred by pro-Palestinian protests across the US, with some antiwar advocates labelling the president “Genocide Joe”.

The ICC prosecutor outlined specific charges against Netanyahu and Gallant, including “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” and “extermination”, although he said his full investigation was ongoing.

Khan also applied for arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders – Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri (also known as Deif) and Ismail Haniyeh – for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including extermination and murder, the taking of captives, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence.

The charges were supported by evidence prepared by a panel of experts that included international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

In a statement issued on the report prepared by the experts, Clooney wrote, “I do not accept that any conflict should be beyond the reach of the law, nor that any perpetrator should be above the law.”

“My colleagues and I look forward to make sure neither Khan, his associates nor their families will ever set foot again in the United States,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton wrote on X.

The ICC is the world’s first permanent international war crimes court and its 124 member states are obliged to immediately arrest the wanted person if they are on a member state’s territory.

The US is not a member of the ICC and its “biggest leverage” could be to pressure its allies – mostly European nations which are signatories to the ICC – to not act on the warrants, said Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from Washington, DC.

Lawmakers seek sanctions to “punish” ICC  

United States lawmakers are contemplating imposing sanctions on the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it issues an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US House Speaker Mike Johnson said.

“In the absence of leadership from the White House, Congress is reviewing all options, including sanctions, to punish the ICC and ensure its leadership faces consequences if they proceed. If the ICC is allowed to threaten Israeli leaders, ours could be next,” the US House Speaker said in a statement on Monday (local time).

He further said “The ICC has no authority over Israel or the United States, and today’s baseless and illegitimate decision should face global condemnation.”

Republican lawmakers on Monday called for the United States to impose sanctions on the ICC.

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik told the New York Post that “The ICC is an illegitimate court that equivocates a peaceful nation protecting its right to exist with radical terror groups that commit genocide”. Stefanik met with Netanyahu on Monday morning as the warrants were announced.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in a statement called the warrants “shameful and unserious.”

Earlier this month, Representative Texas introduced the Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act to revoke visas for ICC officials who investigate or prosecute US officials or American allies.

Meanwhile, human rights attorney Amal Clooney is among the experts who advised the ICC prosecutor to seek the arrest warrants.

The wife of actor George Clooney in a statement said explained how she had found herself advising ICC chief prosecutor Khan.

“I served on this panel because I believe in the rule of law and the need to protect civilian lives. The law that protects civilians in war was developed more than 100 years ago and it applies in every country in the world regardless of the reasons for a conflict,” Clooney said in the statement shared on the shared on the Clooney Foundation for Justice website.

ALSO READ: No Genocide in Gaza, Repeats Biden

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No Genocide in Gaza, Repeats Biden

Biden rejected the International Court of Justice’s claims, stating that it is not genocide…reports Asian Lite News

US President Joe Biden has rejected accusations against the Israeli leadership that it is committing genocide in its fight against the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“Contrary to allegations against Israel made by the International Court of Justice, what’s happening is not genocide. We reject that,” Biden said on Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House at a Jewish American Heritage Month event.

On Monday, International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan applied for arrest warrants for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Joav Galant for alleged crimes against humanity.

The request for warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant relates to alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Gaza Strip beginning on October 8, a day after Hamas militants launched their unprecedented attack on Israel.

Among the allegations are “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” and “intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population,” a statement from Khan’s office said.

Arrest warrants were also requested for the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yehya al-Sinwar, and other representatives of the militant organisation.

South Africa has repeatedly called on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to take action against Israel and accused the country of genocide.

In urgent rulings, the UN judges have obliged Israel to do everything possible to prevent genocide and to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

ALSO READ: Former US Officials from Trump Era Visit Israel

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Former US Officials from Trump Era Visit Israel

With Donald Trump being the Republican candidate for the US presidential post, he is trying to pitch himself as a much more reliable ally to Israel than Biden…reports Asian Lite News

Three former US foreign policy officials in Donald Trump’s administration are in Israel and have met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the opposition leader, Yair Lapid.

The three aides are Robert O’Brien, who was Trump’s National Security Advisor (NSA), John Rakolta, former Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and Ed McMullen, former Ambassador to Switzerland.

John Rakolta as the US Ambassador to the UAE was instrumental in normalizing the relationship of Israel with UAE and Bahrain and played a key role in signing the Abraham Accords.

The three are considered to be the close policy advisors of Donald Trump.

Sources in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the visit of the three high-ranking former US officials, who are Trump’s close aides.

According to sources, the senior policy advisors have discussed with Netanyahu and Lapid the situation in Israel, the war with Hamas and the policy stand taken by the current US President Joe Biden.

It was during the period of Donald Trump as the US President between 2017 and 2021 that the capital of Israel was shifted from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a long demand by the Israelis.

With Donald Trump being the Republican candidate for the US presidential post, he is trying to pitch himself as a much more reliable ally to Israel than Biden.

Sources in Israel’s Prime Minister’s office said that the three policy advisors of Trump have communicated to the Israeli leadership the wholehearted support of the Republican presidential candidate for the Israeli cause.

ALSO READ-‘Gaza protests won’t hurt Biden’s reelection bid’

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China Targets U.S. Firms for Taiwan Weapon Sales

The sanctioned companies will be prohibited from making further investments in China, and their managers will be banned from travelling….reports Asian Lite News

China placed three defence companies in the US on its list of “unreliable companies” for selling weapons to Taiwan, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced on Monday.

The three companies added to China’s list of “unreliable companies” are Boeing Defense, Space & Security, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems.

The sanctions are intended to penalise the US for supplying weapons to Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

The sanctioned companies will be prohibited from making further investments in China, and their managers will be banned from travelling.

When the sanctions were announced, Lai Ching-te of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was being sworn in as the self-governing island’s new President.

The latest action adds to a series of sanctions Beijing has imposed on US defence companies for selling weapons to Taiwan.

In September last year, China had already sanctioned the US firms Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman due to such arms sales. Five more companies followed in January.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been very tense for some time, as the US also repeatedly places Chinese companies on its sanctions list.

The Biden administration cites escalating pressure from China on Taiwan – including increased military activity both in the air and at sea – as justification for delivering arms to the island.

China considers the democratically governed island to be part of the People’s Republic and has threatened to invade on several occasions.

However, Taiwan maintains a strong sense of independence, and Lai has not signalled any intention to deviate from this stance

ALSO READ: Taiwan refutes China’s allegations about dollar diplomacy with Guatemala

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Trump receives NRA endorsement

Trump has pledged to continue to defend the Second Amendment, which he claims is “under siege,”…reports Asian Lite News

Former President Donald Trump urged gun owners to vote in the 2024 election as he addressed thousands of members of the National Rifle Association, which officially endorsed him just before Trump took the stage at their annual meeting in Texas on Saturday.

“We’ve got to get gun owners to vote,” Trump said. “I think you’re a rebellious bunch. But let’s be rebellious and vote this time.”

Trump, in his speech, said the Second Amendment “is very much on the ballot” in November, alleging that, if Democratic President Joe Biden “gets four more years they are coming for your guns, 100% certain. Crooked Joe has a 40-year-record of trying to rip firearms out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.”

The Biden administration has taken a number of steps to try to combat gun violence, including a new rule that aims to close a loophole that has allowed tens of thousands of guns to be sold every year by unlicensed dealers who do not perform background checks.

Trump has pledged to continue to defend the Second Amendment, which he claims is “under siege,” and has called himself “the best friend gun owners have ever had in the White House” as the United States faces record numbers of deaths due to mass shootings. Last year ended with 42 mass killings and 217 deaths, making it one of the deadliest years on record.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been criticized by Biden, specifically for remarks that Trump made this year after a school shooting in Iowa. Trump called the incident “very terrible” only to later say that “we have to get over it. We have to move forward.”

Trump, during his speech, also laced into independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., calling him “radical left” and “a disaster,” and noting that Kennedy had once called the NRA a ”terror group.”

“Don’t think about it. Don’t waste your vote,” he said. “He calls you a terrorist group, and I call you the backbone of America.” (Kennedy later said in a Fox News interview that he didn’t remember his 2018 tweet. “I don’t consider them a terror group, and I support the Second Amendment,” he said.)

Trump noted he will be speaking next week at the Libertarian Party’s convention and said he will urge its members to vote for him.

“We have to join with them,” he said. “We have to get that 3% because we can’t take a chance on Joe Biden winning.”

Earlier Saturday, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee announced the creation of a new “Gun Owners for Trump” coalition that includes gun rights activists and those who work in the firearms industry.

Biden has made curtailing gun violence a major part of his administration and reelection campaign, creating the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden also has urged Congress to ban so-called assault weapons — something Democrats shied from even just a few years ago.

“Tonight, Donald Trump confirmed that he will do exactly what the NRA tells him to do — even if it means more death, more shootings, and more suffering,” said Biden spokesman Ammar Moussa.

When Trump was president, there were moments when he pledged to strengthen gun laws. After a high school mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and wounded 17 others, Trump told survivors and family members that he would be “very strong on background checks.” He claimed he would stand up to the NRA but later he backpedaled, saying there was “not much political support.”

On Saturday, Trump also brought up the criminal cases against him as his hush money trial heads into the final stretch next week and accused Democrats of being behind these cases because he is Biden’s opponent.

“Never forget our enemies want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedom,” he said.

Trump criticized Biden’s border policies, repeating his pledge that he will order the largest domestic deportation operation. He spoke about abortion and warned Republicans not to be so extreme on abortion to remain electable.

“In my opinion, Republicans have not been talking about it intelligently. They haven’t been talking about it with knowledge,” he said. “Remember, speak from your heart. But you also have to get elected again.”

ALSO READ: US Presses Israel for Gaza Strategy Amid Conflict

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Pope calls anti-migrant attitudes at US border ‘madness’

Record numbers of migrants have been seeking to enter the United States, largely from Central America and Venezuela, as they flee poverty, violence and disasters exacerbated by climate change….reports Asian Lite News

Pope Francis made a foray into the US election season with a rare television interview Sunday, calling harsh anti-migrant attitudes “madness” and criticizing right-wing US Catholic figures for overly conservative stances against his social teachings.

Speaking in his native Spanish through a translator for more than an hour, Francis told CBS News program “60 Minutes” that the closing by the state of Texas of a Catholic charity offering humanitarian assistance was absurd.

“That is madness. Sheer madness. To close the border and leave them there, that is madness. The migrant has to be received,” the pope said.

“Thereafter you see how you are going to deal with him. Maybe you have to send him back, I don’t know, but each case ought to be considered humanely,” Francis said.

Record numbers of migrants have been seeking to enter the United States, largely from Central America and Venezuela, as they flee poverty, violence and disasters exacerbated by climate change.

The matter has emerged as a top political issue in the November US election, with President Joe Biden’s Republican challenger, former president Donald Trump, pushing the topic front and center.

“The globalization of indifference” on migrants, Francis said, “is a very ugly disease.”

Francis, 87, also addressed criticisms by conservative US bishops who oppose his efforts to revisit certain teachings and traditions.

A “conservative is one who clings to something and does not want to see beyond that,” he said when asked about the bishops, adding “it is a suicidal attitude.”

A U.S. Border Patrol agent stands in front of the border fence that divides the U.S. and Mexico in San Diego, California, the United States, Nov. 17, 2018. (Xinhua/Zhao Hanrong/IANS)

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has insisted on the importance of a church open to all, including member of the LGBT community, but he has faced strong resistance from conservative Catholics.

There was a particularly strong reaction when Francis opened the door to the blessing of gay couples last year, especially in African countries.

Calling gay people “a human fact,” Francis said in the interview: “To bless each person, why not? The blessing is for all.”

The pontiff also touched on the controversial topic of sex abuse within the Catholic Church.

He has made combatting sexual assault in the Church one of the main missions of his papacy, and insisted on a “zero tolerance” policy following multiple wide-reaching scandals.

“Unfortunately, the tragedy of the abuses is enormous,” he told CBS, adding that abuse “cannot be tolerated. When there is a case of a religious man or woman who abuses, the full force of the law falls upon them,” Francis said. But, he added, “there has been a great deal of progress.”

ALSO READ: US Presses Israel for Gaza Strategy Amid Conflict