Washington (District of Columbia, United States AFP)
The US Secret Service has increased its protective bubble around Joe Biden as chances increased that he will be the next US president, the Washington Post reported Friday.
The Secret Service sent an extra squad of agents to Biden’s campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware as expectations rose that the Democratic candidate would be able to declare victory over President Donald Trump as early as Friday, the Post reported.
The Secret Service, an agency under the Department of Homeland Security, is in charge or protecting the White House and senior government officials, visiting high officials, and others.
It had already deployed some agents to protect Biden around early July after he triumphed in the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries.
As a former vice president, Biden could have requested Secret Service protection before then, but reportedly did not.
If Biden becomes president-elect, Secret Service protection is expected to ramp up to a higher level.
Trump erupts as Biden closes in on US presidency
President Donald Trump launched a tirade of unsubstantiated claims that he had been cheated out of winning the US election, as vote counting across battleground states early Friday showed Democrat Joe Biden closing in on victory.
Biden’s momentum towards the White House built further with major media outlets reporting he had overtaken Trump by a razor-thin margin in the crucial battleground state of Georgia.
“They are trying to steal the election,” an increasingly isolated Trump said in an extraordinary appearance at the White House on Thursday, two days after polls closed.
Providing no evidence and taking no questions from reporters, Trump spent nearly 17 minutes making the kind of incendiary statements about the country’s democratic process that have never been heard before from a US president.
According to Trump, Democrats were using “illegal votes” to “steal the election from us.”
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he claimed. “They’re trying to rig an election. And we can’t let that happen.”
Trump repeated those claims in a tweet early on Friday.
His rhetoric came as his campaign aggressively challenged the integrity of the huge number of ballots mailed in rather than cast in person on Election Day.
The big shift to postal ballots this year reflected the desire of voters to avoid risking exposure to Covid-19 in crowded polling stations during a pandemic that has already killed 235,000 Americans.
Mail-in ballots have tilted heavily to Democrats. In the crucial state of Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign moved to stop the counting of votes, which authorities were forbidden from processing before Election Day.
– Mixed support for Trump –
Several major US television networks cut away from live coverage of Trump’s event over concerns of disinformation and there were signs of cracks in support within his Republican Party.
Representative Will Hurd called Trump’s call to stop vote-counting “dangerous and wrong,” while Rupert Murdoch’s long supportive New York Post called Trump’s allegations “baseless.”
But prominent Republicans rallied behind Trump and signalled that they could challenge the legitimacy of results if the president loses.
I think everything should be on the table,” Senator Lindsey Graham said when asked by Fox News host and Trump loyalist Sean Hannity if Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislature should refuse to certify results.
Biden, 77, was just one or, at most, two battleground states away from securing the electoral college votes to take the White House.
Trump, 74, needs an increasingly unlikely combination of wins in multiple states to stay in power.
Biden, who has promised to heal a country bruised by Trump’s extraordinarily polarizing four years in power, appealed for “people to stay calm.”
“We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator (Kamala) Harris and I will be declared the winners,” he said in comments to reporters in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
“The process is working,” he said. “The count is being completed. And we will know soon.”
– Biden closes in –
In Georgia, a generally Republican state, Biden pulled ahead with a lead of 917 votes, CNN, Fox News and the New York Times reported.
If Trump loses Georgia, he can not win a majority of electoral college seats.
In Arizona and Nevada, Biden was holding on to slim leads.
If Biden wins two of those three states he would win the presidency.
The biggest piece of the puzzle is Pennsylvania, where Trump’s early lead continued to steadily draining away.
The Democratic hopeful currently is projected to have 253 of the 538 electoral college votes divvied up between the country’s 50 states.
He has 264 with the inclusion of Arizona, which Fox News and the Associated Press have called in his favor but other major organizations have not.
If Biden took Pennsylvania, he would grab 20 more electoral college votes, thereby instantly topping the necessary 270 for overall victory.
The latest results showed Trump’s lead in the state had shrunk to around 18,000 votes, with most ballots yet to be counted coming from Democratic stronghold Philadelphia.
– Protests across country –
Trump’s campaign insisted that the president has a way to win, citing pockets of Republican support yet to be counted and also alleging mass fraud without providing evidence.
Trump’s team fanned out across the battleground states challenging the results in court and his supporters converged outside election offices in several cities.
Outside an election office in Arizona’s capital Phoenix, far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones roused a heavily armed crowd, shouting on a megaphone about Trump’s supposed enemies: “They will be destroyed because America is rising.”
In Las Vegas, Trump backers wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats demanded to see ballots being processed.
Brando Madrigal said he wanted to verify that the votes are “not coming from the people who died with Covid, people who are out of state, people who don’t have the ability to vote because they don’t have the papers.”
But while Trump was demanding that counting be halted in Georgia and Pennsylvania — where his lead is narrowing — his supporters and campaign insisted that it continue in Arizona and Nevada, where he is trailing.
Bob Bauer, a lawyer for the Biden campaign, dismissed the slew of lawsuits as “meritless.”
“All of this is intended to create a large cloud,” Bauer said. “But it’s not a very thick cloud. We see through it. So do the courts and so do election officials.”
Toxic coconut oil scare trigger public wave of fear over aflatoxins in foodstuffs
People now wary of buying certain products
By Suresh Perera
In the backdrop of a top official of Sri Lanka’s key standards body coming under heavy flak over her controversial claim that several other consumer commodities also contain toxic substances, public apprehension has shifted to many other products in the market following a wave of fear triggered over cancer-causing free radicals in foodstuffs, industry players said.
The Trade Ministry has already initiated a disciplinary inquiry into the assertion by Dr. Siddhika Senaratne, the Director-General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), that aflatoxins are also found in certain other food items sold to the public.
Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops.
As the SLSI scientist’s remarks during a television talk show ignited an uproar following the seizure of imported stocks of contaminated coconut oil, industry officials said that customers are now wary of purchasing certain food products as the social media, rightly or wrongly, painted a frightening picture, they said.
A committee will be appointed to examine Dr. Senaratne’s statement to ascertain the validity or otherwise of her claim of the presence of aflatoxins in some food products in the marketplace, authoritative sources said.
Though the Director-General didn’t identify any of the “toxic products” she claimed were being sold to consumers, her statement unleashed a cycle of fear and uncertainty as consumers, influenced largely by social media reports and hearsay, viewed many brands with suspicion, the sources noted.
However, there has been no credible scientific evidence so far to prove that products identified on social media contain carcinogenic properties, they said.
Dr. Senaratne’s contention was that identifying products with toxic substances could lead to the collapse of some local industries. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has been informed to take up the issue with the relevant manufacturers for remedial action, she said.
It is no secret that many mills use copra with fungus to extract coconut oil. The perishable copra is dried outdoors but there is no proper cleaning of the fungi, which are common under tropical and sub-tropical conditions, before the oil is extracted, industry officials said.
Has it been established whether the shiny wax coating used on apples as an oxygen barrier to preserve freshness, particularly in consignments imported from China, belong to the safe food grade material?, they asked.
In the case of apples imported to Sri Lanka from the USA, the whole process of orchard to point of landing take many weeks. It is true that fruits are stored in cold rooms to preserve quality and slow the aging process by regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. However, the question arises whether there are accredited processes to monitor the agro chemical and other toxic levels in imported apples and other varieties of fruits before permitting the stocks to be released to the local market, they noted.
Hoppers are a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, but it’s common knowledge that many wayside eateries introduce plaster of paris (a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder known as calcium sulfate hemihydrate) to the batter to keep them fresh and crispy, the officials asserted.
“This is because customers insist on freshly baked hoppers and as a result, those that have gone flat cannot be sold”, they said.
Cleanliness of eateries is being monitored to some extent, but are there any quality checks for toxicity on the food served to customers?, they queried.
After the contaminated coconut oil scandal surfaced, people are reluctant to even buy traditional oil-based sweetmeats from the marketplace, they further said.
Unlike earlier years, there is a slump in sweetmeat sales, a supermarket official said. “Customers are wary about toxic coconut oil in the market”.
Ceyleon Solutions launch Sparetime App to turn spare time into income
Ceyleon Solutions, a leading mobile app solution provider, launched Sparetime (www.sparetime.lk), a special mobile app to make easy money using one’s spare time. This app helps to search for people providing domestic, official or personal services or earn an extra income by providing a wide range of services.
Services such as masonry, plumbing, computer related services, wholesale, distribution, medical & healthcare, teaching, legal, beauticians, cleaning, helping, babysitting and car wash can be either searched or provided using this app as it creates an online platform for such service providers and those who seek their services.
There are two apps compatible to android and apple phones, ‘Sparetime Provider’ for those who provide services and ‘Sparetime User’ for those who seek such services.
“This is an ideal option for those who find it difficult to make ends meet with their salaries. Using this app, they can make use of their spare time effectively to earn extra money. This creates a comprehensive service hub. For an example, a vegetable farmer can find both a whole seller and a transport service provider to transport his goods with just a click. Even students can find part time work for their financial needs”, said Chaminda De Silva, creator and owner of the Sparetime app.
“This app works as a platform for social workers to get together and mobilize people for tasks that they wish to perform. This is a very user friendly app. However, operating instructions can be obtained by calling our hotline 0706355450 or 0706355452. An instructor will come to help you if necessary”, he noted.
Regardless of being a service provider or a user, this app will be ideal. It will also pave the way to gradually reduce the unemployment rate in Sri Lanka and will subsequently contribute to the gross domestic product accelerating economic growth of Sri Lanka.
“Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims; they hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes’
Rishad Bathiudeen tells Parliament
The Muslims never called for separatism. The Muslims have been on the side of the nation for over 1,000 years in Sri Lanka as documented in the book of Dr. Lorna Devaraja titled, ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony’. Even when the Muslims were threatened with eviction or death from the North, they risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to be on the side of the State, Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, said.
Speaking in English during the fifth day of the debate on the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Attacks in Parliament on April 7, he said: “Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims. They hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes. The report in Page 94 confirms that Zahran wanted to build tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim Communities of Sri Lanka”.
The MP’s speech contained many points and references to matters in the report and events that transpired thereafter.
Some of the points raised by the MP were:
* The State is antagonizing the Muslim community in the manner that Zahran had wanted them to act. The State should not play to the tunes of Zahran. The State should not act in a way that would jeopardize national security. The State has already commenced the process of State sponsored oppression by prohibiting the import of Muslim books and are making plans to ban Niqabs/Burkas and Madrasas.
* The PCoI has exonerated Rishad Bathiudeen from all charges in connection with the Easter attacks. Only two charges remain to be investigated. First one is in relation to the phone call placed by Bathiudeen to then Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake, concerning Ihsan Moinudeen. Secondly, the sale of scrap metal by the Industrial Development Board to Colossus (Pvt) Ltd. Rishad Bathiudeen visited the Bribery Commission on 8th of April, 2021 to request them to investigate the allegation in the report.
* The weight placed on the phone call made by Rishad Bathiudeen to General Mahesh Senanayake, was given far higher significance in the report in comparison to the actions of Dayasiri Jayasekara who released six persons from the Hettipola Police Station who were involved in torching and destroying Muslim owned shops and Muslim places of worship. The Commission Report had recommended investigation into the phone call but had not charged Dayasiri on any matter.
* The Government cannot have a law banning the Niqab and Burka without also banning medical masks, helmets, sunglasses, etc.
* Restriction of Islamic books being brought into the country is a violation of the Constitution.
* Bathiudeen quoted Page 331 of the Report:‘Reciprocal radicalization is the cycle of radicalization which promotes each other’s radicalized ideologies’. If the Government can keep politicians like Wimal Weerawansa in check, the de-radicalization program will be half completed. He also said that inciting racism will only provoke and radicalize more Muslims.
* Killing of Fouzul Ameer Mohamed Salley in Kottramulla before his children in the aftermath of the Easter Attacks, was Genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, and all persons who were inciting racism could be charged for incitement to genocide. Subsequent charges of oppression too can have a detrimental effect on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka must be careful as Sri Lanka is now a party to the Rome Statute and can be held accountable by the International Criminal Court.
* It was Azath Salley who indicated during a press conference concerning the criminal activities of Zahran Hashim in 2017, but he is alleged to have connections to the Easter Attacks. This is not fair. The Government is politically victimizing Muslims who are speaking up against the oppressive tactics of the Government.
* The One Country One Law Policy does not mean that Muslim Personal Laws alone should be targeted. Most people believe that Customary Laws should be removed. However, that logic would require the Government to abolish Provincial legislation too, as Provincial legislation is also territorially implemented and not countrywide. Several laws will have to be struck down. However, the right way of interpreting the One Country One Law policy would be to maintain all laws that are consistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
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