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Biden gets more security as he edges toward win: report

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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.”



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Dispute over cobalt-rich seabed: FSP alleges India exploiting hapless Lanka

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Pubudu Jagoda

… Indian HC denies dispute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for Jana Aragala Sandhanaya, Pubudu Jagoda, yesterday (12) said that India was brazenly exploiting the continuing political and economic crisis here to secure rights to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean, situated in an area staked by Sri Lanka in terms of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Jagoda, who also represents the Peratugaami Pakshaya (Frontline Socialist Party), a breakaway faction of the JVP, said so when The Island sought further clarification after he discussed the developing situation with India, in an interview with Asoka Dias on Sirasa ‘Pathikada.’ telecast earlier in the day.

Jagoda told The Island that the unprecedented Indian move on Afanasy Nikitin seamount that lies entirely within an area, also claimed by Sri Lanka way back in 2009 as being within the boundaries of its continental shelf, should be a warning to both the government and the Opposition.

The former JVPer declared that Jana Aragala Sandhanaya would take up this issue vigorously in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election. Jagoda emphasized that India took advantage of hapless Sri Lanka while frequently uttering like a mantra its self-proclaimed Neighbourhood First Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The Peratagaamis-led grouping recently pledged to contest both the Presidential and Parliamentary polls.

While asserting that political parties represented in Parliament, along with the government, lacked the courage to take up this issue with India, Jagoda therefore urged the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to deal with it diplomatically at the highest level.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson said there was no dispute and asked The Island to refer to a statement dated July 08, 2024 issued by Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appearing on ‘Pathikada’, Jagoda questioned the failure on the part of the government to respond to the Indian move much earlier.

Pointing out that India sought the intervention of Kingston Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) to secure approval for exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts located at the Afanasy Nikitin seamount thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts to win recognition of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Jagoda said that India seemed to be resorting once again to bullying tactics.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who always jealously guarded the country’s interests, made Sri Lanka’s claim on May 08, 2009, as ground forces were engaged in the last phase of operations on the Vanni east front. The war was brought to a successful conclusion 10 days later.

Jagoda explained how India unfairly pressured Sri Lanka over Chinese research ship visits, finally leading to the government to declare a ban on such stays during whole of this year. The FSP spokesman also expressed concerns over the Katchatheevu issue, massive Indian poaching and the recent death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) member as a result of aggressive maneuvers resorted to by an intercepted trawler off Kankesanthurai.

Jagoda alleged that poaching on such a scale couldn’t take place without India’s tacit approval. “They have a much bigger Navy and significant Coast Guard assets therefore there cannot be any excuse for not being able to effectively hinder crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary at will by their poachers,” Jagoda said. Declaring that destructive bottom trawling had been banned in Indian waters though the invading Indian fishing fleet freely adopted the highly harmful method in our waters, Jagoda alleged that New Delhi conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on in the neighbour’s waters.

Referring to the dispute over the Indian claim contrary to that of Sri Lanka, the FSPer said the Indian media coverage of the issue indicated that they intended to go ahead with the exploration of the cobalt rich region. Reference was made to India reaching agreement with Taiwan to undertake the exploration amidst rising tensions between China and India.

Acknowledging that the two issues – Sri Lanka’s submission made in terms of UNCLOS in 2009 and India’s appeal to ISA this year – were before the UN as declared by Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, Jagoda said that the government should discuss the contentious matters with India without further delay.

Jagoda said that no political party represented in Parliament so far commented on the developing situation.

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Another FR petition to stay Presidential Poll at 11th hour

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Another fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday (12), requesting the court to prevent the Election Commission from declaring the next presidential election.The petitioner, a lawyer by profession, has argued that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s tenure to five years from six, was not passed properly.

He has argued that the 19A must be approved by the people at a referendum and holding a presidential election, as per the aforementioned amendment, is a violation of the Constitution.

The members of the Elections Commission, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the AG were named as respondents.

The petition says that the 19th Amendment strips the President of the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it was elected. The Supreme Court at that time said the provision had to be approved by the people at a referendum for it to become law. A referendum was never held, and therefore 19A could not be considered law.

The petitioner has said the Elections Commission is planning to hold a presidential election this year based on 19A and that it is unconstitutional to hold the election until 19A is subjected to a referendum.

The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to declare the holding a presidential election, five years into the term of the President, unconstitutional. He also urged the court to instruct the Secretary General of Parliament to subject 19A to a referendum.

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COPF uncovers major failings in online visa procurement process

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Harsha de Silva

The Committee on Public Finance (COPF), chaired by Dr. Harsha de Silva, released a critical report revealing major discrepancies in the procurement process and agreement with a Consortium, comprising GBS Technology Services, IVS Global-FZCO, and VF Worldwide Holdings Ltd.

Issuing a press release, MP de Silva said the Committee’s findings highlight significant concerns and recommend urgent corrective actions.

The COPF found that the company got the deal through an uncompetitive Procurement Process

“The Consortium was appointed without a competitive bidding process, preventing the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DOIE) from securing the best value for money.

“Proposals were submitted before finalising the System Specification Requirement (SSR), raising concerns on procedural integrity.

“Critical Issues Identified:

Unclear Fee Structure: Lack of transparency in fee components, including discrepancies in service fees and convenience fees.

“Data Breach and Termination: A significant data breach was reported by a major travel vlogger in May 2024 potentially triggering a termination clause.

“Conflicting Exclusivity: The exclusivity granted to the Consortium contradicts the presence of existing service providers and the recommendation by the evaluation committee.

“Uninvested Funds: The USD 200 million investment promised to Cabinet remains uninvested and not mentioned anywhere in the agreement.

“Terminated Service Provider: Mobitel, the previous ETA service provider since 2012, submitted multiple proposals for system improvements and a comprehensive proposal for new services was overlooked.

“Recommendations:

Comprehensive Forensic Audit: The COPF recommends that the Auditor General undertake a comprehensive forensic audit of the entire procurement process. This audit should be completed at the earliest opportunity to serve as the foundation for necessary actions, which could include abrogating or amending the Consortium Outsourcing Agreement.

“Data Protection Measures: The COPF urges the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), DOIE, and the Sri Lankan Data Protection Authority to review the KPMG report and take immediate and decisive actions to ensure the complete security and protection of all data handled through the ETA application process.

“Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of COPF, stated, “The absence of a competitive bidding process in the procurement of online visa services has likely resulted in an agreement that does not provide the best value for money. Our findings call for immediate action by the Auditor General to address these critical issues and ensure transparency and accountability, which could even mean abrogation of this agreement.”

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