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INTERNATIONAL

Joe Biden launches presidential bid

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Joe Biden 2020

Former US Vice-President Joe Biden has declared a presidential bid, putting an end to months of speculation.

In a video announcement, Mr Biden warned that the “core values of the nation… our very democracy, everything that has made America America, is at stake”.

The 76-year-old enters a crowded race for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

He is up against 19 other hopefuls, including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders.

In his announcement, Mr Biden recalled President Donald Trump’s much-criticised response to the deadly Charlottesville white nationalist riots of 2017, saying the US was in a “battle for the soul of this nation”.

“I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time,” he said. “But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”

Mr Biden is the most experienced of the Democratic candidates. A six-term senator, he served as President Barack Obama’s deputy for two terms and ran twice unsuccessfully for president – in 1988 and 2008.

He was tipped to run again in 2016, but ruled himself out after the death of his 46-year-old son, Beau Biden, from a brain tumour.

Since his stint as vice-president, Mr Biden has enjoyed relative popularity among Democrats. On some issues, such as same-sex marriage, he was ahead of Mr Obama.

His popularity is reflected in opinion polls – he has consistently led every national poll of the Democratic primary tracked by the website RealClearPolitics.

The sheer weight of his experience sets him apart from many of the younger 2020 Democratic hopefuls, and widespread national popularity and name recognition make him an immediate front-runner.

Mr Biden is also betting on having the strongest appeal of the Democratic candidates across America’s Midwest, where many low-income voters have abandoned the party in recent years in favour of Mr Trump.

But the former vice-president also carries political baggage that the liberal wing of his party sees as problematic – including support for the Iraq war, opposition to efforts to improve racial integration, and controversy over his 1991 handling of sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

More recently, his campaign stumbled before it began, when he was forced to address claims he had inappropriately invaded the personal space of women. He apologised, saying: “The boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset,” he said. “I understand it and I’ll be much more mindful.”

There is also the question of Mr Biden’s age. On inauguration day he would be 78, making him the oldest sitting president in history, at a time when many Democratic voters are looking to a younger generation to galvanise the party.

Joe Biden enters the Democratic presidential contest as a front-runner, if not the front-runner.

He has near-universal name recognition, high approval ratings within the party and among political independents, a close connection to the halcyon days (at least, for Democrats) of the Obama presidency, and the potential to raise vast amounts of campaign money through traditional Democratic donor networks.

Of course, so did Hillary Clinton in 2015 – and we all know how that turned out.

Mrs Clinton’s key weakness in that presidential race was her long time in the public eye, leaving a long record for her opponents to pick apart, and binding her to a status quo establishment many Americans had come to distrust.

Mr Biden shares those challenges in spades, and he faces a much more diverse and talented primary field than Mrs Clinton did.

His position against school bussing to end segregation in the 1970s, his chairmanship of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991, and his support for the 2003 Iraq War and stringent anti-crime and bankruptcy bills put him out of step with today’s Democratic Party.

Then there’s his advanced age, propensity for verbal stumbles, allegations of inappropriate physical contact and status as a two-time loser in past White House bids.

The former vice-president has a lot going for him. He also has a lot going against him. The durability of his campaign is one of the big questions hovering over the early days of the 2020 Democratic race. Those questions will soon be answered.

Mr Biden first ran for the presidency in the 1988 election, but he withdrew after admitting that he had plagiarised a speech by Neil Kinnock, the leader of the Labour Party in the UK at the time.

After that bid he spent time rising through the Senate ranks, eventually becoming chairman of the judiciary and foreign relations committees.

In 2008 he ran for president again, but failed to gain the political traction he needed and dropped out again. Instead, he joined the Obama ticket as candidate for vice-president.BBC

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INTERNATIONAL

UK makes citizenship offer to Hong Kong residents

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Hong Kong British citizenship

Up to three million Hong Kong residents are to be offered the chance to settle in the UK and ultimately apply for citizenship, Boris Johnson has said.

The PM said Hong Kong’s freedoms were being violated by a new security law and those affected would be offered a “route” out of the former UK colony.

About 350,000 UK passport holders, and 2.6 million others eligible, will be able to come to the UK for five years. And after a further year, they will be able to apply for citizenship. British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong were granted special status in the 1980s but currently have restricted rights and are only entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months.

Under the government’s plans, all British Overseas Nationals and their dependents will be given right to remain in the UK, including the right to work and study, for five years. At this point, they will be able to apply for settled status, and after a further year, seek citizenship.

The PM said Tuesday’s passing of a new security law by the Hong Kong authorities was a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration – a legally binding agreement which set out how certain freedoms would be protected for the 50 years after China assumed sovereignty in 1997.

‘New route’
“It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration,” he said.
“We made clear that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with British National (Overseas) status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for citizenship. And that is precisely what we will do now.”

Foreign Office permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald expressed the government’s “deep concern” about the new law to China during a meeting with the country’s ambassador Liu Xiaoming.

The UK government has been raising concerns about the national security law and very publicly trying to pressure Beijing into a change heart.
That has clearly failed – so ministers are now fulfilling their promise to allow some three million British Overseas Nationals to come to the UK. This is a significant move and the government wants to send a strong message.

But there will be more pressure now to rethink other elements of our relationship with China – not least the deal to allow Huawei to build parts of the UK’s 5G structures.

Many Tory MPs have been lobbying against that for some time – and this will only add to their concern. Updating MPs on the details, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there would be no limit on numbers or quotas and the application process would be simple.

“This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” he said.

Speaking to ITV’s Peston programme, Mr Raab acknowledged there “would be little we could do to…cohesively force” China to allow British Overseas Nationals to come to the UK.

Downing Street said further details of the scheme will be detailed “in due course”.

In the meantime, British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong will be able to travel to the UK immediately, subject to standard immigration checks, the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

They will also not face salary thresholds to gain their visas, he added. Hong Kong’s new national security law, which targets secession, subversion and terrorism with punishments up to life in prison, came into effect on Tuesday.BBC

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CRIME

Ghislaine Maxwell arrested by FBI

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Ghislaine Maxwell arrested by FBI

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, an ex-girlfriend of convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is facing charges in the US after being arrested by the FBI. She is accused of assisting Epstein’s abuse of minors by helping to recruit and groom victims known to be underage.

She was reportedly arrested in New Hampshire and is due in federal court later on Thursday. Ms Ghislaine Maxwell has previously denied any involvement in or knowledge of Epstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. Jeffrey Epstein died in prison on 10 August as he awaited, without the chance of bail, his trial on sex trafficking charges.

He was arrested last year in New York following allegations that he was running a network of underage girls – some as young as 14 – for sex. His death was determined to be suicide.

Four of the six charges relate to the years 1994-97 when Ghislaine Maxwell was, according to the indictment, among Epstein’s closest associates and also in an “intimate relationship” with him. The other two charges are allegations of perjury in 2016.

The indictment says Ms Maxwell “assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18”.

Specifically, she is charged with: Conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts. Enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

She is accused of grooming multiple minor girls to engage in sex acts with Epstein. She allegedly attempted to befriend them by asking about their lives and families and then she and Epstein built the friendships by taking minor victims to the cinema or shopping.

Having built a rapport, Ms Ghislaine Maxwell would “try to normalise sexual abuse for a minor victim by discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein”.

“Maxwell and Epstein worked together to entice these minor victims to travel to Epstein’s residences – his residence in New York City on the Upper East Side, as well as Palm Beach, Florida, and Santa Fe, New Mexico,” Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, told reporters.

“Some of the acts of abuse also took place in Maxwell’s residence in London, England.”The perjury counts relate to depositions she gave to a New York court on 22 April and 22 July 2016. The charge sheet says she “repeatedly lied when questioned about her conduct, including in relation to some of the minor victims”.

“Maxwell lied because the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable,” said Ms Strauss.”Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them. She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while she was setting them up to be sexually abused by Epstein and, in some cases, by Maxwell herself.”

What is the background?
Allegations against Epstein had dated back years before the parents of a 14-year-old girl said he had molested her in 2005. Under a legal deal, he avoided federal charges and since 2008 was listed as level three on the New York sex offenders register.

But he was arrested again in New York on 6 July 2019 and accused of sex trafficking of underage girls over a number of years.
Some of Epstein’s alleged victims have accused Ms Ghislaine Maxwell of bringing them into his circle to be sexually abused by him and his friends.
One told the BBC’s Panorama that Ms Maxwell “controlled the girls. She was like the Madam”.

Ms Maxwell has denied any wrongdoing. Earlier this year she sued Epstein’s estate seeking reimbursement for legal fees and security costs. She “receives regular threats to her life and safety”, court documents in that case said.

Another of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, has accused Ms Maxwell of recruiting her as a masseuse to the financier at the age of 15.
Details of that allegation against Ms Maxwell emerged in documents unsealed by a US judge last August in a 2015 defamation case but are not part of the charges against Ms Maxwell unveiled in July 2020.

Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?
Ms Maxwell is the daughter of late British media mogul Robert Maxwell. A well-connected socialite, she is said to have introduced Epstein to many of her wealthy and powerful friends, including Bill Clinton and the Duke of York (who was accused in the 2015 court papers of touching a woman at Jeffrey Epstein’s US home, although the court subsequently struck out allegations against the duke).

Buckingham Palace has said that “any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors” by the duke was “categorically untrue”.
Ms Ghislaine Maxwell has mostly been out of public view since 2016. In a BBC interview last year, the Duke of York said he had met Ms Maxwell last year before Epstein was arrested and charged. However they did not discuss Epstein, he said.

Last month a US prosecutor said Prince Andrew had “sought to falsely portray himself” as eager to co-operate with the inquiry into Epstein.
US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Prince Andrew had “repeatedly declined our request” to schedule an interview.

The duke’s lawyers previously rejected claims he had not co-operated, saying he offered to help three times. Prince Andrew stepped away from royal duties last year. Asked about the prince on Thursday, acting Attorney Strauss said: “I am not going to comment on anyone’s status in this investigation but I will say that we would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us, we would like to have the benefit of his statement.”BBC

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HEALTH

US buys nearly all of Gilead’s Covid-19 drug Remdesivir

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Remdesivir Covid 19

The US is buying nearly all the next three months’ projected production of Covid-19 treatment Remdesivir from US manufacturer Gilead.

The US health department announced on Tuesday it had agreed to buy 500,000 doses for use in American hospitals. Tests suggest Remdesivir cuts recovery times, though it is not yet clear if it improves survival rates.

Gilead did sign a licensing deal in May for production outside the US but it is still in its early stages.

“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for Covid-19,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. A course of treatment in the US will cost $2,340 (£1,900).

Nine companies can make the drug under licence outside the US for distribution in 127 mostly poorer countries, and the cost is lower. But the project is still in its early stages.

Additional quantities are being manufactured for use in clinical trials. But critics say the US move to buy up so much stock from Gilead itself undermines international co-operation on COVID, given that other countries have taken part in trials of Remdesivir, originally an anti-viral against Ebola.

“The trial that gave the result that allowed Remdesivir to sell their drug wasn’t just done in the US. There were patients participating through other European countries, in the UK as well, and internationally, Mexico and other places,” Oxford University’s Prof Peter Horby told BBC Radio 4.

He said the move also had implications for any possible future vaccine, with the need for “a much stronger framework if we are going to develop these things and they’re going to be used for national emergencies”.

Senior Sussex University lecturer, Ohid Yaqub, said: “It so clearly signals an unwillingness to co-operate with other countries and the chilling effect this has on international agreements about intellectual property rights.”Some in the US have criticised the purchase price, as taxpayer money had helped fund Remdesivir’s development.BBC

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