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Dominican Republic vote to go ahead despite coronavirus threat

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Voters in the Dominican Republic are set to defy rising coronavirus infections to choose a new president in an election that could end 16 years of unbroken rule by the centre-left Dominican Liberation Party (PLD).  

Opposition candidate Luis Abinader is favourite in Sunday’s election, having taken a commanding lead in opinion polls despite being forced to abandon his campaign after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Abinader, a 52-year-old businessman, recovered sufficiently to close out his campaign at a rally on Wednesday.

“Change is coming and the PLD is going,” he promised a crowd of hundreds of his supporters, allowed to gather after the government eased a lockdown.  

A Gallup poll gives Abinader, from the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) more than 53 percent of voter intentions, 20 points ahead of the ruling PLD party’s Gonzalo Castillo. Another poll gives Abinader a slimmer 12 point margin.  

Castillo, a former public works minister, is standing for the PLD because outgoing President Danilo Medina cannot seek another term under the Republic’s constitution.

Dominican republic election

Ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) Gonzalo Castillo (left); opposition Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) candidate Luis Abinader [File: Erika Santelices/AFP]

“The Dominican people should remember that a president is elected in one day, but the consequences last for four years,” Castillo told a crowd of his supporters in the town of Monte Plata.

Former president Leonel Fernandez, 66, trails in third place with 8.6 percent. Fernandez ruled for a total of three four-year terms between 1996 and 2012.  

Three other candidates are contesting the presidency from minor parties. 

Election shaped by corruption and pandemic

The Dominican Republic has a poor record on corruption, ranking 137th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index.

It has been particularly key issue in this election cycle after protests in recent years over the involvement of some local officials in a Latin America-wide fraud scandal involving the Brazilian construction Odebrecht. The corporate giant has admitted to doling out $92m in bribes in the Domincan Republic in exchange for winning public works contracts.  

Meanwhile, election’s campaigning has been unlike any other in the tourist-magnet Caribbean republic’s history, overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the country’s population of 10 million hard.

The Republic – which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti – has registered more than 34,000 infections from the coronavirus, with more than 800 deaths, according to an AFP news agency tally. 

Luis Abinader presidential election

Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidate Luis Abinader is a favourite in Sunday’s election [File: Reuters]

The outbreak forced Medina’s government to declare a national lockdown, banning large public gatherings and shutting borders – a massive economic blow to one of the strongest growing economies in the region.

A state of emergency was lifted only this week as parties made a final drive for votes.

‘Come what may’

The election date has already been pushed back from May 17 but will go ahead “come what may” on Sunday, Julio Cesar Castanos, the president of the Central Electoral Board, has said. 

The authority’s advice to voters: “Put your mask on and get out and vote.”

Despite health protocols being put in place at polling stations, Health Minister Rafael Sanchez Cardenas said it would be “practically impossible” not to have news outbreaks of COVID-19.  

“We have to get beyond this line of 5th of July, hoping that there won’t be an overflow of cases and that we will be able to respond,” the minister said.  

The pandemic has already hit polling by the Republic’s 600,000 overseas voters – representing almost 8 percent of the electoral roll.  

Most live in the United States, Spain and Puerto Rico, where polling has been taking place. However, expatriates in Italy and Panama have not been authorised to vote because of coronavirus restrictions in place there.  

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The poisoning of Alexey Navalny: Five key things to know

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What happened on the day Navalny fell ill?

On August 20, a Thursday, Alexey Navalny, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic, had finished up campaigning for opposition politicians in Siberia for local elections, which were taking place from September 11 to 13. 

He left Xander Hotel and headed for the Tomsk Bogashevo airport. There, he drank a cup of tea. He was on the way to Moscow.

In the first half-hour of the flight, he fell ill and witnesses said he screamed in pain. He was later in a coma.

He was airlifted to Germany’s capital, a six-hour flight, to the Berlin Charite hospital.The plane made an emergency landing at Omsk. He received treatment in the Russian city, where doctors said he was too unwell to be moved, but two days later on August 22, a Saturday, they said his life was not in danger.

Was he poisoned? 

Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, a claim several European countries support.

A laboratory in Germany said it had confirmation on September 2, followed by laboratories in France and Sweden on September 14.

Samples from Navalny have also been sent to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for testing.

Russia says there is no evidence to prove Navalny was poisoned, while its ally Belarus has also doubted the claim. The doctors in Omsk said they had not detected poisonous substances in Navalny’s body. 

US President Donald Trump has been criticised for towing Russia’s line, saying on September 4 – two days after Germany’s claim to have “unequivocal evidence” – that “we have not had any proof yet”.

How is Navalny’s condition now?

On September 7, more than two weeks after falling ill on the plane, Navalny’s doctors in Germany said he was out of a coma and that his condition was improving. His spokeswoman said, “Gradually, he will be switched off from a ventilator.”

On September 15, Navalny posted on Instagram that he was breathing alone. He has said he plans to return to Russia. 

If he was poisoned, who may have poisoned him and where?

Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned at the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin – a claim the Kremlin has strongly denied. 

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh had initially said she believed Navalny’s tea at the airport was poisoned, but on September 17, his team said the nerve agent was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in the Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned there and not at the airport. 

What effect has the alleged poisoning had?

The alleged attack has widened a rift between Europe and Russia, with Germany and France leading calls for a full investigation but stopping short of outrightly blaming the Russian government. 

MEPs have called for sanctions against Russia, saying on September 17, “The poison used, belonging to the ‘Novichok group’, can only be developed in state-owned military laboratories and cannot be acquired by private individuals, which strongly implies that Russian authorities were behind the attack.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Germany’s ambassador to Moscow, while the United Kingdom has summoned the Russian envoy over the incident.

For its part, Moscow rejects what it called the politicisation of the issue.

Significantly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which transfers Russian gas to Germany. Once again, the Kremlin has warned not to involve the Navalny case in any discussion about the pipeline, with Dmitry Peskov saying on September 16, “It should stop being mentioned in the context of any politicisation.”


A timeline of events surrounding the alleged poisoning attack on Navalny: 

August 20 – Navalny falls ill on flight; plane makes emergency landing in Omsk; his spokeswoman says he was poisoned, perhaps by the tea he drank at the airport

August 22 – Navalny airlifted to Berlin Charite hospital 

September 2 – Germany says it has ‘unequivocal evidence’ Navalny was poisoned, Russia responds by saying the claim is not backed by evidence

September 4 – US President Donald Trump says ‘we do not have any proof yet’

September 6 – Heiko Maas, German foreign minister, threatens action over gas pipeline project, saying, ‘I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2’

September 7 – German doctors say Navalny is out of an artificial coma

September 11-13 – Russia holds local elections; Navalny’s allies make gains in Siberian cities

September 15 – Navalny posts on Instagram that he is breathing alone

September 16 – Kremlin spokesman warns against politicising Navalny issue in discussions over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Germany

September 17 – Navalny’s team now suspects he was poisoned in his hotel room, not the airport, citing traces of nerve agent on an empty water bottle

September 17 – MEPs call for sanctions against Russia 

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Former Canada PM Turner, in office for just 11 weeks, dies

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John Turner, Canada’s 17th prime minister who held the office for just 79 days in 1984, died on Saturday aged 91.

Former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner, who was in office for only 11 weeks in the 1980s, has died at age 91, Canadian media outlets reported on Saturday.

Turner served as the country’s 17th prime minister and, despite his short tenure at the helm of a Liberal Party government in 1984, he spent decades in Canadian federal politics.

Turner took over from Pierre Elliott Trudeau – current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father – in late June 1984 at a time of increasing voter fatigue with the Liberals, who had been in power for 20 of the previous 21 years.

At that point, he had already held the posts of finance and justice minister.

But his 79-day tenure as prime minister was the second shortest in Canadian history. He resigned as Liberal leader in 1990 and was replaced by Jean Chretien, who led the party to victory in 1993.

Turner’s time in federal politics was perhaps best remembered for his battles with former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, especially over free trade with the United States, CBC News reported.

‘Distinguished service’

On Saturday, legislators from across the Canadian political spectrum shared their memories of Turner, whom many described as being deeply devoted to the public service, and sent their condolences to his family.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who held the post from 2006 to 2015, said Turner “served his family and country with great dignity”.

“His legacy and commitment to public service will be remembered for generations,” Harper tweeted.

Liberal parliament member Yvan Baker said Turner was one of his early political role models.

“Canada meant everything to him, and he will be remembered for his life-long & distinguished service to this country,” Baker wrote on Twitter, alongside an image of himself with the late former prime minister.

Deeply saddened to learn former PM John Turner has passed away. He was one of my first political role models. Canada meant everything to him, and he will be remembered for his life-long & distinguished service to this country. My sympathies to his family at this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/U1Mq6pX1ZE

— Yvan Baker, MP (@Yvan_Baker) September 19, 2020

Bob Rae, a longtime politician and now Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, said Turner was many things – a lawyer, Rhodes scholar, athlete – but a “believer above all in the public service”.

Canada’s Minister of Indigenous-Crown Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said she would miss Turner’s “wise counsel”.

“He cared deeply about this country and our democratic institutions. We must now all carry his torch as we build an even better Canada,” she tweeted.

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Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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Trump bans TikTok over security concerns

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From: Inside Story

More than 100 million Americans will not be able to download two of the world’s most popular apps from Sunday.

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