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US ready to impose travel ban on Chinese Communist Party members and their families

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The US is reportedly considering imposing travel restrictions on Chinese Communist party members amid a deepening row, with President Donald Trump saying further sanctions were possible and Beijing vowing retaliation.

A draft presidential proclamation would revoke visas for members of the Chinese Communist party as well as their families, according to the New York Times, citing four people familiar with the proposed travel ban that could apply to as many as 92 million party members.

Reuters news agency confirmed the report on Thursday, saying a draft presidential order had been circulated, but deliberations were at an early stage and the issue had not yet been brought to Trump.

The ban would be similar to the 2017 travel ban on Muslim-majority countries in giving the president the ability to prevent foreign nationals deemed “detrimental to the interests” of the US from entering the country.

The White House did not comment on the report on Thursday. On Wednesday, Trump said he had not ruled out additional sanctions on Chinese officials, following his signing of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, legislation meant to punish Beijing over its recent security law.

The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said on Wednesday the US would be placing visa restrictions on “certain employees” of Chinese technology firms including Huawei, but provided no details.

On Thursday, the US attorney general, William Barr, issued a lengthy denunciation of the Chinese party’s strategy to achieve economic, political and cultural domination – a strategy he said was being abetted by Hollywood, hi-tech corporations, and US business leaders lobbying on Beijing’s behalf.

He accused China of conducting “economic blitzkrieg – an aggressive, orchestrated, whole-of-government, and indeed, whole-of-society campaign to seize the commanding heights of the global economy and to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower.”

“The ultimate ambition of China’s rulers isn’t to trade with the United States. It is to raid the United States. If you are an American business leader, appeasing the PRC may bring short-term rewards. But in the end, the PRC’s goal is to replace you,” Barr said in a speech delivered in Michigan.

He gave two examples of China intervening to change the nationalities of characters in Hollywood movies before they were completed, using Chinese distribution deals as leverage. Beijing objected to a virus in a zombie apocalypse film, World War Z, being shown as originating in China, and a mystic character, the “Ancient One” in the fantasy film, Dr Strange, was changed from being Tibetan to Celtic, to avoid upsetting China, Barr said.

Tensions between the countries have escalated in recent weeks over Hong Kong where Beijing has imposed a sweeping and controversial national security law, as well as over Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seen by the US as a security threat.

Keith Krach, US under secretary for economic affairs, praised the UK for its decision to exclude Huawei from Britain’s 5G networks.

“We all have had experience with bullies and the one thing I know is that they back down when they are confronted and they really back down when you have your friends standing by your side, and the US is prepared to be that friend,” Krach said.

China summoned the US ambassador, Terry Branstad, to make “solemn representations” over the Hong Kong legislation, calling it “gross interference in China’s internal affairs”. A statement from the Chinese foreign ministry said: “China will make the necessary response to the wrong actions of the US, including sanctions against US entities and individuals.”

In a statement late on Wednesday, China’s liaison office in Hong Kong said: “Unreasonable meddling and shameless threats by the United States are typical gangster logic and bullying.

“No external force can stop China’s determination to maintain national sovereignty and security for Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability.”

State mouthpiece the Global Times said in an editorial published on Wednesday night: “The current US administration has an abnormal worship of its own power … To what extent is the US willing to hurt itself to harm Hong Kong? No matter what card the US will play next, China will fight it to the end.”

The two countries are engaged in tit-for-tat sparring over the treatment of respective media outlets, tariffs on goods, sanctions in relation to Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as claims over the disputed South China Sea. On Monday, the US state department declared such claims “completely unlawful”, siding with south-east Asian countries against Beijing.

After the US imposed sanctions on Chinese officials involved in alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, Beijing announced its own set of sanctions on US lawmakers and officials. China has also said that it would sanction US arms firm Lockheed Martin over its role in the latest sale of missiles to Taiwan.

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Joe Biden, Kamala Harris sworn-in to lead new America

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Joe Biden is sworn-in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential inauguration at the US Capitol.

Democrat Joe Biden, a fixture in Washington for nearly a half century, was sworn in Wednesday as the 46th US President in a time-honored ceremony on the steps of the US Capitol.

Biden, at 78, becomes the country’s oldest leader ever after serving 36 years as a US senator and eight as vice president. He took the presidential oath of office, swearing to uphold the US Constitution and defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic, on a chilly, wind-swept day.

Kamala Harris
Shortly before, Kamala Harris, a former US senator from California, the country’s most populous state, was sworn-in as vice president, becoming the highest ranking female official in more than two centuries of US history. She is of Black and Indian heritage.

In his inaugural address, Joe Biden said “The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious and democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve,” he added. Biden also emphasized that “unity is the path forward.”

Three former presidents attend
The swearing-in ceremonies were witnessed by three former presidents — Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton – but the country’s outgoing chief executive, former President Donald Trump, ignored 152 years of tradition of presidents attending their successors’ swearing-in ceremonies and left Washington early for his Atlantic coastal mansion in Florida.

Former US President Barack Obama and wife Michelle Obama arrive before the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington.

Crowd missing
Also missing was the vast crowd of thousands of well-wishers that is normal at US presidential inaugurations, both for security reasons and the fear that people jammed together on the National Mall in front of the Capitol would add to the soaring number of coronavirus infections in the US. Instead of people on the Mall, there were thousands of red, white and blue American flags whipping in the wind.

The usual throng of Washington dignitaries witnessing a presidential inauguration was sharply limited in the seats behind Biden and Harris, and their spouses — first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Chairs for the invited guests were widely spaced in line with coronavirus restrictions recommended by health authorities.

Extraordinary security
The ceremony was conducted amid extraordinary security, with tall metal fencing topped by razor wire surrounding the inauguration site after intelligence reports warned that Trump supporters angered by the congressionally certified outcome of the ex-president’s defeat could attempt to disrupt the ceremony.

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Blast in a multi-storey building in Madrid; Two killed and several injured

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Madrid: A bomb exploded at a multi-storey building in the Spanish capital, Madrid. The initial conclusion was that the gas leak was the cause of the explosion. Madrid Mayor Jose Luis has announced that two people have been killed in an accident. Several people were reportedly injured. Rescue work is progressing on the spot. The bomber struck shortly afternoon in front of a police station.

Madrid emergency services said they had deployed rescue workers, firefighters, and police at the scene. Nine fire crews and 11 ambulances were dispatched to the scene with hundreds of police and rescuers filling the street, which was completely closed off to traffic and pedestrians, AFP correspondents said. “At least four floors have been affected by the explosion in the building in Calle Toledo.”

A witness told local Madrid newspaper  that “everything shook like a bomb” and that “much of the facade has fallen.”

Local resident Leire Reparaz, 24, told the Associated Press that she heard a loud explosion: “We didn’t know where the sound came from. We all thought it was from the school. We went up the stairs to the top of our building and we could see the structure of the building and lots of grey smoke.”

Firefighters, police and specialized emergency workers were at the scene and and the surrounding area was evacuated. However, firefighters were reportedly unable to enter the building due to an ongoing fire.

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