Donald Trump has delivered a “mission accomplished” valedictory address that failed to name Joe Biden or acknowledge the legitimacy of his election victory.
On his last full day at the White House, the outgoing US president released a nearly 20-minute video message in which he spoke from a lectern against a backdrop of four national flags, two busts and two framed paintings.
“We did what we came here to do – and so much more,” said Trump, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie, as he reeled off a list of achievements and linked them to his signature phrases, “America first” and “make America great again”.
The president appeared to tacitly acknowledge the divisiveness and anger that marked his four years in office, but offered no hint of regret. “I did not seek the easiest course,” he said. “I did not seek the path that would get the least criticism.
“I took on the tough battles, the hardest fights, the most difficult choices because that’s what you elected me to do. Your needs were my first and last unyielding focus. This, I hope, will be our greatest legacy: together, we put the American people back in charge of our country.”
Critics have said Trump is more likely to be remembered as the first American president in history to be twice impeached, first for pressuring Ukraine for political favours, second for inciting a violent mob to sack the US Capitol and stop Biden’s win being certified.
After four years of firestorms, Trump’s presidency has been fading away, especially after his Twitter feed was abruptly terminated. The video broke a prolonged silence less than 24 hours before he is expected to leave the White House for the last time, early on Wednesday morning.
Before heading to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Trump will hold a send-off event at the Joint Base Andrews airfield near Washington. His vice-president, Mike Pence, will not be present but will attend Biden’s inauguration instead in what may be interpreted as a pointed gesture.
Trump, who pushed baseless conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from him, has not held a farewell press conference nor welcomed Biden to the White House. He will become the first president in a century and a half to snub his successor’s inauguration. It is not known whether he will leave a handwritten note for Biden in the Oval Office as past occupants have done.
In his remarks, Trump could not bring himself to utter Biden’s name, saying only: “This week, we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous. We extend our best wishes, and we also want them to have luck – a very important word.”
The reference to “luck” may have been a backward look at the coronavirus, which dramatically ended a run of relative good fortune for the president and smashed his economic record in an election year.
His mishandling of the pandemic response has been widely condemned for making the death toll exponentially worse. It included deliberately minimising the threat, sidelining public health officials, refusing to embrace mask-wearing and suggesting unproven treatments, including the injection of disinfectant.
Even as the US death toll ticked past 400,000 people, the highest in the world, Trump noted that nation had produced two vaccines at record speed. “Another administration would have taken three, four, five, maybe even up to 10 years to develop a vaccine,” he claimed, without evidence. “We did in nine months.”
Long assailed for his lack of empathy, Trump offered: “We grieve for every life lost, and we pledge in their memory to wipe out this horrible pandemic once and for all.”
The president offered no contrition for his role in the insurrection at the Capitol this month, in which five people were killed and rioters paraded the Confederate flag and other symbols of the far right. Earlier on Tuesday, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said the mob was “provoked by the president and other powerful people”.
The president said: “All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol. Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated. Now, more than ever, we must unify around our shared values and rise above the partisan rancor, and forge our common destiny.”
Trump touted his tax cuts, deregulation, trade deals, rebuilding the military and withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, which Biden has pledged to rejoin immediately. He also highlighted the appointment of nearly 300 judges, including three supreme court justices, and construction of more than 450 miles of “powerful new wall” on the US-Mexico border.
Internationally, he claimed: “We revitalised our alliances and rallied the nations of the world to stand up to China like never before.” He added: “I am especially proud to be the first president in decades who has started no new wars.”
Trump is still likely to issue a barrage of last-minute pardons and commutations before he exits. Facing an impeachment trial in the Senate and a possible ban on running for public office, he gave little hint about his future plans.
“I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning,” he said. “There’s never been anything like it. The belief that a nation must serve its citizens will not dwindle but instead only grow stronger by the day.”
The address was greeted with widespread scepticism. Ilhan Omar, a Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, tweeted: “Trump might not have started a war, but he did succeed in making our nation’s capital look like a war zone.”
Helicopter crash: French billionaire and MP Olivier Dassault dies
French President Emmanuel Macron has paid tribute to billionaire and conservative politician Olivier Dassault, 69, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, local time.
Mr Dassault was the eldest son of late French billionaire industrialist Serge Dassault, whose namesake Dassault Aviation builds the Rafale war planes and owns Le Figaro newspaper.
“Olivier Dassault loved France,” Mr Macron said on Twitter.
“Captain of industry, lawmaker, local elected official, reserve commander in the air force: during his life, he never ceased to serve our country, to value its assets. His sudden death is a great loss. Thoughts on his family and loved ones.”
The private helicopter crashed during the afternoon on Sunday in Normandy, where Mr Dassault had a holiday home, according to a police source.
The pilot was also killed.
A representative for the conservative Les Republicains party in France’s National Assembly since 2002, he represented the Oise area of northern France.
Mr Dassault was considered the 361st richest man in the world alongside his two brothers and sister, with wealth of about 6 billion euros ($9.29 billion) mostly inherited from his father, according to the 2020 Forbes rich list.
He stepped down from his role on the board of Dassault due to his political role to avoid any conflict of interest.
Mr Dassault, seen as the favourite of founder Marcel Dassault, was once considered favoured to succeed Serge Dassault at the head of the family holding, but that role went to former Dassault Aviation chief executive Charles Edelstenne.
“Great sadness at the news of the sudden passing of Olivier Dassault,” Valerie Pecresse, a conservative politician who is president of the Paris region, said on Twitter.
“A businessman, but also a renowned photographer, he had a passion for politics in his blood, rooted in his department of Oise. My warm thoughts to his family.”
Pope Francis raises concerns over Christian safety
Pope Francis arrived in Baghdad on Friday for a three-day visit to Iraq, undeterred by suggestions that his trip might fuel a surge in coronavirus cases, undaunted by the precarious security situation and committed to offering support to a Christian community decimated by years of war.
It’s the first trip Francis has embarked on since the pandemic swept the world and the first time a head of the Roman Catholic Church has visited the country.
The journey promises to be as rich in symbolism as it is fraught with risk.
“I am happy to travel again,” the pope said, taking off his blue surgical mask to address reporters en route to Iraq. His Alitalia flight was accompanied by U.S. aircraft from the Ayn al Asad military base after entering Iraqi airspace.
By choosing Iraq as his first destination since the pandemic began, Francis waded directly into the issues of war and peace, and poverty and religious strife, in an ancient biblical land.
“This trip is emblematic,” he said, calling it “a duty to a land martyred for many years.”
He was welcomed by a small color guard and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
The pope left the airport complex in a black BMW, his window rolled down. He waved as he passed a small group of faithful waving Iraqi and Vatican flags behind a metal fence on the side of the highway.
The pope’s vehicle was surrounded by a police motorcycle escort as he drove past miles of concrete blast walls that were put up during Iraq’s sectarian violence.
After 2003, the road was one of the most dangerous in Baghdad, with frequent roadside bombs and suicide car bombs. Those are now in the past, and palm trees planted to beautify the road greet visitors.
As he arrived at the presidential palace, the pope’s car was flanked by members of Iraqi security forces on horseback. Francis emerged from that car, limping noticeably as he made his way along a red carpet.
The pope is known to suffer from sciatica, which he told reporters in 2013 was the worst thing that had happened to him in his early days as pope.
It was the start of what promised to be an arduous journey that will take the 84-year-old pontiff to battle-scarred churches and desert pilgrimage sites.
In an area known as the cradle of civilization, the modern history of Mesopotamia — now present-day Iraq — has been scarred by lasting hardship: three decades of despotic rule, followed by nearly two decades of war and a wave of carnage unleashed by the Islamic State.
Once a rich tapestry of faiths, Iraq has been hollowed out as orthodoxies hardened. Its Jews are almost completely gone, and its Christian community grows smaller every year. About one million have fled since the 2003 United States-led invasion. An estimated 500,000 remain.
That backdrop makes the pope’s visit on Saturday to the ancient city of Ur — traditionally held to be the birthplace of Abraham, who is revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians alike — all the more powerful.
To that end, his trip carries a motto from the Gospel of Matthew: “You are all brothers.”
But the pope’s agenda also casts a spotlight on the terrible toll wrought when divisions harden and violence takes over.
On Friday evening he met with priests, bishops and others at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Just over a decade ago, the church came under assault when attackers unleashed fusillade of grenades, bullets and suicide vests. At least 58 people were killed in the assault, which was carried out by an affiliate of Al Qaeda.
It was far from the deadliest massacre in the country, where tens of thousands of Muslims have died in war and sectarian fighting, but the attack tore at the heart of the Christian community.
An image of Francis is painted on the blast walls that now ring Our Lady of Salvation.
Francis made it clear that after Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had to scuttle plans to visit the remaining Christians in the country, he would not cancel his own trip.
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