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Joe Biden's debate-rematch quandary: How do you solve a problem like The Donald?

Biden's debate quandary

Viewers might be watching television through their fingers Thursday night — not the latest gory Halloween thriller, but the two men vying to be the next president of the United States.

It's the sequel to last month's debate horror show between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, an invective-laced 90 minutes that laid bare the depths to which political discourse can sink in an American election year.

Even superfans of the genre are nervous.

"I watched last time, and I'll be honest with you, I didn't make it through the debate," said Will Stewart, a senior vice-president with Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Toronto and self-described political junkie who has worked in Ontario conservative politics.

"Normally it's Super Bowl weekend for people like me to watch the U.S. presidential debate. And I couldn't even watch it."

This time, the audience won't be the only ones hovering over the mute button.

To ensure both candidates get at least some time to speak uninterrupted, the Commission on Presidential Debates will turn off the opposing candidate's microphone for two minutes at the start of each 15-minute segment.

The debate, which is at Belmont University in Tennessee, will be moderated by NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker. Topics include American families, race relations, climate change, national security and leadership.

The focus, however, will be squarely on the president.

During last month's clash in Ohio, Trump interrupted, antagonized and irritated his Democratic rival from the outset, vexing moderator Chris Wallace and eliciting an exasperated plea for order from Biden himself: "Will you shut up, man?"

And that was only the first 15 minutes.

This time, Biden would do well to ignore the president's "buzz saw" approach, or at least find a way to short-circuit it, said Stewart, who is no stranger to the rituals of debate prep.

"He needs to figure out a way to dismiss Donald Trump, to push him aside," Stewart said. Sinking to the president's level would be the wrong approach.

"(Biden) is the front-runner, he is winning this. He needs to assure people that he's presidential material at this point."

Experts say Trump may have created an opening for himself by taking expectations of his performance so low, it would be easy to exceed them.

Low expectations can be a huge advantage, said Dwight Duncan, a former Liberal cabinet minister in Ontario who helped Dalton McGuinty and Justin Trudeau practise for the most important debates of their careers.

He recalled how, early in the 2015 campaign that put Trudeau in the Prime Minister's Office, Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke suggested all the Liberal leader needed to do to exceed expectations was show up with pants on.

The next day, during a full-on dress rehearsal complete with cameras, microphones and various Liberal operatives standing in for the other party leaders, Trudeau decided to lighten the mood.

"We were all getting ready, and the prime minister comes walking out with his pants off, and boxer shorts," Duncan laughed. "It was just an example of, you know, he was so ready and so relaxed that day."

Of course, just because Trump might be capable of exceeding expectations doesn't mean he will.

"This is his last chance, in my view, to stay competitive, and so there's a much greater onus on him to do better," Duncan said.

"I can see him, if they turn the mic off, just shouting over the mic or even walking off the stage. I mean, what's to prevent him? He's got nothing to lose right now at this point."

Gerald Butts, Trudeau's former principal secretary and another veteran of debate prep and election strategizing, agreed Trump has an opportunity Thursday to surprise people. Whether he will is another matter.

"I expect to see Trump very aggressive, fighting like someone who is behind in the polls and knows he needs to make up ground," Butts said.

"I expect to see Biden try to be consistent with the person has been throughout the campaign. If polls are to be believed, he's in a good spot going into the last couple of weeks of the campaign, and I think his challenge is to continue to project empathy and confidence."

It's also safe to assume there will be more spectacle than substance on display Thursday night. Oddsmakers are taking advantage.

Online betting site Betonline.ag is giving odds on everything from whether the candidates will be seen wearing face masks to which familiar catchphrases or folksy bromides will be uttered first.

Fans of The Fly — the one that buzzed Mike Pence, not the Jeff Goldblum remake — might be interested to know that if an insect interrupts the proceedings, they can place a prop bet on whose head it lands on first. Trump is favoured.



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Nigerian forces killed 12 peaceful protesters, Amnesty says

Forces kill 12 protesters

Amnesty International said in a report Wednesday that Nigeria's security forces fired upon two large gatherings of peaceful protesters Tuesday night, killing 12 people calling for an end to police brutality.

At least 56 people have died during two weeks of widespread demonstrations against police violence, including 38 on Tuesday, the group said. The Nigerian government did not immediately comment about Amnesty International's allegations.

The #EndSARS protests began amid calls for Nigeria's government to close the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS, but has become a much wider demand for better governance in Nigeria.

Despite the growing violence, the Nigerian protesters defied a curfew and faced off with security forces Wednesday as gunfire rang out and fires burned in Lagos, a day after shots were fired into a crowd of demonstrators singing the country’s national anthem.

The security forces opened fire without warning on the protesters Tuesday night at the Lekki toll plaza, Amnesty said in its report, citing eyewitnesses, video footage and hospital reports.

“Opening fire on peaceful protesters is a blatant violation of people’s rights to life, dignity, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Soldiers clearly had one intention - to kill without consequences,” said Osai Ojigho, country director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

Amnesty said it has received reports that shortly before the shootings, CCTV security cameras at the Lekki toll gates, where protesters had been camped for two weeks, were removed by government officials and electricity was cut to prevent evidence emerging of the violence.

Some of those killed and injured at the toll plaza and in Alausa, another Lagos neighbourhood, were taken away by the military, Amnesty alleged in the report.

“These shootings clearly amount to extrajudicial executions. There must be an immediate investigation and suspected perpetrators must be held accountable through fair trials,” said Ojigho.

Amnesty's report backs up posts and images on social media that have shown widespread violence against protesters.

Amid global outrage, Nigeria’s military denied responsibility for the Lekki shootings, posting a tweet that labeled several reports as fake news.

More gunfire rang out across Lagos on Wednesday and into the night, including at the Lekki toll plaza, where young demonstrators rallied again despite an order for everyone to stay off the streets. At the sound of the shots, some protesters were seen on a live broadcast by The Associated Press running away, though it wasn’t clear if the crowd was fired upon.

Police also fired tear gas at bands of demonstrators and smoke was seen billowing from several areas in the city’s centre. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily when their offices were burned by unidentified attackers.

“People are aggrieved over the deaths. They are aggrieved by police violence and they are going out on the streets to show their anger,” said Lagos resident Michael Oladapo Abiodun, who said he has supported protesters on social media.

Demonstrations and gunfire were also reported in several other Nigerian cities, including the capital city, Abuja.

In response to the #EndSARS movement, the government announced it would disband the unit, which Amnesty International says has been responsible for many cases of torture and killings. But that has failed to satisfy demonstrators, who are now demanding more widespread reforms to end human rights abuses committed by security forces of all stripes and pervasive government corruption.

Though Nigeria has massive oil wealth, and is one of Africa’s largest economies, many of its more than 200 million people face high levels of poverty and lack basic services — because of rampant graft, according to rights groups.

The protests drew increased international attention after videos were posted on social media in which gunfire could be heard echoing over protesters as they sang the national anthem at the Lekki toll plaza in the darkness Tuesday night.

It’s not clear in the videos who was firing, but many agree with the Amnesty report that Nigeria’s military is responsible. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said “there is little doubt that this was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings with live ammunition, by Nigerian armed forces.”

Lagos governor Obajide Sanwo-Olu has ordered an investigation into the military's actions at Lekki plaza. He said that 25 people were injured and one person had died from blunt trauma to the head.

President Muhammadu Buhari — who has said little about the protests engulfing his country — did not mention the Lekki shootings in a statement Wednesday but issued a call for calm and vowed police reforms.

Buhari’s statement said the dissolution of the SARS unit “is the first step in a set of reform policies that will deliver a police system accountable to the Nigerian people.”

Nigeria’s spiraling crisis has drawn international attention, and denunciations of the violence by foreign dignitaries and celebrities, including U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden and Beyoncé.

Anti-riot police are being deployed across Nigeria and security has been strengthened around correctional facilities, the inspector-general of police announced. On Tuesday, authorities said nearly 2,000 inmates had broken out of jail after crowds attacked two correctional facilities a day earlier.



Giuliani caught in hotel bedroom scene in new ‘Borat’ film

Giuliani caught by 'Borat'

Rudy Giuliani is shown with his hand down his pants after flirting with an actress playing a young woman pretending to be a television journalist in a scene in Sacha Baron Cohen's latest mockumentary, a sequel to his hit “Borat” film.

The scene shot in a New York hotel room in July — which resulted in Giuliani calling police — includes a moment when Giuliani is seen lying on a bed with his shirt untucked and his hand down his pants with the young woman nearby.

Giuliani went to the hotel room thinking he was being interviewed about the Trump administration's COVID-19 response. The young woman is flirtatious with him and invites him to the bedroom, which is rigged with hidden cameras.

Giuliani then asks for her phone number and address. He lies back on the bed and has his hands in his pants.

The hotel room scene ends when Baron Cohen, who was disguised as part of the crew, bursts into the room in an outlandish outfit screaming that the young woman is 15 years old. Up to that point, there is no indication she is underage. The character, Borat's daughter, is played by actress Maria Bakalova, who is listed as 24 years old on the Internet Movie Database site, IMDb.com.

Giuliani had no immediate comment.

The former New York City mayor called police after that encounter, but there is no indication an investigation was launched. Giuliani spoke to the New York Post's Page Six column about the incident in July, but did not mention the bedroom aspect of the encounter.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who profiled Baron Cohen ahead of the the film's release, tweeted Wednesday about the scene: “It’s even wilder than it sounds. Beyond cringe.”

Trolling those close to President Donald Trump is a central theme of the new “Borat” film, a sequel to the 2006 mockumentary that saw Baron Cohen’s character travel the United States, espousing sexist, racist and anti-Semitic views, and eliciting similar responses from unwitting subjects.

For “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” Baron Cohen returns as his alter-ego from Kazakhstan in a plot that involves trying to give his daughter as a gift to Vice-President Mike Pence.

The closest Borat gets is the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he shouts to Pence that he’s brought a woman for him. Dressed in a Donald Trump costume and with Borat’s daughter, played by Bakalova, slung over his shoulder, Baron Cohen is swiftly escorted out by security.

That leads to a second scheme involving Giuliani that ends up in the hotel room scene.

Giuliani finalized his divorce from his wife of 15 years in December.

Baron Cohen has made a history of poking fun at conservative figures. For his 2018 Showtime series “Who Is America,” the British comedian got former Vice-President Dick Cheney to sign a waterboarding kit. A sketch with former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore involved the comedian administering a “pedophile test.” Moore has sued over the encounter.



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Spain 1st in western Europe to hit 1 million virus cases

Spain hits 1 million cases

Spain became the first country in western Europe to accumulate more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 infections on Wednesday as the nation of 47 million struggles to contain a resurgence of the virus.

The health ministry said that its accumulative case load since the start of the pandemic reached 1,005,295 after reporting 16,973 more cases in the past 24 hours.

The ministry attributes 34,366 deaths to COVID-19. Experts say that, as in most countries, the real numbers of infections and deaths are probably much higher because insufficient testing, asymptomatic cases and other issues impede authorities from capturing the true scale of the outbreak.

As the numbers rise, authorities in charge of health policy in Spain’s regions are tightening restrictions. They want to stem the surge that has been building in recent months while avoiding a second total lockdown of home confinements that stemmed the first wave of the virus but left the economy reeling.

The regional government of northern Aragón announced Wednesday they have closed the city limits of Zaragoza, Huesca and Teruel. Neighboring Navarra, which leads Spain in infections per 100,000 over 14 days, is preparing to become the first Spanish region to close its borders on Thursday. La Rioja will also close its regional borders on Friday.

Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa and regional heads of health will meet on Thursday to discuss their virus strategies and consider employing nightly curfews to target late-night partying as a source of contagion.

“I want to be very clear,” Illa said Tuesday. “Some very hard weeks are coming.”

France is not far behind in western Europe with over 930,000 reported cases. Russia has reported over 1.4 million cases. The U.S. leads the world with over 8 million reported cases, according to the Johns Hopkins tally that is considered a global standard for charting the progress of the pandemic.

Spain’s cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, which is a more reliable indicator of the evolution of the virus, has decreased in recent days. It currently sits at 332 cases per 100,000, a figure that is still worrying but now lower than the Czech Republic, Belgium, Netherlands, France and Britain.

Despite the higher number of asymptomatic cases found through improved testing, the pressure is being felt in Spain’s hospitals. Over 3,900 patients have required hospitalization over the past week, with 274 needing intensive care, the ministry said. Almost 40% of Madrid’s ICU units are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

 



Francis becomes first pope to endorse same-sex civil unions

Pope backs gay civil unions

Pope Francis became the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions in comments for a documentary that premiered Wednesday, sparking cheers from gay Catholics and demands for clarification from conservatives, given the Vatican’s official teaching on the issue.

The papal thumbs-up came midway through the feature-length documentary “Francesco," which premiered at the Rome Film Festival. The film, which features fresh interviews with the pope, delves into issues Francis cares about most, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.

“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. “You can't kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favour of civil unions as pope, and no pontiff before him had, either.

The Jesuit priest who has been at the forefront in seeking to build bridges with gays in the church, the Rev. James Martin, praised the pope's comments as “a major step forward in the church’s support for LGBT people.”

"The pope’s speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws," Martin said in a statement.

However, the conservative bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, Thomas Tobin, immediately called for clarification. “The pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions," Tobin said in a statement. “The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships."

Catholic teaching holds that gays must be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 2003 document from the Vatican’s doctrine office stated that the church’s respect for gays “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

Doing so, the Vatican reasoned, would not only condone “deviant behaviour," but create an equivalence to marriage, which the church holds is an indissoluble union between man and woman.

That document was signed by the then-prefect of the office, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI and Francis’ predecessor.

One of the main characters in the documentary is Juan Carlos Cruz, the Chilean survivor of clergy sexual abuse whom Francis initially discredited during a 2018 visit to Chile.

Cruz, who is gay, said that during his first meetings with the pope in May 2018 after they patched things up, Francis assured him that God made Cruz gay. Cruz tells his own story in snippets throughout the film, chronicling both Francis’ evolution on understanding sexual abuse as well as to document the pope's views on gay people.

Director Evgeny Afineevsky had remarkable access to cardinals, the Vatican television archives and the pope himself. He said he negotiated his way in through persistence, and deliveries of Argentine mate tea and Alfajores cookies that he got to the pope via some well-connected Argentines in Rome.

“Listen, when you are in the Vatican, the only way to achieve something is to break the rule and then to say, ‘I’m sorry,’” Afineevsky said in an interview ahead of the premiere.

Francis' outreach to gays dates to his first foreign trip in 2013, when he uttered the now-famous words “Who am I to judge," when asked during an airborne news conference returning home from Rio de Janiero about a purportedly gay priest.

Since then, he has ministered to gays and transsexual prostitutes, and welcomed people in gay partnerships into his inner circle. One of them was his former student, Yayo Grassi, who along with his partner visited Francis at the Vatican's Washington D.C. embassy during the pope's 2015 visit to the U.S.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an organization of LGBT Catholics, praised Francis’ comments as a “historic” shift for a church that has a record of persecuting gays.

“At the same time, we urge Pope Francis to apply the same kind of reasoning to recognize and bless these same unions of love and support within the Catholic Church, too," he said in a statement.



Mission impossible? Welker on tap to moderate second US presidential debate

Debate mission impossible?

This fall's presidential debates have chewed up moderators.

President Donald Trump steamrolled Chris Wallace with constant interruptions in the first one, a performance that cost the Republican incumbent support in the polls. Susan Page struggled to make the vice-presidential candidates adhere to time limits their campaigns had agreed to in advance.

Next up: Kristen Welker.

The NBC News White House correspondent is scheduled to moderate Thursday's second and last session between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. It's hard not to feel trepidation for her.

Both of her predecessors came into the assignments with more experience. While Welker was one of four questioners at a Democratic presidential debate last fall, this is by far the 44-year-old journalist's biggest stage. Trump and his supporters have already tried to get in her head by attacking her in advance.

Colleague Savannah Guthrie's well-received (except by Trump) town hall with the president last week offered Welker a roadmap to success, but also may have ratcheted up the pressure.

“Kristen represents the best of NBC News and of journalism generally,” said her boss, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim. “She's fair, she's deeply prepared, she's well-versed in the issues and she's going to do a great job.”

The Philadelphia-born Welker has been with NBC News since 2010, after local news stints in Redding, California; Providence, Rhode Island; and her home city. A former intern at the “Today” show, she now hosts the program's weekend edition.

She's the first Black woman to moderate a presidential debate since Carole Simpson in 1992.

Earlier this month, Trump aide Jason Miller said on Fox News that he has “a very high opinion” of Welker and suggested she would do an excellent job as moderator. She’s “very fair in her approach,” Miller said.

Yet last weekend, the president tweeted that Welker has “always been terrible and unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters.”

It wasn't clear why she'd earned Trump's disapproval. Trump has questioned why Welker had disabled her Twitter account after C-SPAN's Steve Scully claimed — falsely, he later admitted — that he had been hacked. Scully was to have moderated an earlier debate that was cancelled.

NBC said the halt to Welker's Twitter account was temporary and done for security, not to hide anything she may have tweeted in the past.

Some of Trump's supporters also dug up evidence that Welker's parents had contributed to Democratic campaigns in the past as a way of questioning her objectivity. There have been no such accusations levied against Welker, a registered independent.

Andrea Mitchell, the NBC News correspondent who moderated last fall's Democratic debate with Welker, Rachel Maddow and Ashley Parker, doubted her colleague would be intimidated.

“She's got her eye on the prize,” said Mitchell, who has been helping Welker with debate prep and praises her hard work. Welker wasn't made available for an interview.

The best defence against such pregame criticism, Mitchell said, “is to know what she's talking about.”

Still, after having watched the earlier debates, Mitchell has no illusions about what her colleague is getting into.

“It's a hard challenge,” she said. “Chris (Wallace) and Susan (Page) are really experienced journalists. I've worked with both of them. It became impossible. I don't know if anyone could have handled that.”

Welker needs “to have the best night of her career,” Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan wrote this week. She needs to establish control in a way that Wallace and Page never did. Welker will have one potential assist: The debate commission said Monday that microphones for the two candidates will be turned off while their opponent gives a two-minute answer to an initial question.

While Welker can't fact-check everything that is said in the debate, Sullivan said the NBC correspondent “can and must keep the debate from becoming a super-spreader of disinformation.”



UK government borrowing hits record due to pandemic

UK borrowing hits record

The COVID-19 pandemic is battering Britain’s public finances, pushing government borrowing to a record last month as tax revenue fell and authorities spent billions of pounds to prop up the economy.

The government borrowed a net 36.1 billion pounds ($47.1 billion) in September, pushing the total for the first six months of the year to 208.5 billion pounds, the Office for National Statistics said Wednesday. That’s the highest figure since records began in 1993.

The figures underscore the challenges faced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government as it tries to control a resurgence in coronavirus infections. The government last week unveiled a three-tiered regional strategy for combatting the virus in an effort to avoid the economic damage of a second national lockdown.

Economic growth plunged during the spring after Johnson ordered many businesses to shut, slashing tax revenue and boosting the need for government spending to protect jobs. Things began to improve after the lockdown was lifted, but a surge in infection rates is making the future less certain.

Isabel Stockton, an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said that spending big now was the right thing to do.

“This year is clearly an exceptional year," she said. "This year clearly we should use whatever it takes to get us through. The important thing is how strong is the recovery going to be and how much, if any, of this borrowing is going to persist into the medium- and the long-term.”

Tax revenue dropped 11.6% from a year earlier in the six months through September. At the same time, support for individuals and businesses to get through the pandemic contributed to a 34% increase in day-to-day spending.

Public sector net debt now stands at 103.5% of annual economic output, the highest level since 1960, the ONS said.

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said protecting jobs and businesses during the pandemic is “fiscally responsible” and the government will take the necessary steps to restore public finances once the economy recovers.

“Whilst it’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on our public finances, things would have been far worse had we not acted in the way we did to protect millions of livelihoods.”



Stampede kills 11 Afghans seeking visas to leave country

11 killed in visa stampede

At least 11 women were trampled to death when a stampede broke out Wednesday among thousands of Afghans waiting in a soccer stadium to get visas to leave the country, officials said.

Attaullah Khogyani, the spokesman for the governor of the eastern Nangarhar province, said another 13 people, mostly women, were injured at the stadium, where they were trying to get visas to enter neighbouring Pakistan. He said most of those who died were elderly people from across Afghanistan.

Separately, at least 36 Afghan police were killed in an ambush by Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan, officials said.

It was the deadliest attack since the Taliban and the Afghan government began holding long-delayed peace talks last month, part of a process launched under a deal signed between the United States and the insurgents in February. The talks are seen as the country's best chance for peace after decades of war.

Rahim Danish, director of the main hospital in northern Takhar province, confirmed receiving 36 bodies and said another eight security forces were wounded.

An Afghan security official said the forces were in a convoy that was ambushed. The official, who was not authorized to brief media on the event and so spoke on condition of anonymity, said several police Humvees were set ablaze.

Jawad Hijri, a spokesman for the provincial government, said the deputy police chief was among those killed.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaking to Parliament, asked “why are the Taliban killing Afghans?"

He said the Taliban still believe in a “false narrative of conquest" following a spate of recent attacks, especially in Helmand province.

The Pakistani Consulate in Nangarhar was closed for almost eight months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Anticipating a large crowd, officials decided to use the stadium and assigned 320 staffers to help manage the process, Khogyani said.

The Pakistani Embassy in Kabul said it has issued more than 19,000 visas in the past week alone after Islamabad approved a friendlier visa policy and reopened the border in September following months of closure.

Millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan to escape war and economic hardship, while thousands travel back and forth for work and business, or to receive health care.



Hurricane Epsilon, 10th of busy season, nears Bermuda

Epsilon nears Bermuda

Hurricane Epsilon, the 10th of this very busy Atlantic season, was moving toward Bermuda on Wednesday.

Epsilon is expected to make its closest approach to the island on Thursday night, and there is a risk of a direct impact, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. A tropical storm watch is in effect for Bermuda and residents have been urged to closely monitor the storm.

Large swells generated by Epsilon are already affecting Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, and the Leeward Islands, and are expected to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions along the coast of New England and Atlantic Canada during the next couple of days.

The Miami-based hurricane centre said Epsilon had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph Wednesday morning. The storm was located about 450 miles east-southeast of Bermuda, and was moving northwest at 14 mph.

This year's hurricane season has had so many storms that the Hurricane Center has turned to the Greek alphabet for storm names after running out of official names.

Epsilon also represents a record for the earliest 26th named storm, arriving more than a month before a storm on Nov. 22 in 2005, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.



Pakistan warns of new lockdown, COVID numbers in Europe surge

COVID-19: global update

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s military-backed National Command and Operation Center has issued a warning that another lockdown could be imposed to contain COVID-19 deaths if people don't stop violating social distancing rules.

The announcement on Wednesday came after Pakistan reported reported 660 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours and 19 single-day deaths.

The daily death toll was one of Pakistan's highest in more than two months. Deaths from COVID-19 have steadily increased since the government lifted its months-long lockdown in August.

Pakistan has reported 324,744 confirmed cases of the virus and 6,692 virus-related deaths since February.

WARSAW — Poland has reported a new record for daily coronavirus cases after conducting a record number of virus tests.

The country on Wednesday reported 10,040 new confirmed cases, 13 COVID-19 deaths and 60,000 tests performed in 24 hours.

Authorities in large cities are taking steps to turn conference halls into temporary COVID-19 hospitals, and the city of Krakow is planning to reopen a disused hospital to treat coronavirus patients.

Polish lawmakers are debating legislation that would give more funds to medics and temporarily exempt them from legal responsibility for mistakes that take place while treating people for COVID-19.

The country of some 38 million has almost 203,000 total cases, including about 3,900 deaths.

GENEVA — The World Health Organization says Europe again reported a new high in the weekly number of coroavirus cases during the pandemic last week, recording more than 927,000 cases.

The U.N. health agency said in its latest global report on the coronavirus that the continent saw a 25% spike in confirmed cases last week and was responsible for 38% of all new cases reported worldwide.

Russia, the Czech Republic and Italy accounted for more than half of new COVID-19 cases in Europe.

The WHO report says the number of deaths in Europe also “continues to climb,” and increased by one-third from the previous week.

The health agency says Slovenia reported a 150% increase in cases in a week with a record 4,890 cases. Slovenia also reported 1,924 COVID-19 deaths, compared to one the week before.

LONDON — The South Yorkshire region of northern England is being placed under the country’s tightest restrictions to curb the coronavirus -- joining a densely populated swathe of the country where the measures have already been imposed.

Sheffield Mayor Dan Jarvis said the Tier 3 restrictions will come into force on Saturday. He said local authorities had struck a deal with the British government on financial support for the area to accompany the measures.

“We all recognize the gravity of the situation and have taken the responsible route to ensure we save lives and livelihoods, and protect our (health service),” Jarvis said.

Under the new rules, pubs have to close, people are barred from mixing with members of other households and travel in and out of the area is discouraged.

The measures have caused tension between Britain’s Conservative government and local authorities in northern England, which has the country’s highest infection rates.

On Tuesday the government imposed the same restrictions on Greater Manchester, the U.K.’s second-biggest urban area.

Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with almost 44,000 confirmed deaths.

PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have hit new record levels as the number of confirmed cases in one day soared to almost 12,000.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase reached 11,984 on Tuesday, almost 900 more than the previous record set on Friday.

The country has registered a total of 193,246 cases since the start of the pandemic, about one third in the last seven days.

The number of the hospitalized surpassed 4,000 with 634 in serious condition, putting pressure on the health system. So far, 1,619 have died with 97 the highest day increase recorded on Monday.

New restrictive measures are coming into effect on Wednesday with mandatory mask-wearing outdoors and in cars. The government is also meeting early Wednesday to consider additional measures.

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has lifted a ban on non-essential foreign trips by Filipinos, but the immigration bureau says the move did not immediately spark large numbers of departures for tourism and leisure.

The government has gradually eased restrictions on international and domestic travel as part of efforts to bolster the economy, which slipped into recession in the second quarter following months of lockdown and quarantine to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Travellers to other countries are required to show confirmed roundtrip tickets, travel and health insurance, a declaration acknowledging the risks of travel and trip delays and a medical test within 24 hours of departure that clears them of COVID-19.

Aside from tedious pre-departure requirements, many countries still restrict the entry of travellers from nations with high number of coronavirus infections, including the Philippines. The Department of Health has reported more than 360,000 confirmed cases, the second-highest in Southeast Asia, with at least 6,690 deaths.

NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says laxity could lead to a new surge in infections, as authorities reported 54,044 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, taking the overall tally past 7.6 million.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported 717 additional deaths for a total of 115,914.

The death toll and new cases have been on the decline in India since last month. But Modi is urging people to continue wearing masks and observing social distancing until a vaccine is available.

Health officials have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the ongoing religious festival season that includes huge gatherings in temples and shopping districts.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian authorities say they’re treating a COVID-19 case in the city of Melbourne as a rare reinfection.

The only coronavirus case reported in the former hot spot of Victoria state on Tuesday had also tested positive to COVID-19 in July.

Victoria Premier Dan Andrews said Wednesday an expert panel had decided to classify the case as a reinfection rather than shedding viral remnants of the July infection.

Andrews says the classification reflected “an abundance of caution” rather than conclusive evidence. He assumed further testing would be conducted into the case in search of a definitive result.

Melbourne has been in lockdown since early July, but restrictions in Australia’s second-largest city are easing this week as daily infection tallies remain low.

Victoria reported three new cases on Wednesday. The state’s second wave peaked at 725 new infections in a day in early August.

NEW YORK — A new government report shows that since the coronavirus pandemic began, the U.S. has seen 300,000 more deaths than it usually would.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking how many deaths have been reported and comparing them with counts seen in other years. Usually, between the beginning of February and the end of September, about 1.9 million deaths are reported. This year, it’s closer to 2.2 million – a 14.5% increase.

The CDC says the coronavirus was involved in about two-thirds of the excess deaths. CDC officials say it’s likely the virus was a factor in many other deaths too. For example, someone with heart attack symptoms may have hesitated to go to a hospital that was busy with coronavirus patients.

The largest segment of the excess deaths, about 95,000, were in elderly people ages 75 to 84. That was 21.5% more than in a normal year. But the biggest relative increase, 26.5%, was in people ages 25 to 44. Deaths in people younger than 25 actually dropped slightly.

Deaths were up for different racial and ethnic groups, but the largest increase – 54% – was among Hispanic Americans.



Barack Obama to hold his first in-person event for Joe Biden

Obama rallies for Biden

Former President Barack Obama is returning to Philadelphia on Wednesday for his first in-person 2020 campaign event for Joe Biden.

In 2016, the man known as one of the Democratic Party’s strongest orators delivered Hillary Clinton’s closing argument in the same place — at a rally for thousands the night before Election Day on Independence Mall. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic upending campaigning, Obama will be speaking to a much smaller crowd at a drive-in rally, where supporters will listen to him over the radio inside their cars.

The format reflects the challenge Democrats face in boosting enthusiasm and getting out the vote in a year when they’ve eschewed big rallies in favour of small, socially distanced events, drawing a contrast with President Donald Trump and Republicans on the coronavirus. While Obama is usually one of the party’s biggest draws and most compelling speakers, that impact may be blunted by the format.

But Democrats say that as one of the men who knows Biden best, both as his former partner in the White House and personally, Obama remains one of the party’s greatest assets in the final stretch of the campaign.

“Especially in Philadelphia, he is the ultimate draw and still a great standard-bearer for Democrats,” said former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

Obama's visit to Philadelphia underscores the significance of Pennsylvania, the swing state Biden himself has visited the most this campaign. If Trump loses the state, his path to winning reelection narrows significantly. And Nutter said Obama's appearance in Philadelphia would help boost the campaign's standing with voters who sat out the last presidential election, as well as voters in the Philadelphia suburbs who supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016.

“I think he helps remind people what’s at stake, what being president is about, what things could be like,” Nutter said.

Obama has already been helpful to the Biden campaign, adapting to the shift to virtual events by focusing much of his work on getting younger Americans to vote. He’s appeared on Twitch, the video game streaming platform, pushed a voter registration message on Snapchat and recorded a video for the Shade Room, a Black-owned Instagram page and media company with 21 million followers.

“President Obama has been appearing throughout the pandemic on non-traditional platforms to reach swing voters and mobilize younger voters that don’t consume political media throughout the day," said former Obama press secretary Ben LaBolt. "He has the singular ability to credential how Vice-President Biden would approach the job in the Oval Office.”

Obama has appeared on two podcasts run by some of his former aides and has lent his name to texts and emails encouraging supporters to register to vote and donate money to the campaign. Obama has also been a big money draw for the campaign — he appeared at two virtual fundraisers with Sen. Kamala Harris this month and a handful prior to that. A grassroots virtual fundraiser Obama headlined with Biden in June brought in $7.6 million.

Obama has also been active for down-ballot Democrats, raising money for House Democrats and appearing in ads for some of the party’s top candidates, like Sara Gideon, running for the Senate in Maine, and for vulnerable incumbents, like Michigan Sen. Gary Peters. And he filmed a series of digital videos for the Democratic National Committee emphasizing the need for voters to make plans for casting their ballot.

“He’s doing enough for our campaign,” Biden told reporters before boarding a flight in New Castle, Delaware, last week. “He’ll be out on the trail, and he’s doing well.”



Think-tank urges China to release Canadian employee

Release Kovrig: Think-tank

The president of the International Crisis Group used a high-level U.N. Security Council meeting attended by China’s foreign minister Tuesday to appeal for the release of the think-tank ’s northeast Asia expert, Michael Kovrig, who has been held by Beijing for nearly two years as part of a diplomatic dispute with Canada.

Robert Malley told the council at the end of his briefing on security in the Persian Gulf that the Crisis Group strives to be “an impartial conflict resolution organization” and its staff tries to understand the perspectives of all parties.

“That’s what our colleague Michael Kovrig was doing in his work on China’s foreign policy,” Malley said.

He said it wasn’t the time or place to discuss Kovrig’s case, “but I cannot conclude without appealing to the Chinese authorities, if they are listening, to understand the mission he was pursuing, end his almost two-year detention, allow him at long last to be reunited with his loved ones and continue his work toward a more peaceful world.”

The participants at the virtual council meeting were shown on the screen, and when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi heard China mentioned he looked up and paid attention. But he made no mention of Kovrig in his speech to the council.

German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen did, echoing Malley’s appeal “to liberate Michael Kovrig.”

“He is not only a member of the International Crisis Group, but a former colleague of ours, a former diplomat,” Heusgen said.

Britain’s acting ambassador, Jonathan Allen, echoed Heusgen, saying Kovrig’s case “causes us deep concern.”

On Oct. 10, China granted consular access to Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, both Canadians, for the first time since January.

The following day, the Canadian government expressed serious concern at their “arbitrary detention” and called for their immediate release.

China’s Foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, denied on Oct. 12 that the two Canadians had been arbitrarily detained in response to Canada’s arrest of an executive of Chinese technology giant Huawei. He said Kovrig and Spavor were “suspected of engaging in activities that endanger China’s national security.”

Despite its disavowals of any connection, Beijing has repeatedly tied the detentions to the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder. The U.S. is seeking her extradition on fraud charges and the case is before Canadian courts.

“What Canada did in the case of Meng Wanzhou was arbitrary detention,” Zhao said.

Bilateral ties have suffered as China has upped its demands that Canada release Meng, who was detained during a stopover in Vancouver in December 2018 and is currently living in one of her mansions in that city while fighting extradition. Kovrig and Spavor were detained days later.



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