FRANCH Georgia vote audit affirms Biden’s victory over Trump, election officials say

A top Georgia election official said Thursday that a hand tally of ballots cast in the presidential race has been completed, and that the results affirm Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow lead over Republican President Donald Trump.
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The hand tally of about 5 million votes stemmed from an audit required by a new state law and wasn’t in response to any suspected problems with the state’s results or an official recount request. The state has until Friday to certify results that have been certified and submitted by the counties.

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The counties were supposed to finish the hand count by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. Gabriel Sterling, who oversaw the implementation of the state’s new voting system, said Thursday evening that the audit was complete and the results would soon be posted on the secretary of state’s website.

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Once the state certifies the election results, the losing campaign has two business days to request a recount if the margin remains within 0.5%. That recount would be done using scanners that read and tally the votes and would be paid for by the counties, Sterling said.

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It was up to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to select the race to be audited, and he said the presidential race made the most sense because of its significance and the tight margin separating the candidates. Because of that small margin, Raffensperger said a full hand recount was necessary.

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Votes that hadn’t previously been counted were found in several counties during the audit, which required recertification of the election results in those counties.
How one Atlanta suburb helped turn Georgia blue
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In Floyd County, more than 2,500 ballots were discovered during the audit that hadn’t previously been scanned, and the secretary of state’s office had called for the firing of the county’s chief elections clerk, Robert Brady. The county elections board on Thursday voted to issue a written reprimand to Brady and, because it was his second written reprimand within six months, to fire him in accordance with county policy, board member Melanie Conrad said in an email.

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Several other counties found memory cards with votes that hadn’t been uploaded and counted prior to the audit.

Going into the hand tally, Biden led Trump by a margin of about 14,000 votes. The previously uncounted ballots discovered during the hand count will reduce that margin to about 12,800, Sterling said.

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The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Georgia, where Biden led Trump by about 0.3 percentage points. There is no mandatory recount law in Georgia, but state law provides that option to a trailing candidate if the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. It is AP’s practice not to call a race that is — or is likely to become — subject to a recount.

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US President Donald Trump will take part Friday in an Asia-Pacific summit as he continues to reject his election loss, a day after President Xi Jinping used the forum to hail China’s growing economic clout.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering, held online this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, brings together 21 Pacific Rim countries, accounting for about 60 percent of global GDP.

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Beijing has become the main driving force behind the trade grouping after the United States began withdrawing from multilateral bodies during Trump’s presidency.

President Xi, boosted by the signing last week of the world’s biggest trade pact, gave a keynote address to the forum Thursday, hailing China as a pivot point for global commerce and vowing to keep its “super-sized” economy open.

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Washington broke with its usual practice and did not send a representative to deliver a public speech at the two days of meetings, but a senior US official confirmed Trump would take part in the official summit on Friday evening.

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He will deliver a speech to fellow leaders but the event is mostly closed to the media, according to officials in host country Malaysia.

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It will be only the second time that Trump, who is fighting his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, has participated in APEC, the other occasion being in 2017.

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Oh Ei Sun, an analyst from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Trump would be aiming to “present himself as ‘presidential’ on the global stage”.

“Trump would, of course, take this opportunity to present himself as a sitting president for domestic political advantage,” he told AFP.

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The president would also “like to reiterate his administration’s hallmark emphasis on protectionism and in the process forestall China from claiming leadership in the global free trade agenda”, he added.

- Hard line on China -

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Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that the voting in the November 3 election and count were fraudulent.

His campaign has launched lawsuits challenging the vote, while his allies also sought to pressure local officials to hold off on certifying vote counts.

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Trump has taken a hard line on China during his tenure, hitting the world’s number-two economy with a barrage of tariffs and tech restrictions, and a Biden administration is expected to see a more nuanced extension of Washington’s current China policy.

This year’s APEC gatherings come a week after China and 14 other Asia-Pacific countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s biggest free-trade pact.

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The deal, which excludes the US, is viewed as a major coup for China and further evidence that Beijing is setting the agenda for global commerce as Washington retreats.

APEC gatherings have in recent years been overshadowed by escalating trade tensions between the US and China, and leaders were unable to agree on a formal written declaration for the first at their most recent summit in 2018.

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There are hopes of greater American engagement once Biden takes office next year but observers caution his priority will be fighting the US virus outbreak, the world’s worst, and healing divisions at home.

Indications that the US is considering declaring Yemen’s Huthi rebels a “terrorist organisation” have alarmed humanitarian groups who say it could cripple aid delivery and tip the country into famine.

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The Iran-backed Huthis are at the centre of a flurry of diplomacy as the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has made isolating its arch foe Tehran a centrepiece of its regional policy, enters its final weeks.

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Officials confirmed to AFP reports that the US is laying the groundwork for a designation of the rebel group, which controls the capital Sanaa and much of the north after a grinding five-year war that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

“The issue here is that if they are defined as a terrorist organisation, that has many consequences,” said one Western diplomat in the Gulf who oversees Yemen.

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“Some or many countries will have problems in dealing with them at all, and that can complicate the whole ‘peace’ process and the UN’s work,” he said, referring to hopes for an end to the conflict.

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The impact on the Huthis, who are already under US sanctions, may be limited but ordinary Yemenis could pay the price, with further damage to programmes already cut back due to record-low funding during the coronavirus pandemic.

Everything from interacting with Huthi officials, handling taxes, using the banking system, paying health workers, buying food and fuel and arranging internet services could be affected.

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Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said his organisation joined other humanitarian groups “in expressing deep concern at the prospect of additional, near-insurmountable hurdles to providing lifesaving aid in Yemen”.

If the US goes ahead with the move they must issue “clear and unambiguous exemptions” that will allow aid workers to operate without fear of legal repercussions, he said.

- ‘Totally insane’ -

The Huthis reacted angrily to the prospect of the US designation, saying Trump had no right to make the ruling after failing to win a second term.

“The US elections are over and someone else won but he still insists that he was victorious. This man’s statements have no meaning any more,” said Sultan Al-Samee, vice president of the political council of Ansar Allah, the movement’s formal name.

“If he designates Ansar Allah as a terrorist organisation, then this would be coming from an unqualified person who is going totally insane,” he told AFP.

However, the move is expected to be welcomed by Saudi Arabia, a Trump ally which tagged the Huthis as a “terrorist” group in 2014 before entering Yemen’s conflict as the head of a military coalition to bolster the beleaguered government.

Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani said the rebels deserved the US designation because of their “violations against civilians, sectarian incitement, & attacks on neighbours”.

Before the war erupted, Yemen was already the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, and with its economy now in tatters, some 80 percent of the population depends on aid to survive.

Even without the prospect of an interruption in the humanitarian effort, the United Nations has repeatedly warned it is at risk of sliding into famine.

- Any day now? -

While US congressional sources confirm the issue is being deliberated, it remains hotly contested and it is unclear whether the process can be completed before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office on January 20.

State Department counterterrorism coordinator Nathan Sales said: “We don’t sneak-preview any designation actions that we might or might not be contemplating.”

Democratic members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling for efforts to protect Yemenis from the fallout.

The looming designation “is likely to only worsen this devastating humanitarian crisis and poses a serious obstacle for both the already overstrained humanitarian response and precarious political process in Yemen,” they said.

Biden has signalled a reset in the Gulf, after Trump gave free reign to governments in the oil-rich region which are big customers of US-made weaponry and welcomed his tough approach on Iran.

But in Sanaa, there is a sense that a decision is imminent.

An aid worker said a travel advisory warning American staff to consider relocating to the south or leave the country had caused disquiet.

“We’ve been aware of this for a couple of months now… but in the last few weeks, we understand through diplomatic and UN sources is that it’s really heating up. And now the sense is it’s coming any day,” she told AFP.

“We are concerned about what this means for safety and security for us as aid workers, and the potential backlash.”

A senior humanitarian official said there had been no change yet in the United Nations’ security posture.

“So far, despite reports, there is no withdrawal of staff just forward rotations. If there is a designation, the UN’s security system will have to take that into account as a risk,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.