Trump panned over reports he called US war dead ‘losers’

US President , Donald Trump.e US president has dismissed the reports as “fake news”

US President Donald Trump is facing a backlash over reports he mocked American soldiers killed in action as “losers” and “suckers”.

The alleged remarks were first reported in the Atlantic Magazine and then separately by the Associated Press.

The president denies making them, while his defence secretary said Mr Trump had the “highest respect” for the military.

Veterans’ groups were among those to attack the president over the reports.

Progressive group VoteVets posted a video of families whose children were killed in action. “You don’t know what it is to sacrifice,” says one.

Paul Rieckhoff of the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted: “Who is really surprised by this?”

Analysts say the comments could prove damaging with the president needing support from military voters as he bids for re-election.

What is Trump reported to have said?

According to The Atlantic, Mr Trump cancelled a visit to a US cemetery outside Paris in 2018 because he said it was “filled with losers”.

Four sources told the magazine he rejected the idea of visiting because the rain would dishevel his hair, and he did not believe it important to honour America’s war dead.

During the same trip, the president also allegedly referred to 1,800 US soldiers who died at Belleau Wood as “suckers”. The battle helped to prevent a German advance on Paris during World War One and is venerated by the US Marine Corps.

Back in 2018 the White House said the visit was cancelled because bad weather had grounded the president’s helicopter. This account was backed up in a recent book by President Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has been a vocal critic of Mr Trump.

The Atlantic’s reporting was based on anonymous sources but Associated Press said they confirmed the remarks independently.

What has the reaction been?

On top of the comments from veterans, President Trump’s challenger in November’s presidential election, Joe Biden, responded by saying his rival was “unfit” to lead.

“If the article is true – and it appears to be, based on other things he’s said – it is absolutely damning. It is a disgrace.”

Media captionTrump and the US military: Friends or foe?

Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, a veteran who lost both legs while serving in Iraq, said President Trump “liked to use the US military for his own ego”.

President Trump has pushed back hard against the reports, calling them “fake news”.

“To think that I would make statements negative to our military and our fallen heroes when nobody’s done what I’ve done with the budgets, with the military budgets, with getting pay raises for our military,” he said. “It is a disgraceful situation by a magazine that’s a terrible magazine.”

Where do Trump and the US military stand?

It is complicated. The US president has often touted his support, and Pew Research Center last year found that veterans were generally supportive of him as commander-in-chief, with 57% in favour. Three-fifths of the veterans identified as Republican, the research found.

But there have been previous spats and controversies.

He caused outrage by saying the late Senator John McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was not a “war hero” saying: “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Mr Trump had a public row with the parents of a soldier who criticised him at the Democratic National Convention when he was running for president.

President Trump has never served in uniform. He received five deferments from a military draft during the Vietnam War – four for academic reasons and one for bone spurs, a calcium build-up in the heels.






Coronavirus: Russian vaccine shows signs of immune response



image caption A vaccine created in Russia has shown signs of an immune response, according to a report

Russian scientists have published the first report on their coronavirus vaccine, saying early tests showed signs of an immune response.

The report published by medical journal The Lancet said every participant developed antibodies to fight the virus and had no serious side effects.

Russia licensed the vaccine for local use in August, the first country to do so and before data had been published.

Experts say the trials were too small to prove effectiveness and safety.

But Moscow has hailed the results as an answer to critics. Some Western experts have raised concerns about the speed of Russia’s work, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners.

Last month, President Vladimir Putin said the vaccine had passed all the required checks and that one of his own daughters had been given it.

What does the report say?

Two trials of the vaccine, named Sputnik-V, were conducted between June and July, The Lancet paper said. Each involved 38 healthy volunteers who were given a dose of the vaccine and then a booster vaccine three weeks later.

The participants – aged between 18 and 60 – were monitored for 42 days and all of them developed antibodies within three weeks. Among the most common side effects were headaches and joint pain.

The trials were open label and not randomised, meaning there was no placebo and the volunteers were aware they were receiving the vaccine.

“Large, long-term trials including a placebo comparison, and further monitoring are needed to establish the long-term safety and effectiveness of the vaccine for preventing Covid-19 infection,” the report said.

A third phase of trials will involve 40,000 volunteers from “different age and risk groups,” according to the paper.

The Russian vaccine uses adapted strains of the adenovirus, a virus that usually causes the common cold, to trigger an immune response.

Still a long way to go

By Philippa Roxby, BBC health reporter

“Encouraging” and “so far so good” are some of the reactions from scientists in the UK – but there is still, clearly, a long way to go. Although the vaccine showed an antibody response in all participants in phase 2, this does not necessarily mean it would protect them from the virus. That still has not been established yet.

From these results, we can tell that the vaccine appeared to be safe in healthy people between the age of 18 and 60 for 42 days, because that was how long the study lasted. But what about older people and those with underlying health conditions who are most at risk of Covid-19 – how safe is it for them and over a longer period of time?

This can only be answered after much larger, long-term randomised trials where the people taking part do not know if they are receiving the vaccine or a dummy injection. These will also tell scientists how effective the vaccine really is among a much wider population.

There have also been calls for openness and transparency. Of the many vaccines currently being trialled around the world, some will work better than others in certain situations and in certain groups of people, perhaps. So knowing exactly how well they work and for whom is paramount – it is unlikely that one vaccine will be suitable for everyone.

What has the reaction been?

Kirill Dmitriev, head of a Russian investment fund behind the vaccine, said during a news conference that the report was “a powerful response to the sceptics who unreasonably criticised the Russian vaccine”.

He said that 3,000 people had already been recruited for the next phase of trials.

Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the country would start vaccinations from November or December, with a focus on high-risk groups.

media captionCoronavirus vaccine: How close are we and who will get it?

But experts warned that there was still a long way to go until a vaccine could enter the market.

Brendan Wen, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis at London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Reuters news agency: “The report is a case of ‘so far, so good'”.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 176 potential vaccines currently being developed worldwide. Of those, 34 are currently being tested on people. Among those, eight are at stage three, the most advanced.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The main test used to diagnose coronavirus is so sensitive it could be picking up fragments of dead virus from old infections, scientists say.

Most people are infectious only for about a week, but could test positive weeks afterwards.

Researchers say this could be leading to an over-estimate of the current scale of the pandemic.

But some experts say it is uncertain how a reliable test can be produced that doesn’t risk missing cases.

Prof Carl Heneghan, one of the study’s authors, said instead of giving a “yes/no” result based on whether any virus is detected, tests should have a cut-off point so that very small amounts of virus do not trigger a positive result.

He believes the detection of traces of old virus could partly explain why the number of cases is rising while hospital admissions remain stable.

The University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine reviewed the evidence from 25 studies where virus specimens from positive tests were put in a petri dish to see whether they would grow.

This method of “viral culturing” can indicate whether the positive test has picked up active virus which can reproduce and spread, or just dead virus fragments which won’t grow in the lab, or in a person.

How is Covid diagnosed?

The PCR swab test – the standard diagnostic method – uses chemicals to amplify the virus’s genetic material so that it can be studied.

Your test sample has to go through a number of “cycles” in the lab before enough virus is recovered.

Just how many can indicate how much of the virus is there – whether it’s tiny fragments or lots of whole virus.

This in turn appears to be linked to how likely the virus is to be infectious – tests that have to go through more cycles are less likely to reproduce when cultured in the lab.

False positive risk

But when you take a coronavirus test, you get a “yes” or “no” answer. There is no indication of how much virus was in the sample, or how likely it is to be an active infection.

A person shedding a large amount of active virus, and a person with leftover fragments from an infection that’s already been cleared, would receive the same – positive – test result.

But Prof Heneghan, the academic who spotted a quirk in how deaths were being recorded, which led Public Health England to reform its system, says evidence suggests coronavirus “infectivity appears to decline after about a week”.

He added that while it would not be possible to check every test to see whether there was active virus, the likelihood of false positive results could be reduced if scientists could work out where the cut-off point should be.

This could prevent people being given a positive result based on an old infection.



And Prof Heneghan said that would stop people quarantining or being contact-traced unnecessarily, and give a better understanding of the current scale of the pandemic.

Public Health England agreed viral cultures were a useful way of assessing the results of coronavirus tests and said it had recently undertaken analysis along these lines.

It said it was working with labs to reduce the risk of false positives, including looking at where the “cycle threshold”, or cut-off point, should be set.

But it said there were many different test kits in use, with different thresholds and ways of being read, which made providing a range of cut-off points difficult.

But Prof Ben Neuman, at the University of Reading, said culturing virus from a patient sample was “not trivial”.

“This review runs the risk of falsely correlating the difficulty of culturing Sars-CoV-2 from a patient sample, with likelihood that it will spread,” he said.

Prof Francesco Venturelli, an epidemiologist in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, which was hit hard by the virus in March, said there was “not enough certainty” about how long virus remains infectious during the recovering period.

Some studies based on viral cultures reported about 10% of patients still had viable virus after eight days, he said.

In Italy, which had its peak earlier than the UK, “for several weeks we were over-estimating cases” because of people who acquired the infection several weeks before they were identified as positive.

But, as you move away from the peak, this phenomenon diminishes.

Prof Peter Openshaw at Imperial College London said PCR was a highly sensitive “method of detecting residual viral genetic material”.

“This is not evidence of infectivity,” he said. But the clinical consensus was that patients were “very unlikely to be infectious beyond day 10 of disease”.






Why there are fears that Ethiopia could break up

The feud between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the ruling party in the strategically important Tigray region is escalating, raising fears of military confrontation and the break-up of Africa’s second most-populous nation.

The tensions revolve around the regional government’s decision to press ahead with organising its own election for the Tigray parliament on Wednesday, in an unprecedented act of defiance against the federal government.

This is the latest sign that Mr Abiy is struggling to retain his reputation as a peace-broker – about a year after he won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending a border war with Eritrea and for his efforts to democratise Ethiopia.

About 9,000 people have been arrested in Ethiopia in the deadly clashes which followed the killing of singer Hachalu Hundessa in June, human rights activists say, leading to concerns that there could be a return to the authoritarian rule that the prime minister had promised to end when he took office in 2018.

What is the cause of tensions?

The ruling party in the region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), sent political shockwaves across Ethiopia, when it announced that elections for a regional parliament would take place despite the federal government and electoral board announcing the postponement of all elections.

Since the end of Marxist rule in 1991 and up until recently, the TPLF had been in a ruling coalition of ethnically based parties, each in control of their own region in a federal system. So its disagreement with Mr Abiy is a deep fracture at the very core of power in the country.


image captionThe TPLF lost its clout in the federal government after Abiy Ahmed took office

The TPLF argued – like opposition groups – that Mr Abiy’s mandate should end this month as the parliamentary terms comes to an end, and the postponement of elections that were supposed to have happened in August, was in breach of the constitution and raised the prospect of Mr Abiy becoming an “illegitimate” ruler.

Mr Abiy’s allies say the electoral commission postponed the election because of the outbreak of coronavirus, and not because the prime minister wants to cling to power, as opposition parties argue.

They say that he remains a legitimate ruler, as the federal parliament has extended his term for a further 12 months, by when the threat posed by the pandemic would hopefully recede and elections would be held.

So what is the significance of the TPLF’s decision?

It has raised concern that the TPLF could be laying the groundwork for the creation of a breakaway state, with a parliament and government taking office without the blessing of the federal government.

The TPLF maintains that it is committed to keeping the region within Ethiopia, but it will defend “self-rule” and oppose what it calls Mr Abiy’s attempt build a strong “unitary” state.

“We will never back down for anyone who is intending to suppress our hard-won right to self-determination and self-rule,” the region’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said last month.

image captionThe Tigray government has vowed to defend the territory under its control

His statement came a few days after regional security forces – armed with AK-47 rifles and RPG rocket launchers – marched in major cities in Tigray, in a display of military might that intensified worries about armed confrontation.

“We are ready to pay the necessary price for our peace,” the region’s security office wrote on Facebook on the day of the parade.

What has been Mr Abiy’s government’s response?

It has declared the Tigray elections illegal, saying that only the national electoral board has the power to organise polls.

image captionThe regional election will be the first one held without the federal government’s approval

However, Mr Abiy has ruled out sending federal troops into the region to stop the election, saying it would be “madness” to do so.

“The federal government has no intention and interest to attack its own people,” he said on 25 July.

But pro-Abiy hardliners, including former army General Kassaye Chemeda, have called for military intervention in Tigray.

“The government should plan well, and they should be attacked,” he said in an interview with the government-affiliated Walta TV.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank says that some federal official have raised the possibility of retaliating by taking “punitive” action against the Tigray government – for instance, by withholding financial grants, which amount to half the region’s budget.

Responding to a call by the upper house of the federal government to meet on Saturday to discuss Tigray’s election, the regional government warned that any decision to stop or disrupt the regional election is “tantamount to declaration of war”.

Furthermore, Tigrayan members of the upper house said they would boycott the meeting.

Why have relations soured so much?

The TPLF – which was extremely influential in the federal government since Marxist rule ended in 1991, with its leader, Meles Zenawi, serving as prime minister from 1995 to 2012 – has keenly felt the loss of power under Mr Abiy.

It saw the prime minister’s widely welcomed campaign to end human rights abuses and corruption as a victimisation of TPLF members, especially after senior military and security officers were either purged or arrested soon after Mr Abiy took office in 2018 following mass protests against the former regime.


image captionFormer Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had strong support in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray.

Ex-spy chef Getachew Assefa managed to evade arrest after reportedly fleeing to Tigray.

The TPLF’s influence at the centre weakened even further after Mr Abiy launched the Prosperity Party (PP) – a merger of ethnically-based parties that used to form the ruling coalition.

The TPLF refused to join the PP, leaving it without any influence in the federal government for the first time since Marxist rule ended. Mr Abiy sacked some of its members from the cabinet, while others resigned.

As a result, the TPLF has increasingly retreated to its regional headquarters, Mekelle, raising concerns that its ties with the rest of Ethiopia were loosening.

The federal government crackdown following Hachalu’s killing has also fuelled what some analysts call a siege mentality within the TPLF.

media captionThe killing of Hachalu Hundessa laid bare the deep-seated ethnic animosity in Ethiopia.

Security forces raided and closed the office of a TPLF-affiliated television station, Dimtsi Woyane, in the capital. They also shut the Oromo Media Network’s television station, which is linked to detained opposition politician Jawar Mohammed.

Federal and PP officials accused the TPLF of involvement in Hachalu’s murder, and of “working to destabilise the country”.

The TPLF responded by saying that the party was being scapegoated for Mr Abiy’s “incompetent rule” and the “mess created by his administration”.

How serious is the threat of secession?

The TPLF played a pivotal role in the overthrow of the Marxist regime in 1991, and the drafting of the constitution that gives ethnic groups the right to self-determination and their own state.

Although the party has never expressed any desire for Tigray to secede, it has always said this right should be respected.


image captionTPLF members showed their loyalty to the party at its congress in January

Furthermore, a new opposition party, the Tigray Independence Party (TIP), has emerged to contest the regional election. It describes Ethiopia as an “empire”, and says its prime mission is to secure Tigray’s independence.

Some academics in Tigray are also entertaining the idea of secession. So for the first time since 1991, the topic is on the agenda of mainstream politics in Tigray.

Two other Tigray nationalist parties contesting the poll, Salsay Woyane Tigrai and Baytona, say they want the region to have more autonomy to secure its territorial integrity, promote its language, and preserve its heritage.

The TPLF currently controls all the seats in the regional parliament, and the election will be carefully watched to see if the more nationalist and pro-secession parties win some seats to pursue their agenda further.

As for Mr Abiy, he has repeatedly said that Ethiopia will “never” disintegrate, indicating that he is confident that he can hold the nation together, despite the ethnic, religious and political violence that has hit different parts of the country, leaving about two million people homeless since he took office.

The TPLF says the displaced include about 120,000 Tigrayans, who constitute, according to the 2007 census, around 6% of the population.

What about mediation efforts?

On 16 August, more than 50 religious leaders, elders and prominent personalities travelled from the federal capital, Addis Ababa, to Mekelle city in an attempt to ease tensions. The fruit of their efforts are yet to be seen.

The ICG think-tank said “weightier” mediators may be needed.

“Prominent African statesmen with strong ties to both the TPLF and Abiy could play this role,” it added.

Other analysts say this is vital as the success of Ethiopia’s peace initiative with Eritrea hinges on stability in Tigray.


image captionTPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has a strained relationship with the prime minister

The region borders Eritrea, and was at the centre of the 1998 war between the two nations.

Tens of thousands were killed in the conflict after Eritrea launched an offensive to gain control of the town of Badme from Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Mr Abiy signed a deal in 2018 with Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki to end the “state of war”, resulting in border crossings between the two countries reopening.

media captionThe Ethiopia-Eritrea border dividing families

However, the border crossings are once again shut. The reasons are unclear, but the Ethiopian government at one point said that the two countries were working to establish proper customs posts.

Nor has the status of Badme been resolved. Eritrea wants Ethiopia to abide by a UN-backed border commission ruling to hand over the town. But this cannot be achieved without the cooperation of the government in Tigray, as it administers the area.

So, the Nobel laureate may find that to achieve lasting peace with Eritrea, he will first need to resolve his differences with the TPLF.


Kai Havertz: Chelsea sign Bayer Leverkusen midfielder in £71m deal


Kai Havertz is Chelsea’s second most expensive signing

Chelsea have signed attacking midfielder Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen on a five-year contract in a deal worth about £71m.

The Germany international has scored 36 goals and contributed 25 assists in 118 appearances for the Bundesliga club.

He is Chelsea’s second most expensive signing after Kepa Arrizabalaga joined from Athletic Bilbao (£71.6m) in 2018.

“I am very happy and proud to be here. It is a dream come true to play in a big club like Chelsea,” said Havertz.

The £71m fee for Havertz includes add-ons.

Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia said: “Kai is one of the best players of his age in world football, so we are very happy that his future lies at Chelsea.

“He is an exciting, dynamic talent. We are delighted to be able to add his versatility and quality to the squad before the season begins.”

Havertz, 21, is Blues manager Frank Lampard’s seventh signing of the summer.

He follows forward and compatriot Timo Werner, midfielder Hakim Ziyech, and defenders Xavier Mbuyamba, Malang Sarr, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva to Stamford Bridge.

Sarr will be loaned out, while Mbuyamba has gone into the Blues’ Under-23 squad.

Having graduated from the Leverkusen academy, Havertz scored 18 goals in 45 appearances last season, including eight in the 11 games after the campaign restarted.

The versatile midfielder, who can also play up front, has scored once in seven appearances for Germany.

Chelsea begin their Premier League campaign away at Brighton on Monday, 14 September (20:00 BST).

Chelsea look to Mendy

Chelsea are interested in signing Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to increase competition for Kepa.

They have already had one bid rejected by the French club for the 28-year-old from Senegal.

It is understood the interest in Mendy is not in order to replace Kepa, who was dropped by Lampard last season.

But with second-choice keeper Willy Caballero turning 39 later this month, the club wants a younger challenger to their number-one choice.

Reports suggest Rennes want more than £30m for Mendy.

Having been unable to sign players last summer because of a transfer ban, Chelsea have certainly made up for lost time.

Havertz’s signing takes Chelsea’s summer spending to almost £200m.

That will mean more is expected of Lampard, whose team finished fourth in the Premier League last campaign in his first season and were FA Cup runners-up.

There will also be questions about how much playing time some of Chelsea’s academy graduates get, having made their breakthroughs last season when the transfer ban was still in force.



Lionel Messi: Barcelona legend to stay at club

Messi has won more Ballon d’Or awards – given to the best player in the world – than anybody else, with six


Barcelona’s all-time leading goalscorer Lionel Messi says he is staying because it is “impossible” for any team to pay his release clause and he does not want to face “the club I love” in court.

The Argentine, 33, sent a fax to Barca last Tuesday saying he wanted to exercise a clause in his contract which he said allowed him to leave for free.

But the club said his 700m euro (£624m) release clause would have to be met.

“I thought and was sure that I was free to leave,” Messi told Goal.

“I told the president and, well, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he did not keep his word.

“Now I am going to continue in the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the 700m clause, and that this is impossible.”

Messi, whose contract expires next summer, says the fact he did not tell Barca he wanted to leave before 10 June was crucial, and had he done so his release clause would not have had to be met.


“Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before 10 June, when it turns out that on 10 June we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season,” he added.

“There was another way and it was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, which gave me everything since I arrived.

“It is the club of my life, I have made my life here.”

Messi’s father Jorge had held talks in Barcelona this week and insisted his son could leave for free, only for La Liga to back Barca’s stance over the release clause.

Manchester City were among the clubs linked with Messi when he made clear he wanted to end his 20-year stay at the Nou Camp, nine days after an 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.

That result meant Barca ended the season with no silverware, and they replaced manager Quique Setien with former Everton and Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman.

Messi is yet to train with his team-mates since Koeman’s arrival and admits the club’s lack of recent success influenced his decision to ask to leave.

“I looked further afield and I want to compete at the highest level, win titles, compete in the Champions League,” he said.

“When I communicated my wish to leave to my wife and children, it was a brutal drama.

“The whole family began crying, my children did not want to leave Barcelona, nor did they want to change schools.

“I love Barcelona and I’m not going to find a better place than here anywhere. Still, I have the right to decide.

“I was going to look for new goals and new challenges. And tomorrow I could go back, because here in Barcelona I have everything.”

‘This could get uglier’ – analysis

Spanish football writer Andy West

So Messi is staying, but this saga is far from over.

One notable takeaway from his interview was his brutal assessment of club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, as he lamented: “There has been no project or anything for a long time, they juggle and cover holes as they go along.”

Bartomeu’s tenure as president finishes in March but he will now come under heavy pressure to resign immediately, and it’s hard to see how he and Messi can coexist in the same club after such a vicious character assassination.

Of course, the big question also lingers: will Messi now leave on a free transfer next summer? If so, he will be allowed to negotiate his move in January, and that topic is sure to dominate headlines over the next few weeks.

One man in the middle of this is recently appointed coach Ronald Koeman, who has the task of somehow reintegrating the team’s captain and key player within an utterly dysfunctional club still traumatised by the embarrassing 8-2 Champions League loss against Bayern Munich.

All the best, Ronald. This sorry story has a few more chapters to be written, and it could get uglier yet.

From going to staying – a Messi timeline

  • 14 August –Messi and Barcelona are humiliated as they crash out of the Champions League with an 8-2 thrashing by eventual winners Bayern Munich in their one-off quarter-final tie.
  • 17 August –Head coach Quique Setien is sacked eight months after taking charge at the Nou Camp.
  • 18 August –Former Barca midfielder Ronald Koeman leaves his job as manager of the Netherlands to take over from Setien.
  • 25 August –Messi sends a burofax to Barca chiefs informing them he wishes to leave – with claims of disagreements between the player and the club of the validity of a contract clause which would allow him to go for free.
  • 30 August –Messi does not turn up for his scheduled Covid-19 test before Barcelona’s start to pre-season training. Later, La Liga issues a statement siding with Barca in the dispute over whether Messi can depart for nothing.
  • 2 September –Messi and his father Jorge hold a meeting with Barca, and Jorge is reported in the Spanish press as saying it would be “difficult” for his son to stay at the Nou Camp.
  • 4 September –Messi’s father writes to La Liga insisting his son is contractually allowed to leave Barcelona for free in the current transfer window. However, Messi later confirms his intention to stay because he does not want to take Barcelona to court.

Source: BBC