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US election 2020: The war hero who could be Biden’s running mate

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Tammy Duckworth arrives at a World War II Memorial ceremony to pay tribute to World War II veterans of the Pacific on March 11, 2010Image copyright
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Tammy Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran

Who is Tammy Duckworth, the US senator from Illinois who is reportedly on the short list for the vice-presidential slot on the Democratic ticket?

Born in Bangkok and wounded in the Iraq war, Tammy Duckworth has a Purple Heart and the instincts of a street fighter.

Her name has come up frequently during high-level discussions about the vice-presidential slot for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. She has also become a target for Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and other conservatives.

When she said recently on CNN that she was open-minded about the prospect of removing US monuments to US founders and slave holders, Mr Carlson questioned her patriotism.

She fired back, saying that Mr Carlson should “walk a mile in my legs and then tell me whether or not I love America”.

Her challenge to Mr Carlson attracted national notice and drew people’s attention both to her political acumen and to her military background. She was shot down in a helicopter during the Iraq war and lost her legs.

Many Democrats believe that her military record and her tenacity during fights with conservatives, as well as her background as an Asian-American, would strengthen Mr Biden’s candidacy. If he chose her as a running mate, say her supporters, she would help to shore up votes among veterans, minorities and women.

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‘Walk a mile in my legs’ Tammy Duckworth has said

Yet many believe that Mr Biden should pick a black running mate instead – Senator Kamala Harris is frequently mentioned as a possibility. Besides that, Ms Duckworth’s home state is safely Democratic. Other contenders for the Democratic ticket, a group that includes New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, could help Mr Biden in states where he could use a boost.

The choice of a running mate has added importance for Democrats because of Mr Biden’s age and his own assessment of his role.

He is 77, and if he were elected he would be 82 by the end of his term. He sees himself as a “transition candidate”, and even his diehard supporters assume that if he were elected he would not seek a second term.

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Former vice president Joe Biden sees himself as a ‘transitional candidate’

That means that the person who serves as his vice-president could someday become president.

Ms Duckworth, who is 52, is best known for her work on veterans’ issues. In addition, she has worked on health-care policy and spoken frequently about national security. She fought in the Iraq war, but she believes that it was a mistake.

“It’s a tough lesson,” she says. “And I hope this nation will be a lot more sceptical of the reasons to go to war.”

She also has a compelling personal story. She and her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, have two daughters, Abigail and Maile Pearl, and she was the first to bear a child while serving as a US senator.

Her father, Frank, a US citizen, worked for the United Nations, and her mother, Lamai, is originally from Thailand.

Ms Duckworth, who speaks Thai, lived with her parents in Singapore, Indonesia and Cambodia because of her father’s UN job.

The family was in Cambodia, living in Phnom Penh during a period of violence shortly before the Khmer Rouge took power in the mid-1970s.

She recalls going to her market with her mother when, suddenly, bombs began falling. Her mother pushed her to the floor of the car, Ms Duckworth says, “so I wouldn’t see the bloodiness”.

Ms Duckworth later enlisted in the military, following in the footsteps of her father, a Vietnam veteran. She once told me that she did not see herself ever running for president.

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Joe Biden has reportedly taken a shine to Tammy Duckworth

“I don’t have that fire in my belly,” she says. But she is a ferocious advocate for Mr Biden, and he has taken a shine to her.

During an online fundraiser, he praised her bravery in battle and in politics. “I can’t think of anyone who has shown more courage,” he said. Addressing her directly, he said: “I’m grateful for you here with me in this fight.”

Ideologically, Ms Duckworth is a good match for Mr Biden, a centrist Democrat. Among Democrats in the US Senate, she, too, appears in the middle of the ideological spectrum.

In recent weeks, she has ripped into President Donald Trump and his “failure to lead our nation”, showing her willingness to act as Mr Biden’s attack dog during the campaign.

Mr Biden’s aides interviewed her not long ago for the vice-presidential slot, she said during a live Washington Post chat on Thursday. She described the job interview as “positive”.

Who could be Joe Biden’s running mate?

Presidential candidate Joe Biden has pledged he would choose a woman as his running mate. Those on the rumoured shortlist include:

  • California Senator Kamala Harris
  • Former national security adviser Susan Rice
  • Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
  • Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth
  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
  • Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin
  • Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema

Read more about Mr Biden’s potential running mate here

After retiring from the military, Ms Duckworth worked on veterans’ issues at the state and national level and was elected to Congress in 2012. She won a senate seat in 2016, becoming the state’s junior senator and following in the footsteps of President Barack Obama. Her rise from state politics to national prominence has been fast.

Dick Simpson, the head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that she has moved up more rapidly than anyone in politics he has seen in half a century. Mr Obama, who also got his start in Illinois politics, rose higher than Ms Duckworth. But as Mr Simpson points out: “It took a little longer.”

Peter Levin, the founder of a software company in Washington, worked with her at the US department of veterans affairs and says that she has an innate talent for politics.

“She naturally brings out the best in people even when there’s tension in the room,” he says, explaining that she is skilled at tuning “her language, her emphasis, to the person she’s speaking to” in order to build consensus.

Her record in politics is far from perfect, however.

She has struggled to get legislation passed in Congress, and she has been criticised for her work on veterans’ issues. She said all the right things, according to her detractors in Illinois, but many of the veterans’ programmes that she spoke about never got off the ground.

A spokesman for Ms Duckworth disagreed with the negative assessment of her work as a lawmaker, saying that she has been effective as a senator and has, among other achievements, passed bipartisan legislation and blocked “efforts to repeal the Americans With Disabilities Act”.

The criticism has hardly slowed her down, and throughout her career she has shown an unusual resolve. While recovering from her war injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland in 2004, she was given “heavy-duty pain blocks”, she says, but they barely muffled the agony of losing her legs.

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Tammy Duckworth is the first Thai-American woman elected to Congress

Yet during her recovery and in the years that followed, she has shown almost no self-pity: “For me, it just comes back to the fact that I’m so grateful to be alive. I know that sounds so corny,” she says. “But I think of what my buddies did to get me out and of the pilot who carried me to safety. I can’t mope around.”

Her supporters are hoping that Mr Biden will choose her as his running mate so that she can bring her enthusiasm to the campaign. He is expected to announce his decision this week.



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UN Council at Odds Over Peacekeeping Operation in Lebanon | World News

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By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council remains at odds over the way the U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon operates on the ground, with the United States backing Israel’s demands for major changes.

At a closed council meeting Tuesday on the mission known as UNIFIL, whose mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft stressed the need for a new mandate.

“The U.S. has long reiterated publicly and privately that the status quo in Lebanon is unacceptable,” Craft said in a statement to The Associated Press after the meeting. “Now is the time to empower UNIFIL, end the long complacency, and enable the mission to fully achieve what it was set out to accomplish.”

But Craft faces an uphill struggle because most of the council backs a continuation of the current UNIFIL mandate.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has written to the council calling for a 12-month renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate, stressing the importance of maintaining high troop strength.

UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops after a 1978 invasion. The mission was expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah militants so that peacekeepers could deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into their country’s south for the first time in decades.

Germany’s deputy U.N. ambassador Günter Sautter told the council in remarks circulated by the country’s U.N. mission that “recent tensions and the danger of escalation only underline the importance of UNIFIL presence on the ground.” He said “the new political reality” since last week’s devastating explosion at Beirut’s port made it “more important than ever.”

“UNIFIL’s mandate continues to be of utmost importance,” Sautter said. “It is clear that UNIFIL will not be able to do more with less. We therefore fully support UNIFIL in its current mandate and strength, and we hope that the council will once more show unanimous support to this important mission.”

Israel has repeatedly accused Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants of impeding the peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate.

Israel’s former ambassador Danny Danon said in May that Israel will insist that peacekeepers have access to all sites, that they have freedom of movement and that any time they are being blocked the U.N. Security Council must be immediately informed.

Craft said at that time that UNIFIL was being “prevented from fulfilling its mandate” and Hezbollah had “been able to arm itself and expand operations, putting the Lebanese people at risk.”

She said the Security Council “must either pursue serious change to empower UNIFIL or realign its staffing and resources with tasks it can actually accomplish.”

France is expected sometime this week to circulate a draft resolution to continue UNIFIL’s operations, and diplomats are predicting tough negotiations before the mandate expires on Aug. 31.

As of June 15, UNIFIL comprised 10,275 military personnel from 45 troop-contributing countries, 238 international civilian staff, and 580 national civilian staff.

Its Maritime Task Force comprised six vessels, two helicopters and 864 of the force’s military personnel. However, one vessel was damaged in last week’s deadly explosion and over 20 naval personnel were injured, two critically.

Jan Kubis, the United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon, and U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix briefed Tuesday’s virtual council meeting.

Kubis urged the rapid formation of a new government following Monday’s resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his Cabinet.

The U.N. quoted him as telling the council: “There are immediate humanitarian needs that need to be addressed and necessary reforms that need to be undertaken without any delay to restore the trust of the Lebanese people, and of the international community in Lebanon.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bougainville’s Youth Pursue Break From Bloody Past at Presidential Vote | World News

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Young people in the South Pacific islands of Bougainville are seizing the opportunity to help reshape the future of the autonomous region of Papua New Guinea as they head to the polls this month to elect a new leader.

The general election is the first since Bougainville voted overwhelmingly for independence from Papua New Guinea at the end of last year, and the winner will preside over negotiations on the terms of separation.

For Bougainville’s younger “lost generation”, who grew up either under or in the shadow of a bloody 10-year civil war, it gives them a chance to break from the past and elect a civilian president with no ties to the previous unrest.

Two decades after combatants snapped arrows to signal the end of hostilities, there is anger among the younger generation that there has been little economic progress for the resources rich region.

“It has been wasted on mere politics, and there’s nothing on the ground to show for it,” Pajomile Minaka, a 37-year-old law student, told Reuters by telephone.

“In terms of bringing sustainable economic development there is nothing. Young people like me believe the government has failed the people.”

Bougainville’s 250,000 strong population has a median age of just 20, a demographic that’s likely bad news for the ex-combatants among the open field of 25 candidates vying for the top political office.

Younger voters are likely to push for a fresh face, even though prominent figures from the conflict had the advantage of wide-spread name recognition, said Paul Barker, executive director of Port Moresby-based think tank the Institute of National Affairs.

“There is a strong element of the lost generation missing out and wanting change,” Barker told Reuters, ahead of two weeks of polling that begins on Wednesday for the five-yearly election.

Bougainville descended into a decade-long conflict in 1988, triggered by a dispute over how the profits from the lucrative Panguna gold and copper mine should be shared and the environmental damage it had caused. As many as 20,000 died during the fighting between the region’s rebel guerilla army and PNG forces, and Panguna was closed.

Last year’s non-binding independence poll was part of the peace process that ended the conflict, but competing claims over development rights to Panguna still hang over its future.

Bougainville Vice President Raymond Masono said Panguna should “play a major role in revitalising Bougainville’s economy.”

Younger voters, like Augustine Teboro, 30, said it was time to dispense with the “old view” that Bougainville’s future relied on re-opening Panguna when it should be making use of its physical and natural beauty by cultivating its tourism, agriculture and fisheries industries.

“Our hope is that this generation will transform our society and not be a generation that will make the same mistakes of the past,” said Teboro, who heads a Bougainville youth federation.

“We are looking for a civilian leader with integrity.”

With no formal political polling and a diverse list of candidates to replace long-serving president John Momis, the election is considered an open race.

Among the old guard candidates are former president and combatant James Tanis and government-backed candidate Thomas Raivet. Other candidates include Fidelis Semoso, who served in the national PNG parliament, lawyer Paul Nerau and businessman and former sports administrator Peter Tsiamalili Junior. There are also two female candidates, health care professional Ruby Mirinka and former Bougainville MP Magdalene Toroansi.

Polling is likely to be complicated by the first recorded case of COVID-19 in Bougainville, a 30-year-old man who returned from Port Moresby last week.

The coronavirus pandemic has also thrown a cloud over whether international observers will be able to attend. The United Nations said in a statement the Bougainville Electoral Commissioner had asked the PNG government to invite diplomatic missions in Port Moresby to observe the vote.

“This election will determine the future political status of this emerging nation,” Masono said. “The next government must consult with the national government on independence – nothing more, nothing less.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; editing by Jane Wardell)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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EU to review ties with Belarus, mulls action over crackdown | World News

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Maria Kolesnikova, a representative of Viktor Babariko, speaks at a news conference in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. “It’s very difficult to resist pressure when your family and all your inner circle have been taken hostages,” said Maria Kolesnikova, a top figure in Tsikhanouskaya’s campaign.

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