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Rivals make final push in Iowa ahead of first test against Trump

Rivals make final push in Iowa ahead of first test against Trump

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Rivals make final push in Iowa ahead of first test against Trump

Republicans vying to beat a dominant Donald Trump to be the party’s nominee in the 2024 US presidential election will crisscross a frozen Iowa this weekend in the final campaigning ahead of the first nominating contest on Monday.

His rivals will be trying to prevent a rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden for the leadership of the world’s most powerful country in what looks set to be a close and deeply acrimonious November vote that has raised questions about the depth of support for Europe and even basic democratic values.

Trump, the only current or ex-US president to be charged with criminal activity, holds a commanding lead over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who want to place a strong second in Iowa and show they can deliver an upset going forward.

Only four Republicans are left challenging Trump in an unusually truncated field at this initial stage of the nominating process, a sign of the deep support he holds among so many of the party faithful and its upper echelons.

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A nationwide Reuters/Ipsos poll completed on Tuesday showed Trump with 49% support. Haley, aiming to be the first woman president, was at 12%, while DeSantis garnered 11%. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson polled at 4% and 0%, respectively.

An Iowa poll released on Thursday showed Trump 41 percentage points ahead of DeSantis and Haley, in second place at 14% each.

But the weather could throw a wrench into weekend campaign plans.

Blizzard conditions could see temperatures plunge to a low of minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius) on Monday, cancel more events and test the resolve of even the hardiest Midwesterners to go out to vote.

Iowans take pride in their first-in-nation status for the nominating contests and are used to dealing with snow, dressing in layers and driving trucks with four-wheel drives, but Monday is set to be the coldest day of caucuses ever, testing that mettle.

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Joy Burk, 43, a DeSantis supporter in Ankeny, said the weather might impact turnout but that if the snow has cleared by Monday, “it’s just the cold weather, which we are used to.”

Trump canceled two rallies in Iowa on Saturday, citing the weather.

“I’ll get there sometime around Saturday night or something, one way or the other I’m getting there. You have the worst weather I guess in recorded history, but maybe that’s good because our people are more committed than anyone else,” Trump said in a video posted to social media.

Haley and DeSantis will meet voters in smaller settings on Saturday, including a brewery and a farm.

On Sunday, Trump planned a rally in Indianola, a suburb of Des Moines, but canceled one in the city of Cherokee. Haley and DeSantis will begin the day in Dubuque in the east of the state near the Mississippi River, followed by another DeSantis event around 300 miles (500 km) away in Sioux City.

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From 7 p.m. CST on Monday (0100 GMT on Tuesday), Iowans will gather for two hours in school gymnasiums, bars and other locations to debate the candidates before ranking them in order of preference.

Results are typically announced within a few hours.

TRUMP FOCUSED ON RETRIBUTION

Trump continues to claim falsely that his 2020 loss to Biden was due to widespread fraud and has vowed if elected again to punish his political enemies, introduce new tariffs and end the Ukraine-Russia war in 24 hours, without saying how, according to his own comments, those of his campaign and media reports.

He has drawn criticism for increasingly authoritarian language that has echoed Nazi rhetoric, including comments that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.”

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Trump has used charges of unlawfully trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to fundraise and boost his support among Republican voters and elsewhere and claim a “witch hunt” as he protests his innocence.

He faces four prosecutions, setting up the unprecedented prospect of a president being convicted or even serving from behind bars, with the courts almost certainly weighing in at every stage.

DeSantis, who has tacked to the right of Trump especially on issues such as education and LGBTQ rights, has staked a huge amount on a strong performance in Iowa with associates of his saying he needs to finish at least second.

While DeSantis has been to all 99 counties, fiercely courted socially conservative voters in a state that is nearly 90% white and secured the backing of its governor, Trump has showed up a fraction of the time but has held larger rallies than his rivals have struggled to match.

Haley, who is the strongest challenge to Trump on the next stop, the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary, has spoken of how voters there could “correct” Iowa’s decision as she hopes to defeat the favorite. 

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

The US Coast Guard and Kiribati police boarded two Chinese fishing boats during a patrol against illegal fishing in the Pacific Islands nation’s vast exclusive economic zone this month but found no issues aboard, a coast guard official said.

The United States is seeking a bigger role for its coast guard in helping remote Pacific Islands nations monitor millions of kilometres of ocean – a rich tuna fishing ground – a move that also boosts surveillance as a rivalry with China over security ties in the region intensifies.

Reuters reported on Friday that Chinese police are working in Kiribati, with uniformed officers involved in community policing and a crime database program.

Kiribati, a nation of 115,000 residents, is considered strategic despite being small, as it is relatively close to Hawaii and controls a 3.5 million square kilometre (1.35 million square mile) exclusive economic zone. It is also host to a Japanese satellite tracking station.

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Washington has flagged plans to build an embassy in Kiribati to compete with China, but has not yet done so.

Kiribati police officers were on patrol with the US Coast Guard as “ship riders” for the first time in almost a decade, between Feb. 11-16, a US Coast Guard Guam spokeswoman said.

“The two People’s Republic of China (PRC) flagged fishing vessels were boarded as part of routine maritime law enforcement activities to ensure compliance with regulations within the Kiribati Exclusive Economic Zone,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed comments.

No concerns were reported during the boardings, she said.

“Both Kiribati officers from the Kiribati Police Maritime Unit and US Coast Guard officers were involved in the boarding operations. This collaboration underscores the partnership between the two nations in upholding maritime law and good governance,” she added.

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The Kiribati president’s office and Chinese embassy did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritiera, told Reuters last week that Chinese police on the island work with local police.

China built a large embassy on the main island, Tarawa, after Kiribati switched ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. 

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Russia launched 14 attack drones and a barrage of missiles at Ukraine overnight, with air defence systems destroying nine drones as well as three guided missiles over the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, Ukraine’s air force said on Monday.

Russia also launched two S-300 missiles from anti-aircraft missile systems and one air-to-surface Kh-31P missile, the air force said on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not clear what happened to the missiles and drones that were not downed. 

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Tuvalu on Monday announced former attorney general and fisheries official Feleti Teo as its new prime minister, after he was elected unopposed by lawmakers in the Pacific Islands nation, officials said.

Former Prime Minister Kausea Natano lost his seat in a general election on Jan. 26 closely watched by Taiwan, China, the US and Australia, amid a geopolitical tussle for influence in the South Pacific.

Tuvalu, with a population of about 11,200 spread across nine islands, is one of three remaining Pacific allies of Taiwan, after Nauru cut ties last month and switched to Beijing, which had promised more development help.

Teo received unanimous support from the 16 lawmakers, two lawmakers told Reuters on Monday.

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Teo, who was educated in New Zealand and Australia, was Tuvalu’s first attorney general. He has decades of experience as a senior official in the regional fisheries organisation and has worked with the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s major political and economic group. Fishing is a major source of revenue in the Pacific islands.

“Feleti Teo was declared by the Governor General as Prime Minister for Tuvalu,” Tuvalu’s government secretary, Tufoua Panapa, said in an emailed statement.

Tuvalu lawmaker Simon Kofe congratulated Teo in a social media post.

“It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister has been nominated unopposed,” he said.

The election result in Tuvalu had been delayed by a month as dangerous weather stopped boats from bringing new lawmakers to the capital to vote for prime minister, highlighting why climate change is the top political issue in the Pacific Islands nation.

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Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Tuvalu, Andrew Lin, expressed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulations to Teo, adding that deputy foreign minister Tien Chung-kwang will visit Tuvalu in the near future.

Teo is a friend of Taiwan’s and has visited many times, and has said relations are stable and that maintaining ties is the widespread consensus in Tuvalu, the ministry added.

Taiwan previously said it was paying close attention to the election after Tuvalu’s finance minister in the previous government, Seve Paeniu, said the issue of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China should be debated by the new government.

There had also been calls by some lawmakers to review a wide-ranging deal signed with Australia in November, that allows Canberra to vet Tuvalu’s police, port and telecommunication cooperation with other nations, in return for a defence guarantee and allowing citizens threatened by rising seas to migrate.

The deal was seen as an effort to curb China’s rising influence as an infrastructure provider in the Pacific Islands.

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Teo’s position on Taiwan ties, and the Australian security and migration pact, have not been made public.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on social media he looked forward to working with Teo.

“Australia deeply values our relationship with Tuvalu, in the spirit of the Falepili Union,” he wrote, referring to the migration pact.

Tuvalu’s ministry would be announced at an oath taking ceremony for the new government later this week, Panapa said.

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