Tuesday,19 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1357, (17 - 23 August 2017)
Tuesday,19 February, 2019
Issue 1357, (17 - 23 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump faces more ire

Trump’s attempt at damage control following Charlottesville’s ugly clashes might be too little, too late, reports Khaled Dawoud

Trump faces more ire
Trump faces more ire

US President Donald Trump denounced neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan as criminals and thugs Monday, bowing to mounting political pressure to condemn such groups explicitly after a white nationalist rally turned deadly in Virginia.

Trump had been assailed from across the political spectrum for failing to respond more forcefully to Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville. The head Merck & Co Inc, one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, quit a presidential business panel as a result, saying he was taking a stand against intolerance and extremism.

The chief executives of two other prominent companies  — sportswear manufacturer Under Armour and semiconductor chip maker Intel Corp — followed suit hours later.

Critics denounced Trump for waiting too long to address the bloodshed, and for initially faulting hatred and violence “on many sides”, rather than singling out the white supremacists widely seen as instigating the melee.

Democrats said Trump’s reaction belied a reluctance to alienate white nationalists and “alt-right” political activists who occupy a loyal segment of Trump’s political base. Several senators from his own Republican Party had harsh words for him.

Some 48 hours into the biggest domestic challenge of his young presidency, Trump tried to correct course.

“Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” the president said in a statement to reporters at the White House, Monday.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence,” he said.

A 20-year-old man said to have harboured Nazi sympathies was arrested on charges of ploughing his car into protesters opposing the white nationalists, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injuring 19 people. The accused, James Fields, was denied bail at a court hearing Monday.

Several others were arrested in connection to street brawls during the day that left another 15 injured. Two airborne state troopers involved in crowd control were killed when their helicopter crashed.

Saturday’s disturbances erupted after white nationalists converged in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia’s flagship campus, to protest plans for removing a statue of General Robert E Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate Army during the US Civil War.

Trump’s belated denunciation of white supremacists by name was welcomed by Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, who thanked the president for what she called “those words of comfort and for denouncing those who promote violence and hatred”.

But not everyone was mollified. “I wish that he would have said those same words on Saturday,” responded Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia on MSNBC. “I’m disappointed it took him a couple of days.”

A group of community leaders meeting in Charlottesville likewise said they were unimpressed by Trump’s latest message.

“Why did it take criticism from his Republican buddies to move him ... to adjust the moral compass that he does not possess?” said Don Gathers, who serves as chairman for the city’s commission on monuments and memorials.

Trump lashed out at his critics late Monday on Twitter: “Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realise once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied... truly bad people!”

Trump’s revised statement on Charlottesville, following a day’s silence, despite a rising chorus of outrage over the violence, came after the chief executive of Merck & Co Inc delivered one of the more noteworthy rebukes of the president.

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who is black, resigned from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, saying expressions of hatred and bigotry must be rejected.

Trump quickly hit back on Twitter, but made no reference to Frazier’s reasons for quitting the panel, instead revisiting a longstanding gripe about expensive medicines. Frazier would have more time to focus on lowering “ripoff” drug prices, Trump tweeted.

Frazier’s resignation was followed hours later by two other members of the business panel quitting in protest, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Intel chief Brian Krzanich.

“I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing,” Krzanich wrote in a blog post.

The AFL-CIO organised labour federation that represents 12.5 million workers said it, too, was considering pulling its representative from the committee.

The jarring images of violence from Charlottesville and the heated public debate over racism resonated around the world, particularly in Europe where leaders are contending with a wave of xenophobia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told broadcaster Phoenix on Monday that clear and forceful action must be taken to counter right-wing extremism, and that “we have quite a lot to do at home ourselves.”

About 500 protesters assembled in front of the White House for a “Reject White Supremacy” rally, then marched to Trump’s hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue nearby. In Manhattan, thousands of demonstrators stood outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue shouting “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”

In Durham, North Carolina, a crowd of demonstrators stormed the site of a Confederate monument outside a court and toppled the bronze statue from its base. Television news footage showed protesters taking turns stomping and kicking the fallen statue as dozens cheered.

Asked on Monday whether one side was more responsible for the violence than another in Charlottesville, Police Chief Al Thomas said: “This was an alt-right rally”  — using the term that has become a banner for various far-right ideologies that includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.

Fields appeared in a Charlottesville court on Monday by video link from the jail where he was being held on a second-degree murder charge, three counts of malicious wounding and a single count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. His next court date was set for August 25.

The US Justice Department was pressing its own federal investigation of the incident as a hate crime.

The heated controversy over Trump’s statements and his reluctance to condemn white supremacy groups overshadowed another international crisis over North Korea, whom the US president threatened last week with “fire and fury” if it continued to develop missiles that could target American cities and military bases in the Pacific Ocean.

North Korean state media said on Tuesday that leader Kim Jong-un delayed a decision on firing missiles towards Guam while he waits to see what the US does next. Meanwhile, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said Seoul would seek to prevent war by all means.

Signs of an easing in tension on the Korean peninsula helped stock markets rally for a second day even as the United States and South Korea prepared for more joint military drills.

In his first public appearance in about two weeks, Kim Jong-un inspected the command of his army Monday, examining a plan to fire four missiles to land near the US Pacific territory of Guam.

Pyongyang’s plans to fire missiles near Guam prompted a surge in tensions in the region last week, with Trump saying the US military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely.

Speaking to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was urgent the United States and North Korea “put the brakes” on mutually irritating words and actions to lower temperatures and prevent an “August crisis”.

Japan will be seeking further reassurance from Washington in meetings between Japan’s defence chief and foreign minister and US counterparts Thursday.

US officials have in recent days played down the risk of an imminent conflict while stressing their preparedness to respond militarily to any attack from North Korea.

Mattis said Monday the US military would know the trajectory of a missile fired from North Korea within moments and would “take it out” if it looked like it would hit the US Pacific territory.

“The bottom line is, we will defend the country from an attack; for us (the US military) that is war,” Mattis said.

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