Politics Trump says Biden is ‘against God’ by David Knowles Editor•Trump says he prefers incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient ones because they don’t make him look ‘so orange’Scroll back up to restore default view.President Trump attacked former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday by accusing him of being “against God.”“He’s following the radical left agenda: take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God,” Trump said during a campaign visit to Ohio. “He’s against God, he’s against guns.”Biden is a practicing Catholic who regularly attends Mass at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine in Greenville, Del., and his campaign quickly responded.“Joe Biden’s faith is at the core of who he is: He’s lived it with dignity his entire life, and it’s been a source of strength and comfort in times of extreme hardship,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “Donald Trump is the only president in our history to have tear-gassed peaceful Americans and thrown a priest out of his church just so he could profane it — and a Bible — for his own cynical optics as he sought to tear our nation apart at a moment of crisis and pain.”The statement also pointed out that Trump had released a campaign ad that used altered images of Biden to portray him as weak and isolated.
CAIRO — The countdown to catastrophe in Beirut started six years ago when a troubled, Russian-leased cargo ship made an unscheduled stop at the city’s port.
The ship was trailed by debts, crewed by disgruntled sailors and dogged by a small hole in its hull that meant water had to be constantly pumped out. And it carried a volatile cargo: more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, a combustible material used to make fertilizers — and bombs — that was destined for Mozambique.
The ship, the Rhosus, never made it. Embroiled in a financial and diplomatic dispute, it was abandoned by the Russian businessman who had leased it. And the ammonium nitrate was transferred to a dockside warehouse in Beirut, where it would languish for years, until Tuesday, when Lebanese officials said it exploded, sending a shock wave that killed more than 130 people and wounded another 5,000.
The story of the ship and its deadly cargo, which emerged Wednesday in accounts from Lebanon, Russia and Ukraine, offered a bleak tale about how legal battles, financial wrangling and, apparently, chronic negligence set the stage for a horrific accident that devastated one of the Middle East’s most fondly regarded cities.
“I was horrified,” said Boris Prokoshev, the ship’s 70-year-old retired Russian captain, about the accident, speaking in a phone interview from Sochi, Russia, a Black Sea resort town just up the coast from where the ammonium nitrate began its journey to Beirut in 2013.
In Lebanon, public rage focused on the negligence of the authorities, who were aware of the danger posed by the storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse on the Beirut docks yet failed to act.
Senior customs officials wrote to the Lebanese courts at least six times from 2014 to 2017, seeking guidance on how to dispose of the ammonium nitrate, according to public records posted to social media by a Lebanese lawmaker, Salim Aoun.
“In view of the serious danger posed by keeping this shipment in the warehouses in an inappropriate climate,” Shafik Marei, the director of Lebanese customs, wrote in May 2016, “we repeat our request to demand the maritime agency to re-export the materials immediately.”
The customs officials proposed a number of solutions, including donating the ammonium nitrate to the Lebanese army or selling it to the privately owned Lebanese Explosives Co. Marei sent a second, similar letter a year later. The judiciary failed to respond to any of his pleas, the records suggested.
Lebanese judicial officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Rhosus, which flew the flag of Moldova, arrived in Beirut in November 2013, two months after it left the Black Sea port of Batumi, Georgia. The ship was leased by Igor Grechushkin, a Russian businessman living in Cyprus.
Prokoshev, the captain, joined the ship in Turkey after a mutiny over unpaid wages by a previous crew. Grechushkin had been paid $1 million to transport the high-density ammonium nitrate to the port of Beira in Mozambique, the captain said.
The ammonium nitrate was purchased by the International Bank of Mozambique for Fábrica de Explosivos de Moçambique, a firm that makes commercial explosives, according to Baroudi and Partners, a Lebanese law firm representing the ship’s crew, in a statement issued Wednesday.
Grechushkin, who was in Cyprus at the time and communicating by telephone, told the captain he didn’t have enough money to pay for passage through the Suez Canal. So he sent the ship to Beirut to earn some cash by taking on an additional cargo of heavy machinery.
But in Beirut, the machinery would not fit into the ship, which was about 30 or 40 years old, the captain said.
Then Lebanese officials found the ship unseaworthy and impounded the vessel for failing to pay the port docking fees and other charges. When the ship’s suppliers tried to contact Grechushkin for payment for fuel, food and other essentials, he could not be reached, having apparently abandoned the ship he had leased.
Six crew members returned home, but Lebanese officials forced the captain and three Ukrainian crew members to remain on board until the debt issue was solved. Lebanese immigration restrictions prevented the crew from leaving the ship, and they struggled to obtain food and other supplies, according to their lawyers.
Prokoshev, the captain, said Lebanese port officials took pity on the hungry crew and provided food. But, he added, they didn’t show any concern about the ship’s highly dangerous cargo. “They just wanted the money we owed,” he said.
Their plight attracted attention back in Ukraine, where news accounts described the stranded crew as “hostages,” trapped aboard an abandoned ship.
The captain, a Russian citizen, appealed to the Russian Embassy in Lebanon for help but got only snippy comments like, “Do you expect President Putin to send special forces to get you out,” he recalled.
Increasingly desperate, Prokoshev sold some of the ship’s fuel and used the proceeds to hire a legal team, and these lawyers also warned the Lebanese authorities that the ship was in danger “of sinking or blowing up at any moment,” according to the law firm’s statement.
A Lebanese judge ordered the release of the crew on compassionate grounds in August 2014, and Grechushkin, having resurfaced, paid for their passage back to Ukraine.
Grechushkin could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The crew’s departure left the Lebanese authorities in charge of the ship’s deadly cargo, which was moved to a storage facility known as Hangar 12, where it remained until the explosion Tuesday.
Ammonium nitrate, when mixed with fuel, creates a powerful explosive commonly used in construction and mining. But it has also been used to make explosive devices deployed by terrorists such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and the Islamic State group.
Sales of ammonium nitrate are regulated in the United States, and many European countries require it to be mixed with other substances to make it less potent.
The general manager of Beirut’s port, Hassan Koraytem, said in an interview that customs and security officials made repeated requests to Lebanon’s courts to have the volatile material moved. “But nothing happened,” he said.
“We were told the cargo would be sold in an auction,” he added. “But the auction never happened, and the judiciary never acted.”
Koraytem, who has been in charge of the port for 17 years, said that when he first heard the blast Tuesday, he figured it might be an air attack.
He had “no idea” what caused the initial fire at the storage facility that preceded the second, far larger blast, he said. Four of his employees died in the explosion. “This is not the time to blame,” he said. “We are living a national catastrophe.”
But for many Lebanese, the story is another sign of the chronic mismanagement of a ruling class that steered the country into a punishing economic crisis this year.
Prokoshev, who said he is still owed $60,000 in wages, placed the fault with Grechushkin, and with Lebanese officials, who insisted on first impounding the boat and then on keeping the ammonium nitrate in the port “instead of spreading it on their fields.”
“They could have had very good crops instead of a huge explosion,” he said.
As for the Rhosus, Prokoshev learned from friends who sailed to Beirut that it had sunk in the harbor in 2015 or 2016 after taking water on board, he said.
His only surprise on hearing this, he added, was that it had not gone down sooner.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2020 The New York Times Company
Years before a devastating blast killed at least 100 people and injured more than 4,000 in Beirut Tuesday, a maritime analyst issued a public warning that a Russian “floating bomb” was languishing in the city’s docks.
Maritime monitoring systems tracked the Rhosus into port in Beirut in September 2013. The ship, which was flagged in Moldova, listed its official cargo as “agricultural commodities.”
The 2,750 metric ton cargo of ammonium nitrate would primarily be used for fertilizers or high power explosives. To put it in context, less than two metric tons of ammonium nitrate was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The Russian-owned cargo ship called into port in Beirut for reasons unknown, possibly after running into trouble at sea en route from Georgia to Mozambique. Beirut authorities blocked it from leaving and the dangerous cargo was offloaded and stored in Hanger 12 in the port a year later, according to the maritime monitoring website Fleetmon.
Mikhail Voytenko, a Russian maritime analyst based in Thailand, warned in July 2014 that the ship, which he said was owned by a Russian operator, was effectively a “floating bomb.”
Voytenko said the ship’s owners had abandoned the ship and its crew, and the Lebanese authorities had failed to protect the deadly cargo. “There are a lot of restrictions, regulations and rules to stick to when talking about storing explosives like ammonium but they just stored it in a warehouse and forgot about it,” he told The Daily Beast by phone from close to the Laem Chabang port in Thailand where he works.
The Russian captain of the abandoned ship, Boris Prokoshev, and three Ukrainian crew members Valery Lupol, 3rd mechanic Andrey Golovyoshkin and boatswain Boris Musinchak, were made to stay on the ship with the deadly cargo after the other six crew members were released.
They launched an appeal to get out, writing to Russian and Ukrainian journalists and to a group that supports seamen.
“The shipowner abandoned the vessel. The cargo owner has ammonium nitrate in the hold,” Musinchak wrote in an email to both the Assol Seamen Aid Foundation and the diplomatic services of Ukraine. “It is an explosive substance… This is how we live for free on a powder keg for 10 months.”
A Lebanese court then reportedly gave permission to unload the cargo, but not before asking the sailors to find a buyer for it themselves, which they claimed in the email they could not because all communication was stripped from the ship.
On Wednesday, Prokoshev appeared on Russian television, insisting that even the lawyer who tried to free them was corrupt and not concerned about the fate of the ammonium nitrate. “For some reason, the consignee did not lift a finger to get his cargo out,” he said.
The ship was owned and operated by Igor Grechushkin, a Russian, who now moved to Cyprus, according to the stranded sailors. Calls to Grechushkin were not immediately answered.
As well as the public warning, Lebanese officials had repeatedly ignored warnings by port authorities about the ammonium nitrate that sparked the devastating explosion.
Badri Daher, the current head of Lebanon’s customs authority, told reporters on the scene that the explosion was linked to the ammonium nitrate. Several people in the open source intelligence community later tweeted photos of loosely packed bags of white powder, assumed to be the substance. The Daily Beast has not verified the authenticity of the photos.
On June 27, 2014, Shafik Merhi, then head of the Lebanese Customs Authority wrote to Lebanese officials under the heading “urgent matters,” asking for help to secure the explosives, according to a copy of the letter shared on Twitter by human rights activist Wadih Al Asmar.
Merhi then reportedly sent five more letters, in December 5, 2014, May 6, 2015, May 20, 2016, October 13, 2016, and October 27, 2017, pleading for help, according to Al Jazeera, which reports one as saying, “In view of the serious danger of keeping these goods in the hangar in unsuitable climatic conditions, we reaffirm our request to please request the marine agency to re-export these goods immediately to preserve the safety of the port and those working in it, or to look into agreeing to sell this amount.”
Another letter, this time written by Daher, the incoming head of Lebanese Customs Authority reiterated the warning of “the danger of leaving these goods in the place they are, and to those working there.”
Lebanon’s new prime minister Hassan Diab, who came to the job in January 2020, alluded to the theory that the devastation could have been avoided, promising that “all those responsible for this catastrophe will pay a price.”
President Donald Trump referred to the explosion as an attack, though local authorities say it was likely set off by a welder working nearby. “I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that . . . this was not some kind of a manufacturing explosion type of event,” Trump said at a White House briefing. “They seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.”
On Wednesday, hundreds were still reported missing from the massive explosion, which generated seismic waves similar to a 3.3 magnitude earthquake.
Beirut port, which is dubiously nicknamed the Cave of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves because of the alleged corruption tied to its management, has been under intense scrutiny in recent months after the October Revolution began last fall.
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SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered officials to provide food and shelter for hundreds of families who lost their homes in floods triggered by heavy rains, state news media KCNA reported on Friday.
In a visit to a county in North Hwanghae Province that borders South Korea, leader Kim “clarified tasks” for the recovery work as he inspected the damage, KCNA said.
Consecutive days of torrential rains inundated over 730 single-story houses and a vast rice field in Taechong-ri of Unpha County, northwest of the capital Pyongyang, with 179 houses destroyed, KCNA said.
KCNA did not give more specific reports of overall damages throughout North Korea. There were no casualties in the county.
“It is of priority importance to quickly supply sleeping materials, daily commodities, medicines and other necessities to the flood-affected people to stabilize their living as early as possible,” Kim said in a statement carried by KCNA.
Kim also decided to urgently mobilize the army for the rehabilitation work “to give precedence to the arrangement of the wrecked houses, roads and the zones with the people of the county.”
This year’s heavy rains come during the summer harvest season, raising concerns about food security as the rain appears to be hitting some of the major rice-growing areas of North Korea.
Citing unidentified South Korean government officials, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said North Korea opened the floodgates of a border dam on Monday without advance notice to its neighbor.
South Korea on Thursday approved plans to donate $10 million to help fund the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) efforts to aid North Korean children and women.
Parts of South Korea have seen over 40 consecutive days of rain, the longest monsoon since 2013, and continued precipitation across the Korean peninsula threatens to bring new floods and landslides.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Tom Brown)
Vicky Gosling has faced a number of challenges in her professional life, from serving in the Gulf War in 2003, to running the first overseas edition of Prince Harry’s Invictus Games for disabled military veterans.
But her new task – to increase Great Britain’s haul of snowsport medals at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, and make it a top five snowsport nation by 2030 – arguably surpasses those earlier demands.
The effervescent Merseysider is the chief executive of GB Snowsport, the national governing body for ski and snowboard disciplines.
„We are seeking to change the perspective of snowsport in the UK,” says the 49-year-old. „I always say anything is possible if you approach it in the right spirit.”
And Gosling, who rose to the role of Group Captain during 22 years’ service in the RAF, has been handed a major boost in her task by UK Sport, the national funding body for Olympic and Paralympic sport.
GB Snowsport has seen an increase in its Olympic funding from £5.2m in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics funding cycle, to £11m for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games cycle. For Paralympic funding, there has been a corresponding increase from £2.7m to up to £4.4m.
„This was way beyond our expectations,” says Gosling. „It’s been an amazing journey these past two years, it is a time of real excitement and expectation.
„Our primary objective is to win Olympic and Paralympic medals, and this investment gives us additional momentum and impetus.”
‘Shook things up’
The mother-of-three took over her role in the spring of 2018, and one of her first tasks was to change the title of the organisation from its former name of British Ski & Snowboard.
„It felt a bit stagnant, so we rebranded it,” she says. „Coming from the Invictus Games I felt it was really important that we shook things up, and made it a brand that was recognisable.
„Two years in, we are in a good place. We have finished the season on a high, despite the impact of coronavirus.”
She says UK winter sport athletes have come back into training refreshed after the coronavirus lockdown, with the moguls squad training in Tignes, France, and some of the other Olympic and Paralympic disciplines conducting training camps in Saas Fee, Switzerland.
Meanwhile, Park & Pipe discipline team members are based in the UK, training in snow centres.
GB Snowsport, under performance director Dan Hunt, operates an „Athletes First” approach – utilising everything from high-class coaching, to marginal gains through things such as aerodynamics, to athletes’ mental health.
Medal prospects for Beijing in 2022 include snowboarders Katie Ormerod and Charlotte Bankes, freestyle skier James Woods, emerging ski jumper Mani Cooper, Pyeongchang 2018 slopestyle bronze medallist Izzy Atkin, and freestyle skier Kirsty Muir.
„We have got such great talent coming through. In Beijing we are capable of having more athletes on more podiums than ever before,” says Gosling.
„Between now and then there will be World Cups and European Championships for the squads to hone their skills.”
The current Beijing medal targets are three to six medals in the Olympics and seven to 11 medals in the Paralympics. At the 2018 Games, Team GB skateboarders and skiers won two bronze medals.
However, in the current climate, where there is a drive to include more minorities, as well as the less financially advantaged, in all aspects of life, snowsport may appear to outsiders to be a white, middle-class pastime.
But Gosling says: „When you look at the majority of our people they don’t come from an elite background.
„We have one athlete Madi Rowlands, who came from Royal Mail night shifts, and many others have had to take second jobs to get by. In terms of how we attract people we look from as wide a background as possible.
„We attract kids who like to take risks, who like the adrenalin.”
One project to help those with humble economic backgrounds is Project Balance, which gives individuals the opportunity to get into snowsport through skateboarding.
GB Snowsport is also working closely with the England, Scotland and Wales snowsport federations to drive up participation levels.
As well as these initiatives Gosling has also overseen a growth in sporting squads from five to 12.
For a while the organisation was struggling with funding, and had to turn to benefactors to bridge the gap between what it wanted to do, and what it could financially achieve.
„It wasn’t a brand attractive to sponsors, but now is the right time to get new commercial partners on board, and we are engaging with exciting brands,” she says.
Gosling is experienced in attracting big names, having brought Jaguar Land Rover on board for the second Invictus Games in 2016 in Orlando, Florida, which she headed up.
„Becoming CEO of the Invictus Games in 2016 was a huge challenge. It took me to a different level, having that level of responsibility was huge, but it was exciting.
„Prince Harry was great to work with. If it wasn’t for him, the Games wouldn’t have got to the level they have. He is passionate about everything he does, passionate about causes. He is also very humble.”
It is easy to forget Gosling also completed 22 years of service with the RAF.
„I joined after the first Gulf conflict and I was deployed for the second Gulf as a Squadron Leader and my remit was deputy chief of staff looking after personnel and logistics. I have fond memories of my years in the military.”
She adds: „Everything I have done has been a learning experience. The Invictus Games showed me anything is possible.
„But you also have to find the right work-life balance. I have got three young children, so have got to find that balance, particularly at the weekends.”