‘Anyone can get it,’ Trump supporters shocked at diagnosis, unwavering in support

By Ernest Scheyder and Nick Brown

WARREN, Ohio/BANGOR, Penn. (Reuters) – As Americans digested the news on Friday that President Donald Trump had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, some of his backers expressed surprise that he hadn’t been safe from infection and said their support for him was not diminished.

“It was shocking,” said Maranda Joseph, 43, of Warren, Ohio, who has 12 Trump flags in her front yard festooned with skeletons and other Halloween decorations. “To see he has it wakes you up a bit. Anyone can get it, even the president.”

Trump tweeted early Friday morning that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive after a whirlwind campaign week in which he visited seven states and debated with his Democratic rival in the November election, Joe Biden.

The Republican has played down the risks of the virus and COVID-19 disease that has killed more than 207,000 Americans, drawing criticism for his erratic messaging and recent resumption of campaign rallies where his supporters often are crowded together and don’t wear masks.

Officials in Minnesota and New Jersey – two of Trump’s stops this week – urged anyone who had attended his events to be tested.

Joseph, a homemaker, said she thinks more people should wear masks at future Trump rallies, though she added that she would attend one herself once the president recovers.

“People with compromised immune systems should stay home,” she said.

Some in Warren expressed skepticism that Trump even has the virus, citing Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s positive test earlier this year before he tested negative later the same day.

“There’s so many false positives out there. Has Trump had a second test yet?” asked Sharon Tice, 70, who sells Trump T-shirts and other memorabilia. “But if he does have it, it could influence the way he sees things.”

Some Republicans said the diagnosis could actually help the President.

“Trump will prove to the American people that you can survive COVID,” said Cathy Lukasko, auxiliary chair of the Trumbull County, Ohio, Republican Party.

More than 7.2 million infections have been reported in the United States since the pandemic began seven months ago.

Lukasko was running the party’s offices on Friday without a mask, handing out signs for Trump and local Republican candidates.

“This might be a nice little break for him,” she said.

The reactions reflected a longstanding pattern – Americans are largely settled in their views on Trump. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Thursday showed that Biden holds a 9 point lead over Trump heading into the November election, the same margin in six of the last seven national polls, a period of time that has seen the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Tuesday night’s chaotic debate.

In Bangor, Pennsylvania, Trump supporter Jack Cooper, a 70-yaer-old retired electrician, said the president was paying the price for underestimating the virus’s dangers. He said, however, that would not stop him for voting for Trump again.

“He’s getting a taste of his own medicine,” said Cooper, who lives in a crucial swing district. “He was fooling around without a mask in big crowds. It’s like bringing a pit bull into a big crowd — something is gonna happen.”

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Nick Brown, writing by Scott Malone; editing by Grant McCool)

Albanian teens develop app for domestic violence victims

Albanian teens develop app for domestic violence victims
By Benet Koleka

TIRANA (Reuters) – Three Albanian 16-year-old girls have developed an app to help victims of domestic violence access support, hoping to tackle a huge problem in Albania, where one in two women suffered abuse last year, according to a survey.

They will launch their app, known as GjejZâ, (Find your Voice), on Friday, after winning an international technology competition for girls in the United States.

“Violence against women is a huge issue in Albania and it also affects us as teenage girls because we see the early stages of this even in our peers, in our friends,” said Jonada Shukarasi, one of the developers.

One in two women suffers violence in Albania, said Iris Luarasi, the head of a national hotline for abused women, citing a 2018 survey, and 4,000 cases were reported in 2018.

A new report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) found almost 9 in 10 women consider violence against women to be common in Albania, and that 97% of victims of intimate in-house violence never report it to the police.

Known as the D3c0ders, the girls – Arla Hoxha, Dea Rrozhani and Jonada Shukarasi – learned how to code and create applications four years ago through an outreach program run by the U.S. Embassy in Tirana.

News of their award in the Technovation Challenge competition has stoked national pride in Albania, an ex-communist country that is now a NATO member endeavouring to join the European Union.

The girls have received widespread coverage and congratulations from senior government officials.

This year’s competition required participants to build an app that tackled social problems, so the girls decided to focus on gender-based violence. They worked with psychologists, a deputy interior minister and women’s issues experts.

“Find your Voice” has become not only our motto, but the message we want to convey to all Albanian women,” said Rrozhani.

“GjejZâ helps women fight gender-based violence in three easy steps by identifying the problem, empowering the user and enabling them to take action,” she said.

Users answer a series of questions which helps them identify if they are victims of domestic violence, and the app offers them testimonies from women who have escaped abuse and encouragement to report it.

The scope of the app is huge – it provides breathing exercises to help women, connects them to state officials in every town who can help them secure restraining orders and access benefits. It also advises on employment opportunities and shelters.

Women can download the app, and get in touch with the police and support groups by phone or instant messaging. Mobile phone ownership is high in Albania – a population of 2.8 million uses 4.63 million mobile phones.

Tara Chklovski, founder and chief executive of Technovation, said the judges felt the girls had “addressed the difficult topic of abuse bravely and thoughtfully from the research to product development”.

Romina Kuko, Albania’s deputy interior minister, regretted the number of attacks remained high, but added Albania was fighting domestic violence with full force.

“I will be happy to see the application up and running,” she said.

(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

Hollywood executives back Netflix over anti-Israel ‘Fauda’ boycott

A scene from the Israeli television series Fauda. REUTERS/Courtesy Netflix

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – More than 50 Hollywood executives have thrown their support behind Netflix, which is facing a campaign by a Palestinian-led movement to drop Israeli television series “Fauda” from its streaming platform.

In a letter on Tuesday to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, the executives from record labels and Hollywood talent agencies called the move by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement a “blatant attempt at artistic censorship.”

“Fauda” is an Israeli-made television thriller set in the West Bank about an Israeli undercover agent who comes out of retirement to hunt for a Palestinian militant.

The show, which features dialog in both Hebrew and Arabic, was first broadcast on Israeli television in 2015 and premiered on Netflix in December 2016. Netflix is due to release the second season in May.

In a posting on its website last week, the BDS called on Netflix to “nix ‘Fauda’,” saying the series “glorifies the Israeli military’s war crimes against the Palestinian people.”

“Failing to do so will open Netflix to nonviolent grassroots pressure and possible legal accountability,” the posting added.

Netflix declined to comment on Wednesday.

In its letter of support, the U.S.-based Creative Community for Peace called “Fauda” a “nuanced portrayal of issues related to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”

“We want you to know that we stand behind you and Netflix in the face of this blatant attempt at artistic censorship,” the letter said. Signatories included Universal Music Publishing Group Chief Executive Jody Gerson, Geffen Records president Neil Jacobson and Steve Schnur, music president at videogame producer Electronic Arts.

The campaign against “Fauda” is the latest move since 2005 by BDS to promote a global cultural boycott against Israel.

It has succeeded in recent years in dissuading a number of music acts, including Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, Elvis Costello and New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde, from performing in Israel.

(This version of the story corrects typographical error in penultimate paragraph to against instead of again)

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Sandra Maler)

China offers support for strife-torn Venezuela at United Nations

FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) shakes hands with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres prior to their meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

BEIJING (Reuters) – China believes that the Venezuelan government and people can resolve their problems within a legal framework and maintain national stability, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Venezuelan counterpart at the United Nations.

At least 125 people have been killed in four months of protests against President Nicolás Maduro’s government, which has resisted calls to bring forward the presidential election and instead set up a pro-Maduro legislative superbody called a Constituent Assembly that has overruled the country’s opposition-led Congress.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he wanted democracy restored soon in Venezuela and warned that the United States might take additional measures to apply pressure on the oil-producing nation.

China, a good friend of Venezuela’s, has brushed off widespread condemnation from the United States, Europe and others about the situation in the country.

Wang told Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza on Tuesday on the sidelines of a U.N. meeting that the two countries have an all-round strategic partnership, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday.

“China’s policy towards Venezuela will not change,” the report cited Wang as saying.

China has always upheld the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and believes Venezuela’s government and people have the ability to resolve problems via talks within a legal framework and protect national stability, Wang added.

“The international community should take a fair and objective stance and play a constructive role,” he said.

China and oil-rich Venezuela have a close diplomatic and business relationship, especially in energy.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

Syrian groups see more U.S. support for IS fight, plan new phase

People work to clean damaged Aleppo

By Tom Perry

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian militias said on Tuesday it saw signs of increased U.S. support for their campaign against Islamic State with President Donald Trump in office, a shift that would heighten Turkish worries over Kurdish power in Syria.

A Kurdish military source told Reuters separately the next phase of a campaign by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance — which includes the Kurdish YPG militia — aimed to cut the last remaining routes to Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa city, including the road to Deir al-Zor.

The YPG has been the main partner on the ground in Syria for the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, fighting as part of the SDF that has driven Islamic State from swathes of northern Syria with the coalition’s air support.

The YPG also has links to a Kurdish party, the PKK, designated by Turkey as a terrorist group.

It forms the military backbone of autonomous regions that have been set up by Kurdish groups and their allies in northern Syria since the onset of the war in 2011, alarming Turkey where a Kurdish minority lives just over the border. The main Syrian Kurdish groups say their aim is autonomy, not independence.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters the U.S.-led coalition supplied the SDF with armored vehicles for the first time four or five days ago. Although the number was small, Silo called it a significant shift in support. He declined to give an exact number.

“Previously we didn’t get support in this form, we would get light weapons and ammunition,” he said. “There are signs of full support from the new American leadership — more than before — for our forces.”

He said the vehicles would be deployed in the campaign against Islamic State which has since November focused on Raqqa city, Islamic State’s base of operations in central Syria.

The first two phases of the offensive focused on capturing areas to the north and west of Raqqa, part of a strategy to encircle the city.

The third phase would focus on capturing remaining areas, including the road between Raqqa city and Deir al-Zor, the Kurdish military source said.

IS holds nearly all of Deir al-Zor province, where it has been fighting hard in recent weeks to try to capture the last remaining pockets of Syrian government-held territory in Deir al-Zor city.

Cutting off Raqqa city from IS strongholds in Deir al-Zor would be a major blow against the group.

“The coming phase of the campaign aims to isolate Raqqa completely,” said the Kurdish military source, who declined to be named. “Accomplishing this requires reaching the Raqqa-Deir al-Zor road,” the source said.

“This mission will be difficult.”

Silo of the SDF said preparations were underway for “new action” against IS starting in “a few days”, but declined to give further details.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Sonya Hepinstall)