George Floyd death: Gen Mark Milley sorry for joining Trump walk to church

George Floyd death: Gen Mark Milley sorry for joining Trump walk to church

The top US military officer says he was wrong to have joined President Donald Trump during his controversial walk to a damaged church near the White House.

The 1 June event created “a perception of the military involved in domestic politics”, Gen Mark Milley said.

Mr Trump walked to the church and held up a Bible after a peaceful protest at the death of African American George Floyd was forcibly dispersed.

The use of troops to tackle the protests has provoked fierce US debate.

Mr Trump has regularly referred to “law and order”, calling in the National Guard to the US capital, vowing to deploy the military to other cities and condemning violent protests.

Some of the mostly peaceful initial protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month did turn violent with looting in several cities.

But since four police officers were charged in connection with the death, the protests have been more peaceful, spawning an international movement against police brutality and racial inequality.

Video footage of the death in Minneapolis shows a white officer kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

What did Gen Milley say?

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff was speaking in a video for a National Defense University commencement ceremony.

He said: “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.

“As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”

Gen Milley (R) was on the walk with the president and Defence Secretary Mark Esper (C)

Gen Milley added: “We must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic.”

He also said he was outraged at the “senseless, brutal killing” of George Floyd.

Gen Milley said: “The protests that have ensued not only speak to his killing but also to centuries of injustice toward African Americans.”

The general was wearing battle uniform as he walked with the president and critics said this suggested his support for the deployment of the military against protesters.

Defence Secretary Mark Esper was also on the walk and, although he has not said he was wrong to be there, suggested in a news conference that he thought the walk was for a different purpose of mingling with troops and inspecting damage.

Senior officials told US media that Mr Trump had yelled at Mr Esper after the conference.

Presentational grey line

A stunning break from the president

Nada Tawfik, BBC News, New York

This is just the latest sign of growing friction between the White House and the military over how best to deal with the country’s history of racism and the current movement for change.

The incident, which Gen Milley now regrets, placed troops right in the middle of domestic politics and, no less, in an election year.

Several former generals have come out publicly against Mr Trump’s “law and order” approach to what is a human rights issue – equality for black Americans. The president’s first defence secretary, retired general James Mattis, said he never dreamed that troops would be ordered to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens.

But this statement from Gen Milley, given his position at the top of the US military, is a far rarer and more stunning public break from the president.

Presentational grey line

What happened on the day?

A peaceful demonstration was cleared in Lafayette Square next to the White House with pepper spray and flash-bang grenades so that the president and his entourage could walk to St John’s Episcopal Church.

With the dispersal still ongoing, Mr Trump spoke in the Rose Garden, calling on governors to use the National Guard to “dominate the streets” or he would “deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them”.

Mr Trump, who sees himself as a champion of evangelical and conservative voters, then walked to the church, the basement of which had been burned the previous day, and held up a Bible.

A number of religious leaders criticised his actions. The presiding bishop of the the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, accused Mr Trump of using the church for “partisan political purposes”.

Mr Trump said “most religious leaders loved” his visit to the church and denied having any role in dispersing protesters beforehand.

His latest tweet on the issue on Thursday again praised the security forces.

What are the latest developments on George Floyd’s death?

  • Statues linked to colonialist or imperialist figures continue to be vandalised in the US and abroad, including those of Christopher Columbus and Confederate president Jefferson Davis
  • Country music band Lady Antebellum have changed their name to Lady A. Antebellum in the US refers to the slavery period before the Civil War
  • An amendment in the Armed Services Committee of the Republican-led Senate now requires Mr Trump to rename military bases named after Confederate generals, something he has refused to do. Prospects the amendment will pass the full Senate though are unclear
  • Europe could see a surge in Covid-19 infections as a result of massive Black Lives Matter rallies, EU officials say

Dave Greenfield: The Stranglers keyboard player dies at 71

Dave Greenfield: The Stranglers keyboard player dies at 71

The Stranglers keyboard player Dave Greenfield has died at the age of 71 after testing positive for Covid-19.

Greenfield died on Sunday having contracted the virus after a prolonged stay in hospital for heart problems.

He penned the band’s biggest hit, Golden Brown, a song about heroin, which went to number two on the UK singles chart in 1982.

The Stranglers bass player Jean-Jacques “JJ” Burnel paid tribute to Greenfield as a “musical genius”.

He said: “On the evening of Sunday May 3rd, my great friend and longstanding colleague of 45 years, the musical genius that was Dave Greenfield, passed away as one of the victims of the Great Pandemic of 2020.

“All of us in the worldwide Stranglers’ family grieve and send our sincerest condolences to [Greenfield’s wife] Pam.”

Drummer Jet Black added: “We have just lost a dear friend and music genius, and so has the whole world.

“Dave was a complete natural in music. Together, we toured the globe endlessly and it was clear he was adored by millions. A huge talent, a great loss, he is dearly missed.”

(Left to right) Dave Greenfield, Jean-Jacques Burnel, Jet Black and Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers in 1980Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image caption(Left to right) Dave Greenfield, Jean-Jacques Burnel, Jet Black and Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers in 1980

The Stranglers formed in 1974 in Guildford, Surrey. Greenfield, who originated from Brighton, joined within a year and they went on to be associated with the punk era.

He was soon known for his distinctive sound and playing style on instruments including the harpsichord and Hammond electric organ. Critics compared his sound to that of Ray Manzarek from The Doors.

In an interview with the band’s website, however, the man himself said he was more influenced by a couple of other famous keyboard players.

“The only tracks by the Doors I knew were Light My Fire & Riders on the Storm,” said Greenfield. “Before I joined my main influences were probably Jon Lord [Deep Purple] and then Rick Wakeman [Yes].”

In the same interview he said he always considered the Stranglers to be “more new wave, than punk”, and also admitted to having had an interest in the occult, evident from him wearing a pentagram pendant in many early band pictures.

“The Pentagram represents the microcosm (as opposed to the macrocosm),” he said. “The relation between the self and the universe. I studied (not practiced) the occult quite intensively in those days.”

‘Musical skill and gentle nature’

Golden Brown, perhaps Greenfield’s finest moment, eventually won them an Ivor Novello award; however his bandmates initially discarded the song and did not consider it a single.

The band’s other hits include No More Heroes, Peaches and Something Better Change. They continued touring and recording after original frontman Hugh Cornwell left in 1990.

Cornwell posted on Twitter he was “very sorry” to hear of his old bandmate’s passing.

“He was the difference between The Stranglers and every other punk band,” wrote Cornwell.

“His musical skill and gentle nature gave an interesting twist to the band. He should be remembered as the man who gave the world the music of Golden Brown.”

Current vocalist and guitarist Baz Warne described Greenfield as “a true innovator” and a “musical legend”.

“The word genius is bandied around far too easily in this day and age, but Dave Greenfield certainly was one,” said Warne.

The band recently postponed their farewell tour from this summer due to the pandemic.

Iran warns US Navy over Gulf incident

Iran warns US Navy over Gulf incident

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has accused the US of giving a “Hollywood version of events” over an incident in the Gulf this week.

The US said Iranian vessels had conducted “harassing” approaches of six of its ships on Wednesday.

But the IRGC said it had increased patrols in the Gulf after the US Navy blocked the path of an Iranian ship earlier this month.

Tensions rose after the US killed an Iranian general in Iraq in January.

The IRGC’s statement said that US forces had blocked one of its ships in two separate incidents in early April, using “dangerous behaviour while ignoring warnings”.

It added that Iran would respond “decisively” to any miscalculation.

The incident on Wednesday came a day after armed men – believed to have been IRGC personnel – seized a Hong Kong-flagged tanker in the Gulf of Oman and redirected it into Iranian waters before releasing it.

What did the US say happened?

The US Navy accused Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) of “dangerous and provocative actions” against its vessels, which were involved in a military exercise with US Army Apache attack helicopters in international waters.

Eleven IRGC Navy vessels repeatedly approached of six US Navy and Coast Guard ships at “extremely close range and high speeds on Wednesday”, the US Navy said. One passed within 10 yards (9m) of a Coast Guard cutter.

“The US crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN.”

“After approximately one hour, the IRGCN vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then manoeuvred away from the US ships and opened distance between them,” it added.

The US Navy said such “dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision”, and were not in accordance with international maritime conventions or customs.

What’s happened in the Gulf?

The relationship between the two countries has been fraught for decades. But tensions increased after the US withdrew from a nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

Last year, Iranian forces seized a British-flagged tanker in retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian tanker by the British territory of Gibraltar. Both vessels were eventually released.

The US also accused Iran of carrying out attacks on six tankers in the Gulf of Oman and launching missiles and drones at two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Iran denied any involvement.

Animosity between the two countries rose further in January, when the US killed a top IRGC general in a drone strike in Iraq. Iran responded by launching missiles at Iraqi military bases hosting US forces.

Coronavirus: China outbreak city Wuhan raises death toll by 50%

Coronavirus: China outbreak city Wuhan raises death toll by 50%

The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated last year, has raised its official Covid-19 death toll by 50%, adding 1,290 fatalities.

Wuhan officials attributed the new figure to updated reporting and deaths outside hospitals. China has insisted there was no cover-up.

It has been accused of downplaying the severity of its virus outbreak.

Wuhan’s 11 million residents spent months in strict lockdown conditions, which have only recently been eased.

The latest official figures bring the death toll in the city in China’s central Hubei province to 3,869, increasing the national total to more than 4,600.

China has confirmed nearly 84,000 coronavirus infections, the seventh-highest globally, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The virus has had a huge impact on the Chinese economy, which shrank for the first time in decades in the first quarter of the year.

  • Follow our live reporting from around the world
  • Why China’s claims of success raise eyebrows

What’s China’s explanation for the rise in deaths?

In a statement released on Friday, officials in Wuhan said the revised figures were the result of new data received from multiple sources, including records kept by funeral homes and prisons.

Deaths linked to the virus outside hospitals, such as people who died at home, had not previously been recorded.

The “statistical verification” followed efforts by authorities to “ensure that information on the city’s Covid-19 epidemic is open, transparent and the data [is] accurate”, the statement said.

It added that health systems were initially overwhelmed and cases were “mistakenly reported” – in some instances counted more than once and in others missed entirely.

A shortage of testing capacity in the early stages meant that many infected patients were not accounted for, it said.

A spokesman for China’s National Health Commission, Mi Feng, said the new death count came from a “comprehensive review” of epidemic data.

In its daily news conference, the foreign ministry said accusations of a cover-up, which have been made most stridently on the world stage by US President Donald Trump, were unsubstantiated. “We’ll never allow any concealment,” a spokesman said.

Why are there concerns over China’s figures?

Friday’s revised figures come amid growing international concern that deaths in China have been under-reported. Questions have also been raised about Beijing’s handling of the epidemic, particularly in its early stages.

In December 2019, Chinese authorities launched an investigation into a mysterious viral pneumonia after cases began circulating in Wuhan.

China reported the cases to the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN’s global health agency, on 31 December.

But WHO experts were only allowed to visit China and investigate the outbreak on 10 February, by which time the country had more than 40,000 cases.

The mayor of Wuhan has previously admitted there was a lack of action between the start of January – when about 100 cases had been confirmed – and 23 January, when city-wide restrictions were enacted.

Around that time, a doctor who tried to warn his colleagues about an outbreak of a Sars-like virus was silenced by the authorities. Dr Li Wenliang later died from Covid-19.

Wuhan’s death toll increase of almost exactly 50% has left some analysts wondering if this is all a bit too neat.

For months questions have been asked about the veracity of China’s official coronavirus statistics.

The inference has been that some Chinese officials may have deliberately under-reported deaths and infections to give the impression that cities and towns were successfully managing the emergency.

If that was the case, Chinese officials were not to know just how bad this crisis would get in other countries, making its own figures now seem implausibly small.

The authorities in Wuhan, where the first cluster of this disease was reported, said there had been no deliberate misrepresentation of data, rather that a stabilisation in the emergency had allowed them time to revisit the reported cases and to add any previously missed.

That the new death toll was released at the same time as a press conference announcing a total collapse in China’s economic growth figures has led some to wonder whether this was a deliberate attempt to bury one or other of these stories.

Then again, it could also be a complete coincidence.

But China has also been praised for its handling of the crisis and the unprecedented restrictions that it instituted to slow the spread of the virus. WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hashailed China for the “speed with which [it] detected the outbreak” and its “commitment to transparency”.

US President Donald Trump this week halted funding for the WHO, accusing it of making deadly mistakes and overly trusting China.

  • The WHO row, explained

“Do you really believe those numbers in this vast country called China, and that they have a certain number of cases and a certain number of deaths; does anybody really believe that?” Mr Trump said at the White House on Wednesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron has also questioned China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, saying it was “naive” to suggest the country had dealt better with the crisis, adding things “happened that we don’t know about”.

On Thursday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We’ll have to ask the hard questions about how [coronavirus] came about and how it couldn’t have been stopped earlier.”

Coronavirus: UK lockdown extended for at least three more weeks

Coronavirus: UK lockdown extended for at least three more weeks

The UK’s coronavirus lockdown will remain in place for at least another three weeks to ensure the country gets over the peak of the epidemic, the government has announced.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from COVID-19, confirmed the extension following advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

Speaking at Downing Street’s daily coronavirus news briefing, Mr Raab said: “The government has decided that the current measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks.”

He said SAGE had advised that “relaxing any of the measures in place” would “undo the progress we have made” and would “risk damage to both public health and the economy”.

The extension takes the lockdown to at least 7 May, and Mr Raab hinted it would likely go further in light of a previous suggestion by the prime minister that the UK could “turn the tide” of the virus within 12 weeks.

Mr Johnson made the comment on 19 March, and Mr Raab admitted that was “broadly the outline” for when the UK might expect to return to some normalcy.

Mr Raab laid out five factors the government “must be satisfied of” before considering changes to the lockdown:

  • Confidence that the NHS can still provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment across the UK.
  • Need to see a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate to be confident we are beyond the peak.
  • Reliable data from SAGE that the infection rate has decreased to manageable levels.
  • Testing capacity and PPE is in hand to meet supply for future demand.
  • Not risk a second peak of infection that overwhelms the NHS.

“We’ve come too far, lost too many loved ones and sacrificed too much to let up now – especially when we are now beginning to see that our efforts are paying off,” said Mr Raab.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we are at a delicate and dangerous stage of this pandemic.”

Ahead of Thursday’s news conference, the unprecedented lockdown had already surpassed the original three-week timescale laid out by the prime minister last month.

The extension keeps people indoors, only leaving the house for one hour of exercise per day, to shop for essential supplies like food, for medical assistance, or to go to work if doing so from home is not possible.

There are no measures being lifted for now as the UK remains a few weeks behind other European countries badly hit by the pandemic, with Italy and Spain having slightly eased some restrictionsfollowing consistent daily falls in their infection and death rates.

Mr Raab said that while the lockdown had seen the rate of infection drop significantly, there were still “issues with the virus spreading in some hospitals and care homes”.

The extension came after Mr Raab led a cabinet meeting where ministers were briefed on SAGE’s advice by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

After then dialling in to a meeting of G7 leaders led by US President Donald Trump, First Secretary of State Mr Raab chaired another meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee.

The leaders of the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland joined in by video link as the lockdown was formally extended.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford had stolen Mr Raab’s thunder minutes before the government’s briefing began, confirming that the leaders of each administration had agreed to keep the measures in place.

The extension announcement was widely expected, with ministers and some of the government’s top medical and scientific personnel having spent recent days warning that it was too early to consider lifting any restrictions.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told Wednesday’s news briefing that while the UK was “probably reaching the peak” of the epidemic, thousands more would die before attention turns to easing the lockdown.

Earlier on Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that it would take time for the measures to be phased out and for life to get back to something resembling normality.

He told Kay Burley@Breakfast: “It is too early to say now that we should remove the measures.

“People can see that while we may be reaching a peak the numbers aren’t coming down yet.”

The number of deaths of coronavirus patients in UK hospitals jumped by 861 to 13,729 on Thursday, after four consecutive days in which the increases had been below 800.

It has also been well established that the UK’s true COVID-19 death toll is higher than the hospital figures suggest.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggested there were around 75% more coronavirus-related fatalities in England and Wales last month than previously reported by the government.

More than half of those happened in care homes, while others took place in people’s homes and in hospices.

On Wednesday, the National Records of Scotland revealed that – as of 12 April – almost 25% of 962 registered deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned in the death certificate in Scotland had occurred in care homes.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government must ensure “more is done to protect our care homes” before considering any lockdown changes.

He said: “I fully support the government’s decision to extend the lockdown.

“The priority now must be to ensure we see a ramp up in testing, that staff get the PPE they desperately need and more is done to protect our care homes from the virus.

“We also need clarity about what plans are being put in place to lift the lockdown when the time is right.”

Coronavirus: Pregnant nurse dies but baby ‘well’ after delivery

Coronavirus: Pregnant nurse dies but baby ‘well’ after delivery

The baby of a “highly-valued and loved” nurse has been delivered successfully after she died from Covid-19.

Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, 28, had worked for five years at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, where she died on Sunday.

A hospital trust spokeswoman said the nurse’s “child was doing very well” but could give no further information.

Ms Agyapong was admitted to hospital on 7 April, having tested positive for Covid-19 two days previously.

David Carter, chief executive of Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said she was a “fantastic nurse and a great example of what we stand for in this trust”.

“Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with Mary’s family and friends at this sad time,” he said.

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