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Voting changes by US Republicans spark reaction from Justice Dept | Elections News



The United States Justice Department will review and challenge a series of new laws being proposed and passed by Republicans that would restrict voting rights in key US states, Attorney General Merrick Garland has announced.

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights flow,” Garland said on Friday.

The new focus on federal enforcement of voting rights laws by Garland, the Biden administration’s top law enforcement official, comes as Republicans in Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Arkansas have passed new laws since the 2020 presidential election that critics say would make it harder for people to vote.

Similar bills have been proposed or are moving forward in more than a dozen other states including Texas, which is considering a far-reaching election bill that, among other things, would allow judges to overturn election results.

The Justice Department will double the number of lawyers it has assigned to enforce US voting rights statutes and “we are scrutinising new laws that seek to curb voter access, and where we see violations, we will not hesitate to act”, Garland said.

Justice will apply special “scrutiny to post-election audits” like one under way now in Arizona backed by the state’s Republican-controlled Senate, to ensure they abide by federal laws, Garland warned.

Trump’s false claims are GOP’s catalyst

Alleging widespread election fraud without evidence, former President Donald Trump had brought more than 40 lawsuits in key US states seeking to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Those lawsuits were dismissed by judges but Trump’s continued insistence that the election was “rigged” continues to drive Republicans across the country to push for more restrictive voting laws.

For instance, the pending bill in the Texas legislature would curtail so-called “souls to polls” drives by Black churches, criminalise common get-out-the-vote activities and prohibit local officials from sending out applications for mail-in ballots.

“The bill disproportionately affects people of colour,” said Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project which is among groups opposing the legislation.

Faced with criticism and intense scrutiny of the proposed legislation after it was blocked by Democrats in an extraordinary legislative session last month, Texas Republicans have begun to back away from some of the bill’s provisions.

“Even the bill’s sponsor didn’t even actually bother to read the bill,” Marziani told Al Jazeera.

Congressional Democrats try to push back

Democrats in the US Congress are seeking to enact legislation that would restore enforcement powers to the Justice Department that had been struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2013.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced this week the Senate would vote at the end of March on a sweeping package of election reforms but the bill faces Republican opposition and is unlikely to pass.

In the House, legislators are working on a narrower bill specifically aimed at restoring the Justice Department’s ability to review and approve or disapprove changes to voting rights in states with histories of discrimination.

And Democrats are suing in 14 states to protect voting rights, tweeted Marc Elias, the lead election litigator for the party.

Reinstating Trump?

Meanwhile, the fiction that the election was stolen that led Trump supporters to overrun the US Capitol on January 6 is alive and well among Trump’s Republican base.

Twenty-nine percent of the Republicans polled in a recent Politico-Morning Consult survey said they believe Trump will be reinstated as president.

The former president has told associates he will be reinstated as president after 2020 election results in Georgia, Arizona and other states are reversed, according to The New York Times.

There is no real prospect that would happen. US courts have dismissed dozens of claims by Trump that there had been widespread fraud for lack of evidence.

Election results in those states have already been certified by state authorities and in any event there is no provision in the US Constitution for such reinstatement.

Last week, Trump re-emerged in the US political spotlight with a speech to a North Carolina Republican gathering in which he repeated false claims of widespread fraud and called the 2020 election “the crime of century”.

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New Zealand’s Hubbard selected as first transgender Olympian | LGBTQ News




Laurel Hubbard, 43, will compete in the super-heavyweight women’s event in Tokyo.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to test the ideal of fair competition in sport.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said 43-year-old Hubbard – who was assigned male at birth but transitioned to female in 2013 – had met all the qualification criteria for transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said in a statement.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after showing testosterone levels below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 43-year-old had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard, an intensely private person who rarely speaks to the media, said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of people who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard’s selection.

“It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes “dope” and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had worked hard to come back from the potentially career-ending injury.

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” he said.

Hubbard is currently ranked 16th in the world in the super heavyweight category.

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Apple Daily could shut ‘in days’ after Hong Kong asset freeze | Freedom of the Press News




Company adviser says action under security law means it cannot access some $50 million in funds to pay staff and vendors.

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities used the national security law imposed by China to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editor and four other directors, an adviser to jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.

Mark Simon, speaking by phone from the United States, said the company was no longer able to access its funds and would be holding a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward.

“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month,” Simon told the news agency. “It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”

His comments signal closure is imminent even after Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”

The news comes two days after editor Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail after being charged under the security law with collusion with foreign forces.

Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives back at the detention centre after he was remanded in custody on Saturday [Lam Yik/Reuters]

Three other senior executives were also arrested last Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices in a case that has drawn condemnation from Western nations, human rights groups and the chief United Nations spokesperson for human rights.

The three have been released on bail.

Simon told Reuters it had become impossible to conduct banking operations.

“Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour. We just wanted to find out and it was rejected,” he said.

Speaking earlier to US news channel CNN, Simon said the company had about $50 million available, but was unable to access the funds.

The publisher has come under increasing pressure since its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law last August, which marked the first time the company’s headquarters was raided. Lai, 73, is now jailed and facing trial under the national security law. In May, the authorities also froze some assets belonging to the longtime critic of Beijing has also had some of his assets frozen.

Three companies related to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last June saying it was necessary to restore “stability” to a territory that had been rocked by mass protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

The broadly-worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists among the more than 100 arrested since it was brought into force.

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Birmingham Classic: Ons Jabeur beats Daria Kasatkina to win first title




Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur defeated Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in straight sets to win her first singles title at the Birmingham Classic.

World number 24 Jabeur triumphed 7-5 6-4 against the fourth seed to become the first Arab woman to win a WTA title.

In Berlin, Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova stunned Swiss fifth seed Belinda Bencic to win her first title.

The 22-year-old world number 106 battled back from a set down to win 1-6 6-1 6-3 in her first final.

Victories for Jabeur and Samsonova mean there have now been 10 first-time singles winners on the women’s Tour this year.

Jabeur broke Kasatkina’s serve three times to prevail in the first set, before successive breaks at the start of the second put the 26-year-old in control at 4-0.

Two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kasatkina recovered to 4-3, but Jabeur held on to win a singles final at the third attempt.

It was a breakthrough week for Samsonova in Germany, during which she also defeated seventh seed Victoria Azarenka of Belaurus in the semi-final.

World number 12 Bencic won the first five games as she dominated the opening set, but Samsonova matched that feat in the second before completing her comeback with breaks in the first and ninth games in the deciding set.

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