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Video- USA Gears Up For Its Midterm Elections

Trump and Obama may never appear as opposing candidates on a ballot together, but they are facing off in a closely watched proxy battle in this year’s midterm campaign.

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MIdterm Elections
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. VOA
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For former U.S. president Barack Obama, it must seem like old times. Obama has started to hit the campaign trail on behalf of Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections, setting up what amounts to a proxy battle with the man who succeeded him, President Donald Trump.

Trump already has been a fixture on the campaign trail on behalf of Republicans, convinced that aggressive efforts in Republican-leaning states will protect Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Obama’s initial foray into the 2018 congressional campaign came at the University of Illinois where he urged young Democrats to keep up the fight for social and economic justice.

“Each time we have gotten closer to those ideals, somebody somewhere has pushed back,” Obama said. “It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He is just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years.”

Get out the vote

Obama also campaigned in California on behalf of several Democratic House candidates, where he urged activists to turn out and vote in November.

“When we are not participating, when we are not paying attention, when we are not stepping up, other voices fill the void,” Obama told a Democratic gathering in Anaheim. “But the good news in two months, we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics.”

Obama now finds himself competing against the man who succeeded him, President Trump, and who has vowed to undo much of what Obama did during his presidency.

Midterm Elections
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. VOA

Touting the economy

For his part, Trump has been eager to get out on the campaign trail and has promised a vigorous effort to energize Republican voters to keep their congressional majorities in November.

“This election is about jobs. It is safety and it is jobs,” Trump said at a recent Republican rally in Billings, Montana. “Thanks to Republican leadership, our economy is booming like never before in our history. Think of it, in our history. Nobody knew this was going to happen.”

Trump also is stoking fear among his Republican supporters that a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in November could lead to his impeachment.

“We will worry about that if it ever happens,” he told the crowd in Billings. “But if it does happen, it is your fault because you did not go out to vote. OK? You didn’t go out to vote.”

Midterm Elections
Supporters hold signs as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Aug. 21, 2018, in Charleston, W.Va. VOA

Referendum on Trump

Midterm elections are historically unkind to sitting presidents. But unlike many of his predecessors, Trump has embraced the notion that the November congressional vote will be a referendum on his presidency.

Political analysts said that strategy carries both risk and reward.

“The enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle is really related to the president,” said George Washington University political scientist Lara Brown. “I think the last numbers I saw were that more than 40 percent of people who said that they would be very likely to vote were going to be either voting for the president or against the president in this midterm.”

Trump and Obama already have jousted over who should get credit for the strong U.S. economy. At his rallies, Trump touts economic growth and job creation numbers since he took over the presidency, arguing that the national economy is “booming like never before.”

Obama has offered some pushback on the campaign trail.

Midterm Elections
President Donald Trump speaks at a fundraiser in Fargo, N.D. VOA

“Let’s just remember when this recovery started,” Obama said in his Illinois speech, highlighting job growth during his White House years as part of the recovery from the 2008 recession.

Head-to-head battle

Like Trump, Obama also has proved to be a lightning rod for voters. The 44th president was effective in two presidential campaigns at turning out Democrats but was a drag on the party in his two midterm elections, spurring Republicans to turn out against him.

During this year’s midterm, Obama is likely to focus on mobilizing women, younger activists and nonwhite voters, key parts of the Democratic coalition that helped him win the White House in 2008 and 2012.

Also Read: Trump Needs Obama For Dealing With North Korea, Said Jon Wolfsthal

“That enthusiasm is there throughout the Democratic Party and across demographic groups,” said Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak. “And for the first time many voters are going to see options on their ballot that look and sound and talk about issues in different ways, and that is always something that is appealing to a voter base.”

Trump and Obama may never appear as opposing candidates on a ballot together, but they are facing off in a closely watched proxy battle in this year’s midterm campaign where party control of Congress is at stake. (VOA)

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Rohingyas Repatriation to Myanmar Scrapped by Bangladesh

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months.

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Rohingya, myanmar
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Bangladesh’s plans to begin repatriating Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar Thursday were scrapped because officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return to the country that has been accused of driving out hundreds of thousands in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The refugees “are not willing to go back now,” Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told The Associated Press. He said officials “can’t force them to go” but will continue to try to “motivate them so it happens.”

Some people on the government’s repatriation list disappeared into the sprawling refugee camps to avoid being sent home, while others joined a large demonstration against the plan.

Rohingya, myanmar
Workers build a Rohingya repatriation center in Gunndum near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

UN urged a halt to repatriation

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar.

The United Nations, whose human rights officials had urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation process even as its refugee agency workers helped to facilitate it, welcomed Thursday’s development.

Firas Al-Khateeb, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cox’s Bazar, said it was unclear when the process might begin again.

“We want their repatriation, but it has to be voluntary, safe and smooth,” he said.

Bangladesh officials declined to say whether another attempt at repatriation would be made Friday.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka late Thursday that “there is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?”

Rohingya, myanmar
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Pleading with Rohingya

At the Unchiprang refugee camp, a Bangladeshi refugee official implored the Rohingya on Thursday to return to their country over a loudspeaker.

“We have arranged everything for you, we have six buses here, we have trucks, we have food. We want to offer everything to you. If you agree to go, we’ll take you to the border, to the transit camp,” he said.

“We won’t go!” hundreds of voices, including children’s, chanted in reply.

Some refugees on the repatriation lists, which authorities say were drawn up with assistance from the UNHCR, said they don’t want to go back.

‘I don’t want to go back’

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the city of Cox’s Bazar, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, age 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not. She said she had never asked to return to Myanmar, and that she had sent her children to a school run by aid workers Thursday morning as usual.

“They killed my husband; now I live here with my parents,” said Setara, who only gave one name. “I don’t want to go back.”

She said that other refugees on the repatriation list had fled to other camps, hoping to disappear amid the crowded lanes of refugees, aid workers and Bangladeshi soldiers, which on Thursday were bustling with commerce and other activity.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Plan to return 150 a day

Bangladesh had planned to send an initial group of 2,251 back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.

Myanmar officials, speaking late Thursday in the capital, Naypyitaw, said they were ready to receive the refugees. Despite those assurances, human rights activists said conditions were not yet safe for the Rohingya to go back.

The exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the crackdown led the U.N. and several governments to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, viewing them as “Bengalis” who entered illegally from Bangladesh, even though generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees cross floodwaters at Thangkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. VOA

Refugee camps bleak

The refugees survived the ransacking of villages, rapes and killings in Myanmar, but for many, life in Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps has been bleak.

The refugees who’ve arrived in the last year joined a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labor, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s.

Access to education and employment has been far from assured.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who hopes to retain power in December elections, has repeatedly complained that hosting more than a million Rohingya is taxing local resources.

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months, but plans last January to begin sending refugees back were called off amid concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that their return would be met with violence.

Foreign leaders, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, criticized Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Also Read: Rohingya Muslims Remain Fearful Due To Forceful Repatriation

But on Thursday, Pence said that U.S. officials were “encouraged to hear that” the repatriation process would begin.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would continue working with international partners including the U.N. “to ensure that the Rohingya themselves are part of any decisions on their future.” (VOA)