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Under heavy guard, Congress back to work (Updated)

Supporters Of U.s. President Donald Trump Gather In Washington
Police officers stand guard as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in a stunning bid to overturn his election defeat. But after hours of chaos in which police battled to regain control, lawmakers returned to Congress to begin certifying Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

In the gravest assault on the symbol of American democracy in more than 200 years, rioters forced their way past metal security barricades, broke windows and scaled walls to fight their way into the Capitol, where they roamed the hallways and scuffled with police officers.

Police said four people died – one from gunshot wounds and three from medical emergencies – during the chaos.

Some besieged the House of Representatives chamber while lawmakers were inside, banging on its doors and forcing suspension of the certification debate. Security officers piled furniture against the chamber’s door and drew their pistols before helping lawmakers and others escape.

By Wednesday night, both houses of Congress resumed their debate on the certification of Biden’s Electoral College win, and it quickly became clear that objections from pro-Trump Republican lawmakers to Biden’s victory in battleground states would be rejected overwhelmingly, including by most Republicans.

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today – you did not win,” Vice President Mike Pence, who presided over the session, said as it resumed. “Let’s get back to work,” he said, drawing applause.

Police struggled for more than three hours after the invasion to clear the Capitol of Trump supporters before declaring the building secure shortly after 5:30 p.m. (2230 GMT).

One woman died after being shot during the mayhem, Washington police said, although the circumstances were unclear. Three people died due to medical emergencies, said Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert J. Contee.

The assault on the Capitol was the culmination of months of divisive and escalating rhetoric around the Nov. 3 election, with Trump repeatedly making false claims that the vote was rigged and urging his supporters to help him overturn his loss.

The chaotic scenes unfolded after Trump – who before the election refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost – addressed thousands of supporters near the White House and told them to march on the Capitol to express their anger at the voting process.

He told his supporters to pressure their elected officials to reject the results, urging them “to fight.”

Trump came under intensive fire from some prominent Republicans in Congress, who put the blame for the day’s violence squarely on his shoulders.

“There is no question that the President formed the mob, the President incited the mob, the President addressed the mob. He lit the flame,” House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney said on Twitter.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a leading conservative from Arkansas, called on Trump to accept his election loss and “quit misleading the American people and repudiate mob violence.”

A source familiar with the situation said there have been discussions among some Cabinet members and Trump allies about invoking the 25th Amendment, which would allow a majority of the Cabinet to declare Trump unable to perform his duties and remove him. A second source familiar with the effort doubted it would go anywhere with Trump having just two more weeks in office.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who had remained silent while Trump has sought to overturn the election result, called the invasion a “failed insurrection” and promised that “we will not bow to lawlessness or intimidation.”

“We are back in our posts. We will discharge our duty under the Constitution, and for our nation. And we are going to do it tonight,” he said.

‘RECKLESS BEHAVIOR’

The shock of the assault on the Capitol seemed to soften the resolve of some Republicans who had supported Trump’s efforts to convince Americans of his baseless claims of fraud.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress, rejected an effort by his fellow Republicans to object to election results in hopes of setting up a commission to investigate Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud.

“All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough,” Graham said on the floor of the Senate. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected and will become the president and the vice president of the United States on Jan. 20.”

The Senate rejected by a 93-6 vote Republican objections to the certification of Biden’s victory in the battleground state of Arizona, ensuring their defeat. The House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, also rejected the move, voting 303-121 against it.

After the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said both chambers of Congress would resume consideration of the Electoral College results.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a citywide curfew starting at 6 p.m. (2300 GMT). National Guard troops, FBI agents and U.S. Secret Service were deployed to help overwhelmed Capitol police. Guard troops and police pushed protesters away from the Capitol after the curfew took effect.

It was the most damaging attack on the iconic building since the British army burned it in 1814, according to the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.

Biden, a Democrat who defeated the Republican president in the November election and is due to take office on Jan. 20, said the activity of the protesters “borders on sedition.”

TRUMP REPEATS FALSE CLAIMS

In a video posted to Twitter while the rioters roamed the Capitol, Trump repeated his false claims about election fraud but urged the protesters to leave.

“You have to go home now, we have to have peace,” he said, adding: “We love you. You’re very special.”

Twitter Inc later restricted users from retweeting Trump’s video, and Facebook Inc took it down entirely, citing the risk of violence. Twitter said later it had locked the account of Trump for 12 hours over “repeated and severe violations” of the social media platform’s “civic integrity” rules and threatened permanent suspension.

Election officials of both parties and independent observers have said there was no significant fraud in the Nov. 3 contest, in which Biden won 7 million more votes than Trump.

Weeks have passed since the states completed certifying that Biden won in the Electoral College, which decides presidential elections, by a 306-232 vote. Trump’s challenges to Biden’s victory have been rejected by courts across the country.

Trump had pressed Pence to throw out election results in states the president narrowly lost, although Pence has no authority to do so. Pence said in a statement he could not accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally.

The mayhem stunned world leaders. “Trump and his supporters must accept the decision of American voters at last and stop trampling on democracy,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

World leaders expressed their shock. Here are reactions from around the world:

UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “saddened” by the events at the U.S. Capitol, his spokesman said.

“In such circumstances, it is important that political leaders impress on their followers the need to refrain from violence, as well as to respect democratic processes and the rule of law,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

CHINA

The Chinese embassy issued an advisory on its website on Wednesday warning Chinese citizens to strengthen safety precautions in light of a “large-scale demonstration” in Washington D.C. and a curfew announced by the local government.

INDIA

“Distressed to see news about rioting and violence in Washington DC,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet. “Orderly and peaceful transfer of power must continue. The democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests.”

JAPAN

“We decline to comment on President Trump’s political style as this is about U.S. domestic affairs,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

“But we hope to see democracy in the United States overcome this difficult situation, calmness and harmony regained, and a peaceful and democratic transfer of power.”

ISRAEL

“Since its independence, America, our great and true friend, has been a beacon of democracy, and stood for the values of freedom, justice and independence,” Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on Twitter. “I am sure that the American people and their elected representatives will know how to fend off this attack and will continue to defend the values on which the United States was founded.”

FRANCE

“What happened today in Washington DC is not American, definitely,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a video message on Twitter.

“We believe in the strength of our democracies. We believe in the strength of American democracy,” he said, speaking in English.

UNITED KINGDOM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a tweet called the events in the U.S. Congress a “disgrace”, saying the United States stood for democracy around the world and that was it was “vital” now that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.

GERMANY

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said democracy’s enemies would be cheered by scenes of violence at the United States Capitol, and he called on Trump to accept U.S. voters’ decision.

In a Tweet, Maas said the violence had been caused by inflammatory rhetoric. “Trump and his supporters must accept the decision of American voters at last and stop trampling on democracy.”

RUSSIA

“Quite Maidan-style pictures are coming from DC,” Russia’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy posted on Twitter, referring to protests in Ukraine that toppled Russian-backed President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.

“Some of my friends ask whether someone will distribute crackers to the protesters to echo Victoria Nuland stunt,” he said, citing a 2013 visit to Ukraine when then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland offered food to protesters.

NATO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the violent protests in Washington “shocking scenes” and said the outcome of the democratic U.S. election must be respected.

SPAIN

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a tweet: “I am following with concern the news that are coming from Capitol Hill in Washington. I trust in the strength of America’s democracy.

“The new Presidency of @JoeBiden will overcome this time of tension, uniting the American people.”

IRELAND

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney called the scenes in Washington “a deliberate assault on Democracy by a sitting President & his supporters, attempting to overturn a free & fair election! The world is watching! We hope for restoration of calm.”

TURKEY

Turkey’s foreign ministry issued a statement expressing concern about the violence and called for calm and common sense while urging its citizens to avoid crowds and the protest area.

EUROPEAN UNION

Charles Michel, chairman of EU leaders, on Twitter expressed his shock at the scenes in Washington. “The US Congress is a temple of democracy…We trust the US to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to @JoeBiden”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “I believe in the strength of US institutions and democracy. Peaceful transition of power is at the core. @JoeBiden won the election. I look forward to working with him as the next President of the USA.”

CZECH REPUBLIC

“What happened in USA is unacceptable and unprecedented attack on democracy,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Twitter. “Transition of power needs to be smooth and peaceful.I firmly believe that these incidents should cease.”

CANADA

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his concern about events in Washington. “Obviously we’re concerned and we’re following the situation minute by minute,” Trudeau told the News 1130 Vancouver radio station. “I think the American democratic institutions are strong, and hopefully everything will return to normal shortly.”

SWEDEN

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in a tweet described the scenes as “an attack on democracy”. “President Trump and many members of Congress bear significant responsibility for what’s now taking place. The democratic process of electing a president must be respected.”

NORWAY

Norwegian Prime Minster Erna Solberg posted on Twitter: “This is an unacceptable attack on the U.S. democracy. President Trump is responsible for stopping this. Scary images, and unbelievable that this is happening in the United States.”

FINLAND

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a statement: “The attack on Capitol Hill in Washington DC is a very serious and worrying matter. It shows how important it is to firmly and strongly defend democracy at all times.”

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the scenes in Washington as “distressing.” “We condemn these acts of violence and look forward to a peaceful transfer of Government to the newly elected administration in the great American democratic tradition,” he posted on Twitter.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Twitter: “Democracy – the right of people to exercise a vote, have their voice heard and then have that decision upheld peacefully should never be undone by a mob. Our thoughts are with everyone who is as devastated as we are by the events of today. I have no doubt democracy will prevail.”

VENEZUELA

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted: “Venezuela expresses its concern for the violent events that are taking place in the city of Washington, USA; condemns the political polarization and hopes that the American people will open a new path toward stability and social justice.”

ARGENTINA

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez tweeted: “We express our condemnation of the serious acts of violence and the affront to Congress that occurred today in Washington DC. We trust that there will be a peaceful transition that respects the popular will and we express our strongest support for President-elect Joe Biden.”

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