Lufthansa vows company revamp as losses balloon

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Lufthansa vowed to step up up restructuring measures after posting a first-quarter net loss of 2.1 billion euros ($2.35 billion), days after agreeing a state bail-out amid the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The German carrier’s pledge to slash costs comes as it braces for a significant decline in 2020 earnings.

“In view of the very slow recovery in demand, we must now take far-reaching restructuring measures,” said Chief Executive Carsten Spohr, adding the group was in talks with labour representatives over cutbacks.

The first quarter loss, which compares to a net loss of 342 million euros in the year-earlier period, was driven by write-downs of 266 million euros on its fleet, as well as write-downs on the book value of catering business LSG North America by 100 million and on budget unit Eurowings by 57 million, the carrier said on Wednesday.

A slump in fuel hedging contracts was another 950 million euro burden on the bottom line.

Lufthansa, which had grounded almost all its aircraft at the height of the pandemic, confirmed a loss before interest and tax of 1.2 billion euros during the first three months of the year, first reported in April.

The group’s non-executive board on Monday approved a 9 billion euro ($10 billion) government bailout that will force it to cede some of its prized landing slots to rivals.

Lufthansa Group, which includes Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines, suffered a 98% slump in April passenger numbers from the year-earlier month to 241,000.

But it laid out plans on Wednesday to increase the offered capacity in September to reach 40% of what it had scheduled before the crisis.

Analysts expect the national carrier to be removed from Germany’s benchmark blue-chip index DAX of which Lufthansa has been a constituent since the gauge’s inception in 1988.

($1 = 0.8925 euros)

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US Senator warns China is using Huawei to disrupt the special relationship with UK

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The Arkansas Senator was speaking as debate continues as to whether Huawei can be trusted within the UK 5G network. There is concern that the telecommunications firm could allow Beijing backdoor access to sensitive information, something Huawei has always denied. Mr Cotton warned: “It is my hope that the special relationship remains strong although I fear China is attempting to drive a hi-tech wedge between us using Huawei.

Washington has warned allies they risk being cut off from intelligence sharing programmes if they make deals with Huawei.

Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang said: “It’s clear that market position, rather than security concerns, is what underpins America’s attack on Huawei.

“The committee was given no evidence to substantiate security allegations.”

Britain has said Huawei’s involvement will be limited to 35 percent and it will be excluded from the sensitive core.

In recent weeks, reports have said that Boris Johnson is looking to reduce Huawei’s involvement in the 5G network to zero by 2023.

The US has long warned other nations that Huawei is unsafe.

Mr Cotton said: “I do hope that as the government refines its decision, that if it doesn’t reverse it outright, it will mitigate it and minimise the use of Huawei technology, put it on a shorter time frame.”

Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei told CNBC: “We never participate in espionage, and we do not allow any of our employees to do any act like that.

READ MORE: Farage warns Boris to drop ‘pro-China instinct’ as he exposes state

“And we absolutely never install backdoors.

“Even if we were required by Chinese law, we would firmly reject that.”

Sceptics have, however, raised concerns over two pieces of law, the 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law.

Despite Huawei’s denials, some experts point to article 7 of the former which mandates any organization or individual “shall support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law”.

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Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor and Council on Foreign Relations adjunct senior fellow, said: “There is no way Huawei can resist any order from the [People’s Republic of China] Government or the Chinese Communist Party to do its bidding in any context, commercial or otherwise.

“Huawei would have to turn over all requested data and perform whatever other surveillance activities are required.”

Martin Thorley, of the University of Nottingham, added: “The idea of fighting a request of this nature in the courts is not realistic. In truth the law only confirms what has long been true — that one must submit to the Party if called upon.

“Added to this, a company of Huawei’s size, working in what is considered a sensitive sector, simply cannot succeed in China without extensive links to the Party.”

The original approval for Huawei to form part of the British 5G network came from former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Gavin Williamson was sacked as Defence Secretary as Mrs May believed he was the source of the leak regarding Huawei’s involvement.

Mr Williamson was first asked to resign but denied the allegation and refused to resign.

The South Staffordshire MP has maintained an inquiry would vindicate him.

He returned to Cabinet as Education Secretary when Mr Johnson succeeded Mrs May.

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Paris Black Lives Matter protesters: ‘Who protects us from the police?’

Paris is no stranger to demonstrations. The French capital has a long tradition of protest, of banner, flags, chants and crowds. But this one was different.

Often, Parisian protests are about party politics, or the economy. The last big violent demonstration here involved a blend of disaffected trade unionists, some angry Gilets Jaunes and a group of people who just wanted a clash with the police. Which they got.

That day, the tear gas was sprayed around and the police came under attack, before the violence stopped and the peaceful protest resumed. The tension, which reached a violent crescendo, fell away.

But this time, the tension lingers. Because the police weren’t just monitoring this protest – but were also the focus of its anger.

As we watched the aftermath of clashes in Place de Clichy, a sign caught my eye. It said “Qui nous protege de la police?” It translates, simply, as “who protects us from the police?” And it’s a question that is now resonating in Europe, just as it reverberates in the United States.

In Paris, there is another echo to events in America. Four years ago, a young Frenchman called Adama Traore was arrested in Paris.

The police had actually been looking for his brother but, according to reports, Adama did not have his ID with him and tried to run away. Instead, he was arrested.

Somewhere along the line, in the next few hours, he died. The police say his death was due to a pre-existing health condition. His family say he was asphyxiated while being restrained by an overbearing police officer.

Parallels have been drawn with the death of George Floyd – Adama’s sister even claimed this week that her brother’s last words would have been the same: “I can’t breath.”

For the past four years, his death has been the focus of anger, claim and counterclaim. But now the protests have been given much greater impetus because of events in America.

When I spoke to protesters in Paris, they told me they had simply had enough and wanted to add their voice to the global cacophony of anger. “We just want to live a normal life, without fear,” said one.

The air in Paris had a couple of familiar smells after the protest – the acrid flavours of tear gas and burning plastic. The streets were full of debris; the riot police officers looked nervous. Sirens were a regular sound.

But what happens next with this nascent protest movement – in Paris, and in France and across Europe – is hard to predict.

Was this demonstration in the French capital a one-off event, or the start of a wave? For the moment, nobody knows.

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Big in China and tiny in the U.S., Fast Retailing seen weathering pandemic

TOKYO/BEIJING (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic is shredding the global apparel industry, stripping hundreds of billions of dollars from sales and thrusting big names like J.Crew into bankruptcy protection.

While no major fashion firms have been spared, Japan’s Fast Retailing (9983.T), owner of the Uniqlo brand and not far behind the world’s No. 2 H&M (HMb.ST) in sales, looks well placed to cope with the crisis better than rivals.

That’s thanks to legions of faithful Chinese fans like 25-year-old IT worker Niu Ran, whose wardrobe is crammed with Uniqlo basics like shirts and socks and was looking for more in a post-lockdown shopping trip.

“I like Uniqlo because it’s very easy to match and the quality is not bad,” he said, waiting in line to try on pants at a Uniqlo store in Wangfujing, Beijing’s prime shopping district.

“It satisfies all my needs, so I don’t need to spend time elsewhere.”

Led by Tadashi Yanai, Japan’s richest man, Fast Retailing has expanded aggressively in China with 750 Uniqlo stores, roughly the same number in its home market.

Mainland China has all but contained domestic transmission of the coronavirus with lockdowns lifted in most areas since March and the world’s no. 2 economy is widely expected to emerge from pandemic-induced pain faster than other countries.

In other parts of Asia too, key markets such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been more successful than the West in curbing the virus.

In contrast, rivals mostly focused on the U.S. market like Gap Inc (GPS.N) or far more dependent on Europe like Zara-owner and industry leader Inditex (ITX.MC) and H&M, are expected to face a longer downturn.

“Asia is going to be much faster to bounce back in terms of willingness to spend, which will favour operators with a big presence in Asia,” said Honor Strachan, retail analyst at research firm GlobalData.

“In the mature western markets across Europe, the U.S. and Canada, we expect the recovery to be long and drawn out,” she said.

GlobalData predicts the global apparel market will lose $297 billion in revenue this year due to the pandemic, with the United States accounting for 42% of that lost spending.

Of Uniqlo’s 2,260 stores globally, just 51 are in the United States. Its inability to make strides in the world’s biggest clothing market has long been seen as an Achilles heel, but for the time being it may prove a blessing.

Asia, however, accounts for three-quarters of Uniqlo’s annual revenue and Greater China alone represents 20%.

While Strachan notes H&M and Inditex are some of the most resilient players in the market, Asia & Oceania make up just 15% of H&M’s annual revenue while at Zara, its “Asia and the rest of the world” category accounts for 23% of sales.

THE BASICS ADVANTAGE

Uniqlo’s long shelf-life items like Oxford shirts for work, chinos and underwear as well as its reputation for value for money are likely to resonate with consumers grappling with lost income or less job security more than the trend-based clothing of Zara and H&M, according to analysts.

“The quality is good and designs are classic,” said Jiang Xin, an internet company employee in Beijing, one of many Chinese shoppers interviewed by Reuters who said they felt Uniqlo quality was a cut above comparably priced brands.

Although Fast Retailing warned in April operating profit could slide 44% in the year to end-August, analysts expect a quick recovery assuming key markets are not hit by a large second wave of infections. With a large proportion of items no-frills basics, it is hoping to limit discounts.

“We will be looking to gradually sell off the excess stock to normalise inventory over the next 18 months,” CFO Takeshi Okazaki said on a call with analysts in April.

Fast Retailing declined to comment further on its business outlook for this article.

Rapid growth has brought Fast Retailing almost neck and neck with H&M. Last year the Japanese firm was more profitable with net income of around $1.5 billion compared to the Swedish chain’s $1.4 billion, though its $21 billion in revenue was some $3 billion less.

And while it still has a way to go before it matches Inditex’s annual sales of $31 billion, Yanai’s long-held goal of making Fast Retailing the world’s biggest retailer has looked less far-fetched in recent years.

But for that to happen, Uniqlo will have gain market share in the United States, analysts say, adding that it may have to offer more stylish items to get there.

“They still need to find a way to compete in the U.S.,” said Jefferies analyst Michael Allen. “The current crisis doesn’t change the equation for that.”

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Senate Republicans block move to condemn Trump on force against peaceful protesters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday failed to win passage of a resolution condemning President Donald Trump for his role in the use of force against peaceful demonstrators in Washington Monday night, after Republicans blocked the move.

Democrats tried to use fast-track procedures to pass the measure by a unanimous voice vote but were stopped when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, objected.

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Japan faces another wave of infections in Tokyo and Fukuoka

Fears of a second wave

After recording no new Covid-19 cases from April 30 to May 22, the city of Kitakyushu in Fukuoka saw 119 cases in the past 11 days, putting it on the front line of Japan’s second wave of infections.

Among them are 11 students from four elementary and junior high schools, prompting school closures again and the shutdown of public facilities such as art galleries that were allowed to reopen on May 18.

Over in Tokyo, 34 new cases were recorded yesterday – the first time since May 14 that the daily number of infections has risen above 30.

This marked a threefold increase from the 13 recorded on Monday, prompting Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike to issue a “Tokyo alert” yesterday that could lead to renewed advisories for businesses to close and people to avoid non-essential outings.

This comes after the state of emergency was lifted in Fukuoka on May 14, and in Tokyo on May 25. “Small surges in cases had already been anticipated,” Dr Shigeru Omi, the deputy head of the government expert panel on Covid-19 response, told a news briefing. “The nature of this virus at this point in time is that it is impossible to reduce the level of transmission to zero.”

Unlike on April 7, when the emergency was first issued, Dr Omi said Japan’s medical infrastructure is now more robust to withstand the rise in case numbers. On this basis, there is no imminent state of emergency, he said, adding: “The bottom line is that we must quickly move to respond to the situation and to avoid the further spread of the disease by identifying the chains of transmission.”

But for all of Japan’s best efforts, about one in three cases in Kitakyushu’s second wave has no known transmission links. Clusters have also occurred at two hospitals and one elderly home.

In Tokyo, 12 of the 34 new cases yesterday remained untraced.

Since May 26, Tokyo has recorded 124 new cases, of which one in four was an employee or customer at an entertainment district.

The governor said the “Tokyo alert” was aimed at building awareness among residents of how widely infections are spreading in the capital. “It doesn’t mean we are (immediately) changing our plans to reopen social and economic activities, but we want to reiterate our request that people refrain from night-time activities.”

But it remains to be seen if her warning will fall on deaf ears, with many having embraced their newfound freedoms. Tokyo on Monday began phase two of its three-part plan to reopen businesses.

In the first phase, museums, libraries and schools were allowed to open, while the second phase lifted shutdown requests for cinemas, gyms and department stores. Crowds have returned to pre-emergency levels, with footfall in Ginza and Shibuya up 4 per cent and 6.7 per cent, respectively, compared with just before the decree was issued in April.

There were 17,000 cases in Japan as of last night, with 901 deaths, according to a tally by NHK.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

Get The Straits Times app and receive breaking news alerts and more. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now.

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EMERGING MARKETS-Brazil leads Latam rally; Argentina extends debt deadline

    * Brazil's real at over 6-week high
    * Mexican, Colombian pesos buoyed by strong oil prices
    * Argentina extends debt restructuring deadline to June 12
    * Analysts see Mexican peso outperforming in near-term

 (Adds details, updates prices)
    By Susan Mathew and Ambar Warrick
    June 2 (Reuters) - Latin American currencies rallied on
Tuesday with Brazil's real and stocks leading gains as hopes for
a recovery from a deep recession buoyed sentiment.
    Brazil's Bovespa index scaled 12-week highs, while
the real jumped more than 3% to the dollar as the
country's government launched a new emergency credit line of 20
billion reais ($3.73 billion) to help small and mid-size
companies.
    While easing coronavirus lockdowns, and no immediate fallout
from escalating U.S.-China tensions, have helped Latin American
assets recoup some of their losses this year, there are still
concerns over the full extent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The economic outlook for Latam's largest economy remains
bleak, with the country's treasury department expecting Brazil
to end 2020 with debt at 94% of GDP unless the government shows
commitment to fiscal reforms. 
    An ongoing federal investigation into Brazilian President
Jair Bolsonaro has added to woes. The speaker of Brazil's lower
house of Congress on Monday did not dismiss the possibility of
opening impeachment proceedings against Bolsonaro.
    Mexico's peso rose 2%, touching an 11-week high
against a weaker dollar. The peso has gained about 10% over past
12 sessions with analysts expecting the currency to outperform
regional peers in the short term.
    Given that monetary and fiscal measures have postponed
near-term funding distress, it is possible to position for a
recovery in emerging markets from March lows, said Goldman Sachs
analysts, pointing to the Mexican peso and the Bovespa as Latam
beneficiaries. 
    Rising oil prices also helped the Mexican peso, while crude
exporter Colombia saw its peso come near three-month
highs. 
    Argentina, meanwhile, extended the deadline to restructure 
$65 billion in debt to June 12 and said it may sweeten its most
recent offer to creditors. The country is already in default
after having missed an interest payment extension on May 22.

    The government may improve its offer less than what
creditors expect, given the International Monetary Fund's
backing for its current deal terms, Citigroup analysts said. 
    "But this argument is unlikely to be very effective as the
IMF's debt sustainability assessment treats Argentina's
macroeconomic policies as exogenous, which is obviously not the
case." 
    Concerns also stem from the widening gap between the
official and black market rate of the Argentine peso. The
currency is being held artificially high by strict currency
controls, even as fears over the economy and demand for dollars
drive unofficial rates to record lows.
    
    Key Latin American stock indexes and currencies:
    
    Stock indexes             Latest        Daily % change
 MSCI Emerging Markets          967.19                    1.65
                                        
 MSCI LatAm                    1889.43                    3.74
                                        
 Brazil Bovespa               90390.25                       2
                                        
 Mexico IPC                   37426.52                    1.21
                                        
 Chile IPSA                    3748.69                    1.71
                                        
 Argentina MerVal             41424.63                   3.518
                                        
 Colombia COLCAP               1115.74                   -0.11
                                        
                                                              
       Currencies             Latest        Daily % change
 Brazil real                    5.2187                    3.12
                                        
 Mexico peso                   21.7808                    1.12
                                        
 Chile peso                      780.2                    1.70
                                        
 Colombia peso                 3635.26                    2.06
 Peru sol                       3.3947                    0.74
                                        
 Argentina peso                68.7100                   -0.12
 (interbank)                            
                                        
 
 (Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; Editing by Tom Brown)
  

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Outdoor seating only: Parisian cafes eke out space along sidewalks

PARIS (Reuters) – The Cafe de Flore in Paris, once a favourite drinking hole of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, spread its tables along the pavement, in front of the neighbouring book store, and reopened on Tuesday for the first time in 11 weeks.

Locals could once again enjoy a morning espresso, albeit only at tables spaced a metre apart, as the government allowed cafes and restaurants to open outdoor terraces, lifted travel curbs within France and permitted sunbathing on beaches.

“We’re back at home,” said one regular, Rachel, at the cafe in the French capital’s chic Left Bank neighbourhood. “Morning time is coffee time. We’re rediscovering old habits.”

Across Paris, cafe owners encroached on sidewalks to maximise the number of tables they could set. Each had to submit their new configuration to the local authorities online and in the days ahead their new layout will be inspected.

Those without little or no outdoor seating have been less fortunate.

Across the boutique-lined Boulevard Saint-Germain from the Cafe de Flore, the Brasserie Lipp, which kept serving through World War Two but was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, remained closed.

Even under a bright blue sky, business started slowly. Servers wore masks and said they were still finding their way under the new conditions. Some cafes replaced menus with chalkboards, others asked patrons to scan a barcode to bring up the menu on their smartphone.

At the Le Bourbon brasserie, staff set out about a dozen tables in a small square behind the National Assembly. Manager Jean-Pierre Viala said they were at the mercy of the weather gods, with rain forecast later in the week.

“It’s hard to predict how much food to buy in when you’re dependent on the weather,” he said.

Finance Minister Bruno le Maire on Tuesday promised a solidarity fund to help cafes and restaurants would run until the end of 2020. Many depend on the tourists who in normal times swarm through Paris, the world’s most visited city.

“We desperately need borders to re-open,” said Arnaud Lacroix, whose coffee and ice-cream bar is located opposite the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame of Paris cathedral.

In the past two years, his business has been hammered by anti-government “yellow vest” protests, the cathedral blaze and now the virus.

“We can’t hold out much longer,” he said.

(This story has been refiled to correct spelling in headline)

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Global equities cruise to three-month highs, dollar under protest pressure

NEW YORK (Reuters) – World stock markets hit their highest levels since March and oil prices jumped on Tuesday as signs of a global economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic offset concerns over the worst civil unrest in the United States in decades.

Despite those gains, investors were hesitant to move away from the perceived safety of government bonds, which edged lower but remained near record highs.

“In a way, it is remarkable that the market remains in this positive mood,” said Elwin de Groot, head of macro strategy at Rabobank. “Even with these rising protests in the U.S. and the situation in Hong Kong at the moment, the market is pushing on and seeing room for optimism.”

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.72% following broad advances in Europe and Asia. The index remains down about 8.5% for the year to date.

In morning trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 142.61 points, or 0.56%, to 25,617.63, the S&P 500 gained 10.38 points, or 0.34%, to 3,066.11 and the Nasdaq Composite added 7.15 points, or 0.07%, to 9,559.20.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq is now only 3% from its pre-pandemic record highs. [.N]

May Purchasing Managers Index data pointed to a fragile but encouraging recovery in global manufacturing, raising hopes that the worst is over, while reports that Germany was considering a stimulus plan to boost car sales lifted European stocks.

Japan’s Nikkei rose 1.2% to its highest since late February and markets in Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong and China [.SS] also gained as the Chinese central bank there provided another shot of stimulus.

Bond investors remained more cautious that the global economy had fully turned a corner. Benchmark 10-year notes last fell 4/32 in price to yield 0.6738%, from 0.662% late on Monday.

“This optimistic read for risk can only persist if measures like orders and employment continue to improve month to month,” said Alan Ruskin, chief international strategist at Deutsche Bank.

“Early setbacks would be a very poor sign, but are not expected in the period immediately following the end of lockdowns.”

The dollar was at multi-month lows against most major currencies following a 5% drop for its main index since March. [FRX/]

“The protests are part of the reason for the sell-off in the dollar over the last four or five days,” said CMC Markets senior analyst Michael Hewson.

Some U.S. demonstrators, angered over the recent death of the unarmed African American, George Floyd, while in police custody, had set fire to a mall in Los Angeles overnight, looted stores in New York, and at least five U.S. police had been hit by gunfire in separate incidents.

Hopes for rising demand from an economic rebound boosted oil prices. U.S. crude recently rose 1.35% to $35.92 per barrel and Brent was at $38.70, up 0.99% on the day.

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Trump’s church visit shocks religious leaders

Last night he held a Bible in front of St John’s Episcopal Church, just across the road from the White House. Today, he’ll visit the Shrine to St John Paul II, also in Washington DC.

But US President Donald Trump’s signalling of religious affiliation has not been welcomed by a range of clerics as the nation struggles to manage the twin challenges of a pandemic and widespread political protest.

The Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the Right Reverend Mariann Budde, said: “The president just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.”

James Martin, a Jesuit priest and consultant to the Vatican’s communications department, tweeted: “Let me be clear. This is revolting. The Bible is not a prop. A church is not a photo op. Religion is not a political tool. God is not your plaything.”

President Trump does not belong to a particular congregation, only occasionally attends a service and has said many times that he does not like to ask God for forgiveness.

But while he may not consider church essential to his personal life, it may yet hold the keys to his political future.

In 2016, Mr Trump won 81% of white evangelical votes and exit polls found that white Catholics supported him over Hillary Clinton by 60% to 37%.

Mr Trump’s status, as the champion of evangelical and conservative voters, can seem peculiar given his use of divisive rhetoric, his three marriages, accusations of sexual assault by dozens of women, the hush-money paid to a pornographic film actress, and the record of false statements made during his presidency – more than 18,000 according to the Poynter Institute’s Politifact website.

But he has sealed a powerful bond with religious voters by embracing their political priorities and appointing two Supreme Court justices – Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch – and federal judges with their support.

This may explain why – though an irregular congregant himself – the president has repeatedly demanded the reopening of churches, saying, on 22 May, “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”

Religious conservatives appear to be the most solid core of Mr Trump’s voter base, despite political unrest and the vast number of deaths from Covid-19.

According to the latest Pew Research Poll, 77% of white evangelical Protestants say he’s doing a good job in handling the pandemic – down just 4 percentage points from three weeks ago.

But while one voting bloc remains faithful, the country at large is deeply divided. According to analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight, which collates all polling data, 43% of Americans agree with the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, while 53.4% disapprove.

Several religious leaders are hoping that Trump’s visit to the shrine may encourage him to reflect on the words of then Pope John Paul II, delivered to the United Nations in 1995.

“The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the 20th Century,” he said, “is the common effort to build the civilization of love.”

George Floyd death

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