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Biden inauguration: Worries as Homeland Security chief quits

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US Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris (left) looks on as President-elect Joe Biden answers questions from the media after announcing key nominees for their economic and jobs team at The Queen theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday. AFP

Biden inauguration: Worries as Homeland Security chief quits

US Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced his resignation unexpectedly on January 11 as worries rose over more violence during President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week.

Wolf’s departure as head of the body in charge of security for the January 20 event came five days after President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol, hoping to prevent Biden from replacing him.

The Department of Homeland Security oversees several law enforcement bodies including the Secret Service, the point agency for security for the White House and the US president.

Wolf, who said he was stepping down for procedural reasons, named Pete Gaynor, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to replace him.

But the move did not end questions over whether the US capital city would be adequately secure over the coming week.

An internal FBI document warned of the possibility that armed Trump supporters could hold protests in all 50 states between the coming weekend and January 20, according to US media.

The White House issued a statement saying that Trump had “declared that an emergency exists in the District of Columbia and ordered Federal assistance to supplement the District’s response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from the 59th Presidential Inauguration from January 11 to January 24, 2021”.

It said the order gave the department the authority to act “to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the District of Columbia”.

Meanwhile, federal and city officials continued to point fingers over who was responsible for the debacle at the Capitol on January 6, when the Congressional police force was overwhelmed by thousands of Trump supporters who succeeded in shutting down the legislature.

The Pentagon on January 11 said it had authorised 15,000 National Guard troops to be deployed for Biden’s inauguration.

Already 6,200 troops are on the ground in Washington, and a total of 10,000 are planned by the coming weekend, said General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the defence department’s National Guard Bureau.

Another 5,000 could be deployed by the day of the inauguration, he said.

They will come equipped with riot gear and weapons, but so far they have not been authorised to arm themselves while on the streets of the US capital, he said.

Before he announced his departure, Wolf also ordered an acceleration of preparations by the Secret Service, citing “events of the past week and the evolving security landscape”.

Preparations for the event were moving quickly. A security fence has been built around the entire grounds of the Capitol, where Biden will take the oath of office as Trump’s successor.

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