Trump's Florida estate stirs protests

2017-02-12 08:15
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Palm Bach - President Donald Trump's South Florida estate is no longer just the place where he goes to escape.

He has described the sprawling Mar-a-Lago property as the Winter White House and has spent two weekends there this month. But it's also become a magnet for anti-Trump protesters and the subject of an ethics debate over his invitation to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to join him this weekend - with Trump pledging to pay for the accommodations.

Demonstrators plan to assemble near the estate on Sunday to protest Trump's decision on the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The North Dakota project, opposed by a Native American tribe fearful of water contamination from potential oil leaks, had stalled in Democrat Barack Obama's administration. Trump's executive order cleared the way for the developer to start building the final stretch of pipeline.

Travel ban

During Trump's other weekend in Florida, several thousand people marched near the property to protest his temporary ban on travel to the United states by refugees as well as residents of seven mostly Muslim countries.

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's decision that temporarily blocks the ban's enforcement.

Trump's election is also putting charitable organisations, such as the American Red Cross, in an awkward position for choosing Mar-a-Lago for events booked months in advance. The Red Cross held its annual fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, as it has done for many years on February 4, about a week after Trump enacted the travel ban. Trump and his wife, Melania, attended.

"What an honour, what a great honour it is. And let's go to Florida," Trump told Abe on Friday at a White House news conference shortly before they boarded Air Force One for the trip. They intended to spend the weekend holding more talks and playing golf, likely at another Trump club across the Intracoastal Waterway in nearby West Palm Beach.

World leaders typically exchange gifts and Trump and Abe did so when Abe rushed to New York City in November to become the first foreign leader to meet Trump after the election. Abe gave Trump a pricey, gold-coloured Honma golf driver; Trump reciprocated with a golf shirt and other golf accessories.

White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said Abe's free-of-charge stay at Mar-a-Lago is Trump's gift to Abe this time around. But the gesture wasn't sitting well with government watchdog groups.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said Trump and Abe don't need to meet at Trump's commercial property, where the membership fee recently was doubled to $200 000.

"Hosting a foreign leader at the president's business resort creates impossible sets of conflicts," Weissman said. "If the president hadn't offered to pay, the US government would be paying Donald Trump's business for the purpose of hosting the Japanese leader." Typically, the US government would pick up the costs associated with such a visit.

Financial interest

But Trump has shown that he isn't too concerned about possible conflicts of interest involving him and his family. This past week, Trump used his official government Twitter account to criticise Nordstrom after the retailer said it had dropped a line of clothing and accessories sold by his daughter Ivanka.

Trump offered a possible explanation for inviting Abe to Mar-a-Lago, saying a "great friendship" had developed from their New York meeting.

The president is expected to continue bringing world leaders to the estate, helping to fulfill the vision of the property's owner, Marjorie Merriweather Post. The late cereal heiress willed Mar-a-Lago to the US government after her death in 1973, intending for it to become a retreat for US presidents and visiting dignitaries.

Trump bought Mar-a-Lago in the 1980s and retains a financial interest in the club.


Read more on:    shinzo abe  |  donald trump  |  us

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