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Double blow

world Updated: Sep 03, 2008 00:22 IST

Republicans opened their convention on Monday in a somber mood, with Hurricane Gustav’s assault and Sarah Palin’s announcement of the pregnancy of her unmarried teenage daughter overshadowing John McCain’s show.

Palin, McCain’s newly announced running mate, said in a statement with her husband, Todd, that her unmarried daughter Bristol, 17, was pregnant and planned to deliver the baby and marry the father.

The announcement overshadowed a shortened opening session of the convention, as Republicans shifted from politics to storm relief while Gustav slammed into the Gulf Coast. First lady Laura Bush and John McCain’s wife Cindy urged Americans to help Gulf Coast victims of the hurricane and said it was time to put aside politics.

“Our first priority now, today, is to ensure the safety and the well-being of those living in the Gulf Coast region,” Laura Bush told the convention, which will nominate John McCain as its presidential candidate on Thursday. Fearing televised images of Republican festivities would be inappropriate as the storm slammed the Gulf Coast, McCain and his party limited the session to formal convention business and appeals for hurricane aid.

“Together we can accomplish so much to help those who have been affected,” Cindy McCain said, joining Laura Bush on stage.

John McCain, 72, visited a disaster relief drop-off center in Waterville, Ohio, helping to pack cleaning materials, sponges, rubber gloves and other items into buckets labelled “Hurricane Gustav Relief Supplies.” “Thanks for your hard work,” the Arizona senator said to volunteers packing the buckets on long tables.

McCain hoped to avoid comparisons to President George W Bush, who was seen as out of touch for his failure to respond promptly to the devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

As many as 10,000 protesters marched to the convention hall, chanting anti-war slogans and holding signs criticising George W. Bush. Police used pepper spray and smoke bombs against a few violent protesters.