Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's envoy to Washington are among the top guests invited to attend US President Donald Trump's State of the Union address, lawmakers have announced. In keeping with tradition, the 535 members of the US Congress may invite someone to accompany them to the annual speech, to be held Tuesday, where the president is expected to tout his accomplishments and outlines his vision for the future.
It's an occasion for the Democrats, Republicans and independents of the 100-member Senate and 435-member House of Representatives to bring guests who symbolize policy goals and bring attention to the causes they hold dear. Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who escaped the clutches of the Islamic State group to become a leading campaigner against sexual violence in war, and Carlos Vecchio, whom the US has recognised as Venezuela's top diplomat in Washington, are among the high-profile guests this year.
Murad was invited by Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican congressman for Nebraska, who said the 26-year-old's tale "is a story the world needs to hear." "I am so honored that she will be my guest at this year's State of the Union," he added on Monday. IS fighters swept into Murad's village, Kojo, in August 2014, killing the men, taking children captive to train them as fighters and condemning thousands of women to a life of forced labor and sexual slavery.
Murad was taken to Mosul, the Iraqi "capital" of the IS's self-declared caliphate. She was held captive there and repeatedly gang-raped, tortured and beaten. IS fighters wanted "to take our honour, but they lost their honour," she has said about the ordeal.
Vecchio, who has lived in exile since 2014, was invited by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has called him a "tireless advocate for the restoration of democracy and freedom of his beloved homeland." "I anticipate President Trump will reemphasize his administration's stance against tyrannical leaders in Latin America and in support of the people of Venezuela," Rubio said. Venezuelan opposition chief Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, triggering an ongoing standoff with socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.
Britain, France and Spain were among 16 European nations to side with Guaido on Monday, following in the footsteps of key regional powers and the United States, which has refused to rule out a military intervention in the crisis-wracked country. Republican Senator Thom Tillis meanwhile announced he would be bringing Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was freed from a Turkish jail after spending a year and a half there and becoming a cause celebre for Trump's conservative Christian base.
Democratic Senator Jeff Merkeley of Oregon will be accompanied by a Guatemalan mother and daughter who were separated at the Mexico border in 2018 -- highlighting the plight of thousands of others who faced similar circumstances due to Trump's hardline immigration policies. Republicans on the other hand have invited border patrol agents who fiercely defend the president's fight against illegal border crossings.
(With inputs from agencies.)