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Trump's postal chief suspends changes after outcry over mail-in votes

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WASHINGTON: US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday suspended all mail service changes until after the November election, bowing to an outcry by Democrats that the moves appeared to be an attempt to boost President Donald Trump's re-election chances.

The reversal follows complaints that the planned cuts could slow mail-in ballots, which could account for as many as half of all votes cast in the Nov 3 election as the coronavirus pandemic raises fears of crowds.

Critics have accused the Republican president, trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls, of trying to hobble the Postal Service to suppress mail-in voting.

Mr Trump has repeatedly and without evidence said that an increase in mail-in ballots would lead to a surge in fraud, although Americans have long voted by mail.

Planned changes to the mail service that threatened to slow mail delivery - and in some cases, already have - include reductions in overtime, restrictions on extra mail transportation trips, and new mail sorting and delivery policies, enacted in an attempt to cut costs.

"I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded," Mr DeJoy said in a statement, adding that the changes were to "avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail".

The White House distanced itself from the controversy.

"No, I was not involved," Mr Trump said when asked if he had any involvement in the decision not to go forward with the changes at this time.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Mr DeJoy's announcement inadequate and said she would push ahead with legislation later this week to aid the Postal Service.

"This pause only halts a limited number of the postmaster's changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the president", Ms Pelosi said in a statement.

"The House will be moving ahead with our vote this Saturday."

The legislation is expected to contain provisions to prevent the post office from reducing service levels below what they were in January. Mr DeJoy is scheduled to testify tomorrow before a Republican-led Senate committee, and before a Democratic-led House committee on Monday. - REUTERS