Gold hits 10-month peak on growth worries; dollar slips

By Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Gold prices rose to a 10-month high on Tuesday as concerns over a global economic slowdown spurred a safe-haven bid and were also supported by a weaker U.S. dollar, which fell on optimism for a breakthrough in U.S.-China trade talks.

A gauge of global stock markets rose modestly along with gains on Wall Street, while Europe sagged under falling bank shares and concerns that a car tariff could hurt the region’s exports to the United States.

Traders kept a close eye on the new round of talks between the United States and China to resolve their trade spat. Separately, the World Trade Organization warned that a slump of its leading indicator of world trade in goods to its lowest reading in nine years could foreshadow a broader economic downturn, as it highlighted the need to reduce trade tensions.

“Investors still seem to be sitting on their hands until we have more information on the trade front,” said Ryan Nauman, market strategist at Informa Financial Intelligence in Zephyr Cove, Nevada.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 65.05 points, or 0.25 percent, to 25,948.3, the S&P 500 gained 10.51 points, or 0.38 percent, to 2,786.11, and the Nasdaq Composite added 30.64 points, or 0.41 percent, to 7,503.05.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 0.22 percent, and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.32 percent.

Emerging market stocks rose 0.18 percent. MSCI’s index of Latin American equities bucked the trend in stocks globally with a 1.7 percent increase, mostly on the back of a 1.45 percent gain in the Brazilian market.

Gold prices surged to a near 10-month high driven by concerns over slowing global growth as dovish signals from Japan and Europe’s central banks followed weak data from the United States and China.

Spot gold added 0.9 percent to $1,338.62 an ounce. U.S. gold futures gained 1.54 percent to $1,342.40 an ounce.

In currencies, the yen was little changed even after Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the central bank was ready to ramp up stimulus if the stronger yen derails the path toward its 2 percent inflation target. The Japanese currency weakened 0.06 percent.

The offshore Chinese yuan touched its highest level against the dollar since Feb. 1 following a Bloomberg TV report that the United States is pressing to secure a pledge from China that it will not devalue its yuan as a part of a trade deal.

The dollar index fell 0.38 percent, with the euro up 0.25 percent to $1.1336.

“We are hoping to hear more positive news on trade,” said Dean Popplewell, chief currency strategist at Oanda in Toronto. “The dollar should come under pressure as it loses some safe-haven appeal.”

The Swedish crown pared losses against the dollar after hitting a more than two-year low of 9.417 after inflation data came in decidedly weak just two months after a milestone rate hike, dimming prospects of further tightening. The crown lost 0.46 percent versus the U.S. dollar at 9.302.

U.S. crude rose 0.75 percent to $56.40 per barrel and Brent was last at $66.30, down 0.3 percent.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes last rose 5/32 in price to yield 2.65 percent, from 2.666 percent late on Friday. The 30-year bond last rose 1/32 in price to yield 2.996 percent, from 2.997 percent late on Friday.

(In third-to-last paragraph, corrects to say Swedish crown hit a more than two-year low, not a more than four-year low.)

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Richard Leong, Laila Kearney and Kate Duguid in New York, Alex Lawler and Marc Jones in London, Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler)

British supermarkets battle to secure stocks as chaotic Brexit looms

By James Davey and Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) – Britons could face shortages of fresh food at their supermarkets, price rises and less variety if the country leaves the European Union next month without agreeing on trade terms, food industry officials say.

With no deal in sight as Britain’s March 29 exit date approaches, supermarkets are stockpiling, working on alternative supplies and testing new routes to cope with an expected logjam at the borders but say they face insurmountable barriers.

“You can’t stockpile fresh produce, you haven’t got any space and it wouldn’t be fresh,” said Tim Steiner, head of online supermarket pioneer Ocado.

The warnings, including talk of whether rationing would be needed, are part of a chorus of concern from businesses who say they are weighed down by uncertainty in what was once considered a bastion of Western economic and political stability.

The last time Britain’s food supplies were seriously hit was when fuel protests prompted panic buying almost two decades ago, forcing some supermarkets to ration milk and bread and others to warn that stocks would run out in days.

Executives within the food chain said Britain was better prepared than 2000, but disruption may be more widespread and last longer than the few days it took before the fuel dispute was settled.

James Bielby, head of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, says its members’ retail and catering customers were asking for between one and eight extra weeks’ supply. But storage is limited in an industry that operates on a “just in time basis” to maximize the shelf life of goods.

Intense competition and slim margins in the British supermarket sector have also made contingency planning more complicated. James Walton, chief economist at IGD which works with the industry to improve supply chains, said storage had been reduced over many decades to hold down working capital.

What remains is now full. “So surplus space within stores is being used and containers are in carparks,” he said.

Mike Coupe, the boss of Britain’s second biggest supermarket Sainsbury’s, said supplies would not last long. “We don’t have the capacity and neither does the country to stockpile more than probably a few days’ worth,” he said in January, echoing the supermarket’s warning to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2000 during the fuel crisis.

FILE PHOTO: An employee operates a forklift to move goods at the Miniclipper Logistics warehouse in Leighton Buzzard, Britain December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: An employee operates a forklift to move goods at the Miniclipper Logistics warehouse in Leighton Buzzard, Britain December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

LET THEM EAT LEEKS

Britain imports around half of its food, and while some is flown in via air freight, most enter on trucks through Dover, Britain’s main gateway to Europe.

At peak times, 130 trucks a day are required to drive through Dover bringing citrus fruit alone, according to the British Retail Consortium. In March, inclement British weather means 90 percent of lettuce comes from the EU.

If it leaves without a trade deal, Britain will move on to World Trade Organization rules that require tariffs to be paid, goods to be checked and paperwork to be completed, demands that do not currently exist for goods coming from within the EU.

The English Apples & Pears group said British farms have been asked to provide more apples until the end of April by retailers who usually source more from the southern hemisphere from March.

Other substitutions are more difficult.

“People just say we’ll eat more British produce but … would people be happy to start eating tonnes of British leeks? I’m not sure,” said an executive at one of Britain’s four major supermarket groups, who declined to be named because of the possible business impact.

“We have to plan for the worst,” he said, before adding that he hoped Britain would delay its departure date from the EU.

‘BUNKER LINES’

Consultants, suppliers, company sources and trade groups said importers were looking at securing new routes into Britain in case customs checks clog up Dover, but no other port offers that frequency of ferry sailings or trains through the tunnel.

They would also have to compete with companies importing drugs, car parts and chemicals that are also looking to alternative ports on the south and east coast of Britain.

The Spanish wine federation said they had advised members to avoid shipping goods to Britain around the end of March.

Supermarkets could fly in more goods – as they did to bring in lettuce from America in 2018 when bad weather hit European supplies – but it is expensive and capacity is limited.

William Bain, a policy adviser at the British Retail Consortium, said clients and suppliers were having talks now to discuss how costs and risks would be shared if stock is delayed.

Elsewhere in the food chain, suppliers of TV dinners are considering changing ingredients to remove those with the shortest shelf life, according to the Fresh Produce Consortium.

All of these changes could lead to higher prices however, with changes to recipes requiring changes to labeling.

Dominic Goudie, in charge of exports, trade and supply chains at the Food and Drink Federation, told Reuters prices were likely to rise, regardless of the outcome.

“We know from our members that they are investing staggering sums into getting ready for the worst possible no-deal scenario,” he said. “The sums are so large that manufacturers need to pass it on to their customers, the retailers.”

Another senior executive at a major British food retailer told Reuters they had seen no signs yet of Britons buying so-called ‘bunker lines’ – toilet paper, bottled water and canned food. But it could happen before March 29.

“If you’ve got a limited amount of food, you want to distribute it fairly across the country,” he told Reuters. “So you almost get to this ridiculous notion of rationing.”

Some of Britain’s deeply-divided politicians who are seeking a complete break with the EU say the economy would soon recover from any short-term hit as it adapts to new trading routes after Brexit.

They argue that talk of food shortages and rationing is scaremongering driven by the government to rally support for Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal, agreed with the EU but showing little sign of getting sufficient support from her own parliament.

Environment minister Michael Gove, who backed Brexit, has said leaving without a deal could lead to higher prices, but that the government has chartered extra ferries to maintain the movement of goods. “We are meeting weekly with the food industry to support their preparations for leaving the EU,” a spokesman said.

Tesco chairman John Allan said the retailer, Britain’s biggest with 3,400 stores and almost 28 percent of the market, was stockpiling goods with a long shelf life but that its options for fresh produce was more limited.

“So provided we’re all happy to live on Spam and canned peaches all will be well,” he added.

(Writing by Kate Holton; additional reporting by Blanca Rodriguez Piedra in Madrid; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Philippa Fletcher)

Two hundred families trapped by Islamic State in Syria, U.N. says

FILE PHOTO: Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) drink tea in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – Some 200 families are trapped in a shrinking area of Syria controlled by Islamic State, whose forces are stopping many from fleeing, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday, calling for the families’ safe passage.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are on the brink of defeating IS in its last pocket in eastern Syria, the village of Baghouz, where it estimates a few hundred Islamic State fighters and about 2,000 civilians are under siege.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Many of the families “… continue to be subjected to intensified air and ground-based strikes by the U.S.-led Coalition forces and their SDF allies on the ground,” Bachelet said in a statement.

“We understand that ISIL appears to be preventing some of them if not all of them from leaving. So that’s potentially a war crime on the part of ISIL,” her spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

The SDF attacking Islamic State have an obligation under international law to take all precautions to protect civilians who are mixed in with the foreign fighters, he said.

In Syria’s northwest, Syrian government forces and their allies have intensified a bombing campaign in Idlib and surrounding areas in recent weeks, coupled with attacks by armed groups that have killed civilians, Bachelet said.

Twin explosions in the bustling center of rebel-held Idlib city on Monday killed at least 15 people and injured scores, medics and witnesses said.. Bachelet put the death toll from that incident at 16 with more than 70 injured.

Bachelet also voiced concern for some 20,000 people who fled the ISIL-controlled areas in eastern Deir al-Zor governorate in recent weeks. They are being held in makeshift camps run by the Kurdish armed groups, including SDF, who are reported to be preventing IDPs from leaving the camps, she said.

“Particular care needs to be taken with the civilians and if possible they should be treated humanely, and allowed to leave the camps. They shouldn’t be held in detention unless they are suspected of committing a particular crime,” Colville said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)

Venezuelan troops to remain on border ahead of aid entry, minister says

Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez attends a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan troops will remain stationed along the country’s borders to prevent territorial violations, the defense minister said on Tuesday, ahead of the opposition’s plan to bring in humanitarian aid to alleviate an economic crisis.

President Nicolas Maduro has rejected offers of foreign food and medicine, denying there are widespread shortages and accusing opposition leader Juan Guaido of using aid to undermine his government in a U.S.-orchestrated bid to oust him.

Guaido has said that aid will enter Venezuela from neighboring countries by land and sea on Saturday. The United States has sent tons of aid to Colombia’s border with Venezuela, but Maduro has refused to let it in.

In comments broadcast on state TV, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the opposition would have to pass over “our dead bodies” to impose a new government. Guaido, who has invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, denounces Maduro as illegitimate and has received backing from some 50 countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday warned members of Venezuela’s military who remain loyal to Maduro that they would “find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out.”

“You’ll lose everything,” Trump told a crowd of Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants in Miami.

Guaido has beseeched the armed forces to disavow Maduro, promising them future amnesty, though only a few high-ranking military officials have so far done so.

Padrino said it was unacceptable for the military to receive threats from Trump, and said officers and soldiers remained “obedient and subordinate” to Maduro.

“They will never accept orders from any foreign government … they will remain deployed and alert along the borders, as our commander in chief has ordered, to avoid any violations of our territory’s integrity,” Padrino said.

“Those that attempt to be president here in Venezuela … will have to pass over our dead bodies,” he said, referring to Guaido.

Maduro, who won a second term last year in an election that critics denounced as a sham, retains the backing of Russia and China and control of Venezuelan state institutions.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Brian Ellsworth; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. concerned over Hezbollah’s growing role in Lebanon

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah supporters chant slogans during last day of Ashura, in Beirut, Lebanon September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah’s growing role in the Lebanese government worries the United States, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon said during a meeting with Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Tuesday, according to the U.S. embassy.

The armed Shi’ite group, which is backed by Iran and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, controls three of the 30 ministries in Hariri’s new cabinet, the largest number it has ever held. They include the Health Ministry, which has the fourth-largest budget in the state.

U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard, speaking after the meeting, said she had been “very frank … about U.S. concern over the growing role in the cabinet of an organization that continues to maintain a militia that is not under the control of the government”, according to an embassy statement.

Richard, who did not name Hezbollah, said the group “continues to make its own national security decisions; decisions that endanger the rest of the country”.

It also “continues to violate the government’s disassociation policy by participating in armed conflict in at least three other countries”, she said. Lebanon’s official policy of disassociation is intended to keep it out of the region’s conflicts.

Hezbollah’s regional clout has expanded as it sends fighters to Mideast conflicts, including the war in neighboring Syria, where it has fought in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Together with groups and individuals that see its arsenal as an asset to Lebanon, Hezbollah won more than 70 of the 128 seats in parliament in an election last year. Hariri, who is backed by the West, lost more than a third of his MPs.

A new unity cabinet, which took nearly nine months to put together, largely reflects the election result.

The United States has supplied the Lebanese military with more than $2.3 billion in assistance since 2005, aiming to support it as “the sole, legitimate defender” of the country. The United States is the largest provider of development, humanitarian and security assistance to Lebanon, Richard said.

“In just this last year alone, the United States provided more than $825 million in U.S. assistance and that’s an increase over the previous year.”

(Writing by Tom Perry, editing by Larry King)

New round of U.S.-China trade talks to begin in Washington on Tuesday

Aides set up platforms before a group photo with members of U.S. and Chinese trade negotiation delegations at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China February 15, 2019. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new round of talks between the United States and China to resolve their trade war will take place in Washington on Tuesday, with follow-up sessions at a higher level later in the week, the White House said.

The talks follow a round of negotiations that ended in Beijing last week without a deal but which officials said had generated progress on contentious issues between the world’s two largest economies.

The talks are aimed at “achieving needed structural changes in China that affect trade between the United States and China. The two sides will also discuss China’s pledge to purchase a substantial amount of goods and services from the United States,” the White House said in a statement.

The higher-level talks will start on Thursday and be led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a strong proponent of pressing China to end practices that the United States says include forced technology transfers from U.S. companies and intellectual property theft.

China, which denies that it engages in such practices, confirmed that Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington on Thursday and Friday for the talks.

The White House said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and trade adviser Peter Navarro would also take part in the talks.

U.S. tariffs on $200 billion in imports from China are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no deal is reached by March 1.

Trump, who suggested last week that he could extend the deadline for the talks, reiterated in a speech on Monday that the negotiations had been fruitful.

“We’re making a lot of progress. Nobody expected this was going to be happening,” he told a crowd in Florida.

Speaking in Beijing on Tuesday, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, told a visiting U.S. business delegation that everyone was “paying attention” to the talks.

“If our two countries can respect each other and cooperate it will not only be the right choice for us but it is also the common hope of international society,” Wang told the group, which included U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Myron Brilliant and former U.S. deputy secretary of the treasury Robert Kimmitt.

Brilliant said that in the last year or so there had been “serious discussions about economic issues”.

“We are hopeful that the two sides will reach a comprehensive, bold and significant trade agreement that will be enduring and long-lasting. This is the challenge for both governments.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in WASHINGTON and Ben Blanchard and Lusha Zhang in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait)

France shaken by outbreak of anti-Semitic violence and abuse

French President Emmanuel Macron looks at a grave vandalised with a swastika during a visit at the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, France February 19, 2019. Frederick Florin/Pool via REUTERS

By Luke Baker

PARIS (Reuters) – A series of attacks across France in recent days has alarmed politicians and prompted calls for action against what some commentators describe as a new form of anti-Semitism among the far-left and Islamist preachers.

The problem was starkly underlined on Tuesday with the discovery of more than 90 graves in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France desecrated with swastikas and other abuse. It remains unclear who carried out the attack.

Graves desecrated with swastikas are seen in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Graves desecrated with swastikas are seen in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

“Whoever did this is not worthy of the French Republic and will be punished,” declared President Emmanuel Macron as he paid homage at the site. “We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them.”

Politicians from across the spectrum will join marches against anti-Semitism across France on Tuesday evening, including in Paris. Macron will visit the Holocaust memorial in the city, together with the heads of parliament.

France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, around 550,000 people, a population that has grown by about half since World War Two. But anti-Semitic attacks remain common, with more than 500 alone in 2018, a 74 percent increase on 2017, according to figures released last week.

Almost every day over the past two weeks there has been new evidence of anti-Semitism.

A tree in memory of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 2006, was cut in two. A bagel shop in Paris was spray-painted with the word “Juden”, German for Jews, in yellow letters. Portraits of Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and magistrate, were defaced with swastikas.

Then last Saturday, a group of around 30 ‘yellow vest’ protesters were filmed harassing Alain Finkielkraut, a well-known writer and son of a Holocaust survivor, as he walked through a Paris neighborhood, calling him a “dirty Zionist shit” and telling him to “go back to Tel Aviv”.

A French gendarme conducts their investigation as he photographs graves that were desecrated with swastikas in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

A French gendarme conducts their investigation as he photographs graves that were desecrated with swastikas in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

UNCHECKED INCITEMENT

Some commentators have blamed the resurgence on unchecked incitement by fringe Islamist preachers, calling it a new form of anti-Semitism, as opposed to that most commonly associated with Nazi ideology and the far-right.

Others point to the increasingly virulent criticism of Israel coming from the far-left and the rise of anti-Zionism – opposition to the existence of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people – which has morphed into hatred of the Jews.

Among those filmed hurling abuse at Finkielkraut was a Muslim on a watchlist, according to French officials.

Francis Kalifat, the head of Crif, an umbrella organization representing France’s Jewish community, said anti-Zionism needed to be regarded as akin to anti-Semitism.

“If you want to have an effective fight against anti-Semitism, you need to be able to fight against all forms of it,” he said. “It’s not enough to fight against the (anti-Semitism) of the extreme right, or that of the extreme left or the Islamists. We need to fight against all forms, and that’s what we’re waiting for from political leaders.”

The leader of France’s far-left, Jean-Luc Melenchon, defended the ‘yellow vest’ movement against accusations of anti-Semitism on Tuesday, following the video targeting Finkielkraut.

Melenchon, whose La France Insoumise party draws support from the ‘yellow vests’, criticized the “politicization” of anti-Semitism, saying people from across the political spectrum needed to stand against all forms of racism and hatred.

“No, the ‘yellow vest’ movement does not deserve to be tarred by these despicable acts,” he said.

“No, the ‘yellow vest’ movement is not a racist movement, no the ‘yellow vest’ movement is not an anti-Semitic movement.”

France’s parliament on Tuesday debated whether anti-Zionism should be classified as a form of anti-Semitism, a position President Emmanuel Macron said he was opposed to.

“Those who today want the disappearance of Israel are those who want to attack the Jews,” he said. “But nevertheless, I think that when you delve into the detail, a penal condemnation of anti-Zionism creates other problems.”

Amid the rash of attacks, Israel’s immigration minister sent a tweet calling on French Jews to leave France and move to Israel, where around 200,000 French Jews already live.

(Additional reporting by Richard Lough and Johnny Cotton in Paris; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

For Yazidi survivors of Islamic State killings, the nightmares go on

Yazidi women prepare bread at a refugee camp in Mount Sinjar, Iraq February 4, 2019. Picture taken February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

By Ayat Basma and Kawa Omar

SINJAR, Iraq (Reuters) – Ever since Islamic State visited death and destruction on their villages in northern Iraq nearly five years ago, Yazidis Daoud Ibrahim and Kocher Hassan have had trouble sleeping.

For Hassan, 39, who was captured, it is her three missing children, and three years of imprisonment at the hands of the jihadist group.

For Ibrahim, 42, who escaped, it is the mass grave that he returned to find on his ravaged land.

“They burnt one house down, blew up the other, they torched the olive trees two-three times…There is nothing left,” the father of eight told Reuters.

More than 3,000 other members of their minority sect were killed in 2014 in an onslaught that the United Nations described as genocidal.

A Yazidi man walks through the ruins of his house, destroyed by Islamic State militants near Sinjar, Iraq February 5, 2019. Picture taken February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

A Yazidi man walks through the ruins of his house, destroyed by Islamic State militants near Sinjar, Iraq February 5, 2019. Picture taken February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

Ibrahim and Hassan lived to tell of their suffering, but like other survivors, they have not moved on.

She will never set foot in her village of Rambousi again. “My sons built that house. I can’t go back without them…Their school books are still there, their clothes,” she said.

‘THEY WANT TO BE BURIED’

As U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to announce the demise of the Islamist group in Syria and Iraq, U.N. data suggests many of those it displaced in the latter country have, like Hassan, not returned home.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim and his family live in a barn next to the pile of rubble that was once their home. He grows wheat because the olive trees will need years to grow again. No one is helping him rebuild, so he is doing it himself, brick by brick.

“Life is bad. There is no aid,” he said sitting on the edge of the collapsed roof which he frequently rummages under to find lost belongings. On this day, it was scarves, baby clothes and a photo album.

“Every day that I see this mass grave I get ten more gray hairs,” he said.

The grave, discovered in 2015 just outside nearby Sinjar city, contains the remains of more than 70 elderly women from the village of Kocho, residents say.

“I hear the cries of their spirits at the end of the night. They want to be buried, but the government won’t remove their remains.” They and their kin also want justice, Ibrahim adds.

When the militants came, thousands of Yazidis fled on foot towards Sinjar mountain. More than four years later, some 2,500 families – including Hassan and five of her daughters – still live in the tents that are scattered along the hills that weave their way towards the summit.

The grass is green on the meadows where children run after sheep and the women pick wild herbs.

But the peaceful setting masks deep-seated fears about the past and the future.

A general view of the Yazidi refugee camp in Mount Sinjar, Iraq February 4, 2019. Picture taken February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

A general view of the Yazidi refugee camp in Mount Sinjar, Iraq February 4, 2019. Picture taken February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

GRATEFUL FOR THE SUN

Until a year and a half ago, Hassan and five of her children were kept in an underground prison in Raqqa with little food and in constant fear of torture.

She doesn’t know why Islamic State freed her and the girls, then aged one to six, and hasn’t learned the fate of the three remaining children: two boys Fares and Firas, who would be 23 and 19 now, and Aveen, a girl who would be 13.

There is no electricity or running water in the camp where they live today. She doesn’t remember when her children last ate fruit. “Life here is very difficult but I thank God that we are able to see the sun,” she said.

During the day, her children go to school and are happy, but at night “they are afraid of their own shadow”, and she herself has nightmares.

“Last night, I dreamt they were slaughtering my child,” she said.

Mahmoud Khalaf, her husband, says Islamic State not only destroyed their livelihoods. The group broke the trust between Yazidis and the communities of different faiths and ethnicities they had long lived alongside.

“There is no protection. Those who killed us and held us captive and tormented us have returned to their villages,” Khalaf, 40, said referring to the neighboring Sunni Arab villages who the Yazidis say conspired with the militants.

“We have no choice but to stay here…They are stronger than us.”

(Reporting by Ayat Basma; editing by John Stonestreet)

U.S. states sue Trump administration in showdown over border wall funds

A view shows a new section of the border fence in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A coalition of 16 U.S. states led by California sued President Donald Trump and top members of his administration on Monday to block his decision to declare a national emergency to obtain funds for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California came after Trump invoked emergency powers on Friday to help build the wall that was his signature 2016 campaign promise.

Trump’s order would allow him to spend on the wall money that Congress appropriated for other purposes. Congress declined to fulfill his request for $5.7 billion to help build the wall this year..

“Today, on Presidents Day, we take President Trump to court to block his misuse of presidential power,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

“We’re suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states. For most of us, the office of the presidency is not a place for theater,” added Becerra, a Democrat.

The White House declined to comment on the filing.

In a budget deal passed by Congress to avert a second government shutdown, nearly $1.4 billion was allocated toward border fencing. Trump’s emergency order would give him an additional $6.7 billion beyond what lawmakers authorized.

Three Texas landowners and an environmental group filed the first lawsuit against Trump’s move on Friday, saying it violated the Constitution and would infringe on their property rights.

The legal challenges could slow Trump’s efforts to build the wall, which he says is needed to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The lawsuits could end up at the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court.

Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Michigan joined California in the lawsuit.

The states said Trump’s order would cause them to lose millions of dollars in federal funding for national guard units dealing with counter-drug activities and redirection of funds from authorized military construction projects would damage their economies.

In television interviews on Sunday and Monday, Becerra said the lawsuit would use Trump’s own words against him as evidence that there was no national emergency to declare.

Trump said on Friday he did not need to make the emergency declaration but wanted to speed the process of building the wall. That comment could undercut the government’s legal argument.

“By the president’s own admission, an emergency declaration is not necessary,” the states said in the lawsuit. “The federal government’s own data prove there is no national emergency at the southern border that warrants construction of a wall.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)