Manure, trash and wastewater: U.S. utilities get dirty in climate fight

Manure, trash and wastewater: U.S. utilities get dirty in climate fight
By Nichola Groom

PIXLEY, Calif. (Reuters) – Joey Airoso has always been proud of his cows, whose milk goes into the butter sold by national dairy company Land O’Lakes. Now he has something new to brag about: the vast amounts of gas produced by his 2,900-head herd is powering truck fleets, homes and factories across the state of California.

“It’s pretty incredible if you think about it,” Airoso said during a recent tour of his 1,500-acre farm, as a stream of watered-down manure flowed from cow sheds into a nearby pit. There the slurry releases methane that is captured and eventually piped into fueling stations and buildings.

Airoso is tapping into a growing market among U.S. utilities for so-called renewable natural gas, or biomethane, that is being driven by the fight against climate change.

For farmers, it is a way to get ahead of a wave of greenhouse gas regulation and make a bit of cash at the same time. And for utilities that buy or transport the gas, it is a way to respond to the increasing demands of customers and lawmakers to cut their reliance on fossil fuels.

“It is not something very many people are aware of yet, but it makes sense once it’s explained,” said Emily O’Connell, director of energy markets policy at the American Gas Association, the trade group for gas utilities.

Renewable natural gas can come from manure, landfills or wastewater and is interchangeable with gas drilled out of the ground. It cuts greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring significant volumes of methane that would have been produced anyway never reach the atmosphere. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when it escapes into the air unburned.

Nationwide, more than a dozen utilities have started developing renewable natural gas production through partnerships with farmers, wastewater treatment plants and landfill operators, while nine have proposed price premiums for customers who choose it as a fuel, according to the American Gas Association industry group. Renewable natural gas is currently between four and seven times more expensive to produce than fossil gas, a gap that its proponents hope will narrow as the fuel becomes more widely used.

BUSES, STOVES

California’s SoCalGas, the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utility, is one of the industry’s top proponents of the alternative fuel. It has committed to making renewable natural gas 20 percent of its supply by 2030, said Sharon Tomkins, vice president of strategy and engagement.

She said California has enough biomethane potential “to make a significant dent in reducing the overall emissions from both the agricultural sector as well as reducing the carbon intensity of our gas stream.”

Across the country, Vermont Gas hopes to one day supply only renewable natural gas, leveraging the state’s preponderance of dairy farms. The utility’s renewable natural gas supply currently stands at less than 1 percent of overall volumes, according to spokeswoman Beth Parent. But the company is helping large energy buyers in the state, like cleaning products maker Seventh Generation, Middlebury College and Vermont Coffee Company transition to using biomethane.

CenterPoint Energy, Southwest Gas, DTE Energy and NW Natural are among the other gas utilities seeking to integrate more renewable natural gas into their systems. Last year Dominion Energy partnered with meat producer Smithfield Foods on a $250 million venture to capture methane emissions from hog farms.

“It’s good for their business,” said Marcus Gillette, spokesman for the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, an industry lobbying group. “Many are on missions to decrease emissions from their side of the energy sector as much as possible.”

Until now, nearly all the market for biomethane has come from bus fleets and other vehicles that are able to use state and federal subsidies to make the fuel competitive with fossil gas. Production of the fuel doubled between 2015 and 2018 to 304 million ethanol gallons equivalent thanks to the incentives, according to a report from consulting firm Bates White.

Today about three quarters of renewable natural gas production is still used for transportation, though Gillette said that is shifting as more utilities seek to provide it for heating, cooking and industrial uses.

Some states are more aggressive in bolstering the renewable natural gas industry than others.

Oregon, for example, passed a bill in August that sets a goal of making renewable natural gas account for 30% of what is carried in the state’s gas pipeline network by 2050.

California, meanwhile, has mandated a 40 percent reduction in methane emissions by 2030, something that will spell specific regulatory curbs on agriculture in the coming years. Methane accounts for about 9 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, half of which comes from livestock.

For Airoso, that made tapping into the growing biomethane market an easy decision. “We’ve got a $10 mln investment here, so I had to figure out how I protect my investment,” he said.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Chizu Nomiyama)

Attorney General Barr launches effort to prevent more mass shootings

Attorney General Barr launches effort to prevent more mass shootings
By Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday announced an initiative to prevent mass shootings by intervening to provide mental-health treatment and other forms of counseling to potentially violent individuals.

The new effort, announced in a memo to federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials, follows dozens of deadly mass shootings in the United States this year, including a massacre of 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and another just one day later in Dayton, Ohio, in which nine people were killed.

Barr said a training conference at FBI headquarters in December will present “proven models for engaging extremely challenging individuals” and consider new ideas to face such threats.

In one successful case, Barr said, the FBI worked with parents and social-service workers to get court-ordered supervision and mental-health treatment for a young person who was the subject of a threat investigation.

Lawmakers are considering whether they need new laws to help the FBI investigate domestic terrorism instigated by U.S. residents who are motivated by white supremacy, anti-Semitism or other ideologies that are protected by the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech guarantees.

The FBI in the past has come under criticism for how it documents and follows up on investigative leads about possible shooters.

In the wake of the Feb. 18 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the FBI’s No. 2 official David Bowdich told Congress the bureau should have done more after it received warnings about the gunman, Nikolas Cruz.

Earlier this year, the FBI requested bids for a contractor who could help it try to detect national security threats by trawling through social media sites.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Will ‘The Prince’ dethrone ‘King Bibi’? Israel’s ex-military chief aims at premiership

Will ‘The Prince’ dethrone ‘King Bibi’? Israel’s ex-military chief aims at premiership
By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Confronted by a right-wing heckler while campaigning for last month’s parliamentary election in Israel, Benny Gantz grabbed the man by the lapels and glared down at him.

“No one’s doing anything wrong by you,” Gantz, who leads the centrist Blue and White Party, told him. “We only want what’s good for you.”

The encounter was part embrace, part menace, and highly ambiguous. So is much else about Gantz, who will try to form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to abandon his own attempts to put together a new coalition.[

President Reuven Rivlin turned to Netanyahu first after the Sept. 17 election, in which no party won a majority. Gantz, was next in line after Blue and White won 33 seats in parliament, one more than Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud.

The 60-year-old general, nicknamed “The Prince” as he rose through army ranks, now has the chance to dethrone Netanyahu, who is sometimes referred to as “King Bibi” after dominating Israeli politics for more than a decade as prime minister.

As chief of the Israeli military between 2011 and 2015, Gantz was a consensus figure. He has tried to retain his broad appeal as head of Blue and White, a newly formed party named after the national colors.

But what he would do in power is not completely clear as he had avoided committing himself on some important issues.

Gantz casts himself as more diplomatically accommodating than Netanyahu, urging redoubled efforts to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, but has stopped short of any commitment to the statehood they seek.

Supporters see Gantz’s reticence as an attempt to calm the political scene after two elections this year – Netanyahu also failed to form a government after an April ballot. They say Gantz would rather keep his own counsel than sap his credibility with promises that voters know will never be delivered.

As top general, Gantz orchestrated two Gaza wars in which around 2,300 Palestinians were killed.

“We don’t differentiate between either Gantz or Netanyahu,” said Moussa Abu Mazouk of Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.

The more moderate Palestinian Authority has said it is open to talking to any Israeli leader. But Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official, also said before the September election that Gantz was no different from Netanyahu.QUESTIONS OF CHARACTER

 

Gantz, who is 6 foot 3 inches (1.91 meters) tall, was brought up on a collective farm founded by Holocaust survivors including his parents, and had a stint in a religious school. He is married to an ex-paratrooper with whom he has four children.

Throughout the election he attacked Netanyahu over corruption allegations that have dogged the prime minister for years, and which the veteran leader denies.

Netanyahu’s counter-charge that a suspected Iranian hack of Gantz’s cellphone may have opened him up to blackmail by Israel’s enemy did not appear to dent the challenger’s image.

A more earthy orator than Netanyahu, he makes occasional scriptural word play and is given to reminding listeners of his military background. When his party won more seats than Netanyahu, he spoke of having fulfilled his “mission” and of his rival having failed in his.

Netanyahu has cast Gantz as a “weak leftist” who was gun-shy on Iran and the Palestinians while in uniform.

It was, however, Netanyahu who appointed Gantz as Israel’s top general and, at the time, praised him as “an officer and a gentleman … a warrior and a human being”.

As a brigadier-general in 1999, Gantz took over a liaison unit to Lebanese allies. By the following year, when Israel withdrew from south Lebanon, Gantz was a media darling.

He went on to serve a relatively short period in the West Bank, where a Palestinian revolt raged. Gantz later commanded forces on the Lebanese border but was reassigned before the inconclusive 2006 war with Hezbollah, so was spared much of the after-action blowback from an Israeli inquest.

How he won the nickname “The Prince” is unclear. Some say it stemmed from his assured rise through the ranks, others from what critics call his sense of entitlement.

Gantz has dismissed suggestions he lacks the stomach to fight. Referring to a Hamas military commander whom he ordered assassinated in 2012, he said in January: “The heads of the terrorist groups need to know that Ahmed Jaabari was not the first, nor may he be the last.”

Retired U.S. general Martin Dempsey, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff between 2011 and 2015 was Gantz’s counterpart, recalled him as a “superb leader” in that role.

Gantz has made no secret of learning on the job, and is leaning on his partners in the Blue and White leadership, who include two other former military chiefs of staff, a former defense minister and a former finance minister.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Mystery martyr’s church unearthed in the Holy Land

Mystery martyr’s church unearthed in the Holy Land
By Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Byzantine-era church built in honor of an unnamed martyr has been unearthed near Jerusalem after a three-year excavation, Israeli researchers said on Wednesday.

The dig uncovered floors decorated with vast mosaics depicting birds, fruit and plants, colorful frescoes, and a curious Greek inscription that has baffled the researchers.

“We found one inscription in the courtyard of the church which dedicates the site in the memory of a ‘glorious martyr,'” said Benyamin Storchan, who directed the excavation. “The martyr is unnamed and it’s still a mystery.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) dates the shrine, located about 10 miles west of Jerusalem, to the 6th century.

An underground crypt found below the main part of the church is believed to have housed the martyr’s remains. “This is the holiest place in the church,” said Storchan, adding that pilgrims likely frequented the site.

Though the martyr in question is unknown, Storchan said the lavishness of the complex may indicate this person was an important figure. Another inscription showed Byzantine emperor Tiberius II Constantinus had helped fund the church’s later expansion.

“We know of a few hundred churches in the Holy Land but this church by far surpasses most of them by its state of preservation and the imperial involvement which funded it,” said Storchan.

(Reporting by Ronen Zvulun; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by David Holmes)

UK police discover 39 bodies in truck, arrest driver

UK police discover 39 bodies in truck, arrest driver
By Hannah McKay

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – British police found the bodies of 39 people inside a truck believed to have come from Bulgaria at an industrial estate near London on Wednesday, and said they had arrested the driver on suspicion of murder.

The discovery of the bodies – 38 adults and one teenager – was made in the early hours after emergency services were alerted to people in a truck container on a gritty industrial site in Grays, about 20 miles (32 km) east of central London.

The truck was thought to have entered Britain at Holyhead, a North Wales port that is a major entry point for traffic from Ireland, on Saturday and to have originally started its journey in Bulgaria, police said. The driver of the truck, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, was in custody.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was appalled by the news and was receiving regular updates about the investigation.

“We know that this trade is going on – all such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice,” he said.

All those in the container were pronounced dead at the scene after the emergency services were called to the Waterglade Industrial Park, not far from docks on the River Thames.

Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said had been in contact with the British authorities over the incident.

“At present, it has not yet been confirmed whether the truck has a Bulgarian registration,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said. “There is also no indication of the nationality of the human bodies found in the truck. British police have warned that the identification of the bodies will take a long time.”

“DESPERATE AND DANGEROUS SITUATION”

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Irish authorities would carry out any investigations necessary if it was established that the truck had passed through Ireland.

Police officers in forensic suits were inspecting a large white container on a red truck next to warehouses at the site. Police had sealed off the surrounding area of the estate with large green barriers as they carried out their investigation.

“At this stage, we have not identified where the victims are from or their identities and we anticipate this could be a lengthy process,” Essex Police Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills told reporters. “This is an absolute tragedy.”

Mills said finding out who the victims were was their top priority, while a key line of inquiry was determining the truck’s route from Bulgaria to Ireland and then onto Britain.

Nearby businesses said they had been unable to gain access to their units on the site due to the large police cordon.

“The police came in the night – they have closed the whole area,” said a worker at a nearby cafe, who declined to give his name.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in the back of trucks, often seeking to reach the United Kingdom from the European mainland.

In Britain’s biggest illegal immigrant tragedy in 2000, customs officials found the bodies of 58 Chinese people crammed into a tomato truck at the southern port of Dover.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the latest deaths were an unbelievable human tragedy that needed answers.

“Can we just think for a moment of what it must have been like for those 39 people, obviously in a desperate and dangerous situation, for their lives to end, suffocated to death in a container,” he said.

(Writing by Michael Holden; Additional reporting by William Schomberg and Kate Holton in London and Angel Krasimirov in Sofia; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alex Richardson)

Lion Air families told 737 MAX design flaws linked to deadly crash

Lion Air families told 737 MAX design flaws linked to deadly crash
By Jessica Damiana and Bernadette Christina Munthe

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Mechanical and design issues contributed to the crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX jet last October, Indonesian investigators told victims’ families in a briefing on Wednesday ahead of the release of a final report.

Contributing factors to the crash of the new Boeing jet, which killed all 189 on board, included incorrect assumptions on how an anti-stall device called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) functioned and how pilots would react, slides in the presentation showed.

The briefing slides showed that a lack of documentation about how systems would behave in a crash scenario, including the activation of a “stick shaker” device that warned pilots of a dangerous loss of lift, also contributed.

“Deficiencies” in the flight crew’s communication and manual control of the aircraft contributed as well, the slides showed, as did alerts and distractions in the cockpit.

The deficiencies had been “identified during training,” the slides said, without elaborating.

Reliance on a single angle-of-attack sensor made MCAS more vulnerable to failure, while the sensor on the plane that crashed had been miscalibrated during an earlier repair, according to the slides.

The final report will be released on Friday.

Some relatives of the victims at the briefing in Jakarta expressed disappointment that direct responsibility wasn’t assigned.

“Why isn’t the airline heavily sanctioned?” said Anton Sahadi, 30, whose relatives Riyan Aryandi and Muhammad Rafi Andrian were killed in the crash. “This isn’t about one or two lives, it’s about 189 lives.”

The role of the civil investigators is not to assign blame but to draw lessons that will make flying safer. Separate court actions will address who is legally responsible for the crash.

Ony Soerjo Wibowo, an investigator with Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) who delivered the briefing, declined to comment afterward. An agency representative also declined to comment.

A representative for Lion Air declined to comment.

A Boeing spokeswoman declined to comment on the briefing, saying: “As the report hasn’t been officially released by the authorities, it is premature for us to comment on its contents.”

The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide after a second deadly crash in Ethiopia in March 2019.

Planemaker Boeing is under growing pressure to explain what it knew about 737 MAX problems before the aircraft entered service.

Boeing has already said it would redesign the MCAS anti-stall system to rely on more than a single sensor and to help reduce pilot workload.

The planemaker is set to release third-quarter financial results on Wednesday.

LION AIR FLIGHT

Contact with Lion Air flight 610 was lost 13 minutes after it took off on Oct. 29 from the capital, Jakarta, heading north to the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.

The Boeing 737 MAX airplane had suffered a sequence of problems in cockpit readings since Oct. 26, culminating in a decision to change the angle-of-attack sensor before the penultimate flight from Denpasar to Jakarta.

During the fatal night-time flight, a “stick shaker” was vibrating the captain’s controls, warning of a stall throughout most of the 13 minutes aloft, based on what investigators believe to have been erroneous data on the attitude of the wings relative to the direction of flight, called the angle of attack.

The angle must be controlled so that the aircraft’s wings maintain lift and avoid stalling, a condition in which a plane will begin to fall out of the sky.

The airplane’s anti-stall system repeatedly pushed the nose of the aircraft down, which is how pilots usually get air under the wings.

Boeing was widely criticized for placing emphasis on piloting and maintenance issues in its public response to an earlier report, sparking a furious dispute with Lion Air co-founder Rusdi Kirana.

The planemaker has since acknowledged that MCAS and a faulty angle of attack sensor played a role, and apologized for lives lost without admitting formal responsibility.

Boeing last month settled the first claims stemming from the Lion Air crash, a U.S. plaintiffs’ lawyer said.

Three other sources told Reuters the families of those killed will receive at least $1.2 million each.

The manufacturer faces nearly 100 lawsuits over the Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10, which killed all 157 people on board the flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi.

The 737 MAX was grounded following the second crash, leaving Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grappling to contain a crisis that has left 346 people dead, forced airlines to ground more than 300 aircraft, and put Boeing deliveries worth more than $500 billion on hold.

Boeing on Tuesday ousted the top executive of its commercial airplanes division, Kevin McAllister, marking the first high-level departure from the planemaker since two fatal crashes.

(Reporting by Jessica Damiana and Bernadette Christina Munthe; Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau and Tim Hepher; writing by Gerry Doyle; editing by Himani Sarkar and Jason Neely)

Russia warns Syrian Kurdish YPG to pull back as its forces move in

Russia warns Syrian Kurdish YPG to pull back as its forces move in
By Andrew Osborn and Ece Toksabay

MOSCOW/ANKARA (Reuters) – Russian military police arrived in the strategic Syrian city of Kobani on Wednesday as Moscow warned Kurdish YPG forces that they face further armed conflict with Turkey if they fail to withdraw from Syria’s entire northeastern border.

Russia’s warning came a day after it struck an accord with Turkey calling for the complete pullout of the YPG fighters, which were once U.S. allies but which Ankara calls terrorists.

The police arrival in Kobani marked the start of a period when Russian and Syrian security forces will oversee the removal of YPG fighters at least 30 km (19 miles) into Syria, under the deal struck by presidents Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan.

A complete pullout of the YPG would mark a victory for Erdogan, who launched a cross-border offensive on Oct. 9 to drive the Syrian Kurdish militia from the border and create a “safe zone” for the return of Syrian refugees.

Russia’s Defence Ministry, quoted by TASS news agency, said the police would help facilitate the YPG withdrawal from Kobani, a border city to the west of Turkey’s military operations. It was vacated by U.S. troops after President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision this month to pull out.

Kobani is of special significance to the Kurdish fighters, who fought off Islamic State militants trying to seize the city in 2014-15 in one of the fiercest battles of Syria’s civil war.

Tuesday’s accord, which expands on a U.S.-brokered ceasefire deal last week, underlines Putin’s dominant influence in Syria and seals the return of his ally President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to the northeast for the first time in years.

Under the deal, Syrian border guards were to deploy there from noon (0900 GMT) on Wednesday.

Six days later, Russian and Turkish forces will jointly start to patrol a 10 km strip of land in northeast Syria where U.S. troops had long been deployed along with their former Kurdish allies.

Those changes reflect the dizzying pace of changes in Syria since Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal on Oct. 6, shaking up the military balance across a quarter of the country after more than eight years of conflict.

Kurdish militia commanders have yet to respond to the deal reached in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, and it was not immediately clear how their withdrawal could be enforced.

RUSSIAN WARNING

The joint Turkish-Russian statement issued after six hours of talks between Putin and Erdogan said they would establish a “joint monitoring and verification mechanism” to oversee implementation of the agreement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was more blunt. If Kurdish forces did not retreat, Syrian border guards and Russian military police would have to fall back. “And remaining Kurdish formations would then fall under the weight of the Turkish army,” he said.

In a swipe at Washington, which has called into question how the deal will be guaranteed, Peskov said: “Now they (the Americans) prefer to leave the Kurds at the border and almost force them to fight the Turks.”

The Kurdish-led SDF were Washington’s main allies in the fight to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria. Trump’s decision to pull troops out was criticized by U.S. lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, as a betrayal.

Trump said the ceasefire agreed between Turkey and the United States last week had held, hailing what he called a big success. “Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us,” Trump tweeted, adding he would say more later on Wednesday.

In a further sign of growing ties between Ankara and Moscow, which have alarmed Washington, the head of Russia’s defense sales agency was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying Moscow could deliver more S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey.

Turkey, a NATO member, has already been frozen out of a programmer’s to buy and help produce F-35 jets and faces possible U.S. sanctions for buying the S-400 systems, which Washington says are incompatible with NATO’s defenses and threaten the F-35 if operated near the stealth fighter.

Overnight, Turkey’s defense ministry said the United States had told Ankara the YPG had completed its withdrawal from the area of Turkey’s military offensive.

There was no need to initiate another operation outside the current area of operation at this stage, the ministry said, effectively ending a military offensive that began two weeks ago and drew global criticism.

Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, called on Wednesday for an inquiry into whether war crimes were committed during the offensive.

Further criticism of Turkey’s offensive came from European Parliament members who called in a draft resolution for “appropriate and targeted economic measures” against Ankara.

TURKEY REVIEWS MILITARY PLANS

While Tuesday’s deal addresses Turkey’s call for the YPG to be pushed back from the border, it also means Ankara will have to deepen its security coordination with Damascus after years of hostility between Erdogan and Assad.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that Turkey had no direct contact with Assad’s government, but “there could be contact at the intelligence level, this is natural.”

Three Turkish officials told Reuters this week Ankara was already holding covert contacts with Damascus to avert direct conflict in northeast Syria.

Ankara may also have to moderate its own military ambitions in the region. Turkish security sources said Ankara was re-evaluating a plan to set up 12 observation posts in northeastern Syria in the wake of the deal.

That change reflects the fact that Turkey, which had aimed to be the dominant force in the “safe zone” area, will now have to share that territory with Assad and Putin, who have both said Turkish forces cannot remain in Syria in the long term.

“The most significant part of the Russian-Turkish agreement is the arrival of the Syrian border guard to the northeast, something both Damascus and Russia sought for a long time,” said Yury Barmin, a Middle East specialist at Moscow Policy Group.

“This also means de facto recognition of Assad by Erdogan.”

(Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and Ezgi Erkoyun, Daren Butler and Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Venezuela exodus set to top 5 million as long-term needs grow, officials say

Venezuela exodus set to top 5 million as long-term needs grow, officials say
By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The exodus of Venezuelans is on track to reach 5 million people, as pressure grows on neighboring countries to provide them with long-term support, United Nations and European Union officials said on Wednesday.

Some 4.5 million refugees and migrants have fled Venezuela since 2015, according to official figures, but more are using illegal crossing points because they lack identity papers, said Eduardo Stein, joint special representative of the U.N. refugee and migration agencies.

The crisis has worsened since the United States imposed sanctions, including on the pivotal oil industry, in an effort to oust leftist President Nicolas Maduro in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaido. Dozens of nations recognize Guaido as interim president, saying Maduro rigged a 2018 election.

Roughly 5,000 people leave Venezuela daily, although the number fluctuates as more states require visas, Stein said.

“The experience of other crises in the world shows us that those who would want to go back to Venezuela if the crisis in political terms were to be solved today, it will take a good two years or maybe even more,” Stein told a news conference.

A U.N. regional humanitarian response plan of $739 million for this year is expected to nearly double for 2020, he added.

The initially welcoming attitude to Venezuelans around South America has soured amid accusations they bring crime, crowd the job market, and strain social services.

The United Nations and European Union are hosting a meeting on Oct. 28-29 in Brussels to raise awareness of needs. Donors and officials from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank are due to attend, but no Venezuelan representatives.

“This is the most severe and fastest-growing refugee migrant crisis in Latin American history, at least recent history,” said Walter Stevens, EU ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva. “There are estimates also that it could further increase if the situation does not change, quickly reaching 5 million.”

Colombia is the top destination for Venezuelan migrants fleeing the long-running crisis, which has caused widespread shortages of food and medicine. Some 1.4 million Venezuelans live in Colombia.

The flow is overwhelming the financial and administrative capacities of host countries to provide education and health services, Stein said.

“Nine receiving countries have agreed to accept expired (Venezuelan) passports as valid documents. And so with an expired passport you can get a temporary permit sometimes for two years,” he stated.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Larry King)

Striking Chicago teachers to protest during morning rush hour

Striking Chicago teachers to protest during morning rush hour
By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Striking Chicago teachers planned to march and hold a protest during the morning rush hour in the city’s downtown on Wednesday in their push for smaller class sizes and more support staff in the third-largest U.S. public schools system.

Classes were canceled for the fifth straight day on Wednesday for the Chicago Public Schools’ 300,000 students, who have been out of school and without after-hours activities since last Thursday when the system’s 25,000 teachers went on strike.

The Chicago Teachers Union called the work stoppage after contract negotiations with CPS failed to produce a deal on pay, overcrowding in schools and a lack of support staff such as nurses and social workers.

With no end to negotiations in sight, teachers were to take part in marches beginning at four locations in Chicago’s downtown and end with a “mass protest” at City Hall where Mayor Lori Lightfoot was set to give her budget address on Wednesday morning, the union said in an email.

The strike is the latest in a wave of work stoppages in U.S. school districts in which demands for school resources have superseded calls for higher salaries and benefits. In Chicago and elsewhere, teachers have emphasized the need to help underfunded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice.

The strike in Chicago is the longest teacher work stoppage in the United States since Union City, California, teachers staged a four-day walkout over pay last spring. Los Angeles teachers held a week-long strike last winter over similar demands involving pay, class size and support staff.

Negotiators for the CTU and CPS have been trading proposals since the strike began while teachers have picketed daily in front of many of the system’s 500 schools and have held several rallies in downtown Chicago.

On Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren joined striking teachers at a rally at an elementary school on the city’s West Side.

Lightfoot, who was elected in April, said the district offered a raise for teachers of 16% over five years and has promised to address class sizes and staffing levels, but could not afford the union’s full demands, which would cost an extra $2.4 billion annually.

Although the latest work stoppage has forced officials to cancel classes and sports events, school buildings are staying open for children in need of a place to go.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world
(Reuters) – Another day, another protest.

On Monday it was Bolivia – angry people clashed with police after the political opposition said it had been cheated in an election won by incumbent President Evo Morales.

Last week, the streets of the Chilean capital Santiago descended into chaos, as demonstrators enraged by a hike in public transport fares looted stores, set a bus alight and prompted the president to declare a state of emergency.

Earlier this month, Ecuador’s leader did the same after violent unrest triggered by the decision to end fuel subsidies that had been in place for decades.

And that was just South America.

Hong Kong has been in turmoil for months, Lebanon’s capital Beirut was at a standstill, parts of Barcelona resembled a battlefield last week and tens of thousands of Britons marched through London at the weekend over Brexit.

Protests have flared around the world in the last few months. Each has had its own trigger, but many of the underlying frustrations are similar.

Globalization and technological progress have, in general, exacerbated disparities within countries, said Sergei Guriev, former chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, while noting that not all of the current protests were driven by economic concerns.

Digital media has also made people more acutely aware of global inequalities, said Simon French, chief economist at UK bank Panmure Gordon.

“We know that the economics of happiness is largely driven by a relative assessment of your position versus your benchmark,” he said, a benchmark that now stretched way beyond the local community.

ECONOMICS

In at least four countries hit by recent violent protests, the main reason for the uprising is economic.

Governments in Chile and Ecuador have incurred their people’s wrath after trying to raise fares and end fuel subsidies.

As clashes engulfed Quito, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno reached out to indigenous leaders who had mobilized people to take to the streets.

Within minutes, chief protest organizer Jaime Vargas had rejected that outreach.

“We’re defending the people,” Vargas said in a live Facebook video from the march in Quito.

His response, visible to millions of people, underlines an added challenge authorities have when trying to quell dissent: social media has made communication between protesters easier than ever.

Tens of thousands of people have flooded Beirut in the biggest show of dissent against the establishment there in decades. People of all ages and religions joined to protest about worsening economic conditions and the perception that those in power were corrupt.

Similar factors were behind deadly civil unrest in Iraq in early October.

More than 100 people died in violent protests across a country where many Iraqis, especially young people, felt they had seen few economic benefits since Islamic State militants were defeated in 2017.

Security forces cracked down, with snipers opening fire from rooftops and the internet being shut to stem the flow of information among protesters.

GIVE US OUR AUTONOMY

Hong Kong has been battered by five months of often violent protests over fears Beijing is tightening its grip on the territory, the worst political crisis since colonial ruler Britain handed it back to China in 1997.

There have been few major rallies in recent weeks, but violence has escalated at those held, with militant activists setting metro stations ablaze and smashing up shops, often targeting Chinese banks and stores with mainland links.

Police have fired thousands of rounds of tear gas, hundreds of rubber bullets and three live rounds at brick- and petrol bomb-throwing activists.

The events in Hong Kong have drawn comparisons to Catalonia in recent days. There, too, people are angry at what they see as attempts to thwart their desire for greater autonomy from the rest of Spain, if not outright independence.

Protesters set cars on fire and threw petrol bombs at police in Barcelona, unrest sparked by the sentencing of Catalan separatist leaders who sought to declare an independent state.

Demonstrators also focused on strategic targets to cause maximum disruption, including the international airport, grounding more than 100 flights.

That came several days after similar action in Hong Kong, suggesting that protest movements are following and even copying each other on social media and the news.

“In Hong Kong they have done it well, but they are crazier,” said Giuseppe Vayreda, a 22-year-old art student at a recent Catalan separatist protest.

On Thursday, Hong Kong protesters plan a rally to show solidarity with those demonstrating in Spain.

LEADER OR NO LEADER

In some cases, individuals rise to the forefront of protest movements, using social media to get their message across.

In Egypt, where demonstrations last month were relatively small yet significant in their rarity, the catalyst of dissent against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was an Egyptian posting videos from Spain.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, inspired millions of people to march through cities around the world in September to demand that political leaders act to stop climate change.

Tens of thousands gathered in a New York park to listen to her speech.

“If you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us, then we have some very bad news for you,” she said. “Because this is only the beginning. Change is coming whether they like it or not.”

(Reporting by Reuters correspondents; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Heather Timmons in Washington; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Sonya Hepinstall)