Ten years after devastating quake, Haitians struggle to survive

By Stefanie Eschenbacher

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Every morning as the sun rises over the dusty, overgrown ruins of the Haitian capital’s iconic cathedral, Paul Christandro, who lived nearby all his life, thinks about the day ten years ago when he watched it come down, killing his friends.

On Jan. 12, 2010, the impoverished island nation was struck by a devastating earthquake that killed tens of thousands and left many more homeless. It lasted just 35 seconds, but its scars are still visible.

International organizations pledged billions of dollars in aid as the scale of the disaster became obvious, though with Christandro and many others still in temporary housing its use has come under intense scrutiny.

Bad governance, excessive bureaucracy, waste and inflated contracts that were given mostly to foreign companies have been blamed for the lack of progress, which was hampered further by corruption and political power struggles.

“Every day when I get up, I think about it,” said the 23-year-old Christandro under the scorching Caribbean sun in the capital Port-au-Prince.

The panicked screams of people buried under the rubble remain as ingrained in his memory as the silent facial expressions of those killed, he said.

“I think about my friends and wonder what I should do with my life,” said Christandro, an electrician who, like so many in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, tries to make ends meet working ad-hoc jobs or scavenging.

Estimates of the number of dead vary widely, from below 100,000 to as high as the government’s 316,000. There is also no consensus over how much aid Haiti actually received – or what constitutes aid – but most experts put it at more than $10 billion.

Outside the cathedral, often called Haiti’s Notre Dame for its impressive architecture and meticulous detail, he shares a mattress and a roof made from thin plastic sheets with friends who lost their homes and belongings.

‘A NEW SETTLEMENT’

Others left the chaos of the capital to start over. In Canaan, a one-hour motor bike ride away, more than 300,000 people settled on what was once a pristine hillside. There, construction work is ubiquitous.

“The earthquake has given us a new settlement,” President Jovenel Moise told Reuters in an interview. He called for better collaboration between aid donors and recipients. The Haitian government received only a fraction of the aid.

Among the many new arrivals to the hillside settlement is the Louis family, who built a home from wood panels and a tin roof. Now, they are working on a concrete construction. Daughter Christelle Louis was seven years old when their house collapsed as she was doing her homework.

“I didn’t understand what was happening. It was the first time I felt an earthquake, and my leg was injured,” she said. The high school student, who dreams of becoming a doctor, said Canaan offered her family a fresh start.

In Haiti, a country that was extremely poor even before the earthquake, nearly 60% of the population survives on less than $2.40 a day. Due to a combination of weather, geography and sub-standard construction, Haiti is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, which have eroded progress.

Moise, who became president in 2017, said he was unsure how aid money had been spent. “We don’t have much to show for it.”

In Camp Karade near Port-au-Prince, which was first set up as an emergency shelter, there is now electricity in many makeshift houses and public access to clean water via tanks from which residents can fill canisters.

Hip hop and Creole rhythms blasted from giant speakers and goats ambled around trash heaps piling up between temporary constructions that have morphed into seemingly permanent housing.

Eliese Desca, 66, one of many Haitians who lost their homes, said she had little hope that things would change for the better. “Our lives revolve around finding something to eat,” she said.

Jake Johnston, a senior research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research who specializes in Haiti, said that while the total amount of promised foreign aid was large, little trickled down to those on the ground.

The money helped to save lives but did not achieve the overall transformation many sought, Johnston said.

“The aid system is broken,” he said. “At least there is a recognition that it has been a failure.”

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher in Port-au-Prince; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Bill Berkrot)

This caravan of migrants headed south to Mexico – for Christmas

This caravan of migrants headed south to Mexico – for Christmas
By Daniel Becerril

JALPAN DE SERRA, Mexico (Reuters) – Poor Central American migrants who form caravans to fend off predatory gangs as they cross Mexico’s interior en route to the United States have made global headlines and drawn the ire of President Donald Trump.

But last week in the Texan border city of Laredo a caravan of about 1,500 families made up of Mexican migrants and Americans of Mexican origin set out in the opposite direction – for their Christmas holidays.

Driving large cars laden with clothes, perfumes and other Christmas presents, the Mexicans, all with U.S. legal status, bore scant resemblance to the Central American migrants trudging north on foot, except for their shared fear of criminal gangs.

“There’s a lot of extortion, corruption, many people have been attacked,” said Jesus Mendoza, a 35-year-old painter who obtained U.S. legal residency in August and returned to Mexico for the first time this year since 2001.

About half of the 12 million Mexicans living in the United States have legal residency, and Mexico’s Senate expected more than 3 million to return home this year.

But doing so by car poses a challenge as Mexico’s northern border regions have been racked by a tide of drug-fueled violence that led to a record 29,000 murders last year.

With three young children and a wife he met on Facebook, Mendoza was going back to a Mexico different to the one he left behind as a teenager before the country embarked on a so-called war on drugs in 2006 and violence spiraled.

“It’s a sad thing that some don’t want … to visit with their family because of the situation,” he told Reuters in Jalpan de Serra in central Mexico after arriving there on Dec. 16.

Trump has called migrant caravans bound for the United States “invasions” and has threatened to close the U.S. border with Mexico.

Mendoza’s caravan of hundreds of cars set off around 5 a.m. local time from a Walmart car park in Laredo, reaching its final stop in Jalpan some 14 hours later, shortly after dusk.

Such car caravans moving south into Mexico have been rare over the past decade. But those who reached their family homes say safety in numbers is vital.

“It’s sad that when I enter Mexico I don’t feel safe,” said Mariela Ramirez Palacios, a Mexico-born resident of Oklahoma. “The caravan is safe.”

(Reporting by Daniel Becerril; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Democrats release new batch of testimony from Trump impeachment inquiry

Democrats release new batch of testimony from Trump impeachment inquiry
By Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Monday released a transcript of a Pentagon official’s testimony as Trump continued to seethe over the investigation.

The release of the testimony given by Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense, in an earlier closed-door session came two days before the impeachment inquiry enters a crucial new phase. The first public hearings in the investigation – focused on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden and whether he withheld security aid as leverage – are set for Wednesday and Friday.

Cooper described at some length the approval process for the $391 million in aid to Ukraine, including that the Pentagon had determined that Kiev had met anti-corruption requirements for the release of the funds. Trump and some of his supporters have argued that the funds – approved by the U.S. Congress to help combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine – were blocked by Trump to press Zelenskiy’s government to fight corruption, not to seek an investigation of Biden and his son.

“All of the senior leaders of the U.S. national security departments and agencies were all unified in their – in their view that this assistance was essential,” Cooper said, according to the transcript of her remarks on Oct. 23, the day that a group of Republicans stormed into the secure facility where she was testifying, delaying her interview by a few hours.

On Wednesday and Friday, U.S. diplomats William Taylor, George Kent and Marie Yovanovitch are due to detail in public their concerns, previously expressed in testimony behind closed doors, that Trump and his administration sought to tie the security aid to investigations that might benefit his 2020 re-election bid.

The public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee will be carried by major broadcast and cable television networks and is expected to be viewed by millions of people, as Democrats seek to make the case for Trump’s potential removal from office.

The panel’s Democratic chairman, Representative Adam Schiff, has been a target of the Republican president’s attacks since the impeachment probe was launched in September after a whistleblower within the U.S. intelligence community brought a complaint against Trump over his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Democrats, who control the House, have argued that Trump abused his power in pressing a vulnerable U.S. ally to carry out investigations that would benefit Trump politically. Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face the Republican president in the 2020 election. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma.

Trump has denied there was a quid pro quo – or exchanging a favor for a favor – in his dealings with Ukraine, defended his call with Zelenskiy as “perfect” and branded the probe a politically motivated “hoax.” Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday that the inquiry should be ended and the unnamed whistleblower, the whistleblower’s lawyer and “Corrupt politician” Schiff should be investigated for fraud.

Democrats consider the open hearings to be crucial to building public support for a vote on articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump. If that occurs, the 100-seat Republican-controlled Senate would hold a trial on the charges. Republicans have so far shown little support for removing Trump from office, which would require two-thirds of senators present to vote to convict him.

No U.S. president ever has been removed from office through the impeachment process. It has been two decades since Americans last witnessed impeachment proceedings against a president. Republicans, who then controlled the House, brought impeachment charges against Democratic President Bill Clinton in a scandal involving his sexual relationship with a White House intern. The Senate voted to keep Clinton in office.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by John Whitesides, Susan Heavey, James Oliphant and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Ron Bousso in Abu Dhabi; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Death toll climbs as Iraq unrest hits Baghdad’s volatile Sadr City

By John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least 15 people were killed in clashes between Iraqi security forces and protesters overnight in Baghdad’s Sadr City district as violence from a week-long nationwide uprising swept through the vast, poor swathe of the capital for the first time.

At least 110 people have been killed across Iraq in the worst wave of violence since the defeat of Islamic State nearly two years ago, with protesters demanding the removal of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and a government they accuse of corruption.

The arrival of the violence in Sadr City on Sunday night poses a new security challenge for the authorities. Unrest is historically difficult to put down in the volatile district, where about a third of Baghdad’s 8 million people live in narrow alleys, many with little access to electricity, water and jobs.

The military said early on Monday it was withdrawing from Sadr city and handing over to police in an apparent effort to de-escalate tension there.

A Sadr City resident reached by phone told Reuters later on Monday that the streets were again calm after a night of riots. Local militiamen were coming to inspect damage and police were deployed around the district’s neighborhoods.

The protests began spontaneously last week in Baghdad and across southern cities, without public support from any major political faction in Iraq.

They have since escalated and grown more violent, spreading from cities in the south to other areas, mainly populated by members of the Shi’ite majority whose parties hold political power but say their communities have been neglected for decades.

The unrest poses an unprecedented challenge for Abdul Mahdi, who took office last year as a consensus candidate of powerful Shi’ite religious parties that have dominated the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

REFORM PROMISES

Abdul Mahdi has responded with proposals of incremental reforms, but these have failed to appease the protesters, who say the security forces are using snipers and live ammunition to protect the political class from popular anger.

It is the biggest wave of violence in the country since an insurgency by the Sunni Muslim Islamist group Islamic State was put down in the north in 2017, and the worst street unrest to hit the capital Baghdad in around a decade.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Abdul Mahdi in a phone call that he trusted the Iraqi forces and supported the Iraqi government in restoring security, a statement from the prime minister’s office said.

Abdul Mahdi said life had returned to normal, according to the statement.

The government has offered to spend more money on subsidized housing for the poor, stipends for the unemployed and training programs and loan initiatives for youth.

Iraqi authorities also said they would hold to account members of the security forces who “acted wrongly” in the crackdown on protests, state TV reported. The interior ministry denies government forces have shot directly at protesters.

The protesters demand the overhaul of what they say is an entire corrupt system and political class that has held the country back, despite unprecedented levels of security since the end of the war against IS.

Many protesters also accuse the parties in power of having close ties to Iran, the dominant Shi’ite power in the region. Iran has called for calm in Iraq.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted on Monday: “#Iran and #Iraq are two nations whose hearts & souls are tied together… Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed & their conspiracy won’t be effective.”

(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad and Raya Jalabi in Erbil; Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

U.S. to withdraw and withhold funds from Afghanistan, blames corruption

WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the United States would withdraw about $100 million earmarked for an energy infrastructure project in Afghanistan and withhold a further $60 million in planned assistance, blaming corruption and a lack of transparency in the country.

Pompeo said in a statement the United States would complete the infrastructure project but would do so using an “‘off-budget’ mechanism”, faulting Afghanistan for an “inability to transparently manage U.S. government resources”.

“Due to identified Afghan government corruption and financial mismanagement, the U.S. Government is returning approximately $100 million to the U.S. Treasury that was intended for a large energy infrastructure project,” he added.

The decision comes a day after the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, in a tweet called out the country’s National Procurement Authority (NPA) for not approving the purchase of fuel for thermal electricity.

Residents of Kabul have accused the NPA of ignoring people’s need for energy, as large parts of the city have been without power for more than seven hours every day this month.

Electricity outages have also inflicted losses for manufacturing companies and emergency health services.

“Hearing reports the National Procurement Authority won’t authorize fuel purchases for the power plant providing the only electricity in Kabul – even while the U.S. & Resolute Support help Afghan security forces enable repairs to power transmission lines. Could this be true?” Bass said in a tweet on Wednesday.

The power crisis intensified further this week after insurgents attack pylons in northern provinces. About a third of the country has been hit by blackouts.

(Reporting by Makini Brice in Washington DC, Rupam Jain in Kabul; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson)

Trump slams ‘corrupt’ Puerto Rico as Storm Dorian heads for island

Tropical Storm Dorian is shown in this photo taken by NASA's Aqua satellite MODIS instrument as it moved over the Leeward Islands, as it continues its track into the Eastern Caribbean Sea, August 27, 2019. NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday called Puerto Rico “one of the most corrupt places on earth” as the U.S. territory prepared for a hit by Tropical Storm Dorian, which brought back memories on the island of devastation from hurricanes two years ago.

Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from back-to-back hurricanes in 2017, which killed about 3,000 people just months after it filed for bankruptcy.

Dorian was bearing down on Puerto Rico from the southeast and was expected to become a hurricane soon as it barrels towards Florida, which it could hit as a major hurricane.

After approving an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico late on Tuesday, Trump took a swipe at the U.S. territory in a tweet on Wednesday morning.

“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!” Trump wrote.

Trump has a history of disputes with Puerto Rico’s leaders. He was heavily criticized for a tepid response to the 2017 hurricanes that battered Puerto Rico.

This week, Democrats in the U.S. Congress also slammed him for shifting $271 million earmarked for disaster aid and cyber security to pay for detention facilities and courts for migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, on Tuesday described the shift as “stealing from appropriated funds.”

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Dorian was blowing maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph) about 25 miles southeast of the island of St. Croix on Wednesday morning.

“Dorian is forecast to be near hurricane strength when it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” the NHC said.

Puerto Rican officials warned that the eastern part of the island should brace for particularly heavy rains.

“We are better prepared than when Hurricane Maria attacked our island,” Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez said on Tuesday.

Vazquez, who took office this month after political turmoil led to the resignation of her predecessor, said preparations for the storm were more than 90% complete.

Infrastructure ranging from electric power lines to telecommunications and banking networks were in better shape than they had been in 2017, she added.

BAD HISTORY

Two years ago, Puerto Rico was recovering from Hurricane Irma when Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017, destroying roads and bridges and leaving much of the Caribbean island without electricity for months.

The U.S. response to Maria became highly politicized as the Trump administration was criticized as being slow to recognize the extent of the devastation and in providing disaster relief to Puerto Rico, an island of more than 3 million people. Trump later disputed Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 3,000.

Hogan Gidley, a White House deputy press secretary, accused Puerto Rican authorities on Wednesday of misusing taxpayer funds in the 2017 hurricanes.

“The money we sent down there, we now know, several on the ground have been indicted for misusing that money, giving it to politicians as bonuses, watching that food rot in the ports, the water went bad,” he told reporters.

Puerto Rican public schools are closed on Wednesday and public workers have been instructed to stay home, Vazquez said.

Royal Caribbean’s cruise liner “Allure of the Sea” canceled a scheduled visit to the island on Thursday, and Carnival Cruise Line also adjusted its itineraries, the governor said.

The NHC’s latest forecasts predict that Dorian could reach Florida as a major hurricane early on Monday.

The Dominican Republic has also upped storm preparations. Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the emergency operations center, said authorities have identified 3,000 buildings that can be converted into shelters, with capacity for up to 800,000 people.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; additional reporting by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez, Alex Dobuzinskis, Rebekah F Ward, Lisa Lambert and David Alexander; Writing by Julia Love; Editing by Alison Williams and Alistair Bell)

Murders in Mexico surge to record in first half of 2019

FILE PHOTO: People stand near bullet casings on the ground at a crime scene after a shootout in the municipality of Tuzamapan, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Mexico, May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Yahir Ceballos/File Photo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Murders in Mexico jumped in the first half of the year to the highest on record, according to official data, underscoring the vast challenges President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador faces in reducing violence in the cartel-ravaged country.

There were 14,603 murders from January to June, versus the 13,985 homicides registered in the first six months of 2018, according to data posted over the weekend on the website of Mexico’s national public security office.

Mexico is on course to surpass the 29,111 murders of last year, an all-time high.

For years Mexico has struggled with violence as consecutive governments battled brutal drug cartels, often by taking out their leaders. That has resulted in the fragmentation of gangs and increasingly vicious internecine fighting.

Veteran leftist Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, has blamed the economic policies of previous administrations for exacerbating the violence and said his government was targeting the issue by rooting out corruption and inequality in Mexico.

“Social policies are very important – we agree they’ll have positive effects. But these positive effects will be seen in the long term,” said Francisco Rivas, director of the National Citizen Observatory, a civil group that monitors justice and security in Mexico.

The complexity of fighting criminal groups is a major test for Lopez Obrador’s young administration, which has vowed to try a different approach than that of his predecessor.

His administration last month launched a new militarized National Guard police force tasked with helping to fix the problem.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Additional reporting by Rebekah F Ward; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Russian media, celebrities protest against investigative journalist’s drug bust

Russia's leading newspapers (L to R) RBK, Kommersant and Vedomosti, which published the same front page in support of detained journalist Ivan Golunov, are pictured in Moscow, Russia June 10, 2019. The headline reads "I am/We are Ivan Golunov." REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Three of Russia’s leading newspapers took the unusual step on Monday of publishing identical front page headlines to protest over what they suspect is the framing of an investigative journalist on drug charges.

Ivan Golunov, a 36-year-old journalist known for exposing corruption among Moscow city officials, was detained by police on Thursday and accused of serious drug offenses which he denies.

Russian journalists critical of authorities have led a dangerous existence since the 1990s – sometimes threatened, physically attacked, and even murdered for their work.

But the crude way supporters say Golunov was set up has triggered an unusual show of media unity and an uncharacteristically swift response from authorities nervous about social unrest at a time when President Vladimir Putin already faces disquiet over living standards.

Police say they found drugs in Golunov’s rucksack, and he faces between 10 and 20 years in jail if found guilty.

Fellow journalists and members of Russia’s cultural elite suspect a fit-up by corrupt officials wanting to silence him. Golunov’s lawyer says he was assaulted and punched by police officers, something they deny.

The three leading daily newspapers – Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBK — all carried the same headline on Monday in a rare show of solidarity: “I am/We are Ivan Golunov.”

A lawyer comforts Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who was detained by police and accused of drug offences, during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia June 8, 2019. The writing on the T-shirt reads "Editorial desk demands blood". REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

A lawyer comforts Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who was detained by police and accused of drug offences, during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia June 8, 2019. The writing on the T-shirt reads “Editorial desk demands blood”. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

In a joint statement, they said evidence against Golunov was shaky, cast doubt over the legality of his detention, and demanded a review of police behavior.

“We expect law enforcement agencies to scrupulously observe the law and demand maximum openness when it comes to the investigation,” the statement said. “We demand the law be respected by everyone and for everyone.”

Journalists protested outside Moscow’s police headquarters on Friday and over the weekend to demand the case be dropped.

Celebrities and even some high-profile journalists at state media have spoken out for Golunov, criticizing either the accusations against him or the harsh manner of his detention.

In what some supporters saw as a small victory, a court on Saturday rejected a request to hold Golunov in a pre-trial detention facility and ordered instead that he be held under house arrest for two months while he is investigated.

It is unusual, given the gravity of the accusations, for a court to agree to house arrest and the decision was seen by supporters as a sign that authorities were nervous at the outcry.

State TV on Sunday broadcast a program in which police operatives defended their evidence, but the same program also said that the police’s actions needed to be checked.

The Kremlin said on Monday that the way Golunov’s case had been handled raised many questions.

“We are closely following how this case unfolds and all its nuances,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

(Additional reporting by Dmitry Antonov, Tom Balmforth, and Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Angus MacSwan)

North Koreans paying bribes to survive: U.N. report

North Koreans are forced to pay bribes to officials to survive in their isolated country where corruption is "endemic" and repression rife, the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday in a report that Pyongyang dismissed as politically motivated.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Koreans are forced to pay bribes to officials to survive in their isolated country where corruption is “endemic” and repression rife, the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday in a report that Pyongyang dismissed as politically motivated.

The report said officials extorted money from a population struggling to make ends meet, threatening them with detention and prosecution – particularly those working in the informal economy.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the formal name for North Korea, rejected the report, saying it was “politically motivated for sinister purposes”.

“Such reports are nothing more than fabrication … as they are always based on the so-called testimonies of ‘defectors’ who provide fabricated information to earn their living or are compelled to do so under duress or enticement,” its Geneva mission said in a statement to Reuters.

North Korea blames the dire humanitarian situation on U.N. sanctions imposed for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs since 2006. But the report said that the military receives priority funding amid “economic mismanagement”.

“I am concerned that the constant focus on the nuclear issue continues to divert attention from the terrible state of human rights for many millions of North Koreans,” Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.

“The rights to food, health, shelter, work, freedom of movement and liberty are universal and inalienable, but in North Korea they depend primarily on the ability of individuals to bribe State officials,” she said.

Four in 10 North Koreans, or 10.1 million people, are chronically short of food and further cuts to already minimal rations are expected after the worst harvest in a decade, a U.N. assessment said earlier this month.

“The threat of arrest, detention and prosecution provide State officials with a powerful means of extorting money from a population struggling to survive,” the U.N. rights office report said.

CASH OR CIGARETTES

Bribery is “an everyday feature of people’s struggle to make ends meet”, said the report, entitled “The price is rights”. It denounced what it called a “vicious cycle of deprivation, corruption and repression”.

It is based on 214 interviews with North Korean “escapees”, mainly from the northeastern provinces of Ryanggang and North Hamgyong, bordering China. They were the first to be cut from the public distribution system that collapsed in 1994, leading to a famine estimated to have killed up to 1 million, it said.

“As my father still had to work at a state firm that could no longer afford giving rations, we survived by selling taffy and liquor my mom made,” Ju Chan-yang, a 29-year-old defector, told a news conference hosted by the U.N. rights office in Seoul on Tuesday.

Ju, who defected to the South in 2011, said she also made a living by selling banned South Korean and U.S. products in the underground economy. Sometimes she had to bribe authorities.

“If you get caught and don’t have bribes to pay, you could get executed, just like my relatives,” she said.

Many North Koreans pay bribes of cash or cigarettes not to have to report to state-assigned jobs where they receive no salary, thus allowing them to earn income in rudimentary markets, the report said.

Others bribe border guards to cross into China, where women are vulnerable to trafficking into forced marriages or the sex trade, it added.

“North Korea is a society where all of its members are involved in corruption because they’re forced to do illegal acts only to survive,” said Lee Han-byeol, who came to the South in 2001 and now runs a group that helps defectors.

Bachelet urged North Korean authorities to stop prosecuting people for engaging in legitimate market activity and to allow them freedom of movement within the country and abroad. China should not forcibly repatriate North Koreans, she added.

The United States called on North Korea this month to “dismantle all political prison camps” and release all political prisoners, who it said numbered between 80,000 and 120,000. North Korea denies the existence of such camps.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Andrew Heavens and Darren Schuettler)

Brazil’s grief turns to anger as death toll from Vale disaster hits 60

Members of a rescue team search for victims after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

By Gram Slattery

BRUMADINHO, Brazil (Reuters) – Grief over the hundreds of Brazilians feared killed in last week’s mining disaster has quickly hardened into anger as victims’ families and politicians say iron ore miner Vale SA and regulators have learned nothing from the recent past.

By Monday, firefighters in the state of Minas Gerais had confirmed 60 people dead in Friday’s disaster, in which a tailings dam broke sending a torrent of sludge into the miner’s offices and the town of Brumadinho. Nearly 300 other people are unaccounted for, and officials said it was unlikely that any would be found alive.

A member of a rescue team is sprayed with water to remove mud, upon returning from a rescue mission, after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves

A member of a rescue team is sprayed with water to remove mud, upon returning from a rescue mission, after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves

Shares of Vale, the world’s largest iron ore and nickel producer, plummeted 21.5 percent in Monday trading on the Sao Paulo stock exchange, erasing $16 billion

in market cap.

Brazil’s top prosecutor, Raquel Dodge, said the company should be held strongly responsible and criminally prosecuted. Executives could also be personally held responsible, she said.

Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who is acting president since Monday morning when Jair Bolsonaro underwent surgery, also said the government needs to punish those responsible for the dam disaster.

In a tweet, Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros asked Justice Minister Sergio Moro “how many people should die before federal police charges Vale management before key evidence disappears.” Moro is a previous judge in charge of Brazil’s largest-ever corruption probe.

Israeli military personnel arrive to help search for victims of a collapsed tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA, at Confins airport in Belo Horizonte, Brazil January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves

Israeli military personnel arrive to help search for victims of a collapsed tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA, at Confins airport in Belo Horizonte, Brazil January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves

One of Vale’s lawyers, Sergio Bermudes, told newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that the executives should not leave the company and that Calheiros was trying to profit politically from the tragedy.

Vale Chief Executive Fabio Schvartsman said during a visit to Brumadinho on Sunday that facilities there were built to code and equipment had shown the dam was stable two weeks earlier.

The disaster at the Corrego do Feijao mine occurred less than four years after a dam collapsed at a nearby mine run by Samarco Mineracao SA, a joint venture by Vale and BHP Billiton, killing 19 and filling a major river with toxic sludge.

While the 2015 Samarco disaster dumped about five times more mining waste, Friday’s dam break was far deadlier, as the wall of mud hit Vale’s local offices, including a crowded cafeteria, and tore through a populated area downhill.

“The cafeteria was in a risky area,” Renato Simao de Oliveiras, 32, said while searching for his twin brother, a Vale employee, at an emergency response station.

“Just to save money, even if it meant losing the little guy… These businessmen, they only think about themselves.”

As search efforts continued on Monday, firefighters laid down wood planks to cross a sea of sludge that is hundreds of meters wide in places, to reach a bus in search of bodies inside. Villagers discovered the bus as they tried to rescue a nearby cow stuck in the mud.

A rescue helicopter flies after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

A rescue helicopter flies after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Longtime resident Ademir Rogerio cried as he surveyed the mud where Vale’s facilities once stood on the edge of town.

“The world is over for us,” he said. “Vale is the top mining company in the world. If this could happen here, imagine what would happen if it were a smaller miner.”

Nestor José de Mury said he lost his nephew and coworkers in the mud.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, it killed everyone,” he said.

SAFETY DEBATE

The board of Vale, which has raised its dividends over the last year, suspended all shareholder payouts and executive bonuses late on Sunday, as the disaster put its corporate strategy under scrutiny.

“I’m not a mining technician. I followed the technicians’ advice and you see what happened. It didn’t work,” Vale CEO Schvartsman said in a TV interview. “We are 100 percent within all the standards, and that didn’t do it.”

Many wondered if the state of Minas Gerais, named for the mining industry that has shaped its landscape for centuries, should have higher standards.

“There are safe ways of mining,” said Joao Vitor Xavier, head of the mining and energy commission in the state assembly. “It’s just that it diminishes profit margins, so they prefer to do things the cheaper way – and put lives at risk.”

Reaction to the disaster could threaten the plans of Brazil’s newly inaugurated president to relax restrictions on the mining industry, including proposals to open up indigenous reservations and large swaths of the Amazon jungle for mining.

Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque proposed in an interview late on Sunday with newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo that the law should be changed to assign responsibility in cases such as Brumadinho to the people responsible for certifying the safety of mining dams.

“Current law does not prevent disasters like the one we saw on Brumadinho”, he said. “The model for verifying the state of mining dams will have to be reconsidered. The model isn’t good.”

The ministry did not immediately respond to questions about the interview.

German auditor TUV SUD said on Saturday it inspected the dam in September and found all to be in order.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by Tatiana Bautzer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Marguerita Choy)