U.S. vaping-related deaths rise to 12, illnesses climb to 805

FILE PHOTO: A man uses a vaping product in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

(Reuters) – U.S. health officials on Thursday reported 805 confirmed and probable cases and 12 deaths so far from a mysterious respiratory illness tied to vaping, with the outbreak showing no signs of losing steam.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 530 cases and seven deaths due to severe lung illnesses.

U.S. public health officials have been investigating these illnesses, but have not linked it to any specific e-cigarette product.

As of Sept. 24, the confirmed deaths were reported in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, and Oregon, the CDC said.

The House of Representatives began public hearings about the illness this week while Massachusetts imposed a four-month ban on sales of all vaping products, including those used for tobacco and marijuana, which is legal in the state.

Investigators have, however, pointed to vaping oils containing marijuana ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or vitamin E acetate, a substance used in some THC products, as a possible cause of these illnesses.

The increased scrutiny also prompted leading e-cigarette maker Juul Labs to suspend all broadcast, print and digital product advertising in the United States and bring in a longtime Altria Group Inc executive as its CEO.

Altria owns a 35% stake in Juul.

Public health officials have advised consumers to quit vaping and urged those who continue using the devices to avoid buying such products on the street, using marijuana-derived oil with the products or modifying a store-bought vape product.

(Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Shounak Dasgupta)

‘What death smells like’: Dorian’s toll expected to soar in Bahamas

A truck sits on its side following landfall by Hurricane Dorian at an undisclosed location in the Bahamas in this International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies photo released on September 6, 2019. Courtesy International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies/Handout via REUTERS

By Nick Brown

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – The smell of death hangs over parts of Great Abaco Island in the northern Bahamas, where relief workers on Friday sifted through the debris of shattered homes and buildings in a search expected to dramatically drive up the death toll from Hurricane Dorian.

Dorian, the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the Bahamas, swept through the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island earlier this week, leveling entire neighborhoods and knocking out key infrastructure, including airport landing strips and a hospital.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people are still missing, and officials say the death toll, which currently stands at 30, is likely to shoot up as more bodies are discovered in the ruins and floodwaters left behind by the storm.

“You smell the decomposing bodies as you walk through Marsh Harbour,” said Sandra Sweeting, 37, in an interview amid the wreckage on Great Abaco. “It’s everywhere. There are a lot of people who aren’t going to make it off this island.”

Some locals called the government’s initial official death toll a tragic underestimate.

“I work part-time in a funeral home, I know what death smells like,” said Anthony Thompson, 27. “There must be hundreds. Hundreds.”

Asked if any of his friends or family had perished, Thompson looked at the ground.

“I don’t want to ask, because there are people I still haven’t heard from,” he said.

Chaotic conditions around the islands were interfering with flights and boats, hampering relief efforts.

“Obviously, we have to take care of the sick and the injured first, but we’re also making preparations for the dead,” Dr. Caroline Burnett-Garraway, medical chief of staff at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, told CNN by phone.

Many of those injured by the storm, which had been a Category 5 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, were being airlifted to the hospital with fractures and head injuries and suffering from trauma and dehydration, said Burnett-Garraway, who expects a “second wave” of patients in the coming days.

With many clinics in the northern Bahamas flooded and unable to receive the injured, relief groups are focusing on getting doctors, nurses and medical supplies into the hardest-hit areas and helping survivors get food and safe drinking water.

The risk of outbreaks of diarrhea and waterborne diseases is high because drinking water may be contaminated with sewage, according to the Pan American Health Organization, which described the situation for some people on Abaco as “desperate.”

The United Nations estimated 70,000 people were in immediate need of food, water and shelter on the islands, where looting of liquor stores and supermarkets has been reported.

The relief effort faces formidable logistical challenges because of the widespread destruction of Dorian, which hovered over the Bahamas for nearly two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12- to 18-foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges.

The storm made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Friday with winds of 90 miles per hour (150 km/h).

EMERGENCY OPERATION

The U.N. World Food Programme said on Thursday it was organizing an airlift from Panama of storage units, generators and prefab offices for two logistics hubs, as well as satellite equipment for emergency responders, and has bought 8 metric tonnes of ready-to-eat meals.

The U.N. agency has allocated $5.4 million to a three-month emergency operation to support 39,000 people, a spokesman said.

A flight from the U.S. Agency for International Development landed early on Thursday with enough relief supplies to help 31,500 people, bringing hygiene kits, water containers and buckets, plastic sheeting and chain saws.

Total insured and uninsured losses in the Bahamas amounted to $7 billion, including buildings and business interruptions, according to a preliminary estimate by Karen Clark & Co, a consultancy that provides catastrophic modeling and risk management services.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in Sandy Point, Bahamas, additional reporting by Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas and Peter Szekely and Matthew Lavietes in New York; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

India floods kill more than 270, displace one million

FILE PHOTO: Rescuers remove debris as they search for victims of a landslide caused by torrential monsoon rains in Meppadi in Wayanad district in the southern Indian state of Kerala, India, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

By Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav

BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Floods and landslides have killed more than 270 people in India this month, displaced one million and inundated thousands of homes across six states, authorities said on Wednesday after two weeks of heavy monsoon rains.

The rains from June to September are a lifeline for rural India, delivering some 70% of the country’s rainfall, but they also cause death and destruction each year.

The southern states of Kerala and Karnataka, and Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west, were among the hardest hit by floods that washed away thousands of hectares of summer-sown crops and damaged roads and rail lines.

At least 95 people were killed and more than 50 are missing in Kerala, where heavy rainfall triggered dozens of landslides last week and trapped more than 100 people.

About 190,000 people are still living in relief camps in the state, said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, but he added some people are returning home as floodwaters recede.

In neighboring Karnataka, home to the technology hub Bengaluru, 54 people died and 15 are missing after rivers burst their banks when authorities released water from dams.

Nearly 700,000 people have been evacuated in the state.

Heavy rainfall is expected in parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, as well as the central state of Madhya Pradesh, in the next two days, weather officials said.

In Maharashtra, which includes the financial capital Mumbai, 48 people died but floodwaters are receding, said a state official.

“We are now trying to restore electricity and drinking water supplies,” he said.

In Madhya Pradesh, the biggest producer of soybeans, heavy rains killed 32 people and damaged crops, authorities said.

In Gujarat, 31 people died in rain-related incidents, while landslides killed nearly a dozen people in the northern hilly state of Uttarakhand.

(Reporting by Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Euan Rocha and Darren Schuettler)

U.S. believes Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza is dead: official

By Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) – The United States believes that Hamza bin Laden, a son of slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and himself a notable figure in the militant group, is dead, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, provided no further details, including when Hamza died or where.

President Donald Trump earlier on Wednesday declined to comment after NBC News first reported the U.S. assessment. Asked if he had intelligence that bin Laden’s son had been killed, Trump told reporters: “I don’t want to comment on it.”

Separately, the White House declined comment on whether any announcement was imminent.

Hamza, believed to be about 30 years old, was at his father’s side in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and spent time with him in Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan pushed much of al Qaeda’s senior leadership there, according to the Brookings Institution.

Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces who raided his compound in Pakistan in 2011. Hamza was thought to be under house arrest in Iran at the time, and documents recovered from the compound indicated that aides had been trying to reunite him with his father.

The New York Times reported that the United States had a role in the operation that led to Hamza’s death, which it said took place in the past two years. Reuters could not immediately verify those details.

Still, the U.S. government’s conclusion appears to be a recent one. In February, the State Department said it was offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading “to the identification or location in any country” of Hamza, calling him a key al Qaeda leader.

Introduced by al Qaeda’s chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in an audio message in 2015, Hamza provided a younger voice for the group whose aging leaders have struggled to inspire militants around the world galvanized by Islamic State, according to analysts.

Hamza has called for acts of terrorism in Western capitals and threatened to take revenge against the United States for his father’s killing, the U.S. State Department said in 2017 when it designated him as a global terrorist.

He also threatened to target Americans abroad and urged tribal groups in Saudi Arabia to unite with Yemen’s al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to fight against Saudi Arabia, it said.

In March, Saudi Arabia announced it had stripped Hamza bin Laden of his citizenship, saying the decision was made by a royal order in November 2018.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; writing by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Howard Goller, Alistair Bell, Phil Stewart and G Crosse)

Family sent back to DR Congo after two die of Ebola in Uganda

A health worker checks the temperature of a woman as she crosses the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the ebola screening at the computerised Mpondwe Health Screening Facility in Mpondwe, Uganda June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Newton Nabwaya

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Authorities repatriated the relatives of two people who died of Ebola in Uganda back to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, including a 3-year-old boy confirmed to be suffering from the disease, the Ugandan health minister said.

The cases marked the first time the virus has crossed an international border since the current outbreak began in Congo last August. The epidemic has already killed 1,390 people in eastern Congo.

The family sent home on Thursday had crossed from Congo to Uganda earlier this week and sought treatment when a 5-year-old boy became unwell. He died of Ebola on Tuesday. His 50-year-old grandmother, who was accompanying them, died of the disease on Wednesday, the ministry said.

They were the first confirmed deaths in Uganda in the current Ebola outbreak.

The dead boy’s father, mother, 3-year-old brother and their 6-month-old baby, along with the family’s maid, were all repatriated, the minister’s statement said.

The 3-year-old has been confirmed to be infected with Ebola. His 23-year-old Ugandan father has displayed symptoms but tested negative, Ugandan authorities said.

“Uganda remains in Ebola response mode to follow up the 27 contacts (of the family),” the statement said.

Three other suspected Ebola cases not related to the family remain in isolation, the ministry said.

The viral disease spreads through contact with bodily fluids, causing hemorrhagic fever with severe vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding.

UGANDA PRECAUTIONS

Authorities in neighboring Uganda and South Sudan have been on high alert in case the disease spreads.

On Thursday, Uganda banned public gatherings in the Kasese district where the family crossed the border. Residents are also taking precautions, local journalist Ronald Kule told Reuters.

“They are a little alarmed now and they realize that the risk of catching Ebola is now real,” he said.

“Hand washing facilities have been put in place, with washing materials like JIK (bleach) and soap. There’s no shaking of hands, people just wave at each other.”

At the border, health workers checked lines of people and isolate one child with a raised temperature, a Reuters journalist said.

Uganda has already vaccinated many frontline health workers and is relatively well prepared to contain the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) sent 3,500 doses of a Merck experimental vaccine to Uganda this week, following 4,700 initial doses.

Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies program, said that he expected Uganda to approve the use of experimental therapeutic drug treatments, to be shipped “in coming days”.

Monitoring and vaccination had been stepped up, but there had been “no panic reaction” so far to the cases there.

The WHO has said it will reconvene an emergency committee on Friday to decide whether the outbreak is an international public health emergency and how to manage it.

Authorities have struggled to contain the disease partly because health workers have been attacked nearly 200 times this year in conflict-hit eastern Congo, the epicenter of the outbreak.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Writing by Omar Mohammed and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Cholera surge stalks Yemen’s hungry and displaced

A girl, cholera patient, lies on a bed as she receives medical care at a health center in the village of Islim, in the northwestern province of Hajjah, Yemen June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Eissa Alrage

By Eissa al-Rajehy

HAJJAH, Yemen (Reuters) – In the last two weeks Dr Asmahan Ahmed has seen a surge in suspected cholera cases arriving at her health center in Abs, a small, Houthi-held town in northwest Yemen.

“Every day there are 30-50 cases, no fewer. Suddenly it became like this,” she said in the 15-bed diarrhea treatment center.

Yemen is suffering its third major cholera outbreak since 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition intervened to try to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government after it was ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

The conflict has put 10 million people at risk of famine in the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.

Cholera causes profuse diarrhea and fluid loss which can kill within hours. Children, the elderly and those weakened by years of poor nutrition are most at risk.

The World Health Organization said last week that Yemen had seen more than 724,000 suspected cholera cases and 1,135 deaths this year, but that case numbers had stabilized in recent weeks.

In the clinic, limp children’s faces are covered with flies and their chests heave as they breathe while receiving intravenous fluid tubes in their feet and wrists.

Children pull water from a water well in the village of Islim in the northern province of Hajjah, Yemen, June 9, 2019. REUTERS/Eissa Alragehi

Children pull water from a water well in the village of Islim in the northern province of Hajjah, Yemen, June 9, 2019. REUTERS/Eissa Alragehi

The recent influx means some patients are forced to lie on the floor and the center has run out of some medicines.

Cholera is spread through dirty water, which more and more Yemenis are forced to drink as water resources are scarce in the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation.

Pumps are needed in many parts of the country of 30 million people to bring water to the surface. Fuel shortages have dramatically increased clean water prices.

“We rely on wells which are uncovered and very dirty … We and livestock drink from these wells, as do children,” said Qassem Massoud, a young man standing at a rural well where people haul water up using plastic containers on string.

Others fill containers from a muddy pool as donkeys drink alongside.

Dr Abdelwahab al-Moayad said Yemen’s internally displaced were particularly at risk.

“The number of cases are increasing by the day and if it continues we would consider it a humanitarian disaster,” he said.

A breakthrough in U.N.-led peace efforts last December, the first in more than two years, had sparked hope for improved humanitarian and aid access.

But implementation of a ceasefire and a troop withdrawal initiative in the main port of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions, has dragged on for six months. Violence has continued in other parts of Yemen.

Since the deal, more than 255,000 people have been displaced, U.N. migration agency figures show.

The Houthis, who say their revolution is against corruption, control the biggest population centers. The Saudi-backed government is based in the southern port of Aden.

(Reporting by Reuters TV in Yemen; writing by Lisa Barrington; editing by Jason Neely)

Gaza-Israel border falls quiet after 3 days long deadly surge of rocket fire

Rockets are fired from Gaza towards Israel, in Gaza May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A surge in deadly violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel petered out overnight with Palestinian officials reporting that Egypt had mediated a ceasefire on Monday ending the most serious spate of cross-border clashes for months.

The latest round of fighting erupted three days ago, peaking on Sunday when rockets and missiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel. Israeli strikes killed 21 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, over the weekend.

Two Palestinian officials and a TV station belonging to Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, said a truce had been reached at 0430 a.m. (0130 GMT), apparently preventing the violence from broadening into a conflict neither side seemed keen on fighting.

Israel did not formally confirm the existence of a truce with Hamas and its allied Gaza faction Islamic Jihad, militants that it, like much of the West, designates as terrorists.

Officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government spoke in more general terms of a reciprocal return to quiet, with one suggesting that Israel’s arch-enemy Iran – a major funder for Islamic Jihad – had been behind the Gaza escalation.

Suffering under renewed U.S. sanctions and Israeli strikes against its military assets in Syria, Iran may have seen stoking Palestinian violence as a way of telling Israel, “we will get back at you through (Islamic) Jihad and Gaza”, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Israeli radio station 90 FM.

Israel’s military said that more than 600 rockets and other projectiles – over 150 of them intercepted – had been fired at southern Israeli cities and villages since Friday. It said it shelled or carried out air strikes on some 320 militant sites.

The violence abated before dawn, just as Gazans were preparing to begin the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Rocket sirens in southern Israel, which had gone off continuously over the weekend, sending residents running for cover, did not sound on Monday and there were no reports of new air strikes in Gaza.

Egypt and the United Nations, who have served as brokers in the past, had been trying to mediate a ceasefire.

LEVERAGE

The violence began when a sniper from the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad fired across Gaza’s fenced border at Israeli troops on routine patrol, wounding two soldiers, according to the Israeli military.

Islamic Jihad accused Israel of delaying implementation of previous understandings brokered by Egypt in an effort to end violence and ease the economic hardships of blockaded Gaza.

This time both Islamic Jihad and Hamas appeared to see some leverage to press for concessions from Israel, where annual independence day celebrations begin on Wednesday and with the Eurovision song contest due to kick off in Tel Aviv – the target of a Gaza rocket attack in March – next week.

Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ West Bank-based rival.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop arms reaching Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from the small coastal enclave.

One of Islamic Jihad’s leaders in Gaza said on Sunday that the group was trying to counter efforts by the United States to revive peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East team has said it will unveil its peace plan in June, after Ramadan is over. Peace negotiations have been moribund since 2014.

“What the resistance is doing now is the most important part of confronting Trump’s deal. We all have to get united behind the decision by the resistance to fight,” Islamic Jihad’s Jamil Eleyan said in a statement.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said that over the past few weeks Islamic Jihad had been trying to perpetrate attacks against Israel in order to destabilize the border. “This isn’t some local initiative, it is part of a strategic choice to escalate matters,” Conricus said.

During the eight-year civil war in Syria, Iran’s military has built a presence there backing President Bashar al-Assad.

Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat and has vowed to stop it from entrenching itself in Syria, its neighbor to the north, repeatedly bombing Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday the administration was deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran and to show the United States will retaliate with “unrelenting force” to any attack.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Cyclone hit millions across Africa in record disaster: U.N.

A general view shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, March 16-17, 2019 in this still image taken from a social media video on March 19, 2019. Care International/Josh Estey via REUTERS

MAPUTO/HARARE (Reuters) – Cyclone winds and floods that swept across southeastern Africa affected more than 2.6 million people and could rank as one of the worst weather-related disaster recorded in the southern hemisphere, U.N. officials said on Tuesday.

Rescue crews are still struggling to reach victims five days after Cyclone Idai raced in at speeds of up to 170 kph (105 mph) from the Indian Ocean into Mozambique, then its inland neighbors Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Aid groups said many survivors were trapped in remote areas, surrounded by wrecked roads, flattened buildings and submerged villages.

“There’s a sense from people on the ground that the world still really hasn’t caught on to how severe this disaster is,” Matthew Cochrane, spokesman for International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

“The full horror, the full impact is only going to emerge over coming days,” he added.

The official death count in Mozambique stands at 84 – but its president Filipe Nyusi said on Monday he had flown over some of the worst-hit zones, seen bodies floating in rivers and now estimated more than 1,000 people may have died there.

The cyclone hit land near Mozambique’s port of Beira on Thursday and moved inland throughout the weekend, leaving heavy rains in its wake on Tuesday.

Studies of satellite images suggested 1.7 million people were in the path of the cyclone in Mozambique and another 920,000 affected in Malawi, Herve Verhoosel, senior spokesman at the U.N World Food Programme said. It gave no figures for Zimbabwe.

WORST FEARS

Several rivers had broken their banks, or were about to, leaving a huge area covered by the waters, and only accessible by air and water, Lola Castro, WFP regional director for Southern Africa, told the U.N. briefing by phone from Johannesburg.

Heavy rains preceded the cyclone, compounding the problems, said Clare Nullis of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said .

A general view shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, March 16-17, 2019 in this still image taken from a social media video on March 19, 2019. Care International/Josh Estey via REUTERS

A general view shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, March 16-17, 2019 in this still image taken from a social media video on March 19, 2019. Care International/Josh Estey via REUTERS

“It the worst fears are realized … then we can say that it is one of the worst weather-related disasters, tropical-cyclone-related disasters in the southern hemisphere.” Droughts are classed as climate-related not weather-related.

In Beira, a low-lying coastal city of 500,000 people, Nullis said the water had nowhere to drain. “This is not going to go away quickly,” she said.

Beira is also home to Mozambique’s second largest port, which serves as a gateway to landlocked countries in the region.

The control room of a pipeline that runs from Beira to Zimbabwe and supplies the majority of that country’s fuel had been damaged, Zimbabwe’s Energy Minister Jorum Gumbo told state-owned Herald newspaper on Tuesday.

“We, however, have enough stocks in the country and I am told the repairs at Beira may take a week,” he was quoted as saying.

(Reporting Manuel Mucari in Maputo and Macdonald Dzirutwe in Harare; Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and Mfuneko Toyana and Emma Rumney in Johannesburg; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Heavens)

Zimbabwe to charge activist pastor with subverting the government

Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire is escorted by detectives as he arrives at the Harare Magistrates courts in Harare, Zimbabwe, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire appeared in court on Thursday to be charged with subverting the government, punishable by up to 20 years in jail, after protests this week in which three people were killed and dozens injured.

Mawarire was arrested on Wednesday and initially charged by police with the lesser crime of inciting public violence after he posted on social media encouraging Zimbabweans to heed a strike call by the biggest labor union.

On entering the courthouse, he told reporters: “None of what I am accused of is what I have done at all. If we have true justice in this country, let’s see it at play. I am very upset.”

The Harare pastor rose to prominence as a critic of former strongman Robert Mugabe and led a national protest shutdown in 2016. He was tried on similar charges in 2017 but was acquitted by the High Court for lack of evidence.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government decreed a 150 percent hike in fuel prices last weekend, which triggered the three-day strike, during which protesters barricaded roads with rocks and burnt tires in the capital Harare. In the second city of Bulawayo, shops were looted.

Police rounded up 600 people, including Mawarire and an opposition legislator, in a crackdown on protesters. A doctors’ group said they had treated 68 people for gunshot wounds.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose lawyers are representing Mawarire and more than 130 others, said police had decided to upgrade the charges against Mawarire.

FAMILIAR WAYS

Mnangagwa promised to repair the struggling economy after replacing long-time leader Mugabe in an election following a coup in November 2017, Zimbabwe has fallen back into familiar ways.

While some businesses reopened on Thursday after the strike, new data showed that inflation had soared to a 10-year high of 42 percent in December, even before the fuel price increase.

As dollar shortages batter the economy, rocketing inflation is destroying the value of citizens’ savings.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said its members had treated 172 people, some with dog bites, in private and public hospitals since Monday, when the protests started.

“There are cases of patients who had chest trauma and fractured limbs who were forcibly taken from the hospital to attend court despite the advice of doctors,” ZAHDR said in a statement.

Of the 68 people treated for gunshot wounds, 17 underwent emergency surgery.

On Thursday, there were still long queues at the few filling stations selling fuel, sometimes under the watchful eye of soldiers.

The few shops that were open were packed with people buying basics such as sugar, flour and bread.

Media platforms including Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter remained blocked because of a government order, leading to accusations from opposition figures that it wanted to prevent images of heavy-handed police tactics being broadcast around the world.

(Editing by James Macharia and Kevin Liffey)

Bereaved Guatemalan mother recalls hopes son would ease U.S. entry

Catarina Perez (C), grandmother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, a 8-year-old boy detained alongside his father for illegally entering the U.S., who fell ill and died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), gestures at an altar in memory of Felipe at the family's home in the village of Yalambojoch, Guatemala December 27, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

By Sofia Menchu

YALAMBOJOCH, Guatemala (Reuters) – Between heavy sobs, Catarina Alonzo explained that when her husband left Guatemala to try to reach the United States, they hoped taking their 8-year-old son would make it easier for the pair to get in. Instead, the boy fell ill and died.

Detained on the U.S. border, Felipe Gomez Alonzo died late on Christmas Eve in a New Mexico hospital a few weeks after setting off with his father, becoming the second Guatemalan child to die this month while in U.S. custody.

The two deaths have led to increased criticism of the Trump administration’s hardline stance on illegal immigration, as well as fresh scrutiny of why some migrants from Central America travel with children on the long, dangerous road north.

Speaking at her home in a mountainous region of western Guatemala, Catarina Alonzo said neighbors had told the family that taking a child would provide her husband with a way in.

“Lots of them have gone with children and managed to cross, even if they’re held for a month or two. But they always manage to get across easily,” she told Reuters in an interview.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has yet to give an official cause of death for the boy, prompting Democratic lawmakers to intensify calls for an investigation.

The Department of Homeland Security, which says that Felipe Gomez Alonzo and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, who died on Dec. 8, were the first children to die in CBP custody in a decade, this week said it would step up medical checks of migrant children to try to prevent any more deaths.

Alonzo, an indigenous Maya and native speaker of Chuj, has little Spanish and communicated through a translator. Wearing a sweatshirt and a purple dress, she spoke outside her hut in Yalambojoch, a village of about 1,000 people near the Mexican border.

She related how her son and his father, Agustin, an agricultural worker, had left in early December to find work in the United States to pay off debts. The two also hoped the boy would get a better education in the United States, she said.

Still, Alonzo said her husband had doubts and at one point decided he did not want to take the boy. But that upset the boy, so they resolved he should go.

Alonzo’s sobs could be heard for minutes outside the house before she came out to be interviewed. Afterward she went back inside to a tiny altar she had adorned with three photos of the boy that a local schoolteacher had printed out for her.

The altar stood to one side of a room with cement walls that serves as a bedroom and living area for Alonzo and her three surviving children. Adjoining it was a kitchen with a dirt floor and wooden walls.

Her husband remains in U.S. custody.

“NOW OR NEVER”

Marta Larra, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry, said smugglers known as “coyotes” often encourage migrants to take children as a form of “visa.” Many coyotes, she noted, are trusted by migrant families, so their word carries weight.

But Lucas Perez, the mayor of Yalambojoch, said some coyotes are only interested in ripping off people. Still, for many migrants trying to cross the U.S. border, taking a child along was the “only option,” he told Reuters.

Describing migration from the area as “constant,” Perez estimated about 200 people from the tiny village live in the United States.

Agustin Gomez, the boy’s father, has two brothers in the United States he hoped to meet, his wife said.

Next to her hut, laborers worked on a two-story concrete house with a twin-gabled, tiled roof – evidence of the money coming back from the United States, the mayor said.

Under U.S. law, families from countries that do not border the United States cannot be immediately deported, and because of a longstanding legal settlement, there are restrictions on how long U.S. authorities can detain migrant children.

As a result, families with children are often released to await an immigration court hearing, which can be scheduled well into the future due to ballooning backlogs.

U.S. President Donald Trump has tried to reverse the policy, which he calls “catch and release,” but has been blocked by lawsuits in federal court.

His Democratic opponents have seized on the deaths of the two Guatemalan children to attack his policies. On Thursday, Senator Dianne Feinstein urged the Senate to hold a hearing in the new year on how children are treated in U.S. custody.

In the meantime, Trump’s insistence on building a southern border wall has given coyotes a fresh argument to promote migration, Larra said.

“According to interviews (with migrants), the coyotes are saying ‘it’s now or never’ because the wall is going to be built, and it won’t be possible to cross,” she said.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher in Mexico City and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Dave Graham, Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)