Iran holding IAEA inspector was ‘outrageous provocation’: U.S.

Iran holding IAEA inspector was ‘outrageous provocation’: U.S.
By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – The European Union and United States expressed concern on Thursday at Iran’s holding of an inspector from the U.N. nuclear watchdog last week, with the U.S. envoy to the agency calling it an “outrageous provocation” that must have consequences.

Reuters first reported on Wednesday that Iran had held the inspector and seized her travel documents in what appears to be the first incident of its kind since Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers was struck in 2015.

Iran confirmed that it prevented the inspector from gaining access to its main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. Its envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency told reporters that it was because she tested positive for traces of explosives but then no longer did after going to the toilet while waiting for a further search, which prompted further investigation.

“The detention of an IAEA inspector in Iran is an outrageous provocation,” the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Jackie Wolcott, said in a statement https://vienna.usmission.gov/iaea-board-of-governors-u-s-statement-on-safeguards-matters-in-iran to an emergency meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.

“All Board members need to make clear now and going forward that such actions are completely unacceptable, will not be tolerated, and must have consequences.”

The European Union said it was “deeply concerned” by what happened. Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA said the inspector was repatriated and Tehran had asked that she be removed from the list of designated inspectors. The IAEA declined to comment.

“We understand that the incident was resolved and call upon Iran to ensure that no such incidents occur in the future,” an EU statement said.

Acting IAEA chief Cornel Feruta, who will be succeeded by Argentina’s Rafael Grossi next month, called Thursday’s board meeting to discuss the incident and Iran’s failure to give a convincing explanation for uranium traces found at a site in Tehran.

Feruta told Iran in September that “time is of the essence” in addressing the IAEA’s questions on how it found the traces on samples taken in February at the undeclared site, which Iran has said was a carpet-cleaning facility.

The EU and United States called on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA in explaining the traces of uranium that was processed but not enriched. A U.S. official said there were also signs of “activities consistent with sanitization” by Iran there.

“Time was of the essence in September; now that time is up,” Wolcott, the U.S. envoy, said in her statement.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson and Giles Elgood)

Russia extends detention of ex-U.S. Marine accused of spying

Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan who is being held on suspicion of spying talks with his lawyers Vladimir Zherebenkov and Olga Kralova, as he stands in the courtroom cage after a ruling regarding extension of his detention, in Moscow, Russia, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

By Tom Balmforth and Alexander Reshetnikov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Friday ruled that Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of spying, should be held in a pre-trial detention facility for a further three months to give investigators more time to look into his case.

Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies. If found guilty, he could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

The case has put further strain on already poor U.S.-Russia relations as has that of another detained American, private equity chief Michael Calvey.

Russia’s Federal Security Service detained Whelan after an acquaintance handed him a flash drive containing classified information. Whelan’s lawyer says his client was misled.

Whelan had met the same person in the town of Sergiev Possad in May last year where they visited the town’s monastery and other tourist sites, the lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told reporters on Friday.

When Whelan returned to Russia again in December to attend a wedding, the same acquaintance unexpectedly turned up and gave him a flash drive containing what Whelan thought were photographs of the earlier trip, the lawyer said.

“Paul and I consider this was a provocation and a crime by his acquaintance,” said Zherebenkov, saying Whelan had known the man, whom he did not name, for several years.

Whelan on Friday appeared in court in a cage and looked downcast when he spoke briefly to reporters before masked security officials cut him off.

“I could do with care packages, food, things like that, letters from home,” Whelan said.

The court on Friday said Whelan would be held in pre-trial detention until May 28, extending an earlier ruling to keep him in custody until Feb. 28.

The U.S. embassy in Moscow said a consular official had visited Whelan in custody on Thursday.

It said, however, that it was unable to provide further information as Whelan had not been allowed by investigators to sign a privacy act waiver (PAW) that would legally allow the U.S. government to release information about the case.

“In every other instance, we have been able to obtain a signed PAW, but in Mr. Whelan’s case, the Investigative Committee is not allowing this to happen. Why is this case any different?” embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan wrote on Twitter.

(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Maxim Rodionov; editing by Andrew Osborn)

Guatemalan boy becomes second child to die in U.S. custody in December

FILE PHOTO: A logo patch is shown on the uniform of a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the international border between Mexico and the United States south of San Diego, California March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An 8-year-old Guatemalan migrant boy died early on Christmas Day after being detained by U.S. border agents, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said, the second migrant child to die in U.S. detention this month.

The boy and his father were in CBP custody on Monday when a Border Patrol agent noticed the child showing signs of illness, CBP said in a statement. The father and son were taken to the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where the boy was diagnosed with a common cold and fever, and eventually released by hospital staff.

But later that evening, the boy began vomiting and was transferred back to the hospital. He died there early on Tuesday, CBP said, adding that the official cause of death was not known.

The father and son were not identified, and the agency said it would release more details “as available and appropriate.” Guatemalan officials have been notified of the death, CBP said.

The boy’s death followed the death in early December of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, also from Guatemala. She died after being detained along with her father by U.S. border agents in a remote part of New Mexico.

After the second death, the CBP announced it was developing several policy changes late Tuesday.

It will conduct secondary medical checks on all children in its custody, with a focus on those under 10, the agency said in a release.

The agency will also work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to improve custody options, such as better transportation to Family Residential Centers and supervised release, and working with non-governmental agencies for housing.

This is a tragic loss. On behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said in the release.

Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry said its consul in Phoenix was seeking to interview the boy’s father, to whom it pledged to give all necessary consular assistance and protection. In a statement, the ministry said it also requested medical reports to clarify the cause of death.

According to the ministry, the boy and his father entered the United States via El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 18 and were transferred to a border patrol station in Alamogordo on Dec. 23.

The Trump administration has tried to deter people from crossing the border between ports of entry illegally to seek asylum, while at the same time restricting legal access to official ports of entry. That has created a months-long wait for asylum applicants, including those who came as part of a large caravan of Central Americans this year.

Jakelin Caal’s funeral was being held in her family’s village in Guatemala.

Her death fueled criticism of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies from Democrats and migrant advocates. The Trump administration said Caal’s death showed the danger of her journey and the family’s decision to cross the border illegally.

That death is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General, which looks into accusations of misconduct by the agency’s employees.

CBP said on Tuesday that the Guatemalan boy’s death is being reviewed by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and that the Inspector General has been notified of the death. It was not immediately known if the watchdog would open an investigation.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu in San Antonio Secortez, Guatemala, and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Leslie Adler, Nick Macfie and Chizu Nomiyama)

Tired of waiting for asylum, migrants from caravan breach U.S. border

Migrants from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, put their hands in the air as they surrender to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official in San Diego County, U.S., after crossing illegally from Mexico to the U.S by jumping a border fence, photographed from Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By Christine Murray

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Central American migrants stuck on the threshold of the United States in Mexico breached the border fence on Monday, risking almost certain detention by U.S. authorities but hoping the illegal entry will allow them to apply for asylum.

Since mid-October, thousands of Central Americans, mostly from Honduras, have traveled north through Mexico toward the United States in a caravan, some walking much of the long trek.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, climb a border fence to cross illegally from Mexico to the U.S, in Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, climb a border fence to cross illegally from Mexico to the U.S, in Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to stop the migrants entering, sending troops to reinforce the border and attempting a procedural change, so far denied by the courts, to require asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are heard.

Frustrated and exhausted after weeks of uncertainty, many of the migrants have become desperate since getting stuck in squalid camps in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

So a number opted to eschew legal procedures and attempt an illegal entry from Tijuana as dusk fell on Monday at a spot about 1,500 feet (450 meters) away from the Pacific Ocean.

In less than an hour, Reuters reporters observed roughly two dozen people climb the approximately 10-foot (3-meter) fence made of thick sheets and pillars of metal. They chose a place in a large overgrown ditch where the fence is slightly lower.

Just before dusk, three thin people squeezed through the fence on the beach and were quickly picked up by the U.S. Border Patrol, witnesses said.

But along the border inland as darkness descended, more and more migrants followed, many bringing children.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials walk on the beach in San Diego County, U.S., as photographed through the border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018 REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials walk on the beach in San Diego County, U.S., as photographed through the border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018, REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Some used a blanket as a rope to help loved ones get over.

A mother and her children made it over the first fence and disappeared into the night.

The sight of them climbing the fence encouraged others, even as a helicopter patrolled overhead on the U.S. side.

Earlier, Karen Mayeni, a 29-year-old Honduran, sized up the fence while clinging to her three children, aged six, 11 and 12.

“We’re just observing, waiting to see what happens,” Mayeni said. “We’ll figure out what to do in a couple of days.”

Ninety minutes later, she and her family were over the fence.

A number of the migrants ran to try to escape capture, but most of them walked slowly to where U.S. Border Patrol officials were waiting under floodlights to hand themselves in.

‘STAND ON MY HEAD’

Some of the migrants are likely to be economic refugees without a strong asylum claim, but others tell stories of receiving politically motivated death threats in a region troubled by decades of instability and violence.

Applying for asylum at a U.S. land border can take months, so if migrants enter illegally and present themselves to authorities, their cases could be heard quicker.

U.S. officials have restricted applications through the Chaparral gate in Tijuana to between 40 and 100 per day.

Some may hope to defeat the odds and penetrate one of the most fortified sections of the southern U.S. border.

Those that made it across the fence in Tijuana still had to scramble up a hill and contend with a more forbidding wall to reach California, and U.S. Border Patrol agents had the territory between the two barriers heavily covered.

“Climb up. You can do it! Stand on my head!” one migrant said, egging his companion on.

One child and his mother got over the fence and ran up the hill behind. They turned around and waved to those still on the Mexican side.

(Reporting by Christine Murray; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Syria must account for thousands of detainees who died in custody: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: A boy carries his belongings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo's al-Fardous district, Syria April 2, 2015. REUTERS/Rami Zayat/File Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. war crimes investigators called on Syria on Wednesday to tell families what happened to their relatives who disappeared and provide the medical records and remains of those who died or were executed in custody.

No progress can be made towards a lasting peace to end the nearly eight-year-old war without justice, the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said.

After years of government silence, Syrian authorities this year released “thousands or tens of thousands” of names of detainees alleged to have died, mostly between 2011 and 2014, it said in a report released before delivery to the U.N. Security Council.

“Most custodial deaths are thought to have occurred in places of detention run by Syrian intelligence or military agencies. The Commission has not documented any instance, however, where bodies or personal belongings of the deceased were returned,” it said.

In nearly every case, death certificates for prisoners that were provided to families recorded the cause of death as a “heart attack” or “stroke”, the independent panel led by Paulo Pinheiro said.

“Some individuals from the same geographic area share common death dates, possibly indicating group executions,” it said.

FILE PHOTO: Syria's president Bashar al-Assad (C) joins Syrian army soldiers for Iftar in the farms of Marj al-Sultan village, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on June 26, 2016./File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad (C) joins Syrian army soldiers for Iftar in the farms of Marj al-Sultan village, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on June 26, 2016,./File Photo

In most cases, the place of death was stated as Tishreen military hospital or Mujtahid hospital, both near Damascus, but the place of detention was not named, it said.

“Pro-government forces and primarily the Syrian state should reveal publicly the fates of those detained, disappeared and/or missing without delay,” the report said, noting this meant Syrian government forces, Russian forces and affiliated militia.

Families had the right to know the truth about their loved one’s deaths and be able to retrieve their remains, it said.

In a 2016 report, the panel found that the scale of deaths in prisons indicated that the government of President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for “extermination as a crime against humanity”.

In Syria, a family member must register a death within a month after receiving a death notification, the report said. Failure to do so results in a fine which grows after a year.

But given that there are millions of Syrian refugees abroad and internally displaced, many are not in a position to meet deadlines, it said.

The lack of an official death certificate may affect the housing, land and property rights of relatives, it said, noting that female-headed households may face further challenges to secure inheritance rights.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)

Turkey will resist U.S. sanctions over pastor, Erdogan says

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan with his wife Emine are seen in a car as they arrive in Berlin, Germany, September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

By Gulsen Solaker and Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will resist U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Ankara over the trial of a Christian pastor who has been detained for two years, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, accusing the preacher of having “dark links with terror”.

The case of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, whose next court hearing is on Oct. 12, has plunged ties between Ankara and Washington into crisis, leading to U.S. sanctions and tariffs which helped push Turkey’s lira to record lows in August.

Brunson is charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. He has denied the charges and Washington has demanded his immediate release.

Relations between the two NATO allies were already strained by disputes over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkey’s plans to buy a Russian missile defense system, and the jailing of a Turkish bank executive for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“We are deeply saddened by the current U.S. government, a strategic partner, targeting our country without any logical, political and strategic consistency,” Erdogan said in a speech to a new session of parliament.

Erdogan said Turkey was determined to fight, within legal and diplomatic frameworks, “this crooked understanding, which imposes sanctions using the excuse of a pastor who is tried due to his dark links with terror organizations.”

Brunson’s case has become the most divisive issue between the two countries. U.S. President Donald Trump believed he and Erdogan had agreed a deal to release him in July, but Ankara has denied agreeing to free the pastor as part of a wider agreement.

Brunson, who has been jailed or held under house arrest since October 2016, faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted. Last month the main prosecutor in his trial was replaced, a move which his lawyer cautiously welcomed, saying it might be a sign of changing political will.

In his speech to the first session of parliament since its summer recess, Erdogan held out the possibility of better relations, while adding that there was still much work to do.

“We can say that we started to make progress towards reaching a common understanding (with the United States), although it is not at the desired level,” he said.

He also repeated Turkey’s accusation that Washington is protecting Gulen, who has been based in the United States for two decades, and said the conviction in a New York court of an executive of state-owned Halkbank for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran was “an example of unique unlawfulness”.

Tensions with Washington contributed to a meltdown in the Turkish lira in August, when the currency hit a record low of 7.20 to the dollar. It had already weakened over concerns at the extent of Erdogan’s control of the economy and opposition to raising interest rates to combat double-digit inflation.

Erdogan said Turkey’s economy was overcoming what he described as “midnight operations” designed to break it.

“Our economy started rebalancing with measures we have taken, meetings we have realized and programs we have developed,” he told parliament.

The lira <TRYTOM=D3> firmed more than 2 percent on Monday, reaching its strongest level in more than six weeks, on growing optimism that Brunson might be released and following a hike in interest rates and the govenrment’s new economic program.

Turkey’s exports also rose sharply in September, the trade ministry said, but Turkish manufacturing activity slid to its lowest level in nine years, a business survey showed.

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Turkey’s lira weakens 4 percent, Trump says won’t take pastor’s detention ‘sitting down’

A street vendor sells food on a main street in central Ankara, Turkey August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Daren Butler, David Dolan and Humeyra Pamuk

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s battered lira weakened 3 percent on Friday after a Turkish court rejected an American pastor’s appeal for release, drawing a stiff rebuke from President Donald Trump, who said the United States would not take the detention “sitting down”.

The case of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical Christian missionary from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for two decades, has become a flashpoint between Washington and Ankara and accelerated a widening currency crisis.

The lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year as investors fret about President Tayyip Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy.

Heavy selling in recent weeks has spread to other emerging market currencies and global stocks and deepened concerns about the economy, particularly Turkey’s dependence on energy imports and whether foreign-currency debt poses a risk to banks.

Borrowing costs may rise further after both Moody’s and Standard Poor’s ratings agencies cut Turkey’s sovereign credit ratings deeper into “junk” territory late on Friday.

“They should have given him back a long time ago, and Turkey has in my opinion acted very, very badly,” Trump told reporters at the White House, referring to Brunson. “So, we haven’t seen the last of that. We are not going to take it sitting down. They can’t take our people.”

Trump’s comments came after a court in Izmir province rejected an appeal to release Brunson from house arrest, saying evidence was still being collected and the pastor posed a flight risk, according to a copy of the court ruling seen by Reuters.

Brunson is being held on terrorism charges, which he denies. Trump, who counts evangelical Christians among his core supporters, has increasingly championed the pastor’s case.

It was not immediately clear what additional measures, if any, Trump could be considering. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Trump on Thursday that more sanctions were ready if Brunson were not freed.

The United States and Turkey have imposed tit-for-tat tariffs in an escalating attempt by Trump to induce Erdogan into giving up the pastor. Erdogan has cast the tariffs, and the lira’s sell-off, as an “economic war” against Turkey.

The lira last traded at 6.0100 to the dollar at 2159 GMT, 3 percent weaker after tumbling as much as 7 percent earlier. Turkey’s dollar bonds fell, while the cost of insuring exposure to Turkish debt rose.

As the row deepens, Turkey has sought to improve strained ties with European allies. In a telephone call on Friday, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire discussed U.S. sanctions against Turkey and cooperation between their countries, Albayrak’s ministry said.

SPEED-BUMPS

“Diplomatic negotiations hit speed-bumps and that’s not unusual in these kinds of situations,” said Jay Sekulow, a personal attorney for Trump who is also representing Brunson’s family. “We remain hopeful there will be a prompt resolution. Having said that, we fully support the president’s approach.”

Whatever action the United States takes looks likely to cause more pain for Turkish assets.

People change money at a currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

People change money at a currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

“There has been no improvement in relations with the U.S. and additional sanctions may be on the horizon,” said William Jackson of Capital Economics in a note to clients, adding that the lira could see a downward trend in 2019 and beyond.

Turkey’s banking watchdog has taken steps to stabilize the currency, limiting futures transactions for offshore investors and lowering limits on swap transactions. On Friday, it further broadened those caps.

But some economists have called for more decisive moves.

Turkey and its firms face repayments of nearly $3.8 billion on foreign currency bonds in October, Societe Generale has calculated. It estimates Turkey’s short-term external debt at $180 billion and total external debt at $460 billion – the highest in emerging markets.

Companies that for years have borrowed abroad at low-interest rates have seen their cost of servicing foreign debt rise by a quarter in lira terms in two months.

After each downgrading Turkey by one notch, S&P said it expected a recession next year while Moody’s said a weakening of Turkey’s public institutions had made policymaking less predictable.

Fitch Ratings had earlier said the absence of an orthodox monetary policy response to the lira’s fall, and the rhetoric of Turkish authorities, had “increased the difficulty of restoring economic stability and sustainability”.

DEEP CONCERNS

Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, told investors on Thursday that Turkey would emerge stronger from the currency crisis, insisting its banks were healthy and signaling it could ride out the dispute with Washington.

Economists gave Albayrak’s presentation a qualified welcome and the lira initially found some support, helped by Qatar’s pledge to invest $15 billion in Turkey.

Deep concerns remain about the potential for damage to the economy, however. Turkey is dependent on imports, priced in hard currency, for almost all of its energy needs.

Erdogan has remained defiant, urging Turks to sell their gold and dollars for lira. But foreign currency deposits held by local investors rose to $159.9 billion in the week to Aug. 10, from $158.6 billion a week earlier, central bank data showed.

Turkish markets will be closed from midday on Monday for the rest of the week for the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival.

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay, Tuvan Gumrukcu, and Nevzat Devranoglu in Ankara; Karin Strohecker and Claire Milhench in London; Jeff Mason and Karen Freifeld in Washington; Editing by Catherine Evans and James Dalgleish)

Israel offers to pay Illegal African migrants to leave, threatens jail

African migrants protest outside Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem January 26, 2017.

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Wednesday it would pay thousands of African migrants living illegally in the country to leave, threatening them with jail if they are caught after the end of March.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in public remarks at a cabinet meeting on the payment program, said a barrier Israel completed in 2013 along its border with Egypt had effectively cut off a stream of “illegal infiltrators” from Africa after some 60,000 crossed the desert frontier.

The vast majority came from Eritrea and Sudan and many said they fled war and persecution as well as economic hardship, but Israel treats them as economic migrants.

The plan launched this week offers African migrants a $3,500 payment from the Israeli government and a free air ticket to return home or go to “third countries”, which rights groups identified as Rwanda and Uganda.

“We have expelled about 20,000 and now the mission is to get the rest out,” Netanyahu said.

An immigration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there are some 38,000 migrants living illegally in Israel, and some 1,420 are being held in two detention centers.

“Beyond the end of March, those who leave voluntarily will receive a significantly smaller payment that will shrink even more with time, and enforcement measures will begin,” the official said, referring to incarceration.

Some have lived for years in Israel and work in low-paying jobs that many Israelis shun. Israel has granted asylum to fewer than one percent of those who have applied and has a years-long backlog of applicants.

Rights groups have accused Israel of being slow to process African migrants’ asylum requests as a matter of policy and denying legitimate claims to the status.

Netanyahu has called the migrants’ presence a threat to Israel’s social fabric and Jewish character, and one government minister has referred to them as “a cancer”.

Teklit Michael, a 29-asylum seeker from Eritrea living in Tel Aviv, said in response to the Israeli plan that paying money to other governments to take in Africans was akin to “human trafficking and smuggling”.

“We don’t know what is waiting for us (in Rwanda and Uganda),” he told Reuters by telephone. “They prefer now to stay in prison (in Israel) instead.”

In his remarks, Netanyahu cited the large presence of African migrants in Tel Aviv’s poorer neighborhoods, where he said “veteran residents” – a reference to Israelis – no longer feel safe.

“So today, we are keeping our promise to restore calm, a sense of personal security and law and order to the residents of south Tel Aviv and those in many other neighborhoods,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Miriam Berger; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

U.N. panel urges end to detention of would-be immigrants in U.S.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrest an immigrant in San Clemente, California,

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.N. human rights panel urged the United States on Monday to end widespread detention of would-be immigrants including asylum-seekers, saying the practice has “grown exponentially” and violates international law.

The holding of migrants and would-be refugees in custody is often “punitive, unreasonably long, unnecessary and costly” and should be used only as a last resort, the panel said in a 23-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Each year, an estimated 352,850 people are detained across the United States pending the outcome of their immigration proceedings at a cost of about $2 billion, it said.

The independent experts, who form the U.N. working group on arbitrary detention, were reporting on their mission last October at the invitation of the Obama administration.

“The Working Group is of the view that all administrative detention, in particular of immigrants in an irregular situation, should be in accordance with international human rights law; and that such detention is to be a measure of last resort, necessary and proportionate and be not punitive in nature, and that alternatives to detention are to be sought whenever possible,” the report said.

In Washington, a White House spokeswoman said “That’s a question for the U.N.” when asked to comment on the panel’s findings. The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Donald Trump has backed legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants, describing it as vital to protect American lives.

The U.N. experts interviewed 280 detainees during their visits to nine prisons in Texas, California and Illinois. Some were remote locations with limited access to legal services.

They reported seeing immigrants and asylum seekers held in “punitive conditions” comparable to those of convicted criminals despite their right to seek asylum under international law.

In some cases, the length of detention pending immigration proceedings was “unreasonable”, lasting from six months to more than one year without resolution.

The experts voiced concern at Trump’s executive order in January and an implementing memorandum that “lay the groundwork for expanding the existing detention system by increasing the number of individuals subject to immigration detention”.

“Under the order, apprehended individuals may be detained ‘on suspicion’ of violating federal or state law, which includes unauthorized entry,” they said.

They received information in March that the Department of Homeland Security was considering separating children from parents caught crossing the border, “in an attempt to deter illegal immigration from Mexico,” they said.

“This is particularly serious given the increasing trend of unaccompanied children migrating to escape violence and reunite with family members.”

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

 

Turkey detains 60 soldiers, issues detention orders for 128 people: media

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish authorities detained 60 soldiers on Wednesday and issued detention orders for another 128 people in operations targeting the network of a Muslim cleric the government blames for last year’s failed coup, local media reported.

Some 50,000 people have been arrested since the failed putsch in July and around 150,000 sacked or suspended, including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links with the movement of U.S-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Authorities detained the soldiers in raids focused on the central Turkish province of Konya and 32 other provinces, the Hurriyet daily said.

Separately, the state-run Anadolu Agency said detention orders had been issued for 128 people with ties to the publishing company Kaynak Holding, which was linked to the Gulen movement before authorities seized it.

Hundreds of firms like Kaynak, many of them smaller provincial businesses, were seized by authorities in the post-coup crackdown and are now run by government-appointed administrators.

Of the 128 people being sought, Anadolu said 39 people had been detained so far in an operation carried out in Istanbul and seven other provinces.

There was no official comment on the detentions.

On Tuesday, authorities detained the local chair of Amnesty International and 22 other lawyers in the Aegean coastal province of Izmir for suspected links to Gulen’s network, the rights group said. [nL8N1J35YC]

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied involvement in the coup and condemned it.

The scope of the purges, which have also seen more than 130 media outlets shut down and some 150 journalists jailed, has unnerved rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies, who fear President Tayyip Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent and purge opponents.

Turkish officials, however, say the crackdown is necessary due to the gravity of the coup attempt which killed 240 people on July 15.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Adrian Croft)