Lightning-sparked fires rage across California, tens of thousands flee

By Steven Lam

VACAVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – A firefighting helicopter pilot was killed in a crash, and scores of homes burned in California on Wednesday as hundreds of lightning-sparked blazes forced tens of thousands of people to flee their dwellings.

Nearly 11,000 lightning strikes were documented during a 72-hour stretch this week in the heaviest spate of thunderstorms to hit California in more than a decade, igniting 367 individual fires. Almost two dozen of them have grown into major conflagrations, authorities said.

Multiple fires raced through hills and mountains adjacent to Northern California’s drought-parched wine country, shutting down Interstate 80 at Fairfield, about 35 miles (56 km) southwest of Sacramento, as flames leapt across the highway, trapping motorists caught in a hectic evacuation.

Police in the nearby town of Vacaville reported that advancing flames had prompted the evacuation of a state prison there and a medical facility for inmates.

Four residents whose communities were overrun by flames hours earlier in the same area suffered burns but survived, though the severity of their injuries was not immediately known, said Will Powers a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

He said thousands of residents were under mandatory evacuation orders in a four-county area stricken by a cluster of nine wind-driven fires collectively dubbed the LNU Complex, triggered by lightning on Monday.

In central California, a helicopter was on a water-dropping mission in Fresno County about 160 miles (258 km) south of San Francisco when it crashed, killing the pilot, a private contractor, CalFire said.

As of Wednesday night, the LNU complex of fires had burned largely unchecked across 124,000 acres (50,000 hectares), with zero containment, destroying at least 105 homes and other structures and leaving another 70 damaged, CalFire said. Several of the fires had merged by nightfall.

Wearing a singed nightgown, Diane Bustos said her husband abandoned their car as it caught fire and then blew up on the west side of Vacaville early Wednesday morning. She lost both her shoes when she and her family ran for their lives.

“I made it, God saved me,” Bustos told television station KPIX.

There were social media accounts of people trapped in the blaze, but CalFire’s Powers said authorities had no reports of anyone missing.

A Reuters reporter saw dozens of burned-out homesteads and houses in the Vacaville-Fairfield area, dead livestock among torched properties and some animals wandering loose.

“We are experiencing fires the like of which we haven’t seen in many, many years,” California Governor Gavin Newsom told a news conference, adding he had requested 375 fire engines from out of state to help.

He declared a statewide fire emergency on Tuesday.

The last time California experienced dry lightning storms of such devastating proportions was in 2008, said CalFire spokesman Scott Maclean.

Fanned by “red-flag” high winds, the fires are racing through vegetation parched by a record-breaking heat wave that began on Friday. Meteorologists have said the extreme heat and lightning storms were both linked to the same atmospheric weather pattern – an enormous high-pressure area hovering over America’s desert Southwest.

The largest group of fires, called the SCU Lightning Complex, had scorched at least 102,000 acres some 20 miles east of Palo Alto, while a third cluster, the CZU August Lightning Complex, grew to more than 10,000 acres and forced evacuations around 13 miles south of Palo Alto.

(Reporting by Steven Lam in Vacaville, Calif.; Additional reporting by Jane Ross and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento. Writing and reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Stephen Coates, Sandra Maler and Lincoln Feast.)

Brazil vice president invites DiCaprio to see reality of Amazon rainforest

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao on Wednesday called on actor Leonardo DiCaprio to visit the Amazon to see the reality of the situation there, as the government faces criticisms for rising destruction in the world’s largest rain forest.

Mourao invited DiCaprio, an environmental campaigner, to go with him personally on a journey along a notoriously ill-maintained road in the remote far western Amazon near the town of Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira.

“I would like to invite our most recent critic, Leonardo DiCaprio, to go with me to Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira to do an eight-hour ride through the jungle between the Sao Gabriel airport and the Cucui highway,” Mourao said

“He will learn with each big pothole that he has to pass that the Amazon is not a flat land and understand better how things work in this vast region.”

Representatives for DiCaprio did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Last year, as surging fires in the Amazon provoked global outcry, Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro accused DiCaprio of funding fires in the Amazon, without presenting any evidence. DiCaprio denied the allegation.

This year, the number of fires rose in June and July compared to a year ago, but in the first 15 days of August, fires were down 17% compared to a year ago, according to government data.

Deforestation is up 34.5% in the 12 months through July, compared to the same period a year ago, preliminary government data shows.

DiCaprio has a foundation dedicated to the environment and has called for Amazon preservation. Scientists say the Amazon is vital to curbing climate change, because of the vast amount of greenhouse gas that the forest absorbs.

In July, DiCaprio on Twitter praised the Brazilian government’s 120-day ban on fires in the Amazon, an attempt to rein in the destruction.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Jake Spring; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Police declare riot as Portland protesters set fires, attack government building

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – Protesters lit fires, threw rocks and smashed windows at county government offices in the U.S. city of Portland on Tuesday, prompting police to declare a riot, after weeks of mostly peaceful anti-racism demonstrations.

The protesters, some wearing gas masks and carrying shields, lit fires in dumpsters and used lighter fuel to start a fire inside the Multnomah Building big enough to set off the sprinkler system, police said.

TV footage showed debris on the street in flames and people throwing stones at the building. The fire in the building was put out by police, media said.

Black Lives Matter protests have been held across the United States in recent months after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Protests, including in Portland, have at times erupted into arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the Northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting the federal courthouse there.

Police said some officers were targeted a night earlier with a “powerful green laser” capable of causing permanent eye damage when some protesters marched on the Portland Police Association building.

“Portland Police has declared the gathering near the Multnomah Building a riot after individuals vandalized, repeatedly smashed first floor windows with rocks and threw burning material into an office,” the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

Police said some crowd control “munitions” were used to disperse the protesters, but no tear gas.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury released a statement at midnight, saying a small group of protesters had set fire to the Office of Community Involvement.

“This is the heart of our county, where people in our community come to get married, get their passports, and celebrate their cultural traditions and diversity,” the Oregonian website quoted her as saying, adding the space is dedicated to community members “marginalized by the traditional political process.”

Police said on Wednesday an officer sustained a minor injury and there were two arrests, one on charges of rioting, unlawful use of a weapon and assaulting a public safety officer, and another on charges of criminal mischief and reckless endangering.

A crowd of several hundred people gathered in the city’s Colonel Summers Park late on Tuesday before marching through Southeast Portland streets, eventually arriving at the Multnomah Building, police said.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr came under fire from Democratic lawmakers earlier this month for sending federal officers to disperse protesters in the city.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Tuesday called for the Department of Justice to prosecute a group of people caught on videotape beating and kicking a man who crashed his truck near protests in Portland.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Trump pushes military response as U.S. girds for more protests

By Nathan Layne and Brendan O’Brien

NEW YORK/MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday said U.S. troops should take to the streets of New York City to quell unrest, as authorities across the country prepared for another night of protests over the death of an unarmed black man in police custody.

Dozens of cities are under curfews. The head of the U.S. National Guard said on Tuesday that 18,000 Guard members were assisting local law enforcement in 29 states.

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials seemed taken aback by the extent of mayhem overnight in some major U.S. cities where police were shot at and pelted with rocks and projectiles as they faced hostile crowds.

Demonstrators smashed windows and looted stores in New York, including luxury retailers on Fifth Avenue, and set fire to a Los Angeles strip mall. Four officers were shot in St. Louis and one in Las Vegas who was critically wounded, authorities said.

Trump has threatened to use the military to battle violence that has erupted nightly, often after a day of peaceful protests. He has derided local authorities, including state governors, for their response to the disturbances.

“NYC, CALL UP THE NATIONAL GUARD. The lowlifes and losers are ripping you apart. Act fast!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. He deploying thousands of armed soldiers and law enforcement in the U.S. capital and vowed to do the same wherever authorities fail to regain control.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo voiced outrage at the chaos in America’s largest city, saying its mayor and police force “did not do their job last night.” He said he believed Mayor Bill de Blasio underestimated the scope of the problem.

The governor said he had offered the state’s mayors support from state police or 13,000 National Guard who are on standby and said that with a 38,000-strong police force, New York City should be able to address its unrest on its own.

He added that Trump sought to blur the line between protesters representing a cross-section of Americans with a legitimate cause and looters. Authorities blame the looting and vandalism on a relatively small number of people protesting against police brutality.

De Blasio poured cold water on the idea of deploying the National Guard in his city.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25.

Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old Minneapolis police officer who planted his knee on Floyd’s neck, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved have not been charged.

MARTIN LUTHER KING REMEMBERED

Floyd’s death has reignited the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans and led to a painful reexamination of race relations five months before a divided America votes in a presidential election.

Some of those who have gathered at the site of Floyd’s killing have invoked the non-violent message of the late U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated in 1968, as the only way forward.

“He would be truly appalled by the violence because he gave his life for this stuff,” said Al Clark, 62, a black man who drove to the Minneapolis memorial with one of King’s speeches blaring from his truck.

“But I can understand the frustration and anger.”

In Atlanta, six officers will face charges for an incident in which two college students were removed from their car and tased, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told a briefing. Two of the six officers were terminated on Sunday.

A police officer in Sarasota, Florida, was placed on leave on Tuesday after video surfaced showing the officer kneeling on a man’s back and neck during an arrest in May.

Officers were injured in clashes elsewhere, including one who was in critical condition after being hit by a car in the Bronx, police said.

The protests have escalated racial tensions in a country hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with African Americans making up a disproportionately high number of cases and being hard hit by job losses from lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus.

Critics accuse Trump, who is seeking re-election in a Nov. 3 election, of further stoking conflict and racial tension rather than seeking to bring the country together and address the underlying issues.

“President Trump is right to be focused on law and order. He wasn’t hired to be the consoler-in-chief,” said Jason Miller, who advised the Republican Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden pledged in a speech on Tuesday to try to heal the racial divide in America and blasted Trump’s response to the protests.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Lisa Lambert, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Zachary Fagenson, Brendan O’Brien, Nathan Layne, Susan Heavey and Brad Brooks; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Howard Goller)

Explainer: Can Trump send the U.S. military to quell violence at protests?

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday suggested he would use federal troops to end unrest that has erupted following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody last week.

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said during brief remarks at the White House.

The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, but police in some cities have used force against journalists and protesters, and protesters have clashed with police. Many U.S. cities have set curfews.

To deploy the armed forces, Trump would need to formally invoke a group of statutes known as the Insurrection Act.

WHAT IS THE INSURRECTION ACT?

Under the U.S. Constitution, governors generally have the authority to maintain order within state borders. This principle is reflected in a law called the Posse Comitatus Act, which generally prohibits the federal military from participating in domestic law enforcement.

The Insurrection Act, which dates to the early 1800s, is an as exception to principles later codified in the Posse Comitatus Act.

The Insurrection Act permits the president to send in U.S. forces to suppress a domestic insurrection that has hindered the normal enforcement of U.S. law.

CAN TRUMP SEND IN TROOPS WITHOUT A GOVERNOR’S APPROVAL?

Yes. The law lays out a scenario in which the president is required to have approval from a state’s governor or legislature, and also instances where such approval is not necessary, said Robert Chesney, a professor of national security law at the University of Texas.

Historically, in instances where the Insurrection Act was invoked, presidents and governors have usually agreed on the need for troops, said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a law professor at the University of Dayton.

In 2005, former President George W. Bush decided not to invoke the Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in part because the state’s then-governor opposed the move.

HAS IT BEEN INVOKED BEFORE?

Yes. The Insurrection Act has been invoked on dozens of occasions through U.S. history. Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, however, its use has become “exceedingly rare,” according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

The Insurrection Act was last used in 1992, when the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King led to deadly riots.

CAN A COURT STRIKE DOWN TRUMP’S APPLICATION OF THE LAW?

Hoffmeister said he did not think invoking the Insurrection Act was warranted because governors can handle the current unrest through their criminal justice systems.

“The Insurrection Act should only be used in dire situations and I don’t think the circumstances right now call for it,” Hoffmeister said.

But Chesney said a successful legal challenge to Trump’s use of the law was “very unlikely.” Courts have historically been very reluctant to second-guess a president’s military declarations, he said.

“The law, for all practical purposes, leaves this to the president with very little judicial review with any teeth,” Chesney said. “That may be a terrible state of affairs, but that’s what it is.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Edited by Noeleen Walder, Gerry Doyle and Steve Orlofsky)

Tensions in U.S. rise after another night of broken glass, fires and looting

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday urged U.S. states to crack down on violent protests that have engulfed cities, saying officials should “dominate” and arrest people to restore order after a sixth straight night of vandalism and looting, media reported.

Residents and business owners in cities from New York to Santa Monica, California, spent Monday sweeping up broken glass and taking stock of damage after protests over racial inequities and excessive police force turned violent again overnight.

“You have to dominate,” Trump told the governors in a private call, the New York Times reported. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time – they’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”

CBS News, which also obtained audio of the call, said Trump had pinned the violence on the “radical left.”

Dozens of cities across the United States remain under curfews at a level not seen since riots following the 1968 assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The National Guard deployed in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

Authorities fought to put out fires near the White House and halt the looting of shops in numerous cities. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported “significant ongoing” civil unrest in 36 U.S. cities, including smaller ones like Fargo, North Dakota, and Roanoke, Virginia.

One person was killed in Louisville, Kentucky, overnight where police and National Guard troops returned fire while trying to disperse a crowd.

“It’s devastating and heartbreaking,” Alex Flowers, 30, said as she swept broken glass from the sidewalk outside Wasteland, a used-clothing store in Santa Monica, California, early on Monday. “I came to help clean up the city that has been destroyed and help the business owners and employees.”

The unrest, which erupted as the country was easing lengthy lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus, began with peaceful protests over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis last Monday.

Video footage showed a white police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, 46, for nearly nine minutes before he died. Derek Chauvin, a since-fired 44-year-old police officer, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was released on $500,000 bail and is due to appear in court on June 8, according to jail records.

‘I’LL FIGHT WITH YOU’

On Monday, dozens of people quietly paid their respects to Floyd at the scene outside the Cup Foods where he lost his life. Visitors left flowers and signs honoring Floyd on the pavement. A little girl wrote, “I’ll fight with you,” in aqua blue chalk in the road.

“This is therapeutic. My heart was real heavy this morning so I came down extra early and when I got here, the heaviness lifted,” said Diana Jones, 40, the mother of four children. “This right here let’s me know that things are going to be ok.”

In the U.S. capital, St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic place near the White House where many U.S. presidents have worshipped, suffered minor damage while the nearby headquarters of the AFL-CIO labor group was vandalized.

Floyd’s death was the latest in a string of similar incidents to prompt an outcry over racism in law enforcement. It reignited outrage across a politically and racially divided country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many cities affected by the unrest are just restarting some normal economic activity after more than two months of stay-at-home orders to stem the outbreak, which has killed more than 104,000 people and plunged more than 40 million people into joblessness.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News that Antifa, an anti-fascist group, was “certainly behind” the violence. Trump branded the group a terrorist organization, though it was unclear whether they were involved in any violence.

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told a news briefing with Mayor Bill de Blasio that police are seeing “outside agitators coming and trying to rally people to do bad things.”

Trump has condemned the killing of Floyd and promised justice but has made no major public statement to address the crisis. In tweets he has described protesters as “thugs” and threatened to use the U.S. military.

Critics accuse the Republican president, who is seeking re-election in November, of stoking conflict and racial tension rather than seeking to bring the country together and address the underlying issues.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, critical of Trump’s handling of the crisis, met black community leaders in a church and said he would create a police oversight board within his first 100 days in the White House.

Black people account for 6.8% of Minnesota’s population but 29% of coronavirus cases, state and federal data show.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Andy Sullivan, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Lucy Nicholson, Michael Martina and Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Howard Goller)

Fires burn near White House in violent U.S. protests

By Brendan O’Brien and Carlos Barria

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Fires burned near the White House, stores were looted in New York City and Southern California, and a tanker truck drove into marchers in Minneapolis as the United States struggled to contain chaotic protests over race and policing.

A protester runs while looting after marching against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

National Guard troops were deployed in 15 states and Washington, D.C. in an attempt to quell a sixth night of violence on Sunday. The unrest began with peaceful protests over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody.

“I hate to see my city like this but at the end we need justice,” said 18-year-old Jahvon Craven as he stood on an overpass watching protesters below on Interstate 35 in downtown Minneapolis moments before an 8 p.m. curfew went into effect.

Video footage showed a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, 46, for nearly nine minutes before he died on May 25.

His death caused outrage across a nation that is politically and racially divided during a polarizing presidential campaign, reigniting protests that have flared repeatedly in recent years over police killings of black Americans.

A protester rises from his chair as a tear gas canister stops at his feet during nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Authorities imposed curfews on dozens of cities across the United States, the most since the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 — also during an election campaign and in the upheaval of anti-war demonstrations.

President Donald Trump has condemned the killing of Floyd and promised justice, but has also described the current protesters as “thugs”.

“Get tough Democrat Mayors and Governors,” Trump, a Republican, said on Twitter on Sunday afternoon. “These people are ANARCHISTS. Call in our National Guard NOW.”

In Louisville, Kentucky, WLKY-TV, a local CBS affiliate, reported that a man was shot and killed by police early on Monday. It was unclear if he was protesting. Police said they had been fired on before the shooting, WLKY reported.

A protester pleads with riot police during nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. May 31, 2020. Picture taken May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

CHAOTIC SCENES AROUND WHITE HOUSE

In Washington, D.C., protesters set fires near the White House on Sunday. The smoke mixed with billowing clouds of tear gas as police sought to clear from the area crowds chanting “George Floyd”.

Sporadic violence broke out in Boston following peaceful protests as activists threw bottles at police officers and lit a cruiser on fire. Philadelphia announced a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

On Sunday afternoon, a tanker truck drove into demonstrators on the I-35 highway in Minneapolis, which had been closed to traffic. The driver was pulled from the cab and beaten by protesters before police took him into custody. It did not appear any protesters were hit by the truck.

On the West Coast, there were also clashes in Portland, Oregon, where TV footage showed small fires burning as police fired tear gas at protesters who set off fireworks.

In Santa Monica, California, upscale stores were looted along the city’s popular Third Street Promenade before police moved in to make arrests. The vandalism followed a largely peaceful march.

Further south, in the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach, a group of young men and women smashed windows of a shopping mall and looted stores before they were dispersed before a 6 p.m. curfew.

The demonstrations brought out a diversity of people.

“It means a lot to see people other than black people joining the demonstration,” said Candace Collins, a young black woman at a march in Culver City, California.

Thousands of people gathered peacefully on Sunday afternoon for a rally in St. Paul, adjacent to Minneapolis, as state troopers surrounded the state capitol building. About 170 stores in the city have been looted, its mayor told CNN.

Protests spread around the globe, with events in London and Berlin on Sunday and others on Monday including in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.

Police in riot gear keep protesters at bay in Lafayette Park near the White House in Washington, U.S. May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

NO LET-UP

The eruptions of violence have not let up despite the arrest on Friday of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, 44. He has since been charged with third-degree murder.

In New York City, where store windows were smashed, police arrested about 350 people and 30 officers suffered minor injuries during clashes. Mayor Bill de Blasio said police conduct was being investigated, with videos showing a police vehicle lurching into a crowd of protesters who were pelting it with debris in Brooklyn.

De Blasio said he had not seen a separate video showing an officer pulling down the mask of a black protester to spray something in his face.

Among those arrested for unlawful assembly on Saturday night was de Blasio’s 25-year-old daughter, Chiara, according to a New York Police Department source, who said she was issued a “desk appearance ticket” and released.

Protests have also flared in Chicago, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Cleveland and Dallas.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Carlos Barria in Minneapolis; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely, Maria Caspani and Sinead Carew in New York, Susan Heavey in Washington, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, Zach Fagenson in Miami and Bill Tarrant and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Aakriti Bhalla; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Alex Richardson; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Lincoln Feast and Timothy Heritage)

Protests, looting erupt in Minneapolis over racially charged killing by police

By Eric Miller and Nicholas Pfosi

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Protesters clashed with riot police firing tear gas for a second night in Minneapolis on Wednesday in an outpouring of rage over the death of a black man seen in a widely circulated video gasping for breath as a white officer knelt on his neck.

The video, taken by an onlooker to Monday night’s fatal encounter between police and George Floyd, 46, showed him lying face down and handcuffed, groaning for help and repeatedly saying, “please, I can’t breathe,” before growing motionless.

A man is injured after being hit in the head by an object at a protest near the Minneapolis Police third precinct after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Miller

The second day of demonstrations, accompanied by looting and vandalism, began hours after Mayor Jacob Frey urged prosecutors to file criminal charges against the white policeman shown pinning Floyd to the street.

Floyd, who was unarmed and reportedly suspected of trying to pass counterfeit bills at a corner eatery, was taken by ambulance from the scene of his arrest and pronounced dead the same night at a hospital.

The policeman shown kneeling on Floyd’s neck and three fellow officers involved were dismissed from the police department on Tuesday as the FBI opened an investigation.

Hundreds of protesters, many with faces covered, thronged streets around the Third Precinct police station late on Wednesday, about half a mile from where Floyd had been arrested, chanting, “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe.”

The crowd grew to thousands as night fell and the protest turned into a standoff outside the station, where police in riot gear formed barricade lines while protesters taunted them from behind makeshift barricades of their own.

Police, some taking positions on rooftops, used tear gas, plastic bullets and concussion grenades to keep the crowds at bay. Protesters pelted police with rocks and other projectiles. Some threw tear gas canisters back at the officers.

Television news images from a helicopter over the area showed dozens of people looting a Target store, running out with clothing and shopping carts full of merchandise.

Fires erupted after dark at several businesses, including an auto parts store. Eyewitnesses said the blazes appeared to be the work of arsonists. Media said a smaller, peaceful protest was held outside the home of one of the police officers.

People gather near the Minneapolis Police third precinct after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Miller

ANGER ON THE WEST COAST

Outrage at Floyd’s death also triggered a rally in his name against police brutality by hundreds of people in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon.

That demonstration turned violent after a crowd marched onto a nearby freeway and blocked traffic, then attacked two California Highway Patrol cruisers, smashing their windows, local media reported. One protester who clung to the hood of a patrol car fell to the pavement as it sped away, and was treated at the scene by paramedics, news footage of the incident showed.

The video of Monday’s deadly confrontation between Minneapolis police and Floyd led Mayor Frey to call on Wednesday for Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman “to charge the arresting officer in this case”.

The city identified the four officers as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng. It did not say who knelt on Floyd’s neck, and gave no further information.

The local police union said the officers were cooperating with investigators and cautioned against a “rush to judgment”.

A protester vandalizes an O’Reilly’s near the Minneapolis Police third precinct, where demonstrators gathered after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

“We must review all video. We must wait for the medical examiner’s report,” the union statement said.

The county attorney’s office said it would decide how to proceed once investigators had concluded their inquiries.

The case was reminiscent of the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York City who died after being put in a banned police chokehold.

Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement calling attention to a wave of killings of African-Americans by police using unjustified lethal force.

(Reporting by Eric Miller and Nicholas Pfosi in Minneapolis; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Stephen Coates, Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

In night of violence, Greeks try to block access to migrant camp building sites

ATHENS (Reuters) – Police in riot gear threw teargas and fired water cannon at Greek islanders as they tried to prevent access to construction sites for new migrant detention centers by setting fires, hurling flares and blockading the gates.

Locals on Lesbos and Chios are worried that the centers, which would replace temporary camps with open access, will leave the islands permanently overcrowded.

Vowing to press on with the building work, authorities say closed centers will offer greater public safety and limit potential health risks, particularly given the potential spread of the coronavirus in other countries.

“It is clearly evident that matters such as the coronavirus can be dealt with swiftly and effectively in a closed facility and not an anarchic, open facility which is a health time bomb,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.

There are currently no cases in Greece.

Locals run amid tear gas smoke as they try to prevent the arrival of a ferry carrying riot police reinforcements sent for monitoring the creation of a new closed migrant detention centre, at the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, February 25, 2020. REUTERS/Elias Marcou

The authorities moved to send police reinforcements to the islands to deal with the protests, prompting more clashes as islanders tried to prevent the arrival of the ferries.

Condemning what he called a “day of shame”, Costas Moutzouris, governor of the northern Aegean region, branded the deployment “extremely aggressive” and announced a decision by local authorities there to hold a 24 hour general strike on Wednesday against the actions of the central government, the Athens News Agency reported.

Witnesses said about 500 people attempted to block the unloading of heavy machinery overnight to break ground at the construction site on Lesbos.

Clashes between protesters and police broke out and fires burned on the streets and in the roadside brushland, ignited by the flares. Similar tensions were reported on Chios, where residents also say they are bearing the burden of the refugee crisis.

In addition to Lesbos and Chios, Greek authorities plan to construct closed detention facilities on Samos, Kos and Leros. The islands are close to Turkey, from where thousands of asylum seekers head to Europe each year.

Hundreds of thousands of people crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece in 2015 and 2016 before a deal brokered by the European Union limited the flow. There has, however, been a resurgence in arrivals since September 2019.

The overcrowded Moria camp on Lesbos accommodates more than 18,000 people in conditions aid organizations say are appalling.

The conservative government has taken a markedly tougher stance towards migration compared to the previous leftist government, issuing a tender for the construction of a floating fence to deter asylum seekers arriving by sea and introducing faster processing procedures that could increase deportations.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Alison Williams)

Sydneysiders urged to stay indoors as Australian bushfire smoke blankets city

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Strong winds stoked more than 100 fires across Australia’s east coast on Tuesday, blanketing Sydney in hazardous smoke and prompting health warnings for the country’s most populous city.

Australia is prone to bushfires in its dry, hot summers, but fierce blazes have been sparked early, in the southern spring, by a long drought and soaring temperatures.

Wildfires have so far this month claimed at least four lives, burnt about 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of farmland and bush and destroyed more than 300 homes.

Powerful winds fanned around 130 fires that have been burning across New South Wales and Queensland states for several days, and pushed smoke south to form a thick haze over Sydney, home to around 5 million people.

Officials said the air quality above parts of the harbor city was measured at 10 times hazardous levels on Tuesday and advised people to stay indoors as much as possible as the smoke lingers over coming days.

“We know that heatwaves cause severe illness, hospital admission and even deaths, and that people are more sensitive to heatwaves early in the season,” Richard Broom, director of environmental health at NSW Health said In an emailed statement.

“The combination of heat and poor air quality adds to the risk.”

In NSW, firefighters were scrambling to strengthen fire containment lines ahead of forecast higher temperatures for much of the rest of the week.

“More than 1,300 firefighters are working on these fires, undertaking backburning operations and strengthening containment lines ahead of forecast hot, dry and windy weather, with seven areas under a total fire ban,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement.

The current bushfire crisis has mostly been contained to the east coast of NSW and Queensland states, but officials in South Australia warned on Tuesday that forecast near-record temperatures raises the risks in that state.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said temperatures in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, will hit 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, which coupled with strong winds will create “catastrophic” fire danger conditions.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait and Jane Wardell)