Trump visits Kenosha, not to urge racial healing but to back police

By Jeff Mason

KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump defied requests to stay away and visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, not to urge racial healing after a white officer shot a Black man in the back but to express support for law enforcement in a city rocked by civil unrest.

With the United States polarized over issues of racial injustice and police use of force, Trump is appealing to his base of white supporters with a “law and order” message as opinion polls show him cutting into the lead of his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden.

Meanwhile Trump has largely overlooked the racial wounds caused by police use of force and played down the more than 180,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican president also threatened to send more federal officers into cities governed by Democratic mayors even if local officials objected, saying, “At some point … we’ll just have to do it ourselves.”

Trump did not visit Jacob Blake, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a white police officer fired at his back seven times on Aug. 23. He did not meet Blake’s family either, but did meet with his mother’s pastors.

He promised instead to rebuild Kenosha and provide more federal spending to Wisconsin, a political battleground state that Trump won narrowly in 2016 and badly needs to keep in his column as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3.

The president visited a burned-out furniture store that was destroyed in the upheaval and then a makeshift command center to praise National Guard troops who were called in to reinforce local police after several nights of peaceful protests gave way to looting, arson and gunfire.

“These are not acts of peaceful protest, but really domestic terror,” Trump told local business leaders in a high school gym.

Peaceful demonstrators have complained that violent agitators, often white, have hijacked their protests with property damage. But many have also sharply criticized the police, saying the United States needs to completely rethink its law enforcement practices.

“To stop the political violence, we must also confront the radical ideology. … We have to condemn the dangerous anti-police rhetoric,” Trump said, adding that without his help Kenosha would have “burned to the ground.”

APPEAL TO ‘CHANGE THE HEARTS’

The visit was not completely without empathy. While Trump dodged questions about systemic racism and problems in policing, he did say that he felt “terribly for anybody who goes through that,” referring to the police shooting, and that he was honored to meet with the co-pastors of Blake’s mother, the only two Black people at Trump’s round-table.

Pastor James Ward appealed for greater efforts to “change the hearts of people” and bring healing and peace to the community, while his wife and co-pastor Sharon Ward said, “I think it’s important to have Black people at the table to help solve the problem.”

The state’s Democratic governor and the city’s Democratic mayor both had urged Trump not to visit so as to avoid inflaming tensions and allow citizens to heal. But when he showed up, the president pledged $1 million in federal support to Kenosha law enforcement, $4 million to small businesses, and $42 million to public safety statewide, contrasting that with leftist calls to “defund the police.”

Much of the country has rallied to the side of civil rights since George Floyd, a Black man, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck. The country was reckoning with that case when Blake was shot as he entered his car on Aug. 23.

Kenosha has become one of the flash-point cities where anti-racist demonstrators have clashed with Trump supporters who have converged on protest sites, sometimes openly carrying arms while vowing to protect property from looters.

A 17-year-old Trump supporter has been charged with killing two people and wounding another with a semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha. Trump defended the white teenager, who faces six criminal counts, and declined to condemn violence from his supporters.

But in Portland, Oregon, site of three months of nightly protests that have often turned violent, a Trump supporter was shot dead on Saturday and the president lamented that “they executed a man in the street.”

The president took credit for restoring peace in Kenosha since National Guard and federal law enforcement reinforcements were sent in. Although Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers called in more National Guard troops on his own authority, Trump did send in about 200 federal law enforcement officials.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additonal reporting by Andrea Shalal and Phil Stewart; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Howard Goller)

Trump tours parts of Louisiana, Texas hit by Hurricane Laura

By Nandita Bose

ORANGE, Texas (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Saturday toured areas hit by Hurricane Laura in Louisiana and in Texas receiving briefings on emergency operations and relief efforts.

“One thing I know about this state, it rebuilds fast,” Trump told a gathering that included Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, U.S. lawmakers and federal agency officials. Trump did not meet with residents.

The massive storm hit Louisiana early on Thursday with 150 mile-per-hour (240 kph) winds, damaging buildings, knocking down trees and cutting power to more than 650,000 people in Louisiana and Texas. However, Laura’s storm surge was much less than predicted.

The Category 4 hurricane killed at least 15 people, including some killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from the unsafe operation of generators. Governor Edwards called Laura the most powerful hurricane to strike Louisiana, surpassing even Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm when it hit in 2005.

Trump told officials, referring to those who were lost, “It’s a tremendous number, but you were thinking it could be, could have been, a lot worse.”

Trump signed a disaster declaration for Louisiana on Friday.

He also met with National Guard personnel in Louisiana helping with relief efforts and later flew to Orange, Texas, to meet with officials.

After meeting officials in Lake Charles, Trump said “come here fellas, I want a little power,” and began autographing pieces of paper. He gave a law officer one and said “Here sell this tonight on Ebay, you’ll get $10,000.”

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in St. Charles, La., and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Daniel Wallis)

Wisconsin investigators say knife found at scene of police shooting of Jacob Blake

By Brendan McDermid and Stephen Maturen

KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – Investigators of a shooting by a white police officer that left a Black man, Jacob Blake Jr., paralyzed and the town of Kenosha, Wisconsin, torn by civil strife found a knife belonging to Blake at the scene of the confrontation, the state attorney general said on Wednesday.

The incident sparked three nights of civil unrest that has included a wave of arson, widespread vandalism and a separate shooting that claimed two lives in Kenosha, a city of about 100,000 residents on Lake Michigan, 40 miles (60 km) south of Milwaukee.

In the first official details of Sunday’s shooting released by the Wisconsin Justice Department, which is probing the incident, Attorney General Josh Kaul said the knife was recovered from the driver-side front floorboard of the car Blake was leaning into when he was shot in the back.

Kaul also told a news conference that Blake, during the course of the investigation, had “admitted that he had a knife in his possession.”

Blake’s lawyer responded in a statement that his client posed no threat to police and disputed that he was in possession of a knife.

Kaul did not describe the knife or say whether it had anything to do with why the officer, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha police department identified as Rusten Sheskey, had opened fire on Blake.

Kaul’s briefing came shortly before the U.S. Justice Department announced it had opened a federal civil rights inquiry into the shooting, to be conducted by the FBI in cooperation with Wisconsin authorities.

In a separate development hours earlier, a teenager was arrested and charged with shooting three people, two of whom died, during Tuesday night’s protests in Kenosha.

Video footage from that incident showed a white gunman, armed with an assault-style rifle, firing at protesters who tried to subdue him, and then calmly walking away from the scene, hands in the air – his rifle hanging in front of him – as several police vehicles drive by without stopping him.

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes said on MSNBC the suspect, later identified as Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, of Antioch, Illinois, was apparently a militia group member who “decided to be a vigilante and take the law into his own hands and mow down innocent protesters.”

Bracing for a fourth night of possible upheavals on Wednesday, Governor Tony Evers said he was doubling the National Guard force he had ordered deployed to 500 troops, and a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed an hour earlier.

About 200 protesters defied the curfew for hours after dark as they marched peacefully through city streets, chanting, “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace,” while law enforcement kept a low profile. No counter-demonstrators or armed militia figures were present.

National Guard soldiers were seen taking a dinner break behind the county courthouse, surrounded by barricades and heavy fencing erected around several downtown public buildings the previous day.

PREAMBLE TO SHOOTING

By Kaul’s account of events leading to the Blake shooting, city police confronted Blake when they were called to the home of a woman who reported that her boyfriend was present “and was not supposed to be on the premises.”

The location he gave for the residence corresponds with the address of the woman identified in media reports as Blake’s fiance, Laquisha Booker.

During the incident, Kaul said, police tried to arrest Blake, using a Taser stun gun in a failed attempt to subdue him.

Blake, according to the attorney general, then walked around his vehicle, opened the driver-side door and leaned forward, as officer Sheskey, clutching Blake’s shirt, fired his weapon seven times at Blake’s back.

Kaul said no other police officers fired their weapons. The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave.

Bystanders captured the encounter in video footage that has since gone viral, unleashing public outrage at the latest in a long series of instances in which police have been accused of using indiscriminate lethal force against African Americans.

Kaul said police in Kenosha are not equipped with body cameras.

A lawyer for Blake’s family, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, issued a statement late Wednesday saying Blake “did nothing to provoke police” and was “only intending to get his children out of a volatile situation” at the time.

“Witnesses confirm that he was not in possession of a knife and didn’t threaten officers in any way,” he added.

Three of Blake’s young sons – aged 3, 5 and 8 – were in the vehicle at the time and witnessed their father being gunned down, Crump said. Blake has a total of six children.

Neither Crump nor law enforcement officials have mentioned court records showing that an arrest warrant was filed against Blake in July by Kenosha’s district attorney for three domestic abuse-related charges – criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and third-degree sexual assault, a felony.

Crump has declined to respond to Reuters queries about those records, which list Blake’s address as the same street number where Booker is reported to reside.

According to Crump, Blake was struck by four of the seven gunshot rounds fired at him on Sunday. Bullets shattered some of his vertebrae, leaving Blake paralyzed from the waist down, possibly permanently, his lawyers said. He also suffered wounds to his stomach, intestines, kidney and liver and will require multiple operations to recover, they said.

Kaul said his department’s division of criminal investigations plans to issue a full report on the incident to prosecutors in 30 days, and that no other details were immediately available.

Blake’s family and protesters have demanded the officers involved in the shooting be immediately fired and prosecuted.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Bill Berkrot, Aurora Ellis, Lincoln Feast and William Mallard)

Firefighters, military planes, troops arrive in California to fight massive blazes

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews from across the U.S. West, military planes and National Guard troops poured into California on Sunday to join the fight against two dozen major wildfires burning across the state, as officials warned of more dry lightning storms approaching.

The worst of the blazes, including the second and third largest wildfires in recorded California history, were burning in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, where more than 200,000 people have been told to flee their homes.

“Extreme fire behavior with short and long range spotting are continuing to challenge firefighting efforts. Fires continue to make runs in multiple directions and impacting multiple communities,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said of the largest conflagration, the LNU Lightning Complex.

The fires, which were ignited by lightning from dry thunderstorms across Northern and Central California over the past week, have killed at least six people and destroyed some 700 homes and other structures. All told nearly one million acres have been blackened, according to Cal Fire.

Smoke and ash has blanketed much of the northern part of California for days, drifting for miles and visible from several states away.

The LNU Complex, which began as a string of smaller fires that merged into one massive blaze, has burned across roughly 340,000 acres of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said at a news briefing on Sunday.

It is now the second-largest wildfire on record in the state and was only 17% contained as of Sunday afternoon. To the south the SCU Lightning Complex was nearly as large, at 339,000 acres, and only 10% contained, Berlant said.

CREWS ARRIVE FROM OTHER STATES

Outside the Bay Area, the flames were threatening forests near the University of California at Santa Cruz and a wide swath of the area between San Francisco and the state capital of Sacramento.

Reinforcement crews and fire engines have arrived from Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Texas and Utah, with more on the way, Berlant said. Some 200 members of the National Guard had been activated and the U.S. military sent planes, he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday declared the fires a major disaster, freeing up federal funds to help residents and businesses harmed by the fires in seven counties pay for temporary housing and repairs.

Berlant said more dry thunderstorms were forecast through Tuesday and so-called red flag warnings had been issued across much of the northern and central parts of California during a record-breaking heat wave that has baked the state for more than a week, caused by a dome of atmospheric high pressure hovering over the American Southwest.

Meteorologists say that same high-pressure ridge has also been siphoning moisture from remnants of a now-dissipated tropical storm off the coast of Mexico and creating conditions rife for thunderstorms across much of California.

Most of the precipitation from the storms evaporates before reaching the ground, leaving dry lightning strikes that have contributed to a volatile wildfire season.

The American Lung Association has warned that the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the health hazards posed by smoky air and extreme heat. Inhaling smoke and ash can worsen the weakened lungs of people with COVID-19, said Afif El-Hassan, a physician spokesman for the lung association.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

U.S. federal troops staying in Portland for now, Wolf says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News on Friday that federal troops would remain in Portland until he was assured that the Oregon governor’s plan to handle daily protests was working, and said sending in the National Guard was still an option if the state did not handle the situation.

He said all the Department of Homeland Security “law enforcement officers that have been there over the past 60 days will remain there in Portland until we are assured that the plan that has been put in place by the governor and Oregon State Police will be effective night after night.”

Wolf said President Donald Trump had “continued to talk about” the option of sending the National Guard to the city.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Edmund Blair)

On Chicago’s South Side, some violence-weary residents open to federal investigators

By Brendan O’Brien and Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Many Chicagoans vehemently oppose President Donald Trump’s pledge to send federal officers to the third-largest U.S. city, after seeing camouflaged agents deployed in Portland club and tear-gas anti-racism protesters.

But in South and West Side neighborhoods hit hardest by a recent spike in gang violence, some Chicago residents welcomed the move and said federal agents may be able to help solve crimes.

“I appreciate it and I like it,” said Cedrick Easterling, a former gang member, who was shoveling garbage scattered in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood as part of his work clearing vacant lots.

“If you sit at that park, you will hear shots all over Englewood,” said Easterling, who was once shot himself, pointing south toward Ogden Park. Like most in Chicago, Easterling is not a fan of Trump, who won just 51 of the city’s 2,069 precincts in the 2016 presidential election.

Easterling, 54, has lived in Englewood since he was seven. He said crime is particularly bad this year and Trump should consider bringing in the National Guard and using drones to record evidence of crimes as they occur

Others were more cautious, saying they feared an increased federal presence would erode civil liberties in a city that has had long-standing problems with police brutality in poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Trump said last week that hundreds of officers from the FBI and other federal agencies would help fight crime in Chicago. The city is suffering a spike in violent crime, including a drive-by shooting by suspected gang members at a funeral last week that wounded 15 people.

Trump has sought to project a law-and-order stance as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3, targeting cities controlled by Democrats who he says are soft on criminals. Critics say the administration is seeking to divert attention from its widely criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Eight of 10 people Reuters interviewed in wealthier and safer areas on Chicago’s North Side opposed any form of intervention from Trump, saying federal officers could fan tensions in the city and would not address underlying issues such as unemployment.

“I don’t see how the feds are going to help with anything,” said Michael Flaherty, a 53-year-old architect who lives in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

“They’re violent. Violence doesn’t fix violence.”

The view was often more nuanced on the South and West Sides, where a much higher proportion of residents have experienced violent crime.

Junior Jaber, 28, recalled the day four years ago when his friend Paul Hamilton, then 47, was killed by a stray bullet while walking his dog in Ogden Park.

“I was mad. He had nothing to do with anything,” said Jaber, who runs Englewood Food Mart, where Hamilton worked as a butcher. “We got to do something. It’s almost like a war zone out here.”

Jaber said he was all for it when he learned of Trump’s plan to send in federal agents.

“They should clean it all up. Just do their job,” said the 28-year-old father of two as he sold sodas, lottery tickets and pints of liquor.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has said the reinforcements to Chicago do not involve the type of forces that were deployed to Portland and have been accused of civil rights violations and using excessive force.

Protesters said uniformed personnel without name tags or agency badges snatched young people off the streets into unmarked vans before eventually releasing them.

Protests have continued around the United States since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody. The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday it would investigate the use of force in Portland and whether federal agents had proper identification.

Black Lives Matter activists, who have led protests against police brutality in Chicago, are suing federal officials to try to ensure agents do not violate civil rights. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has told residents all new federal resources would be “investigatory in nature” and vowed to pursue all available legal options if federal officers go beyond that.

‘INNOCENT BYSTANDERS’

While Chicago’s murder rate had been falling in recent years, there were 116 murders over the 28 days through July 19, an increase of nearly 200% compared with the same period in 2019, police department data shows.

Some residents of East Garfield Park, a poor neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, support federal intervention after gang shootings hit unintended targets, said Damien Morris, director of violence prevention initiatives for local nonprofit Breakthrough.

“When you have women and kids getting shot – innocent bystanders – you have residents that feel like something needs to happen,” Morris said.

Trump sent a smaller number of special agents and law enforcement researchers to Chicago in 2017 after a spike in violent crime.

Phil Bridgeman, 49, said he opposes all federal law enforcement in Chicago. Even if the federal agents could help solve high-profile cases, he said, they will not solve the root causes of violent crime.

“It’s not going to help, it’s going to agitate,” said Bridgeman as he sold “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts in the middle of a busy boulevard.

Vaughn Bryant, executive director of anti-violence group Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, was concerned by “a greater threat to people’s freedom,” with the arrival of more agents.

In Englewood, a man who goes by the name Joe Pug sat in a lawn chair with several other people on a sidewalk opposite a small police station. The 49-year-old, who has lived in the neighborhood for most of his life, supports federal agents investigating shootings.

He said the South and West Sides also need massive investments in education and job creation, especially for young Black men.

“There is nothing here, nothing for them,” he said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Daniel Wallis)

Washington, D.C. urges anti-racism protesters to get tested for coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington, D.C. on Wednesday urged people who had participated in protests against police brutality and systematic racism to get tested for the coronavirus.

The federal district joins a number of other locales, including Boston, Dallas and the state of New York, that have asked protesters to be tested, after thousands of people flooded the streets in demonstrations amid the pandemic that has sickened nearly 2 million Americans and killed about 112,000.

“If you are concerned that you have been exposed while out in the community or out at one of the demonstrations, we urge you to get tested … between three and five days, not sooner,” the federal district’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, told reporters.

The district is encouraging protesters to monitor themselves for signs and symptoms of the respiratory disease. It also encouraged them to work from home, if possible, for 14 days and restrict their movements, though top D.C. health official LaQuandra Nesbitt added that such restrictions were not the same as quarantining.

The U.S. capital has ramped up its availability of free testing, including offering COVID-19 tests at fire stations on evenings and weekends.

The calls for protesters to seek testing come as some public health experts, including top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, have warned that the demonstrations could lead to a spike in cases of the coronavirus.

Already, the D.C. National Guard has reported that some of its troops have tested positive for the virus, though it has not provided numbers for how many of them have been affected.

The protests, which started in Minneapolis and spread across the country and worldwide, were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. An African American, Floyd died after a white police officer pinned his knee against his neck, preventing Floyd from being able to breathe.

The U.S. capital has seen some of the largest protests in recent days.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tom Brown)

Puerto Rico declares emergency, activates National Guard after earthquakes

By Luis Valentin Ortiz

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard on Tuesday after a series of earthquakes including one of magnitude 6.4 struck the Caribbean island.

The temblors killed at least one person, knocked out power across much of the island and caused significant damage, authorities and media reported.

Vazquez said all public sector offices except for emergency services would remain closed on Tuesday while emergency plans were implemented. The emergency order and activation of the National Guard were later published on an official government website.

The island has been rocked by a series of quakes in recent days, including a 5.8-magnitude temblor on Monday that damaged a few homes on the southern coast.

The U.S. territory is still recovering from a pair of devastating 2017 hurricanes that killed about 3,000 people and destroyed significant infrastructure across an island working through a bankruptcy process to restructure about $120 billion of debt and pension obligations.

Vazquez, who assumed office in August after Ricardo Rossello stepped down in the face of massive street protests, tweeted pleas for people to remain calm.

“We want everyone to be safe. That is why all work in the public sectors has been suspended today, so that you can be with your family, implementing your emergency plans,” Vazquez tweeted.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported a small tsunami measuring around 20 centimeters (7.9 inches).

The first and biggest quake on Tuesday, of magnitude 6.4, struck at a depth of 10.0 km (six miles) at 4:24 am (0824 GMT) near Ponce on the island’s southern coast, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

A 73-year-old died there after a wall fell on him, newspaper El Nuevo Dia reported.

Witnesses on social media described the quake as “super strong” and lasting up to 30 seconds. It was followed by a number of hefty aftershocks including one measuring 5.8.

The impact along the country’s southern coast appeared significant.

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Chief Executive Jose Ortiz said its Central Costa Sur power plant was damaged, and the utility was checking other substations on the island.

PREPA had cut off power on safety grounds and hoped to reconnect supplies as soon as possible, it said on Twitter.

The quake severely damaged the Immaculate Conception church in Guayanilla, leaving about half of it standing and surrounded by piles of rubble, according to video posted by Wapa TV. A picture published by El Nuevo Dia showed people removing artifacts.

At least eight homes collapsed in Yauco, El Nuevo Dia reported, citing Mayor Angel Torres. Wapa TV video showed one home in Yauco flattened, its roof intact atop debris and slanting until it touched the ground.

The international airport in Carolina, just east of San Juan, continued normal service with the help of power generators, El Nuevo Dia reported, citing Jorge Hernandez, chief executive of Aerostar Airport Holdings.

In the town of Guanica, several buildings collapsed. Further east in Maunabo, video on social media showed people evacuating to higher ground following the tsunami warning.

“Persons along coastal areas near the earthquake should be observant and exercise normal caution, otherwise no action is required,” the PTWC said in its warning.

Monday’s quake off southern Puerto Rico knocked several houses off their supporting pillars in Guanica and Guayanilla, crushing vehicles beneath them.

That quake also destroyed the Window of the Caribbean, a rock formation on a beach that had been a tourist attraction, but there were no reports of injuries.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

Cartel gunmen terrorize Mexican city, free El Chapo’s son

Cartel gunmen terrorize Mexican city, free El Chapo’s son
By Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Heavily armed fighters surrounded security forces in a Mexican city on Thursday and made them free one of drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s sons, after his capture triggered gunbattles and a prison break that sent civilians scurrying for cover.

Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said a patrol by National Guard militarized police first came under attack from within a house in the city of Culiacan, 1,235 km (770 miles) northwest of Mexico City.

After entering the house, they found four men, including Ovidio Guzman, who is accused of drug trafficking in the United States.

The patrol was quickly outmatched by cartel gunmen, however, and it was withdrawn to prevent lives being lost, the government said. Simultaneously, fighters swarmed through the city, battling police and soldiers in broad daylight. They torched vehicles and left at least one gas station ablaze.

“The decision was taken to retreat from the house, without Guzman, to try to avoid more violence in the area and preserve the lives of our personnel and recover calm in the city,” Durazo told Reuters.

The reaction to Guzman’s capture was on a scale rarely seen during Mexico’s long drug war, even after his more famous father’s arrests. The chaos was continuing as night fell.

A large group of inmates escaped from the city prison. Residents cowered in shopping centers and supermarkets as gunfire roared. Black plumes of smoke rose across the skyline.

Families with young children left their cars and lay flat in the road. Bullets cracked up ahead. “Dad, can we get up now?” a small boy said to his father in a video posted on Twitter.

“No, stay there on the floor,” the man replied, his voice trembling.

Cristobal Castaneda, head of security in Sinaloa, told the Televisa network that two people had been killed and 21 injured, according to preliminary information. He said police had come under attack when they approached roadblocks manned by gunmen. He advised residents not to leave their homes.

It was not immediately clear if members of the patrol were harmed in the standoff. Reuters TV showed scenes of at least three bodies lying next to cars on the street.

WARNED OF REPRISALS

The chaos in Culiacan, long a stronghold for the Guzmans’ Sinaloa cartel, will increase pressure on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December promising to pacify a country weary after more than a decade of drug-war fighting. Murders this year are set to be at a record high.

Thursday’s events follow the massacre of more than a dozen police in western Mexico earlier this week, and the killing of 14 suspected gangsters by the army a day later.

Falko Ernst, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Mexico, said the release of Ovidio Guzman set “a dangerous precedent” and sent a message that the state itself, including the army, could be blackmailed and was not in control.

Presumed cartel members apparently intercepted a radio frequency used by security forces, one video showed, warning of reprisals against soldiers if Guzman was not freed.

A state police spokesman confirmed to Reuters that several prisoners escaped from a prison during the chaos. Video footage showed a group of at least 20 prisoners running in the streets. It was not immediately clear how many had escaped.

“They are freeing them,” a panicked woman said in the video apparently filmed from an tall building. “No we can’t go outside!” she said as other voices debated making a dash for their car.

In another video, a man driving repeatedly shouted: “There is a big gunfight,” before taking a sharp turn and leaving his car at a gas station to take cover. His voice then became inaudible because of the rattling roar of automatic gunfire.

‘El Chapo’ Guzman led the Sinaloa cartel for decades, escaping from prison twice before being arrested and extradited to the United States. He was found guilty in a U.S. court in February of smuggling tons of drugs and sentenced to life in prison.

He is believed to have about 12 children including Ovidio. The U.S. Department of Justice unveiled an indictment against Ovidio and another of the brothers in February, charging them with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana in the United States.

The indictment gave Ovidio’s age as 28, and said he had been involved in trafficking conspiracies since he was a teenager.

Jose Luis Gonzalez Meza, a lawyer for the Guzmans, told news network Milenio that Ovidio had been in touch with the family and said he was free.

(Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Writing and additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Mexico anxiously awaits U.S. response on immigration deal as deadline arrives

Members of the Mexican National Guard keep watch at the border between Mexico and U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 20, 2019. Picture taken July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico is on tenterhooks as a Monday deadline on a U.S. migration deal that removed tariff threats on Mexican exports arrived, and despite progress made in reducing migrant flows it was unclear what President Donald Trump’s next move would be.

The agreement reached in June laid out that if the United States deems that Mexico has not done enough to thwart migrants by the July 22 deadline, the two countries would begin talks over changing rules to make most asylum seekers apply for refuge in Mexico, not the United States.

U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard during a private meeting at the Foreign Ministry Building (SRE) in Mexico City, Mexico July 21, 2019. Mexico's Foreign Ministry /Handout via REUTERS

U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard during a private meeting at the Foreign Ministry Building (SRE) in Mexico City, Mexico July 21, 2019. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry /Handout via REUTERS

Mexico said on Sunday it had averted the so-called “safe third country” negotiations with the United States that it desperately wants to avoid after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Mexican efforts in reducing U.S.-bound migrant flows.

But while Pompeo praised the progress made by Mexico in helping cut apprehensions on the U.S. southern border by a almost a third in June to some 100,000, he also said there was still “more work to do” and that he would consult with Trump, who has been uncharacteristically hush on the topic.

“As for the next set of actions. I’ll talk with the president and the teams back in Washington and we’ll decide exactly which tools and exactly how to proceed,” said Pompeo.

Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, who met with Pompeo in Mexico City on Sunday, was scheduled to attend Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily presser Monday morning.

Following the meeting with Pompeo, Ebrard said considering the advances Mexico had made, it was not necessary to initiate negotiations on a safe third country agreement between Mexico and the United States.

Eager to avoid being cornered into those talks, Mexico has deployed some 21,000 militarized National Guard police to decrease the flow of people across the U.S-Mexico border.

Mexico has long resisted U.S. pressure to formally accept the safe third country status.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; editing by Richard Pullin)