Chicago teachers strike enters seventh school day as talks continue

Chicago teachers strike enters seventh school day as talks continue
CHICAGO (Reuters) – About 300,000 students in Chicago missed classes for a seventh day on Friday as the city’s teachers union and school district worked to resolve their contract deadlock over class sizes, support-staff levels and pay.

Chicago Public Schools canceled classes for Friday, but the leader of the Chicago Teachers Union said good progress was made during negotiations on Thursday.

“We had conversations that hopefully will give us a path to a settlement,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said at a Friday morning news conference. “Right now I’m guardedly optimistic.”

The union, which represents the city’s 25,000 teachers, has been without a contract since July 1. The strike began on Oct. 17.

The strike is the latest in a wave of teacher work stoppages in cities and states across the United States. Some of the strikes, such as a six-day work stoppage in Los Angeles last winter, have been based on similar school resource demands.

Only a three-week teachers strike in Union City, California, in June was longer this year.

Student athletes are feeling the repercussions, as the strike has forced the cancellation of hugely popular high school football games, with college scholarships on the line, as well as other sports and after-school activities.

That prompted one parent to seek a temporary restraining order in Cook County, Illinois, to allow the child’s team to compete in state cross-country playoffs over the weekend, ABC News said.

POLITICAL TEST

Chicago teachers voted to go on strike against the third-largest U.S. school district after contract negotiations failed to yield a deal on pay, class overcrowding and a lack of support staff, such as nurses and social workers.

The strike has been the first major political test for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a political newcomer who was elected in April.

Lightfoot, a progressive Democrat whose campaign promised to reform the school system, has said the district offered teachers a raise of 16% over five years and promised to tackle class sizes and staffing levels.

But she said the district could not afford the union’s full demands, which she estimated would cost an extra $2.4 billion annually, representing more than a 30% increase to the current $7.7 billion school budget.

“While the public is very sympathetic to the issues of more nurses and so on, there’s a pretty good understanding that it just doesn’t come out of thin air and will have to take years of effort to make the schools better,” said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago City Council member.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Paul Simao)

Pence tells Hong Kong protesters in China speech: ‘We stand with you’

Pence tells Hong Kong protesters in China speech: ‘We stand with you’
By Alexandra Alper

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday accused China of curtailing “rights and liberties” in Hong Kong in a wide-ranging critique of Beijing’s behavior but also insisted that the United States does not seek confrontation or to “de-couple” from its main economic rival.

Pence delivered a major policy address on China just ahead of a new round of talks aimed at resolving a bitter trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

“No longer will America and its leaders hope that economic engagement alone will transform Communist China’s authoritarian state into a free and open society that respects private property, the rule of law, and the international rules of commerce,” he said.

Pence took China to task over its handling of pro-democracy protests that have rocked Hong Kong for more than four months. President Donald Trump has warned previously that it would be harder for Washington to make a trade deal with Beijing if there were violence in the former British colony.

“Hong Kong is a living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty,” he said. “And yet, for the last few years, Beijing has increased its interventions in Hong Kong and engaged in actions that curtail the rights and liberties that Hong Kong’s people were guaranteed through a binding international agreement.”

He said the United States stands with the protesters in Hong Kong.

“We stand with you, we are inspired by you. We urge you to stay on the path of non-violent protest,” Pence said.

U.S. lawmakers are pushing legislation that would put Hong Kong’s special status under tighter scrutiny, which would anger Beijing.

TRADE TALKS

The closely watched speech to a Washington think tank comes ahead of a new round of talks between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his counterparts on Friday and was being seen as a gauge of how tough the Trump administration is prepared to get with China on a wide range of issues.

Pence, who has often struck a hawkish tone on China, spoke just weeks before Trump is due to attend a summit in Chile where he has said he hopes to close a “phase one” trade deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Fears of antagonizing Beijing prompted the White House in June to postpone the speech ahead of a meeting between the leaders aimed at getting trade talks back on track.

Pence said that United States is “not seeking to contain China’s development” “We want a constructive relationship with China’s leaders,” he said, calling on China to “seize this unique moment in history to start anew by ending the trade practices that have taken advantage of the American people for far too long.”

Pence on Thursday sharply criticized China for its treatment of Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region.

Earlier this month, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials it believes responsible for the detention or abuse of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

U.S. authorities this month also included Chinese video surveillance firm Hikvision on a trade blacklist for its alleged role in the Uighur crackdown.

Lawmakers such as Republican Senator Marco Rubio have also slammed Chinese companies for boycotting the NBA after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey expressed solidarity with Hong Kong protesters.

Pence sharply criticized the basketball association for how it has handled the controversy.

“In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime,” Pence said.

That spat played out amid unexpected progress in U.S.-China trade talks to end a 15-month trade war that has roiled markets and damaged global growth. The United States launched the trade war over allegations of unfair trading practices such as theft of U.S. intellectual property and generous industrial subsidies at the expense of foreign competitors.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Additional reporting by David Lawder and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Hong Kong neighborhoods echo with late night cries for freedom

Choco Chu, 23, shouts slogan from his rooftop at Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong, China, August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Felix Tam and Marius Zaharia

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Every night at 10 p.m., Hong Kong neighborhoods and university dorms echo with pro-democracy and anti-government chants, the latest form of protest in the Chinese-ruled city where a civil disobedience movement has been going on for more than 12 weeks.

What started as a protest against a now-suspended bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial, has evolved into a broad, increasingly violent, and creative, struggle for greater democracy.

Over the past week, residents were seen out on their balconies or opening their windows to shout “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times”, “Ga Yao!” – a Cantonese expression of encouragement often translated as “Add oil” – or simply vent expletives toward police and the government.

The shouting, heard across the territory, is often interactive – one person starts and a chorus of others soon respond.

“Some people may think it’s naive,” said Torres Fong, 22, a Hong Kong Baptist University student who joins the shouting from his dorm room every night.

“I think its value is far higher. It shows how Hong Kongers are united in this movement and how the spirit is spread across every district.”

“We all live in a tense political atmosphere. Shouting is a way to let out steam and keeps us focused on our core demands.”

The protesters’ cries draw on a long tradition, albeit in a uniquely Hong Kong style owing to its densely populated residential districts packed with dozens of tall blocks of tiny apartments.

During the 1979 Iranian Revolution, residents of Tehran defied curfews to shout “Allahu akbar” (God is Greatest) from their rooftops – a gesture echoed in the city during 2009 protests against the re-election of Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Through the summer of 2013, and during protests since, Istanbul residents also raised a clamor by leaning from windows and banging pots and pans in support of demonstrations against Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan.

Less revolutionary, though sometimes political, the “Flogsta scream”, named after a neighborhood in Uppsala, Sweden, is a long-known way for students there to vent out the window to deal with the stresses of university life.

It also occurs daily at 10 p.m.

In Hong Kong, the idea spread through social media app Telegram and LIHKG, a Reddit-like forum. Various posts invited Hong Kong people to join a late-night concert, with free admission and a pajamas dress code.

“It’s very touching,” said Alice Lo, a 24-year-old web designer who lives with her mother in the Hang Hau neighborhood.

“I’ve lived here for two years and never had time to meet my neighbors. I’m glad to know they are proud Hong Kongers who want freedom and democracy. It shows we’re united.”

(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok, Tom Westbrook, and Thomas Peter; Editing by Robert Birsel)

In Iraqi holy city, row over female violinist at soccer match shows social rift

Joelle Saade, violinist, plays Iraq's national anthem during an opening ceremony of the West Asia Football Federation Championship at Kerbala Stadium in the holy city of Kerbala, Iraq July 30, 2019. Picture taken July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

By John Davison

KERBALA, Iraq (Reuters) – The match should have been cause for young Iraqis to celebrate. Their national team beat Lebanon 1-0 in the first competitive international hosted by Iraq for years in the holy city of Kerbala, complete with an opening ceremony of music and dance.

Instead, the event drew high-level criticism which many of the city’s youth say shows the gulf between them and the political and religious establishment.

At the opening ceremony last week for the West Asia Football Federation Championship, a tournament of Arab countries hosted by Iraq, a Lebanese woman violinist not wearing the Islamic headscarf and with uncovered arms played Iraq’s national anthem.

Many Iraqis were elated that such a ceremony, typical of international football tournaments, could finally take place on their soil after football governing body FIFA last year partially lifted a ban largely in place since 1990 on Iraq hosting competitive matches over security concerns.

Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim endowment which administers religious sites and property, backed by prominent conservative politicians, rushed to condemn the performance saying it “overstepped religious boundaries and moral standards … and violated the holy sanctity of Kerbala.”

Iraq’s Ministry of Youth and Sport which organized the ceremony first defended it, then said: “the ministry will coordinate with official bodies to prevent any scenes that contrast with the holiness of the province.”

For many Iraqis, especially women, it was a reminder of the power Islamic authorities, Islamist parties and conservative Iran-backed politicians still wield after years of conflict and sectarian killing, as Iraq tries to recover and open up to the outside world.

“We thought the event was a positive message, that a more normal life can come to Kerbala,” said Fatima Saadi, a 25-year-old dentist, sitting in a coffee shop in Kerbala.

“Most of us rejected the politicians’ comments – the holy ground is where the shrines are, but outside those places there’s a different life.”

Kerbala is hallowed ground for Shi’ite Muslims. It houses the shrine of the Imam Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson and most revered Shi’ite imam who was slain in battle.

Millions of Shi’ite pilgrims, mostly from Iraq and Iran, visit every year. Shi’ite religious authorities say women should wear the headscarf everywhere in the city.

“There’s nothing to stop a ceremony taking place at Kerbala stadium, or from women attending,” said Sheikh Wael al-Boudairi, a local cleric.

“But we disagreed with the way in which the woman appeared in that stadium, and that she played (violin) – it is against the holy character of Kerbala.”

Shi’ite scholars hold various views on what type of music pious Muslims should listen to. For many, playing of an instrument in Kerbala would be forbidden, they say.

LOOKING TO THE AYATOLLAH

Saadi, who wears a headscarf but not the full black robe that most women in Kerbala wear in public, said society had closed off there since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and since which mostly Iran-backed Islamist parties and groups have dominated Iraq.

Former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of the Dawa party and Qais al-Khazali, a rising political leader who heads a powerful paramilitary faction took to social media to criticize the ceremony.

Observant but liberal Iraqis, who say they are the majority in the country’s urban centers, hoped for high-level pushback from Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who holds enormous sway, but he has not commented on it.

Other Iraqis say the football ceremony debate has been used to distract from Iraq’s real problems, including corruption and a suppression of rights they blame on those in power.

“The politicians and religious authorities are out of touch. They don’t understand what the street wants or the nature of Iraqi society,” said Dhikra Sarsam, a civil activist in Baghdad.

“But this isn’t a new issue for us. Whenever we try to take a step forward on women’s rights, they try to send us 100 steps back.”

(Reporting by John Davison; additional reporting by Reuters TV, Maher Nazih in Baghdad; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

Petition by Walmart employee to protest gun sales gathers over 45,000 signatures

A police officer stands next to a police cordon after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso,Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A petition started by a junior Walmart Inc <WMT.N> worker in California to protest the retailer’s sale of firearms, following two mass shootings over the weekend left 31 people dead in Texas and Ohio, has gathered more than 45,000 signatures.

Thomas Marshall, a 23-year-old category manager in San Bruno began his protest by emailing fellow employees and asking them to call in sick on Tuesday, leave work early on Wednesday, and to sign a Change.org petition.

The petition https://www.change.org/p/doug-mcmillon-stop-the-sale-of-guns-at-walmart-stores?utm_content=bandit-starter_cl_share_content_en-us%3Av4&recruited_by_id=fc7b5740-b810-11e9-be8a-6fbcafd3c27d&recruiter=989859201&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition, which is open to the public, is steadily approaching its goal of 50,000 signatures.

“In light of these recent tragedies — a mere snapshot of the gun violence epidemic plaguing the United States — and in response to Corporate’s inaction, we as employees are organizing several days of action, to protest Walmart’s profit from the sale of firearms and ammunition,” the petition says.

Marshall told Reuters he and other organizers would send the petition to the company’s Chief Executive Doug McMillon after it reaches its target.

Marshall said he was shut out of the company’s email and messaging networks temporarily earlier this week after he started the protest, but that he has since been granted access.

Employees in San Bruno and in Portland, Oregon had walked out on Wednesday in protest of the company’s policy of selling firearms, Marshall said, adding that some Walmart employees in New York also held a minute of silence that day.

Walmart said 40 employees in San Bruno protested by walking out but did not confirm the other details.

“A lot more employees have been reaching out to me to express their support but a majority of those employees are very afraid of retaliation from the company,” he said.

NO CHANGE IN GUN SALE POLICY

Earlier this week, Walmart told Reuters there had been no change in its policy on gun sales after the recent mass shootings, one of which took place in a Walmart store.

Years of public pressure led Walmart, the largest U.S arms retailer, to end assault-rifle sales in 2015 and to raise the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 in 2018.

Some gun control activists and Walmart customers now want the retailer to drop sales of guns and ammunition altogether.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said on Thursday the company continued to feel there were more appropriate ways for employees to engage with the retailer, including through discussions with top leadership.

He said the company’s policy on selling firearms had not changed.

“We have worked very hard to be a responsible firearms retailer…Walmart does more in the area of background checks than what the federal law requires,” Hargrove added.

The retailer’s Chief Executive Doug McMillon sent a message to employees on social media late on Tuesday, assuring them the company was listening to their concerns.

“We will be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses, and we will act in a way that reflects the best values and ideals of our company,” McMillon said.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Driver hijacks, sets ablaze school bus in Italy, children flee unharmed

The wreckage of a bus that was set ablaze by its driver in protest against the treatment of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, is seen on a road in Milan, Italy, March 20, 2019. Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS

MILAN (Reuters) – A bus full of schoolchildren was hijacked and set on fire by its own driver on Wednesday in an apparent protest against migrant drownings in the Mediterranean, Italian authorities said.

All 51 children managed to escape unhurt before the bus was engulfed in flames on the outskirts of Milan, Italy’s business capital. Police named the driver as Ousseynou Sy, a 47-year-old Italian citizen of Senegalese origin.

“He shouted, ‘Stop the deaths at sea, I’ll carry out a massacre’,” police spokesman Marco Palmieri quoted Sy as telling police after his arrest.

A video posted on Italian news sites showed the driver ramming the bus into cars on a provincial highway before the fire took hold. Children can be seen running away from the vehicle screaming and shouting “escape”.

One of the children told reporters that the driver had threatened to pour petrol over them and set them alight. One of group managed to call the police, who rushed to the scene and broke the bus windows to get everyone to safety.

Palmieri said some children were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure because they had bruises or were in a state of shock, but none suffered serious injuries.

A teacher who was with the middle school children was quoted by Ansa news agency as saying that the driver had said he wanted to get to the runway at Milan’s Linate airport.

An unnamed girl was also quoted as saying that Sy blamed deputy prime ministers Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio for the deaths of African migrants at sea.

The United Nations estimates that some 2,297 migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2018 as they tried to reach Europe.

A Libyan security official said on Tuesday that at least 10 migrants died when their boat sank off the Libyan coast near the western town of Sabratha.

The Italian government has closed its ports to charity rescue ships that pick up migrants off the Libyan coast. Salvini says this has helped reduce deaths because far fewer people are now putting to sea.

Human rights groups say deaths might have increased with hardly any boats now searching for the would-be refugees.

(Reporting by Sara Rossi and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

As smoke clears, capturing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Palestinian demonstrators shout during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City, April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem.

By Stephen Farrell

GAZA (Reuters) – The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often framed in black and white, an outlook captured by this image of Palestinian youths shrouded by clouds of smoke that block out everything except an isolated moment of protest and defiance.

Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem’s photograph of a handful of demonstrators in a field of dying flowers and charred grass recorded a new phenomenon in an old war the weekly Palestinian protests that began in the spring of 2018 along the Gaza-Israeli border.

The protests pitted thousands of Palestinian demonstrators against heavily armed Israeli soldiers on the other side of the fortified border fence intent on stopping the protesters from crossing or approaching the frontier.

What became known as the “Great March of Return” dominated the headlines for months, evolving into a compelling but deadly form of attritional public spectacle, all covered by photojournalists risking their lives to document it.

Taking place in a handful of accessible locations at prearranged times, the protests became battlegrounds of image and spin for both sides.

The Israeli military published video footage, pictures and social media posts in Hebrew, English and Arabic to support its message that its forces were engaged in “riot dispersal”.

Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, televised images of the Palestinian dead and wounded, and Palestinian protesters posted images from the front lines on social media.

The primary stated purpose of the protests was to revive a demand by refugees for the right to return to lands that Palestinians were driven from or fled when Israel was founded in 1948. Israel has ruled out any such right, concerned that the country would lose its Jewish majority.

But the immediate factor was Palestinian anger at U.S. President Donald Trump’s decisions on Dec. 6 last year to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to begin preparations to move its embassy to the city that is sacred to three of the great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Trump’s move delighted Israel’s government, which regards Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people, but infuriated Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Gaza.

A Palestinian man argues with an Israeli soldier during clashes over an Israeli order to shut down a Palestinian school near Nablus in the occupied West Bank, October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

A Palestinian man argues with an Israeli soldier during clashes over an Israeli order to shut down a Palestinian school near Nablus in the occupied West Bank, October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

The deadliest day of the protests was May 14, when the new embassy held its opening ceremony. It fell on a symbolic date for both sides – the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel. That is a joyous day for Israelis, but an event regarded by Palestinians as their “Nakba” or Catastrophe when they lost their homeland.

The Jerusalem-Gaza juxtaposition made headlines at home and abroad, and produced a worldwide split-screen television moment as Trump’s daughter Ivanka attended the embassy ceremony, even as Israeli troops killed around 60 Palestinian protesters just over 70 km (43 miles) away.

The border protests continued and morphed into other forms.

Israelis were angered by another new phenomenon first seen in 2018 – the Palestinian ‘fire kites’ and balloons loaded with petrol bombs by Gaza militants and sent flying over the border.

Palestinians continued to call for an end to an Israeli-led blockade on Gaza.

Palestinians gather around a building after it was bombed by an Israeli aircraft, in Gaza City August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinians gather around a building after it was bombed by an Israeli aircraft, in Gaza City August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The conflict switched to the skies in November when a bungled Israeli commando mission inside Gaza erupted into a deadly gunfight and then the fiercest Palestinian rocket salvoes and Israeli air strikes since the 2014 war.

The skies fell quiet again as the year drew to a close, giving way to ceasefires and mediation efforts, as all sides waited for the Trump administration to unveil its long-expected Middle East peace plan.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell, editing by Louise Heavens)

Chaos descends as Senate hearing on Trump’s high court nominee opens

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is surrounded by photographers as he takes his seat for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, opened in chaos on Tuesday, as Democrats protested about Republicans blocking access to documents stemming from the nominee’s White House work more than a decade ago.

With Democratic senators interrupting the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman Chuck Grassley at the outset of the hearing and dozens of shouting protesters removed one by one by security personnel, the session quickly descended into a ruckus.

“This is the first confirmation for a Supreme Court justice I’ve seen, basically, according to mob rule,” Republican Senator John Cornyn said, a characterization Democrats rejected.

“What we’ve heard is the noise of democracy. This is what happens in a free country when people can stand up and speak and not be jailed, imprisoned, tortured and killed because of it,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.

News photographers clicked pictures of a smiling Kavanaugh – the conservative federal appeals court judge picked by Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body – as he entered the hearing room along with family members. But moments after Grassley opened the session, Democrats decried the withholding of the documents and asked to have the proceedings adjourned.

Protesters took turns yelling as senators spoke, shouting, “This is a travesty of justice,” “Our democracy is broken” and “Vote no on Kavanaugh.”

“We cannot possibly move forward. We have not had an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing,” Democratic Senator Kamala Harris said. Democratic Senator Cory Booker appealed to Grassley’s “sense of decency and integrity” and said the withholding of the documents by Republicans and the White House left lawmakers unable to properly vet Kavanaugh.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh is expected to move the court – which already had a conservative majority – further to the right. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed a fierce fight to try to block his confirmation. Democrats signaled they would press Kavanaugh on abortion and gun rights, among other issues, when they get to question him on Wednesday.

Grassley ignored the Democrats’ request to halt the hearing, saying it was “out of order” and accused them of obstruction. Republicans hold a slim Senate majority and can confirm Kavanaugh if they stay united. There were no signs of Republican defections.

Republican Orrin Hatch accused Democratic senators of political opportunism, noting, “We have folks who want to run for president,” though he did not mention any by name. There has been speculation Booker and Harris might consider 2020 presidential runs.

Hatch grew visibly irritated as protesters interrupted him.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

“I think we ought to have this loudmouth removed. We shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of stuff,” Hatch said.

Senator Ted Cruz accused Democrats of “an attempt to relitigate the 2016 election” won by fellow Republican Trump.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27.

Democrats have demanded in vain to see documents relating Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary to Republican former President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2006. That job involved managing paper flow from advisers to Bush.

Republicans also have released some, but not all, of the existing documents concerning Kavanaugh’s two prior years as a lawyer in Bush’s White House Counsel’s Office.

Republicans have said Democrats have more than enough documents to assess Kavanaugh’s record, including his 12 years of judicial opinions as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Kavanaugh sat, fingers intertwined, quietly staring ahead at the committee members as protesters in the audience screamed while being dragged out of the hearing room. He occasionally jotted notes on paper.

A protester is removed during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

A protester is removed during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

There is a long history of heated fights over U.S. Supreme Court nominations, with anger in both parties. But the Democratic frustrations that boiled over on Tuesday had been simmering for more than two years.

Democrats have accused Senate Republican leaders of stealing a Supreme Court seat by refusing to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the high court Merrick Garland in 2016, allowing Trump to fill a Supreme Court vacancy instead.

Republicans also last year reduced the margin for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to a simple majority in order to force through the confirmation of Trump’s first high court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

‘AM UMPIRE’

Grassley sought to turn the attention to Kavanaugh’s qualifications, calling him “one of the most qualified nominees – if not the most qualified nominee – I have seen.”

The Senate is likely to vote on confirmation by the end of the month. The court begins its next term in October.

“A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” Kavanaugh said in written remarks released in advance of the hearing. “I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”

The hearing gave Democrats a chance to make their case against Kavanaugh ahead of November’s congressional elections in which they are seeking to seize control of Congress from Republicans.

Liberals are concerned Kavanaugh could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Kennedy was a solid conservative but sided with the court’s liberals on some issues, including abortion and gay rights.

Kavanaugh also is likely to be questioned by senators about his views on investigating sitting presidents and the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“I find it difficult to imagine that your views on this subject escaped the attention of President Trump, who seems increasingly fixated on his own ballooning legal jeopardy,” Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy said.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung, Amanda Becker, Lisa Lambert; Editing by Will Dunham)

Turkey blocks decades-old mothers’ vigil as freedoms suffer

Emine Ocak, (R) mother of Hasan Ocak who went missing in 1995 and a member of "Saturday Mothers", talks with her friend before an interview with Reuters in Istanbul, Turkey, August 27, 2018. Picture taken August 27, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Every Saturday for 23 years, dozens of people have held a vigil in a central Istanbul square, sitting in silence and holding pictures of relatives who went missing in police detention.

The group was about to stage their 700th demonstration last Saturday when Turkish police told them their protest was banned, before firing tear gas and plastic pellets to disperse the crowd and detaining dozens – including a 82 year-old woman who was among the first to protest in 1995 in search of her son.

The sit-in by the so-called Saturday Mothers was one of the few remaining public protests near Istanbul’s Taksim square, once a vibrant demonstration ground but now off-limits for opposition groups.

Critics say that breaking up the vigil was another sign that NATO member Turkey is drifting into more authoritarian rule under President Tayyip Erdogan, adding to Ankara’s already deteriorating record on human rights and media freedoms.

Casting the protest as a cover for supporting terrorism, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the Saturday Mothers were linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and hinted the vigils would no longer be allowed.

“This has been one of Turkey’s oldest civil disobedience movements,” said Ahmet Sik, former journalist and a lawmaker for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who was at Saturday’s protest.

“There was a time when the police helped these people to do their vigil. To criminalize such an established protest now is an attempt to intimidate the rest of the public,” he said.

Turkey in July lifted a two year-long state of emergency during which 150,000 civil servants were purged and 77,000 people suspected of links to a failed coup in 2016 were charged.

But opponents say Erdogan’s new executive presidency and a counter-terrorism law passed last month equips him with sweeping powers to stifle opposition.

Soylu said on Monday that authorities blocked the sit-in because participants were “trying to create victims through motherhood and mask terrorism through that victimization.”

At a news conference in Istanbul, the group denied links to any militant group and pointed out Erdogan, when he was prime minister in 2011, met them and pledged support.

They also vowed to continue their protest.

“Nobody is using us. Nobody has made us come here,” said Hanife Yildiz, whose son Murat went missing in police detention in 1995.

“I handed over my son to the state and I haven’t gotten him back since.”

‘REPEAT OF THE 1990s’

The silent vigils of Saturday Mothers began as a protest against what they say was the disappearance of relatives in police detention and extrajudicial killings in the 1990s.

At the time, when conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was at its height, such disappearances and killings were common, mostly in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

Emine Ocak, who was briefly detained on Saturday, was among those at the first sit-in after her son Hasan Ocak went missing following clashes with police in Istanbul in 1995.

Soylu rejected that Ocak had gone missing in detention and said he was a member of an ultra-leftist terrorist organization and that he was killed after a row within the group but the Saturday Mothers were trying to put the blame on the state.

Emine Ocak’s picture – the image of a white-haired elderly woman shouting as she was taken by riot police – went viral across Twitter. Her son Huseyin, Hasan’s brother, told Reuters police intervention was unexpected.

“There seems to be a new security approach in the state that very much resembles the one in the 1990s,” Huseyin Ocak said.

“I was there at the meeting with Erdogan on Feb 5, 2011. He said, ‘your problem is my cabinet’s problem.” He also promised to find our relatives, he added.

State investigations have shed light on some of the cases pursued by the Saturday Mothers. A 2011 parliament report found that Cemil Kirbayir, who went missing during a 1980 coup, died under torture.

“Since 1995 we have continued our rightful and silent resistance,” Cemil’s brother Mikail said. “You will not be able to remove us from that square.”

(Editing by Dominic Evans and Alexandra Hudson)

Venezuelan streets quieter than usual after opposition strike call

People queue to withdraw cash from automated teller machines (ATM) at a Mercantil bank branch in Caracas, Venezuela August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s streets were quieter than normal on Tuesday but many businesses remained open despite an opposition call for a national strike to protest economic measures announced by socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The OPEC nation on Monday cut five zeros from prices in response to hyperinflation as part of a broad set of measures meant to address an economic crisis, including pegging the country’s currency to an obscure state-backed cryptocurrency.

Opposition critics slammed the plan as inadequate in the face of inflation that topped 82,000 percent in July and called for a one-day halt of commercial activities.

“Don’t got to work, you have the right to protest, because what’s at stake is your life, your future, and your country. Rebel!” opposition party Popular Will wrote via its Twitter account.

Maduro declared Monday a national holiday for banks and consumers to get accustomed to the new pricing scheme, under which items that cost 1,000,000 bolivars last week were remarked with price tags of 10 bolivars.

Fedecamaras, the country’s main business group, slammed the proposal as “incoherent,” noting that the plan’s 3,000 percent minimum wage increase would make it impossible for businesses to keep their doors open.

But the group did not take a position on the opposition-led strike, saying individual members should choose on their own.

Venezuelan 100 bolivar notes thrown by people in a trash bin are seen at a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Venezuelan 100 bolivar notes thrown by people in a trash bin are seen at a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

The Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The ruling Socialist Party announced a march on Tuesday morning to support Maduro’s economic measures that was scheduled to end with a rally at the presidential palace.

The collapse of the country’s once-booming economy has fueled hunger and disease, spurring an exodus of migrants to nearby countries.

In recent days, Ecuador and Peru tightened visa requirements for Venezuelans and violence drove hundreds of Venezuelan migrants back across the border with Brazil.

The discontent has also spread to the military, as soldiers struggle to get enough food and many desert by leaving the country.

Two high-ranking military officers were arrested this month for alleged involvement in drone explosions during a speech by Maduro, who called it an assassination attempt.

Maduro says his government is the victim of an “economic war” led by the opposition with the help of Washington, which last year levied several rounds of sanctions against his government and high-ranking officials.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Paul Simao)