Awkward diplomacy on show as ‘peace’ Games get underway

General view of performers during the opening ceremony.

By James Pearson and Hyunjoo Jin

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – The Winter Olympics sparked to life in a vivid, colorful ceremony of fire and ice in South Korea on Friday, though the diplomacy was tougher to choreograph in the stadium where leaders from nations that are sworn enemies sat close together.

South Korea, which is using the Pyeongchang Games to break the ice with North Korea, seated its presidential couple alongside U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, with two of the North’s most senior officials sitting in the row behind.

President Moon Jae-in, who wants to harness the Olympic spirit to pave the way for talks over the North’s nuclear and missile program, warmly shook hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s smiling sister as well as the North’s nominal head of state.

The South is still technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, and the United States and North Korea have recently swapped nuclear threats. Pence vowed only this week to tighten sanctions on the North.

Underlining Moon’s efforts to re-engage with the North, the opening ceremony followed the story line of children wandering through a mythical landscape and discovering a world where people live in peace and harmony.

The Olympics have provided some respite from years of tense relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, though just hours before the ceremony hundreds of anti-North Korean protesters scuffled with riot police outside the stadium, burning North Korean flags and pictures of its leader, Kim Jong Un.

South Korea’s frigid February, where temperatures have plummeted to minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at night, has come as a shock to the system for athletes and visitors alike in the leadup to these Games, prompting concerns about hypothermia at the opening ceremony.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Opening Ceremony – Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium- Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 9, 2018 - Performers during the opening ceremony.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Opening Ceremony – Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium- Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 9, 2018 – Performers during the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Phil Noble

The weather was a little milder than forecast on Friday, but spectators still huddled near heaters, holding hot packs and slurping down steaming fishcake soup to ward off the chills.

Bundled up in a scarf, mask and knitted hat, with hot packs tucked into her knee blanket, office worker Shin Hye-sook said she and her three colleagues were coping with the cold.

“It’s okay unless the wind blows,” said the 60-year-old. “We’re sitting as close as we can and trying not to move a lot to save our energy.”

LONG WAIT FINALLY OVER

Pyeongchang has waited a long time for this moment.

The alpine town first bid for the 2010 Games but narrowly lost out to Vancouver, and suffered similar heartbreak when it was beaten to the 2014 Olympics by Sochi.

After announcing its arrival on the international stage by hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics, South Korea now wants to show the world just how far it has come over the last 30 years with a Games showcasing its culture and technological prowess.

According to Olympic tradition, the Greek contingent headed the parade of athletes into the open-air stadium, followed by the other delegations in order according to the Korean alphabet.

Pence stood to welcome the U.S. athletes as the Korean pop hit Gangnam Style blared around the stadium, sparking the ‘Horse Dance’ in the crowd and among the volunteers.

The moment failed to elicit even a smile from the two senior North Korean officials in the VIPs box, however, as they sat stony-faced in black fluffy hats and long coats.

Elsewhere in the stadium, a Kim Jong Un impersonator was not made as welcome as the North Koreans in the VIP box and was ejected by security. “Well is my sister getting the same treatment?” he demanded to know.

As the athletes made their way around the track, one of the biggest cheers was reserved for muscle-bound Tongan Pita Taufatofua, who repeated his famed Rio Games entrance by marching in shirtless, oiled up and wearing a traditional skirt — this time in sub-zero temperatures.

Another flag-bearer who eschewed warm clothing was Bermuda’s Tucker Murphy wore the territory’s traditional red shorts.

Samaneh Beyrami Baher blinked back tears at the head of Iran’s four-strong athletic delegation, and minutes later the crowd erupted as athletes from North and South Korea marched together under the unification flag for the first time at an Olympics since 2006.

A contingent of North Korean cheerleaders greeted the athletes by waving a controversial version of the flag depicting disputed islands known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

Norio Maruyama, press secretary at Japan’s Foreign Ministry, said he had not seen the flag so he did not want to comment. But he said the Games were a festival of peace and he did not want to undermine that aspect.

(Writing by Peter Rutherford; Additional reporting by Jane Chung and So Young Kim; Editing by Mark Bendeich)

Iranian protesters attack police stations, raise stakes in unrest

Opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hold a protest outside the Iranian embassy in west London, Britain December 31, 2017.

By Michael Georgy

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian protesters attacked police stations late into the night on Monday, news agency and social media reports said, as security forces struggled to contain the boldest challenge to the clerical leadership since unrest in 2009.

Videos on social media showed an intense clash in the central town of Qahderijan between security forces and protesters who were trying to occupy a police station, which was partially set ablaze. There were unconfirmed reports of several casualties among demonstrators.

In the western city of Kermanshah, protesters set fire to a traffic police post, but no one was hurt in the incident, Mehr news agency said.

Demonstrations continued for a fifth day. Some 13 people were reported killed on Sunday in the worst wave of unrest since crowds took to the streets in 2009 to condemn the re-election of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The protests have put pressure on the clerical leaders in power since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. President Hassan Rouhani made a televised call for calm on Sunday, saying Iranians had the right to criticize but must not cause unrest.

In the central city of Najafabad, a demonstrator opened fire on police with a hunting rifle, killing one and wounding three others, state television said.

Earlier, state TV said armed demonstrators on Sunday had tried to seize police and military bases but were stopped by “strong resistance from security forces.” It gave no further details and there was no independent confirmation.

State TV had reported that 10 people were killed in protests on Sunday. On Monday, that death toll rose when the deputy governor of the western Hamadan Province, Saeed Shahrokhi, told ISNA news agency that another three protesters were killed on Sunday in the city of Tuyserkan.

“NO TOLERANCE”

Hundreds have been arrested, according to officials and social media. Online video showed police in the capital Tehran firing water cannon to disperse demonstrators, in footage said to have been filmed on Sunday.

Protests against economic hardships and alleged corruption erupted in Iran’s second city of Mashhad on Thursday and escalated across the country into calls for the religious establishment to step down.

Some of the anger was directed at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, breaking a taboo surrounding the man who has been supreme leader of Iran since 1989.

Video posted on social media showed crowds of people walking through the streets, some chanting “Death to the dictator!” Reuters was not immediately able to verify the footage. The Fars news agency reported “scattered groups” of protesters in Tehran on Monday and said a ringleader had been arrested.

“The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public property, violate public order and create unrest in society,” Rouhani said in his address on Sunday.

Unsigned statements on social media urged Iranians to continue to demonstrate in 50 towns and cities.

The government said it was temporarily restricting access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram. There were reports that internet mobile access was blocked in some areas.

TRUMP, NETANYAHU VOICE SUPPORT

Iran is a major OPEC oil producer and regional power deeply involved in Syria and Iraq as part of a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia. Many Iranians resent those foreign interventions, and want their leaders to create jobs at home, where youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent last year.

Among reported fatalities, two people were shot dead in the southwestern town of Izeh on Sunday and several others were injured, ILNA news agency quoted a member of parliament as saying.

“I do not know whether yesterday’s shooting was done by rally participants or the police and this issue is being investigated,” Hedayatollah Khademi was quoted as saying.

Regional governor Mostafa Samali told Fars that only one person was killed in an incident unrelated to the protests, and the suspected shooter had been arrested.

Almost nine years since the “Green movement” reformist protests were crushed by the state, Iran’s adversaries voiced their support for the resurgence of anti-government sentiment.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the “brave Iranians” taking to streets to protest a regime that “wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate”.

“I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom,” he said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged “all sides (to) refrain from violent actions”.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Robin Pomeroy and David Gregorio)

Pakistani police fire tear gas at Islamists blockading capital

Pakistani police fire tear gas at Islamists blockading capital

By Asif Shahzad and Kay Johnson

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani police used tear gas and watercannon, and fought running battles with stone-throwing Islamist activists, as they moved to clear a sit-in by the religious hard-liners who have blocked the main routes into the capital of Islamabad for more than two weeks.

The protests have spread to other main cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar.

The clashes began on Saturday when police launched an operation involving some 4,000 officers to disperse around 1,000 activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik, a new hard-line Islamist political party, and break up their camp, police official Saood Tirmizi told Reuters.

Dozens of protesters were arrested, Tirmizi said, and hospitals reported dozens of people were being treated for injuries.

The mass protest, plus the recent gains of two new Islamist parties in Pakistan, demonstrated the religious right’s gathering strength ahead of what are expected to be tumultuous elections next year.

Television footage showed a police vehicle on fire, heavy curtains of smoke and fires burning in the streets as officers in heavy riot gear advanced. Protesters, some wearing gas masks, fought back in scattered battles across empty highways and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end,” Tehreek-e-Labaik party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters by telephone from the scene.

By midday, TV coverage had been cut off and private channels were off the air by orders of the official media regulator.

The protesters have paralyzed daily life in the capital, and have defied court orders to disband, demanding the firing of the minister of law.

Tehreek-e-Labaik blames the minister, Zahid Hamid, for changes to an electoral oath that it says amounts to blasphemy. The government puts the issue down to a clerical error.

“Death to blasphemers” is a central rallying cry for Tehreek-e-Laibak, which was born out of a protest movement lionizing Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard of the governor of Punjab province who gunned down his boss in 2011 over his call to reform strict blasphemy laws.

The party, which advocates strict rule by Islamic Sharia law, won a surprisingly strong 7.6 percent of the vote in a by-election in Peshawar last month.

Since Tehreek-e-Labaik began its sit-in, the government has blocked several roads with shipping containers to corral the protesters, but that has caused hours-long traffic jams in and around the capital.

The government had tried to negotiate an end to the sit-in, fearing violence during a crackdown similar to 2007, when clashes between authorities and supporters of a radical Islamabad mosque led to the deaths of more than 100 people.

By late morning, Tehreek-e-Labaik supporters were coming out on the streets in other Pakistani cities in support of the Islamabad protesters.

About 500 demonstrators blocked several main roads in Karachi, the southern port that is Pakistan’s largest city, a Reuters witness said. Police fired tear gas to try to disperse them from a main road near Karachi’s airport.

In the eastern city of Lahore, party supporters blocked three roads into the city, provincial government spokesman Malik Ahmad Khan said.

“We want them to disperse peacefully. Otherwise we have other options open,” he said. “We don’t want to use force, but we will if there is no other option left.”

In Islamabad, police official Aftab Ahmad said officers were using restraint and denied media reports that rubber bullets were being fired.

However, Labaik spokesman Ashrafi said “several of our workers have got rubber bullet injuries” and also asserted police had fired live rounds, which police denied.

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Christian Schmollinger)

Federal judge limits St. Louis police conduct during protests

Federal judge limits St. Louis police conduct during protests

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that St. Louis police cannot shut down non-violent demonstrations and employ chemical agents to punish protesters, dealing a victory to a civil liberties group that challenged the police response to protests.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry issued her order following complaints of misconduct during protests that gripped the city after the Sept. 15 acquittal of white former officer Jason Stockley on murder charges in the killing of black suspect Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, in December 2011.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court in St. Louis on Sept. 22, alleging that police used excessive force and retaliated against people engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.

Protesters cited anger over tactics including the use of pepper spray and “kettling,” in which officers form a square surrounding protesters to make arrests. Some caught inside police lines said officers used excessive force.

The clashes evoked memories of riots following the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

On Wednesday, Perry issued a preliminary injunction limiting police tactics in responding to protests.

“Plaintiffs’ evidence — both video and testimony – shows that officers have exercised their discretion in an arbitrary and retaliatory fashion to punish protesters for voicing criticism of police or recording police conduct,” Perry wrote.

Koran Addo, a spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, said the city would comply with the order.

Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement that the ruling was a win for the First Amendment.

The protests that followed the former officer’s acquittal turned violent at times, with some demonstrators smashing windows and clashing with police.

But Perry, in her order, said police cannot declare an assembly unlawful and enforce it against those engaged demonstrations unless the persons pose an imminent threat of violence.

She also barred the use of pepper spray without probable cause to make an arrest and without providing clear warnings to protesters with a chance to heed them.

The judge also ordered both sides to mediation.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; editing by Grant McCool)

Protesters flood Barcelona demanding release of separatist leaders

Protesters flood Barcelona demanding release of separatist leaders

By Sam Edwards

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Catalan independence supporters clogged one of Barcelona’s main avenues on Saturday to demand the release of separatist leaders held in prison for their roles in the region’s banned drive to split from Spain.

Wearing yellow ribbons on their lapels to signify support, they filled the length of the Avenue Marina that runs from the beach to Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia church, while the jailed leaders’ families made speeches.

Catalonia’s two main grassroots independence groups called the march, under the slogan “Freedom for the political prisoners,” after their leaders were remanded in custody on charges of sedition last month.

The protest is seen as a test of how the independence movement’s support has fared since the Catalan government declared independence on Oct. 27, prompting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to fire its members, dissolve the regional parliament and call new elections for December.

An opinion poll this week showed that pro-independence parties would win the largest share of the vote, though a majority was not assured and question marks remain over ousted regional head Carles Puigdemont’s leadership of the separatist cause.

“Look at all the people here,” said 63-year-old Pep Morales. “The independence movement is still going strong.”

Barcelona police said about 750,000 people had attended, many from across Catalonia. The protesters carried photos with the faces of those in prison, waved the red-and-yellow striped Catalan independence flag and shone lights from their phones.

The Spanish High Court has jailed eight former Catalan government members, along with the leaders of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, while investigations continue.

The High Court last week issued arrest warrants on charges of rebellion and sedition for Puigdemont, who flew to Brussels after being deposed, and four other former government members who went with him.

“Your light reaches us in Brussels and illuminates the path we must keep following,” Puigdemont tweeted during the protest.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled to release on bail the Catalan parliament’s speaker Carme Forcadell and four other lawmakers, who enabled the declaration of independence by overseeing a parliamentary vote. Another lawmaker was released without bail.

Forcadell left jail on Friday after agreeing to renounce any political activity that went against the Spanish constitution, in effect banning her from campaigning for independence in the December election.

Those terms threaten to undermine the independence movement just as cracks are starting to appear and tensions rise between the grassroots and their leaders.

Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party has failed to agree on a united ticket to contest the election with another secessionist party, the ERC, denting the pro-independence camp’s hopes of pressing ahead after the election.

On Saturday, the ERC said its leader, jailed former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, would be its candidate in December and he would campaign from behind bars.

Pepita Sole, a 61-year-old pensioner in the crowd on Saturday, said she understood the Oct. 27 declaration was symbolic but now wanted the real thing.

“They better understand that we’re not faking.”

(Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Venezuelan opposition disarray heaps pain on protesters

Venezuelan opposition disarray heaps pain on protesters

By Andreina Aponte and Anggy Polanco

CARACAS/SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) – With some nursing wounds, others jailed and many heading abroad, Venezuela’s young opposition supporters are demoralized by the ruling socialists’ shock election win this month, after prolonged protests failed to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Having for months led rallies and battles against Maduro’s security forces in which scores died, youth demonstrators reluctantly abandoned the streets as the opposition turned its attention to the Oct. 15 gubernatorial vote.

Though the opposition looked set to win comfortably due to public anger over food and medicine shortages, plus soaring inflation, the government took 18 of 23 governorships.

That left thousands of young protesters furious and disillusioned with opposition leadership. Many had vigorously opposed participating in the election because it would legitimize what they see as a dictatorship.

“We have been betrayed,” said graphic designer Manuel Melo, 21, who lost a kidney when hit by a water cannon jet.

“The political opposition does not represent us,” he added, in his small bedroom in a poor neighborhood of the teeming capital Caracas. A stylized picture of a heart emblazoned one wall of the room, while a gas mask, used to protect him from tear gas during the unrest, adorned the other.

Melo and many others now see the protests, which left 125 people dead and thousands wounded or in jail, as a waste of time.

They have little stomach to return to the fight and view the leaders of the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition as traitors for abandoning the streets in favor of a ballot they believe was rigged by the pro-Maduro election board.

Their disillusionment heightened this week when four of the five winning opposition governors with the Democratic Action party broke ranks with the coalition to swear themselves in before an all-powerful legislative superbody that Maduro’s foes had vowed never to recognize.

That set off a round of unseemly in-fighting and recriminations within the opposition, with heavyweight leader Henrique Capriles saying he would abandon the coalition while Democratic Action leader Henry Ramos remained a member.

“I’m totally dejected because after all these protests, the election, nothing has changed,” said student Javier Lara, 18, who watched a fellow protester die in unrest in the volatile city of San Cristobal on the border with Colombia.

Like many young Venezuelans, Lara now plans to head abroad as soon as possible – to Peru in his case.

“We’ve been sold out by the opposition,” he said.

“ALL OVER THE PLACE”

The Democratic Unity coalition finds itself in crisis.

Its strategy of contesting the gubernatorial elections backfired spectacularly.

In the wake of defeat, stunned opposition leaders could not even agree whether to pursue fraud allegations, with some refusing to accept the election results and others publicly admitting defeat.

A breakup, or reformulation of the coalition, now looks inevitable, with a new strategy and possibly fresh blood needed for the 2018 presidential election.

Though polls routinely showed the opposition had majority support, many Venezuelans view their leaders as an elitist group out-of-touch with their problems.

“The MUD is all over the place,” said Antonio Ledezma, a veteran politician and former opposition mayor who is under house arrest. “The international community deserves an explanation of our behavior.”

Some young opposition supporters are seeking inspiration away from traditional leaders. They voice admiration for Lorenzo Mendoza, a billionaire businessman who has shied away from politics, and Juan Carlos Caguaripano, a former National Guard captain who led an August attack on a military base.

Heaping humiliation on the opposition, Maduro says daily in speeches that “peace” has won and a U.S.-backed plot to oust him has been defeated.

To stoke his foes’ disarray, Maduro has urged Democratic Action leader Ramos – a hate figure for some younger opposition supporters – to stand in the next presidential vote.

“Get ready for 2018, I’m waiting for you!” Maduro said this week, exulting in the opposition’s “chaos”, “back-stabbing” and “divisionism”.

(Additional reporting by Girish Gupta and Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)

U.S. lawmakers ask DOJ if terrorism law covers pipeline activists

U.S. lawmakers ask DOJ if terrorism law covers pipeline activists

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. representatives from both parties asked the Department of Justice on Monday whether the domestic terrorism law would cover actions by protesters that shut oil pipelines last year, a move that could potentially increase political rhetoric against climate change activists.

Ken Buck, a Republican representative from Colorado, said in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that damaging pipeline infrastructure poses risks to humans and the environment.

The letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said “operation of pipeline facilities by unqualified personnel could result in a rupture – the consequences of which would be devastating.” It was signed by 84 representatives, including at least two Democrats, Gene Green and Henry Cuellar, both of Texas.

The move by the lawmakers is a sign of increasing tensions between activists protesting projects including Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Dakota Access Pipeline and the administration of President Donald Trump, which is seeking to make the country “energy dominant” by boosting domestic oil, gas, and coal output.

Last year activists in several states used bolt cutters to break fences and twisted shut valves on several cross border pipelines that sent about 2.8 million barrels per day of crude to the United States from Canada, equal to roughly 15 percent of daily U.S. consumption.

The letter asks Sessions whether existing federal laws arm the Justice Department to prosecute criminal activity against energy infrastructure. It also asks whether attacks on energy infrastructure that pose a threat to human life fall within the department’s understanding of domestic terrorism law.

The Department of Justice acknowledged receiving the letter and is reviewing it, a spokesman said.

A terrorism expert said it was ironic the lawmakers referred to the law, which defines “domestic terrorism” as acts dangerous to human life intended to intimidate civilians, but does not offer a way to prosecute anyone under it. David Schanzer, a homeland security and terrorism expert at Duke University, said the lawmakers’ request of Sessions “won’t have any legal ramifications, but possibly could be used for rhetorical value.”

A Minnesota court is considering charges against several protesters suspected of turning the valves on the pipelines last year. District Court Judge Robert Tiffany has allowed the defendants to present a “necessity defense.” That means they will admit shutting the valves, but may call witnesses, such as scientific experts, to offer testimony about the urgency of what they say is a climate crisis, activists said.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Diane Craft)

Venezuela’s injured activists struggle to heal

Jofre Rodriguez, 18, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph at his home in Turmero, Venezuela, August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Andreina Aponte

CARACAS (Reuters) – Jesus Ibarra, a 19-year-old engineering student, has been barely able to walk or talk since a tear gas canister crushed part of his skull during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro and he fell unconscious into a river that carries sewage.

Chronic shortages of medicine in Venezuela forced his family to ask for drug donations so Ibarra could undergo five surgeries on his skull and treatment for infections from the Guaire river.

Ibarra, who cannot return to his studies any time soon, needs to a sixth operation and therapy. It is unclear if he will fully recover.

“I speak to my son a lot, and sometimes he makes me understand it was not worth suffering this, that he regrets it, that it was a mistake,” said Ibarra’s father Jose at their small home in the sprawling hilltop slum of Petare in Caracas.

“But other times he’s clearly telling me that it was worth fighting for a change he believes in.”

Ibarra is one of nearly 2,000 people injured during four months of fierce anti-Maduro street protests, according to the public prosecutor’s office. Rights groups think the number is probably higher.

Venezuela has been torn by political and economic crises that have led to extreme shortages of food and medicine, crushing inflation and the collapse of the local currency. Its new government structure has been criticized as a dictatorship.

Rubber bullets fired at close range, rocks, and tear gas canisters have caused most of the injuries, doctors and rights groups say. Most of those who have been hurt appear to be opposition protesters, but Maduro supporters, security forces and bystanders have also been harmed.

More than 125 people have died in the unrest since April. Thousands have been arrested.

The unpopular leftist president has said he was facing an armed insurgency intent on overthrowing him.

Opposition politicians have said they were forced to take to the streets after authorities curtailed democratic means for change. They have also accused security forces of using excessive force against protesters.

Culinary student Brian Dalati, 22, said he was passing an opposition-manned street barricade on his way to classes in July when police mistook him for a protester. They hit him and fired buckshot at his legs, fracturing both of Dalati’s shinbones.

“I depend on my siblings to go to the bathroom, shower, brush my teeth, eat, anything. It’s infuriating,” he said. “They didn’t have to do this. It was pure hate. Thank goodness I will be able to walk again soon.”

The government says right-wing media are too focused on injuries to protesters.

Maduro has pointed to a case in which a 21-year-old man was set afire during an opposition protest and died two weeks later. A Reuters witness said the crowd had accused the man of being a thief, but the government said he was targeted for being a Maduro supporter.

Protests have subsided since Maduro’s government established a controversial legislative superbody three weeks ago, but hundreds of Venezuelans are still struggling to nurse their wounds without medicine and state support.

(Click on http://reut.rs/2xt4eoS for related photo essay)

(Additional reporting by Ueslei Marcelino, Liamar Ramos, and Rodrigo Gutierrez; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer)

White House says Trump condemns Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis

People gather for a vigil in response to the death of a counter-demonstrator at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, outside the White House in Washington,

By Ian Simpson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s remarks condemning violence at a white nationalist rally were meant to include the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups, the White House said on Sunday, a day after he was criticized across the political spectrum for not explicitly denouncing white supremacists.

U.S. authorities opened an investigation into the deadly violence in Virginia, which put renewed pressure on the Trump administration to take an unequivocal stand against right-wing extremists occupying a loyal segment of the Republican president’s political base.

A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured, five critically, on Saturday when a man plowed a car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally in the Southern college town of Charlottesville. Another 15 people were injured in bloody street brawls between white nationalists and counter-demonstrators who fought each other with fists, rocks and pepper spray.

Two Virginia state police officers died in the crash of their helicopter after assisting in efforts to quell the unrest, which Mayor Mike Signer said was met by the presence of nearly 1,000 law enforcement officers.

Former U.S. Army enlistee James Alex Fields Jr., 20, a white Ohio man described by a former high school teacher as having been “infatuated” with Nazi ideology as a teenager, was due to be appear in court on murder and other charges stemming from the deadly car crash.

The federal “hate crime” investigation of the incident “is not limited to the driver,” a U.S. Justice Department official told Reuters. “We will investigate whether others may have been involved in planning the attack.”

Democrats and Republicans criticized Trump for waiting too long to address the violence – his first major crisis on the domestic front that he has faced as president – and for failing when he did speak out to explicitly condemn white-supremacist marchers who ignited the melee.

Trump on Saturday initially denounced what he called “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

On Sunday, however, the White House added: “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”

The statement was emailed to reporters covering Trump at his golf resort in New Jersey and attributed to an unidentified “White House spokesperson.”

 

SOLIDARITY WITH CHARLOTTESVILLE

Memorial vigils and other events showing solidarity with Charlottesville’s victims were planned across the country on Sunday to “honor all those under attack by congregating against hate,” a loose coalition of civil society groups said in postings on social media.

Virginia police have not yet provided a motive for the man accused of ramming his car into the crowd. But U.S. prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened a civil rights investigation, FBI and Justice Department officials said.

Derek Weimer, a history teacher at Fields’ high school, told Cincinnati television station WCPO-TV that he remembered Fields harboring “some very radical views on race” as a student and was “very infatuated with the Nazis, with Adolf Hitler.”

“I developed a good rapport with him and I used that rapport to constantly try to steer him away from those beliefs,” Weimer recounted, adding that he recalled Fields being “gung-ho” about joining the Army when he graduated.

The Army confirmed that Fields reported for basic military training in August 2015 but was “released from active duty due to a failure to meet training standards in December of 2015.” The Army statement did not explain in what way he failed to measure up.

Fields is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and a single count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, authorities said.

Two people stop to comfort Joseph Culver (C) of Charlottesville as he kneels at a late night vigil to pay his respect for a friend injured in a car attack on counter protesters after the "Unite the Right" rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Two people stop to comfort Joseph Culver (C) of Charlottesville as he kneels at a late night vigil to pay his respect for a friend injured in a car attack on counter protesters after the “Unite the Right” rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

REPUBLICAN SENATORS CRITICIZE RESPONSE

On Sunday before the White House statement, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who chairs the Republican Party’s Senate election effort, urged the president to condemn “white supremacists” and to use that term. He was one of several Republican senators who squarely criticized Trump on Twitter on Saturday.

“Calling out people for their acts of evil – let’s do it today – white nationalist, white supremacist,” Gardner said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday. “We will not stand for their hate.”

Sunday’s White House statement elaborating on Trump’s initial comment on the Charlottesville clashes was followed hours later by even tougher rhetoric against white nationalists from Vice President Mike Pence, on a visit to Colombia.

“We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo Nazis or the KKK,” Pence said. “These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”

Mayor Signer, a Democrat, blamed Trump for helping foment an atmosphere conducive to violence, starting with rhetoric as a candidate for president in 2016.

“Look at the campaign he ran, Signer said on CNN’s State of the Nation.” “There are two words that need to be said over and over again – domestic terrorism and white supremacy. That is exactly what we saw on display this weekend.”

Jason Kessler, an organizer of Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally, which was staged to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate army commander General Robert E. Lee from a park, said supporters of the event would not back down. The rally stemmed from a long debate over various public memorials and symbols honoring the pro-slavery Confederacy of the U.S. Civil War, considered an affront by African-Americans.

Kessler attempted to hold a press conference outside city hall in Charlottesville on Sunday but was quickly shouted down by counter-protesters.

 

(Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani and Mike Stone in Washington, James Oliphant in New Jersey, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Julia Cobb in Bogota; Writing by Grant McCool and Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay and Mary Milliken)

 

Thousands of protesters disrupt traffic in India’s financial capital

Thousands of protesters disrupt traffic in India's financial capital

By Rajendra Jadhav

MUMBAI (Reuters) – More than 200,000 protesters poured into India’s financial capital on Wednesday, disrupting traffic and straining the railway network, to press their demands for reserved quotas in government jobs and college places for students.

Rising unemployment and falling farm incomes are driving farming communities across India, from the state of Haryana in the north to Gujarat in the west, to redouble calls for reservations in jobs and education.

“Farming is no longer profitable and jobs are not available,” said one protester, Pradip Munde, a farmer from Osmanabad, a town more than 400 km (250 miles) southeast of Mumbai. “Reservation can ensure us better education and jobs.”

Two-thirds of India’s population of 1.3 billion depend on farming for their livelihood, but the sector makes up just 14 percent of gross domestic product, reflecting a growing divide between the countryside and increasingly well-off cities.

Young people and senior citizens of western India’s Maratha community waved saffron flags in a protest police said was free of incidents of violence, with more than 10,000 policemen on guard amid an estimated turnout of 200,000 demonstrators.

Traffic came to a halt in many parts of the business district, while protesters jammed suburban trains.

It was the concluding protest of a series of 57 marches last year across the surrounding western state of Maharashtra, organized by the state’s Maratha community to press its demands.

The city’s famed dabbawalas, who deliver packed lunches to hundreds working in offices across Mumbai, suspended operations for the day, as did schools in the affected area.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)