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

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

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

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

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

There are currently no cases in Greece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas governor signs into law bill to punish ‘sanctuary cities’

FILE PHOTO: Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at a campaign rally for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz in Dallas, Texas February 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Stone/File Photo

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed into law on Sunday a measure to punish “sanctuary cities,” despite a plea from police chiefs of the state’s biggest cities to halt the bill they said would hinder their ability to fight crime.

The Texas measure comes as Republican U.S. President Donald Trump has made combating illegal immigration a priority. Texas, which has an estimated 1.5 million illegal immigrants and the longest border with Mexico of any U.S. state, has been at the forefront of the immigration debate.

“As governor, my top priority is public safety, and this bill furthers that objective by keeping dangerous criminals off our streets,” Abbott said in a statement. The law will take effect on Sept. 1.

The Republican-dominated legislature passed the bill on party-line votes and sent the measure to Abbott earlier this month. It would punish local authorities who do not abide by requests to cooperate with federal immigration agents.

Police officials found to be in violation of the law could face removal from office, fines and up to a year in prison if convicted.

The measure also allows police to ask people about their immigration status during a lawful detention, even for minor infractions like jaywalking.

Any anti-sanctuary city measure may face a tough road after a federal judge in April blocked Trump’s executive order seeking to withhold funds from local authorities that do not use their resources to advance federal immigration laws.

Democrats have warned the measure could lead to unconstitutional racial profiling and civil rights groups have promised to fight the Texas measure in court.

“This legislation is bad for Texas and will make our communities more dangerous for all,” the police chiefs of cities including Houston and Dallas wrote in an opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News in late April.

They said immigration was a federal obligation and the law would stretch already meager resources by turning local police into immigration agents.

The police chiefs said the measure would widen a gap between police and immigrant communities, creating a class of silent victims and eliminating the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving or preventing crimes.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Republican state Representative Charlie Geren, said in House debate the bill would have no effect on immigrants in the country illegally if they had not committed a crime.

He also added there were no sanctuary cities in Texas at present and the measure would prevent any from emerging.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)

New Takata air bag recall to cover 5 million U.S. vehicles

(Reuters) – U.S. regulators on Friday announced a new recall of about 5 million vehicles with potentially defective Takata Corp air bags, covering some automakers not previously affected by one of the biggest auto safety recalls in U.S. history.

The new action brings to 28 million the number of Takata air bag inflators recalled and increases the number of vehicles affected in the United States to as many as 24 million, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said.

Friday’s move was prompted in part by the death of the driver of a Ford Motor Co pickup truck last month, as well as new tests conducted on suspected faulty air bags.

Automakers affected for the first time include Volkswagen AG and its Audi unit and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz unit.

“This is a massive safety crisis,” NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge told reporters.

NHTSA in November said tens of millions of additional vehicles with inflators containing ammonium nitrate will be recalled by 2018 unless Takata can prove that they are safe.

The Dec. 22 death of a Georgia man in South Carolina was the 10th worldwide linked with Takata’s air bag inflators, NHTSA said. It was also the first to occur in a vehicle that was not made by Honda Motor Co.

The 5 million vehicles covered by the new recall include about 1 million with inflators similar to those installed on the Ford Ranger pickup, NHTSA said.

About 4 million other vehicles will be recalled due to additional testing on Takata air bags, including vehicles from Honda, VW and other automakers, the safety agency said.

Twelve major automakers have previously recalled more than 23 million Takata air bag inflators in more than 19 million vehicles in one of the largest and most complex safety recalls in U.S. automotive history.

NHTSA did not immediately say how many of the 5 million vehicles being recalled Friday may have been covered by previous recalls.

Takata’s inflators can explode with too much force and spray metal shrapnel into vehicle passenger compartments and are linked to more than 100 U.S. injuries.

A South Carolina attorney said in a complaint filed with NHTSA that his client was killed when “metal from the inflator canister exploded penetrating my client’s neck resulting in death.”

The attorney, Andrew Creech, said in the complaint, “There is no doubt airbag shrap (shrapnel) metal killed my client, as this has been confirmed by death certificate and autopsy report.”

The man killed in the 2006 Ford Ranger struck a cow that was in the road, Creech’s report to NHTSA said.

Creech was not available for comment on Friday.

In November, Takata agreed to pay a $70 million fine for safety violations and could face deferred penalties of up to $130 million under a NHTSA settlement.

NHTSA in December named a former Justice Department official as a monitor to help regulators oversee the massive recalls.

The Ford death is the first reported since the July crash of a 2001 Honda Accord coupe that killed a 13-year-old near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown)

Controversial Open Carry Law Set to Take Effect In Texas

Texans could soon see a lot more handguns in public places as a new open carry law takes effect.

Beginning on New Year’s Day, the state will allow people to openly carry handguns, provided they first obtain a license. The guns can be loaded or unloaded, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, but carriers must keep them holstered on their belt or shoulder.

Texas residents were already allowed to openly carry long guns — like rifles and shotguns — in public, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and the state also permitted those with licenses to publicly carry concealed handguns. But the state is now poised to become the latest — and largest, by far — to allow anyone with a license to carry handguns in plain view.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, when the New Year arrives and the Texas law goes into effect, there will be only five states that totally bar handguns to be carried openly. They are California, Florida, Illinois, New York and South Carolina, plus the District of Columbia. Several states place some limitations on how and where people can openly carry the guns, the center says, but by and large open carry is already legal in the vast majority of states.

Texas, though, is drawing some attention because it’s the biggest state to take this step, and the law is taking effect just weeks after the San Bernardino terrorist attacks caused Internet searches for concealed carry permits to surge to record levels. But the state Legislature actually passed the law much earlier in the year, and Governor Greg Abbott signed it into law back in June.

With a population of about 27 million people, Texas is the country’s second-most-populous state, trailing only California. Texas has just shy of 826,000 concealed carry permit holders, according to the state Department of Public Safety, which represents one of the highest totals in the nation. Everyone with a valid concealed carry permit will be allowed to openly carry their handguns once the new law takes effect, the department says, though it will still be illegal for people to carry guns in places like schools, hospitals, courtrooms and in some parts of airports. Businesses and private landowners can also post signs that would prohibit weapons on-site.

The law has created some divide among gun advocacy groups and those who favor gun control.

Proponents of the bill, such as the gun rights group Open Carry Texas, are planning a celebration on the steps of the state Capitol in Austin to celebrate. They say the law is a step toward their goal of “constitutional carry,” which would ultimately allow anyone who legally purchased a gun in the United States to carry the weapon without government interference.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a critic of open carry laws, say that the sight of handguns in public often intimidates people, and they hinder public safety more than they help.

People must undergo safety training before they can obtain a license, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.