Angry over Brexit delay, ‘Leave’ supporters march through London

Pro-Brexit protesters take part in the March to Leave demonstration, as they walk along the River Thames, in London, Britain March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Andrew MacAskill and Andrew R.C. Marshall

LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of people opposed to Britain delaying its departure from the European Union marched through central London on Friday as lawmakers in parliament strongly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a third time.

On the day that Britain was originally meant to be leaving the EU, large groups gathered in bright sunshine outside parliament waving Union Jack flags and chanting, “Out means out” – as the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody was played on a loudspeaker with it’s famous lyric “Mama Mia, let me go”.

As the result of the vote in parliament filtered through to the crowds on Parliament Square, scattered cheers went up.

The mood of protesters ranged from satisfaction to despair.

“Excellent. We’re now on track for a ‘no deal,'” said saleswoman Louise Hemple, 52, standing in the shadow of Winston Churchill’s statue outside parliament. “And that will mean we’ll have complete control which is what we Brexiteers voted for.”

Hemple said she would continue to protest until Britain had left the EU because she didn’t trust lawmakers to do it.

“They’re in their bubble in there. It’s all about their vote, not our vote,” she said, referring to the 17.4 million people who voted Leave in Britain’s 2016 referendum.

Nigel Farage – the politician widely thought to have done more than anyone else to spook Britain’s then government into agreeing to hold the referendum – will address the crowd later.

Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, is due to speak at a “Brexit Betrayal” event as part of the culmination of a 270-mile (435 km), two-week march from Sunderland, northeast England, to London.

“What should have been a celebration is, in fact, a day of betrayal,” Farage told Reuters. “There will be a lot of anger. I certainly have never known a time in my life when people have said such rude things about the political class, about the government.”

BREXIT BETRAYED?

Earlier, about 1,000 Leave supporters had gathered at Bishop’s Park on the bank of the River Thames to march the four miles to parliament.

Among them was David Malindine, 63, a retired teacher.

“We need to remind the country that the majority of people voted ‘Leave,'” said Malindine. “This was the day we were supposed to leave, and Brexit has been betrayed.”

Far-right Leave activists were due to speak at a separate meeting being cast as “a make Brexit happen” rally in Whitehall near May’s office in Downing Street.

Police said they were prepared for potential trouble, although the atmosphere was festive with people drinking beer and eating sandwiches.

Many of the marchers predicted the political elite will be punished if it fails to fully sever ties with Brussels.

Andy Allan, 58, who was carrying a red and white St George’s flag, predicted that there could be unrest modeled on the “yellow vest” protests that have rocked Paris for the last few months if Britain fails to leave the EU.

“It is absolutely disgusting what is happening,” he said. “Be warned – this is just the beginning of a mass uprising if we get betrayed by the politicians.”

(Editing by Stephen Addison)

Striking Los Angeles teachers set for mass rally as talks resume

FILE PHOTO: Los Angeles teachers carry signs as they picket in the rain in Los Angeles, California, U.S. January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Whitcomb

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles teachers union officials on Friday called for a mass rally to show support before their second round of contact talks to settle a week-long strike that has disrupted classes for some 500,000 students in the second largest U.S. school system.

At the request of Mayor Eric Garcetti, negotiators for the United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District returned to the bargaining table on Thursday for the first time since talks broke off a week ago.

Garcetti, who is mediating talks even though he has no direct authority over the school district, said on Twitter that the two sides had “productive” negotiations that went past midnight and were set to resume at 11 a.m. PST (1900 GMT).

Both sides agreed to a news blackout during the mediated talks. Negotiations, which had gone on for 21 months before some 30,000 teachers walked off the job on Monday, have been centered largely on union demands for smaller classes, more support staff and higher pay.

The labor strife in Los Angeles follows a wave of teacher strikes last year across the United States over salaries and school funding, including walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. While those strikes represented conflicts between teachers unions and Republican-controlled state governments, the Los Angeles strike pits educators against Democratic leaders.

At an early-morning rally at City Hall, union leaders urged members and supporters to turn out en masse for a larger assembly later Friday at nearby Grand Park.

“We are willing to go as long as it takes and work as hard as we need to, to get a fair contract,” union Secretary Arlene Inouye told supporters, adding that she expected the talks to last through the three-day holiday weekend.

School Superintendent Austin Beutner has said the demands, if fully met, would be too great a budget strain. Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl has insisted sufficient funding is available, given the right priorities.

The district said in a statement late Thursday the strike had already cost about $100 million and that “our students are missing out on the opportunity to learn.”

Although the strike has disrupted classes, support for teachers was running high among parents, several major possible Democratic presidential contenders and the public at large, as reflected in a recent survey of Los Angeles residents.

District officials have kept all 1,200 schools open on a limited basis with a skeleton staff, but attendance was running well below normal.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Charlottesville confronts identity one year after clashes

A U.S. flag flies from the back of a car, ahead the one-year anniversary of the fatal white-nationalist rally, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Joseph Ax

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – For many residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, last year’s white nationalist rally shattered the city’s carefully curated reputation as a progressive, idyllic place to live.

But for Nikuyah Walker, an activist who was elected mayor just three months later, the violent clashes only underscored deep racial and economic inequities that have long divided this picturesque college town. In her view, the rally has forced Charlottesville to confront its own complicated legacy.

“You can have three or four generations who are struggling, and that family has not been able to move out of poverty wages – that’s a significant portion of Charlottesville,” Walker, the city’s first black female mayor, told Reuters outside City Hall. “And then you have this very wealthy community that loves and raves about it.”

As Charlottesville prepares for the one-year anniversary this weekend, it is still agonizing over clashes last year in which one woman was killed when an Ohio man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, stands at the memorial at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, stands at the memorial at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Some residents have argued that the vast majority of the marchers last year were from out of town, but Walker said that narrative ignores the city’s broader problems.

She noted that the main instigators of the “Unite the Right” rally, Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” to describe the loose coalition of white nationalists, and Jason Kessler, a local blogger, graduated from the University of Virginia on the western side of town.

The rally was billed as a protest over the city council’s plan to remove two Confederate statues from downtown parks. Last year, a judge blocked the city from taking down the statues, which are encircled by orange plastic fencing and are off-limits to residents.

Several officials including the police chief, the city manager, and the city attorney left their positions after widespread criticism that Charlottesville had been ill-prepared to manage the hundreds of white nationalists who descended upon it, many armed with shields, clubs and other weapons.

“We recognize that we have to earn the community’s trust,” said Brian Wheeler, the city’s chief spokesman. “The way that we can best do that this year is learn from the mistakes.”

Local and state police have vowed to have zero tolerance for any violence this weekend, in stark contrast with last year when some officers did not intervene to break up fights. Virtually the entire downtown will be closed to vehicles.

Police have said that they are preparing for the worst, even though Kessler, who organized last year’s event, lost a bid to get a permit this year. Instead, he has received permission to rally outside the White House on Sunday and has said he will focus on Washington.

A boy passes tributes written at the site where Heather Heyer was killed during the 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A boy passes tributes written at the site where Heather Heyer was killed during the 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A CITY AT ODDS WITH ITSELF

The effects of last year’s violence are still felt every day in Charlottesville.

City council meetings have frequently devolved into shouting matches. At a recent community outreach meeting where police officials detailed security plans for this weekend, residents asked one after another how they were supposed to trust the police after 2017.

“Charlottesville has had a tendency to self-congratulation; it’s constantly in the magazines as the best place to live,” said Reverend Will Peyton, who oversees St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“The violence was perpetrated by outsiders, yes, but the response from the black community is like, ‘Really, this isn’t us? We don’t have a problem here?’ Because, of course, there’s entrenched inequality and entrenched structural racism,” Peyton said.

At the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in downtown Charlottesville, an exhibit documents the struggle of black residents who fought for equal access to public education.

“I don’t know that people understood that this narrative of progressive Charlottesville had flaws,” said Andrea Douglas, the center’s executive director. “Now those flaws have been exposed.”

When Mayor Walker, 38, announced her run for city council last spring after years of activism on behalf of low-income residents, she adopted the motto “Unmasking the Illusion,” aiming to dispel the notion that Charlottesville was a diverse, liberal utopia. She has focused her attention on issues like affordable housing and policing.

Last month, she joined residents on what they called a “civil rights pilgrimage” to the lynching museum in Montgomery, Alabama, bringing along soil from a site where a black Charlottesville man was lynched in 1898.

Reverend Tracy Howe Wispelwey, a local activist, said last year’s rally was eye-opening for many in Charlottesville.

“You have a lot of white liberals who have not grappled with our history and want to dismiss it,” she said. “That’s just not truth.”

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Colorado, Arizona teachers rally for second day over pay, funding

People march in front of the Capitol in Phoenix, Arizonia, U.S., April 26, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Jeremy Whittaker, City of Mesa Councilman/via REUTERS

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of teachers in Colorado and Arizona rallied for a second day on Friday to demand higher pay and school funding as a revolt by U.S. public school teachers spread westward.

Waving placards such as “Teachers Just Want To Have Fund$,” educators and their supporters descended on the state capital in Denver to demand an increase in school budgets.

The Rocky Mountain state is $2,700 below the national average in per-pupil funding even though Colorado is one of the fastest-growing state economies in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Protesters are demanding the state begin to repay $6.6 billion in funding withheld since 2009 as the state recovered from the recession, address a shortfall of 3,000 teachers and adequately staff schools with counselors, social workers and special educators.

Encouraged by similar protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, organizers in Colorado said the protests would send a message to political leaders about their dissatisfaction.

“We have educators working two or three jobs to make ends meet,” said Kerrie Dallman, head of the Colorado Education Association, a statewide federation of teachers’ unions organizing the two-day walkout.

“Teachers are spending $656 (a year) out of their own pocket to buy supplies like paper and dry erase markers,” said Dallman, a high-school social studies teacher from Jefferson County.

The Colorado action forced the state’s two largest school districts, in Denver and neighboring Jefferson County, to cancel classes for hundreds of thousands of students.

Democratic lawmakers who control Colorado’s lower house back the teachers but Republicans, with a Senate majority, have balked at spending more on education, saying funding needs to go to infrastructure like roads.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has vowed to work with the teachers and on Friday met with a small group of educators, according to protest organizers.

In Arizona, thousands rallied in Phoenix for an immediate 20-percent increase to teacher salaries, which are among the lowest in the country, and restoring education funding to 2008 levels.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, has offered a cumulative 20 percent pay rise by 2020. He has pledged $371 million over the next five years for school infrastructure, curriculum, school buses and technology.

“What I’m dealing with now are our legislators, Republicans and Democrats, so we can get that passed,” Ducey told NBC affiliate news station 12News on Thursday.

The vast majority of Arizona’s more than 200 public school districts, with roughly 1.1 million students, canceled classes for Thursday and Friday.

(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; writing by Andrew Hay, editing by G Crosse)

Oklahoma, Kentucky teachers walk off job over pay, shut schools

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) – Oklahoma teachers walked off the job on Monday, closing schools statewide, as they became the latest U.S. educators to demand pay raises and more funding for a school system reeling from a decade of budget cuts.

The strike by some of the lowest-paid educators in the nation came the same day that Kentucky teachers dressed in red T-shirts flooded that state’s capital demanding pension security, following a similar successful wage-strike about a month ago by teachers in West Virginia.

Teachers say years of budget austerity in many states have led to the stagnation of already poor salaries.

In Oklahoma City, a band of teachers played “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” as buses of educators from across the state arrived at the Capitol. Protesters carried signs reading: “How can you put students first if you put teachers last?” ahead of a rally expected to draw thousands.

“I am disgusted with the cuts, and deeper and deeper cuts,” said Betty Gerber, a retired teacher from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled legislature last week approved the state’s first major tax increase in a quarter century to help fund pay raises for teachers, hoping to avert a strike with a $450 million revenue package.

The funding would raise by $5,000 the pay of teachers beginning their career, and provide a raise of nearly $8,000 for those with 25 years’ experience, lawmakers said.

The increase fell short of the demand from the largest teachers’ union in the state, the Oklahoma Education Association, for a $10,000 pay increase over three years for teachers and a $5,000 raise for support personnel.

According to National Education Association estimates for 2016, Oklahoma ranked 48th, followed by Mississippi at 49 and South Dakota at 50, in terms of average U.S. classroom teacher salary.

Oklahoma secondary school teachers had an annual mean wage of $42,460 as of May 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The minimum salary for a first year teacher was $31,600, state data showed.

The mean wage for teachers in every neighboring state is higher, causing many experienced teachers to leave Oklahoma, where some budget-strained districts have been forced to implement four-day school weeks.

On a state level, the inflation-adjusted general funding per student in Oklahoma dropped by 28.2 percent between 2008 and 2018, the biggest cut of any state, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Oklahoma City and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)

Controversial free speech rally canceled in San Francisco

A worker installs a fence at Crissy Field in anticipation of Saturday's Patriot Prayer rally and counter demonstration in San Francisco, California, U.S. August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

By Dan Whitcomb

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A free-speech rally planned for San Francisco this weekend that local leaders had urged residents to boycott as dangerous and “white supremacist” was canceled on Friday by organizers who said that those comments had drawn extremists and made it unsafe.

The planned gathering by Patriot Prayer had been the centerpiece of a weekend of protests in the Bay Area that had raised concern among San Francisco police and elected officials two weeks after right-wing activists, including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, fought with anti-racism protesters in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.

A woman was killed at that “Unite the Right” rally when a man thought to have neo-Nazi sympathies drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Nineteen other people were injured.

Last weekend, 33 people were arrested in Boston as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest a “free speech” rally featuring far-right speakers.

Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson has vehemently denied that his group is extremist or white nationalist, saying that he is not even white and does not align himself with any party or cause.

“The rhetoric from Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Lee, the media, all these people are saying we’re white supremacists and its bringing in tons of extremists and it just seems like a huge set up,” Gibson said in a Facebook Live broadcast. “So we’re going to take the opportunity not to fall into that trap.”

Gibson said he would hold a press conference in San Francisco on Saturday afternoon to further explain his decision.

San Francisco city officials including Mayor Ed Lee had lobbied the National Park Service to deny a permit for Patriot Prayer to hold its event at Crissy Field, which is under federal control as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

When that permit was granted on Wednesday, Lee told residents of San Francisco to essentially boycott the rally.

“I ask our public and our residents of the San Francisco Bay Area to honor our request to not dignify people who are coming in here under the guise of patriot and prayer words to really preach violence and hatred,” Lee told a press conference.

The mayor urged locals to instead attend city-hosted events on Friday and Saturday that he said would focus on “inclusion, compassion and love rather than hate.”

U.S. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, in a written statement, slammed the Patriot Prayer gathering as a dangerous “white supremacist rally.”

Left-wing counter-protesters, meanwhile, were planning a march to Crissy Field, where police were concerned a confrontation could erupt. San Francisco-based artist and designer Terrence Ryan, known professionally as Tuffy Tuffington, put out a call on Facebook for canine owners to litter the field beginning on Friday with dog poop ahead of the Patriot Prayer event.

The nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, does not classify Patriot Prayer as a hate group and reported on its website that Gibson denounced white supremacists and “neo-Nazis” at a rally in Seattle earlier this month.

On Sunday, conservative activists planned a so-called “No to Marxism” rally in nearby Berkeley, an event that left-wing groups were also expected to protest. However, city of Berkeley officials on Thursday denied that group’s request for a rally permit.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Diane Craft and Cynthia Osterman)

Big protests expected as Trump plans Phoenix rally

Big protests expected as Trump plans Phoenix rally

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON(Reuters) – Large protests could greet President Donald Trump on Tuesday when he travels to Arizona for his first campaign rally since he caused an uproar with his remarks about a white nationalist demonstration in Virginia.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, asked the Republican president to postpone Tuesday’s event scheduled for 7 p.m. MST (0200 GMT on Wednesday) in light of his response to the street battles that broke out earlier this month at a protest against the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville.

Trump was widely criticized for blaming both white nationalists and counter-protesters for the violence at the rally organized by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

“America is hurting. And it is hurting largely because Trump has doused racial tensions with gasoline,” Stanton wrote in the Washington Post. “With his planned visit to Phoenix on Tuesday, I fear the president may be looking to light a match.”

Several anti-Trump demonstrations are planned for Phoenix, according to social media postings by local activists.

Some White House officials privately expressed concern on Monday about Trump’s Phoenix rally, fearing he might revisit the Charlottesville issue in the heat of the moment while cheered on by thousands of supporters.

Trump has railed against the media coverage of his remarks, saying on Twitter that news outlets “totally misrepresent what I say about hate, bigotry.”

It will be Trump’s first trip as president to Arizona, which he won in the 2016 election. He will also visit a border protection facility in Yuma, Arizona, along the U.S.-Mexican border as he seeks congressional funding for the wall he wants built..

Republican Governor Doug Ducey told the Arizona Republic on Monday that he would welcome Trump on the tarmac when he arrived but would not attend the campaign rally. Instead, he said he would be focused on ensuring the safety of the event.

Trump has clashed with Arizona’s two Republican U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, on various issues. Both lawmakers are critics of the president.

Last week, Trump in a tweet called Flake “WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” and appeared to endorse Kelli Ward, Flake’s Republican challenger in his 2018 re-election race.

Trump said earlier this month that he was considering pardoning Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff found guilty of criminal contempt for violating the terms of a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Generation born under Putin finds its voice in Russian protests

FILE PHOTO: Riot police officers detain an opposition supporter during a rally in Moscow, Russia March 26, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Denis Pinchuk and Svetlana Reiter

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Protests across Russia on Sunday marked the coming of age of a new adversary for the Kremlin: a generation of young people driven not by the need for stability that preoccupies their parents but by a yearning for change.

Thousands of people took to the streets across Russia, with hundreds arrested. Many were teenagers who cannot remember a time before Vladimir Putin took power 17 years ago.

“I’ve lived all my life under Putin,” said Matvei, a 17-year-old from Moscow, who said he came close to being detained at the protest on Sunday, but managed to run from the police.

“We need to move forward, not constantly refer to the past.”

A year before Putin is expected to seek a fourth term, the protests were the biggest since the last presidential election in 2012.

The driving force behind the protests was Alexei Navalny, a 40-year-old anti-corruption campaigner who uses the Internet to spread his message, bypassing the state-controlled television stations where nearly all older Russians get their news.

“None of my peers watches television and they don’t trust it,” said Maxim, an 18-year-old from St Petersburg who took part in a protest there.

He said messages about the demonstration were shared among his friends via a group chat on a messaging app: “Half the group went to the demonstration.”

Navalny, who was arrested at one of Sunday’s protests, tailors his message for YouTube and VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook.

One of his recent videos, a 50 minute expose accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of secretly owning an archipelago of luxury homes, has been watched more than 14 million times on YouTube. Medvedev’s spokeswoman called the allegations “propagandistic attacks” unworthy of detailed comment and said they amounted to pre-election posturing by Navalny.

While older Russians may have turned a blind eye to official corruption during years when living standards improved, younger Russians speak of it in terms of moral outrage.

“Why do I believe that what is happening right now is wrong? Because when I was little, my mum read fairy tales to me, and they said you should not steal, you should not lie, you should not kill,” said Katya, a 17-year-old who was at the protest in Moscow. “What I see happening now, you should not do,” she said.

Like other students who spoke to Reuters at the demonstrations, Katya, Maxim and Matvei asked that their surnames not be published to avoid repercussions.

SOCIAL CONTRACT

Young people actively seeking change represent a new challenge for the Kremlin. It has built and maintained support for Putin for years by focusing mainly on ensuring stability, which Russians sought after the chaos of the immediate post-Soviet years.

Putin came to power after the 1990s, when the Soviet Union disintegrated and millions found themselves destitute. But young people who do not remember those times have different priorities than those even a few years older, said Yekaterina Schulmann, a political analyst.

“Our political regime is fixated on what it calls stability, that is a lack of change,” she said. “The political machine believes the best offer it can make to society is ‘Let’s keep everything the way it is for as long as possible’.”

“Young people need a model of the future, clear prospects, rules of the game which they recognize as fair, and … a social leg-up. Not only do they not see any of that, no one is even talking about it,” said Schulmann.

According to user data compiled from a social media page for people who said they planned to attend Sunday’s protest in St Petersburg, more than one in six were aged under 21.

It is still too early to say whether the new phenomenon will emerge as a serious challenge to Putin’s rule. It could be a burst of youthful idealism that fizzles out.

In any case, opinion polls show that Putin will win comfortably if, as most people expect, he runs for president next year.

His most serious rival for the presidency, Navalny, trails far behind in polls and could be barred from running because of an old criminal conviction which he says is political.

Still, the involvement of so many young people has forced the Russian authorities to pay attention.

A Kremlin spokesman said youngsters had been offered money by protest organizers to show up. The Kremlin offered no evidence to support this allegation, and none of the young people who spoke to Reuters said they had been offered payment.

Several students said school and university authorities had warned them before the protests they could be punished for taking part.

Pavel, a 20-year-old studying to be a veterinarian who attended a protest in Moscow, said it was worth it to risk some of Russia’s stability in the hope of change.

“Yes, maybe it will be negative; yes, maybe there won’t be the stability that we have now. But for a person in the 21st century it’s shameful to live in the kind of stability we have now.”

(Additional reporting by Natalia Shurmina in Yekaterinburg, Russia; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Peter Graff)

Obamacare supporters rally against congressional repeal efforts

Protesters demonstrate against U.S. President Donald Trump and his plans to end Obamacare as they march to the White House in Washington, U.S., March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Supporters of Obamacare staged rallies across the country on Thursday denouncing efforts by President Donald Trump and Republican congressional leaders to repeal the landmark law that has extended medical insurance coverage to some 20 million Americans.

Hundreds of demonstrators turned out in Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles marking the seventh anniversary of enactment of Obamacare, as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has become widely known.

Many talked about a very personal stake in the outcome of the healthcare debate roiling Capitol Hill.

“I feel sick today, but I came here because I’m terrified,” said Steve Martin, 27, an unemployed Los Angeles resident who was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. “The legislators have the best healthcare in the world, and we deserve the same.”

The ACA, considered former Democratic President Barack Obama’s premiere domestic achievement, has drawn unrelenting scorn from Republicans, with promises to repeal and replace it a centerpiece of Trump’s presidential campaign.

Thursday’s rallies coincided with planned action in the House of Representatives on a Republican-backed bill to begin dismantling Obamacare, but the vote was indefinitely postponed as Republican leaders and the White House scrambled to muster enough votes for passage.

Many moderate Republicans as well as Democrats have raised concerns that repeal-and-replace would leave too many Americans without health coverage.

Supporters of the bill say it would lower premiums, but critics counter that those savings would in many cases be more than offset by higher co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs.

Obamacare backers also worry about the fate of millions who gained insurance under the bill’s major expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state program providing coverage for the needy, the elderly and the disabled.

In the nation’s capital, several hundred chanting protesters gathered at Freedom Plaza, a few blocks from the White House, carrying signs with slogans such as “We Fight Back” and “Keep America Healthy.”

Robinette Barmer, 61, a former seamstress and caterer from Baltimore now on a disability pension, said that without Obamacare she could not afford the various medications she takes for ailments such as asthma and high blood pressure.

“It’s co-pay this, co-pay that. I can’t pay that. I’m struggling as it is right now,” she said.

After the rally, protesters marched a block to the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, where several dozen sprawled on the sidewalk in a “die-in” symbolizing the effect of rolling back Obamacare. Some 24 protesters were arrested in front of the White House after they refused get off the ground, organizers said.

Protest organizers said smaller gatherings were also held outside the congressional district offices of various Republican lawmakers around the country.

(Additional reporting by Olga Grigoryants in Los Angeles and Robert Chiarito in Chicago; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Leslie Adler and Michael Perry)

Brazil workers protest against pension reform, disrupt transport

Protestors partially block the main avenue during a strike against Brazilian Social Welfare reform project from government, in Sao Paulo, Brazil March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian civil servants, rural workers and labor confederations staged nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday against President Michel Temer’s pension reform plan, with hundreds of protesters occupying the premises of the finance ministry in the capital Brasilia.

Bus and subway services were partially disrupted in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country’s most populous cities. Drivers remained stranded because of small street demonstrations across several major avenues in São Paulo’s eastern, southern and northern corners.

In Brasilia, more than 1,500 people from peasant and homeless groups held protests at the finance ministry, the Landless Peasant Movement said in a statement.

Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said some damage occurred inside the ministry, without providing details.

“Several floors of the building were invaded because of this strike,” Meirelles told reporters in Brasilia.

The demonstrations reflect the deep ideological divide among Brazilians as Temer seeks to pass the nation’s most ambitious platform of economic reforms in two decades.

Leaders in Temer’s 22-party alliance say capping pension benefits would be a key step to pull the country out of its worst recession on record.

Last week, Temer acknowledged that his administration would have to negotiate with Congress to win passage of the pension reform, which would establish a minimum age of retirement and scale back benefits for civil servants.

Still, senior lawmakers have said there is not much room for changes to Temer’s original proposal if the country wants to reduce a record budget deficit that is putting the brakes on an economic recovery and hampering investor confidence.

Public transport workers in the cities of Recife, Curitiba and Belo Horizonte were also striking.

(Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Additional reporting bY Marcela Ayres iN Brasilia; Editing by W Simon and Lisa Von Ahn)