Protesters scuffle with Hong Kong police, government offices shut

Pro-democracy legislators speak to the media demanding the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdraw a controversial extradition bill outside Government House, following a day of violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, in Hong Kong, China June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Clare Jim and Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police in Hong Kong on Thursday as hundreds of people kept up a protest against a planned extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up big crowds.

Protests around the city’s legislature on Wednesday forced the postponement of debate on the extradition bill, which many people in Hong Kong fear will undermine freedoms and confidence in the commercial hub.

Hong Kong’s China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence and urged a swift restoration of order but has vowed to press ahead with the legislation despite the reservations about it, including within the business community.

The number of protesters milling about outside the legislature in the financial district fell overnight but rose again through the day on Thursday to about 1,000 at one stage.

They expect the legislature, which has a majority of pro-Beijing members, will try to hold the debate at some stage, though it issued a notice saying there would be no session on Thursday.

“We will be back when, and if, it comes back for discussion again,” said protester Stephen Chan, a 20-year old university student.

“We just want to preserve our energy now.”

Earlier, some protesters tried to stop police from removing their supplies of face masks and food and scuffles broke out.

Police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways and plainclothes officers checked commuters’ identity cards.

A clean-up got underway to clear debris like broken umbrellas, helmets, plastic water bottles and barricades from the streets after the previous day’s clashes. Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray on Wednesday in a series of skirmishes to clear demonstrators from the legislature.

Officials said 72 people were admitted to hospital.

Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said what began as a peaceful gathering on Wednesday had degenerated into a riot with protesters “acting violently in an organized manner”.

Police arrested 11 people and fired about 150 tear gas canisters at the crowd. The city’s hospital authority said a total of 81 people were injured in the protests. 22 police were injured according to Lo.

Police also later arrested two students at the University of Hong Kong after a raid on a student hall of residence, according to an official at the university. The police gave no immediate response to Reuters inquiries on what charges the students face.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Chinese government “strongly condemns the violent behavior and we support the (Hong Kong) government in dealing with it according to law”.

‘LAWLESSNESS’

Authorities shut government offices in the financial district, which is overlooked by the towers of some of Asia’s biggest firms and hotel chains, for the rest of the week after some of the worst violence in Hong Kong in decades.

Hong Kong’s benchmark stock exchange slid as much as 1.5% on Thursday before closing down 0.1%, extending losses from the previous day.

Most roads in the business district were open on Thursday but some shops and offices were closed and banks, including Standard Chartered, Bank of China and DBS, said they had suspended branch services in the area.

Wednesday saw the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organizers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover of the former British colony back to Chinese rule.

The handover included a deal to preserve special autonomy, but many Hong Kong people accuse China of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms and interference in local elections.

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the city, has sparked concern it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.

Beijing rejects accusations of meddling and Chinese state media said this week “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the bill.

The English-language China Daily said the “lawlessness” would hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its law.

Lam and her officials say the law is necessary to plug loopholes that allow criminals wanted on the mainland to use the city as a haven. She has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized Sunday’s huge march, said it was planning another demonstration for Sunday.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

Opponents of the bill, including lawyers and rights groups, say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions and arbitrary detention.

Democratic city legislators condemned Lam and what they said was heavy-handed police action.

“We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children? None of the former chief executives dared to do that,” said legislator Fernando Cheung.

“But ‘mother Carrie Lam’ did it. What kind of mother is she?”

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not accept any extradition requests from Hong Kong under the proposed law. The self-ruled island also issued a travel alert.

Hong Kong’s Tourism Board called off a dragon boat carnival this weekend while the city’s Bar Association expressed concern over video footage of police using force against largely unarmed protesters.

Amnesty International and domestic rights groups condemned what they said was excessive force by the police, while a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva said it was following the situation closely.

Diplomatic pressure was also building after leaders such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump commented on the protests.

The European Union said it shared many concerns over the proposed extradition reform and urged public consultation.

(Reporting by Joyce Zhou, Julie Zhu, Sumeet Chatterjee, Clare Jim, Jennifer Hughes, Anne Marie Roantree, James Pomfret, Alun John, Vimvang Tong, Jessie Pang and Felix Tam; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI, Ben Blanchard and Cate Cadell in BEIJING, and David Stanway in SHANGHAI; Writing by Farah Master and Greg Torode in HONG KONG; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry)

 

Palestinian ministry rolls back statement that Gaza boy was killed by Israeli gunfire

Palestinian demonstrators gather atop a hill during a protest calling for lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza, near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

GAZA (Reuters) – A medical source in the Palestinian Health Ministry backed away on Monday from an assertion that an 11-year-old boy killed at a protest on Friday at the border with Israel had been shot by Israeli soldiers.

“The boy died of a head injury,” said the source, who asked not be identified, declining to give specifics and stopping short of attributing the death to Israeli gunfire.

On Friday, Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Health Ministry in Gaza, said the youth, Shadi Abdel-Al, had been shot dead by Israeli troops.

Two other Palestinians were killed during the weekly protest by Israeli live fire, local medics said on Friday.

An Israeli military spokeswoman asked on Monday about the circumstances of the boy’s death and media reports that he had been killed by a stone thrown during the protest, referred Reuters to comments tweeted by the military’s Arabic-language spokesman.

The spokesman tweeted that there were “increasing indicators from Gaza that question the credibility” of the Palestinian Health Ministry’s original statement about the boy’s death.

“According to the indicators and testimonies, the boy was killed as a result of an injury from stones thrown during the violent riots,” the spokesman wrote.

Since March 30, Palestinians pressing claims against Israel have mounted stone-throwing protests that have included attempts to breach the Israeli border fence with Gaza, run by the Islamist group Hamas.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Stephan Farrell and Jeffrey Heller; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Deadly South Carolina prison riot exposes staffing shortage

FILE PHOTO: The Lee Correctional Institution is seen in Bishopville, Lee County, South Carolina, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill/File Photo

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A gang-related melee at a South Carolina prison that ended with seven dead and 17 injured, the deadliest U.S. prison riot in a quarter century, exposed the vulnerability of an understaffed system.

Forty-four guards were on duty overseeing 1,583 inmates at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina, when the violence broke out, and it took eight hours to put an end to the riot early on Monday.

Across the country, cuts to state budgets have left state prison systems understaffed, a reality that prison officials and law enforcement experts say increases the risk of being unable to contain any outbreaks of violence quickly.

“We’re grossly understaffed at many facilities across the United States,” said Brian Dawe, executive director of the American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network, a clearinghouse for best practices and information for corrections officers and others.

The South Carolina riot was sparked by a fight among prison gangs over turf and contraband around the time of a shift change in three cell blocks. That meant more staffers than usual were present, but the melee still went unchecked for hours, Bryan Stirling, South Carolina’s prison director, told a news conference.

About a quarter of South Carolina’s state prison guard jobs are unfilled, Stirling told The State newspaper in January. South Carolina is far from alone in having double-digit vacancy rates.

There are no national figures on prison staffing, but state records show that 16 percent of guard jobs are unfilled in Delaware and 31 percent in Oklahoma, as well as 15 percent of all corrections jobs, including guards, in Arkansas.

Similarly, 16 percent of guard positions in North Carolina prisons and 14 percent in Texas were unfilled late last year, according to local media. Missouri had a shortage of more than 400 guards and officers were being bused from one prison to another on overtime to cover shifts.

The federal system had a ratio of 10.3 inmates per correctional officer in 2005 and a ratio of 4.9 inmates per prison staff, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In some states facing staff shortages, there might be one officer for every 40 or 50 inmates, union officials said.

The ratio at the Lee Correctional Institution Sunday evening was 35.9 inmates per guard.

Dawe put the ideal ratio at about five to one, but Michele Deitch, a lecturer on corrections at the University of Texas, said it depended on layout of the prison and the type of facility, such as whether it was minimum or maximum security.

“It’s not like you can take one number and apply it to every facility,” Deitch said. “It’s not really a great indicator.”

Compounding the chaos, when the fighting erupted in South Carolina on Sunday, all the guards pulled out to await police backup. It took four hours for officers to move into the first dorm, and their response was slowed by having to deal with wounded inmates, Stirling said.

Shaundra Scott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in South Carolina, said the mayhem underscored that state prisons lack personnel to keep inmates safe, as well as protocols to quell unrest.

“They don’t have the staff to keep things running in the prison,” she said. Scott added that mixing juvenile with adult inmates, the use of solitary confinement and a lack of mental health treatment also fed violence.

South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesman Jeffrey Taillon declined to comment on Wednesday. He referred a reporter to Stirling’s Monday statement that the state was beginning to retain staff through extra pay, bonuses and overtime after years of losing about 150 officers annually.

The number of Americans in state prisons fell to 1.38 million in 2016, down about 4 percent from a decade earlier, according to U.S. Department of Justice data. But experts say the drop was not enough to close the guard shortage substantially.

Budgets have been cut for several years, with a survey of 45 states by the Vera Institute of Justice in New York showing a 0.5 percent decline in prison expenditures from 2010 through 2015. South Carolina’s spending dropped 2.4 percent over that period, with the sharpest declines in Nevada, down 14.7 percent, and Michigan, down 12.4 percent.

Oklahoma Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh, citing the South Carolina violence, said he recognized the risks potentially facing prisons in his cash-strapped state, which announced a hiring freeze on corrections officers in February.

“This could have easily been us,” Allbaugh, who has been critical of a funding shortage in a state with one of the highest rates of incarceration, said on Twitter.

Plagued by high turnover, some prisons are turning to overtime to make up for staffing gaps as they struggle to fill low-paying jobs seen as dangerous and undesirable in a growing U.S. economy with a tight labor market.

Jackie Switzer, a former prison guard and executive director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals lobbying group, said officers often were asked to work overtime or double shifts.

“They are not as responsive as they would be if they were fresh. That in turn creates a dangerous situation,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Dan Grebler)

U.N. calls on Venezuela to investigate deadly prison fire

Relatives of inmates held at the General Command of the Carabobo Police react as they wait outside the prison, where a fire occurred in the cells area, according to local media, in Valencia, Venezuela March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations human rights office called on authorities in Venezuela on Thursday to carry out a speedy investigation into a prison fire and to provide reparations to victims’ families.

Rioting and a fire in the cells of a Venezuelan police station in the central city of Valencia killed 68 people on Wednesday, according to the government and witnesses. Venezuelan prisons are notoriously overcrowded and filled with weapons and drugs.

“We urge the Venezuelan authorities to carry out a prompt, thorough and effective investigation to establish the cause of these deaths, provide reparations to the victims’ families, and, where applicable, identify and bring those responsible to justice,” the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement voicing concern at prison conditions.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Philadelphia fans set fire, damage property after Super Bowl win

Fans celebrate the Philadelphia Superbowl LII victory over the New England Patriots in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S. February 4, 2018.

(Reuters) – The Philadelphia Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory set off rowdy celebrations in Philadelphia as people who poured into the streets set at least one fire and damaged property early on Monday, images on social media showed.

Joyous football fans burst into jubilation in gatherings at bars and took their party into the streets, jumping up and down, setting off pyrotechnics and singing the fight song “Fly Eagles Fly.”

Some went further and ignited a fire in the middle of a street that firefighters soon extinguished. Other images showed a light pole tipping over and the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News website Philly.com reported smashed windows and toppled awnings.

Police in riot gear and on bicycles formed lines to control crowds and push people back, social media images showed.

Some people broke a display window at a department store near City Hall, and looters broke into a convenience store, grabbing merchandise and screaming, “Everything is free,” Philly.com reported.

Nearly all the light poles on one side of City Hall were toppled, and a car outside a hotel was tipped on its side, Philly.com said.

Philadelphia police and fire officials did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for information.

The Eagles, coming into the game as underdogs, defeated the five-time National Football League champion New England Patriots 41-33 in Minneapolis on Sunday.

In Boston, local media reported somber Patriots fans spilling out of local bars and heading home in the cold winter drizzle as temperatures dipped into the 30s (Fahrenheit).

“We haven’t had a single incident, thank God,” said a Boston police dispatcher.

Over in Amherst, Ma., State and University of Massachusetts police had more trouble as about 2,000 people flooded the streets near UMass Amherst and began throwing objects, setting off smoke bombs, fireworks and starting fistfights. The Boston Globe reported a number of injuries and that at least six people were arrested as police used pepper spray to disperse the angry fans.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Rich McKay; Editing by Toby Chopra)

After protests, St. Louis mayor says address racism

Demonstrators continue to protest for a fourth day after the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

By Brendan O’Brien

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – The legacies of racism, not only the violent protests that gripped St. Louis after a white former police officer was acquitted of murdering a black man, must be addressed, the city’s mayor said on Tuesday.

Mayor Lyda Krewson said she had listened and read the reaction of residents since the controversial verdict on Friday and was ready to find ways to move the city forward.

“What we are seeing and feeling is not only about this case,” Krewson told reporters.

“What we have is a legacy of policies that have disproportionately impacted people along racial and economic lines,” she added. “This is institutional racism.”

The city has been working to expedite existing plans to increase equity as well as develop new approaches, including changing how police shootings are investigated and granting subpoena powers to a police civilian oversight board, and expanding jobs programs, Krewson said.

“We, here in St. Louis, are once again ground zero for the frustration and anger at our shared legacy of these disproportional outcomes,” she said. “The only option is to move forward.”

Krewson said town halls scheduled for Tuesday night and later were canceled. As she spoke, dozens of protesters chanted outside her office.

Some activists had planned to voice complaints about police tactics used during protests after a judge found former officer Jason Stockley, 36, not guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.

Largely peaceful protests during the day have turned violent at night with some demonstrators carrying guns, bats and hammers, smashing windows and clashing with police. Police arrested 123 people on Sunday, when officers in riot gear used pepper spray on activists.

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

Protesters have cited anger over a police tactic known as “kettling,” in which officers form a square surrounding protesters to make arrests. Some caught inside police lines Sunday said officers used excessive force, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

St. Louis police are also investigating whether some of its officers chanted “Whose streets? Our streets,” appropriating a refrain used by the protesters that one civilian oversight official said could inflame tensions.

“I wish that wouldn’t have been said,” Krewson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri asked the city in a Tuesday letter to preserve video evidence ahead of what it said was a likely lawsuit challenging police tactics.

Complaints of police misconduct were being reviewed, but intimidation tactics would not be tolerated, Krewson said. Police had generally shown “great restraint,” she said.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Steve Orlofsky)

More than 80 arrested as riot police break up St. Louis protest over officer’s acquittal

Police detain protesters arrested for causing damage to local businesses during the second night of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 16, 2017.

By Valerie Volcovici and Kenny Bahr

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – More than 80 people were arrested on Sunday night as protests in St Louis over the acquittal of a white policeman who had shot a black man turned violent for a third night running.

Police in riot gear used pepper spray and arrested the demonstrators who had defied orders to disperse following a larger, peaceful protest.

After nightfall, a small group remained and the scene turned to one of disorder, following the pattern of Friday and Saturday. Protesters smashed windows and attempted to block a ramp to an interstate highway, police and witnesses said.

Officers tackled some protesters who defied police orders and used pepper spray before starting the mass arrests.

At a late-night news conference, Mayor Lyda Krewson noted that “the vast majority of protesters are non-violent,” and blamed the trouble on “a group of agitators.”

Acting police commissioner Lawrence O’Toole struck a hard stance, saying: “We’re in control, this is our city and we’re going to protect it.”

The protests in St Louis followed the acquittal on Friday of former police officer Jason Stockley, 36, of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.

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

Police reported confiscating weapons including handguns and recovered plastic spray bottles containing an unknown chemical that hit officers, who were then decontaminated.

“This is no longer a peaceful protest,” St. Louis police said on Twitter earlier.

Shopkeepers clean up shattered glass during the second night of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 16, 2017.

Shopkeepers clean up shattered glass during the second night of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 16, 2017. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

Protesters broke large ceramic flowerpots and threw chunks of the ceramic at storefront windows.

Sunday’s gathering was the largest of the three nights with more 1,000 protesters. Police in turn deployed their largest show of force, as officers in riot gear marched through the streets.

“Do they think this will make us feel safe?” said Keisha Lee of Ferguson, shaking her head.

Police ordered a group of news photographers to stand up against a wall. One, Kenny Bahr, was working on assignment for Reuters and posted the incident live on Facebook until he was placed in handcuffs when he turned off his video. The photographers were released after about 30 minutes.

Earlier in the evening a handful of demonstrators threw bottles in response to a police officer making arrests.

As people converged on an unmarked police car holding one suspect, an officer drove through the crowd in reverse to escape, police said. No injuries were reported.

The protests began on Friday shortly after the acquittal on Friday, when 33 people were arrested and 10 officers injured.

Violence flared anew on Saturday night when about 100 protesters, some holding bats or hammers, shattered windows and skirmished with police in riot gear, resulting in at least nine arrests. Sunday’s arrests again followed earlier peaceful, and far larger, protests.

Protesters participate in a "Die-In" on the third day of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, outside police headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 17, 2017.

Protesters participate in a “Die-In” on the third day of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, outside police headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

More serious clashes broke out in 2014 in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, following the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer who was not indicted.

The Ferguson protests gave rise to Black Lives Matter, a movement that has staged protests across the United States.

An informal group known as the Ferguson frontline has organized the protests, focusing on what it describes as institutional racism that has allowed police to be cleared of criminal wrongdoing in several shootings of unarmed black men.

“Windows can be replaced. Lives can’t,” said Missy Gunn, a member of Ferguson frontline and mother of three including a college-age son. She said she feared for him every night.

Smith was shot in his car after Stockley and his partner chased him following what authorities said was a drug deal. Prosecutors argued that Stockley planted a weapon in Smith’s car, but the judge believed the gun belonged to Smith.

 

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Kenny Bahr in St Louis and Chris Michaud in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Mary Milliken, Peter Cooney and Toby Chopra)

 

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)

 

Venezuela security forces block protesters in Caracas

Riot police officers takes cover with their shields during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Andreina Aponte and Christian Veron

CARACAS (Reuters) – Blocking streets with riot shields and using pepper-spray on protesters, Venezuelan security forces impeded an opposition rally in Caracas on Tuesday against President Nicolas Maduro’s unpopular socialist government.

Authorities also closed subway stations and ringed off the capital’s Plaza Venezuela, where Maduro foes had planned to meet.

In one street, women knelt down, singing the national anthem as neighbors banged pots-and-pans from nearby buildings in a show of anger against a government feeling public ire for a deep recession that has led to shortages of food and basics.

“We’re going to get rid of them, but we have to fight,” said Jose Zapata, a 57-year-old electrician, as he marched with a stick in his hand.

Maduro’s supporters were organizing their own counter-rally, in a volatile scenario seen many times during the 18 years of leftist rule in the South American nation.

Fearful of clashes, some Caracas residents were staying home, and businesses near rallies were closed.

Some protests were also taking place in other cities.

Tuesday’s instability sent Venezuelan bonds lower, with the benchmark 2027 paper’s price off 4.4 percent.

Tensions have soared in the oil-producing nation’s long-running political standoff after the pro-Maduro Supreme Court last week annulled the opposition-led congress’ functions.

Although it retracted that ruling over the weekend, the National Assembly remains powerless due to previous court judgments.

MADURO “TERRIFIED”

Foreign pressure on Maduro has risen as scattered opposition protests have restarted.

“It is Mr. Maduro who has ordered shut all the accesses to Caracas to stop people expressing their repudiation,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles. “He’s terrified.”

Stung by criticism from most of Latin America of an erosion of democracy, Maduro says the U.S. government and other foes are whipping up hysteria against him to lay the ground for a coup.

Maduro’s administration is particularly furious with Organization of American States head Luis Almagro, who is leading regional condemnation.

The regional bloc on Monday urged Venezuela to restore congress’ authority and guarantee separation of powers, but Venezuela’s representative walked out, as did the envoy from fellow leftist Bolivia, which holds the OAS presidency.

“The OAS has surpassed itself in aggression against Venezuela,” Maduro said late on Monday. “It is a real court of inquisition, carrying out abuses and vulgarities.”

Venezuela’s opposition won a National Assembly majority in late 2015, but the Supreme Court has overturned almost all its measures.

The legislature planned to start proceedings later on Tuesday to have the tribunal’s judges removed, but that would only be a symbolic rebuke since it has no power to act.

Opposition leaders have been staging small, targeted protests over the last few days that have resulted in some clashes with security forces and Maduro backers.

Two lawmakers were injured on Monday, and authorities have arrested two political activists and two military officers since the weekend. More than 100 opponents of Maduro are now in jail, rights group say.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore, Eyanir Chinea and Andrew Cawthorne; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

China calls for explanation after Paris police shoot dead Chinese man

French police face off with members of the Chinese community during a protest demonstration outside a police station in Paris, France, March 28, 2017, after a Chinese man was shot dead by police at his Paris home on Sunday, triggering riots in the French capital by members of the Chinese community and a diplomatic protest by Beijing. REUTERS/Noemie Olive

PARIS/BEIJING (Reuters) – French police said on Tuesday they opened an inquiry after a Chinese man was shot dead by police at his Paris home, triggering rioting in the French capital by members of the Chinese community and a sharp reaction from Beijing.

The shooting on Sunday, which led China’s foreign ministry to call in a French diplomat, brought about a 100 members of the French-Chinese community on to the streets in Paris’s main Chinatown district on Monday night.

Some protesters threw projectiles outside the district’s police headquarters and a number of vehicles were torched in a confrontation with riot police.

Media reports said a 56-year-old man of Chinese origin was shot dead at his home on Sunday night in front of his family after police were called to investigate an altercation with a neighbor.

Police said the man attacked police with scissors, adding that an inquiry had been opened. The man’s family, according to media reports, denied this and some media said he was holding scissors because he had been cutting fish.

Police said they questioned 35 people after Monday’s street protests and three members of the police were treated for slight injuries, they said.

In Beijing, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had summoned a French diplomat to explain events. It also sought a thorough investigation by French authorities and steps to be ensure the safety of Chinese citizens in France.

The French foreign ministry said in a statement that an inquiry was under way into the shooting and added that the security of Chinese citizens in France was a priority for the national authorities.

“Additional (security) measures have been taken in recent months and everything has been done to provide them with the best conditions for living here and for their security,” it said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Simon Carraud and John Irish; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Julia Glover)