With stores burned and looted, Walmart seeks police protection in riot-hit Chile

By Aislinn Laing

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Walmart has sought court orders for police protection in protest-wracked Chile after more than 120 of its supermarkets were looted or burned.

The Chilean subsidiary of the U.S.-headquartered retailer  lodged orders with courts in six Chilean cities, saying the attacks on its stores had put its staff’s safety and jobs at risk, “gravely” affected its ability to operate in the country and caused it “enormous economic damage”.

“The state of Chile has failed to fulfill its duty to guarantee public order and internal public security,” it said in court documents submitted on Wednesday and made public on Monday.

It said the state had failed to protect its premises and staff with a “lack of timely reaction to evident vandalism”. The stores operate under the brandnames Lider, Express, aCuenta and Ekono in Chile.

Karla Rubilar, a representative for the Chilean government, told journalists on Monday that it had worked hard to safeguard business interests amid the unrest.

“We worked from day one not only with this company but with all companies and especially small- and medium-sized enterprises to guarantee public order and security,” she said. “We will always be available to work with whoever want us to.”

The court action – in the Chilean cities of Arica, Puerto Montt, Concepcion, Chillan, Temuco and Valdivia – comes after a month of violent riots and protests across the country that started over a hike in public transport fares and broadened to address simmering grievances over endemic inequality.

The protests have left at least 23 dead, 2,365 civilians hospitalized and as many as 14,000 arrested, according to police, prosecutors and human rights groups. The finance minister put the damage to property and public transport at $3 billion.

Walmart Chile, the local subsidiary of the world’s largest company, said in a statement it had experienced 1,200 episodes of lootings and fires at 128 of its approximately 400 stores. It said 34 supermarkets had been set on fire, and 17 of them destroyed.

The company said it had sought the protection orders to ensure its stores could continue supplying customers and will not seek reimbursement from the government for the damages.

(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; additional reporting Erik Lopez and Natalia Ramos; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Riot-hit Chile presses forward with social reforms

Riot-hit Chile presses forward with social reforms
By Dave Sherwood

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s president and lawmakers prepared on Thursday to push forward social equality reforms after the easing of riots in the latest flashpoint of protests against South American leaders.

Center-right leader Sebastian Pinera was to ship a bill to Congress that would overturn a recent hike in electricity rates, one of several measures he hopes will turn the violent demonstrations into an “opportunity” for Chile..

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno also repealed the elimination of fuel subsidies this month after protests, while Bolivia’s Evo Morales faced demonstrations over an election, and Argentina’s Mauricio Macri has suffered a backlash over economic turmoil.

In Chile, anger over inequality and cost of living sent tens of thousands into the streets to demand an overhaul in one of the region’s traditionally most stable, and wealthy, nations.

Over five days of unrest that appeared to be dying down on Wednesday night, more than 6,000 people have been detained and at least 16 killed.

Pinera’s proposed reforms include a guaranteed minimum wage, a hike in state pensions and reductions in public transportation costs. Some, such as a bill to provide insurance against catastrophic illness, have already been delivered to lawmakers.

Octavio Solis, 43, an unemployed security guard, said he hoped the government acted quickly.

“We’re tired of all this, the protests, the looting. It’s a disaster. This isn’t the Santiago we once knew,” Solis said as he waited in line to receive an unemployment payment.

“We need good salaries and pensions for our elderly.

CITY LIFE

The capital city of about 6 million people awoke to relative calm on Thursday, as vendors peddling orange juice and fruit cups once again appeared on street corners.

Public markets reopened and thousands of commuters, dressed in work outfits and clutching coffees, made their way to work on the still hobbled underground transport system that has suffered more than $300 million worth of damage.

Trash, broken glass, graffiti and tear gas lingered in the aftermath of protests that went late into Wednesday evening, but ended peacefully.

Thousands of striking workers, including healthcare professionals and teachers, banged pots and carried banners past darkness in Santiago and other cities.

The marches were closely monitored by police and soldiers.

The unrest has included arson attacks and looting. At least 18 people died, according to one official count. Chilean prosecutors have since clarified that two of the total died in a car accident unrelated to the riots.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Chile scrambles to clean up mess after weekend of chaos, violent protests

Chile scrambles to clean up mess after weekend of chaos, violent protests
By Dave Sherwood and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chilean authorities scrambled on Monday to clear wreckage and re-open public transportation in the capital Santiago after a weekend of chaos in which at least seven people were killed amid violent clashes, arson attacks and looting in cities throughout Chile.

Several Chilean cities were engulfed by days of riots, along with peaceful protests, after a hike in public transport costs. The violence prompted President Sebastian Pinera to declare a state of emergency, placing the military in charge of security in the city of six million.

Transportation officials in Santiago brought in more than 400 buses to reinforce the city’s fleet Monday morning, and re-opened the downtown line of the metro providing east-west transportation across the city.

Most schools in the city closed, citing concerns of the safety of their workers and students.

Pinera extended the state of emergency late on Sunday night, saying “we are at war,” against vandals who had turned out in droves throughout the capital over the weekend.

Javier Iturriaga, the general in charge of Santiago’s security, said in a televised broadcast early Monday he had conducted an overflight of Santiago and was “very satisfied” with the situation. He said the military would nonetheless continue to provide security.

When asked by a reporter if the country was at war, as Pinera had said late Sunday, Iturriaga responded, “I’m not at war with anyone. I’m a happy man,” he said.

The metro, which suffered multiple arson attacks at stations throughout the city, was operating smoothly during the morning rush, albeit with many fewer people than on a typical Monday morning. Many businesses told their workers to stay home.

In downtown Santiago, street sweepers cleaned up broken glass, scrap metal and barricades that accumulated over several nights of protests.

Newly inked graffiti covered the face of nearly every building along many city blocks. Tear gas lingered in the air, forcing pedestrians to walk with faces covered.

Chile’s mining minister said on Sunday that the country’s mines operated normally through the weekend.

A union of workers at BHP’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest copper mine, told Reuters early on Monday it would walk off the job for at least a shift on Tuesday in a show of support for the demands of protesters.

Chile is the world’s top copper producer.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, additional reporting by Fabian Cambero; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Death row Christian woman has left Pakistan, lawyer says

FILE PHOTO: Governor of the Punjab Province Salman Taseer is reflected as he speaks to the media after meeting with Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, at a jail in Sheikhupura, located in Pakistan's Punjab Province November 20, 2010. REUTERS/Asad Karim/File Photo

By Saad Sayeed

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row falsely charged with blasphemy has left the country, her lawyer and media said on Wednesday, more than six months after she was acquitted by Pakistan’s top court.

Pakistani and Canadian officials have not officially commented on Asia Bibi’s reported departure, perhaps due to the sensitive nature of her case.

Bibi’s release in October sparked rioting by hardline Islamists, who rejected the Supreme Court’s verdict and warned Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government that she must not be allowed to leave the country.

They also called for Bibi, who has been staying at an undisclosed location under tight security, to be killed.

“I have inquired within available channels, and according to them she has left for Canada,” Bibi’s lawyer, Saif Ul Malook, told Reuters.

Pakistani TV channels Geo and ARY, citing unidentified sources, also reported Bibi had left the country.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment. A Canadian government spokeswoman said in an emailed statement: “Global Affairs Canada has no comment.”

In November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country was in talks with Pakistan about helping Bibi, whose family are believed to be outside Pakistan. She is widely expected to seek asylum and diplomats say she will have no problems.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court in January upheld its earlier verdict to free Bibi, but Pakistani officials have worried that her sudden departure could trigger further riots.

Islamists have criticized the government and the military for caving in to what they call pressure from the Western world.

Bibi, a farm worker and a mother of four, was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors working in the fields with her objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

Her case has outraged Christians worldwide and has been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help her were assassinated, including Punjab province governor Salman Taseer, shot by his own bodyguard.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was “fantastic news that Asia Bibi appears to have left Pakistan safely”.

Hunt, who is due to discuss persecution of Christians with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Church of England, tweeted that Bibi’s freedom “shows that with concerted effort the right thing can happen”.

(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Nick Macfie)

France’s ‘yellow vest’ protests spread, Brussels police arrest hundreds in riot

Riot police are seen during the "yellow vests" protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian police detained more than 400 people on Saturday after “yellow vest” protesters inspired by riots in France threw rocks and firecrackers and damaged shops and cars as they tried to reach official buildings in Brussels.

destroyed car is seen after the "yellow vests" protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

A destroyed car is seen after the “yellow vests” protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

n the second violence of its kind in the capital in eight days, a crowd which police estimated at around 1,000 faced riot squads who used water cannon and tear gas to keep people away from the European Union headquarters and the nearby Belgian government quarter. Calm was restored after about five hours.

The movement in Belgium, inspired by the “gilets jaunes”, or yellow vest, protests in neighboring France over the past month, has given voice to complaints about the cost of living and demanded the removal of Belgium’s center-right coalition government, six months before a national election is due in May.

French police said more than 30,000 people demonstrated there and more than 30 people were injured in a second successive Saturday of violence in Paris.

Demonstrators clash with police during the "yellow vests" protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Demonstrators clash with police during the “yellow vests” protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Belgian protesters wearing the fluorescent yellow vests carried by all motorists for emergencies also briefly blocked a motorway near Belgium’s border with France.

(Reporting by Clement Rossignol and Robin Emmott; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Edmund Blair)

France dangles wealth tax review as ‘yellow vest’ anger persists

A protester wearing a yellow vest, the symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel prices, holds a flag near burning debris at the approach to the A2 Paris-Brussels Motorway, in Fontaine-Notre-Dame, France, December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Richard Lough

PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron could amend a wealth tax that critics say goes too easy on the rich, his government indicated on Wednesday, a day after suspending further fuel-tax hikes in the face of protests across France over living costs.

The Macron administration is struggling to defuse the anger driving the “yellow vest” protests, as it reels from the worst riots seen in central Paris in five decades last Saturday.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said all tax-related policies needed to be periodically evaluated and, if deemed not to be working, should be changed. He said the wealth tax could be reassessed in the autumn of 2019.

“If a measure that we have taken, which is costing the public money, turns out not to be working, if it’s not going well, we’re not stupid – we would change it,” Griveaux told RTL radio.

The unrest over the squeeze on household budgets comes as OECD data showed that France has become the most highly taxed country in the developed world, surpassing even high-tax Denmark.

Griveaux later told a weekly news conference that Macron had called on all political parties, trade unions and business leaders to press the need for calm.

Student protests and planned trade union strikes in the energy and port sectors next week underscored the risk of contagion.

A Macron aide denied that any eventual revision of the wealth tax would represent a major climb-down by Macron, a pro-business former investment banker, adding that the president remained committed to his reform drive.

Griveaux defended Macron’s decision last year to narrow the wealth tax – known in France as “ISF” – to a tax on real estate assets, rather than all of an individual’s worldwide assets, from jewelry to yachts to investments, over the value of 1.3 million euros ($1.5 million).

Those changes earned Macron the label “president of the rich” among the hard-pressed middle-class voters and blue-collar workers who criticize the president for pursuing policies that favor the wealthy and do nothing to help the poor.

Griveaux said the wealth tax reform had not been “a gift to the rich” and was aimed at encouraging wealthy individuals to invest more in France.

“This money was to be invested in our SMEs for them to develop, innovate and hire. If that is not the case … then we can reopen it for discussion.”

U-TURN

The “yellow vest” movement – so-called because of the high-vis jackets worn by protesters – began with the aim of highlighting the squeeze on household budgets caused by fuel taxes but morphed into a broader, sometimes-violent rebellion against 40-year-old Macron.

His administration’s shift on fuel tax came after rioters ran amok in central Paris, torching cars, looting boutiques vandalizing cafes and private residences and cafes in affluent neighborhoods.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the six-month suspension to the carbon tax would be used to examine other measures to bolster household spending power.

It marked the first major U-turn by Macron in his 18-months in office, at a time polls show that barely one in five French people think he is doing a good job.

U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to mock Macron over the policy shift, which could make it harder for France to meet its CO2 emissions reduction target, a core element of the Paris climate agreement of 2015.

“I am glad that my friend @EmmanuelMacron and the protestors in Paris have agreed with the conclusion I reached two years ago,” Trump tweeted late on Tuesday, as U.N. climate talks take place in Poland.

“The Paris Agreement is fatally flawed because it raises the price of energy for responsible countries while whitewashing some of the worst polluters.”

Adding to Macron’s difficulties, college students are agitating and the hardline CGT trade union on Wednesday called for strikes in the energy industry and at ports on Dec. 13.

“We too want a freeze on the planned closures of coal plants,” the CGT union said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Total said a rising number of its filling stations were running dry as a result of “yellow vest” roadblocks.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Richard Lough and Sophie Louet; Writing by Luke Baker and Richard Lough; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alison Williams)

Macron tells PM to hold talks after worst unrest in Paris for decades

Burned cars are seen on avenue Kleber after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel taxes, in Paris, France, December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

By Jean-Baptiste Vey and John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron ordered his prime minister on Sunday to hold talks with political leaders and demonstrators, as he sought a way out of nationwide protests after rioters turned central Paris into a battle zone.

Riot police on Saturday were overwhelmed as protesters ran amok in Paris’s wealthiest neighborhoods, torching dozens of cars, looting boutiques and smashing up luxury private homes and cafes in the worst disturbances the capital has seen since 1968.

Firemen extinguish burning cars set afire by protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, during clashes near the Place de l'Etoile in Paris, France, December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Firemen extinguish burning cars set afire by protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers’ protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, during clashes near the Place de l’Etoile in Paris, France, December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

The unrest began as a backlash against fuel tax hikes but has spread. It poses the most formidable challenge yet to Macron’s presidency, with the escalating violence and depth of public anger against his economic reforms catching the 40-year-old leader off-guard and battling to regain control.

After a meeting with members of his government on Sunday, the French presidency said in a statement that the president had asked his interior minister to prepare security forces for future protests and his prime minister to hold talks with political party leaders and representatives of the protesters.

A French presidential source said Macron would not speak to the nation on Sunday despite calls for him to offer immediate concessions to demonstrators, and said the idea of imposing a state of emergency had not been discussed.

Arriving back from the G20 summit in Argentina, Macron had earlier rushed to the Arc de Triomphe, a revered monument and epicenter of Saturday’s clashes, where protesters had scrawled “Macron resign” and “The yellow vests will triumph”.

The “yellow vest” rebellion erupted out of nowhere on Nov. 17, with protesters blocking roads across France and impeding access to some shopping malls, fuel depots and airports. Violent groups from the far right and far left as well as youths from the suburbs infiltrated Saturday’s protests, the authorities said.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux had indicated the Macron administration was considering imposing a state of emergency. The president was open to dialogue, he said, but would not reverse policy reforms.

“We won’t change course. We are certain of that,” he told Europe 1 radio.

As he spoke, workmen in the upper-crust district of central Paris set about cleaning the defaced Arc, removing charred hulks of cars and replacing the shattered windows of banks, restaurants and glitzy boutiques.

Workmen place a metal panel on the window of a vandalized bank the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Workmen place a metal panel on the window of a vandalized bank the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers’ protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

MACRON UNYIELDING

While the protests were initially against Macron’s fuel tax hikes – necessary he says to combat climate change – they have also mined a vein of deep dissatisfaction felt toward his liberal reforms, which many voters feel favor the wealthy and big business.

Police said they had arrested more than 400 people in Paris on Saturday and that 133 were injured. Some 10,000 tear gas canisters and stun grenades were fired as well as water cannon as security forces fought for control.

Macron’s plight illustrates a conundrum: How do political leaders’ introduce policies that will do long-term good for the environment without inflicting extra costs on voters that may damage their chances of re-election?

His unyielding response has exposed him to charges of being out of touch with common folk outside of France’s big cities who worry about the squeeze on household budgets and job security.

The protests have driven Macron’s popularity to record lows and left him facing a lose-lose situation, said Gael Sliman, president of the Odoxa polling institute said.

Either Macron caves into the pressure and is derided by opponents as weak, or he puts down the dissent, Sliman said.

“In the second scenario, Macron will still come out the loser, because what everyone will remember is that he wrestled with the popular classes. He would be victorious but at the cost of having crushed them.”

Before heading into Sunday’s meeting, Macron met under heavy security with police and firefighters near the Champs Elysees boulevard. Some bystanders cheered, others jeered and called on him to resign.

So too did Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of hard-left party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who both demanded the government unwind its fuel tax hikes. They called for parliament to be dissolved and snap elections held.

Damaged vehicles are seen on avenue Kleber after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel taxes, in Paris, France, December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Damaged vehicles are seen on avenue Kleber after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers’ protest against higher diesel taxes, in Paris, France, December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Such an outcome is unlikely, however. Macron has 3 1/2 years left of his five-year mandate and a strong majority in parliament, albeit with signs of simmering unease on the backbenches over his response to the protests.

TV footage showed the interior of the Arc ransacked, a statue of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic, smashed, and graffiti scrawled on the exterior ranging from anti-capitalist slogans to social demands and calls for Macron’s resignation.

On nearby streets, some Parisians worried of a repeat of the violence next weekend. The yellow vests have already called another demonstration in Paris.

“The violence is increasing at an exponential rate,” said Claude, a resident in the affluent 16th district. “The state is losing control, it is scary. They cannot let this happen. Maybe the army should intervene.”

(Reporting by John Irish, Richard Lough, Emmanuel Jarry, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Matthias Blamont, Myriam Rivet, Simon Carraud and Luke Baker; Writing by John Irish and Richard Lough; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Susan Fenton)

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)

Israeli troops kill four Palestinians in fourth week of protests

A demonstrator gestures as he hurls stones during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest at the Israel-Gaza border where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, east of Gaza City April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

y Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli troops shot dead four Palestinians and wounded 12 in renewed unrest on the Gaza-Israel border on Friday as a series of mass protests in the enclave reached its half-way mark.

Some Palestinians brought wire-cutters to cut through the border fence. As the crowd grew, Israeli soldiers called out warnings in Arabic over loudspeakers to individuals who approached the border fence.

Demonstrators use a large slingshot to hurl stones during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest at the Israel-Gaza border where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, east of Gaza City April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Demonstrators use a large slingshot to hurl stones during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest at the Israel-Gaza border where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, east of Gaza City April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Despite the warnings, two Palestinians were killed and 12 wounded by Israeli gunfire, Palestinian health officials said, bringing the death toll in the past few weeks of protests to at least 33. Several hundred people have also been wounded by Israeli sharpshooters.

Away from the border, Israeli-American Hollywood actress Natalie Portman announced she would not attend a ceremony in Israel to accept a million-dollar prize because of “distressing” events in the country.

The protests have been staged every Friday for the past month to push demands for Palestinian refugees to regain ancestral homes in what is now Israel. They are expected to culminate on May 15.

The Israeli military said that in the latest incident, about 3,000 Palestinians were rioting and tried to approach what it called security infrastructure. Troops responded “with riot dispersal means and are firing in accordance with the rules of engagement,” it said.

The use of live fire has drawn international criticism but Israel says it is protecting its borders and takes such action when protesters come too close to the border fence.

It accuses Hamas, the Islamist militant group which rules Gaza, of staging riots and trying to carry out attacks. Although the main protest campaign is intended to be peaceful, Gazans have hurled stones and burning tyres near the border fence.

A Palestinian holds a dummy depicting an Israeli soldier during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, east of Gaza City April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

A Palestinian holds a dummy depicting an Israeli soldier during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, east of Gaza City April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Some protesters on Friday fitted kites with cans of flammable liquids which they flew across the border to start fires in Israel.

“We aim to distract the soldiers from shooting and wounding or killing our people. Israeli soldiers will be worried those fire-kites may fall on their heads or torch bushes around them,” said Mohammad Abu Mustafa, 17, who lost his right leg a few months ago after being shot by an Israeli soldier.

“These kites also torch bushes and trees and not only cause them losses, but keep them busy trying to put out fires,” he said, leaning on crutches.

Early in the morning, the Israeli military used a new tactic, dropping leaflets into Gaza warning residents to not approach the border.

“The Hamas terror organization is taking advantage of you in order to carry out terror attacks. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is prepared for all scenarios. Stay away from the fence and do not attempt to harm it,” said the leaflets scattered by Israeli aircraft in areas along the border.

Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, denies this.

PACKED IN

More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

The protest campaign, dubbed The Great March of Return, is leading up to May 15, when Palestinians mark Nakba Day, or the Day of Catastrophe, commemorating their displacement around the time of Israel’s founding in 1948.

It takes place at a time of growing frustration over the prospects for an independent Palestinian state. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for several years and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have expanded.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last year to recognize disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital further fueled Palestinian anger.

In an apparent sign of concern over the bloodshed on the border, the actress Natalie Portman, who was born in Jerusalem, said she would not attend a prize ceremony in Israel.

In a statement, the Genesis Prize Foundation quoted a representative for Portman as saying: “Recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.”

It gave no further details of her reasons. But the foundation said it “admires her humanity, and respects her right to publicly disagree with the policies of the government of Israel”.

Israel’s culture minister, Miri Regev, suggested the actress was supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to isolate Israel economically over its treatment of Palestinians. Israel sees the BDS movement as an attempt to delegitimise it.

The Genesis Prize is awarded to individuals for excellence in their professional fields and “who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values”.

(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing Angus MacSwan)

German police raid flats in hunt for G20 rioters

German police raid flats in hunt for G20 rioters

BERLIN (Reuters) – Police raided apartments across Germany on Tuesday, hunting for evidence on anti-capitalist protesters who clashed with officers during July’s Group of 20 leaders summit in Hamburg.

Officers searched 23 properties believed to be used by “Black Bloc” anti-capitalist group in eight German states, the Hamburg force said. They seized 26 computers and 36 mobile phones, but made no arrests.

Around 200 police officers were hurt in July in scuffles with the left-wing group, named after its members’ black hoods and masks.

Police described how 150-200 people separated themselves off from peaceful marches, donned scarves, masks and dark glasses, then grabbed stones from the pavement and projectiles from building sites to hurl at police.

“We are talking about a violent mob, acting together … Whoever participates in this is, in our view, making themselves culpable,” Jan Hieber, head of the police Special Commission, told reporters.

“The militant action was not accidental. There must have been a degree of planning and agreement,” he said.

Police said nearly 600 officers raided properties in states from Hamburg and Berlin to western North Rhine-Westphalia and southern Baden-Wuerttemberg.

They also carried out searches in the southern city of Stuttgart and Goettingen in northern Germany – home to well-known centers of left-wing activism.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Heavens)