Judge exempts journalists, legal observers from Portland protest dispersal orders

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge granted a preliminary injunction on Thursday against federal officers, exempting journalists and legal observers from orders to disperse after the officers declare riots at Portland protests.

The 61-page order prohibited federal officers from seizing any “photographic equipment, audio- or video recording equipment, or press passes” from reporters and legal observers.

A lawyer from the U.S. Justice Department had argued that the press does not hold any special right when police declare an unlawful assembly or riot and order crowds to break up.

“If military and law enforcement personnel can engage around the world without attacking journalists, the federal defendants can respect plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights in Portland,” U.S. District Judge Michael Simon said in the order filed in the United States District Court for Oregon.

Protests against racism and police brutality have swept the United States since the death on May 25 of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The protests, including those in Portland, have occasionally erupted in arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting its federal courthouse.

Portland Police had declared a riot for a second successive night on Wednesday and said they had fired crowd control munitions and tear gas to break up a gathering of about 200 people who threw rocks, lit fires and vandalized a U.S. immigration agency building.

Thursday’s order came in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Oregon, which called it “a crucial victory” for civil liberties and press freedom.

Separately on Thursday, Portland Police issued a timeline of protests, showcasing they had declared riots 17 times between May 29 and Aug. 19.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

Oregon State Police leaving Portland over lack of prosecutions

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Oregon State Police on Thursday said they were withdrawing protection from Portland’s federal courthouse over frustration at a prosecutor’s decision not to indict many people arrested in protests there.

The state police were deployed to Portland two weeks ago under an agreement between Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Vice President Mike Pence to withdraw federal agents after weeks of clashes with protesters. President Donald Trump threatened to send National Guard troops to Portland, if requested by Oregon authorities, if local law enforcement was unable to protect the federal courthouse.

Oregon State Police are “continually reassessing our resources and the needs of our partner agencies, and at this time we are inclined to move those resources back to counties where prosecution of criminal conduct is still a priority,” spokesman Timothy Fox said in a statement.

The police force is angry at Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s decision not to prosecute many people arrested during weeks of protests at the courthouse, Fox said.

Schmidt on Tuesday said he would only press charges against protesters arrested for assault, theft or property damage in Portland protests that began in late May after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Schmidt signaled he would be dropping lesser charges such as rioting and disorderly conduct.

“If we leverage the full force of the criminal justice system on individuals who are peacefully protesting and demanding to be heard, we will cause irreparable harm to them individually and to our society,” Schmidt said in a statement.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Additional reporting by Deborah Bloom, Peter Szekely and Aishwarya Nair; Editing by Tom Hogue and)

Beirut blast halts American-Lebanese woman’s final journey home

By Callaghan O’Hare and Maria Caspani

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Rami Basbous was on the phone with his uncle in Beirut on August 4, making arrangements to return his mother’s remains from the United States to her birthplace, when he heard the blast that reduced large parts of the Lebanese capital to rubble.

The explosion, the biggest in Beirut’s history, killed at least 172 people, injured some 6,000 and triggered protests against Lebanon’s political elite. It also put an end to the Basbous family’s plan to bury a beloved wife and mother alongside her relatives.

“Before the blast and riots we had a very large set of hurdles to get through but it was doable,” said Rami, 21, after his mother’s funeral on Wednesday in Houston, Texas. “After the blast and now the riots we have a very slim chance at getting her there safely.”

Rita Basbous died earlier this month at age 53 in Houston, weeks after undergoing heart surgery. Rita, whose health was already compromised by a decades-long struggle with diabetes and related kidney problems, contracted the coronavirus in April and fought it through May.

She eventually recovered, her son said, although the illness left her weak.

“She loved the world,” Rami said of his mother, who was born in Lebanon, spoke five languages and lived in Mauritania and the United States, following her father to his postings as a civil engineer.

After the Basbous family settled in Houston, Rita worked as a teacher and dedicated much of her time to volunteering and helping fellow immigrants, her son said.

Mask-clad mourners occupied every other row of pews at her funeral service at Our Lady of the Cedars Maronite Church in Houston. Pink and white roses adorned her casket.

In a time of pandemic, the family said they were grateful to be able to hold an in-person funeral at all.

The son, Rami, said restrictions imposed by the pandemic forced them to get creative and live stream the funeral for family and friends unable to attend.

For now, Rita has been buried at a Houston area cemetery. The family still hopes to return her remains to Lebanon but the unrest in Beirut, coupled with the health issues raised by coronavirus, have put those plans on hold for now.

“We joke that that was her telling us ‘no’,” Rami said.

(Reporting by Callaghan O’Hare in Houston, Texas; Writing by Maria Caspani; Editing by Diane Craft)

Trump, attorney general to meet as U.S. cities smolder amid protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with his top law enforcement officer behind closed doors on Monday as cities nationwide awoke from a smoldering weekend of violent protests over race and policing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chaotic demonstrations from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles swelled from peaceful protests – sparked by the death of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody last Monday – into scenes of violence that drew National Guard troops in at least 15 states and Washington.

Dozens of cities across the United States faced curfews at a level not seen since the riots following the 1968 assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. as fires burned near the White House and stores were looted in New York City and other major cities.

Floyd’s death is the latest in a string of similar incidents involving unarmed black men in recent years that has raised an outcry over excessive police force and racism, and re-ignited outrage across a starkly politically and racially divided country just months before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Video footage has shown a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, 46, for nearly nine minutes before he died on May 25.

Trump has made no major public statement to address the growing crisis but has issued a flurry of tweets, describing protesters as “thugs” and urging mayors and governors to “get tough.” He has also threatened to utilize the U.S. military, but his national security adviser on Sunday said the administration would not yet invoke federal control over the National Guard.

The Republican president was scheduled to hold a call with governors, law enforcement and national security officials later on Monday following his Oval Office meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr.

Critics have accused Trump, who is seeking re-election, of further stoking conflict and racial tension rather than seeking to bring the nation together and address the underlying issues.

Washington and other cities had been set to restart some normal economic activity over the weekend after more than two months of stay-at-home orders aimed at stemming the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has killed nearly 103,000 people nationwide and plunged more than 40 million people into joblessness.

Many states had already activated National Guard troops to help manage the pandemic, further straining local budgets with no immediate sign of relief from Congress as many weary Americans, particularly in urban areas, remain sheltered.

The demonstrations brought out a diversity of people in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, among other cities, and have spread around the globe with demonstrations in New Zealand on Monday following events in London and elsewhere.

Hundreds of storefronts were smashed and buildings vandalized in multiple cities as protesters and police clashed. But the mayor of St. Paul, which is adjacent to Minneapolis, told CNN on Monday that thousands had gathered there peacefully on Sunday. Other cities also saw more peaceful demonstrations, sometimes with police support.

The arrest of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who was charged with third-degree murder in Floyd’s case, has not quelled the demonstrations amid calls for the other three officers involved to also be charged.

Public health experts and local officials have also expressed concern the gatherings could trigger more cases of COVID-19, the highly transmissible and potentially deadly infection tied to the coronavirus.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

EU pledges aid to Greece as migrants mass on border with Turkey

By Lefteris Papadimas and Alkis Konstantinidis

KASTANIES/LESBOS, Greece (Reuters) – European Union officials on Tuesday promised more cash for Greece during a visit to its border with Turkey which tens of thousands of migrants and refugees have been trying for days to breach.

The officials urged Turkey to abide by a 2016 deal which requires it to keep the migrants on its soil in return for EU aid. After an upsurge in fighting in Syria last week, Ankara says it will no longer stop migrants who want to reach Europe.

Greek riot police have used tear gas against the migrants at its Kastanies border post, while the coastguard has tried to stop boats transporting migrants to Greece’s Aegean islands. A Syrian boy died on Monday after his boat capsized in the area.

“The situation at our border is not only an issue for Greece to manage, it is the responsibility of Europe as a whole,” the head of the EU’s executive Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, told a news conference at Kastanies.

“We will hold the line and our unity will prevail,” she said after touring the area with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the heads of the European Council and Parliament.

Von der Leyen announced additional aid of 700 million euros to help Greece deal with the migrant crisis.

Migrants walk next to the Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece’s Kastanies, near Edirne, Turkey, March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Brussels is desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2015-16 crisis, when more than a million migrants entered the EU from Turkey via the Balkans, straining European security and welfare systems and boosting support for far-right parties.

Greek troops and riot police remained on high alert along the Turkish border on Tuesday, though there were no reports of significant new clashes with the migrants.

“There were only a few attempts today (to cross the border). Let’s hope they get the message,” a machine gun-toting army officer told Reuters at the Kastanies border post.

Army jeeps patrolled the area and roads leading to the Evros river which marks the Greek-Turkish border remained shut.

GREECE, TURKEY AT LOGGERHEADS

The crisis has badly strained ties, never good, between Ankara and Athens.

Mitsotakis accused Ankara of deliberately encouraging migrants to head to the border in order to “promote its geopolitical agenda and divert attention from the situation in Syria”.

He also said these migrants were not fleeing the latest flareup of fighting in Syria’s Idlib province but were people “who have been living safely in Turkey for a long period of time”. Many speak fluent Turkish, he added.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also accused Turkey on Tuesday of using the refugees to “blackmail” Europe.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan infuriated Mitsotakis on Monday by accusing Greek border guards of killing two migrants and wounding a third, a claim denied by Athens.

On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greek forces were shooting migrants “in the back as they are running away”, but he provided no evidence.

Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria’s civil war and faces another possible big influx as the fighting drags on there, says it cannot take in any more.

Human Rights Watch said it had received multiple reports that Greek border guards were pushing people back into Turkey, which could violate the right to claim asylum as well as a ban on returning people to where they would be unsafe, both of which are enshrined in international law.

The mood toward migrants on Greek islands such as Lesbos – once relatively welcoming – has soured since the 2015-16 crisis amid a sense that the Athens government and the EU are not providing sufficient support.

“It used to be the island of solidarity but it seems like the locals are exhausted,” said Charlie Meyers, a U.S. aid worker on Lesbos.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas in Kastanies, Alkis Konstantinidis on Lesbos, George Georgioupoulos and Foo Yun Chee in Athens: Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Geert de Clercq in Paris; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

India’s Modi appeals for calm as riot toll rises to 20

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm on Wednesday after days of clashes between Hindus and minority Muslims over a controversial citizenship law in some of the worst sectarian violence in the capital in decades.

Twenty people were killed and nearly 200 wounded in the violence, a doctor said, with many suffering gunshot wounds amid looting and arson attacks that coincided with a visit to India by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets in far greater numbers on Wednesday. Parts of the riot-hit areas were deserted.

“Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times,” Modi said in a tweet.

Modi’s appeal came after a storm of criticism from opposition parties of the government’s failure to control the violence, despite the use of tear gas, pellets and smoke grenades.

Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, called for the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah, who is directly responsible for law and order in the capital.

The violence erupted between thousands demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law introduced by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

The Citizenship Amendment Act makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has denied it has any bias against India’s more than 180 million Muslims.

A firefighter walks past damaged shops at a tyre market after they were set on fire by a mob in a riot affected area after clashes erupted between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Reuters witnesses saw mobs wielding sticks and pipes walking down streets in parts of northeast Delhi on Tuesday, amid arson attacks and looting. Thick clouds of black smoke billowed from a tyre market that was set ablaze.

Many of the wounded had suffered gunshot injuries, hospital officials said. At least two mosques in northeast Delhi were set on fire.

On Wednesday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a tweet that it was alarmed by the violence and it urged the Indian government “to rein in mobs and protect religious minorities and others who have been targeted”.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar; Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed, Danish Siddiqui and Zeba Siddiqui; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

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)