Hong Kong protesters clash with police, angry at lack of prosecutions after subway mob attack

Protesters fire nitrogen extinguishers during a stand off at Yuen Long MTR station, the scene of an attack by suspected triad gang members a month ago, in Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong, China August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By James Pomfret and Greg Torode

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of jeering Hong Kong residents held a raucous anti-government protest on Wednesday at a suburban subway station that was attacked by a mob last month, angry that nobody has yet been prosecuted for the violence.

Some masked protesters clashed with police in the sub-tropical heat, spraying fire extinguishers from the inside of Yuen Long station as others smeared the floor with cooking oil to stop the police advancing.

Some demonstrators blocked station exits and sealed roads outside the station, aiming green laser beams at the lines of shield-bearing officers. Others threw empty fire extinguishers at police lines from overpasses.

It was the latest in a series of demonstrations, which have sometimes turned violent, since June against a perceived erosion of freedoms in the Chinese-ruled former British colony.

Wednesday’s protest marked the night of July 21, when more than 100 white-shirted men stormed the Yuen Long station hours after protesters had marched through central Hong Kong and defaced China’s Liaison Office – the main symbol of Beijing’s authority.

Using pipes and clubs, the men attacked black-clad protesters returning from Hong Kong island as well as passers-by, journalists and a lawmaker, wounding 45 people.

Democratic Party legislator Lam Cheuk-ting, who was wounded in the attack by suspected triad gangsters, said he believed the protesters wanted a peaceful night on Wednesday but he could not rule out further violence – from gangsters or the police.

“It is impossible to predict… It is deeply disappointing that all these weeks later we still don’t have an independent inquiry into those events,” he told Reuters.

Squads of police were stationed on the station perimeter and some protesters jeered and shone lasers at them. A small crowd of masked young men gathered on a station balcony, swearing and cursing at police vans down a side street.

Anger erupted in June over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said again on Tuesday the legislation was dead.

The unrest has been fueled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula adopted after Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest. Demonstrations have included the storming of the legislature and havoc at the airport.

SHARP REACTION FROM BEIJING

At a speakers’ corner beneath the MTR station on Wednesday, people denounced police violence and their perceived desertion of duty on July 21.

“They just walked away,” one woman said. “What kind of police are these?”

Peter, a 17-year-old student handing out free drinks and masks, said he wanted the night to be peaceful.

“We need to give the frontline fighters a rest from fighting the police, so they can fight again later if we need,” he said.

The protests have prompted sharp reactions from Beijing, which has accused foreign countries, including the United States, of fomenting unrest. China has also sent clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills in neighboring Shenzhen.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated Washington’s calls for China to honor its commitment to “one country, two systems”.

Speaking to CBS program “This Morning” on Tuesday, Pompeo highlighted remarks by President Donald Trump at the weekend warning against a crackdown like Beijing’s suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Trump said this would make reaching a deal he has been seeking to end a trade war with China “very hard”.

In an editorial on Tuesday, China’s influential state-run tabloid, the Global Times, called Monday’s comments by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence linking the trade talks to the Hong Kong protests “outrageous”.

Likely worsening already strained ties between Beijing and London, a Chinese national working at Britain’s Hong Kong consulate has been detained in China’s border city of Shenzhen for violating the law.

Some Hong Kong companies have been dragged into controversy amid the protests.

Pilots and cabin crew at Cathay Pacific Airways described a “white terror” of political denunciations, sackings and phone searches by Chinese aviation officials.

The Hong Kong Pharmacists’ Union said it was concerned about the spread of toxic chemicals from the tear gas used by police in some of the protests.

“We would suggest the protective measures and decontamination actions to be taken after the release of tear gas in your community and the mass transit system,” it said in a statement.

Police responded by reading out from Wikipedia that tear gas does not harm humans.

(Additional reporting by Felix Tam; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Frances Kerry)

China to counter latest U.S. tariffs as Trump vows deal on U.S. terms

Containers are seen at Yantian port in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China July 4, 2019. Picture taken July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China on Thursday vowed to counter the latest U.S. tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods but called on the United States to meet it halfway on a potential trade deal, as U.S. President Donald Trump said any pact would have to be on America’s terms.

The Chinese finance ministry said in a statement that Washington’s tariffs, set to start next month, violated a consensus reached between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a June summit in Japan to resolve their disputes via negotiation.

In a separate statement, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said, “We hope the U.S. will meet China halfway, and implement the consensus of the two heads of the two countries in Osaka.”

China hopes to find mutually acceptable solutions through dialogue and consultation on the basis of equality and mutual respect, she added.

Trump, who is seeking re-election in 2020 and had made the economy and his tough stance on China a key part of his 2016 campaign for the White House, on Thursday said any agreement must meet U.S. demands.

“China, frankly, would love to make a deal, and it’s got to be a deal on proper terms. It’s got to be a deal, frankly, on our terms. Otherwise, what’s the purpose?” Trump said in an interview on New Hampshire radio station WGIR.

The trade picture is further complicated by continuing unrest in Hong Kong, which Trump on Wednesday tied to any possible agreement, saying Xi must first work out the situation in the territory with protesters.

On Thursday, he used Twitter to call on the Chinese president to personally meet with protesters to spur “a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem.”

Trump and Xi in June had agreed to restart trade talks after negotiations stalled earlier this year. But earlier this month, the Trump administration said it would slap duties beginning Sept. 1 on $300 billion of Chinese goods, which would effectively cover all of China’s exports to the United States.

Trump backed off part of the plan this week, delaying duties on certain items such as cellphones, laptops and other consumer goods, in the hopes of blunting their impact on U.S. holiday sales. Tariffs will still apply to those products starting in mid-December.

The move has roiled global markets and further unnerved investors as the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies stretches into its second year with no end in sight.

China’s threat to impose countermeasures further sent global stocks sprawling on Thursday with oil also deepening its slide over recession fears, although U.S. stocks opened higher on Thursday amid strong retail sales data.

Trump, in his radio interview on Thursday, dismissed investors’ worries.

“We had a couple of bad days but … we’re going to have some very good days because we had to take on China,” he told WGIR.

(Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk; additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)

As Hong Kong braces for protests, Chinese paramilitary holds drills across border

Chinese soldiers walk in formation on the grounds of the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen across the bay from Hong Kong, China August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Farah Master

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong braced on Thursday for more mass demonstrations through the weekend, as China again warned against foreign interference in the city’s escalating crisis and as mainland paramilitary forces conducted exercises just across the border.

Western governments, including the United States, have stepped up calls for restraint, following ugly and chaotic scenes at the city’s airport this week, which forced the cancellation of nearly 1,000 flights and saw protesters set upon two men they suspected of being government sympathizers.

Military vehicles are parked on the grounds of the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen, China August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Military vehicles are parked on the grounds of the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen, China August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The airport, one of the world’s busiest, was returning to normal but under tight security after thousands of protesters had jammed its halls on Monday and Tuesday nights, part of a protest movement Beijing has likened to terrorism.

Across a bridge linking Hong Kong’s rural hinterland with the booming mainland city of Shenzhen, hundreds of members of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police conducted exercises at a sports complex in what was widely seen as a warning to protesters in Hong Kong.

The police could be seen carrying out crowd-control exercises, and more than 100 dark-painted paramilitary vehicles filled the stadium’s parking lots.

Chinese state media had first reported on the exercises on Monday, prompting U.S. concerns they could be used to break up the protests. However, several western and Asian diplomats in Hong Kong told Reuters Beijing has little appetite for putting the PAP or the People’s Liberation Army onto Hong Kong’s streets.

Ten weeks of increasingly violent confrontations between police and protesters have plunged Hong Kong into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, and police tactics have been toughening.

The protests represent the biggest populist challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012 and show no immediate signs of abating.

Late on Wednesday night, police and protesters faced off again on the streets of the financial hub, with riot officers quickly firing tear gas.

Seventeen people were arrested on Wednesday, bringing the total detained since June to 748, police told a news conference, adding that police stations have been surrounded and attacked 76 times during the crisis.

TRUMP AND TRADE DEAL

U.S. President Donald Trump tied a U.S.-China trade deal to Beijing resolving the unrest “humanely”, and suggested he was willing to meet Xi to discuss the crisis.

“I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi (Jinping) wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?” Trump said on Twitter.

The U.S. State Department said it was deeply concerned over reports that Chinese police forces were gathering near the border with Hong Kong and urged the city’s government to respect freedom of speech.

It also issued a travel advisory urging U.S. citizens to exercise caution in Hong Kong. China has frequently warned against what it regards as outside interference in an internal issue.

Other foreign governments urged calm. France called on city officials to renew talks with activists, while Canada said China should handle the protests with tact.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized million-strong marches in June, has scheduled another protest for Sunday.

The protesters have five demands, including the complete withdrawal of a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent for trial in mainland Chinese courts.

Opposition to the extradition bill has developed into wider concerns about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place after Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

RECESSION FEARS

It was not yet clear whether the airport clashes had eroded the broad support the movement has so far attracted in Hong Kong, despite adding to the city’s faltering economy.

The protests could push Hong Kong into a recession, research firm Capital Economics said, and risked “an even worse outcome if a further escalation triggers capital flight”.

Hong Kong’s property market, one of the world’s most expensive, would be hit hard in that scenario, it added.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan unveiled a series of measures worth HK$19.1 billion ($2.44 billion) on Thursday to tackle economic headwinds, but he said it was not related to political pressure from the protests.

Business and citizens’ groups have been posting full-page newspaper advertisements that denounce the violence and back Hong Kong’s government.

The head of Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment, Lui Che-woo, urged talks to restore harmony. The protests have affected the neighboring Chinese territory of Macau, with some visitors avoiding the world’s biggest gambling hub amid transport disruptions and safety concerns.

(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok, Noah Sin, Kevin Liu and Twinnie Siu in HONG KONG, David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay in WASHINGTON, Mathieu Rosemain in PARIS, and David Ljunggren in OTTAWA; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

France’s ‘yellow vests’ clash with police in Paris

Protesters wearing yellow vests install a barricade during clashes with police at a demonstration during a national day of protest by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

By Sybille de La Hamaide and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters faced off with French riot police in Paris on Saturday, hurling projectiles, torching cars and vandalizing shops and restaurants in a fourth weekend of unrest that has shaken President Emmanuel Macron’s authority.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and horses to charge protesters on roads fanning out from the Champs Elysees boulevard, but encountered less violence than a week ago, when the capital witnessed its worst unrest since the 1968 student riots.

Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration on the Grands Boulevards as part a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

As night fell and many demonstrators started returning home, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said there had been about 10,000 protesters in Paris by early evening and some 125,000 across the country.

Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse and other cities also saw major clashes between protesters and police on Saturday.

“The situation is now under control,” Castaner said at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

He said about 120 demonstrators and nearly 20 police officers had been injured nationwide. Nearly 1,000 people had been arrested, 620 of them in Paris, after police found potential weapons such as hammers and baseball bats on them.

Philippe said police would remain vigilant through the night as some protesters continued to roam the city.

Groups of youths, many of them masked, continued skirmishing with police in the Place de la Republique area as some stores were looted.

Named after the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists must carry, the “yellow vest” protests erupted out of nowhere on Nov. 17, when nearly 300,000 demonstrators nationwide took to the streets to denounce high living costs and Macron’s liberal economic reforms.

Demonstrators say the reforms favor the wealthy and do nothing to help the poor and billed Saturday’s protest “Act IV” of their protest after three consecutive Saturdays of rioting.

The government this week canceled a planned rise in taxes on petrol and diesel in a bid to defuse the situation but the protests have morphed into a broader anti-Macron rebellion.

“Very sad day & night in Paris,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in a Twitter message. “Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes?”

Protesters wearing yellow vests install a barricade during clashes with police at a demonstration during a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

SHUTTERED SHOPS

The protests are jeopardizing a fragile economic recovery in France just as the Christmas holiday season kicks off.

Retailers have lost an estimated one billion euros in revenue since the protests erupted and shares in tourism-related shares saw their worst week in months.

Swathes of Paris’ affluent Right Bank north of the Seine river were locked down on Saturday, with luxury boutiques boarded up, department stores closed and restaurants and cafes shuttered. The Louvre, Eiffel Tower and the Paris Opera were also closed.

Demonstrators left a trail of destruction on Paris streets, with bank and insurance company offices’ windows smashed, cars and scooters set on fire and street furniture vandalized.

On the smashed front of one Starbucks cafe, vandals scrawled: “No fiscal justice, no social justice.”

The government had warned that far-right, anarchist and anti-capitalist groups would likely infiltrate protests and many of the skirmishes saw police tackling gangs of hooded youths, some of them covering their faces with masks.

“It feels like order is being better maintained this week,” Jean-Francois Barnaba, one of the yellow vests’ unofficial spokesmen, told Reuters.

“Last week the police were tear-gassing us indiscriminately. This time their actions are more targeted,” he added.

Tear gas fills the air during clashes with police at a demonstration during a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

MACRON U-TURN

The government this week offered concessions to soothe public anger, including scrapping next year’s planned hikes to fuel taxes in the first major U-turn of Macron’s presidency. It will cost the Treasury 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion).

But protesters want Macron to go further to help hard-pressed households, including an increase to the minimum wage, lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy, better retirement benefits and even Macron’s resignation.

“We want equality, we want to live, not survive,” said demonstrator Guillaume Le Grac, 28, who works in a slaughterhouse in Britanny.

Macron is expected to address the nation early next week to possibly further soften planned reforms and tax increases.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Sybille de la Hamaide, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Simon Carraud, Matthias Blamont, Marine Pennetier and Gus Trompiz; writing by Geert De Clercq and Richard Lough; editing by Gareth Jones and Jason Neely)

Iran stages pro-government rallies, cleric urges firm punishment for protest leaders

By Parisa Hafezi

ANKARA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of government supporters rallied across Iran on Friday, swearing allegiance to the clerical establishment and accusing arch enemy the United States of instigating the largest anti-government protests in nearly a decade, state TV reported.

Tehran’s Friday prayer leader called on authorities to deal “firmly” with those responsible for igniting over a week of illegal rallies, in which 22 people were killed and more than 1,000 people were arrested, according to Iranian officials.

“But those ordinary Iranians who were deceived by these American-backed rioters should be dealt with based on Islamic clemency,” cleric Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran university, TV reported.

Khatami also called on the government to “pay more attention to people’s economic problems.”

The anti-government rallies erupted on December 28 in Iran’s holy Shi’ite city of Mashhad after the government announced plans to increase fuel prices and dismantle monthly cash handout to lower-income Iranians.

The protests spread to more than 80 cities and rural towns, staged by thousands of young and working class Iranians angry about official corruption, unemployment and a deepening gap between rich and poor.

The authorities have produced no evidence of U.S. involvement in the protests, which lacked a unifying leader.

GUARDS QUELLED UNREST

But in Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Iran’s statements that external influences fomented the unrest were not groundless and Washington used any possible method to destabilize governments it disliked.

He added that U.S. calls for an extraordinary meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the turmoil in Iran interfered with the country’s sovereignty, news agency Interfax said. The Council will meet on Friday at 3 p.m. (2000 GMT) to discuss Iran, Council president Kazakhstan has said.

Residents contacted by Reuters in various cities said the protests had shown sign of abating since Thursday, after the establishment intensified a crackdown on the protesters by dispatching Revolutionary Guards forces to several provinces.

Iran’s elite Guards and its affiliated Basij militia suppressed the country’s 2009 unrest over alleged election fraud, in which dozens of pro-reform Iranians were killed.

Iranian officials said the protests were the result of foreign instigation and mocked U.S. President Donald Trump’s support of protesters against what he called a “brutal and corrupt” establishment.

On Friday rallies, protesters chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, carrying pictures of Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and waved Iranian flags.

Television footage of rallies in several cities showed people chanting “We support Imam Khamenei … We will not leave him alone in his fight against enemies”.

“Demonstrators demand the punishment of those behind foreign-linked riots which insulted religion and our authorities,” state television reported, referring to the anti-government protests in which social media footage showed protesters tearing down pictures of Khamenei.

Khatami also called on the government to “pay more attention to people’s economic problems.”

UNITED FRONT

To allay tension, the government has suspended its plans to cut cash handouts and increase fuel prices.

“There are workers who say they have not received their salaries for months … These problems should be resolved,” Khatami said, according to state TV.

Fearing that further unrest could undermine the Islamic republic altogether, Iran’s faction-ridden political elite has displayed a united front.

But Khamenei and his hardline allies have criticized Rouhani for failing to revive the economy after most sanctions on Iran were lifted in 2016 under a nuclear deal reached between Tehran and major powers aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear program.

Rouhani secured the deal in 2015, raising hopes of better economic times among many Iranians, but discontent has since risen over the lack of broad improvement in living standards.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

Iranian protesters attack police stations, raise stakes in unrest

Opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hold a protest outside the Iranian embassy in west London, Britain December 31, 2017.

By Michael Georgy

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian protesters attacked police stations late into the night on Monday, news agency and social media reports said, as security forces struggled to contain the boldest challenge to the clerical leadership since unrest in 2009.

Videos on social media showed an intense clash in the central town of Qahderijan between security forces and protesters who were trying to occupy a police station, which was partially set ablaze. There were unconfirmed reports of several casualties among demonstrators.

In the western city of Kermanshah, protesters set fire to a traffic police post, but no one was hurt in the incident, Mehr news agency said.

Demonstrations continued for a fifth day. Some 13 people were reported killed on Sunday in the worst wave of unrest since crowds took to the streets in 2009 to condemn the re-election of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The protests have put pressure on the clerical leaders in power since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. President Hassan Rouhani made a televised call for calm on Sunday, saying Iranians had the right to criticize but must not cause unrest.

In the central city of Najafabad, a demonstrator opened fire on police with a hunting rifle, killing one and wounding three others, state television said.

Earlier, state TV said armed demonstrators on Sunday had tried to seize police and military bases but were stopped by “strong resistance from security forces.” It gave no further details and there was no independent confirmation.

State TV had reported that 10 people were killed in protests on Sunday. On Monday, that death toll rose when the deputy governor of the western Hamadan Province, Saeed Shahrokhi, told ISNA news agency that another three protesters were killed on Sunday in the city of Tuyserkan.

“NO TOLERANCE”

Hundreds have been arrested, according to officials and social media. Online video showed police in the capital Tehran firing water cannon to disperse demonstrators, in footage said to have been filmed on Sunday.

Protests against economic hardships and alleged corruption erupted in Iran’s second city of Mashhad on Thursday and escalated across the country into calls for the religious establishment to step down.

Some of the anger was directed at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, breaking a taboo surrounding the man who has been supreme leader of Iran since 1989.

Video posted on social media showed crowds of people walking through the streets, some chanting “Death to the dictator!” Reuters was not immediately able to verify the footage. The Fars news agency reported “scattered groups” of protesters in Tehran on Monday and said a ringleader had been arrested.

“The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public property, violate public order and create unrest in society,” Rouhani said in his address on Sunday.

Unsigned statements on social media urged Iranians to continue to demonstrate in 50 towns and cities.

The government said it was temporarily restricting access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram. There were reports that internet mobile access was blocked in some areas.

TRUMP, NETANYAHU VOICE SUPPORT

Iran is a major OPEC oil producer and regional power deeply involved in Syria and Iraq as part of a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia. Many Iranians resent those foreign interventions, and want their leaders to create jobs at home, where youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent last year.

Among reported fatalities, two people were shot dead in the southwestern town of Izeh on Sunday and several others were injured, ILNA news agency quoted a member of parliament as saying.

“I do not know whether yesterday’s shooting was done by rally participants or the police and this issue is being investigated,” Hedayatollah Khademi was quoted as saying.

Regional governor Mostafa Samali told Fars that only one person was killed in an incident unrelated to the protests, and the suspected shooter had been arrested.

Almost nine years since the “Green movement” reformist protests were crushed by the state, Iran’s adversaries voiced their support for the resurgence of anti-government sentiment.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the “brave Iranians” taking to streets to protest a regime that “wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate”.

“I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom,” he said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged “all sides (to) refrain from violent actions”.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Robin Pomeroy and David Gregorio)

Kenya’s Odinga rejects vote re-run date without ‘guarantees’, Kenyatta rebuffs demand

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, speaks during a church service inside the St. Stephen's cathedral in Nairobi, Kenya September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

By John Ndiso

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga said on Tuesday his coalition would not participate in the re-run of a presidential election proposed for Oct. 17 unless it is given “legal and constitutional” guarantees.

Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta responded by saying there was nowhere in law that required the electoral body to consult Odinga.

The opposition also said it is planning to file dozens of challenges to results from races lower down the ticket, including legislative and local seats.

Odinga’s conditions for participating in the repeat presidential election include the removal of six officials at the election board. He wants criminal investigations to be opened against them.

“You cannot do a mistake twice and expect to get different results,” Odinga told reporters. “A number of the officials of the commission should be sent home, some of them should be investigated for the heinous crimes they committed.”

Kenya’s Supreme Court ordered on Friday that the Aug. 8 vote be re-run within 60 days, saying Kenyatta’s victory by 1.4 million votes was undermined by irregularities in the process. Kenyatta was not accused of any wrongdoing.

The ruling, the first time in Africa that a court had overturned the re-election of a sitting president, was hailed by Odinga supporters as “historic”.

Analysts have said it is likely to lead to some short-term volatility in East Africa’s biggest economy, but could build confidence in institutions longer-term.

On Monday, the election board said it would hold new elections on Oct. 17.

But Odinga said he wanted elections held on Oct. 24 or 31 instead.

“There will be no elections on the seventeenth of October until the conditions that we have spelt out in the statement are met,” he said.

Kenyatta rebuffed Odinga’s demands to the commission on the setting of the election date.

“There is no legal requirement that Raila be consulted. I was neither consulted. Kenya doesn’t belong to one man,” he said in a statement sent by his office.

Odinga has lost the last three presidential elections. Each time, he has said the vote was rigged against him.

The opposition also plans to lodge 62 court cases contesting governorship, lawmaker, and local seats, spokeswoman Kathleen Openda told Reuters.

At least 33 court cases were filed contesting election results before the presidential election was annulled, said Andrew Limo, spokesman for the election board. Others had been filed since but he did not have the updated figure.

Limo said the numbers had not yet reached the same level as during the 2013 elections, when the board received challenges to 189 results.

(Writing by David Lewis and Katharine Houreld; Editing by George Obulutsa)

Kenyan president, election overturned by court, attacks judiciary

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta flanked by his Deputy William Ruto addresses the nation at State House in Nairobi, Kenya September 1, 2017. Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

By Maggie Fick

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Saturday the country has “a problem” with its judiciary that must be fixed.

He was speaking a day after the Supreme Court annulled his election win last month and ordered a new poll within 60 days.

“We shall revisit this thing. We clearly have a problem,” he said, referring to the judiciary.

“Who even elected you? Were you? We have a problem and we must fix it,” he said, speaking on live television at the State House in Nairobi after he met with governors and other elected officials from his Jubilee party.

Kenyatta, however, also repeated his message from Friday that he would respect the court’s ruling.

The decision to annul the election was an unprecedented move in Africa where governments often hold sway over judges — and the first time on the continent that a court ruled against the electoral victory of an incumbent.

The president’s latest comments mark the second time since Friday’s ruling that he has spoken critically about the judiciary in public. On Friday during an impromptu rally in Nairobi, he accused the court of ignoring the will of the people and dismissed the chief justice’s colleagues as “wakora”, or crooks.

The president’s public appearances since the ruling suggest he intends to campaign rigorously ahead of the re-run of the Aug.8 poll.

He said via Twitter on Saturday: “For now let us meet at the ballot.”

Attention now turns back to the election board. The court ruled that it had “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution”.

Raila Odinga, the veteran opposition leader whose coalition brought the petition against the election board to the Supreme Court, said on Friday that some officials from the commission should face criminal prosecution.

The chairman of the election board said there would be personnel changes, but it was not clear if that would be enough for the opposition. Sweeping out the whole board would complicate efforts to hold a new poll within two months.

Last month’s election — which included the presidential poll in addition to races at other levels of government — was one of the most expensive ever held in Africa. Ahead of the vote Kenya’s treasury said preparation and execution of polling would cost the equivalent of around $480 million.

 

VEILED THREATS

Analysts saw the president’s latest comments on the judiciary as a worrisome development.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that Kenyatta seems to be issuing veiled threats at the judiciary,” said Murithi Mutiga, a Nairobi-based senior Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“This was a tremendous moment for Kenyan democracy, where the court upheld the rule of law. Politicians should be careful not to incite the public against the judiciary.”

On Friday, Chief Justice David Maraga said the Supreme Court’s verdict was backed by four of the six judges and declared Kenyatta’s victory “invalid, null and void”.

Details of the ruling will be released within 21 days.

Prior to last month’s election Maraga spoke out to emphasize the judiciary’s independence.

In a statement he read out on behalf of the Judicial Service Commission less than a week before the election, he listed instances in which politicians — from the ruling party and the opposition — had tried to intervene with the judiciary’s work.

“The emerging culture of public lynching of judges and judicial officers by the political class is a vile affront to the rule of law and must be fiercely resisted,” the statement read. “We wish to state that … the judiciary will not cower to these intimidating tactics.”

Kenya’s judiciary went through sweeping changes in a bid to restore confidence in the legal system after the bloodshed following the 2007 election.

 

(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

 

Venezuela quells attack on military base, two killed

Demonstrators build barricades while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Valencia, Venezuela August 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

By Girish Gupta and Alexandra Ulmer

VALENCIA/CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuelan authorities quelled an attack on a military base near the city of Valencia by soldiers and armed civilians on Sunday, killing two of them in a dramatic escalation of unrest in the protest-convulsed South American nation.

The pre-dawn raid coincided with a video circulated on social media showing more than a dozen men in military uniform announcing an uprising to restore constitutional order following the creation of a pro-government legislative superbody on Friday, condemned internationally as a power grab by President Nicolas Maduro.

The assault highlighted the growing volatility of the OPEC member state after four months of sustained anti-government protests in which some 120 people have been killed. The opposition has denounced Maduro for dragging Venezuela toward dictatorship and has appealed to the military for help. (http://tmsnrt.rs/2ujuylf)

In his weekly televised show, the unpopular socialist leader condemned the attackers as “mercenaries”. He said around 20 armed men had entered the Fort of Paramacay near Valencia, about two hours west of capital Caracas, before dawn, surprising guards and making straight for the weapons cache.

Two of the attackers were killed in a firefight with soldiers, Maduro said. Socialist party officials said eight others were arrested, including at least three from the military, while the remainder made off with weapons.

“Those who escaped are being actively searched for, and we are going to capture them,” Maduro said.

In Valencia, hundreds took to the streets to support what at first appeared to be a small military uprising, said resident Carolina Herrera, who like other witnesses reported shots through the night. But hooded protesters were dispelled with tear gas, and the rest of the nation of 30 million people appeared mostly calm.

Last week, Venezuela elected a 545-member legislative superbody that Maduro calls Venezuela’s only hope for restoring peace. The opposition calls it a power play aimed at keeping the president in office despite approval ratings battered by a deep recession, high inflation and shortages of food and medicine.

It was a turbulent first weekend for the increasingly fractured nation under the new authority.

In its first move on Saturday, the Constituent Assembly removed Venezuela’s dissident chief prosecutor from her post and ordered her to stand trial, confirming opposition fears that it would use its powers to root out critics of the government.

Motorcyclist passes through a barricade during protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Valencia, Venezuela August 6, 2017.

Motorcyclist passes through a barricade during protest against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Valencia, Venezuela August 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

‘DELIRIOUS MINDS IN MIAMI’

The crisis has turned attention to the role of the military, with some ordinary soldiers increasingly weary of the popular backlash against their role in suppressing protests.

Sunday’s attack was apparently led by Juan Carlos Caguaripano, a former National Guard captain. Authorities published photos purporting to show seven arrested men, some of them with bruises on their faces.

In the video circulating Sunday, a man who identified himself as Caguaripano and flanked by men in military uniforms, called for the immediate formation of a transition government.

“This is not a coup d’etat,” added Caguaripano, who was removed from the National Guard in 2014, according to a document seen by Reuters.

“This is a civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order. But more than that, it is to save the country from total destruction.”

Sunday’s apparent bid to spur a national uprising came six weeks after rogue policeman Oscar Perez attacked key installations in Caracas by helicopter. Perez, who also failed to spark a larger movement, is still in hiding.

Authorities said the attackers were mostly civilians working for U.S.-backed right-wingers who are trying to end nearly two decades of socialism in Venezuela, raising the specter of a further government crackdown on dissent in coming days.

“These attacks, planned by delirious minds in Miami, only strengthen the morale of our armed forces and the Bolivarian people,” said Socialist Party official Elias Jaua.

The new assembly, which Maduro says is needed to enshrine socialism more profoundly in the constitution, has the power to dissolve or reconstitute all government bodies. The opposition, which controls Congress, boycotted the election for the new body, saying the rules had been rigged.

The fired prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, had become Maduro’s main challenger from within the ruling socialist movement since the start of sustained opposition street protests in April.

Her successor has promised to crack down on the demonstrations but Ortega on Sunday rejected her removal as illegal and said she still considers herself the country’s top prosecutor.

 

ARMED FORCES IN SPOTLIGHT

Oil-rich but economically ailing Venezuela has a long history of instability. Maduro’s mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, burst onto the national scene by leading a 1992 coup attempt, for which he served time in jail before winning the presidency six years later.

Venezuelans view the armed forces as the key power broker in their country, and opposition leaders have repeatedly exhorted the military to break with Maduro over what they call his erosion of democracy and brutality toward demonstrators.

The military has played a key role in government since Chavez – himself a former military officer – swept to power in 1999 promising to bring greater equality to Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves.

The top brass continues to publicly profess loyalty to Maduro’s government. Critics say juicy government contracts, corruption, and contraband mean many military officials want Maduro to stay in office and fear persecution should the opposition take power.

Discontent is higher among lower-tier officials, who are often sent to control rowdy protests and are paid just a few dozen U.S. dollars a month.

“You can’t ask civil society and the military to suffer more hunger, crime, and corruption perpetrated by this repressive government,” said opposition lawmaker Carlos Michelangeli.

 

(Writing by Hugh Bronstein and Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Corina Pons, Deisy Buitrago and Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Mary Milliken)

 

Exclusive: At least 123 Venezuelan soldiers detained since protests – documents

Soldiers march during a military parade to celebrate the 206th anniversary of Venezuela's independence in Caracas, Venezuela, July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Girish Gupta

CARACAS (Reuters) – At least 123 members of Venezuela’s armed forces have been detained since anti-government unrest began in April on charges ranging from treason and rebellion to theft and desertion, according to military documents seen by Reuters.

The list of detainees, which includes officers as well as servicemen from the lower ranks of the army, navy, air force and National Guard, provided the clearest picture to date of dissatisfaction and dissent within Venezuela’s roughly 150,000-strong military.

The records, detailing prisoners held in three Venezuelan jails, showed that since April nearly 30 members of the military have been detained for deserting or abandoning their post and almost 40 for rebellion, treason, or insubordination.

Most of the remaining military prisoners were charged with theft.

Millions of Venezuelans are suffering from food shortages and soaring inflation caused by a severe economic crisis. Even within the armed forces, salaries start at the minimum wage, equivalent to around $12.50 a month at the black market exchange rate, and privately some members admit to being poorly paid and underfed.

Since the opposition started its protests more than three months ago, a handful of security officials have gone public with their discontent. Last week, rogue policeman and action movie star Oscar Perez commandeered a helicopter and attacked government buildings, claiming that a faction within the armed forces was opposed to Maduro’s government.

The military documents seen by Reuters, which covered detentions until mid-June, appeared to support opposition leaders’ assertions that anger and dissent among soldiers over economic hardship is more widespread.

“This shows low morale and discontent and, of course, economic necessity,” one former army general said of the detentions, asking not to be named for fear of reprisals.

Venezuela’s military and Information Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Venezuelans view the armed forces as the key power broker in their country. Opposition leaders have repeatedly exhorted military leaders to break with socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro has said that he is the victim of an “armed insurrection” by U.S.-backed opponents seeking to gain control of the OPEC country’s oil wealth. He has said that the top military brass have been standing by him.

The National Guard has been at the forefront of policing protests across the country. It uses tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets against masked youths who in turn hurl stones, Molotov cocktails and excrement at security lines. At least 90 people have been killed since April.

Privately, some National Guard members on the streets have acknowledged being exhausted, impoverished and hungry, though most remain impassive during protests and avoid engaging in conversation with reporters.

“LITTLE RAMBOS”

The documents, which identified detainees by their rank, listed captains, sergeants, lieutenants and regular troops held in three prisons in different parts of Venezuela.

Ninety-one are at Ramo Verde, a hilltop jail near Caracas where opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is also held.

Another two dozen are at Pica prison in the northeastern city of Maturin and eight are at Santa Ana jail in the western state of Tachira, near the Colombian border.

It was not immediately clear if military prisoners were also being held in other jails.

Three lieutenants fled to Colombia and requested asylum in May, and a man who said he was a Venezuelan naval sergeant appeared in a video published by local media last month expressing his dissent and urging colleagues to disobey “abusive” and “corrupt” superiors.

Maduro has blamed the problems on an “economic war” being waged by the opposition with backing from Washington, a position taken in public by senior military officials.

“Many are seeking … little ‘Rambos’ in the armed forces, but you’re not going to find them,” Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said in a video published on Monday, alluding to speculation of a military coup.

Perez, who staged the helicopter attack last week against the Interior Ministry and the Supreme Court in Caracas, appeared in an online video on Wednesday vowing to keep up the fight.

“We are fully sure of what we are doing and if we must give up our lives, we will hand them over to the people,” Perez said, sitting in front of a Venezuelan flag and rifle.

(Editing by Alexandra Ulmer, Andrew Cawthorne, Toni Reinhold)