Tensions in U.S. rise after another night of broken glass, fires and looting

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday urged U.S. states to crack down on violent protests that have engulfed cities, saying officials should “dominate” and arrest people to restore order after a sixth straight night of vandalism and looting, media reported.

Residents and business owners in cities from New York to Santa Monica, California, spent Monday sweeping up broken glass and taking stock of damage after protests over racial inequities and excessive police force turned violent again overnight.

“You have to dominate,” Trump told the governors in a private call, the New York Times reported. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time – they’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”

CBS News, which also obtained audio of the call, said Trump had pinned the violence on the “radical left.”

Dozens of cities across the United States remain under curfews at a level not seen since riots following the 1968 assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The National Guard deployed in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

Authorities fought to put out fires near the White House and halt the looting of shops in numerous cities. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported “significant ongoing” civil unrest in 36 U.S. cities, including smaller ones like Fargo, North Dakota, and Roanoke, Virginia.

One person was killed in Louisville, Kentucky, overnight where police and National Guard troops returned fire while trying to disperse a crowd.

“It’s devastating and heartbreaking,” Alex Flowers, 30, said as she swept broken glass from the sidewalk outside Wasteland, a used-clothing store in Santa Monica, California, early on Monday. “I came to help clean up the city that has been destroyed and help the business owners and employees.”

The unrest, which erupted as the country was easing lengthy lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus, began with peaceful protests over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis last Monday.

Video footage showed a white police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, 46, for nearly nine minutes before he died. Derek Chauvin, a since-fired 44-year-old police officer, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was released on $500,000 bail and is due to appear in court on June 8, according to jail records.

‘I’LL FIGHT WITH YOU’

On Monday, dozens of people quietly paid their respects to Floyd at the scene outside the Cup Foods where he lost his life. Visitors left flowers and signs honoring Floyd on the pavement. A little girl wrote, “I’ll fight with you,” in aqua blue chalk in the road.

“This is therapeutic. My heart was real heavy this morning so I came down extra early and when I got here, the heaviness lifted,” said Diana Jones, 40, the mother of four children. “This right here let’s me know that things are going to be ok.”

In the U.S. capital, St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic place near the White House where many U.S. presidents have worshipped, suffered minor damage while the nearby headquarters of the AFL-CIO labor group was vandalized.

Floyd’s death was the latest in a string of similar incidents to prompt an outcry over racism in law enforcement. It reignited outrage across a politically and racially divided country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many cities affected by the unrest are just restarting some normal economic activity after more than two months of stay-at-home orders to stem the outbreak, which has killed more than 104,000 people and plunged more than 40 million people into joblessness.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News that Antifa, an anti-fascist group, was “certainly behind” the violence. Trump branded the group a terrorist organization, though it was unclear whether they were involved in any violence.

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told a news briefing with Mayor Bill de Blasio that police are seeing “outside agitators coming and trying to rally people to do bad things.”

Trump has condemned the killing of Floyd and promised justice but has made no major public statement to address the crisis. In tweets he has described protesters as “thugs” and threatened to use the U.S. military.

Critics accuse the Republican president, who is seeking re-election in November, of stoking conflict and racial tension rather than seeking to bring the country together and address the underlying issues.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, critical of Trump’s handling of the crisis, met black community leaders in a church and said he would create a police oversight board within his first 100 days in the White House.

Black people account for 6.8% of Minnesota’s population but 29% of coronavirus cases, state and federal data show.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Andy Sullivan, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Lucy Nicholson, Michael Martina and Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Howard Goller)

Racially charged violence rages for third night in Minneapolis

By Carlos Barria and Eric Miller

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – A third night of racially charged arson, looting and vandalism gripped Minneapolis as protesters vented rage over the death of an unarmed black man after a white police officer knelt on his neck as he lay on the ground following arrest.

The latest unrest in Minnesota’s largest city went largely unchecked late Thursday, with the mayor ordering a tactical police retreat from a police station that was set ablaze.

 

National Guard troops called out earlier in the day by the governor kept a low profile. Governor Tim Walz had ordered the Guard to help keep the peace after two previous nights of disturbances sparked by George Floyd’s death on Monday.

In a late-night Twitter message, President Donald Trump said he would send in National Guard troops to “get the job done right” if the “weak” mayor failed to restore order, suggesting lethal force might be needed.

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump wrote.

The arrest of Floyd, 46, was captured by an onlooker’s cell phone video that went viral and showed a police officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as he moaned: “Please, I can’t breathe.”

Four police officers involved in the arrest of Floyd, who was accused of trying to pass counterfeit money at a corner store, were dismissed on Tuesday, but unrest has continued unabated.

People react as a car burns at the parking lot of a Target store during protests after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Sympathy protests erupted on Wednesday in Los Angeles and Thursday in Denver, with freeway traffic blocked in both cities. In Phoenix, protesters faced off with police in riot gear at City Hall, and a rally was held at the Arizona state Capitol.

Thursday night’s disturbances in Minneapolis also spread into adjacent city of St. Paul, the state capital, with fires and vandalism breaking out there.

In contrast with Wednesday night, when rock-throwing demonstrators clashed with police in riot gear, law enforcement in Minneapolis kept mostly out of sight around the epicenter of Thursday’s disturbances, the Third Precinct police station.

Protesters massing outside the building briefly retreated under volleys of police tear gas and rubber bullets fired at them from the roof, only to regroup and eventually attack the building, setting fire to the structure as police withdrew.

National Guard troops were absent, as were members of the fire department. Protesters were later observed on the roof, and a crowd of hundreds lingered around the building for hours, feeding flames with hunks of plywood and other debris.

STRONG AS HELL”

At a news briefing early Friday, Mayor Jacob Frey defended his decision to evacuate the precinct station due to “imminent threats to both officers and the public.”

Asked by reporters if he had a response to Trump’s tweet, Frey said: “Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions. Weakness is pointing your own finger at a time of crisis.”

“Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis. We are strong as hell,” he said.

The Minnesota National Guard said it activated 500 of its soldiers in the greater Minneapolis area, mostly to provide security support to firefighters.

The mayor said many of the troops had been posted around the city to help police prevent looting of banks, grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential locations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Several other buildings and a car were set ablaze and looters plundered several businesses, including a burning liquor store and nearby discount store that had been ransacked the night before. Fire officials said 16 buildings were torched on Wednesday night.

The upheaval followed concerted efforts by law enforcement officials to ease tensions by promising justice for Floyd.

A demonstrator holds a placard while protesters gather around an on fire entrance of a police station, as demonstrations continue after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 28, 2020, in this picture grab obtained from a social media video. 

The Floyd case was reminiscent of the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York City who died after being put in a banned police chokehold as he, too, was heard to mutter, “I can’t breathe.”

Garner’s dying words became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement that formed amid a wave of killings of African-Americans by police.

At a peaceful daytime rally and march on Thursday around a county government center in Minneapolis, protesters pressed their demands for the four policemen to be arrested and charged.

“We’re not asking for a favor. We’re asking for what is right,” civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said as he addressed the crowd.

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo publicly apologized to Floyd’s family on Thursday morning, conceding his department had contributed to a “deficit of hope” in Minneapolis.

Officials overseeing investigations from the U.S. Justice Department, FBI, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and prosecutors appealed for calm, vowing a thorough investigation.

Floyd was a Houston native who had worked as a nightclub security guard. An employee who called police described the suspect as appearing to be drunk, according to an official transcript of the call.

(This story is refiled to correct spelling of Floyd in paragraph 7)

(Reporting by Carlos Barria and Eric Miller in Minneapolis; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Nathan Lane in Wilton, Connecticut, Keith Coffman in Denver, David Schwartz in Phoenix; Maria Caspani in New York and Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Protests, looting erupt in Minneapolis over racially charged killing by police

By Eric Miller and Nicholas Pfosi

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Protesters clashed with riot police firing tear gas for a second night in Minneapolis on Wednesday in an outpouring of rage over the death of a black man seen in a widely circulated video gasping for breath as a white officer knelt on his neck.

The video, taken by an onlooker to Monday night’s fatal encounter between police and George Floyd, 46, showed him lying face down and handcuffed, groaning for help and repeatedly saying, “please, I can’t breathe,” before growing motionless.

A man is injured after being hit in the head by an object at a protest near the Minneapolis Police third precinct after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Miller

The second day of demonstrations, accompanied by looting and vandalism, began hours after Mayor Jacob Frey urged prosecutors to file criminal charges against the white policeman shown pinning Floyd to the street.

Floyd, who was unarmed and reportedly suspected of trying to pass counterfeit bills at a corner eatery, was taken by ambulance from the scene of his arrest and pronounced dead the same night at a hospital.

The policeman shown kneeling on Floyd’s neck and three fellow officers involved were dismissed from the police department on Tuesday as the FBI opened an investigation.

Hundreds of protesters, many with faces covered, thronged streets around the Third Precinct police station late on Wednesday, about half a mile from where Floyd had been arrested, chanting, “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe.”

The crowd grew to thousands as night fell and the protest turned into a standoff outside the station, where police in riot gear formed barricade lines while protesters taunted them from behind makeshift barricades of their own.

Police, some taking positions on rooftops, used tear gas, plastic bullets and concussion grenades to keep the crowds at bay. Protesters pelted police with rocks and other projectiles. Some threw tear gas canisters back at the officers.

Television news images from a helicopter over the area showed dozens of people looting a Target store, running out with clothing and shopping carts full of merchandise.

Fires erupted after dark at several businesses, including an auto parts store. Eyewitnesses said the blazes appeared to be the work of arsonists. Media said a smaller, peaceful protest was held outside the home of one of the police officers.

People gather near the Minneapolis Police third precinct after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Miller

ANGER ON THE WEST COAST

Outrage at Floyd’s death also triggered a rally in his name against police brutality by hundreds of people in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon.

That demonstration turned violent after a crowd marched onto a nearby freeway and blocked traffic, then attacked two California Highway Patrol cruisers, smashing their windows, local media reported. One protester who clung to the hood of a patrol car fell to the pavement as it sped away, and was treated at the scene by paramedics, news footage of the incident showed.

The video of Monday’s deadly confrontation between Minneapolis police and Floyd led Mayor Frey to call on Wednesday for Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman “to charge the arresting officer in this case”.

The city identified the four officers as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng. It did not say who knelt on Floyd’s neck, and gave no further information.

The local police union said the officers were cooperating with investigators and cautioned against a “rush to judgment”.

A protester vandalizes an O’Reilly’s near the Minneapolis Police third precinct, where demonstrators gathered after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

“We must review all video. We must wait for the medical examiner’s report,” the union statement said.

The county attorney’s office said it would decide how to proceed once investigators had concluded their inquiries.

The case was reminiscent of the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York City who died after being put in a banned police chokehold.

Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement calling attention to a wave of killings of African-Americans by police using unjustified lethal force.

(Reporting by Eric Miller and Nicholas Pfosi in Minneapolis; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Stephen Coates, Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

On Paris’ Champs Elysees, shattered glass and smoking ruins

A man stand in front of a damaged shop on the Champs Elysees avenue during a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, March 16, 2019. Picture taken March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

By Luke Baker

PARIS (Reuters) – It is meant to be one of the world’s most elegant streets: more than a kilometer of boutiques, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and fashion outlets vying for tourists’ attention. But on Monday, the Champs Elysees looked more like a construction site.

On their 18th Saturday of protests against President Emmanuel Macron and his policies, France’s Gilets Jaunes (‘yellow vest’) movement targeted the tree-lined avenue that runs from the Arc de Triomphe, smashing banks, ransacking restaurants, burning newspaper kiosks and looting luxury stores.

From GAP to leather goods maker Longchamp, from Levis to high-end bakery Laduree, a hard core of violent protesters threw cobble stones through pane-glass windows, scrawled graffiti on walls, set fire to half a dozen newspaper stands and torched famed restaurant Le Fouquet’s in an orgy of destruction.

Whether the Disney store or Samsung, Tissot, Zara or Dior, few major retailers were left untouched by the rampage, which also took in a cinema, Hugo Boss, a Renault branded cafe, an Iran Air office and banks from Societe Generale to HSBC.

Among those that did emerge unscathed, perhaps thanks to heavy boarding-up after previous bouts of vandalism, were Apple’s flagship store, Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton.

Carpenters were cutting wood to board up shattered windows on Monday morning, and glass panes were being replaced in some bus-stops and storefronts, but stretches of the wide avenue remained a mess, with the smell of charred paper and metal hanging over the incinerated carcasses of newspaper kiosks.

“It’s a bit of a mess,” said Michael Bilaniuk, a tourist from Ontario, Canada who said he had come straight to the Champs Elysees to check out the scene after arriving in France, aware that the Gilets Jaunes had been on the rampage.

“It’s almost part of the tourist attraction — we’ve heard and seen so much about the protests, you kind of want to come and see for yourself what’s happened. It’s interesting.”

Nearby, protesters’ slogans were written across a storefront and the elegant entranceway to a gallery of shops.

“They have millions, we are the millions” read one. Another threatened: “We are a legion, you are pawns, be careful.”

“PROTEST TOO FAR”

Since the ‘yellow vest’ movement began in November, originally as a protest against fuel taxes before morphing into a general denunciation of Macron’s politics, the government has struggled to neutralize the threat.

While there has been a protest every Saturday in Paris and other cities since November, not all of them have been as violent and destructive as Saturday’s, which has made it hard for businesses to predict how to prepare.

While some retailers began boarding up their shops after rioting in early December, in recent weeks the numbers joining the protests declined sharply and many store owners may have thought it was safe to operate normally again.

France’s overall retail sales were affected at the end of 2018 because of nationwide disruption in the run-up to Christmas, and after Saturday’s vandalism, Paris’ Chamber of Commerce called for action from the government.

“Employers and their staff have been traumatized by the intensity and repetition of the violence,” the chamber said in a statement on Monday, pointing out that more than 90 businesses had been affected.

“Last Saturday’s demonstrations have taken things too far,” it said, demanding that the government take “firm measures that will allow retailers to go about their business normally”.

(Writing by Luke Baker, Editing by William Maclean)

North Carolina protesters pull down university’s Confederate statue

Students and protesters surround plinth where the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam once stood, on the University of North Carolina campus after a demonstration for its removal in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

By Jonathan Drake

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Reuters) – Protesters toppled a statue of a Confederate soldier on the campus of University of North Carolina, the latest move to dismantle Civil War symbols amid debate about race and the legacy of slavery in the United States.

About 300 demonstrators gathered on Monday evening ahead of Tuesday’s first day of fall classes for a protest and march at the base of Silent Sam, a memorial erected in 1913 to the soldiers of the pro-slavery Confederacy killed during the Civil War. Protesters pulled the statue down with rope, cheering as it lay face down in the mud, its head and back covered in dirt.

University Chancellor Carol Folt acknowledged the protesters’ frustrations but criticized their conduct as vandalism.

Police and protesters surround the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam on the University of North Carolina campus after a demonstration for its removal in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Police and protesters surround the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam on the University of North Carolina campus after a demonstration for its removal in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

“The monument has been divisive for years,” she said in a statement. “However, last night’s actions were unlawful and dangerous and we are very fortunate that no one was injured.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, echoed the sentiment, saying in a statement he shared protesters “frustration” over statues but condemning the violent destruction of public property.

Campus police arrested at least one person at the protest for masking their face and resisting arrest, according to Audrey Smith, a university spokeswoman.

The efforts by civil rights groups and others to do away with Confederate monuments such as Silent Sam gained momentum three years ago after avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting rampage ultimately led to the removal of a Confederate flag from the statehouse in Columbia.

Since then, more than 110 symbols of the Confederacy have been removed across the nation with more than 1,700 still standing, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group. Many of the monuments were erected in the early 20th century, decades after the Civil War’s end.

Many Americans see such statues as symbols of racism and glorification of the southern states’ defense of slavery in the Civil War. Others view them as important symbols of American history.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Bill Trott)

Duke University removes contentious Confederate statue after vandalism

The empty plinth where a statue of Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee once stood is flanked by statues of Thomas Jefferson and the poet Sidney Lanier at the entrance to Duke University's Duke Chapel after officials removed the controversial statue early Saturday morning in Durham, North Carolina, U.S., August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Miczek

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Duke University removed a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the entrance of a chapel on the Durham, North Carolina, campus, officials said on Saturday, days after it was vandalized.

The decision to take down the statue followed discussions among students, faculty, staff and alumni about maintaining safety on campus, university President Vincent E. Price said in a statement.

“I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,” Price said.

The prestigious university will preserve the statue of Lee, who led Confederate forces in the American Civil War of 1861-1865, and use it as an educational tool so that students can study “Duke’s complex past,” Price added.

The Confederacy, comprised of 11 Southern states, broke from the Union largely to preserve the institution of slavery.

Symbols of the Confederacy have come into focus since last weekend, when white nationalists, angered at the planned removal of a statue of Lee from a park in Charlottesville, Virginia, engaged in violent protests where a counter-protester was killed.

The Robert E. Lee statue, one of 10 outside Duke Chapel, was vandalized and defaced late on Wednesday night. Campus security discovered the damage early Thursday, according to university officials. The incident was under investigation.

“Wednesday night’s act of vandalism made clear that the turmoil and turbulence of recent months do not stop at Duke’s gates,” Price said.

“We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination,” he said.

Duke will form a committee to advise the school on how to properly memorialize historical figures on campus, and to recommend teaching programs, exhibitions and forums to explore its past.

There are more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy, including 700 monuments and statues, in public spaces across the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

The large majority of these were erected long after the Civil War ended in 1865. Many went up early in the 20th century during a backlash among segregationists against the civil rights movement.

More than a half-dozen have been taken down since last week.

 

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Lincoln Memorial in Washington defaced with expletive

Tourists walks past a papered-over column where a vandal scrawled obscene graffiti in spray paint on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, U.S. August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Lincoln Memorial in the U.S. capital was spray painted with expletive graffiti that was discovered on Tuesday, days after violence broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, over an American Civil War-era monument.

The graffiti appeared to read “f*** law” spray painted in red on a column of the memorial to Abraham Lincoln, the American president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the United States.

The National Park Service said in a statement that it was removing the graffiti from the monument and a Smithsonian Institution directional sign blocks away that was also vandalized with spray paint.

The U.S. Park Police said in the statement that they were investigating.

The graffiti marks the second time this year that the Lincoln Memorial, one of Washington, D.C.’s major tourist attractions, was defaced. In February, the monument to Lincoln, the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial, were vandalized with a marker pen.

The Park Service said that a monument preservation crew was removing the graffiti at the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday using a mild paint stripper.

A Park Service photo showed the graffiti on a column of the memorial, and Twitter erupted with opinions on whether it said “law” or “Islam.”

“Could the person who defaced the Lincoln Memorial please come back and write more clearly so we know who to be mad at,” comedy writer Chase Mitchell wrote on Twitter.

Lincoln was president during the 1861-65 Civil War, and the vandalism was found days after deadly weekend violence at a far-right rally at a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The unrest has intensified a national debate over whether monuments to the pro-slavery Confederacy are symbols of heritage or hate.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Marcy Nicholson)

Brazil cities paralyzed by nationwide strike against austerity

A demonstrators holds a placard in front of a burning barricade during a protest against President Michel Temer's proposal to reform Brazil's social security system in the early hours of general strike in Brasilia, Brazil, April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Brad Brooks and Pedro Fonseca

SAO PAULO/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Nationwide strikes led by Brazilian unions to protest President Michel Temer’s austerity measures crippled public transport in several major cities early on Friday across this continent-sized nation, while factories, businesses and schools closed.

In the economic hub of Sao Paulo, the main tourist draw Rio de Janeiro and several other metropolitan areas, protesters used barricades of burning tires and other materials to block highways and access to major airports.

Police clashed with demonstrators in several cities, blocking protesters from entering airports and firing tear gas in efforts to free roadways.

Many workers were expected to heed the call to strike for 24 hours starting just after midnight Friday, due in part to anger about progression this week of congressional bills to weaken labor regulations and efforts to change social security that would force many Brazilians to work years longer before drawing a pension. In addition, the strike will extend a holiday weekend ahead of Labor Day on Monday.

This will be Brazil’s first general strike in more than two decades if it gets widespread participation.

Authorities boarded up windows of government buildings in national capital Brasilia on Thursday, fearing violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

Demonstrations are expected in other major cities across the Latin American nation of more than 200 million people.

“It is going to be the biggest strike in the history of Brazil,” said Paulo Pereira da Silva, the president of trade union group Forca Sindical.

Violent protests have occurred repeatedly during the past four years amid political turmoil, Brazil’s worst recession on record, and corruption investigations that revealed stunning levels of graft among politicians.

Nearly a third of Temer’s cabinet and key congressional allies came under investigation in the scandal this month, and approval ratings for the president, who replaced Dilma Rousseff last year after her impeachment, have fallen even further.

Rousseff’s Workers Party grew out of the labor movement, and her allies have called her removal for breaking budget rules an illegitimate coup.

“Temer does not even want to negotiate,” said Vagner Freitas, national president of the Central Workers Union (CUT), Brazil’s biggest labor confederation, said in a statement. “He just wants to meet the demands of the businessmen who financed the coup precisely to end social security and legalize the exploitation of workers.”

Marcio de Freitas, a spokesman for Temer, rejected the union’s criticism, saying the government was working to undo the economic damage wrought under the Workers Party government, which had the backing of the CUT.

“The inheritance of that was 13 million unemployed,” he said. “The government is carrying out reforms to change this situation, to create jobs and economic growth.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janiero; Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Lisa Von Ahn)

Hooded youths in Venezuela mar opposition efforts at peaceful protest

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrator sits next to a fire barricade on a street during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Veron/File Photo

By Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) – Protesters blocked a highway in Venezuela’s capital Caracas for nearly eight hours this week in an effort to show the opposition’s dedication to civil disobedience as their main tool to resist President Nicolas Maduro.

But by the end of the afternoon, hooded youths had filled the highway with burning debris, looted a government storage site, torched two trucks and stolen medical equipment from an ambulance.

“This is no peaceful protest, they’re damaging something that belongs to the state and could be used to help one of their own family members,” said Wilbani Leon, head of a paramedic team that services Caracas highways, showing the damage to the ambulance.

Anti-government demonstrations entering their fourth week are being marred by street violence despite condemnation by opposition leaders and clear instructions that the protests should be peaceful.

Such daytime violence also increasingly presages late-night looting of businesses in working-class areas of Caracas, a sign that political protests could extend into broad disruptions of public order driven by growing hunger.

The opposition’s so-far unsuccessful struggle to contain its violent factions has helped Maduro depict it as a group of thugs plotting to overthrow him the way opposition leaders briefly ousted late socialist leader Hugo Chavez in 2002.

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, VIOLENT PROTEST

The unrest has killed at least 29 people so far and was triggered by a Supreme Court decision in March to briefly assume powers of the opposition Congress. Maduro’s opponents say the former bus driver and union leader who took office four years ago has turned into a dictator.

The vast majority of demonstrators shun the violence that usually starts when marches are winding down or after security forces break up protests.

That gives way to small groups of protesters, many with faces covered, who set fire to trash and rip gates off private establishments or drag sheet metal from construction sites to build barricades.

They clash with security forces in confused melees. Police and troops break up the demonstrations by firing copious amounts of tear gas that often floods nearby apartment buildings and in some cases health clinics.

The opposition has blamed the disturbances on infiltrators planted by the ruling Socialist Party to delegitimize protests, which demand Maduro hold delayed elections and respect the autonomy of the opposition-run Congress.

But even before rallies devolve into street violence, tensions frequently surface between demonstrators seeking peaceful civil disobedience and those looking for confrontation – some of whom are ordinary Venezuelans angry over chronic product shortages and triple-digit inflation.

“If we just ask him ‘Mr. President, would you be so kind as to leave?’ he’s not going to leave,” said Hugo Nino, 38, who use to work at a bakery but lost his job after Maduro passed a resolution boosting state control over bread production.

“Resistance, protesting with anger, that’s how we have to do it,” he said.

He and some others at the Caracas highway sit-in on Monday morning bristled at opposition leaders’ calls for non-violence.

An unrelated group of people collected tree trunks and metal debris to barricade the road. They covered one section with oil, making it dangerous for police motorcycles to cross it.

TRUCKS ON FIRE

By 4 p.m., opposition legislators had started walking through the crowd with megaphones, asking that people leave the protest as had been planned.

The thinning crowd remained calm until a tear gas canister was heard being fired in the distance. Demonstrators reacted by banging on a metal highway barrier with pipes and rocks.

A small group then broke into a government compound that houses cargo trucks and highway-repair materials, and made off with cables, pipes and wooden pallets and other materials for barricades.

The team of paramedics that works in the unguarded compound did nothing to stop them, out of what they said was concern for their personal safety. They did halt two youths trying to steal a car with an eye toward setting it alight.

The demonstrators later set fire to two cargo trucks.

One teenager, stripped from the waist up and with a t-shirt covering his face, urged nearby reporters to take pictures of the blaze but drew the line at appearing himself.

“Delete that video,” he said, pointing to a Reuters reporter filming him.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer; Christian Plumb and Andrew Hay)

Jewish cemetery vandalized in New York, third case in two weeks

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tom Gannam

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The vandalism of more than a dozen headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Rochester is being investigated by a New York hate crime task force, the third known case of a Jewish cemetery desecration in the country in the last two weeks.

Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he ordered the investigation at Waad Hakolel Cemetery given the wave of bomb threats that later proved hoaxes targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has condemned the threats and attacks, although he has at times also questioned whether some perpetrators might be opponents of his seeking to link his new presidency with a rise in anti-Semitism.

Trump’s election campaign last year drew support from some white nationalists and right-wing groups, despite his disavowals of them.

Besides the toppling of headstones at the Rochester cemetery, images of the deceased embedded on at least half a dozen headstones had been scratched away, although it was not clear how long ago, said Karen Elam, the director of community relations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

“It’s clear vandalism,” she said in a telephone interview after touring the cemetery on Thursday afternoon to photograph the damage. “Any vandalism of a Jewish cemetery is de facto anti-Semitism.”

Michael Phillips, president of the non-profit organization that oversees the cemetery, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle newspaper that there was no proof the vandalization was a case of anti-Semitism, citing the smaller scale of the damage in Rochester.

About 100 headstones were knocked over at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia last weekend, and about 170 headstones were knocked over in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

Officials at the cemetery in Rochester did not return calls seeking comment. In 2014, vandals toppled more than 40 headstones at another Jewish cemetery near Rochester, but local police concluded the vandalism was not motivated by anti-Semitism, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)