Myanmar junta blames protesters as EU, U.S. impose sanctions

(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military accused anti-junta protesters of arson and violence as Western countries imposed more sanctions on individuals and groups linked to last month’s coup and the ensuing bloody crackdown on dissent.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said 164 protesters had been killed in the violence and expressed sadness at the deaths.

“They are also our citizens,” he told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw on Tuesday, adding that the military would use the least force possible to quell violence.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group says at least 261 people have been killed in the brutal crackdown by security forces that has left the Southeast Asian nation in turmoil.

Three people including a teenage boy were killed in unrest on Monday in Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay, witnesses and news reports said.

The junta has tried to justify the coup by saying a Nov. 8 election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was fraudulent – an accusation the electoral commission rejected. Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.

Zaw Min Tun blamed protesters for violence and arson and said nine members of the security forces had been killed.

“Can we call these peaceful protesters?” he said, while showing a video of factories on fire. “Which country or organization would regard this violence as peaceful?”

He said strikes and hospitals not fully operating had caused deaths, including from COVID-19, calling them “undutiful and unethical”.

The spokesman also accused media of “fake news” and fanning unrest and said reporters could be prosecuted if they were in contact with the CRPH, as the remnants of Suu Kyi’s government is known locally. The military has declared the CRPH an illegal organization and said membership is punishable by death.

In the over three hour news conference, the spokesman also said the military respected the media and although reporting protests was allowed, leading them was a crime.

Zaw Min Tun gave granular details or how the NLD had created hundreds or even thousands of extra ballots in numerous townships by inventing voters, including in Suu Kyi’s own constituency. Videos of people saying they were paid by NLD representatives were shown at the news conference.

Also shown was video testimony of former Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein saying he visited Suu Kyi multiple times and gave her money “whenever needed.”

Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, has been in detention since the coup. Her lawyer says charges against her are trumped up.

‘UNBEARABLE EXTENT’

The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Monday against individuals involved in the coup and the repression of the demonstrators.

The EU sanctions were the bloc’s most significant response since the overthrow of Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1.

The 11 people it targeted included General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military and head of the junta that has taken power.

The EU already has an arms embargo on Myanmar and has targeted some senior military officials since 2018.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters before the meeting that the military repression “has reached an unbearable extent”.

Washington had already sanctioned Min Aung Hlaing and the measures announced on Monday expanded the list.

There was no immediate response from the junta, which has shown no sign so far of being swayed by international condemnation of its actions.

Myanmar’s neighbors are also speaking out against the violence, which is rare for countries in the region.

“We believe violence against unarmed civilians is inexcusable,” Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Kuala Lumpur after talks with his Malaysian counterpart.

“We still believe there should be no external interference in the domestic affairs of a country, but to the maximum extent possible…we stand ready to do our best to support the people of Myanmar who in fact deserve so much better in the future.”

The junta said it is cooperating with five neighboring countries – Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand – and values and respects their words, plus any countries that respect the stability of Myanmar.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Security forces fire on Myanmar protests after deadliest day since coup

(Reuters) – Myanmar security forces fired on pro-democracy demonstrators on Monday, killing six people, media and witnesses said, a day after dozens of protesters were shot dead and attackers torched several Chinese-financed factories in the city of Yangon.

Supporters of detained democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi marched again, including in the second city of Mandalay and in the central towns of Myingyan and Aunglan, where police opened fire, witnesses and media reported.

“One girl got shot in the head and a boy got shot in the face,” an 18-year-old protester in Myingyan told Reuters by telephone. “I’m now hiding.”

The Myanmar Now media outlet reported three people were killed in Myingyan and two in Aunglan, while a journalist in Mandalay said one person was shot dead there after a big protest had passed off peacefully.

The protesters took to the streets in defiance of the authorities, whose escalating use of violence resulted in dozens being killed on Sunday in the bloodiest day since the Feb. 1 coup that overthrew Suu Kyi.

State broadcaster MRTV reported martial law had been imposed in several districts of Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial hub, and Myanmar Now later reported it had also been imposed in several parts of Mandalay.

Sunday’s arson attacks prompted China’s strongest comments yet on the turmoil gripping its Southeast Asian neighbor, where many people see Beijing as supportive of the coup.

China’s Global Times newspaper said 32 Chinese-invested factories were “vandalized in vicious attacks” that caused damage worth $37 million and injuries to two Chinese employees, while its embassy urged Myanmar’s generals to stop the violence.

“We wish that Myanmar’s authorities can take further relevant and effective measures to guarantee the security of the lives and assets of Chinese companies and personnel,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in Beijing.

Japan, which has long competed for influence in Myanmar with China, said it was monitoring the situation and considering how to respond in terms of economic cooperation.

The worst of Sunday’s bloodshed took place in the Yangon suburb of Hlaingthaya, where security forces killed at least 37 protesters after the factory attacks, said a local doctor, who declined to be identified.

At least 16 people were killed in other places, rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said, as well as one policeman.

The deaths bring the toll from the protests to about 140, based on a tally by the AAPP and the latest reports.

A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.

In an apparent bid to suppress news of the turmoil, telecoms service providers were ordered to block all mobile data nationwide, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. Telecom Telenor said in a statement “mobile internet was unavailable”.

The army said it took power after its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) were rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election, but has not set a date.

COURT SESSION POSTPONED

Suu Kyi, 75, has been detained since the coup and faces various charges, including illegally importing walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols. Last week, a charge related to accepting illegal payments was added to the list.

She was due to face another virtual court hearing on Monday but her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters the session could not go ahead because the internet was down. The next hearing will be on March 24, he said.

Khin Maung Zaw also said authorities had informed him the detained Nobel laureate would only be permitted to be represented by two junior lawyers.

Western countries have called for Suu Kyi’s release and condemned the violence and Asian neighbors have offered to help resolve the crisis, but Myanmar has a long record of rejecting outside intervention.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations human rights investigator on Myanmar, appealed for U.N. member states to cut the supply of cash and weapons to the military.

The International Labor Organization said trade unionists have been arrested and harassed in door-to-door searches while others are in hiding. The International Trade Union Confederation reported widespread restrictions on workers’ rights since the coup.

Anti-China sentiment has risen since the coup, fueled by Beijing’s muted criticism of the takeover compared with Western condemnation. But protest leader Thinzar Shunlei Yi said Myanmar people did not hate their Chinese neighbors though their rulers had to understand the outrage felt over their stand.

“Chinese government must stop supporting coup council if they actually care about Sino-Myanmar relations and to protect their businesses,” she said on Twitter.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations human rights investigator on Myanmar, appealed for U.N. member states to cut the supply of cash and weapons to the military.

The International Labor Organization said trade unionists have been arrested and harassed in door-to-door searches while others are in hiding. The International Trade Union Confederation reported widespread restrictions on workers’ rights since the coup.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Rob Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan)

Britain urges citizens to leave Myanmar as violence against protesters mounts

(Reuters) – Britain urged its citizens to leave Myanmar on Friday as security forces cracked down on more protests against the junta, forcing patients out of a hospital in the west of the country and arresting a Polish journalist.

After 12 people were killed on Thursday in one of the bloodiest days since the Feb. 1 coup, the British foreign office warned that “political tension and unrest are widespread since the military takeover and levels of violence are rising”.

Friday’s protests came as South Korea said it would suspend defense exchanges and reconsider development aid to Myanmar because of the violence.

More than 70 protesters have now been killed in the Southeast Asian nation since the military seized power, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group said.

Memorials were held for some of them on Friday, including one man whose family said his body had been taken by the security forces and not returned.

A spokesman for the junta did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment.

“Despite repeated demands of the international community, including South Korea, there are an increasing number of victims in Myanmar due to violent acts of the military and police authorities,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said Seoul would suspend defense exchanges, ban arms exports, limit exports of other strategic items, reconsider development aid and grant humanitarian exemptions allowing Myanmar nationals to stay in South Korea until the situation improved.

Protests were held in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, and several other towns on Friday, photographs posted on social media by witnesses and news organizations showed. Many were dispersed by security forces.

Poland’s foreign ministry said a Polish journalist was arrested, the second foreign reporter to be detained. A Japanese journalist was briefly held while covering a protest.

Riot police and armed soldiers entered the general hospital in Hakha, in the western Chin state, forcing all 30 patients to leave and evicting staff from on-site housing, said local activist Salai Lian.

Soldiers have been occupying hospitals and universities across Myanmar as they try to quash a civil disobedience movement that started with government employees like doctors and teachers but has expanded into a general strike that has paralyzed many sectors of the economy.

The country has been in crisis since the army ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government last month, detained her and officials of her National League for Democracy party, and set up a ruling junta of generals.

Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said on Thursday Suu Kyi had accepted gold and illegal payments worth $600,000 while in government. He said Phyo Min Thein, a former chief minister of Yangon, who is also in jail, had admitted making the payments.

Adding corruption charges to the accusations facing Suu Kyi, 75, could bring her a harsher penalty. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate currently faces four comparatively minor charges, such as illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and flouting coronavirus curbs.

“This accusation is the most hilarious joke,” Suu Kyi’s lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said on social media on Friday. “She might have other weaknesses but she doesn’t have weakness in moral principle.”

‘CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY’

Thursday’s dead included eight people killed when security forces fired on a protest in the central town of Myaing, the AAPP said.

Chit Min Thu was killed in the North Dagon district of Yangon. His wife, Aye Myat Thu, told Reuters he had insisted on joining the protests despite her appeals that he stay at home for the sake of their son.

“He said it’s worth dying for,” she said through her tears. “He is worried about people not joining the protest. If so, democracy will not return.”

The bloodshed came hours after the U.N. Security Council had called for restraint from the army.

U.N. human rights investigator Thomas Andrews on Friday dismissed as “absurd” comments by a senior Myanmar official that authorities were exercising “utmost restraint”. Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, he called for a united approach to “strip away the junta’s sense of impunity.”

The army did not respond to requests for comment on the latest deaths, but junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said on Thursday the security forces were disciplined and used force only when necessary.

Rights group Amnesty International accused the army of using lethal force against protesters and said many killings it had documented amounted to extra-judicial executions.

Suu Kyi fought for decades to overturn military rule under previous juntas before tentative democratic reforms began in 2011. She had spent a total of about 15 years under house arrest.

The army has justified taking power by saying that a November election, overwhelmingly won by Suu Kyi’s party, was marred by fraud – an assertion rejected by the electoral commission.

The junta has said a state of emergency will last for a year, but has not set a date for the election.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and Catherine Evans)

Gunmen kill student, kidnap 27 in attack on Nigerian school

By Garba Muhammad

KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Unidentified gunmen killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in north-central Nigeria on Wednesday, witnesses said, and the regional government said 27 others including some staff and relatives were kidnapped.

The assailants stormed the Government Science secondary school in the Kagara district of Niger state at around 2 a.m., overwhelming the school’s security detail, according to local residents.

One student was killed in the attack, teacher Aliyu Isa and a pupil at the school told local TV news station Channels. Another teacher, who did not want to be named, also told Reuters that one student was killed.

“It was only one that was killed,” Isa told Channels. He said the abductors were dressed in army uniforms and shooting as they broke into the school. “They were telling the students not to run,” added Isa, who said he and others fled in the confusion while the gunmen rounded up some of the pupils.

Niger state officials did not immediately confirm the death but said that 27 students, some members of staff and relatives had been abducted by the gunmen.

The attack came two months after gunmen stormed a secondary school in northwestern Katsina state and kidnapped nearly 350 boys, who were subsequently rescued by security forces.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the latest abduction. Kidnappings for ransom by armed groups are common across many northern Nigerian states.

Militant Islamist group Boko Haram and a branch of Islamic State also carry out abductions in Nigeria’s turbulent northeast. About 100 of more than 270 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok in 2014 remain missing.

The Niger state governor ordered the immediate closure of boarding schools in the region. President Muhammadu Buhari dispatched security chiefs to coordinate rescue operations, his spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement.

“President Buhari has (given assurance) of the support of his administration to the armed forces in their brave struggle against terrorism and banditry and urged them to do all that can be done to bring an end to this saga,” said Shehu.

The spate of attacks has raised concern about rising violence by Islamist insurgents and armed gangs and fueled widespread criticism of Buhari’s handling of national security. In January, the president appointed a new military high command.

Violence and insecurity have compounded the economic challenges faced by citizens in Africa’s most populous country, which is struggling to cope with a fall in revenues due to an oil price slump on top of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Reporting by Garba Muhammad; Additional reporting by Maiduguri Newsroom, Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja, and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich)

U.S. calls for dialogue to resolve India’s farmers’ protests

By Sanjeev Miglani and Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The U.S. embassy in New Delhi urged India’s government on Thursday to resume talks with farmers whose months-long protests over agricultural reforms erupted into violence last week.

India’s Foreign Ministry said it had “taken note” of the comments and underlined ongoing efforts between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and farmers groups to resolve the situation.

“We encourage that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson said in a statement that also offered general support for the government’s efforts to “improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment.”

Modi’s government has held multiple rounds of talks with representatives of thousands of farmers who have camped, mostly peacefully, on the outskirts of New Delhi since late last year.

But no talks have been held since Jan 26., when some protesters clashed with police in the heart of the capital city following a military parade to mark Republic Day, and no indication has been given of when they might resume.

Television images of protesters occupying the ramparts of New Delhi’s historic Red Fort and later clashing with police drew international attention to the confrontation between Modi’s government and the farmers.

The farmers, who enjoy most support in northern India’s breadbasket states, argue that three new farm laws will hurt their interests while benefiting large firms.

But the government says the reforms will bring much-needed investment to a farm sector that accounts for nearly 15% of India’s $2.9 trillion economy but about half its workforce.

BARRICADES UP, INTERNET DOWN

Police remain on guard against further attempts by farmers to bring the protests into the capital, and have reinforced barricades at three main sites.

Earlier this week internet services were temporarily suspended in some areas, drawing widespread criticism, including from international activists and celebrities.

“We recognize that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy,” the U.S. embassy spokesperson said.

In response to social media posts on the internet shutdowns, India’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that vested interest groups were mobilizing international support against the country.

“Any protests must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, and the ongoing efforts of the government and the concerned farmer groups to resolve the impasse,” ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday.

Farm union leaders have been calling for a repeal of the new laws and to make the government’s crop price guarantee scheme legally binding, and for the withdrawal of legal cases against protesters.

But some farmer groups have expanded their list of demands.

At a rally in northern Haryana state on Wednesday, thousands of farmers from the politically influential Jat community backed a call to waive farm loans and increase crop prices paid by the government.

“If the government doesn’t concede to our demands, thousands more farmers will march towards Delhi,” Kek Ram Kandela, a leader among the Jat farmers, told the rally attended by more than 50,000 people.

(Additional reporting and Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Catherine Evans)

More than 200,000 flee “apocalyptic” conflict in Central African Republic

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 200,000 people have fled fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR) since violence erupted over a December election result, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday, with nearly half crossing into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The CAR army, backed by U.N., Russian and Rwandan troops, has been battling rebels seeking to overturn a Dec. 27 vote in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner.

“Refugees have told UNHCR that they fled in panic when they heard gun shots, leaving their belongings behind,” spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told journalists in Geneva.

The nation of nearly five million people, larger than mainland France, Belgium and Luxemburg combined and rich in diamonds, timber and gold, has struggled to find stability since a 2013 rebellion ousted former president Francois Bozize.

The current fighting between a coalition of militias on the one side and the national army and its backers on the other was sparked by a Constitutional Court decision to bar Bozize’s candidacy in the Dec. 27 presidential election.

Former prime minister Martin Ziguele, who came third in the Dec. 21 election, said on Friday there was fighting across the country every day, preventing movement between towns, and pushing more people to flee.

“Everyone is focused on the main transport route between the capital and eastern Cameroon for supplies, but inside the country, there is no movement,” Ziguele told Reuters by phone from Bangui.

“I cannot leave Bangui and go 90 km (60 miles) without a heavily-armed army escort. Imagine then the population. Add the curfew and the state of emergency, it is really an apocalyptic situation,” Ziguele said.

SEX FOR FOOD

About 92,000 refugees have reached DRC and more than 13,000 have crossed into Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo. The rest are displaced inside the Central African Republic, the UNHCR said.

Ongoing attacks has hampered humanitarian access and the main road used to bring supplies has been forced shut inside the country and many are now facing “dire conditions,” UNHCR’s Cheshirkov said.

Some of the displaced are so desperate they have agreed to sex in return for food, he added. Malaria, respiratory tract infections, and diarrhea have become common.

He also voiced concern about the reported presence of armed groups in the Batangafo and Bria camps for the displaced.

“Those armed groups are trying in some cases to restrict movements and in some cases forcibly recruit. So this is a very concerning situation,” he told the briefing.

Ziguele said that while a substantial increase in peacekeepers, as requested by the U.N. envoy in Bangui, was welcomed, a dialogue between all parties was urgently needed.

“A military surge is not the only solution to tackle the security, humanitarian and economic crisis that is threatening to put one of the world’s least developed countries into a complete coma,” he said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge, additional reporting by Bate Felix in Dakar; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Philippa Fletcher)

Violence, floods in South Sudan’s Warrap state displace thousands

By Denis Dumo

WARRAP STATE, South Sudan (Reuters) – James Athian and his nine children have been living in a makeshift camp in South Sudan’s Warrap state for two months since floods destroyed their house.

Athian and his family are among the 377,300 people displaced by floods and violence in Warrap since July, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. Nationwide, more than one million people have been temporarily forced from their homes.

“I have nine children and every time they get sick of malaria. (There is) no food and no good place to sleep,” Athian told Reuters, standing near submerged houses in his village of Mangar Ajak.

Before the flooding, oil-producing South Sudan had already gone through five years of civil war, which ended in 2018 with a fragile peace deal.

The worst rains in living memory have meant that roughly half of South Sudan’s 78 counties have large swathes of land under water, the U.N. says.

Aleu Akol, 59, who has been at Mangar Ajak for one-and-a-half months, said people received aid from humanitarian organizations, but he had to find other means to supplement that.

“We fish in this water to survive because I don’t have work that can generate income. See, my legs are swelling from (being in) the water,” he said.

Attacks by bandits and ethnic militias are still common, compounding the effects of the floods.

“People are being killed randomly and insecurity is so bad that people were not able to cultivate (their crops) in May,” Moses Athian Paul, coordinator of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission of Warrap’s Tonj County, said.

“If people don’t get food from the government of the World Food Program by February, many will die of hunger.”

(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

U.S. Justice Dept. weighs stripping federal funds from cities allowing ‘anarchy’

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Monday threatened to revoke federal funding for New York City, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, saying the three liberal cities were allowing anarchy and violence on their streets.

“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

Spokespeople for the mayors’ offices in all three cities could not be immediately reached for comment.

Many cities across the United States have experienced unrest since the May death of George Floyd. In some cases the protests have escalated into violence and looting.

The federal government has mounted a campaign to disperse the racial justice protests, including by sending federal agents into Portland and Seattle and encouraging federal prosecutors to bring charges.

Last week, the Justice Department urged federal prosecutors to consider sedition charges against protesters who have burned buildings and engaged in other violent activity.

Monday’s threat to revoke federal funds was the government’s latest escalation in its quest to curb the protests.

It comes after President Donald Trump earlier this month issued a memo laying out criteria to consider when reviewing funding for states and cities that are “permitting anarchy, violence, and destruction in American cities.”

The criteria to make the president’s list include things such as whether a city forbids the police from intervening or if it defunds its police force.

In all three cities, the Justice Department said the leadership has rejected efforts to allow federal law enforcement officials to intervene and restore order, among other things.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Portland police make arrests after protest turns violent

(Reuters) – Several demonstrators were arrested in Portland after they threw rocks and projectiles at police officials, authorities in the U.S. city said.

The police said early on Thursday that demonstrators began a march around 11 p.m. local time, adding that officers closed a street and ordered protesters to not enter the area or risk facing arrest.

“Despite the announcements, the crowd continued to gather on Northeast Emerson Street.” Portland Police said. “Some people in the group threw projectiles such as water bottles and rocks towards officers.”

The police said they made “targeted arrests” without disclosing a figure.

Police said they did not use any crowd control munitions or tear gas.

Demonstrations against racism and police brutality have swept the United States since the death in May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Portland, in particular, has seen over three months of daily demonstrations calling for policing and social justice reforms. These have at times turned into clashes between demonstrators and officers, as well as between right- and left-wing groups.

One person was shot dead on Saturday as rival groups clashed.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump deployed federal forces to Portland in July to crack down on the protests.

Trump signed a memo on Wednesday that threatens to cut federal funding to “lawless” cities, including Portland.

(Reporting by Ann Maria Shibu and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Portland mayor urges restraint, renunciation of violence after fatal shooting

By Steve Gorman and Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – Officials in Portland, Oregon, said on Sunday they were braced for an escalation of protest-related violence that has convulsed the city for three months, citing social media posts vowing revenge for a fatal shooting amid weekend street clashes between supporters of President Donald Trump and counter-demonstrators.

“For those of you saying on Twitter this morning that you plan to come to Portland to seek retribution, I’m calling on you to stay away,” Mayor Ted Wheeler told an afternoon news conference, urging individuals of all political persuasions to join in renouncing violence.

He also lashed out at Trump for political rhetoric that he said “encouraged division and stoked violence,” and brushed aside a flurry of weekend Twitter posts from the president criticizing Wheeler and urging the mayor to request help from the federal government to restore order.

“It’s an aggressive stance. It’s not collaborative,” Wheeler said of Trump’s tweets. “I’d appreciate it if the president would support us or stay the hell out of the way.”

Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell said investigators were still working to establish the sequence of events leading to the fatal shooting late Saturday in downtown Portland, and they provided few new details about the investigation.

Lovell said it remained to be determined whether the shooting was connected to skirmishes that night between a caravan of protesters driving through the city’s downtown district in pickup trucks waving pro-Trump flags and counter-protesters on the streets.

Video on social media showed individuals in the beds of the pickups firing paint-balls and spraying chemical irritants at opposing demonstrators as they rode by, while those on the street hurled objects at the trucks and tried to block them.

Authorities have not identified the shooting victim. But the New York Times reported the man gunned down was wearing a hat with the insignia of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer. On Sunday, the leader of the group, Joey Gibson, appeared to confirm that the victim was a Patriot Prayer member whom he knew.

“We love Jay, and he had such a huge heart. God bless him and the life he lived,” Gibson wrote on social media. “I’m going to wait to make any public statements until after the family can.”

Trump later re-tweeted a photo of a man identified as Jay Bishop and described in that post as “a good American that loved his country and Backed the Blue,” an apparent reference to police. “He was murdered in Portland by ANTIFA.”

Trump wrote, “Rest in Peace Jay!” in his retweet.

UNDER FIRE FROM TWO SIDES

The mayor also came under renewed fire from several left-wing Oregon-based civil rights and community organizations that have been at odds with Wheeler and called for his resignation in an open letter on Sunday.

“Amid 94 days and nights of protests against police brutality, Mayor Wheeler has fundamentally failed in his responsibilities to the residents of Portland,” the letter said.

Police warned against individuals taking to Twitter on the basis of misinformation.

“There are many who are sharing information on social media who are jumping to conclusions that are not based on facts,” Lovell said.

He said the shooting was preceded by a “political rally involving a vehicle caravan that traveled through Portland for several hours.” He said those vehicles had departed from a prescribed protest route that was supposed to funnel them along Interstate 5, outside Portland, to the site of the rally in neighboring Clackamas County.

He said that by the time the shooting took place, the caravan had already cleared that section of downtown, and that there were no police at the spot when it happened.

Protests, which have grown violent at times, have roiled downtown Portland every night for more than three months following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, the Black man who died under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

The demonstrators, demanding reforms of police practices they view as racist and abusive, have frequently clashed with law enforcement and on occasion with counter-protesters associated with right-wing militia groups.

The Trump administration in July deployed federal forces to Portland to crack down on the protests, drawing widespread criticism that the presence of federal agents in the city only heightened tensions.

On Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week” program, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said, “All options continue to be on the table” to resolve Portland’s unrest.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Maria Caspani; Editing by Daniel Wallis)