Seattle police clear protest zone after flares of violence

By Lindsey Wasson

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Seattle authorities moved on Wednesday to dismantle a protest zone that the city’s police chief derided as “lawless and brutal” and which had prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to call for action against demonstrators.

Officers, clad in helmets and extra protective gear, entered the “autonomous zone” early and by mid-morning had arrested 31 people for failure to disperse, assault and other alleged crimes, according to the police department’s Twitter feed.

Police moved to retake the zone after Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan declared the gathering around the police department’s East Precinct and Cal Anderson Park an “unlawful assembly,” the police chief, Carmen Best, said in a statement that highlighted a recent spate of shootings and the deaths of two teenagers.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr commended Best in a statement for distinguishing between the right to protest and violent crime in “restoring the rule of law.” Barr did not mention Durkan, a Democrat who has been a target of the Republican president’s ire.

Harry “Rick” Hearns, a protester who said he volunteered to provide armed security at CHOP for 24 straight days, told Reuters he supported the police crackdown “1,000 percent.” He blamed the violence on outsiders who he said had marred an otherwise successful month long occupation.

“We don’t represent violence. People brought that to us,” said Hearns, 59.

Police were walking in and out of the East Precinct on Wednesday, re-establishing control. Weeks earlier, they abandoned the building following clashes with protesters in the wake of the May 25 killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of that city’s police.

Floyd’s death triggered a nationwide wave of largely peaceful demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality, giving rise in Seattle to the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) zone east of downtown.

“The CHOP has become lawless and brutal. Four shootings — two fatal — robberies, assaults, violence and countless property crimes have occurred in this several-block area,” Best said.

Trump has been demanding that local authorities eject the protesters, whom he labeled “domestic terrorists.” Conservative pundits have pointed to the zone in Seattle to support an argument that protests across the country were less peaceful than they were being portrayed.

Black armored vehicles and baton-wielding officers patrolled the perimeter of the area that was barricaded with spray-painted plywood, some marked with phrases like “All Lives Don’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter” and “RIP E Precinct.”

Bicycle police employed three dozen bikes to create a barricade at East Pike and 12th Avenue, allowing city crews to take down protesters’ tents. Some officers sipped Starbucks’ coffee, evidence the operation had met no serious resistance.

The zone had become less crowded and active over the past several days. Crowds that came by the thousands to listen to speeches about police brutality and marvel at street art commemorating Black lives had disappeared, as had medic stations and multiple free food tents.

Businesses in the area, a trendy neighborhood of hipster bars and boutiques, have been pushing for a tougher stance by authorities. Attorneys have filed two class action lawsuits against the City of Seattle, including one aimed at preventing the establishment of “lawless autonomous zones” in the future.

Lencho Williams, who was roused by police from the CHOP encampment on Wednesday, said protesters would regroup. He said the movement had become disorganized when three original demands — defund the police, fund the Black community and amnesty for demonstrators — morphed into 12.

“We’re going to be back. If not tomorrow, the next day. You can’t stop a revolution. Black lives matter now and forever,” said Williams, 32.

(Reporting by Lindsey Wasson in Seattle, Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Bernadette Baum, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

Militia at violent New Mexico protest linked to white supremacy, domestic terror: mayor

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Members of a heavily armed New Mexico militia blamed for sparking violence at a protest where a demonstrator was shot are trying to “prop up” white supremacy and may be connected to domestic terrorism, Albuquerque’s mayor said on Tuesday.

The peaceful protest calling for the removal of an Albuquerque statue of a Spanish conquistador turned violent on Monday after members of the New Mexico Civil Guard militia tried to keep demonstrators away from it, Albuquerque Police Commander Art Sanchez told a news briefing.

Among counter-protestors defending the statue was Steven Baca, 31, caught on video throwing a woman to the ground. Protesters then pursued him before he pulled out a handgun and shot a man, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller told the briefing.

Baca was not immediately available for comment and police declined to say whether he was part of the militia.

But Keller said vigilantes, militias and other armed civilians had for weeks menaced local protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Protesters are demanding the removal of statues of New Mexico’s Spanish colonial rulers who killed and enslaved indigenous people.

“They have been there for quite some time attempting to prop up white supremacy, trying to intimidate those speaking out and they are armed with weapons,” Keller said of the groups, adding he was working with the FBI on their possible links to “domestic terrorism in our city.”

Keller said the sculpture of Juan de Oñate was removed on Tuesday for “public safety” after another statue of the colonial governor was taken down Monday in Alcalde, New Mexico.

Baca, a former city council candidate, was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for shooting Scott Williams, who was in critical condition, police said.

He won less than 6% of the votes in last year’s city council elections on a platform to encourage citizens to protect themselves with firearms, renegotiate federal restrictions on law enforcement and end sanctuary city policies.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Peter Cooney and Christopher Cushing)

U.N. rights body to examine ‘systemic’ U.S. racism and police brutality

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The top U.N. human rights body agreed on Monday to hold an urgent debate on allegations of “systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests” in the United States and elsewhere on Wednesday.

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s decision followed a request last week by Burkina Faso on behalf of African countries in response to the killing of George Floyd, an African American, on May 25 under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. His death has ignited protests across the nation and worldwide.

“We think it is a moment to really discuss this issue, as you have seen with the demonstrations all over Europe, including here in Geneva,” said Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Austria’s ambassador who serves as current president of the Council.

“This is a topic which is not just about one country, it goes well beyond that,” she told a news conference.

African countries may prepare a resolution for consideration at the debate, Tichy-Fisslberger added.

The United States is not a member of the 47-member state forum in Geneva, having quit it two years ago alleging bias against its ally Israel.

The U.S. mission in Geneva had no immediate comment on the Council’s decision, but last week issued a statement decrying the “senseless death of George Floyd” and saying that justice and transparency were “core values” of the United States.

The African group’s request, in a letter made public by the United Nations, said: “The death of George Floyd is unfortunately not an isolated incident. The numbers of previous cases of unarmed people of African descent who met the same fate because of uncontrolled police violence are legion”.

The outrage provoked by the death underlines the importance of the Human Rights Council discussing these issues, the letter said, noting that 600 activist groups and victims’ relatives had called last week for a special session.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)

Explainer: Can Trump send the U.S. military to quell violence at protests?

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday suggested he would use federal troops to end unrest that has erupted following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody last week.

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said during brief remarks at the White House.

The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, but police in some cities have used force against journalists and protesters, and protesters have clashed with police. Many U.S. cities have set curfews.

To deploy the armed forces, Trump would need to formally invoke a group of statutes known as the Insurrection Act.

WHAT IS THE INSURRECTION ACT?

Under the U.S. Constitution, governors generally have the authority to maintain order within state borders. This principle is reflected in a law called the Posse Comitatus Act, which generally prohibits the federal military from participating in domestic law enforcement.

The Insurrection Act, which dates to the early 1800s, is an as exception to principles later codified in the Posse Comitatus Act.

The Insurrection Act permits the president to send in U.S. forces to suppress a domestic insurrection that has hindered the normal enforcement of U.S. law.

CAN TRUMP SEND IN TROOPS WITHOUT A GOVERNOR’S APPROVAL?

Yes. The law lays out a scenario in which the president is required to have approval from a state’s governor or legislature, and also instances where such approval is not necessary, said Robert Chesney, a professor of national security law at the University of Texas.

Historically, in instances where the Insurrection Act was invoked, presidents and governors have usually agreed on the need for troops, said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a law professor at the University of Dayton.

In 2005, former President George W. Bush decided not to invoke the Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in part because the state’s then-governor opposed the move.

HAS IT BEEN INVOKED BEFORE?

Yes. The Insurrection Act has been invoked on dozens of occasions through U.S. history. Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, however, its use has become “exceedingly rare,” according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

The Insurrection Act was last used in 1992, when the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King led to deadly riots.

CAN A COURT STRIKE DOWN TRUMP’S APPLICATION OF THE LAW?

Hoffmeister said he did not think invoking the Insurrection Act was warranted because governors can handle the current unrest through their criminal justice systems.

“The Insurrection Act should only be used in dire situations and I don’t think the circumstances right now call for it,” Hoffmeister said.

But Chesney said a successful legal challenge to Trump’s use of the law was “very unlikely.” Courts have historically been very reluctant to second-guess a president’s military declarations, he said.

“The law, for all practical purposes, leaves this to the president with very little judicial review with any teeth,” Chesney said. “That may be a terrible state of affairs, but that’s what it is.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Edited by Noeleen Walder, Gerry Doyle and Steve Orlofsky)

Retailers already hit by coronavirus board up as U.S. protests rage

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Target Corp and Walmart said on Sunday they shuttered stores across the United States as retailers already reeling from closures because of the coronavirus pandemic shut outlets amid protests that included looting in many U.S. cities.

Protests turned violent in places including New York and Chicago following the death in Minneapolis of a black man, George Floyd, seen on video gasping for breath as a white police officer knelt on his neck.

In Los Angeles, protests led to the looting of the Alexander McQueen clothing store on Rodeo Drive, and a Gucci store on the vaunted strip was marked with the graffiti slogan: “Eat the rich,” according to local media reports.

In the nearby Grove Shopping Center, which houses 51 upscale stores, Nordstrom, Ray Ban and Apple were broken into. Nordstrom Inc temporarily closed all its stores on Sunday, it told Reuters in an emailed statement.

“We hope to reopen our doors as soon as possible,” the statement said. “We had impacts at some of them and are in the process of assessing any damage so we can resume serving customers.”

Apple Inc said in an email statement it also had decided to keep a number of its U.S. stores closed on Sunday. The company did not specify how many stores were closed, or if the closures would be extended.

The violence was widespread, and Minnesota-based Target said it was closing or limiting hours at more than 200 stores. It did not specify how long the closures would last.

The company told Reuters it was beginning to board up its Lake Street store in Minneapolis, near where Floyd was killed, for safety and to begin recovery efforts. The company said in a statement that it would plan to reopen the store late this year.

“There is certainly potential for the resulting social unrest to hurt certain businesses like retailers and restaurants, and for it to further dent consumer and business sentiment,” said Robert Phipps, director at Per Stirling. “It is even possible, particularly if the unrest continues and spreads, that it would, all other things being equal, have a significant impact on investor psychology and the markets.”

Walmart closed some stores in Minneapolis and Atlanta after protests Friday, and closed several hundred stores at 5 p.m. on Sunday, a spokesman said. “We’ll look at them each day, and at how each community is impacted and make decisions then,” the spokesman said.

Online retailer Amazon said it was monitoring the situation closely. “In a handful of cities we’ve adjusted routes or scaled back typical delivery operations to ensure the safety of our teams,” the company said in an emailed statement.

U.S. retail sales have posted record declines as the novel coronavirus pandemic kept Americans at home, putting the economy on track for its biggest contraction in the second quarter since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Additional reporting by Sinead Carew and Ismail Shakil; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Peter Cooney and Diane Craft)

Protests flare around the United States over Minneapolis killing

By Brendan O’Brien and Carlos Barria

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Protests flared late into the night in many cities in the United States over the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died this week after being pinned down by the neck by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

A protester shields himself from tear gas with his skateboard while demonstrating against the death in Minneapolis police custody of African-American man George Floyd, and of Dion Johnson, who was killed in Arizona, outside of Phoenix police headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. May 29, 2020. Picture taken May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Nicole Neri

The sometimes violent demonstrations hit cities from New York to Atlanta in a tide of anger over the treatment of minorities by law enforcement.

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer shown in video footage pinning Floyd down on the street with his knee, was charged with murder in the case on Friday.

Chauvin, who was dismissed from the police with three fellow officers the day after Monday’s fatal encounter, was arrested on third-degree murder and manslaughter charges for his role in the death of Floyd, 46.

In Detroit, a 19-year-old man protesting in the city was shot dead on Friday night by a suspect who pulled up to demonstrators in a sport utility vehicle and fired gunshots into the crowd, then fled, the Detroit Free Press and other local media reported. Police could not immediately be reached for comment.

A vandalized New York Police Department vehicle is seen the morning after a protest following the death of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Hundreds in the city had joined a “March Against Police Brutality” late in the afternoon outside the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters.

Many chanted, “No justice, no peace.” Some carried signs that read, “End police brutality” and “I won’t stop yelling until everyone can breathe.”

Thousands of chanting protesters filled the streets of New York City’s Brooklyn borough near the Barclays Center indoor arena. Police armed with batons and pepper spray made scores of arrests in sometimes violent clashes.

In lower Manhattan, demonstrators at a “We can’t breathe” vigil and rally were pressing for legislation outlawing the police “chokehold” used by a city police officer in the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who was also black.

In Washington, police and Secret Service agents were out in force around the White House before dozens of demonstrators gathered across the street in Lafayette Square chanting,”I can’t breathe.”

A fire fighter works to put out a burning business as the sun rises after another night of continued demonstrations after African-American man George Floyd was killed while in police custody days ago in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

The protests erupted and spread around the country this week after video footage taken by an onlooker’s cell phone was widely circulated on the internet. It shows Floyd gasping for air and repeatedly groaning, “Please, I can’t breathe,” while a crowd of bystanders shouted at police to let him up.

The video reignited rage that civil rights activists said has long simmered in Minneapolis and cities across the country over persistent racial bias in the U.S. criminal justice system.

CHAOTIC SCENES IN ATLANTA

In Atlanta, Bernice King, the youngest daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., implored people to go home on Friday night after more than 1,000 protesters marched to the state capitol from the Centennial Olympic Park, blocking traffic and an interstate highway along the way.

The demonstration turned chaotic and at times violent. Fires burned in downtown Atlanta near the CNN Center, the network’s headquarters.

At least one police car was among several vehicles burnt. Windows were smashed at the CNN building, along with storefronts. Police pushed back the crowd, but they hurled bottles at officers.

A protester faces a U.S. Secret Service uniformed division officer during a demonstration against the death in Minneapolis police custody of African-American man George Floyd, as the officers keep demonstrators away from the White House during a protest in Lafayette Park in Washington, U.S. May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Protesters also took to the streets in other cities including Denver and Houston.

In Minneapolis, hundreds of protesters defied an 8 p.m. curfew to gather in the streets around a police station burnt the previous night.

“We are out here because we, as a generation, realize things have to change,” said one marcher, Paul Selman, a 25-year-old black man.

The charges brought by Hennepin County prosecutors against the police officer came after a third night of arson, looting and vandalism in which protesters set fire to a police station, and the National Guard was deployed to help restore order in Minnesota’s largest city.

Authorities had hoped Chauvin’s arrest would allay public anger. But defying an 8 p.m. curfew imposed by Mayor Jacob Frey, about 500 demonstrators clashed anew with riot police outside the battered Third Precinct building.

Police, creating a two-block buffer area around the precinct house, opened fire with tear gas, plastic bullets and concussion grenades, scattering the crowd.

Another group of protesters later converged near the city’s Fifth Precinct station until police arrived and fired tear gas and plastic bullets to break up that gathering. A nearby bank and post office were set on fire.

Still, Friday night’s crowds were far smaller and more widely dispersed than the night before.

Law enforcement kept a mostly low profile, a strategy seemingly calculated to reduce the risk of violent confrontations, as was the case in several urban centers across the country where sympathy protests arose.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, announcing Chauvin’s arrest, said the investigation into Chauvin, who faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted, was ongoing and he anticipated also charging the three other police officers, identified by the city as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.

Floyd, a Houston native who had worked security for a nightclub, was arrested for allegedly using counterfeit money at a store to buy cigarettes on Monday evening.

(Reporting Brendan O’Brien and Carlos Barria in Minneapolis; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Peter Szekely and Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Daniel Wallis and Frances Kerry)

As lockdown fuels domestic abuse, social media users fight back

By Sonia Elks, Umberto Bacchi and Annie Banerji

LONDON/TBILISI/NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When British teenager Kaitlyn McGoldrick heard domestic violence was increasing under lockdown, she posted a video on social media showing victims how to make a silent emergency call to police without their attackers finding out.

“I just wanted to get the message out there that there are still places you can go,” said McGoldrick, 14, a volunteer police cadet whose post has had more than 50,000 views on the TikTok video-sharing platform.

As coronavirus curbs trap victims under the same roof as abusers, the United Nations has called domestic violence a “shadow pandemic”, and the issue has led to a flurry of online campaigns by charities, celebrities and ordinary social media users.

Inundated with positive responses to her video, McGoldrick plans to share more advice posts with backing from the local police youth volunteer group to which she belongs.

Some of the anti-abuse posts circulating on social media are proving more controversial, however.

There has been criticism of a trend on TikTok in which young women wear lurid fake blood makeup to depict domestic violence scenarios. Critics say such videos could upset victims and often appear more clickbait than genuine campaigning.

Domestic violence campaign groups have also expressed concerns about posts inviting victims to get in touch for support instead of directing them to more expert advice.

SPOTLIGHT ON VIOLENCE

Still, most campaigners say attention-grabbing posts and videos have shone a spotlight on violence within the family, which is often cloaked in shame and fear that stops many victims seeking help.

“We need and appreciate attention on this critical and all-too-often hidden issue,” Latanya Mapp Frett, chief executive of the Global Fund for Women, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While celebrities from Russian punk band Pussy Riot to Bollywood stars have spoken out in anti-domestic violence campaigns, the vast majority of online posts are shared by ordinary social media users.

Some post on their own stories of abuse, often offering to support others going through similar situations.

Others share clips including tips such as how to secretly call police under the guise of ordering a pizza.

Attention-grabbing videos like those posted on TikTok could particularly help reach young people who might be less able to spot warning signs of abuse, said Marcella Pirrone, of Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE).

She cautioned that posters should offer emotional support and information rather than pressuring women to potentially put themselves at risk by demanding they contact police, but said wider discussion of the issue was valuable.

“What’s interesting is there is a lot of talk about violence now and that’s something we had always been asking for: to have awareness-raising, to have proper attention to this,” she said.

RAISE AWARENESS

The involvement of celebrities and social media influencers is also helping to raise awareness about the heightened risk of abuse during worldwide lockdowns.

“COVID-19 has not created new problems for women, it has just exacerbated the old ones,” U.S. comedian and presenter Samantha Bee said in a clip from her late-night television show addressing gendered abuse and shared on her social media pages.

The video, which has gathered hundreds of thousands of views, includes helpline details and highlights virtual support groups for women unable to leave the house.

A social media campaign starring more than a dozen Bollywood and theatre actors was launched in India earlier this month by Mumbai-based Women in Film and Television (WIFT).

“If you’re beaten at home, if you’re facing excesses or bad behavior and you want to report it, please call on the helpline numbers below,” said actor Richa Chadha in an online video in the #baskuchdinaur (‘Just a few more days’) campaign.

In Russia, a pop star who was condemned for suggesting women who spoke out against abuse had mental problems has sought to make amends by producing an informative YouTube movie about domestic violence that has racked up more than 4 million views.

In a country with high levels of abuse where speaking out is often stigmatized, Regina Todorenko’s 80-minute film has drawn “unprecedented” public attention to the issue, said Janette Akhilgova, a Russia consultant for rights group Equality Now.

With many people spending more time on social media during the lockdown, the teenager McGoldrick said it was a vital tool for increasing awareness.

“It’s such an important subject to get out there,” she said. “The more people are spreading the word about it, the better.”

(Reporting by Sonia Elks, Umberto Bacchi and Annie Banerji; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Europe braces for domestic abuse ‘perfect storm’ amid coronavirus lockdown

By Sophie Davies and Emma Batha

BARCELONA/LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Domestic abuse charities in Europe have called for hotels and holiday lets to be turned into refuges as they warned that coronavirus lockdowns would lead to a massive jump in the numbers of women fleeing violence.

Governments, support services and charities are scrambling to help thousands of women facing weeks of isolation at home with a violent partner during quarantine measures.

“It’s a perfect storm,” Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of British charity SafeLives, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Lockdowns will lead to a surge in domestic abuse, but also severely limit the ability of services to help.”

Britain joined Italy, Spain, France and Belgium this week in ordering citizens to stay home to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 21,000 worldwide.

As the country shut down, charities urged employers, bank staff, healthworkers and neighbours to be extra vigilant, adding that even a note dropped in a grocery bag could be a lifeline for a woman trapped with an abusive partner.

In Spain, local authorities in the Canary Islands have set up an initiative that enables victims of domestic abuse to go to their pharmacy and request a ‘Mask 19’, a code word that will alert the pharmacist to contact the authorities.

Gender experts say rates of domestic and sexual violence rise when societies are under stress, during natural disasters, food shortages and epidemics – or even when a local football team loses a match.

In China, where the virus first emerged, anecdotal evidence suggests reports of domestic abuse doubled or trebled during its lockdown which began in January. A hashtag translating as #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic also went viral.

‘MASSIVE INFLUX’

Countries in Europe said it was too early to say whether cases had gone up.

But domestic abuse survivor Rachel Williams, who is running online support groups in Britain during the crisis, said she had heard of a 30% increase in some countries in lockdown.

“We are going to see a massive influx here, without a shadow of a doubt. The government must look at using hotels, bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs to keep women safe,” she added.

Williams, who was shot by her estranged husband after leaving him following years of abuse, said there were just 4,000 refuge spaces across the country, which saw 19,000 referrals last year.

In Italy – in lockdown since March 9 – refuges and support centres say they are struggling to operate and often lack masks and hand sanitiser for staff.

Coronavirus has killed more than 7,500 people in Italy, by far the worst affected country.

D.i.RE, a network of 80 centres, has asked the government to free up facilities for new domestic abuse cases to prevent them potentially introducing coronavirus into existing refuges.

One centre in the northern Emilia Romagna region is converting a former convent for use. Another in Padua is using holiday lettings site Booking.com to find apartments for women.

Some services in Italy are asking women to provide a negative COVID-19 test in order to access shelters, but tests are not widely available to people without symptoms.

CODED MESSAGES

In France, which went into lockdown last week, Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa has warned that quarantine will be a “breeding ground for violence” with emergency shelter provision a major concern.

France’s national domestic abuse hotline has seen a rise in calls this week, but helplines and charities elsewhere said calls had fallen as it became harder for women to reach out.

“We’re having trouble talking to women by phone as their abusers are on the prowl 24 hours a day,” said abuse survivor Ana Bella Estevez, who runs a support organisation in Seville in southern Spain.

Estevez, who fled her abusive marriage after her husband tried to kill her, said her charity would normally call women when their partners were at work, but was increasingly turning to text-based technology including WhatsApp.

The Spanish government has said it will shortly launch a chat service with geolocation technology enabling victims to contact the police, and another providing psychological support during isolation.

Madrid, Valencia and Andalusia are meanwhile looking to adopt the ‘Mask 19′ initiative, according to media reports.

In Britain, SafeLives said bank staff as well as health workers should watch out for coded messages abuse victims may give out when contacting them.

With many people having lost jobs or income during the crisis, Lloyds Bank – one of Britain’s biggest banks – has sought the charity’s advice on how to spot vulnerable customers.

As people set up new methods of home-working, SafeLives’ CEO Jacob said employers should also think about what their employees’ homelife is like and keep regular contact.

For someone living with a controlling partner a chat with the boss may be one of the few ways they can keep in touch with the outside world.

Jacob also warned that job losses would not only heighten women’s vulnerability to abuse, but could leave them stuck in dangerous relationships long after the crisis is over.

“It’s vital to protect people’s employment and income now to make sure they don’t end up trapped in abusive situations when we get through the other side of this,” she said.

Abuse survivor Williams, who has written about her experiences in a book called “The Devil at Home”, also urged the public to reach out if worried about a neighbour.

“Ask if they need any shopping. That could allow them to write something on their shopping list. Or, if it’s safe to do so, drop a note in the bag when you hand over the shopping,” she said.

“Don’t be a bystander. More so than ever before, domestic abuse is everybody’s business.”

(Additional reporting by Elena Berton in Paris. Writing by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Seven dead as coronavirus measures trigger prison riots across Italy

By Angelo Amante and Stephen Jewkes

ROME (Reuters) – Seven prisoners have died as riots spread through crowded jails across Italy over measures imposed to contain the coronavirus.

Inmates, many angered by restrictions on family visits, went on the rampage and started fires from Sunday into Monday, authorities said. In one prison, inmates took guards hostage and in another some escaped.

By Monday afternoon, violence that started at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy had spread south, hitting more than 25 penitentiaries nationwide.

Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede said the government was open to discussing prison conditions but the rebellions had to stop.

In a sign of the political pressures piling onto his coalition government, the leader of the far-right opposition League, Matteo Salvini, called for an “iron fist” response.

Italy – the worst-hit country in Europe – has reported 463 deaths linked to the virus.

The biggest rebellion began on Sunday in a prison in the northern town of Modena.

Three prisoners died there, and another four in prisons where they were moved after the violence started, a prison administration official at the justice ministry, said.

Some died from overdoses of drugs they had stolen from prison clinics, a justice ministry source said, without giving details on what had caused the other fatalities.

Police and fire trucks massed outside the prison as black smoke swirled into the sky on Sunday. A justice ministry spokesman said the situation there was under control by Monday, and officials were assessing the damage.

Two guards were taken hostage in a prison in the northern town of Pavia on Sunday night, and then freed in a police raid hours later, the prison police group UILPA said.

Inmates revolted in Milan’s San Vittore prison, taking to the roof and unfurling a banner demanding a general pardon.

Further south, prisoners in the Tuscan city of Prato set fire to mattresses.

On Sicily, inmates rebelled at Palermo’s Ucciardone prison, which houses some Mafia convicts, but guards managed to regain control, officials said.

Italian media said about 50 inmates managed to escape from a jail in the southern city Foggia. The majority were rapidly captured, but by nightfall nine prisoners were still missing.

Italy’s prisons are among the most over-crowded in Europe. “The spread of the virus is a real concern,” said Andrea Oleandri of the Italian prison rights group Antigone.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante in Rome and Stephen Jewkes in Bologna, writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Crispian Balmer)

Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

By Aftab Ahmed

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – At least 32 people have been killed in the deadliest violence to engulf India’s capital New Delhi for decades as a heavy deployment of security forces brought an uneasy calm on Thursday, a police official said.

The violence began over a disputed new citizenship law on Monday but led to clashes between Muslims and Hindus in which hundreds were injured. Many suffered gunshot wounds, while arson, looting and stone-throwing has also taken place.

“The death count is now at 32,” Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal said, adding the “entire area is peaceful now.”

Men remove debris in a riot affected area following clashes between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

At the heart of the unrest is a citizenship law which makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the new law adopted last December is of “great concern” and she was worried by reports of police inaction in the face of assaults against Muslims by other groups.

“I appeal to all political leaders to prevent violence,” Bachelet said in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has denied having any prejudice against India’s 180 million Muslims, saying that law is required to help persecuted minorities.

New Delhi has been the epicenter for protests against the new law, with students and large sections of the Muslim community leading the protests.

As the wounded were brought to hospitals on Thursday, the focus shifted on the overnight transfer of Justice S. Muralidhar, a Delhi High Court judge who was hearing a petition into the riots and had criticized government and police inaction on Wednesday.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the transfer was routine and had been recommended by the Supreme Court collegium earlier this month.

Opposition Congress party leader Manish Tiwari said every lawyer and judge in India should strongly protest what he called a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said inflammatory speeches at the protests over the new citizenship law in the last few months and the tacit support of some opposition leaders was behind the violence.

“The investigation is on,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who romped to re-election last May, also withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in August with the objective of tightening New Delhi’s grip on the restive region, which is also claimed by full by Pakistan.

For months the government imposed severe restrictions in Kashmir including cutting telephone and internet lines, while keeping hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders, in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests. Some restrictions have since been eased.

Bachelet said the Indian government continued to impose excessive restrictions on the use of social media in the region, even though some political leaders have been released, and ordinary life may be returning to normal in some respects.

(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)