In Mexican heartland, ‘bad guys’ still hold sway amid bid to restore order

By Lizbeth Diaz

SANTA ROSA DE LIMA, Mexico (Reuters) – Burned-out autos littered empty streets this week in the town where Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador faces a first major test of his ability to take control of territory absorbed by organized crime during years of mounting violence.

Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday he was winning the battle for hearts and minds against a gang of fuel thieves in the central town of Santa Rosa de Lima, a few miles east of Salamanca, home to one of Mexico’s main oil refineries, and close to a center of the nation’s export-driven auto industry.

But in the grimy settlement of some 2,800 people where authorities say the eponymous Santa Rosa de Lima gang paid residents to obstruct marines and federal police with blockades and burning vehicles and by informing on their movements, some were less certain the government had the upper hand.

Police officers patrol a street after a blockade set by members of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel to repel security forces during an anti-fuel theft operation in Santa Rosa de Lima, in Guanajuato state, Mexico, March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Police officers patrol a street after a blockade set by members of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel to repel security forces during an anti-fuel theft operation in Santa Rosa de Lima, in Guanajuato state, Mexico, March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

“It’s very hard for people to change,” said Pedro Mendez, 52, who sells household goods in the town. “The bad guys know how to get to them and that there are people who’ll take money to do their bidding.”

Others accused security forces of damaging private property and breaking car windows in the raids, while denying they were in cahoots with the gangs.

Santa Rosa is a microcosm of the lawlessness that permeates large swathes of Mexico where cartels have for years replaced the state as benefactors, providing jobs and handouts in return for residents’ loyalty.

It lies in Guanajuato state, part of the country’s industrial heartland that was long peaceful and is a major magnet for carmakers such as Volkswagen, General Motors and Toyota, but that suffered a doubling of murders last year, official data shows.

The effort to capture gang leader Jose Antonio Yepez, known as “El Marro,” or “The Mallet,” and blamed for stealing vast quantities of fuel from the Salamanca refinery, is also a test of the government’s ability to end organized crime’s growing threat to legitimate businesses and ordinary citizens.

Fuel theft costing billions of dollars a year, along with dwindling output, has weighed heavily on state oil firm Pemex, threatening to damage the government’s creditworthiness.

This week, ratings agency Moody’s warned that “increasing insecurity, robbery and travel warnings hurt Mexican companies’ top lines.”

ONLY ONE BOSS

Lopez Obrador’s determination to reassert the government as the main provider of services in anarchic regions is an early hallmark of his presidency, which began on Dec. 1.

He set his sights on fuel theft soon after taking office, turning off oil pipelines and risking a public backlash as lines began to form outside gas stations.

Days after the country’s most famous gangster, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was convicted in a U.S. court, Lopez Obrador became the first president in decades to visit his home town, cutting the ribbon on a road project.

This week he addressed the violence in Santa Rosa by again urging Mexicans to reject criminal handouts.

“If you need work because of a lack of job opportunities, if you need welfare support, you can depend on us,” he said on Tuesday. “We’re the ones who offer you this.”

His rising popularity in opinion polls suggest Mexicans back the efforts so far.

“HARD TO CHANGE PEOPLE”

Eduardo Solis, head of Mexico’s automotive industry lobby, said on Wednesday the situation in Guanajuato was threatening business and had the look of a “crisis.”

Security has sharply deteriorated in the gangland struggle to control fuel rackets, and at 2,609 last year, murders in Guanajuato were over 10 times higher than a decade earlier, official data show.

Hundreds of police and armed forces arrived in Santa Rosa on Sunday to restore order and round up members of the gang.

Yepez has so far evaded detention, though federal forces arrested his sister-in-law, alleged to be his finance chief, along with six others on Tuesday, a security official said.

By Wednesday, the president was saying Santa Rosa had begun to reject the gang’s largesse, which locals said they heard included payments of 1,000 pesos ($52) or more. The burning blockades and protests vanished on Wednesday.

Among evidence authorities have found in raids was a wage envelope stamped with what appeared to be a symbol of a mallet, reading: “Relatives should go out to protest when required.”

Though reluctant to speak of fuel theft, several residents said they had seen El Marro and that the town was peaceful until “outsiders” began to arrive a few years ago.

Guanajuato’s governor, Diego Sinhue, estimated that around 300 people helped set fire to vehicles, although he defended the town against its infamy as a crime hotbed.

“I’m afraid to go out. If I leave the house something could happen to me because I can see the government’s angry,” said Estela Mendoza, a 44-year-old grandmother, speaking through a hatch in the door of the modest house she shares with her family and which she said she had not left since Sunday.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Additional reporting by Sharay Angulo; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Leslie Adler)

U.S. imposes more sanctions on Venezuela amid humanitarian aid fight

A Venezuelan flag waves above the corporate logo of Banesco bank at one of their office complexes in Caracas, Venezuela May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Venezuela on Friday, targeting six Venezuelan government officials tied to President Nicolas Maduro, in its latest move to squeeze the embattled leader.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Treasury cited the battle over humanitarian assistance and blamed the six current or former security officials, who it said controlled groups that blocked aid from reaching people in the Latin American country.

“We are sanctioning members of Maduro’s security forces in response to the reprehensible violence, tragic deaths, and unconscionable torching of food and medicine destined for sick and starving Venezuelans,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said after deadly violence blocked humanitarian aid from reaching Venezuela over the weekend.

The United States “will continue to target Maduro loyalists prolonging the suffering of the victims of this man-made humanitarian crisis,” Mnuchin added.

Friday’s action is the second set of sanctions this week, after the United States on Monday targeted four Venezuelan state governors allied with Maduro. Washington on Monday also called on allies to freeze the assets of state-owned oil company PDVSA.

U.S. sanctions block any assets the individuals control in the United States and bars U.S. entities from doing any business or financial transactions with them.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Saudi Arabia to address abuse of male guardianship system: media reports

FILE PHOTO: Women walk past a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during Janadriyah Cultural Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will study how its male guardianship system is being abused, Saudi media reported on Monday, after the flight of an 18-year-old woman to Thailand last month focused global attention on the issue.

Every Saudi woman is assigned a male relative – often a father or husband but sometimes an uncle, brother or even a son – whose approval is needed to marry, obtain a passport and travel abroad.

Rights groups say the arrangement turns women into second-class citizens, depriving them of social and economic freedoms and making them more vulnerable to violence.

Without a codified system of law to go with the texts making up sharia, or Islamic law, the Saudi police and judiciary have long cited social customs in enforcing certain prohibitions on women. Many aspects of guardianship stem from informal practices rather than specific laws.

Saudi public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb said his office would “spare no efforts in protecting individuals, whether women, children or parents, from unfair treatment by those who abuse guardianship powers,” according to English daily Saudi Gazette.

His office receives only a small number of complaints about guardianship, he added, without providing details.

The government communications office was not immediately available for comment.

Activists say many Saudi women fear that reporting abuse to the police would only further endanger their lives. They have called for an end to guardianship, which has slowly eroded over the years but remains in force.

Some freedoms have been granted under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ended a ban on women driving and eased restrictions on gender mixing, but they have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the arrest and alleged torture of women’s rights activists as well as Muslim clerics.

Prince Mohammed indicated last year he favored ending the guardianship system but stopped short of backing its annulment.

The plight of Rahaf Mohammed, who slipped away from her family last month during a holiday in Kuwait and then tweeted calls for help from Bangkok airport, sparked an online campaign that ended with the Thai authorities reversing a decision to send her home and Canada granting her asylum.

Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations, is ranked 138 of 144 states in the 2017 Global Gender Gap, a World Economic Forum study on how women fare in economic and political participation, health and education.

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Murders in Mexico rise by a third in 2018 to new record

Murders in Mexico rose by 33 percent in 2018, breaking the record for a second year running, official data showed, underlining the task facing the new president who has pledged to reduce violence in the cartel-ravaged country.

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Murders in Mexico rose by 33 percent in 2018, breaking the record for a second year running, official data showed, underlining the task facing the new president who has pledged to reduce violence in the cartel-ravaged country.

Investigators opened to 33,341 murder probes compared with the previous year’s record of 25,036, according to information from the Interior Ministry published on Sunday.

Mexico has struggled with years of violence as the government has battled brutal drug cartels, often by taking out their leaders. That has resulted in fragmentation of gangs and increasingly vicious internecine fighting.

The complexity of fighting criminal groups is a major test for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who assumed office in December, vowing to try a different approach to his predecessor.

Former President Enrique Pena Nieto presided over a 40 percent rise in murder investigations across his six-year mandate from his first full year in office in 2013.

Of Mexico’s 32 regions, the central state of Guanajuato registered the highest number of murder probes opened in 2018, at 3,290, more than three times as many murder probes as the 1,084 investigations opened in 2017.

Guanajuato has been hit by bloody turf wars among gangs battling for control of a lucrative market for stolen fuel.

The data showed 861 cases of murders of women in 2018 compared with 735 in 2017.

Mexico’s national statistics office (INEGI) also calculated a record number of homicides in 2017, at 31,174 murders, or 25 per 100,000, using other methodologies. INEGI has yet to present its data for violent crime in 2018.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Zimbabwe to charge activist pastor with subverting the government

Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire is escorted by detectives as he arrives at the Harare Magistrates courts in Harare, Zimbabwe, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire appeared in court on Thursday to be charged with subverting the government, punishable by up to 20 years in jail, after protests this week in which three people were killed and dozens injured.

Mawarire was arrested on Wednesday and initially charged by police with the lesser crime of inciting public violence after he posted on social media encouraging Zimbabweans to heed a strike call by the biggest labor union.

On entering the courthouse, he told reporters: “None of what I am accused of is what I have done at all. If we have true justice in this country, let’s see it at play. I am very upset.”

The Harare pastor rose to prominence as a critic of former strongman Robert Mugabe and led a national protest shutdown in 2016. He was tried on similar charges in 2017 but was acquitted by the High Court for lack of evidence.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government decreed a 150 percent hike in fuel prices last weekend, which triggered the three-day strike, during which protesters barricaded roads with rocks and burnt tires in the capital Harare. In the second city of Bulawayo, shops were looted.

Police rounded up 600 people, including Mawarire and an opposition legislator, in a crackdown on protesters. A doctors’ group said they had treated 68 people for gunshot wounds.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose lawyers are representing Mawarire and more than 130 others, said police had decided to upgrade the charges against Mawarire.

FAMILIAR WAYS

Mnangagwa promised to repair the struggling economy after replacing long-time leader Mugabe in an election following a coup in November 2017, Zimbabwe has fallen back into familiar ways.

While some businesses reopened on Thursday after the strike, new data showed that inflation had soared to a 10-year high of 42 percent in December, even before the fuel price increase.

As dollar shortages batter the economy, rocketing inflation is destroying the value of citizens’ savings.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said its members had treated 172 people, some with dog bites, in private and public hospitals since Monday, when the protests started.

“There are cases of patients who had chest trauma and fractured limbs who were forcibly taken from the hospital to attend court despite the advice of doctors,” ZAHDR said in a statement.

Of the 68 people treated for gunshot wounds, 17 underwent emergency surgery.

On Thursday, there were still long queues at the few filling stations selling fuel, sometimes under the watchful eye of soldiers.

The few shops that were open were packed with people buying basics such as sugar, flour and bread.

Media platforms including Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter remained blocked because of a government order, leading to accusations from opposition figures that it wanted to prevent images of heavy-handed police tactics being broadcast around the world.

(Editing by James Macharia and Kevin Liffey)

Grisly Mexican gang battle near U.S. border leaves 21 dead

FILE PHOTO: A logo patch is shown on the uniform of a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the international border between Mexico and the United States south of San Diego, California March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Delphine Schrank

REYNOSA, Mexico (Reuters) – The charred remains of 21 people killed in a suspected gang battle have been found in a Mexican border town, just over the river from where U.S. President Donald Trump was seeking to win support on Thursday for his plan to build a border wall.

Officials in the notoriously violent border state of Tamaulipas said they were investigating the incident, which took place in Ciudad Miguel Aleman, after discovering the bodies on Wednesday. Seventeen of the bodies were burned.

Photos shared with Reuters by a state official show the deceased scattered along a dirt track in scrubland, alongside burned-out vehicles.

Trump visited McAllen, Texas on Thursday afternoon, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Ciudad Miguel Aleman. He threatened to use emergency powers to bypass Congress and get billions of dollars to pay for the wall.

He has justified that demand by saying that undocumented migrants, criminals and illegal drugs have been pouring across the border. Statistics show illegal immigration has fallen to a 20-year low, while many drugs are believed to enter through legal ports of entry.

In Tamaulipas, turf wars between the local Gulf Cartel and its chief rival, the Zetas, have been a key source of bloodshed over recent years.

One body found was wearing the remains of a baseball cap bearing the letters and logo of the Gulf Cartel, while others wore the remains of bullet-proof vests with the same insignia, according to the photos.

Luis Rodriguez, a spokesman for state police, said in a statement that it appeared gunmen from the Gulf Cartel had fought with members of the Northeast Cartel, a group that split off from the Zetas.

Irving Barrios, the state’s attorney general, said in a radio interview that authorities found semi-automatic weapons and bulletproof vehicles at the site.

The area is “greatly fought over” by traffickers of arms and drugs as well as those who help undocumented migrants to cross to the United States, he said.

Another confrontation on Thursday morning between an armed group and military forces in Nueva Ciudad Guerrero, also in Tamaulipas, left five people dead and one military officer injured, said a representative from the state’s peace coordination group.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Mexico during years of fighting between security forces and cartels warring over drug trafficking, extortion rackets and the exploitation of migrants.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank in Reynosa, additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana and Michael O’Boyle and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

China says pace of Xinjiang ‘education’ will slow, but defends camps

Islamic studies students attend a class at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute during a government organised trip in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. Picture taken January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

By Ben Blanchard

URUMQI/KASHGAR/HOTAN, China (Reuters) – China will not back down on what it sees as a highly successful de-radicalization program in Xinjiang that has attracted global concern, but fewer people will be sent through, officials said last week in allowing rare media access there.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.

In August, a U.N. human rights panel said it had received credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities in the far western region are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp.”

Residents perform for reporters and government officials during a government organised visit to the Karakax county vocational educational training centre in Karakax, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 5, 2019. Picture taken January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Residents perform for reporters and government officials during a government organised visit to the Karakax county vocational educational training center in Karakax, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 5, 2019. Picture taken January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Last week, the government organized a visit to three such facilities, which it calls vocational education training centers, for a small group of foreign reporters, including Reuters.

In recent days, a similar visit was arranged for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Kazakhstan, according to Xinjiang officials and foreign diplomats.

Senior officials, including Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s governor and the region’s most senior Uighur, dismissed what they called “slanderous lies” about the facilities.

Speaking in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, Shohrat Zakir said the centers had been “extremely effective” in reducing extremism by teaching residents about the law and helping them learn Mandarin.

“As time goes by, the people in the education training mechanism will be fewer and fewer,” he said.

Shohrat Zakir said he could not say exactly how many people were in the facilities.

Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

“One million people, this number is rather frightening. One million people in the education mechanism – that’s not realistic. That’s purely a rumor,” he said, stressing they were temporary educational facilities.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based exile group the World Uyghur Congress, told Reuters the Chinese government was using extremism as an excuse to lock people up.

“What they are trying to do is destroy Uighur identity,” he said.

INSIDE THE CENTERS

Human rights groups and former detainees have said that conditions in the camps are poor, with inmates subject to abuse. They said detainees did not receive vocational training.

Seeking to counter that narrative, the government took reporters to three centers, in Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, all in the heavily Uighur-populated southern part of Xinjiang, where much of the violence has taken place in recent years.

Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

In one class reporters were allowed to briefly visit, a teacher explained in Mandarin that not allowing singing or dancing at a wedding or crying at a funeral are signs of extremist thought.

The students took notes, pausing to look up as reporters and officials entered the room. Some smiled awkwardly. Others just looked down at their books. All were Uighur. None appeared to have been mistreated.

In another class, residents read a Chinese lesson in their textbook entitled “Our motherland is so vast.”

There was plenty of singing and dancing in other rooms reporters visited, including a lively rendition in English of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” that seemed to have been put on especially for the visit.

Several residents agreed to speak briefly to reporters, though all in the presence of government officials. Reporters were closely chaperoned at all times.

All the interviewees said they were there of their own accord after learning of the centers from local officials.

Many answers used extremely similar language about being “infected with extremist thought.”

Pazalaibutuyi, 26, told reporters at the Hotan center that five years ago she had attended an illegal religious gathering at a neighbor’s house, where they were taught that women should cover their faces.

“At that time I was infected with extremist thought so I wore a face veil,” she said, speaking clear Mandarin after a year at the center.

Government officials came to her village to talk to the villagers and after that, she said, “I discovered my mistake.”

In the Kashgar center, Osmanjan, who declined to give his age, said he had incited ethnic hatred, so village police suggested he go for re-education.

“Under the influence of extremist thought, when non-Muslims came to my shop I was unwilling to serve them,” he said in unsteady Mandarin.

It was not possible to independently verify their stories. All the interviewees said they had not been forewarned of the visit.

Residents said they can “graduate” when they are judged to have reached a certain level with their Mandarin, de-radicalization and legal knowledge. They are allowed phone calls with family members, but no cell phones. They are provided with halal food.

Only minimal security was visible at any of the three centers.

Reuters last year reported on conditions inside the camps and took pictures of guard towers and barbed wire surrounding some.

‘A GOOD LIFE’

The situation in Xinjiang has stirred concern in Western capitals.

At least 15 Western ambassadors wrote to Xinjiang’s top official, Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, late last year seeking a meeting to discuss their concerns. Chen did not meet reporters on the trip.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters the ambassadors did not get a response.

The United States has said it is considering sanctions against Chen, other officials and Chinese companies linked to allegations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based Human Rights Watch researcher, said international pressure needs to increase.

“The fact that they feel they need to put on a show tour is a sign that this pressure is working,” she told Reuters.

Both Wang and Dilxat Raxit noted that the tight control over the visits and interviews showed China’s concern about their true nature.

Over a lunch of lamb kebabs, horse meat and naan, Urumqi party boss Xu Hairong told Reuters that “all of the reports are fake” when it comes to foreign coverage of Xinjiang. He dismissed worries about U.S. sanctions.

“We, including Party Secretary Chen, are working all out for the people of Xinjiang to have a good life,” Xu said. “If the U.S. won’t allow me to go, then I don’t want to go there. That’s the truth.”

The government says its goal is for Uighurs to become part of mainstream Chinese society. Shohrat Zakir said in parts of southern Xinjiang people couldn’t even say hello in Mandarin.

Officials point to a lack of violence in the past two years as evidence of program’s success.

Urumqi’s Exhibition on Major Violent Terrorist Attack Cases in Xinjiang, normally closed to the public, displays graphic images and footage from what the government says are attacks.

“Only with a deeper understanding of the past can you understand the measures we have taken today,” Shi Lei, Xinjiang’s Communist Party committee deputy propaganda chief, told reporters.

One member of the Chinese armed forces, who has served in Kashgar, said the security situation had improved dramatically.

“You can’t imagine what it was like there in 2014 and 2015. There were attacks all the time, bombings, stabbings. It was chaos,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, petrol stations are still surrounded by barbed wire and heavy security barriers. Residential areas are dotted with small police stations.

The stations have broader public service in mind, Zhang Yi, commander of one of the stations, told reporters. The one reporters visited provided pamphlets on a wide range of subjects, including how to legally change your sex.

Kashgar deputy party chief Zark Zurdun, a Uighur from Ghulja in northern Xinjiang, where many ethnic Kazakhs live, told Reuters that “stability is the best human right.”

“The West should learn from us” on how to beat extremism, he said, dismissing concerns Uighur culture was under attack.

“Did Kazakh vanish in the USSR when they all had to learn Russian?” he said. “No. So Uighur won’t vanish here.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Twenty Chinese school children wounded in hammer attack

Police carry bags from a primary school that was the scene of a knife attack in Beijing, China, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese man attacked at least 20 young children at a Beijing primary school with a hammer on Tuesday, state television reported, in a rare act of violence in the capital.

A 49-year-old man, a former maintenance worker at the school, was detained after venting his anger on the children after his work contract was not renewed, state television cited police as saying.

Twenty were taken to the hospital, the government in the Xicheng district of the capital said in a post on its social media account.

Three suffered heavy injuries but their condition was stable, it said.

Police cars lined the main road close to the school when Reuters arrived at the scene.

Several police officers were seen coming from the school carrying items including sealed paper bags marked “physical evidence” and silver cases before driving off.

Parents waited outside for their children as the school day ended. Almost all of the parents Reuters approached declined to be interviewed.

“I heard that children were attacked (by someone) with a knife, so I’m very anxious,” said a woman surnamed Zhou as she waited for her child to finish school.

Another parent surnamed Jia, said she was concerned about her child’s psychological wellbeing.

“Even though they were on the same floor as the one where this took place, they didn’t know anything about this. So I really don’t want this information to be spread widely so that he starts to feel scared,” she said.

The attacker, originally from northeastern Heilongjiang province, had been detained by police and an investigation was underway, state television said.

Violent crime is rare in China but there has been a series of knife and ax attacks in recent years, many targeting children.

In January 2017, a man in southern China stabbed and wounded 12 children with a vegetable knife. He was executed this month.

“People who hurt children do not deserve to be forgiven,” a social media user wrote in a post on Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Zhang Min; Additional reporting by Joyce Zhou, Thomas Peter and Martin Pollard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Violence, gangs cast pall over life in Honduras

"El Fresa" (L), a Barrio-18 gang member, sits on a sofa next to another Barrio-18 gang member in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Edgard Garrido

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) – Ana Luz, sister-in-law of Ronald Blanco, looked on grimly as neighbors of the murdered Honduran man washed away the rills of blood left where his bullet-ridden body had lain outside his house in a troubled barrio on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa in Honduras.

 

The body of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead outside his house, lies on a police pick-up truck in Japon neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 2 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

The body of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead outside his house, lies on a police pick-up truck in Japon neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 2 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

It was just one of many scenes I witnessed this year while on assignment in Honduras, where thousands of people sought to escape violence and poverty by joining a migrant caravan in hope of making it to safety across the Mexico-U.S. border. The problems in this small Central American country grabbed international attention as U.S. President Donald Trump cracked down on illegal immigration.

Honduras has for years been one of the world’s most murderous countries. Though official data show the homicide rate has fallen sharply, it continues to be a highly challenging environment in which to work.

According to Honduran government figures, the homicide rate reached 86 per 100,000 people in 2011-2012. This year, the rate should end below 40 per 100,000, the security ministry says. This compares to the latest statistics in the United States, where there were 5.3 murders per 100,000 in 2017, according to the FBI’s most recent report on its website.

Danger in Honduras is never far away.

Forensic workers carry the body of a man who was killed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Forensic workers carry the body of a man who was killed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

During my roughly three months spent in Honduras in 2018, I photographed mothers waiting at the morgue for the bodies of murdered sons and daughters, police keeping watch over corpses left lying on streets after shootouts and families wailing over the coffins of loved ones.

Blanco, 37, lived in the Japon neighborhood, a breeding ground for gang violence, according to local authorities. It was here that I experienced the most tense moment of my time in Honduras, as I moved between police, soldiers, gang members, forensic experts, hearse drivers and pastors.

At Blanco’s funeral, I was stopped by a young man with piercing eyes, one green and one blue. He demanded to know why I was there.

Civilians and former gang members gesture inside a rehabilitation centre in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Civilians and former gang members gesture inside a rehabilitation centre in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

I explained that I was a journalist taking photographs of the event. But the youth kept pressing me with questions about what had brought me to Blanco’s funeral. As I continued taking the photos, I felt increasingly uncomfortable.

Finally, the tension eased when one of Blanco’s friends intervened, saying that the grieving family had authorized my presence.

 

(Reporting by Edgard Garrido; Additional reporting by Delphine Schrank; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon and Julia Love; Editing by Diane Craft)

Death toll in French ‘yellow vest’ protests rises to nine

FILE PHOTO: French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner attends a ceremony at the Police Prefecture in Paris, France, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – The death toll linked to France’s anti-government “yellow vest” protests has risen to nine, the government said on Thursday, as demonstrators kept up major disruptions of road traffic.

“There has been a ninth death, this morning in Agen, by a roundabout. It was a ‘Yellow Vest’ who was protesting outside but was not following roadway safety instructions,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters.

Local officials said the latest victim, a man, aged about 60, was hit by a truck near a motorway where demonstrators had been gathering.

Most of the nine deaths have occurred as a result of road accidents since protesters have been blocking off roundabouts and damaging motorway toll booths.

The “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) protesters – named after the high-visibility jackets French motorists must carry in their cars – launched their demonstration in mid-November to rally against fuel tax increases.

But the movement has since evolved into a wider backlash against the economic reforms of President Emmanuel Macron, and protests in Paris this month were marred by major outbreaks of violence and vandalism.

(Reporting by Julie Carriat; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta/Inti Landauro and Mark Heinrich)