Gunman kills five co-workers and himself in Molson Coors brewery shooting in Milwaukee

By Brendan O’Brien

Milwaukee (Reuters) – A gunman opened fire at the Molson Coors Beverage Co brewing complex in Milwaukee on Wednesday, killing five co-workers before he was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, the city’s police chief said.

No one else was injured in the violence at the sprawling campus of more than 20 buildings, where some 1,400 workers are employed by the beer company in Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said.

The entire Molson Coors property was placed under a security lockdown for several hours following the gunfire as police swept each building to rule out any further threats or victims.

“We can now say that the scene is secure. All employees who were on scene have been allowed to go home,” Morales told reporters at a late-night news conference several hours after the afternoon shooting.

Morales said the bloodshed was confined to the Molson Coors <TAP.N> complex west of downtown – a facility known to locals as the old Miller brewery – and that “no members of the general public were involved.”

Miller beer is one of the company’s leading brands, and Mayor Tom Barrett said the plant has been part of the city for 165 years.

Morales said the body of the dead gunman, who was believed to have acted alone, was found in the same building as his five victims.

The suspect was described by police as a 51-year-old Milwaukee resident and employee of Molson Coors. Details about the circumstances of the shooting, including what may have precipitated the carnage, were not provided by authorities.

“We are a family here at Molson Coors in Milwaukee, and this is an unthinkable tragedy for us,” company President and Chief Executive Officer Gavin Hattersley told reporters.

President Donald Trump, acknowledging the shooting hours earlier as he opened a White House news conference about the coronavirus outbreak, referred to the gunman as a “wicked murderer” and called the gun violence “a terrible thing.”

“Our hearts go out to the people of Wisconsin and to the families,” he said.

PRAYERS, CONDOLENCES, SOMBER TOASTS

At a news conference earlier in the evening, the mayor branded the shooting “an unspeakable tragedy.”

“There were five individuals who went to work today just like everybody goes to work. They thought they were going to work and return to their families. They didn’t, and tragically they never will.”

In the immediate aftermath of the bloodshed, the company advised employees in an email that the gunman had been located in or near a second-floor stairwell near a packaging facility, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Hours later at Spitfires on State, a tavern a few blocks from the shooting scene, patrons made solemn toasts to Miller, an iconic Milwaukee brand. A small group of employees, still wearing their protective gear from their shift earlier in the day at the brewery, huddled together inside the bar.

“Prayers and condolences,” one female employee said as she left the bar after hugging two co-workers.

The Milwaukee shooting seemed likely to reignite a contentious debate about gun control in the midst of the U.S. presidential election.

The campaign of Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, was set to host a roundtable discussion about gun violence at an event in Los Angeles on Thursday.

A campaign spokeswoman said the event, which Bloomberg was not planning to attend, was previously scheduled, but added, “recent events will likely be discussed.”

Last year saw 417 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive, the highest annual number since the nonprofit research group started keeping a tally in 2013. GVA defines a mass shooting as any in which at least four people, excluding the perpetrator, are shot.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Leslie Adler, Cynthia Osterman, Peter Cooney and Lincoln Feast.)

U.N. decries nearly 50% increase in killings of women activists in Colombia

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Killings of women engaged in community organizing and defending human rights in Colombia increased nearly 50% in 2019 compared to the year before, the United Nations said on Wednesday as it urged the government to redouble protection efforts.

Violence against so-called “social leaders” has become a top issue for the government of President Ivan Duque, who has faced frequent criticism from the international community, non-governmental organizations and human rights activists for not doing enough to stop the killings.

Last year, 108 human rights defenders of all genders were killed, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told journalists, while a further 10 cases were still being verified.

Fifteen of the activists murdered were women.

“We are alarmed that in 2019 the killings of women human rights defenders increased close to 50%,” said Alberto Brunori, the U.N.’s human rights chief in Colombia.

“The quick and effective implementation of a comprehensive program of guarantees for women leaders and women human rights defenders could be an important tool for prevention and protection against murders and attacks,” he added.

The number of activist killings has fallen overall since Duque took office in August 2018, the center-right president told journalists at a breakfast event on Wednesday.

“There is a reduction, but the figure should be zero,” said Duque. He blamed the killings on Marxist-led National Liberation Army rebels, dissidents from the FARC rebel movement who reject a 2016 peace deal, and criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining.

There were 36 massacres – defined as the killing of more than four people – in Colombia last year, the highest figure in the last five years, the U.N. rights office said.

Fifteen people died in police or army operations involving presumed arbitrary detentions, the U.N. added.

A total of 115 activists were killed in Colombia in 2018.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Tom Brown)

India’s Modi appeals for calm as riot toll rises to 20

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm on Wednesday after days of clashes between Hindus and minority Muslims over a controversial citizenship law in some of the worst sectarian violence in the capital in decades.

Twenty people were killed and nearly 200 wounded in the violence, a doctor said, with many suffering gunshot wounds amid looting and arson attacks that coincided with a visit to India by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets in far greater numbers on Wednesday. Parts of the riot-hit areas were deserted.

“Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times,” Modi said in a tweet.

Modi’s appeal came after a storm of criticism from opposition parties of the government’s failure to control the violence, despite the use of tear gas, pellets and smoke grenades.

Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, called for the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah, who is directly responsible for law and order in the capital.

The violence erupted between thousands demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law introduced by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

The Citizenship Amendment Act makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has denied it has any bias against India’s more than 180 million Muslims.

A firefighter walks past damaged shops at a tyre market after they were set on fire by a mob in a riot affected area after clashes erupted between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Reuters witnesses saw mobs wielding sticks and pipes walking down streets in parts of northeast Delhi on Tuesday, amid arson attacks and looting. Thick clouds of black smoke billowed from a tyre market that was set ablaze.

Many of the wounded had suffered gunshot injuries, hospital officials said. At least two mosques in northeast Delhi were set on fire.

On Wednesday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a tweet that it was alarmed by the violence and it urged the Indian government “to rein in mobs and protect religious minorities and others who have been targeted”.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar; Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed, Danish Siddiqui and Zeba Siddiqui; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

Israel-Gaza ceasefire takes hold after two-day flare-up

GAZA (Reuters) – A ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the United Nations took hold on the Israel-Gaza border on Tuesday after two days of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.

Islamic Jihad had fired 80 rockets towards Israeli communities along the Gaza border since Sunday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said, while Israel attacked sites in Gaza and Syria that killed three members of the militant group.

No casualties were reported on the Israeli side of the frontier and many of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile system.

The violence came a week before an Israeli election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term in office after two inconclusive votes.

A Palestinian militant walks as he surveys an Islamic Jihad site that was targeted in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip February 25, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

The frontier fell quiet early on Tuesday, after a Palestinian official said Israel and Islamic Jihad had reached a “reciprocal and simultaneous ceasefire” mediated by Egypt and the United Nations.

“This round is over and Palestinian resistance promised its people that every act of aggression by the Zionist occupation would be met by a reaction from the resistance,” Khader Habib, a senior Islamic Jihad official, told Reuters.

The Israeli military said it reopened roads near the Gaza border on Tuesday that it had closed when the fighting began and that train services would resume in the area.

But citing security concerns, the military kept Israel’s border crossings with Gaza closed, except for humanitarian cases, and banned Palestinian fisherman from heading to sea.

The violence erupted on Sunday when Israeli troops killed an Islamic Jihad member who the military said was trying to plant explosives near Israel’s border fence with the Gaza Strip.

Video widely shared on social media showed what appeared to be a lifeless body of the militant dangling from an Israeli military bulldozer as it removed the corpse.

The images created an uproar in Gaza, prompting calls for retaliation that were followed by rockets launched by Islamic Jihad.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

After clashes, Ukraine blames disinformation campaign for spreading coronavirus panic

By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk on Friday blamed an “information war” being waged on the country for spreading panic and mistrust over the coronavirus, a day after the arrival of evacuees from China sparked clashes outside a sanatorium.

Speaking to parliament, Honcharuk said misinformation was being spread from within and outside Ukraine but did not elaborate.

The authorities are trying to find the source of bogus emails sent this week on behalf of the health ministry erroneously declaring there had been confirmed coronavirus cases in Ukraine, when so far there have been none.

In another example, Honcharuk cited an incident of Russian officials asking a wagon-load of passengers traveling on a train from Kiev to Moscow to disembark after a Chinese woman with fever was found to be traveling on board.

The Ukrainian railway service said it has asked Russia for more information on the case.

Police detained 24 people in clashes with residents of a town in central Ukraine on Thursday, who feared they would be infected by Ukrainians who had been evacuated from China’s Hubei province to a sanatorium for a mandatory two week quarantine.

“The events that took place yesterday, in my opinion, are a consequence of, in particular, the information war that continues against our country, both from inside and out,” Honcharuk said.

Protesters in the town of Novi Sanzhary had clashed with police, burned tires and hurled projectiles at a convoy of buses carrying the evacuees to the medical facility.

The authorities had appealed for calm, saying the evacuees were screened to make sure they were not infected before being allowed to fly. Health Minister Zoriana Skaletska announced she would join those in quarantine.

“Our health minister has agreed to stay with the citizens in this medical institution,” Honcharuk said. “This way her example will prove that there is no danger to Ukrainian citizens.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the protests had been stoked by “political support” but did not say from where. He appealed to Ukrainians not to vilify those returning from China.

“We constantly say that Ukraine is (a part of) Europe,” he said. “Yesterday, frankly, in some episodes it seemed that we are the Europe of the Middle Ages, unfortunately. Let’s not forget that we are all people.”

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Ros Russell)

No let up in Taliban attacks, fresh orders awaited over deal with U.S.

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Jibran Ahmad

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban fighters attacked Afghan government forces overnight, and militant commanders said on Monday insurgency operations would go-ahead until they receive fresh instructions based on a deal with the United States to reduce violence in the country.

Last week, a senior U.S. administration official said negotiations with Taliban representatives in Qatar had resulted in and agreement in principle for a week-long reduction of violence, but the seven-day period had not commenced. The official said the agreement covered all Afghan forces, and would be closely monitored.

“Our leadership hasn’t conveyed any message about a ceasefire to us,” a Taliban commander in Helmand, a southern province that has seen some of the fiercest fighting.

Commanders in Paktika and Nangarhar – two other provinces regarded as strongholds for the Taliban – also said they would continue their attacks as planned.

On Sunday night, Taliban fighters attacked Afghan government forces manning a checkpoint in the northern province of Kunduz. According to a statement by Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, they killed 19 security personnel.

The Afghan defense ministry confirmed the attack in a statement but put the death toll at five. It also said retaliatory air strikes were conducted against the militants.

A Taliban spokesman also issued a statement on Monday saying a Afghan military helicopter had been shot down in Nimroz province, but an official there said the helicopter made an emergency landing and had not been attacked.

Despite the violence on the ground, a senior Taliban leader in Doha confirmed a deal with the United States is set to be signed by the end of February in a “signing ceremony” in Doha.

Leaders of the United Nations, European Union and Islamic nations and neighboring countries would be invited to the attend, Mawlavi Abdul Salam Hanafi, deputy chief of the Taliban’s Doha office, was quoted as saying by Nunn Asia – a pro-Taliban website with strong links to the group’s leadership.

“Soon after signing the peace accord, the United States will release 5,000 of our prisoners and we will free 1,000 of theirs,” Hanafi said.

Successful implementation of the deal would move the United States closer to a further drawdown of troop levels in Afghanistan, meeting an objective for U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to stop the “endless wars” as he seeks re-election in November.

There remains a long way to go to a peace settlement and end to the nearly two-decade-old U.S. military presence that began shortly after the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda. U.S. officials have been clear that the 13,000 U.S. troops will be cut to about 8,600 this year, with or without a withdrawal deal.

(Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Additional Reporting by Sardar Razmal in Kunduz, Afghanistan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

U.S., Taliban have negotiated proposal for seven-day reduction in violence: Pentagon chief

(Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday that the United States and the Taliban had negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence.

Sources had told Reuters that a U.S.-Taliban peace deal could be signed this month if the Taliban significantly reduces violence, which could lead to an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“The United States and the Taliban have negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence,” Esper told reporters during a news conference in Brussels at NATO headquarters.

“I’m here today consulting with allies about this proposal, and we’ve had a series of productive bilateral and collective meetings about the path forward,” he added.

The tentative timeline shared with Reuters by sources came a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said there had been a possible breakthrough in U.S.-Taliban talks in Qatar.

The talks had been deadlocked in part over a U.S. demand that the insurgents agree to sharply reduce violence as part of any American troop withdrawal accord.

There are about 13,000 U.S. troops as well as thousands of other NATO personnel in Afghanistan, 18 years after a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

“It will be a continual evaluative process as we go forward – if we go forward,” Esper added.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Catherine Evans and Jonathan Oatis)

Migrants raped and trafficked as U.S. and Mexico tighten borders, charity says

By Christine Murray

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Central American migrants are being kidnapped, raped and trafficked in Mexico as they seek to enter the United States amid a migration crackdown, a medical charity said on Tuesday.

In Mexico’s Nuevo Laredo city – separated from the United States by the Rio Grande – almost 80% of migrants treated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the first nine months of 2019 said they had been victims of violence, including kidnapping.

“They’re treated as if they aren’t really people,” Sergio Martin, Mexico coordinator for MSF, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “They’ve suffered violence … and what they find on their journey is more violence.”

Mexico has ramped up efforts to stop Central American migrants, often fleeing violent crime and poverty, reaching the U.S. border under pressure from President Donald Trump who threatened to put import tariffs on its goods.

It has deployed the National Guard to stop migrants crossing northwards and increased detentions and deportations.

Mexico’s immigration authority and interior ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he wants to apply immigration laws while respecting migrants’ human rights.

The United States has sent 57,000 non-Mexican migrants back to Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, restricted asylum criteria and limited the number of claims it receives daily at each port of entry.

In September, 18 of 41 patients in Nuevo Laredo who had been sent back to Mexico to wait for U.S. asylum processing told MSF they had recently been kidnapped.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We think that as a direct result of many of these policies there are people who are suffering more violence,” said Martin.

“It’s easier for them to fall into human trafficking networks or into extortion networks, and no one look for them.”

MSF found 78% of almost 3,700 patients in Mexico who sought mental health care in 2018 and 2019 showed signs of exposure to violence, including assault, sexual violence and torture.

Some patients said they had been kidnapped in Mexico for long periods for forced labour, sexual exploitation or recruitment to work for criminal groups.

Almost one in four female migrants told MSF they had experienced sexual violence on their journeys.

The MSF data was based on some 26,000 health consultations with migrants in 2018 and 2019, testimonials and a survey.

(Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Palestinian and U.S. leaders blame each other for violence

By Stephen Farrell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian and U.S. leaders blamed each other for a surge of violence, as mourners gathered in the occupied West Bank for the funeral of a Palestinian police officer shot dead during unrest, and Israel tightened security ahead of Friday Muslim prayers.

Tensions were high a day after two Palestinians were killed and 16 Israelis injured amid Palestinian anger at U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, unveiled last week with Israel’s prime minister at his side.

There were sporadic clashes on Friday between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces near Azzun, where the funeral was held for the police officer killed in Jenin the previous day.

Palestinian authorities said he was killed by Israeli gunfire. Israeli officials did not comment, and Israeli media reported that he was shot by troops by mistake.

Palestinians also clashed with Israeli troops in Jericho and burned tyres in the West Bank village of Bil’in, and Palestinian medics said one protester had been critically wounded near Tulkarm.

“The Palestinian people will not allow the ‘Deal of the Century’ to pass,” said Mohammed Barakeh, waving a Palestinian flag in Bil’in.

“They are fighting for their national character and the independence of their country,” added Barakeh, a former Israeli lawmaker and member of Israel’s 21% Arab minority, many of whom identify with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza.

President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has rejected Trump’s peace plan, which would give Israel most of what it has sought during decades of conflict, including the disputed holy city of Jerusalem and nearly all the occupied land on which it has built settlements.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Washington was to blame for the unrest since the plan was unveiled.

“Those who introduce plans for annexation and the legalizing of occupation and settlements are really responsible for deepening violence and counter-violence,” he said. Abbas would go to the U.N. Security Council with “a genuine peace plan”, Erekat said.

Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, the principal architect of the U.S. plan, has repeatedly denounced the Palestinian leadership, a break from decades of diplomacy when Washington strove to appear as a neutral broker. On Thursday he blamed Abbas for the violence.

“I think he does have responsibility,” Kushner said after briefing United Nations Security Council ambassadors. “He calls for days of rage in response, and he said that before he even saw the plan.”

Israeli police said security chiefs had met late on Thursday and decided to increase security “across the country, with emphasis on Jerusalem”.

A police statement singled out the risk of trouble during Friday prayers at the Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

Palestinians have long boycotted relations with the Trump administration, which they view as biased against them. Washington says its plan offers a path toward a Palestinian state, and blames the Palestinian leadership for rejecting it over unrealistic demands.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Peter Graff and Hugh Lawson)

Turkey, Russia can tackle Syria escalation ‘without anger’: Erdogan

By Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday Turkey and Russia should resolve differences over the conflict in Syria’s Idlib without anger, after a deadly flare-up in violence challenged the fragile cooperation between Moscow and Ankara.

The two countries support opposing sides in Syria’s nearly nine-year war, as well as in Libya’s escalating conflict, but have worked together to contain some of the bloodshed and have forged close defense ties in recent years.

An attack by Russian-backed Syrian government forces that killed eight Turkish military personnel on Monday posed the biggest challenge to Russian-Turkish ties since their 2018 deal to stem fighting in Syria’s northwest Idlib region.

Erdogan told Russian forces on Monday there to “stand aside” while Turkey struck dozens of targets in retaliation. Moscow and Ankara then argued about whether Turkey had told Russia it was sending waves of reinforcements into Idlib.

“There is no need for us to be engaged in a conflict or a serious contradiction with Russia at this stage,” he was quoted as telling reporters on a flight from Ukraine.

“We will of course sit down and discuss everything. Not with anger, though. Because those who sit down with anger, get up with losses,” Erdogan added.

Russia supports President Bashar al-Assad in the war in Syria while Turkey backs rebels who once aimed to topple him.

Analysts said the relationship should survive the testy spell even while risks remained on the ground in Syria. Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million refugees, fears Russian air strikes and a recent northward surge by Syrian troops threaten to send millions more refugees towards its border.

A Turkish security official said clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces continued intermittently on Tuesday around Saraqeb, a town 15 km (9 miles) east of Idlib city.

“Now we see more clearly the limits of the Turkey-Russia cooperation in Syria…and the question is have we reached a different level of escalation” given the attacks on Turkish troops, said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies.

NO “PERMANENT BREAK”

But “this episode is not going to lead to a permanent break between Ankara and Moscow. They will find ways to overcome this… because both sides continue to rely on each other” to contain the situation in Idlib, he said.

Turkey’s foreign minister told his Russian counterpart to rein in Syrian forces and again warned of retaliation against provocative attacks on Turkish observation posts in Idlib set up under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran.

“We also don’t accept the excuse of ‘we cannot fully control the regime’ here,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said of Russia.

The Turkish security official said Ankara had no plans to withdraw from its 12 observation posts in the area, even though some are now surrounded by Syrian government forces.

Moscow says it is concerned about attacks by militants who control Idlib, Syria’s last remaining major rebel stronghold.

Konstantin Kosachev, a senior Russian lawmaker, called the heightened fighting a “serious test of the strength of the existing Russian-Turkish agreements” in both Idlib and in northeast Syria, where the two countries have jointly patrolled.

The Idlib violence has accelerated in recent months despite several ceasefire efforts, including as recently as January.

United Nations regional spokesman David Swanson said 520,000 people had been displaced since the beginning of December and the numbers could swell further.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Ankara and Eric Knecht in Beirut; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Gareth Jones)