Crews make headway against massive California wildfire

By Mimi Dwyer

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Firefighters notched a victory in their battle to beat back a massive blaze raging outside Los Angeles, more than doubling containment in the past 24 hours, the U.S. Forest Service said on Wednesday.

The Bobcat Fire, which has been burning in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles since Sept. 6, was 38% contained as of Wednesday morning, John Clearwater, USFS spokesperson for Angeles National Forest, said in an email update.

The fire has so far burned more than 113,000 acres but remained relatively stable overnight. The flames were 17% contained on Tuesday.

The Bobcat Fire, one of the largest and most dangerous fires in recorded Los Angeles history, is just one element stoking the worst fire season California has seen to date.

For more than a week it has threatened to overtake the Mount Wilson Observatory, a California landmark and beloved historical site that was home to major astronomical advancements in the early 20th century.

Some 1,556 firefighters are currently deployed to combat it, the Forest Service said.

Wildfires have ravaged the West Coast this summer and pushed firefighters to their limits. At least 26 people have died in fires across California since August 15, including three firefighters, according to the state agency CAL FIRE.

One of those firefighters died as a result of a fire sparked by a botched gender reveal party.

Roughly 3.4 million acres have burned across California during the same period.

Another 10 people have died and approximately 2 million acres have burned in fires in Washington and Oregon.

California has seen five of its largest fires on record in this wildfire season alone. Outside Los Angeles, the momentary reprieve could dissipate by the weekend, when weather was expected to grow warmer and drier, and forecasts showed the possibility of gusty winds, the Forest Service said.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and David Gregorio)

California firefighters make stand to save famed observatory, homes

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews fought on Tuesday to defend homes and the famed Mount Wilson Observatory from California’s biggest and most dangerous wildfire, standing their ground at a major highway between the flames and populated areas.

The Bobcat Fire, which broke out Sept. 6 in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles, has already blackened an area larger than the city of Atlanta and its rapid spread prompted worried law enforcement officials to call for new evacuations on Monday evening.

Once home to the largest operational telescope in the world, the Mount Wilson Observatory, which sits on a peak of the San Gabriel mountains near vital communications towers, said in an update that almost all the forest around it had burned.

Firefighters overnight kept the Bobcat from breaching containment lines near the observatory and were preventively burning vegetation ahead of the fire along state Highway 2, which runs northeast from Los Angeles.

This summer California already has seen more land charred by wildfires than in any previous full year, with some 3.4 million acres burned since mid-August.

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that some scientists call evidence of climate change, have destroyed some 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters.

Another 2 million acres have burned in Oregon and Washington during an outbreak of wildfires, destroying more than 4,400 structures and claiming 10 lives. But rain showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest gain control of those conflagrations.

Although California has seen little rain in September, bouts of high temperatures and gale-force winds have given way in recent days to cooler weather, enabling firefighters to gain ground.

But forecasters predict rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around midweek in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half, lending urgency to the firefight.

The Bobcat Fire has now scorched more than 109,000 acres to become one of the largest wildfires in recorded Los Angeles County history and was only 17% contained on Tuesday afternoon.

The flames came perilously close to the Mount Wilson Observatory last week before they were driven back by crews using air support.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under evacuation warnings.

California’s fire season historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

California firefighters race to subdue flames before heat and winds return

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Five weeks after California erupted in deadly wildfires supercharged by record heat and howling winds, crews battling flames pushed on Monday to consolidate their gains as forecasts called for a return of blistering, gusty weather.

California already has lost far more landscape to wildfires this summer than during any previous entire year, with scores of conflagrations – many sparked by catastrophic lightning storms – scorching some 3.4 million acres since mid-August.

The previous record was just under 2 million acres burned in 2018.

As of Monday, more than 19,000 firefighters continued to wage war on 27 major blazes across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that scientists have pointed to as signs of climate change, have destroyed an estimated 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters, CalFire reported.

Another 2 million acres have gone up in flames in Oregon and Washington state during an overlapping outbreak of wildfires that started earlier this month, destroying more than 4,400 structures in all and claiming 10 lives.

But a weekend of intermittently heavy showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest tamp down blazes in those two states.

Although California has seen little or no rain in recent days, bouts of extreme heat and gale-force winds that had produced incendiary conditions for weeks have given way to lower temperatures and lighter breezes, enabling firefighters to gain ground around most fires.

“They’re going to take advantage of this cool weather while they can,” CalFire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told Reuters.

The break in the weather is not expected to last much longer. Tolmachoff said forecasts call for rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around mid-week in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half.

BOBCAT FIRE PROVES STUBBORN

Some fires have proven more stubborn than others. One in particular, dubbed the Bobcat Fire, grew to more than 100,000 acres on Monday in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles, with containment levels achieved by firefighters holding steady at just 15%, CalFire said.

The Bobcat last week spread perilously close to a famed astronomical observatory and complex of vital communications towers at the summit of Mount Wilson, while forcing evacuations of communities in the foothills below.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under an evacuation warning, advising residents to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. At the opposite end of the sprawling mountain range to the north, the fire was reported to have destroyed some homes and other structures in the high desert of the Antelope Valley.

Across the Bobcat fire zone and others, ground crews with axes, shovels and bulldozers clambered through rugged canyons and mountain slopes, hacking away tinder-dry brush and scrub before it could burn, creating containment lines around the perimeter of advancing flames.

They were assisted by squadrons of water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers dumping flame retardant on the blazes.

Regardless of the progress they make this week, California’s record fire season remains far from over. The height of wildfire activity historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Fed officials tussle over practical meaning of new inflation policy

By Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday began fleshing out what their new tolerance for inflation will mean in practice, an issue critical to how investors and households reshape their own outlooks even if it may not be relevant to any immediate decisions by the U.S. central bank.

The new policy, laid out in a strategic document last month and incorporated into a policy statement issued on Wednesday, pledges to keep interest rates near zero until inflation has hit the Fed’s 2% target and is on track “to moderately exceed” it “for some time.”

As it stands, with the coronavirus pandemic sapping demand, leaving millions of Americans unemployed, and threatening the survival of entire industries, inflation is not seen as the core risk. Economic projections released by the Fed this week show inflation only reaching 2% by the end of 2023, with any shift towards tighter monetary policy likely years down the road.

But how the Fed’s new language is interpreted by the central bank’s five current Washington-based governors and 12 regional bank presidents will be central to whether bond markets, stock investors and even consumers see the new approach as likely to be effective, and start behaving in a way that actually helps push inflation higher.

After years of weak inflation, that is the Fed’s hope. It is based on fears of a Japanese-style low inflation rut that can have its own damaging effects over time, and Fed officials on Friday started to outline their views of how to proceed.

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said, for example, that he’d be paying closer attention to how fast inflation rises rather than to its quarter-to-quarter level in implementing the new approach.

In an interview on Bloomberg Television, Bostic said if inflation went up to 2.3% but appeared stable “that would be fine … By contrast if we were at 2.2 and the next quarter at 2.4 and then at 2.6, that trajectory would give me concern” and perhaps require efforts to cool the economy.

‘GHOST STORIES’

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari, in contrast, laid out a more open-ended view in written comments describing why he dissented against the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee’s policy statement on Wednesday.

The Fed, he felt, was setting itself up to make the same mistake it has in the past of reacting too quickly to inflation “ghost stories” and risked nipping off job growth too soon.

He said the Fed instead should switch its focus to core inflation, a slower moving variable that excludes volatile commodity prices, and ensure that it reached 2% on a “sustained basis.”

“I would have preferred the Committee make a stronger commitment to not raising rates until we were certain to have achieved our dual mandate objectives,” of maximum employment consistent with stable prices, Kashkari said in an essay.

A second dissent from Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan argued the central bank should keep its options open to raise rates sooner if needed – a sign of the broad debate now taking place over just what the new framework will mean in practice.

Critics say they feel the Fed’s new approach rings hollow without strong measures to back it up and produce the higher inflation they seek, such as more aggressive bond-buying.

But St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said inflation may move higher on its own if, as he suspects, the economic recovery gains traction at a time when global supply chains are being reorganized, monetary policy is loose, and governments are issuing record levels of debt to finance pandemic-related spending.

“A lot of people on Wall Street are saying ‘you could not hit 2%, how are you going to have inflation above 2%?,'” Bullard said in webcast remarks to a Washington University in St. Louis forum.

“I think we are at a moment where you may see some inflation … You have got more relaxed central banks … You have got huge fiscal deficits which historically have been a catalyst for inflation. And you have possibly bottleneck-type pressures.”

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir; Editing by Paul Simao)

Thousands of Oregon evacuees shelter from wildfires as U.S. disaster declared

By Deborah Bloom and Brad Brooks

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – Thousands of evacuees displaced by deadly wildfires in Oregon settled into a second week of life in shelters and car camping on Tuesday as fire crews battled on, and search teams scoured the ruins of incinerated homes for the missing.

With state resources stretched to their limit, President Donald Trump approved a request from Oregon’s governor for a federal disaster declaration, bolstering U.S. government assistance for emergency response and relief efforts.

Dozens of fires have charred some 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of tinder-dry brush, grass and woodlands in Oregon, California and Washington state since August, ravaging several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 34 people.

Eight deaths have been confirmed during the past week in Oregon, which became the latest and most concentrated hot spot in a larger summer outbreak of fires across the entire western United States. The Pacific Northwest was hardest hit.

The conflagrations, which officials and scientists have described as unprecedented in scope and ferocity, have also filled the region’s skies with smoke and soot, compounding a public health crisis already posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Satellite images showed high-altitude plumes of smoke from the fires drifting as far east as New York City and Washington, D.C., carried aloft by the jet stream.

The fires roared to life in California in mid-August, and erupted across Oregon and Washington around Labor Day last week, many of them sparked by catastrophic lightning storms and stoked by record-breaking heat waves and bouts of howling winds.

Weather conditions improved early this week, enabling firefighters to begin to make headway in efforts to contain and tamp down the blazes.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said 16,600 firefighters were still battling 25 major fires on Tuesday, after achieving full containment around the perimeter of other large blazes.

Firefighters in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Los Angeles waged an all-out campaign to save the famed Mount Wilson Observatory and an adjacent complex of broadcast transmission towers from flames that crept to within 500 feet of the site.

RECORD ACREAGE LOST

At least 25 people have perished in California wildfires over the past four weeks, while more than 4,200 homes and other buildings have gone up in smoke, CalFire reported. Nearly 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) in California alone have burned – more than in any single year in its history – and five of the 20 largest wildfires on record in the state have occurred during that time-frame.

One wildfire fatality has been confirmed in Washington state, where some 400 structures have been lost. Roughly 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) have been blackened in Oregon, double the state’s annual average over the past decade.

At the height of the crisis there, some 500,000 residents – at least 10% of the state’s population – were under some form of evacuation alert, many forced to flee their homes as swiftly advancing flames closed in on their neighborhoods. More than 1,700 structures, most of them dwellings, have been incinerated

At last count, some 16 people reported missing remained unaccounted for in Oregon, emergency management officials said. Last week, authorities said they were bracing for possible mass casualties as search teams began combing wreckage of homes destroyed during chaotic evacuations.

In the fire-stricken southwestern Oregon town of Phoenix, uprooted families, many with young children, were sleeping in their cars, huddling at a civic center or in churches, City Council member Sarah Westover said.

“It’s much more difficult to follow the COVID restrictions given the environment,” Westover said.

Marcus Welch, a food service director and youth soccer coach in Phoenix, said he was helping a group of high school students whose homes were spared to run a donation center set up to assist evacuees from a mobile-home park reduced to ash.

“Every day, I hear a sad story. Every day, I hear a family displaced. People are crying because high school kids are giving them food, water. … It’s been a total blessing,” Welch said. “Some people, they lost everything, so we encourage them to take everything they can.”

Westover said her community was in grief, while fearing a flareup might force them to flee again. Her house in Phoenix was spared, but others nearby were leveled.

“It’s like it cherry-picked – it burned down a house, then skipped two, then burned down another. I guess that’s the way they kind of work with the embers flying around,” Westover said.

Rhonda and Chuck Johnston, of Gates, Oregon, described celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary outside their RV playing card games and eating barbecued chicken in the parking lot of a fairgrounds after a hasty evacuation.

“This is something you never think you’re going to go through,” Rhonda Johnston said. “We grabbed a couple days’ worth of clothes, pills, and two cars full of pictures and two dogs and a cat and our daughter.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Deborah Bloom, Shannon Stapleton and Adrees Latif; Writing by Will Dunham and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Peter Cooney & Shri Navaratnam)

Oregon governor seeks more federal help as wildfires burn in U.S. West

By Shannon Stapleton and Adrees Latif

(Reuters) – Oregon’s governor is seeking additional federal assistance as her state battles the deadly wildfires sweeping the western United States, and local residents pitched in on Tuesday to help the many people displaced by the blazes.

Dozens of wildfires have burned across some 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) in California, Oregon and Washington state since August, ravaging several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least three dozen people.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown on Monday sent a letter to the White House requesting a Presidential Disaster Declaration following the federal emergency declaration on Sept. 10. The request from the Democratic governor includes a call for additional communications resources, damage-assessment teams, search-and-rescue and debris management, as well as help with shelter and medical assistance.

“Firefighting resources became completely exhausted during this event, and because both California and Washington state are experiencing similar wildfire emergencies, Oregon’s requests for assistance from neighboring states were, for days, going unfilled,” the letter said, explaining the need for further federal resources.

On Monday, President Donald Trump met with firefighters and officials in California.

Ten deaths have been confirmed during the past week in Oregon, the latest flashpoint in a larger summer outbreak of fires accompanied by lightning storms, heat waves and extreme winds.

The fires have put harmful levels of smoke and soot into the region’s air, painting skies with tones of orange and sepia even as local residents deal with another public health emergency in the coronavirus pandemic.

Cooler, moister weather and calmer winds over the weekend enabled firefighters to gain ground in efforts to outflank blazes that had burned largely unchecked last week. Thunderstorms forecast for later in the week could bring much-needed rain but also more lightning.

As disaster teams scoured the ruins of dwellings engulfed by flames amid chaotic evacuations last week, Oregon’s emergency management authorities said they had yet to account for 22 people reported missing in the fires.

‘A TOTAL BLESSING’

Tens of thousands of displaced residents across the Pacific Northwest continued to adjust to life as evacuees, many of them living out of their cars in parking lots. In some communities, local residents have pitched in to help people displaced by the fires.

Marcus Welch, a food service director and youth soccer coach in the southwestern Oregon city of Phoenix, said he has been helping a group of local high school students run a community donation center to assist a mostly Latino local population whose mobile homes were burned to the ground. About 600 people have come by to pick up donations, Welch added.

The high school students, whose homes were spared from the Almeda Fire, started handing out water bottles in the parking lot of a local Home Depot store last Wednesday and Thursday, Welch said.

By Friday, local residents began dropping off large amounts of items, including baby supplies, clothing and canned food, Welch said.

“Every day, I hear a sad story. Every day, I hear a family displaced. People are crying because high school kids are giving them food, water. … It’s been a total blessing,” Welch said. “Some people, they lost everything, so we encourage them to take everything they can.”

At least 25 people have perished in California wildfires since mid-August, and one death has been confirmed in Washington state. More than 6,200 homes and other structures have been lost, according to figures from all three states.

Reinforcing local law enforcement resources strained by the disaster, Oregon is deploying as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to fire-stricken communities.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Shannon Stapleton and Adrees Latif; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. West wildfires kill 16; in Oregon 500,000 flee

By Carlos Barria and Adrees Latif

(Reuters) – Around half a million people in Oregon evacuated as dozens of extreme, wind-driven wildfires scorched U.S. West Coast states on Friday, destroying hundreds of homes and killing at least 16 people, state and local authorities said.

Since Monday 11 people have died from fires in California, while four were killed in Oregon and a 1-year-old boy died in Washington state, police reported.

In Oregon alone the number of people under evacuation orders climbed to some 500,000 – about an eighth of the state’s total population – as Portland suburbs came under threat from the state’s biggest blaze, the state Office of Emergency Management said.

Thousands more were displaced north and south in the neighboring states of Washington and California.

Oregon bore the brunt of nearly 100 major wildfires raging across Western states, with around 3,000 firefighters battling nearly three dozen blazes and officials saying about twice as many people were needed.

Police have opened a criminal arson investigation into at least one Oregon blaze, the Almeda Fire, which started in Ashland near the border with California and incinerated several hundred homes in adjacent communities along Bear Creek, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said.

The Oregon blazes tore through multiple communities in the Cascade mountain range as well as areas of coastal rainforest normally spared from wildfires. In eastern Washington state a fire destroyed most of the tiny farming town of Malden.

In central Oregon search-and-rescue teams entered devastated communities in the Santiam Valley to look for missing people.

To the south, a string of small communities along Interstate 5 near Medford were reduced to ashes after embers from a wildfire blew for miles.

Firefighters said unusually hot, dry winds out of the east supercharged blazes, spreading flames from community to community, and then from house to house.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown said some 900,000 acres (364,220 hectares) had burned, dwarfing the state’s annual 500,000-acre (202,340-hectare) average over the past decade.

“This will not be a onetime event,” Brown told a Thursday news conference. “We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change”

Climate scientists say global warming has contributed to greater extremes in wet and dry seasons, causing vegetation to flourish then dry out in the U.S. West, leaving more abundant, volatile fuel for fires.

Two of Oregon’s largest fires, burning around 20 miles (32 km) southeast of downtown Portland merged, leading to a major expansion of evacuations in densely populated Clackamas County,

In California, the United States’ most populous state, wildfires have burned over 3.1 million acres (1.25 million hectares) so far this year, marking a record for any year, with six of the top 20 largest wildfires in state history occurring in 2020.

About a third of evacuees were displaced in Butte County alone, north of Sacramento, where the North Complex wildfire has scorched more than 247,000 acres (99,960 hectares) and destroyed over 2,000 homes and structures.

The remains of 10 victims have been found in separate locations of that fire zone, according to a spokesman for the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.

Another person died in Siskiyou County in far northern California, state fire authority CalFire reported, providing no further details.

(Reporting by Carlos Barria and Adrees Latif; additional reporting by Andrew Hay, Steve Gorman and Sharon Bernstein; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Kremlin tells West not to rush to judge it on Navalny as sanctions talk starts

By Andrew Osborn and Madeline Chambers

MOSCOW/BERLIN (Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday the West should not rush to judge it over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and that there were no grounds to accuse it of the crime, as talk in the West of punishing Moscow intensified.

The Kremlin was speaking a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Navalny had been poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to murder him and that she would consult NATO allies about how to respond.

Navalny, 44, is an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has specialized in high-impact investigations into official corruption. He was airlifted to Germany last month after collapsing on a domestic Russian flight after drinking a cup of tea that his allies said was poisoned.

Berlin’s Charite hospital, which is treating Navalny, has said he remains in a serious condition in an intensive care unit connected to an artificial lung ventilator even though some of his symptoms are receding.

Novichok is the same substance that Britain said was used against a Russian double agent and his daughter in an attack in England in 2018. The deadly group of nerve agents was developed by the Soviet military in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow rejected any suggestion that Russia had been behind the attack on Navalny and warned other countries against jumping to conclusions without knowing the full facts.

“There are no grounds to accuse the Russian state. And we are not inclined to accept any accusations in this respect,” Peskov told reporters.

“Of course we would not want our partners in Germany and other European countries to hurry with their assessments.”

Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency, said Moscow could not rule out Western intelligence agencies had orchestrated the poisoning to stir up trouble, the RIA news agency reported.

Russian prosecutors have said they see no reason to launch a criminal investigation because they say they have found no sign a crime was committed, though pre-investigation checks are continuing.

Peskov said Russia was eager to know what had happened to Navalny, but couldn’t do so without receiving information from Germany about the tests that had led to Berlin’s conclusions about Novichok.

SANCTIONS PRESSURE

OPCW, the global chemical weapons agency, said the poisoning of any individual with a toxic nerve agent would be considered use of a banned chemical weapon.

The European Commission said the bloc could only slap new sanctions on Russia after an investigation revealed who was responsible for Navalny’s poisoning. Lithuania said it would ask EU leaders to discuss the poisoning at their next summit.

Merkel said that any German or European response would depend on whether Russia helped clear up the case.

After her strong statement on Wednesday, she is under pressure at home to reconsider the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will take gas from Russia to Germany.

“We must pursue hard politics, we must respond with the only language (Russian President Vladimir) Putin understands – that is gas sales,” Norbert Roettgen, head of Germany’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told German radio.

“If the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is completed now, it would be the maximum confirmation and encouragement for Putin to continue this kind of politics,” Roettgen, a member of Merkel’s conservatives, told German television separately.

Nord Stream 2 is set to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline in carrying gas directly from Russia to Germany. Led by Russian company Gazprom with Western partners, the project is more than 90% finished and due to operate from early 2021. This may complicate efforts to stop it.

It is fiercely opposed by Washington and has divided the European Union, with some countries warning it will undermine the traditional gas transit state, Ukraine, and increase the bloc’s reliance on Russia.

Peskov said the Kremlin regarded talk of trying to thwart Nord Stream 2 as being based on emotions. He said the project was a commercial one which benefited Russia, Germany and Europe.

“We don’t understand what the reason for any sanctions could be,” said Peskov.

(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and by Thomas Seythal and Vera Eckert in Berlin and by Gabriela Baczynska, John Chalmers, and Marine Strauss in Brussels, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by William Maclean)

‘I Have A Dream’: New march on Washington to mark fraught anniversary of King’s speech

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people were expected to march in Washington, D.C. on Friday to denounce racism, protest police brutality and commemorate the anniversary of the march in 1963 where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech.

In his historic and often-repeated speech, King envisioned a time his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Its 57th anniversary comes at the end of a summer of racial unrest and nationwide protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Earlier this week, protests seized Kenosha, Wisconsin, after police officers shot another African-American man, Jacob Blake, multiple times in front of his young children while his back was turned. Blake survived the shooting, but has been paralyzed, his lawyers told reporters earlier this week.

Friday’s protest, called “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,” was planned in the wake of Floyd’s death by civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer representing Blake and Floyd’s family, will speak, as will Sharpton, members of Floyd’s family, and King’s son, Martin Luther King III, among others.

After speeches at the Lincoln Memorial, participants will walk to the Martin Luther King memorial about a half mile away.

This summer’s uprisings drew parallels to those seen in 1968, after King’s own murder, five years after his famous speech.

The march also comes as Black people suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed about 180,000 Americans. Blacks have been more likely to be sickened and die from the virus and to lose jobs from the economic fallout.

Washington requires people coming from so-called coronavirus high-risk states, which currently includes both Wisconsin and Minnesota, to quarantine for 14 days when visiting the district.

Organizers say they are taking the pandemic into account by restricting access to buses from those states, distributing masks and checking temperatures. There will also be free COVID-19 testing provided at the event.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who received national attention when the district painted “Black Lives Matter” on the street steps away from the White House, has warned attendees that it may be difficult to socially distance during the march.

In addition to the live march, there will be a virtual commemoration featuring Reverend William Barber, a prominent civil rights activist and the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. It will also include civil rights activists, politicians, artists and entertainers.

Kerrigan Williams, a founder of Freedom Fighters DC, said the group was organizing its own march on Friday after the March on Washington to promote a more radical agenda that includes replacing police departments with other public safety systems.

She said the group believes “the march on Washington is too reformist and performative for our taste.”

Separately, a wing of the Movement for Black Lives, a network of Black activists and organizations, has scheduled the “Black National Convention” on Friday night, following national conventions by the Democratic and Republican parties over the past two weeks.

The three-hour live streamed convention, which has been in the works since last fall, will feature about 100 Black activists and discussions about criminal justice and capitalism, said Jessica Byrd, an organizer for the event.

“We feel like it’s going to be a Black political Homecoming weekend,” she said.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Heather Timmons and David Gregorio)

Italy says China a key strategic partner, despite U.S. concerns

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Italy and China need to forge closer ties, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Tuesday, potentially putting Rome at odds with Washington, which has raised alarm over Beijing’s economic ambitions.

Di Maio was speaking after talks with the Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi, who was beginning a visit to Europe that will also include the Netherlands, Norway, France and Germany.

Italy became the first major Western economy to join China’s international infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, when it signed a raft of accords in 2019. However, the move has yielded little for Italy so far.

“It was a very fruitful meeting,” Di Maio said, adding that he had discussed with Wang how to “relaunch (our) strategic partnership from the economic and industrial view point”.

Wang told reporters it was important for China and the European Union to strengthen relations and deepen cooperation to tackle the coronavirus.

U.S. President Donald Trump blames Beijing for the spread of the disease, which emerged in China last year. He also wants to restrict the global development of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co., accusing it of acting as a Trojan Horse for Chinese cyber spies.

Italy has not joined the United States in imposing restrictions on Huawei and Di Maio made no reference to the company in his remarks. In an apparent reference to tensions with Washington, Wang said China did not want to see a Cold War.

“A Cold War would be a step backwards,” he said. “We will not let other countries do this for their own private interests, while damaging the interests of other countries.”

Di Maio said he had raised the issue of Hong Kong with Wang, saying its citizens’ rights and freedoms had to be respected.

China unveiled a national security law last month which Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and the West say breaches the 1984 Sino-British treaty that guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomy.