Venezuela Vows to Jail Protest Leaders as US Urges S. American Pressure on Maduro

Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek Saab talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2017. (Reuters)
Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek Saab talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2017. (Reuters)
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Venezuela Vows to Jail Protest Leaders as US Urges S. American Pressure on Maduro

Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek Saab talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2017. (Reuters)
Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek Saab talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2017. (Reuters)

Venezuela vowed on Thursday that it would crackdown and jail the leaders of violent protests that have been taking place in the country since April as the US Vice President called on Latin American countries to step up pressure on Caracas.

Venezuela’s new top prosecutor Tarek Saab pledged to track down the leaders of the protests that have left more than 120 people dead.

He made his vow a day before a hate crimes law was expected to be approved despite fears that it will be used to crush dissent. The new law "against hate and intolerance," denounced by rights groups as a sham aimed at persecuting the opposition, was set to be approved on Friday by a new legislative superbody elected last month at the behest of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro loyalist Delcy Rodriguez, head of the body known as the constituent assembly, said the law would be passed before the weekend.

"It will be a point of honor for the public prosecutor's office to identify who was responsible for each of the hate crimes that occurred in this country," Saab, Maduro's ex-human rights ombudsman, shouted during a speech to the assembly.

"We will search the cameras, videos, photographs. We will get images of each one of them to make sure they pay for having killed, for having hurt people and left orphans behind," he said to a standing ovation by the Socialist Party-dominated assembly.

The international community, however, has pointed at the Maduro government, not opposition demonstrators, when assigning blame for deaths.

Venezuelan security forces and pro-government groups were believed responsible for the deaths of at least 73 demonstrators since April, the United Nations said in an August 8 report.

Abuses of protesters, including torture, were part of "the breakdown of the rule of law" in the oil-rich but economically-ailing nation, the report said.

Those found guilty of expressing hate or intolerance will be punished with up to 25 years in jail, according to the vaguely worded hate crimes bill.

Groups like Human Rights Watch say it would give Maduro's government carte blanche to take opposition leaders out of circulation ahead of October gubernatorial elections.

The assembly has established a truth commission to investigate opposition candidates to ensure that any who were involved in violent protests would be barred from running for governorships, Rodriguez said.

The opposition, which won control of congress in 2015 only to see its decisions nullified by Maduro's loyalist Supreme Court, boycotted the July 30 election of the constituent assembly. The body has sweeping powers to re-write Venezuela's constitution and even give Maduro permission to rule by decree.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence urged Latin American leaders to intensify pressure on the Venezuelan government, which many fear is on the cusp of dictatorship and civil war.

He made his remarks during a tour of the newly expanded Panama Canal Thursday as he wrapped up a trip to Latin America. Pence met with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela before departing for Washington Thursday evening.

Pence has spent much of his visit working to assure Latin American allies that the United States remains invested in the region despite President Donald Trump's "America first" rhetoric.

That mission was complicated by Trump's surprise suggestion right before Pence left that a "military option" might be on the table for Venezuela. Leaders across the region made clear to Pence that they strongly rejected the suggestion.

"Chile will do its utmost to support Venezuela to find a peaceful way out," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday. "But Chile will not support military interventions, nor coup d'état."



Pro-Palestinian Protesters Leave after Drexel University Decides to Have Police Clear Encampment

Police stand by as protestors prepare to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment at Drexel University early Thursday, May 23, 2004 in Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Police stand by as protestors prepare to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment at Drexel University early Thursday, May 23, 2004 in Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
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Pro-Palestinian Protesters Leave after Drexel University Decides to Have Police Clear Encampment

Police stand by as protestors prepare to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment at Drexel University early Thursday, May 23, 2004 in Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Police stand by as protestors prepare to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment at Drexel University early Thursday, May 23, 2004 in Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Protesters packed up their belongings and left a pro-Palestinian encampment at Drexel University on Thursday after the school announced a decision to have police clear the encampment, The Associated Press reported.
University President John Fry said in a statement that he decided to have campus police and public safety officers join Philadelphia police in clearing the encampment as peacefully as possible. News outlets reported that police gave protesters a warning to clear the encampment and protesters left.
Fry said the university is committed to protecting the community members’ right to assemble peacefully and express their views, but he has the responsibility and authority to regulate campus gatherings to ensure safety and fulfill the mission to educate students.
“An unauthorized encampment that involves large numbers of people unaffiliated with Drexel trespassing on our campus is illegal,” Fry said. “The language and chants coming from this demonstration, underscored by protestors’ repugnant ‘demands,’ must now come to an end.”
Protesters gathered their belongings as dozens of officers on bicycles arrived around 5:20 a.m., but in less than a half hour only a few items remained on the Korman Family Quad where the 35-tent encampment had been, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“The campers picked up their belongings for the most part and left by their own free will,” AP quoted Philadelphia Police Sgt. Eric Gripp as saying
In a statement posted online early Thursday, protest organizers said they had launched a “strategic retreat” to ensure the “safe passage of all people and resources out of the liberated zone.” They said that neither city nor campus police delivered a warning to clear the encampment but rather “we warned ourselves.”
The organizers also said “we succeeded in our aim to disrupt — a university-wide lockdown imposed by cowardly leadership and an excessive police presence drained university resources for six days.” The group also vowed to stay active, writing: “We won’t back down, we will return, and we will come back stronger.”
The encampment had persisted despite Fry's threat earlier this week to have the encampment cleared. Fry said Tuesday that classes would be held virtually for a third day on Wednesday after administrators tried to open a line of communication to the protesters but were rebuffed. News outlets reported that the university announced Wednesday night that the campus would return to normal operations Thursday.
In his statement early Thursday, Fry said previous requests for protesters to disperse had been ignored, but he was asking Drexel affiliates to leave the encampment so police could “escort any remaining trespassers off our campus.”
A wave of pro-Palestinian tent encampments on campuses has led to over 3,000 arrests nationwide.
Harvard University held its commencement Thursday following a weekslong pro-Palestinian encampment. Hundreds of students in graduation robes walked out chanting “Free, Free Palestine” a day after the school announced that 13 Harvard students who participated in a protest encampment would not be able to receive diplomas alongside their classmates.
Also Thursday, the leaders of Northwestern University and Rutgers University are expected to testify at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about concessions they gave to pro-Palestinian protesters to end demonstrations on their campus. The chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, also was scheduled to appear at the latest in a series of hearings looking into how colleges have responded to the protests and allegations of antisemitism.


US to Announce Additional $275ml in Military Aid for Ukraine

A sapper inspects fragments of a Russian air bomb that hit a living area injuring ten in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)
A sapper inspects fragments of a Russian air bomb that hit a living area injuring ten in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)
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US to Announce Additional $275ml in Military Aid for Ukraine

A sapper inspects fragments of a Russian air bomb that hit a living area injuring ten in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)
A sapper inspects fragments of a Russian air bomb that hit a living area injuring ten in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)

The United States is expected to announce an additional $275 million in military aid for Ukraine on Friday as Kyiv struggles to hold off advances by Russian troops in the Kharkiv region, two US officials say.

This will be the fourth installment of military aid for Ukraine since Congress passed a long-delayed foreign aid bill late last month and comes as the Biden administration has pledged to keep weapons flowing regularly and to get them to the front lines as quickly as possible, The AP reported.

The package includes high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, as well 155 mm and 105 mm high-demand artillery rounds, according to the two US officials. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details of the aid package before the public announcement.

It follows a monthly gathering Monday of about 50 defense leaders from Europe and elsewhere who meet regularly to coordinate getting more military aid to Ukraine. At this latest meeting, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukraine was in a “moment of challenge” due to Russia’s new onslaught on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. He pledged to keep weapons moving “week after week.”

In the month since President Joe Biden signed the $95 billion foreign aid package, which included about $61 billion for Ukraine, the US has announced and started to send almost $1.7 billion in weapons pulled from Pentagon stockpiles.

It’s also announced $6 billion in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. That pays for longer-term contracts with the defense industry and means that the weapons could take many months or years to arrive.

With this latest package, the US has now provided almost $51 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.


In New Caledonia, Macron Says Priority is a Return to Calm

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the central police station in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia on May 23, 2024. LUDOVIC MARIN/Pool via REUTERS
French President Emmanuel Macron visits the central police station in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia on May 23, 2024. LUDOVIC MARIN/Pool via REUTERS
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In New Caledonia, Macron Says Priority is a Return to Calm

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the central police station in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia on May 23, 2024. LUDOVIC MARIN/Pool via REUTERS
French President Emmanuel Macron visits the central police station in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia on May 23, 2024. LUDOVIC MARIN/Pool via REUTERS

French President Emmanuel Macron pushed Thursday for a lifting of protesters' barricades in riot-hit New Caledonia and pledged that reinforced police forces battling deadly unrest on the Pacific archipelago “will stay as long as necessary.”

Pro-independence Kanak leaders, who a week earlier declined Macron's offer of talks by video, turned out Thursday to greet him in person, bringing them together at a meeting in the capital Nouméa, with rival loyalist leaders who want New Caledonia, which became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, to remain part of France.

Macron opened the meeting by calling for a minute of silence for the six people killed in shootings during the violence, including two gendarmes, and read out their names. He subsequently urged local leaders to use their clout to help restore order. He said a state of emergency imposed by Paris the previous week to boost police powers could be lifted only if local leaders call for a clearing away of barricades that demonstrators and people trying to protect their neighborhoods have erected in Nouméa and beyond.

“It's a simple phrase and it's best to say because it can have an effect,” Macron said.

Barricades have turned some parts of Nouméa into no-go zones and made traveling around perilous, including for the sick requiring medical treatment and for families fretting about where to find food and water after shops were pillaged and torched. Unrest continued to simmer even as Macron jetted in, despite a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and more than 1,000 reinforcements for the archipelago's police and gendarmes, now 3,000-strong, the French leader said.

“I will be very clear here. These forces will remain as long as necessary. Even during the Olympic Games and Paralympics," which open in Paris on July 26, Macron said.

At Nouméa's La Tontouta International Airport, used for special evacuation flights for stranded tourists but still closed to commercial services, Macron said on arrival that he wanted "to be alongside the people and see a return to peace, calm and security as soon as possible.”

Macron added that he would discuss the resources needed to repair the damage wrought by days of shootings, arson and other violence that has left at least six dead. The destruction is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of euros (dollars).

“We will discuss questions of economic reconstruction, support and rapid response, and the most delicate political questions, as we talk about the future of New Caledonia,” he said. “By the end of the day, decisions will be taken and announcements will be made.”

When asked by a reporter whether he thought a 12-hour visit was enough, Macron responded: “We will see. I don’t have a limit.”

Accompanied by his defense and interior security ministers, Macron later met police at Noumea’s central police station.
"Thank you for being here, thank you very much," Macron told a uniformed officer, before going into a closed-door meeting.


Suspected Gas Blast in China's Harbin Kills One, Injures Three

Representation Photo: Fire in a factory in China (Reuters)
Representation Photo: Fire in a factory in China (Reuters)
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Suspected Gas Blast in China's Harbin Kills One, Injures Three

Representation Photo: Fire in a factory in China (Reuters)
Representation Photo: Fire in a factory in China (Reuters)

A suspected gas explosion at a residential building in China's northeastern city of Harbin killed one person and injured three as it tore off a balcony, state media said on Thursday, while scattering rubble in the street.
It is China's latest such incident after two people were killed and 26 injured in March following a massive blast caused by a suspected gas leak at a restaurant in the northern province of Hebei that ripped facades from buildings and crushed cars, Reuters said.
Thursday's blast, suspected to have been caused by an explosion of a gas tank, happened at about 7 a.m. (2300 GMT) at a building in the city's district of Xiangfang, the official China Daily said, citing district officials.
The official Xinhua news agency quoted witnesses as saying the blast was on the fourth floor of the building at a downtown intersection in the capital of the province of Heilongjiang.
Residents heard a loud blast and suspected it was a gas explosion, the agency said, adding that the blast ripped off the balcony of the apartment and several others nearby.
People ran out of the building. Ambulances, public security and fire officials mounted a rescue operation at the site, Xinhua said.
The cause of the explosion is being further investigated, the China Daily said.
Video images from a car's dashboard camera showed the blast spewing debris onto a nearby highway. In other images rescue workers and firemen picked their way around concrete rubble scattered on the sidewalk outside the building.


Taiwan Scrambles Jets and Puts Missile, Naval and Land Units on Alert Over China's Military Drills

Taiwan scrambled combat jets to warn away 39 Chinese aircraft that entered its southeastern air defense zone. (Reuters file photo)
Taiwan scrambled combat jets to warn away 39 Chinese aircraft that entered its southeastern air defense zone. (Reuters file photo)
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Taiwan Scrambles Jets and Puts Missile, Naval and Land Units on Alert Over China's Military Drills

Taiwan scrambled combat jets to warn away 39 Chinese aircraft that entered its southeastern air defense zone. (Reuters file photo)
Taiwan scrambled combat jets to warn away 39 Chinese aircraft that entered its southeastern air defense zone. (Reuters file photo)

Taiwan scrambled jets and put missile, naval and land units on alert Thursday over Chinese military exercises being conducted around the self-governing island democracy where a new president took office this week.
China’s military said its two-day exercises around Taiwan were punishment for separatist forces seeking independence. Beijing claims the island is part of China’s national territory and the People’s Liberation Army sends navy ships and warplanes into the Taiwan Strait and other areas around the island almost daily to wear down Taiwan’s defenses and seek to intimidate its people, who firmly back their de facto independence, The Associated Press said.
China’s “irrational provocation has jeopardized regional peace and stability," the island's Defense Ministry said. It said Taiwan will seek no conflicts but “will not shy away from one.
“This pretext for conducting military exercises not only does not contribute to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, but also shows its hegemonic nature at heart," the ministry's statement said.
In his inauguration address on Monday, Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te called for Beijing to stop its military intimidation and pledged to “neither yield nor provoke” the mainland Communist Party leadership.
Lai has said he seeks dialogue with Beijing while maintaining Taiwan’s current status and avoiding conflicts that could draw in the island's chief ally the US and other regional partners such as Japan and Australia.
The People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command said the land, navy and air exercises around Taiwan are meant to test the navy and air capabilities of the PLA units, as well as their joint strike abilities to hit targets and win control of the battlefield, the command said on its official Weibo account.
“This is also a powerful punishment for the separatist forces seeking ‘independence’ and a serious warning to external forces for interference and provocation,” the statement said.
The PLA also released a map of the intended exercise area, which surrounds Taiwan's main island at five different points, as well as places like Matsu and Kinmen, outlying islands that are closer to the Chinese mainland than Taiwan.
China's coast guard also said in a statement that it organized a fleet to carry out law enforcement drills near two islands close to the Taiwanese-controlled island groups of Kinmen and Matsu just off the Chinese coast.
While China has termed the exercises as punishment for Taiwan's election result, the Democratic Progressive Party has now run the island’s government for more than a decade, although the pro-China Nationalist Party took a one-seat majority in the parliament.
Speaking in Australia, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Stephen Sklenka, the deputy commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, called on Asia-Pacific nations to condemn the Chinese military exercises.
“There’s no surprise whenever there’s an action that highlights Taiwan in the international sphere the Chinese feel compelled to make some kind of form of statement,” Sklenka told the National Press Club of Australia in the capital Canberra, in a reference to Monday's presidential inauguration.
“Just because we expect that behavior doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t condemn it, and we need to condemn it publicly. And it needs to come from us, but it also needs to come, I believe, from nations in the region. It’s one thing when the United States condemns the Chinese, but it has a far more powerful effect, I believe, when it comes from nations within this region,” Sklenka added.
Japan's top envoy weighed in while visiting the US, saying Japan and Taiwan share values and principles, including freedom, democracy, basic rights and rule of law.
“(Taiwan) is our extremely important partner that we have close economic relations and exchanges of people, and is our precious friend,” Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters in Washington, where she held talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
She said the two ministers discussed Taiwan and the importance of the Taiwan Strait, one of the world's most important waterways for shipping, remaining peaceful.


Colombia Orders the Opening of Embassy in Palestinian Territory

Palestinians hold Palestinian flags as they take part in a protest to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of their mass dispossession in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Palestinians hold Palestinian flags as they take part in a protest to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of their mass dispossession in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
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Colombia Orders the Opening of Embassy in Palestinian Territory

Palestinians hold Palestinian flags as they take part in a protest to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of their mass dispossession in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Palestinians hold Palestinian flags as they take part in a protest to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of their mass dispossession in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has ordered the opening of an embassy in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Foreign Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo told journalists on Wednesday.
"President Petro has given the order that we open the Colombian embassy in Ramallah, the representation of Colombia in Ramallah, that is the next step we are going to take," Murillo said.
Murillo added he believes more countries will soon begin backing the recognition of a Palestinian state before the United Nations, efforts Colombia has already supported, Reuters reported.
At the beginning of this month, Petro, who had already recalled the Colombian ambassador from Tel Aviv, said he would break diplomatic relations with Israel over its actions in Gaza. The embassy was closed on May 3.
Petro has heavily criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has requested to join South Africa's case accusing Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused Petro of being "antisemitic and full of hate" following Colombia's decision to cut ties with the Middle Eastern country, saying the move was a reward for Hamas.
Ramallah, in the West Bank, serves as the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority.
On May 10, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a Palestinian bid to become a full UN member by recognizing it as qualified to join and recommended the UN Security Council "reconsider the matter favorably."
Israel has been rooting out Hamas in Gaza over a brutal rampage by Hamas group in Israel on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage. Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Israel's response has drawn heavy international criticism, with aid access into southern Gaza disrupted since it stepped up military operations in Rafah, a move that the UN says has forced 900,000 people to flee and has raised tensions with neighboring Egypt.
Colombia was not the first Latin American country to cut ties with Israel.
Bolivia broke relations with Israel at the end of October last year while several other countries in Latin America, including Chile and Honduras, have recalled their ambassadors.


Iran's Raisi to Be Laid to Rest in Home Town

Mourners attend the funeral of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. ATTA KENARE / AFP
Mourners attend the funeral of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. ATTA KENARE / AFP
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Iran's Raisi to Be Laid to Rest in Home Town

Mourners attend the funeral of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. ATTA KENARE / AFP
Mourners attend the funeral of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. ATTA KENARE / AFP

Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash, will be buried Thursday in his hometown after two days of funeral processions attended by thousands of mourners.
Raisi, 63, died on Sunday alongside his foreign minister and six others when their helicopter crashed in the country's mountainous northwest while returning from a dam inauguration, said AFP.
His final resting place will be at the holy shrine of Imam Reza, a key Shiite mausoleum in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where the ultra-conservative president was born.
Images published by Iranian media on Wednesday showed officials in Mashhad preparing for the final day of funerary rites.
Large photos of Raisi, black flags and Shiite symbols were erected throughout the streets of Iran's second city, particularly around the Imam Reza shrine.
Massive crowds had gathered for a funeral procession on Wednesday in the capital Tehran to pay their final respects to the president, whom officials and media dubbed a "martyr".
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei -- whom Raisi had been widely expected to succeed -- led prayers for the late president, kneeling before the coffins of the eight people killed in the crash.
Among them was foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who will also be buried Thursday in the shrine of Shah Abdol-Azim in the town of Shahr-Rey south of the capital.
June 28 election
An afternoon ceremony for Raisi was held on Wednesday in which around 60 countries took part, said state news agency IRNA.
Member countries of the European Union were among the absentees of the ceremony, while some non-member countries, including Belarus and Serbia had their representatives.
Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran, has declared five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until a June 28 election for Raisi's successor.
A presidential election in Iran had not been expected until next year, and Sunday's crash has caused some uncertainty as to who will succeed Raisi, with some expressing concern about the upcoming president.
"How do I find someone like him? I'm really worried about that," said 31-year-old cleric Mohsen at Wednesday's funeral in Tehran. "As far as I know, we don't have anyone of his stature."
Raisi was elected president in 2021, succeeding the moderate Hassan Rouhani at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear activities.
The ultra-conservative's time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.
After his death, Russia and China sent their condolences, as did NATO, while the UN Security Council observed a minute's silence.
Messages of condolence also flooded in from Iran's allies around the region, including the Syrian government as well as Hamas and Hezbollah.


Strong Winds Topple Stage at Campaign Rally in Mexico, Killing at Least 9

People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
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Strong Winds Topple Stage at Campaign Rally in Mexico, Killing at Least 9

People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

 A strong gust of wind toppled the stage at a campaign rally Wednesday evening in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, killing at least nine people — including a child — and injuring 63, the state's governor said.
The collapse occurred during an event attended by presidential long-shot candidate Jorge Álvarez Máynez, who ran to escape. Videos of the collapse on social media showed people screaming, running away and climbing out from under metal polls, The Associated Press reported.
The victims “will not be alone in this tragedy,” Máynez told reporters Wednesday night, adding that he had suspended upcoming campaign events.
Afterward, soldiers, police and other officials roamed the grounds of the park where the event took place while many nearby sat stunned and haunted by the tragedy.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he “sends a hug to family members, friends of the victims and political supporters.” Condolences poured in from across Mexico, including by other presidential candidates.
In a video message, Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel Garcia, a leading member of Máynez’s Citizens Movement party, asked residents to shelter in their houses for the next two hours.
Máynez wrote in his social media accounts that he went to a hospital after the accident in the wealthy suburb of San Pedro Garza Garcia, near the city of Monterrey. He said he was in good condition.
“The only important thing at this point is to care for the victims of the accident,” he wrote.
Videos of the accident showed Máynez waving his arm as the crowd chanted his name. But then he looked up to see a giant screen and metal structure toppling toward him. He ran rapidly toward the back of the stage to avoid the falling structure, which appeared to consist of relatively light framework pieces as well as what appeared to be a screen with the party’s logo and theater-style lights.
Máynez has been running third in polls in the presidential race, trailing both front-runner Claudia Sheinbaum of the ruling Morena Party and opposition coalition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez. Both sent their condolences, and Sheinbaum canceled a campaign event in nearby Monterrey the next day “in solidarity” with victims and their loved ones.
“My condolences and prayers with the families of the dead, and my wishes for a speedy recovery to all those injured,” wrote Gálvez in a social media post.
The accident happened at the height of campaign season, with many events held this week and next in anticipation of the June 2 presidential, state and municipal elections.

Campaign events are being held this week and next in anticipation of the June 2 presidential, state and municipal elections.


Facing Criticism, Trump Says He Won't Ban Birth Control

US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Facing Criticism, Trump Says He Won't Ban Birth Control

US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

Donald Trump said he does not support a ban on birth control, after coming under fire for comments he made earlier in the day that political opponents said suggested he would consider restricting contraceptives.

“I HAVE NEVER, AND WILL NEVER ADVOCATE IMPOSING RESTRICTIONS ON BIRTH CONTROL," the Republican presidential candidate said on his social media site, Truth Social.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was asked in an interview with KDKA News in Pittsburgh if he supported any restrictions on the right of people to use contraception.

“We’re looking at that,” he responded, “and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly, and I think it’s something that you’ll find interesting.”

Asked if that included the so-called morning-after pill, Trump said, “Things really do have a lot to do with the states, and some states are going to have different policy than others."

The fight over reproductive rights is a flashpoint in the 2024 presidential race, Reuters reported. Opinion polls show most Americans don’t favor strict limits on those rights, and Democrats are hoping the issue will encourage millions of women and independents to vote their way.

Democrat Joe Biden's campaign swiftly posted Trump's response on social media platform X, contending that Trump had said he would restrict the pill's use.

Trump, in his social media response, said Democrats were lying about his stance.

Trump was not asked about limits on the abortion drug mifepristone, which is used as part of a two-drug regimen to end pregnancies and not as a contraceptive.

Trump has promised for weeks to release a policy about mifepristone with regard to its use in states that restrict surgical abortions. Medication abortion has become the most common method of ending pregnancies, now accounting for more than 60% of US abortions.


Rishi Sunak Calls UK National Election for July 4

]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights
]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights
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Rishi Sunak Calls UK National Election for July 4

]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights
]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a national election on Wednesday for July 4, saying Britons would be able to choose their future in a vote his Conservatives are widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Ending months of speculation as to when he would call a new vote, Sunak, 44, stood outside his Downing Street office in pouring rain and called the election several months earlier than expected - a risky strategy with his party far behind Labour in the opinion polls.
Almost shouting to be heard above an anthem of Labour's election victory in 1997 under former prime minister Tony Blair being played by protesters outside Downing Street's gates, Sunak listed what he said were his achievements in government, not only as prime minister but also as a former finance minister, Reuters reported.
"Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future and decide whether it wants to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one and no certainty," he said.
"Over the next few weeks, I will fight for every vote, I will earn your trust and I will prove to you that only a Conservative government led by me will not put our hard earned economic stability at risk."
He accused Labor leader Keir Starmer, conversely, of always taking the "easy way out" and of having no plan. "As a result, the future can only be uncertain with them," he said.
Starmer, who has pulled Labor to the political center ground after it had veered leftwards, responded with a statement that focused on one word: "change".

"On July 4 you (voters) have the choice and together we can stop the chaos, we can turn the page, we can start to rebuild Britain and change our country," he said, in front of two Union Jack flags.