UN: Ten Million Children in Sahel Face 'Extreme Jeopardy'

FILE PHOTO: A woman who fled from attacks of armed militants in the Sahel region walks with her children at a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kaya, Burkina Faso November 23, 2020. Picture taken November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
FILE PHOTO: A woman who fled from attacks of armed militants in the Sahel region walks with her children at a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kaya, Burkina Faso November 23, 2020. Picture taken November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
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UN: Ten Million Children in Sahel Face 'Extreme Jeopardy'

FILE PHOTO: A woman who fled from attacks of armed militants in the Sahel region walks with her children at a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kaya, Burkina Faso November 23, 2020. Picture taken November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
FILE PHOTO: A woman who fled from attacks of armed militants in the Sahel region walks with her children at a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kaya, Burkina Faso November 23, 2020. Picture taken November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Ten million children in west Africa's central Sahel region are now in "extreme jeopardy" and desperately need humanitarian help due to worsening violence, the United Nations warned Friday.

The number of children in dire need of aid in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger is twice as many as in 2020, the children's agency UNICEF said.

Meanwhile a further four million children are at risk in neighboring countries as battles between armed groups and security forces spill across the borders, AFP said.

"Children are increasingly caught up in the armed conflict, as victims of intensifying military clashes, or targeted by non-state armed groups," Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF's regional director for west and central Africa, said.

"The year 2022 was particularly violent for children in the central Sahel. All parties to the conflict need to urgently stop attacks both on children, and their schools, health centers, and homes."

The region has been caught in a spiral of violence for years, with Mali struggling with an 11-year-old insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Meanwhile Burkina Faso, one of the world's most volatile and impoverished countries, witnessed two military coups in 2022.

UNICEF said the armed conflict engulfing the region had become increasingly brutal, with some groups that operate across vast swathes of territory blockading towns and sabotaging water networks.

- Schools burned, looted -

In Burkina Faso, three times as many children were verified as killed during the first nine months of 2022 as in the same period in 2021, according to UN data.

Most died from gunshot wounds during attacks on their villages or as a result of improvised explosive devices or explosive remnants of war.

Armed groups which oppose state education "systematically burn and loot schools, and threaten, abduct or kill teachers", said UNICEF.

More than 8,300 schools have shut down across the three countries: more than one in five in Burkina Faso, while nearly a third of schools in Niger's Tillaberi region are no longer functional.

James Jones, UNICEF spokesman for the region, detailed "the extreme jeopardy facing the lives and futures of children in the central Sahel".

"Things have been accelerating downhill at an alarming pace," he told reporters in Geneva.

"Slowly and surely it has been spreading, and children -- millions of them -- are increasingly in the middle of it."

He said there were several factors behind the worsening trends, including higher food prices, chronic underfunding of humanitarian and development work, a lack of national commitment to child services, and climate change, with temperatures rising in the Sahel 1.5 times faster than the global average.

UNICEF called on all parties to the conflict to fulfil their "moral and legal obligations" towards children under international law, including ending attacks on youngsters and schools.

- Spreading southwards -

UNICEF said the violence was spreading from the central Sahel into the northern regions of Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo, which are remote communities where children have very limited access to protection and services.

"Insecurity is growing in these coastal countries, linked to similar activities by non-state armed groups," said Jones.

In 2022, UNICEF received only a third of the $391 million sought for the central Sahel appeal.

In 2023, it has appealed for $473.8 million for the humanitarian response plan in the central Sahel and neighboring coastal countries.

The crisis needs long-term investment to foster "social cohesion, sustainable development, and a better future for children," Poirier said.



Nikki Haley Says She 'Will be Voting for Trump'

Former US President Donald Trump talking with former Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki  Haley during a Security Council session in September 2018 (AFP)
Former US President Donald Trump talking with former Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley during a Security Council session in September 2018 (AFP)
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Nikki Haley Says She 'Will be Voting for Trump'

Former US President Donald Trump talking with former Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki  Haley during a Security Council session in September 2018 (AFP)
Former US President Donald Trump talking with former Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley during a Security Council session in September 2018 (AFP)

Former GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley said will vote for former President Donald Trump in November -- despite her disappointment with him.

During a question-and-answer session after delivering a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Haley was asked who she thinks would do a better job in the White House with national security issues: Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

The former United Nations ambassador said she prioritizes a president who will hold enemies to account, secure the border and support "capitalism and freedom" -- and that while "Trump has not been perfect on these policies," that "Biden has been a catastrophe."

"So, I will be voting for Trump," Haley said, AFP reported.

During a speech announcing her campaign suspension -- the day after suffering considerable losses on Super Tuesday, the former South Carolina governor said Trump had to "earn the votes."

"It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it, who did not support him," she said in March. "And I hope he does that. At its best politics is about bringing people into your cause, not turning them away. And our conservative cause badly needs more people."

Many of the Republicans who once challenged Trump for the nomination quickly fell into line behind him after exiting the race.

The Biden campaign has tried to court Haley voters, some of whom have told ABC News they remain undecided.

On Wednesday, following Hayley's announcement, a representative of the Biden campaign released a statement touting their candidate.

"Nothing has changed for the millions of Republican voters who continue to cast their ballots against Donald Trump in the primaries and care deeply about the future of our democracy, standing strong with our allies against foreign adversaries, and working across the aisle to get things done for the American people – while also rejecting the chaos, division and violence that Donald Trump embodies," the statement read. "Only one candidate shares those values, and only one campaign is working hard every day to earn their support – and that’s President Biden's."

Despite leaving the race, Haley picked up primary support in states including Maryland, Indiana and Wisconsin.


China Launches 'Punishment' War Games around Taiwan

A screen showing Chinese maneuvers around Taiwan on a street in Beijing (EPA)
A screen showing Chinese maneuvers around Taiwan on a street in Beijing (EPA)
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China Launches 'Punishment' War Games around Taiwan

A screen showing Chinese maneuvers around Taiwan on a street in Beijing (EPA)
A screen showing Chinese maneuvers around Taiwan on a street in Beijing (EPA)

China launched "punishment" drills around Taiwan on Thursday in what it said was a response to "separatist acts", sending up heavily armed warplanes and staging mock attacks as state media denounced newly inaugurated President Lai Ching-te.

The exercises in the Taiwan Strait and around groups of Taiwan-controlled islands beside the Chinese coast come just three days after Lai took office, Reuters reported.

China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and denounces Lai as a "separatist", decried his inauguration speech on Monday, in which he urged Beijing to stop its threats and said the two sides of the strait were "not subordinate to each other".

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Lai "disgraceful".

Lai has repeatedly offered talks with China but has been rebuffed. He says only Taiwan's people can decide their future, and rejects Beijing's sovereignty claims.

The Eastern Theatre Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) said it had started joint military drills, involving the army, navy, air force and rocket force, in areas around Taiwan at 7:45 a.m. (2345 GMT).

The drills are being held in the Taiwan Strait, the north, south and east of Taiwan, as well as areas around the Taiwan-controlled islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, the command said in a statement, the first time China's exercises have included areas round these islands.

China launched military drills around Taiwan on May 23, sending up heavily armed warplanes and staging mock attacks.

State media said China sent out dozens of fighter jets carrying live missiles, and conducted mock strikes, along with warships, of high-value military targets.

Taiwan's defense ministry said 15 Chinese navy ships, 16 coast guard and 33 aircraft were involved, but no live fire drills were held in any areas close to Taiwan.

The drills, dubbed "Joint Sword - 2024A", are set to run for two days. However, unlike a similar "Joint Sword" exercise in April last year, these drills are tagged "A", opening the door to potential follow-ups.

Taiwan's defense ministry said it had sent forces to areas around the island, with its air defenses and land-based missile forces tracking targets. It said it was confident it could protect its territory.

"The launch of military exercises on this occasion not only does not contribute to the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait, it also highlights (China's) militaristic mentality," the ministry said.

The U.S. State and Defense departments put out identical statements strongly urging Beijing to act with restraint and saying it should not use Taiwan's political transition as a "pretext or excuse for provocative or coercive measures."

"(China's) actions risk escalation and erode longstanding norms that have maintained regional peace and stability for decades," they said.

Analysts, regional diplomats and senior Taiwan officials noted that so far the operations around Taiwan are smaller than the those China staged to protest at the August 2022 visit to Taipei of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Then China staged live-fire drills as part of exercises that ran for days and were denounced by the U.S. as "extreme, disproportionate and escalatory."


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.