Month: January 2020

Trump Tries to Keep Focus on Trade as Impeachment Trial Moves Forward

Trump Tries to Keep Focus on Trade as Impeachment Trial Moves Forward


Battle Over Witnesses Launches First Full Week of Trump Trial

The impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump got fully underway in the Senate Tuesday with a battle over the rules governing how the case moves forward. For just the third time in U.S. history, senators will vote to decide if a president should be removed from office. Congressional Democrats argue witnesses should be allowed to testify to help make their case Trump abused the power of the presidency. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.


American NGO Unearths Mines in Vietnam to Make Farming Possible

The United States bombed parts of Southeast Asia a generation ago. The fallout of one of the longest military entanglements in American history wreaked havoc on local populations and destroyed much of the land once suitable for farming.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi looks at how US non-profit Roots of Peace sows seeds of hope today while unearthing the horrors of yesterday.


Sources: EU Nations Can Restrict High-Risk Vendors Under New 5G Guidelines

EU countries can restrict or exclude high-risk 5G providers from core parts of their telecoms network infrastructure under new guidelines to be issued by the European Commission next week, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The non-binding recommendations are part of a set of measures aimed at addressing cybersecurity risks at national and bloc-wide level, in particular concerns related to world No. 1 player Huawei Technologies.

The guidelines do not identify any particular country or company, the people said.

“Stricter security measures will apply for high-risk vendors for sensitive parts of the network or the core infrastructure,” one of the people said.

EU digital economy chief Margrethe Vestager is expected to announce the recommendations on Jan. 29.

Other measures include urging EU countries to audit or even issue certificates for high-risk suppliers.

EU governments will also be advised to diversify their suppliers and not depend on one company and to use technical and non-technical factors to assess them.

Europe is under pressure from the United States to ban Huawei equipment on concerns that its gear could be used by China for spying. Huawei, which competes with Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson has denied the allegations.


Reports: Tensions Grow Between US, Russian Forces in Northeast Syria

A U.S. military patrol has blocked a Russian military convoy from using a main highway in northeast Syria amid growing tensions between the two sides, local reports said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has researchers inside the country, reported on Tuesday that U.S. forces didn’t allow Russian military vehicles to use a major road between two Kurdish-held towns in Syria’s northeast.

The Russian convoy was attempting to reach a border crossing between Syria and Iraq that is under the control of U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Observatory added.

After Turkish military and allied Syrian militias launched an offensive against SDF fighters in October 2019, Russia, a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, stepped in to increase its military presence in northeast Syria following a U.S. decision to withdraw troops from parts of the border area between Syria and Turkey.

After mounting pressure from the U.S. Congress and U.S. foreign allies, President Donald Trump decided to keep about 500 U.S. troops in the area to protect the region’s oil fields, and prevent Islamic State and Syrian regime troops from accessing them.

Now, both the U.S. and Russia have military outposts throughout the region.

Turkish and Russian patrol is seen near the town of Darbasiyah, Syria, Nov. 1, 2019.

Growing tensions

The incident on Tuesday is part of a series of similar incidents that happened in recent days between the two powers over their presence in Syria, local sources said. 

“This is the third incident that occurred within a week,” said Nishan Mohammad, a local reporter who said he witnessed another recent standoff between U.S. and Russian troops in northeast Syria.

“I was there last weekend when U.S. soldiers stopped Russian military vehicles and forced them to head back to their base,” he told VOA in a phone interview Tuesday.

It seems that the U.S. wants to limit the Russian presence in certain parts of northeast Syria, Mohammad added.

Contacted by VOA, SDF officials declined to comment on the matter, citing the sensitivity of the issue.  

U.S. and Russian officials have not immediately reacted to this development.

Reasserting Assad’s authority  

Northeast Syria has largely been under the control of Kurdish forces since 2012 after Syrian regime troops withdrew to focus on fighting rebel forces elsewhere in the war-torn country.

With Syrian troops now in control of most territory once held by rebels, experts charge that Russia’s recent moves in northeast Syria are an attempt at reasserting the Syrian government’s authority in that region.“

Russia’s clear objective is to reestablish the authority of the (Syrian) regime in the Kurdish region,” said Radwan Badini, a Syria expert who teaches journalism and politics at Salahaddin University in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.

He told VOA that such provocations by Russia will not yield any results in Moscow’s favor, as Syria’s northeast is of strategic importance to the U.S. in its continued war against IS.

“The Americans will not give up this part of Syria,” Badini said, noting that, “in addition to its oil fields, northeast Syria represents a strategic depth for the U.S. and its allies to carry on their counterterrorism efforts in eastern Syria.”



Venezuela’s Guaido Defies Travel Ban to Rally Diplomatic Support

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido was in London on Tuesday as part of a surprise international trip to revive support for forcing the resignation of the country’s authoritarian leader, Nicolas Maduro.  One year ago, Guaido was recognized by the U.S. and over 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president after Maduro blocked opponents in the last presidential election. However, VOA’s Brian Padden reports that tough U.S. sanctions and diplomatic pressure imposed a year ago have not succeeded to break the socialist president’s hold on power.


Afghan Government Says Full Cease-fire Key to Peace Talks

After the Afghan Taliban announced a seven  to 10-day cease-fire with US troops and a reduction in violence against Afghan forces, the Afghan government called the Taliban offer ‘ambiguous,’ and asked for a complete cease-fire as a way forward for peace talks.


Iranian Student Denied Re-Entry to US

An Iranian student returning to university in Boston was denied entry to the United States and sent out of the country, immigration lawyers said.

Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein, a 24-year-old undergraduate student at Northeastern University, arrived on a flight into Boston International Logan Airport on Monday with a valid student visa, but was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

Lawyers filed an emergency petition Monday night to allow him re-entry to attend college, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts. The U.S. District Court in Massachusetts issued an order allowing Dehghani to stay in the U.S. until a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday.

But CBP put him on a flight out of the U.S. Monday night.

Kerry Doyle, one of Dehghani’s lawyers, said CPB acted after the order was issued to allow the student to stay in the U.S. They say he is waiting in Paris.

UPDATE: JUDGE ORDERED client to remain in the US at 9:27 p.m. According to @SenMarkey office, he was removed from the US at 10:03 p.m. CBP officers told MULTIPLE attorneys that he was removed from the plane at 9:30/9:40 p.m. THEY LIED . The Federal Judge will handle this now

— Susan Church (@SusanBChurch11) January 21, 2020

Dehghani’s “expedited removal is a result of additional scrutiny targeting Iranian citizens,” and is not “based on legitimate concerns of Plaintiff’s admissibility to the United States,” his attorneys argued in court filings.

“As such, it violates equal protection guarantees against discrimination based on national origin, constitutional due process guarantees, and the Administrative Procedure Act,” wrote his attorneys, who include Kerry Doyle, Susan Church and lawyers from Americans for Civil Liberties (ACLU).

Like most of the more than 1 million international students in the U.S., Dehghani’s student F-1 visa was issued by the U.S. Department of State and administered by agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“He went through an extensive processing period before he came back, which means that overseas investigators investigate his family, they speak to employers, they do a very thorough investigation,” Church told reporters outside the courthouse.

“It is unclear why Defendants would now decide, after conducting a full visa issuance process, that Plaintiff’s student visa should be revoked,” Doyle said in the filing.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Doyle argued that Dehghani had not boarded his flight when the order was issued and should be returned to the U.S.

U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns said the case was moot and out of his jurisdiction because the student was no longer in the U.S.

Dehghani’s attorneys disputed the judge’s ruling, and say they are weighing Dehghani’s legal options.

— John Hawkinson (@johnhawkinson) January 21, 2020

Attorneys complained that customs officials in Boston have a “pattern” of ignoring court orders, such as removing people from the U.S. despite legal injunctions.

At least 10 students have been sent back to Iran upon arrival at U.S. airports since August 2019, the ACLU said. Seven had flown into Logan airport.

“In America, nobody is above the law — including Customs and Border Protection officials. … We are looking at all options to hold CBP accountable for wrongfully deporting Iranians and other students who hold valid visas,” Carol Rose, executive director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement.

CBP told the Guardian newspaper in a Jan. 14 article that “it was not at liberty to discuss an individual’s processing, and that it prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion.” It added that the agency “is operating with an enhanced security posture.”

‘Maximum pressure’ campaign

Earlier in January, reports indicated that the Trump administration would be expanding its much litigated travel ban that restricts travel and immigration from five majority-Muslim nations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, as well as Venezuela and North Korea.

In September, President Donald Trump declared an entry ban to “restrict and suspend” the ability of “senior government officials of Iran and their immediate family members” to enter the U.S. as immigrants or nonimmigrants. The president called it a “maximum pressure” campaign to push Iran to end perceived malign behaviors. 

Northeastern University released a statement saying it has reached out to federal officials to try to help Dehghani.

“Northeastern welcomes thousands of international students and supports them with an array of resources,” the university said in a statement. “We have been in touch with federal officials to learn more about this case and to provide our students with the appropriate assistance to facilitate a successful return to Northeastern.”


Indonesia Fights Growing Pressure from China to Let it Use Use Disputed Waters

China is raising pressure on Indonesia over rights to use a contested tract of sea and challenging the militarily weaker Southeast Asian country to consider options from friendly dialogue to strong protests.
Indonesia spotted as many as 63 “trespassing” Chinese vessels in 30 locations within its maritime exclusive economic zone last month, the research platform East Asia Forum says in a January 15 report.  Another spate followed in early January.  Chinese coast guard vessels had escorted some, media reports from Jakarta say.
Though not a first between the two big Asian countries, this escalation near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands raises the specter of a new flash point in a normally quiet part of the broader, heavily disputed South China Sea.

“On the Indonesian side, I think that there’s a growing sense at the security level that China is becoming a more problematic actor,” said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo.
China may hope Indonesia will bargain over the tract of sea that’s near the 272 tiny Natuna islands northwest of Borneo, possibly in exchange for economic aid, Asia scholars say.
But if Indonesia fears talks would validate China’s claim, it might instead make diplomatic protests instead or get help from powerful Western-allied countries that already resent China’s maritime expansion.

“I think you’ll see a lot more of China pushing not just on us but on Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and others through incursions and get us to eventually acknowledge their right to a negotiation, and I think this is why we’re still very much resisting the notion that we should come and talk to the Chinese about this,” said Evan Laksamana, senior researcher for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Jakarta.

“And I think China also doesn’t want to make (the coordinates of its claim) that clear yet, so that’s why these are kind of gradual, low-level incursions, that of course I think will escalate if Indonesia doesn’t respond strongly and forcefully and provide actual diplomatic protest notes so that under international law we always challenge China’s incursions,” Laksamana said.

South China Sea Territorial Claims

China vies separately with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines over parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea north of the Natuna Islands. China uses a nine-dash line, sourcing it to maritime records from dynastic times, to claim about 90% of the waterway that multiple countries value for its fisheries and undersea fossil fuel reserves. The nine dashes cut into the Indonesian exclusive economic zone, or EEZ.
Indonesia and China are in a new phase of testing each other’s bottom line, said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. Competing ship movements will continue “for a while”, he believes. “In recent years, I think both China and Indonesia came to the realization that the Natuna Island EEZ and nine-dash line, they do intersect one another, so they are literally testing the water now,” Oh said.
Friction between the two sides dates back to 2016, when Indonesian President Joko Widodo showed signs of taking a harder line in the maritime dispute compared to his predecessors.

Authorities in his government have burned dozens of foreign fishing boats found in the EEZ.   Vessels from the two countries entered a standoff   in 2016 when Indonesian authorities tried to arrest a private boat operator but a Chinese coast guard vessel intervened. Indonesia said then that China had officially included waters near the Natuna Islands on a territorial map. Two years later Indonesia opened a Natuna Islands military base for up to 1,000 personnel.
China hinted this month that the two sides should talk. 

“I can tell you that China and Indonesia have always carried out dialogue through diplomatic channels,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing January 7 as quoted on his ministry’s website. “We believe the Indonesian side also can see the issue from the vantage of bilateral relations and regional stability and resolve disputes with the Chinese side.”
China often offers aid and investment to ease rifts with smaller countries.  

Before Widodo took office in 2014, Indonesia normally said little about Chinese vessels near the Natuna Islands. China had invested in Indonesia’s infrastructure and bought oil from its palm plantations. Indonesian officials today have been cautious on any deals to accept infrastructure aid under Beijing’s $1 trillion, Belt and Road Initiative aimed at building trade routes across Asia.   
Indonesia indicated it would assert its maritime claim without dialogue.

Maritime and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo made a working visit January 15 to the Natuna Islands “in order to follow up President Jokowi’s instructions that Indonesian sovereignty is not negotiable,” according to a statement on the ministry’s website. Jokowi is the president’s nickname.
Indonesia protested diplomatically over the December ship movements and China replied that it had rights to use those waters.
Jakarta might look to Australia, Japan and the United States for help such as “capacity building”, Nagy said. Eventually, he said, nothing will be settled. That way China can show it’s not being influenced by smaller countries and Indonesian people won’t see their government as a pushover, he said.
China would avoid any moves that might incite anger among Indonesian people, the source of deadly anti-Chinese riots in 1998, Nagy added.


South Korea Naval Unit to Expand Operations to Strait of Hormuz

A South Korean anti-piracy unit has temporarily expanded its mission to the Strait of Hormuz, a vital global oil route at the center of soaring tensions between Iran and the United States.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced the expansion Tuesday, saying it was meant to help ensure the safe passage of South Korean vessels and nationals through the waterway. 

South Korea has conducted anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden since 2009 and is expanding to the strait that connects the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf. Tensions in waters around the Arabian Peninsula have soared since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and a U.S. airstrike earlier this month killed Iran’s top general.

Iran was accused of sabotaging oil tankers in the Persian Gulf last year, allegations it denied. It seized a British-flagged oil tanker after an Iranian oil tanker was seized by authorities in Gibraltar over suspected sanctions violations. Both ships were released weeks later. 

The United States last week warned of threats to commercial vessels in and around the Persian Gulf following the latest tensions.

The South Korean ministry’s statement said the unit will work independently but cooperate with a U.S.-led coalition if necessary. It said two South Korean soldiers will be liaison officers at the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters. 

Observers say the decision suggested South Korea considered both its relations with Iran and chief ally United States, which has asked it for a contribution to help guard oil tankers.

The South Korean naval unit refers to a 4,400-ton-class destroyer with 300 troops and a helicopter, according to the navy. 

According to the statement, the Strait of Hormuz is a shipping lane for more than 70 percent of South Korean oil imports and South Korean vessels sail through the area about 900 times annually. It said about 25,000 South Korean nationals live in the Middle East.


Court: Thai Opposition Party Not Guilty of Opposing Monarchy

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday found key figures of the opposition Future Forward Party not guilty of opposing the country’s monarchy, an allegation that could have seen the high-profile party banned in one of several ongoing cases against it.

The ruling was a relief for the opposition, which has said the anti-monarchy charges were politically motivated to suppress dissent against Thailand’s government headed by a former military junta leader.

The court rejected the claims the party sought to overthrow the monarchy, based on social media posts and academic publications by key members since before the party was founded.

The dismissed complaint also alleged the party was linked to the Illuminati, a secret society that conspiracy theorists believe seeks world domination.

“The accused have not acted in their rights and liberties to overthrow the constitutional monarchy,” said Taweekiat Meenakanit, one of the nine judges.

But Taweekiat noted that the party should revise wording in its manifesto, which states that it abides by “democratic principle per the Constitution”, to say “democratic system with the king as head of state”.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 67, is a constitutional monarch, but in traditional culture, the monarch is revered as the country’s protector and insulting the king is a criminal offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Seeking to abolish the monarchy is considered a grave offense.

Founded two years ago, Future Forward Party came third in last year’s general election, which the opposition says was manipulated to favour the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party.

Its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 41, has emerged as the most prominent opponent to the government that last year reinstalled former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, 65, as prime minister five years after he staged a military coup.

At the party’s headquarters in Bangkok, supporters broke into cheers after the verdict was delivered.

“This should not have been a case in the first place. I would like to stress that neither Thanathorn, myself, nor the party, want to undermine the constitutional monarchy,” said Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the party’s secretary-general.

But analysts said Future Forward could still be dissolved on one of the other legal cases it faces.

One case alleges that Future Forward violated electoral laws governing by accepting loans from party leader, auto-parts billionaire Thanathorn.

“The bottom line is Future Forward’s days are numbered,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University.

“Because they stand against the military junta, stand for reforms and a new kind of Thailand that the conservative establishment won’t accept.”


More Precautions Taken as 4th Death Blamed on China Virus

Heightened precautions were being taken in China and elsewhere Tuesday as governments strove to control the outbreak of a novel coronavirus that threatens to grow during the Lunar New Year travel rush.

Anxieties around the disease grew after Chinese government expert Zhong Nanshan revealed on state television late Monday that the virus can be spread between humans. Authorities had previously said there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

So far, four people have died, and more than 200 have been infected. The new type of coronavirus appears to have originated in the central city of Wuhan, which has reported 198 cases and all of the fatalities. Others who have been diagnosed in Beijing, Shanghai and southern Guangdong province had also visited Wuhan.

Internationally, four cases of coronavirus have been confirmed among Chinese travelers in South Korea, Japan and Thailand.

Concerned about a global outbreak similar to SARS, a different coronavirus that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003, numerous nations have adopted screening measures for travelers arriving from China, especially those from Wuhan.

Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said his country will be increasing airport screening. Australia receives a significant number of travelers from China, including three direct flights a week from Wuhan into Sydney, and these flights will be met by border security and biosecurity staff for assessments, Murphy told reporters. 

Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and other places with extensive travel links to China are also enacting stricter screening measures. At least three U.S. airports have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China.

“We need to step up our caution levels as the number of patients is continuing to rise in China,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a meeting with the health minister and others from related ministries.

“Please take every possible precaution,” Abe said.

The first cases identified late last month were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. The first patients were suspected to have contracted the virus from animals, but human-to-human transmission was confirmed late Monday.

Zhong, a government expert who helped expose the scale of SARS, told state broadcaster CCTV that two people in Guangdong province caught the virus from family members.

Fifteen medical workers have also tested positive for the virus, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission announced in the notice. Previously, the commission said no one who came into close contact with patients, including health professionals, were infected. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping instructed government departments Monday to promptly release information on the virus and deepen international cooperation.

When SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, first infected people in southern China, the Chinese government initially tried to conceal the severity of the epidemic, which ended up killing nearly 800 people. The cover-up was exposed by a high-ranking physician.

Gabriel Leung, dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said Chinese authorities have responded much more quickly this time.

“Our underlying assumptions are, the force of infection is very different now … because so many public health measures have been undertaken and so many interventions have been executed,” Leung told reporters at a briefing.

Leung, who was heavily involved in the response to SARS, said modeling shows that cases will multiply over the coming weeks but the outbreak will gradually lose momentum as precautionary measures take effect.

Initial symptoms of the novel coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.

On the Weibo social media platform, which is widely used in China, people posted prevention advice such as wearing masks and washing hands. Some people said they had canceled their travel plans and were staying home for Lunar New Year.

Everyone entering Beijing United Family Hospital on Tuesday was required to have their temperature checked as soon as they entered the door. The hospital provided surgical masks to all patients, who were told they had to wear them. All nurses, doctors and cleaning staff were also wearing masks.


Hundreds in River ‘No-Man’s Land’ After Mexico Troops Block Way

Hundreds of Central American migrants were stranded in a sort of no-man’s land on the river border between Guatemala and Mexico after running up against lines of Mexican National Guard troops deployed to keep them from moving en masse into the country and on north toward the U.S. 

Naked children played amid the sand and trash Monday evening as clothing and shoes hung from the trees to dry along the Suchiate River, normally a porous waterway plied all day by rafts ferrying people and goods across. Men grilled a fish over a small fire below the border bridge, and migrants bedded down under blankets on the banks or dry sections of the riverbed without knowing what might come next. 

The path forward was blocked Monday by Mexican troops with riot shields, and about 100 National Guard agents continued to form a barrier with anti-riot gear into the night. But a return home to impoverished and gang-plagued Honduras, where most of the migrants are from, was unthinkable. 

“We are in no-man’s land,” said Alan Mejia, whose 2-year-old son was cradled in his arms clad only in a diaper as his wife, Ingrid Vanesa Portillo, and their other son, 12, gazed at the riverbanks. Mejia joined in five previous migrant caravans but never made it farther than the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

“They are planning how to clear us out, and here we are without water or food,” said a desperate Portillo. “There is no more hope for going forward.” 

Unlike was often the case with previous caravans, there was no sign of humanitarian aid arriving for those stuck at the river. 

Throngs waded across the Suchiate into southern Mexico on Monday hoping to test U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy to keep Central American migrants away from the U.S. border. The push also challenged Mexico’s ramped-up immigration policing that began last year in response to threats of economic tariffs from Trump, a change that effectively snuffed out the last caravan in April.

Some scuffled with National Guard troops on the riverbank while others slipped through the lines and trudged off on a rural highway, with most taken into custody later in the day. Still others were taken into custody on the spot or chased into the brush. Some migrants hurled rocks at the police, who huddled behind their plastic shields and threw some of the rocks back. 

Most of the migrants, however, stayed at the river’s edge or stood in its waters trying to decide their next move after being blocked earlier in the day from crossing the bridge linking Tecun Uman, Guatemala, with Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. 

“We never thought they would receive us like that,” said Melisa Avila, who traveled from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa with her 12-year-old son and was resigning herself to the prospect of spending the night outdoors. “They treated us like dogs.” 

In an approach that developed after the first migrant caravan in late 2018, Mexican officials seem to be succeeding in their effort to blunt large-scale incursions by breaking up the mass of people repeatedly and into increasingly smaller groups. Over the weekend, government officials convinced about 1,000 people they should enter legally via the bridge.

The National Immigration Institute issued a statement saying it would detain any migrants in the country illegally, hold them in detention centers and deport those who did not legalize their status. Any who made it through and continued north could expect a gauntlet of highway checkpoints.

As feared, children suffered in the chaos. On the Mexican bank an unconscious 14-year-old girl was carried away for medical attention Monday.

Later along the highway, a mother sobbed after realizing her youngest daughter had been separated when migrants tried to escape authorities. Another migrant who had been helping her by carrying the 5-year-old ran in another direction when the migrants scattered and she hadn’t been able to locate them.

Back at the river, Avila, who had befriended the woman at a shelter in Tecun Uman, walked along the bank showing everyone a picture of the daughter. 

“Have you seen this little girl?” Avila asked other migrants. “Blue pants, beige shirt and little pink shoes.”

The Guatemalan government issued new data saying that 4,000 migrants had entered that country through the two primary crossings used by the migrants last week, and over the weekend nearly 1,700 entered Mexico at two crossings. It said 400 had been deported from Guatemala. 

The Immigration Institute said late Monday in a statement that about 500 migrants had entered irregularly and announced the “rescue” of 402 of them — using the term it frequently employs to describe migration detentions; It said the latter were taken to holding centers and offered medical care. 

The institute said five National Guard troops were hurt but did not give details. 

While Mexico says the migrants are free to enter if they do so through official channels — and could compete for jobs if they want to stay and work — in practice, it has restricted such migrants to the impoverished southernmost states while their cases are processed by a sluggish bureaucracy. 

When the rocks began flying at the river Monday, Elena Vasquez, , fearful for the safety of her two wailing sons, bolted back to the Guatemalan side where she would later spend the night. Exhausted after a week on the road, the 28-year-old from Olancho, Honduras, vowed to endure and hoped Mexican authorities would have a change of heart. 

“I am going to wait as long as necessary. God will open the gates for us,” Vasquez said. 

“Necessity forces one day more on us,” she continued. “We will have to wait and see what happens.” 


Ukraine Asks OSCE to Expand Its Monitoring Mission

Ukraine has asked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to expand its monitoring mission in the country, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said Monday after a meeting with the organization’s chairman.

The OSCE’s special monitoring mission has been present in Ukraine since 2014, when fighting between Ukrainians and Russia-backed separatists broke out in the country’s eastern regions after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The mission’s civilian monitors observe the situation in Ukraine in general and in the war-torn regions in particular, with a special task of facilitating dialogue between the sides of the conflict. Its mandate expires on March 31.

FILE – Members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine walk as they arrive for monitoring ahead of a proposed withdrawal of troops, in Petrіvske, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Oct. 9, 2019.

Prystaiko said Kyiv asked the OSCE not only to extend the mission, but to “expand its possibilities and human resources” and support it financially.

OSCE chairman Edi Rama, in turn, called the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine “the most pressing challenge to security and stability in Europe today.”

The move comes amid Ukraine’s efforts to end the war that has killed more than 14,000 people and ravaged the country’s industrial heartland. In December, leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany sat down for talks, hoping to revive a 2015 peace deal. The negotiations didn’t produce a breakthrough, but were hailed by both Russia and Ukraine as progress.



Davos Bolsters Security as Protesters March Toward Venue

Hundreds of disgruntled protesters against the elite World Economic Forum are marching through the Alpine snows toward its annual gathering in Davos, as officials on Monday detailed extra security measures like vehicle checks and webcam shutdowns with U.S. President Donald Trump and other notables set to arrive.

Zurich regional police said some 130 attendees who are “protected under international law” — including royalty, presidents and prime ministers — were expected to pass through toward the Davos gathering from Tuesday to Friday. All told, nearly 3,000 leaders from civil society, business, politics and elsewhere from 118 countries are expected as the Forum marks its 50th year.

FILE – A Swiss national flag waves in the wind during last year’s World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 25, 2019.

Protesters with the “Strike-WEF” collective, who began marching toward Davos on Sunday, have taken issue with one security measure: An order from regional police that no more than 300 people can attend a planned protest near the town hall. Authorities insist the square is too small to hold more people. They call such limits anti-democratic.
“When they can have space for 3,000 people — the majority of who are the richest people on the planet  — but for only 300 among the 99% of the rest of us, it’s a joke,” said Payal Parekh, a spokeswoman for the collective. Members of the group and its supporters — some dressed in get-ups like Ronald McDonald outfits — were marching toward Davos but have been barred from the main roads to get there.

“There are ways to get to Davos,” she said. “We are creative and flexible.”

Rosalina Mueller, a spokeswoman for the Young Socialists that is helping organize the demonstration in Davos, applauded the idea of having leaders come together, but said they’d failed to help the world over the last half-century.

“They say they want to make the world better, but for 50 years they haven’t done anything,” she said. Forum organizers have pointed to scores of initiatives like planting trees, enlisting businesses in advocacy programs, and rallying thousands of promising youths to help their communities in scores of countries around the world.
The Swiss national authorities were restricting airspace and have authorized up to 5,000 troops to take part in enhanced security. Authorities and Forum organizers have set aside a budget of $9 million for extra security measures during the event.

Zurich authorities were boosting security checks of people and vehicles and advising Zurich airport visitors to use public transport for Trump’s expected arrival on Tuesday.




Easing of Strike Brings Relief for Paris Commuters

Paris commuters who were careworn after six weeks of misery-inducing transport strikes found their smiles again Monday as some subway workers ended their walkouts against a contested overhaul of France’s pension system.
A weekend announcement by the subway wing of the UNSA union of a return to work after 46 consecutive days of strikes produced a marked improvement in services as the French capital embarked on a new week Monday.
“It was very fluid,” said traveler Eric Lebrun, after taking a train and then riding the metro during the morning rush hour.
Lebrun travels weekly to Paris from Switzerland, where he lives, and said the strikes had had a “catastrophic” impact on his journey since they started Dec. 5.
“Now it’s much better,” he said.
For the first time since Dec. 5, services were completely or almost back to normal on 11 of Paris’ 16 subway lines, said the RATP company that runs the metro system.
But not all strikers voted to return to work. Unions have split over whether to accept government compromise proposals or to continue pushing for a complete withdrawal of its plans to reform the pension system. UNSA’s subway wing said that while its strikers had opted to return to work, the union plans to continue protesting against the “unfair“ pension reform.
On five subway lines, services remained disrupted, the RATP said.
On Paris’ suburban train network, some commuters noticed improvements while others said they were still waiting longer than normal for trains.
“It’s no better than usual, the same as it was last week,” said commuter Pierre Bouteloup, braving the morning chill on a platform in the west of Paris. “I’ve been waiting for almost 10 minutes for a train. Normally, there’s a train every three or four minutes.”
But student Lea Toussaint said her wait for a train to her university was far shorter on Monday, just a few minutes than last week.
“It’s a lot better,” she said.


Virginia State Capital Braces for Gun Rights Rally

Virginia’s capital city is bracing for the expected arrival of thousands of gun-rights activists and other groups that have vowed to descend on Richmond to protest Democrats’ plans to pass gun-control legislation.

Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency days ahead of Monday’s rally, banning all weapons including guns from the event on Capitol Square. Militia groups and white supremacists were among those expected to mix with gun-rights activists, raising fears the state could again see the type of violence that exploded in Charlottesville in 2017.

Virginia’s solicitor general told a judge Thursday that law enforcement had identified “credible evidence” armed out-of-state groups planned to  come to the state  with the possible intention of participating in a “violent insurrection.”

Toby Heytens also suggested during his arguments in a lawsuit by gun advocates that challenged the weapons ban that the crowd could number in the tens of thousands. The Supreme Court upheld the weapons ban.

The Virginia State Police, the Virginia Capitol Police and the Richmond Police are all coordinating the event and have plans for a huge police presence at Monday’s rally with both uniformed and plainclothes officers. Police plan to limit access to Capitol Square to only one entrance and have warned rallygoers they may have to wait hours to get past security screening.

Authorities will be looking to avoid a repeat of the violence that erupted in 2017 in Charlottesville during one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists and other far-right groups in a decade. Attendees brawled with counterprotesters, and an avowed white supremacist drove his car into a crowd, killing a woman and injuring dozens more.

A demonstrator stands on the sidewalk before a pro gun rally, Jan. 20, 2020, in Richmond, Va.

Law enforcement officials faced scathing criticism for what both the white supremacist groups and anti-racism protesters said was a passive response.

Monday’s rally  is being organized by an influential grassroots gun-rights group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League. The group holds a yearly rally at the Capitol, typically a low-key event with a few hundred gun enthusiasts listening to speeches from a handful of ambitious Republican lawmakers.

But this year, many more are expected to attend. Second Amendment groups have identified the state as a rallying point for the fight against what they see as a national erosion of gun rights.

The pushback against proposed new gun restrictions began immediately after Democrats won majorities in both the state Senate and House of Delegates in November. Much of the opposition has focused on a proposed assault weapons ban.

Virginia Democrats are also backing bills limiting handgun purchases to once a month, implementing universal background checks on gun purchases, allowing localities to ban guns in public buildings, parks and other areas, and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.




Ex-Police Chief on Trial for Role in Catalan Secession Bid

The former head of Catalonia’s regional police and three others are standing trial on charges of rebellion and sedition for their alleged roles in the illegal bid by the Catalan regional government to break away from Spain in 2017.
The trial starting Monday in the National Court could inflame secessionist sentiment again in Catalonia after several weeks of calm in the northeastern region. It also comes as new Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez promises to try to resolve the regional conflict with political talks rather than legal actions.
The state prosecution has asked for former Mossos police chief Jose Luis Trapero to be sentenced to 11 years on charges of rebellion for allegedly conniving with regional authorities in the failed secession push led by former Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont and his deputy, Oriol Junqueras.
Puigdemont, now a European Parliament member, fled Spain to Belgium following the push. Spain is seeking his extradition. Junqueras and eight other Catalan politicians and activists received prison sentences last October for their roles.
Also charged with rebellion are former Catalan regional interior ministry official, Cesar Puig and former regional police director, Pere Soler. Senior regional police officer Teresa Laplana is charged with sedition.
The trial is expected to last two months and several of those in prison are expected to testify.