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EarthLink – News

Macron says UN refugee agency attacked, decries Libya camps
By ELAINE GANLEY | Mon, July 22, 2019 05:16 EDT
PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron called on Libyan authorities Monday to stop holding transiting refugees in detention camps and said buildings of the United Nations’ refugee agency in Libya were attacked earlier in the day.
Macron did not elaborate on the attack he said was carried out on buildings of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. He said Libya should end the “confinement” of refugees and house in safe places those who reach the North African country.
Libya has become a major conduit for African migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. An airstrike on a detention center near the Libyan capital killed more than 50 migrants and wounded dozens of others earlier this month.
Macron met with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and the director general of the International Organization for Migration on Monday, after European ministers in Paris tried to find agreement on dealing with Europe-bound migrants who use Libya as a stepping stone.
The European Union has spent hundreds of millions of euros to equip and train Libya’s coast guard and to improve the conditions of the detention centers. Under a deal with the EU, Libyan vessels apprehend refugees and migrants setting out from the coast and take them back.
Macron announced that eight countries had formally signed on to a French-German initiative to cooperate in a burden-sharing mechanism and 14 assented to it. Southern European countries like Italy and Greece have complained for years that they shoulder a disproportionate responsibility for arriving migrants.
“Europe isn’t a la carte when it comes to solidarity,” Macron said, with countries saying they don’t want a Europe that shares burdens but are in favor of unity “when it’s about receiving structural funds.”
Absent from the closed-door meeting of EU interior and foreign ministers was Italy’s populist, anti-migrant interior minister, Matteo Salvini. He tweeted strong disagreement Sunday with letting France and Germany determine the bloc’s refugee policy while nations like Italy are on the front line.
“We intend to make ourselves respected,” Salvini declared in another tweet.
Without naming Italy, Macron regretted the absence of some countries from the table, saying that “we gain nothing by non-cooperation.”
However, he reiterated the law of the sea by which boats must be able to enter the surest and closest port, which for vessels coming from Libya typically is Italy.
Salvini has barred private aid ships that rescue migrants from entering Italy’s ports, forcing NGOs to find another country willing to allow their rescue boats to dock and bartering among nations to divide up the migrants onboard.
U.N. High Commissioner Grandi said he was encouraged by the progress in finding a method for sharing the work of housing asylum-seekers and processing their applications.
Last month, Grandi and International Organization for Migration Director General Antonio Vitorino lamented that the EU had no predictable strategy for providing rescue boats with safe harbor and sharing newly arrived migrants.
The number of migrant crossings on the central Mediterranean route that leads to Italy has diminished drastically since 2015 and 2016.
“We no longer are living an arrival crisis …. We live a crisis of deaths,” Vitorino said.
According to the IOM, up to June 19, there were 2,252 arrivals in Italy and 1,151 in Malta, while at least 343 people died at sea.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas voiced hope earlier in the day that a solution was on the horizon.
“The haggling about emergency rescue in the Mediterranean must finally end,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the ministerial meeting. “It is really necessary that we manage to put together a coalition of those who are prepared to help, and I think we came a step closer to that today.”
The UNHCR and IOM chiefs joined Macron in stressing the need for rescue help from NGOs, which Italy has denounced, claiming they help traffickers.
On Sunday, the SOS Mediterranee, a French charity, partnering with Doctors Without Borders, announced it has returned to the sea with a new boat to save migrants, seven months after the flag was pulled from its original ship, Aquarius. The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking is heading to the Mediterranean with a 31-member crew, the group said.
Salvini wasted no time in warning SOS Mediterranee that Italy was not about to bend on its policy of keeping rescue ships at bay, tweeting Monday, “if someone is thinking about helping smugglers or breaking laws, be careful because we won’t be standing still.”
The Aquarius, SOS Mediterranee’s original rescue ship, ended its operations last fall after Panama revoked its flag and Italian prosecutors ordered the vessel seized, accusing Doctors Without Borders of illegally disposing of tons of contaminated and medical waste. The organization says the Aquarius assisted 30,000 migrants since 2016.
Monday’s meeting follows a gathering of EU interior ministers on the issue of rescuing migrants last week in Helsinki, Finland. Salvini hailed progress there, saying other ministers shared Italy’s position of revamping Mediterranean search and rescue rules with the aim of preventing immigration abuse.
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This version has been corrected to show that Macron said Libya, not France, should provide security for vulnerable refugees.
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Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.

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Franken says he ‘absolutely’ regrets resigning from Senate
Mon, July 22, 2019 07:50 EDT
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota told The New Yorker magazine in a story published Monday that he “absolutely” regrets resigning from the Senate after several women accused him of unwanted kissing or touching.
In the same article, seven current or former senators say they regret calling for Franken’s resignation in December 2017. Franken resigned his seat after conservative talk radio host Leeann Tweeden and seven other women accused him of sexual harassment.
The article, Franken’s first interview since leaving the Senate, calls into question some of the assertions against Franken and Quote: s several female former staff members and close friends who described him as physically clumsy but not predatory.
Franken said at the time that the allegations were false, and he repeats that in The New Yorker article. A former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” Franken resigned amid a national wave of sexual harassment allegations against men in powerful positions as the #MeToo movement was gaining momentum.
Both Franken and Tweeden had called for an independent investigation at the time, but none was conducted before fellow Democrats forced Franken to resign three weeks after Tweeden made her claims.
Asked by The New Yorker whether he regretted stepping down, Franken said: “Oh, yeah. Absolutely.”
“I can’t go anywhere without people reminding me of this, usually with some version of ‘You shouldn’t have resigned,'” he told the magazine.
Tweeden alleged in 2017 that Franken told her during a USO tour to entertain soldiers in 2006 that he had written a comedy skit with her in mind that required her to kiss him. She said Franken forcibly kissed her and stuck his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal of the sketch before they performed it in Afghanistan.
The New Yorker cited two actresses, Karri Turner and Traylor Portman, who had played the same role as Tweeden on earlier USO tours with Franken. Both told the magazine that they had performed the same role as Tweeden on earlier tours with Franken and that there was nothing inappropriate about his behavior.
Tweeden also released a photo showing Franken, who was then a comedian, reaching out toward her breasts, as if to grope her, as she slept in a flak jacket while on a military aircraft during the USO tour. The New Yorker reported that the pose echoed another USO skit in which a “Dr. Franken” approaches Tweeden’s character with his hands aiming at her breasts.
Tweeden, during her KABC-AM radio show in California on Monday, briefly reacted to The New Yorker article by saying she wishes she had been among the women who performed the kissing skit with Franken and didn’t feel like they had been harassed.
“I wish I was in that group,” she said.
Seven senators who had called for Franken’s resignation said they’d been wrong to do so. They are Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, now-former Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and now-former Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.
Leahy said that seeking Franken’s resignation without first getting all the facts was “one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made” in his 45-year Senate career.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was among the first to call for Franken’s resignation. Some Democratic donors have turned away from Gillibrand because of that, hurting her 2020 bid for the presidency.
“I’d do it again today,” Gillibrand said in the article. “If a few wealthy donors are angry about that, it’s on them.”
Asked at an event in New York late Monday if she regretted calling for Franken’s resignation, Gillibrand said she “could have told” any of the senators who are now expressing remorse that “there is no prize for someone who tries to hold accountable a powerful man who is good at his day job. But we should have the courage to do it anyway.”
“So no,” Gillibrand added. “I do not have any regrets.”
She also noted that female senators like herself were hounded every day about whether they would call for Franken’s resignation while their male colleagues were not.
“Let’s be clear, there is absolutely a double standard,” Gillibrand said. “Women are asked to hold accountable their colleagues; the men are not. Who is being held accountable for Al Franken’s decision to resign? Women senators, including me. It’s outrageous. It’s absurd.”
Franken was replaced in the Senate by Tina Smith, a Democrat appointed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton who had been serving as his lieutenant governor. Smith won a special election in 2018 and is running in 2020 for a full six-year term. Several Republicans are weighing bids to challenge her.

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Mexico sets 1st half murder record, up 5.3%
Mon, July 22, 2019 07:51 EDT
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico set a new record for homicides in the first half of the year as the number of murders grew by 5.3% compared to the same period of 2018, fueled partly by cartel and gang violence in several states.
Mexico saw 3,080 killings in June, an increase of over 8% from the same month a year ago, according to official figures. The country of almost 125 million now sees as many as 100 killings per day nationwide.
The 17,608 killings in the first half of 2019 is the most since comparable records began being kept in 1997, including the peak year of Mexico’s drug war in 2011. Officials said 16,714 people were killed in the first half of 2018.
In particular, drug cartel turf wars have become increasingly bloody in the northern state of Sonora, where the number of homicides was up by 69% in the first half of the year. But in Sinaloa, where the cartel of convicted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is based, homicides declined by 23% so far this year compared to last.
Given cutbacks and a widespread reorganization of security forces under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, it is not clear who, if anyone, is doing the analysis and intelligence work to find out exactly which conflicts are causing the rise in homicides.
“I could give you 10 potential, plausible reasons, but the truth is we don’t know, and that is perhaps the biggest problem,” said security analyst Alejandro Hope. “There is very little systematic research that would allow us to conclude what is really happening.”
And other types of crime, like extortion, have become increasingly frequent and violent.
As if to underscore that, officials said Monday the five men killed Sunday at a bar in the resort of Acapulco were allegedly part of a gang of extortionists who shook down business owners for protection payments.
Guerrero state prosecutor Jorge Zuriel “we now know that the members of this gang met daily at this bar to coordinate charging extortion payments and to collect the daily take.”
One suspect has been arrested in the shootings, which left six people wounded. Zuriel said the killers were members of a rival gang.

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Trump expands fast-track deportation authority across US
By ELLIOT SPAGAT | Mon, July 22, 2019 10:57 EDT
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration announced Monday that it will vastly extend the authority of immigration officers to deport migrants without allowing them to appear before judges, its second major policy shift on immigration in eight days.
Starting Tuesday, fast-track deportations can apply to anyone in the country illegally for less than two years. Previously, those deportations were largely limited to people arrested almost immediately after crossing the Mexican border.
Kevin McAleenan, the acting Homeland Security secretary, portrayed the nationwide extension of “expedited removal” authority as another Trump administration effort to address an “ongoing crisis on the southern border” by freeing up beds in detention facilities and reducing a backlog of more than 900,000 cases in immigration courts.
U.S. authorities do not have space to detain “the vast majority” of people arrested on the Mexican border, leading to the release of hundreds of thousands with notices to appear in court, McAleenan said in the policy directive to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register. He said Homeland Security officials with the new deportation power will deport migrants in the country illegally more quickly than the Justice Department’s immigration courts, where cases can take years to resolve.
The agency “expects that the full use of expedited removal statutory authority will strengthen national security, diminish the number of illegal entries, and otherwise ensure the prompt removal of aliens apprehended in the United States,” McAleenan said.
The American Civil Liberties Union and American Immigration Council said they would sue to block the policy.
“Under this unlawful plan, immigrants who have lived here for years would be deported with less due process than people get in traffic court,” said Omar Jawdat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
“Expedited removal” gives enforcement agencies broad authority to deport people without allowing them to appear before an immigration judge with limited exceptions, including if they express fear of returning home and pass an initial screening interview for asylum.
The powers were created under a 1996 law but went largely unnoticed until 2004, when Homeland Security said it would be enforced for people who are arrested within two weeks of entering the U.S. by land and caught within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the border.
The fast-track deportations have become a major piece of U.S. immigration enforcement over the last decade. Critics have said it grants too much power to immigration agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
The potential impact of the new measure is difficult to predict. McAleenan said 20,570 people arrested in the nation’s interior from October 2017 through September 2018 year had been in the U.S. less than two years, which would make them eligible for fast-track deportation under the new rule. Critics said the new measure’s impact could be more far-reaching because many in the U.S for longer than two years may be unable to prove they have been in the country for so long.
“Expanding the fast-track procedure to apply anywhere in the U.S. is a recipe for ripping thousands more families apart and devastating communities,” said Grace Meng, Human Rights Watch’s U.S. program acting deputy director. “This is a massive and dangerous change.”
The administration said the expanded authority will likely mean less time for migrants in detention while cases wind their way through immigration court. The average stay in immigration detention for people in fast-track removal was 11.4 days from October 2017 through September 2018, compared to 51.5 days for people arrested in the nation’s interior.
The announcement was the second major policy shift in eight days following an unprecedented surge of families from Central America’s Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Last week, the administration said it will deny asylum to anyone who passes through other countries en route to the U.S. without seeking protection in at least one of those countries. Two lawsuits were filed challenging the move. A judge in Washington, D.C., heard arguments Monday on whether to block the policy. Judge Timothy Kelly said he would “endeavor to rule on this as quickly as I can.”
A judge in San Francisco has set a hearing for Wednesday in a similar lawsuit.
Also Monday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by a federal judge in Seattle that blocked a policy to indefinitely detain asylum seekers without a chance to be released on bond. The policy to deny bond hearings had been set to take effect July 15.
The White House issued a statement Monday night saying, “We strongly disagree with that decision and expect to prevail on the merits of the appeal and to see the law upheld.”
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Associated Press Writer Colleen Long contributed to this report from Washington.

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Iran says it arrested 17 Iranians allegedly recruited by CIA
By AYA BATRAWY and NASSER KARIMI | Mon, July 22, 2019 06:01 EDT
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran on Monday announced the arrest of 17 Iranians accused of spying on the country’s nuclear and military sites for the CIA and said some of them have been sentenced to death. President Donald Trump called it “another lie” from Iran.
The arrests happened over the past months, an Iranian intelligence official said at a news conference in Tehran. He said those taken into custody worked on “sensitive sites” in military and nuclear installations. The official did not say how many were given death sentences.
The announcement came amid weeks of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran over Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers last year and impose sweeping sanctions on the country.
The official said the 17 were recruited by the CIA and had “sophisticated training” but did not succeed in their sabotage missions. Their spying missions included collecting information at the facilities where they worked and installing monitoring devices, he said.
He said some were staff members at the targeted facilities, and the rest were working as consultant and contractors. The official said the CIA had promised them U.S. visas or jobs in America.
“That’s totally a false story. That’s another lie,” Trump said at the White House.
Trump also said Iran has “disrespected” the United States, adding: “If they want to make a deal, frankly it’s getting harder for me to want to make a deal with Iran because they’ve behaved very badly. They’re saying bad things.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former CIA director, declined to address specifics of the arrests but said: “The Iranian regime has a long history of lying.”
“I think everyone should take with a grain of salt everything that the Islamic Republic of Iran asserts today,” he said.
With tensions rising recently, the U.S. has increased its military presence in the region and is sending at least 500 U.S. soldiers to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s rival.
Last month, U.S. officials said American military cyberforces struck Iranian Revolutionary Guard computers, disabling systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers. The cyberattack came after Trump backed away from an airstrike in response to Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone.
The Iranian official did not give his name but was identified as the director of the counterespionage department of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. It is rare in Iran for intelligence officials to appear before media, or for any official to give a news conference without identifying himself.
The official said some of the agents recruited by the CIA had turned and are now working with his department against the United States.
He also handed out a CD with video of what Iran said was a foreign female spy working for the CIA. The disc also included the names of several U.S. Embassy staff members in Turkey, India, Zimbabwe and Austria who Iran said were in touch with the recruited Iranian spies.
Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the U.S. and Israel. In June, Iran said it executed a former Defense Ministry employee convicted of spying for the CIA. In April, it said it uncovered 290 CIA spies inside and outside the country over the past several years.
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Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran. Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed.

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