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Conservative appears to win Guatemala’s presidential runoff
By SONIA PÉREZ D. | Sun, August 11, 2019 11:14 EDT
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Conservative Alejandro Giammattei headed for an easy victory in Sunday’s presidential runoff election, garnering favor with Guatemalan voters for his get-tough approach on crime and socially conservative values.
With about 95% of polling places reporting, the country’s Supreme Electoral Council said late Sunday that Giammattei had about 59% of votes, compared to about 41% for former first lady Sandra Torres.
Turnout appeared to have been low, suggesting widespread disillusionment with the political status quo in a nation beset by corruption, poverty, unemployment and migration issues.
Running for the conservative Vamos party, Giammattei was making his fourth bid for the presidency. The 63-year-old doctor, who uses crutches because he has multiple sclerosis, stridently opposes gay marriage and abortion and endorses family values and the death penalty.
“We won. We are very excited, it is logical, it has been 12 years of struggle,” Giammatttei said in an emotional speech declaring victory. “Twelve years waiting to serve my country.”
Torres was married to — and later divorced — former President Álvaro Colom (2008-2012), but has a record of her own as a businesswoman, having run a textile and apparel company.
Her campaign platform had focused on improving education, health care and the economy. She also proposed an anti-corruption program, but her Unity for Hope party has come under fire because some of its mayoral candidates have been accused of receiving contributions from drug traffickers for their campaigns.
Oscar Argueta, the general secretary of Torres’ party, conceded defeat.
About 8 million Guatemalans are registered voters, but turnout might have fallen to as low as 42%, amid widespread disappointment with the administration of outgoing President Jimmy Morales.
Guatemala City resident Leonel Regalado said “I just hope Giammattei keeps his promises, and really fights corruption.”
“We hope he won’t steal, because that would be too much, for him to steal as brazenly as Jimmy Morales has done,” Regalado said.
Rogelio Estrada, a father of two, was one of the first people to vote at a polling station in Guatemala City. He also said corruption was his main concern.
“Whichever of the two wins, they should focus on combatting corruption, because this administration (of current President Jimmy Morales) has been robbing us,” he said. “And whoever wins should focus on crime and employment, to keep more Guatemalans from going to the United States.”
The country’s general elections were held June 16, but no presidential candidate won the necessary votes to assume the post after the first round.
The new president is to take office Jan. 14 and will face the task of attempting to stem the large flow of migrants headed toward the United States. At least 1% of Guatemala’s population of some 16 million has left the country this year.
On July 6, Morales’ administration signed an agreement with the United States that would require Salvadorans and Hondurans to request asylum in Guatemala if they cross through the country to reach the U.S. The new president will have to decide whether to nullify or honor the agreement, which could potentially ease the crush of migrants arriving at the U.S. border.
In addition to migration, Guatemalans have said they are concerned about crime, unemployment, the rising costs of living and entrenched corruption.
Three of the last four elected presidents have been arrested after leaving office on charges of graft, and Morales himself decided to disband and bar a U.N.-supported anti-corruption commission after he became a target for alleged campaign finance violations.
The campaign was marked by a chaotic flurry of court rulings, shenanigans, illegal party-switching and allegations of malfeasance that originally torpedoed the runs of two of the three presidential front-runners.
“The person who wins will have to lead a country that is viewed as a nation losing ground in the battle against corruption, because the mandate of the anti-corruption commission wasn’t renewed,” said Ricardo Barreno, a political science professor at the Central American Institute of Political Studies.
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North Korea boosts Kim’s rising status as global statesman
By KIM TONG-HYUNG and FOSTER KLUG | Sun, August 11, 2019 08:32 EDT
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — There’s no question that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in full control of his nation. But a recent change to how he’s being formally described in the North Korean Constitution may allow him even more diplomatic leverage as he steps with increasing confidence onto the world stage for negotiations over his powerful weapons program.
Despite a flurry of unprecedented summits between Kim and the world powers that surround him, the outcome of that crucial diplomacy is very much in question amid currently deadlocked nuclear disarmament talks and an outburst of North Korean weapons tests in recent weeks.
North Korea on Friday said that its rubber-stamp parliament will hold its second meeting of the year on Aug. 29. It follows weeks of intensified North Korean weapons tests and belligerent statements over U.S.-South Korea military exercises and the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with the United States.
Kim has said he said he would seek a “new way” if Washington doesn’t change its hard-line stance on sanctions relief by the year’s end, though experts doubt he’ll fully abandon diplomacy and give away his hard-won status as a global statesman.
President Donald Trump on Saturday said that Kim wrote him a “beautiful” three-page letter in which he expressed desire to meet once again to “start negotiations” after U.S.-South Korea military exercises end, and also apologized for the flurry of short-range missile tests.
The North’s new constitutional changes, which show Kim’s further consolidation of his already formidable powers, could allow him to act more clearly as a diplomat on the world stage, technically signing a peace treaty with Trump, for instance, or giving speeches at the U.N. General Assembly, analysts say.
The changes, which were only made public recently on the country’s Naenara website, appear linked to an unusual political reality in the North: While Kim Jong Un is the undisputed leader, it is Kim’s grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung, who is enshrined as North Korea’s eternal president.
Kim has governed from his position as chairman of Pyongyang’s powerful State Affairs Commission, which was established in 2016 to replace his father’s military-based National Defense Commission as the country’s top decision-making institution.
The constitution makes clear that Kim’s role as chairman of the new commission makes him the country’s supreme leader. But it now adds that he also “represents the country.” This signals potential changes from previous decades, analysts say, when it was the president of the presidium of North Korea’s parliament — the Supreme People’s Assembly — who acted as the ceremonial head of state.
“You could argue that the head-of-state business is meant to put Kim on the same plane as Xi, Trump or Putin. It certainly elevates his stature,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Whatever the new changes mean, no one, inside or outside the country, is disputing Kim’s status as the ultimate decision maker, and despite the new constitutional description, he has already been doing high-level diplomatic work on the world stage, releasing statements with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in following those respective summits.
The North’s new constitution is the “Kim Jong Un Constitution,” according to South Korea’s Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with Seoul’s main spy agency. It is clearly designed with Kim’s future role in diplomacy in mind, including negotiations with the U.S. and also potential activities on the U.N. stage, the think tank said. Kim will be handling the important stuff in foreign affairs, while the head of the parliament will be mostly relegated to formalities, such as issuing credential letters to diplomats, it added.
North Korea’s government has yet to weigh in on the change.
“The constitutional revisions reinforce the shift Kim Jong Un has been trying to make away from the ‘military first’ politics of his father’s era, toward a new strategy of prioritizing economic development,” said John Delury, a Korea expert at Seoul’s Yonsei University. It allows Kim to “represent North Korea in the international community.”
Following a flurry of nuclear and missile tests in 2017, including three launches of long-range missiles potentially capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, Kim declared his nuclear arsenal as complete and urged a shift in national focus toward economic growth. But there are doubts whether he’ll ever fully deal away an arsenal he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.
The new constitution maintains a description of North Korea as an “invincible political and ideological power, a nuclear power and an indomitable military power” and emphasizes Kim’s commitment to economic growth and developing science and technology.
North Korea’s weapons tests in recent weeks have been accompanied by rising frustration over the pace of nuclear talks and continued military exercises between the United States and South Korea, which the North claims are an invasion rehearsal. The series of short-range ballistic launches are seen as measured brinkmanship aimed at pressuring Washington and Seoul and building leverage ahead of negotiations, which could resume sometime after the end of the military drills later this month.
The United States has called for North Korea to commit to completely relinquishing its nuclear and missile program and rejected the North’s demands for sanctions relief in exchange for piecemeal deals toward partially surrendering its nuclear capabilities.
Klug reported from Tokyo.
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Taliban say latest talks end on US’s Afghanistan withdrawal
By KATHY GANNON and CARA ANNA | Mon, August 12, 2019 01:24 EDT
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The latest round of talks between the Taliban and the United States on a deal to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan has ended and now both sides will consult with their leadership on the next steps, a Taliban spokesman said Monday.
The eighth round of talks in the Gulf Arab nation of Qatar concluded after midnight and was “long and useful,” Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
He made no statements on the outcome of the talks.
Last week, another Taliban spokesman had said a deal was expected to follow this round as both sides seek an end to the nearly 18-year war, America’s longest conflict.
An agreement — if reached — is expected to include Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan would not be a base for other extremist groups in the future. However, both the Islamic State group’s affiliate and al-Qaida remain active in the country. The Taliban stage near-daily attacks across Afghanistan, mainly targeting Afghan forces and government officials but also killing many civilians.
The deal also could include a cease-fire and stipulate that the Taliban would negotiate with Afghan representatives, though the insurgent group has so far refused to negotiate with Kabul representatives, dismissing the Afghan government as a U.S. puppet.
There was no immediate comment on Monday from U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who on Sunday tweeted that “I hope this is the last Eid where #Afghanistan is at war.”
Sunday was the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha, which unfolded without any major violence reported in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad later added that “Many scholars believe that the deeper meaning of Eid al-Hadha is to sacrifice one’s ego. Leaders on all sides of the war in Afghanistan must take this to heart as we strive for peace.”
Some in Afghanistan saw it as a response to President Ashraf Ghani, who on Sunday declared that “Our future cannot be decided outside, whether in the capital cities of our friends, nemeses or neighbors. The fate of Afghanistan will be decided here in this homeland. … We don’t want anyone to intervene in our affairs.”
While Ghani insists that the upcoming Sept. 28 presidential election is crucial for giving Afghanistan’s leader a powerful mandate to decide the country’s future after years of war, Khalilzad is seeking a peace deal by Sept. 1, weeks before the vote.
The Taliban control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since the U.S.-led invasion toppled their five-year government in 2001 after the group had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. More than 2,400 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan since then.
The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014. The some 20,000 American and allied troops that remain are carrying out airstrikes on the Taliban and IS militants, and are working to train and build the Afghan military.
Gannon reported from New York.
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5 children killed in fire at Pennsylvania day care center
Mon, August 12, 2019 02:49 EDT
ERIE, Pa. (AP) — A day care center where children could stay overnight as their parents worked was ravaged Sunday by a fire that killed five and sent the owner to the hospital, authorities said.
The victims in the lakeside city of Erie ranged in ages from 8 months to 7 years, Chief Guy Santone of the Erie Fire Department said.
At least four of the victims were staying overnight at the residential house that had been turned into a day care center, Erie Chief Fire Inspector John Widomski told the Erie Times-News.
The fire, reported at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday, was funneling out of every first-floor window when firefighters arrived, Widomski said.
Valerie Lockett-Slupski, standing across the street from the fire-damaged house, told the newspaper she was the grandmother of four of the children, and that they were staying at the day care center because their parents were working overnight. She said the family had two boys and two girls and had used the center for almost a year.
“So we are all at a loss, trying to figure out how this happened,” Lockett-Slupski said.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation Sunday afternoon, Widomski told the newspaper.
The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership lists the Harris Family Daycare as “a 24 hour, 7 days a week childcare service including holidays.”
The state Department of Human Services Office of Child Development and Early Learning listed the day care as in compliance with requirements following a Dec. 28, 2018, inspection. But a Jan. 3, 2019, inspection note on that listing highlighted “ashes and cigarette or cigar butts” in “a child care space, play space or food preparation area.”
The day care center’s response to the note reads, “I will make sure it will be cleaned up and remain that way,” and the department listed the issue as corrected.
Another department note from the same date reads “protective receptacle covers shall be placed in electrical outlets accessible to children 5 years of age or younger,” to which the day care’s response was, “I turned the outlets so they were closed. I will make sure that they are turned closed when not in use.”
That issue was also listed as being corrected.
Widomski told the newspaper that the fire appeared to have started in the living room area on the first floor. The department’s two fire inspectors and three Erie police detectives trained in fire investigations are working to determine the cause of the blaze.
The owner of the center was flown to UPMC Mercy for treatment, Santone said.
Erie police detectives said the owner was in stable condition, the newspaper reported.
Santone said a neighbor was also injured.
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Mass shootings have Latinos worried about being targets
By RUSSELL CONTRERAS and ANITA SNOW | Sun, August 11, 2019 09:57 EDT
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — When Michelle Otero arrived at an art show featuring Mexican-American women, the first thing she did was scan the room. Two exits. One security guard.
Then she thought to herself: If a shooter bursts in, how do my husband and I get out of here alive?
Otero, who is Mexican-American and Albuquerque’s poet laureate, had questioned even attending the crowded event at the National Hispanic Cultural Center a day after 22 people were killed in a shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart.
That shooting and an earlier one in Gilroy, California, killed nearly two dozen Latinos. The violence has some Hispanics looking over their shoulders, avoiding speaking Spanish in public and seeking out escape routes amid fears they could be next.
A huge immigration raid of Mississippi poultry plants last week that rounded up 680 mostly Latino workers, leaving behind crying children searching for their detained parents, also has unnerved the Hispanic community.
The events come against the backdrop of racially charged episodes that include then-candidate Donald Trump referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” Trump, as president, referring to migrants coming to the U.S. as “an invasion” and viral videos of white people chastising Hispanics for speaking Spanish in public.
“It’s almost like we’re hitting a climax of some kind,” said Jennifer Garcia, a 23-year-old University of New Mexico student originally from Mexico. “Some people, especially our elders, don’t even want to leave the house or speak Spanish.”
From Houston to Los Angeles, Latinos have taken to social media to describe being on edge, worrying that even standing in line for a Taco Tuesday special outside a food truck or wearing a Mexican national soccer team jersey might make them a target.
Although the motive in the Gilroy shooting is unknown, authorities say the El Paso shooting suspect, who is white, confessed to targeting people of Mexican descent. The suspect also is believed to have written an anti-Hispanic rant before gunning down mostly Latino Walmart shoppers with an AK-47-style rifle. The attack has rattled a city that has helped shape Mexican-American life in the U.S. for generations.
The manifesto included anti-immigrant and anti-Latino language similar to Trump’s.
Garcia said she has seen widespread anxiety among immigrants since Trump was elected in November 2016 and the angst after the shootings “has reached another level.”
Alexandro Jose Gradilla, a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at California State University, Fullerton, said he and his wife, also a professor, “know anyone can look up a class schedule and start shooting.”
“White supremacists don’t see the difference between immigrants to fourth-generation Latinos,” he said. “They see brown.”
Carlos Galindo-Elvira of the Anti-Defamation League in Arizona said that, in the days after the El Paso shooting, the organization received calls from concerned Hispanics seeking information about white supremacy and the website where the manifesto was posted.
Some worried whether a mass shooting could happen in Phoenix, a city more than 40% Hispanic, said Galindo-Elvira.
“What I tell people is that we cannot live in fear, but we also have to be vigilant and be aware of the rhetoric and our surroundings,” he said.
He said information is important and since last year the league has been training officials at Mexican consulates across the U.S. about how to report hate crimes against their citizens amid the heightened anti-Latino rhetoric.
Still, Erik Contreras, 36, the grandson of Panamanian and Mexican immigrants, said the recent violence has left him nervously checking parking lots where he worries attackers could hit.
“The other day we went to the Oakland Zoo, and I found myself looking for the way out, just in case,” said Contreras, who works at a Union City, California, school and has three children. “I don’t want to live like that. This is our country.”
Otero, the poet, said she tries to make sense of the attacks by replaying facts in her mind.
“This is someone who drove nine hours to kill people like me,” she said of the El Paso shooter, holding back tears. “I don’t know what to make of that.”
In an effort to help, she is organizing a public reading by poets in Albuquerque to raise money for the families of the El Paso victims.
Flaviano Graciano of the immigrant advocacy group New Mexico Dream Team said activists are using the tragedies to organize residents. He says groups are planning forums to help educate Latino immigrants on their rights and how they can protect themselves against violence and anticipated raids.
Sometimes the best way to deal with anti-Hispanic bias is just to stand up to it, said Air Force Senior Airman Xiara Mercado. She grabbed attention on Facebook last month with her story of a woman giving her a hard time for speaking Spanish.
Mercado told The Associated Press that as a member of the military she couldn’t comment on the recent anti-Latino violence. But in her case, after suffering past discrimination, “I finally just decided to speak up.”
She said she remained silent when, years earlier, she was told to “speak American” during a stay in Michigan, then later when a police officer in Indiana questioned the authenticity of her Puerto Rican driver’s license.
But Mercado, 27, said she had enough when she was confronted by a woman as she chatted on the phone in Spanish with a friend from the U.S. territory at a Honolulu Starbucks. The woman told her speaking Spanish was “distasteful” and “does not represent America and that uniform you are wearing.”
In a July 17 Facebook post shared more than 48,000 times, Mercado said she told the women: “The only distasteful thing here is that you are clueless to your discrimination, please educate yourself. Have a nice day.”
The 15th Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, confirmed that Mercado is with the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, and backed her up, saying: “The Air Force recognizes our strength comes from diversity.”
Snow reported from Phoenix. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/asnowreports .
Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .