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‘Let our voices be heard’: March against immigration raids
By JEFF AMY | Sun, August 11, 2019 10:55 EDT
CANTON, Miss. (AP) — The children of Sacred Heart Catholic Church streamed out into Mississippi’s heat on a blistering Sunday afternoon, carrying what they said was a message of opposition against immigration raids their parents could not.
“I will not sit in silence while my parents are taken away,” read a sign carried by two Hispanic boys. They were among a group of several dozen marchers who set out on foot from the church to the town square in Canton to protest the 680 migrant arrests at seven poultry plants in Mississippi last Wednesday.
“Imagine coming home and not finding your parents,” said Dulce Basurto-Arce, an 18-year-old community college student, describing how parents of friends were arrested. “We are marching so no other kid has to go through what we went through. Let our voices be heard!”
Basurto-Arce spoke from the steps of the same courthouse in Canton where Martin Luther King Jr. once rallied protesters against segregation in a 1966 “March Against Fear” across Mississippi.
Churches were the backbone of the civil rights movement. Today, as President Donald Trump and Republican allies continue to defend the raids, churches have emerged as the top sources of spiritual and material support to the mostly Mexican and Guatemalan workers targeted by the raids.
Some churches are going beyond comfort and material aid, with their response flaring into political opposition. The state’s Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran bishops denounced the raids in a joint statement Friday.
The bishops said they would aid the immigrant families, saying there is “an urgent and critical need at this time to avoid a worsening crisis.”
“We are called … to speak the truth. And the truth is, this is not right,” said Bishop Brian Seage of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, speaking at a news conference one day after the raids.
On Sunday, Trump administration officials defended their actions, amid emotional pleas from children to let their parents go.
Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan acknowledged that one video of an 11-year-old sobbing was “emotional” but said the girl was quickly reunited with her mother.
“I understand that the girl is upset. And I get that,” Morgan said on CNN. “But her father committed a crime.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan acknowledged that the timing of the raids was “unfortunate,” coming hours before Trump visited El Paso, Texas, where a man who told authorities he was targeting Mexicans killed 22 people on Aug. 3. But McAleenan told NBC the operation had been planned for more than a year.
Hours after the officials’ televised appearances, more than 250 people filled Sacred Heart to overflowing. A few were white people there to show support, but most were Hispanic congregants who normally attend the weekly Spanish-language Mass.
Deacon Cesar Sanchez, who is originally from Mexico’s Michoacan state and is studying to be a priest in the Jackson diocese, gave a homily in Spanish in which he spoke of Jesus also being an immigrant and a refugee. He said the church is a pilgrim church and that “God is with his people.”
The Canton church has emerged as a hub of the community’s response to the raid. Its pastor, the Rev. Mike O’Brien, stood with parishioners until 4 a.m. Thursday outside the Peco Foods plant in Canton, awaiting those freed from custody that night. O’Brien said he drove several people home who had hidden from federal agents inside the plant and emerged late at night.
Those arrested and released can’t work legally and their families may face one last paycheck as income dries up. Immigration court dates may not be until 2020 because of a deep backlog. Those who face court proceedings must also pay for their own lawyers or go without, and may have court dates at locations hundreds of miles away.
“What are their children going to eat?” the Rev. Jason Coker, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Mississippi, asked last week.
In answer, churches including Sacred Heart are collecting food, diapers and money. They’re helping members meet lawyers.
Maria Rodriguez is one person looking to churches for help. She said Sunday at Sacred Heart that her husband, Gumensihdo Rodriguez-Lopez, had been seized by federal agents at Peco and is now held in Natchez, Mississippi.
As she talked, she rocked the youngest of the couple’s five children, Azael, in his stroller. “He’s sad for his father,” she said in Spanish of the fussy toddler. “Everyone is sad.”
“We really need him back because we have kids and I don’t work,” she said through a translator. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Other religious groups are helping, too.
Pastor Hugo Villegas is a missionary for the Scott County Baptist Association, overseeing a Spanish-speaking mission in Morton, where two plants were raided, as well as two in the larger neighboring town of Forest. People have been dropping off donations for the families at the Baptist association’s food pantry and clothes closet.
But Tere Villegas, the pastor’s wife, said few Hispanic families typically come to the pantry so they are spreading the word that aid is available. She added, English-speaking Baptists “have been helping out any way they can.”
Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy
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Zimbabwe’s children suffer from country’s economic crisis
By FARAI MUTSAKA | Sun, August 11, 2019 06:00 EDT
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — It is only a few hours since Zimbabwe’s schools closed for month-long August holidays, and 13-year-old Tanyaradzwa is already milling outside a bar “doing business,” he says.
He hawks cigarettes outside a dingy downtown bar in the capital, Harare, and for a fee, helps motorists find parking space.
“I am not a street kid. I come here to sell my things, go home and use the money to buy food,” said Tanyaradzwa, who did not give his last name to protect his privacy.
With power cuts lasting 19 hours per day, debilitating water shortages, inflation at 175% and many basic items in scarce supply, Zimbabwe’s children are the silent victims of the once-prosperous southern African country’s debilitating economic downfall.
Tanyaradzwa would rather be home playing computer games with friends. But for his family of six to eat he must hang around the bar at the popular Elizabeth Hotel in hopes of cashing in on afternoon drinkers and passersby who want to buy cigarettes, he said.
His parents run a small vegetable stall in Glen View, a working class residential area, but what they make is hardly enough to pay the bills, let alone buy food, he said.
Due to the spectacular deterioration of an economy that brimmed with hope less than two years ago, many people can no longer afford to put food on the table without the help of their children – no matter how young.
Children are forced to juggle between school demands and supplementing the family income through street vending or selling at small stalls.
“These holidays just mean more work. There is no break, because I now have no excuse not to work every day,” said Tanyaradzwa.
On the adjacent, busy street named after former longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, children joined elders pushing fruit and vegetable carts. Some kids held cardboard boxes selling items ranging from cigarettes, cell phone airtime, sweets and clothing.
According to Mercy Mpata, a teachers’ representative, the demands are taking many children’s focus away from school.
“There is a lot of absenteeism because the children have a lot on their plate,” said Mpata, the spokeswoman for the Association of Rural Teachers of Zimbabwe. “Even if they come (to school), they are either sleepy or, instead of concentrating on school work they are busy thinking ‘Where will we get the next meal if I don’t sell enough items after school today?'”
Teachers have their own grievances. They are paid the equivalent of about $50 a month and, like the rest of the civil service, say they cannot live on those wages, which they call “slave salaries.”
“We live in the community. We interact with these children and their parents. They are like family. That’s why we always try to give it our all … but hungry teachers teaching hungry children, that’s tough,” said Mpata.
The food situation is dire in Zimbabwe, with about a third of the country’s 17 million people being food insecure due to drought and the worsening economy, according to a report released this month by U.N. agencies, international aid organizations and the government.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared the drought a national disaster on Tuesday. On the same day, the U.N. launched a $331 million appeal to mitigate the unfolding disaster. Children, according to the appeal, are some of the hardest hit. Close to 160,000 children and adolescents will need welfare and child protection services, according to the U.N.
“There is a risk that children and adolescents will increasingly experience psychosocial distress as some are likely to drop out of school, pushed away from home to seek employment,” said the U.N. in its appeal for funds.
Expectations were high that Zimbabwe’s economy would grow following Mugabe’s departure at the end of 2017. But the economy did not take off and will contract 3% this year, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube, said this month.
After inflation reached a decade-high of 175.6% last month, Ncube suspended the country’s monthly inflation reports, saying that last year’s prices were in U.S. dollars and now they are in Zimbabwe’s currency, introduced in June, so they are not comparable.
However, that has not stopped schools from feeling the pinch of rising prices and eroding incomes. For the coming school term, some boarding schools are asking parents to provide food instead of paying school fee increases.
But that’s just for the fortunate children who still have parents and guardians able to afford such boarding facilities.
For many children such as Tanyaradzwa, juggling between school and eking out a living takes a toll, even as they desperately hold on to bouts of hope.
“I have dreams, big ones,” he said, smiling. “I want to be a lawyer.”
To achieve that dream, he is sacrificing much of his childhood.
“There is no time to play with friends,” he said. “The work, the school, it takes all of my time.”
Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa
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India’s main opposition Congress party in throes of crisis
By ASHOK SHARMA | Sun, August 11, 2019 05:46 EDT
NEW DELHI (AP) — By appointing Sonia Gandhi interim president, India’s oldest political party seems to have sent a message that it can’t survive without the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
Political analysts say the main opposition Congress party lost an opportunity to rid itself of an image of being driven by one particular family when Sonia Gandhi took back the party’s reins Saturday from her son Rahul, whom she had anointed as her successor in 2017.
Rahul Gandhi quit last month after the party’s crushing defeat in recent national elections, and his mother will be interim president until the party elects a new leader.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won 303 of 542 seats in the lower house of Parliament in the April-May elections, while the Congress party won just 52.
Several names from outside the Gandhi family came up for the top party job. But the party fell back on the Nehru-Gandhi family as several party leaders and workers left the party for greener pastures.
“It would have made sense if there was a powerful independent president,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst. “Gandhis could have been part of the party leadership and its electoral mascot.”
“It’s a retrograde step. It reflects very poorly on the Congress party leaders,” he said.
Seema Mustafa, another political analyst, sees a bleak future for the Congress party “when it can’t even think of another person out of the family.”
She also said the move was a big setback for India’s overall opposition, which is completely scattered. “There is not a single leader who can coalesce opposition groups — a terrible thing for a parliamentary democracy,” Mustafa said.
Several party leaders and workers defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party after the elections because of the allure of the BJP, and also because they saw little future in the Congress party, Mukhopadhyay said.
After the death of her husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi revived the Congress party and led it to victory as the party’s president in consecutive national elections in 2004 and 2009. But the party lost power to Modi’s BJP in 2014.
Analysts expect a clamor among party loyalists to appoint her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as her brother’s successor.
In January, Rahul Gandhi inducted Vadra, 47, into politics as a party general secretary months before the elections.
She had in the past helped her mother and brother campaign in their constituencies in northern Uttar Pradesh state. But the party found both brother and sister hopelessly wanting in April-May national elections.
In addition to his father, Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother Indira Gandhi and great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru also served as prime minister.
Despite this latest setback, Mukhopadhyay doesn’t believe Rahul Gandhi’s political career, which began in 2004, has come to an end.
“I don’t see him hanging his boots,” he said. “I see him playing an important role within the party. In what capacity, I don’t know. But he will be an important player in politics.”
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North Korea boosts Kim’s rising status as global statesman
By KIM TONG-HYUNG and FOSTER KLUG | Sat, August 10, 2019 10:34 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 the way 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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Guatemalans to vote in close presidential runoff
Sun, August 11, 2019 12:05 EDT
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemalans go the polls Sunday in the second-round presidential runoff, pitting ex-first lady Sandra Torres against conservative Alejandro Giammattei in a nation beset by poverty, unemployment and emigration.
Giammattei, making his fourth bid for the presidency, is the favorite in a CID-Gallup poll which surveyed 1,216 people between July 29 and Aug. 5. The poll estimated support for Giammattei at 39.5%, compared to 32.4% for Torres. It had a margin of error of 2.8 points.
Running for the conservative Vamos party, Giammattei has earned a reputation of being tough on crime and wants to re-introduce the death penalty. The 63-year-old doctor, who uses crutches because he has multiple sclerosis, stridently opposes gay marriage and abortion and endorses family values.
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 has focused on improving education, health care and the economy. She also has proposed an anti-corruption program, but her Unity for Hope party (UNES) has come under fire because some of its mayoral candidates have been accused of receiving contributions from drug traffickers for their campaigns.
Polling stations open at 7:00 a.m. local time and close at 6:00 p.m., with preliminary results expected by late Sunday. There are about 8 million registered voters, but boosting turnout above 50% will be a challenge.
The country’s general elections were held June 16, but no candidate won the necessary votes to assume the post after the first round.
Sunday’s winner will take office on Jan. 14 and be tasked with 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, outgoing President Jimmy Morales signed a pact 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 next president will be forced to decide whether to nullify or honor the so-called “third safe country” agreement, which could potentially ease the crush of migrants arriving at the U.S. border.
In addition to migration, voters say they are concerned about crime, unemployment, the rising costs of living and entrenched corruption.
Three of the last four elected presidents have been arrested post-presidency on charges of graft, and Morales himself decided to disband and bar the U.N. anti-corruption commission after he became a target for alleged campaign finance violations.
The campaign season has been 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.