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Mexico's Obrador faces anger after police killed in cartel ambush

More than 30 suspected cartel gunmen killed the police officers in the town of El Aguaje in Michoacan on Monday as they were travelling in a convoy to serve a warrant [Alan Ortega/Reuters]

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has defended his strategy for fighting the violent crime racking Mexico, after the killing of 13 police officers in an ambush claimed by a powerful drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan.

In a separate incident in Guerrero state late on Tuesday, one soldier and 14 civilians were killed in a shoot-out between the military and suspected organised crime.

In Michoacan, grieving relatives of the officers directed their anger at the government and police commanders they believe sent their loved ones to a certain death.

“The good ones are here,” said the brother of slain officer Marco Antonio González, gesturing at the huge funeral hall.

“And those responsible for this, they are also here,” the brother said just as the Michoacan state police chief and his top brass got out of their cars.

The man and other relatives refused to give their names for fear of reprisals in this western Mexico state where violence blamed on drug gangs has jumped in recent months.

A memorial service later in the day was an angry, raw-nerved affair.

Only eight coffins were present – mourners said the five other families refused to participate because they were so angry their sons and brothers had been sent on the mission.

“Like sheep to the slaughter!” some shouted at Gov Silvano Aureoles.

More than 30 suspected cartel gunmen waylaid the police officers in the town of El Aguaje on Monday as they were travelling in a convoy to serve a warrant. Nine officers were also wounded in the worst attack on Mexican law enforcement in years.

According to reports, the attackers claimed to be from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a new group that is seeking to replace the Sinaloa cartel of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, who is now serving a life sentence in the US. 

‘Peace with justice’

Lopez Obrador called the attack “regrettable,” but said he remains committed to his security approach emphasising tackling underlying social problems, even though national homicide figures have been setting all-time highs.

“We are going to continue with our strategy,” Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday.

“For us, it is very important for there to be well-being, that peace with justice can be achieved … and also avoiding that authorities mix with crime.”

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Guerrero state, armed men confronted soldiers and the ensuing gunbattle left 15 people dead, including one soldier.

The gun battle took place in Tepochica town, security spokesman Roberto Alvarez Heredia said in a statement on Facebook.

Like Michoacan, Guerrero is also known for violence linked to organised crime and the army has been targeted on other occasions.

Alvarez Heredia said that the latest confrontation in Iguala town began after authorities received a call alerting them about the presence of armed people in neighbouring Tepochica.

“Armed civilians initiated an assault on elements of the National Defence Secretariat, resulting in the death of a soldier and of 14 armed civilians,” he said in the statement.

Authorities later seized “high-power weapons” as well as three vehicles which had been reported stolen.

In Iguala, where the firefight took place, a turf war is raging between several criminal organisations. The area is part of a major corridor for the trafficking of heroin and marijuana.

In Iguala, 43 students disappeared five years ago after police handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos crime syndicate, which mistook them for members of a rival gang, killed them and burned their bodies.

There were nearly 36,000 murders in Mexico last year, with the high rate of violence in large part down to gangs.

Source: Aljazeera

Fourth US Democratic debate: Impeachment, healthcare, Syria

Twelve US Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls debated healthcare, the economy, foreign policy and other issues on Tuesday night in the fourth debate of this election season. 

The event, hosted by the New York Times and CNN media outlets in Westerville, Ohio, welcomed two candidates who did not make September’s debate: businessman Tom Steyer and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. 

Also on the stage were: Former Vice President Joe Biden, US Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, former US Representative Beto O’Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. 

The debate comes at a critical time, as Biden has seen his once-solid lead in opinion polls in the Democratic race diminished by Warren, a leader of the party’s progressive movement, who has steadily risen over the past two months. 

Warren appeared to be the main target of other presidential contenders, who went on the attack against the US senator over her healthcare and tax plans. 

Tuesday’s debate was the first since the House of Representatives launched an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. It also came amid heavy criticism of the US president’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, leaving Kurdish fighters without US military support as Turkey launched a military offensive in the northeast part of the country.  

Here’s a look at where the candidates stood on some of the key issues discussed on Tuesday night. 

Impeachment

The Democratic presidential contenders defended the congressional impeachment inquiry of Trump, saying the US president needed to be held accountable for his actions and for stonewalling Congress on its inquiry.

The Democratic-led inquiry focuses on Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his unsubstantiated allegation that Biden, a leading Democratic contender, improperly tried to aid his son Hunter’s business interests in Ukraine. Trump maintains he did nothing wrong.

Biden and Sanders said during the opening minutes of the debate that Trump was “the most corrupt president in history”, and Congress would be remiss if it did not pursue the impeachment inquiry.

Hunter “did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong,” Biden said. 

Biden urged that the focus go back on Trump, saying, “Rudy Giuliani, the president and his thugs have already proven the fact that they are flat lying.” Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, has become a central figure in the impeachment inquiry. 

Warren said that “impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences”.  

Buttigieg said, “the president had left Congress with no choice”. But some Democrats warned that the party should bring Americans on board to support the investigation

“We have to conduct this process in a way that is honourable,” Booker said.

Sanders added that although he hopes Trump is impeached, he wants the American people to know that politicians are also working on other issues.

Healthcare 

Tuesday’s discussion on healthcare went down a similar path as during past debates, but with a heightened focus on Warren. 

The Massachusetts senator said she would not sign any bill that required a tax increase on middle-class families and promised the proposal, which is also backed by her fellow progressive, Sanders, would lower costs for everyday Americans.

But Warren took fire from her Democratic opponents for refusing to answer “yes or no” on whether her Medicare-for-all plan would raise taxes for the middle classes. Medicare-for-all is a government-run healthcare plan that would eliminate private insurance.

Warren has previously refused to answer direcltly when asked how she’d pay for her proposal, and during Tuesday night’s presidential debate, she once again dodged the question, insisting only that “costs will go down” for the middle classes.

I have made clear what my principles are here, and that is that costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations and, for hard-working middle-class families, costs will go down, she said.

Democratic debate

Buttigieg criticised Warren for her answer, saying her failure to offer a direct response is “why people are so frustrated with politicians” and arguing that Medicare-for-all would “unnecessarily divide this country”.

Sanders, who wrote the Medicare-for-all legislation that Warren has embraced, said it was “appropriate to acknowledge taxes will go up”.

Klobuchar also said, “at least Bernie’s being honest” and arguing in favour of a public option instead.

Jobs

Many candidates on Tuesday stressed the need to improve the nation’s jobs outlook, but they disagreed on how to do carry it out.

Sanders defended his federal jobs guarantee, saying equalising the economy will create the need for more teachers and doctors.

Yang, who backs a universal basic income, said people “do not want to work for the federal government.” 

Democratic debate

Promoting her own plan to boost social security, Warren said her proposal would cover retirement for even those in non-traditional positions, like stay-at-home caregivers.

Several candidates at the debate in Ohio, including O’Rourke and Booker, advocated for strengthening unions to keep businesses like General Motors from moving production to other countries.

General Motors was once Ohio’s largest employer, but now it ranks 72nd, according to the New York Times. 

Syria

On the foreign policy front, presidential hopefuls have largely scorned Trump’s approach, especially his latest decision in Syria to back Turkey’s offensive.

Biden and Buttigieg, among others, argued on Tuesday night that Trump was abandoning US allies and weakening the country’s standing around the world by abruptly pulling troops from northern Syria. 

Buttigieg sparred with Gabbard, telling the congresswoman she was “dead wrong” for her earlier support of withdrawing troops from Syria.

Gabbard’s previous stance, as well as her decision to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017, came under fresh scrutiny following Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northeast Syria.

Gabbard has criticised Trump for how he’s conducted the withdrawal but said on Tuesday that while Trump has “the blood of the Kurds on his hands … so do many of the politicians in both parties who supported this regime change war”.

Buttigieg said the attacks are “the consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values”.

Buttigieg and Gabbard are military veterans. 

Meanwhile, Warren said she supports removing members of the US military from the Middle East in what she said had to be an appropriate, thoughtful way.

“I think we ought to get out of the Middle East. I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East,” Warren said.

Reproductive health

Democratic presidential candidates offered a variety of ways to maintain a woman’s right to an abortion, despite the issue being largely in the hands of a Supreme Court with a conservative tilt.

Harris said that as president, her Department of Justice would review state restrictions and stop them by executive order if they violate the Constitution. The policy harkens to the enforcement of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, though there is no federal statute protecting abortion.

Democrat debate

Klobuchar said she would propose and enact such legislation, although that would require Democratic majorities in Congress, a stylistic departure for Klobuchar who touts bipartisanship.

Booker like many candidates on Tuesday said he would try to codify the right to abortion. Booker also said he would establish a White House-level Office of Reproductive Freedom.

Gun control

Most presidential hopefuls have vowed to pursue far-reaching limits on guns while standing up to the gun lobby, offering a variety of proposals, including universal background checks, the banning of assault-style weapons and the requirement for gun owners to obtain licences. 

On Tuesday, O’Rourke and Buttigieg exchanged sharp words over O’Rourke’s proposed mandatory buyback of assault rifles.

Buttigieg last week criticised the idea as a “shiny object” that distracts from more achievable efforts such as universal background checks and banning the sale of the weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Buttigieg criticised O’Rourke as not having a plan for how the buyback would work.

O’Rourke said the different ideas are not mutually exclusive. He said gun violence “is a crisis and we gotta do something about it”. O’Rourke said candidates should listen to victims, not polls, consultants and focus groups.

Buttigieg shot back, saying, “I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal”.

Castro received applause for saying that “police violence is also gun violence” and that he would not give officers “another reason to go door to door” by supporting mandatory surrender of assault weapons. 

Castro was the first candidate on Tuesday’s 2020 Democratic primary debate stage to raise last weekend’s death by shooting of Atatiana Jefferson, killed in Castro’s home state of Texas after a neighbour called 911 requesting a welfare check on her Fort Worth home because the front door was ajar.

Jefferson was playing video games early Saturday with her eight-year-old nephew when Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean fatally shot her within seconds of arriving at her house. Dean has been charged with murder. 

Wealth tax

When it comes to a wealth tax, Yang said taxing wealth, as opposed to income, is bad policy, attacking a position supported by several Democrats, including Warren and Sanders. 

“We should not be looking to other countries’ mistakes,” Yang said. “Instead we should look at what Germany, France, Denmark and Sweden still have which is a value-added tax and we give the American people a tiny slice of every Amazon sale, every Google search, every robot truck mile, every Facebook ad, we can generate hundreds of billions of dollars and then put it into our hands because we know best how to use it.”

Warren explained her plan, which she said will give young Americans better economic opportunities – taxing two percent of people’s net worth above $50m and three percent over $1bn.

Source: Aljazeera

US House approves Hong Kong bills in boost for protesters

The House of Representatives in the United States on Tuesday passed legislation to show support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, drawing swift condemnation from China, which said its relationship with the US would be damaged if the bills were to become law. 

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which protesters had urged legislators to pass, would end the Chinese city’s special trading status with the US unless the State Department certified annually that the authorities were respecting human rights and the rule of law.

A second measure, the Protect Hong Kong Act, would bar commercial exports of military and crowd-control items such as teargas.

The third is a non-binding resolution recognising Hong Kong’s relationship to the US, condemning Beijing’s “interference” in its affairs, and supporting the right of the city’s residents to protest.

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement it was “resolutely opposed” to the bills and urged US legislators to stop interfering in Hong Kong. It has accused “external forces” of heightening months of unrest in the semi-autonomous city.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the bills important reminders of US support for human rights in the face of significant commercial interests in China.

“If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, then we lose all moral authority to speak out on behalf of human rights any place in the world,” she said.

Pelosi said the bravery of young protesters in Hong Kong stood in contrast to “the cowardly government that refuses to respect the rule of law” and the “one country, two systems” policy that was supposed to ensure a smooth political transition after Britain returned the former colony to China in 1997.

China warning

All three bills had cross-party support and were approved in separate voice votes.

The Senate has not yet scheduled votes on the legislation, which would send the measures to the White House for US President Donald Trump to sign into law – or veto.

A Foreign Relations Committee aide said votes on Hong Kong-related measures were expected in the chamber in the coming weeks.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China’s relationship with the US would be damaged if the measures were to become law.  

Hong Kong’s government said, “foreign legislatures should not interfere in any form.”

Christopher Smith, a Republican and one of the lead sponsors of one of the Hong Kong bills, said they were necessary to hold China to account.

Under President Xi Jinping, human rights abuses in China had significantly worsened, Smith said.

China “excels in crushing bodies, shattering bones, torturing dissidents and filling concentration camps -massive crimes against humanity for which there has been little or no accountability or sanction,” Smith said, echoing comments made by Xi while on a visit to Nepal over the weekend.

“Today we’re simply urging the Chinese president and the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to faithfully honour the government’s promises.”

Protesters in Hong Kong first took to the streets in June, calling on the government to withdraw a bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

hong kong protests 1

Increasing violence

Last month, Lam finally agreed to shelve the bill – it will be formally withdrawn at the Legislative Council this week – but the demonstrations have continued with the protesters’ demands expanding to include the right to elect their leaders and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Violence has broken out in districts across Hong Kong with small groups of protesters throwing bricks and petrol bombs, and police using tear gas, water cannon, rubber-coated bullets and, more recently, live rounds.

An 18-year-old was shot in the chest earlier this month, and a 14-year-old in the thigh last week. Police say they have arrested more than 2,300 people as a result of the protests.

Beijing rejects claims that it is meddling in Hong Kong and accuses Western countries, such as the US and Britain of stirring up trouble.

The House also passed a measure commending Canada’s government in a dispute over the extradition of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou.

Source: Aljazeera

Rescuers look for missing as typhoon kills more people in Japan

Rescue workers in Japan continued to search for the missing on Wednesday as the death toll from one of the worst typhoons to hit the country in decades rose to 74, public broadcaster NHK said.

Many people were drowned in the flooding after scores of rivers burst their banks.

Public broadcaster NHK said 12 people remained missing and more than 220 were injured after Typhoon Hagibis swept through the country over the weekend.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 5,000 people are still in evacuation centres in 13 prefectures, almost a third of them in hard-hit Fukushima Prefecture, 269km (167 miles), north of the capital Tokyo.  

Across the country, 13,000 homes were flooded during the height of the storm, while 1,100 were partly destroyed.

Throughout the eastern half of the main island of Honshu, 52 rivers flooded.

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Weather officials in Japan were quoted as saying that many places that flooded received up to 40 percent of their annual rainfall in just two days.

On Wednesday, residents in Fukushima Prefecture, which suffered the highest number of casualties, were busy dumping water-damaged furniture and rubbish onto the streets.

Many elderly remained in evacuation centres, unable to clean up their homes.

In Date city, not far from the site of the nuclear disaster in 2011, farmer Masao Hirayama piled damp books in the street in front of his house, adding to a mound of rubbish from the neighbourhood.

He said the water had reached about two metres (6.6 feet) deep in his house, when he and his son were rescued by boat and taken to an evacuation centre.

His wife and grandchildren had stayed with relatives during the storm.

“I feel down,” Hirayama, 70, said, adding that the flood had swept away his greenhouses and farming equipment. “All that is left is the land.”

Hirayama said he had rebuilt his house in 1989, raising the ground level following a flood in 1986. His family plans to live on the second floor until he can make repairs, which he reckons could take three months

Survivors in Fukushima described how water rose rapidly to chest-height in about an hour, making it hard to escape to higher ground.

“Nobody from city hall has come to check on us yet,” Yoshinagi Higuchi said on Tuesday, as he and his neighbours piled sodden tatami mats and other damaged furniture onto the street.

Meanwhile, an evacuation centre came under intense criticism after it turned away two homeless men seeking shelter from a typhoon.

Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, promised on Tuesday to take action after reports emerged of the two men being denied entry to the shelter in Taito ward in the capital, Tokyo. 

A 64-year-old homeless man told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper that he arrived at the Taito evacuation centre on Saturday morning. 

“The wind was strong and it was raining and I wanted them to let me in,” he said.

Officials asked him to write down his name and address. 

When he said he had an address in the northern island of Hokkaido, he was refused entry because he was not a resident of the ward and ended up spending the night taking cover under the eaves of a building. 

Abe earlier said the government would set aside 710 million yen ($6.5m) for disaster relief. He has also proposed using 500 billion yen ($4.6bn) in reserves for the long-term recovery effort.

Source: Aljazeera

Still Game team to receive Scottish Bafta award

Still Game is to receive a Bafta Scotland award for its “outstanding contribution” to television.

The award will go to the BBC Scotland comedy’s creative team.

It will be presented to writers Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill – who play Jack and Victor – and director Michael Hines at a ceremony in November.

The characters of Jack and Victor first appeared on television in sketch show Chewin’ the Fat, before they were given their own programme in 2002.

‘Unforgettable journey’

The long-running comedy’s final episode – after nine seasons – was aired on the BBC earlier this year.

Still Game: The Final Farewell – a live theatre show at Glasgow’s Hydro – concluded earlier this month.

Director Michael Hines will accept the outstanding contribution to television award with Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill.

He said: “We couldn’t be more delighted or proud to receive this special Bafta Scotland award.

“Still Game has brought us a lot of happiness over these past twenty-two years and it means so much to us to know that it’s made others happy too.

“It’s been an incredible, unforgettable journey and this award has helped to make it a really special end.”

Meanwhile, script supervisor Pat Rambaut will be presented with an award for her outstanding contribution to her craft.

Ms Rambaut started her career on The New Avengers with Joanna Lumley, and has since worked on productions including Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero and Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Jude MacLaverty, of BAFTA Scotland, said the recipients of this year’s Outstanding Contribution Awards were “truly exceptional”.

“The creative team behind Still Game, and Pat Rambaut, have created work that is not only recognised by their peers and the public, but also inspires future generations of film and television makers”, she added.

House to vote on bipartisan measure opposing Trump's Syria move

Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House [Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

The United States House of Representatives plans to vote Wednesday on a bipartisan resolution opposing President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria.

The measure underscores an overwhelming congressional consensus that Trump’s decision has damaged US interests in the region and helped adversaries, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISI), Russia and Iran.

Turkey launched an operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria following Trump’s decision. The Kurds were the top US ally in the fight against ISIL in the region. 

The House measure says Turkey should halt military actions in Syria and says the US should send humanitarian aid to the embattled Kurds.

It also calls on Trump to produce “a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat” of ISIL.

The measure comes after Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey over its operation in northeast Syria. Many politicians have said, however, the sanctions are not enough.

“We have always maintained that, while certainly needed, a sanctions package alone is insufficient for reversing this humanitarian disaster,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement introducing the House resolution.

An identical bipartisan measure is being introduced in the Senate.

Trump has come under sharp criticism from members of Congress, including from many in his Republican Party, who view the withdrawal as an abandonment of Kurdish forces and fear what it means for the battle against ISIL. 

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a reminder Tuesday that a veto-proof majority of 70 senators voted earlier this year against such a pullout. He suggested Trump’s move allowed Turkey to launch operations in northeast Syria, “creating a power vacuum begging for the meddling influence of Russia”, and leaving Syria open for Iran to advance its reach “unimpeded” towards Israel.

Source: Aljazeera