FBI probing Trump caravan confrontation with Biden campaign bus in Texas

Supporters President Donald Trump come face-to-face with Biden-Harris campaigners during a Democratic ticket stop at Vera Minter Park in Abilene, Texas, on Oct. 28, 2020.(Ronald W. Erdrich/The Abilene Reporter-News via AP)
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Updated 02 November 2020

FBI probing Trump caravan confrontation with Biden campaign bus in Texas

  • Trump explicitly embraced the action and denounced the FBI for investigating
  • Says the Texas protesters were trying to “protect” the Biden bus

WASHINGTON: The FBI said on Sunday it was investigating an incident in which a convoy of vehicles flying flags in support of President Donald Trump’s re-election bid surrounded a bus carrying campaign staff for Democratic challenger Joe Biden on a Texas highway.
Friday’s incident — captured on video that was retweeted by Trump on Saturday with the message, “I LOVE TEXAS!” — prompted the Biden campaign to cancel at least two of its Texas events as Democrats accused the president of encouraging supporters to engage in acts of intimidation.
Video footage showed a swarm of pickup trucks and SUVs bearing pro-Trump flags surrounding the Biden campaign bus as it traveled north along Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin.
The Biden campaign said the Trump caravan tried to force the bus to slow down and to run it off the road.
One video clip aired on CNN showed a Trump-flagged pickup swerve into the side of another vehicle traveling just behind the bus. The Texas Tribune newspaper reported that the sideswiped vehicle was being driven by a Biden campaign staffer.
During a rally in Michigan, Trump explicitly embraced the action, saying that the Texas protesters were trying to “protect” the Biden bus.

Trump himself tweeted a video of the incident late Saturday, saying, “I LOVE TEXAS.”

And he later slammed the investigation on Twitter, insisting “these patriots did nothing wrong.
“Instead, the FBI & Justice should be investigating the terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA, who run around burning down our Democrat run cities and hurting our people!” he said.
Democratic officials said the bus, carrying state congressional candidate Wendy Davis, stopped its journey and canceled two planned events and a news conference, citing “safety concerns.”
“We’ve never had anything like this — at least we’ve never had a president who thinks it’s a good thing,” Biden told supporters in Philadelphia Sunday.
He added that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, made a video urging backers to “keep it up,” and find where Biden running mate Kamala Harris is and greet her the same way.
“Folks, that’s not who we are. We are so much better than this,” Biden said.
According to the Biden campaign, staff aboard the bus called emergency-911 to report the incident, and local law enforcement responded to the calls and assisted the bus in reaching its destination.
Neither Biden nor his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, was aboard the bus. The Texas Tribune reported that its passengers included Democratic US House of Representatives candidate and former Texas state Senator Wendy Davis.
“FBI San Antonio is aware of the incident and investigating,” special agent Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in San Antonio, told Reuters in an email. “No further information is available at this time.”

Close race in Texas
The highway confrontation came as polls showed an unexpectedly tight race between Biden and Trump in Texas, which has long been a Republican stronghold.
“Rather than engage in productive conversation about the drastically different visions that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have for our country, Trump supporters in Texas instead decided to put our staff, surrogates, supporters and others in harm’s way,” Biden’s Texas campaign spokesman, Tariq Thowfeek, said in a statement. “We’ll see you on November 3rd.”
Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West, in a statement, dismissed media reports of the incident as “more fake news and propaganda,” adding: “Prepare to lose ... stop bothering me.”
Speaking about the Texas bus incident on the campaign trail on Sunday in Philadelphia, Biden called Trump’s endorsement of such actions abnormal and divisive, saying: “We’ve never had anything like this. At least we’ve never had a president who thinks it’s a good thing.”
Commenting during a campaign stop of his own in Michigan on Sunday, Trump said: “Did you see our people yesterday? They were protecting his bus.”
Texas was not the only place where “Trump trains” of supporters forming vehicle convoys have caused consternation. Video footage on social media on Sunday showed vehicles flying pro-Trump flags blocking traffic on the Whitestone Bridge over the East River in New York City’s Bronx borough. 


Afghan suspected of stabbing 7 held in custody in Sweden

Updated 05 March 2021

Afghan suspected of stabbing 7 held in custody in Sweden

  • Suspect an asylum-seeker whose residence permit had expired last year

STOCKHOLM: A 22-year-old Afghan man who is suspected of having stabbed seven men in a town in southern Sweden, leaving three of them in critical condition, was remanded in pretrial custody for at least two weeks on Friday.
The Eksjo District Court added that there was a flight risk, Swedish broadcaster SVT said. The suspect, who was not identified under Swedish rules and who faces seven counts of attempted murder, denied any wrongdoing.
“I have done nothing. I was at home,” the suspected shouted at the beginning of the custody hearing and banged his fist on the table, Swedish media reported.
The man, who has Afghan citizenship, was described by Swedish media as an asylum-seeker whose residence permit had expired last year. Local news reports also have said the man had a history of mental health issues. He is known to police for petty crimes.
On Friday, he entered the court room limping after having being shot in the leg by police Wednesday, some 20 minutes after the first calls of an ongoing incident in the small town of Vetlanda, 190 kilometers southeast of Goteborg, Sweden’s second-largest city. Officers who arrested him found a knife in his possession.
Police say there are five crime scenes in the town of 13,000. It appeared that the seven male victims were picked at random. All are stable, according to hospital officials.
At first, police floated the idea that the preliminary investigation could be considered terror-related, but later changed it to attempted murder.


Indian farmers plan major road blockade outside Delhi to mark 100th day of protests

Updated 05 March 2021

Indian farmers plan major road blockade outside Delhi to mark 100th day of protests

  • Tens of thousands have been camped outside New Delhi since December

NEW DELHI: Indian farmers who have been protesting for months against deregulation of produce markets plan to block a major expressway outside New Delhi on Saturday, the 100th day of their campaign, they said.
Tens of thousands have been camped outside Delhi since December, demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeal three farm laws that open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies, which the farmers say will make them vulnerable.
Farmers from the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh plan to stop all traffic on the six-lane Western Peripheral Expressway that forms a ring outside New Delhi for up to five hours, union leaders said on Friday.
“We believe that after these 100 days, our movement will put a moral pressure on the government to accede to our demands, because the weather will also worsen,” said Darshan Pal, spokesperson for the farmer unions’ coalition Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), or United Farmers’ Front. “It will weaken the government, which will have to sit down with us to talk again.”
The government says the reforms will bring investment to the antiquated agriculture markets, and that new entrants would operate alongside government-regulated market yards, where farmers are assured of a minimum price for their produce.
Several rounds of talks between the government and farm leaders have failed and the movement has gained widespread support, including from international celebrities, posing one of the biggest challenges to Modi since he took power in 2014.
As the harvesting season begins this month, Pal said neighbors and friends back in the villages would help tend to farms while he and other farmers carry on the protests.
The capital typically has harsh summers with temperatures rising up to 45 degree Celsius, but Pal said that won’t hinder the movement.
“The laws are like a death warrant to us,” he said. “We are prepared for the long haul.”


One killed as Myanmar police open fire on protesters

Updated 05 March 2021

One killed as Myanmar police open fire on protesters

  • Earlier in the day, a big crowd had marched peacefully through the city

Police opened fire on Friday in the Myanmar city of Mandalay on protesting opponents of a Feb. 1 military coup, killing one person, witnesses and media said.
The young man was shot in the neck and died, media said.
Earlier in the day, a big crowd had marched peacefully through the city chanting: “The stone age is over, we’re not scared because you threaten us.”


Pope Francis leaves Rome for historic Iraq trip

Updated 05 March 2021

Pope Francis leaves Rome for historic Iraq trip

  • The Vatican has planned a packed program for the 84-year-old pope

ROME: Pope Francis left Rome on Friday for a historic trip to Iraq, his first abroad since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to an AFP reporter aboard his plane.

The 84-year-old, who said he was making the first-ever papal visit to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace,” will also reach out to Shiite Muslims when he meets Iraq’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Shortly before leaving for the airport Pope Francis met 12 Iraqi refugees from the Community of Sant'Egidio and Auxilium Cooperative, two Catholic NGOs for 15 minutes.

The four-day journey is the pope’s first abroad since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which left the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics saying he felt “caged” inside the Vatican.

Security will be tight in Iraq, which has endured years of war and insurgency, is still hunting for Daesh sleeper cells, and days ago saw a barrage of rockets plow into a military base.

Francis will preside over a half-dozen services in ravaged churches, refurbished stadiums and remote desert locations, where attendance will be limited to allow for social distancing.

Inside the country, he will travel more than 1,400 kilometers by plane and helicopter, flying over areas where security forces are still battling Daesh remnants.

Iraqi security officers stand guard in central Baghdad on March 4, 2021, on the eve of the Pope Francis’s first visit to Iraq. (AFP)

For shorter trips, Francis will take an armored car on freshly paved roads that will be lined with flowers and posters welcoming the leader known here as “Baba Al-Vatican.”

The pope’s visit has deeply touched Iraq’s Christians, whose numbers have collapsed over years of persecution and sectarian violence, from 1.5 million in 2003 to fewer than 400,000 today.

The first day of the pope’s ambitious itinerary will see him meet government officials and clerics in the capital Baghdad, including at the Our Lady of Salvation church, where a militant attack left dozens dead in 2010.

He will also visit the northern province of Nineveh, where in 2014 Daesh militants forced minorities to either flee, convert to Islam or be put to death.

Youths unfurl a poster welcoming Pope Francis next to the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul on March 2, 2021. (AFP)

“People had only a few minutes to decide if they wanted to leave or be decapitated,” recalled Karam Qacha, a Chaldean Catholic priest in Nineveh.

“We left everything — except our faith.”

Some 100,000 Christians — around half of those who lived in the province — fled, of whom just 36,000 have returned, according to Catholic charity “Aid to the Church in Need.”

(Additional reporting by Francesco Bongarr)


New Zealand to end COVID-19 lockdown on largest city

Updated 05 March 2021

New Zealand to end COVID-19 lockdown on largest city

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the stay-at-home order for Auckland will end early Sunday
  • Auckland will continue to restrict numbers at public gatherings to 100

WELLINGTON: New Zealand will lift a COVID-19 lockdown on nearly two million people on Sunday, as authorities say they are confident that a virus cluster in the country’s largest city has been contained.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday the stay-at-home order for Auckland will end early Sunday, one week after it was imposed in response to a mystery case that contact tracing could not explain.
It later emerged that family members of the infected person had defied isolation orders, socialising with friends who later tested positive for COVID-19.
With the case’s origins solved, quarantine protocols were enforced and Ardern said the cluster had been limited to 15 cases, allowing Aucklanders to leave their homes.
“This plan is consistent with our cautious and careful elimination strategy,” she told reporters.
New Zealand has won widespread praise for its coronavirus response, recording just 26 deaths in a population of five million.
Ardern acknowledged Aucklanders, who have endured two lockdowns in the past month, were weary but urged them to stick to rules designed to curb the spread of the virus.
“We may not be in the devastating position that much of the world finds itself in but the elimination strategy can still feel like hard work,” Ardern said.
“It’s completely natural to feel fatigued, COVID is hard work for everyone.
“Thank you for pushing through once again, we’re confident we’ll once again get ourselves back to a position where we have the freedoms New Zealanders have so enjoyed.”
Although lockdown will end on Sunday, Auckland will continue to restrict numbers at public gatherings to 100 and require face masks on public transport.
The rest of New Zealand will move to the least restrictive setting in the country’s COVID-19 response system.
New Zealand Cricket welcomed the move, which will allow unrestricted crowds at the fifth and final Twenty20 international between the Black Caps and Australia in Wellington on Sunday.
America’s Cup organizers said the yachting regatta would begin in Auckland on Wednesday despite the city’s restrictions on spectator numbers.
The showdown between Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa of Italy had been scheduled to being this weekend but was delayed by the lockdown.