Philadelphia police probe alleged plot to attack vote counting venue

Police stand guard outside outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center as protesters demonstrate on November 5, 202 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Pennsylvania continues to count votes from the November 3 election. (AFP)
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Updated 06 November 2020

Philadelphia police probe alleged plot to attack vote counting venue

  • Local police received a tip about a Hummer with armed people driving up from Virginia
  • Police took at least one man into custody and seized a weapon

Philadelphia police said on Friday they are investigating an alleged plot to attack the city’s Pennsylvania Convention Center, where votes from the hotly contested presidential election are being counted.
Local police received a tip about a Hummer with armed people driving up from Virginia with plans to attack the convention center, a police representative said.
Police took at least one man into custody and seized a weapon as well as the Hummer about which they had received a tip. No injuries were reported and no further details about the alleged plot were disclosed.
The news was reported earlier by Action News, an ABC affiliate. Video footage broadcast by the outlet showed a number of police officials at the scene.
Earlier on Thursday, supporters of both US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden held rallies in Philadelphia as election staffers slowly counted thousands of mail-in ballots that could decide Pennsylvania’s crucial 20 Electoral College votes.
Trump activists waved flags and carried signs saying: “Vote stops on Election Day” and “Sorry, polls are closed” as Biden supporters danced to music behind a barricade across the street earlier in the day.
A state appellate court ruled on Thursday that more Republican observers could enter the building in Philadelphia where poll workers were counting ballots.
The US Postal Service (USPS) said about 1,700 ballots had been identified in Pennsylvania at processing facilities during two sweeps late on Thursday and were in the process of being delivered to election officials.
Trump has said repeatedly without evidence that mail-in votes are prone to fraud, although election experts say that is rare in US elections.


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.