US expels Venezuelan migrants to Colombia under COVID powers

Migrants seeking asylum in the US, mostly from Venezuela, stand near the border fence while waiting to be processed by the US border patrol after crossing the border from Mexico at Yuma, Arizona, US. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 February 2022

US expels Venezuelan migrants to Colombia under COVID powers

  • The US Department of Homeland Security said it will expel Venezuelans to Colombia “on a regular basis,” without elaborating on the frequency

BOGOTA, Colombia: The Biden administration said Monday that it has begun expelling Venezuelan migrants to Colombia without a chance to seek asylum after entering the United States from Mexico, its latest use of pandemic-related authority.
The development also was confirmed by Colombian officials.
The US Department of Homeland Security said it will expel Venezuelans to Colombia “on a regular basis,” without elaborating on the frequency. They will be limited to Venezuelans who previously resided in Colombia, it said.
The first two Venezuelans were expelled Thursday after entering the US illegally from Mexico, US and Colombian officials said. Colombia’s immigration agency said they were on a commercial flight.
Homeland Security said it acted after discussions with the Colombian government. Colombia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry did not immediately respond to questions.
Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a meeting was held in December to discuss the possibility of receiving Venezuelan deportees who had already been granted temporary residency in Colombia.
It said there was no specific figure on how many Venezuelans would be sent to Colombia, but both sides agreed that the operation would be conducted “with the coordination” of both countries and “following health and safety protocols.”
The move is a response to a rising number of Venezuelans seeking refuge in the United States as their South American country unravels.
In December, US authorities encountered Venezuelans crossing the Mexican border illegally nearly 25,000 times, the second highest nationality after Mexicans. The number was more than double that of only three months earlier and up from only about 200 a year previously.
Crossings were concentrated in the Border Patrol’s Yuma, Arizona, and Del Rio, Texas, sectors. About 15,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, assembled in Del Rio, a town of 35,000 people, in September. Venezuelans typically arrive by plane in Mexicali, Mexico, before crossing at nearby Yuma.
Mexico began requiring visas of Venezuelans on Jan. 21, following similar restrictions imposed last year on Brazilians and Ecuadorians in response to large numbers of migrants headed to the US border.
It remains unclear if the travel restrictions will lead to a drop in Venezuelan migrants reaching the US border. The number of Ecuadorian migrants plummeted last year under the new visa requirement, while the flow of Brazilians has continued.
Since March 2020, the US has expelled migrants at the Mexican border without an opportunity to seek asylum under what is known as Title 42 authority, named for a 1944 public law that was invoked to contain spread of the coronavirus.
Mexico has agreed to accept migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, but those from other countries are often allowed to remain in the United States to seek asylum because the US lacks detention space or resources to expel them under Title 42 authority.

Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

Updated 10 sec ago

Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

ODESSA: Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed that independent inspectors can travel to the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the French presidency said Friday, as fears grow over fighting near the site.
The apparent resolution of a dispute over whether inspectors travel via Ukraine or Russia came as a US defense official said Ukraine’s forces had brought the Russian advance to a halt.
“You are seeing a complete and total lack of progress by the Russians on the battlefield,” the official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron’s office, Putin had “reconsidered” his demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency travel through Russia to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site.
The UN nuclear watchdog’s chief, Rafael Grossi “welcomed recent statements indicating that both Ukraine and Russia supported the IAEA’s aim to send a mission to” the plant.
Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged Moscow’s forces occupying Zaporizhzhia not to disconnect the facility from the grid and potentially cut supplies to millions of Ukrainians.
A flare-up in fighting around the Russian-controlled nuclear power station — with both sides blaming each other for attacks — has raised the spectre of a disaster worse than in Chernobyl.
The Kremlin said that Putin and Macron agreed that the IAEA should carry out inspections “as soon as possible” to “assess the real situation on the ground.”
Putin also “stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian military of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale catastrophe,” the Kremlin added.
The warning came just a day after Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres, meeting in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, sounded the alarm over the fighting, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the United Nations to secure the site.
“This summer may go down in the history of various European countries as one of the most tragic of all time,” Zelensky said in his Friday evening address.
“No instruction at any nuclear power plant in the world provides a procedure in case a terrorist state turns a nuclear power plant into a target.”
During his visit to the southern port of Odessa on Friday, the UN secretary general said that “obviously, the electricity from Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity. This principle must be fully respected.”
“Naturally, its energy must be used by the Ukrainian people,” he told AFP in separate comments.
On Thursday, Moscow said Kyiv was preparing a “provocation” at the site that would see Russia “accused of creating a man-made disaster at the plant.”
Kyiv, however, insisted that Moscow was planning the provocation, and said Russia’s occupying forces had ordered most staff to stay home Friday.
Guterres visited Odessa as part of an effort to make more Ukrainian grain available to poor countries struggling with soaring food prices, after a landmark deal with Russia last month to allow its export.
The deal, the only significant agreement between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, has so far seen 25 boats carrying some 600,000 tons of agricultural products depart from three designated ports, Kyiv has said.
Guterres is expected to head to Turkey after Odessa to visit the Joint Coordination Center, the body tasked with overseeing the accord.
The grain deal has held, but brought little respite along the sprawling front lines after nearly six months of fighting between US-supplied Ukrainian forces and the Russian military.
The United States on Friday announced a new $775 million arms package, including more precision-guided missiles for Himars systems that enable Ukraine to strike Russian targets far behind the front lines.
The primary tool of Moscow’s forces has been artillery barrages, and recent bombardments over the eastern Donetsk region — which has been partially controlled by Russian proxies since 2014 — left several dead.
The Ukrainian head of the region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on social media Friday that Russian strikes had killed five people and wounded 10 more in three settlements.
Strikes early Friday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, left one person dead and damaged a school and a private business, the head of the region said.

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

Updated 19 August 2022

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

  • Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe: French president

PARIS: Hours after talking with Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday accused the Russian leader of launching a “brutal attack” on Ukraine in an imperialist, revanchist violation of international law.

Macron, who tried tirelessly but unsuccessfully to prevent the invasion and long vaunted the importance of dialogue with Putin, has grown increasingly critical of the Russian president as the war bears on.

He warned French citizens that the resulting energy and economic crisis confronting Europe isn’t over, calling it “the price of our freedom and our values.”

“Since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal attack on Ukraine, war has returned to European soil, a few hours away from us,” Macron said in a speech commemorating the 78th anniversary of the Allied landing in Nazi-occupied southern France during World War II.

Macron said Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe, conjuring “phantoms of the spirit of revenge” in a “flagrant violation of the integrity of states.”

Earlier Friday, Macron spoke more than an hour with Putin to urge Russia to accept Ukraine’s conditions to allow UN nuclear inspectors to visit Europe’s largest nuclear plant. There are growing international concerns about security at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is occupied by Russian forces and at the heart of the war.

The leaders also discussed efforts to get grain and other food commodities out of Russia. EU sanctions aimed at ending the war make exceptions for food.

It was their 20th conversation this year but their first in three months.

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

Updated 19 August 2022

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

  • The regulator said a formal plan for the clinical trial is expected to be finalized this month

DUBAI: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered Pfizer Inc. to test the effects of an additional course of its antiviral Paxlovid among people who experience a rebound in COVID-19 after treatment, the regulator said on Friday.
The drugmaker must produce initial results of a randomized controlled trial of a second course of the antiviral by Sept. 30 next year, the FDA told Pfizer in a letter dated Aug. 5.
The regulator said a formal plan for the clinical trial is expected to be finalized this month.
Pfizer is “working with the FDA to finalize a protocol to study patients who may be in need of retreatment,” and will provide details when available, a company spokesperson said.

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

Updated 19 August 2022

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

MOGADISHU: Al-Shabab fighters attacked a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu in a hail of gunfire and explosions on Friday, with casualties reported, security sources and witnesses said.

The assault on the Hayat Hotel triggered a fierce gunfight between security forces and gunmen from the jihadist group who are still holed up inside the building, security official Abdukadir Hassan told AFP.

The Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group, which has been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for about 15 years, claimed responsibility.

Ambulance officials gave an injury toll of three, while witnesses at the scene at an intersection known as KM4 reported another two had been wounded.

“A huge blast went off a few minutes before the gunmen forced their way into the hotel,” Hassan said.

“We don’t have the details so far but there are casualties, and the security forces are now engaging with the enemy who are holed up inside the building,” he added.

Somali police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan later told reporters that the initial blast was caused by a suicide bomber who attacked the hotel with several other gunmen.

The assailants “are now being engaged by the police forces, they will be neutralized very soon,” he said.

It was not immediately clear if security forces had taken back control of the hotel and if the attack was over.

Witnesses said a second blast occurred outside the hotel just a few minutes after the first, inflicting casualties on rescuers and members of the security forces and civilians who rushed to the scene after the first explosion.

“The area is cordoned off now and there is exchange of gunfire between the security forces and the gunmen,” said one witness, Mohamed Salad.

The militants claimed the attack in a brief statement on a pro-Shabab website.

“A group of Al-Shabab attackers forcibly entered Hotel Hayat in Mogadishu, the fighters are carrying out random shooting inside the hotel,” the group said in a brief statement on a pro-Shabab website.

The Hayat is a popular spot in Mogadishu in an area where several other hotels are located, and it is frequented by government officials and civilians.

Earlier this week, the United States announced that its forces had killed 13 Al-Shabab fighters in an air strike in the central-southern part of the country as the Islamist militants were attacking Somali forces.

The US has carried out several air raids on the militants in strikes in recent weeks.

In May, President Joe Biden ordered the reestablishment of a US troop presence in Somalia to help local authorities combat Al-Shabab, reversing a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw most US forces.

In recent weeks, Al-Shabab fighters have also waged attacks on the Somalia-Ethiopia border, raising concerns about a possible new strategy by the Islamist militants.

Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said last month that ending Al-Shabab’s insurgency required more than a military approach, but that his government would negotiate with the group only when the time is right.

Al-Shabab fighters were driven out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force, but the group still controls swathes of countryside.

It continues to wage deadly strikes on civilian and military targets, with hotels a quite frequent target.

Earlier this month, Somalia’s new Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre announced the appointment of the group’s former deputy leader and spokesman, Muktar Robow, as religion minister.

Robow, 53, publicly defected from Al-Shabab in August 2017, with the US government at one point offering a $5-million bounty for his capture.

The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in chaos since the fall of the military regime of President Siad Barre in 1991.

His ouster was followed by a civil war and the ascendancy of Al-Shabab.

The deadliest attack in Somalia occurred in October 2017 when a truck packed with explosives blew up in a bustling commercial district of Mogadishu, killing 512 people.

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages

Updated 19 August 2022

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages

  • The victims' relatives and friends sat in the front rows of the courtroom and were visibly shaken during the course of the hearing
  • Elsheikh was accused of conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller

VIRGINIA, US: A US federal judge on Friday sentenced a member of a Deash cell known as “The Beatles” to life in prison for involvement in a hostage-taking plot that led to the killings of American journalists and aid workers in Syria.
Families and friends of the four Americans killed and of other hostages previously detained by the militant group looked on as District Court Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, to life without parole, calling his behavior “horrific, barbaric, brutal and of course criminal.”
A jury in April concluded the former British citizen was part of an Daesh cell, nicknamed “The Beatles” for their English accents, that beheaded American hostages in areas of the Middle East controlled by the militant group. He was found guilty on four counts of hostage-taking and four counts of conspiracy after a two-week trial.
The victims’ relatives and friends sat in the front rows of the courtroom and were visibly shaken during the course of the hearing as tears rolled down their eyes and they consoled each other. Elsheikh was sentenced to eight concurrent life sentences.
At the peak of its power from 2014-2017, Daesh ruled over millions of people and claimed responsibility for or inspired attacks in dozens of cities around the world.
Its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate over a quarter of Iraq and Syria in 2014, before he was killed in a raid by US special forces in Syria in 2019 as the group’s rule collapsed.
Elsheikh, who was born in Sudan and raised in London, was accused of conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
Foley and Sotloff, both journalists, and Kassig, an aid worker, were killed in videotaped beheadings. Mueller was raped repeatedly by Al-Baghdadi before her death in Syria, US officials have said.
The deaths of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were confirmed in 2014; Mueller’s death was confirmed in early 2015.
Elsheikh appeared in the federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday wearing a gray jumpsuit, a facemask and glasses. Family and friends of his victims were asked to make statements in front of the judge.
“Hatred completely overtook your humanity,” Foley’s mother, Diane said, later breaking down in tears. “I pity you. I pray your time in prison will give you a time to reflect.” Friday marked the eighth anniversary of Foley’s beheading.
The head of the London police’s Counter Terrorism Command, Richard Smith, said in a statement the victims’ families “have shown remarkable fortitude and bravery in giving their accounts of what happened to investigators, and in court.”
The charges against Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was withdrawn in 2018, carried a potential death sentence, but US prosecutors had previously advised British officials that they would not seek the death penalty.
Prosecutors argued that a life sentence was needed to prevent Elsheikh from causing future harm and to set a precedent that such crimes will get strict punishment.
“The Beatles were genuine psychopaths,” First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh argued in court on Friday during the hearing, adding that Elsheikh was the highest-ranking member of the Daesh to ever be convicted in a US Court.
Another cell member, Alexanda Kotey, was sentenced to life in prison by a US judge earlier this year. Kotey was held in Iraq by the US military before being flown to the United States to face trial. He pleaded guilty last September to the murders of Foley, Sotloff, Kassig and Mueller.
A third member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, died in a US-British missile strike in Syria in 2015.
Some former hostages, released by the cell after protracted negotiations, testified during trials about the torture they endured. Family members of those killed also testified.