Thursday, April 15, 2021

Video: Chicago Boy Wasn’t Holding Gun When Shot by Officer

By DON BABWIN and SARA BURNETT

This image from Chicago Police Department body cam video shows the moment before Chicago Police officer Eric Stillman fatally shot Adam Toledo, 13, on March 29, 2021, in Chicago. (Chicago Police Department via AP)

CHICAGO (AP) — Disturbing bodycam video released Thursday after public outcry over the Chicago police shooting of a 13-year-old boy shows the youth appearing to drop a handgun and begin raising his hands less than a second before an officer fires his gun and kills him.

A still frame taken from Officer Eric Stillman’s jumpy nighttime body camera footage shows that Adam Toledo wasn’t holding anything and had his hands up when Stillman shot him once in the chest about 3 a.m. on March 29. Police, who were responding to reports of shots fired in the area, say the boy had a handgun on him before the shooting. And Stillman’s footage shows him shining a light on a handgun on the ground near Toledo after he shot him.

The release of the footage and other investigation materials comes at a sensitive time, with the ongoing trial in Minneapolis of former Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd and the recent police killing of another Black man, Daunte Wright, in one of that city’s suburbs. Before the Civilian Office of Police Accountability posted the material on its website, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on the public to keep the peace and some downtown businesses boarded up their windows in the expectation that there could be unrest.

Small groups of protesters gathered at a police station and marched downtown Thursday night, but there were few signs of widespread demonstrations in the city.

“We live in a city that is traumatized by a long history of police violence and misconduct,” Lightfoot said. “So while we don’t have enough information to be the judge and jury of this particular situation, it is certainly understandable why so many of our residents are feeling that all too familiar surge of outrage and pain. It is even clearer that trust between our community and law enforcement is far from healed and remains badly broken.”

Nineteen seconds elapsed from when Stillman got out of his squad car to when he shot Toledo. His bodycam footage shows him chasing Toledo on foot down an alley for several seconds and yelling “Police! Stop! Stop right (expletive) now!”

As the teen slows down, Stillman yells “Hands! Hands! Show me your (expletive) hands!”

Toledo then turns toward the camera, Stillman yells “Drop it!” and midway between repeating that command, he opens fire and Toledo falls down. While approaching the wounded boy, Stillman radios in for an ambulance. He can be heard imploring Toledo to “stay awake,” and as other officers arrive, an officer says he can’t feel a heartbeat and begins administering CPR.

In a lengthy email, Stillman’s attorney Tim Grace said Toledo left the officer no choice but to shoot.

“The juvenile offender had the gun in his right hand ... looked at the officer which could be interpreted as attempting to acquire a target and began to turn to face the officer attempting to swing the gun in his direction,” Grace wrote. “At this point the officer was faced with a life threatening and deadly force situation. All prior attempts to deescalate and gain compliance with all of the officer’s lawful orders had failed.”

But Adeena Weiss-Ortiz, an attorney for Toledo’s family, told reporters the footage and other videos “speak for themselves.”

Weiss-Ortiz said it’s irrelevant whether Toledo was holding a gun before he turned toward the officer.

“If he had a gun, he tossed it,” she said. “The officer said, ’Show me your hands.” He complied. He turned around.”

The Chicago Police Department typically doesn’t release the names of officers involved in such shootings this early on in an investigation, but Stillman’s name, age and race — he’s 34 and white — were listed in the investigation reports released Thursday.

Weiss-Ortiz said that she looked into Stillman’s record but found no prior disciplinary issues.

Lightfoot, who along with the police superintendent had called on the police accountability board to release the video, asked the public to remain calm but decried the city’s long history of police violence and misconduct, especially in Black and brown communities. She said too many young people are left vulnerable to “systemic failures that we simply must fix.”

Choking up at times, Lightfoot described watching the video footage as “excruciating.”

“As a mom, this is not something you want children to see,” she said.

In addition to posting Stillman’s bodycam footage, the review board released footage from other bodycams, four third-party videos, two audio recordings of 911 calls, and six audio recordings from ShotSpotter, the technology that led police to respond to gunshots that morning in Little Village, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood on the city’s southwest side.

Toledo, who was Hispanic, and a 21-year-old man fled on foot when confronted by police. The 21-year-old man was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

The review board, an independent board that investigates all shootings in Chicago involving police, initially said it couldn’t release the video because it showed the shooting of a minor, but the board changed course after the mayor and police superintendent asked for it to be made public.

Lucky Camargo, an activist and lifelong resident of Little Village, decided not to watch the video. But neighbors described it to her as “an execution.”

“This was wrong,” she said. “I didn’t need to watch the video to make that assessment on my own. I don’t feel there was any justification to shoot someone.”

Previous police shooting videos that went public have sparked major protests, including one released in 2015 showing a white officer shooting Black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him. The officer was eventually convicted of murder.

Before the latest video’s release, some businesses in downtown Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” shopping district boarded up their windows. Lightfoot said the city has been preparing for months for a verdict in the Chauvin trial and that it had activated a “neighborhood protection plan” ahead of Thursday’s release.

“It happens now that these circumstances are sitting next to each other,” she said.

Adam’s mother described him as a curious and goofy seventh grader who loved animals, riding his bike and junk food. The Toledo family issued a statement urging people to avoid violent protests.

“We pray that for the sake of our city, people remain peaceful to honor Adam’s memory and work constructively to promote reform,” the family said.

Lightfoot and attorneys for the family and city said that in addition to the release of the video, all investigation materials should be made public, including a slowed-down compilation of what happened that morning.

“We acknowledge that the release of this video is the first step in the process toward the healing of the family, the community and our city,” they said in a joint statement. “We understand that the release of this video will be incredibly painful and elicit an emotional response to all who view it, and we ask that people express themselves peacefully.”

Whether the officer is charged with a crime is up to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, which gets the accountability board’s report after it completes its investigation.

The Chicago Police Department has a long history of brutality and racism that has fomented mistrust among the city’s many Black and Hispanic residents. Adding to that mistrust is the city’s history of suppressing damning police videos.

The city fought for months to keep the public from seeing the 2014 video of a white officer shooting McDonald, and also tried to stop a TV news station from broadcasting video of a botched 2019 police raid in which an innocent, naked, Black woman wasn’t allowed to put on clothes until after she was handcuffed.

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Associated Press writers Kathleen Foody and Sophia Tareen in Chicago and Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, contributed to this report

Wright’s Family Wants Stiffer Charge for Minnesota Ex-cop

By SCOTT BAUER and MIKE HOUSEHOLDER

Naisha Wright, aunt of the deceased Daunte Wright, holds up images depicting X26P Taser and a Glock 17 handgun during a news conference at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — Daunte Wright’s family members joined with community leaders Thursday in calling for more serious charges against the white former police officer who fatally shot him, comparing her case to the murder charge brought against a Black officer who killed a white woman in nearby Minneapolis.

Former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter in Sunday’s shooting of Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop. The former police chief in Brooklyn Center, a majority nonwhite suburb, said Potter mistakenly fired her handgun when she meant to use her Taser. Both the chief and Potter resigned Tuesday.

Potter — who was released on $100,000 bond hours after her arrest Wednesday — appeared alongside her attorney, Earl Gray, at her initial appearance Thursday over Zoom, saying little. Gray kept his camera on himself for most of the hearing, swiveling it to show Potter only briefly. Her next court appearance was set for May 17.

Wright’s death has been followed by protests every night this week outside the city’s police station, with some demonstrators hurling objects at officers who have responded at times with gas and rubber bullets before clearing the scene with a riot line. Another protest was scheduled Thursday night, just hours after police in Chicago released graphic body camera video of an officer fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo in March.

“It is happening in every single city, every single day across the country,” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told protesters, before leading them in a chant of “Say his name! Adam Toledo!”″

Wright’s family members and protesters who have confronted police all week since his death say there’s no excuse for the shooting.

“Unfortunately, there’s never going to be justice for us,” Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said at a news conference Thursday. “Justice isn’t even a word to me. I do want accountability.”

Wright family attorney Ben Crump said “full accountability, to get equal justice” is all the family wants — “nothing more, nothing less.”

Crump and other advocates for Wright point to the 2017 case of Mohamed Noor. The Black former Minneapolis police officer fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a white woman who was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, in the alley behind her home after she called 911 to report what she thought was a woman being assaulted.

Noor was convicted of third-degree murder in addition to second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. Potter’s charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Intent isn’t a necessary component of either charge. A key difference is that third-degree murder requires someone to act with a “depraved mind,” a term that has been the subject of legal disputes, but includes an act eminently dangerous to others, performed without regard for human life.

Noor testified that he fired to protect his partner’s life after hearing a loud bang on the squad car and seeing a woman at his partner’s window raising her arm. Prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond’s hands.

Many critics of the police believe the race of those involved in the Wright shooting played a role in which charges were brought.

“If the officer was Black, perhaps even a minority man, and the victim was a young, white female affluent kid, the chief would have fired him immediately and the county prosecutor would have charged him with murder, without a doubt,” said Hussein said earlier Thursday.

Potter could have easily been charged with third-degree murder, which carries a 25-year maximum sentence, said Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. But she noted that Potter will likely argue using the gun was a mistake, while Noor never said he didn’t intend to use his weapon.

“This is kind of the compromise charge, which isn’t to say it’s not serious. It is,” Moran said. “But they’re not reaching for the most serious charge they could theoretically file. They’re also not washing their hands and saying she has no criminal liability.”

The prosecutor who brought the case, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, did not return messages seeking comment.

Wright’s death came as the broader Minneapolis area awaits the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, one of four officers charged in George Floyd’s death last May. Crump pointed to that trial as having the potential to set a precedent for “police officers being held accountable and sent to prison for killing Black people.”

Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.

Potter, a 26-year veteran, was training another officer at the time.

Body camera video shows Wright struggling with police after they say they’re going to arrest him. Potter pulls her service pistol and is heard yelling “Taser!” three times before she fires and then says, “Holy (expletive), I shot him.”

Naisha Wright, Daunte Wright’s aunt, held up a photo of a Taser at the news conference with other family members. “This is a Taser, but no,” she said, displaying a photo of a handgun. “My nephew was killed with this -- a Glock.”

The criminal complaint noted that Potter kept her handgun holstered on the right side and her Taser on the left. To remove the Taser — which is yellow and has a black grip — Potter would have to use her left hand, the complaint said.

Experts say cases of officers mistakenly firing their gun instead of a Taser are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.

Wright’s funeral will be April 22 at the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis, his attorney said.

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Bauer contributed from Madison, Wisconsin. Associated Press writers Doug Glass and Mohamed Ibrahim in Minneapolis; Tim Sullivan in Brooklyn Center; Suman Naishadham in Phoenix; and Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.

Africa CDC Urges India to Lift COVID Vaccine Export Limits

By CARA ANNA

Kenyans line up to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative, at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Brian Ingasnga)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Africa’s top health official said Thursday he wants to believe that India will lift export restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible, warning that “India is not an island” while some African nations still have seen no shots at all.

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke as the African continent of 1.3 billion people doesn’t know when second doses of key vaccines will arrive and India sees a devastating resurgence in infections. India is a major vaccine producer and a key supplier to the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative aiming to bring shots to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“If you finish vaccinating your people before Africa or other parts of the world, you have not done yourself any justice because variants will emerge and undermine your own vaccination efforts,“ Nkengasong said in a weekly press briefing, highlighting what has become a global crisis with as many as 60 countries possibly stalled at their first shots.

He said the uncertainty around the arrival of second doses puts the African continent in a “very dicey situation.” Some countries have already exhausted their initial vaccine doses, including Ghana and Rwanda, he said.

In Kenya, the Cabinet secretary for health warned that some local counties have begun “hoarding” first doses of vaccines “in the mistaken notion of releasing the doses only when they receive doses for the second phase of vaccination.”

Mutahi Kagwe said there is no need to panic in a country currently seeing a resurgence in cases, saying people will receive their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine between eight and 12 weeks after their first.

The Africa CDC director stressed that people should not worry now about receiving delayed second doses, but added that “we are very insistent, use the vaccines before the first expiration date” despite guidance he said the Serum Institute had given on an extension beyond the 12-week window currently recommended.

But uncertainty is widespread.

A World Health Organization vaccination official in Africa, Richard Mihigo, told The Associated Press that “COVAX continues to engage in intensive discussions with the government of India and Serum Institute of India to maintain some supply in April, and resume supply in full in May to June.” However, for those second doses hoped for in May and June, “we have no clear indication of when deliveries would resume and how many doses would be released.”

Meanwhile, Mihigo said, “we saw positive signs that the remaining African countries for which initial deliveries were suspended will have received initial COVAX doses in the coming week.”

African governments were already anxious about vaccine supplies as the world’s richer nations acquired the bulk of doses for themselves. Mihigo said just one in 500 doses globally has been given in low-income countries.

Now African nations have the added uncertainty of questions raised about the two main vaccines available for the continent, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

South Africa this week suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to preliminary reports of rare blood clots, leaving the country with Africa’s highest number of infections without any shots at all. In February, it scrapped plans to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to health care workers because a small, preliminary test showed it gave minimal protection against mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 caused by the variant dominant there.

African officials aim to vaccinate some 750 million people across the continent over the next two years. So far, just under 14 million vaccine doses have been administered across the 54 countries.

More than 34 million vaccine doses have been acquired, with 32 countries having received them from COVAX.

Africa has confirmed 4.3 million coronavirus infections and has a case fatality rate of 2.7%, above the global average of 2.2%. The past week has seen a 2% decrease in new cases.

Variants of the virus remain a concern. Nkengasong said 19 African countries have reported the variant first detected in Britain, while 18 have reported the variant first detected in South Africa.

UN Envoy: South Sudan Has Potential, Needs to Hold Elections

By EDITH M. LEDERER

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — David Shearer said Wednesday he’s leaving the top U.N. job in South Sudan convinced the world’s youngest nation has the potential to become a tourist destination to rival any country in East Africa and the oil and mineral riches to spur economic progress — if it can eliminate corruption and establish a transparent and open government.

As the country approaches its 10th anniversary of independence from Sudan on July 11, it has a transitional government in place following a 2018 peace agreement, and a 2020 cease-fire. Shearer said in an interview with The Associated Press that though “it’s all moved too slowly,” it’s now time to focus on elections “and have a legitimate, popularly elected government.

“That needs to be the rallying cry as we go forward — to bring everybody on board and to put pressure on the government to actually speak up and hold those elections,” he said. “That doesn’t mean to say winner needs to take all, because that can create all sorts of problems. But we do have to allow people to have their say in what comes next.”

There were high hopes for peace and stability once South Sudan gained its long-fought independence from Sudan. But the country slid into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who belongs to the Nuer people.

Numerous attempts at peace failed, including a deal that saw Machar return as vice president in 2016 only to flee months later amid fresh fighting. The civil war has killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions.

Intense international pressure followed the most recent peace deal in 2018, and in February 2020 a coalition government led by Kiir, with Machar as his deputy, was formed.

As U.N. special representative for South Sudan, Shearer was head of the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission, with over 14,000 troops and 1,500 police, and in charge of political dealings as well. He was a former member of New Zealand’s parliament and has held a variety of U.N. posts including in Iraq from 2007-2009.

Looking back on why an oil-rich country born with high expectations has ended up in such a dire situation, Shearer said that after independence “the elites” — the generals during the war who found themselves in government — had “huge animosities” toward each other and struggled to be on top.

He said transforming the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which became the ruling party of the new country, into a state is still in progress.

“They’re thinking as a movement: How can we continue to hold power as we move forward? And that’s a very big difference ... (from) the strategic vision of, where is South Sudan going to be in five, 10 years time?” he said.

Shearer said another key issue is that financial resources coming to the government “are siphoned off by these very people (the elites), and there is very little understanding of where the money’s going.” It’s not going to services for the people of South Sudan and there’s problems with holding the government accountable, he said.

Looking ahead, Shearer said the peace agreement ends with elections, though “I don’t believe that’s the end of the peace process — that’s a step along the way.”

To hold elections, the appointed legislature, which hasn’t met, needs to approve a constitution and electoral legislation, he said.

There also has to be some serious messaging between now and the election “to make sure that although one person will be president, everybody else will have a role to play,” he said.

Shearer said Kiir and Machar “are working together,” though they are still rivals, and he expects both to run for president.

The U.N. Security Council has asked for a feasibility study due in mid-July on holding elections.

The U.N. envoy said there were growing voices for election preparations to begin but the bottom line was there was stability now in the country.

“The conflict that’s happening now is at a much smaller level,” he said. “It’s intercommunal, it’s resource related, it’s tribal, often started by leaders. But it’s much less than it was three years ago.”

He shared his vision of what South Sudan should like like in five or 10 years: “What I’d really like to see is a government that is transparent and open with its finances, where it’s starting to take its own responsibility providing services, and it’s turning around with the confidence to say to the international community: `You don’t need your peacekeepers here. We need development, people to help us with our development and our economic progress, and we need you to transition and the rest of you guys need to start thinking about moving out,’” Shearer said.

He said the potential in South Sudan is immense. “If you had stability, you would have a tourist industry that could rival any of the countries in east Africa — the Nile, the animals, and its extraordinary,” and the country also has fertile soil, oil, teak and minerals.

“It’s all there, it just needs good governance. So that would be what I wish for more than anything else,” Shearer said.

Algeria Protesters at Crossroads as Islamists Take Spotlight

FILE - In this March 12, 2021 file photo, demonstrators watch a crowd marching in Algiers. Two years after it ousted Algeria’s long-serving leader, the country’s pro-democracy movement is at a crossroads. There are fears it’s been infiltrated by a group with links to an Islamist party outlawed during a dark era of strife in the 1990s. (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou, File)

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria’s pro-democracy movement is at a crossroads two years after it ousted the country’s long-serving leader, confronting fears it’s been infiltrated by a group with links to an Islamist party outlawed during a dark era of strife in the 1990s.

Members of the Europe-based Rachad group cannot be clearly identified, nor do they advertise their presence. But it’s widely believed that they are among the thousands of protesters of the Hirak movement marching each Friday. Algeria’s president and its powerful military have castigated Rachad, without naming it.

The Hirak movement forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office in 2019 with its giant weekly protests peacefully demanding change in Algeria’s opaque power structure in which the army plays a crucial shadow role. Protesters began pouring anew into the streets of Algiers, the capital, and other cities starting on Hirak’s second anniversary, Feb. 22, after a year of virus lockdown.

But they’re now less numerous amid concerns that Rachad may be using Hirak’s “smile revolution” for an agenda of its own. Debate about Rachad focuses on whether it could reopen the door to the dark past when Algeria waged a murderous war with Islamist extremists seeking power. An estimated 200,000 people were killed, and the nation has yet to heal.

On its site, Rachad says it has taken part in Hirak marches since their inception in early 2019, and affirms that it “banishes all forms of extremism ... and advocates non-violence.”

Such claims don’t convince Ahcene Khaznadji, a 65-year-old teachers’ unionist who took part in about 30 Hirak marches — and says he won’t do it again.

The marches “have reached their limit,” he said. “Above all, it increasingly appears that Islamists are trying to take over, via Rachad. I fought Islamists when in university in the 1980s and, politically, in the 1990s,” Khaznadji said. “Today, I don’t want to serve as a stepping stone to help them reach power.”

Rachad, whose origins date to 2007, is widely seen as Islamic-conservative. Two of its leaders, based in Geneva and London, were members of the Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS, party whose soaring popularity triggered the years of chaos. On the verge of winning national elections in 1991, FIS was outlawed, a military junta took over Algeria and the insurgency by extremists spiraled into all-out war.

Conspiracy theories have long abounded in Algeria. In the case of Hirak, where some see exaggeration about the role of Rachad, others see dark plots promoted by authorities. A constant slogan chanted or scrawled on posters during Friday marches has been “civilian, not military state.” For the army, that’s a deep insult to its “eternal link” with the people and a sign that Rachad is among protesters.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has portrayed himself as a protector of what he has called the “blessed Hirak,” but critics suspect authorities may be out to divide protesters with fear-mongering about Rachad coupled with multiple arrests of marchers during protests.

The March issue of the army’s monthly review, El Djeich, referred to Rachad, without naming the group, as “bats who prefer obscurity and darkness.” In its April issue, it denounced those who “seed doubt and lies and rumors.”

Last week Tebboune castigated what he said were “subversive activities” by “illegal movements close to terrorism ... exploiting weekly marches,” a clear reference to Rachad. The statement after a meeting of the High Security Council, carried by the official APS news agency, also condemned “separatist circles,” a reference to another group seeking independence for Algeria’s Kabyle region, home of Berbers.

Tebboune demanded the “immediate and rigorous application of the law” to end such activities, saying, “The state will be intransigent.”

Authorities are seeking to arrest Rachad members to unravel what they claim is a plot to destabilize the nation.

One of the group’s founders, Mohamed Larbi Zitout, a former diplomat living in London, is among four people — all allegedly linked to Rachad — targeted in international arrest warrants issued in March by Algeria for alleged breaches of public order and the nation’s security, APS reported. A fifth person, Ahmed Mansouri, a former FIS member arrested for joining a terrorist group in the 1990s then freed, was re-arrested in February for his alleged central role in the plot, included financing “secret activities” of Rachad.

“It seems the importance given to the Rachad movement is aimed at creating discord within Hirak and raising fears about it abroad,” said political scientist Mohamed Hennad in the daily El Watan.

Many are now wondering whether they should join in the Friday marches.

“Doubt has (entered) and the demons of the 1990s are reawakening,” journalist and Hirak activist Ihsane El Kadi wrote March 23 in a blog on independent online Radio M. But he argued that Rachad supporters should not be ostracized.

A group of university professors and high-profile supporters of the pro-democracy movement marched together last Friday, at Hirak’s 112th protest, in front of a banner calling for unity.

“It’s unity that is (Hirak’s) strength,” said lawyer and human rights activist Moustapha Bouchachi.

Libyan Leader Meets Top Russian Officials, Speaks with Putin

MOSCOW (AP) — The head of Libya’s interim government has met in Moscow with Russia’s prime minister and security council head, and spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin said Putin told Libyan premier Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Thursday’s conversation that Russia will “continue to promote the inter-Libyan political process in order to achieve long-term stability in Libya, strengthen its sovereignty and unity, and ensure progressive socioeconomic development.”

In March Dbeibah became prime minister of an interim government that aims to lead the country through elections scheduled for December. The government’s appointment has revived hopes for stability in oil-rich Libya, which plunged into chaos a decade ago when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

Russian news agencies said Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin discussed investment possibilities with Dbeibah. The Libyan leader and security council head Nikolai Patrushev discussed joint efforts against terrorism.

Business-seeking Singer Akon Draws political Fire in Uganda

By RODNEY MUHUMUZA

April 13, 2021

Senegalese - American performer Akon, right and his wife Rozina, arrive at the Gaddafi National mosque, in Kampala, Uganda, Friday, April 2, 2021. Akon is visiting Uganda Friday in search of investment opportunities that would extend his business footprint in Africa, where his efforts include a planned futuristic city in his native Senegal. Akon’s arrival in the East African country was announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (AP Photo/ Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The American rap artist and singer Akon is drawing criticism from rights activists over his meetings with Uganda’s president as he pursues the development of a futuristic city in the East African country.

Akon is helping to rehabilitate longtime President Yoweri Museveni’s reputation after an election earlier this year marred by violence, an internet shutdown and allegations of vote rigging, the U.S. based groups Human Rights Foundation and Vanguard Africa said in a joint letter to Akon shared late Monday.

“Museveni has exploited your meeting with him for official propaganda, as his regime seeks to capitalize on your global prestige to whitewash its image and distract from its most recent wave of repression,” the letter says, urging him to “explicitly make clear” that he is not endorsing Museveni.

Museveni’s main opponent in January’s election was the singer known as Bobi Wine, who has disputed the president’s victory as fraudulent and seeks the international community’s intervention over what he regards as a brutal dictatorship. Museveni, a U.S. ally on regional security, has asserted that he won fairly.

There is also growing concern in Uganda over an unknown number of opposition supporters allegedly detained without trial by the security forces. A group of United Nations experts, who don’t speak for the U.N. itself, on Tuesday urged Ugandan authorities to “immediately stop the brutal crackdown on its political opponents.”

Akon’s arrival in Uganda earlier this month generated excitement among government officials who saw his visit as a boon for efforts to attract tourists. The singer traveled in a military helicopter to meet Museveni at his rural home in western Uganda. A second meeting took place at Museveni’s ranch in central Uganda.

Museveni has said of Akon’s search for business opportunities that he is “happy to engage in such a discussion that will uplift our people and Africa at large.”

But some say Akon’s visit hurt pro-democracy efforts in Uganda, and others in the country say the square mile of land Uganda is donating to the singer should instead be awarded to local investors desperate for such an opportunity.

Asked whether he was worried about being accused of collaborating with an African leader who has spent decades in power, Akon told the local NBS channel that “honestly, that just don’t bother me. Clearly democracy just works differently in different places, and not every place in the world is made for democracy,.”

The singer added that a group of unnamed investors backing him considered “whatever the people needed. Then it’s our job to support the government to make it happen.”

Akon’s Uganda plans include a music festival to promote local talent.

Akon has made headlines in recent years as a pan-African businessman interested in opportunities on the continent of 1.3 billion people.

His most ambitious goal is to build a $6 billion utopian city in Senegal that he has described as a “real-life Wakanda,” comparing it to the technologically advanced fictional African place in the blockbuster film “Black Panther.”

Akon City is envisaged to have its own hospital, police station and cryptocurrency along with a seaside resort, a tech hub, recording studios and a zone dubbed “Senewood” that developers hope will help develop Senegal’s film industry.

Senegalese authorities have allocated Akon land outside the capital, Dakar, but construction is yet to start.

Akon, whose real name is Aliaune Thiam, started a group in 2014 that backs solar energy projects in rural areas of African countries. The inspiration for Akon Lighting Africa came after he found his grandmother was still using candles to light her home in Senegal.

In December, a company associated with him reached a deal with a state miner to develop a copper and cobalt mine in resource-rich Congo.

Death Toll Up to 42 After Migrant Boat Capsizes off Djibouti

April 13, 2021

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The International Organization for Migration says the death toll has risen to 42 after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti early Monday.

Sixteen children were among the dead, spokeswoman Yvonne Ndege said. She said 14 people survived.

“The smugglers have not yet been found,” she said.

Olivia Headon, the IOM’s spokeswoman in Yemen, has said the migrants were returning from Yemen because of the dire situation in the Arab world’s poorest country, wrecked by war.

“They were so desperate to leave Yemen they put their lives back into the hands of unscrupulous smugglers,” she said.

Many people seek to make the voyage from Ethiopia and Somalia to Yemen and on to richer Gulf countries as they flee poverty and insecurity in search of work. But the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges force some to turn back.

Pentagon Chief Orders Review of Deadly 2020 Attack in Kenya

By ROBERT BURNS and LOLITA C. BALDOR

April 12, 2021

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks to reporters at Israel's Nevatim air base Monday, with an Israeli F-35 fighter jet in the background, at Nevatim Israeli Air Force Base, Monday, April 12, 2021 in Israel. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

BERLIN (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday ordered an Army review of an investigation into a January 2020 militant assault on the Manda Bay military base in Kenya that killed three Americans and wounded three others.

In a written statement announcing Austin’s decision, his press secretary, John Kirby, did not pinpoint what Austin found lacking in the initial investigation, which was conducted by U.S. Africa Command. By apparent coincidence, Austin plans to meet with Africa Command officials Tuesday in Stuttgart, Germany, as part of a broader tour of Europe to consult with allies and talk to U.S. commanders. He also will meet separately with officials at U.S. European Command, also in Stuttgart.

“An independent review will provide added insight, perspective, and the ability to assess the totality of this tragic event involving multiple military services and Department of Defense components,” Kirby said.

Kirby said that after considering the results of Africa Command’s investigation, which have not been released publicly, Austin decided to order the Army to pick a four-star general to conduct the review. The Army chose Gen. Paul Funk, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command. Funk is an experienced combat veteran who served six deployments in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It is the secretary’s desire to ensure there is a full examination and consideration of the contributing factors that led to this tragic event and that appropriate action is taken to reduce the risk of future occurrence,” Kirby said. “The families impacted deserve nothing less.”

The attack by al-Shabab militants at the Manda Bay base destroyed six aircraft in addition to killing three Americans and wounding three others.

The base, in the Kenyan seaside resort, was overrun by 30 to 40 of the al-Qaida-linked insurgents on Jan. 5, 2020, marking al-Shabab’s first attack against U.S. forces in the East African country. The predawn assault triggered a lengthy firefight and daylong struggle for U.S. and Kenyan forces to search and secure the base.

The base at Manda Bay has been used for years by the U.S. military, but it only became a full-time airfield in 2016, with increased personnel, aircraft and operations.

The initial phase of the assault came near dawn, when 20 to 30 al-Shabab militants slipped through the forest and fired rocket-propelled grenades onto the airfield at the base. The opening rounds of grenades quickly killed a soldier in a truck and wounded another, and killed two contractors in an aircraft and wounded one other. About a mile down the road, other militants fired on Camp Simba, a section of the base where U.S. forces are stationed.

Marines from Camp Simba initially responded to the attack site and begin to fight back against the militants, who had made it onto the airfield and into buildings. But it took all day for Kenyan and U.S. security forces to finally quash the attack, search the airfield and secure the area.

Air Force Col. Chris Karns, spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command, said a “great deal of rigor” was put into the investigation, resulting in a number of immediate improvements. He said the goal has been to reassure the families and the American public “that we did everything possible to understand the situation and take appropriate action.”

The investigation team made “findings and recommendations that fall outside U.S. Africa Command purview and ability to effect, therefore we fully support the additional independent review directed by the Secretary of Defense,” Karns said. “We are confident in the report’s findings and remain committed to ensuring fixes and improvements in Kenya and across the continent.”

Kenya has been a key base for fighting al-Shabab, which is based in Somalia and is one of the world’s most resilient extremist organizations. Al-Shabab has launched a number of attacks inside Kenya, including against civilian targets on buses, at schools and at shopping malls.

Al-Shabab had been the target of a growing number of U.S. airstrikes inside Somalia during President Donald Trump’s administration. But Trump late last year ordered the withdrawal of the roughly 700 American forces there, and the bulk of those troops were pulled out of the country by mid-January. According to officials, there are well below 100 U.S. troops in Somalia now.

Austin has launched a review of America’s military posture around the world.

Ex-Burkina Faso President Charged in Predecessor’s Murder

By SAM MEDNICK

April 13, 2021

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — A Burkina Faso military tribunal on Tuesday charged former President Blaise Compaore with complicity in the murder of Thomas Sankara, whom he ousted in a 1987 coup.

Thirteen other people were charged in connection with the killing, including Compaore’s former right-hand man, Gen. Gilbert Diendere. Charges against Compaore include undermining state security and concealing corpses, according to military documents seen by The Associated Press.

The circumstances behind Sankara’s death, who was killed during the coup, have been shrouded in secrecy.

Sankara, who became an iconic revolutionary West African leader, took power in 1983 at age 33 after he and Compaore launched a leftist revolution to overthrow a moderate military faction. In 1987, Compaore turned on his former friend, staging the coup and ruling with an iron fist for more than 27 years before being ousted in a popular uprising in 2014. He now lives in exile in neighboring Ivory Coast.

Compaore’s trial will end a longstanding taboo in Burkina Faso politics and address his legacy head on, Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy told AP.

But Compaore is unlikely to face extradition from Ivory Coast, Raymakers said. In 2015, Burkina Faso issued a warrant for his arrest but Ivory Coast has refused to hand him over.

The charges come as the impoverished nation has been battling a jihadist insurgency that has killed thousands, displaced more than 1 million people and divided communities. After winning re-election in November, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore pledged to make reconciliation a priority.

Some Burkina Faso observers say Kabore might be sending a public message conveying political dominance.

“What’s more clear of a message than reviving a case, one that has plagued Burkina Faso’s political stage for decades?” said Laith Alkhouri, a global intelligence advisor.

But locals, who have waited a long time for this moment, were skeptical things would progress beyond the charges.

“This is an indictment, not a conviction,” Siaka Coulibaly, an analyst with the Center for Public Policy Monitoring by Citizens, told AP.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

South Africa Temporarily Suspends Roll-out of J&J Jabs

15 APR, 2021 - 00:04 

JOHANNESBURG. – South Africa has temporarily suspended the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told reporters late on  Tuesday.   

Mkhize said the decision was taken after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended the temporary suspension of the vaccine’s use in the US following reports of six women developing unusual blood clots with low platelets after receiving it. 

‘‘In South Africa, we have not had any reports of clots that have formed after vaccination, and this is after having inoculated 289,787 health care workers under the Sisonke Protocol,” he said. 

Mkhize said that after seeing the advisory from the FDA, he held urgent consultations with South African scientists, who advised that the country cannot take the decision made by the FDA lightly. 

“Based on their advice, we have determined to voluntarily suspend our roll-out until the causal relationship between the development of clots and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is sufficiently interrogated,” he added. 

South Africa has the highest number of Covid-19 cases on the continent with 1,559,960 infections and 53,423 deaths. Over 1.4 million people have recovered. 

Mkhize said the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) will collate information from Johnson & Johnson, the FDA and other regulatory bodies to make a thorough assessment of the situation and advise South Africa as a regulatory body that has exercised its authoritative powers on the approval of the vaccine in their own right. 

“I humbly call for calm and patience as we ensure that we continue to be properly guided by science in ensuring the safety of our people as we roll out the vaccine campaign.”   

South Africa has so far acquired 30 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well as 30 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough for this financial year.  

– Anadolu Agency.

Botswana Probes Two AstraZeneca Deaths

13 APR, 2021 - 00:04  

GABORONE. – Botswana is investigating the deaths of two among thousands of people who had been given doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to see if there is any link, the health ministry said.

The southern African country has so far administered about 31 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the only vaccine it has started rolling out.

India donated 30 000 doses of the vaccine that were manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), and Botswana bought 33 000 doses that were made in South Korea from global vaccine distribution scheme COVAX.

The two people who died had taken the shots made in India.

Millions of doses of the AstraZeneca shot have been safely administered around the world. The European Medicines Agency received reports of 169 cases of the rare brain blood clot by early April, after 34 million doses had been administered, Sabine Straus, chair of the EMA’s safety committee, said.

Most of the cases reported had occurred in women under 60.The Botswana health ministry said in a statement late on Sunday that the two deaths were of elderly people.

“The ministry has referred the matter to the regulator being BOMRA for immediate investigation. It is expected that BOMRA investigation will seek to establish the cause of two deaths as well as whether they are in any way linked to the COVID vaccine which was administered,” the statement read. 

– Reuters.

Governor Pushes School Reopening as Many Districts Resist

By JOCELYN GECKER and JANIE HAR

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner, right, and Gabriela Rodriguez, principal of Heliotrope Avenue Elementary School, pose for photos on the first day of in-person learning in Maywood, Calif., Tuesday, April 13, 2021. More than a year after the pandemic forced all of California's schools to close classroom doors, some of the state's largest school districts are slowly beginning to reopen this week for in-person instruction. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday urged all California schools to reopen, emphasizing that there are no state or health barriers to getting children back into classrooms and ending distance learning.

His frustration was evident: “Money is not an object now. It’s an excuse,” he said. “I want all schools to reopen. I’ve been crystal clear about that.”

Newsom spoke at an elementary school in Santa Rosa that began welcoming students back this week. But his wishes remain an expectation rather than a mandate in California’s decentralized education system, where 1,200 school districts negotiate separately with teachers unions and ultimately govern themselves.

Facing political pressure and a recall effort, Newsom said last week he plans to lift most of California’s coronavirus restrictions June 15 in an effort to reopen the state to business-as-usual. He said he expects schools to join in.

More than a year after the pandemic forced California’s classrooms to close, some of the largest school districts are reopening, including Los Angeles and San Diego. LA Unified’s superintendent has said that communities hardest hit by the pandemic are more reluctant to send their children back to school.

Newsom said that more than 9,000 of California’s 11,000 schools have reopened or have set plans to reopen, but that number is misleading because there is no uniformity in what it means for a school to be open. Some are offering one or two days of in-person instruction, mixed with distance learning on other days.

In San Francisco, where elementary schools began reopening this week, nearly 300 staff members have been given permission to work from home and teach classes via Zoom while students sit in classrooms with laptops and headphones.

Newsom reiterated Wednesday that his push to get the state’s 6.2 million K-12 public school students back in classrooms was a plea, rather than an order.

When asked if he would mandate reopening, Newsom said “mandates are often not looked upon as favorably as you would like to think. That said, we anticipate and expect our kids back safely in in-person instruction this fall, and you’ll be hearing more about that.”

Reopen California Schools, a parents group formed in June, said Newsom should order schools to reopen as other states have, rather than continuing to cajole schools and unions.

“Newsom cannot continue to pretend his words alone will make a difference. He must mandate all K-12 schools offer real, substantial, full-time, in-person learning now,” the group said in a statement.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Democrat who appeared alongside Newsom Wednesday, said there is not consensus in the Democratic-controlled Legislature to force schools to reopen. He said he applauds Newsom’s efforts to coax fuller in-school learning.

Newsom’s urging stands in contrast to the approach several other states have taken to order schools to reopen — including the Democratic-led states of Oregon and Washington — in part because of the outsized political power of California’s teachers unions.

The governor made his frustration clear at having given schools and teachers what they said they needed to reopen. He prioritized educators for vaccinations, and at this point shots have been offered to every educator who wanted one, officials say.

Earlier in the pandemic, money was a huge problem as schools faced enormous expenses to overhaul ventilation systems, reconfigure classrooms and purchase protective gear for teachers and staff.

Newsom signed a $6.6 billion package earlier this year to fund safety measures for in-person instruction and expand learning opportunities. In addition, California schools are getting $15.3 billion in federal aid from the Biden administration.

Newsom pleaded with districts and teachers to “reimagine the school year” for the sake of children.

“Use this money to extend learning opportunities, extend the school day, extend the school year. Who says you have to end on June 1 or June 15?” he said.

Even as Newsom called on schools to reopen full time, he acknowledged that there is fear, particularly in the Latino community, which was among the hardest hit by the virus in California. He said instruction online and hybrid models will have to remain an option.

In Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the nation, recent parent surveys have shown that more than half do not plan to send their children back this spring. About 80% of LA Unified’s 600,000 K-12 students are Latino and many live in low-income neighborhoods that suffered during the height of the pandemic.

Newsom said the consequences of waiting are particularly profound in diverse communities. “And if they need more, let me know what more you need,” he said.

California now has some of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country and a much better understanding than a year ago of how effective masking is in containing the spread of the virus and evidence that children are not key transmitters.

Study Finds That Blocking Seats on Planes Reduces Virus Risk

Associated Press

A new study says leaving middle seats open could give airline passengers more protection from the virus that causes COVID-19.

Researchers said the risk of passengers being exposed to the virus from an infected person on the plane could be reduced by 23% to 57% if middle seats are empty, compared with a full flight.

The study released Wednesday supports the response of airlines that limited seating early in the pandemic. However, all U.S. airlines except Delta now sell every seat they can, and Delta will stop blocking middle seats on May 1.

The airlines argue that filters and air-flow systems on most planes make them safe when passengers wear face masks, as they are now required to do by federal regulation.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kansas State University estimated how far airborne virus particles travel inside a plane. They used mannequins that emitted aerosol to measure the flow of virus particles through airline cabin mock-ups.

The study, however, did not take into account the wearing of face masks because it was based on a previous study done in 2017, before the pandemic.

Nor did it consider whether passengers are vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC says vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, although the agency still recommends against nonessential travel.

Airlines for America, a trade group for the largest U.S. carriers, said airlines use several layers of measures to prevent the spread of the virus on planes, including face masks, asking passengers about their health, and stepped-up cleaning of cabins. The group cited a Harvard University report funded by the airline industry as showing that the risk of transmitting the coronavirus on planes is very low.

Airlines were divided last year over filling middle seats. While Delta, Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue limited seating on planes, United Airlines never did and American Airlines only blocked seats for a short time. It was mostly an academic question, because relatively few flights last year were crowded. That is changing.

More than 1 million travelers have gone through U.S. airports each day for the past month. While that is still down more than one-third from the same period in 2019, more flights now are crowded. Around Easter weekend, Delta temporarily filled middle seats to accommodate passengers whose original flights were canceled because of staffing shortages.

J&J Vaccine to Remain in Limbo While Officials Seek Evidence

By LAURAN NEERGAARD and MIKE STOBBE

FILE - In this March 3, 2021, file photo, Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is held by pharmacist Madeline Acquilano at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn. U.S. health officials are weighing next steps as they investigate unusual blood clots in a small number of people given the vaccine -- a one-dose shot that many countries hoped would help speed protection against the pandemic. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine will remain in limbo for a while longer after government health advisers declared Wednesday that they need more evidence to decide if a handful of unusual blood clots were linked to the shot — and if so, how big the risk really is.

The reports are exceedingly rare — six cases out of more than 7 million U.S. inoculations with the one-dose vaccine. But the government recommended a pause in J&J vaccinations this week, not long after European regulators declared that such clots are a rare but possible risk with the AstraZeneca vaccine, a shot made in a similar way but not yet approved for use in the U.S.

At an emergency meeting, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrestled with the fact that the U.S. has enough alternative shots to vaccinate its population but other countries anxiously awaiting the one-and-done vaccine may not.

“I continue to feel like we’re in a race against time and the variants, but we need to (move forward) in the safest possible way,” said CDC adviser Dr. Grace Lee of Stanford University, who was among those seeking to postpone a vote on the vaccine.

Authorities have studied the clots for only a few days and have little information to judge the shot, agreed fellow adviser Dr. Beth Bell of the University of Washington.

“I don’t want to send the message there is something fundamentally wrong with this vaccine,” Bell said. “It’s a very rare event. Nothing in life is risk-free. But I want to be able to understand and defend the decision I’ve made based on a reasonable amount of data.”

These are not run-of-the-mill blood clots. They occurred in unusual places, in veins that drain blood from the brain, and in people with abnormally low levels of clot-forming platelets. The six cases raised an alarm bell because that number is at least three times more than experts would have expected to see even of more typical brain-drainage clots, said CDC’s Dr. Tom Shimabukuro.

“What we have here is a picture of clots forming in large vessels where we have low platelets,” Shimabukuro explained. “This usually doesn’t happen,” but it’s similar to European reports with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The good news: The government says there are no signs of similar clots after vaccination with the Pfizer and Moderna shots that are the mainstay of the COVID-19 fight in the U.S.

The J&J cases now under investigation are all among women younger than 50. But the advisory panel stressed that there’s not enough information to tell if only certain groups would be at risk. In Europe, most but not all cases following AstraZeneca vaccinations have been among women under 60, leading different countries to use that vaccine in varying ways.

Also, a 25-year-old man experienced a similar clot during U.S. testing of J&J’s vaccine, something the government scrutinized at the time but could not link to the shot. On Wednesday, the company also brought to the CDC’s attention a woman whose clot did not occur in the brain, sparking more questions about what other evidence to examine.

The CDC expects its advisers to reconsider the evidence within two weeks. So far the clots have occurred between one and three weeks after people received the J&J vaccine, and officials cautioned that more reports could surface.

The clot concerns could undermine public confidence in a vaccine many hoped would help some of the hardest-to-reach populations — in poor countries or in places like homeless shelters in the U.S.

But the U.S. has intensive monitoring for COVID-19 vaccines, since side effects too rare to have occurred in studies of thousands of people sometimes pop up once shots are used in millions. Shimabukuro said spotting such a rare potential risk amid the nation’s huge vaccine rollout “is an example of a success story for vaccine safety.”

Some vaccine specialists who were closely watching the deliberations expressed dismay that the public — here and abroad — will have to wait for more advice.

“What they did was they punted,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I just don’t think waiting is going to give you a critical amount of information that is going to help you make a decision.”

He noted that many European countries are dealing with the AstraZeneca uncertainty without stopping its use.

Health officials recommended the J&J timeout in part to make sure doctors know how to recognize and treat the unusual condition. The CDC said Wednesday that four of the six women with the unusual clots were treated with a blood thinner named heparin — a treatment the government is warning doctors to avoid.

The setback for J&J comes as the worldwide death toll from COVID-19 approaches 3 million, including more than 560,000 who perished in the U.S., which continues to report tens of thousands of new infections every day and an average of almost 1,000 deaths.

So far, the J&J vaccine has been a minor player in U.S. vaccinations. More than 122 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, and nearly 23% are fully vaccinated. Moderna and Pfizer are on track to have delivered 300 million doses each by mid- to late July.

Vaccinations are slower in Europe, where many countries have struggled for supply. J&J delayed some of its European deliveries amid the clot evaluation, but Poland said it would use the batch it already has in hand. European medical regulators plan to issue their own evaluation of the J&J clot issue next week.

When the clots were spotted after AstraZeneca vaccinations, scientists in Norway and Germany raised the possibility that some people are experiencing an abnormal immune response, forming antibodies that disable their platelets. That’s the theory as the U.S. now investigates the J&J reports.

___

Associated Press Health Writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this report.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Biden Administration Strikes Deal with Mexico and Central American States to Curb Migration

Unprecedented levels of people attempting to cross the Southern border while thousands remain in detention

By Abayomi Azikiwe Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Tuesday April 13, 2021

Commentary

A crisis of migration into the United States from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras has resulted in negotiations by the White House with the governments of these countries aimed at preventing people from crossing the southern border.

During the month of March, a record number of migrant workers and children attempted to enter the U.S. while many are being housed in overcrowded and unsafe detention facilities in Texas.

The administration of incumbent President Joe Biden announced on April 12 that after discussions with the governments of the above-mentioned states, the military and police forces in Mexico and Central America would strengthen their prevention efforts to halt migrants from these respective countries. After the exposure of the horrid conditions under which children and adults were living in after being captured and detained by U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP), the president appointed Vice President Kamala Harris as the point person for resolving the immediate situation.

Nonetheless, it is not clear whether these new measures will halt the flow of people trying to cross the border. The ongoing problems of social underdevelopment, climate change and the domination of Latin American economies by U.S. imperialism will still prompt millions to leave their countries to seek what they believe to be prospects for employment and security. The problem of migration and the dangers inherent in the transport of human beings by traffickers, is a worldwide phenomenon stretching from Central Asia to the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

Moreover, many seeking to cross into the U.S. are not from Mexico and Central America. There are growing numbers of people from Africa and other geo-political regions which have made their ways to Brazil, Colombia and Panama as a transit route into the U.S.

Recent reports on the foreign policy orientation of the Biden administration in relationship to this burgeoning political problem places the onus of responsibility on the neighboring states without addressing the fundamental orientation of Washington towards Latin America which has been centuries in the making. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki revealed the new deal in a briefing on April 12.

An article summarizing the Biden administration approach says that: “The agreements, which Psaki said were reached over the last several weeks, aim ‘to make it more difficult to make the journey’ for migrants hoping to reach the United States, and to make crossing borders more difficult.  Mexico agreed to keep 10,000 troops along its southern border, which officials believe will result in twice as many migrant interdictions per day. Guatemala agreed to send an additional 1,500 police and military officers to its southern border and will also establish 12 checkpoints along identified migratory routes across the country. Honduras will send 7,000 police and military to ‘disperse a large contingent of migrants,’ Psaki said. The news of the border agreements between the four countries was first revealed by Tyler Moran, special assistant to the President for immigration for the Domestic Policy Council, on MSNBC Monday morning.” (https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2021/04/12/us-immigration-mexico-honduras-guatemala-biden-)

Consequently, the thrust of the Biden administration is to further militarize the southern border along with the security apparatuses of these targeted states. The responsibility for curbing migration is being shifted to the governments of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras where U.S. economic and political policies have been detrimental to the workers and farmers of these countries. The blatant interference in the internal affairs of these states coupled with a series of trade deals including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during the 1990s and the revised version altered under the former administration of President Donald Trump, have devastated their national economies.

A Militarized Approach to a Crisis of Underdevelopment 

Psaki said clearly during the April 12 briefing at the White House that the purpose of the new policy is to make the journey and border crossing more difficult for migrants seeking to flee from human rights abuses, food deficits and lack of the ability to earn a living. Providing incentives for the police and military forces of these three countries heightens the potential for migrants to be subjected to brutality and extortion. There have been complaints over the years related to the excesses of the security forces in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

Even if the migrants are able to cross the border and elude the CBP agents, they continue to be hunted down by the authorities. Thousands now are being held in facilities which violate even the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regulations on curbing the spread of COVID-19. The U.S. is experiencing a surge in coronavirus infections causing even more distress for healthcare systems where intensive care units of hospitals are rapidly filling up with patients suffering from the disease.

The Guardian newspaper noted in regard to the current situation involving U.S. policy which emphasizes a punitive approach saying: “Previously militarized attempts to prevent movement in the region have not reduced the number of people traveling north through Mexico, but instead forced migrants to take riskier routes through remote regions, and exposed them to a heightened risk of robbery, rape, abduction and death. Mexicans represented the largest proportion of people encountered by the U.S. border patrol, and nearly all were single adults. Arrivals of people from Honduras and Guatemala were second and third, respectively, and more than half of the people from those countries were families or children traveling alone.” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/12/biden-migration-security-deal-mexico-guatemala-honduras)

Figures supplied by the U.S. government reveals that 4,200 children are being held in custody by the CBP. Another 16,000 are being housed in federal shelters administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Federal laws prohibit unaccompanied children from being detained by CBP authorities for more than 72 hours. 

Since February 22, the Biden White House has announced the opening of 8 emergency influx sites for children in the state of Texas. These facilities have a capacity to hold up to 14,000 children. 

Prospects for Legislative Reforms

Even though the numbers of migrant adults and children seeking to enter the U.S. has grown exponentially over the last three months, it remains unclear as to whether the Senate will adopt the two immigration reform bills passed recently by the House of Representatives. The Dream and Promise Act of 2021 and The Farm Workforce Modernization Act provides a complicated model for the “legalization” of those brought to the U.S. as children and those who work in the agricultural sector of the U.S. economy.  The stalemate surrounding these issues extend back for more than a decade. (https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-117hr6eh/pdf/BILLS-117hr6eh.pdf) (https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-116hr5038rfs/pdf/BILLS-116hr5038rfs.pdf)

During the administration of former President George W. Bush, Jr. (2001-2009), the introduction of punitive legislation against immigrants served to spark a nationwide movement led by people from Latin America and other geo-political regions. There were “Days Without Immigrants” beginning in 2006, when millions struck demanding an end to draconian laws and the brutality of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, a key division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The resurrection of May Day during 2006-2007, mobilized millions across the country under the banner of justice for migrants, the undocumented and workers in general.

With the passing of the Bush administration, President Barack Obama in his first term (2009-2013) earned a reputation as a fierce enforcer of the existing racist immigration laws directed towards the undocumented. Entire communities were terrorized by ICE agents when raids were carried out on workplaces and homes often living children unattended. The Obama administration deported more people from the U.S. than any previous presidential regime in U.S. history. Although there were discussions during 2012 about passing an immigration bill, the details of the plan represented a retreat from the gains made as a result of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. 

Biden was repeatedly questioned during the 2019-2020 campaign for the presidency about the nature of the immigration policy enacted while he was Vice President. At present there does not appear to be any fundamental differences in the Biden policy other than a pledge not to deport unaccompanied children. Nevertheless, the actual harm done to minors living in detention facilities and temporary shelters could damage them for life. However, children accompanied by adult migrants are being prevented from entering the U.S. and being returned to Mexico in the thousands.    

Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, Interviewed by Press TV: "Systemic Racist Violence Rooted in US Legacy of Slavery: Analyst"

Tuesday, 13 April 2021 8:32 AM

 Systemic racist violence rooted in US legacy of slavery: Analyst (presstv.com)

The surge in violence against people of color in the US is a systemic problem rooted in the legacy of slavery and legalized segregation in the country, a US-based journalist and political analyst said.

In an interview with Press TV, Dr. Abayomi Azikwe held that the police practices employed in the US today have their origins in the slave patrols of the 19th century that were designed to keep incarcerated Africans under the control of white landowners, merchants and officials.

“The holding of the (Derek Chauvin) trial in Minneapolis has inflamed tensions among African Americans and other anti-racists along with creating a social backlash by the right-wing and the police forces,” he said, referring to the ongoing trial of the former US police officer in the murder of George Floyd.

The high-profile televised trial entered its third week Monday, barely hours after a young Black man was shot dead by a police officer in a Minneapolis suburb, triggering spontaneous protests.

Dr. Azikwe, who is the editor of Pan-African News Wire, said the evidence against Chauvin is “overwhelming”, but it remains to be seen if he is convicted on the second and third degree murder charges as well as manslaughter.

“Even if Chauvin is found guilty by the jury, it will not transform the racist character of policing in the US,” he asserted, calling for “drastic reforms” and “reconstruction of a public safety apparatus” that is committed to “protecting the communities they patrol rather than terrorizing them”.

Commenting on largescale protests that broke out in Brooklyn Center, a bustling suburb north of Minneapolis, after a 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright was shot dead by cops at a traffic stop on Sunday, he said these “social dynamics will continue to unfold in 2021.”

To improve the situation that is becoming increasingly stifling for vulnerable minorties in the US, Dr. Azikwe said  the US President Joe Biden must “speak forcefully against police terrorism” being unleashed on hapless black and brown communities.

“The US Congress should pass pending legislation aimed at ending police misconduct in all its forms,” he remarked. “Otherwise, the police killings of civilians will continue sparking more mass demonstrations and urban rebellions.”

The veteran journalist, who champions human rights issues in the US, said the real force behind proliferation of handguns and automatic weapons in the US is the arms industry that “earns billions in profits from the military, police and the broader population.”

The failure to pass gun control laws in the country that continues to report mass shootings, he added, is the “institutional racism fostered by the ruling class.”

“Many whites feel strongly that they should own a personal arsenal in fear of a revolt by the oppressed. These views are often held by white supremacists and neo-fascists who are well armed,” Dr. Azikwe said.

He maintained that only a “structural transformation of the US state” can end police brutality and racist vigilante violence against people of color and others “who refuse to accept their hateful ideology and politics.”

The debate over police brutality toward people of color in the US was revived following Floyd’s murder in May 2020, which gave fresh impetus to the Black Lives Matter movement at the global level.

Besides alarmingly surging violence against African Americans, there has also been a spate of attacks on Asian Americans in recent years, which activists have mainly attributed to former US President Donald Trump's racist rhetoric.

An unclassified report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in November 2020 noted a staggering rise in hate crimes in the US, with Black people at the receiving end mostly.

Pan-African Journal: Special Worldwide Radio Broadcast Hosted by Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, for Sun. April 11, 2021

Listen to the Sun. April 11, 2021 special edition of the Pan-African Journal: Worldwide Radio Broadcast hosted by Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

To hear the podcast of this program just click on the following link: Pan-African Journal: Special Worldwide Radio Broadcast 04/11 by Pan African Radio Network | Politics (blogtalkradio.com)  

The program features our regular PANW report with dispatches on the national elections in Chad where the incumbent president appears to have secured another term of office; an aid agency has been attacked in the northeastern region of the West African state of Nigeria; Benin's elections are being held while the existing administration of President Patrice Talon is attempting to remain in power; and Uganda is signing another deal to expand an oil pipeline important to the development of the East African state. 

In the second hour there is a news report providing details on a number of contemporary issues in Africa and the international community. 

Finally, we pay tribute to Paul L. Robeson, artist, actor, social scientist and activist, on the 123rd anniversary of his birth.

Pan-African Journal: Worldwide Radio Broadcast Hosted by Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, for Sat. April 10, 2021

Listen to the Sat. April 10, 2021 edition of the Pan-African Journal: Worldwide Radio Broadcast hosted by Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

To hear the podcast of this program just click on the following URL: Pan-African Journal: Worldwide Radio Broadcast 04/10 by Pan African Radio Network | Politics (blogtalkradio.com) 

The program features our regular PANW report with dispatches on the national elections in the Horn of Africa state of Djibouti where the incumbent president has won a fifth term; in the Central and West African state of Chad President Idriss Deby is seeking to extend his tenure in office; there has been another explosion in the Somalian city of Baidoa where several people were killed; and many countries are waiting for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to end the year-long pandemic. 

In the second hour we hear a briefing from the World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the status of efforts to curb the pandemic. Finally, we listen to an interview with host Abayomi Azikiwe on the impact of the counter-revolution in Libya ten years after among other issues. 

Plight of the Imprisoned Worsens in the United States

Political detainees are contracting COVID-19 and dying due to the pervasive injustices among incarcerated people

By Abayomi Azikiwe Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Wednesday April 7, 2021

Commentary

Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald was a member of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Los Angeles, California during 1969 when he was arrested and prosecuted under the federal government’s Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) designed to liquidate the threat of revolutionary organizations in the United States.

Fitzgerald recently died in detention at the age of 71 after serving nearly 52 years in the prison-industrial-complex where he witnessed the phenomenal growth within the inmate population over a period of five decades. (https://www.freedom4chip.org/copy-of-biography)

The BPP became a central focus on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under former Director J. Edgar Hoover who had falsely declared the organization as the gravest threat to the national security of the U.S. Hoover had long been an advocate of racial segregation and anti-communism. He had vigorously spearheaded the investigations of communists and other radicals during the post-World War II period of the Cold War.

Prior to the late 1940s and 1950s, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer of the Justice Department had been a mentor of Hoover’s. Palmer, the successor to Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory who had prosecuted opponents of World War I through the Espionage Act of 1917, had after the first imperialist conflagration, led a witch hunt which resulted in the arrests, detentions and deportations of thousands of activists beginning in 1919. 

Later Hoover would establish the FBI as a separate entity which sought to collect information, investigate and prosecute those considered enemies of the status-quo. The COINTELPRO project was officially initiated in 1956 directed against the Communist Party and its allied groups. Nonetheless, with the rise of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements after the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, the disproportionate focus of the FBI was aimed at the destruction of the African American liberation struggle. 

With specific reference to Fitzgerald, he was accused of involvement in the shooting of a California Highway Patrolman (CHP) in September 1969 after a traffic stop. Fitzgerald and one officer were injured in the incident while he was able to escape. Later in October, Fitzgerald was arrested in a BPP office and was later tried for the wounding of the CHP officer along with the murder of a private security guard outside a department store. 

Evidence against Fitzgerald was lacking during the trial. He had others testify in the trial that he was not at the location of the robbing and killing of the security guard. However, largely as a result of the political bias against the BPP, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to the death penalty. 

After 1972, when there was a supreme court decision which overturned capital punishment for four years, Fitzgerald was resentenced to two life terms in prison. He was repeatedly denied parole over the years yet in recent months due to his age and medical condition, was eligible for release. 

Tragically enough Fitzgerald developed additional medical problems. He had suffered a stroke earlier and in recent months developed serious cardiovascular disease. His death came at a time when the plight of prisoners, particularly political detainees, has gotten considerable attention among social justice movements nationally and internationally.

According to a statement from Fitzgerald: “The prison administrators and their advocates within the state want to create fear in the minds of the public in an effort to persuade the people to give state authorities carte blanche in the inhumane treatment of convicts and allow the prison administrators to operate without oversight and accountability.” (https://www.thejerichomovement.com/profile/fitzgerald-romaine-chip)

In an extended letter from him which reads like a poem, Fitzgerald contemplates his release from decades of imprisonment in the state of California. He says of his hopes in part that: “I will welcome the warmth and laughter of my grandchildren. I look forward to their hugs and smiles. I will be the Grandpa present to soothe them through occasional scrapes after they show me their somersaults and expert bike riding maneuvers….  I will continue to appreciate the love and challenges of family. I imagine our dialogue will include our sense of community, our country, the world, our contributions and help to our neighborhoods and, of course, sharing my personal sorrows and hope. I will lead by example with spontaneous acts of love, compassion and kindness thereby demonstrating my belief in the transformation of others. I will enjoy volunteering in preschools and/or visiting the elderly in convalescent hospitals.”

Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald Is Not Alone

There are many other political detainees, prisoners of war and those unjustly incarcerated for purposes of bureaucratic advancement and the enrichment of the capitalist system, who are suffering and dying daily. Mumia Abu-Jamal, falsely charged and convicted during the early 1980s for the shooting death of a white police officer in Philadelphia, is an award-winning journalist and author of several books. Jamal spent more than two decades on death row and was eventually taken off after a global campaign to save his life. Jamal was a youth member of the BPP beginning in 1969 and later became a professional broadcast journalist. He was a supporter of the revolutionary MOVE organization in the city and defended the group against attacks by the corporate media and the police.

Jamal was recently diagnosed with COVID 19. He has suffered from Hepatitis C, diabetes, and skin disorders. His eyesight is failing all the while he has been held in maximum security prison for a crime he did not commit. Although Jamal has been given the right to an appeal, another trial has not taken place. Thousands nationally and internationally are continuing to demand his immediate release. 

Other prisoners include Leonard Peltier, a leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), was convicted in the shooting death of two FBI agents in 1975. After being illegally extradited from Canada, he was railroaded through the U.S. courts and sentenced to life in imprisonment. Peltier also suffers from chronic ailments after being forced to remain incarcerated for over 40 years.

Assata Shakur, a former member of the BPP in New York and a soldier within the Black Liberation Army (BLA), was framed in the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper in 1973. She was liberated from prison in November 1979 by a taskforce of BLA and Weather Underground members and eventually granted political asylum in Cuba after living underground for a number of years in the U.S.

The National Jericho Movement, founded in the late 1990s, has since this time period sought to bring attention to the fact that there are political prisoners in the U.S. The Movement was organized with the assistance of political prisoners such as Jail Muntaqim, a former BLA soldier who served nearly five decades in prison. He was released during 2020 and is working to bring about the release of other comrades. Muntaqim was threatened with reincarceration under the guise of filling out a voter registration card last year. 

Prisons Are Integral to the Capitalist System of Exploitation and National Oppression

In the U.S. there are more than 2.3 million people incarcerated. The number of those within the criminal justice system has grown by 500% since the early 1970s at the time of the Attica Rebellion and other forms of prison resistance. 

African Americans, people of Latin American descent and proletarian people in general make up the overwhelming majority of those held behind bars. These inmates are forced to work for slave wages producing goods and services for the capitalist and imperialist system. The exploitation of labor within the criminal justice structures represent another form of modern-day enslavement. 

Moreover, the almost nonexistent state of healthcare within the prisons is endangering inmates, those working in the facilities along with their families and friends that visit the institutions. Although there has been the release of some inmates based upon compassion related to health concerns, far too many remain behind bars for nonviolent crimes which pose no threat to society.

The police and prisons grew out of the sordid history of the ruling class within the U.S. The continued existence of both institutions remains a threat to the struggle for total liberation and social emancipation.