Three Dead, 11 Wounded In Philadelphia Street Shooting

This photo shows a police car behind police tape blocking a street leading to the Jacksonville Landing area in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, August 26, 2018, where three people were killed, including the gunman, and 11 others wounded.

 

Three people were killed and 11 others wounded late Saturday in the US city of Philadelphia after multiple shooters opened fire into a crowd on a busy street, police said.

The nighttime barrage marked the latest mass shooting to jolt the United States, a country in the grips of a gun violence epidemic that shows no signs of abating even as lawmakers scramble for ways to reduce the carnage that has already claimed several thousand American lives this year.

Philadelphia Police Inspector D.F. Pace told reporters that two men and a woman were killed, adding that officers responding to the incident “observed several active shooters shooting into the crowd.”

“You can imagine there were hundreds of individuals enjoying South Street, as they do every single weekend, when this shooting broke out,” Pace said.

Numerous officers patrolling the popular nightlife area were already on the scene when the first shots were heard, a police deployment that Pace described as “standard” for the area on summer weekend nights.

A responding officer fired at one of the shooters, who dropped his gun and fled, though it was unclear whether the man was hit, Pace said.

Local media reported that no arrests had been made, and that as of Sunday morning the streets where the chaos erupted remained closed.

Pace said two semi-automatic handguns, one with an extended magazine, were recovered at the scene.

READ ALSO: 34 Killed, 300 Injured In Bangladesh Port Depot Fire

He added that police would have to wait until morning to review surveillance footage from nearby businesses that were closed on Saturday night.

Pace described the investigation as “fluid,” saying there were still “a lot of unanswered questions.”

The United States has been rocked by a series of high-profile mass shootings in recent weeks, including at a school in Uvalde, Texas, a church in California, a grocery store in New York and a hospital in Oklahoma.

The incidents have collectively left dozens dead.

Bystander Joe Smith, 23, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his mind had flashed to the recent incidents when he heard the first shots ring out on Saturday.

“Once it started, I didn’t think it was going to stop,” he told the outlet.

“There was guttural screaming,” he added. “I just heard screams.”

Another witness, Eric Walsh, described to the Inquirer scenes of people fleeing the shooting “coming off the street with blood splatters on white sneakers and skinned knees and skinned elbows.”

The Inquirer reported that another person was fatally shot just blocks from the scene about two hours later, but police said that the two incidents were not believed to be linked.

During warmer months, gun violence tends to spike in the United States, where there were an estimated 393 million guns in circulation in 2020, more than the number of people.

US President Joe Biden last week forcefully called for new gun control legislation in response to the recent violence, lamenting the “everyday places that have become killing fields, battlefields here in America.”

Over the last two decades, “more school-age children have died from guns than on-duty police officers and active duty military combined. Think about that,” Biden said.

A bipartisan group of US senators met on Thursday to discuss a package of firearms controls, but Republicans have historically resisted tougher gun laws.

Gun violence in the United States has killed 18,564 so far in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings nationwide.

Nearly 10,300 of those have been suicides, it reported.

Since the Uvalde massacre on May 24 at least 26 new mass shootings have taken place, according to the archive.

AFP

US Hopes To Return Diplomats To Kyiv By End Of Month

US President Joe Biden speaks about supporting Ukrainians defending their country against Russia, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2022.  Jim WATSON / AFP

 

The US hopes its diplomats will be able to return to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, where Washington closed its embassy days before the Russian invasion, “by the end of the month”, embassy charge d’affaires Kristina Kvien said Monday.

“We very much hope that conditions will permit us to go back to Kyiv by the end of the month,” Kvien said at a press conference in the western city of Lviv.

The US closed its embassy in Kyiv on February 14, ten days before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, and moved its diplomats westwards.

Kvien said she and her staff were “working day and night in Poland” to “help Ukraine win this war.”

READ ALSO: Russia Does Not Plan to End Ukraine War By May 9, Says Kremlin

She was in Ukraine on a “day trip” and said US diplomats will “continue to do day trips for the next week or two” to Ukraine.

“We’re thrilled to be back. And we will continue our efforts to do everything possible here on the ground to help Ukraine win this war”.

The US diplomat said her “number one priority is the safety and security of my staff.”

“We listen to the security professionals. If they tell us to go back, we’ll go back” to Kyiv.

Western countries are gradually moving to reinstate a diplomatic presence in Kyiv, where Ukrainian forces have rebuffed a Russian offensive.

Speaking next to the mayor of Lviv Andriy Sadoviy, Kvien said that, nine weeks into the war, it was clear Russian President Vladimir Putin had “made a miscalculation” in Ukraine.

The announcement came after the Joe Biden had proposed a huge $33 billion aid package to Ukraine and after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday.

AFP

China Sanctions US Officials Who ‘Concocted Lies’ On Human Rights

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd R), joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R), speaks while facing Yang Jiechi (2nd L), director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, and Wang Yi (L), China's Foreign Minister at the opening session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18, 2021. Frederic J. BROWN / POOL / AFP
File photo of US and Chinese officials at the opening session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18, 2021. PHOTO: Frederic J. BROWN / POOL / AFP

Beijing on Thursday said it had slapped sanctions on an unspecified number of US officials who “concocted lies” about human rights in China.

The tit-for-tat move comes after Washington announced visa restrictions on Chinese officials accused of repressing religious and ethnic minorities in the far-western region of Xinjiang.

US-China relations have reached their lowest point in decades, most recently aggravated by Beijing’s perceived support for Russia as it carries out a bloody invasion of Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week urged China to “end its ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang, as Washington announced sanctions on unnamed Chinese officials.

READ ALSO: UN Rights Chief Warns Of ‘War Crimes’ In Ukraine Conflict

On Thursday Beijing said it would “impose reciprocal visa restrictions on US officials”.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the sanctions would apply to those “who concocted lies on human rights issues involving China, promoted and implemented sanctions on China, and harmed China’s rights and interests”.

“The US uses the pretext of so-called human rights issues to concoct malicious lies, and uses these as a reason to interfere in China’s internal affairs, smear China’s image and suppress Chinese officials.”

Wang did not disclose the names of the officials to be sanctioned or the extent of the visa restrictions, but said the move was in line with China’s anti-foreign sanctions law implemented last year.

Rights groups estimate up to one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities have been detained across Xinjiang in a network of “re-education camps” as part of an “anti-terrorism” crackdown.

Blinken last week said the US sanctions mainly targeted Chinese officials complicit in policies that repressed minorities, dissidents, human rights activists and journalists.

He criticised efforts by China to “harass, intimidate, surveil, and abduct members of ethnic and religious minority groups, including those who seek safety abroad”.

“We again call on the PRC government to cease its acts of transnational repression, including attempting to silence Uyghur American activists and other Uyghur individuals,” Blinken said.

The US announcement came a few days after President Joe Biden spoke via video call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as part of American efforts to dissuade Xi from supporting Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

AFP

US, Russia Diplomats To Talk As Tensions Over Ukraine Rise

An Ukrainian soldier watches through spyglass on the frontline with the Russia-backed separatists near Verkhnetoretskoye village, in the Donetsk region on January 31, 2022. PHOTO: Anatolii STEPANOV / AFP

 

Washington’s and Moscow’s top diplomats will hold fresh talks Tuesday on the Ukraine crisis as Western officials say Russia continues to build a massive military force on the ex-Soviet state’s border.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to speak by phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, a day after the two sides lashed out at each other in a heated discussion on Ukraine at the UN Security Council.

The two are expected to speak mid-morning Washington time, a State Department official said.

Ahead of the call late Monday, Moscow sent a letter to Washington on its views, in response to written communications laying out the two sides’ positions that were exchanged over the past two weeks.

READ ALSO: South Africa’s Zuma In Fresh Bid To Drop Graft Trial Prosecutor

A State Department spokesperson confirmed Moscow’s letter.

“It would be unproductive to negotiate in public, so we’ll leave it up to Russia if they want to discuss their response,” the official said.

“We remain fully committed to dialogue to address these issues and will continue to consult closely with our Allies and partners, including Ukraine.”

 

– Letter exchange –

The call between Lavrov and Blinken comes as Western officials say Russia continues to add to the more than 100,000 troops and a wide range of war-making equipment already in place on Ukraine’s borders, including inside Moscow ally Belarus.

US officials say Moscow is set up to invade Ukraine, though a final decision has not been made by President Vladimir Putin.

US President Joe Biden said Monday that Russia faces “swift and severe consequences” if it does so.

“Today in the United Nations, we laid out the full nature of Russia’s threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, as well as (to the) core tenets of the rule-based international order,” Biden said in the Oval Office.

“We continue to urge diplomacy as the best way forward, but with Russia continuing its build-up of its forces around Ukraine, we are ready no matter what happens.”

The call Tuesday will be the first time that Lavrov and Blinken speak directly since the United States and NATO handed over their written responses to Russia’s demands last week.

Both rejected Moscow’s demand for a guarantee that Ukraine will not join the US-led NATO alliance, and rebuffed its insistence that the United States remove its strategic weapons from Europe.

But the US letter, Blinken said last week, also set out to Moscow a “serious diplomatic path” to resolve the confrontation.

While he made clear joining NATO was a choice for Ukraine alone, he said Washington “addressed the possibility of reciprocal transparency measures regarding force posture and Ukraine, as well as measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and maneuvers in Europe.”

At the UN Security Council meeting Monday, Russia’s ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said no Russian official had threatened to invade and accused the United States of “whipping up tensions and rhetoric and provoking escalation.”

“The discussions about a threat of war is provocative in and of itself. You are almost calling for this, you want it to happen,” he charged.

 

– Johnson headed to Kyiv –

But US officials say the Russian threat is real. On Monday, both London and Washington warned that among measures that could be taken to punish Russia if it does invade are harsh sanctions on the billionaire oligarchs close to Putin.

“There will be nowhere to hide for Putin’s oligarchs,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Kyiv for talks with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on the crisis.

“It is the right of every Ukrainian to determine how they are governed. As a friend and a democratic partner, the UK will continue to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of those who seek to destroy it,” Johnson said in a statement.

AFP

Snowstorm: U.S. Drivers Stranded In Traffic For Over 24 Hours

In an aerial view, traffic creeps along Virginia Highway 1 after being diverted away from I-95 after it was closed due to a winter storm on January 04, 2022, near Fredericksburg in Stafford County, Virginia. PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

 

 

The snowstorm is over but the travel misery lingered: drivers on a major highway outside Washington reported Tuesday they were stuck in their cars in freezing weather for 24 hours or more.

As families tried to return home from the long New Year weekend, I-95 in Virginia was dangerously icy, gas tanks were running low and for hours there was no help in sight, drivers said.

Aerial footage showed seemingly endless lines of cars and trucks, bumper to bumper, that were stranded overnight — on a stretch of highway that is notorious for traffic jams even in good weather.

READ ALSO: Taliban Order Afghan Shop Owners To Behead Mannequins

One of the frustrated travelers was a US senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine, who got marooned driving in his state back to Washington as Interstate 95 clogged with snow and spun-out cars and eventually shut down because of Monday’s monster snowfall.

Road crews used tractors to move snow away from the entrance ramp to I-95 after it was closed after a winter storm dumped a foot of snow on the area overnight on January 04, 2022, near Fredericksburg in Stafford County, Virginia. PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

 

“I started my normal 2-hour drive to DC at 1 pm yesterday. 19 hours later, I’m still not near the Capitol,” Kaine tweeted Tuesday morning.

“Update: I’ve been on the road for 27 hours,” he wrote later, adding in a subsequent tweet that he had finally reached the Capitol.

Jim DeFede, a Florida-based journalist with CBS, tweeted that he has been stranded for more than 20 hours. “I’m not sure but I think I now qualify for Virginia residency,” he wrote.

In a separate live feed, DeFede described the highway as an icy parking lot where nothing was moving and said he had not seen a highway patrol car or tow truck in 12 hours or more. The temperature outside as he spoke was 19 degrees (minus 7 Celsius).

DeFede said he ran his engine for an hour or so to keep warm, then turned it off, then repeated this as the wait dragged on. “I’ve got a little over a half a tank of gas left and I have no idea when anyone is coming to get us out of here,” he said.

Just after 6:00 pm Tuesday the Virginia department of transport tweeted that there were “no people stranded still on I-95.”

“Less than 20 vehicles left to be removed from the interstate before plow trains will come through to remove snow and ice from the travel lanes,” the tweet said.

Some social media users pointed out that while traffic was finally moving, it was still only at a crawl.

Monday’s storm packed an unexpectedly fierce punch and appeared to have caught much of the capital region off guard, temporarily stranding US President Joe Biden on Air Force One and dumping up to nine inches (23 centimeters) of snow on Washington — and more in parts of Virginia.

It further snarled transport hit by flight cancellations due to bad weather and airline staffing woes caused by a record surge in Covid cases.

An Instagram user with the handle kyleoland said their family of four with two small children slept in their car, ran out of water, and walked three miles (five kilometers) in the dead of night to the home of a good Samaritan.

“The last 24 hours have been the longest of our lives,” the post said.

Earlier, Virginia’s department of transportation said it had never seen such a mess on I-95, although it gave no estimate of how many drivers were affected.

“This is unprecedented, and we continue to steadily move stopped trucks to make progress toward restoring lanes,” department engineer Marcie Parker said.

AFP

Israel President To Visit US Within Weeks

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin delivers a speech during a ceremony marking one year since the death of the late Israeli President Shimon Peres on September 14, 2017 at the Mt. Herzel cemetery in Jerusalem. Gali TIBBON / AFP

 

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin is to visit Washington within weeks, his office said Wednesday, in the first such trip by a high-ranking Israeli official to meet US President Joe Biden.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken extended the invitation to Rivlin as they met on the second day of a Middle East tour aimed at shoring up a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that rules Gaza.

“Secretary Blinken conveyed President Biden’s invitation to visit the United States before the end of his term of office” on July 5, the president’s office said in a statement.

File photo:  U.S. President Joe Biden listens during a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate with 40 world leaders in the East Room of the White House on April 22, 2021, in Washington, DC. Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

Rivlin, whose post is largely ceremonial and cannot be renewed, “accepted the invitation and asked Blinken to convey to the president that he will gladly visit before his presidency ends”.

READ ALSO: Ex-Police Officer Convicted Of Floyd’s Murder Seeks New Trial

Blinken met Rivlin before travelling on to Egypt and Jordan.

During his visit, the top US diplomat reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas, which he said must not benefit from the aid effort to rebuild the coastal enclave of Gaza.

Eleven days of Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza since May 10 killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children as well as fighters, authorities in Gaza say.

Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian national and two Thai workers, medics say.

AFP

Boeing Calls For Grounding Of Some 777s After Denver Engine Fire

An American Airlines Boeing 777 passenger plane is seen over the Courtyard by Marriott London Heathrow Airport hotel taking off from London Heathrow Airport in west London on February 14, 2021. 
An American Airlines Boeing 777 passenger plane is seen over the Courtyard by Marriott London Heathrow Airport hotel taking off from London Heathrow Airport in west London on February 14, 2021. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

Boeing called for the grounding of 128 of its 777 planes across the world on Sunday as US regulators investigated a United Airlines flight whose engine caught fire and fell apart over a suburban American community.

United, Korean Air, and Japan’s two main airlines confirmed they had already suspended operations of 62 planes fitted with the same family of engines which scattered debris over Denver on Saturday.

The US National Transportation and Safety Board is also investigating the incident, in which no one was hurt.

Boeing warned similarly fitted planes should be taken out of service until the Federal Aviation Authority had determined an inspection procedure.

“While the NTSB investigation is ongoing, we recommended suspending operations of the 69 in-service and 59 in-storage 777 aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines,” the company said.

Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) said they had respectively grounded 13 and 19 planes using PW4000 engines but had avoided flight cancelations by using other aircraft.

The Japanese transport ministry said it had ordered stricter inspections of the engine after a JAL 777 plane flying from Haneda to Naha experienced trouble with “an engine in the same family” in December.

United said it had voluntarily removed 24 Boeing 777 planes from service and expected “only a small number of customers to be inconvenienced.”

South Korea’s transport ministry said it had no immediate plans to ground planes, adding it was monitoring the situation.

But Korean Air, the country’s largest airline and flag carrier, said it had grounded all six of its Boeing 777s with PW4000 engines currently in operation.

“We have decided to ground all our PW 4000 powered 777s, and we expect the FAA’s updated protocol soon,” the company told AFP in an emailed statement.

The FAA earlier ordered extra inspections of some passenger jets.

Steve Dickson, the head of the regulator, said he had consulted with experts and that some airplanes would “likely” be removed from service.

“I have directed them to issue an Emergency Airworthiness Directive that would require immediate or stepped-up inspections of Boeing 777 airplanes equipped with certain Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines,” he said in a statement.

Dickson added that a preliminary safety data review pointed to a need for additional checks of the jet engine’s fan blades, which were unique to the engine model and only used on 777 planes.

Officials from the FAA were meeting with Pratt & Whitney and Boeing representatives on Sunday evening, he added.

Fresh blow for Boeing

Flight UA328 had been headed from Denver to Honolulu when it experienced an engine failure shortly after departure.

Residents in the Denver suburb of Broomfield found large pieces of the plane scattered around their community.

No one onboard or on the ground was injured.

But the engine failure marks a fresh blow for Boeing after several high-profile aviation accidents.

The manufacturer’s 737 MAX was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after 346 people died in two crashes — the 2019 Lion Air disaster in Indonesia and an Ethiopian Airlines crash the following year.

Investigators said a main cause of both crashes was a faulty flight handling system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

Boeing was forced to revamp the system and implement new pilot training protocols.

The 737 MAX was a big hit with airlines, becoming Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft until its grounding, which has now been lifted.

After the Covid-19 crisis decimated demand, airlines canceled hundreds of orders for the plane.

Global Trial Shows Johnson & Johnson’s Single-Shot Vaccine Is 66% Effective

 

Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine has an overall efficacy of 66 percent, the company announced Friday, following results from a phase 3 trial of almost 44,000 people across many countries.

The figure however was as high as 72 percent in the United States but went down to 57 percent in South Africa, where a more transmissible variant is dominant.

The company added that the vaccine was 85 percent effective in preventing severe Covid-19 across all geographical regions.

“We’re proud to have reached this critical milestone and our commitment to address this global health crisis continues with urgency for everyone, everywhere,” the company’s CEO Alex Gorsky said.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: We Hope To Have Vaccines Before End Of First Quarter – Dr Muhammad

The company is quickly expected to apply for a US emergency authorization, and could therefore soon be the third vaccine available in the world’s hardest-hit country.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were the first to be authorized in the US, and both have efficacies of around 95 percent.

But the comparisons are not considered like-for-like, because those trials reported results before newer, more transmissible mutations of the virus became dominant in some parts of the world.

These variants, such as B.1.135 in South Africa and P.1 in Brazil, elude some of the blocking action of antibodies triggered from vaccines made against the common strain of the coronavirus.

The fact that the J&J vaccine requires only one shot, and can be stored for up to three months at 2-8 degrees Celsius, give it major logistical advantages over the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. These two are based on mRNA technology and require deep freezing.

Inauguration: Biden To Sign Executive Orders On Day One Amid High Alert

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP
File photo: US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

 

Joe Biden’s top aide said Saturday the incoming president would sign about a dozen executive orders on his first day in office, as police fearing violence from Trump supporters staged a nationwide security operation ahead of the inauguration.

Authorities in Washington, where Wednesday’s inauguration will take place, said they arrested a man with a loaded handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition at a security checkpoint, underscoring the tension in the US capital which is resembling a war zone.

However, the man said it was “an honest mistake,” and that he was a private security guard who got lost on his way to work near the Capitol.

READ ALSO: Man With Gun, Over 500 Rounds Of Ammunition Arrested Near US Capitol

Incoming Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said in a memo to new White House senior staff that the executive orders would address the pandemic, the ailing US economy, climate change and racial injustice in America.

“All of these crises demand urgent action,” Klain said in the memo.

“In his first ten days in office, President-elect Biden will take decisive action to address these four crises, prevent other urgent and irreversible harms, and restore America’s place in the world,” Klain added.

As he inherits the White House from Donald Trump, Biden’s plate is overflowing with acute challenges.

 

This combination of file pictures created on October 22, 2020 shows US President Donald Trump (L) and former Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. JIM WATSON, Morry GASH / AFP
This combination of file pictures created on October 22, 2020 shows US President Donald Trump (L) and former Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. JIM WATSON, Morry GASH / AFP

 

The US is fast approaching 400,000 dead from the Covid-19 crisis and logging well over a million new cases a week as the coronavirus spreads out of control.

The economy is ailing, with 10 million fewer jobs available compared to the start of the pandemic. And millions of Americans who back Trump refuse to recognize Biden as the legitimate president.

Biden this week unveiled plans to seek $1.9 trillion to revive the economy through new stimulus payments and other aid, and plans a blitz to accelerate America’s stumbling Covid vaccine rollout effort.

On Inauguration Day Biden, as previously promised, will sign orders including ones for the US to rejoin the Paris climate accord and reverse Trump’s ban on entry of people from certain Muslim majority countries, Klain said.

“President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward,” Klain said.

– 500 rounds of ammunition –
Meanwhile, Washington was under a state of high alert after a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6. The assault left five people dead, including a police officer.

Security officials have warned that armed pro-Trump extremists, possibly carrying explosives, pose a threat to Washington as well as state capitals over the coming week.

Thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed in Washington and streets have been blocked off downtown with concrete barriers.

On Friday night, police arrested a Virginia man at a security checkpoint where he tried to use an “unauthorized” credential to access the restricted area where Biden will be inaugurated.

As officers checked the credential, one noticed decals on the back of Wesley Beeler’s pick-up truck that said “Assault Life,” with an image of a rifle, and another with the message: “If they come for your guns, give ’em your bullets first,” according to a document filed in Washington, DC Superior Court.

Under questioning, Beeler told officers he had a Glock handgun in the vehicle. A search uncovered a loaded handgun, more than 500 rounds of ammunition, shotgun shells and a magazine for the gun, the court document said.

Beeler was arrested on charges including possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.

“It was an honest mistake,” Beeler told The Washington Post after being released from jail.

“I pulled up to a checkpoint after getting lost in DC because I’m a country boy,” he said. “I showed them the inauguration badge that was given to me.”

Beeler told the newspaper he works as a private security guard near the Capitol, and presented a credential provided by his employer.

 

Flags and a podium are in place as preparations are made ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 16, 2021.ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP

 

He said he was licensed to carry his gun in Virginia, but forgot to take it out of his car before leaving home for his overnight shift in Washington.

Prosecutors did not object to Beeler’s release from jail, the Washington Post said, though he was ordered to stay out of Washington except for court-related matters.

In addition to the heavy security presence in the US capital, law enforcement was out in force at statehouses around the country to ward off potential political violence.

Mass protests that had been planned for the weekend did not materialize on Saturday, with security far outnumbering Trump supporters at several fortified capitols, US media reported.

In St Paul, Minnesota, for example, hundreds of law enforcement officers, some armed with long guns, ringed the Capitol with National Guard troops providing backup.

The number of protesters totaled about 50.

AFP

YouTube Suspends Trump Channel For A Week Over Violence Fears

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on November 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. U.S.  Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP

 

Google-owned YouTube on Tuesday temporarily suspended President Donald Trump’s channel and removed a video for violating its policy against inciting violence, joining other social media platforms in banning his accounts after last week’s Capitol riot.

Trump’s access to the social media platforms he has used as a megaphone during his presidency has been largely cut off since a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington DC last week.

Operators say the embittered leader could use his accounts to foment more unrest in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

“In light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, we removed new content uploaded to Donald J. Trump’s channel for violating our policies,” YouTube said in a statement.

The channel is now “temporarily prevented from uploading new content for a ‘minimum’ of 7 days,” the statement read.

The video-sharing platform also said it will be “indefinitely disabling comments” on Trump’s channel because of safety concerns.

Facebook last week suspended Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts following the violent invasion of the US Capitol, which temporarily disrupted the certification of Biden’s election victory.

In announcing the suspension last week, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said Trump used the platform to incite violent and was concerned he would continue to do so.

Twitter went a step further by deleting Trump’s account, depriving him of his favorite platform. It was already marking his tweets disputing the election outcome with warnings.

The company also deleted more than 70,000 accounts linked to the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims, without any evidence, that Trump is waging a secret war against a global cabal of satanist liberals.

Trump also was hit with suspensions by services like Snapchat and Twitch.

The president’s YouTube account has amassed 2.77 million subscribers.

The home page of the Trump channel featured a month-old video of Trump casting doubt on the voting process in November’s presidential election, and had logged some 5.8 million views.

On Tuesday, an activist group called on YouTube to join other platforms in dumping Trump’s accounts, threatening an advertising boycott campaign.

AFP

US Carries Out First Federal Execution Of Woman In Decades

 

 

An American woman who murdered a pregnant dog breeder in order to steal her baby was put to death by lethal injection Wednesday, becoming the first female to be executed by US federal authorities in nearly seven decades.

The US Justice Department said Lisa Montgomery, 52, was pronounced dead at 1:31 am Eastern Time (0631 GMT) at a penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

It said the execution was “in accordance with the capital sentence unanimously recommended by a federal jury and imposed by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri”.

The US Supreme Court cleared the way for Montgomery’s execution just hours earlier — despite doubts about her mental state — after the government of President Donald Trump had pushed for the application of the death penalty.

Montgomery’s defenders did not deny the seriousness of her crime: in 2004, she killed a pregnant 23-year-old in order to steal her baby.

But her lawyer Kelley Henry, in a statement, called the decision — the first for a female inmate since 1953 — a “vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power.”

“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight,” Henry said. “Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame.”

The execution came after a legal back-and-forth that ended with the country’s highest court allowing it to proceed.

Unable to have a child, Montgomery carefully identified her victim — 23-year-old dog breeder Bobbie Jo Stinnett — online.

Under the guise of buying a puppy, Montgomery went to Stinnett’s home, where she strangled her and cut the baby from her body.

In 2007 she was convicted of kidnapping resulting in death and handed a death sentence.

Her defenders believe that she suffered from severe mental health issues stemming from abuse she suffered as a child. She did not understand the meaning of her sentence, they said, a prerequisite for execution.

On Monday evening, a federal judge offered the defense a brief lifeline, ordering a stay of execution to allow time to assess Montgomery’s mental state.

“The record before the Court contains ample evidence that Ms. Montgomery’s current mental state is so divorced from reality that she cannot rationally understand the government’s rationale for her execution,” the ruling stated.

But an appeals court overturned that decision on Tuesday, leaving it up to the US Supreme Court to decide. It said the execution could go ahead.

– Clemency plea ignored –
Trump, like his many of his conservative constituents, is a strong supporter of the death penalty and ignored a plea for clemency from Montgomery’s supporters.

Despite the decline of capital punishment in the US and around the world, Trump’s administration resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year hiatus and has been carrying them out at an unprecedented rate ever since.

Since the summer, 10 Americans have died by lethal injection in Terre Haute. In addition to Montgomery, two men are scheduled for federal execution this week. Their executions were stayed on Tuesday due to them having contracted Covid-19.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin on Monday announced the introduction of legislation to end federal executions. It could be passed once president-elect Joe Biden takes office next week and Democrats regain control of the Senate.

In a scathing statement, Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun known for her activism against the death penalty, spoke over the weekend of federal prosecutors “working all day and through the nights” to counter the appeals of federal inmates.

“You may not have to see the fear or smell the sweat in the execution chamber, but your hand is in this,” Prejean wrote, urging them to “just say ‘no’ this week to working to get one woman and two men executed the week before the Inauguration” of Biden.

Former guards of the penitentiary in Terre Haute have written to the Justice Department to request that the executions be postponed until the penitentiary staff are vaccinated against Covid-19.

Between the executioners, guards, witnesses, and lawyers, an execution assembles dozens of people in a closed environment, which is conducive to the spread of the virus.

US states, including the deeply conservative Texas, have suspended executions for months due to the pandemic — unlike the federal government, which has pushed to carry out many before Trump leaves power.

AFP

Biden Urged To Renounce Sole Control Of US Nuclear Weapons

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP
File photo: US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

 

 

A former US defense secretary has called on President-elect Joe Biden to reform the system that gives sole control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the president, calling it “outdated, unnecessary and extremely dangerous.”

The call from William Perry came the same day US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with the nation’s top military leader about ensuring that an “unhinged” President Donald Trump not be able to launch a nuclear attack in his final days in office.

“Once in office, Biden should announce he would share authority to use nuclear weapons with a select group in Congress,” said Perry, who served under President Bill Clinton.

He was writing in Politico magazine with Tom Collina of the Ploughshares Fund, which advocates for stronger nuclear controls.

They said Biden, who takes office January 20, should also declare that the United States will never start a nuclear war and would use the bomb only in retaliation.

The piece argues that the current system gives the president — any president — “the godlike power to deliver global destruction in an instant,” an approach the authors call “undemocratic, outdated, unnecessary and extremely dangerous.”

Perry, who was defense minister from 1994 to 1997, calls Trump “unhinged” and adds, “Do we really think that Trump is responsible enough to trust him with the power to end the world?”

American presidents are accompanied at all times by a military aide who carries a briefcase known as “the football” which contains the secret codes and information needed to launch a nuclear strike.

Perry and Collina warn that presidents possess the “absolute authority to start a nuclear war.

“Within minutes, Trump can unleash hundreds of atomic bombs, or just one. He does not need a second opinion. The Defense secretary has no say. Congress has no role.”

They then ask: “Why are we taking this risk?”

Such vast presidential authority, the article notes, dates from the waning days of World War II, when President Harry Truman decided, after the nuclear horror unleashed by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, that the power to order the use of atomic weapons should not be left in the hands of the military — that it should be up to the president alone.

AFP