La Señal Informativa de América Latina <![CDATA[US Expels Two Venezuelan Diplomats in Retaliatory Move]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 13:06:00 -0400 The United States Department of State declared Wednesday the Charge d’Affaires of the Venezuelan embassy, Carlos Ron, and the Deputy Consul General of the Venezuelan consulate in Houston as persona non grata and directed them to leave the country within 48 hours.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rejects New US Sanctions

In an official statement the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State Heather Nauert explained “the action is to reciprocate the Maduro regime’s decision to declare the Charge d’Affaires (Todd Robinson) and Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. embassy in Caracas (Brian Naranjos) as persona non grata.”

On Tuesday, during Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's confirmation ceremony, he accused Robinson of being involved in "a military conspiracy" against Venezuela saying the U.S. embassy had been meddling in military, economic and political issues, and vowed to present evidence to the nation shortly.

Maduro announced the measures in a speech after receiving credentials from the country’s National Electoral Council confirming his new presidential mandate following his victory in Sunday’s election.

The U.S. and its allies have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Venezuelan elections since they were announced in February.

After the elections the U.S. announced new sanctions against the South American country. Furthermore the Donald Trump administration has threatened Venezuela with an oil embargo, and has stated he doesn’t rule out a military option in Venezuela.

Nauert said the accusations that motivated the Venezuelan government to expel the U.S. diplomat were unjustified.

<![CDATA[Maduro Takes Oath to Fulfill Presidential Duties]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 12:47:00 -0400 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro took an oath that he would fulfill his duties to the constitution and carry out changes for peace and prosperity of Venezuela. after he won the May 20 elections with a wide margin with 68 percent of the vote.

The ceremony took place at the headquarters of the National Constituent Assembly, or ANC, where its president Delcy Rodriguez approved a decree ratifying that Maduro had been re-elected and would assume his new period on Jan 10.

After taking the oath, President Maduro addressed the crowad at the ANC where he thanked and welcomed all of those attending and the Venezuelan people for trusting him to lead the nation for another term. 

"We can now acknowledge the full success of Venezuelan elections. We have seen every candidate appointed in a just election, come here to pay tribute to the National Constituent Assembly," the president said after taking the oath. "It was the ANC who, since August 4, 2017, understood and assumed the need to electorally renew the municipal and regional authorities of the central executive power of the country."

He further assured that peace must be social, political and constituent ... that is why we called for elections and gave the people the power to make their decisions."

"In Venezuela there is a revolution in the Constituent, channeling the forces of the nation in a peaceful and democratic way, always betting on peace." Venezuela has had free, fair and legitimate elections,” Maduro further stressed adding “that is why I have come to deliver my credentials emanating from the power of the people."

He slammed the United States and its allies over attacking his government. "Never in the history of Venezuela has there been a president persecuted by the empire as much as I have been. Not even Chávez. Why is this happening us to us? Because we're loyal!"

Maduro was elected for a second presidential term on May 20 winning 68 percent of the popular vote. While many heads of states in Latin America and the world congratulated the president, the United States and its regional right-wing allies chose to not recognize the results of the elections, with some governments refusing to acknowledge the election before it even started.

<![CDATA[WHO Experts to Assess Health Situation in Occupied Palestine After Israel's Brutal Crackdown]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 12:14:00 -0400 The World Health Organization (WHO) voted to send a delegation of experts to the occupied Palestinian territory to assess the health situation in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The WHO is one of many international bodies that have recognized the need for on-the-ground investigations after Israel's deadly response to the Great March of Return, in which Palestinians demanded their right as refugees to return to their homeland.

Gaza: UN Votes to Launch War Crimes Investigation Into Israel

During the WHO’s 71st World Health Assembly Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland, 90 member states voted in favor of Palestine resolution requesting that the next Director General’s report on health conditions is based on the findings of a team of WHO experts that will visit the occupied territories.

Only six countries -United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Guatemala- opposed the resolution.  

The U.S. and Israel have also opposed resolutions presented to the United National Security Council to launch an investigation into Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian protesters in Gaza that has led to over 100 deaths and over 10,000 injured.  

Despite the attempts to block inquiries into Israel’s potential crimes in April and May, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), warned that “violence against civilians – in a situation such as the one prevailing in Gaza” could constitute war crimes and announced her office would conduct a preliminary examination into the situation in Gaza.

On May 22, Palestine called on the ICC to launch an investigation.

Alex Whiting, a former ICC official, said that a state referral could help push things forward as it would make it "much harder" for the Office of the Prosecutor "to stay in the preliminary examination phase for years."  

Earlier this month the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to to immediately dispatch a team of international experts to Gaza to determine whether Israel committed war crimes by shooting Palestinian protesters participating in the Great March of Return.

During the over 5-week long protests in Gaza there were many reports of Israeli snipers targeting health workers who were assisting the wounded. Furthermore, the high number of serious injuries shed light on the acute health crisis Gaza is facing due to the 11-year-old illegal blockade imposed by Israel.

<![CDATA[Brazil: FOX Sports Blackface Imitation Sparks Outcry]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 12:09:00 -0400 FOX Sports Brasil television has received a flurry of criticism for enacting a blackface parody of Palmeiras coach Roger Machado. Comedian Rudy Landucci appeared with his face painted black hue on the Sacred Game program earlier this week.

Peru: FOX Sports, Comedian Condemned for 'Blackface' Skit

Social media lit up with condemnation of the network station, as well as the comedian, following the blackface stunt. Many also condemned the act as being even more serious because a Black footballer was on the show during the blackface enactment, according to Pragmatismo Politico.

The program's presentator, Benjamin Back, didn't seem to welcome the barrage of criticisms, responding to one web user by saying, “Racism? What are you drinking?”

Blackface was popularized in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. White actors and actresses would paint their faces with charcoal to imitate and reinforce racialized stereotypes of people of African-descent. Blackface has been practiced in other countries subjected to European colonization, including, but not limited to, Australia, Brazil, Peru and other countries in Latin America.

Over the past few years, blackface performances have appeared on different Brazilian programs.

Earlier this month Peruvians criticized a blackface skit directed at Jefferson Farfan, an Afro-Peruvian football star, which aired on the local FOX Sports channel. Members of the public say the images perpetuate racism and have called for legal action to be taken against those responsible.

The culture ministry released a statement saying: "Any act of discrimination based on racial motives is prohibited by Peru's constitution and is sanctioned by various laws, including through the deprivation of liberty." The ministry promised to address the issue, to guarantee that it's not repeated.

Despite repeated objections by the ministry, racist parodies of people of African descents are still common in the South American country.

<![CDATA[Colombia Elections: What Do Candidates Say About Peace?]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 10:29:00 -0400 Colombians will head to the polls on May 27 to choose their next President, or at least to choose the candidates that will enter the second round of votes, scheduled for June 17. These are the first presidential elections since the Peace Accords between the now extinct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government were signed in 2016.

Peace in Colombia

Given the fragility of the peace accords and the ongoing negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), teleSUR has prepared a profile on the presidential candidates and their stance on Colombia’s peace process.

Sunday's elections can be interpreted as a second referendum on the future of the peace process. Especially since the two candidates that will most likely make it to the second round have starkly different points of view on peace and the necessary policies to facilitate it.  

Ivan Duque, candidate for the Democratic Center party founded by former president Alvaro Uribe, is leading the polls with an estimated support ranging between 34 and 38 percent of likely voters.

Duque is the representative of a social sector unsatisfied with the peace accords signed with FARC. In 2016, he led the campaign to reject the peace accord in a referendum called by President Juan Manuel Santos. The 'no' vote won by a very narrow margin.

At the core of his political platform is the “structural modification” of the accord reached in Havana, including banning political participation of former FARC members and reforming the Special Jurisdiction for Peace to impose prison terms on former guerrilla fighters.

On the ELN talks, Duque has conditioned future negotiations on a cease of the group's attacks against state security forces and acceptance of prison terms.

In an interview Wednesday Duque said “I have never agreed with talking about peace and accepting bullets at the same time because it allows violence to become a mechanism to pressure the state. What credibility can that have?”

On the other hand, Gustavo Petro, former guerrilla fighter for the M-19 and mayor of Bogota, has consistently polled in second with support ranging between 22 and 31 percent. He leads the Humane Colombia movement and embraces the political platform of historical leaders of Colombia’s Liberal Party, including agrarian reform. 

Although he has expressed his support for the Peace Accords he has also argued that peace is not only the absence of conflict but knowing how to resolve them. According to Petro an economic and social policy aimed at reducing inequalities in the country is at the center of a sustained peace.

On the ELN dialogue, Petro has said greater trust must be built in order to achieve a definitive ceasefire and end the war. Petro himself was in prison for two years for being part of the M-19. In 1990, when the Colombian government signed a peace accord with the M-19, he immersed himself in political life, becoming a congressman and senator.  

Between 1994 and 1996 he fled to Belgium due to death threats in a time when left-wing leaders were being persecuted.  

Unlike Duque, Petro has spoken out against paramilitary forces and is at the forefront of the public struggle against links between politicians and paramilitary forces. Also, as senator Petro denounced together with other legislators links between Alvaro Uribe and paramilitarism.  

Polling in third place with 15 percent of support among likely voters is former mayor of Medellin and governor of Antioquia Sergio Fajardo, who has argued it is vital to respect the Peace Accords.

“I am in favor of the Peace Accords... and I am highly committed to its implementation,” Fajardo has said on multiple ocassions. Fajardo also has experience in peace efforts. As mayor of Medellin he led efforts to demobilize 4,500 paramilitaries.

On the ELN he has insisted on the need of a negotiated resolution to the conflict, but has also said that in the absence of negotiations they must be confronted “with all the might of the Public Force.”

Colombia Heightens Security for Candidates Amid Death Threats

Humberto De la Calle of the Liberal Party and  government's chief negotiator of the FARC Peace Accords, has said the accords are fundamental for his security plan, which includes a National Disarmament Plan and a post-conflict security scheme that relies on more state presence in rural Colombia.   

De la Calle has also argued that reaching a peace deal with the ELN, now Colombia’s largest armed insurgency, is the only path for a “complete” peace.  

German Vargas Lleras, vice president during Santos' government, has been vocal against FARC dissident groups and proposed a militaristic approach to solving that issue. He has said he would respect the accords signed in Havana, but at the time of negotiations he opposed the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

On the ELN he has said he would leave the negotiation table accusing the ELN of gaining territorial control while negotiating with the government.

Lastly, Jorge Antonio Trujillo, evangelical pastor and candidate for the We Are All Colombia movement, has said little about the peace process. So far he has only affirmed he will be “tougher” with FARC.

The last three candidates have less than 10 percent of support according to national polls. 

<![CDATA[Brazil Comes to Halt as Truck Drivers Strike for 4th Day]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 10:18:00 -0400 Truck drivers in Brazil have entered their fourth day of strike, blocking major highways in at least 24 states, including the Federal District. The move comes despite Petrobras, the state-owned oil company, temporarily cutting diesel prices by 10 percent on Wednesday in an attemp to curb the protests.

Brazil: UN Launches Probe Into 'Violations' of Lula's Rights

The stoppage, the result of increased fuel costs, (over 56 percent since July) has caused widespread deficiencies in the distribution of petrol, food and other items and services.

There's a lack of produce, fruits and vegetables at Rio de Janeiro's main marketplace called Ceasa. Price gauging is also taking place due to the lack of some products. The cost of a sack of potatoes, which previously sold for R$60 (Approximately US$16.45), now costs R$400 (approximately US$110).

Of the 340 truck deliveries that were scheduled for Wednesday, only 75 made it to Ceasa.

Sao Paulo city hall announced Wednesday night that approximately 40 percent of the city's public bus fleet will be removed from circulation on Thursday due to the truck driver's strike and the inability to re-fuel public transportation sites.

City hall also informed that if the strike persists until Friday, trash collection can be hampered. It noted that the “municipal administration will solicit the Justice (Department) to suspend the blockages of fuel distribution centers.”

Brazil's postal service has temporarily suspended expedited delivery services nationwide.

The Brazilian Company of Airport Infrastructure (Infraero) released a statement alerting that airports in Congonhas (Sao Paulo), as well as the cities of Palmas, Recife, Maceio and Aracaju have run out of fuel to supply airplanes as of Wednesday. Congonhas is one of the three most busy airports in Brazil, according to Revista Forum.

Another six airports only have enough airplane fuel for the next two days, reported the Support Unit and Operational Management. They include airports in the cities of Goiania, Teresina, Campo Grande, Ilheus, Foz do Iguazu and Londrina.

The government of senate-imposed President Michel Temer began a daily readjustment policy of the cost of oil derivatives on July 3, 2017. Since then, Petrobras, Brazil's majority state-owned oil company, has raised the price of diesel fuel in its refineries 121 times, representing an increase of 56.5 percent.

Congressman Ivan Valente, of the Socialism and Liberty Party, (PSOL) tweeted that the “truck drivers' strike has the potential to bring down the unpopular, moribund, corrupt government of (Michel) Temer.”

Petrobras Chief Executive Officer, Pedro Parente, said Wednesday's 10 percent price cut, will only remain in place for 15 days and cost the company about 350 million reais ($96 million), according to Reuters.

“The independence of Petrobras has not been damaged,” Parente said, claiming that the price cut “was an exceptional measure and does not represent a change to our pricing policy.”

Temer, for his part, had urged for “a type of truce for two or three days at most for us to find a satisfactory solution for Brazilians and for the truckers.”

<![CDATA[US: 10 Women in 9 States File New Sexual Assault Claims Against McDonald's]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 10:02:00 -0400 Emboldened by the #MeToo movement, 10 workers in nine U.S. cities have reported sexual assault in McDonald's franchises and two national advocacy groups are teaming up to lodge sexual harassment complaints against the parent company and the franchises, Associated Press has reported. 

US: Supreme Court Decision Delivers Blow To Workers' Rights

Women's complaints come from Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and six other cities. A 15-year-old from St. Louis mentioned alleged groping, propositions for sex, indecent exposure and lewd comments by supervisors. The women reported they were harassed, ignored or mocked and in some cases suffered retaliation after they reported the harassment. 

“I felt I had no choice but to tolerate it,” Kimberley Lawson, 25, who makes US$8.75 per hour at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, Missouri, said on a conference call with reporters. 

According to the organizers, all of the women now bringing charges are represented by attorneys due to the defense fund’s support as the legal lawsuit underway is supported by TIMES UP Legal Defense Fund and nationwide movement, Fight for $15. 

McDonald's claims its franchisees are independent business owners, and that stance has complicated efforts to unionize workers across the entire McDonald’s chain. But, the Fight for $15, which campaigns to raise pay for low-wage workers intends to hold the company responsible for wage and employment issues at franchised locations.

The legal costs of the new lawsuits are being covered by the TIMES UP Legal Defense Fund, which was launched in January by the National Women's Law Center.

The #MeToo movement that exploded last October has emboldened more women to speak out against sexual abuse and has prompted some employers to alter their approach to harassment, according to National Women’s Law Center CEO Fatima Goss Graves.

"Most companies have a policy saying no sexual harassment, but how do you make that work?" Graves questioned in an AP interview. "Right now, because of the huge power disparities, it’s easy to just wait out the complaints and nothing really changes." 

The news comes at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court Monday upheld employers' ability to block workers who signed arbitration agreements from filing class-action lawsuits. Sexual harassment cases, however, don't usually fall under class actions because of the unique facts in each case. But, if the workers signed arbitration agreements, that could force the individuals to keep claims out of court. 


Burgerville Workers Vote to Become US' First Fast Food Union

Reuters reported that Fight for $15 and TIME’S UP are pressing the world’s largest restaurant chain to establish and train employees on a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy and create a safe and effective process for receiving and responding to complaints.

Eve Cervantez, a lawyer with the San Francisco-based public interest law firm Altshuler Berzon, who is working on the new complaints, also reiterated the need to enforce 'zero tolerance policy.' 

The women filing charges "want McDonald’s to take sexual harassment seriously and enforce its already existing zero-tolerance policy," she said, according to AP. "We think McDonald’s can use its power and influence to guarantee a safer workplace for all its employees."  

Responding to the new claims, McDonald’s spokeswoman Terri Hickey said there is "no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind" in the workplace. 

"McDonald’s Corporation takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and are confident our independent franchisees who own and operate approximately 90 percent of our 14,000 U.S. restaurants will do the same," Hickey told the Time.  

Similar sexual harassment charges were filed by Fight for $15 workers two years ago, and the McDonald’s promised a review of those allegations, the McDonald's spokeswoman didn't respond if there were updates to the review. 

Attorneys for the workers will ask the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, agency responsible for enforcing federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination to consolidate or coordinate the newly filed charges, and some of the 2016 charges that remain pending.  

According to Reuters, if an EEOC review of the cases finds they have merit, the agency would call on the company to engage in informal settlement talks. If that failed, EEOC could sue the company or issue the workers “right to sue” letters.

<![CDATA[Trump Calls off Meeting with North Korea's Kim]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 09:52:00 -0400 U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday called off his planned June 12 summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a letter released by the White House.

"I was very much looking forward to being there with you," Trump said in the letter. "Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting."

Trump called it "a missed opportunity" and said someday he still hoped to meet Kim.

Earlier Thursday, North Korea repeated a threat to pull out of the unprecedented summit with Trump next month and warned it was prepared for a nuclear showdown with Washington if necessary.

In a statement released by North Korean media, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui had called U.S. Vice President Mike Pence a "political dummy" for comparing North Korea - a "nuclear weapons state" - to Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi gave up his unfinished nuclear development program, only to be later killed by NATO-backed fighters.

A small group of international media selected by North Korea witnessed the demolition of tunnels at the Punggye-ri site Thursday, which Pyongyang says is proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing.

The apparent destruction of what North Korea says is its only nuclear test site has been widely welcomed as a positive, if largely symbolic, step toward resolving tension over its weapons. 

<![CDATA[Polls Open in Barbados General Elections]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 09:38:00 -0400 Barbadians headed to polls Thursday in Barbados general elections with a record number of 135 nominees to get 30 seats in the lower house of the Legislative Assembly (Parliament).

Assurances, Accusations as Barbados Heads to the Polls

The Prime Minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, of the Democratic Labor Party(DLP), currently has the majority with 16 seats obtained in the 2013 elections. The Democratic Labor Party and the Labor Party of Barbados are the main political parties that compete for the 30 seats in the House of Representatives.

Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will attempt to become the first leader of his center-left ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in decades to secure re-election when the Caribbean island goes to the polls on Thursday.

In a battle expected to be closely contested, former minister Mia Mottley is bidding to stop him. She hopes to end 10 years on the sidelines for the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), also a center-left party and the DLP's main opposition.

If elected, Mottley, 52, would become the country's first female prime minister since independence from Britain in 1966.

The Barbadian economy has struggled since suffering a sharp contraction in 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis. Growth was minimal in the next few years until gross domestic product expanded 1.6 percent in 2016, World Bank data show.

The weak growth has put strains on Barbados' public debt, pressuring foreign exchange reserves and helping to spark repeated downgrades of the island's credit rating.

Mottley's BLP have attacked Stuart over taxation and the cost of living, pledging to provide regular garbage collection, more buses for public transportation, and repair potholed roads up and down the country's 166 square miles (430 square kilometers).

The government has also come under attack for failing to contain effluent bubbling up from sewers along south coast roads that lead to the sun-kissed island's famed tourist resorts.

Though Stuart announced the election less than a month ago, the BLP has been in campaign mode since the start of 2018.

Frustration over the longstanding DLP-BLP duopoly has caused a host of new political parties to spring up in the island of some 285,000 people, foremost among them the United Progressive Party (UPP) and Solutions Barbados.

<![CDATA[Colombia Deploys 155,000 Military, Police for Election Security]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 09:37:00 -0400 The Colombian government said Wednesday it deployed some 155,000 police and military to guarantee security in the presidential elections over the weekend, along with commissions to prevent crimes that could affect the elections.

Colombians will go to the polls Sunday to elect the successor of President Juan Manuel Santos, who ends his second term in August.

Although right-wing Ivan Duque leads the polls, beating leftist Gustavo Petro, the two would have to face each other in a second round in June. Further back are candidates Sergio Fajardo and Germán Vargas Lleras, among others.

"All security guarantees have been given to candidates and offices (...), we ordered increased protection in some cases," Santos said after a meeting with spokespersons of political parties, election observers and authorities.

"The government has facilitated all the conditions so that the electoral organization is up to this challenge of having the best elections in our history," he added, noting that the surveillance includes a plan to prevent computer attacks against the systems of the Registrar's Office, the body in charge of voting.

<![CDATA[Chile: Feminists Blast Gov't 'Gender Agenda' and Call for March]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 09:28:00 -0400 Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has unveiled his administration’s “Gender Agenda” Wednesday after a “feminist wave” of protests to demand a non-sexist education, the end of violence against women, and structural reforms.

'No Means No': Thousands of Women Occupy Chile Streets Against Sexual Violence 

The feminist student movement responded by calling the program “insufficient” and called for a march on June 6. So far 18 universities across the country have mobilized.

Spokesperson for Chile’s Student Confederation Paz Gajardo explained “He is not listening to the current student demands. It doesn’t mention the central demand of the feminist student movement: non-sexist education. This proves the president is downplaying the violence and abuses… students throughout the country are suffering.”

The agenda promotes and guarantees equal rights between men and women and establishes mechanisms for prevention, denunciation, and investigation into all cases of abuse, including sexual harassment, discrimination and ill treatment against both sexes.

Chilean Students, Feminists Unite Against Sexism in Education

However, according to the director of the lesbian organization Breaking the Silence “if you read the measures in detail you realize these are things difficult to implement, that are hard to legislate or that don’t benefit all women.”

The government program has been rejected by activists who claim their demands were not taken into account and argue the move is opportunistic given that feminist demands have taken center stage and are supported by a majority of Chilean society.    

Furthermore, the agenda fails to include lesbian women and sexually diverse women, focusing instead on mothers, students at public universities, and women in the army.  

Lorena Astudillo, a lawyer with the Chilean Network Against Violence Towards Women told local news site El Desconcierto “this agenda cannot be thought of as serious if the head of state begins by saying ‘we have been unfair to our women,’ placing us once again as things, susceptible to ownership.”

Among other criticisms is that the agenda does not address media outlets that reproduce the sexist culture that leads to violence against women, there is no proposed change to school curricula, and the plan does not include a participatory mechanism for ensuring women shape the policies to solve sexism in the classroom and beyond.

<![CDATA[North Korea Dismantles Nuclear Site Amid Doubts over Summit]]> Thu, 24 May 2018 08:54:00 -0400 North Korea has completely dismantled its Punggye-ri nuclear test ground "to ensure the transparency of discontinuance of nuclear test," state news agency KCNA said Thursday.

Hopes High for End of Korean War After Historic Korea Summit

The dismantling of the nuclear test ground "completely closed the tunnel entrances," it said, adding that two tunnels there had been ready for use in "powerful underground nuclear tests".

There was no leakage of radioactive material or adverse impact on the surrounding environment from the dismantling, the agency added. "The discontinuance of the nuclear test is an important process moving towards global nuclear disarmament," KCNA said.

North Korea followed through on a pledge to blow up tunnels at its nuclear test site, as part of steps that have reduced tension on the Korean peninsula and raised the possibility of a summit with the United States.

North Korea has conducted all six of its nuclear tests at the Punggye-ri site, which consists of tunnels dug beneath Mount Mantap in the northeast of the country.

A small group of international media selected by North Korea was on hand to witness the demolition, which Pyongyang says is proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing.

The destruction of the site began at about 11 a.m. with the blowing up and collapsing of a tunnel and an observation post.

The North Korean offer to scrap the test site has been seen as a major move in months of easing tension between it, on the one hand, and South Korea and the United States on the other.

North Korea announced in April it would suspend nuclear and missile tests and scrap the test site, and instead pursue economic growth and peace.

But the progress appears to have suffered a setback this month with North Korea raising doubts about an unprecedented June 12 summit in Singapore between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The North objects to U.S. demands that it unilaterally give up its arsenal of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.

<![CDATA[Fossilized Feces Betray The Animals That Left Them Behind ]]> Wed, 23 May 2018 23:24:00 -0400 Scientists are studying fossilized feces from 126 million years ago in Spain to better understand the animals that left them behind.


Science Confirms Two Myths About Inca Origins

Sandra Barrios de Pedro, a researcher from the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), along with scientists from the Mining and Geological Institute of Madrid (IGME), published their findings at Las Hoyas near Cuenca, Spain, in the journal Plos One.

They say the deposits are in "an exceptional state of conservation" and indicate an immense diversity of extinct wildlife.

Fossilized feces – also known as coprolites – provide important information about the diet and feeding habits of the extinct animals that excreted them.

Las Hoyas was once a shallow wetland where microbial mats "formed by cyanobacteria and other microorganisms" grew over "dead animals and their feces, which facilitated the preservation and accumulation of organic debris," says Barrios.

Scientists studied the form, content and chemical composition of the feces and determined that they belonged to a diverse range of aquatic vertebrates, from fish and salamanders to turtles, small sharks and crocodiles. Birds and dinosaurs may have roamed the area during the Cretaceous period.

Las Hoyas has yielded some 2,000 coprolites over the past 30 years, revealing some of "the most varied and extensive sample of the specimens" in the world, Barrios said.

The chemical analysis revealed that the coprolites "belonged mostly to carnivorous animals that ate fish."

In fact, some fossils contained pieces of fish scales and even bone vertebrae and spines, "which shows that most of the inhabitants of the Las Hoyas reservoir were carnivores with ichthyophagous (fish-eating) diets," according to Barrios. Other feces showed that some animals were vegetarian.

Analyzing coprolites is important because "it reveals differences in the effectiveness of the digestive processes of the producers but also helps to know what they ate and how they behaved trophically," concluded the researcher.

<![CDATA[Syrian Media: US Coalition Airstrikes Hit Syrian Army Positions]]> Wed, 23 May 2018 23:13:00 -0400 U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have struck several Syrian army positions near the city of Al-Bukamal, according to Syrian media outlet SANA.

Syria Gov't Says Damascus Secure, Islamic State Group Ousted

In the early hours of Thursday local time, SANA reported that targets were hit in cooperation with rebel forces and inflicted damage but no casualties.

Lebanon's Hezbollah, which is allied with the Syrian government in the fight against the Islamic State Group, also reported that coalition jets struck two Syrian army positions.

The area is a frontline in the fight between the Syrian government, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Islamic State Group.

The U.S. military has yet to confirm the strikes: "We have no information to substantiate those reports," a Pentagon spokesperson told Reuters.

<![CDATA[US Court Backs Transgender Student In Bathroom Battle]]> Wed, 23 May 2018 22:42:00 -0400 A U.S. judge has ruled that federal law protects a transgender student who fought all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to use a bathroom at a high school in Virginia that corresponded with his gender identity.

Trans Woman Flees Death in Honduras, Asks Asylum at US Border

U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen in Norfolk rejected a bid by the Gloucester County School Board to dismiss the civil rights lawsuit filed by student Gavin Grimm. Grimm filed the suit in 2015 and graduated from high school last year.

The judge said Grimm has valid claims under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in education as well as the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Wright Allen rejected the school board's argument that its policy was justified by the need to protect students' privacy: "Preventing Mr. Grimm from using the boys' restrooms did nothing to protect the privacy rights of other students, but certainly singled out and stigmatized Mr. Grimm."

Grimm, 19, was born female but identifies as male. Grimm had sued the school board to win the right to use the public school's boys' bathroom.

"I feel an incredible sense of relief. After fighting this policy since I was 15 years old, I finally have a court decision saying that what the Gloucester County School Board did to me was wrong and it was against the law," said Grimm, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Wright Allen, whose ruling was similar to several others across the United States in favor of transgender students, said the parties should schedule a settlement conference within 30 days.

Grimm's case had previously reached the Supreme Court and was set to be argued in March 2017 when President Donald Trump's administration rescinded guidance previously issued by the administration of Barack Obama regarding bathroom access for transgender students.

The Obama administration had told public schools nationwide to let transgender students use the bathroom of their choosing. The Supreme Court subsequently sent the case back to lower courts without issuing a ruling on the merits.

A spokesman for the school board could not immediately be reached for comment.

The school board's former lawyer, Kyle Duncan, was recently appointed by Trump as a judge on the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

<![CDATA[Venezuela: President Maduro Meets Former Candidate Bertucci]]> Wed, 23 May 2018 22:29:00 -0400 Venezuela's recently re-elected President Nicolas Maduro received former opposition candidate Javier Bertucci in Miraflores Palace in Caracas on Wednesday to discuss several proposals.

Chile Rejects Venezuela Election, Refuses To Send Ambassador

Bertucci said after the meeting that he had brought forward three proposals: the liberation of all political prisoners, the opening of a "humanitarian channel," and responses to opposition claims that the May 20 elections were fraudulent.

"For my country I will meet, I will dialogue and I will do whatever is necessary for an answer," Bertucci said.

"We cannot continue putting personal, egoist and ideological interests before the country... I went independently and accepted the chance to sit, converse, look for solutions for my people, for my country."

The meeting is a symbolic beginning to the national dialogue called for by the president after his electoral victory.

After coming third in last week's vote, Bertucci – of the Hope for Change party – recognized the results on Tuesday, and gave his support to a dialogue with the government.

Second place opposition candidate Henri Falcon rejected the results of the election.

<![CDATA[Indian Police Officer Shoots Dead Copper Plant Protester]]> Wed, 23 May 2018 21:54:00 -0400 A protester was killed by a rubber bullet in southern India on Wednesday, just a day after 10 were shot dead when police opened fire on a rally demanding the closure of a copper plant over health and environmental concerns, officials said.

A Third Of Girls In South Asia Skip School During Their Periods

The shooting, which also injured 80 people, sparked intense criticism. Amnesty International said police had "many questions to answer" and those responsible should be brought to justice.

Police fired rubber bullets and sent volleys of live ammunition overhead, officials and witnesses said, after protesters in the port city of Tuticorin hurled home-made bombs and pelted officers with stones.

Another police officer said a 22-year-old man had died. Police earlier said 12 people had died, but later revised the toll. P. Mahendran, superintendent of Tuticorin district police, said 18 officers were wounded in the clashes.

The demonstrators are demanding the closure of a copper plant on the outskirts of Tuticorin in the southern state of Tamil Nadu owned by British mining giant Vedanta Resources, which they say is causing environmental damage.

A video on social media showing a police officer atop a bus pointing an assault rifle at the crowds has fuelled fresh anger. Witnesses said demonstrators set fire to a police bus and ransacked a liquor shop.

TV footage showed police in riot gear patrolling streets littered with stones and burnt tires. Traders shut down shops as authorities imposed a curfew in parts of the city.

Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami ordered a judicial inquiry into the shootings, but defended the police response.

M.K. Stalin, leader of main Tamil Nadu opposition party the DMK, said police were guilty of "atrocities." "Mass Murder of Innocent People," he tweeted Wednesday. "Who ordered the police firing on protesters? Why were automatic weapons used to disperse the crowd and under what law is this permitted?"

Rahul Gandhi, the national leader of the opposition Congress party, described the deaths as "a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism." "These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice," he said.

The Madras Union of Journalists complained of police heavy-handedness. "A group of policemen and rogue elements snatched and damaged the cameras," said journalist S. Raghunathan.

The plant is currently closed while Vedanta's Sterlite Copper subsidiary seeks a new license so it can be expanded.

The protests intensified after Vedanta, owned by Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal but with its head office in London, sought to double the 400,000-tonne annual capacity of the plant. It was shut briefly after an alleged gas leak in March 2013 that left hundreds with breathing difficulties, nausea and throat infections.

However, the company maintains that it adheres to environmental standards and said it was the victim of "false propaganda" about its operations. Agarwal said on Twitter earlier this month that his company was the victim of a foreign conspiracy aimed at keeping India reliant on imports. He did not name any specific countries or companies.

Tamil Nadu is one of India's most industrialized states and similar protests over environmental concerns have turned deadly in the past, including in Tuticorin.

In Thootukudi, Vedanta's copper plant has been shut for more than 50 days and will remain closed until at least June 6 because the local pollution regulator has said the facility is not complying with environmental rules.

Several cases have been filed against the plant since it started in 1996, and India's top court in 2013 fined it about US$18 million for breaking environmental laws. The next year, Vedanta lost a battle to mine bauxite in the a lushly forested area, Niyamgiri hills in Odisha state, that the Dongria Kondh tribe there considers sacred.

<![CDATA[Nicaragua: Dialogue Suspended Between Opposition, Gov't]]> Wed, 23 May 2018 21:33:00 -0400 The president of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, Leopoldo Brenes, announced Wednesday that the national dialogue for peace between the government and opposition sectors has been suspended.

Nicaraguan Gov't: 'Opposition Pushing Coup Agenda in Dialogue'

The mediating bishops said it was necessary to create a 'Mixed Commission' in order to achieve a consensus on the proposals put forward by both parties before re-approaching the negotiations.

The Episcopal Conference suggests the commission should consist of six people: three from the government, and one each from the universities, civil society and business sector.

The third day of dialogue saw negotiations come to a practical halt as opposition sectors – which include private sector representatives and student leaders – demanded the renunciation of President Daniel Ortega, elections and a constituent assembly to reform the constitution.

The government, as well as several other observers and participants, argued these demands were far outside the realm of the dialogues. Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said the opposition was using the dialogues to push "toward a soft coup."

Journalist Adolfo Pastran said: "Here, a series of reforms are spoken of that would require legislative majority in the national assembly. This is the first time that I see such reforms being debated without a political party.

"I'm not sure if any of you here have a majority in the National Assembly to arrive at this sort of agreement... Here, one of the young men says that this is a table of absolute surrender, that the entire government must go. What are you going to negotiate?"

Vice-President Rosario Murillo called on dialogue to be productive and constitutional, so that the country can get back on track to peace. Protests are still blocking highways in many areas of the country, affecting daily life and economic activity.

"The recovery of peace... is the vital interest of Nicaraguan families, to work, to make a living, and the peace and security that has been threatened in these past weeks," Murillo said.

<![CDATA[Buenos Aires Protests: Education and Homeland, Yes, IMF, No]]> resolution of conflicts," one of the march organizers said in front of the Plaza de Mayo.]]> Wed, 23 May 2018 19:49:00 -0400 Thousands of teachers marched throughout Argentina on Wednesday to demand higher salaries that can compete with the country's skyrocketing 25 percent inflation rate and steady devaluing of the peso.

Argentina's Macri Appoints 'Super Minister' With Offshore Assets Ahead of IMF Deal

Sonia Alesso, a spokesperson from march organizer Confederation of Education Workers (Ctera), said that over the past year "everything changed for the worse" because teachers have not been allowed at the negotiating table.

Ctera head Eduardo Lopez told the crowd: "Fight, fight for education." "Here we are – all teachers in the country – fighting, demanding the resolution of conflicts," Alesso said in front of the Plaza de Mayo.

Secretary-General of Suteba Roberto Baradel echoed Alesso: "We are not happy about this permanent (conflict)," he said, referring to the failed negotiations between teachers and the Buenos Aires government.

For months, teachers unions have been negotiating with government officials for a 24 percent raise and a trigger clause that increases with national inflation, which has hovered at 25 percent for the past year.

The government offered a 15 percent salary hike until April, when it put a 10 percent raise on the table, which unions rejected.

Union leader Roberto Pianelli said right-wing Buenos Aires Governor Maria Eugenia Vidal should listen to the "thousands of teachers who are saying 'take care of public education, less television, more management, more public education, more public school, more suburban, more internal.'"

On a broader level, protesters were demonstrating against the way President Mauricio Macri has governed since taking office two years ago, and his recent decision to request a US$30 billion IMF loan.

"They thought that we were not going to surround the Casa Rosada ... Well, we say ...  homeland yes, colonization, no. We in the streets say yes to the homeland, not to the International Monetary Fund," Lopez told local media.

Alesso said: "This discussion isn't just about the country's education model, but the structure of the homeland. That's why we cry: homeland, yes, colonization, no."

The union leader said they will be protesting once again in Buenos Aires with other union sectors on Friday.

Workers unions and social organizations have staged massive strikes over the past year against Macri's drastic austerity measures, cutting energy and transport subsidies and public employment. Their collective action may be paying off as the Senate just passed a bill that would stop the increase of taxes on gas, water and electricity.    

<![CDATA[Nicaraguan Gov't: 'Opposition Pushing Coup Agenda in Dialogue']]> Wed, 23 May 2018 19:47:00 -0400 In response to opposition demands by private sector groups and student leaders that entail sweeping constitutional reforms and the renunciation of the president and vice president, Nicaragua's Foreign Minister Denis Moncada has accused the opposition of using the national dialogue to promote a coup against the government.

Nicaragua: Extortion, Dialogue And A Longing for Peace

"The agenda that we are seeing... if you notice we have approximately 40 points and it is an agenda that upon examining in its totality brings us to only one point: the design of a path toward a soft coup, a path to change the Nicaraguan government, the government of reconciliation and national unity, outside the constitution, outside the Nicaraguan legal system, violating the constitution, violating the laws," Moncada said Wednesday.

One of the participating student leaders, Lesther Aleman, said constitutional reform was needed, along with the renunciation of President Daniel Ortega, and the application of the "frame law of transition and democracy."

Journalist Adolfo Pastran, speaking at the third session of the dialogue on Wednesday, criticized the opposition demands as being far beyond the scope of the dialogue. Demands for a constituent assemby and sweeping constitutional reforms could only be debated in the context of the national assembly, he said.

"We are seeing an enormous contradiction... because they are speaking of surrender, transition board, the frame law of transition, and now a constituent assembly.

"Here, a series of reforms are spoken of that would require legislative majority in the national assembly. This is the first time that I see such reforms being debated without a political party.

"I'm not sure if any of you here have a majority in the National Assembly to arrive at this sort of agreement... Here, one of the young men says that this is a table of absolute surrender, that the entire government must go. What are you going to negotiate?"


Vice-President Rosario Murilllo called on Wednesday for a productive national dialogue that can get the country back on track to peace, and emphasized the serious effects the ongoing protests have had on daily life by halting normal work and economic activity for many. Protests have continued despite the ongoing dialogue, with many highways now blocked.

Dialogue In Nicaragua: An Inauspicious Start

"We are united in prayer for all Nicaraguans that the situation might continue changing, so that we can all come to our senses, so that the path of dialogue is effective, rational and above all takes into account the vital interests of Nicaraguan families," Murillo said.

"The recovery of peace... is the vital interest of Nicaraguan families, to work, to make a living, and the peace and security that has been threatened in these past weeks."

Murillo also rejected the idea that the renunciation of her and President Daniel Ortega be negotiated during the dialogue, and said the process must remain within the constitutional order.

The Nicaraguan government agreed Tuesday to study and address recommendations of the Organization of American States' (OAS) Interamerican Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) following the second round of national dialogue called by Ortega.

"The national dialogue endorses the recommendations of the IACHR and requests that, in accordance with recommendation number 15, the government of the republic commits itself to establishing monitoring mechanisms to verify the implementation of the recommendations," a statement by the Commission of Mediation and Witness said.

The government has invited the IACHR to visit the country to help bring an end to the period of violence that has rocked Nicaragua since April.

However, sectors of the opposition, represented by students and private sector leaders, opposed a proposal to end all violence "from wherever it may come," including that committed by protesters.

In a preliminary report of its findings, the IACHR said that since April 18 it had documented at least 76 people killed and 868 injured.

The report condemns violence committed by both police and protesters: "The IACHR emphatically condemns the deaths, aggressions and arbitrary detentions of students, protesters, journalists and citizens that have occurred in the country since the beginning of the protests, and that continue to this date. Likewise, the IACHR condemns the deaths of two police and aggressions against other public functionaries.

"There is information that in some cases protesters used homemade mortars, gunpowder, rocks and slings. The government affirms that there are vandal and criminal groups that operate within the protests and university occupations, and that have caused damages to public and private goods."

The protests began when the government proposed a series of social security reforms to salvage a severe budget deficit. The protested reforms were made following a lengthy negotiation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that was pushing for a much heavier reform package that would have raised the retirement age and privatized health clinics.

In response to the violent protests that destroyed public property, President Ortega decided to revoke the proposed reforms and begin dialogue.