San Juan, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — Karla Villalón has three elementary-age children and an 81-year-old grandmother.
Her kids have been uprooted twice in two years when first one school, then another, was closed by budget cuts under Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. Her grandmother, a retired teacher, is anguished over the possibility of losing her pension in future rounds of cutbacks.
Villalón was outraged when Rosselló's former education secretary was arrested and accused of steering millions in improper contracts to politically connected contractors. Then hundreds of pages of online chats between Rosselló and members of his administration leaked, revealing the men mocking women, the handicapped and victims of Hurricane Maria.
Villalón has had enough.
"It's the final straw," the 31-year-old homemaker said as she prepared to march with thousands of other Puerto Ricans from the capital to the governor's residence Wednesday afternoon. "My kids' classrooms have mold in them.... There's just so much outrage that's been building over time."
That feeling was rippling across Puerto Rico Wednesday — the feeling of a people fed up with neglect from Washington and the U.S. territory's own government.
The island is mired in crises. It is struggling to emerge from a debt-driven financial failure and receive federal funding to help recovery from Hurricane Maria. The September 2017 storm left thousands dead in its wake due to the collapse of the island's electrical system and a months-long failure to provide care to the elderly and medically vulnerable. Since then, hundreds of schools have been closed to save money and a wide range of social services and pensions are being cut back, or are under threat.
"Puerto Rico has suffered so much and we can't deal with the cynicism of these leaders anymore," singer Ricky Martin said in a video message posted online. "Enough already. Enough already."
Martin said he was flying to Puerto Rico to march along with other Latin music stars from the island, including singer/producer Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, known as Bad Bunny, and rapper René Pérez, known as Residente, who released a song online Wednesday morning calling people to the streets.
"This is coming out early so you can eat it for breakfast," Residente raps on the song, "Sharpening the Knives." ''Fury is the only political party that unites us."
In colonial Old San Juan, police were erecting concrete barricades and shop owners were covering store windows with metal sheeting or plywood as if a hurricane were coming. The multi-colored umbrellas that form a photogenic awning over the street in front of the governor's mansion were taken down.
The scandal erupted as Rosselló's former secretary of education and five other people were arrested on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors. Starting Thursday, an anonymous person or people with access to the chats leaked dozens of pages of them to two local outlets. On Saturday, Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages.
In the chat group were Luis Rivera Marín, Rosselló's secretary of state; Christian Sobrino, who held a series of important economic posts; Carlos Bermúdez, a one-time communications aide; Edwin Miranda, a communications consultant; Interior Secretary Ricardo Llerandi; Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira and Elías Sánchez, one-time representative to the board overseeing Puerto Rico's bankruptcy.
The group mentions then-New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who had criticized Democratic Party head Tom Pérez for supporting Puerto Rican statehood, with Rosselló calling her the Spanish word for "whore."
Referring to Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan who had announced her intent to run against Rosselló in 2020, the governor says, "she's off her meds."
"Either that, or she's a tremendous HP," he continues, using the Spanish initials for "son/daughter of a bitch."
One chat group member calls the head of the federal oversight board a "kitten." Another participant jokes that a female member of the territory's senate belonged in a whorehouse. Along with a photo of himself greeting an obese man, the governor writes "I'm still there. It's my fourth orbit. He generates a strong gravitational pull." Talking about a lack of forensic pathologists at a government forensic agency, Sobrino says "can't we feed a body to the crows?"
Rivera Marín, Sobrino, Bermúdez and Miranda have already said they were resigning or been fired.
Nicole Howard Arroyo, a 36-year-old store manager, said the chats revealed "a total lack of political and social ethics on the part of a leader."
"I think the chat has taken off the reins, it's something bigger, across the island," she said. "People are waking up."
New York, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — Federal prosecutors have told a judge in New York they have concluded their investigation into campaign finance crimes committed by President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen.
The closure of the case is the strongest suggestion yet that prosecutors decided not to bring criminal charges against anyone besides Cohen in the scheme to protect Trump's reputation during the 2016 presidential campaign.
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III made the disclosure in a court filing Wednesday as part of a legal fight over whether to unseal search warrant materials dealing with the investigation.
For months, prosecutors had asked that the documents remain sealed because they were still probing payments Cohen helped orchestrate to two women — porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal — who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.
While Cohen had pleaded guilty, others involved in the payments remained uncharged, including Trump himself as well as executives at the Trump Organization.
Now, though, prosecutors have informed the court that they've concluded the investigation, clearing the way for the release of documents related to the case.
The judge rejected a request by prosecutors to black out portions of the documents to protect third-party privacy interests, saying the records involved a "matter of national importance."
"Now that the Government's investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the materials," Pauley wrote.
He ordered the government to put the search warrant records related to searches of Cohen's residence and office in the public record by 11 a.m. Thursday.
Pauley said the record should be "unredacted in its entirety" except for limited references in a footnote to an uncharged third-party and the names of law enforcement investigators, references to individuals purportedly engaged in business transactions or contemplated business transactions with Cohen relating to his taxi business.
Pauley said he based his conclusions on a report he received from prosecutors on Monday.
"The Government now represents that it has concluded the aspects of its investigation that justified the continued sealing of the portions of the Materials relating to Cohen's campaign finance violations," Pauley wrote.
In December, Pauley sentenced Cohen to three years in prison after the longtime personal lawyer to Trump pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, lying to Congress and other charges.
He began serving the sentence in May.
Trump denied any sexual relationship with Daniels and McDougal and said that any payments made to them were private in nature and not related to his campaign.
Irbil, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — A gunman opened fire inside a Turkish-owned restaurant in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on Wednesday, killing at least one Turkish diplomat stationed in Ankara's consulate, Turkey's state-run news agency and Iraqi media said.
The rare shooting in broad daylight jolted the normally quiet city and sent security forces into the streets in an effort to catch the perpetrator, who apparently got away. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the "hateful" attack targeting the Turkish consulate employees and said Turkey was pressing Iraqi and the local authorities for the assailants to be apprehended quickly.
Anadolu Agency, quoting the restaurant's owner, reported that an attacker in civilian clothes and carrying two weapons opened fire at a group of consulate workers shortly after they entered the restaurant and said a Turkish diplomat died at the site. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said an official of the Turkish consulate in Irbil was "martyred" as a result of an armed attack.
The state-run Iraqi news agency identified him as the deputy general consul and said several of his entourage were also killed in the shooting.
Kurdish security forces later said a Turkish diplomat and a civilian were killed and another civilian wounded in the attack.
"We are continuing our efforts with the Iraqi authorities and local authorities to quickly find the perpetrators of the attack," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Twitter that efforts were underway to catch the assailants.
"The necessary response will be given to those who carried out this treacherous attack," he said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the shooting.
Such attacks are rare in Irbil. Iraq's self-governing Kurdish region is politically allied with the Turkish government, but militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who have fought a decades-long insurgency against Ankara, operate in parts of the territory. Ankara labels the group a terrorist organization.
In recent months, the Turkish military has intensified air and ground operations against them across the border.
The shooting occurred at HuQQabaz, a popular restaurant in an upscale and high security area only a five-minute drive from the Turkish consulate on the airport road.
Security forces sealed off the area, keeping journalists on the other side of the road. The front window facade of the restaurant was shattered and police were standing outside.
The Kurdish Rudaw news agency published a photo of a car parked outside the restaurant with blood stains on it. It said security and emergency officials were responding to the incident and that the scene was on lockdown.
The attack came days after Turkey's Defense Ministry announced it launched a new military operation against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq. In a statement issued Saturday, the ministry announced the start of "Operation Claw-2" aiming to destroy caves and shelters used by members of the PKK in the Hakurk region. It said the operation began late Friday with commandos, air strikes and artillery.
On Wednesday, Turkey launched airstrikes that killed at least seven members of the PKK.
The PKK has been waging an insurgency for more than three decades, and its fighters have bases in northern Iraq, near the border with Iran. Turkey has regularly bombed the mountainous area where the PKK are based and in March targeted a meeting of senior PKK leadership there, wounding a senior commander and killing three others.
Ankara accuses the PKK of launching assaults into Turkey from the Kurdistan region and has kept bases in Iraq and targeted the militants stronghold for decades, an agreement it had reached with the previous Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein where the two countries agreed to use each other's territories to safeguard their borders.
Hong Kong, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of Hong Kong senior citizens, including a popular actress, marched Wednesday in a show of support for youths at the forefront of monthlong protests against a contentious extradition bill in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The seniors also slammed the police for their handling of a protest Sunday in Hong Kong's Sha Tin district. That protest was mostly peaceful but ended in mayhem when violent scuffles in a shopping mall saw dozens injured, including a policeman who had a finger bitten off, and over 40 people detained.
Veteran actress and singer Deanie Ip, who joined Wednesday's demonstration, said police shouldn't use heavy-handed tactics against young protesters who "have no guns" and were peacefully expressing their frustrations.
"They are young people and they are doing the right thing. Why are they being mistreated?" she said.
Ip and several others held a banner reading "Support youth to protect Hong Kong" as they marched through a financial district. Wearing white tops and black pants, marchers held placards that read "Never give up" and "Stay together."
Dozens of seniors carried a 6-meter-long (20-foot-long) black banner that read "Reject tyrannical rule."
Some elders in wheelchairs also joined the march. Organizers said about 8,000 people participated in the demonstration.
Hong Kong has been jolted for over a month by a series of large-scale and occasional violent protests amid widespread anger over a proposed extradition law that would send suspects to mainland China to face trials. The bill is seen as a threat to Hong Kong's freedoms that were guaranteed for 50 years when China took back control of the former British colony in 1997.
Even though Hong Kong's embattled leader, Carrie Lam, suspended the bill and declared the legislation "dead," her moves failed to placate the protesters, who have demanded her resignation. Tens of thousands have continued to take to the streets, with the protests expanding into a bigger movement against China's growing intrusion into the territory.
The senior citizens Wednesday repeated demands for the legislation to be formally withdrawn, for the release of dozens of people detained and for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality against protesters.
More protests have been planned, which could cause further instability in the global financial hub.
Phil Chan, a senior fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm, said violent clashes between protesters and police could intensify unless the government starts to engage meaningfully with the people in meeting some of their demands, including the move toward universal suffrage.
"The government at present is merely engaging in verbal dissemblance," Chan said. "As the political crisis drags on, it will become increasingly difficult for the Hong Kong government to resolve, and police-community relations will take a long time to heal. It will become a lose-lose situation for both Hong Kong society and the Hong Kong government, and instability in Hong Kong can never be good for Beijing."
Multan, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan on Wednesday arrested a radical cleric and U.S.-wanted terror suspect implicated in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, officials said, just days ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan's trip to Washington.
Hafiz Saeed was taken into custody in Punjab province while traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the city of Gujranwala, according to counterterrorism official Mohammad Shafiq.
Saeed founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which was blamed for the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. His charity organizations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat, are alleged fronts for Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The United States has offered a $10 million reward for Saeed's arrest and Washington recently stepped up pressure on Islamabad to crack down on terror groups.
In response, Pakistan registered over a dozen cases against Saeed and several of his associates, accusing them of funding militant groups through charities and leading to Wednesday's arrest.
"After a ten year search, the so-called "mastermind" of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan," President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday. "Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!"
Prime Minister Imran Khan was to leave for Washington over the weekend on his first official visit to the United States as premier.
After his arrest, Saeed was taken before a judge and was ordered held in jail until the next hearing on Tuesday, Shafiq said. The cleric had been en route to Gujranwala to post bail in the terror financing case but was detained before he could do so.
In Pakistan, a suspect can be free on bail pending investigation and trial.
Saeed's spokesman Nadim Awan denounced the arrest and said the cleric had dissociated himself from Lashker-e-Taiba in 2001 and has had no links with the organization since then. Lashker-e-Taiba was banned in 2002.
Awan said they would challenge Saeed's arrest before a higher court.
Until the terror financing case, Saeed had for months lived freely in Pakistan, often addressing anti-India rallies for which he became popular amid a dramatic confrontation between the two nuclear-armed rivals earlier this year.
Saeed's two charities were banned in February last year, and the government froze their assets in compliance with a U.N. request. Pakistan's Supreme Court last September allowed them to resume operations only to be banned again earlier this year under a government action plan against terrorism and extremism.
Previously, Saeed had been detained several times, along with some of his close aides, but had not been charged or put on trial.
He was taken into custody in January last year and kept under house arrest for 11 months until a court order ended his detention in November. He was also detained in 2001 and 2008, when he was kept confined to a government-run house and at his home.
In recent months, the government also took over schools, mosques, seminaries and all properties linked to Saeed's charities and froze their assets.
Pakistan is currently on the Financial Action Task Force's grey list, denoting its status as a haven for money laundering. It has until October to avoid black listing.