Tens of thousands of members of the Italian anti-populist Sardines movement gathered in Rome on Saturday for their first national rally as people said disillusionment with traditional politics drew them to the fast-growing new group.
The movement born last month with a spontaneous rally in Bologna focuses on "inclusive" social laws and pro-migration and pro-environment measures. Its founders say they have no ambitions to become a political party but the Sardines have become a strong adversary for Matteo Salvini, the right-wing leader of the League, Italy's largest political party.
"We've filled the piazza. Mission accomplished," one founder, Mattia Santori, told the crowd. Protesters held sardine-shaped banners and chanted the traditional anti-fascist song "Bella Ciao."
"It's a spontaneous demonstration that aims to change this society, with all the consequences that this brings," said protester Daniela Mazzeo.
The European Commission said Saturday that member states have agreed to hold a donors' conference in January in Albania to help the Balkan country rebuild after an earthquake killed 51 people last month.
The commission's president, Ursula von der Leyen, offered the bloc's commitment to the "long period of reconstruction."
The 6.4-magnitude quake left more than 13,000 people homeless and damaged more than 14,000 buildings. Scores of structural engineers are determining which buildings can still be inhabited.
Albania has asked for international financial assistance for reconstruction that it has pledged to complete by the end of 2020. The government has set aside 13 billion leks ($117 million) for the work.
Also Saturday, prosecutors and police in the hard-hit city of Durres said they had detained nine people on suspicion of illegal construction and abuse of office. Poor construction is believed to be the reason why collapsing buildings killed 23 people in the city.
Just days after declaring a "final," decisive battle for the capital Tripoli, heavy fighting raged over a 24-hour period between rebel Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter and an array of militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported government based there, officials said Saturday.
The fresh bout of fighting comes after Hifter, the leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army, declared Thursday that the "zero hour" of the battle for Tripoli had begun, nearly eight months since he began his offensive to take the city.
Mercenary fighters on both sides played a crucial role in the most recent offensive.
The LNA media office shared footage of reinforcements arriving in Tripoli, including ground troops and armored vehicles, and of clashes in the southern areas. It said Hifter's forces took control of al-Tawghaar town, just south of the city. However, Tripoli-based forces disputed the claim.
The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into another bout of violence rivaling the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In the chaos that followed, the country was divided, with a weak U.N.-supported administration in Tripoli and a rival government in the east aligned with the LNA.
Spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari said the LNA also launched airstrikes overnight against an air base at the Air Force Academy in the western city of Misrata, targeting military warehouses allegedly housing Turkish-made drones used by Tripoli-allied militias.
Misrata, in western Libya, is the country's second largest city and is home to fierce militias who oppose Hifter and have been critical in defending Tripoli.
The LNA's media office also said it shot down a Turkish-made drone over the town of Ain Zara, just south of the capital. Hifter forces captured a major military camp from the Tripoli-allied militias and clashes were continuing around the camp, officials from both sides said.
There was heavy fighting elsewhere around Tripoli in the new push by Hifter's forces. Officials on both sides called this offensive "different" from previous ones in the past eight months.
"It is a matter of days, and we will root out this corrupt and treacherous government," an official within the LNA said. H e spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
Since his troops marched toward Tripoli in April, Hifter has only been able to lay siege to the city, failing to claim it from the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. In past months, the battle lines have changed very little, with both sides dug in and shelling one another in the southern reaches of the capital. They have also sought support from their regional and international backers.
U.N. experts saidin a 376-page report to the U.N. Security Council earlier this week that Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are supporting the warring sides of Libya's war, and have "routinely and sometimes blatantly supplied weapons, with little effort to disguise the source" in violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
Hifter is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.
"The Russian mercenaries are leading the battle (for Hifter's forces) this time. There are hundreds of mercenaries on the front lines," an official at the Tripoli-based government said. "But we will fight and beat them." He also spoke anonymously.
Libyan and U.S. officials had accused Russia of deploying fighters through a private security contractor, the Wagner Group, to key battleground areas in Libya in the past months. The Government of National Accord has documented between 600 and 800 Russian fighters in Libya fighting with Hifter forces.
"The Russian fighters' toughness, lethal techniques and coordination discipline have instilled fear in the anti-Hifter forces," said Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at The Netherlands Institute of International Relations. "Now, Hifter and all foreign states backing him have become dramatically more confident that Hifter's brigades will enter Tripoli within the foreseeable future."
The report also said the presence of the Chadian and Sudanese fighters "has become more marked" in 2019, posing "a direct threat" to the security and stability to Libya.
On Thursday, Hifter declared a final, "decisive battle" to take Tripoli, saying that "the zero hour has ticked."
The new push by Hifter came after Sarraj's government signed a security arrangement and maritime deal with Turkey last month.
The maritime deal would give Turkey access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean, over the objections of Greece, Egypt and Cyprus. All three have blasted the accord as being contrary to international law. The deal has added tension to Turkey's ongoing dispute with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
A Congolese city at the center of the Ebola epidemic has again come under attack from rebels, leaving at least six people dead.
Witnesses said Saturday that the rebels from the Ugandan-based group known as ADF had launched an assault in Beni overnight.
The attack comes just days after Congo's military began stepping up its efforts to fight armed groups in the area.
Repeated attacks by ADF rebels and other armed groups have disrupted efforts to contain the Ebola virus outbreak in eastern Congo, which has killed more than 2,200 people.
Anger over the continued attacks also has erupted into violent demonstrations in Beni. Late last month, residents burned the town hall and stormed the United Nations peacekeeping mission in protest.
Officials from states with strong gun restrictions have called for stricter firearm control in places with weaker laws to thwart traffickers, but the fatal attack on a Jewish market in New Jersey shows how fruitless those efforts can be.
Three civilians and a police officer were gunned down Tuesday by two killers with anti-Semitic and anti-law enforcement beliefs, the state's attorney general said.
The attackers carried five firearms and a pipe bomb in the U-Haul van they drove to the Jersey City Jewish market before opening fire, officials said. Two of the weapons used by David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, were bought by Graham in Ohio last year, police said.
New Jersey is among the states with the toughest gun restrictions in the country, and in the past two years, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has signed over a half-dozen new restrictions into law, including a lower bullet limit for gun magazines and a red flag law.
He's also made a priority of highlighting the so-called iron pipeline of firearms from other states — particularly along the Interstate 95 corridor. Murphy, for example, is requiring state police to publish data monthly on guns recovered from crimes. The data shows nearly 80% of so-called crime guns are from out of state.
Murphy says it's important to "name and shame" states with weaker gun laws that effectively import weapons into New Jersey. And in California, its Democratic governor and attorney general this year both criticized the continued ability to bring in illegal firearms from other states despite California's strict gun laws.
For years, Chicago officials have complained that street violence often comes from the muzzles of guns sold in states with less-stringent laws.
Officials there and elsewhere have renewed demands for gun control at the federal level.
"It keeps happening, over and over and over again, on their damn watch," California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said of federal politicians. "I can't put borders up in a neighboring state where you can buy this damn stuff legally."
Federal legislation is the missing factor, agreed Murphy's top gun adviser.
"If we're being honest, New Jersey is not an oasis and that's why it's extraordinarily frustrating," said Bill Castner. "We will continue to push and identify the most aggressive actions, but without a federal solution, it's extraordinarily challenging."
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said her group is pressing ahead with state level gun control because of the political headwinds in Washington.
"What we have to do until we have the right president and Congress is go state by state," Watts said in an interview. "That's what we have to do now because of the political makeup. Every state is only as safe as the closest state with the weakest gun laws."
Second Amendment advocates, though, push back on the need for tougher state and national laws. Scott Bach, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs, an affiliate of the NRA, invoked a common criticism of tougher restrictions: criminals break laws, they don't follow them.
"Criminals laugh at gun regulations — the only thing they understand is severe punishment for actual gun crime," Bach said.
Officials are still investigating the Jersey City attack and have yet to release details about how the deceased attackers obtained their weapons.