Rio De Janeiro, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Brazil's National Museum said Wednesday that centuries-old Torah scrolls, considered to be some of Judaism's oldest documents, had been moved before a massive fire ravaged the place and gutted much of the largest collections of national history artifacts in Latin America.
Questions about the fate of the scrolls had swirled since Sunday night's blaze at the museum, which used to be the home of Brazil's royal family. Amid an ongoing investigation and unable to access much of the now destroyed museum, officials have been reluctant to give any account of how specific artifacts fared in the fire or disclose information on other material that may have been in other locations.
"The Torah is being kept in a safe place," according to a museum statement sent to The Associated Press on Wednesday, adding it had been removed nearly two years ago. The statement did not say where it had been transferred.
A spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in the capital Brasilia said it didn't have more information on the Torah, Judaism's holy book.
Brazilian scholars have said the scrolls originated in Yemen and possibly date back to the 13th century.
The museum's website says the nine scrolls, written in Hebrew, were acquired in the early 19th century by the country's last monarch, Dom Pedro II. The website, which had apparently not been updated, also said the scrolls were not part of an exhibit, but rather kept in a safe in the director's office.
Avraham Beuthner, from the Jewish organization Beit Lubavitch in Rio de Janeiro, told the AP that university officials told him the Torah was being housed at a university library near the museum. The museum is part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Beuthner said he had been fielding calls from Jews in Israel and several Latin American countries since the fire inquiring about the relic.
"Thank God it's safe," he said, adding that university officials had promised to soon allow Jewish community leaders to see where the Torah is being held.
The good news came as museum officials said they feared as much as 90 percent of Latin America's largest collection of treasures might have been lost in the fire. Aerial photos of the main building showed only heaps of rubble and ashes in the parts of the building where the roof collapsed.
Firefighters on Tuesday "found fragments of bones in a room where the museum kept many items, including skulls," said Cristiana Serejo, the museum's deputy director. "We still have to collect them and take them to the lab to know exactly what they are."
In its collection of about 20 million items, one of the most prized possessions is a skull called Luzia, which is among the oldest fossils ever found in the Americas.
With the cause of the fire still under investigation, the disaster has led to a series of recriminations amid accusations that successive governments haven't sufficiently funded the museum, and it has raised concerns that other institutions might be at risk. Officials have said it was well known that the building was vulnerable to fire and in need of extensive repair.
A UNESCO group of specialists in recovery and reconstruction are expected to arrive in Brazil next week, according Maria Edileuza Fontele Reis, the organization's ambassador in Brazil.
The group "has experience working with pieces of national heritage in areas of war, such as in Iraq, and areas impacted by fire," Fontele Reis told the AP in a phone interview.
Washington, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Diplomats from more than 30 Western Hemisphere countries are meeting in Washington to discuss Venezuela's migrant crisis, with tens of thousands of desperate people fleeing the economically imploding oil state to nearby nations.
Members of the Organization of American States plan to discuss potential solutions to the migrant crisis Wednesday, including a possible resolution urging Venezuela to end its refusal to accept international aid.
The United Nations estimates more than 1.6 million people have left Venezuela since 2015 as the country is beset by hyperinflation and severe shortages of food, medicine and other goods.
Human rights groups have called on South American countries to suspend the deportation of Venezuelans and also to ratchet up sanctions against Venezuelan officials who are guilty of human rights abuses.
Sao Paulo, Sep 1 (AP/UNB) — A majority of justices on Brazil's electoral court voted late Friday to bar ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from running in October's presidential election, virtually ending any chance that the front-runner will get on the ballot.
The decision, while long expected, leaves tens of millions of voters without a candidate and adds uncertainty to the race to lead Latin America's largest nation.
After several hours of debate late Friday, five justices had voted against da Silva's candidacy and just one in favor. One more was still to vote, though the majority was enough to seal da Silva's fate.
Da Silva was wildly popular as president of Latin America's largest nation between 2003 and 2010. U.S. President Barack Obama once called him the "most popular politician on earth." But da Silva and his Workers' Party have lost much of that appeal over the last several years amid a sprawling corruption probe that has ensnared many top businessmen and politicians, including da Silva.
Da Silva, serving a 12-year-sentence for corruption and money laundering, is the front-runner despite being in jail. Under Brazilian law, da Silva is ineligible to run because his conviction was upheld on an initial appeal. But da Silva and supporters had hoped the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which makes final decisions on candidacies, would allow him to run.
Da Silva has long argued that he should be allowed to run because his conviction was a sham. Judge Sergio Moro convicted da Silva of trading favors with construction company Grupo OAS in exchange for the promise of a beach house apartment.
Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso cast the first vote, saying barring da Silva was "very simple" due to the conviction and upheld appeal.
He said the Workers' Party should replace da Silva within 10 days, and he should not appear as a presidential candidate in free airtime that is given to political parties on nationwide TV and radio starting on Saturday
Da Silva's lawyers complained the court was rushing a decision because they submitted their defense only on Thursday, noting that the court rarely holds sessions on Fridays.
With da Silva out, former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad was expected to take his place on the Workers' Party ticket. Currently Haddad is candidate for vice president. Polls show tepid support for his bid as replacement, but the party hopes da Silva's popularity could boost the former mayor's hopes.
Albuquerque, Aug 31 (AP/UNB) — At least seven people were killed and others were seriously injured Thursday in a head-on crash involving a commercial passenger bus and a semi-truck along Interstate 40 in New Mexico, near the Arizona border, authorities said.
Preliminary information indicated the semi was headed east when it blew a tire, sending the rig across the median and into oncoming traffic where it smashed into the bus, New Mexico State Police said.
There were 49 people aboard the Greyhound bus. Authorities said many were transported to hospitals, but they could not immediately provide an exact count of how many were hurt or their conditions.
Nine bus passengers were being treated at University of New Mexico Hospital with three more patients expected to be sent there. UNM officials didn't release any details about the patients' conditions.
Passing motorists described a chaotic scene with passengers on the ground and people screaming.
Eric Huff was heading to the Grand Canyon with his girlfriend when they came across the crash.
Huff said the semi's trailer was upside down and "shredded to pieces," and the front of the Greyhound bus was smashed, with many of the seats pressed together. Part of the side of the bus was torn off, he said.
"It was an awe-inspiring terrible scene," he said
Truck driver Santos Soto III shot video showing the front of the Greyhound sheared off and the semi split open, with its contents strewn across the highway.
He saw people sobbing on the side of the road as bystanders tried to comfort them.
"I was really traumatized myself, because I've been driving about two years and I had never seen anything like that before," Soto said.
"I'm a pretty strong person and I broke down and cried for at least 30 minutes," he added.
Chris Jones was headed west on Interstate 40 when he caught his first glimpse of the semi turned over. He saw the rest of the wreckage and stopped to help before coming across the driver of the semi sitting on the shoulder of the highway.
"It was intense," Jones said.
He said the driver told him that one of his front tires had popped, forcing the truck to veer into oncoming traffic, where it struck the bus.
Greyhound said the bus was heading from Albuquerque to Phoenix.
"We are fully cooperating with local authorities and will also complete an investigation of our own," Greyhound spokeswoman Crystal Booker said in a statement.
The crash occurred near the town of Thoreau. It forced the closure of westbound lanes of the interstate and traffic was backing up as travelers were diverted.
The National Transportation Safety Board and New Mexico state police are investigating.
El Paso, Jul 27 (AP/UNB) — A Mexican journalist detained in a remote West Texas immigration facility while asking the U.S. government for asylum was released from detention Thursday night.
Emilio Gutierrez Soto and his adult son, Oscar, said the two were released from the El Paso, Texas, facility without bond, said their attorney, Eduardo Beckett.
The agreement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release the two came six days before a hearing in El Paso before U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama, at which federal attorneys were to argue for continuing to keep Gutierrez under lock and key. Gutierrez's representatives had argued the continued detention was partly the result of his criticism of U.S. immigration policies.
Gutierrez worked for El Diario del Noroeste, a newspaper in the state of Chihuahua. He said his problems began after he wrote articles that alleged military forces were robbing and extorting local people in Chihuahua, which borders New Mexico and part of West Texas.
Mexico is one of the world's most dangerous places for journalism, in league with Syria and Iraq. After receiving what his advocates called veiled threats, Gutierrez discovered his name had been placed on a hit list. So he fled north with his teenage son and entered the U.S. in 2008, seeking asylum.
He spent seven months in detention before his release in January 2009, while his application for asylum remained pending. Beckett said Gutierrez has told him he is afraid of taking "one step into Mexico."
While pressing his asylum case, he and his son lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where they operated a food truck. Last year, he accepted the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award from the National Press Club on behalf of journalists in Mexico, now the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists.
After nine years, a judge denied his asylum request last July, and the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed his appeal in November.
On Dec. 7, weeks after delivering his speech to the press club, he and his son went for their routine check-in with immigration officials, were placed in handcuffs and put in detention after his asylum request was denied. They had come within hours of deportation in May when an appeals board halted his expulsion while he challenges the denial of his asylum request.
In a statement, the National Press Club, which has been advocating for Gutierrez's release, said the journalist will begin a journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan while he continues his quest for asylum.
"While we deeply regret the long detention for a reporter who violated no laws of this country, we are thrilled that, ultimately, common sense and American values have prevailed in this case," said Kathy Kiely, press freedom fellow for the National Press Club's nonprofit Journalism Institute. The institute organized the defense for the Gutierrezes.