Sao Paulo, Mar 12 (AP/UNB) — Heavy rains deluged Brazil's biggest city, causing flooding and other damage that resulted in the deaths of at least 12 people, authorities said Monday. Six people were reported injured.
Sao Paulo's emergency center said it rained in one day almost a third of all precipitation expected for the entire month of March. Several roads were blocked by mud and destroyed furniture in different parts of the city.
The Sao Paulo state fire department said four people died when a house collapsed in the city of Ribeirao Pires, on the outskirts of the megalopolis.
It also said two people drowned in flooding of the Tamanduatei River and another died in Sao Bernardo do Campo. Other victims died in the cities of Embu das Artes, Santo Andre and Sao Caetano.
Heavy rain began falling Sunday night and more was expected.
Gov. Joao Doria told Sao Paulo residents to stay home if they were in safe areas, but move as quickly as possible if they were not.
"Between losing the shack and life, choose life," Doria said on the BandNews television channel.
Caracas, Mar 12 (AP/UNB) — Venezuelans on Monday converged on a polluted river in Caracas to fill water bottles and held scattered protests in several cities as growing chaos took hold in a country whose people have had little power, water and communications for days.
A 3-year-old girl with a brain tumor languished in a Caracas hospital, awaiting treatment after doctors started surgery but then suspended the operation when nationwide power outages first hit on Thursday, said the girl's fearful mother, who only gave her first name, Yalimar.
"The doctors told me that there are no miracles," said Yalimar, who hopes her daughter can be transferred Tuesday to one of the few hospitals in Venezuela that would be able to finish the complex procedure.
The girl's story highlighted an unfolding horror in Venezuela, where years of hardship got abruptly worse after the power grid collapsed. On Monday, schools and businesses were closed, long lines of cars waited at the few gasoline stations with electricity and hospitals cared for many patients without power. Generators have alleviated conditions for some of the critically ill.
Late Monday, President Nicolas Maduro said on national television that progress had been made in restoring power in Venezuela. He also said two people who were allegedly trying to sabotage power facilities were captured and were providing information to authorities, though he gave no details.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido and his chief ally, the United States, say Maduro's claims that the U.S. sabotaged the power grid with a "cyberattack" are an attempt to divert attention from the government's own failings.
There have been acts of kindness during Venezuela's crisis: People whose food would rot in fridges without power donated it to a restaurant, which cooked it for distribution to charitable foundations and hospitals.
The blackouts have also hit the oil industry. The country hasn't shipped $358 million in oil since the power failures started, and "the whole system is grinding to a halt," said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at the brokerage firm Caracas Capital Markets.
Two large tankers are sitting empty at the Jose offshore oil-loading dock, and at least 19 other ships are waiting their turns there, Dallen said.
Engineers have restored power in some parts of Venezuela, but it often goes out again. There have been a few protests in Caracas and reports of similar anti-government anger elsewhere. Guaido tweeted about reports of looting in some cities, but details were difficult to confirm.
Security forces in the city of Maracaibo dispersed "criminals" trying to take advantage of the power cuts, Mayor Willy Casanova told local media.
However, numerous videos posted on social media that purported to be from Maracaibo showed crowds roaming the streets and people running from looted, damaged buildings with no police in sight.
In Caracas, some people reported more sightings of "colectivos," a term for armed groups allegedly operating on behalf of the state to intimidate opponents. While Maduro and other government officials said they were working to provide basic necessities, the mood in Caracas was desperate.
Marian Morales, a nurse working for a Catholic youth group, and several colleagues handed out diapers and food from their car, parked near a hospital. Police and men in civilian clothing ordered them to leave, saying they didn't have permission.
Morales said the needy are cautious about approaching to collect the handouts because of the presence of security forces.
The opposition-controlled National Assembly debated the power cuts and declared that the situation was an emergency, a largely symbolic move aimed at pressuring Maduro.
Early Monday, an explosion rocked a power station in the Baruta area of Caracas. Residents gathered to look at the charred, smoldering equipment.
Guaido said three of four electricity transformers servicing the area were knocked out. He has blamed the blackouts on alleged government corruption and mismanagement.
Winston Cabas, the head of Venezuela's electrical engineers union, which opposes the government, disputed government allegations that the dam was sabotaged. He blamed a lack of maintenance as well as the departure of skilled workers from the troubled country over the years.
"The system is vulnerable, fragile and unstable," he said.
Spain's airline pilots union asked for Spanish airline Air Europa to stop flying to Venezuela after one of its crews was attacked at gunpoint in Caracas. The Sepla union said two pilots and eight more crew members of a flight from Madrid were assaulted on Saturday while going from the airport to their hotel in the Venezuelan capital. None of the crew members was injured.
Air Europa responded by ordering the crews of flights to Venezuela to not spend the night in the country, according to the union.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, imposed sanctions on a Moscow-based bank jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state-owned companies, for allegedly trying to circumvent U.S. sanctions on the South American country. The U.S. said it is targeting Evrofinance Mosnarbank for supporting Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., an entity previously targeted by sanctions in January.
Evrofinance said it is carrying out its activities normally despite the announcement and pledged to "meet its obligations to the clients and partners in full."
The U.S. and more than 50 governments recognize Guaido as interim president and say Maduro wasn't legitimately re-elected last year because opposition candidates weren't permitted to run. Maduro says he is the target of a U.S. coup plot.
Also Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Cuba and Russia for continuing to support Maduro and described Cuba as the "true imperialist power" in Venezuela. Cuba has made the same accusation against the U.S., alleging that it is after Venezuela's oil.
Syria, Mar 11 (AP/UNB) — U.S.-backed Syrian fighters resumed their offensive on the last pocket held by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria on Sunday, lighting the skies over the besieged village as artillery shelling and heavy gunfire rang out in the distance.
Warplanes and drones circled over the besieged village of Baghouz. Explosions and fires illuminated columns of smoke over Baghouz as it came under intense artillery and rocket fire. On several occasions the village was struck with apparent cluster fire.
After sunset, amid thuds of artillery a large column of smoke rose up, illuminated by explosions, apparently after a strike by cluster fire.
The operation was launched around 6 p.m. after a deadline for IS gunmen to surrender expired, tweeted Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. He said warplanes struck ammunition belonging to the extremists.
"The fighting is direct and intense," Bali said, adding that so far there have been no casualties among SDF fighters.
Clashes had already broken out earlier in the day, with IS snipers targeting SDF positions and prompting a rattle of gunfire in response. Associated Press reporters witnessed SDF fighters take cover in a damaged building and fire back at the extremists. They packed high-caliber bullets into munitions belts and headed to the front line.
The assault was renewed days after thousands of people left the tiny village held by IS on the banks of the Euphrates River near the Iraqi border area.
Some 3,000 to 4,000 women and children are believed to still be in the pocket, along with around 500 IS fighters, said an SDF commander on the outskirts of Baghouz, who identified himself as Ali Sheikh.
Shiekh said that to minimize casualties the SDF will advance on the ground, with the U.S.-led coalition providing air support. He said IS fighters have been surrendering themselves daily and that no SDF prisoners remained after the extremists freed them over the past weeks.
The battle to completely retake the pocket is likely to take three days, an SDF official, Aras Orkesh, said earlier. He said about 2,500 SDF fighters were prepared for the assault.
The capture of Baghouz would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to defeat the group's so-called "caliphate" that once covered a vast territory straddling both Syria and Iraq.
The SDF has been marching toward Baghouz since September. But the operation has been slowed by the unexpectedly large number of civilians who had been holed up in the pocket, most of them families of IS members who have fled with the group as its once extensive territory shrank.
Over the past few weeks, more than 10,000 civilians have been evacuated from Baghouz, streaming out daily through a corridor arranged by the two sides. But since Friday, only a small group has left.
"Our forces are ready now to start and finish what is left in ISIS's hand" Bali, the SDF spokesman, tweeted Sunday, using another acronym to refer to IS.
A U.S. senior defense official said in Washington on Friday that it would not be a surprise, based on current conditions, if it took another couple of weeks to finish "mopping up" the IS enclave.
The official who could not be identified by name under Pentagon ground rules said that nearly all of the 20,000 people, including women and children who left the area held by IS recently, are seen as IS followers or adherents.
The fight against IS has taken place amid Syria's nearly 8-year-old civil war.
In southern Syria, dozens of people demonstrated Sunday in the city of Daraa to protest the construction of a statue of late Syrian President Hafez Assad, days before the country marks the eighth anniversary of the country's crisis, Syrian opposition activists said.
Daraa is the city where the Arab Spring-inspired uprising began with peaceful protests in March 2011 but escalated into an armed rebellion that has killed more than 400,000 people. Last year, Syrian government forces captured all parts of southern Syria, including parts of Daraa city where tensions still exist.
The late Assad is the father of President Bashar Assad whose forces have made major gains over the past few years in the war with backing from his strong allies, Russia and Iran.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the protest occurred in Daraa's center with protesters chanting "Long live Syria" and "Down with Bashar Assad."
The Observatory's chief Rami Abdurrahman said security forces did not interfere with the protest.
Other opposition activist collectives, including Sham Network, also reported the protest.
Also Sunday, Assad met with China's assistant foreign minister, Chen Xiaodong, telling him that the war against Syria is now taking a new form which is mostly economic warfare.
The U.S. and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Syrian businessmen and entities they consider close to the government.
Washington, Mar 11 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump is reviving his border wall fight, preparing a new budget that will seek $8.6 billion for the U.S-Mexico barrier while imposing steep spending cuts to other domestic programs and setting the stage for another fiscal battle.
Budget documents are often seen as just a starting point of negotiation, but fresh off the longest government shutdown in history Trump's 2020 proposal shows he is eager to confront Congress again to reduce domestic spending and refocus money on his priorities. It calls for boosting defense spending and making $2.7 trillion in nondefense cuts.
Trump's proposal, titled "A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First" and set for release Monday, "embodies fiscal responsibility," said Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Vought said the administration has "prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending" and shows "we can return to fiscal sanity."
Two administration officials confirmed that the border wall request was part of Trump's spending blueprint for the 2020 budget year, which begins Oct. 1.
That document, which sets the stage for negotiations ahead, proposes increasing defense spending to $750 billion — and standing up the new Space Force as a military branch — while reducing nondefense accounts by 5 percent, with cuts recommended to safety net programs used by many Americans.
The plan sticks to budget caps that both parties have routinely broken in recent years and promises to come into balance in 15 years, relying in part on economic growth that may be uncertain.
The officials were not authorized to discuss budget details publicly before Monday's release of the plan and spoke on condition of anonymity.
While pushing down spending in some areas, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the proposal will seek to increase funding in others to align with the president's priorities, according to one official.
The administration will invest more than $80 billion for veterans services, a nearly 10 percent increase from current levels, including "significant" investments in rehabilitation, employment assistance and suicide prevention.
It will also increase resources to fight the opioid epidemic with money for prevention, treatment, research and recovery, the administration said. And it seeks to shift some federal student loan costs to colleges and universities.
By adhering to strict budget caps, Trump is signaling a fight ahead. The president has resisted big, bipartisan budget deals that break the caps — threatening to veto one last year — but Congress will need to find agreement on spending levels to avoid another federal shutdown in fall.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Trump's budget "points a steady glide path" toward lower spending and borrowing as a share of the nation's economy. He also told "Fox News Sunday" that there was no reason to "obsess" about deficits, and expressed confidence that economic growth would top 3 percent in 2019 and beyond. Others have predicted lower growth.
The border wall, though, remains a signature issue for the president and is poised to stay at the forefront of his agenda, even though Congress has resisted giving him more money for it.
Leading Democrats immediately rejected the proposal.
"Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York. They said the money "would be better spent on rebuilding America."
In seeking $8.6 billion for the wall, the budget request would more than double the $8.1 billion already potentially available to the president after he declared a national emergency at the border last month in order to circumvent Congress — although there's no guarantee he'll be able to use that money if he faces a legal challenge, as is expected. The standoff over the wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.
Along with border wall money, the proposed budget will also increase funding to increase the "manpower" of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Customs and Border Patrol at a time when many Democrats are calling for cuts — or even the elimination — of those areas. The budget also proposes policy changes to end sanctuary cities, the administration said.
The budget would arrive Monday as the Senate readies to vote this week to terminate Trump's national emergency declaration. The Democratic-led House already did so, and a handful of Republican senators, uneasy over what they see as an overreach of executive power, are expected to join Democrats in following suit. Congress appears to have enough votes to reject Trump's declaration but not enough to overturn a veto.
Trump invoked the emergency declaration after Congress approved nearly $1.4 billion for border barriers, far less than the $5.7 billion he wanted. In doing so, he can potentially tap an additional $3.6 billion from military accounts and shift it to building the wall. That's causing discomfort on Capitol Hill, where even the president's Republican allies are protective of their power to decide how to allocate federal dollars. Lawmakers are trying to guard money that's already been approved for military projects in their states — for base housing or other improvements — from being shifted to build the wall.
The wall with Mexico punctuated Trump's campaign for the White House, and it's expected to again be featured in his 2020 re-election effort. He used to say Mexico would pay for it, but Mexico has refused to do so.
Bogota, Mar 10 (AP/UNB)— Authorities say a dozen people have been killed in a plane crash in central Colombia.
Colombia's Civil Aviation Authority said the DC-3 aircraft declared an emergency late Saturday morning while en route to the city of Villavicencio.
Officials later confirmed that all 12 people aboard were killed in the accident.
The aircraft was reportedly operated by Laser air service and had departed from San Jose del Guaviare.
President Ivan Duque sent his condolences to the families of those killed and said authorities were working to identify the remains.