Caracas, May 2 (AP/UNB) — Venezuelans heeded opposition leader Juan Guaidó's call to fill streets around the nation Wednesday but security forces showed no sign of answering his cry for a widespread military uprising, instead dispersing crowds with tear gas as the political crisis threatened to deepen.
Thousands cheered Guaidó in Caracas as he rolled up his sleeves and called on Venezuelans to remain out in force and prepare for a general strike, a day after his bold attempt to spark a mass military defection against President Nicolas Maduro failed to tilt the balance of power.
"It's totally clear now the usurper has lost," Guaidó proclaimed, a declaration belied by events on the ground.
Across town at the Carlota air base near where Guaidó made his plea a day earlier for a revolt, intense clashes raged between protesters and troops loyal to Maduro, making clear the standoff would drag on. There and elsewhere, state security forces launched tear gas and fired rubber bullets while bands of mostly young men armed with makeshift shields threw rocks and set a motorcycle ablaze.
"I don't want to say it was a disaster, but it wasn't a success," said Marilina Carillo, who was standing in a crowd of anti-government protesters blowing horns and whistles.
Opposition leaders hoped Guaidó's risky move would stir a string of high-ranking defections and shake Maduro's grip on power. But only the chief of Venezuela's feared intelligence agency broke ranks, while most others stood steadfast. Some analysts predicted that would make Maduro more emboldened.
The dramatic events could spell even more uncertainty for Venezuela, which has been rocked by three months of political upheaval since Guaidó re-energized a flagging opposition movement by declaring himself interim president, saying Maduro had usurped power.
Now the struggle has heightened geopolitical dimensions, with the United States and more than 50 other nations backing Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate president and Maduro allies like Russia lending the beleaguered president military and economic support.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday that Maduro is surrounded by "scorpions in a bottle" and that key figures among his inner circle had been "outed" as dealing with the opposition.
The United States contends Maduro had been ready to flee Tuesday, an airplane already on the tarmac, but was talked out of it by Russian advisers.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, said such assertions were part of a "global information and psychological war against Venezuela and Caracas."
"There is no proof there was a Russian plane there," she said. "The U.S. is big on Venezuela and wants to bring this to an end but that cannot do that."
Protesters like Beatriz Pino, who took to the streets Wednesday waving flags and banging pots and pans, said they weren't entirely surprised by the military's response to Guaidó. She said the late President Hugo Chavez politicized Venezuela's military as he installed a socialist system. Despite the setback, she said she remained committed to the opposition's call for protest.
"We can't leave the streets," she said. "We've been in this for years."
As the standoff drags on, life is becoming even more difficult for Venezuelans, who are struggling with hyperinflation that has rendered salaries worthless as well as severe shortages of food and medicine that have driven about 3 million people to flee the country in recent years.
"We need to get out of this tragedy," said Ana Camarillo, a housewife.
David Smilde, a Venezuela expert, said the opposition's thus far unsuccessful attempt to trigger an uprising should provoke a round of reflection.
"Given the balance of power within Venezuela and the geopolitical struggle around it, they need to engage in real politics and real negotiations to move this conflict to a different place," he said.
At a large pro-Maduro rally Wednesday, ruling party leader Diosdado Cabello said that "as a bloc" Venezuela's military remained intact and united behind Maduro. He likened opposition leaders to "walking zombies."
Luis Scott was among those wearing bright red shirts in solidarity with the socialist government and said he traveled seven hours on a bus to participate in the rally. He conceded Venezuela has deep economic troubles, but said the path set by Chavez and Maduro is firm.
"We are fighting for our freedom," the fisherman said.
While Maduro maintains a devout core of fervent supporters first inspired by Chavez, attendance at such shows of support is viewed as a requirement of their jobs.
At the Plaza Francia in Caracas' Altamira neighborhood, protesters jammed the streets in one of the opposition's biggest demonstrations yet. A few blocks away the scene quickly turned ugly. Protesters surrounded a suspected thief, beating him until he bled. A man with a megaphone appealed to the crowd to return to the fight against police.
"The fight is down there!" he said, gesturing to the direction of a military base.
Mayor Gustavo Duque said the Salud Chacao medical center took in 27 patients by late afternoon Wednesday, one of whom was shot in the foot by a firearm. Those injuries are on top of more than 50 reported by the hospital's director during clashes Tuesday.
Maduro appeared at the socialist party rally Wednesday afternoon, saying U.S. leaders had been fooled by the opposition into believing he was about to flee Venezuela. He said the Trump administration was part of a "pot of lies" and likened the ordeal to "fake news."
He promised to put all conspirators behind bars.
"Sooner or later they'll go to jail and pay for their betrayal and their crimes," he said.
Giancarlo Morelli of the British analysis group Economist Intelligence Unit said Maduro faces peril whatever path he takes with Guaidó over the uprising attempt.
"Failing to arrest Mr. Guaidó would be perceived as an important sign for weakness from Mr. Maduro," Morelli said. "But arresting Mr. Guaidó risks a strong counter-reaction from the U.S.," which has been ratcheting up sanctions.
For many Venezuelans, the turmoil has become an almost normal state of affairs.
Johanns Davila walked his dog along a street in the capital littered with shotgun shells, tear gas canisters and a charred motorcycle, the remnants of skirmishes between the opposition and state security.
"We need to get people out and recover the country," Davila said.
Washington, May 1 (AP/UNB) — U.S. government searches of travelers' cellphones and laptops at airports and border crossings nearly quadrupled since 2015 and were being done for reasons beyond customs and immigration enforcement, according to papers filed Tuesday in a federal lawsuit that claims scouring the electronic devices without a warrant is unconstitutional.
The government has vigorously defended the searches, which rose to 33,295 in fiscal 2018, as a critical tool to protect America. But the newly filed documents claim the scope of the warrantless searches has expanded to assist in enforcement of tax, bankruptcy, environmental and consumer protection laws, gather intelligence and advance criminal investigations.
Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement consider requests from other government agencies in determining whether to search travelers' electronic devices, the court papers said. They added that agents are searching the electronic devices of not only targeted individuals but their associates, friends and relatives.
The new information about the searches was included in a motion the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.
"The evidence we have presented the court shows that the scope of ICE and CBP border searches is unconstitutionally broad," said Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney for the EFF, based in San Francisco.
"ICE and CBP policies and practices allow unfettered, warrantless searches of travelers' digital devices and empower officers to dodge the Fourth Amendment when rifling through highly personal information contained on laptops and phones," he said.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment. Both ICE and CBP said they did not comment on pending litigation.
When the suit was filed against the government in 2017, DHS officials said U.S. citizens and everyone else are subject to examination and search by customs officials, unless exempted by diplomatic status. The department has contended that no court has concluded that border searches of electronic devices require a warrant. Searches, some random, have uncovered evidence of human trafficking, terrorism, child pornography, visa fraud, export control breaches and intellectual property rights violations, according to the department.
The original case was filed on behalf of 10 American citizens and a lawful permanent resident from seven states — including two journalists, a NASA engineer and a former Air Force captain — who alleged the searches violated their constitutional rights. They asked the court to rule that the government must have a warrant based on probable cause before searching electronic devices at U.S. ports of entry.
The plaintiffs also are demanding the government expunge from investigatory databases information obtained in past searches. ICE and CBP share information taken from travelers' electronic devices with other agencies and there is control to prevent them from impermissibly retaining it, they argue.
A year ago, U.S. District Judge Denise Casper in Boston rejected the government's request to dismiss the lawsuit, allowing the case to move forward. The ACLU and the foundation began gathering documents and deposition testimony. Based on the new information, they filed a motion Tuesday asking the judge to rule in their favor without a trial. "Travelers' devices contain an extraordinary amount of highly personal information that the government can easily search, retain, and share," it argues.
"This new evidence reveals that the government agencies are using the pretext of the border to make an end run around the First and Fourth Amendments," said ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari. "The border is not a lawless place. ICE and CBP are not exempt from the Constitution and the information on our electronic devices is not devoid of Fourth Amendment protections. We are asking the court to stop these unlawful searches and require the government to get a warrant."
The court documents claim that the agencies also assert the authority to search electronic devices when the subject of interest is someone other than the traveler, such as the business partner of someone under investigation. Both agencies also allow officers to retain information from travelers' electronic devices and share it with other government entities, including state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies, the court papers claim.
The plaintiffs also say that travelers who have had their electronic devices searched at the border run increased odds of being subject to future device searches as they can be flagged in government databases for additional scrutiny on that basis.
Charlotte, May 1 (AP/UNB) — A shooting that killed two and wounded four at a North Carolina university left students scrambling for shelter and prompted fresh calls for ways to keep campuses safe.
A vigil was planned for Wednesday on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where the shooting on Tuesday upended the last day of class. The governor vowed a hard look at what happened in order to prevent future shootings.
"A student should not have to fear for his or her life when they are on our campuses," Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, told reporters. "Parents should not have to worry about their students when they send them off to school. And I know that this violence has to stop. ... In the coming days we will take a hard look at all of this to see what we need to do going forward."
Campus Police Chief Jeff Baker said authorities received a call in the late afternoon that a suspect armed with a pistol had shot several students. Officers assembling nearby for a concert rushed to the classroom building and arrested the gunman in the room where the shooting took place.
"Our officers' actions definitely saved lives," Baker said at a news conference.
Two people were killed, and three remained in critical condition late Tuesday. Baker said a fourth person's injuries were less serious. Students were among the victims, but officials would not say how many.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department identified the suspect as Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22. He's in custody with charges pending.
Monifa Drayton, an adjunct professor, was walking onto campus when she heard the shots. She said she directed students fleeing the scene to take cover inside a parking deck.
"I heard one final gunshot and I saw all the children running toward me," she said. "We started to get all the children pulled into the second floor of the parking deck and the rationale was if we're in the parking deck and there's a shooter and we don't know where he is, he won't have a clear shot."
She added: "My thought was, I've lived my life, I've had a really good life, so, these students deserve the same. And so, whatever I could do to help any child to safety, that's what I was going to do."
The shooting prompted a lockdown caused panic across campus.
"Just loud bangs. A couple loud bangs and then we just saw everyone run out of the building, like nervous, like a scared run like they were looking behind," said Antonio Rodriguez, 24, who was visiting campus for his friend's art show.
The suspect's grandfather Paul Rold of Arlington, Texas, said that Terrell and his father moved to Charlotte from the Dallas area about two years ago after his mother died. Terrell taught himself French and Portuguese with the help of a language learning program his grandfather bought him and was attending UNC-Charlotte, Rold said. But Terrell never showed any interest in guns or other weapons and the news he may have been involved in a mass shooting was stunning, said Rold, who had not heard about the Charlotte attack before being contacted by an Associated Press reporter.
"You're describing someone foreign to me," Rold said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. "This is not in his DNA."
Shortly after UNC Charlotte issued a campus lockdown, aerial shots from local television news outlets showed police officers running toward a building, while another view showed students running on a campus sidewalk.
The university has more than 26,500 students and 3,000 faculty and staff. The campus is northeast of the city center and is surrounded by residential areas.
Spenser Gray, a junior, said she was watching another student's presentation in a nearby campus building when the alert about the shooting popped up on everyone's computer screens.
She said she panicked: "We had no idea where he was ... so we were just expecting them at any moment coming into the classroom."
Susan Harden, an UNCC professor and Mecklenburg County Commissioner, was at home when she heard of the shooting. She went to a staging area, she said, to provide support.
Harden said she has taught inside the Kennedy building, where the shootings occurred.
"It breaks my heart. We're torn up about what's happened," Harden said. "Students should be able to learn in peace and in safety and professors ought to be able to do their jobs in safety."
Honolulu, Apr 30 (AP/UNB) — Fire and helicopter parts rained from the sky Monday in a suburban Honolulu community as a tour helicopter crashed and killed all three people aboard, officials and witnesses said.
"All you could see was fire," witness Melissa Solomon said, explaining that she was driving on the street when she looked up to see flames and a helicopter plummeting in front of her.
She said she had turn onto another street because she was afraid more pieces were going to fall from the sky onto her and her 16-year-old daughter sitting in the front passenger seat.
"We could have been smashed by it," she said.
Paramedics responding to an unrelated call from a patient with leg pain about 30 yards (27 meters) away heard "a horrific bang," said Shayne Enright, a spokeswoman for Honolulu Emergency Medical Services. When they turned around, they saw a helicopter on fire.
"When they got there, neighbors were doing a heroic job trying to put out the fire and also trying to get the patients away from the burning aircraft," Enright said.
The crash occurred in Kailua, a town of 50,000 people about a 30-minute drive from downtown Honolulu.
The crash site was on a two-lane road amid one and two-story homes.
Darel Robinson was doing construction work at a house about a half-mile from the crash site when he heard what sounded like helicopter blades thumping and then a loud boom.
"It was going nose down and parts were starting to fly off," he said.
Megan Lacy, of Alabama, was visiting friends when they heard the crash. They went outside, expecting to find two cars after they had hit each other.
"We were really confused," she said. "And then we heard screaming and the word 'fire,' and I saw smoke," she said. Debris damaged her rental car about 100 yards (90 meters) from the crash.
A resident said he heard the morning crash then saw a ball of fire in a road when he ran from his house.
Leleo Knappenberger told Hawaii News Now that his mother heard the helicopter flying over the house, making a strange noise.
He said he later saw what appeared to be the tail end of the helicopter.
"It's all smashed to pieces," he said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency believes three people were on board the four-seat, Robinson R44 aircraft.
He said the circumstances of the crash were unknown.
No further details were available on those killed.
The helicopter, which was built in 2000, is registered to United Helicopter Leasing LLC of Honolulu, according to FAA records. State business records show Nicole Vandelaar as the manager.
A woman who answered the phone at the business and identified herself as Nicole declined to immediately comment, saying she was too busy to talk.
A website for the Honolulu tour helicopter company Novictor Helicopters identified Nicole Vandelaar as founder and CEO. The website said she is an expert pilot commercially licensed to fly helicopters and airplanes.
A Novictor helicopter crashed on a sandbar in Kaneohe in October after the pilot lost consciousness twice. That crash resulted in injuries to the pilot and two passengers. It was also a Robinson R44 aircraft.
State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who represents Kailua, said she wants the FAA to prohibit tour flights over Hawaii's residential areas and national parks. The Republican lawmaker wants Hawaii's congressional delegation to ask the FAA to implement such restrictions.
Thielen also called for tour helicopter flights to be grounded until an investigation into the crash is completed.
Kailua is home to a Marine Corps base. In recent years it's become a popular destination for tourists to go to the beach, hike and shop.
Former President Barack Obama stayed at a rented beachfront vacation home in the town during the winter holidays when he was in the White House.
Washington, Apr 30 (AP/UNB) — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein submitted his resignation Monday after a two-year run defined by his appointment of a special counsel to investigate connections between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia.
His last day will be May 11, ending a tumultuous relationship with Trump and a tenure that involved some of the most consequential, even chaotic, moments of the president's administration.
When Trump wanted to fire then-FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the Russia probe, Rosenstein wrote the memo that the White House used to justify the dismissal. But eight days later, Rosenstein took a step that Trump feared would end his presidency: appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel. The move made Rosenstein the frequent target of Republican wrath and angry Trump tweets and left him repeatedly appearing on the verge of being fired.
Yet in the end, he was largely in Trump's corner.
He joined Attorney General William Barr in determining that Trump had not obstructed the Mueller investigation — reaching a conclusion that Mueller himself pointedly did not make. He defended Barr against criticism that he was spinning Mueller's findings in the president's favor and stood silently behind him as Barr praised Trump's cooperation at a news conference before a redacted version of the report was released.
In his resignation letter to Trump, Rosenstein paid tribute to the Justice Department's accomplishments and to Trump himself, even praising the sense of humor of a man who once retweeted an image that showed Rosenstein and other officials jailed for treason.
"I am grateful to you for the opportunity to serve; for the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations; and for the goals you set in your inaugural address: patriotism, unity, safety, education, and prosperity, because 'a nation exists to serve its citizens,'" Rosenstein wrote to Trump.
Rosenstein's departure had been expected following the confirmation of William Barr as attorney general. Barr praised Rosenstein on Monday for having "navigated many challenging situations with strength, grace, and good humor." The White House nominated a replacement for the No. 2 slot, Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen, weeks ago.
In his resignation letter, Rosenstein said the median tenure for the position is 16 months; Rosenstein will have served about two years by the time he leaves.
Rosenstein had intended to leave around mid-March but stayed on for the completion of Mueller's investigation. He was part of a small group of department officials who reviewed the report and helped shape its public release after Mueller submitted the document last month. Integral to the start of the probe, Rosenstein was also present for the very end. After Mueller didn't reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed the investigation, Barr and the deputy stepped in and determined the evidence wasn't enough to support such an allegation.
The deputy attorney general position is a hugely significant job, responsible for overseeing the Justice Department's daily operations and the work of United States attorneys across the country. But it's largely an anonymous, behind-the-scenes position. Rosenstein even joked about telling one of his daughters when he took the job not to expect to see his picture in the newspapers.
That wasn't the case, though, for Rosenstein, who was thrust into Justice Department drama even before his arrival on the job because of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' earlier recusal from the Russia probe.
The tumult continued in May 2017 when his memo lambasting Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation laid the groundwork for the FBI chief's firing, though Rosenstein privately made clear that he was unhappy that the White House publicly characterized the termination as his idea instead of Trump's, according to Mueller's report. Trump later said he would have fired Comey even without the Justice Department's recommendation and that he was thinking of "this Russia thing" at the time.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller one week later, supervised his work and routinely defended the investigation against attacks from congressional Republicans and from Trump, who often blasted the probe as a "witch hunt."
Over the next two years, with Sessions recused from the Russia investigation because of his work on the Trump campaign, Rosenstein set the boundaries of Mueller's investigation, approved investigative steps and, in place of the rarely seen special counsel, twice announced criminal indictments from the Justice Department podium against Russians accused of election interference.
The investigation overshadowed the rest of Rosenstein's work even as he talked up the president's agenda, including announcements on combating violent crime and opioid addiction.
"The Department of Justice made rapid progress in achieving the Administration's law enforcement priorities — reducing violent crime, curtailing opioid abuse, protecting consumers, improving immigration enforcement, and building confidence in the police — while preserving national security and strengthening federal efforts in other areas," Rosenstein wrote in his resignation letter.
Though Rosenstein's exit was orderly, and he endured in the job well beyond Sessions, his relationship with the president waffled over time and his job often appeared in the balance.
That was especially true last September after The New York Times reported that he had discussed secretly recording Trump and invoking a constitutional amendment to remove him from office.
The Justice Department issued statements disputing the reporting, but former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — who was in the room — has said he got the sense that Rosenstein was "counting votes" about which Cabinet members he could enlist in the effort to oust Trump. Rosenstein arrived at the White House days after the news reports expecting to be fired, but he was instead allowed to stay on after private conversations with Trump's then-chief of staff, John Kelly, and the president himself.
The president also lashed out in April 2018 after the FBI raided the office of his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and months later retweeted the image that showed Rosenstein, Comey and other investigators behind bars.
In his resignation letter, Rosenstein made a perhaps oblique reference to those chaotic moments and the media attention surrounding them.
"We enforce the law without fear or favor because credible evidence is not partisan, and truth is not determined by opinion polls," Rosenstein wrote. "We ignore fleeting distractions and focus on the things that matter, because a republic that endures is not governed by the news cycle."