Sao Paulo, Jan 7 (AP/UNB) — The attacks and fire-bombings sweeping Brazil's northeastern state of Ceara continued unabated Sunday despite the deployment of at least 300 members the elite, military-style National Police Force to help bring an end to the violence.
The state's public security department said that buses and cars were torched and gas stations were attacked in Fortaleza, the capital, and in at least six other cities. Police killed two suspects in a shootout. More than 100 people have been taken into custody since the violence that broke out on Wednesday, days afer
The deployment of security forces in Ceara came days after the inauguration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who was elected on pledges to crack down on crime and give security forces a free hand against criminals.
Earlier, he praised the move, saying "the people of Ceara need help at this moment."
Authorities have said the attacks were ordered by organized crime groups in retaliation for plans to impose tighter controls in the state's prisons. Brazil's prison gangs are powerful and their reach extends outside the country's penitentiaries.
The deployment was ordered by Brazil's federal Justice and Public Security Ministry, now led by popular former anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, at the request of Ceara Gov. Camilo Santana, citing the "urgent" nature of the threat.
Bolsonaro, who took office New Year's Day, has said he also plans to issue a presidential decree that would make it easier for Brazilians to legally own guns. Bolsonaro argued it was necessary for people to defend themselves.
While legal gun ownership is restricted, drug traffickers and other criminal groups are often heavily armed with automatic weapons. Brazil is the world leader in total annual homicides.
Havana, Jan 7 (AP/UNB) — Jose Ramon Fernandez, a retired Cuban brigadier general who was key in forming the communist country's new army and commanded Cuban defenses at the Bay of Pigs, died on Sunday, state media reported. He was 95.
Tall and spindly with the rigid posture of a military man, Fernandez in his final years remained a legendary figure and served for a time as a vice president on Cuba's Council of Ministers, or Cabinet. A founding member of the Communist Party of Cuba, he was reelected to the party's ruling Central Committee in 2011 — at the age of 87.
Fernandez ran a cadet school that trained officers after the revolutionary triumph of Jan. 1, 1959, laying the foundation of the communist country's new army.
He also played a leading role in one of the great battles of the Cold War, helping command Cuba's nascent militia forces in their victory over invading exile forces at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.
Cuba won the Bay of Pigs battle because of "the firmness and decision of this people, not because of a professional army," Fernandez told The Associated Press in an April 2001 interview. Fernandez made fewer and fewer public appearances as the years went by.
He also was president of the Cuban Olympic Committee since 1997, helping organize his country's delegations to the 2004 summer games in Athens and the 2008 games in China.
Fernandez, nicknamed "El Gallego" - "The Galician" - for his Spanish parentage, was born in the eastern Cuban city of Santiago on Nov. 4, 1923.
He got a college degree in the social sciences before opting for a military career. He graduated from Cuba's School of Cadets in 1947 and went on to study artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
In the mid-1950s, he joined the "Movement of the Pure," a group of young military officers determined to clean up corruption in the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a coup.
Fernandez was arrested for his activities in 1956 and imprisoned on the Isle of Pines, later renamed the Isle of Youth, off the main island's southwestern coast. He remained behind bars until the revolution triumphed three years later.
On Jan. 12, 1959, less than two weeks after Batista fled the country, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro called Fernandez to a gathering of more than 100 former government officials imprisoned for opposition to the old regime.
Castro "asked me what I would like" in his new government, Fernandez recalled.
Although Fernandez already had found a job at a sugar production plant, Castro asked him to run a new cadet school. However, Castro said he could not match the salary of 1,100 Cuban pesos a month — then worth US$1,100 — that the sugar plant was paying.
Fernandez didn't know what to say.
"You are right," Fernandez recalled Castro as saying. "I'll go write a book about the Sierra Maestra, you go to the sugar plant, and the revolution can go to hell."
"Fidel could be very persuasive, sometimes very rock-like," Fernandez said. "I thought about it for five seconds, and two hours later I was at the school for cadets."
Two years later, with 1,900 troops under his command at the school, Fernandez received an urgent call from Castro: enemy troops had entered the Bay of Pigs off Cuba's southern coast.
Fernandez commanded militia troops in the battle against about 1,500 Cuban exiles trained and armed by the CIA with the aim of overthrowing the new government.
Washington worried that Castro's leftist government would help the Soviet Union establish a beachhead just 90 miles (145 kilometers) from American shores.
Three days later, on April 19, Fernandez arrived at Playa Giron on the bay and Cuba declared victory. Fernandez remained with the army and assumed the post of vice defense minister in 1966.
He later traded in his uniform for civilian clothes and worked in the Education Ministry from 1970-90.
New York, Jan 6 (AP/UNB) — The federal agency tasked with guaranteeing US airport security acknowledged an increase in the number of its employees calling off work during the partial government shutdown.
Employees of the Transportation Security Administration are expected to work without pay during the shutdown because their jobs are considered essential.
The TSA said in a statement Friday that call outs that began over the holiday period have increased. The agency did not say how many of its employees have called out, but it said the call outs have had "minimal impact given that there are 51,739 employees supporting the screening process." The statement said wait times "may be affected" but so far "remain well within TSA standards."
"TSA is closely monitoring the situation," the agency statement said. "Security effectiveness will not be compromised."
The Department of Homeland Security and President Donald Trump pushed back Saturday on suggestions that the call outs represented a "sickout" that was having significant consequences on U.S. air travel. White House officials and congressional aides were in talks Saturday to end the shutdown, which entered its 15th day. Negotiations are at an impasse over Trump's demands for $5.6 billion to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
TSA spokesman Michael Bilello tweeted that 5.5 percent of the TSA workforce at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport called out Friday, compared with 3.5 percent on a normal day. He said wait times "may be affected" but that all passengers would be screened as normal.
Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN that up to 170 TSA employees at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport have called out each day this week. Union officials did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Airport officials said no unusual screening delays were being experienced at JFK, Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports, or Miami International Airport.
United Nations, Jan 6 (AP/UNB) — The UN Security Council is expressing regret at Somalia's decision to expel a U.N. envoy who questioned the arrest of an extremist group defector-turned-political candidate.
The council issued a statement Saturday, a day after a closed-door discussion about Somalia's move to kick Nicholas Haysom out.
The statement conveys gratitude to the longtime U.N. official. It also notes the international community's support for Somalia's efforts to rebuild peace and stability — and the council's "expectation of full cooperation between Somalia and the United Nations."
Although opposed to Haysom's expulsion, the world body said it would replace him so the U.N. can function in the Horn of Africa nation.
Somali officials say Haysom meddled in their internal matters when he raised concerns about the basis for the arrest of Mukhtar Robow.
Iran, Jan 3 (AP/UNB) — Iranian state TV says the health minister has resigned over spending cuts in a budget submitted to parliament last week.
It says President Hassan Rouhani accepted Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi's resignation on Thursday.
Iran is in the grip of an economic crisis and has seen sporadic protests in recent months as officials try to downplay the effects of renewed U.S. sanctions.
The $47.5 billion budget is less than half the size of last year's, mainly due to the severe depreciation of the local currency following President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The U.S. has restored crippling sanctions in recent months, including on Iran's energy and banking sectors.