Paris, Feb 9 (AP/UNB) — Several thousand supporters of an exiled Iranian opposition group marched through Paris on Friday, calling for an end to Iran's clerical regime 40 years after the Islamic revolution toppled Iran's monarchy.
The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, widely referred to in the West as the MEK, were joined at the rally by an array of speakers before the march, from former and current French politicians to a one-time Algerian prime minister and a Syrian opposition figure.
Crowds waved posters of group leader Maryam Rajavi and founder Massoud Rajavi — not seen since 2003 in Iraq, where the MEK once had a camp and waged war against Iran before being disarmed by invading U.S. troops.
The group bases its headquarters outside Paris with several thousand members in Albania, extracted in a U.N.-brokered effort from Iraq. Supporters are scattered elsewhere in the West as part of the Iranian diaspora.
Security was tight during the rally and march through Paris' Left Bank. The group's annual rally last year was the target of an alleged bomb plot, which was thwarted by arrests. An Austrian-based Iranian diplomat is being held in Belgium, where police found bomb material in the car of a couple of Iranian origin.
"As long as we're dealing with the main state sponsor of terrorism, there is a concern ... But that will never stop us," MEK spokesman Shahin Gobadi said. The MEK hones to U.S. President Donald Trump's hard line on Iran, and supports U.S. sanctions on Iran.
One speaker, former French Sen. Jean-Pierre Michel, said in an interview that "I'm not a fanatic of Mr. Trump ... but I think the United States is right about Iran." He chastised Europeans for what he views as their softer approach to Tehran.
Michel, 80, is a long-time supporter of the Mujahedeen, which has drawn around it numerous U.S. and European parliamentarians and former officials who disagree with critics' portrayal of the organization as cult-like.
He praised MEK for having a woman at its head who says she wants democracy and separation of church and state in a future Iran, and he hopes one day to visit Tehran with Rajavi, saying, "It keeps me alive."
Rio de Janeiro, Feb 9 (AP/UNB) — A fire early Friday swept through the sleeping quarters of an academy for Brazil's popular professional soccer club Flamengo, killing 10 people and injuring three, most likely teenage players, authorities said.
Firefighters were called just after 5 a.m. to the sprawling Ninho de Urubu training grounds in Rio de Janeiro's western region. Overhead images captured by an Associated Press drone showed a smoky, charred area of the complex.
"We are distraught," Flamengo President Rodolfo Landim said outside the complex, where friends, fans and neighbors gathered, some in prayer. "This is the worst tragedy to happen to the club in its 123 years."
He did not take questions from reporters who also were outside the complex but added: "The most important thing right now is to minimize the suffering of these families."
The cause of the fire was not known, but Claudio Castro, vice governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, said authorities were looking at the possibility of a short circuit in an air conditioning unit. It is currently summer in Brazil.
In a statement, the city said the area that burned was registered for parking, not as a dormitory. The statement said an investigation into the licensing process was under way.
Latin America's largest nation suffers from shoddy infrastructure, often exacerbated by lax oversight and endemic corruption.
Sebastian Rodriguez, the uncle of one of the players who died, 15-year-old Samuel Thomas Rosa, said his nephew never complained about the conditions.
"He never told me anything bad about the training center," Rodriguez said. "He liked the environment and his teammates there."
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella ordered three days of mourning, and President Jair Bolsonaro issued a statement lamenting the fire had taken "the young lives at the beginning of pursuing their professional dreams."
Passion for soccer runs deep in Brazil, and as news of the tragedy spread, many of the world's best players and top officials expressed condolences.
"It's a sad day for Brazilian soccer," tweeted Pele, the country's most famous player.
Chapecoense, a team in southern Brazil that lost 22 players in a plane crash in 2016, said on Twitter: "We are extremely sad and shaken by the news of the fire."
Flamengo is perhaps the most famous club in the country, with an estimated 40 million fans nationwide. Supporters are so attached to their academy team that players have a motto for them: "Flamengo makes legends at home."
Among the most famous players to come through the club are Ronaldinho and Zico, former stars on Brazil's national team; top goal-scorer Adriano, who rose to fame at Inter Milan; and current Real Madrid star Vinicius, Jr., who not long ago was living in the building destroyed by the fire.
The identities of those killed were not released but their names emerged through family members and survivors.
Beatriz Busch, the public health secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, said two of the injured were in stable condition while a third was in critical condition. The ages of the injured were 14, 15 and 16, according to a fire official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of agency rules.
Several people who appeared to be relatives entered the complex without speaking to reporters. Some were crying.
"These boys suffer so much in pursuing their dreams" of becoming professional players, said Caros Eduardo Araujo, a fan who left a bouquet of flowers at the gate of the complex. "I've been shaking since I heard the news."
Samuel Barbosa, 16-year-old who survived the fire, told Globo TV news that a lot of smoke filled the dorm.
"Most didn't make it because there was so much fire," Barbosa said.
Jefferson Rodrigues, who runs a small inn near the club, said he had reached a 15-year-old player he had befriended.
"I am very happy. I just spoke to Caix Suarez and he is alive," said Rodrigues, adding that the youth told him he ran when he saw the flames. "He lost his phone, and all of his things, but the important thing is he is alive."
Joao Pedro da Cruz, a 16-year-old player in the Flamengo youth league, told the G1 news portal that he decided not to spend the night at the facility because the team wasn't going to train on Friday, and he went to a friend's house instead.
"The majority of them (the team) stayed, my friends stayed (at the facility)," he said. "Today I woke up and heard this terrible news."
Like many professional clubs, Flamengo has a development program for promising young players. Many, particularly those who live outside of Rio de Janeiro, stay at the facilities while training.
The dream of many youths in Brazil, winner of five World Cup titles, is to make it into the professional ranks. The academies identify talented players at a young age, working with them as they grow, and the best eventually play for Flamengo or other teams in Brazil.
"If you are going to make it, you need to get into one of these academies. It's a huge honor for these kids," said Sebastian Abbot, author of "The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer's Next Superstars."
Abbot noted that only a tiny fraction of those who get into academies ever make it, but that reality doesn't deter them.
"For poor kids, many see it as the only path," he said. "That is a dangerous gamble, but you can understand why they are making that gamble. They see people like Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar making hundreds of millions of dollars."
Rio de Janeiro. Feb 9 (AP/UNB) — Brazilian police shot dead at least 13 suspected drug traffickers on Friday during a shootout in a slum in Rio de Janeiro's bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa.
The confrontation broke out when officers were greeted by gunfire as they entered an area where the suspects were hiding, according to police spokesman Col. Mauro Fliess. He said that no police were hurt.
Officers seized drugs, rifles, guns and ammunition during the anti-drug trafficking operation. Police said later Friday that the death toll had increased to 13 after two wounded suspects died in the hospital.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the world's most violent cities with frequent shootouts between police and drug gangs and an annual homicide rate of around 50 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Photos taken by The Associated Press showed a desperate woman running down a narrow street and the photographer said she was yelling that the police were getting ready to "execute" people inside a nearby house.
At one point a shot was heard ringing out from a house and moments later two heavily armed officers were seen on a pickup truck carrying two bodies shrouded in blood-soaked sheets.
Brazil's new far-right President Jair Bolsonaro campaigned with promises to crackdown on rising crime and said that police who kill criminals should be given medals not face prosecution.
In December, Human Rights Watch said in a report that police killings were at a "record high" in Rio.
"Military-style security operations that leave a trail of death in poor neighborhoods do not enhance public security," the report said. "On the contrary, they make communities fear the police and much less likely to collaborate with the police in the fight against crime."
"While Rio police sometimes kill people in legitimate self-defense, research from Human Rights Watch and other groups shows that many killings are, in reality, extrajudicial executions," the report said.
Washington, Feb 9 (AP/UNB) — A top Saudi official on Friday insisted his country's crown prince had no role in the October slaying of a Washington Post columnist, saying the trial of the suspects and the ongoing investigation would show it was a "rogue operation" with no official backing.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir spoke to reporters as legislation was introduced in Congress to block some arms sales to the kingdom over the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi and the widespread deaths of civilians in the war in Yemen.
"We know that the crown prince did not order this. We know that this was a rogue operation," he said. "We came out and we acknowledged it. It was committed by officials of the Saudi government acting outside their authority."
The New York Times reported Thursday that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted a 2017 conversation in which Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman told a top aide that he would use "a bullet" on Khashoggi if he did not return home to Saudi Arabia. He who wrote columns critical of the Saudi government while living in self-imposed exile in Virginia.
U.S. intelligence agencies had previously concluded that the crown prince must have at least had knowledge of the plot, leading some members of Congress to call for him to step down as the de facto leader of the country.
Al-Jubeir bristled at the notion that outsiders would criticize the government.
"Our leadership is a red line," he said. "Our leadership leads the country. I think for anyone to think they can dictate what we should do or what our leadership should do is preposterous."
The killing, he said repeatedly, was a "terrible crime" and those responsible will be held accountable.
Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get a document he needed for his upcoming marriage while his fiancee waited outside. He was never seen alive again.
After denying for several weeks that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, Saudi Arabia indicted 11 people in the killing, including several officials close to the crown prince, and is seeking the death penalty against five of them.
The killing has strained relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. In Congress, criticism over the kingdom's handling of the war in Yemen had already been building for months.
Lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, introduced legislation Friday that would prohibit certain arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the killing of Khashoggi and its role in Yemen.
It was introduced on the date that the Trump administration was supposed to inform Congress on its determination of whether the crown prince was personally responsible for the killing of Khashoggi.
"Seeing as the Trump Administration has no intention of insisting on full accountability for Mr. Khashoggi's murderers, it is time for Congress to step in and impose real consequences to fundamentally re-examine our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen," Sen. Menendez said in a statement introducing the legislation.
Washington, Feb 9 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Friday that he will hold his second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Hanoi and predicted that the authoritarian country would someday become "a great Economic Powerhouse" under Kim's leadership.
In a pair of tweets, Trump praised Kim and said his representatives had just left North Korea after a "productive meeting" on the Feb. 27-28 summit.
Trump added, "I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!"
The president had previously announced Vietnam as the summit location, but the city hadn't been identified. It will be the pair's second summit, the first coming last June in Singapore. Kim pledged then to work toward the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula, without providing a clear timetable or roadmap.
While in Asia, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, is thought to have discussed specific disarmament steps that Pyongyang could promise at the Vietnam summit and what corresponding measures the United States is willing to take.
In announcing the location of their second meeting, Trump showered praise on Kim, whom he used to derisively call "Little Rocket Man." Months after their Singapore summit, Trump said that Kim had written him "beautiful letters" and that the two "fell in love."
"North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, will become a great Economic Powerhouse. He may surprise some but he won't surprise me, because I have gotten to know him & fully understand how capable he is. North Korea will become a different kind of Rocket - an Economic one!" Trump tweeted Friday.