Fire during protest at migrant center kills 38 in Mexico, officials say
At least 38 migrants from Central and South America died after a fire broke out late on Monday at a migrant detention center in the Mexican northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, apparently caused by a protest over deportations, officials said Tuesday.
Mexico’s National Migration Institute lowered the death toll on Tuesday evening to 38 from 40, saying a visit to the city’s hospitals where victims were being treated had confirmed the lower number, Reuters reported.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said authorities believed the blaze in the city opposite El Paso, Texas, broke out around 9:30 p.m. local time (0330 GMT) as some migrants set fire to mattresses in protest after discovering they would be deported. He did not provide more details about how so many had died in the incident.
“They didn’t think that would cause this terrible tragedy,” Lopez Obrador told a news conference, noting that most migrants at the facility were from Central America and Venezuela.
The fire, one of the deadliest migrant tragedies in years, occurred as the United States and Mexico are battling to cope with record levels of border crossings at their shared frontier, read the report.
A video shared on social media, which appears to be security footage from within the center, shows a flame in part of a cell which is filling up with smoke as men kick desperately on the bars of a locked door.
In the 30-second video, three people in what appear to be official uniforms walk past but make no attempt to open the door. By the end of the video the smoke is so thick the cell can no longer be seen, read the report.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the video. Interior Minister Adan Augusto Lopez in an interview broadcast on local media appeared to confirm its veracity saying the government had the video since shortly after the incident, without commenting in any detail on its content.
Alejandra Corona, a representative of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) which visits the facility once a week to monitor conditions, confirmed the video showed the men’s cell. The door the men were kicking on was the only exit, she said.
Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), which runs the center, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.
In a statement Tuesday evening, in which the INM revised down the death toll it listed the names of 68 men at the detention center, without clarifying who on the list had or had not survived.
Thirteen of the dead were Hondurans, according to the country’s deputy foreign minister.
A Reuters witness at the scene overnight saw bodies laid out on the ground in body bags behind a yellow security cordon, surrounded by emergency vehicles. The fire had been extinguished.
The migration institute said it was also providing assistance to 15 women who had been safely evacuated from the center when the fire started, read the report.
Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday evening he had been informed that those “directly responsible” had been turned over to the Attorney General’s office, which is investigating the incident. He provided no further details.
Two migrants told Reuters that authorities had rounded up migrants off the streets of Ciudad Juarez on Monday and detained them in the center.
Activists have frequently flagged concerns of poor conditions and overcrowding in detention centers as migration has risen.
“Last night’s events are a horrible example of why organizations have been working to limit or eliminate detention in Mexico,” said Gretchen Kuhner, director of the Mexico-based Institute for Women in Migration, which supports migrant rights.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement that the secretary-general called for a “thorough investigation” of the tragic event.
Mexico’s INM did not respond to a request for comment about when the Ciudad Juarez site was opened, or how many migration centers are currently in operation.
As of 2019, there were 53 INM detention centers operating across Mexico, according to a report from Mexico’s Human Rights Commission (CNDH), with a total official capacity of around 3000.
Viangly Infante, a Venezuelan national, had been waiting outside the center when the fire started.
“I was here since one in the afternoon waiting for the father of my children, and when 10 p.m. rolled around, smoke started coming out from everywhere,” the 31-year-old Venezuelan national told Reuters.
Her husband, 27-year-old Eduard Caraballo, was detained on Monday by Mexican migration authorities and put in a holding cell inside the facility.
He managed to survive by dousing himself in water and pressing against a door as the fire blazed, said Infante.
“His chest was really hurting, struggling to breathe because of all the smoke, but he wasn’t burnt,” said Infante of her husband, who is now in a hospital.
The couple and their three children left Venezuela last October in search of better economic opportunities and a good education for their kids, as well as to escape rampant crime.
By late December, they had reached the U.S. border and crossed into Eagle Pass, Texas, where they handed themselves over to U.S. migration authorities. But they were immediately returned to Mexico, where they then headed by bus to Ciudad Juarez.
Recent weeks have seen a buildup of migrants in Mexican border cities as authorities attempt to process asylum requests using a new U.S. government app known as CBP One, Reuters reported.
Many migrants feel the process is taking too long and earlier this month clashes occurred between U.S. security and hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants at the border after frustration welled up about securing asylum appointments.
Mexico’s migration law says migrants can only be detained for 15 days under normal circumstances, though the Supreme Court in March ruled that such lengths were unconstitutional, and that migrants should be held no longer than 36 hours.
In January, the Biden administration said it would expand Trump-era restrictions to rapidly expel Cuban, Nicaraguan and Haitian migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to contain the border flows.
That came after a decision in October to the expand expulsions, under a controversial policy known as Title 42, to Venezuelans.
At the same time, the United States said it would allow up to 30,000 people from those countries to enter the country by air each month, Reuters reported.
Moscow targeted by drone attack, no casualties
Moscow was targeted by a drone attack on Tuesday morning causing “minor” damage to buildings, the city’s mayor said.
“This morning, at dawn, a drone attack caused minor damage to several buildings. All the city’s emergency services are on the scene … No one has been seriously injured so far,” Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.
Russia’s defense ministry blamed Ukraine for a “terrorist attack,” saying it had intercepted all of the eight drones aimed at Moscow.
Moscow, located more than 1,000 kilometers from Ukraine, has rarely been targeted by drone attacks since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, even though such attacks have become more common elsewhere in Russia, AFP reported.
Images posted on social media showed traces of smoke in the sky. Others showed a broken window.
The attack follows a similar assault on Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, carried out by Russian drones overnight and leaving at least one person dead, according to the city’s mayor Vitali Klitschko.
Russian forces fired missiles at Kyiv on Monday, sending panicked residents running for shelter in an unusual daytime attack on the Ukrainian capital following overnight strikes.
In early May, two drones were shot down over the Kremlin in an attack blamed on Ukraine.
Ukraine on Tuesday said it had downed 29 out of 31 drones, mainly over Kyiv and the Kyiv region, in the latest Russian barrage, the third in 24 hours.
Philippines, US, Japan to hold first-ever joint coast guard exercise
The coast guard of the United States, Japan and the Philippines will hold a trilateral maritime exercise in the South China Sea this week, the first such maneuvers between them as a time of growing concern about China’s moves in the region.
The June 1 to 7 exercise in waters off Bataan province was an initiative of the United States and Japan, while Australia would join as an observer, said Philippine coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo on Monday.
Four Philippine vessels and one each from the United States and Japan will participate in exercises designed to improve search and rescue collaboration and law enforcement, Balilo said.
The Philippines was approached by Japan and the United States about holding joint maritime exercises in February, the same month when Manila accused China of aggressive activities in the South China Sea, vast stretches of which Beijing claims as its territory, Reuters reported.
“This is a usual routine activity among coast guard agencies,” Balilo told a press conference.
“There is nothing wrong with holding exercises with your counterparts.”
Japan, Australia and the United States have frequently condemned China’s militarisation in the South China Sea and have sought to engage closer with U.S. ally the Philippines since Ferdinand Marcos Jr took over as president last year from pro-China predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
Philippine ties with the United States have gained ground under Marcos, who has been increasingly vocal about China’s conduct, including over its alleged use of a “military-grade laser” against a vessel supporting a navy food re-supply mission.
It has also complained about large numbers of suspected militia lingering near Philippine-held features in the disputed Spratly islands. China maintains the actions of its coast guard are legal and in its waters.
Balilo said the upcoming maritime exercise will include counter-piracy simulations, and possibly an interception exercise involving a vessel carrying weapons of mass destruction.
Turkey’s Erdogan prevails in election test of his 20-year rule
President Tayyip Erdogan extended his two decades in power in elections on Sunday, winning a mandate to pursue increasingly authoritarian policies which have polarised Turkey and strengthened its position as a regional military power, Reuters reported.
His challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called it “the most unfair election in years” but did not dispute the outcome.
Official results showed Kilicdaroglu won 47.9% of the votes to Erdogan’s 52.1%, pointing to a deeply divided nation.
The election had been seen as one of the most consequential yet for Turkey, with the opposition believing it had a strong chance of unseating Erdogan and reversing his policies after his popularity was hit by a cost-of-living crisis, read the report.
Instead, victory reinforced his image of invincibility, after he had already redrawn domestic, economic, security and foreign policy in the NATO member country of 85 million people.
The prospect of five more years of his rule was a major blow to opponents who accused him of undermining democracy as he amassed ever more power – a charge he denies.
In a victory speech in Ankara, Erdogan pledged to leave all disputes behind and unite behind national values and dreams but then switched gears, lashing out at the opposition and accusing Kilicdaroglu of siding with terrorists without providing evidence, Reuters reported.
He said releasing former pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtas, whom he branded a “terrorist,” would not be possible under his governance.
Erdogan said inflation was Turkey’s most urgent issue.
Kilicdaroglu’s defeat will likely be mourned by Turkey’s NATO allies which have been alarmed by Erdogan’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who congratulated his “dear friend” on his victory, read the report.
U.S. President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter: “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges.”
U.S. relations with Turkey have been impeded by Erdogan’s objection to Sweden joining NATO as well as Ankara’s close relationship with Moscow and differences over Syria.
Addressing jubilant supporters earlier from atop a bus in Istanbul, Erdogan, 69, said “the only winner today is Turkey”. “I thank every single one of our people who once again gave us the responsibility to govern the country five more years,” he said.
Erdogan’s victory extends his tenure as the longest-serving leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established modern Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire a century ago – a politically potent anniversary to be marked in October with Erdogan in charge.
Erdogan, head of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, appealed to voters with nationalist and conservative rhetoric during a divisive campaign that deflected attention from deep economic troubles.
In his victory speech, he attacked the opposition again, calling them pro-LGBT.
Kilicdaroglu, who had promised to set the country on a more democratic and collaborative path, said the vote showed people’s will to change an authoritarian government. “All the means of the state were laid at the feet of one man,” he said.
Erdogan supporters, who gathered outside his Istanbul residence, chanted Allahu Akbar, or God is Greatest.
“I expect everything to become better,” said Nisa, 28, a headscarved woman wearing a headband with Erdogan’s name.
Another Erdogan supporter said Turkey would get stronger with him in office for five more years.
“There are issues, problems in every country around the world, in European countries as well … With strong leadership we will overcome Turkey’s problems as well,” said the supporter who gave his name as Mert, 39, as he celebrated with his son.
Bugra Oztug, 24, who voted for Kilicdaroglu, blamed the opposition for failing to change. “I feel sad and disappointed but I am not hopeless. I still think there are people who can see the realities and truth,” Oztug said.
Erdogan’s performance has wrong-footed opponents who thought voters would punish him over the state’s initially slow response to devastating earthquakes in February, in which more than 50,000 people died, Reuters reported.
But in the first round of voting on May 14, which included parliamentary elections, his AK Party emerged top in 10 of the 11 provinces hit by the earthquakes, helping it to secure a parliamentary majority along with its allies.
French President Emmanuel Macron offered congratulations, saying France and Turkey had “huge challenges to face together”.
The presidents of Iran, Israel, and the Saudi king were among leaders to congratulate him in the Middle East, where Erdogan has asserted Turkish influence, at times with military power. Erdogan, who was for years at odds with numerous governments in the region, has taken a more conciliatory stance in recent years.
Emre Erdogan, a political science professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, attributed Erdogan’s success to his supporters’ belief “in his ability to solve problems, even though he created many of them”.
Erdogan had also maintained the support of conservative voters who long felt marginalised. “This era will be characterized by a decline in political and civil liberties, polarization, and cultural fights between two political tribes,” he said.
Erdogan appeared to have prevailed despite years of economic turmoil which critics blamed on unorthodox economic policies which the opposition had pledged to reverse.
Uncertainty about what an Erdogan win would mean for economic policy pushed the lira to record lows last week, Reuters reported.
Reuters reported last week that there was disagreement within Erdogan’s government over whether to stick with what some called an unsustainable economic programme or to abandon it.
Kilicdaroglu had promised to reset governance, restore human rights, and return independence to the courts and central bank after they were sidelined over the last decade.
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