Democratic Debates: Top Quotes by Each Candidate

The first night of the second round of Democratic presidential candidate debates took place in Detroit Tuesday. The candidates answered questions on a range of issues, including health care, recent mass shootings, immigration and foreign trade.

Here are some quotes from each candidate:

Steve Bullock, in responding to a discussion on gun violence, discussed a personal story, saying: “I’m a gun owner, I hunt, like far too many people in America, I have been personally impacted by gun violence. I had an 11-year-old nephew, Jeremy, shot and killed on a playground. We need to start looking at this as a public health issue, not a political issue.”

Pete Buttigieg, who as South Bend, Indiana, mayor has been criticized for his handling of a recent racially tinged shooting, said about race: “As an urban mayor serving a diverse community, the racial divide lives within me. I’m not saying that I became mayor and racism or crime or poverty ended on my watch. But in our city, we have come together repeatedly to tackle challenges like the fact that far too many people were not getting the help they needed in their housing and so we directed it to a historically underinvested African American neighborhood. Right now in the wake of a police involved shooting, our community is moving from hurting to healing by making sure that the community can participate in things like revising the use of force policy, and making sure there are community voices on the board of safety that handles police matters.”

John Delaney, in criticizing health care plans by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, said: “We don’t have to go around and be the party of subtraction and telling half the country who has private health insurance that their health insurance is illegal. It’s also bad policy. It’ll under-fund the industry, many hospitals will close, and it’s bad politics. … Folks, we have a choice. We can go down the road that Senator Sanders and Senator Warren want to take us with bad policies like Medicare for All, free everything, and impossible promises that will turn off independent voters and get (President Donald) Trump re-elected.”

John Hickenlooper, in criticizing Senator Sanders’ health care plan, said: “I’m saying the policies of this notion that you’re going to take private insurance away from 180 million American, who many of them don’t want to give it, many of them do want to get rid of it, but some don’t, many don’t. The Green New Deal makes sure that every American’s guaranteed a government job if they want, that is a disaster. You might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump. I think we have to focus on where Donald Trump is failing.”

Amy Klobuchar, answering a question on infrastructure, discusses the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, said: “I was just in Flint, and they are still drinking bottled water in that town, and that is outrageous, and my plan, and I am the first one that came out with an infrastructure plan and I did that because this is a bread and butter issue for people that are caught in traffic jams. I truly believe that if we’re going to move on infrastructure, climate change, you need a voice from the heartland.”

Beto O’Rourke, who lives in the border town of El Paso, Texas, in explaining his stance on decriminalizing border crossings by undocumented immigrants, said: “In my administration, after we have waived citizenship fees for green card holders, more than 9 million of our fellow Americans, free Dreamers who many fear of deportation, and stop criminally prosecuting families and children for seeking asylum and refuge, and for-profit detention, and so that no family has to make that 2,000-mile journey, then I expect that people who come here follow our laws and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them.” 

Tim Ryan, who said he agrees in part with President Trump’s use of tariffs against China, saying: “I think President Trump was onto something when he talked about China. China has been abusing the economic system for a long time. They steal intellectual property. They subsidize goods. They eroded manufacturing. We transfer our wealth of the middle class either up to the top 1% or to China for them to build the military. So I think we need some targeted response against China.”

Bernie Sanders, in explaining his climate change agenda, said: “To win this election and to defeat Donald Trump, which by the way, in my view is not going to be easy, we need to have a campaign of energy and excitement and of vision. … I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas. They could give a trillion dollars in tax breaks to billionaires and profitable corporations. … On this issue, my friends, there is no choice, we have got to be super aggressive if we love our children and if we want to leave them a planet that is healthy and is habitable. … What that means is we got to take on the fossil fuel industry.”

Elizabeth Warren, on a night when North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles, explained her position on the use of nuclear weapons, saying: “The United States is not going to use nuclear weapons preemptively. We need to say so to the entire world. It reduces the likelihood someone miscalculates or misunderstands. Our first responsibility is to keep ourselves safe. And what’s happening right now with Donald Trump is they keep expanding the different ways we have nuclear weapons. The different ways they can be used puts us all at risk.”

Marianne Williamson, in defending her plan to offer up to $500 billion in reparations to the U.S. descendants of enslaved Africans, said: “It is time for us to simply realize that this country will not heal. All that a country is a collection of people. People heal when there’s deep truth-telling. We need to recognize when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with. That great injustice has had to do with the fact that there was 250 years of slavery, followed by another 100 years of domestic terrorism.”

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Article Suggests Nuclear Sharing with Japan, S. Korea to Deter N. Korean Threat

Christy Lee contributed to this report which originated on VOA’s Korean Service.

The National Defense University, an institution funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, has published a journal article suggesting Washington should share its nuclear tactical missiles with Japan and South Korea to deter North Korea’s growing nuclear threat to East Asia and the U.S. 

“The United States should strongly consider … sharing of nonstrategic nuclear capabilities during times of crisis with select Asia-Pacific partners, specially Japan and the Republic of Korea,” according to “Twenty-First Century Nuclear Deterrence,” published by the university in the current issue of Joint Force Quarterly (JFQ). The Republic of Korea is the official name for South Korea.

Publication guidelines on the university’s site say “The views expressed by this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.”

Sharing American nuclear capabilities with Japan and South Korea would involve deploying its nuclear weapons in the territories of its two allies in East Asia so that the weapons can be used in such time as a nuclear war, as the U.S. does with five member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO), according to the article. 

Japan and South Korea are under the U.S. nuclear umbrella that promises defense against threats. The U.S. maintains military bases in both countries, which are currently embroiled in a trade dispute colored by historical animosities. 

The article’s release on July 25 coincided with North Korea’s launch of two short-range missiles. Then, early Wednesday local time, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that North Korea launched multiple unidentified projectiles off the east coast of its Hodo Peninsula.

The four authors, who serve in the U.S. army, navy, and air force, suggest U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Japan and South Korea would be used for exigent purposes during war but would mainly serve as an extended deterrence against North Korea’s use of nuclear weapons in peacetime, effectively preventing it from launching a nuclear attack. 

The article suggests American nuclear sharing with Japan and South Korea could be undertaken in a manner similar to an agreement the U.S. signed with five NATO member states. 

US weapons

Currently, the U.S. shares approximately 180 tactical nuclear weapons such as B61 nuclear bombs with Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey

NATO is a multilateral alliance now composed of 29 member-states from North America and Europe established in 1949 by 12 countries to serve as a collective defense against emerging threats in the region. 

American nuclear weapons have been deployed to the five NATO countries since the mid-1950s in an arrangement known as nuclear sharing.  Nuclear sharing allows these countries without nuclear weapons to use American deployed nuclear weapons in case of war at which time the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) will be disabled. 

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, prohibits signatory states from transferring and accepting direct and indirect control of nuclear weapons.

The JFQ article came out as the process of denuclearization diplomacy with Pyongyang, stalled since the Hanoi summit in February, has started to inch forward.

In June, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met for an impromptu summit at the inter-Korean border in June where they agreed to resume denuclearization efforts. North Korea has been reluctant to engage in the working-level negotiations since Hanoi where Washington rejected Pyongyang’s demand for sanctions lift.

The JFQ authors highlighted that the U.S. may face “difficulties in shaping [North Korean] behavior” if it does not give up its nuclear program.

“If left unchecked, North Korea will continue to threaten the East Asian region and perhaps one day the United States itself,” they noted.

North Korea threat

On June 25, North Korea fired what South Korea called new types of short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, the body of water between the Korean peninsula and Japan, rattling the East Asian countries.

The next day, Pyongyang said it had tested a new type of “tactical guided weapon” intended to send a “solemn warning” to South Korea to end its joint military exercises with the U.S.

North Korea said the weapons it tested had “rapid anti-firepower capability” and “low altitude gliding and leaping flight orbit…which would be hard to intercept.”  

In May, North Korea tested three short-range missiles off its east coast that experts considered to be similar to a Russian Iskander, a nuclear loadable short-range ballistic missile.

The article said, “Considering North Korea’s history of aggressive nuclear rhetoric and recent missile tests,” sharing U.S. nuclear weapons with its regional allies “would provide renewed physical evidence of U.S. resolve.”

The article also stated that nuclear sharing with Japan and South Korea will strengthen a “military partnership through joint-regional exercises” necessary to deter North Korea.

However, according to Gary Samore, former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction during the Obama administration, the time may not be ripe for the U.S. to propose nuclear sharing with Seoul and Tokyo because of an on-going trade row between the two

“My sense is that [in] both South Korea and Japan, there is very little political support for such a step at this time,” said Samore, currently senior fellow at the Harvard Belfer Center’s Korea Project. “It could change, but, for now, I think it would be very controversial.”

Seoul and Tokyo have been involved in a trade dispute after Japan placed export restrictions on three high-tech items South Korean companies use to manufacture parts used in smart phones and other high-tech devices. The trade dispute is widely seen as rooted in Korean anger at Japan for decades of colonization and occupation from 1910 until Japan’s 1945 surrender to the U.S. to end World War II. During that period, many Japanese companies used Korean forced labor. 

Boycotts against Japanese-made products have been widespread in Seoul, and Japan has rejected Seoul’s call for talks to resolve the dispute. 

Samore said, “There may come a time when the domestic politics in South Korea and Japan have changed especially when North Korea continues to maintain and advance nuclear weapons and (a) ballistic missile program.” He added, “And then at that point it would make more sense.”

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Senators Warren, Sanders Under Attack at Democrats’ Presidential Debate

Story updated on July 31, at 12:18 am.

U.S. health care policies took center stage Tuesday night at the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate, with more moderate challengers attacking Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the leading progressives looking to oust President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

Warren and Sanders have both called for a sweeping end to the country’s current health care system centered on private company insurance plans offered to 150 million workers through their employers. But their views were under attack almost from the start of the debate on a theater stage in Detroit, Michigan, the country’s auto industry hub.

“We don’t have to go around and be the party of subtraction and telling half the country who has private health insurance that their health insurance is illegal,” former Maryland Congressman John Delaney said. “It’s also bad policy. It’ll under-fund the industry, many hospitals will close, and it’s bad politics.”

Often political allies

Warren, a former Harvard law professor, and Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, are friends of long-standing and often political allies. They now are both looking for votes from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Both defended their position calling for a government-run health care system.

“This is not radical,” Sanders of Vermont shouted at one point, noting that numerous other Western societies already have adopted government-run systems. “I get a little tired of Democrats who are afraid of big ideas.”

Warren of Massachusetts rebuffed the critics, saying, “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.” 

But their challengers lobbed multiple attacks at the pair, saying their proposals would, over four years or longer, upend the long-standing U.S. health care system, including government-subsidized insurance for moderate and low-income families under the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has called for more incremental health care policy changes, said, “I have bold ideas, but they are grounded in reality.”

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. talk during a break in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said that Democrats had picked up 40 seats in the House of Representatives in the 2018 mid-term elections and not one of them had pushed for the Warren-Sanders Medicare for All plan.

“I’m a little more pragmatic,” Hickenlooper declared.

‘Recipe for disaster’

Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan called for a plan allowing Americans to buy into government-run insurance if they want to, but said that closing down the insurance industry “is a recipe for disaster,” especially among union members who would face the loss of hard-won health care benefits through collective bargaining.

The moderate candidates also attacked Sanders and Warren on immigration issues, even as several candidates assailed Trump’s immigration policies, including his since-abandoned practice of separating migrant children from their parents.

The moderate challengers criticized Sanders and Warren for proposing to end the filing of criminal charges against the thousands of undocumented migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.

“We’ve got 100,000 people showing up at the border right now,” said Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. “If we decriminalize entry, if we give free health care to everyone, we’ll have multiples of that.” He said that by effectively encouraging migration to the United States, “You are playing into Donald Trump’s hands.”

Ryan said, “If you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell.”

Sanders answered that he does not think that immigrants should be prosecuted, saying, “If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path, in my view, they are not criminals.”

Warren called for civil penalties, not criminal charges against migrants arriving in the U.S. “The point is not about criminalization,” she said. “That has given Donald Trump the tool to break families apart.”

Throughout the night, the candidates sparred over foreign policy, Warren’s controversial plan for a wealth tax and debt-free college, payment of reparations to the U.S. descendants of slaves, trade, the city of Flint, Michigan’s prolonged drinking water crisis, and even the age of the candidates. Buttigieg, who is 37, stood next to Sanders, who is 77, and was asked by CNN’s Don Lemon whether Sanders was too old to be president.

Buttigieg demurred, saying, “I don’t care how old you are, I care about your vision. … We need the kind of vision that’s going to win. We can’t have the kind of vision that says, ‘Back to normal.'”

Sanders readily agreed with Buttigieg, boasting of the ideas he has advocated to dramatically alter the health care system and bring the pharmaceutical and insurance industries to heel. 

First of two nights

Tuesday’s debate, lasting more than 2.5 hours, was the first of two nights with two groups of 10 Democratic candidates sparring with each other over domestic and foreign policy differences, but more importantly trying to make the case that they are the party’s best hope to defeat Trump when he seeks re-election in 2020.

Trump’s relentless attacks on Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, a prominent African American political leader, and the predominantly black city of Baltimore that he represents, drew sharp criticism from some of the Democratic presidential candidates.

“Donald Trump disgraces the office of the presidency every single day,” Warren said. Klobuchar added: “I don’t think anyone can justify what this president is doing.”

The two debates are occurring six months ahead of the Democratic Party’s first presidential nominating contests. The debates could prove pivotal in both winnowing the field, forcing the weakest challengers out of the race before the next debate in mid-September, and in solidifying the list of front-runners. It largely depends on who is perceived by pundits in the post-debate analyses as making a plausible case to be the Democratic standard-bearer, or, conversely, flubbing their opportunity on CNN’s nationally televised broadcasts.

On Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden, currently the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in national surveys of Democrats and some independents, will be at center stage. Some party stalwarts say he is the more moderate, center-left, politically safe choice to take on the unpredictable Trump, whose populist base of conservative voters remains strong.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, speaks during the National Urban League Conference, Thursday, July 25, 2019, in Indianapolis.

Tuesday’s debaters never mentioned Biden, even though all of them would eventually have to overtake him to win the Democratic nomination.

Biden had a shaky first debate performance a month ago, faltering as California Sen. Kamala Harris challenged him to explain his opposition three decades ago to forced busing of schoolchildren to racially desegregate public schools. Harris said that she, as a black woman and the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, benefited from such a busing program to attend a better school while growing up in California.

Biden, a fixture on the U.S. political scene for four decades, and Harris, a former state attorney general before winning election to the Senate, will be standing alongside each other on the debate stage. Biden is promising a more robust performance than in the first debate, saying, “I’m not going to be as polite this time.” 

But questions remain about Biden’s standing, whether at 76 he is too old to lead the country, even though Trump is 73, and whether Democratic voters want a candidate with more progressive views than Biden on health care, prevention of crime, migrant immigration at the U.S.-Mexican border and other issues.

Some analysts think Biden’s top standing in national polls is at least partly a reflection of name recognition, from his 36 years as a U.S. senator, two unsuccessful runs for the presidency and two terms as vice president under former President Barack Obama.

Tough-on-crime legislation

On the same stage Wednesday, Biden is also likely to face a challenge from Sen. Cory Booker, an African American former mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Booker has assailed Biden’s support 25 years ago for get-tough-on-crime legislation that led to the disproportionate imprisonment of black defendants.

Biden recently offered a new criminal justice plan, reversing key provisions of the 1994 measure, such as ending the stricter sentencing for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. Booker scoffed that Biden was hardly the best candidate to lay out a new criminal justice plan and has called for slashing mandatory minimum sentences.

Despite Biden’s first debate stumbles, the ranks of the top Democratic candidates have changed little in national surveys.

Biden remains ahead of three challengers, all U.S. senators: Sanders, from the Northeastern state of Vermont; Warren, from neighboring Massachusetts, and Harris. Booker has edged up a bit in the polling, while South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has slipped a notch. The remaining candidates are far down the ranks and struggling to gain a foothold.

A new Quinnipiac University national poll this week shows Biden leading the pack with 34% of Democrats and independents leaning Democratic, followed by Warren at 15%, Harris with 12% and Sanders with 11%.

Biden claims he has the best chance of making the Republican Trump the country’s first single-term president in nearly three decades, denying him a second four years in the White House. 

National surveys, 15 months ahead of the Nov. 3, 2020, election, consistently show Biden winning a hypothetical match-up over Trump, whose voter approval ratings remain mired in the mid-40% range. Sanders often defeats Trump as well, although not by Biden’s margin, while surveys show the other top Democrats potentially locked in tight, either-or outcomes with Trump.

Aside from Biden, Harris and Booker, the Wednesday debate stage also includes former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Five other Democratic candidates did not qualify for the Detroit debates, but the 20 who did had to have collected campaign donations from at least 65,000 individuals and hit a 1% threshold in at least three separate polls.

It gets tougher to appear on the stage at the third debate six weeks from now. To qualify then, candidates must have 130,000 campaign contributors and at least 2 percent support in four polls.

Only seven of this week’s 20 debaters have already met the third debate criteria: Biden, Harris, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Booker and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

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Trump Warns China to Negotiate Trade Deal Now Rather Than Later

As U.S.-China trade talks are set to begin, U.S. President Donald Trump is warning China against negotiating a deal after the 2020 U.S. presidential election  — declaring a delayed agreement would be less attractive than a deal reached in the near term.

“The problem with them waiting … is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now … or no deal at all,” Trump said in a post Tuesday on Twitter.

…to ripoff the USA, even bigger and better than ever before. The problem with them waiting, however, is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now…or no deal at all. We have all the cards, our past leaders never got it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2019

The tweet came as U.S. and Chinese officials gathered in Shanghai to revive talks, with both sides trying to temper expectations for a breakthrough.

The world’s two largest economies are engaged in an intense trade war, having imposed punitive tariffs on each other totaling more than $360 billion in two-way trade.

The negotiations come after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at June’s G-20 summit to resurrect efforts to end the costly trade war over China’s technology ambitions and trade surplus.

China is resisting U.S. demands to abolish government-led plans for industrial leaders to enhance robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies.

The U.S. has complained China’s plans depend on the acquisition of foreign technology through theft or coercion.

Days prior to the Shanghai meeting, Trump threatened to withdraw recognition of China’s developing nation’s status at the World Trade Organization. China responded by saying the threat is indicative of the “arrogance and selfishness” of the U.S.

The U.S. delegation in Shanghai will be represented by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. They are due to meet with a Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Liu He, who serves as the country’s economic czar.

 

 

 

 

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UN Official Says War in Yemen Knocked Country Back 20 Years

A top U.N. official warned Monday that Yemen’s devastating five-year civil war has knocked the country back 20 years in terms of development and access to education.

Yemen was already the Arab world’s poorest nation before the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people. In 2014, rebels known as Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention. The stalemated conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, thrust millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world’s most devastating humanitarian crisis.
 
“Much of the Yemeni economy has collapsed. People literally do not have any money to buy food,” Achim Steiner, U.N. Development Program administrator, told The Associated Press.

“Thousands of schools are closed, millions of children aren’t able to attend school, missing a generation of education,” he said. “Yemen has lost… 20 years of development.”
 
Steiner recently returned from a visit to Yemen, including the strategic port city of Hodeida. He waned that one in every three Yemenis are at risk of starving to death, out of a population of 30 million.
 
In Hodeida, he said the U.N. Development Program has been working to remove land mines from Hodeida’s port, which handles 70 percent of Yemen’s food imports and humanitarian aid. He said he met with local authorities to create an agreement on “the priorities that are now needed in terms of repair spare parts, technologies that are needed in order to be able to allow the port to function again.”
 
Both sides of the conflict agreed in December to withdraw from Hodeida, considered an important first step toward ending the war. But the implementation of the U.N.-brokered deal has since been delayed, as the agreement was vague on who would control Hodeida’s key port facilities after the withdrawal, saying only that a “local force” would take over.
 
Steiner urged both sides to help U.N. agencies “deliver fast and with little obstruction, the kinds of services, support, food, medicines” that ordinary Yemenis need.

A boy and his sisters watch graffiti artists spray on a wall, commemorating the victims who were killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, May 18, 2015.

“We would like to see that port up and running again in a matter of months. It can be done but only with the full cooperation of both sides,” he said.
 
Steiner said the UNDP in Yemen faces financial difficulties, as the pledges for humanitarian support in Yemen were close to $3 billion this year, but less than $1.1 billion has been delivered.
 
“We will have to stop programs, we will have to cut rations, and probably in the next two to three months, 21 support programs in the country have to be stopped,” he warned.

 

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Ex-Tehran Mayor Sentenced to Death over Wife’s Murder

Former Tehran mayor Mohammad Ali Najafi was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering his wife, the judiciary said Tuesday, after a high-profile case that received extensive media coverage.

A prominent reformist, Najafi was found guilty of shooting dead his second wife Mitra Ostad at their home in the capital on May 28, said Iran’s judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.

According to Iranian media reports, her body was found in a bathtub after Najafi, 67, turned himself in and confessed to killing her.

“The charge sheet included premeditated murder, battery and possession of an illegal firearm,” Esmaili said, quoted by the judiciary’s official news agency Mizan Online.

“The court has established premeditated murder and passed the execution sentence,” he added.

Najafi was acquitted of the battery charge but received a two-year jail sentence for possessing the illegal firearm, the spokesman said without elaborating.

“The sentence is not yet final and can be appealed at the supreme court,” said Esmaili.

Ostad’s family had appealed for the Islamic law of retribution to be applied — an “eye for an eye” form of punishment which would see the death penalty served in this instance.

Najafi’s trial received detailed coverage in state media where scandals related to politicians rarely appear on television.

A mathematician, professor and veteran politician, Najafi had previously served as President Hassan Rouhani’s economic adviser and education minister.

He was elected Tehran mayor in August 2017, but resigned the following April after facing criticism from conservatives for attending a dance performed by schoolgirls.

Najafi married Ostad without divorcing his first wife, unusual in Iran where polygamy is legal but socially frowned upon.

Some of Iran’s ultra-conservatives said the case showed the “moral bankruptcy” of reformists, while reformists accused the conservative-dominated state television of bias in its coverage and highlighting the case for political ends.

 

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Iraq Displays Stolen Artifacts Recovered From UK, Sweden

Iraqi officials are displaying stolen artifacts from the country’s rich cultural heritage that were recently recovered from Britain and Sweden.

Many archaeological treasures from Iraq, home of the ancient “fertile crescent” considered the cradle of civilization, were looted during the chaos that followed the 2003 U.S. invasion and whisked out of the country.

Now Iraq is making a massive effort to bring these pieces home, working closely with the U.N. cultural organization.

The artifacts on display Monday at the foreign ministry in Baghdad include archaeological and historical items, such as pottery fragments and shards with writing dating back at least 4,000 years to the ancient Sumerian civilization.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim said his country is determined to recover its lost heritage, whatever it takes.

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IMF: Venezuela’s Economic Decline Among Most Severe Globally

The International Monetary Fund says the cumulative decline of the Venezuelan economy since 2013 will surpass 60% and is among the deepest five-year contractions the world has seen over the last half century.

Alejandro Werner is director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department. He describes the Venezuelan decline as a “historical case” because it is unprecedented in the hemisphere and also because it is the only one of the top global five-year contractions that is unrelated to armed conflicts or natural disasters.    

The IMF on Monday also adjusted its 2019 forecast for the South American country to a contraction of 35% — up from the 25% decline expected back in April — due to a sharp fall in the oil production, which has already plunged to its lowest level in seven decades. 

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North Korea, South China Sea Top Agenda as Pompeo Heads to Asia

The United States is not ruling out working-level talks with North Korean officials on the sidelines of Southeast Asian regional meetings in Thailand this week, with experts noting Pyongyang’s recent missile launch is unlikely to reverse Washington’s current diplomatic efforts. 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will arrive in Bangkok on Aug. 1, where he will co-chair the U.S.- Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial.

On Aug. 2, Pompeo will participate in the East Asia Summit (EAS) Ministerial and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial, and will hold a bilateral meeting with Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai to discuss ways to further strengthen the U.S.-Thai alliance.

FILE – Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai talks to reporters during press conference at Foreign Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, July 1, 2016.

“I head to Asia tomorrow midday, I’ll be in Bangkok for a couple of days. We hope that we can have working-level discussions starting again very soon,” Pompeo said Monday when asked about diplomatic engagement with North Korea during an event in Washington.

“We’re not going to talk about the specific bilateral meetings, other than the ones that have been announced,” said a senior State Department official in a briefing when asked if U.S. officials will hold talks with North Korea officials on the sidelines of ASEAN meetings.

In recent days, the U.S.-led United Nations Command said it will continue to support confidence-building measures setting the stage for dialogue, and for diplomats to work toward permanent peace and final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.

After North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test last Thursday, Pompeo suggested talks could still continue. 

“I think we’re still going to proceed,” said the top U.S. diplomat in an interview with Fox News.  “I mean, I think we’re still going to go sit down and have a conversation about this. North Korea has engaged in activity before we were having diplomatic conversations far worse than this.”

Media reports said North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho will not attend this week’s ASEAN related meetings in Bangkok. While in the past North Korea’s foreign minister had skipped the forum from time to time, Pyongyang has always sent other diplomats to attend.

FILE – North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho walks to speak to the media outside the Millennium hotel in New York, Sept. 25, 2017.

“We are clearly going to be continuing to talk to our allies who face this issue quite closely,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told VOA on Monday.  

Foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea will also attend the East Asia Summit in Bangkok.

North Korea’s July 25 missile tests were a “relatively modest [action] along the North Korean messaging spectrum,” argued Todd Rosenblum, a nonresident senior fellow of the Atlantic Council. He said Pyongyang’s latest missile launch “should not and likely will not have much impact on current negotiating efforts.”

South China Sea

Pompeo’s meetings with ASEAN foreign ministers also come amid China’s increasingly assertive actions in the South China Sea, a resource-rich region contested by several ASEAN members, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan and China. 

China has landfilled and militarized islets over the past decade.

FILE – A man rides a motorcycle past a poster promoting Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea of the South China Sea, on Phu Quoc island, Sept. 11, 2014.

“We have an interest in ensuring stability there,” said a senior State Department official.

The U.S. strongly opposes China’s efforts to assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea. Washington is calling for a code of conduct between China and ASEAN to be “in line with” existing international laws.

“We’re very concerned,” Ortagus told VOA in an interview Monday, referring to recent Chinese anti-ship missile launches from man-made structures in the disputed South China Sea, and a standoff between China and Vietnam.

Last week, Vietnam urged an “immediate withdrawal” of a Chinese government-run vessel in the disputed South China Sea as the standoff between the two nations over China’s ongoing geological survey work intensified. China asked Vietnam to respect “China’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction” over the area near the disputed Spratly Islands. Vietnam said Chinese vessel’s activities fall within the Vietnamese waters. 

Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs Congressman Eliot Engel recently issued a statement on Chinese interference in Vietnamese-controlled waters.

“China’s recent aggression in the South China Sea is a disturbing demonstration of a country openly flouting international law,” said Engel. “Just as importantly, China’s behavior threatens the interests of U.S. companies operating in the area.” 

Australia, Pacific Islands 

From Thailand, Pompeo will head to Australia on Aug. 4.  Newly sworn-in U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will join Pompeo in Sydney for the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN).

FILE – Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks during a full honors welcoming ceremony for him at the Pentagon, July 25, 2019.

“The United States has no better friend or ally than Australia,” said a senior State Department official in a phone briefing to reporters. Pompeo will safeguard “sovereignty in Pacific Island countries and Southeast Asia,” according to the State Department.

On Aug. 5, the top U.S. diplomat embarks on a trip to the Federated States of Micronesia, making him the first sitting U.S. secretary of state to visit the Pacific Island nation. The visit comes days after an inauguration ceremony of its new President David Panuelo. 

Pompeo will also meet with leaders from Pacific island nations that have compact associations with the U.S., including Palau and the Marshall Islands. The U.S. provides more than $350 million in projects and economic assistance to the Pacific island nations during the last fiscal year.

The U.S. is working with the Federated States of Micronesia “in keeping the Western Pacific and Indo-Pacific region free and open,” said State Department’s Director for Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands Nicholas Dean in a recent briefing.

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Cuban Officials Attend Funeral Services for Cardinal Ortega

Cuban government and Communist Party officials attended funeral services for Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega on Sunday in  a testament to his success in elevating the Church’s position on the Caribbean island after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Cuban First Vice President Salvador Mesa and two other top leaders on the Communist Party Politburo attended the Requiem Mass along with other officials.

Religious leaders from other countries including Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Puerto Rico Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves and Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston also attended the event in the colonial district’s Havana Cathedral.

Ortega, who died on Friday aged 82, was buried afterwards in the city’s Colon cemetery.

A labor camp inmate in the 1960s when Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government was rounding up religious figures and other perceived enemies, Ortega became archbishop of Havana in 1981 at a time when Cuba was still officially atheist.

For the more than three decades that followed, as Castro’s stance on the Church softened, Ortega raised its visibility and power, building a working relationship with the government thanks to his nonconfrontational style and opposition to U.S. sanctions.

Ortega earned the wrath of hardline exiles and some dissidents on the Caribbean island with his stance.

“His work helped a lot to bring closer the ideas of the Cuban government and the Catholic church,” retiree Maria Green, said, standing outside the Cathedral.

“He managed to solve many things and opened the way for many, many Cubans,” she added.

Ortega hosted three popes and negotiated the release of dozens of political prisoners in 2010 and 2011.

When Raul Castro became president in 2010, Ortega backed his attempts to open up the country and restore relations with Western nations.

At a critical moment in secret talks between Cuba and the United States that led to a detente in December 2014, it was Ortega who relayed messages among Pope Francis, Castro and then-President Barack Obama.

Ortega met with hundreds of U.S. lawmakers, religious figures and businessmen over the years.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, worked with Ortega in the 1990s to channel medical aid to the country and said members of his organization provided some logistics for Pope John Paul II’s historic visit in 1998.

“With Cardinal Ortega, there was never a “can’t do it,’ or ‘we must wait,’ or ‘no’,” Kavulich said.

 

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Nigeria: 65 Killed in Attack by Boko Haram Militants

Boko Haram militants killed at least 65 people at a funeral in northeastern Nigeria, local officials said Sunday, revising the earlier death toll of 23.

“It is 65 people dead and 10 injured,” said Muhammed Bulama, the local government chairman. Bulama said he thought the attack was in revenge for the killing of 11 Boko Haram fighters by the villagers two weeks ago.

Nigerians last week marked the 10-year anniversary of the rise of the Boko Haram insurgency, which has killed more than 30,000 people, displaced millions and created one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. The extremists are known for mass abductions of schoolgirls and putting young women and men into suicide vests for attacks on markets, mosques and other high-traffic areas.

The insurgent group, which promotes an extreme form of Islamist fundamentalism and opposes Western-style education, has defied the claims of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration that the insurgency has been crushed. The violence also has spilled into neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

 

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Brazil Police Probe Tribal Leader’s Killing, Village Invasion

Brazil deployed police to a remote Amazon village on Sunday after reports it had been overrun by armed miners following the murder of an indigenous leader, officials and tribal chiefs said.
 
The violence in an area of the northern Amapa state controlled by the Waiapi tribe comes as Brazil’s indigenous people face growing pressures from miners, ranchers and loggers under pro-business President Jair Bolsonaro, who on Saturday called for the “first world” to help exploit the “absurd quantity of minerals” in the Amazon rainforest.
 
Last Monday, a Waiapi indigenous leader was killed and his body found the following day in a river, the Amapa attorney general’s office (AGO) said in a statement.
 
While none of the Waiapi witnessed the “violent” killing, a council of village chiefs said on Facebook a search of the area found “trails and other signs that the death was caused by non-indigenous people.”
 
On Friday, a group of “armed non-indigenous” overran the nearby village of Yvytoto, prompting residents to flee, the council said. Local media called them “garimpeiros,” a term for armed miners active in the Amazon, and said they numbered 50.
 
After reports of the attacks emerged Saturday, members of the federal police and a military police special forces unit were dispatched, the AGO said, arriving in the village some 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the state capital Macapa on Sunday.
 
The indigenous affairs agency FUNAI said its officers were also on the ground monitoring the police investigation.
 
“Law enforcement officials have reported that no hypothesis for the murder has been ruled out, nor can they can say at this time who carried out the crime,” the AGO said, as it announced the establishment of a crisis management group to oversee the investigation.
 
“The alleged presence of garimpeiros and other groups in the region is being investigated.”
 
‘Environmental psychosis’
 
Rich in gold, manganese, iron and copper, the Waiapi’s territory is deep inside the Amazon, making communication difficult, police said.
 
The Waiapi council said some of the tribe’s fighters had stationed themselves near the village occupied by the miners.
 
“The situation is urgent,” said Randolfe Rodrigues, an opposition senator from Amapa, on his official Facebook page.
 
The Brazilian Bar Association issued a statement calling on the government to protect the Waiapi’s land and ensure perpetrators of criminal offenses were “punished.”
 
The tribe’s territory is one of hundreds Brazil’s government demarcated in the 1980s for the exclusive use of its 800,000 indigenous inhabitants. Access by outsiders is strictly regulated.
 
Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has been accused of harming the Amazon and indigenous tribes in order to benefit his supporters in the logging, mining and farming industries.
 
“We are experiencing a real environmental psychosis,” Bolsonaro said recently.
 
He’s also pledged to crackdown on what he’s called radical environmental activism, and also questioned the latest official figures showing deforestation increasing by 88 percent in June compared with the same period last year.

 

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Iran Nuclear Deal Nations to Meet, Seek Way to Save Pact

The remaining signatories to the Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Sunday to try again to find a way of saving the accord after the U.S. pulled out, amid mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting, which comes a month after a similar gathering failed to achieve a breakthrough.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated since last year when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord that was aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program, and imposed punishing sanctions.

In retaliation, Iran said in May it would disregard certain limits the deal set on its nuclear program and threatened to take further measures if remaining parties to the deal, especially European nations, did not help it circumvent the U.S. sanctions.

FILE – A picture from Iranian News Agency ISNA, June 13, 2019, reportedly shows fire and smoke billowing from Norwegian owned Front Altair tanker said to have been attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman.

Tension in Middle East

Pressure has continued to mount in the region with a string of incidents involving tankers and drones.

The U.S. has said it brought down one and possibly two Iranian drones last week, and blamed Tehran for a series of mysterious attacks on tanker ships in strategic Gulf waters.

Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. aircraft in June, after which Trump announced that he had called off retaliatory air strikes at the last minute because the resulting death toll would have been too high.

The U.S. and Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of being behind multiple attacks on tankers in the Gulf in June, which Iran denies.

On July 19, a British-flagged tanker was impounded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards with its 23 crew aboard in the Strait of Hormuz.

The seizure was seen by London as a tit-for-tat move for British authorities detaining an Iranian tanker off the U.K. overseas territory of Gibraltar in early July.

Efforts to save deal falter 

Efforts by European powers, notably France’s President Emmanuel Macron, to salvage the nuclear deal have so far come to nothing.

The remaining signatories, however, have pledged to work toward a breakthrough at a future ministerial meeting, for which no date has yet been fixed.

Referring to the need for a “preparatory meeting before the ministerial level meeting that will be necessary,” one European diplomat told AFP it was “imperative to talk to the Iranians after the proven violations of their commitments.”

The European Union said earlier this week the extraordinary meeting would be chaired by the secretary general of the European External Action Service, Helga Schmid.

It said the talks were requested by Britain, France, Germany and Iran and would examine issues linked to the implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), under which the 2015 deal is implemented. 
 

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Hong Kong Protesters, Police Prepare for Another Clash

Protesters and police prepared Sunday for a likely showdown in central Hong Kong, one day after clashes led to 11 arrests and left at least two dozen injured in an outlying district toward the border with mainland China.

A midafternoon rally has been called at Chater Garden, an urban park in the financial district and about 500 meters (yards) west of the city’s government headquarters and legislature.

Police have denied a request from protest organizers to march about 2 kilometers (1.4 miles) west to Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park, but at least some of the demonstrators may still try to push forward.

Protesters react as tear gas is released by police during a faceoff at the entrance to a village at Yuen Long district in Hong Kong, July 27, 2019.

Seven weeks of protests

Hong Kong has been wracked by protests for seven weeks, as opposition to an extradition bill has morphed into demands for the resignation of the city’s leader and an investigation into whether police have used excessive force in quelling the protests.

Underlying the movement is a broader push for full democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. The city’s leader is chosen by a committee dominated by a pro-Beijing establishment, rather than by direct elections.

In denying the march, police cited escalating violence in clashes with protesters that have broken out after past marches and rallies.

“The police must prevent aggressive protesters from exploiting a peaceful procession to cause troubles and violent clashes,” said Superintendent Louis Lau of the police public relations branch.

The police had denied permission for Saturday’s march in Yuen Long, where a mob apparently targeting demonstrators had beat people brutally in a train station the previous weekend.

Ghost paper money usually tossed at funerals is left by protesters at the entrance to a village in Yuen Long district in Hong Kong, July 27, 2019.

Protests into the night

Protesters and police faced off in the streets well into the night, as they’ve done repeatedly during the summer’s pro-democracy protests.

Police said that protesters removed fences from roads to make their own roadblocks and charged police lines with metal poles. One group surrounded and vandalized a police vehicle, causing danger to officers on board, a police news release said.

Officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets as demonstrators threw bricks and other objects and ducked behind makeshift shields.v Later, police wearing helmets charged into the train station where a few hundred protesters had taken refuge from the tear gas. Some officers swung their batons at demonstrators, while others appeared to be urging their colleagues to hang back. For the second week in a row, blood was splattered on the station floor.

Police said in a statement they arrested 11 men, between the ages of 18 and 68, for offenses including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapon and assault. At least four officers were injured.

The Hospital Authority said 24 people were taken to five hospitals. As of Sunday morning, eight remained hospitalized, two in serious condition.

Riot police block a road into Yuen Long district in Hong Kong, July 27, 2019. Hong Kong police on Saturday fired tear gas and swung batons at protesters who defied warnings not to march in a neighborhood where earlier a mob brutally attacked people.

Police criticized

Amnesty International, the human rights group, called the police response heavy-handed and unacceptable.

“While police must be able to defend themselves, there were repeated instances today where police officers were the aggressors,” Man-kei Tam, the director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said in a news release.

Police said they had to use what they termed “appropriate force” because of the bricks and other objects thrown at them, including glass bottles with a suspected corrosive fluid inside.

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Navigating US College Athletics as a Foreign Student

When Ugnius Zilinskas came to Kenyon College in Ohio to play on the basketball team, he was welcomed with open arms.

“They kind of take you as a family member,” said the student from Kedainiai, Lithuania.

Zilinskas, a junior, is one of roughly 27,000 foreign students who play on U.S. college sports teams, out of more than 1 million foreign students who attend school in the U.S. Stars like basketball player Hakeem Olajuwon of Nigeria and soccer player Christine Sinclair of Canada began as international students at American colleges before competing professionally in the United States.

Zilinskas was welcomed by Kenyon College, a Division III National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) school in Gambier, Ohio. He has played basketball since he was a child in his home country and understood the ladder of college sports. But if a student comes to study in the U.S. with no knowledge of college sports, the system can seem complicated.

Here’s a breakdown.

FILE – The NCAA logo is seen at center court in Pittsburgh, Pa., March 18, 2015.

The basics

The NCAA is one of three major associations that govern college and university athletics:

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)

These nonprofit organizations determine student eligibility, establish sport guidelines, and oversee competition among schools across North America. For instance, the NCAA issues rules that define a foul in basketball, as well as prohibiting NCAA student athletes from endorsing commercial products.

The NCAA generates billions of dollars through media rights, ticket sales, merchandise and membership fees. The revenue goes to athletic scholarships, NCAA employee salaries, and to run competitions like March Madness, a wildly popular tournament broadcast across the country.

NCAA college athletes are banned from being paid to play while enrolled in schools to ensure amateur competition in college. Critics say the big sports associations use favors, trips, free meals and gear to compensate players in other ways. Not everyone considers these actions amateur, while others say the players deserve to be paid outright for their talent and skills.

Schools are sorted into divisions: Division I schools, such as the University of Virginia and University of Michigan, generally have large student populations and many teams. The University of Virginia, for example, has more than 16,000 undergraduate students. Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, a Division II school, has a little more than 6,000 undergraduate students. Kenyon College, a Division III school, has nearly 2,000 students.

Division I and Division II institutions are highly competitive with robust athletic programs and may have athletic budgets of millions of dollars to pay for athletic scholarships, coaches, sport facilities, athletes’ medical needs and transportation.

Division I provides the largest athletic scholarships. Athletes who receive athletic scholarships in soccer or basketball, for example, may get some or all tuition waved in addition to some room and board. Division III focuses on academics and offers merit scholarships or financial aid, not athletic scholarships.

Zilinskas said a benefit of competing in college sports was playing basketball while fully engaging in his studies.

The National Junior College Administration (NJCAA) operates differently and only at two-year colleges, organizing its member institutions into three divisions. Division I members, such Bismarck State College’s basketball team in North Dakota, offer larger athletic scholarships than Division II. Member institutions decide the division in which it wants to compete.

For similar reasons as the NCAA and NAIA, NJCAA Division III members do not provide athletic scholarships to their students.

Getting ready to compete

How do students get eligibility to play at U.S. schools?

Student athletes register through the NCAA Eligibility Center online. The $150 fee can be waived for students with financial needs. School transcripts, SAT or ACT scores and country-specific documents are required in English and according to the American grading system. (The NCAA offers country-specific information on its website.)

Students must also prove their amateur status.

Once eligibility is established and a U.S. college or university offers a student athlete a scholarship, they sign a National Letter of Intent to attend and compete for one academic year.

The application process to an NCAA Division III institution is less formal. A student does not need to register officially through the NCAA. Instead, grade and credit regulations are set by each school. Students should contact the team’s coach for school-specific requirements. Again, NCAA III does not offer student sports scholarships.

The process for international student athletes interested in competing on an NAIA or NJCAA Division I or Division II are similar.

While Zilinskas had hoped to play basketball at a Division I school, that dream seemed impossible after he suffered an injury.

“No one takes a player that cannot run and sits on the bench the whole year,” Zilinskas said. “So I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m packing my stuff, I’m going home.’ But then Kenyon gave me good financial aid. And I’m still here.”

“I would say that international students, if they’re really into athletics or doing some sports they should definitely try to do something with sports. … School is not everything, so there is a lot of different paths to go,” he said. “You can find a lot of different groups of people and academic sides and sports sides, music whatever. Meeting new people — that’s really big.”

More information about competing through the NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA can be found on the associations’ websites.
 

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Sudan Says 87 Killed, 168 Wounded When June 3 Protest Broken up

The head of a Sudanese investigative committee said on Saturday that 87 people were killed and 168 wounded on June 3 when a sit-in protest was violently broken up by security forces.

Fath al-Rahman Saeed, the head of the committee, said 17 of those killed were in the square occupied by protesters and 48 of the wounded were hit by bullets.

Saeed said some security forces fired at protesters and that three officers violated orders by moving forces into the sit-in.

He also said an order was issued to whip protesters.

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