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Biden signs landmark gun measure, says 'lives will be saved'

Landmark gun measure

President Joe Biden on Saturday signed the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades, a bipartisan compromise that seemed unimaginable until a recent series of mass shootings, including the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.

“Lives will be saved,” he said at the White House. Citing the families of shooting victims, the president said, “Their message to us was to do something. Well today, we did.”

The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday, and Biden acted just before leaving Washington for two summits in Europe.

The legislation will toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.

Most of its $13 billion cost will help bolster mental health programs and aid schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, and elsewhere in mass shootings.

Biden said the compromise hammered out by a bipartisan group of senators “doesn't do everything I want” but “it does include actions I've long called for that are going to save lives.”

“I know there’s much more work to do, and I’m never going to give up, but this is a monumental day,” said the president, who was joined by his wife, Jill, a teacher, for the signing.

He said they will host an event on July 11 for lawmakers and families affected by gun violence.

Biden signed the measure two days after the Supreme Court's ruling Thursday striking down a New York law that restricted peoples’ ability to carry concealed weapons.

While the new law does not include tougher restrictions long championed by Democrats, such as a ban on assault-style weapons and background checks for all gun transactions, it is the most impactful firearms violence measure produced by Congress since enactment a long-expired assault weapons ban in 1993.

Enough congressional Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the steps after recent rampages in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas. It took weeks of closed-door talks but senators emerged with a compromise.

Biden signed the bill just before he departed Washington for a summit of the Group of Seven leading economic powers — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — in Germany. He will travel later to Spain for a NATO meeting.



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Gunman kills 2 during Oslo Pride festival; terror suspected

Gunman kills two, 20 hurt

A gunman opened fire in Oslo’s night-life district early Saturday, killing two people and leaving more than 20 wounded in what Norwegian security service called an "Islamist terror act" during the capital’s annual Pride festival.

Investigators said the suspect, identified as a 42-year-old Norwegian citizen originally from Iran, was arrested after opening fire at three locations in downtown Oslo.

The PST security service raised its terror alert level from "moderate" to “extraordinary” — the highest level — after the attack, which sent panicked revelers fleeing into the streets or trying to hide from the gunman.

PST acting chief Roger Berg called the attack an “extreme Islamist terror act” and said the suspect had a “long history of violence and threats” as well as mental health issues.

He said PST first became aware of the suspect in 2015 and later became concerned that he had become radicalized and was part of an unspecified Islamist network.

Upon the advice of police, organizers canceled a Pride parade that was set for Saturday as the highlight of a weeklong festival. Scores of people marched through the capital anyway, waving rainbow flags.

One of the shootings happened outside the London Pub, a bar popular with the city’s LGBTQ community, just hours before the parade was set to begin.

Police attorney Christian Hatlo said the suspect was being held on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and terrorism, based on the number of people targeted at multiple locations.

“Our overall assessment is that there are grounds to believe that he wanted to cause grave fear in the population,” Hatlo said.

Police said two of the shooting victims died and 10 people were being treated for serious injuries, but none of them was believed to be in life-threatening condition. Eleven other people had minor injuries.

Olav Roenneberg, a journalist from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, said he witnessed the shooting.

“I saw a man arrive at the site with a bag. He picked up a weapon and started shooting,” Roenneberg told NRK. “First I thought it was an air gun. Then the glass of the bar next door was shattered and I understood I had to run for cover.”

Another witness, Marcus Nybakken, 46, said he saw a lot of people running and screaming and thought it was a fist fight.

“But then I heard that it was a shooting and that there was someone shooting with a submachine gun,” Nybakken told Norwegian broadcaster TV2.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a Facebook post that “the shooting outside London Pub in Oslo tonight was a cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.”

He said that while the motive was unclear, the shooting had caused fear and grief in the LGBTQ community.

“We all stand by you,” Gahr Stoere wrote.

Christian Bredeli, who was at the bar, told Norwegian newspaper VG that he hid on the fourth floor with a group of about 10 people until he was told it was safe to come out.

“Many were fearing for their lives,” he said. “On our way out we saw several injured people, so we understood that something serious had happened.”

TV2 showed footage of people running down Oslo streets in panic as shots rang out in the background.

Investigators said the suspect was known to police, as well as to PST, but not for any major violent crimes. His criminal record included a narcotics offense and a weapons offense for carrying a knife, Hatlo said.

Hatlo said police seized two weapons after the attack: a handgun and an automatic weapon, both of which he described as “not modern” without giving details.

He said the suspect had not made any statement to the police and was in contact with a defense lawyer.

Hatlo said it was too early to say whether the gunman specifically targeted members of the LGBTQ community.

“We have to look closer at that, we don’t know yet,” he said.

Still, police advised organizers of the Pride festival to cancel the parade Saturday.

“Oslo Pride therefore urges everyone who planned to participate or watch the parade to not show up. All events in connection with Oslo Prides are canceled,” organizers said on the official Facebook page of the event.

Inge Alexander Gjestvang, leader of FRI, the Norwegian organisation for sexual and gender diversity, said the shooting has shaken the Nordic country’s LGBTQ community.

“We encourage everyone to stand together, take care of each other. We’ll be back later, proud, visible but right now it’s not the time for that,” he told TV2.

King Harald V offered condolences to the relatives of victims and said the royal family was “horrified” by the attack.

“We must stand together to defend our values: freedom, diversity and respect for each other. We must continue to stand up for all people to feel safe,” the monarch said.

Norway has a relatively low crime rate but has experienced violent attacks by right-wing extremists, including one of the worst mass shootings in Europe in 2011, when a gunman killed 69 people on the island of Utoya after setting off a bomb in Oslo that left eight dead.

In 2019, another right-wing extremist killed his stepsister and then opened fire in a mosque but was overpowered before anyone there was injured.



Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade; states can ban abortion

More clinics close

UPDATE 4:07 p.m.

Abortion providers across Arizona halted procedures Friday as they try to determine whether a law dating to pre-statehood days means their personnel could face prison time after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The possibility of prosecutions was just too risky, said Brittany Forteno, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona.

She said the state’s largest abortion provider is working with its attorneys to “understand Arizona’s tangled web of conflicting laws.”

At least two other large providers in Tucson and Phoenix followed suit.

At issue is a law that dates to at least 1901, 11 years before Arizona became a state. It subjects anyone who provides abortion care to a possible two to five years in prison. Republicans in the state Senate believe the pre-Roe law is enforceable.

Another law, signed in March by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, bans the procedure after 15 weeks. It takes effect in about 90 days.

A spokesperson for Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich says Brnovich’s office is studying the matter.


UPDATE 3:21 p.m.

The Arkansas Department of Health on Friday notified the state’s two abortion providers that its ban on the procedure had taken effect under a law triggered by the Supreme Court ruling. The law bans abortions except to protect the life of the mother in a medical emergency.

The notices advise the facilities that performing an abortion in violation of the law is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Planned Parenthood said it would no longer be able to offer abortions at its Little Rock facility. Before the ban took effect, Planned Parenthood offered medication abortion but not surgical abortions at the facility. Another clinic, Little Rock Family Planning Services, offered surgical abortions at its facility.

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains is doing everything in our power to ensure that they have the resources they need to have an abortion, including support in traveling outside of their communities for care,” Emily Wales, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement. “Arkansas, we will continue to be here for you.”


UPDATE 12:08 p.m.

The Democratic governors of California, Washington and Oregon on Friday vowed to protect reproductive rights and help women who travel to the West Coast seeking abortions following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“California, Oregon and Washington are building the West Coast offense to protect patients’ access to reproductive care,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a video statement announcing the states’ plans along with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The three states issued a joint “multi-state commitment” saying they will work together to defend patients and medical professionals providing reproductive health care.

They also pledged to “protect against judicial and local law enforcement cooperation with out of-state investigations, inquiries, and arrests” regarding abortions performed in their states.

The liberal West Coast states anticipate an influx of people seeking abortions, especially as neighboring conservative states move to outlaw or greatly restrict the procedure.


UPDATE 11:14 a.m.

Former President Donald Trump is taking credit for the Supreme Court’s decision that overturned a landmark case making abortion legal throughout the United States nearly 50 years ago.

In a statement, Trump called the ruling “the biggest WIN for LIFE in a generation.”

He says the rulings and others “were only made possible because I delivered everything as promised, including nominating and getting three highly respected and strong Constitutionalists confirmed to the United States Supreme Court. It was my great honor to do so!”

The Supreme Court on Friday issued the stunning decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. Three of the justices voting in favor were Trump appointees: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.


UPDATE 9:55 a.m.

The only abortion clinic in West Virginia is no longer performing abortions as of Friday.

Katie Quinonez, executive director of Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling issued Friday that allows states to ban abortion is making an immediate, hard-felt impact.

The state has an abortion ban law on the books that makes providing abortions a felony carrying three to 10 years of prison time.

“Roe has never been enough, but in states like West Virginia, it was the only thing protecting abortion access,”

She says West Virginians will be forced to travel hundreds or thousands of miles away from home to access health care and that marginalized communities will be hurt the most.


ORIGINAL 7:40 p.m.

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years in a decision by its conservative majority to overturn Roe v. Wade. Friday's outcome is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.

The decision, unthinkable just a few years ago, was the culmination of decades of efforts by abortion opponents, made possible by an emboldened right side of the court that has been fortified by three appointees of former President Donald Trump.

The ruling came more than a month after the stunning leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito indicating the court was prepared to take this momentous step.

It puts the court at odds with a majority of Americans who favored preserving Roe, according to opinion polls.

Alito, in the final opinion issued Friday, wrote that Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion, were wrong the day they were decided and must be overturned.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Alito wrote.

Authority to regulate abortion rests with the political branches, not the courts, Alito wrote.

Joining Alito were Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. The latter three justices are Trump appointees. Thomas first voted to overrule Roe 30 years ago.

Chief Justice John Roberts would have stopped short of ending the abortion right, noting that he would have upheld the Mississippi law at the heart of the case, a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, and said no more.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — the diminished liberal wing of the court — were in dissent.

“With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent,” they wrote.

The ruling is expected to disproportionately affect minority women who already face limited access to health care, according to statistics analyzed by The Associated Press.

Thirteen states, mainly in the South and Midwest, already have laws on the books that ban abortion in the event Roe is overturned. Another half-dozen states have near-total bans or prohibitions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

In roughly a half-dozen other states, the fight will be over dormant abortion bans that were enacted before Roe was decided in 1973 or new proposals to sharply limit when abortions can be performed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and more than half are now done with pills, not surgery, according to data compiled by Guttmacher.

The decision came against a backdrop of public opinion surveys that find a majority of Americans oppose overturning Roe and handing the question of whether to permit abortion entirely to the states. Polls conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and others also have consistently shown about 1 in 10 Americans want abortion to be illegal in all cases. A majority are in favor of abortion being legal in all or most circumstances, but polls indicate many also support restrictions especially later in pregnancy.

The Biden administration and other defenders of abortion rights have warned that a decision overturning Roe also would threaten other high court decisions in favor of gay rights and even potentially, contraception.

The liberal justices made the same point in their joint dissent: The majority “eliminates a 50-year-old constitutional right that safeguards women’s freedom and equal station. It breaches a core rule-of-law principle, designed to promote constancy in the law. In doing all of that, it places in jeopardy other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage. And finally, it undermines the Court’s legitimacy.”

But Alito contended that his analysis addresses abortion only. “Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” he wrote.

Whatever the intentions of the person who leaked Alito’s draft opinion, the conservatives held firm in overturning Roe and Casey.

In his draft, Alito dismissed the arguments in favor of retaining the two decisions, including that multiple generations of American women have partly relied on the right to abortion to gain economic and political power.

Changing the composition of the court has been central to the anti-abortion side’s strategy. Mississippi and its allies made increasingly aggressive arguments as the case developed, and two high-court defenders of abortion rights retired or died. The state initially argued that its law could be upheld without overruling the court’s abortion precedents.

Then-Gov. Phil Bryant signed the 15-week measure into law in March 2018, when Justices Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were still members of a five-justice majority that was mainly protective of abortion rights.

By early summer, Kennedy had retired and was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh a few months later. The Mississippi law was blocked in lower federal courts.

But the state always was headed to the nation’s highest court. It did not even ask for a hearing before a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ultimately held the law invalid in December 2019.

By early September 2020, the Supreme Court was ready to consider the state’s appeal.

The court scheduled the case for consideration at the justices’ private conference on Sept. 29. But in the intervening weeks, Ginsburg died and Barrett was quickly nominated and confirmed without a single Democratic vote.

The stage now was set, although it took the court another half year to agree to hear the case.

By the time Mississippi filed its main written argument with the court in the summer, the thrust of its argument had changed and it was now calling for the wholesale overruling of Roe and Casey.

The first sign that the court might be receptive to wiping away the constitutional right to abortion came in late summer, when the justices divided 5-4 in allowing Texas to enforce a ban on the procedure at roughly six weeks, before some women even know they are pregnant. That dispute turned on the unique structure of the law, including its enforcement by private citizens rather than by state officials, and how it can be challenged in court.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted in a searing dissent for the three liberal justices that their conservative colleagues refused to block “a flagrantly unconstitutional law” that “flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents.” Roberts was also among the dissenters.

Then in December, after hearing additional arguments over whether to block the Texas law known as S.B. 8, the court again declined to do so, also by a 5-4 vote. “The clear purpose and actual effect of S. B. 8 has been to nullify this Court’s rulings,” Roberts wrote, in a partial dissent.

In their Senate hearings, Trump’s three high-court picks carefully skirted questions about how they would vote in any cases, including about abortion.

But even as Democrats and abortion rights supporters predicted Kavanaugh and Gorsuch would vote to upend abortion rights if confirmed, the two left at least one Republican senator with a different impression. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine predicted Gorsuch and Kavanaugh wouldn’t support overturning the abortion cases, based on private conversations she had with them when they were nominees to the Supreme Court.

Barrett was perhaps the most vocal opponent of abortion in her time as a law professor, before becoming a federal judge in 2017. She was a member of anti-abortion groups at Notre Dame University, where she taught law, and she signed a newspaper ad opposing “abortion on demand” and defending “the right to life from fertilization to natural death.” She promised to set aside her personal views when judging cases.

Trump, meanwhile, had predicted as a candidate that whoever he named to the court would “automatically” vote to overrule Roe.



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'Heartbreaking': Afghan-Canadians say earthquake could make humanitarian crisis worse

'Heartbreaking': earthquake

Some Afghan-Canadians say they are worried Wednesday's magnitude 6 earthquake in eastern Afghanistan could heighten the country's already dire humanitarian crisis.

Afghan state media said the earthquake's death toll is now 1,150, with about 3,000 people injured, after a 4.2 magnitude aftershock took more lives on Friday. Close to 3,000 homes have also been destroyed or badly damaged, according to the reports.

"I was very shattered," said Nooria Kamran, the co-founder and executive director of Children Without Borders, an Afghan-Canadian organization addressing child labour in Afghanistan.

"It was very shocking because what's been going on in Afghanistan, every day you wake up, there's something new, there's something more shocking than what happened yesterday," she said.

So far, the humanitarian response has lagged in both size and speed due to the lack of pre-positioned supplies and the level of hunger and poverty that already exist in Afghanistan. Heavy rains and winds have also hampered rescue efforts.

Children Without Borders had personnel on the ground delivering food packages and funds for medical treatment in Paktika province, the earthquake's epicentre. Kamran said the province's rural and mountainous landscape is making it more difficult for organizations to deliver aid.

"There's a lack of medical treatment, there's a lack of food, there's all kinds of needs in Afghanistan right now," Kamran said.

Houses in the area also have a weaker structure than those in Afghan cities, making them more susceptible to collapse, she said.

Thousands of stone and mud-brick homes crumbled in the quake, often trapping whole families in the rubble. Many of those who survived spent the first night outside in a cold rain. Since then, villagers have been burying their dead and digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors.

Afghanistan was already facing the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history after the Taliban took control of the country last year, and an earthquake on top of that is "unbelievable" and "heartbreaking," said Adeena Niazi, the founder and executive director of the Toronto-based Afghan Women's Organization.

Afghanistan is grappling with staggering poverty at a time when the country as a whole is spiralling deeper into an economic crisis after many countries pulled back critical financing and development aid in the wake of the Taliban's takeover.

"The health system in Afghanistan has almost collapsed, hospitals are closed because they don't receive aid," Niazi said.

"It's already a huge crisis with medical services but now with this earthquake, I don't know what will happen," she said, adding that many Afghans stuck under rubble could die without access to medical treatment.

Niazi said she is worried the international community my not rush to aid earthquake victims in Afghanistan out of hesitance to hand funds and resources over to the Taliban-controlled government.

The country's international isolation is also complicating relief efforts since fewer aid organizations have a presence in the country.

To show that aid for earthquake victims is welcome, the Taliban's supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, who hardly ever appears in public, asked the international community and humanitarian organizations "to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort."

The current government in Afghanistan is desperate to get help to its people, Niazi said. "I know (the Taliban) are against women, they are against women's education, but ... they don't have the capacity, they don't have the resources, they cannot do anything," she said.

"The people are victimized by the Taliban and also they are easy to ignore. They are punished by the international community because they are ruled by the Taliban," Niazi added.

Global Affairs Canada said the federal government remains deeply concerned about the continuing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

"Canada is saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life as a result of the recent earthquake in Afghanistan. Canada offers its heartfelt sympathies to all victims and their families," it said in a statement.

The department said it is not aware of any Canadians affected by the earthquake but will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to support experienced humanitarian organizations that meet all of its requirements to respond to the needs of vulnerable Afghans.

In March, Canada allocated $143 million in humanitarian assistance to support vulnerable populations in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries.



Federal court blocks FDA ban on Juul e-cigarette sales in US

Federal court blocks ban

A federal court on Friday temporarily blocked the government’s order for Juul to stop selling its electronic cigarettes.

Juul had filed an emergency motion earlier Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington so it can appeal the sales ban, and the court later granted the request.

The e-cigarette maker had asked the court to pause what it called an “extraordinary and unlawful action” by the Food and Drug Administration that would have required it to immediately halt its business.

The FDA said Thursday that Juul must stop selling its vaping device and its tobacco and menthol flavored cartridges.

The action was part of a sweeping effort by the agency to bring scientific scrutiny to the multibillion-dollar vaping industry after years of regulatory delays.

To stay on the market, companies must show that their e-cigarettes benefit public health. In practice, that means proving that adult smokers who use them are likely to quit or reduce their smoking, while teens are unlikely to get hooked on them.

The FDA said Juul’s application left regulators with significant questions and didn’t include enough information to evaluate any potential health risks. Juul said it submitted enough information and data to address all issues raised. The company said the FDA refused its request to put its order on hold to avoid a massive disruption to its business.

While Juul remains a top seller, its share of the U.S. e-cigarette market has dipped to about half. The company was widely blamed for a surge in underage vaping a few years ago, but a recent federal survey showed a drop in the teen vaping rate and a shift away from Juul's products.

The devices heat a nicotine solution into a vapor that’s inhaled, bypassing many of the toxic chemicals produced by burning tobacco.

The company said in its Friday court filing that it submitted a 125,000-page application to the FDA nearly two years ago. It said the application included several studies to evaluate the health risks among Juul users.

Juul said that the FDA cannot argue that there was a “critical and urgent public interest” in immediately removing its products from the market when the agency allowed them to be sold during its review.

The company noted that the FDA denied its application while authorizing those submitted by competitors with similar products.

The FDA has OK'd e-cigarettes from R.J. Reynolds, Logic and other companies, while rejecting many others.

In 2019, Juul was pressured into halting all advertising and eliminating its fruit and dessert flavors after they became popular among middle and high school students. The next year, the FDA limited flavors in small vaping devices to just tobacco and menthol.



Biden calls abortion ruling 'a sad day' for country

Biden: 'sad day' for country

President Joe Biden said Friday that “it’s a sad day for the court and the country” after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

“Now with Roe gone, let’s be very clear, the health and life of women across this nation are now at risk,” he said from the White House.

He added that "the court has done what it’s never done before — expressly taking away a constitution right that is so fundamental to so many Americans,” he said.

The White House has been preparing for this moment since a draft of the decision leaked in May. Officials have been huddling with state leaders, advocates, health care professionals and others to prepare for a future without Roe v. Wade.

Now Biden’s plans will be tested in terms of politics and policy. Biden said his administration would defend a woman's right to cross state lines to seek an abortion.

Outside the Supreme Court, a crowd of abortion supporters swelled to the hundreds after the ruling was issued. One chanted into a bullhorn, “legal abortion on demand” and “this decision must not stand.” Some shouted “the Supreme Court is illegitimate."

“It’s a painful day for those of us who support women’s rights,” said Laura Free, an Ithaca resident and women’s rights historian who came to Washington to do research. When she learned of the decision, she said, “I had to come here.”

A competing faction demonstrated in favor of the ruling, holding signs saying "the future is anti-abortion? and “dismember Roe.”

Garrett Bess, with Heritage Action for America, a lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said his organization would be working in states to continue efforts to limit abortion.

“This has been a long time coming and it’s a welcome decision,” he said.

Biden and other Democrats hope to use outrage over the court decision to rally voters in November's midterm elections. Although nationwide legislation ensuring access to abortion appears out of reach, more Democratic victories at the state level could limit Republican efforts to ban the practice.

In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department “will work tirelessly to protect and advance reproductive freedom.” He said that in addition to protecting providers and those seeking abortions in states where it remains legal, “we stand ready to work with other arms of the federal government that seek to use their lawful authorities to protect and preserve access to reproductive care.”

He also noted that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of mifepristone, a drug used to end pregnancies.

“States may not ban mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” Garland said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the court's ruling “is outrageous and heart-wrenching” and fulfills the Republican Party's "dark and extreme goal of ripping away women’s right to make their own reproductive health decisions.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., applauded the decision.

“A lot of lives are going to be saved,” McCarthy told reporters. “But it also goes back to people in the states to have a say in the process.”

Many Republican-controlled states are poised to severely restrict abortion, or even ban it outright.

The White House has been exploring options for Biden to take executive action to safeguard abortion rights, but his options are limited.

Lawrence Gostin, who runs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown Law, said before Friday's ruling that he expected the Biden administration to be “to be nibbling around the edges, and is not going to do anything really profound.”

Gostin said he’s discussed a variety of options with administration officials but believes they are “gun shy” given the potential for legal challenges that could lead to more roadblocks from a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives.

Some of Gostin’s suggestions included having Medicaid cover the cost of traveling across state lines to end pregnancies, as well as expanding access to abortion medication that can be delivered by mail.

“States couldn’t pick and choose what cancer drug they would allow, and they shouldn’t be permitted to choose what options women have for medication abortions that are fully approved as safe and effective,” he said.

During their preparations, White House officials have held a series of meetings with advocates, medical groups and faith leaders who are supportive of abortion access.

The Rev. John Dorhauer, the general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, drove from Cleveland to Washington to attend one meeting earlier this month. Another virtual meeting was held this week, featuring Vice President Kamala Harris.

“It was rather impressive to see the commitment the White House and the vice president’s office has had to gather advocates from around the country,” Dorhauer said.

However, there are also concerns that the administration is not ready.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, attended a recent virtual meeting with abortion providers and said she expects “a true health crisis.”

“I think that we should have been preparing for far longer than we have been,” McNicholas said. “Do I think that they recognize that this a problem? Yes. Do I think that they’re prepared in this moment? No.”



Congress sends landmark gun violence compromise to Biden

Landmark gun compromise

The House sent President Joe Biden the most wide-ranging gun violence bill Congress has passed in decades on Friday, a measured compromise that at once illustrates progress on the long-intractable issue and the deep-seated partisan divide that persists.

The Democratic-led chamber approved the election-year legislation on a mostly party-line 234-193 vote, capping a spurt of action prompted by voters' revulsion over last month’s mass shootings in New York and Texas. The night before, the Senate approved it by a bipartisan 65-33 margin, with 15 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting a package that senators from both parties had crafted.

The bill would incrementally toughen requirements for young people to buy guns, deny firearms from more domestic abusers and help local authorities temporarily take weapons from people judged to be dangerous. Most of its $13 billion cost would go to bolster mental health programs and for schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Connecticut, Parkland, Florida and many other infamous massacres.

And while it omits the far tougher restrictions Democrats have long championed, it stands as the most impactful gun violence measure that Congress has approved since it enacted a now-expired assault weapons ban nearly 30 years ago.

The legislation was a direct result of the slaying of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, exactly one month ago, and the killing of 10 Black shoppers days earlier in Buffalo, New York. Lawmakers returned from their districts after those shootings saying constituents were demanding congressional action, a vehemence many felt could not be ignored.

“No legislation can make their families or communities whole,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.. said of those victims. “But we can act to keep others from facing the same trauma.”

For the conservatives who dominate Republicans in the House, it all came down to the Constitution's Second Amendment right for people to have firearms, a protection that is key for many voters who own guns.

“Today they're coming after our Second Amendment liberties, and who knows what it will be tomorrow,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Judiciary panel's top Republican.

Impossible to ignore was the juxtaposition of the week's gun votes with a pair of jarring Supreme Court decisions on two of the nation's most incendiary culture war issues. The justices on Thursday struck down a New York law that has restricted peoples' ability to carry concealed weapons, and Friday it overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the protection for abortion that case had ensured for a half-century.

Fifteen Senate Republicans backed the compromise, but that still meant that fewer than one-third of GOP senators supported the measure. And with Republicans in the House solidly against it, the fate of future congressional action on guns seems dubious, even as the GOP is expected to win House and possibly Senate control in the November elections.

The bill lacked favorite Democratic proposals like bans on the assault-type weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines used in the slayings in Buffalo and Uvalde. But it still let both parties declare victory by demonstrating to voters that they know how to compromise and make government work.

Yet the Senate votes highlighted the wariness most Republicans feel about defying the party's pro-gun voters and firearms groups like the National Rifle Association. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana were the only two of the 15 up for reelection this fall. Of the rest, four are retiring and eight don't face voters until 2026.

Tellingly, GOP senators voting “no” included potential 2024 presidential contenders like Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tim Scott of South Carolina. Cruz said the legislation would “disarm law-abiding citizens rather than take serious measures to protect our children."

The talks that produced the bill were led by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. Murphy represented Newtown, Connecticut, when an assailant killed 20 students and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, while Cornyn has been involved in past gun talks following mass shootings in his state and is close to McConnell.

The bill would make the local juvenile records of people age 18 to 20 available during required federal background checks when they attempt to buy guns. Those examinations, currently limited to three days, would last up to a maximum of 10 days to give federal and local officials time to search records.

People convicted of domestic abuse who are current or former romantic partners of the victim would be prohibited from acquiring firearms, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole."

That ban currently only applies to people married to, living with or who have had children with the victim.

There would be money to help states enforce red flag laws and for other states without them that for violence prevention programs. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have such laws.

The measure expands the use of background checks by rewriting the definition of the federally licensed gun dealers required to conduct them. Penalties for gun trafficking are strengthened, billions of dollars are provided for behavioral health clinics and school mental health programs and there's money for school safety initiatives, though not for personnel to use a “dangerous weapon."



Abortion ruling exposes deep chasm over the issue in the US

Deep chasm over abortion

America was convulsed with anger, joy, fear and confusion Friday after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The canyon-like divide across the country over the right to terminate a pregnancy was on full display, with abortion rights supporters condemning the decision as a dark day in history, while abortion foes rejoiced and said it will save countless lives.

In eliminating the constitutional right to abortion that has stood for a half-century, the high court left the politically charged issue up to the states, about half of which are now likely to ban the procedure.

Hundreds of people surrounded the barricaded Supreme Court in Washington, some questioning the high court's legitimacy, while others cheered the ruling and proclaimed the dawn of a “post-Roe” world.

Many young people in the crowd wore red shirts that read “The Pro-Life Generation Votes," while chanting, “Pro life is pro woman!”

Others involved in the decades-long fight for women's rights felt an acute setback to the movement but remained hopeful it might prove temporary.

“It’s not unexpected, but I’m absolutely furious that we are seeing … the major backlash of white male supremacy. And that's what this is about. It's about controlling women's reproductive lives,” said Carol E. Tracy, the executive director of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia.

“They want women to be barefoot and pregnant once again. But I have no doubt that women and like-minded men, and people in the LGBTQ community, who are also at great risk, we're going to fight back. I think it's going to be a long, hard fight.”

Garrett Bess, who works with a lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, watched the scene unfold at the Supreme Court and said his group will continue to press states to restrict abortion.

“We’ll be working with grassroots Americans to ensure the protection of pregnant mothers and babies,” Bess said. “This has been a long time coming, and it’s a welcome decision.”

Opinion polls show that a majority of Americans favor preserving Roe.

The reaction in statehouses across the country was swift. In Indiana, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb announced plans to add abortion restrictions to the agenda of a special legislative session early next month meant to address inflation.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is clear, and it is now up to the states to address this important issue,” Holcomb said. “We’ll do that in short order in Indiana.”

Medical student LaShyra Nolen, the first Black woman to become class president of Harvard Medical School, feared the effect of abortion bans on minority and poor women, among others.

“In the past month, we’ve seen that this country is not prepared to make sure that babies have access to formula, to be fed everyday. We’ve seen that our children are not safe at our schools, because of a lack of gun control. We also continue to see devastating statistics that Black women are more likely to die in childbirth compared to white women,” Nolen said.

“So when you have these harrowing disparities that exist in our country, and you force someone to give birth," she said, “I think it's going to lead to really dangerous measures and really dangerous conclusions.”



Aftershock in Afghanistan as quake toll rises to 1,150 dead

Earthquake death toll rises

An aftershock took more lives Friday and threatened to pile even more misery on an area of eastern Afghanistan reeling from a powerful earthquake that state media said killed 1,150 people this week.

Among the dead from Wednesday's magnitude 6 quake are 121 children, but that figure is expected to climb, said Mohamed Ayoya, UNICEF's representative in Afghanistan. He said close to 70 children were injured.

That earthquake struck a remote, mountainous region already grappling with staggering poverty at a time when the country as a whole is spiraling deeper into economic crisis after many countries pulled back critical financing and development aid in the wake of the Taliban's takeover. On Friday, Pakistan’s Meteorological Department reported a new, 4.2 magnitude quake that state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported took five more lives in hard-hit Gayan District and injured 11 people.

International aid had been keeping the country afloat, and its withdrawal left millions unable to afford food and further strained already struggling medical facilities. Nearly half the population of 38 million cannot meet their basic food needs, while some civil servants, like doctors, nurses and teachers, weren’t paid for months because the Taliban government is unable to access frozen foreign reserves. Salary delays continue throughout the public sector.

Afghanistan's international isolation is also complicating relief efforts since fewer aid organizations have a presence in the country, and international sanctions on Afghan banks make it difficult to send cash into the country. Despite waivers from the U.S. Treasury Department that allow money to be sent to aid groups, banks are hesitant to handle such transactions for fear of running afoul of rules anyway.

Aid groups lament that means they have to pay local staff with bags of cash, physically carried into the the country by their staff and then distributed throughout the provinces in person. The process is expensive, incurring fees along the way for transport and security.

Aid organizations like the local Red Crescent and U.N. agencies like the World Food Program have sent food, tents, sleeping mats and other essentials to families in Paktika province, the epicenter of the earthquake, and neighboring Khost province. Several countries have sent cargo planes of aid.

Still, residents appeared to be largely on their own to deal with the aftermath as their new Taliban-led government and the international aid community struggle to bring in help. The shoddy mountain roads leading to the affected areas were made worse by damage and rain.

Thousands of stone and mud-brick homes crumbled in the quake, which struck at night, often trapping whole families in the rubble. Many of those who survived spent the first night outside in a cold rain. Since then, villagers have been burying their dead and digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors.

The Taliban director of the Bakhtar News Agency said Friday the death toll from the first quake had risen to 1,150 people. Abdul Wahid Rayan said at least 1,600 people were injured.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has put the death toll at 770 people.

It’s not clear how death toll counts are being reached, given the difficulties of accessing and communicating with the impacted villages. Either grim toll would make the quake Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades.

State media reported that close to 3,000 homes have been destroyed or badly damaged, including at least 1,000 in Gayan. While modern buildings withstand magnitude 6 earthquakes elsewhere, Afghanistan’s mud-brick homes and landslide-prone mountains make such quakes more dangerous.

In villages across Gayan district, toured by Associated Press journalists for hours Thursday, families who had spent the previous rainy night out in the open lifted pieces of timber of collapsed roofs and pulled away stones by hand, looking for missing loved ones. Taliban fighters circulated in vehicles in the area, but only a few were seen helping dig through the rubble.

There was little sign of heavy equipment — only one bulldozer was spotted being transported. Ambulances circulated, but little other help to the living was evident. One 6-year-old boy in Gayan wept as he said his parents, two sisters and a brother were all dead. He had fled the ruins of his own home and took refuge with the neighbors.

Afghanistan's economy had been reliant on international donor support and aid even before the Taliban seized power last August as the U.S. and its NATO allies withdrew their forces, ending a 20-year war that drove the same insurgents from power in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Aid groups still operating in Afghanistan are now scrambling to get medical supplies, food and tents to the remote quake-struck area, but U.N. agencies are facing a $3 billion funding shortfall this year.

Trucks of food and other necessities arrived from Pakistan, and planes full of humanitarian aid landed from Iran, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. India sent a technical team to the capital, Kabul, to coordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. India said its aid would be handed over to a U.N. agency on the ground and the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

Other countries that have offered aid were at pains to underscore that they would work only through U.N. agencies, not with the Taliban, which no government has officially recognized as of yet. Some have called on the Taliban to first address human rights concerns, chief among them the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls.



Ukrainian army to leave battered city to avoid encirclement

Army leaving battered city

After weeks of ferocious fighting, Ukrainian forces will retreat from a besieged city in the country's east to avoid encirclement, a regional governor said Friday.

The city of Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region, has faced relentless Russian bombardment. Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to the huge Azot chemical factory on the city's edge, where they remain holed up in its sprawling underground structures in which about 500 civilians also found refuge.

In recent days, Russian forces have made gains around Sievierodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lysychansk, on a steep bank across the river, in a bid to encircle Ukrainian forces.

Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk have been the focal point of the Russian offensive aimed at capturing all of the Donbas and destroying the Ukrainian military defending it — the most capable and battle-hardened segment of the country’s armed forces.

The two cities and the surrounding areas are the last major pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk region — 95% of which is now under the control of Russian troops and local separatist forces. The Russians and separatists also control about half of the Donetsk region, the second province that is part of the Donbas.

Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said that the Ukrainian troops have been given the order to leave Sievierodonetsk to prevent bigger losses.

“Regrettably, we will have to pull our troops out of Sievierodonetsk,” Haidai told The Associated Press. “It makes no sense to stay at the destroyed positions, and the number of killed in action has been growing.”

He said that the Ukrainian soldiers have "received the order to retreat from Sievierodonetsk to new positions in fortified areas and continue resistance from there.”

Haidai noted that Ukrainian troops still remain in Sievierodonetsk, facing massive Russian bombardment that has destroyed 80% of buildings.

“As of today, the resistance in Sievierodonetsk is continuing,” Haidai told the AP. “The Russians are relentlessly shelling the Ukrainian positions, burning everything out.”

Haidai said the Russians were also advancing toward Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units conducted forays on the city edges but were driven out by its defenders.

The governor added that a bridge on a highway leading to Lysychansk was badly damaged in a Russian airstrike and became unusable for trucks.

The Russian Defense Ministry declared Friday that four Ukrainian battalions and a unit of “foreign mercenaries” totaling about 2,000 soldiers have been “fully blocked” near Hirske and Zolote, south of Lysychansk. The claim couldn’t be independently verified.

Following a botched attempt to capture Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in the early stage of the invasion that started Feb. 24, Russian forces have shifted focus in the war to the Donbas region, where the Ukrainian forces have fought Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

After repeated requests to its Western allies for heavier weaponry to counter Russia’s edge in firepower, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said a response had arrived in the form of medium-range American rocket launchers.

A U.S. defense official confirmed Wednesday that all four of the promised High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, were in the hands of Ukrainian forces but said it wasn't clear if they have been used yet.

The U.S. approved providing the precision-guided systems at the end of May, and once they were in the region, Ukraine’s forces needed about three weeks of training to operate them. The rockets can travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers).

The U.S. will send an addition $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including four more of the medium-range rocket systems, ammunition and other supplies, U.S. officials announced Thursday.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged music fans at the Glastonbury Festival to “spread the truth about Russia’s war” on his country.

Speaking to the crowd at the British music extravaganza by video on Friday before a set by The Libertines, Zelenskyy said that “we in Ukraine would also like to live the life as we used to and enjoy freedom and this wonderful summer, but we cannot do that because the most terrible has happened – Russia has stolen our peace.”

___

An official with the pro-Moscow administration in the southern city of Kherson that was captured by Russian troops early in the invasion was killed in an explosion Friday.

The pro-Russian regional administration in Kherson said that Dmitry Savlyuchenko died when his vehicle exploded in what it described as a “terror attack.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.



Afghans bury dead, dig for survivors of devastating quake

Afghans bury dead

Villagers rushed to bury the dead Thursday and dug by hand through the rubble of their homes in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan that state media reported killed 1,000 people. Residents appeared to be largely on their own to deal with the aftermath as their new Taliban-led government and the international aid community struggled to bring in help.

Under a leaden sky in Paktika province, the epicenter of Wednesday’s earthquake where hundreds of homes have been destroyed, men dug several long trenches on a mountainside overlooking their village. They prayed over around 100 bodies wrapped in blankets and then buried them.

In villages across Gayan district, toured by Associated Press journalists for hours Thursday, families who had spent the previous rainy night out in the open lifted pieces of timber of collapsed roofs and pulled away stones by hand, looking for missing loved ones. Taliban fighters circulated in vehicles in the area, but only a few were seen helping dig through rubble.

There was little sign of heavy equipment — only one bulldozer was spotted being transported. Ambulances circulated, but little other help to the living was evident.

Many international aid agencies withdrew from Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power nearly 10 months ago. Those that remain are scrambling to get medical supplies, food and tents to the remote quake-struck area, using shoddy mountain roads made worse by damage and rains.

“We ask from the Islamic Emirate and the whole country to come forward and help us,” said a survivor who gave his name as Hakimullah. “We are with nothing and have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”

The scenes underscored how the magnitude 6 quake has struck a country that was already nearly on its knees from multiple humanitarian crises.

The quake took the lives of 1,000 people, according to the state-run Bakhtar News Agency, which also reported an estimated 1,500 more were injured. In the first independent count, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said around 770 people had been killed in Paktika and neighboring Khost province.

It’s not clear how the totals were arrived at, given the difficulties of accessing and communicating with the affected villages. Either grim toll would make the quake Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades, and officials continued to warn the number could still rise.

Since the Taliban took over in August amid the U.S and NATO withdrawal, the world pulled back financing and development aid that had been keeping the country afloat. The economy collapsed, leaving millions unable to afford food; many medical facilities shut down, making treatment harder to find. Nearly half the population of 38 million faces crisis levels of food insecurity.

Many aid and development agencies also left after the Taliban seizure of power. The U.N. and remaining agencies said they were moving blankets, food, tents, and medical teams to the area.

But they are over-stretched, and U.N. agencies are facing a $3 billion funding shortfall for Afghanistan this year. That means there will be difficult decisions about who gets aid, said Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the United Nations’ refugee agency.

Local medical centers, already struggling to deal with malnutrition cases, were now overwhelmed with people injured by the quake, said Adnan Junaid, the International Rescue Committee vice president for Asia.

“The toll this disaster will have on the local communities ... is catastrophic, and the impact the earthquake will have on the already stretched humanitarian response in Afghanistan is a grave cause for concern,” Junaid said.

The Defense Ministry, which leads the Taliban emergency effort, said it sent 22 helicopter flights on Wednesday transporting wounded and taking supplies, along with several more Thursday.

Still, the Taliban’s resources have been gutted by the economic crisis. Made up of insurgents who fought for 20 years against the U.S. and NATO, the Taliban have also struggled to make the transition to governing.

On Wednesday, a U.N. official said the government had not requested that the world body mobilize international search-and-rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighboring countries, despite a rare plea from the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, for help from the world.

Trucks of food and other necessities arrived from Pakistan, and planes full of humanitarian aid landed from Iran and Qatar, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter. India said it sent a technical team to its embassy in Kabul to coordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, but it didn't give details on the team or the relief material being sent.

Pakistan also opened several nearby border crossings to allow those affected by the disaster to cross, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sherif said in a call with the Taliban Prime Minister Mullah Hasan Akhund.

Obtaining more direct international help may be more difficult: Many countries, including the U.S., funnel humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the U.N. and other organizations to avoid putting money in the Taliban’s hands, wary of dealing with the group, which has issued a flurry of repressive edicts curtailing the rights of women and girls and the press.

Germany, Norway and several other countries announced they were sending aid for the quake, but underscored that they would work only through U.N. agencies, not with the Taliban.

In a news bulletin Thursday, Afghanistan state television made a point to acknowledge that President Joe Biden of the United States — their one-time enemy — offered condolences over the earthquake and had promised aid. Biden on Wednesday ordered the U.S. international aid agency and its partners to “assess” options for helping the victims, a White House statement said.

U.N. deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, told the U.N. Security Council in a video briefing he intends to visit quake-hit areas on Friday and “to meet with affected families, first-hand responders, including women’s civil society groups who are working to ensure that assistance reaches women and girls, and to support overall relief efforts.”

In Paktika province, the quake shook a region of deep poverty, where residents scrape out in a living in the few fertile areas among the rough mountains. Roads are so difficult that some villages in Gayan District took a full day to reach from Kabul, though it is only 175 kilometers (110 miles away.)

One 6-year-old boy in Gayan wept as he said his parents, two sisters and a brother were all dead. He had fled the ruins of his own home and took refuge with the neighbors.

While modern buildings withstand magnitude 6 earthquakes elsewhere, Afghanistan’s mud-brick homes and landslide-prone mountains make such quakes more dangerous.

One man, Rahim Jan, stood inside the few standing mud-brick walls of his home with the toppled roof timbers all around him.

“It is destroyed completely, all my belongings are gone,” he said. “I have lost 12 members of my family in this house.”



Four police officers were shot to death after being drawn into an ambush

Four police killed

Four police officers were shot to death after being drawn into an ambush in western Mexico, and as many as eight suspected attackers were killed in a gun battle with other police who rushed to the site, authorities said Thursday.

Luis Joaquín Méndez, chief prosecutor of the western state of Jalisco, said four municipal policemen in the city of El Salto responded to a call late Wednesday about armed men at a house.

Once they arrived, a woman answered the door and told them nothing was wrong. But gunmen inside then opened fire on the officers, some of whom were dragged into the home and killed, the prosecutor said.

Gov. Enrique Alfaro wrote that police reinforcements showed up and engaged in a shootout with the suspects, killing eight and wounding three.

Later, the prosecutor's office said nine bodies were found at the house — the four police officers and five suspected gunmen. Three more bodies — two men and a woman — were found at a property nearby, they said

Prosecutors said the dead were probably members of a gang that apparently held kidnap victims at one of the properties. Investigators also found the hacked up remains of another man in plastic bags.

Ricardo Santillán, police chief of El Salto, called the ambush “a cowardly act.”

The Roman Catholic Mexican Council of Bishops issued an open letter Thursday calling on the government to change course on security, commenting three days after two Jesuits priests were allegedly killed by a drug gang leader inside their church in a remote town in northern Mexico.

“It is time to revise the security policies that are failing,” the bishops wrote, calling for a “national dialogue” to find solutions.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has declared his government is no longer focused on detaining drug cartel leaders, and in 2019 he ordered the release of a captured leader of the Sinaloa cartel to avoid bloodshed.

López Obrador has implemented a strategy he calls “hugs, not bullets” and has sometimes appeared to tolerate the gangs, even praising them at one point for not interfering in elections.

Asked at his daily morning news briefing if he intended to change strategies, López Obrador said, “No, rather the reverse, this is the right path.”

He faced questions about the fact that there have been more killings in his 3 1/2 years in office than in all six years under President Felipe Calderón in 2006-2012, whom López Obrador frequently accuses of being responsible for unnecessary bloodshed.

“It's just that we received a homicide rate that was at its peak, way up, and Calderón wasn't handed the country like that. He ratched it up,” López Obrador said.



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