Paris shooting casts shadow over final day of French election campaign

A deadly attack on a police bus in the heart of Paris has dramatically changed the course of the French presidential election campaign.

The three main candidates canceled campaign events and instead made televised statements in which they competed to talk tough on security and vowed a crackdown on ISIS.

One police officer died after a gunman wielding a machine gun leapt out of a car and opened fire on the Champs-Elysees, Paris’s most famous boulevard, as candidates were engaging in their final TV debate.

The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, demanded the closure of all Islamist mosques. Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve accused her of trying to capitalize on the attack.

ISIS swiftly claimed the attack was carried out by one of its “fighters.” The assailant — Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old French national with a long and violent criminal record — was shot dead as he tried to make his escape. Prosecutors said a note defending ISIS fell out of his pocket, although there was no previous evidence of radicalization. He was also carrying the addresses of police stations.

French authorities, including the domestic security service, began a counterterrorism investigation into Cheurfi last month after learning of his increasing determination to establish communication with an ISIS fighter in Syria and Iraq, a source close to the investigation told CNN Friday.

Election in turmoil

Center-right candidate François Fillon, Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron canceled planned campaign events after the shooting. Under French election rules, Friday was due to be the final day of campaigning before Sunday’s first round of voting.

It was unclear whether the attack would tip the balance of the vote in favor of Le Pen, who has vowed to take a tough line on “Islamic terrorism.”

At a televised news conference Friday, Le Pen called for the closure of all “Islamist” mosques in France, the expulsion of hate preachers and the reinstatement of French borders.

People on the French security services’ watch list for radicalization should also be expelled from France and have their French citizenship revoked, she said.

Cazeneuve said Le Pen seeks to exploit fear “for exclusively political ends.”

“The candidate of the Front National, like every drama, seeks to profit from and to control the situation to divide,” the Prime Minister said in a televised address.

Fillon said that if elected, his foreign policy priority would be the destruction of ISIS. He also called for the creation of 10,000 more police posts.

“In times such as these we have to demonstrate that France is united,” he said. “We also have to be clear that we are in a state of emergency. We are at war. This fight for freedom and for the security of the French people must be the priority of the next five-year term.”

Cazeneuve, however, questioned Fillon’s position on security, saying that when he previously served as Prime Minister he had cut thousands of security force jobs.

Macron appealed to voters not to succumb to fear. “Do not give in to fear, do not give in to division, do not give in to intimidation,” he said. “The choice that you have to make on Sunday must be a choice for the future.”

Macron said he would hire an additional 10,000 police officers in the next five years and that he would create a task force under the French Presidency to fight ISIS.

Leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon urged the French people to “remain cool-headed” and “to not subject ourselves to hate, vengeance and resentment.”

Terror investigation

On its media channel, Amaq, ISIS claimed that the attack was carried out by “Abu Yousuf al-Baljiki (the Belgian) and he is one of the Islamic State’s fighters.”

Belgian Interior Ministry spokesman Olivier Van Raemdonck told CNN the attacker was not Belgian and that there did not appear to be a Belgian connection to the incident.

It is not clear to whom ISIS was referring in its claim.

A man who turned himself in to Antwerp police was Youssef El Osri. The man’s lawyer, Nabil Riffi, told CNN his client was “very shocked” at being linked to the Paris shooting and that he had been working at a gas station in Antwerp at the time it occurred.

Security in Paris has been stepped up in recent days, but the presence of 50,000 police officers on the streets was not enough to prevent the latest assault, which was being investigated by anti-terror officials.

French President François Hollande convened a meeting of the country’s defense council Friday.

Paris Police identified the dead officer as Xavier Jugele. He was 37, Paris Prosecutor François Molins said.

One of the wounded officers was critically injured but is improving, Molins said. Also wounded was a female tourist.

Molins said the attacker had a long criminal record. He spent 11 years in jail after shooting two police officers in 2001. While in custody, he shot and injured a prison officer after grabbing his gun. He was jailed again in 2013 for lesser offenses and released on probation two years later.

Molins said Cheurfi was investigated by counterterror officials in late Febrary because of alleged threats he made to kill police officers. He was briefly placed under house arrest and investigators discovered knives and masks in his home but no evidence linking him to terror groups, Molins said.

Despite his long criminal record, Cheurfi was never placed under what is known as a “Fiche S” surveillance file, Molins told reporters. Molins did not clarify if Cheurfi had been on other surveillance lists in France excluding the “Fiche S” file. Cheurfi never showed any sign of radicalization during his previous detention, Molins said.

Molins said investigators were trying to determine whether the attacker had accomplices.

Three members of his family were arrested in the Paris suburb of Chelles early Friday morning.

Earlier this week French authorities arrested two men in Marseille who were allegedly planning an attack in a run-up to the election.

World leaders react

Speaking in Indonesia Friday, US Vice President Mike Pence said the attack was just the latest reminder “that terrorism can strike anywhere at any time.”

US President Donald Trump, at a news conference in Washington, said: “What can you say? It never ends.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her sympathy “goes out to the victims and their families,” according to her spokesman Steffen Seibert.

In a statement, the UK government said it “strongly condemns the appalling terrorist attack in Paris.”

France has been in a state of emergency since the 2015 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead. Parliament voted in December to extend the extraordinary provisions to ensure the protection of upcoming presidential and general elections.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the extent to which French intelligence authorities were monitoring Karim Cheurfi before the attack.

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Paris gunman who killed police officer known to security forces, source says

A man who killed a police officer on the Champs-Elysees Thursday night was known to French security services for radical Islamist activities and had shot and wounded an officer in the past, a source close to the investigation told CNN.The suspect, who …

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Venezuelan Guard deploys tear gas on march

Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro who bravely took to the streets on Wednesday in what they have dubbed as the “mother of all marches” faced government supporters who tried to stop them with tear gas. 

A day before the march there were attempts to intimidate demonstrators. The Wall Street Journal’s Juan Forero saw stenciled messages on walls encouraging Maduro’s supporters to take up arms. 

During a march in Caracas’ Plaza La Estrella, Carlos Jose Moreno suddenly fell to the ground. A man holding up his cell phone to film the incident said, “What happened to him?” There was blood on the ground. Another man said: “They shot him in the head.”

A video shows a man lifted his body and placed him on a motorcycle. They took the 17-year-old Venezuelan Central University student to Clinicas Caracas where he was pronounced dead, according to reporter Victor Amaya and Forero. 

At least two other men and a woman suffered wounds that required medical attention. 

Members of Maduro’s armed militia were riding their motorcycles in groups to disrupt the anti-Maduro demonstrators who were converging from 26 different points across the capital in their attempt to march downtown to the Ombudsman’s office. 

 

{“url”:”https://twitter.com/coweddle/status/854740542479114240″,”author_name”:”Cody Weddle”,”author_url”:”https://twitter.com/coweddle”,”html”:”&#lt;blockquote class=\”twitter-tweet\”&#gt;&#lt;p lang=\”en\” dir=\”ltr\”&#gt;Government supporters pass by opposition protestors, national guard out in force. This is dangerously close. &#lt;a href=\”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Venezuela?src=hash\”&#gt;#Venezuela&#lt;/a&#gt; &#lt;a href=\”https://t.co/1VXDauW0vI\”&#gt;pic.twitter.com/1VXDauW0vI&#lt;/a&#gt;&#lt;/p&#gt;— Cody Weddle (@coweddle) &#lt;a href=\”https://twitter.com/coweddle/status/854740542479114240\”&#gt;April 19, 2017&#lt;/a&#gt;&#lt;/blockquote&#gt;\n&#lt;script async src=\”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js\” charset=\”utf-8\”&#gt;&#lt;/script&#gt;”,”width”:550,”height”:null,”type”:”rich”,”cache_age”:”3153600000″,”provider_name”:”Twitter”,”provider_url”:”https://twitter.com”,”version”:”1.0″}

 

Some demonstrators on the Francisco Fajardo Highway were forced to jump into the Guaire river to escape tear gas. 

 

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The protests began with the Supreme Court’s temporary decision three weeks ago to strip the opposition-controlled  legislature of its last remaining powers. They have caused at least five deaths and hundreds of arrests.

Maduro late Tuesday accused the U.S. State Department of trying to promote a military intervention. The State Department and several regional governments have deplored excessive violence by security forces and armed pro-government groups. 

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{“url”:”https://twitter.com/StateDept/status/854515916037607425″,”author_name”:”Department of State”,”author_url”:”https://twitter.com/StateDept”,”html”:”&#lt;blockquote class=\”twitter-tweet\”&#gt;&#lt;p lang=\”en\” dir=\”ltr\”&#gt;We echo joint call made by 11 Latin American governments on &#lt;a href=\”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Venezuela?src=hash\”&#gt;#Venezuela&#lt;/a&#gt; to immediately take steps to permit a prompt solution to the crisis.&#lt;/p&#gt;— Department of State (@StateDept) &#lt;a href=\”https://twitter.com/StateDept/status/854515916037607425\”&#gt;April 19, 2017&#lt;/a&#gt;&#lt;/blockquote&#gt;\n&#lt;script async src=\”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js\” charset=\”utf-8\”&#gt;&#lt;/script&#gt;”,”width”:550,”height”:null,”type”:”rich”,”cache_age”:”3153600000″,”provider_name”:”Twitter”,”provider_url”:”https://twitter.com”,”version”:”1.0″}

 

 

 

 

{“url”:”https://twitter.com/coweddle/status/854697428548820994″,”author_name”:”Cody Weddle”,”author_url”:”https://twitter.com/coweddle”,”html”:”&#lt;blockquote class=\”twitter-tweet\”&#gt;&#lt;p lang=\”en\” dir=\”ltr\”&#gt;And so it begins.. people walking to meeting points as most metro stations are closed. &#lt;a href=\”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Venezuela?src=hash\”&#gt;#Venezuela&#lt;/a&#gt; &#lt;a href=\”https://t.co/zIStffUm4T\”&#gt;pic.twitter.com/zIStffUm4T&#lt;/a&#gt;&#lt;/p&#gt;— Cody Weddle (@coweddle) &#lt;a href=\”https://twitter.com/coweddle/status/854697428548820994\”&#gt;April 19, 2017&#lt;/a&#gt;&#lt;/blockquote&#gt;\n&#lt;script async src=\”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js\” charset=\”utf-8\”&#gt;&#lt;/script&#gt;”,”width”:550,”height”:null,”type”:”rich”,”cache_age”:”3153600000″,”provider_name”:”Twitter”,”provider_url”:”https://twitter.com”,”version”:”1.0″}

 

 

 

{“url”:”https://twitter.com/EUtrafico/status/854698369062776832″,”author_name”:”Tráfico en Venezuela”,”author_url”:”https://twitter.com/EUtrafico”,”html”:”&#lt;blockquote class=\”twitter-tweet\”&#gt;&#lt;p lang=\”en\” dir=\”ltr\”&#gt;RT &#lt;a href=\”https://twitter.com/Marielasosac\”&#gt;@Marielasosac&#lt;/a&#gt;: Dist. Santa fe &#lt;a href=\”https://twitter.com/hashtag/19A?src=hash\”&#gt;#19A&#lt;/a&#gt; 10.05am &#lt;a href=\”https://t.co/AIyPozEKNc\”&#gt;pic.twitter.com/AIyPozEKNc&#lt;/a&#gt;&#lt;/p&#gt;— Tráfico en Venezuela (@EUtrafico) &#lt;a href=\”https://twitter.com/EUtrafico/status/854698369062776832\”&#gt;April 19, 2017&#lt;/a&#gt;&#lt;/blockquote&#gt;\n&#lt;script async src=\”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js\” charset=\”utf-8\”&#gt;&#lt;/script&#gt;”,”width”:550,”height”:null,”type”:”rich”,”cache_age”:”3153600000″,”provider_name”:”Twitter”,”provider_url”:”https://twitter.com”,”version”:”1.0″}

 

 

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‘Mother of all marches’ turns violent in Venezuela

Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro who bravely took to the streets on Wednesday in what they have dubbed as the “mother of all marches” faced Venezuelan authorities and Maduro supporters who tried to stop them with tear gas. 

Two students died during the nationwide protests. One in Caracas and the other in San Cristobal. Energy Minister Luis Motta Dominguez delivered a speech to lines of state workers preparing to join a large countermarch denying the reports of their deaths and said, “We are a peaceful people, but we are also armed.”

Anti-Maduro demonstrators faced the Venezuelan National Guard‘s tear gas grenades, the Bolivarian National Police‘s water canons, members of the Venezuelan Armed Forces and armed members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela

“This is like a chess game and each side is moving whatever pieces they can. ….. We’ll see who tires out first,” said Liliana Machuca, a Venezuelan teacher who was marching in Caracas. 

Maduro’s second in command, Diosdado Cabello, said 60,000 die hard government supporters would circulate on motorcycles to prevent the opposition from reaching its planned destination.

On Wednesday, socialist supporters riding their motorcycles in groups moved to disrupt the anti-Maduro demonstrators in Caracas, who were converging from 26 different points across the capital, in their attempt to march downtown to the Ombudsman’s office. 

During a march in the Plaza La Estrella, shots were fired and Carlos Jose Moreno fell down. A man holding up his cell phone to film the incident said, “What happened to him?” There was blood on the ground. Another man said: “They shot him in the head.”

A video shows a man lifted the 17-year-old student and placed him on a motorcycle to rush him to Clinicas Caracas where doctors pronounced him dead. His brother told reporters that he was on his way to play soccer when he got caught up in a shooting. 

 Leidy Marquez was among the state-run oil giant PDVSA employees from Tachira, who the Venezuelan government bused to Caracas for a red-themed counter-protest

“The opposition is trying to provoke a conflict, but they aren’t going to achieve their goal,” said Marquez, who was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the eyes of Chavez, a symbol of revolutionary zeal throughout Venezuela. 

The demonstrators on the Francisco Fajardo Highway far outnumbered the government’s organized rally. They faced a barrage of tear gas bombs from Venezuelan law enforcement in what critics said was a violation of the Venezuelan constitution. 

Some were forced to jump into the polluted Guaire river to escape the tear gas. Others risked falling when they walked on thin steel beam structure to cross over the river. While several fell ill with the tear gas,  a pilot in a helicopter flew over the highway.

In San Martin, a shooting had dozens scrambling for cover behind a building, and in Santa Cecilia men in motorcycles also threw tear gas at demonstrators. The Wall Street Journal’s Juan Forero saw red stenciled messages on walls in Caracas encouraging Maduro’s supporters to take up arms. 

The clashes in Altamira and El Paraiso continued on Wednesday afternoon. At least two reporters were among the detained, Luis Gabriel Patiño

PROTESTS NATIONWIDE

The protests were not limited to Caracas. Demonstrators marched in Puerto Ordaz and carried a long Venezuelan flag. Attorney Ezequiel Monsalve wrote on Twitter that there were five wounded including Irma Bello, a teacher whose photo after an alleged beating went viral on social media. 

Demonstrators also turned out to protest in San Cristobal, where there were tense confrontations.  Paola Andreina Ramirez, 24, was shot dead, according to San Cristobal authorities. A photo of the identification she was carrying went viral. 

In Valencia, demonstrators took over the Avenida Bolivar. In Valera, there were reports of vandalism. And in Maracay, there were reports of tear gas thrown into apartment buildings. Some residents who didn’t want to risk injury or arrest were protesting from their homes with pots and pans. 

POLITICAL CRISIS

The protests in Venezuela began with the Supreme Court’s temporary decision three weeks ago to strip the opposition-controlled  legislature of its last remaining powers. Before Wednesday protest, they had already caused at least five deaths and hundreds of arrests.

The government has tried to recover from the near-daily protests with its own show of force: jailing hundreds of demonstrators, barring former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles from running for office and standing by as pro-government groups violently attack opposition members of congress.

The president also signed orders on TV late Tuesday activating the “green phase” of enigmatic military plans to defend Venezuela against what he describes as U.S.-backed attempts to sow chaos and overthrow him. He also said authorities in recent hours had rounded up unnamed members of an underground cell of conspirators at Caracas hotels, including some armed people who were allegedly planning to stir up violence at the march.

Maduro didn’t provide evidence to back his claim that a coup attempt was under way, and the opposition rejected his comments as a desperate attempt to intimidate Venezuelans from exercising their constitutional right to protest.

Maduro this week said he was dramatically expanding civilian militias created by the late Hugo Chavez and giving each member a gun. In the past, the groups known as collectives have operated like shock troops firing on protesters as security forces stand by.

“Those responsible for the criminal repression of peaceful democratic activity, for the undermining of democratic institutions and practices, and for gross violations of human rights, will be held individually accountable for their actions by the Venezuelan people and their institutions, as well as by the international community,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement Tuesday.

The U.S. secretary of state says the Trump administration is concerned about the political turmoil in Venezuela and feels socialist President Nicolas Maduro is trying to squash the voice of his opponents.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tells reporters at the State Department that the U.S. is “concerned that the government of Maduro is violating its own constitution and is not allowing the opposition to have their voices heard.” He says Venezuela’s government is not allowing the opposition “to organize in ways that expresses the views of the Venezuelan people.”

Tillerson says the U.S. is watching the situation closely and is working with others, particularly through the Organization of American States, to communicate its concerns to Venezuela.

 

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Venezuelan humanitarian crisis spills into South Florida’s immigration courts

Amid a shortage of medicine and food, President Nicolas Maduro was asking his supporters to march in support of his administration on Wednesday. Maduro’s opposition was aiming for one of the largest marches to protest his government’s repression and lack of security. 

Maduro’s opponents were pressing for elections. Thousands have responded to calls for action since Venezuela’s Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of power and later reversed it in March. A government agency banned Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader, from seeking office for 15 years. 

Meanwhile, Maduro was empowering armed civilian militias. During a speech this week, he said he wanted “a gun for every militiaman” and added that now is the time for Venezuelans to decide if they are “with the homeland” or against it.  

“I don’t know how my country will be tomorrow morning,” Omaira Santiago said about the lack of economic and political stability in Venezuela. 

Santiago is among those who don’t want to get caught up in the middle. She said she recently left her beloved country after facing death threats. And she is among the growing number of Venezuelans who are seeking political asylum in the United States. 

Coral Gables immigration attorney Stephanie Green, who has volunteered for the non-profit CASA, said she is concerned about the large number of Venezuelans who are misinformed about the qualifications needed to qualify for asylum.

Allegations of death threats, sickness and an unstable economy back home are not enough to make a case.  Applicants must demonstrate a “credible fear” of returning home due to political or religious persecution, or for belonging to a group or a race. 

“If your asylum is not a strong asylum, you will end up with an order of deportation and you will be deported from the United States,” Green said. 

Immigration authorities reported that 18,155 Venezuelans submitted asylum requests last year, a 150 percent increase over 2015. There were 2,334 requests in December alone. For the first time in years, Chinese placed second with 17,745 requests. 

“It’s not just worrisome that so many people are escaping the terrible situation in Venezuela, but also that the practice of sending asylum-seekers with poor advice and false proof is proliferating,” Julio Henriquez, the director of the Refugee Freedom Program, said in February, after releasing the data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

The Venezuelan exodus began in 1998, when President Hugo Chavez was elected with a socialist agenda and the wealthy fled. With the country’s oil company strapped for cash, the diaspora has hit every social class. It has separated families and sent professionals to precarious jobs in South Florida. 

They leave behind relatives who are the victims of political persecution and systematic torture. On Thursday, agents detained 22-year-old twin brothers, Francisco Jose Sanchez and Francisco Alejandro Sanchez. Their lawyer told Reuters that one of them spent three days handcuffed to a pipe and received psychological torture. 

Attorneys in South Florida said the Venezuelans’ plight was having an effect on immigration courts in South Florida. The backlog on cases is so large that many of the new asylum cases including Santiago’s case could take as many as four years to be heard in court. 

The numbers alarmed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson who said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s administration needs to be more aggressive with economic sanctions. 

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