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Thirteen charged in ‘plots’ against Michigan governor

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Thirteen people have been arrested in alleged plots to kidnap the Michigan governor and attack the state capitol building, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The group plotted to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat and frequent target of Republican President Donald Trump’s ire, ahead of the November 3 US presidential election, according to an FBI affidavit released on Thursday.

“Our efforts uncovered elaborate plans to endanger the lives of law enforcement officers, government officials and the broader public,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told a news conference to announce the charges.

Seven people were charged with material support to “terrorism” related to an alleged plot to storm Michigan’s state capitol building, authorities revealed.

Six other men were charged with plotting to kidnap Whitmer at her vacation home, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in a United States federal court.

Nessel announced additional charges against the seven men under the state’s anti-terrorism law. She said that the men, all in custody, were linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen.

They are suspected of attempting to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to “target them” and make “threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war”.

They also planned and trained for an operation to attack the Michigan capitol building and to kidnap government officials, including Whitmer, Nessel said.

These charges included material support to “terrorist” acts, membership in a gang, and possessing a firearm while committing a felony, commonly called “felony firearm”, as part of a plot to attack the capitol building.

Whitmer has been praised but also deeply criticised for the state’s response to the coronavirus. She put major restrictions on personal movement throughout the state and on the economy, although many of those limits have been lifted.

At the onset of the restrictions, militia groups protested at the Michigan State Capitol, brandishing assault rifles and other weapons.

A protester raises his fist during a rally against Michigan’s coronavirus stay-at-home order at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on Thursday [File: Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

Court ruling unsealed

Four of the six men accused of the kidnapping plot had planned to meet Wednesday to “make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear,” the FBI said in the court filing unsealed earlier on Thursday.

The FBI quoted one of the accused as saying Whitmer “has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now. All good things must come to an end.”

The government used informants and undercover agents to thwart the alleged plot. The criminal complaint said the plan involved Whitmer and her second home in northern Michigan.

Nessel said the operation was a “joint effort” and thanked “hundreds” of law enforcement officers for their cooperation.

Nessel was joined by attorneys and law enforcement from across Michigan, and FBI Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Josh Hauxhurst, who called the alleged conspirators “extremists”.

Michigan State Police (MSP) Colonel Joseph Gasper said the case, which involved surveilling residents of both Michigan and Delaware, was “one of the largest cases … the MSP has been involved in”.

Through electronic communications, two of the alleged conspirators “agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution,” the FBI said in the filing.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel addresses the media during a news conference in Lansing, Michigan [File: David Eggert/AP Photo]

The criminal complaint identified the six as Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta, all of Michigan, and Barry Croft of Delaware.

Fox said he needed 200 men to storm the capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor, according to the FBI.

He said he wanted to try Whitmer for “treason” and would execute the plan before the November 3 election, the government said.

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Philippines: Typhoon Molave displaces thousands, floods villages

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At least 25,000 people evacuated in the Philippines as heavy rains and fierce winds swamp villages and rip off roofs.

Thousands of villagers were forced to flee their homes in the Philippines as a fast-moving typhoon made landfall, flooding rural villages, ripping off roofs and toppling trees and powerlines, officials said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from Typhoon Molave, but authorities on Monday reported at least one person was missing and seven others were rescued after their yacht sank off Batangas province south of Manila.

The typhoon has sustained winds of 125 kilometres per hour (77 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 180 km/h (112mph) and was blowing westward at 25 km/h (15 mph). Molave is expected to start blowing out of the country into the South China Sea on Monday, government forecasters said.

At least 25,000 villagers were displaced with about 20,000 taking shelter in schools and government buildings which were turned into evacuation centres, according to the Office of Civil Defense.

Residents evacuate from their home in the coastal area of Legaspi City, Albay province south of Manila on October 25, 2020, in advance of tropical storm Molave’s expected landfall [Charism Sayat/ AFP]

“Villagers are now asking to be rescued because of the sudden wind which blew away roofs,” Humerlito Dolor, governor of Oriental Mindoro province, told DZMM radio.

Dolor said pounding rains overnight swamped farming villages in his province, then fierce winds toppled trees and power posts early on Monday, knocking out power. Authorities were clearing roads of fallen trees and debris in some towns after the typhoon passed, he said.

More than 1,800 cargo truck drivers, workers and passengers were stranded in ports after the coastguard barred ships and ferry boats from venturing into rough seas.

Molave follows Tropical Storm Saudel, which last week caused widespread flooding in Quezon province in the Calabarzon region, southeast of the capital Manila.

About 20 typhoons and storms annually batter the Philippines, and the Southeast Asian archipelago is seismically active, with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

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Celebrations in Chile as voters back rewriting constitution

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Tens of thousands of Chileans have taken to Santiago’s main square in celebration after people across the country overwhelmingly backed re-writing Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution that many see as the root cause of the country’s social and economic inequalities.

In Santiago’s Plaza Italia, the focus of the massive and often violent protests last year which sparked the demand for a new charter, fireworks rose above huge crowds of jubilant people singing in unison late on Sunday as the word “rebirth” was beamed onto a tower above.

With more than three-quarters of the votes counted in Sunday’s referendum, 78.12 percent of voters had opted for a new constitution drafted by citizens. Many have expressed hopes that a new text will temper an unabashedly capitalist ethos with guarantees of more equal rights to healthcare, pensions and education.

“This triumph belongs to the people, it’s thanks to everyone’s efforts that we are at this moment of celebration,” Daniel, 37, told Reuters News Agency in Santiago’s Plaza Nunoa. “What makes me happiest is the participation of the youth, young people wanting to make changes.”

Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera said if the country had been divided by the protests and debate about whether to approve or reject plans for a new charter, from now on they should unite behind a new text that provided “a home for everyone”.

People play instruments at Plaza Italia on the day Chileans vote in a referendum to decide whether the country should replace its 40-year-old constitution, written during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, in Santiago, Chile [Esteban Felix/AP]

“Until now, the constitution has divided us. From today, we must all work together so that the new constitution is the great framework of unity, stability and future,” he said in a speech broadcast from his Moneda Palace surrounded by his cabinet.

The centre-right leader, whose popularity ratings plummeted to record lows during the unrest and have remained in the doldrums, spoke to those who wanted to keep the present constitution credited with making Chile one of Latin America’s economic success stories.

Any new draft must incorporate “the legacy of past generations, the will of present generations and the hopes of generations to come,” he said.

‘A better life’

The vote came a year to the day after more than one million people thronged downtown Santiago amid a wave of social unrest that left 30 people dead and thousands wounded.

The sheer size of the October 25 march demonstrated the breadth of social discontent and proved a tipping point in demonstrators’ demands for a referendum. Within weeks, Pinera had agreed to initiate a process to draft a new constitution, beginning with a referendum to decide the fate of the current text.

Chile’s current constitution was drafted by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, and was sent to voters at a time where political parties had been banned and the country was subject to heavy censorship.

It was approved by a 66 percent – 30 percent margin in a 1980 plebiscite, but critics said many voters were cowed into acceptance by a regime that had arrested, tortured and killed thousands of suspected leftist opponents following the overthrow of an elected socialist government.

The free-market principles embodied in that document led to a booming economy that continued after the return to democracy in 1990, but not all Chileans shared. A minority was able to take advantage of good, privatised education, health and social security services, while others were forced to rely on sometimes meagre public alternatives. Public pensions for the poorest are slightly more than $200 a month, roughly half the minimum wage.

Cristina Cifuentes, a Santiago-based political analyst, called Sunday’s results a “big blow for the conservative parties” and said a new constitution was necessary to provide equitable access to healthcare, education and pensions systems.

“If you’re born in the least affluent areas of the city, you don’t have access to a good health system, you don’t have good education, you don’t have transport. And you can’t even dream of having a better life. It affects all aspects of life in Chile and that’s why it was so important for Chileans to change the constitution,” she told Al Jazeera.

Demonstrators supporting the reform of the Chilean constitution celebrate while waiting for the referendum official results at Plaza Italia in Santiago on October 25, 2020 [Javier Torres/AFP]
People embrace as others gather to protest against Chile’s government during a referendum on a new Chilean constitution in Santiago, Chile, October 25, 2020 [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

‘New beginning’

As votes were counted on Sunday on live television, spontaneous parties broke out on street corners and in squares around the country. Drivers honked car horns, some as revellers danced on their roofs, and others banged pots and pans. The flag of the country’s Indigenous Mapuche people, who will seek greater recognition in the new charter, was ubiquitous.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from Plaza Italia, said the landslide victory had given Chileans something to celebrate after a year of sometimes violent protests.

“Many people know it’s going to take at least two years to have a new constitution, and that would only set a roadmap for the future. It won’t solve all of this country’s problems, but at least it does give them hope for a new beginning,” she said.

Four-fifths of voters said they wanted the new charter to be drafted by a specially elected body of citizens – made up of half women and half men – over a mixed convention of legislators and citizens, highlighting general mistrust in Chile’s political class.

Members of a 155-seat constitutional convention will be voted in by April 2021 and have up to a year to agree upon a draft text, with proposals approved by a two-thirds majority.

Among issues likely to be at the fore are recognition of Chile’s Mapuche Indigenous population, powers of collective bargaining, water and land rights and privatised systems providing healthcare, education and pensions.

Chileans will then vote again on whether they accept the text or want to revert to the previous constitution.

The National Mining Society (Sonami), which groups the companies in the sector into the world’s largest copper producer, said it hoped for “broad agreement on the principles and norms” that determine the sector’s coexistence with Chilean citizens and that the regulatory certainty that have allowed the sector to flourish would continue.

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A Lebanese artist created an inspiring statue out of glass and rubble from the Beirut port explosion

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Written by Alaa Elassar, CNN

Hayat Nazer doesn’t remember a time when Lebanon was at peace. But she has learned to channel her grief and pain into beautiful works of art.

She was on her way to Beirut on August 4 when a massive stockpile of ammonium nitrite exploded at the port, killing 190 people, injuring more than 6,000 and leaving more than 300,000 displaced from their homes.
Lebanon had already been reeling from months of political turmoil, economic collapse and a worsening coronavirus outbreak. The weight of it all had nearly paralyzed the small country.

“The explosion broke my heart. I was just devastated. I was traumatized, but honestly, all of us in Lebanon are traumatized,” Nazer, 33, told CNN.

Like many residents, she joined efforts to clean debris and restore the city to its former glory. That’s when she got the idea to use some of what she found to create a statue that could inspire her people to unite and rebuild.

“When I’m feeling that way I just try to help, and fix and heal through art, so this is my way of accepting reality and trying to build my people back up,” she said.

A Lebanese artist made a statue of a woman using glass and rubble from the Beirut port explosion

The unnamed scultpure made from explosion debris depicts a woman with long flowing hair. Credit: Courtesy Hayat Nazer

For weeks, Nazer walked the streets of Beirut, collecting twisted metal, broken glass and people’s discarded belongings to use in the sculpture.

“I traveled to people’s homes after they were destroyed by the explosion and told them, ‘I just want you to give me anything I can include to make you a part of my sculpture,'” Nazer said.

“I was shocked. People gave me such valuable things — things from their childhood, their grandparents who died in the civil war, things they wanted to save for their children. So many emotions went into this.”

When Nazer finally had enough items, she put them together — creating a woman raising Lebanon’s flag, her hair and dress flowing in the wind. The sculpture, which still doesn’t have a name, even features a damaged clock stuck at 6:08, the moment of the explosion.

For Nazer, the process was cathartic. But it wasn’t the first time she had created a work of art inspired by Lebanon’s social and political troubles.

A Lebanese artist made a statue of a woman using glass and rubble from the Beirut port explosion

Nazer stands beside her sculpture of a woman made entirely from Beirut port explosion debris. Credit: Courtesy Hayat Nazer

Before the explosion, as the country descended into months of protests against the country’s ruling elite, Nazer left her job in communications to create art in hopes of inspiring change.

“I suddenly started feeling the need to paint,” Nazer said. “It was a need that I couldn’t stop. I had to quit my job because I felt like I just couldn’t make the change I want to see in the world without focusing on my art.”

Her works include other found object sculptures, as well as graffiti and paintings on canvas.

In 2019, she created a sculpture called “The Phoenix,” which was made from tents broken by counterprotesters during the country’s political upheaval. The work depicts the mythological bird rising from ashes. She also created a giant heart from stones and tear gas canisters left over from riots.
Nazer, who chronicles her projects on Instagram, said most of her work has been destroyed by authorities who don’t take kindly to criticism of the government.

Related video: The architectural heritage Beirut stands to lose

She fears the same fate will befall her latest work, the sculpted woman.

“After an explosion, you can build back homes and buildings, but what you can’t bring back are memories. And throughout Lebanon’s history, our government removes anything that reminds us of what has been done to us,” Nazer said.

“That’s what makes this project so special. It’s fighting. We’re raising our voices through art. We’re telling our own stories.”

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