Tornado Cuts Power to Hundreds of Thousands in Ottawa

Hundreds of thousands of people were stranded without power in and around the Canadian capital of Ottawa on Saturday after a tornado touched down twice, destroying some houses and ripping the roofs off others.

High winds also battered the region, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said it could be days before electricity was fully restored. At least six people were injured.

“It’s in the top two or three traumatic events that have affected our city,” Watson told reporters. “It looks like something from a movie scene or a war scene.”

The tornado hit on Friday evening, demolishing homes in the town of Dunrobin to the northwest of the city before crossing over to the town of Gatineau, which lies directly to the north of Ottawa in the province of Quebec.

High winds damaged part of Ottawa’s major electrical substations, and officials said around 200,000 people on both sides of the river were without power. Ottawa and Gatineau together have a population of around 1.3 million people.

“We have lost absolutely everything. I have got a beer fridge that’s sitting in my garage — that is the only thing that is untouched — but everything else has gone,” Ottawa resident Todd Nicholson told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. He was not home when the tornado struck.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard broke off campaigning ahead of an Oct. 1 provincial election to travel to Gatineau.

Brazil Arrests Lebanese Man Linked to Hezbollah

Brazilian police have arrested a Lebanese man whom the United States suspects is one of the major financial backers of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group.

Assad Ahmad Barakat was arrested Friday in the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguacu. The town is situated in the so-called Tri-Border Area where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay converge. The area has long been known as a haven for smugglers, traffickers and counterfeiters.

Barakat is wanted in Paraguay on identity theft accusations, and a warrant was issued for his arrest last month. He spent six years in prison in Paraguay for tax evasion, but was released in 2008.

“Members of the Barakat clan made purchases worth $10 million, without declaring their value, at a casino in the Argentine city of Iguazu with the view to laundering the organization’s money,” Brazilian police said.

Argentina has also accused Barakat of money-laundering on behalf of Hezbollah and has frozen Barakat’s funds and other assets, according to officials.

It was not immediately clear whether Barakat will face charges in Brazil or be extradited to Paraguay.

Shimon Samuels, the director of international relations at The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which researches and advocates against anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, said in a statement that he hoped Barakat’s arrest in the Tri-Border area was “a sign that the three countries will begin to drive Hezbollah out of Latin America.”

The U.S. has described Barakat as “a global terrorist.”

Pompeo: U.S. Preparing ‘Actions’ Against Venezuela

The United States is preparing a “series of actions” in the coming days to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government, U.S. Secretary of State

Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Friday.

“You’ll see in the coming days a series of actions that continue to increase the pressure level against the Venezuelan leadership folks, who are working directly against the best interest of the Venezuelan people,” Pompeo said. “We’re determined to ensure that the Venezuelan people get their say.”

He did not give further details on the nature of the planned actions.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Trump administration has steadily increased sanctions against officials in the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro, accusing it of stifling democracy by jailing opposition leaders.

Last year, Washington imposed sanctions prohibiting trading new debt and equity issued by the Venezuelan government and its state oil company, PDVSA. It has imposed several rounds of sanctions on government officials, including on Maduro.

Venezuela’s economy has collapsed under Maduro, with annual inflation running at 200,000 percent, and staple foods and basic medicine increasingly difficult to obtain, which has led to mass emigration.

Pompeo’s warning comes ahead of the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York next week attended by heads of state from around the world. Maduro has not attended the meetings since 2015 and this week said he may not attend the gathering because of concerns about his safety.

In August, two drones exploded over an outdoor rally in Caracas where Maduro was giving a speech, injuring seven soldiers and leading to the arrests of over a dozen suspects, including several military officials. Maduro described it as an assassination attempt.

Chilean Archbishop Seeks Dismissal of Sex Abuse Cover-up Charges

Attorneys for Chile’s most senior cleric said on Friday they will ask a judge to drop charges he covered up sexual abuse amid a scandal that has rocked the Chilean Roman Catholic Church and prompted a major civil investigation.

The ongoing church sex abuse scandal in the Andean nation has prompted Pope Francis to open an investigation that has led to the resignations of several bishops and priests.

Lawyers for Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago, have requested more time to prepare their case after Ezzati was originally due to be questioned by a civil prosecutor last month.

Ezzati’s defense team, which includes lawyer Hugo Rivera, has determined that the archbishop’s case does not qualify as a “cover-up,” Rivera told reporters on Friday.

“After a long review of the background … we are totally and absolutely convinced that this case does not meet the requirements established by law,” Rivera said.

The lawyers said they are due to discuss a settlement to dismiss the charges with prosecutors before a judge in the central Chilean city of Rancagua on Oct. 5.

The sex abuse crisis has gripped Chile’s Catholic Church since 2011, when Chilean priest Fernando Karadima was found guilty by the Vatican of abusing children in the 1970s and 1980s. The allegations prompted a probe that has led to the ousting of bishops and other priests.

All of Chile’s 34 bishops offered to resign en masse in May after attending a meeting with the pope over allegations of a cover-up.

Earlier on Friday, Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing the total to seven. With the latest resignations, the pope has removed the leadership of about 20 percent of the Latin American country’s dioceses.

Mexico’s Sinaloa Declares Emergency as 3 Die in Flooding

Federal officials in Mexico declared a state of emergency for 11 municipalities in the northwestern state of Sinaloa due to flooding from a tropical depression’s heavy rains that killed at least three people, authorities reported Friday.

Images in local and social media showed streets turned into raging rivers, swamping cars. El Universal newspaper posted video of an SUV being carried away by the current in Guamuchil as passengers scrambled to get onto its roof.

Soldiers went around in trucks to pick up residents and take them to safety, and the Sinaloa state government said more than 2,000 people had evacuated and 13 shelters were set up.

In a statement early Friday, state Attorney General Juan Jose Rios Estavillo reported that one person drowned and two were killed by electrocution. Three women were missing in Culiacan, the state capital, after presumably being swept away.

State Education Secretary Jose Enrique Villa Rivera said preliminary reports were that 100 schools were damaged by floodwaters, mainly their perimeter walls.

The tropical depression arrived in the area early Thursday and dumped as much as 14 inches (359 millimeters) of rain in just 24 hours, overflowing storm drains.

The Eustaquio Buelna dam in Guamuchil was said to have reached 144 percent of capacity, prompting authorities to release water downstream to avoid structural damage.

The stadium of the Dorados de Sinaloa soccer club, which recently signed Argentine legend Diego Maradona as coach, also flooded.

The state of emergency was declared by the federal Interior Department late Thursday.

Maduro Says He’ll Ask UN for $500 Million to Repatriate Venezuela’s Migrants

President Nicolas Maduro says he’s going to ask the United Nations for $500 million to help repatriate hundreds of thousands of impoverished Venezuelans who have fled their country’s economic meltdown.

Maduro has yet to decide whether or not he will attend the UN General Assembly in New York next week, saying on Tuesday he first needed to evaluate the security procedures in place.

He has not attended the General Assembly since 2015.

In addressing a message to the UN’s new special representative for Venezuelan migrants, Maduro took what appeared to be a deliberately provocative tone — and it was unclear whether he intended to follow through with the request for money.

“I invite you, come to Venezuela, I’m going to ask you to give me $500 million to bring me … all the migrants outside Venezuela who want to return, and they all want to return!” he said in the message to UN representative Eduardo Stein, a former Guatemalan vice president.

Maduro said he would use the money to fly Venezuelans back home.

The UN says 2.3 million Venezuelans are living outside the country, with 1.6 million having fled since 2015.

Venezuela’s economic woes began in 2014 with the crash in the price of oil, a commodity on which the country is almost entirely dependent.

“We’ll need a fleet of planes to bring them, I’m not going to bring them back on foot,” said Maduro, alluding to the fact many migrants fleeing the country have done so on foot or hitch-hiking, with their few worldly belongings bundled up in their arms.

Venezuela is in a fourth year of recession with inflation predicted to reach one million percent this year.

Citizens face shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicines, while public services including water, electricity and transport are often paralyzed.

Maduro has already launched a “Return to Venezuela” campaign, putting on airplanes and buses to bring home migrants that have left the country.

The government claims it has repatriated 3,000 people while it also downplays the numbers to have left.

Meanwhile, Maduro described Stein as “a type of inspector, prosecutor, policeman for Venezuelan migration,” during a meeting with his finance cabinet on Thursday.

Turning his attentions to a potential appearance in New York, Maduro said: “They have me in their sights to kill me,” without elaborating on whom that might be.

US ‘Very Close’ to Proceeding With Mexico-Only Trade Deal

The United States is getting “very, very close” to having to move forward on its trade deal with Mexico without Canada, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said on Friday.

There is just over a week to go before an Oct. 1 deadline to publish the text of a deal to update the North American Free Trade Agreement and the United States and Canada have still not agreed on terms, Hassett told Fox News Channel.

“We’re still talking to Canada, and we’re getting very very close to the deadline where we’re going to have to move ahead with Mexico all by themselves,” said Hassett, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

“I’m a little surprised that the Canadians haven’t signed up yet,” Hassett added. “I worry that politics in Canada is trumping common sense because there’s a very good deal that was designed by Mexico and the U.S. to appeal to Canada. And they’re not signing up and it’s got everybody over here a little bit puzzled.”

 

Amnesty Accuses Maduro Government of Executing Thousands

An international human rights watchdog group has accused Nicolas Maduro’s government of committing some of the worst human rights violations in Venezuela’s history. 

In a report released Thursday, Amnesty International said the number of killings in the South American country in recent years was “greater than those in many countries at war.”

The report highlighted the violence perpetrated by security officials during anti-crime operations in poor neighborhoods.

“State officials, adopting military methods, use force in an abusive and excessive manner, in some cases intentionally killing during security operations,” Amnesty said in a statement.

The report said there were 8,292 extrajudicial executions carried out between 2015 and 2017.

“In cases documented by Amnesty, victims were unarmed. Autopsies revealed bullet wounds in the neck, throat, head. They were killed while on their knees or lying down,” said Esteban Beltran, director of Amnesty International Spain.

It found 22 percent of all homicides in 2016, or 4,667, were committed by security officials.

Last year, it found 95 percent of the homicide victims in the country were men, with 60 percent of those ranging in age from 12 to 29.

‘Language of war’

“It is alarming that, instead of applying efficient public policies to protect people and reduce levels of insecurity, the Venezuelan authorities are using the language of war to try to legitimize the use of excessive force by police and military officials,” Amnesty International Americas Director Erika Guevara-Rosas said. 

“The government of President Maduro should guarantee the right to life, instead of taking the lives of the country’s young people,” she said.

The Venezuelan government did not immediately respond to the report.

The once-wealthy oil-producing nation has been in an economic crisis for five years. The turmoil has left many Venezuelans struggling to find food and medicine and has forced masses of people to flee to other South American countries.

According to the United Nations, more than 2 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014. 

 

A Meganalisis poll published in The Miami Herald last month found more than 30 percent of Venezuelans said they ate only one meal a day. Nearly the same number reported eating “nothing or close to nothing” at least one day a week. Seventy-eight percent said they had trouble finding enough food.

NAFTA Deal Not Yet in Sight, Canada Stands Firm on Auto Tariffs

Canada and the United States showed scant sign on Thursday of closing a deal to revamp NAFTA, and Canadian officials made clear Washington needed to withdraw a threat of possible autos tariffs, sources said.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump wants to be able to agree on a text of the three-nation North American Free Trade Agreement by the end of September, but major differences remain.

“We discussed some tough issues today,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters after meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Freeland, who has visited Washington four weeks in a row to discuss NAFTA, gave no further details.

Market fears over the future of the 1994 pact, which underscores $1.2 trillion in trade, have been regularly hitting stocks in all three nations, whose economies are now highly integrated.

While multiple deadlines have passed during the more than year-long negotiations to renew NAFTA, pressure on Canada to agree to a deal is growing, partly to push it through the U.S. Congress before Mexico’s new government takes office on Dec. 1.

Canada says it does not feel bound by the latest deadline.

Asked whether time was running out, Freeland said her focus was getting a deal that was good for Canadians.

Trump came to power last year vowing to tear up NAFTA unless major changes were made to a pact he blames for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Trump struck a side-deal on NAFTA with Mexico last month and has threatened to exclude Canada if necessary. He also said he might impose a 25 percent tariff on Canadian autos exports, which would badly hurt the economy.

​Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, who was briefed on the talks by Canada’s negotiating team, said Ottawa insisted that the tariff threat be withdrawn.

“Why would Canada sign a trade agreement with the United States … and then have Donald Trump impose a 25 percent tariff on automobiles?” Dias told reporters.

“That for us is a deal breaker. It doesn’t make a stitch of sense. … We are a small nation, we’re not a stupid nation,” added Dias.

Freeland said she would return to Canada on Thursday ahead of a two-day meeting of female foreign ministers she is co-hosting in Montreal. Early next week she will be in New York for a United Nations session.

Ottawa is under pressure from some sectors to abandon its insistence that a bad NAFTA is worse than no NAFTA.

Jim Wilson, the trade minister of Ontario — Canada’s most populous province and heart of the country’s auto industry — met federal negotiators on Wednesday and tweeted on Thursday, “It is imperative that the feds reach a deal.”

The Globe and Mail newspaper on Thursday reported that U.S. negotiators want Ottawa to agree to capping its auto exports to the United States at 1.7 million vehicles a year, something that Canadian industry sources dismissed as unacceptable.

Separately, a Canadian source directly familiar with the negotiations said, “We have not discussed a cap.”

Reuters and other outlets reported in August that a side letter with Mexico would cap tariff-free or nearly duty-free Mexican imports to the United States at 2.4 million vehicles.

U.S. automakers privately question why the United States would seek to cap Canadian exports to the United States, given that companies are unlikely to expand production in Canada compared with lower-cost Mexico.

Mexican President-elect Stuck 3 Hours on Grounded Plane

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a stickler for austerity who has vowed to fly only commercial, spent three hours stuck on a grounded plane because of bad weather, Mexican media reported Thursday.

The anti-establishment leftist, who won Mexico’s July elections in a landslide, was trying to return from the southern city of Huatulco on Wednesday evening, but bad weather in Mexico City, his destination, prevented his Viva Aerobus airlines flight from taking off.

He and the other passengers spent nearly three hours on the grounded plane, then were asked to go back to the terminal, where they waited another hour before the flight was finally able to leave, according to media reports.

Official flights can also be delayed by bad weather — like the rainstorm in Mexico City on Wednesday night — but they have priority to land when the weather clears.

Despite losing four hours waiting for a one-hour flight, Lopez Obrador insisted he would go ahead with his plan to sell the costly presidential jet.

‘I’d die of shame’

“I’m not going to change my mind because of this. I’m never getting on the presidential plane,” he told journalists at the airport.

“I’d die of shame to use such a luxurious plane in a country with so much poverty.”

Lopez Obrador, widely known by his initials, “AMLO,” has been crisscrossing the country in a postelection “thank-you tour.”

He won the election on an anti-corruption platform, and has vowed to shun the privileges long enjoyed by what he calls Mexico’s “mafia of power” when he takes office on Dec. 1.

He plans to live in his modest home rather than the presidential palace, cut the presidential salary by more than half, and set that as the maximum pay for all public officials.

Lopez Obrador, 64, is fond of bashing the presidential jet, saying “not even Donald Trump has one like it.”

The 300-seat Boeing Dreamliner 787, in use since 2016, is valued at $220 million, according to Reforma.

In August, Lopez Obrador received an offer from a Mexican businessman to buy it for $99 million and use it as a high-end air taxi to the tune of $20,000 an hour.