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The Trump administration sent mixed messages Wednesday over the possibility of nuclear war with North Korea, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to defuse tensions, while Defense Secretary James Mattis threatened a nuclear attack. On Wednesday, Mattis warned North Korea not to take any action that could result in the “end of its regime” and the “destruction of its people.” His comments came a day after Trump startled the world—and, reportedly, his own advisers—threatening North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Secretary of State Tillerson on Wednesday downplayed Trump’s rhetoric.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days. I think the president, again, as commander-in-chief—I think he felt it necessary to issue a very strong statement directly to North Korea.”
In response, North Korea threatened to strike the U.S. territory of Guam in the western Pacific. Guam is home to 163,000 people as well as several major U.S. military bases. Earlier today, North Korea said its military is working on a plan to fire four missiles into the sea off Guam. A statement issued by North Korean state media said of Trump, “Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him.”
Outside the White House, protesters called Wednesday for the Trump administration to negotiate a solution to the North Korea crisis. Under the so-called freeze-for-a-freeze deal, North Korea would temporarily halt nuclear and missile tests in return for a reduced American military presence in the Korean Peninsula. This is peace activist Medea Benjamin of the group CodePink.
Medea Benjamin: “So we’re here to tell Donald Trump that we want a freeze for a freeze, because if there were a freeze for a freeze, that would open up the space for real negotiations. And that’s what needs to happen.”
The FBI carried out a pre-dawn raid last month of the home of Donald Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, in the latest escalation of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The July 26 raid, which was confirmed Wednesday by a spokesperson for Manafort, saw agents seize tax documents and foreign bank records. The raid came one day after Manafort testified to Senate investigators about his meeting—along with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.—last summer with a Kremlin-linked lawyer promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
In Kenya, protests over this week’s presidential election boiled over into violence Wednesday, as police shot and killed five people in three different cities around the country. The protests came as vote counting showed incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta with a comfortable lead over his main rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga. In the Nairobi neighborhood of Kibera—the largest slum in Africa—residents rallied Thursday in support of Odinga.
Jack Oyoo: “Matters of the economy are difficult. The citizens, the youth of this country want a change. We want a government that can help the youth, a government that understands the problems we face. And we are tired of Uhuru’s government, because they have been unable to do their job.”
Odinga claimed Tuesday’s vote was marred by “massive” fraud and that hackers infiltrated the servers of Kenya’s electoral commission. That contradicts a statement Wednesday by Kenya’s election commission chief, who rejected the hacking claims. Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who observed the election on behalf of the Carter Center, called Kenya’s election transparent and said the final results would be cross-checked with paper records.
In Iraq, survivors of the U.S.-led battle to recapture Mosul from ISIS say hundreds of thousands of the city’s displaced residents have been slow to return home. The United Nations estimates Mosul needs more than $1 billion just to restore electricity, sanitation, water and other basic infrastructure. This is West Mosul resident Abdelfattah.
Abdelfattah: “We want life to return here, not for us elderly, but for these children, the new generation. What fault have they committed? They have no schools, no education, no healthcare, nothing. Here there is nothing. We want life to return here so people will come back. We want them to ask about us, what we need. We have nothing. We just sit here daily, patiently waiting.”
An estimated 700,000 residents fled the nine-month-long battle to recapture Mosul. Iraqi intelligence reports claim more than 40,000 civilians died in the fighting.
In the Mediterranean, Libya’s coast guard said Wednesday it fired warning shots to drive off a Spanish vessel after it wandered into Libya’s territorial waters. But members of the migrant aid group Proactiva dispute the account, saying their boat “Open Arms” was patrolling international waters. Earlier this week, Proactiva said Italy and Malta barred the group from disembarking migrants rescued at sea. Aid groups have come under increasing pressure from Libyan and European governments not to assist refugees and other migrants attempting the perilous crossing. A report this week from the International Organization for Migration found more than 115,000 migrants have crossed into Europe so far this year, and more than 2,400 have died crossing the Mediterranean.
A French court on Tuesday ordered a four-month suspended jail sentence for farmer Cédric Herrou, who led a team of volunteers who provided food and shelter to migrants entering France from Italy in 2016. Outside the court, Herrou told reporters he has no regrets, adding, “It’s the role of a citizen in a democracy to act when the state is failing.”
Canada’s government deployed soldiers Wednesday to erect a camp near the U.S. border to process the roughly 250 asylum seekers arriving in Montreal each day, as they flee the Trump administration’s crackdown on refugees and immigrants. The camp, near the border with New York state, will accommodate up to 500 people in heated tents. Most of those seeking asylum are Haitians who took refuge in the U.S. after a devastating earthquake in 2010. The Trump administration has threatened to remove protected status for Haitians, which could affect up to 58,000 people.
In the Gaza Strip, at least four Palestinians were injured—one of them with a fractured skull—after Israel launched airstrikes in three different sites in Gaza. Israel’s military said the strikes were a response to a rocket fired into southern Israel. A spokesperson for Hamas said he was unaware of any rocket attacks and that no Palestinian groups had claimed responsibility. The violence followed a warning by the United Nations last month, declaring Israel’s blockade and electricity cuts have made Gaza “unlivable” for its more than 2 million residents.
In Israel, an IDF soldier who was caught on video executing a wounded Palestinian man last year began a prison term Wednesday after he lost his final appeal contesting his manslaughter conviction. The video shows Palestinian Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who was reportedly a suspect in a stabbing earlier in the day, lying immobilized on the ground in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The video then appears to show Israeli Sergeant Elor Azaria firing a single shot into the man’s head from a close distance, killing him. Azaria was convicted in February and sentenced to 18 months in prison. He’ll be eligible for parole in just nine months’ time.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rallied thousands of supporters in Tel Aviv Wednesday, as Israeli prosecutors press criminal investigations into charges that Netanyahu and his aides committed bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu’s speech to members of his right-wing Likud Party drew comparisons to President Donald Trump’s rallies.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Both the left-wing opposition and the media, who are one and the same, know this, and they are enlisting now in an obsessive, unprecedented hunt against me and my family, aiming to oust the government.”
Last week, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff agreed to serve as state witness for the prosecution in a case alleging Netanyahu traded political favors for $130,000 worth of luxury gifts, including cigars and champagne. Netanyahu is also reeling from leaked transcripts of secret recordings that show he traded favors for positive coverage from Israel’s dominant newspaper.
Back in the U.S., farmworkers in Washington state are demanding justice and safe working conditions after one of their colleagues fell ill and died after picking berries in a field near the Canadian border. Twenty-eight-year-old father of three, Honesto Silva Ibarra, was working for Sarbanand Farms last week amid scorching temperatures and smoke from nearby wildfires when he began complaining of intense headaches. Silva’s colleagues say supervisors denied his requests for medical attention and ordered him to keep working—or be fired. Silva later collapsed while seeking help and was rushed to a hospital in Seattle, where he died Sunday. On Friday, at least 70 workers were fired for “insubordination” after they organized a one-day work stoppage to protest Silva’s death and dangerous conditions in the fields. The workers, who are in the U.S. under the H-2A guestworker program, have refused to leave the U.S. and have since joined the farmworkers’ union “Families United for Justice.”
And in Puerto Rico, the U.S. federal judge presiding over the island’s massive bankruptcy approved a deal Wednesday that would see creditors’ competing claims on the territory’s sales taxes approved by mid-December. The expedited timeline came as activists rallied outside the U.S. District Courthouse in San Juan, supporting a group of uninsured creditors who are asking for an investigation into Puerto Rico’s debt, citing possible conflicts of interest between members of the oversight board and bondholders. This is Eva Prados, a lawyer with the Citizen’s Front for the Auditing of the Debt.
Eva Prados: “What is happening in this court is not a common bankruptcy procedure. It is in fact the biggest bankruptcy procedure that has been held in all of the United States and which is going to define the economic future of Puerto Rico. Why are we favoring the motion presented by a group of creditors? Because we understand that the investigation proposed is an extremely important investigation. We understand that this committee of creditors has a precise interest in an evaluation of the legality of the debt, particularly in everything related to bank emissions. In that sense, they present a good opportunity to know the role of the banks in an objective manner.”
In the latest round of austerity measures, the oversight control board said this week it will slash the pensions for the majority of Puerto Rico’s retired workers by up to 25 percent and reduce the workday for all public workers, except police, by up to two days a month.