Murders in Mexico rise by a third in 2018 to new record

Murders in Mexico rose by 33 percent in 2018, breaking the record for a second year running, official data showed, underlining the task facing the new president who has pledged to reduce violence in the cartel-ravaged country.

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Murders in Mexico rose by 33 percent in 2018, breaking the record for a second year running, official data showed, underlining the task facing the new president who has pledged to reduce violence in the cartel-ravaged country.

Investigators opened to 33,341 murder probes compared with the previous year’s record of 25,036, according to information from the Interior Ministry published on Sunday.

Mexico has struggled with years of violence as the government has battled brutal drug cartels, often by taking out their leaders. That has resulted in fragmentation of gangs and increasingly vicious internecine fighting.

The complexity of fighting criminal groups is a major test for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who assumed office in December, vowing to try a different approach to his predecessor.

Former President Enrique Pena Nieto presided over a 40 percent rise in murder investigations across his six-year mandate from his first full year in office in 2013.

Of Mexico’s 32 regions, the central state of Guanajuato registered the highest number of murder probes opened in 2018, at 3,290, more than three times as many murder probes as the 1,084 investigations opened in 2017.

Guanajuato has been hit by bloody turf wars among gangs battling for control of a lucrative market for stolen fuel.

The data showed 861 cases of murders of women in 2018 compared with 735 in 2017.

Mexico’s national statistics office (INEGI) also calculated a record number of homicides in 2017, at 31,174 murders, or 25 per 100,000, using other methodologies. INEGI has yet to present its data for violent crime in 2018.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Explainer: Mexico’s fuel woes rooted in chronic theft, troubled refineries

People queue to buy gasoline at a gas station in Mexico City, Mexico January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

By David Alire Garcia and Marianna Parraga

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Nearly a month after Mexico’s new president launched an ambitious plan to stamp out growing fuel theft, the strategy meant to crush corruption and organized crime is under heightened scrutiny.

On Friday, at least 89 people died from a powerful explosion at a gasoline pipeline in central Mexico that had been punctured by fuel thieves. Relatives of some of the victims said fuel shortages stemming from the government’s crackdown led people to risk their lives filling plastic containers from the leak.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, said the tragedy has not weakened his faith in the plan. Since late December, he has closed six major pipelines where criminal gangs and other thieves have siphoned off stolen fuel worth billions of dollars.

Lopez Obrador is moving distribution to trucks, but that switch has caused delivery delays and long lines at gas stations, threatening to crimp the economy and hurt his popularity if shortages persist.

The veteran leftist won a landslide election victory on promises to root out endemic corruption, strengthen ailing national oil company Pemex and ensure stable fuel prices.

WHY IS THERE SO MUCH FUEL THEFT IN MEXICO?

Mexico’s fast-growing motor fuel market is a juicy target for thieves. It is the world’s sixth biggest, according to energy ministry data, featuring a total daily demand of nearly 1.18 million barrels of gasoline and diesel.

The Mexican government’s lack of attention has allowed organized groups to open clandestine taps along Pemex’s main pipelines. Internal complicity at Pemex refineries and terminals have also opened the door for theft of entire trucks loaded with fuel.

Fuel stolen from Pemex’s infrastructure mostly ends in the hands of the same retailers that legally sell Pemex gasoline and diesel.

HOW DID FUEL THEFT START AND WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

Fuel theft has been a problem in Mexico for decades but it has been growing in recent years. The crackdown on the drug war has caused gangs to turn to other forms of theft, and the nation’s network of pipelines proved to be ripe targets.

Theft escalated in recent years following reforms to the country’s oil sector by previous President Enrique Pena Nieto, who liberalized the industry for foreign investment. In turn, retail prices rose, giving cartels an opportunity to undercut those prices through black-market sales of gasoline.

Thieves tap into pipelines and are currently siphoning off the equivalent of around one-fifth of total national gasoline consumption, about 150,000 barrels per day (bpd) according to Reuters calculations based on official data. They then re-sell mostly to complicit gas stations.

Pemex documented more than 12,500 illegal taps to its fuel pipeline network during the first 10 months of 2018, more than in the previous year. The widespread theft costs Pemex more than $3 billion annually, according to official numbers.

Lopez Obrador has said upwards of 80 percent of the theft is organized by Pemex employees, though he has not provided evidence. He has also pointed to reports that the union has been restricting access to parts of the company’s operations.

Central and western states including Queretaro, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Michoacan and Jalisco are most afflicted by the pipeline theft, as well as Pemex’s Salamanca refinery, which has been especially plagued by organized crime and violent disruptions.

WHY ISN’T MEXICO PRODUCING ENOUGH GASOLINE?

For years, Pemex’s six domestic oil refineries have operated well below their capacity, due to a mix of underinvestment, deferred maintenance and frequent accidents, including deadly explosions that have provoked costly stoppages.

Las year, the refineries operated at about a third of their 1.63-million-barrel-per day crude processing capacity, compared with 2013, when they processed nearly 1.4 million barrels of crude a day.

HOW DOES MEXICO MEET ITS FUEL NEEDS?

Mexico has grown increasingly dependent on fuel imports in recent years, with imported gasoline, distillates and liquefied petroleum gas growing last year to about two-thirds of total demand. In 2016, imports and domestic production each accounted for roughly half.

Mexico has 16 marine terminals capable of receiving imported fuel, plus 74 storage facilities and over 8,800 kilometers of pipelines. The imports flow mainly through the Pajaritos, Tuxpan and Veracruz terminals on the country’s Gulf coast, which have recently turned into bottlenecks for the imports.

Mexico is a critical export market for U.S. refiners and trading firms, and is the biggest buyer of U.S. gasoline and diesel. In October, the United States exported 621,000 bpd of gasoline to Mexico, accounting for roughly 60 percent of the 1.03 million bpd exported that month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

While the volumes are much lower than supplies transported by sea, rail shipments of fuels across the U.S.-Mexico land border have also grown substantially as U.S. firms have capitalized on Mexico’s growing demand, hitting record highs several times since early 2017, according to data from the Association of American Railroads, the largest U.S. rail trade group.

WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING?

The new government began the closure of major fuel pipelines on December 27. Production at Pemex’s Gulf coast Madero and Minatitlan refineries has also been partially or completely halted, which contributes to the need for imported fuels as a replacement.

Lopez Obrador hopes some 5,000 tanker trucks can distribute supplies to over 11,000 gas stations scattered across the country. While the vast majority of the stations are Pemex franchises, a growing number belong to new private entrants, including giant Exxon Mobil Corp and trading firm Glencore Plc, which in some cases import their own fuel.

The cost of transporting gasoline and diesel by tanker trucks is nearly 14 times more expensive than via pipelines, according to a study by Mexico’s Federal Commission for Economic Competition, or Cofece.

Both Pemex and Lopez Obrador have sought to assure an increasingly restless public that there is plenty of gasoline and that refineries and other key installations are being supervised by 4,000 soldiers. He has also pleaded with citizens to be patient while the new distribution system is normalized.

Lopez Obrador’s team has yet to explain how it will finance the much more expensive distribution costs it is now incurring.

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Marianna Parraga; Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City and Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)

Venezuela captures rogue officers after uprising at military outpost

Demonstrators stand close to the remains of a burning car used as barricade during a protest near to a National Guard outpost in Caracas, Venezuela January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Mayela Armas and Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela has captured a group of military officers who stole weapons and kidnapped four officials on Monday, the government said, hours after a social media video showed a sergeant demanding the removal of President Nicolas Maduro.

An unspecified number of officers early on Monday attacked a National Guard outpost in the Caracas neighborhood of Cotiza, a kilometer (0.6 mile) from the presidential Miraflores palace, where they met “firm resistance,” the government said in a statement. Witnesses reported hearing gunshots at about 3 a.m. (0700 GMT) in the area.

An armored vehicle is seen outside an outpost of the Venezuelan National Guards during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

An armored vehicle is seen outside an outpost of the Venezuelan National Guards during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Protesters later burned trash and a car outside the outpost, where the officers were arrested, in a sign of growing tensions following Maduro’s inauguration to a second term that governments around the world have called illegitimate.

Though the incident signals discontent within the armed forces, it appeared to involve only low-ranking officers with little capacity to force change in the hyperinflationary economy as many people suffer from shortages of food and medicine.

“The armed forces categorically reject this type of action, which is most certainly motivated by the dark interests of the extreme right,” the government said in a statement read out on state television.

Maduro was inaugurated on Jan. 10 under an avalanche of criticism that his leadership was illegitimate following a 2018 election widely viewed as fraudulent, with countries around the world disavowing his government.

Opposition leaders and exiled dissidents have called on the armed forces to turn against Maduro, which the president has denounced as efforts to encourage a coup against him.

The opposition-controlled congress’s head, Juan Guaido, said the uprising was a sign of the armed forces’ depressed state of mind. Congress was committed to offering guarantees to officers who helped with “the constitution’s reconstitution,” he said, though he did not want the military to fall into internal conflict.

“We want it to stand as one man on the side of the people, the constitution, and against the usurpation,” he said on Twitter.

In the videos that circulated on Twitter, a group of armed soldiers stood in darkness apparently at the Cotiza outpost while their leader addressed the camera and called for Venezuelans to support their revolt.

“You all asked that we take to the streets to defend the constitution. Here we are. Here we have the troops. It’s today when the people come out to support us,” said the man in the video, who identified himself as Luis Bandres.

The government said the men took two vehicles from a police station in the Macarao district in the west of Caracas before driving to a barracks in the eastern Petare slum, where they stole an arms cache and kidnapped four officials.

After they attacked the Cotiza outpost in the early hours of the morning, security forces surrounded them. In response, several dozen residents barricaded streets and set fire to rubbish as they chanted “Don’t hand yourself in,” according to Reuters witnesses. Troops fired tear gas to disperse them.

“These soldiers are right to rise up. We need a political change, because we don’t have any water or electricity,” said Angel Rivas, a 49-year-old laborer at the protest.

The United States and many Latin American nations say Maduro has become a dictator whose failed state-led policies have plunged Venezuela into its worst ever economic crisis, with inflation approaching 2 million percent.

Maduro says a U.S.-directed “economic war” is trying to force him from power.

(Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera and Corina Pons; Writing by Brian Ellsworth and Angus Berwick; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Chinese scientist who gene-edited babies fired by university

FILE PHOTO: Scientist He Jiankui speaks at his company Direct Genomics in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China July 18, 2017. Picture taken July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) – A Chinese scientist who created what he said were the world’s first “gene-edited” babies evaded oversight and broke ethical boundaries in a quest for fame and fortune, state media said on Monday, as his former university said he had been fired.

He Jiankui said in November that he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born that month, sparking an international outcry about the ethics and safety of such research.

Hundreds of Chinese and international scientists condemned He and said any application of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes was unethical.

Chinese authorities also denounced He and issued a temporary halt to research activities involving the editing of human genes.

He had “deliberately evaded oversight” with the intent of creating a gene-edited baby “for the purpose of reproduction”, according to the initial findings of an investigating team set up by the Health Commission of China in southern Guangdong province, Xinhua news agency reported.

He had raised funds himself and privately organized a team of people to carry out the procedure in order to “seek personal fame and profit”, Xinhua said, adding that he had forged ethical review papers in order to enlist volunteers for the procedure.

The safety and efficacy of the technologies He used are unreliable and creating gene-edited babies for reproduction is banned by national decree, the report said.

The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in the city of Shenzhen, said in a statement on its website that He had been fired.

“Effective immediately, SUSTech will rescind the work contract with Dr. Jiankui He and terminate any of his teaching and research activities at SUSTech,” the statement said.

The university added the decision came after a preliminary investigation by the Guangdong Province Investigation Task Force.

Neither He nor a representative could be reached for comment on Monday. He defended his actions at a conference in Hong Kong in November, saying that he was “proud” of what he had done and that gene editing would help protect the girls from being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

International experts in genetic science said they hoped that Monday’s report was only the initial result of investigations into He and that more action would be taken.

“The report will hopefully set an example with appropriate legal and punitive actions to reassure the public and scientific community,” said Yalda Jamshidi, a genomics expert at Britain’s University of London.

His announcement sparked a debate among Chinese legal scholars over which laws He had technically broken by carrying out the procedure, as well as whether he could be held criminally responsible or not.

Many scholars pointed to a 2003 guideline that bans altered human embryos from being implanted for the purpose of reproduction and says altered embryos cannot be developed for more than 14 days.

The case files of those involved who are suspected of committing crimes have been sent to the ministry of public security, an unnamed spokesperson for the investigation team was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Helen O’Neill, a reproductive science expert at University College London, said she was concerned that the report gave “no further clarification on what measures will be taken to prevent this happening in future, nor what will be done as punishment”.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Sue-Lin Wong in Shenzhen, CHINA; additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; editing by Nick Macfie and Hugh Lawson)

U.S. air safety agents absences hit record level; shutdown in Day 31

FILE PHOTO: Long lines are seen at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By David Shepardson and Katanga Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, where employees are going unpaid amid a partial government shutdown, said on Monday that unscheduled absences among U.S. airport security officers rose to a record 10 percent on Sunday as the shutdown reached its 31st day.

The agency said the rate was up from the previous high of 7 percent on Saturday. It also was more than three times the 3.1 percent absence rate on the same day last year, when the government also was partially closed due to legislative funding issues.

As the partial government shutdown continues, air safety has become a top concern as the number of TSA agents not showing up for work grows.

The agency said many employees, who are not being paid because of the shutdown, are not reporting to work because of financial hardships.

More than 50,000 TSA officers are among some 800,000 federal workers have been ordered to stay home or work without pay during the shutdown. [nL1N1ZK05R]

Nearly all 1.78 million passengers screened Sunday faced normal security waits of 30 minutes or less, despite the absences, TSA said.

Some airports experienced longer wait times at security checkpoints, and on Sunday, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport closed one of its checkpoints because of excessive absences.

About one-quarter of the U.S. government has been shuttered since Dec. 22 over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the border with Mexico, which Democrats have refused to consider.

The promise of a border wall was a mainstay of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign. As a candidate, he said Mexico would pay for the barrier, but the Mexican government has refused.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Chris Sanders and Bill Trott)

U.S. eclipse watchers howl at Blood Wolf Moon but bitter cold cancels other festivities

The Moon is seen during a lunar eclipse in Helsinki, Finland January 21, 2019. Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari/via REUTERS

By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) – Skywatchers howled at the moon at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles when the full lunar eclipse appeared shortly after 9 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday and our celestial neighbor was bathed reddish-orange during a Super Blood Wolf Moon.

People monitor the moon during a total lunar eclipse in Vienna, Austria, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

People monitor the moon during a total lunar eclipse in Vienna, Austria, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

“Amazing. As you can see, it’s a party atmosphere and everyone is just enjoying the spectacle,” said Rosalind Von Wendt from Los Angeles.

More than 1,500 people gathered at the observatory near the city’s famous Hollywood sign to watch the eclipse.

However, not everyone got to watch the cosmic show, with lunar eclipse parties canceled elsewhere due to a flash freeze across the central and northeastern United States. Icy roadways rather than cloudy skies were blamed by astronomers for spoiling the festivities.

In Los Angeles, where the weather was markedly warmer and skies cleared just in time, skywatchers were treated to a full spectacle of the Earth casting its shadow over the moon’s face.

The moon is seen over "Victoria Alada" statue on the top of Metropoli building during a total lunar eclipse, known as the "Super Blood Wolf Moon" in Madrid, Spain, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

The moon is seen over “Victoria Alada” statue on the top of Metropoli building during a total lunar eclipse, known as the “Super Blood Wolf Moon” in Madrid, Spain, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

“Oh it was fantastic, it was great,” said Brad Mortensen, from Philadelphia, Pa. “This was a great location. The observatory is always fun to visit so tonight when we heard about this we decided to come up.”

The moon did not vanish entirely during the total eclipse but, at its height, the entire lunar surface was bathed in a reddish-orange glow that gives rise to the “blood moon” description.

The reddish color is due to rays of sunlight passing through Earth’s dusty, polluted atmosphere as the moon falls into our planet’s shadow. The shorter, more pliable blue wavelengths of light are scattered outside the Earth’s shadow and the longer, less bendable red wavelengths are refracted toward the moon.

Adding to the visual effect is the fact that the eclipse occurred at a time when the moon reached a point in its orbit putting it close to Earth, an alignment called a supermoon.

It has also earned the name “wolf moon” because it appears in January when wolves would howl in hunger outside villages early in U.S. history, according to The Farmers Almanac.

The first full moon of 2019 rises off the shore of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales, Britain January 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

The first full moon of 2019 rises off the shore of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales, Britain January 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

DEEP FREEZE SPOILS PARTY

Sunday’s eclipse reached its maximum effect over Los Angeles shortly after 9 p.m. Pacific time (0500 GMT Monday), but not everyone on the West Coast had a clear view. It rained in San Francisco and San Diego had cloudy skies.

Astronomy buffs were urged to watch the eclipse live-streamed online at sites such as AstronomersWithoutBorders.org.

It seemed days earlier that cloudy skies would be the biggest threat to the cosmic fun, but it turned out a wet, wide-ranging snowstorm followed by a deep freeze on Sunday made driving and outdoor activities too hazardous.

Eclipse parties were canceled from Indiana’s Lemon Lake County Park to New Jersey’s Rowan University.

“It’s not the snow or cloudy skies but, rather, the extreme cold and what we fear may be hazardous travel conditions,” said Pennsylvania’s Carbon County Environmental Center, which scrapped its party in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania, 54 miles (86 km) northwest of Allentown.

The eclipse was otherwise visible to the naked eye by anyone in the United States where skies were clear. That included Atlanta, Ga., where only the determined went outside in freezing temperatures to watch.

Unlike a solar eclipse, which requires eye protection to enjoy the view safely, no extra measures need to be taken for hazard-free lunar eclipse watching.

The next chance for Americans to see a total lunar eclipse is 2022.

The best viewing of the one-hour total eclipse was from North and South America, with as many as 2.8 billion people able to see it from the Western Hemisphere, Europe, West Africa and northernmost Russia.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Steve Gorman, Rich McKay and Rollo Ross; Editing by Leslie Adler, Susan Thomas and Paul Tait)

Toddler rescue effort reaches most dangerous stage in Spain: engineer

A drill (C) is driven to work at the area where Julen, a Spanish two-year-old boy, fell into a deep well eight days ago when the family was taking a stroll through a private estate, in Totalan, southern Spain January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

TOTALAN, Spain (Reuters) – Efforts to reach a two-year-old boy who fell into a borehole in southern Spain more than a week ago are nearing their most dangerous stage, an engineer on the rescue team said on Monday.

The toddler, Julen, fell down the shaft as his family walked through a private estate in Totalan, Malaga on Jan. 13. There have been no signs of life since.

Miners have been drilling day and night to create a parallel shaft, hoping they will be able to cut across by Tuesday to find the child.

Work slowed on Sunday after the drill bit hit hard rock and officials said there was a risk of more collapses as they carved out the horizontal passage.

“The most dangerous part, the most delicate part, still remains to be done,” mining engineer Juan Lopez Escobar told Canal Sur.

“It is a complicated job where lives will be at risk, but they have practiced that, and they are the best,” he added.

Rescuers found that the borehole – 100 meters (300 feet) deep and just 25 cm (10 inches) wide – was blocked with earth, raising fears that soil had collapsed onto the child.

“We’re at 53 meters, and we’re just another seven meters away (from where) we start the next job of creating the chamber,” Angel Vidal, the lead engineer overseeing the work, told reporters.

Spanish miners and engineers have been joined by workers from a Swedish firm who helped locate 33 Chilean miners rescued after 69 days underground more than seven years ago.

Children and families have joined candlelight vigils across Spain in support of the missing boy.

El Pais reported that his parents suffered another tragedy in 2017 when their three-year-old son died suddenly after suffering a cardiac arrest while walking along a beach.

(Reporting by Miguel Pereira; writing by Jose Elias Rodriguez and Paul Day, editing by Andrei Khalip and Andrew Heavens)

Taliban attack kills more than 100 security personnel in central Afghanistan: defense ministry source

Afghan men stand in front of a collapsed building of a military base after a car bomb attack in Maidan Wardak, Afghanistan, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

By Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban killed more than 100 members of the Afghan security forces inside a military compound in central Maidan Wardak province on Monday, a senior defense official said.

“We have information that 126 people have been killed in the explosion inside the military training center, eight special commandoes are among the dead,” said a senior official in the defense ministry in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said the assault began on Monday morning when the attackers rammed a car full explosives through a military check point and detonated the vehicle inside the campus of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces training center in Maidan Shahr, the capital of Maidan Wardak province.

Two gunmen entered the campus right after the explosion and shot at many Afghan soldiers before being gunned down during the clashes.

Defense ministry officials said the Taliban had used U.S.-made armored Humvee vehicles captured from Afghan forces as a car bomb in order to breach the military fortifications.

A second source residing in Maidan Wardak province said more than 100 members of National Directorate of Security (NDS) were killed in the complex attack.

“I have been in touch with the NDS official in the province and they told me that over 100 members of the NDS were killed in the big explosion,” the former provincial official said.

Sharif Hotak, a member of the provincial council in Maidan Wardak said he saw bodies of 35 Afghan forces in the hospital.

“Many more were killed. Several bodies were transported to Kabul city and many injured were transferred to hospitals in Kabul,” said Hotak, adding that “the government was hiding the accurate casualty figures to prevent a further dip in morale of the Afghan forces.”

“The explosion was very powerful. The whole building has collapsed,” he said.

Government officials in Maidan Wardak and Kabul declined to comment when asked if they were obscuring the death toll.

Two senior officials in the interior ministry said the exact casualty figures was not being disclosed to prevent unrest within the armed forces.

“I have been told not to make the death toll figures public. It is frustrating to hide the facts,” said a senior interior ministry official in Kabul.

A senior NDS official in Kabul said at least 50 people were killed or wounded in the complex attack.

Abdurrahman Mangal, spokesman for the provincial governor in Maidan Wardak said 12 people were killed and 12 were injured when the car bomb exploded near the Afghan special forces unit.

President Ashraf Ghani’s office in a statement said the “enemies of the country” had carried out an attack against NDS personnel in Maidan Shahr. “They killed and wounded a number of our beloved and honest sons.”

In recent years the Afghan government has stopped releasing detailed casualty figures. Last year Ghani has said 28,000 Afghan police officers and soldiers have been killed since 2015, breaking the longstanding suppression on casualty data.

Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the hardline Islamic militant group said they have killed 190 people in the complex attack.

Last week, Taliban fighters set off a car bomb outside a highly fortified compound killing at least five people and wounding more than 110 Afghans and expatriates in the capital, Kabul.

(Additional reporting by Sayed Hassib, Charlotte Greenfield in Kabul, Ahmad Sultan in Jalalabad; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Russia acknowledges new missile but says it does not breach treaty

By Stephanie Nebehay and Robin Emmott

GENEVA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Russia has recognized the existence of a cruise missile system that has prompted Washington to say it will quit the 1987 INF disarmament treaty, but has denied that it violates the pact, U.S. officials and NATO diplomats said on Monday.

Two weeks before the planned U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, which keeps nuclear-capable missiles out of Europe, Washington’s disarmament ambassador in Geneva said there was still time for Russia to destroy the system.

But after a session of the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament, Russian diplomat Alexander Deyneko told Reuters: “We shall not yield to any ultimatums like to liquidate or to eliminate (a) missile that doesn’t fall within the range of the treaty prohibitions.”

Russia had denied developing what U.S. intelligence calls the SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile system.

However, NATO diplomats said Moscow did now recognize its existence but argued that its range was within the 500-km limit set by the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood said the system was a “potent and direct threat to Europe and Asia” as it had a range of 500 to 1,500 km (310-930 miles), contravening a treaty that is designed to prevent attacks at short notice.

“Russia must verifiably destroy all SSC-8 missiles, launchers and associated equipment in order to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty,” Wood said.

“Unfortunately, the United States increasingly finds that Russia cannot be trusted to comply with its arms control obligations and that its coercive and malign actions around the globe have increased tensions.”

After a meeting with Russian officials in Geneva last week, the United States said Moscow’s offer to save the treaty, negotiated by U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was not genuine because it could not be verified.

The impasse sets the stage for U.S. President Donald Trump to fulfill his threat to start withdrawing from the pact on Feb. 2, potentially allowing Washington to develop its own medium-range missiles.

The United States will still have six months to formally complete its withdrawal, however.

The U.S.-led NATO alliance said it had not given up on bringing Russia back into compliance. NATO’s 29 ambassadors will hold a special NATO-Russia Council with Moscow’s acting envoy to the alliance, Yuri Gorlach, in Brussels on Friday.

NATO diplomats told Reuters that European members of the alliance led by Germany hoped Washington would make a final push to convince the Kremlin to come into line, or possibly to renegotiate the INF to include China.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Trump says no amnesty for ‘Dreamers,’ signals support in broader deal

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to deliver remarks on border security and the partial shutdown of the U.S. government in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Sunday his proposed immigration deal to end a 30-day partial government shutdown would not lead to amnesty for “Dreamers,” but he appeared to signal support for amnesty as part of a broader immigration agreement.

In a morning Twitter storm, Trump also said he would not seek the removal of millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States, while bashing House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats for turning down an offer he made on Saturday, including for Dreamers, the immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

“No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer. It is a 3-year extension of DACA. Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else,” Trump said on Twitter.

“Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!”

The Dreamers are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Banners outside a Catholic church in New York's Queens borough express support for "Dreamer" immigrants in New York, U.S. January 20, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Zieminski

Banners outside a Catholic church in New York’s Queens borough express support for “Dreamer” immigrants in New York, U.S. January 20, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Zieminski

DACA was put in place under former President Barack Obama. The Trump administration said in September 2017 it would rescind DACA, but it remains in effect under court order.

Trump did not make clear what he was referring to regarding the 11 million people mentioned in his tweet. About 12 million people are living in the United States illegally, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates.

In a Saturday speech from the White House, Trump offered three years of protections for Dreamers and for holders of temporary protected status (TPS), another class of immigrants from designated countries affected by armed conflict, natural disaster or other strife.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the plan as a “bold solution,” while a spokesman said McConnell would seek Senate passage of the proposal this week.

The legislation will include bills to fund government departments that have been closed during the shutdown, as well as some disaster aid and the president’s immigration proposal, a McConnell aide said. The plan will contain $12.7 billion in disaster aid, said another Senate source who asked not to be named.

But Trump’s amnesty tweet caught some Republicans off guard.

“I don’t know what the president’s calling amnesty,” Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, told ABC’s “This Week” program. “That’s a longer debate and obviously not something we can solve quickly.”

FILE PHOTO: A federal worker left unpaid or furloughed carries a free bag of groceries from Kraft Foods on the 27th day of the partial government shutdown in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

FILE PHOTO: A federal worker left unpaid or furloughed carries a free bag of groceries from Kraft Foods on the 27th day of the partial government shutdown in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Trump appeared to be responding to conservative critics who accused him of proposing amnesty and reneging on a campaign promise, which could alienate his right-wing base.

About one-quarter of the U.S. government shut down on Dec. 22 over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the border with Mexico, which Democrats have refused to consider. Some 800,000 federal workers have been ordered to stay home or work without pay during the shutdown.

The promise of a border wall was a mainstay of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign. As a candidate, he said Mexico would pay for the barrier, but the Mexican government has refused.

The shutdown has caused widespread disruptions.

The Transportation Security Administration on Sunday reported an 8 percent national rate of unscheduled absences on Saturday, compared with 3 percent a year ago. More than 50,000 TSA officers are working without pay.

Some airports experienced longer wait times at security checkpoints, and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport closed one of its checkpoints because of excessive absences.

‘STARTING POINT’

On Sunday, a day after Trump’s DACA proposal, there appeared to be signs of movement, even as Democrats insisted the government should reopen before proceeding with talks over border security.

“What the president proposed yesterday – increasing border security, looking at TPS, looking at the Dreamers – I’ll use that as a starting point. But you’ve got to start by reopening the government,” U.S. Senator Mark Warner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Warner, a Virginia Democrat, also said Congress should approve pay for federal workers affected by the shutdown before they miss another paycheck this week.

Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Democrats were not opposed to physical barriers on the southern border but that Trump’s changing position posed a problem for resolving the border security issue.

“I would not rule out a wall in certain instances,” Thompson said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

(Reporting by David Morgan in Washington; Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by Susan Thomas and Peter Cooney)