US agents fire tear gas at ‘violent mob’ near Mexico border

A US Custom and Border Protection (CBP) official points his weapon at migrants as they prepare to cross the border fence illegally from Mexico into the US, in Tijuana, Mexico, January 1, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 02 January 2019
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US agents fire tear gas at ‘violent mob’ near Mexico border

  • Thousands of Central American migrants have been camping at shelters in Tijuana since arriving in November after traveling in caravans across Mexico to reach the US border

TIJUANA, Mexico: US border agents launched tear gas into Mexico early on Tuesday to deter a group of migrants that one official called “a violent mob” from crossing over from Tijuana, according to a Reuters witness and the US government.
Clouds of the noxious gas could be seen wafting up from around the fence at the border. One migrant picked up a canister and threw it back into US territory.
US officials said the group had attacked agents with projectiles, but a Reuters witness did not see any migrants throwing rocks at US agents.
Tijuana has become a flashpoint in the debate over US immigration policy, which has been intensified by the recent deaths of two migrant children in American custody and a partial US government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.
A previous incident in November when US agents fired gas into Mexico to disperse migrants triggered a call from Mexico’s government for an investigation.
Mexico Foreign Ministry spokesman Roberto Velasco said the government “regrets the events” at the border. He said Mexico “advocates respect for migrants’ human rights, security and integrity, while calling for respect for laws on both sides of the border.”
Late on Monday, more than 150 Central American migrants approached an area of the border in Tijuana in the Playas neighborhood near the beach. Migrants said they thought security measures might be relaxed due to the New Year’s holiday.
After midnight, US security personnel fired tear gas into Mexico as some migrants prepared to climb a border fence, according to the Reuters witness. During a second attempt, migrants began to pass youths and children over the razor wire along the fencing to the US side.
US Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman called the group “a violent mob” and said they had thrown projectiles at agents who responded with “the minimum force necessary to defend themselves.”
“Congress needs to fully fund the border wall,” Waldman said in a statement.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement that the gas was aimed upwind of people throwing rocks on the Mexican side who obstructed agents from helping the children being passed over razor wire.
The CBP statement said agents had not directly targeted the migrants attempting to cross the fence with tear gas and pepper spray.
A Reuters witness documented in one photo where a migrant had been hit by what appeared to be a gas canister.
CBP said most of the migrants attempting to cross returned back to Mexico while 25 people, including two teenagers, were detained.
Thousands of Central American migrants have been camping at shelters in Tijuana since arriving in November after traveling in caravans across Mexico to reach the US border, where many have hoped to request asylum.
Mexico’s new leftist president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has sought to not antagonize Trump over the US president’s demands for a border wall. He obtained a pledge from the United States to contribute billions of dollars for development in Mexico’s poor south and Central America in order to deter migration.
Trump has backed away from his campaign pledge to make Mexico pay for a wall, but just last week he threatened to close the border with Mexico unless he gets the money he wants from US lawmakers for a barrier.
The United States has also pushed Mexico to house Central American migrants while they seek US asylum.


Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

Updated 22 September 2019

Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the vice president talks about her frosty relationship with Duterte and the need to ensure OFW rights

MANILA: She is one of his most vocal critics, while he never misses an opportunity to mock her in public speeches across the Philippines.

But when it comes to upholding the sanctity of their office, both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo ensure they bring a finely scripted civility to the table.

“I do not meet him often. I do not get invited to functions in the presidential palace, but I get invited to military events. I try as much as I can to attend ... and I see the president there. Our meetings have always been cordial. The president has been very civil when we see each other,” Robredo said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Manila.

Robredo was elected separately to Duterte and was not his running mate. Amid rumors that she is the obvious choice to take on the mantle once Duterte finishes his term, Robredo says that she is not ready to rule out the idea just yet.

“I do not rule it out completely only because of what happened during the last two elections where I ruled out running for Congress and I ruled out running for the vice-presidency, and I had to eat my words after that,” she said, adding that as far as the Philippines is concerned, it’s all about “destiny.”

“Our history has shown that a lot of people have aspired for the presidency, but have not been successful. And we have had a lot of presidents who won the elections where they had not prepared as much as the other candidates. It is something that will be given to you if it is really meant for you. So there is no point in preparing for it at this point,” she said.

In recent years, Robredo and Duterte have had a frosty relationship over issues ranging from the government’s controversial war on drugs to the Philippines ties with China.

Recently, Robredo called out Duterte for his “shoot, but don’t kill” orders.

The president made his comments on Thursday during the inauguration of the Bataan government center and business hub dubbed “The Bunker,” urging Filipinos to “shoot but not kill” public officials who were demanding money in exchange for their services and vowing to defend any person who attacked a corrupt official.

The statement drew flak from several rights organizations and, most significantly, from the vice president herself.

“I do not agree with killings per se, whether they are against drug addicts or corrupt officials. We have laws; we have the judicial system, and we should make sure that we have a strong judicial system, safe from political intrusion and corruption,” she said.

Robredo also explained why she has been at loggerheads with Duterte over his stance on the South China Sea.

Last week, she described as “reckless” his suggestion that he would consider bypassing an arbitration ruling — in favor of the Philippines — over a territorial dispute with China in order to finalize an energy pact with Beijing.

“I have always been vocal about statements by the president, which may be interpreted in a manner that would be against the constitution. It has been the reason of some friction between us. There has been a lot of confusion as far as the seriousness of the president’s remarks is concerned. Whenever he makes controversial statements, some officials around him try to correct those statements,” she said, adding that her retorts have “been a source of criticism from many of the president’s supporters.”

Adding to their constant tug-of-war is the issue of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and sending manpower to countries in the Middle East.

The issue intensified with the murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait last year. A Syrian woman, one of Demafelis’ employers, was found guilty of her murder this month.

Following the incident, the Philippines placed a ban on sending workers to Kuwait.

Duterte lifted the ban after Demafelis’ killer was tried, and there have been efforts to negotiate the terms and conditions of labor contracts by both the countries.

“The issues in Kuwait became a little too unbearable and we entered into a memorandum of agreement last year ... it was a reaction to many of the complaints that overseas Filipinos in Kuwait have. Some say that their passports are being confiscated by employers as soon as they reach Kuwait, and there are complaints about the working conditions, hours, etc,” Robredo said.

However, the agreement was a “short-term” initiative and a more formal bilateral agreement would have been “better in the sense that both countries will be made accountable,” she said.

“This is our desire not just in Kuwait, but also in many other parts of the Middle East, and in Saudi Arabia for example, where most of our Filipino workers are. There has been a UN convention on the protection of the rights of overseas workers — migrant workers — but, unfortunately, most of the countries hosting our migrant workers are not signatories to that convention yet,” she said.

Robredo described the agreement a “work in progress,” saying “it is something that we have been working on for several years.”

The Philippines signed two agreements with Saudi Arabia — the first in 2015, and another two years later —  on labor contracts and recruitment.

According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the Kingdom continued to be the top destination for OFWs until May this year, with an estimated 2.3 million Filipinos working there.

Remittances from the period totalled P235.9 billion ($4.5 billion), up from P205.2 billion a year earlier.

“It is our desire that the countries hosting our migrant workers will be signatories to the UN convention because at the very least, the basic rights of our workers will be protected. It is something that not just our Foreign Affairs Department is working on, but our Labor Department as well,” she said, adding that this and a few other issues are subjects on which she and the president agree.

In June this year, when both Robredo and Duterte entered the final stretch of their six-year terms, the vice president said that she wanted a “better working relationship” with the president.

It is a sentiment that she voiced strongly while talking to Arab News as well.

“I think if our meetings are to be the gauge of our relationship, we are OK. It is just that there have been a lot of side remarks, issues and criticisms outside of our meetings that I think complicates the relationship,” she said.