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Myanmar generals shut down internet as thousands protest coup

Myanmar’s junta shut down the internet in the country on Saturday as thousands of people took to the streets of Yangon to denounce this week’s coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In the first such demonstration since the generals seized power on Monday, activists in the country’s largest city chanted, “Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win” and held banners reading “Against military dictatorship.” Bystanders offered them food and water.

Many in the crowd wore red, the color of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) which won Nov. 8 elections in a landslide, a result the generals have refused to recognize claiming fraud.

The protesters largely dispersed in the afternoon, but several hundred remained sitting on the road in a standoff with police, residents said. Another group of around 100 were blocked by police from reaching the main demonstration.

As the protest swelled and activists issued calls on social media for people to join the march, the country’s internet crashed.

Monitoring group NetBlocks Internet Observatory reported a “national-scale internet blackout,” saying on Twitter that connectivity had fallen to 54 per cent of ordinary levels. Witnesses reported a shutdown of mobile data services and wifi.

Members of the crowd shouted ‘Military dictatorship should fall’ and ‘Down with dictatorship.’ (Ye Aung Thu/AFP via Getty Images)

The junta did not respond to requests for comment. It extended a social media crackdown to Twitter and Instagram after seeking to silence dissent by temporarily blocking Facebook, which counts half of the population as users.

Norwegian mobile network provider Telenor ASA said authorities had ordered all mobile operators to temporarily shut down the data network, although voice and SMS services remained open.

Many activists had sidestepped the Facebook ban by using virtual private networks to conceal their locations, but the more general internet disruption will severely limit their ability to organize and access independent news and information.

Many wore red, the colour of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which won Nov. 8 elections in a landslide, a result the generals have refused to recognize, claiming fraud. (The Associated Press)

Myanmar civil society organizations appealed to internet providers and mobile networks to resist the junta’s orders, saying in joint statement they were “essentially legitimizing the military’s authority.”

Telenor said it had stressed to the authorities that access to telecom services should be maintained. However it added it was bound by local law and its first priority was the safety of its local workers.

“We deeply regret the impact the shutdown has on the people in Myanmar,” it said in a statement.

Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, said shutting down the internet amid a coup and the COVID-19 pandemic was a “heinous and reckless decision.”

International fallout

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power alleging fraud, although the electoral commission says it has found no evidence of widespread irregularities in the November vote.

The junta announced a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hand over power after new elections, without giving a timeframe.

Suu Kyi, 75, has been charged with illegally importing six walkie-talkies, while ousted President Win Myint is accused of flouting coronavirus restrictions. Neither has been seen since the coup, although their lawyer said they were being held in their homes.

Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Suu Kyi, said in a message to Reuters on Saturday he was being detained.

Without naming Turnell, Australia said it had summoned the Myanmar ambassador to register “deep concern” over the arbitrary detention of Australian and other foreign nationals in Myanmar.

“In particular, we have serious concerns about an Australian who has been detained at a police station,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.

Saturday’s protest is the first sign of street unrest in a country with a history of bloody military crackdowns on protesters. There were also anti-coup protests in Melbourne, Australia, and the Taiwanese capital Taipei on Saturday.

A civil disobedience movement has been building in Myanmar all week, with doctors and teachers among those refusing to work, and every night people bang pots and pans in a show of anger.

Police blocked the main roads into the city centre in Yangon. (The Associated Press)

The coup has sparked international outrage, with the United States considering sanctions against the generals and the United Nations Security Council calling for the release of all detainees.

It has also deepened tensions between the United States and China, which has close links to Myanmar’s military. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in a phone call on Friday to condemn the coup, the State Department said.

The generals have few overseas interests that would be vulnerable to international sanctions, but the military’s extensive business investments could suffer if foreign partners leave — as Japanese drinks company Kirin Holdings said it would on Friday.

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest after leading pro-democracy protests against the long-ruling military junta in 1988.

After sharing power with a civilian government, the army began democratic reforms in 2011. That led to the election of the NLD in a landslide victory four years later.

The November election was meant to solidify a troubled democratic transition after the generals agreed to share power under a constitution guaranteeing the army a major role in government.

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Venezuelan opposition claims large turnout in anti-Maduro protest

Droves of Venezuelans blaming President Nicolas Maduro for their country’s collapse voiced their frustrations Saturday in a creative protest rivalling recent elections they boycotted as fraudulent.

In the so-called “people’s consultation,” U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido urged Venezuelans at home and around the world to register their ire through cellphone apps. Others visited makeshift polling stations in cities across Venezuela and in other Latin American Nations, the U.S. and Europe.

“Hope has been mobilized in Venezuela,” Guaido said shortly before the results were announced. “We must underscore a heroic people who mobilized throughout the country and the world in defence of their rights.”

Opposition leaders reported that nearly 6.5 million people responded to the survey. The Associated Press could not independently verify the validity of the figures, and even some opposition election experts questioned the number.

The opposition’s report said more than 3.2 million participated in person within Venezuela and nearly 850,000 visited centres outside the country, while more than 2.5 million sent in their responses digitally.

The survey asked whether people want to end Maduro’s rule and hold fresh presidential and legislative elections, and also seek even greater pressure from international allies to make it happen.

Though the event had no legal force, opposition leaders said the survey would unify the foes of Maduro. That includes the five million Venezuelans who have fled the nation’s hyperinflation and lack of basic services such as reliable running water, electricity and gasoline, they said.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, left, greets supporters during a visit to a voting centre in Caracas. (Manaure Quintero/Reuters)

Mirla De Lorenzo, a bank employee, visited a center in her Caracas neighborhood to participate, saying she would take any opportunity to express herself if there was any chance it could bring international attention to Venezuela’s plight and trigger an end to Maduro’s rule.

“We’re definitely tired of this situation that’s brought us nothing but poverty,” she said, adding that her daughter moved to Spain and her sister migrated to Chile, among relatives who have fled the crisis.

“You can’t compete with deceitful people, with people who use force, with people who have weapons,” she said. “There is no way.”

Maduro claims victory despite boycott, criticism 

The consultation came days after Maduro’s ruling socialist party declared victory in congressional elections that Guaido’s coalition boycotted, arguing the vote was a fraud. Canada, the U.S. and the European Union are among the nations and regional bodies that rejected the elections as undemocratic.

Guaido, acting as the National Assembly’s leader, proclaimed himself interim president in early 2019, arguing that Maduro was an illegitimate leader because his most popular challengers were barred from running in the presidential election the previous year.

Guaido quickly won broad support at home among energized supporters who flooded the streets as well as the backing of leaders in dozens of nations, including the U.S. The Trump administration took the lead, imposing sanctions on Maduro, dozens of his political allies and the state-run oil firm PDVSA. The U.S. Justice Department also unveiled an indictment of Maduro charging him with being a “narcoterrorist,” and offered a $ 15 million USreward for his arrest.

Nearly two years later, however, Maduro remains in power with control of the military and international allies including Iran, Russia, China, Turkey and Cuba.

Opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez, who recently fled Venezuela, votes from Bogota. (Fernando Vergara/The Associated Press)

On Jan. 5, the term of the current opposition-dominated National Assembly ends and Maduro’s political allies take over the last governmental body not controlled by the president’s socialist party. Guaido and his political allies vow to continue fighting.

Risa Grais-Targow, a Venezuela analyst for the Eurasia Group, said that in addition to seeking to unite Venezuelans who don’t like Maduro, the symbolic referendum was meant to send a message to international supporters.

“They’ve organized a process for their foreign partners from the U.S. to the European Union and regional governments,” Grais-Targow said. “So they can continue to back him even when he’s no longer in control of the National Assembly.”

The U.S. ambassador for Venezuela, James Story, praised the opposition’s survey from Colombia’s capital, where he has worked since the U.S. and Venezuela broke diplomatic relations and the U.S. closed its embassy in Caracas.

“We’re proud to see the people of Venezuela in the street voting for their right to democracy, justice, liberty,” Story tweeted. “Their voices have been heard. Democracy must return to Venezuela.”

Opposition support waning

Support among Venezuelans for the opposition has waned amid growing frustrations over Maduro remaining in power.

Maduro’s popularity is even lower. Just 31 per cent of Venezuela’s voters cast ballots in the Dec. 5 congressional elections — less than half the turnout for the 2015 legislative elections.

Maduro’s ruling party staged a celebration in the historic centre of Caracas on Saturday to mark the victories of their National Assembly candidates, including Maduro’s wife and son. Politicians gave speeches condemning the domestic opposition and U.S. policy interference in Venezuela. Salsa music played and people danced.

A political talk show on state television Saturday night featured a segment mocking the referendum by showing cellphone videos said to have been recorded by people who drove by survey centers in cities across the nation.

“There’s nobody, absolutely nobody,” one unidentified driver says. “Look there’s four people standing around talking nonsense.”

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Clashes in Paris as thousands protest bill that would outlaw filming police officers


Tens of thousands of critics of a proposed security law that would restrict the filming of police officers protested across France on Saturday.

Violence erupted nearby as small groups of protesters clashed with riot police

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Indian farmers continue protest against new laws as police allow them into capital

Thousands of angry Indian farmers protesting against new agricultural laws were allowed to enter the national capital late Friday after they clashed with police who had blocked them at the outskirts of the city.

The farmers, who fear the new laws will reduce their earnings and give more power to corporations, will be escorted to a protest site in New Delhi, police in a statement. It was not immediately clear where the protests would be held.

For the last two months, farmer unions unwilling to accept the laws, which were passed in September, have camped on highways in Punjab and Haryana states.

They say the laws could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their being exploited by corporations that would buy their crops at cheap prices.

The government has said the laws are aimed at reforming agriculture by giving farmers the freedom to market their produce and boosting production through private investment.

The farmers began their march to the capital on Thursday to mount pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to abolish the laws, but were stopped by large numbers of security personnel in riot gear on the boundary between New Delhi and Haryana state.

They resumed their march early Friday, unfazed by overnight rain and chilly winter temperatures.

Clashes with police outside New Delhi

Heading toward New Delhi on tractors and cars, the farmers were again blocked by police at the capital’s fringes. This led to clashes between the farmers and police, who used tear gas, water cannons and baton charges to push them back.

In response, farmers used tractors to clear walls of concrete, shipping containers and parked trucks set up by police on roads leading to the capital.

Some protesters also threw stones at the police and waved the flags of farmer unions. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Police use water cannons to disperse protesting farmers on Friday. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

“We are fighting for our rights. We won’t rest until we reach the capital and force the government to abolish these black laws,” said Majhinder Singh Dhaliwal, a leader.

Earlier, in a bid to stop the protesters from riding commuter trains into the capital, the Delhi Metro suspended some services. Traffic slowed to a crawl as vehicles were checked along state boundaries, leading to huge jams on some highways.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh urged the federal government to initiate talks with leaders of the farmers. Many of the protesting farmers are from Punjab, one of the largest agricultural states in India.

“The voice of farmers cannot be muzzled indefinitely,” Singh wrote on Twitter.

The protesting farmers said the new laws, passed in September, could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their being exploited by corporations. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

Negotiations between the leaders of farmer unions and the government to defuse the standoff have been unsuccessful. Farmers say they will continue to protest until the government rolls back the laws; opposition parties and some Modi allies have called the laws anti-farmer and pro-corporation.

Farmers have long been seen as integral to India, where agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people. But they have also seen their economic clout diminish over the last three decades. Once accounting for a third of India’s gross domestic product, they now produce only 15 per cent of the country’s $ 2.9 trillion US economy.

Farmers often complain of being ignored and hold frequent protests to demand better crop prices, more loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.

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Kyle Rittenhouse, accused of fatally shooting 2 people at Wisconsin protest, posts $2M bail

A 17-year-old from Illinois who is charged with killing two people during a protest in Wisconsin and whose case has become a rallying cry for some conservatives posted $ 2 million US bail Friday and was released from custody.

Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz during a demonstration on Aug. 25 that followed the police shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake in Kenosha. He posted bond through his attorney at about 2 p.m., Kenosha County Sheriff’s Sgt. David Wright said.

Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Ill., told police he was attacked while he was guarding a business and that he fired in self-defence.

He faces multiple charges, including intentional homicide, reckless endangerment and being a minor in possession of a firearm. Wisconsin law doesn’t permit minors to carry or possess a gun unless they’re hunting. He is due back in court on Dec. 3 for a preliminary hearing.

His case has taken on political overtones. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement have painted Rittenhouse as a trigger-happy white supremacist. Conservatives upset over property destruction during recent protests have portrayed him as a patriot exercising his right to bear arms during unrest.

WATCH | Rittenhouse becomes poster boy for armed self-defence:

Gun-rights and armed-self-defence advocates have turned Kyle Rittenhouse, charged with intentional homicide in the shooting deaths of two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., into their latest poster boy and are raising money for his defence. 2:38

A legal defence fund for him has attracted millions of dollars in donations, and his mother got a standing ovation from women at a Waukesha County GOP function in September.

Huber’s father, John Huber, asked Kenosha County Circuit Court Commissioner Loren Keating during a hearing Nov. 2 to set Rittenhouse’s bail between $ 4 million and $ 10 million US.

Huber said at the time that Rittenhouse thinks he’s above the law and noted the effort to raise money on his behalf. He also suggested militia groups would hide him from police if he were released.

Rittenhouse’s attorney, Mark Richards, asked for bail to be set at $ 750,000 US.

Keating ultimately set bail at $ 2 million US, saying Rittenhouse was a flight risk given the seriousness of the charges against him.

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Hong Kong opposition stages final protest in assembly before mass resignation

Hong Kong’s opposition staged a final show of defiance in the legislature on Thursday before resigning to protest against the dismissal of four of their colleagues in what they see as another bid by Beijing to suppress democracy in the city.

The withdrawal of the opposition from the city legislature will mean an end for what has been one of the few forums for dissent after Beijing’s imposition of national security legislation in June and coronavirus restrictions ended pro-democracy protests that began last year.

Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government expelled four opposition members from the legislature on Wednesday for endangering national security after China’s parliament gave city authorities new powers to curb dissent.

The remaining 15 opposition members of the 70-seat Legislative Council, known as Legco, then said they would quit in solidarity with their colleagues.

“I suppose this is my last protest in Legco,” opposition member Lam Cheuk-ting said after unfurling a protest banner vilifying the city’s leader, Carrie Lam.

The opposition politician had briefly displayed the banner from the building’s second floor, with the message: “Carrie Lam is corrupting Hong Kong and hurting its people; She will stink for 10,000 years.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the expulsion of the four opposition members as being in accordance with the law and dismissed suggestions the legislature would become a rubber stamp. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

The city’s chief executive was not in the assembly at the time.

On Wednesday, Carrie Lam defended the expulsion of the four opposition members as being in accordance with the law and she dismissed suggestions the legislature would become a rubber stamp.

Opposition members have tried to make a stand against what many people in the former British colony see as Beijing’s whittling away of freedoms, despite a promise of a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula, agreed when it returned to China in 1997.

China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved decisively to stifle dissent after anti-government protests flared last year and plunged the city into crisis.

China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office condemned the resignations as “a blatant challenge to the central government’s authority.”

“We would like to warn these opposition members that if they want to use this to encourage radical resistance and beg for intervention from outside forces to drag Hong Kong into chaos again, that is a wrong calculation,” the office said in a statement.

The disqualifications and opposition walk-out are likely to add to concern in the West about Hong Kong’s autonomy as Joe Biden prepares to take over from Donald Trump as U.S. president, promising to promote democracy around the world.

Foreign governments condemn oustings

U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the disqualifications showed the Chinese Communist Party had “flagrantly violated its international commitments” and was “expanding one party dictatorship in Hong Kong.”

Britain’s foreign minister, Dominic Raab, said the expulsions constituted an assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Germany, holder of the European Union’s rotating presidency, and Australia also condemned the oustings.

The Chinese parliament cleared the way for the disqualifications with the passing of a resolution allowing Hong Kong to expel legislators deemed a threat to security or not holding allegiance to Hong Kong.

Chinese state media hailed its parliament’s resolution as a “long overdue” step towards “the return of peace and prosperity” in Hong Kong. It also stressed the need for the city to be “governed by patriots.”

The fate of Hong Kong’s political opposition has been in doubt since the government, citing coronavirus risks, postponed September’s legislative elections by a year. Critics saw that as a bid to kill the pro-democracy camp’s momentum.

“The city is dying. It has been dying for some time. Now we’re even more like China,” said student Calvin Fan.

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Hong Kong police arrest at least 60 after pro-democracy protest on Chinese holiday

Hong Kong police arrested at least 60 people on suspicion of unauthorized assembly on China’s National Day holiday Thursday after crowds gathered on the streets of a popular shopping district chanting pro-democracy slogans.

Those arrested included two district councillors, police said in a statement posted on Facebook. They said the people were arrested after they ignored repeated warnings asking them to disperse.

Online calls urged people to join protests, and crowds turned up at Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district, some people chanting “Disband the police” and “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our time,” a popular pro-democracy slogan that has been banned by the Hong Kong government for alleged secessionist sentiments.

A heavy police presence outnumbered the protesters at the scene.

WATCH | Dozens arrested in Hong Kong after anti-government protest:

Hong Kong riot police arrested more than 60 people at a banned anti-government march on China’s National Day Thursday. The march was in part to protest against China’s imposition of a national security law on June 30. 0:46

National Day, which celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China, has become a day of protest in Hong Kong by those who oppose Beijing’s increasing control over the semi-autonomous region. Large-scale protests are forbidden because of physical distancing restrictions due to the coronavirus.

Clampdown on anti-government expression

In the afternoon, police cordoned off some areas in the district and searched people on the streets. On several occasions, they unfurled warning banners that urged protesters to disperse, saying they were participating in an illegal assembly.

Protests against the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments swelled last year, and Beijing clamped down on expressions of anti-government sentiment in the city with a new national security law that took effect June 30.

The law outlaws subversive, secessionist and terrorist activity, as well as collusion with foreign powers to interfere in the city’s internal affairs. The U.S. and Britain accuse China of infringing on the city’s freedoms, and the U.S. has imposed sanctions on government officials in Hong Kong and China over the law.

At a National Day reception, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said “stability has been restored to society while national security has been safeguarded” under the new law.

Lam also accused some foreign governments of holding “double standards” and levelling unjustified accusations against the authorities who implement the new law.

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U.S. attorney general defends protest response, interventions in Trump associate cases

U.S. Attorney General William Barr defended the aggressive federal law enforcement response to civil unrest in America, saying on Tuesday “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests” sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Barr told members of the House’s judiciary committee at a much-anticipated election year hearing the violence taking place in Portland, Ore., and other cities is disconnected from Floyd’s killing, which he called a “horrible” event that prompted a necessary national reckoning on the relationship between the Black community and law enforcement.

“Largely absent from these scenes of destruction are even superficial attempts by the rioters to connect their actions to George Floyd’s death or any legitimate call for reform,” Barr said of the Portland protests.

The hearing marked Barr’s first appearance before the committee, bringing him face-to-face with a panel that voted last year to hold him in contempt and is holding hearings on what Democrats allege is politicization of the Justice Department under his watch. It comes during a tumultuous stretch in which Barr has taken actions cheered by U.S. President Donald Trump but condemned by Democrats and other critics.

Opening the hearing, committee chair Jerry Nadler said the Trump administration had “twisted the Department of Justice into a shadow of its former self,” serving the powerful before average Americans. He said the committee has a responsibility to protect Americans “from that kind of corruption.”

Committee chair Jerry Nadler, a Democrat, accused U.S. Attorney William Barr of having ‘aided and abetted’ President Donald Trump’s worst impulses. (Chip Somodevilla/Reuters)

Nadler said Barr had “aided and abetted” Trump’s worst impulses.

“Your tenure is marked by a persistent war against the department’s professional core in an apparent effort to secure favours for the president,” Nadler said.

Republicans show video of protest violence

Nadler also excoriated Barr and the Justice Department for turning a blind eye to necessary reforms to police departments, for dismissing Black Lives Matter protests and for flooding streets with federal agents to stop protesters.

Republicans hit back hard in defence of Barr and Trump’s administration. The top Republican on the panel, Ohio’s Jim Jordan, showed an eight-minute video that spliced together images of violence by protesters around the country, showcasing law enforcement officers under attack in Chicago, Portland and New York. The images were cut from hundreds of hours of footage of largely peaceful protests against racial injustice around the nation.

Barr said “many of the Democrats on this committee have attempted to discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the president’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions. Judging from the letter inviting me to this hearing, that appears to be your agenda today.”

WATCH | Barr defends intervening on Stone sentencing:

William Barr told a congressional hearing that U.S. marshals have a duty to protect the federal courthouse in the city. ‘We’re not out looking for trouble,’ he said. 0:37

The testimony underscores the Justice Department’s ongoing effort to differentiate between increasing violence in some cities and Floyd’s death, which has led to state charges against four officers and is under investigation by federal authorities. Massive but largely peaceful demonstrations followed Floyd’s death in late May.

Civil unrest escalated in Portland after federal agents were accused of whisking people away in unmarked cars without probable cause; the people were detained and later released. And in Washington, D.C., peaceful protesters were violently cleared from the streets by federal officers using smoke bombs and pepper balls before a photo op by Trump in front of a church, where Barr had accompanied him.

Barr has defended as necessary the broad use of law enforcement power to deal with the situation, but the department’s internal watchdog has opened investigations into use of force and other tactics by agents in those cities.

Democrats like Jamie Raskin and Pramila Jayapal also questioned why Barr didn’t feel the need to respond in such a manner when largely white protesters, some armed, held protests and issued deadly threats to the governor over stay-at-home orders at Michigan’s legislature. Barr responded that it was his responsibility to protect the federal government and installations, not state property.

Intervention into Flynn, Stone cases

Beyond the federal response to the demonstrations, Barr is expected to be pressed in detail about his intervention in criminal cases arising from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The hearing will provide Barr with a forum to offer his most detailed account to date for his actions in the criminal cases, which he has said were taken in the interests of justice and without political pressure.

Those include the Justice Department’s decision to drop the prosecution of former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn — a request now tied up in court.

Barr pushed for a more lenient sentence for another Trump ally, Roger Stone, prompting the entire trial team’s departure. That decision was at the centre of a hearing before the committee last month, when one of the prosecutors alleged politics from Justice Department leadership had influenced the handling of the sentence.

Barr has said that Flynn, who pleaded guilty as part of Mueller’s probe to lying to the FBI, should never have been charged and that the original sentencing recommendation for Stone — also charged in the Mueller investigation — was excessive.

WATCH l Protecting federal buildings a legitimate purpose, Barr says:

U.S. Attorney General William Barr called the claim that President Donald Trump committed a crime by lying under oath during the Russia investigation a ‘Rube Goldberg’ theory. 3:13

Republican lawmakers have been overwhelmingly supportive of Barr’s performance. Even among the GOP committee members, though, Barr faces pressure to deliver results soon on an investigation that he initiated into the origins of the Russia probe.

It’s unclear when or how that investigation, being led by U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, will end. Barr has said he hopes to have results by the end of the summer.

Barr, in a prepared statement, defended the department in other controversies that have shadowed his tenure, including his handling of the investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia, which he derisively refers to as “the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal.” Barr didn’t read that part of his statement in the hearing room, but it was in remarks sent out by the department.

WATCH | Barr asked about Roger Stone and the Russia investigation:

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MLS returns to action after poignant moment of silence to protest racial injustice

Nearly 200 players took the field for an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence to protest racial injustice before Major League Soccer’s return to action Wednesday night.

Players wore black T-shirts, black gloves and black facemasks emblazoned with Black Lives Matter. The shirts had varying slogans that included Black And Proud, Silence Is Violence and Black All The Time.

The players walked toward midfield, raised their right arms one at a time and held the pose so long that some could be seen stretching fatigued muscles afterward.

It was a poignant moment that put two of the nation’s most prominent changes over the last four months — masks and movements — at the forefront of the sport’s return.

WATCH | Players observe 8 minute, 46-second moment of silence:

Before the MLS is Back Tournament got underway, members of the Black Players for Change took to the field in a joint protest to send a powerful message about social injustice. 6:13

The group was formerly called the Black Players Coalition of MLS but changed its name this week to Black Players for Change. Originally announced on Juneteenth, the group started in the wake of George Floyd’s death with the hope of combating systemic racism both in soccer and the players’ communities. The league and the players’ union endorsed the organization.

Several other players from Orlando City and Inter Miami took a knee near midfield during the demonstration. Orlando’s Nani scored in the seventh minute of stoppage time and held on for a 2-1 victory over expansion Miami.The two in-state teams delivered their own moment of silence by taking a knee along with the referee and the line judges just before the opening kick.

WATCH | Orlando wins 1st game of MLS is Back tournament:

Nani scored seven minutes into 2nd half stoppage time to help push Orlando City SC to a 2-1 win over Inter Miami in the MLS is Back Tournament. 1:17

The national anthem was not played before or after the demonstration. MLS previously said it would not be played because no fans were in attendance.

Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Prosecutors said that a police officer had his knee on the neck of Floyd for 7 minutes, 46 seconds — not the 8:46 that has become a symbol of police brutality.

MLS players had weeks to decide what to do prior to the MLS is Back tournament at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World.

Tournament underway with hiccups

The league’s teams are sequestered in resorts for the duration of the World Cup-style tournament, which began with a Group A match that was the first meeting between two Sunshine State teams.

FC Dallas withdrew Monday after 10 players and a coach tested positive for COVID-19. A day later, Nashville SC’s status was thrust into doubt with five confirmed positive tests.

Nashville was supposed to play Chicago in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday but it was postponed.

MLS shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, after the league’s teams had each played two regular-season games.

The reboot had a considerably different feel — without fans and with plenty of concern even amid a safety bubble. Can 25 teams that include nearly 700 players plus coaches, trainers and other support staff do everything right for a month? And what’s the threshold for more positive tests?

The NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball surely have a close eye on what’s happening outside Orlando.

The NBA should get an up-close look. The league already has part of its bubble established at the ESPN venue. NBA team flags fly on every flagpole, and some areas have been sanitized and cordoned off for basketball’s return later this month.

Reyes leaves on stretcher

MLS is using three fields near the back of the complex, two of the ones the NFL used for Pro Bowl practices the last four years. The league mandated masks for everyone other than players. Coaches, support staff and media donned masks during the game. Miami star Rodolfo Pizarro, who wasn’t in the starting lineup, also wore one during warmups.

Miami’s Andres Reyes left the field on a stretcher early in the second half after a scary collision with Orlando’s Dom Dwyer. Replays appeared to show Dwyer hitting Reyes in the throat as they went for a 50-50 ball.

Reyes had trouble breathing as teammates and the referee called for help. Adding to the growing concern on the field, the emergency crew got hung up trying to gain access to him.

Security personnel struggled to open a gate, delaying the medical team’s response. It was slow enough that one of Reyes’ teammates, Juan Agudelo, ran across the field to help and ended up assisting in pulling the stretcher across the soggy grass.

Chris Mueller scored the equalizer for Orlando, getting a sliding toe on a perfect cross from Nani to the back post in the 70th minute.

Agudelo scored the first goal of MLS’ return, drilling a left-footer past Pedro Gallese to cap a play that started with two teammates on top of each other in the box.

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