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Trump targets violent gang MS-13 in immigration crackdown

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Donald Trump has put MS-13, one of the world’s deadliest gangs, at the heart of his immigration reform.

He’s vowed to destroy the group and send members back to El Salvador.

Sky News has followed the journey of some of those deported from America in recent months to see how El Salvador is coping.

MS-13 was in fact formed on the street corners of Los Angeles and only spread when members were deported back to Central America.

The new wave of deportees from America are returning to a country many haven’t seen in decades and one where the gangs dominate neighbourhoods with the threat of extortion, rape and murder.

But it’s not just criminals being sent back.

President Trump has vowed to defeat MS-13
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President Trump has vowed to defeat MS-13

The Trump administration is also ending permits for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans to live and work in the US.

They were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after earthquakes rocked the Central American country in 2001.

Salvadorans have until 9 September to leave or face deportation, unless they find a legal way to stay.

There are up to eight deportation flights arriving each week, with no more than 135 people on each flight.

The United States is part of an agreement that states that it cannot send home more than 56,000 Salvadorans a year.

But the recent flow of people has already tested the system. In the past two years, America has sent back 39,000.

At La Chacra, the country’s main repatriation centre, nervous deportees arrive with their few belongings bundled into bags.

Shoelaces that have been confiscated by the immigration authorities are returned and the anxious men and women inside receive a briefing.

Some openly acknowledge they have committed crimes.

I ask one young man, what he thinks when Donald Trump talks about sending back “the bad hombres”.

He smirks and replies: “What can I say? He’s right. We’re not coming back for no reason.”

Jefferson Alvarado fears he will be targeted by the gangs
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Jefferson Alvarado fears he will be targeted by the gangs

Jefferson Alvarado has a very different take.

He’s been living in Iowa for 13 years and says he was sent back by Immigration and Customs Enforcement because his mother forgot to turn up to an immigration hearing.

“A lot of people are here for minor issues like driving without a licence..a lot of us here are actually hard workers,” he says. When we meet him days later, he’s in hiding, scared of gangs targeting him and unable to go out for work.

Everyone faces a rapid and extreme adjustment.

The centre itself is in an area dominated by gangs who see them as easy prey.

Very few of the deportees we speak to know where they will go next.

Some will try to scratch a living in the markets, earning perhaps five dollars a day.

But there aren’t enough jobs in the market to absorb them – the best job opportunities are ironically working in call centres for US companies.

And El Salvador’s economy depends on money sent back from America. Remittances from Salvadorans living in the United States account for a 17% of GDP.

MS-13 and Barrio 18 still have a heavy presence in the country.

On the first day we arrive, 23 people are killed in gang related violence.

In just the first 50 days of 2018, there were 494 murders.

The police have been accused of extra-judicial killings
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The police have been accused of extra-judicial killings

The National Civil Police patrol the streets with balaclavas and assault rifles.

A young officer tells us he’s worried for his family and colleagues: “I have lost four friends,” he says. But police and soldiers have also been accused of extra judicial killings.

Locking people up in the country’s overcrowded jails hasn’t solved the gang crisis.

In the 1990s, those sent back just regrouped and recruited on the inside.

We gain rare access to Apanteos, a model prison, where inmates can learn religion and languages.

But leaving the gang can be extremely difficult.

Inmates, covered in easily identifiable MS-13 tattoos tell us: “Once you leave, they’ll get you.”

Even in prison it is impossible to escape the grip of the gangs
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Even in prison it is impossible to escape the grip of the gangs

The next day, we face a stark reminder of the constant threat.

We see the body of an 18-year-old man in an arid field in an area where MS-13 operates. He’s been shot in the head and chest and his weeping mother says he’s been targeted.

This moter has just discovered her son has been murdered
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This moter has just discovered her son has been murdered

Back in America, poverty and intimidation is driving young people to join MS-13.

The gang has been linked to a spate of gruesome killings.

The murder of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, two teenage girls from Long Island who were killed with a machete and baseball bats, caught the President’s attention.

He invited their parents to the State of the Union address and called for immigration loopholes to be closed.

Ten of those charged were citizens of El Salvador or Honduras who were in the US illegally.

But some of those living alongside the threat in immigrant communities fear Donald Trump’s focus will only embolden the gang and further silence witnesses.

The MS-13 threat isn’t new and there are no easy solutions to target a complex, clandestine and fractured organisation.

America’s hospitality and patience is running out though.

Aquiles Magana from the National Council for the Protection and Development of Migrants accepts it is El Salvador’s responsibility to provide for it’s people.

But he adds: “I don’t think Trump understands the nature of the problem. And he’s not interested in understanding it.”

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COVID-19: Millions of Indians travel to celebrate Maha Kumbh Mela despite rising coronavirus rates | World News

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They have gathered in their millions in the temple town of Haridwar, in Uttarakhand.

Hindu pilgrims have come to celebrate Maha Kumbh Mela, a religious festival that happens once every 12 years.

And today is a very auspicious day in the religious calendar to take a dip in India‘s River Ganges.

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Millions will gather this month to celebrate a Hindu festival, despite experts warning against it
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Coronavirus rates have increased in India the last few months, with the country in the midst of a second wave

All this amid a raging pandemic.

The festival has been been flagged as a super spreader as more than 50 million people are expected to attend this month-long event.

The country registered almost 170,000 new cases in the last 24 hours, the highest number of COVID-19 cases anywhere in the world.

With more than 13.5 million cases, India is second only to the United States.

In the same period, 839 people died, taking the total number of COVID-19 related deaths to 170,209.

Millions will gather this month to celebrate a Hindu festival, despite experts warning against it
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Millions will gather this month to celebrate the Hindu festival, despite experts warning against it

Sarasswati Dattani, 56, has travelled over 400 miles (644km) from Rajasthan with her husband.

She tells Sky News: “Our children had tried to stop us because of coronavirus.

“I am not afraid, Mother Ganga is with us all the time.

“People are getting the virus sitting at home. We have to die once, it’s all in God’s hands.”

Raghav, 25, from Jalandhar in Punjab, says “coronavirus could not stop me from my belief in God, our faith is far stronger than anything at the moment.

“I have also come to pray that this pandemic gets over soon.”

The devotees come from every part of the country and a majority are from smaller towns and villages.

The fear among health activists is that rural India will be exposed to the virus.

Speaking to Sky News, Dr Atulya Mishra, who is the medical officer in charge of a section of the banks, said: “People are very irresponsible, they do not follow any of the COVID-19 behaviour protocols.

Millions will gather this month to celebrate a Hindu festival, despite experts warning against it
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Health experts have urged people not to travel but people are not following guidance

“We provide them with face masks but people don’t wear them.

“We put our lives on the line while the public takes the virus very lightly. It is very frustrating for us health workers.”

The administration has enforced COVID-19 protocols – pilgrims must wear face masks and are only allowed to attend with a negative PCR test result.

Millions will gather this month to celebrate a Hindu festival, despite experts warning against it
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People will take a dip in the River Ganges during the month-long festival

But in reality, social distancing is almost impossible to enforce.

India is in the midst of a second wave.

The low number of cases in the winter months had lulled people into believing it’s over.

Opening up society, a low fatality rate and vaccinations have led to Indians letting their guard down.

The festival will also mean people take a dip in the River Ganges
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The festival is seen as a super spreader event

For many weeks the country has been immersed in state elections.

The prime minister, his cabinet and leaders of all political parties are campaigning at rallies with thousands in attendance.

Roadshows expose every nook and corner.

Experts have also said the new variants of the virus are far more infectious but less lethal.

Genome sequencing of all cases in Punjab show around 80% of them are due to the UK variant.

While millions will make their way to the Maha Kumbh over the next few weeks, the rising number of cases are sure of grave concern for the government.

India began its vaccination programme on 16 January but less than 1% of the population have been fully vaccinated.

Though the process had a slow start it has picked up pace over the last few weeks.

India may have one of the lowest fatality rates in the world, but it can ill afford a severe burden on its already inadequate and creaking public health care system.

For decades successive governments have spent just over 1.2% of the GDP on healthcare.

Over 70% of its citizens rely on expensive private health care and one illness can push a family into poverty.

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China deploys jets and bombers into Taiwanese airspace in ‘biggest incursion to date’ | World News

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Twenty-five Chinese military aircraft have entered Taiwanese airspace in the largest reported incursion to date, according to officials.

Taiwan‘s government has complained in recent months after repeated missions by China‘s air force near the island.

The incursions have been concentrated in the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defence zone.

Pic AP
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Chinese vessels and aircrafts have conducted drills near Taiwan for several years, but in the last 12 months the actions have stepped up. Pic AP

The latest mission on Monday involved 14 J-16 and four J-10 fighter jets – and four H-6K bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons.

Two anti-submarine aircraft and an early warning aircraft also took part, Taiwan’s defence minister said.

It is believed to be the largest incursion by the Chinese air force into Taiwanese airspace, and officials said combat aircraft were dispatched to intercept and warn the intruders away.

Missile systems were also deployed to monitor the Chinese vessels as the aircraft flew in an area close to Thailand’s Pratas Islands, according to the defence ministry.

It came just three days after the US issued new guidelines that will deepen its ties with Taiwan.

The latest guidelines from the US State Department will mean American officials can meet more freely with their Taiwanese counterparts.

America, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but it has watched on as tensions between Beijing and the island nation have stepped up in recent years.

Pic Reuters
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Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu has vowed the island nation will ‘fight to the very last day’ if China attacks

Washington’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last Friday that the US is concerned about China’s aggressive actions against Taiwan – and warned it would be a “serious mistake” for anyone to try to change the status quo in the Western Pacific by force.

Mr Blinken’s statement came after Taiwan scrambled an aircraft to broadcast a warning message after 12 Chinese jets flew over its airspace on 7 April.

The tense start to 2021 comes after a report released by a government-backed think tank found that China made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan’s defence zone last year.

China describes Taiwan as its most sensitive territorial issue and a red line the US should not cross.

Beijing sees the island as a breakaway province that will one day become part of the country again. It has never renounced the possible use of force to bring about eventual unification.

However, Taiwanese people see themselves an independent state and the dispute with their giant neighbour has left relations frayed with the constant threat of violence.

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January 2021: Taiwan military simulates China attack

China has in the past described its missions as being to protect the country’s sovereignty and deal with “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.

Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu has previously said the country will fight “to the very last day” if China attacks.

More widely, China continues to exercise its muscle in the South China Sea.

Over the weekend, military activity near the Philippines spiked as a Chinese aircraft carrier entered the region, and the US military is preparing joint drills with the Philippine military nearby.

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Off-duty Italian police officers find stolen Roman statue in Belgium – a decade after it vanished | World News

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A first-century Roman statue has been recovered by two off-duty Italian police officers almost a decade after it was stolen.

The statue was stolen from the Villa Marini Dettina, an archaeological site on the outskirts of Rome, in November 2011 and has now been found in an antique shop in Belgium.

It was discovered by the off-duty officers from the Italian police’s archaeological unit.

The Togatus statue, featuring a headless Roman wearing a draped toga, is valued at €100,000 (£86,000).

The statue is believed to be worth 100,000 (£860,000) and was stolen from an archaeological site near Rome. Pic: AP
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The statue is believed to be worth 100,000 (£860,000) and was stolen from an archaeological site near Rome. Pic: AP

The two officers were on assignment in Brussels when they took a walk after work in the Sablon neighbourhood, known for its antique shops.

They spotted a statue that they suspected was from Italy and confirmed their suspicions when they cross-referenced it with their stolen antique database.

An Italian businessman, who used a Spanish alias, has been referred to prosecutors for further investigation. He is alleged to have received and exported the statue abroad, police said.

Italian authorities have been attempting to recover stolen antiques for years.

In 2019, a dozen pieces of artwork were returned to Italy by private auction house Christie’s. The items featured a marble fragment from the sarcophagus in Rome’s catacombs of St Callixtus, a piece worth £50,000.

In June 2020, officials found a stolen Banksy mural in Italy that was taken from the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

The image was created in memory of the victims of the 2015 terrorist attack in the French capital. It was cut out and removed from the concert hall in 2019.

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