21 detained before Paris protests as police deploy in force

PARIS — Paris police deployed in large numbers Saturday for the fifth straight weekend of demonstrations by the "yellow vest" protesters, with authorities repeating calls for calm after protests on previous weekends turned violent. At least 21 people were detained beforehand. Security forces in riot gear were positioned around central train stations and along the … Continue reading “21 detained before Paris protests as police deploy in force”

PARIS — Paris police deployed in large numbers Saturday for the fifth straight weekend of demonstrations by the "yellow vest" protesters, with authorities repeating calls for calm after protests on previous weekends turned violent. At least 21 people were detained beforehand.

Security forces in riot gear were positioned around central train stations and along the famed Champs-Elysees boulevard, where shops were closed and their windows boarded up in anticipation of the protests. Authorities have said about 8,000 police and 14 armored vehicles were being deployed in the French capital.

Last weekend, groups of demonstrators smashed and looted stores, clashing with police and setting up burning barricades in the streets.

Paris police said 21 people had been detained by mid-morning in Paris before the protests. There was a strong police presence outside the central Saint Lazare train station, where police in riot gear checked bags. More than 20 police vans and a water cannon truck idled nearby.

The "yellow vest" movement, which takes its name from the fluorescent safety vests French motorists must all have in their vehicles, emerged in mid-November as a protest against fuel tax increases. It soon morphed into an expression of rage about the high cost of living in France and a sense that President Emanuel Macron's government is detached from the everyday struggles of workers.

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"Respect my existence or expect my resistance," read one banner held aloft by some of the thousands of protesters who began converging on the Champs-Elysees on Saturday morning.

"We're here to represent all our friends and members of our family who can't come to protest, or because they're scared," said Pierre Lamy, a 27-year-old industrial worker wearing a yellow vest and with a French flag draped over his shoulders as he walked to the protest with three friends.

He said the protests had long stopped being about the fuel tax and had turned into a movement for economic justice.

"Everything's coming up now," Lamy said. "We're being bled dry."

On Friday, Macron called for calm during the demonstrations, and the French government reiterated the call online for demonstrators to remain peaceful.

"Protesting is a right. So let's know how to exercise it," the government tweeted from its official account, with a 34-second video which begins with images of historic French protests and recent footage of "yellow vest" protesters rallying peacefully before turning to violence.

"Protesting is not smashing. Protesting is not smashing our heritage. Protesting is not smashing our businesses. … Protesting is not smashing our republic," the video says.

Macron acknowledged in a speech earlier this week that he is partially responsible for the anger displayed during the protests, and has announced measures aimed at improving workers' spending power. But he has so far refused to reinstate a wealth tax that was lifted to spur investment in France.

"I don't think our democracy can accept to function with a dialogue that is carried out only with the occupation of the public domain, only by elements of violence," Macron said Friday.

But on the streets of Paris on Saturday, some protesters were saying the president still didn't understand them.

"I think that Macron isn't in touch with what the yellow vests want. I think the yellow vests need to continue speaking out and the problem is that in the countryside," said Julie Verrier, a protester from Picardie in Normandy in northern France who had been participating in protests there for the past three weeks and had travelled to Paris for Saturday's demonstration.

"Local city halls are closed so we can't go there to express and write our complaints and our wishes," she said. "So coming here is the only way we have to say that French people need to be heard."

Venezuelans regret gun ban, ‘a declaration of war against an unarmed population’

CUCUTA, Venezuela/Colombia border – As Venezuela continues to crumble under the socialist dictatorship of President Nicolas Maduro, some are expressing words of warning – and resentment – against a six-year-old gun control bill that stripped citizens of their weapons.

“Guns would have served as a vital pillar to remaining a free people, or at least able to put up a fight,” Javier Vanegas, 28, a Venezuelan teacher of English now exiled in Ecuador, told Fox News. “The government security forces, at the beginning of this debacle, knew they had no real opposition to their force. Once things were this bad, it was a clear declaration of war against an unarmed population.”

Under the direction of then-President Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan National Assembly in 2012 enacted the “Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament Law,” with the explicit aim to “disarm all citizens.” The law took effect in 2013, with only minimal pushback from some pro-democracy opposition figures, banned the legal commercial sale of guns and munitions to all – except government entities.

Chavez initially ran a months-long amnesty program encouraging Venezuelans to trade their arms for electrical goods. That year, there were only 37 recorded voluntary gun surrenders, while the majority of seizures – more than 12,500 – were by force.

In 2014, with Nicolás Maduro at the helm following Chavez’s death but carrying through his socialist “Chavista” policies, the government invested more than $47 million enforcing the gun ban – which has since included grandiose displays of public weapons demolitions in the town square.

A former gun store owner inside Venezuela – who told Fox News he has now been relegated to only selling fishing supplies since the ban – said he can’t sell any type of weaponry – even a slingshot – and underscored that even BB ammunition and airsoft guns are only issued to police and military officers.

The punishment for illicit carrying or selling a weapon now is 20 years behind bars.

CARACAS, VENEZUELA – MARCH 04: A sticker on a car window honors former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez near the military barracks where Chavez is entombed on March 4, 2014 in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) (2014 Getty Images)

Prior to the 2012 reform, there were only around eight gun stores in the entire country. And the process of obtaining a legal permit to own and carry was plagued by long wait lines, high costs and bribery “to make the process swifter” at the one department allowed to issue licenses, which operated under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defense.

“Venezuelans didn’t care enough about it. The idea of having the means to protect your home was seen as only needed out in the fields. People never would have believed they needed to defend themselves against the government,” Vanegas explained. “Venezuelans evolved to always hope that our government would be non-tyrannical, non-violator of human rights, and would always have a good enough control of criminality.”

He said it didn’t take long for such a wide-eyed public perception to fall apart. “If guns had been a stronger part of our culture, if there had been a sense of duty for one to protect their individual rights, and as a show of force against a government power – and had legal carry been a common thing – it would have made a huge difference,” he lamented.

Since April 2017, almost 200 pro-democracy protesters in Venezuela – armed mostly with stones – were shot dead by government forces in brutal retaliation to their call to end the oppressive socialist regime. The once oil-wealthy nation has continued its downward spiral into financial ruin, extreme violence, and mass human rights violations. An estimated three million Venezuelans have been forced to flee since 2015.

“Venezuela shows the deadly peril when citizens are deprived of the means of resisting the depredations of a criminal government,” said David Kopel, a policy analyst, and research director at the Independence Institute and adjunct professor of Advanced Constitutional Law at Denver University. “The Venezuelan rulers – like their Cuban masters – apparently viewed citizen possession of arms as a potential danger to a permanent communist monopoly of power.”

More than three million Venzuelans have fled into neighboring Colombia since the crisis of 2015.

Although the bill was sold to the population as a hardline effort to improve security, and sharply reduce crime, many now point to Venezuela as a case study for how gun prohibition can actually produce the opposite effect.

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The violent crime rate, already high, soared. Almost 28,000 people were murdered in 2015 – with the homicide rate becoming the world’s highest. Compare that, according to GunPolicy.org – an international firearms prevention and policy research initiative – to just under 10,000 in 2012, and 6,500 thousand in 2001, the year before Chavez came to power.

The total number of gun deaths in 2013 was estimated to 14,622, having steadily risen from 10,913 in 2002. While comprehensive data now goes unrecorded by the government, in September this year, Amnesty International declared Venezuela had a murder rate “worse than some war zones” – 89 people per 100,000 people – and three times that of its volatile neighbor Brazil.

Much of the crime has been attributed by analysts to government-backed gangs – referred to in Spanish as “collectivos” – who were deliberately put in place by the government.

“They were set up by the government to act as proxies and exert community control. They're the guys on the motorcycles in the poor neighborhoods, who killed any protesters,” said Vanessa Neumann, the Venezuelan-American president and founder of Asymmetrica, a Washington, D.C.-based political risk research and consulting firm. “The gun reform policy of the government was about social control. As the citizenry got more desperate and hungry and angry with the political situation, they did not want them to be able to defend themselves. It was not about security; it was about a monopoly on violence and social control.”

So while Venezuelan citizens were stripped of their legal recourse to bear arms, the “collectivos” – established by Chavez when came to power – were legally locked and loaded. Deemed crucial to the survival of the socialist dictatorship, the “collectivos” function to brutally subjugate opposition groups, while saving some face as they aren’t officially government forces, critics contend.

Eduardo Espinel, 35, who serves as a representative for the rapidly growing Venezuelan population in the Colombian border town of Cucuta – having fled his ailing nation two years ago under the threat of being kidnapped by local gangsters – said the law had proliferated the violence by allowing the collectivos to freely and legally shoot and kill.

“Everyone else but the common citizen. This law asks for the disarming of the common people, but everyone else can carry,” Espinel said. “The kind of law might make sense in a normal country, but in Venezuela, it makes no sense. People are faced with crime and have no easy means to defend themselves.”

Eduardo Espinel, 35, who serves as a representative for the rapidly growing Venezuelan population in the Colombian border town of Cucuta, said a gun bam law had actually proliferated the violence in Venezuela. (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

And Maribel Arias, 35, who was once a law and political science student at the University of Los Andes in her home state of Mérida but fled to the Colombian border with her family two years ago – living mostly on the streets as she and her husband take turns finding odd jobs such as selling water and attending bathrooms and while sharing the parenting duties of tending to their four children – bemoaned that they simply cannot rely on the nation’s law enforcement.

“The people of Venezuela should have rights for gun carrying because there is just too much crime and people should have the right to defend themselves because the justice system is not working,” Arias asserted. “If you call the police, the police come only if they want. If they capture the criminal maybe they will take away whatever they stole, but they normally go free again. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Maribel Arias, 35, who fled to the Colombian border with her family two years ago – living mostly on the streets as she and her husband take turns finding odd jobs while sharing the parenting duties for their four children – said Venezuelans cannot rely on the nation’s law enforcement.

Many contend the gun ban has in some ways hurt police and law enforcement, who have themselves become a more fervent target of street gangs. There was a 14 percent increase in police murders in 2016. And more than 80 percent of assailants subsequently stole the officer’s gun, according to Insight Crime.

Some experts contend many of the weapons and ammunition used by gangsters were once in the hands of government forces, and obtained either through theft or purchase from corrupt individuals.

And adding to the complication, the ranks of the police force are beleaguered by crime and corruption. “Crimes are committed by police, a lot of the criminals are police themselves,” said Saul Moros, 59, from the Venezuelan city of Valencia.

Luis Farias, 48, from Margarita, said that gun violence was indeed bad when guns were freely available for purchase. But it became much worse after the gun ban was passed. “Now the criminal mother is unleashed,” Farias said. “Trying to ban guns didn’t take guns off the streets. Nobody cares about the law; the criminals don’t care about the law.”

“Crimes are committed by police, a lot of the criminals are police themselves,” Saul Moros, 59, from the Venezuelan city of Valencia. (left) Luis Farias, 48, said gun violence was bad when guns were freely available – but became much worse after the so-called prohibition. (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

A black market in weapons is also thriving. There are an estimated six million unregistered firearms circulating in Venezuela, but they remain far from reach for the average, non-criminal Venezuelan.

“The black market of weapons is very active, mostly used by violent criminals,” said Johan Obdola, a former counter-narcotics chief in Venezuela and now president of Latin America-focused, Canada-based global intelligence and security firm IOSI. “Venezuelans simply looking to protect themselves from the regime are totally vulnerable.”

Prices vary daily. But an AR-15 rifle goes for around $500, sources said, while handguns sell for about $250. Those prices are far beyond the reach of the average Venezuelan.

“Most guns can be bought illegally in a sort of pyramid structure. A big irregular group or criminal organization has the best access to weapons directly from the government, and they sometimes even get access to basically new unused weaponry," explained Vanegas. "The longer down the pyramid you are, you must get your weapon from the nearest big irregular group that overpowers you within your territory. This is not an option for any moral person, due to the fact that you need to deal with criminals in order to get an illegal gun. And for many obvious reasons, people will not even consider this.”

The Venezuelan government denies it is in a deeply deteriorating crisis, caused by its own policies. Rather, it blames the United States and opposition leaders for waging an “economic war.”

Feb. 22, 2014: A group of masked men run for cover after riot police launched tear gas in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP)

According to Omar Adolfo Zares Sanchez, 48, a lawyer, politician, and former mayor of Campo Elías municipality in the Venezuelan state of Mérida, it is now all but too late to make guns legally accessible to the average person.

“Without a doubt, if there had been a balance of armed defense we could have stood up and stopped the oppression at the beginning,” he contended. “But there is too much anarchy on the streets now. Making guns easier for anybody to buy now would start a civil war.”

Other Venezuelans argue that while violence has indeed rapidly increased in the years since the gun ban, it might have been that much worse as the economy collapsed, and the country deteriorated.  “The problem from the beginning and still now is that there are too many people in Venezuela who are lawless. Crime is a way of living,” said Emberly Quiroz, 25, mother of three. “Access to weapons won’t solve the problem.”

Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma and investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay

In Venezuelan crisis, families can’t even afford to properly bury the dead

CUCUTA, Colombia – As the crisis in Venezuela's socialist dictatorship deepens – gripped by mass hunger, starvation and a lack of medical supplies – there is no comfort even for the dead.

“What is happening is medieval. People are ‘renting’ caskets for a service, but giving them back. The same casket is being used over and over again because people cannot afford to buy one,” Venezuelan opposition leader Julio Borges, who has been living in exile in the Colombian capital of Bogota for the past nine months, told Fox News. “And then they have to wrap the body in plastic bags for the burial. Others don’t have money for a land plot, so they are burying loved ones in their back garden.”

Borges said the “really creepy” problem of how to properly bury the dead has become the norm rather than the exception. Other Venezuelans concurred, indicating the use of “common graves,” along with backyard burials, was becoming standard.

One Venezuelan, who asked his name not be published, described the sudden death of his father in the capital Caracas last week, which left the family without a vehicle to take the body to the morgue. It took more than a day for the body to be collected.

Atilio Gonzalez (C), a priest of the Southern Cemetery for the last 24 years, prays during a burial ceremony at the Southern Cemetery in Caracas January 28, 2014. Since then, proper burials have become too expensive for the vast majority of the population.

And even then, the family had to say their goodbyes – they had no money for a funeral, or burial – praying the body would be disposed of in some kind of mass cremation.

For every day a body remains in the morgue, the cost rises, leaving families without the means for collection. In such cases, loved ones are simply left stranded – their relatives in mourning, not knowing what to do, and without closure.

“Funeral services are too expensive. Coffins are expensive, as well as paying for a place in the cemetery and everything that comes with it: the chapel for the service, the plate,” Julett Pineda, a health journalist for Efecto Cocuyo in Caracas, told Fox News. “People cannot have a decent funeral.”

Venezuelan opposition leader Julio Borges, who has been living in exile in the Colombian capital of Bogota.

Pineda recounted stories of parents who have tried to collect and earn money for the funerals of their own children. But as the economy of the cash-strapped nation continues to deteriorate, all they can afford is the cremation, which costs roughly a third of burial costs.

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Pineda’s latest estimate is that funerals in Venezuela cost more than 132 times the average minimum wage earned per month. That's around six dollars per person – making a final farewell far out of reach for most who would need years of savings to cover costs.

“In poorer areas, plywood coffins are sometimes being used,” explained Guillermo Aveledo, a 40-year-old political science professor at the University of Caracas. “Former middle classes can rent a proper coffin for the wake, but prefer cremation, which is cheaper.”

But even the process of cremation has become problematic. Locals described to Fox News the acute lack of natural gas needed to properly incinerate the bodies, despite the fact Venezuela has some of the largest energy reserves in the world. “In some very isolated places, people get used lots for burial, which creates sanitary problems,” Aveledo said.

The shortage of hearses is also an issue. There are fewer and fewer of them available, and the acute fuel shortage – wait times at some gas stations can be as long as 24 hours – makes it harder to keep them running.

In some extreme cases, impoverished Venezuelans are dragging their dead for days in the sweltering sun to reach the Colombian border, where locals are assisting them with some kind of burial.

Alexander Lopez, a disabled Venezuelan from Maracaibo who has resorted to selling keychains, incense, and trash bags for a few cents each in the Ecuadorian town of Cuenca, fled Venezuela six months ago. He left to find work to pay for his 19-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, saying he could no longer sit by as his family was forced to scour through the trash for food.

Alexander Lopez, now working on the streets in Cuenca, Ecuador struggled to send money back to his native Venezuela to retrieve his son’s body.

Tragically, his son Alexander was killed in a motorcycle accident on the small Venezuelan island state of Nueva Esparta two months ago. For weeks, the body languished at the morgue as family members were unable to afford the bus fare and boat to collect the remains. Lopez’s former wife, Alexander’s mother, was eventually able to use some law enforcement connections to help cobble together the money needed.

But when she got to the morgue, the owners would not release the body – demanding a bribe on top of the standard costs. “Everyone in Venezuela is so desperate for money, even the morgue will manipulate the people,” Lopez wept, holding up his son’s photograph.

After being killed in a motorcycle accident, the body of Alexander Lopez spent several weeks in a Venezuela morgue, as his family struggled to come up with the money needed to retrieve him.

For days, Lopez said, his wife trolled the streets and he and others sent whatever funds they could to pay the $150 morgue fee – an amount that far surpasses an average month’s earnings.

After the entire family hustled for further $88 to pay a local gravedigger, Alexander was finally laid to rest in a cemetery. There were no funds for a service, no memorial plaque or tombstone.

“Even with all that,” Lopez said softly, “the dead in Venezuela are still worth more than the living. I am worth nothing to that government.”

Lopez’s story is woven with even more tragedy. Three years ago, as the crisis accelerate, he was injured in a motorcycle accident. His wounded leg became infected a year later, but the lack of affordable medicines and medical professionals led to the loss of his leg, which was amputated.

“All they could do was cut it,” he said, motioning to where his right leg used to be.

Families in Venezuela have been forced to resort to backyard burials (Fox News (provided))

That lack of medical attention and resources has fueled a spiking death rate in Venezuela. People are dying today from the most common and treatable infections and diseases – like the common flu.

Violent crime is also on the rise. Last week, two ex-major league baseball players – free agent Luis Valbuena and former player Jose Castillo – were killed in a crash after their car collided with a rock. Authorities believe the rock may have been deliberately placed in the road, as part of a robbery scheme.

“People throw rocks in the hope of stopping the car so they can steal it,” one Venezuelan humanitarian worker explained. “In this case, it ended horribly… Even if these men had survived, there are not adequate means in the hospital to save them.”

According to Aveledo, even the dead aren't immune to the rise in crime.

“Most cemeteries are public municipal lots. But the dearth of public safety exposes the tombs to looting, mourners, and visitors exposed to muggings, and wakes are restricted for a couple of hours during the day,” he said. “The wakes held for criminals are also very disruptive, public displays of their power and control of territories.”

As the country crumbles, so to have the resources to monitor how many have died. One local journalist said a handful of people try to keep tabs. A group of journalists visit the morgues at the end of each week to count the dead, trying to determine how many died from organized crime, and how many perished from “other” causes, like disease or malnutrition.

And that is just in Caracas. For the rest of the country that once had a population of 32 million, it’s anybody’s guess.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro raises his fists after voting in presidential elections in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, May 20, 2018. (AP)

There's no indication the situation will improve any time soon. Despite once-brimming oil wealth that had Venezuela as the richest country in Latin America, the Nicolás Maduro-led government – which has continued the socialist policies of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez – has pushed the nation’s economy into dire freefall, upended by massive hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages. More than three million have fled in desperation since for crisis began spiraling out of control three years ago.

The government has denied that Venezuela is in crisis, and instead blames its economic woes on disgruntled opposition members, and the United States.

As for the death industry, like most things in Venezuela, a black market in coffins has emerged. This despite the scarcity of wood and other materials needed to make a casket.

“The price range of a coffin on the black market is about 50 to 100 dollars,” Aveledo said. “Sold on the web, or via messaging.”

Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma and investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay

Brazil president: Not worried about looming corruption cases

BRASILIA, Brazil – President Michel Temer said Thursday he was not worried about corruption charges that could lead to his being jailed after leaving office Jan. 1.

In a meeting with foreign correspondents in the presidential residence in Brasilia, Temer said the cases were without merit, even if he said they nixed chances his administration could achieve major reforms, such as to the pension system.

"I'm at ease. I don't have the least bit of worry," Temer said, adding he believed they would be thrown out.

As a sitting president, Temer has partial immunity, which has helped him avoid criminal prosecution. Twice the lower Chamber of Deputies in Congress, which must weigh in on matters involving the president, voted against putting Temer on trial for charges leveled by the attorney general.

When the 78-year-old leaves office, however, those cases will go to the normal court system.

Over the last four years, numerous businessmen and politicians, including ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have been convicted and jailed amid a sprawling corruption investigation called "Car Wash." The cases against Temer are connected to that larger probe, which focused on construction companies paying politicians for favors, often with money from inflated public works contracts.

Legal observers believe the cases against Temer are strong and will likely move forward. In recent weeks, local news media have reported that Temer might be given an ambassadorship by the incoming administration of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

Such a position would give Temer the partial immunity given to federal lawmakers, cabinet members and several other top officials. The law stipulates that only the nation's top court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, can decide whether to allow charges to go forward or put any particular official on trial, which in practice slows any prosecution. But granting such an appointment would be problematic for Bolsonaro, who ran on promises of "zero tolerance" for corruption.

On Thursday, Temer said he "wouldn't stop" being active and planned to take some time for himself. However, he declined to provide specifics, noting jokingly that he was older than 50 years old.

Temer, a career politician famed for his ability to move bills through Congress, was serving as vice president when President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and ousted from office in 2016. Upon taking office, he cast himself as a reformer ready to help Latin America's large nation emerge from its worst recession in decades.

While his administration was beset with scandals — several ministers had to resign over corruption allegations in the first weeks — it did move Brazil forward on many fronts. A major reform to the labor code was passed, and in 2017, gross domestic product grew by 1 percent after contracting nearly 4 percent in each of the two previous years.

"I think I will be remembered as someone who at least tried to get Brazil on track," Temer said. "I will also be remembered as someone who did not worry about populism. Anybody worried about populism would not have done what I did" — an allusion to the unpopularity of his proposals to improve state finances by cutting guarantees for workers and slimming the pension system.

Temer had publicly flirted with running for re-election this year despite approval ratings below 10 percent for most of his time in office. But his own corruption scandals didn't just make that unrealistic and derail much of his agenda, they also threatened to jail him while in office.

Last year, Temer was twice charged by Attorney General Rodrigo Janot in cases involving alleged bribery and obstruction of justice. He is also being investigated by federal police in a third case involving allegedly using bribes to pay for renovations on family property.

Pakistan opposition rally clashes with police, dozens hurt

LAHORE, Pakistan – Hundreds of supporters of Pakistan's opposition leader, Shahbaz Sharif, clashed with police in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, leaving dozens of protesters hurt, officials said.

The violence erupted when riot police used batons to prevent Sharif's supporters from reaching an anti-graft tribunal where he appeared before the court for a pre-trial hearing over alleged links to a multi-million dollars housing scam.

Police also detained several activists, angering the country's opposition parties, which in turn urged Prime Minister Imran Khan's government to immediately free those detained.

According to Maryam Aurangzeb, a spokeswoman for Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party, police beat the party's supporters without any provocation. "We were peaceful and police started swinging batons and beating our supporters without any provocation," she said.

But police insisted they prevented demonstrators from trying to storm the court.

Sharif, the opposition leader in parliament, has been held in custody by the National Accountability Bureau since October. He is accused of influencing authorities to award contracts for a housing program to a company with which he had political connections.

Also Thursday in Lahore, hundreds of farmers rallied to demand a decrease in the prices of fertilizers, pesticides and seeds, and to pressure authorities so they could get higher prices for sugarcane and other produce.

The farmers' protest, which began Wednesday, swelled Thursday with more joining the rally. Farmers say authorities in recent months increased prices of pesticides and fertilizers and that sugar mills are now offering them lower prices to purchase their sugarcane.

The farmers are threatening to burn their crops in protest if their demands are not accepted.

In other developments, Pakistan's Minister for Science and Technology Azam Swati resigned Thursday after a judicial probe found he had abused his office to get members of a poor family arrested.

Swati has been criticized by human rights activists since last month, when his guards clashed with the family, living near his farmhouse.

Israeli police recommend indicting Netanyahu in telecom case

JERUSALEM – Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on bribery charges related to a corruption case involving Israel's telecom giant, prompting immediate calls for his resignation.

Police say their investigation has established an evidentiary foundation to charge Netanyahu and his wife Sara with accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. The case revolves around suspicions that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bezeq telecom company in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister on Bezeq's subsidiary news website, Walla.

Police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. One involves accepting gifts from billionaire friends, and the second revolves around alleged offers of advantageous legislation for a newspaper in return for positive coverage.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by the media.

"The police recommendations regarding me and my wife don't surprise anyone," Netanyahu said in a statement. "These recommendations were decided upon and leaked even before the investigation began."

The Bezeq case, known as Case 4000, is the most serious of all those of which Netanyahu has been accused. Two of his top confidants have turned state witnesses and are believed to have provided police with incriminating evidence. Netanyahu held the government's communications portfolio until last year and oversaw regulation in the field. Former journalists at the Walla news site have attested to being pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.

Police say the investigation, which included the testimony of 60 witnesses, revealed that Netanyahu and Bezeq boss Shaul Elovitch engaged in a "bribe-based relationship."

Police are also recommending charges be brought against Elovitch and members of his family.

"The most serious bribery case yet leaves no room for doubt: a prime minister who is accused of the most serious offense for a public servant in the Israeli rule book cannot keep serving one minute longer," said Tamar Zandberg, head of the dovish opposition Meretz party.

"The prime minister has no moral mandate to keep his seat and must resign today. Israel must go to elections."

Other opposition parties quickly joined in the call for Netanyahu to resign.

Vietnam jails 2 ex-police generals for role in gambling ring

HANOI, Vietnam – A court in northern Vietnam on Friday jailed two former police generals for protecting a multimillion-dollar online gambling ring as the Communist government steps up its crackdown on graft.

Former national police chief Phan Van Vinh and former head of hi-tech crimes police department Nguyen Thanh Hoa were sentenced to nine and 10 years respectively after being convicted of abuse of power at the end of the three-week trial by the People's Court in Phu Tho province.

Two gambling ring leaders, Nguyen Van Duong, former chairman of the private company CNC, and Phan San Nam, former chairman of VTC Online joint stock company, were sentenced to 10 and five years respectively for organizing gambling and money laundering.

The ring had operated from April 2015 until it was broken up in August last year with some $425 million having been gambled online. The ring made $200 million in illegal profits, according to the government.

They were among 92 defendants involved in the case.

"Vinh's acts have caused discontent among the public, reduced the reputation of the police force and people's trust," state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted the verdict as saying. "Vinh had intentionally covered up the crimes committed by Duong and his accomplices."

Vinh, who was general director of the General Department of Police under the Ministry of Public Security until his retirement two years ago, was arrested in July while Hoa was arrested a month earlier. Following their arrests, the ministry stripped both men of their ranks.

The two allowed CNC company to rent an office from the General Department of Police, which indirectly facilitated the crimes and hindered their staff and other agencies in investigating the gambling ring, the verdict said.

During the hearing, prosecutors quoted Duong as telling police investigators that he bribed Vinh with $2.8 million, a $7,000 Rolex watch and gave Hoa $936,000, state media reported.

The verdict, however, said there has been no evidence to prove the two former police generals were involved in bribery.

The foreign media were not allowed to cover the trial.

Vietnam's unprecedented crackdown on graft had previously focused on corruption at the state energy giant PetroVietnam and the banking sector but appears to be spreading to the police force.

Scores of PetroVietnam senior officials and bankers have been brought to trial, the most high-ranking of them being Dinh La Thang, a former Politburo member who was sentenced to a total of 31 years in prison for mismanagement in two separate cases earlier this year dating to his time leading PetroVietnam.

He was the first Politburo member to be jailed in decades.

Ukraine bars entry of Russian males 16 to 60 amid naval conflict

KIEV, Ukraine – Ukrainian officials on Friday upped the ante in the growing confrontation with Russia, announcing a travel ban for most Russian males and searching the home of an influential cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The long-simmering conflict bubbled over Sunday when Russian border guards rammed into and opened fired on three Ukrainian vessels near the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014. The vessels were trying to pass through the Kerch Strait on their way to the Sea of Azov. The Russians then captured the ships and 24 crew members.

The Ukrainian parliament on Monday adopted the president's motion to impose martial law in the country for 30 days in the wake of the standoff.

There has been growing hostility between Ukraine and Russia since Moscow's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Russia has also supported separatists in Ukraine's east with clandestine dispatches of troops and weapons. Fighting there has killed at least 10,000 people since 2014 but eased somewhat after a 2015 truce.

Petro Tsygykal, chief of the Ukrainian Border Guard Service, announced at a security meeting on Friday that all Russian males between 16 and 60 will be barred from traveling to the country while martial law is in place.

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President Petro Poroshenko told the meeting that the measures are taken "in order to prevent the Russian Federation from forming private armies" on Ukrainian soil.

The announcement follows Thursday's decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to scrap the much-anticipated meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Trump said it isn't appropriate for him to meet with Putin since Russia hasn't released the Ukrainian seamen.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian intelligence agency announced on Friday that they are investigating a senior cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Ihor Guskov, chief of staff of the SBU intelligence agency, told reporters that its officers are searching the home of Father Pavlo, who leads the Pechersk Monastery in Kiev. He said the cleric is suspected of "inciting hatred."

The Pechersk Monastery, the spiritual center of Ukraine, is under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Ukrainian church, which has been part of the Russian Orthodox Church for centuries, moved close to forming an independent church — fueled by the conflict with Russia Ukraine's Orthodox communities earlier this year.

There are currently three Orthodox communities in Ukraine, including two breakaway churches. Ukrainian authorities sought to portray the Russian Orthodox clerics in Ukraine as supporting separatists.

Ukraine's president announced on Thursday that the Constantinople patriarchy has approved a decree granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church independence from the Russian Orthodox Church, a major boost to the president's approval ratings.

Both the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian authorities are strongly against the move and have warned Ukraine not to do it, fearing sectarian violence.

Russian government-appointed ombudswoman for Crimea told Russian news agencies that all the seamen have been transported from a detention center in Crimea. The three commanders have been taken to Moscow, she said. It wasn't immediately clear where the other 21 have been taken.

A Crimea court earlier this week ruled to keep the Ukrainian seamen behind bars for two months pending the investigation.

Putin accuses Ukrainian president of playing ‘dirty game’ amid warnings of ‘full-scale war’ with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday lashed out against Ukraine and accused the government of playing a “dirty game”, claiming they set up the naval incident that led to the seizure of three Ukrainian naval ships with the crew becoming prisoners.

Speaking during an investment forum in Moscow, Putin accused Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of attempting to score political points in a bid to get re-elected.

"This is a dirty game within the country [Ukraine],” Putin said. “It is a provocation initiated by the current authorities, and I think by the [Ukrainian] president, in light of the upcoming elections to be held next year."

— Vladimir Putin

“This is a dirty game within the country (Ukraine),” Putin said. “It is a provocation initiated by the current authorities, and I think by the (Ukrainian) president, in light of the upcoming elections to be held next year.”

“The incident in the Black Sea happened, it is a border incident, no more.”

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Putin’s remarks came after the Ukrainian government imposed the country’s first ever martial law in parts of the country that are vulnerable to a possible military action from Russia, with Poroshenko saying there was the “extremely serious” threat of a land invasion.

Western governments came out in support of Ukraine and accused Russia of violating international law. Earlier this week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the Ukrainian president that the alliance is supporting the country’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty,” though Ukraine is not part of the military alliance.

TRUMP THREATENS TO CANCEL PUTIN MEETING AMID RUSSIA-UKRAINE TENSIONS

President Trump said he’s not “happy” about the situation and floated the possibility of canceling planned talks with Putin at this week's G20 summit in Buenos Aires. “I don't like that aggression,” Trump said in a recent interview with the Washington Post.

The Kremlin responded to the martial law in Ukraine with a pledge to deploy S-400 surface-to-air missile systems on the Crimean peninsula soon, according to the Interfax news agency.

CAPTURED UKRAINIAN SAILORS SEEN ON RUSSIAN TV APPARENTLY CONFESSING TO ‘PROVOCATIVE’ ACTION

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Putin on Wednesday also reiterated the Kremlin’s story of how the clash between the ships occurred, saying Ukrainian vessels violated Russia’s territorial waters.

Russia’s main intelligence agency, the FSB, released a video on Tuesday that interviews three Ukrainian seamen, all of whom say Ukraine violated the Russian border. It was not immediately possible to ascertain if the men were talking under duress. One of them was apparently reading from a teleprompter.

But the video posted by Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov appears to contradict Putin’s version of the event as it shows an apparent Russian commander shouting “slam him from the right” as the Russian vessel hits the Ukrainian ship.

UKRAINE IMPOSES MARTIAL LAW AMID 'EXTREMELY SERIOUS' THREAT OF RUSSIAN INVASION

Poroshenko on Tuesday appeared on national television and warned of the threat of “full-scale war” with Russia. “I don’t want anyone to think this is fun and games. Ukraine is under threat of full-scale war with Russia,” he said.

He went on to claim that Russia is building up its military presence along the Ukraine-Russian border, noting that with the number of tanks had tripled.

Ukraine and Russia have been involved in a long-term conflict starting in 2014. Russia-backed separatists have occupied parts of Eastern Ukraine and have held the control until this day, while Russia annexed Crimea in a referendum that most western countries deem illegal and illegitimate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.

Almost 60,000 migrants deemed dead or missing on dangerous journeys since 2014, study finds

While global migration levels are currently at an unprecedented high – characterized by graphic images of refugees on the run in the Middle East, caravans traversing Central America and flimsy boats from Africa capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea – far less confronting is the silent toll of those who never make it a border, those who die or disappear on often-dangerous expeditions.

A new Associated Press report has estimated that at least 56,800 migrants across the world have died since 2014 – almost twice the number documented by the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM). The most recent IOM findings, as of the beginning of October, listed 28,500 missing migrants.

While the AP’s tally found an additional 28,300 unaccounted for, the report acknowledged its numbers were still low.

“More bodies of migrants lie undiscovered in desert sands or at the bottom of the sea,” the report stated. “And families don’t always report loved ones as missing because they migrated illegally, or because they left home without saying exactly where they were headed.”

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INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS FEARS FOR CITY IN SYRIA IT CAN'T REACH WITH AID

This year in Africa alone, more than 1,700 people died in the seas that separate Africa and Europe. And, since 2014, within the African continent itself, more than 18,400 migrants are believed to have died. This includes over 4,300 unnamed bodies in just one South African province. The IOM also asserted that many more likely disappear without a trace – perishing in the vast plains of the Sahara Desert.

Moreover, at least 3,861 migrants are presumed to have died en route between Mexico and the United States since 2014.

YAZIDIS SEEK RESCUE OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN ENSLAVED, MARRIED OFF TO ISIS

The report highlights that many of the missing – or pronounced dead – are children. Some 2,773 minors have been reported to the Red Cross as disappeared on the journey to Europe, with an additional 2,097 adults reported missing by children.

The AP report also indicated that that funding for projects to adequately track migration and its costs has waned, meaning that many will likely never be found or identified.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma and investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay