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International

Hurricane Ian strikes Cuba, Florida braces for Cat 4 damage

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By Cristiana Mesquita And Curt Anderson in Havana

HAVANA (AP) — Hurricane Ian tore into western Cuba on Tuesday as a major hurricane, with nothing to stop it from intensifying into a catastrophic Category 4 storm before it hits Florida on Wednesday.

Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said “significant wind and storm surge impacts” were occurring Tuesday morning in western Cuba. Ian sustained top winds were 125 mph (205 kmh) and as much as 14 feet (4.3 meters) of storm surge was predicted along Cuba’s coast.

Ian was forecast to strengthen even more over warm Gulf of Mexico waters, reaching top winds of 140 mph (225 kmh) before making landfall again. Tropical storm-force winds were expected in Florida late Tuesday, reaching hurricane force Wednesday morning.

“Right now we’re focusing on west central Florida area as the main area for impact,” hurricane specialist Andy Latto told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“This is a really really big hurricane,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, warning of damage all across the state.

Hundreds of thousands of Floridians faced mandatory evacuation orders as the center expanded its hurricane warning to include Bonita Beach north through Tampa Bay to the Anclote River. Fort Myers is in the hurricane zone, and Tampa and St. Petersburg could get their first direct hit by a major hurricanesince 1921.

“People on the barrier islands who decide not to go, they do so at their own peril,” Roger Desjarlais, Lee County’s county manager, said early Tuesday. “The best thing they can do is leave.”

While Ian’s center passed over western Cuba, with tropical storm force winds extending outward 115 miles (185 kilometers), Cuba’s capital was getting rain and strong gusts Tuesday morning. Havana’s residents openly worried about flooding ahead of the storm, with workers unclogging storm drains and fishermen taking their boats out of the water.

“I am very scared because my house gets completely flooded, with water up to here,” Adyz Ladron said, pointing to his chest.

In Havana’s El Fanguito, a poor neighborhood near the Almendares River, residents packed up what they could.

“I hope we escape this one because it would be the end of us. We already have so little,” health worker Abel Rodrigues said.

Ian’s forward movement was expected to slow over the gulf, enabling the hurricane to grow wider and stronger before it brings punishing wind and water to Florida’s west coast. Forecasters said the surge of ocean water could reach 10 feet (3 meters) if it peaks at high tide. Rainfall could total 16 inches (41 centimeters) inches with as much as 24 inches (61 centimeters) in isolated areas. Coastal communities could be inundated.

As many as 300,000 people may be evacuated from low-lying areas in Hillsborough County alone, county administrator Bonnie Wise said. Some of those evacuations were beginning Monday afternoon in the most vulnerable areas, with schools and other locations opening as shelters.

“We must do everything we can to protect our residents. Time is of the essence,” Wise said.

Lee County — where Fort Myers is on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast — also issued mandatory evacuations early Tuesday for low-lying areas including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Bonita Beach, where about 250,000 people live, after forecasters expanded the hurricane warning area.

“With the kind of tidal surge we’re talking about, it would not be uncommon for both islands to be overwashed, and it’s a dangerous place to be,” Desjarlais said. We cannot by law force people off the islands, but we strongly recommend that they go.”

Floridians lined up for hours in Tampa to collect bags of sand and cleared store shelves of bottled water. DeSantis declared a statewide emergency, and mobilized 5,000 Florida state national guard troops, with another 2,000 on standby in neighboring states.

President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property. FEMA has strategically positioned generators, millions of meals and millions of liters of water, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Playing it safe, NASA was rolling its moon rocket from the launch pad to its Kennedy Space Center hangar, adding weeks of delay to the test flight. The airports in Tampa and St. Petersburg announced they’ll close Tuesday afternoon. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said they would relocate football operations to the Miami area on Tuesday in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Damaging winds and flooding was expected across the entire peninsula as Ian moves north, reaching into Georgia, South Carolina and other parts of the southeastern United States on Friday and Sunday, the hurricane center said.

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Associated Press contributors include Freida Frisaro in Miami, Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida, and Julie Walker in New York

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International

Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup

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AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Tensions ran high at Iran’s second match at the World Cup on Friday as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, T-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic.

Some fans were stopped by stadium security from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags to the match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match as some fans in the stadium wept, whistled and booed.

The national team has come under close scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have wracked Iran for weeks.

Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic!”

Mobs of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted, “The Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.

After Iran’s 2-0 triumph, crowds of Iranian fans wildly waving national flags streamed out of the stadium. They thronged a group of protesters who held up photos of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose Sept. 16 death in the custody of the morality police first unleashed the protests, yelling “Victory!” to drown out chants of Amini’s name.

One 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, started to cry as shouting men blowing horns encircled her and filmed her face. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.

“We want to raise awareness about his arrest and about the women’s rights movement,” said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “I’m not here to fight with anyone, but people have been attacking me and calling me a terrorist. All I’m here to say is that football doesn’t matter if people are getting killed in the streets.”

Maryam and her friends had worn hats emblazoned with the name of an outspoken Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafouri, who had criticized Iranian authorities and was arrested in Iran on Thursday on accusations of spreading propaganda against the government. She said Iranian government supporters had taken the hats from their heads.

Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, was a star member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup team, but was surprisingly not named in the squad for this year in Qatar.

“It’s obvious that the match had become very politicized this week. You can see people from the same country who hate each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan who also declined to give his last name. “I think the arrest of Voria has also affected society in Iran a lot.”

Furious protesters in Iran have been venting their anger over social and political repression and the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, for women. The demonstrations have quickly grown into calls for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests erupted, according to monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran.

The turmoil has overshadowed the start of Iran’s World Cup campaign. The opening match against England on Monday was the scene of protests as anti-government fans waved signs and chanted in the stands. Before that match, which Iran lost 6-2, its players remained silent as their national anthem played and didn’t celebrate their two goals. On Friday, they sang along to the anthem and celebrated wildly when they scored twice against Wales.

Ayeh Shams, an Iranian from the United States, said security guards confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” written on it.

“We’re just here to enjoy the games and give a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.

Zeinlabda Arwa, a security guard at the stadium, confirmed that authorities had been given orders to confiscate anything but the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Whether you’re talking about Iran or Qatar or any country, you are only allowed to bring in the normal flag,” she said.

An angry group of Iranian government supporters shouted at Elyas Doerr, a 16-year-old Iranian boy living in Arizona who was wearing the Persian flag as a cape, until he took it off and and put it in his bag.

“They’re not liking that it’s a political statement,” he said, adding that other Iranian fans had approached him to say they appreciated the gesture.

A 32-year-old Iranian woman living in southern Spain, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals, scrambled after the match to retrieve her hat and flag that had been confiscated by stadium security. She said Qatari police ordered her to scrub off the names of Iranian protesters killed and arrested by security forces that she had written on her arms and chest, at the behest of Iranian government supporters. At the game, just traces of ink remained on her skin that was rubbed raw.

“Today’s football experience was the most intimidating I’ve ever been in, before and after the match,” she said. She described dozens of men who surrounded her and tried to smother her face with their Iranian flags, snatching her signs as Qatari security stood by.

“I don’t care about the win, to be honest. That’s not my priority.”

After the game, Iranian state television broadcast patriotic songs and showed footage of people bursting out into cheers across the country.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Isabel Debre And Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press

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Sajjan mum on human rights during World Cup visit to Qatar

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By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa

OTTAWA — International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan is facing opposition criticism because he did not make a public statement about human rights during his visit to Qatar for the World Cup.

“If we don’t raise the issue of human rights when we are in countries where we know human rights abuses are taking place, we have no moral authority,” said NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson.

Sajjan attended the World Cup on behalf of the Trudeau government, where the Canadian men’s team is competing for the first time in years. He met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and local officials.

Yet Sajjan’s social media postings make no mention of the host country’s documented mistreatment of migrant workers, nor the emirate’s anti-LGBTQ policies.

Those concerns have led some broadcasters and players to sport armbands that say “One Love.” The German team covered their mouths when their official photo was taken.

Sajjan’s office said he was unavailable Thursday for comment as he was flying back to Canada.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, who is gay, said he felt split on Qatar’s hosting.

“I’ll be honest, it’s very conflicting. I’m cheering on my team; I’m cheering on my country and (want) nothing but the best. But I’ll tell, you it’s kind of difficult,” he said

O’Regan said he could not speak for Sajjan, but noted the government voiced concerns about Qatar before the games got underway.

“We know exactly where we stand on it; we’ve voiced our displeasure clearly,” he said.

The NDP had called for a diplomatic boycott of the tournament.

“This is talking out of both sides of your mouth, with this government,” McPherson said.

“This government once again has shown that they don’t really care about human rights.”

On Monday, MPs passed a unanimous motion condemning FIFA for threatening to penalize players who wore the “One Love” armbands. The motion argued that “international sporting governing bodies have a moral obligation to support players and fans in highlighting the fight for equality against homophobia, transphobia, and all forms of discrimination in sport.”

Captains of several European countries scrapped plans to wear a “One Love” armband after FIFA, soccer’s governing body, warned they would face on-field sanctions.

Media reports from Qatar also said some fans wearing rainbow attire were refused entry to the stadiums.

This month, Amnesty International rebuked Soccer Canada for its “deafening silence” on the thousands of workers, predominantly from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, who “have been subjected to labour abuses, abysmally low pay, and other exploitation.”

Soccer Canada released a statement last month in support of ongoing reforms, but steered clear of criticizing the emirate.

Amnesty noted that peer federations from Britain, the U.S., France and the Netherlands all endorsed calls for a compensation fund for migrant workers who were mistreated while preparing Qatar for the games.

The Conservatives did not have a direct comment on Sajjan’s actions. Instead, MP Michael Chong said his party prefers that the World Cup be hosted by countries with better reputations, such as a bid by Ukraine to co-host the 2030 tournament with Spain and Portugal.

“Conservatives condemn in the strongest terms all human rights abuses around the world and are prepared to work with our democratic allies to support human rights,” Chong wrote in a statement.

The Bloc Québécois had also called for a diplomatic boycott, and lamented Sajjan’s attendance in Qatar. “Canada has no excuse to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses,” MP Martin Champoux tweeted in French on Monday.

During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Liberals urged the Harper government to raise the issue of human rights in China.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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