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Lampedusa (Italy) (AFP) – Italy on Friday mourned the 300 African asylum-seekers feared dead in the worst ever Mediterranean refugee disaster, as the government asked Europe to help stem the influx of migrants.

As the grim search for bodies off the island of Lampedusa continued, an emotional Pope Francis said Friday should be “a day of tears” for a “savage world” that ignored the plight of refugees.

Emergency services on the remote island — Italy’s southernmost point — said they had recovered 111 bodies so far and rescued 155 survivors from a boat with an estimated 450 to 500 people on board.

“Divers have seen dozens more bodies in the wreck. There could be even more in the hold, where the poorest of the poor are usually put,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told parliament.

“The search is being complicated by worsening weather conditions,” Alfano said after visiting the island, which he said he would be proposing as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Rescuers said strong currents around the island may have swept other bodies further out to sea.

“After these deaths, we are expecting something to change. Things cannot stay the same,” the mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, told reporters.

“The future of Lampedusa is directly linked to policies on immigration and asylum,” she said.

The migrants, all Eritreans or Somalis, departed from the Libyan port of Misrata and told rescuers they had set fire to a blanket on board near Italian shores to attract the attention of coast guards after their boat began taking on water.

The fire quickly spread on the badly overcrowded 20-metre (66-foot) vessel, which capsized and eventually sank in the early hours of Thursday morning just a few hundred metres from Lampedusa, as its terrified passengers jumped into the sea.

The boat’s Tunisian skipper, already arrested in Italy in April for people trafficking and deported back to Tunisia, has been detained as prosecutors investigated on charges of multiple murder.

‘The new Checkpoint Charlie’

Flags flew at half mast across Italy and schools held a minute of silence for the victims while President Giorgio Napolitano has called for the overhaul of a law against facilitating illegal immigration that penalises potential rescuers.

Alfano also appealed for greater European assistance in patrolling Italy’s southern maritime border and more action in countries of origin in Africa to stem the flow of risky refugee crossings.

‘Spur to action’

“Lampedusa is the new Checkpoint Charlie between the northern and southern hemispheres,” Alfano said, referring to the famous crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.

“This is not just an Italian problem,” he said.

Locals on the island that lies between Tunisia and Sicily in the Mediterranean and is closer to North Africa than to Italy fought back tears as they spoke of the desperate rush to save drowning immigrants.

“The hardest thing was seeing the bodies of the children. They had no chance,” said local doctor Pietro Bartolo, who said in 20 years on the island he had “never seen a human tragedy like this”.

The bodies were being kept in a hangar at the local airport because there was no more room in the morgue and not enough coffins on the island, which has a population of around 6,000 people.

Islanders were due to hold a ceremony and a torch-lit procession later on Friday and 120 empty coffins arrived on a ferry which was due to take the corpses back to Sicily for burial.

Survivors, which included 40 minors and three women, were being treated in a local hospital where personnel said they had swallowed fuel from the boat that had spilled into the sea.

Four of the more serious cases were being treated in a bigger hospital in Palermo in Sicily, including a young Eritrean woman who was said by doctors to have suffered a miscarriage.

Lampedusa is a major landing point for asylum-seekers entering the European Union, with many fleeing impoverished and war-torn countries of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Alfano on Friday said 30,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year — more than four times the number last year but still less than the figure for 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring revolts.

Immigration charities estimate between 17,000 and 20,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years, often crossing on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies.

Photo Via AFP

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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