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‘March For Our Lives’ protests against gun violence sweep nation following hundreds of mass shootings

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‘March For Our Lives’ protests against gun violence sweep nation following hundreds of mass shootings

WASHINGTON — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in hundreds of protests across the country Saturday to push lawmakers to take action on gun violence in the wake of recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York.

Protesters are turning out to more than 450 rallies nationwide, with the largest gathering taking place in Washington D.C., which started at noon.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser drew loud cheers from the crowd as she called for common sense gun laws, including mandatory background checks and a ban on assault rifles.

“We don’t have to live like this,” she said, adding that people in other countries “don’t live like this.”

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Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., shared a story of having been in an abusive relationship when she was younger in which her partner shot at her multiple times. “That moment when gun violence strikes is so dramatic and so preventable,” she said. “I didn’t know when he would stop.”

The rallies were organized by March For Our Lives, a youth-driven organization first created by students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school mass shooting in 2018.

In Parkland, Florida, where the movement began, hundreds of demonstrators had gathered outside the Pine Trails Park Amphitheater Saturday morning to demand background checks on all gun sales, the implementation of “red-flag” laws and raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21.

Manuel Oliver, whose son, Joaquin, was among those killed in Parkland, also addressed the crowd in D.C. “Our elected officials betrayed us and have avoided the responsibility to end gun violence,” he said, calling for students not to attend school until elected officials “stop avoiding the crisis of gun violence in America.”

At around 1:30 p.m., a person standing near a group of counter-protesters began yelling during a moment of silence for victims of gun violence, prompting some in the crowd to run away. Several attendees were seen crying in the crown after the incident. Shortly after, a man took to the stage to reassure the crowd, saying, “There is no threat.”

As gun restrictions talks remain ongoing in Capitol Hill, the House passed a so-called “red-flag” bill Thursday that would allow a judge to take firearms away from a person who poses an imminent danger to themselves or others. The legislation, which drew five Republican votes, is viewed as having a greater chance than some of the other legislation of advancing in the evenly split Senate.

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On Wednesday, the House also passed a series of new gun measures, including raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. That legislative package is all but guaranteed to fail in the upper chamber due to Republican opposition.

“We need to put aside our politics and save our kids and loved ones from this senseless and horrific violence before it impacts them,” David Hogg, a 2018 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the cofounder of March for Our Lives, said in a statement ahead of the rallies.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor David Hogg
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor David Hogg speaks in front of reporters at an installation of body bags assembled on the National Mall by activist group March For Our Lives on Mar. 24, 2022 in Washington, D.C.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images file

According to Serena Rodrigues, a national coordinator for March For Our Lives, the organization participated in 71 meetings with elected officials on Capitol Hill this past week.

“I feel confident that we’ll get something probably like universal background checks,” she told NBC News. “But we’ll keep pushing for more.”

Since March for Our Lives last organized nationwide protests in 2018, mass shooting have become increasingly more common.

At least 254 mass shootings have taken place in the U.S. so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. These include the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings.

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“We’re coming out of Covid and people are trying to go back to normal, get back into schools and into work, but I think as a society right now, we’re realizing that this is not the normal we want to go back to,” Rodrigues said.

In Buffalo, a white gunman killed 10 people and wounded three other in a local supermarket on May 14 in a shooting authorities deemed as a “racially motivated, hate crime.”

Garnell Whitfield Jr. whose 86-year-old mother, Ruth, was gunned down during that attack, said he was at the D.C. protest to demand sensible gun reform.

“We hear a lot about prayer and prayer is wonderful,” he said on stage in front of a crowd of several hundred people. “But prayer requires action. You pray and then you get up and walk.”

Responding to calls for stricter gun laws, some Republicans have proposed increasing mental health services to help prevent the next tragedy. But experts in the field say blaming mental health is a deflection from the fact that gun control is a necessary part of prevention.

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“Let’s stop using mental health as a scapegoat from confronting white supremacy in our country,” Hogg told the crowd.

Ten days after the Buffalo shooting, 19 children, mostly fourth graders, and two teachers were killed by a gunman who entered an elementary school in Uvalde on May 24.

The President of March For Our Lives in Parkland, Zoe Weissman, told MSNBC she was rehearsing for a play when she heard about the tragedy at Uvalde.

The 16-year-old survivor of the Parkland shooting recalled feeling devastated by the news, saying she will continue fighting against gun violence to prevent more children from being killed and from living with the life-long trauma that comes with surviving a mass shooting.

In 2020, guns became the leading cause of death among young people ages 1 to 19 in the U.S. than vehicle crashes, drugs overdoses or cancer.

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Zoe Touray, who survived a shooting at the Oxford High School in suburban Detroit nearly seven months ago, showed up to the rally in Washington hopeful that this time something will be done to save more lives.

“I wasn’t old enough to remember the last march. I probably was in middle school,” Touray said. “So, to be able to see it all come to fruition in person, it gave me so much more optimism.”

Nicole Acevedo reported from New York, Aria Bendix and Janelle Griffith reported from Washington, D.C.

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Russia to send Belarus nuclear-capable missiles within months

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Russia to send Belarus nuclear-capable missiles within months

Putin has several times referred to nuclear weapons since his country invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what the West has seen as a warning not to intervene.

Published On 25 Jun 2022

Russia will supply Belarus with missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads after the president complained about nuclear-armed NATO flights coming close to the Belarusian border.

President Vladimir Putin made the announcement on Saturday as he received Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow.

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“In the coming months, we will transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which can use ballistic or cruise missiles, in their conventional and nuclear versions,” Putin said in a broadcast on Russian television at the start of his meeting with Lukashenko in St Petersburg.

At the meeting, Lukashenko expressed concern about the “aggressive”, “confrontational”, and “repulsive” policies of Belarus’s neighbours Lithuania and Poland.

He asked Putin to help his country mount a “symmetrical response” to what he said were nuclear-armed flights by the US-led NATO alliance near Belarus’s borders.

Putin offered to upgrade Belarusian warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons amid soaring tensions with the West over Ukraine.

Last month, Lukashenko said his country had bought Iskander nuclear-capable missiles and S-400 anti-aircraft anti-missile systems from Russia.

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“Many Su-25 [aircraft] are in service with the Belarusian military. They could be upgraded in an appropriate way,” Putin said.

“This modernisation should be carried out in aircraft factories in Russia and the training of personnel should start in accordance with this. We will agree on how to accomplish this.”

Putin has several times referred to nuclear weapons since his country invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what the West has seen as a warning not to intervene.

Moscow has alleged that NATO planned to admit Ukraine and use it as a platform to threaten Russia.

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Russia’s move has not only triggered a barrage of Western sanctions but also prompted Sweden and Russia’s northern neighbour Finland to apply to join the Western alliance.

In the past week, Lithuania in particular has infuriated Russia by blocking the transit of goods subject to European sanctions travelling across its territory from Russia, through Belarus, to Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

Russia called it a “blockade” but Lithuania has said it affects only 1 percent of the normal goods transit on the route and passenger traffic is unaffected.

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Fall of Severodonetsk is Russia’s biggest victory since Mariupol

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Fall of Severodonetsk is Russia’s biggest victory since Mariupol

Russian forces have fully occupied Severodonetsk, the mayor of the eastern Ukrainian city said, confirming Ukraine’s biggest battlefield setback for more than a month after weeks of fighting to hold the strategic town and latest symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Russian missiles also rained down on western, northern and southern parts of the country on Saturday as Europe’s biggest land conflict since World War II enters its fifth month.

The fall of Severodonetsk – once home to more than 100,000 people, and now reduced to a wasteland of rubble by Russian artillery – is Moscow’s biggest victory since capturing the port of Mariupol last month.

The fall of the city transforms the battlefield in the east of Ukraine where Moscow’s huge advantage in firepower had until now yielded only slow gains.

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“The city is now under the full occupation of Russia,” the city’s Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on national television. He said anyone left behind could no longer reach Ukrainian-held territory, as the city was effectively cut off.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukrainian attempt to turn the city’s Azot chemical plant into another centre of resistance had been thwarted.

“As a result of successful offensive operations, units of the people’s militia of the LPR [Luhansk People’s Republic], with the support of Russian troops … completely liberated the cities of Severodonetsk and Borivske,” he said.

‘Tactical regrouping’

The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency described the fall of the city as a means for Ukrainian forces to regroup from Severodonetsk to higher ground in neighbouring Lysychansk.

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“The activities happening in the area of Severodonetsk are a tactical regrouping of our troops. This is a withdrawal to advantageous positions to obtain a tactical advantage,” said Kyrylo Budanov, head of Defence Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine.

“Russia is using the tactic … it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth,” he said.

“Given the conditions, holding the defence in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defence operations.”

Russia will now be hoping to press on and seize more ground on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river where Severodonetsk’s twin city Lysychansk is located.

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Ukraine will also hope that the price Moscow paid to capture the ruins of Severodonetsk will leave Russia’s forces vulnerable to a counterattack in coming weeks.

Lysychansk and Severodonetsk have been the focal point of Russian offensives aimed at capturing all of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region and destroying the Ukrainian military defending it – the most capable and battle-hardened segment of the country’s armed forces.

The two cities and surrounding areas are the last major pockets of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk province, 95 percent of which is under Russian and local separatist control. Russians and separatist forces also control about half of Donetsk, the second province in the Donbas.

The capture of Severodonetsk is likely to be seen by Russia as vindication for its switch from its early, failed attempt at “lightning warfare” to a relentless, grinding offensive using massive artillery in the east.

INTERACTIVE_UKRAINE_CONTROL MAP DAY122June25_INTERACTIVE- WHO CONTROLS WHAT IN THE DONBAS
(Al Jazeera)

The retreat from Severodonetsk also brings Moscow close to full control of Luhansk.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford reporting from the capital Kyiv said the withdrawal from Severodonetsk leaves Ukrainian forces in control of just one remaining city in Luhansk.

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“The big question now though is whether the Ukrainians can hold on to Luhansk. Having seemingly lost control of Severodonetsk, there is only one more city in the Luhansk region that the Ukrainian forces still control,” Stratford said.

“This is being described fundamentally as the, potentially, biggest defeat for Ukrainian forces since Mariupol last month,” he said.

Ukrainian officials said that they were pulling troops back from Severodonetsk to avoid being surrounded by the Russians, who had crossed the river in force in recent days and were advancing on Lysychansk on the opposite bank. Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk, said Russian forces had attempted to enter and blockade Lysychansk.

Moscow says Luhansk and Donetsk, where it has backed uprisings since 2014, are independent countries, and has demanded Ukraine cede the entire territory of the two provinces to separatist administrations.

Missile strikes

Ukraine’s top general, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, wrote on the Telegram app on Saturday that newly arrived, US-supplied advanced HIMARS rocket systems were now deployed and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.

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Elsewhere in Ukraine, governors of western and northern regions reported multiple missile attacks, indicating that Russia was not limiting its assault to eastern territories.

“48 cruise missiles. At night. Throughout whole Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, cause panic and make people be afraid.”

48 🇷🇺 cruise missiles. At night. Throughout whole Ukraine. Exclusively on civilian targets… Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, cause panic and make people be afraid of Z-monsters… Ukraine knows everything and ready for anything. And it will punish for all the evil…

— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) June 25, 2022

The governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine, Maxim Kozytskyi, said in a video posted online that six missiles were fired from the Black Sea at the Yavoriv base near the border with Poland. Four hit the target but two were destroyed.

In the north, Vitaliy Bunechko, governor of the Zhytomyr region, said strikes on a military target killed at least one soldier, adding that nearly 10 missiles had been intercepted and destroyed.

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In the south, Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of Mykolaiv near the Black Sea, said five cruise missiles hit the city and nearby areas on Saturday.

The number of casualties is being clarified and there was no independent confirmation of the various reports.

‘Belarus as a co-belligerent’

In another potentially significant development, Ukraine said it had come under “massive bombardment” early on Saturday morning from neighbouring Belarus, a Russian ally not officially involved in the conflict.

Twenty rockets “fired from the territory of Belarus and from the air” targeted the village of Desna in the northern Chernigiv region, Ukraine’s northern military command said. It said infrastructure was hit, but no casualties had yet been reported.

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“Today’s strike is directly linked to Kremlin efforts to pull Belarus as a co-belligerent into the war in Ukraine,” the Ukrainian intelligence service said.

Ukraine’s air command also said Russian long-range Tu-22 bombers were deployed from Belarus for the first time. Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a staging ground before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, but its own troops have not yet crossed the border.

On Saturday afternoon, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would send Belarus missiles able to carry nuclear warheads within months.

“We will transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which can use ballistic or cruise missiles, in their conventional and nuclear versions,” he said, as he met his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Saint Petersburg.

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Rhode Island Officer Suspended for Off-Duty Actions at Abortion Protest

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Rhode Island Officer Suspended for Off-Duty Actions at Abortion Protest

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Rhode Island police officer accused of punching a woman at an abortion protest while he was off-duty was suspended from his job with pay Saturday while the Providence Police Department conducts a criminal investigation into his actions.

Jennifer Rourke, Rhode Island Political Cooperative Chairwoman and a state Senate candidate, told the Providence Journal she was punched in the face at least twice by Jeann Lugo, the officer who had also been her challenger in the state Senate race.

Lugo told the Journal on he was “not going to deny” the punching allegation, but added that “everything happened very fast.”

“As an officer that swore to protect and serve our communities, I, unfortunately, saw myself in a situation that no individual should see themselves in,” he said in the email to the Boston Globe. ”I stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking.”

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Lugo did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Video of the event posted online shows two other individuals involved in a physical altercation at the protest right before a woman, apparently Rourke, is seen being hit. The video does not show what happened between Lugo and Rourke prior to Rourke being hit.

“I’m a Black woman running for office,” Rourke told the Journal. “There was no need, no need for any of this. I’m not going to give up.”

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza addressed the conflict in a tweet but said he was limited in what he could say.

“I’ve seen the video and it’s immensely disturbing,” Elorza said. “Those responsible will be held fully accountable.”

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At midday Saturday, Lugo tweeted that he was dropping out of the race.

“I will not be running for any office this fall,” he said.

In a news release announcing the suspension, Providence police said the suspended officer was a three-year veteran.

The altercation occurred during a Friday protest outside the Rhode Island State House in Providence that was in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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