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More than 20 killed in violent upsets in Venezuela’s overcrowded prisons

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More than 20 people were killed in the latest outbreak of violence in Venezuela’s overcrowded prisons as heavily armed gangs fought for control of a prison near Caracas, authorities said Monday.

Iris Varela, the minister for prison affairs, told state-run media that the clashes erupted Sunday in the Yare I penitentiary, instigated by inmates “who want to maintain control through force.”

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“There are more than 20 (dead) and a family member of one of the prisoners also lost their life,” she told state television network VTV.

VTV reported that there were people injured as well, but the government provided no details.

Local news reports said several hundred family members were visiting inmates at the prison when the violence broke out.

Varela blamed it on a confrontation between two “heavily armed groups” within the prison.

Local news reports said it may have been started by prisoners who had been transferred to Yare I from La Planta, a notoriously violent and overcrowded prison in Caracas that was closed after a violent, weeks-long uprising in May.

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Stray gunfire in that confrontation killed a man in a nearby apartment building.

“Those responsible for the deaths within the prisons must answer for them,” Varela said.

The government does not issue regular reports on conditions in Venezuelan prisons and does not confirm most violent incidents. In June, it fined a private television network $2.4 million for its coverage of bloody prison uprising in 2011.

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Human rights groups say that in the year since President Hugo Chavez put Varela in charge of a newly created ministry of prison affairs, more than 500 inmates have been killed in prison violence and another 1,200 injured.

The Venezuelan Prison Observatory, a non-governmental group, said more than 300 inmates have died in the nation’s overcrowded prisons during the first half of the year.

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In July, 28 prisoners were killed and 17 injured in a prison uprising in the western city of Merida that took authorities three weeks to bring under control.

An operation to retake the El Rodeo prison, on the outskirts of Caracas, in June 2011 left 25 people dead, and some of the inmates escaped.

After that debacle, Chavez gave Varela the task of overhauling a prison system that has 50,000 inmates crammed in facilities built to hold 14,000 people.

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Experts say the country’s prisons remain a cauldron of violence, ruled from within by gangs with easy access to weapons and beyond the control of corrupt or ineffectual guards.

The latest outbreak of violence comes amid a presidential election campaign, and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has taken aim at Chavez in the past over his government’s handling of the prisons.


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Trump evangelicals abandoned the Sermon on the Mount and replaced it with the ‘Trumpian order’: Historian Jon Meacham

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In an op-ed for the New York Times this Tuesday, historian Jon Meacham discusses the state of Christianity in America during the age of Donald Trump. He points out that Christianity, especially in the hands of Trump-supporting evangelicals, has lost its moral authority in the eyes of many Americans. Understandable, since the hero of millions of Christians "has used the National Prayer Breakfast to mock the New Testament injunction to love one’s enemies."

But according to Meacham, "history suggests that religiously inspired activism may hold the best hope for those in resistance to the prevailing Trumpian order."

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Julian Assange in UK court outburst over distance from lawyers

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday briefly disrupted his extradition hearing in Britain to complain about being forced to sit away from his lawyers.

The 48-year-old Australian stood up and launched an impromptu courtroom address from inside the glass-panelled dock of the court during the third day of the hearing, being held in southeast London.

"I can't speak to my lawyers with any proper confidentiality," he complained, noting microphones near the dock could pick up conversations.

"I can't ask, I can't instruct them," added Assange, wearing a grey blazer and a sweater over a collared shirt and seated between two guards.

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Google pledges new $10 billion investment in US in 2020

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Google said Wednesday it would invest more than $10 billion in US offices and data centers in 2020, including its new campus planned for New York City and projects in 10 other states.

The pledge comes on top of some $22 billion invested by the US tech giant unit over the past two years.

"These investments will create thousands of jobs -- including roles within Google, construction jobs in data centers and renewable energy facilities, and opportunities in local businesses in surrounding towns and communities," said a blog post by Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet.

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